**Note from the author: I’ve written versions of this story before, but this one has more of an insight into the beginning of it all. As full as this story may seem, I still don’t believe it is complete. There are things left out and stories that are yet to be told. I consider this one of the most important stories of all that I am able to share for two reasons: 1.) I wish while I was going through my struggle there was a piece of writing or similar story I could’ve related to. 2.) This was like tearing a piece of me off and putting it into story form. Nothing makes me feel more alive than being able to share something so personal. Acceptance is still rare in the world we live in, this is a reminder to not only keep your minds open but also your hearts.
By- Traci Taylor
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series
Imagine living life with the persistent feeling that something is missing. Each day that passes by doesn’t feel fully fulfilled, only partially. Everything seems unbearably empty. What is worse is when the desire to become whole happens, but the fear of the repercussion is overwhelming. How unfair it feels to not be comfortable to be able to live the life that deep inside feels right. Being in the closet is like going through life with body armor, and never being able to reveal the person underneath. It’s everything at surface value. Coming out takes strength, and it leaves a person vulnerable (which is sometimes one of the most difficult things to be).
The first step is to be able to feel comfortable in your own skin, and after that there’s a desire to feel accepted in your surroundings. Coming out means ridding of the body armor, and feeling completely exposed. The vulnerability that occurs is utterly breathtaking, and the self satisfaction of living life as the person underneath that armor at the end of the day outweighs any bullshit life hands out.
I think I always knew I was gay, but along the way I buried myself deep into the closet. When I was younger, that wasn’t a big deal because I was mostly consumed with sports (somewhere out there exists a 6th grade essay on my dreams of becoming Sheryl Swoopes). To this day I’m not sure what it was exactly that kept me so far in the closet. There are a few factors I’ve come up with: fear of being bullied by peers, fear of overwhelming catholic guilt, or fear of not fitting in with everyone. Without a doubt kids can be cruel, and I certainly had a fear of being ostracized (I was already teased occasionally for being a bit on the chubbier side growing up). Being raised catholic didn’t help either, there was this notion that anything other than growing up, marrying a man, and having kids was unacceptable. Even in my younger years I had a problem with over-thinking things, so I kept quiet on how I really felt and dated boys instead.
During middle school I was still consumed with sports, mostly basketball, and at the time I had a best friend who was exactly the same way. We were inseparable to say the least, and because we were so alike we sometimes would buttheads more often than not. I think that’s what ended up tearing us a part in high school, and how we ended up eventually drifting apart completely. The reason our friendship is still a vivid memory for me is because despite how close we were, neither of us ever spoke to the other about the struggle we were both going through. I often wonder if we had confided in each other back then if things would have been easier with a relatable shoulder to lean on.
Of course that is not how things turned out. Life has its twists and turns for a reason, and ultimately coming out in a small town at a young age might have been more difficult to face than either of us could handle back then. Coming out at any point in life takes strength, I know for myself I wasn’t ready to face any adversity at anytime other than when I did. Being certain that there will be some sort of solid support system by your side helps the process.
For me I was at a point where I couldn’t stand pretending to be happy when inside I knew I was miserable. In the summer of 2011 is when I began to open my eyes to the person I really was instead of the facade I’d been portraying. Taking a walk down the streets of Cape May on a warm summer night after I just got done a shift at the Ugly Mug was when I first blurted the words “I think I could be gay”. Even then I was in denial, and still so consumed with how people would react. The tall, adorable, and handsome ginger I was walking with and confiding to that night had already gone through the process of coming out. He was (still to this day continues to be) my rock who knew the quickest way to cheer me up was to sing me show tunes.
After that summer was over and months of being in denial of trying to overcome my own internalized homophobia I was back at Millersville. I had recently broken up with my ex boyfriend, but still was sharing a dorm room with his sister (I still don’t know how I manage to get myself into such awkward scenarios). I was attempting to finally come into the shell of myself, while still keeping my private life private from some people which proved to be a difficult situation.
So, for the most part that semester was spent still in the closet up until before Christmas break. I was hanging out at my ex boyfriend’s apartment off campus drowning myself in tequila shots and watching Christmas movies. Some would say it was the tequila; I like to call it liquid courage (alcohol after all for so long was what I depended on to help ease me through situations) that had me on his front step crying my eyes out. In that moment, which I’ll never forget, I realized for so long I was living a lie and I could no longer take the unhappiness it was causing me. I was on the phone with my best friend at the time that had only come out to me over a year ago. Sometimes I think being surrounded by people who had to deal with a similar coming out process helped me conclude what I was afraid of admitting for so long. It was the beginning for me. It was the start of a continuous struggle of having to come out, but most important the start of no longer having to hide who I was.
Pretending to be something you are not, sucks. There is no other way to sugarcoat it. Going through life not being able to express fully who you are makes life feel dull in certain ways. It wasn’t until I began telling friends, family, and other loved ones the secret I had been holding back for so long that a weight felt lifted off of my shoulders. In some sense it was liberating, but also absolutely terrifying. The reason I stayed in the closet as long as I did was the fear of not being accepted, but I hit a point in my life where I wasn’t going to let that fear stop me from living my life to the fullest.
Letting any sort of fear have that kind of control over your life isn’t worth it in the end. The same goes for anyone in your life that can’t accept you for the person you know you are on the inside. Those who are meant to remain in your life will, and those that bring any negativity into your life in any way aren’t worth keeping around.
Being away at a school in a different state where no one really knows the person you were in high school helps a lot when dealing with coming out. There isn’t any needed explanation of telling someone “I’m gay”, it just is and the night continues. That’s more or less how my coming out at college went down. Within the same instance I knew exactly how gay I really was because nothing felt more natural and exciting than being with a girl for the first time. I was both awkward and giddy all in the same moment (those two adjectives sum me up completely). Coming out at college was easier for me than the rest of the process. I enjoyed that semester to the full extent, but soon came the time to go home for the summer and tell everyone that mattered to me back in my hometown something that I had been keeping quiet.
In terms of family coming out can be scary and difficult for a lot of reasons. From my personal experience and also observation from others religious or conservative beliefs are some of the major factors as to why people fear coming out to their family. There is also just the initial fear of how your loved ones will react to you revealing a piece of yourself that you’ve kept hidden. It’s complete vulnerability. I was always close to both of my sisters and dad, so revealing a part of me that I had been keeping tucked away was difficult. My sisters were a bit thrown off at first (I think their gaydar was broken or I was just really convincing at being “straight”) , but through everything they were completely supportive. I’m lucky enough to have sisters who no matter what life could throw at any one of us in the end it’s a bond that will never break.
The funniest and hardest part of my coming out process was telling my dad. Keeping things from him was a lot harder than the process of actually telling him I was gay. The one person I confide to about everything is my dad. This is where the hesitation and fear of telling him played out because of religious beliefs. I was sure because of religion he wouldn’t be able to accept me, regardless of how close we were. I’ve seen both sides play out, and thankfully I was lucky enough to receive unconditional love regardless of my orientation.
At first when I told him he I had something big to announce he threatened to kick me off the car insurance if I had received another ticket (I assured him it wasn’t anything so serious, but I’m really not that bad of a driver). I remember just kind of blurting it out and seeing the surprised look on his face followed by the words “You know you’re allowed to be catholic and still be gay”.
Not enough people who come out to parents from a strict religious background hear words like that, and I really wish those kids could hear what I got to. That who you are attracted to does not mean you are defected or no longer deserving of love.
My coming out story with my dad doesn’t end there. Much like my lazy eye, big ears, stubbornness, and hopeless romantic heart I also get my strange sense of humor from my dad. A few moments later on in the evening he went outside to wash his car and within a few seconds stormed through the front door. As he ran up the stairs I asked him what was wrong and he replied, “Well you literally surprised the shit out of me!” while holding his behind.
That was the beginning to an unforgettable summer. Each and everyone one of my friends that I came out to showed me nothing short of absolute support. I’ve learned it’s important to always surround yourself with people that are going to hold you above water and keep you a float. My first summer out of the closet in my hometown was filled with wonderful memories and it makes me realize I would never want my coming out story to be altered in anyway. I was surrounded by co-workers where during those long restaurant hours and busy shoobie nights transformed into family members. They held my hand through it all and kept a permanent smile on my face. I learned love and heartache that summer too, but then I wasn’t aware that it was merely the beginning of my story.
Coming out of the closet can be frightening, but when the time is right (only you know when that time is) a weight is lifted off of your shoulders. Life is filled with bumps in the road, but coming out isn’t a bump it’s a personal triumph. No matter how early or late you decide the time is right to come out, realize this is only the beginning. The rest of the journey isn’t a promise of paved roads, but this is the start of living life on the right side of the closet.