I grew up in a house with no privacy. My family didn’t knock on doors, and on the rare occasion when they did, the door was already opening.
The constant threat of inspection loomed over my bedroom, under the guise of “tidying up.” Mom eventually found my primitive stash: a Pokémon lunch box filled with underwear and swimsuit advertisements from the Sunday paper. Before you judge me, this was pre-internet so my options were limited. Don’t ask me how I explained my way out of that one, my brain has blocked it out like it would a traumatic car accident.
I was bombarded with questions about everything I did, might do, wanted to do, people I knew, work, school, every aspect of my life was under intense scrutiny at all times. And not just scrutiny, I was also given constant “advice.” I put that in quotes because, really, I was being told what to do. If things went wrong, well, it was because I didn’t do as I was told.
So when I saw that poster for the Walt Disney World College Program, my 18-year-old self was ecstatic. I could work at Disney World! I don’t think it even occurred to me that it meant I would have some distance between me and my life inspectors. It was simply about being part of that world, making that magic…and free park access.
Side note: It was a nerdy dream come true. I mean, I got to test the Expedition Everest coaster in Animal Kingdom and see the Yeti in his full, pre-disco glory! Sure, the pay was crap but it was a fun experience.
Now, nearly a thousand miles from home, I finally had room to think about me. What did I want, what did I think, what did I like? I mean, I had known from a very early age that I wasn’t like the other boys but I was raised Catholic so those thoughts and feelings were “bad.” With this newfound freedom, though, I could figure it out for myself instead of having everything dictated to me. And cue the switch to “bisexual” on my MySpace page. I knew that wasn’t true but it seemed like maybe it would be easier for everyone else if I segue to gay.
I started chatting with boys online, had a date or two in Florida, and even found a dude back in Pittsburgh for my inevitable return. Once I got back, I remembered, oh yeah…I live under a microscope so I had to get my friends in on it with stuff like, “I have a date on Thursday night so we’re all hanging out at your house, when I’m really going to other place with dude, k?”
It worked for a time but as you can imagine, this was exhausting. I had to do something and again, the House of Mouse provided the answer: Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast was coming to Pittsburgh. That’s great, I could get tickets, take mom, have a magical night and then I can say, “I’m gay,” out loud and proud. And they will all live happily ever after.
At least that was the plan until I made the mistake of leaving my cell phone on the kitchen table while I went outside to get the mail. I came back in to see that the wallpapers on the inner and outer screens of my flip phone had been changed to a shirtless mirror selfie of Dude. I also see that the photo has been texted to my mom’s cell phone.
My fourteen-year-old brother had outed me.
Mom called asking why I have such pictures on my phone and I panicked. I hung up and got in my car and just drove. I called my former supervisor from Disney, Chris, who was also gay. He actually took me to my first gay bar, Pulse Orlando. Yeah, that Pulse was my first gay bar. He talked me down, told me it will be ok, that I’ve got this. Easy for him to say. I honestly don’t remember when I got back home or how the rest of that day went.
My mom came to my room that night, asking all kinds of questions and I barely spoke. I just cried. I could not bring myself to say the words, just implied it until we had reached an “understanding.” I even told her she could tell dad, grandma, everyone else.
As my therapist pointed out: I had been violated and, like the rest of my life, my coming out story wasn’t mine anymore. All I had left was that one sentence I couldn’t say: “I’m gay.” And I clung to it desperately.
That is what living in a toxic world was like for me: no sense of security, safety, privacy…or self. Through the panic, anxiety, triggers, and depression, I still work to figure out just who in the world am I? But it has actually been a rather interesting journey. I’ve realized the freedom and happiness that comes with finally being able to make decisions for myself. And that person I’ve been waiting to be all my life, well…I’m excited to get to know him.
Happy Coming Out Day, dear readers. Visit me on Instagram and tell me your story. I’d love to hear from you.
For resources on coming out, understanding pronouns, being a good ally, and more, check out the Human Rights Campaign website.