Culture | When I knew what to say

Stories from queer students about coming out at different ages

“They know.”

Somewhere in the courtyard of Solin Hall somebody throws a beer bottle and it smashes against the concrete.

“What do you mean?” I ask. My sister has been trying to call me for two days. I’ve been at McGill for four. I’ve missed ten of her calls. In the middle of my first college party, she calls me again.

“Mom and Dad. They found your journal. They know.”

The words slowly sink in. My heart begins to beat, my hands start to tremble, and it’s all I can do not to slump into a pile on the floor.

“What do you want me to do?” She asks me.

I’m drunk and confused and I can’t process what has just happened.

“I don’t…” I can’t finish my sentence. I don’t know what comes next. My friend comes over to me and mouths “Are you okay?”

“Tom.” My sister is being insistent. “Tom, what do you want me to do?”

 

***

 

In the fifth grade I tried looking at porn for the first time. I typed “boobs” into google image search, only to find the results less than stimulating. Hesitatingly, I typed in “penis”. If there were ever one moment in which I definitively knew I was gay that would be it. The time I typed “penis” into google images search with SafeSearch off.

The story is more complicated than that though. For years, I continued attempting to be attracted to women. My first make out session happened in the seventh grade with a girl who was so scared I almost felt bad afterwards. Throughout this, my gayness didn’t feel real, somehow only abstract. “Gay” was just a word I used to find porn.

In the eighth grade, everyone discovered fingering and the jig was up. I had absolutely no desire to stick my hand in a vagina. If google image search made me realize I was gay, it was fingering a girl that had cemented it. For the first time the word “gay” began to take shape as my sexual identity. In the back of the bus on the way home I remember mouthing to myself “I am gay”– it felt strange and horrible and shameful.

 

***

 

I was raised in a strict Evangelical household, with mandatory church group on Sunday and Wednesday nights. I grew up going on mission trips, singing praise and worship, and taking communion.

In this world, being gay was not acceptable. For a long time my shame was so great that I would pray to God to stop me from feeling the way I did. In the sixth grade I remember singing “How Great Thou Art”, tears streaming down my face, just wanting more than anything to be straight. By the eighth grade, I had started coming to terms with it and my shame turned to anger. At God, the Church, and my parents. I hated them all. I hated them for making me hate myself. I hated them for making me think for so long that who I was was wrong.

The anger and the hate built and contorted until it made me into someone I know longer like or knew. I began to live for other people, and my life was a struggle not to seem gay. I was busy convincing everyone that I was fine when I was being slowly eaten from the inside. I had friends, but I didn’t trust them. I had a family, but I thought they would disown me. I laughed, I went out, I pretended to be normal. Each day, got harder to pretend, and what was once the horrifying thought of coming out became the only way to make it all stop.

Somewhere around tenth grade I got tired of hiding, I was exhausted and unhappy and lonely. I told a friend a friend I thought I trusted, and she told a couple of her friends. It snowballed, and by my senior year, and entirely without my consent, everyone knew.

I had my first real sexual encounter on a cot at a Model United Nations conference in Philadelphia with a confused boy who had a girlfriend, and then I got home and wrote a journal entry about it.

 

***

 

Four days after arriving at McGill my parents found the journal. My mother had been cleaning my room, found it, and read the whole thing, including the part about having sex with my high school boyfriend. She immediately called my sister, who already knew, and she called me.

I avoided all contact with my family in the weeks that followed. My parents tried to call twice, but I pushed them both directly to voicemail. They sent emails. I ignored them. Finally, in early October, one month after they had read about my first time, I called them on Skype.

They appeared on my MacBook looking tired and ragged.

“The first thing we want to tell you is that we love you.”

 

***

 

I wish I could remember more from that conversation. At some point, I released a manifesto to them about who I am, how they couldn’t change me if they wanted to, and how I was completely fine if they didn’t want me to be their son anymore. There was a lot of crying and then I finally hit the red button at the top of my screen, crawled into bed, and didn’t do anything for a long, long time.

That Thanksgiving was marked by more tears, more assertions of my sexuality, and a list of ultimatums. Christmas came and went with little fanfare – with the notable exception of Christmas Eve, which entailed a drunken confrontation and more tears.

That summer, on a balmy evening in July, my mother came into my room as I was surfing the Internet, and asked me to close my laptop and look at her.

“I won’t pretend this isn’t hard for us, but I love you, and I will always love you, but you have to give us time to process this. We didn’t see it coming, and it’s very hard for us.”

“Okay,” I said, “That’s fine.”

This past winter, when Skyping with the boy I had been hooking up with, my mother came into my bedroom to get something. “Whose that?” she asked. “*Dan.” She walked over to my computer, stuck her face in front of my laptop, and said, “Hi, Dan, I’m Tom’s mom. It’s nice to meet you.” On her way out she mouthed two words to me; “He’s cute.”


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