In honor of National Coming Out Day, here is my coming-out story, which I don’t believe I’ve ever posted here before.
I was raised Italian Catholic in a medium-sized city in central Pennsylvania (Altoona, for those who know what that is). The usual drill, Catholic school throughout elementary, junior high and high school. I had a couple of childhood girlfriends because that was what you were supposed to do. Never went further than kissing, because I was a)only feigning interest, b)a good Catholic boy and c)the most risk-averse kid you’ve ever met or will ever meet outside of therapy. I’d had attractions to men since I was at least five years old, because I remember the funny feeling in my tummy when I would watch Ron Ely running around the soundstage jungle in his Tarzan loincloth on Saturday afternoons.
When I was 14, I started being involved with “tea rooms”…pursuing gay sex with strangers in public restrooms. It was the only way I knew of to try to achieve that sort of intimacy with other men…I knew there was a gay bar in town in the way that EVERY junior high and high school student knows…as the subject of jokes. But I was obviously never going to get in at 14. So the restrooms were it. It was stupid, it was risky, it was illegal, and I was taking these men’s lives into my hands every time because I was underage (and didn’t look it if you didn’t look too closely).
Strangely, even while I was doing this, having anonymous sex with strangers in public restrooms, I was denying my homosexuality. It’s amazing just how much we human beings can hide from ourselves when we really don’t want to acknowledge it.
After graduating from Bishop Guilfoyle High School in 1989, I started college at Wheeling Jesuit College in West Virginia. West Virginia in the 80s. Yeah. I got through my first semester (barely…I was, in high school, a “gifted” student. Unfortunately, not having to work hardly at all to get good grades in HS, I was completely unprepared for college, with is more a difference in quality than simply degree), but started to flounder in my second. I became friends with Jeannie, the high-school-age girlfriend of one of my dormmates and she was the first person I came out to. Ever.
Jeannie and I were inseparable by then. Bestest friends (or BFFs, as the kids say today). And I could sense that she was starting to have feelings. In the face of possibly misleading this person that I loved more than anyone else ever, just not in a romantic way, I had to face the truth. I was gay. I came out to her…can’t remember exactly what part of the year this was. Probably just after the winter break, when we came back. She was…not shocked. Surprised, maybe. At the time I was very rigid in “acting straight”. (I’ve since loosened up a little…I can queen out with the best of 'em!) I’ve been told I have “good cover”.
Well, as anyone who’s ever come out knows, it’s like potato chips. Betcha can’t tell just one! I subsequently came out to my mother in the worst possible way…I wrote her a letter. Jeannie (my BFF), bless her, knew I needed to tell my mother, and while I was dithering at the mailbox, grabbed the letter from my hand and threw it inside. About a week later, I got a call on the dorm payphone (no ubiquitous cellphones back then), my mother sobbing and asking me where she messed up. It was an intense phone call. (She has since done a complete 180 on that…she loves my partner (more than me…okay, not MORE, but she does take his side more often than mine) and has more or less completely accepted my orientation)
Of course, again, the urge came upon me and I told my roommate’s girlfriend (who I was friends with). She encouraged me to tell my roommate and I did, later that evening. He handled it well.
Soon after this, my story got ahead of me. Eventually, the whole campus knew…to their credit, the administration of this Catholic college never discriminated against me. My failure was entirely my own fault, through my (non-coming-out-related) depression and sleep apnea.
As prologue, let me note that Jeannie, my bestest friend at the time, would several years later call me in my dorm room at Penn State (where I started to go after I came home from Wheeling) and tell me that she was seeing someone. “What’s his name?” I asked. “Sarah,” she replied. Just goes to show…you never know.