I came out this past week to my boss. I had been contemplating taking this step for some time and had decided to do it before the end of this month. It’s not that I felt I had to tell him; I had decided that I wanted to. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I’ve arrived at a point where I want certain people to know me for who I really am. Because of my relationship with certain people in my circle of life, I began to increasingly feel that every day that goes by without them knowing the real me is another day that I, in a way, live a lie.
Jon, my boss, is part of that circle, and I had reached the point where I wanted him to know the real me. But I was still reticent and couldn’t visualize how I would get those first few words out of my mouth. What would I say? How would he react?
As it happened, an opportunity arose last week and I took it. Or rather, I forced myself to take it. He knew that my wife and I had separated and are in the process of divorce, so I decided to build on that. I told him that, though we had been having serious problems for several years, the straw that broke the camel’s back was President Packer’s talk at last October’s conference. I looked at his face to judge his reaction to this statement. There was none.
“Do you know what I’m referring to?” I asked.
“Yes, I think so,” was his reply. He waited.
Gulp. Here goes. “We’ll something inside me snapped as a result of that talk and its immediate aftermath,” I continued. “I’ve known since I was 12 that I’m gay, but I suppressed it and went ahead and got married. Although I tried for many years to live the kind of life that was expected of me and that I thought I had wanted, I knew after hearing President Packer’s remarks that I couldn’t go on – even if I’d wanted to.”
I paused for reaction. “Well [Invictus], I think that’s great!” he said. “I think that’s great that you have the courage to finally be true to yourself and live who you really are.”
Relief. A sense of warm satisfaction at having been accepted instead of rejected.
He then went on to say that he had known a guy some years before who had tried to lead a “double life.” Jon knew his friend was miserable. Everyone knew he was gay, but the guy thought no one knew. He had tried, because of his Mormon faith, to live as he was expected to live and to keep up the front, living behind a mask, but it had exacted a terrible price on him.
“So, I’m happy for you,” said Jon. “And,” he added, “I have to say that I’ve had my suspicions for quite some time.”
What?! How? Why? Did I cross my legs one too many times? Did I use too many questionable hand gestures? Was it something I said? He smiled and replied that it was nothing in particular, just a feeling.
The conversation then shifted to how the Church is handling the issue of homosexuality. “The Church is going to have to change,” he said. Jon is not an active LDS but comes from a distinguished Mormon family, and most of his siblings and extended family are very active in the Church. “More and more kids are coming out to their parents, and, increasingly, these families are not going to put up with the treatment their children get. We may not see it our lifetimes, but the doctrine will change; it has to.” He went on to tell me that he had several nieces, nephews and other members of his extended family who are gay; so his outlook has been informed by real-life situations in his own family.
I agreed with Jon that the Church’s position will have to change; I believe it is inevitable. But getting back to the here and now and to me, it felt so good to have Jon’s support, to not feel rejected once the real me had been revealed.
I thought about this experience over the next few days as I contemplated the next steps in my current coming-out phase. I thought primarily about my old bishop and my old ward – the people in the neighborhood in which my wife and children now live. And I again asked myself why I was afraid of them finding out.
I also thought how mortified I had been a week or so ago when I had been in a restaurant and had, in greeting a friend, kissed him on the lips before realizing what I was doing. As soon as I did it, I felt as if every eye in the restaurant was fixed on me. I avoided these fixed stares and looked down at the table in front of me. “What the hell did I just do!” I thought to myself. “I’m in downtown Salt Lake City, and I just kissed another man on the lips!” I felt as though I couldn’t breathe. Then, slowly, I looked up and let my eyes scan the restaurant. No one was looking at me. The stares I had felt had been my imagination. I allowed myself to breathe again.
As I was thinking about this and other experiences I’ve had in the past few weeks as I have entered a new phase of coming out, I came to a few realizations – all of which are kind of self-evident, but nevertheless were “revelations” to me.
First, I realized that the fear of rejection is ultimately what has been behind my apprehension at coming out, of moving further away from the closet door. And this led to a further realization: I was afraid of rejection because I have lived most of my life seeking approval and validation from others.
And why did I do this? Well, there are several reasons, but right near the top of the list is the self-loathing that flourished within me from the time I went through puberty, a result of my realization that I was a “homo.” Because I could not possibly love myself (due to who I was/am), I sought that love and validation from others.
This is one of the costs we incur living in the closet. In a perverse sort of looking glass, we hold a mirror out in front of us and see the disgusting, handicapped, warped person we perceive ourselves to be, while transmitting through that same glass the image by which we hope to be known to the world, always hopeful that no one will ever peek behind the glass to see the image we see of ourselves.
So, it occurred to me, one of the first steps one must make in coming out is to work up the courage to lay that looking glass down, to believe enough in one’s own self-worth and dignity so as to not be afraid to let the “real” person project outward.
For me, this has been an ongoing process since first coming out to myself last October. I have gradually been building a sense of self-worth, accepting who I am, then affirming that identity. At each step of the process, I had to feel good enough about myself in order for me to come out further; for if I didn’t feel good about myself, I would project shame, rather than affirmation.
Last week was another milestone for me. With each passing day, I feel myself becoming stronger. I am now at the point where I think I have decided to stop worrying about my old ward. I have decided not to come out to my old bishop. I have decided to leave all that behind and to just come right on out; and if those people find out, well, they find out. But I’m not going to worry about it anymore.