The following was written for a national contest in writing. The paper I wrote was about my experience coming out to the world as a gay human being. I love the paper and am deeply attached to it. I will find out in February 2000 if I won. Enjoy that paper. I hope makes you laugh, make you remember parts of your own life, and encourage others to do the best thing in the world they can for themselves. Enjoy.
The dock that stretched out over the lake was faintly brown and chipped everywhere. We sat on the end of the dock, our bare feet swishing around in the freezing water. Tiny fish darted and meandered around our feet and a cool breeze crept over us. I zipped up my sweatshirt and wrapped my arm around Evelyn. The playfulness and perfection of the moment was betrayed by the extremely serious conversation we were having.
"Are you going to say it'"
"Say what'" I asked, pretending to be naive.
Evelyn grunted impatiently. "Josh, you've been writing about it, you've been talking about it -- but you've never directly said it. It's been just below the surface in our relationship for over ten months now."
I looked at my hands for a moment. I lifted my gaze to hers as tears began to well up in her eyes. She sniffled quietly and, with a hint of frustration, brushed a strand of hair out of her face. The sounds of distant sea gulls squawking and bantering intruded upon the unyielding silence.
"I've never said it aloud," I confessed.
"I know," she said, her bottom lip quivering. "I know."
I was surprised when tears came into my own eyes. It seemed a heavy, constricting weight had formed in the back of my throat, inhibiting my ability to speak.
"Josh, I've been your girlfriend for almost five years now. I know you really, really well." She paused briefly, and I could tell from the look on her face that she was choosing her words carefully. "Josh, I won't love you any less. It'll be different, but I'll always be here."
A tear slipped down my cheek. I took a deep breath and made direct eye contact with her.
"I'm gay," I said flatly.
The words stunned me. I felt a mixture of shock, horror, and elation all at once. I felt liberated and empowered and yet terrified. I have never spoken those words in my entire life.
I tried it again.
"I'm gay," I said, a little louder. I paused and refocused my mind.
"Yeah, I'm gay," I said with a dash of confidence.
She smiled at me with tears running down her face. When she hugged me she clung to me as if it was the last time she was ever going to see me.
"There you go," she whispered. "I knew you could do it." At last I had confided my awakening feelings to her, and sadly my confession ended our five-year relationship indefinitely.
I silently thanked God. I wasn't exactly sure what I was thankful for, but I thanked God wholeheartedly anyway. At the age of fifteen, the longest, hardest, and most fulfilling journey of my life began.
A few days later I found myself walking through the cold metal turnstiles of the public library. I had told my mother that I was working on an honors biology project and had even brought my textbook into the library as a prop. I felt like a secret agent, slyly avoiding the enemy and making everyone think I was an unsuspecting passer-by instead of a man with a mission.
With furtive glances in all directions I stepped up to one of the computer terminals. I placed the biology textbook next to me so anybody coming remotely near me would think perhaps I was working on a science fair project or a mid-term paper. I was careful to place my body directly in front of the screen before I typed in the word "gay," and pressed the return key. The computer began whirring, and suddenly dozens of titles were spinning before my eyes. I feverishly wrote down the numbers plastered on the screen and scuttled off into the shelves of books.
I felt I was going on a treasure hunt that would let me know who I was. I worked my way around much of the library, gathering at least a dozen books. I clutched the books in my arms, holding them so the titles were covered. I made my way to a private corner of the library where I devoured all of the sacred information. I read about the hundreds of people throughout history like Michelangelo, Alexander the Great, and Walt Whitman who were gay and had positively impacted the world. I read about intelligent activists who showed me how ridiculous and frivolous homophobia was. I read gay people need to first overcome all their fears and prejudices about gay people -- something the authors called internalized homophobia -- so gay people can learn to accept themselves. I also read that gay people need to know themselves thoroughly and be centered so they can deal with all the opposition they may face in life. With my voracious hunger for knowledge not yet satisfied, I consumed a book of essays by gay teens. They told stories of how their parents reacted to finding out their children were gay and how their friends and schoolmates reacted. Of equal interest to me were stories about the trials and tribulations of young, forbidden love as told by the young gay authors.
My head was spinning. It was becoming quite clear to me that nothing was wrong with being gay. For me, being gay was the most natural thing in the world. It felt right. I had always believed love was beautiful no matter what form it took. I was sure that God sanctified all love.
I felt more and more comfortable as I said the words "I'm gay." I practiced them in front of the mirror in my bedroom. I wrote about being gay in my journal and read about being gay in books. I felt validated and confirmed as a human being. I had a deep sense within myself that I was on my way to becoming a whole person.
I started doing wonderful things for myself. I started running three miles every other day, lifting weights, and kickboxing. I concentrated on healthy eating, good sleep patterns, and making academics the shining star of my life. I felt invincible. Sheer happiness and euphoria spilled over into my daily life. People began asking what had changed and I would hesitate and say, "Well, nothing big."
I had become completely truthful and honest with myself but still hadn't told anyone I was gay. During one particularly grueling kickboxing routine I began thinking about what I was telling people -- I was gay. I rushed home after the class was finished with a sense of urgency.
I began examining my own fears. I opened a notebook and started writing. I wrote, "To come out or not to come out. That is the question? I've been chewing and debating on this for a long time. Now things are intensifying.
For example: Aur'lian is trying to set me up with so many different girls and he can't understand why I'm not interested in them. I don't like it here in the closet, but it seems much safer here. Well, I've got to get out of the safety zone. Deep down I am scared of violence and continued harassment.
Those aren't paranoid, absurd fears. I'm afraid of being called "faggot" in the halls, of having my teachers and classmates treat me differently. I am afraid of not having a response for all the haters. I can't imagine sitting in an English or science class and having all the people know I'm gay. But, it has to happen sometime I guess. Maybe I should wait for junior year? But what if I get to junior year and then say I'll wait for senior year? Then what? I can't be pure me unless I'm truthful about who I am. I pledge to myself that I will come out soon. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon."
With that manifesto written, I challenged myself further and slowly started to gently nudge myself out of the closet. I started to tell family and friends the truth, but each time I started to really say what I meant a knot seemed to tighten in my stomach. But it didn't take me much longer before I started to tell people the truth.
I picked up the phone. I hung it up again. I picked it up, dialed five digits, and then hung it up again. I sighed. Briefly I wondered if I was insane. Didn't gay people get rejected by their friends and family? Didn't they get spit on and pushed in the halls and get called "queer bastards'" I told my fears to shut up and again picked up the receiver.
I called my best friend Ariel first.
"You're gay?" She asked, sounding giddy. "You know, I wondered about that. So who do you think is cute in our school?"
Her reaction shocked me. She came from a respectable, wealthy Jewish family. For some reason I thought her wealth and religion would have an effect on her response to gay people. I always assumed maybe she would be judgmental or cold about the whole gay topic. The truth was she didn't think it was a big deal at all.
When Ariel and I finished talking I decided to call another close friend. "You're gay?" Alisha asked incredulously. Then she laughed and sounded relieved. "Josh, I've been in love with you for two years and I've always wondered why you never responded to my flirtations or the trail of hints I left you. I thought maybe I wasn't cute enough or maybe? I don't know." She laughed again. "I feel a lot better now." Suddenly her voice became quiet and she seemed very concerned. "Josh, are you okay with this? I mean, you're not depressed or anything, are you?" I laughed and assured her that I was definitely fine.
I worked through my entire speed dial list of twenty people that Sunday afternoon. Nobody hung up on me, nobody called me names, and nobody rejected me. Instead was met with people who were thankful I trusted them and cared enough about them to be truthful and honest. Many of them had a slew of questions which they asked and I answered to the best of my ability.
When I opened the door to my house I could hear the phone ringing. I tossed down my backpack, peeled off my shoes, and frantically ran for the phone.
"Hello?" I said, trying to sound calm and composed.
"Hi Joshua, it's Grandpa."
"Oh, hi, Grandpa!"
"I got your message and called you back right away. Sounded like you wanted to talk."
For a moment I balked.
"Well, I wanted to tell you something."
"I've got all the time in the world," he said patiently. It might take that long, I thought to myself.
"Well? Do you remember Evelyn, my girlfriend?"
"Is she the blond that makes the good angel food cake'"
"Yeah, yeah that's her," I said quickly. "And, uhm, we broke up not too long ago."
"Why?" Grandpa inquired compassionately. "Well, grandpa... I, uhm... I like boys." Then I bravely added, "I mean, I like boys and not girls." There was a deafening silence from the other end.
"You mean you're gay?" Grandpa asked gently. I didn't even know he knew what the word "gay" meant.
"Yeah. I am."
He sighed. "Well, I don't know if being gay is a sin, but why don't you ask Jesus forgiveness just in case. God forgives all sins, you know. Jesus always loved the downtrodden. He always was with the lepers and poor and tried to give them hope."
My heart was soaring. My grandfather, one of the most devout Roman Catholics walking the face of the earth, had just said it was okay I was gay. He had accepted me. I thought the hardest battle had just been forged. I was very, very wrong about that.
I told my parents during dinner. My mother stopped eating and looked like she had choked on her mashed potatoes. My father just looked confused.
"Josh, there are many teenagers who get confused and explore things."
"I know, mom, but this isn't just a phase that can be dismissed. I've been dealing with this for over a year now. They're pretty strong feelings, too."
Mom looked like she was going to lose her dinner. She looked pale and depressed. I felt a surge of guilt as I saw the pained, sad expression on her face. "Well, I wonder what happened," she said pensively. She listed off events and things and people she though could have "made me" gay.
"Mom, being gay isn't caused by something. It's something innate. Nobody can make a straight person gay and nobody can make a gay person straight. People are who they are." I went on to educate my parents with all the information I'd gathered over the past months.
"Josh, you're too young to know you're gay," my mother said frantically.
"Really? Okay, take my friend Kenny for example. He's been with his girlfriend Melissa for almost a year. Is he too young to know that he's straight?" My mother had nothing to say to that and instead changed the subject.
"There's nurture and there's nature," my mother stated. "Josh, I don't believe you're gay. You were with Evelyn for ... what, five years? -and I know you loved her. Josh, you don't have to be gay."
"Mom... Dad... Don't you understand what I'm saying? It takes some serious guts to sit here and bare my soul to you. I don't want to lie, I don't want to pretend. I want you to know who I am." I started rambling. "If I'm gay or straight or if I want to be an architect or an actor or if I want to live in Africa or Arkansas I'll still love you and you'll still love me. Isn't that the way it works?"
"Joshua, I'll always love you. I just don't want to deal with this." She got up from the table and cleaned her plate. The plate clattered noisily in the sink as she left the room.
My parents weren't behind me. They didn't understand that I could never be happy and contented with a girl. They later went on to make it quite clear I wouldn't be allowed to date or have gay friends while I lived under their roof. My parents and I had always been very close, and I felt very hurt by their adverse reaction. When my mom and I went on car trips we would blast the radio and sing at the top of our lungs. My mom and I would sit on the couch and have elaborate discussions about college and my future for hours on end. My dad and I would sit and watch the Vikings games and talk about things that were bothering me during the commercials.
I responded to their negative reaction by moping around the house and school. I was angry, sad, and bitter. After a week of that unstable, disgusting emotional mix, I decided to put their reaction behind me as much as possible. I would always love my parents and they would always love me, but perhaps some issues existed which we could not work through. My strength was momentarily shaken, but I moved on to more important things.
My newly discovered inner strength and confidence kept my life moving. I continued to visit the library under the guise of needing to do research or study. From reading books I learned how to deal with homophobic people and learned how to function as a gay person in a straight world. Through all of this new education and self-care I had found contentment within myself.
At the end of my sophomore year I decided to take all of my courage and "out" myself to my school. I told my favorite teachers I was gay. All of them responded positively and many said they would be available to talk with me, day or night, if I needed to talk with someone.
One of my teachers even suggested I join PROUD, the school's Gay/Straight Alliance. I joined and soon became one of the most active members. During one meeting we decided we should have speakers go around to different classes to talk about being gay. I volunteered to be a speaker. The thought of being a speaker on gay issues to my peers struck fear into my heart, yet a reciprocal burning desire to charge at the opportunity finally took precedence.
Kristin and I made our first presentation at our high school when only ten days were left in the school year. It was warm and sticky outside and a feeling of restlessness hung thick in the air. Sunlight shone through the windows clumps of students sat near the windows, soaking in the sun like little green plants. My attention wasn't focused on the weather, however. I was about to make my first presentation to a classroom full of peers. Before walking into the classroom I almost threw up. I put my head between my legs and told Kristin I didn't think I could do the presentation.
"Don't do this for anybody but you," Kristin said fearlessly. "Later you can worry about the other people. Talking about being gay is only going to make this easier for both of us in our own lives. And maybe you can even take the fear factor out of the word "gay" by showing them we're just like them. Maybe you can help stomp out homophobia and help stop hate and ignorance." She paused before she delivered the clincher. "But you're never going to do that unless you take my hand and walk through that door right now. You have less than three minutes to decide before we're supposed to speak."
My heart told me to get up. I knew I wanted to do this presentation. I shifted my mindset from fear to confidence. I called to mind everything I knew about myself and about being gay. As we walked through the door of the classroom I smelled the familiar antiseptic smell of our health and science department. From neat little rows of desks thirty pairs of eyes peered at me silently with hints of curiosity and skepticism.
"My name is Josh and this is Kristin," I said calmly and crisply. "We're from PROUD, the school's Gay/Straight Alliance and we're here to talk to you about being gay and particularly about being gay in high school." After that point I was on a roll. Kristin and I told them our personal stories and then moved to a group discussion format, allowing the students to ask any questions they had for us.
By the end of the day I felt like I had helped make the world a better place. I hadn't cured cancer, I hadn't won the presidential nomination, I hadn't figured out how to feed starving children in Somalia. I had, however, told 92 peers about my life and helped dispel fears and stereotypes of gay people.
I felt I could have strapped on running shoes that very moment and run a marathon in two hours flat. I felt I had found a purpose in life. I had done a very, very good thing.
Two years have passed since I sat on that rickety old dock, confessing to my long-time girlfriend that I was gay. I have conquered my fears and become educated on the topic of gay rights and discrimination. I take care of myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually. As a result of my new experiences, I've become comfortable within my own skin.
I've told aunts, uncles, teachers, cousins, friends and acquaintances who I am. I have a support network stronger than a block of stainless steel. With the exception of my parents, each and every person has greeted me with open arms and congratulations on my honesty. Everywhere I go I hold my head up and stop letting the little things bother me and scare me. I found direction in my life. I've come home to myself.
Two years after the first admission I was gay I walked into Hopkins High School for my first day of junior year. I expertly navigated the halls and found my friends. As I walked through the halls of the school, I felt empowered and strong. I knew there was nothing I could not deal with in my day. I was myself and that was enough. That day I realized I had come home to myself. I've become a whole person.
(You can reach Joshua Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is his third article published in Oasis Magazine. Please include his name in the subject title of the e-mail and keep responses brief.)