One small task at a time

By Warren Arbogast

I don't have to tell anyone who reads this web site that coming out is challenging. First you have to go through the challenge of determining if you are, indeed, gay (which is no small task) and then if you are gay you have to ACCEPT the truth and "come out to yourself." Again, this is no small task. And the reward for all this work is you get to either come out to others OR keep what you know about yourself TO yourself. Or a mixture of the two. Again, no small task.

I came out to myself fairly late in life. I was 32. At 14, my parents inquired as to whether I was gay questioning, and in the process spoke loudly to me in words and body language: "it's a choice, and you must choose 'no.'" I had been messing around with another boy my age, and felt my parents were "onto me." So, for 18 years, I chose "no." I finished high school with no dates, skipped my prom, and quickly met and fell in love with a girl in college. She was the first (and remains the only) female I'd ever been with sexually. We got married six months out of college, bought a house, and, within 3 years, started having children. Today my son is 12 and my daughter 10.

When my son turned five, something clicked inside of me. He constantly reminded me of myself as a boy. I saw joy I'd forgotten, a life I'd suppressed. And I felt a horrible gnawing inside. I knew that if I was going to provide for him and his sister an example for living truthfully, I had to face the issue of my true sexuality head-on. I'd suppressed it 18 years and throughout all this time I never had any experience with another male. But I constantly prayed for God to "kill me if I was gay in ANY way." At 32, I knew I had to answer the questioning I'd put off for nearly two decades. In other words, at 32 I was where you are now.

Still convinced that being gay was a choice, I sought help. I found a psychiatrist who convinced me that being gay was indeed a choice and that medication would assist me in achieving my chosen goal: heterosexuality. Optimistically, I started down perhaps the most scariest path I've ever taken. To keep things brief, let me tell you where the path ended: on a suicide watch, in a hospital. I'd been taking nine medicines daily for months, becoming more and more a zombie with each passing day, and the weight of everything crashed in around me. I took all of my prescriptions, gathered the numerous pills together in a sort of colorful pile and contemplated taking them all.

I was a basket case and saw absolutely no reason to live. I had everything to lose. My marriage. My children. My job. I was teaching at a major university and knew that being gay meant the end of that (which turned out to be the truth). I knew that being gay meant everyone would hate me (which turned out not to be the truth), and I knew that there was no way I could have a committed relationship with a single person, a "husband" (which also turned out not to be the truth).

After surviving the suicide watch and getting fully off of the highly addicted medicines to which I'd become enslaved, I had a great lot of work ahead of me. I had to accept the truth myself FIRST. Then I had to come out to my wife. And my children. And I had to change jobs. There was a great lot to steer through. And I could only do it one small task at a time.

What is important for those reading this to know is this: above all, you must be kind to yourself. You must recognize and appreciate the strength you have inside of you to even face this issue in the first place, and especially at such an early age. For dealing with the question, you must feel proud of yourself! This isn't just "pep rally talk," this is serious advice. Think of the harm I did to myself, dodging the issue for almost 20 years! Think of the unkind way I was treating myself: praying for God to kill me if I should be truthful.

If you are gay or straight, bisexual or transgender is not necessarily important right now. What is important is that you take your time, work at the issue at your own pace, and, above all, continually be KIND TO YOURSELF. If it is true that you are not heterosexual, I'm here to tell you that there's a huge, amazing world out there for you! A few years ago I met a young person who was at suicide's door. He was 16 and felt his life was over. He told me that being gay meant a lifetime of despair. He wanted children and wanted to be happy. Today, he's in the military. He is out to his family, who all accepted him. He is out in his hometown and despite some angst from the general bigotry that we all encounter, he's made MORE friends, not LESS. He has learned from my partner that he may well meet a man one day who has children...or he may adopt children.

Last year I worked with another young man, who at 19 and Hispanic was dying inside. Being gay was against everything his "Hispanic culture stood for," or so he told me. He struggled. He hated admitting that he was gay. It took a l-o-n-g time before he could say the words to himself. And, all the while, I told him: "BE KIND TO YOURSELF. You are facing a tough situation and NOT looking the other way. I'm proud of you! I personally could care less whether you are gay or straight, instead I care that you are kind to yourself, go at a pace that YOU define for yourself, and be honest with yourself. The answer will come. We have to make sure you are healthy and kind to yourself as you work towards it." Today, he has come out to a few people in his family. He has a boyfriend who he loves dearly. His work will accept him (I know this because the firm for which he works is a client of the business I now own and operate!). But he must go at HIS pace and thus he has tasks still ahead.

What you are enduring now is work. Honestly, I'm proud of you! I lost many years and caused many people great pains that could have been avoided. You won't get where you want to be ("done with this issue!") tomorrow. It takes time. But discovering your truth is both "do-able" and worth it. Beating yourself up or hating yourself doesn't help in ANY way.

I mentioned earlier that my son is 12. He turned 12 on Valentine's Day. His mom, stepdad, sister and I celebrated his birthday together. We went to a fast-food place and saw a movie. He opened his presents from his new grandparents, my partner's parents. We did the sort of things every 12 year old likes. Today, I shudder to think what his birthday would have been like for him had I swallowed all the pills, had I not endured the many small tasks in this process.

Be kind to yourself. You are worth it.

Warren Arbogast, 37

Charlottesville, Virginia


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