Robbie knew he was gay for years, but like many queer teens, it was something he felt he better keep to himself. Yeah, maybe he had told one or two close friends, but that was about all.
Except for the first time he told them, Robbie didn't talk much about being gay when he was with his friends. Rather than something openly acknowledged, his sexuality was treated like some dark and dirty secret they were all in on. Certainly not something to be proud of.
Robbie isn't much different than many of us in this respect. Bombarded with so many messages that proclaim the "wrongness" of homosexuality, we sometimes begin to believe these lies. Even when we don't believe them, they tell us what others think, and each new lie is one more nail keeping our closet door shut.
Coming Out Online
I met Robbie for the first time about a year ago, on America Online. We were introduced by Danny, then sixteen and a mutual online friend. Robbie wrote:
"Hi, my name is Robbie. I live in Tacoma, Washington, I am 15 years old, gay, and not too happy that I am in the closet. Up until recently, I had not placed much importance on whether or not I was IN THE CLOSET, but now, because of the overwhelming number of gay people, most importantly, Danny and Derek, I realize that something must be done.
I am working at coming out to my parents. I am not a good liar at all so it is really hard for me to hint around. I would love to be able to go to a youth group, but even though I go out a lot, I still would have to tell my mom where I was going. I am working up the courage, the strength, the diligence to do it, but I don't really know how. Got any tips?!?!? I would really appreciate some advice."
During the past year, the two of us write to each other regularly, a few times a week, and since his first letter, Robbie has gotten closer to telling his parents he's gay. But sometimes it's just all too easy to shelve the issue way in the back of your brain and not deal with it at all.
Robbie found an easy way to do that: Spend more and more time in school work, extracurricular activities, music practice, just about anything that takes you away from actually confronting being gay.
It's an approach I relate to, having spent twenty years of my life doing exactly the same thing. When someone asks why you don't have a girlfriend, you get really good at saying "Oh, I'm just so busy, I could never find time for a relationship." Funny how well this answer works, even when you're thirty years old.
Like with most things, avoiding this issue does nothing to help deal with it. Nor, over the long term, does it help you to feel better about yourself. It might sound like New Age psychobabble, but sometimes taking even very small steps does, in fact, get you closer to where you need to be.
Robbie took his yesterday.
Coming Out at the Counter
Robbie went to Borders (a national bookstore chain) last night. Sixteen years old now, he's got the additional freedom that comes with being able to drive.
He spent two hours at the bookstore, most of the time doing the "gay shuffle," only moving to the gay bookrack or grabbing a gay magazine when he was absolutely, positively sure no one was watching. Robbie said it went like this:
"Well, I went to Borders this evening, and, SURPRISE SURPRISE!!, I came out with very mixed emotions. I spent about two hours there, looking for books, checking out guys, and looking at gay poetry and magazines. I was there for two hours because it took me that long to actually STAND in front of the gay magazine section and browse. Needless to say, I was quite terrified.
I ended up BUYING a copy of 10 Percent, just because it looked so interesting. I was afraid when I took it off the shelf, because I thought 'How the hell am I going to walk up to the counter and pay for this?' Well, I did, along with several other books. The counter clerk, when he saw this, said 'I think this magazine is really good. Have you checked Tacoma Sounds, [a local queer paper]...I can't remember what it is called?' THIS WAS GREAT. He could identify."
I know how scared Robbie felt, remembering the first time I bought anything gay. But I've come to believe there's a lot of value in this simple act of paying for a queer magazine -- I often recommend it to people on the path to coming out. But with no prompting from me or anyone else, Robbie took this step. In doing so, he tacitly acknowledged who and what he was in a way he never had before. He had affirmed his gay identity.
Bolstered with courage from this experience, Robbie decided to go to the next bastion of queerness, the coffee shop, which went like this:
"So there I was, $40 bucks worth of stuff, and a GAY MAGAZINE that I bought all by myself. I was so happy, that I decided to further enunciate my gayness, and sit in the adjoining coffee shop, sip a cappuccino, and listen to the guy playing music. I opened up my magazine and looked inside, and read most of it.
During this time, I glanced over to see two guys, about my age, holding hands and enjoying a cappuccino. Wow, this must be the damn GAY HUB I had be searching for! Then I realized that my happiness was really screwed, because I couldn't participate in any of the fun, until I took care of a few necessities (ie, coming out to mom and family).
So began my sorrowful descent from the orgasm of life!! I had reached happiness in buying the magazine (simple minds, simple pleasures!!), but had been dashed in realizing that I couldn't have a boyfriend, or be openly gay, YET!
I had to leave Borders soon, because I was feeling ill, and figured that at some point, I was going to start crying..."
It's moments like these that can trigger important changes. Robbie's epiphany came on the ride home, as he thought about a local queer youth group he's never attended and, as he thought about the person he wants to be. The thing is, Robbie feels pretty good about being gay, but he just keeps holding it in, afraid of what others might think. Now, he's ready to do something about it:
"I need to be gay, openly, positively, and productively. I want to put a pink-triangle bumper sticker on my car, and when people ask me what that means, I can tell them. I want to go out, meet people, and find a boyfriend...
Maybe this is the catalyst I needed. Don't misunderstand, I am still scared about telling my mom, and what her reaction might be, but I have to. I NEED TO BE GAY!!."
Sometimes, if you're lucky, you get to a point where you just feel so good about yourself, of who you are -- and being gay is a big part of this -- that you want to tell everyone. For some people, it might be hard to imagine this would ever be the case, but it can be, when you work on it.
Robbie has reached that point, I think. Who knows how his mother will respond, but if it's like several other guys I know who came out over the last few months, it will be filled with love and support, even if there is some initial lack of understanding. It's hard to change a lifetime of misinformation overnight, you know.
But Robbie is on the way, having taken that next important step towards defining who he wants to be -- a step that began at a counter in a bookstore.