Coming Out

by Mike Fleming

Thursday, December 21st, 1995 -- It's funny how the littlest things can put life in perspective. Sitting here, some 30,000 feet over south eastern Alaska, there is so much that I want to say, but I don't know how to say too much. I'm not the best at putting my feelings and emotions into words, the lord knows that none of us are, but I do my best. That's all that any of us can really do, our best.

I'm here to tell you a story, it's not a pleasant story, it may even turn some stomachs, but it is a story that has to be told. It is the story of my life, while this may seem boring to many of you, wait until you read it, then make the judgment. That's all that I ask, and if you find that this is boring, you can throw it away and never even think about it. Maybe you will find it interesting, if so, then I have accomplished the goal of every writer, to influence at least one person. This is a story of my youth, growing up with a secret, a secret that few people know about, but one that I've been dying to tell people for years.

I've often heard that saying something is true isn't as tough as accepting it as fact. Let me tell you, it is. I know this from my personal experience. I guess I've known what I am ever since I was 12 years old, a small town boy in North Pole, Alaska. I was pretty much a loner, didn't get too close to many people until my senior year of high school, for the fear that they would find out what I am. North Pole is a small town, not much to do there, and many people there have closed minds to things that are "different" or "weird" or "unusual." My teenage years were a challenge for me. I often spent many weekends locked in my bedroom, watching TV or reading, or contemplating the end of my life. I guess by now you can tell that my secret is really bad, but yet, now that I know that it isn't quite so bad, I guess you're mistaken.

To this day (even though it still happens to me sometimes) I remember the long nights of crying myself to sleep, scared to accept the truth about myself. I remember longing to find other people like me. I remember trying to figure out why I was the way I was. I shared my secret with no one, until right after I turned 19, and was ready to accept it. Man, if I thought that dealing with it was tough, I was not even close to prepared for telling people. Not knowing who to tell, when to tell them, or even a damn good reason TO tell them, I selected someone. He and I had been friends for a while, but it wasn't until about two months earlier that we had begun to get close. I guess the main reason I told him was because I was tired of lying to him. After all, he was my best friend in the city, so I felt bad lying to him.

When I was 20, I'd had enough of the small town life and decided that I would move to Phoenix, Arizona to find, and to educate myself.. Above the education I have received at school, is the education that I have received in life. I have learned that they are thousands of people out there, that I am like. I found my people, associated with them, got to know them, and for the first time In my life, I was with people like me. The thrill that I got from that was like none other I'd ever experienced, but would experience many times over. I have become comfortable with whom I am and have even begun to enjoy living the lifestyle that it requires. I'll admit though, I would probably change it if I could, I said earlier, I still have times when I don't like myself, but with each day, those episodes are few and far between.

Jeff took it pretty well, he was shocked at first, and I got the hint of a little bit of disappointment in his eyes, but in the end he accepted me for whom I am, not what I am. His girlfriend, Teresa, is about the coolest person in the world when it comes to this topic. Just being able to tell her about what's going on in my life is something that I'd been looking for years. I think the main reason Jeff had trouble with my secret was because of his religious background. We all have our reasons, and that was his. The next person I told was my sister, and she took it well. She said that she never would've known. I guess I'd done a lot better at keeping it secret than I'd thought. It's nice being able to talk to someone in your family about it, when there's no one else to turn to when you need a shoulder to cry on. Stacey has been great with it, told me I'm always going to be one of the uncles to her children. I've told a few other people, and they've all been great with it, asking me questions, pointing out things that I might've overlooked, and they've stopped telling those jokes.

I think the main reason it's still pretty much a secret is because I'm afraid of what will happen if I tell too many people, or tell the wrong person. So much can happen, so many plans that I have can go down the drain. I'm cautious with whom I tell, I make sure that they are friends, not just say that they are friends. I hate being laughed at, but then again, who doesn't? Being laughed at is inhumane torture that no one should be subjected too. All the time I was growing up, I had very blonde hair. It was always a source of fun for the older people in my school. I learned quickly growing up that if someone sees something about you that they can use to hurt you, for the most part they will use it. I'm not trying to sound depressing, trust me, that's one of the last things on my mind. I'm just pointing out something, something that I have been noticing for many years now. Something that's wrong. Something that nothing can be done about. I'm not saying that I'm perfect, never picked on anyone in my life because of something about them. We've all done it, and as we get older, we do less and less of it.

I guess I've beat around the bush too much. Might as well just go ahead and spit it out. Put it where everyone can see and judge me. Time to put an end to the lies. Love me for who I am, not what I am. It's nothing my mother did while raising me. It's nothing that my father did. It's what god has made me. I am what I am, and no amount of trying will ever change it. What I'm trying to tell you is that I'm gay. I'm a fag. I'm a queer. I'm a homo. I'm still me, but now you know about me. You know that I develop strong feelings for men. I love men. I sleep with men. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with women. I find them attractive, but emotionally and physically, I am drawn to men more than I am to women.

When I was a teenager, I tried to hide it. Hide it from my family, my friends, even myself. I found out that I can't do that. It's not fair to anyone. I'm a man of my word, but I used to lie a lot. I still do to a lot of people, but more and more, I will become honest with them. They are my friends, they deserve nothing less than the truth. Acceptance was hard, I went through it alone for the most part. I realized that change, no matter how hard I tried, was impossible, and that I was going to be gay for as long as I live. Since I've started to "come out", I feel better about myself. I remember that after I told Brandon, I felt like I could do anything, and for the most part that was true. I was out to someone, they knew what I was, and they took it well, accepted me for who, not what I am. Since that day, I have become a different person. I enjoy life, I don't constantly think about ending it all, I live like there's no tomorrow, most of all, I enjoy it.

I have many friends now who are gay. Phoenix isn't exactly the gay Mecca of the world, but there are a lot more in Phoenix than in North Pole, Alaska. I'm somewhat of a counselor to people now. Many of them 16 and 17 years old, dealing with their sexuality. I feel proud of my work, even though it's not really work. It's like I see myself in those people, and I see myself as what I always wanted to have, a friend. I am there for these people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I got a pager, mostly so that they could get in touch with me if/when they ever needed to. I have spent countless hours talking to them, pulled many overnighters helping them. I feel good about it, it's an accomplishment that not everybody can relate to, making a difference in someone's life.

Growing up gay in North Pole, Alaska was a challenge. Beginning a life in Phoenix, starting to come out was a challenge. Yet these are not the most difficult challenges I face. That challenge is convincing all those who read this, that I am still me. I've always been like this, and I hope it doesn't change things between us. I don't wear women's clothes, I don't sleep around, I don't pick up on young boys. For the most part, I am just as normal as the rest of you, except for one small thing, whom I chose to love.

Well, there you have it. Now you know why I didn't talk too much in high school. Why for the most part I pretty much keep to myself. You know why I looked so tired a lot of mornings. You know why I always looked so sad, so dead, so introverted. This is not just my story. It is the story of thousands of people around the world. I am not the first to go through this, nor will I be the last. Gays will be around as long as the earth is around. We're not going anywhere, try as hard as you might. I hope you found this informative, and I hope you accept me for who I am. I hope that it changes some of your opinions about homosexuals, and that even the quiet little boy next door can be gay.

Mike Fleming, 20, has lived in Phoenix since June 1994. He can be reached online at mike@swlink.net and he has a home page at http://www.swlink.net/~mike/.
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