I’m Gay and I Am Terrified

Coming out is not as magical as I’ve been led to believe

Image from Alexander Grey at Unsplash

In the movies, coming out is this magical time in a person’s life filled with love and constant, heartfelt reassurances from everyone that they’ll love you for exactly who you are. In the movies, it’s a celebration of one’s newfound, authentic self and everyone starts living their best lives.

This has not been the case for me. Don’t get me wrong, I did get a lot of lovely text messages and I have begun to love and accept myself more. I do now feel more free to express myself and be the person I was always meant to be. But the other side of this liberating realization is much, much uglier.

To illustrate my point, I’m going to tell you about my favorite shirt.

I came out a month or two ago, and I decided to jump right in to the lifestyle and get some pride apparel. Now, I’m still what is apparently known as a “baby gay,” and I’m still trying to process everything. For quite some time, I wasn’t ready to proudly boast my gayness in public and I designated all of my new gear as “inside clothes.”

This past weekend though, I finally allowed myself to wear my proudest of pride shirts out in public. A bold, pink, tastefully slutty tank top with the phrase “Love is Love” plastered across a rainbow colored, paint splatter decal.

It is an astoundingly gay shirt.

And I absolutely love that shirt. I love how bright and colorful it is. I love how good my figure looks in it. And honestly, I love that it just makes me feel pretty. And I’ve found it even has the power to relieve the stress of my day.

My work becomes more and more draining by the day. Because there’s absolutely no way I am coming out to an office full of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” types, I spend the majority of my work day performing heterosexuality. This leaves me absolutely drained, every single day. I feel drained because I’m hiding this part of who I am that can’t conform to their heteronormative culture. It makes me feel like I have to constantly put on a show for everyone.

So on those days when I’m totally fried from performing, one of the first things I do to feel better is go to my closet and put on my pink shirt.

When I put on that shirt I feel free. When I put on that shirt I feel love. I look at myself in the mirror and almost break down, because for the first time in my life I feel like I truly understand self-love.

When I put on that shirt I just feel happy. Simple, pure, wholesome joy.

But, recently, I had the nerve to wear it out in public. No, the suburbs of Chicago were apparently not ready for a man to wear such a shirt.

I wanted to let the world see me in the thing that made me feel like the realest and best version of myself. I wanted to be proud of who I was among all the other people for the first time. I wanted to feel seen for the entirety of who I was.

And when I walked out into the world, I was greeted by contemptuous, judgmental stares. I felt dirty, ashamed, and exposed.

And there honestly wasn’t even that many judgmental people, either. But it was enough people that I was constantly afraid. I was constantly aware that there’s a subsection of the population thinks that what I fundamentally am is a crime in the eyes of god and I deserve to be punished.

As an aside, I feel I should acknowledge at this point that I am privileged in that I do always have the ability to pretend to just be another straight white guy. I know a lot about sports and can talk about that with all the straight bros, and I certainly have enough practice being emotionally unavailable to fit in with that crowd.

But sometimes I’d really like to just be me, and I know, even doing my best acting job, I will eventually slip up, leaving my fruitiness on full display.

And I’ve had the realization recently that, for the first time in my life, I could face discrimination. I am not equipped with the social or emotional tool bag to deal with this, and I’m finding public displays of self-expression to be a touch, shall we say, controversial.

But I know I’ll eventually learn to deal with the disapproving eyes of the “religious” types, because I don’t honestly respect what they think anyway. That isn’t what I’m worried about. What I’m really worried about is that, for the first time in my life, I now have to worry about being the victim of a hate crime. I have never been the victim of a hate crime, nor could I have ever imagined a reason why I would be. But for the first time in my life, I am afraid.

Now back to the shirt.

After finally getting up the nerve to walk around outside wearing my favorite new shirt, I felt horrible. When I got back to my apartment I immediately took it off because I didn’t even want to wear it inside after that. I sat in that room and cried because I didn’t feel safe wearing a shirt. And if I couldn’t even wear a shirt, how could I ever be myself?

I don’t know what the solution to this is. I’m sorry if that’s disappointing. I’m just a 24 year old meat head with a sweet tooth and a penchant for writing. I know people should vote, and not for hateful people. That feels like the bare minimum we could do as a whole.

But that’ll only get us so far. Ultimately, I know I can’t just wait for some big systemic change to occur for me to be myself. I know I need to learn how to look at somebody, who may want to literally beat me, directly in the eyes and just know that whatever happens next was worth it, because at least I got to live as my most authentic self.

But I honestly don’t know if I’m there yet. In fact, after that experience, I know I’m not. And I know me and every other queer person being comfortable expressing ourselves would do wonders for equality, since being openly L, G, B, T, Q, I, A, or plus would eventually become normalized. But I’m not ready to be me in public, and I understand why someone else wouldn’t be either.

It’s just terrifying.

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