My good friend Greg is blogging today about it being National Coming Out day today, telling his story of coming out of the closet as a gay man. Greg is one of several close friends that has come out to me over the years, his being most dramatic in dropping the bombshell on my while I was trying to sail a very small boat in busy Newport Harbor. A bit more on that below, plus some personal words for those who may not know or accept gays and lesbians about the pain I’ve seen these friends go through as they’ve stayed inside the closet for various reasons.
Every gay person has their coming out stories. I’ve always wanted to start a site for the opposite, friends of gays to share how they learned. There’s probably a site like that out there somewhere. I think we have fun or interesting stories to tell as well.
My first friend to come out to me was my college roommate. We’d gotten thrown together in our freshman year in an on campus apartment. The following year, we moved to the campus trailer park. Close quarters, but cheap rent.
About midway through our sophomore year, my friend was acting very odd. He’d not been sleeping well, told me he was going to counseling and just didn’t seem right. Eventually, he told me he’d been having therapy and realized he needed to come out. He was incredibly nervous about telling me. I didn’t have a problem with it.
I mentioned those close quarters. Being gay doesn’t mean you want to sleep with everyone you know of the same sex, any more than it does for heterosexuals. My friend was very worried I’d be freaked out especially with us living in small quarters. I think my response was something like “You were my friend before, so why’s that going to change. And you didn’t jump me before, so I’m not worried about that either.”
My friend wasn’t happy just coming out. He became very active to head up the Gay & Lesbian Student Union on campus. That lead to a funny story. I was also editor-in-chief of our campus newspaper. Our respective positions meant we had to go before the student government for yearly funding. He gave his speech supporting a funding request; I gave my own. The meeting ended, and we went grocery shopping.
In the store, I bumped into the student body president. I shouldn’t stereotype in a post against stereotypes, but he was right out of central casting for buff, manly fraternity boy (I’d say frat boy, but a good friend who was in a fraternity one said that’s bad. “Would you call your country a cun…” You can fill in the rest).
We talked, then my roommate came up the aisle and asked me if I wanted a particular brand of cereal. Like a movie, I watched the student body president look at him, then at me, then at the cereal, then I could imagine all the dots being connected in his head as an odd and knowing look came over his face. Yep, our secret gay love was now out of the closet — not!
I always get a good laugh thinking about that story. Greg came out to me an entirely different way. First we were coworkers, and soon after he moved in with me and another friend to share an apartment in Newport Beach. For two years we lived together, me never knowing he was gay. He kept it well hid. Hey Greg, the girlfriends do tend to confuse people you know — especially those that after you break up with them declare on our answering machine that they’ll never leave until you get home (A tip to those trying this tactic. It doesn’t work if you leave that message, then give up by the time we get home an hour later. It’s just not sincere!).
Several years later — me now living still in Newport but with my wife — I had a day off from work. Greg was meeting me to hang out, and I suggested we go sailing. I rented a small 14 foot boot to tool around Newport Harbor in.
Newport Harbor is where I learned to sail, and it’s a tough place to do it. The winds are always shifting, and there are boats constantly moving. To make matters worse, the boat rental place is next to the Balboa Island ferries — they constantly move back and forth, always have the right away, and you have to dodge them.
There wasn’t much wind this day, so we weren’t getting far from the ferries. Motorized boats were everywhere, but I did the best we could. Greg had mentioned he wanted to talk about something, but he hadn’t gotten to that. So in the small talk, I asked him what was going on with another friend and joked I thought he might be gay. He was, Greg said — and so was he, he told me.
I was completely shocked. Not upset — just shocked that I hadn’t seen it coming. I may have even dropped the tiller. In short order, I was trying to get the boat under control. Greg exaggerates it — we never were going to head out into the Pacific. We barely had any wind. But I did spend an intense 10 minutes tacking as best I could to get past the ferry and back to the dock, so we could talk properly with solid land underfoot!
Greg was transformed when he came out to his friends. He became more confident, happier and something just felt right that I could never put my finger on. That wrong thing, of course, was that he was having to hide is true identity all those years.
That leads me to my third friend, another one from college that I was very close to. Like Greg, he’d had girlfriends but never anyone serious. About four years ago, he finally told me he was gay. I was thrilled. I think my exclamation was something like “excellent” or “that’s great.” Greg’s gaydar had actually nailed him as gay years before this. My excitement was because as with Greg, it always felt like something wasn’t quite right. I was excited because he wasn’t going to have to hide himself any longer, nor should he. Since then, he’s lost weight, become more confident and just been an all around happier person.
More recently, a fourth good friend I know also came out more publicly. In this case, she didn’t come out to me specifically. Instead, the clues were there for anyone who knew to look. When she turned up at a public event with her girlfriend for the first time, I was a great thing to see. She’s always happy to begin with, but her smile was even bigger in being out and about with someone she loves.
These are all good friends. They are all good people. It has pained me to see them have to keep some part of them back, to not be complete out of fear or concern of not being accepted. I have no problem with homosexuality. Clearly, many people still do. I hope those that do can be more open, to understand the pain fellow human beings feel when they have to remain closeted. At the very least, understand that they are not gay people — they are real people with feelings who happen to be gay. They are godparents to my children; good friends I’ve known for years and people I hate to see feeling excluded in so many ways such as with marriage laws.