In recognition of the upcoming “National Coming Out Day” (celebrated October 11th in the US and October 12th in Great Britain) I decided to add my story to the intertubes.
Growing up I knew from a young age that I was ‘different’. At first it was the fact that I had no interest in sports, liked to read (a lot) and found most other boys to be loud and obnoxious. I don’t know when, exactly, I understood I was sexually attracted to males. It was certainly after we moved to a village in south-western Ontario when I was nine. In some ways that was a hellish place to grow up; a ‘city slicker’ who didn’t make friends easily. And we were a ‘new family’ even after living there a decade; we weren’t related to anyone in the area. The closest relative was one of my parent’s cousins who had moved to a city an hour away. On the other hand that meant the number of classmates who teased me was significantly smaller that it would have been in a city school. I graduated as one of a class of 35. That was back in 1977; we never heard about things like a kid ‘shooting up his school’.
My parents blessed me with a number of things; whether genetic or how they raised us kids. I have a very strong will (words like “stubborn” have been used) combined with a strong sense of self (“determined, unmovable, conceited“). There was another guy in my grade who was, as we would now say, ‘sensitive’. Alan hated being teased and tried so hard to fit in. It never seemed to work, so I decided that was never going to be my approach. Rather, I realized I needed to ‘hunker down’ and bide my time. I finished high school with an SSHGD (in those days Ontario offered a Grade XIII degree which could lead to a BA in three years) without the funds to go to university. Although tuition was much less back then, so were grants and scholarships. And, although I loved to read and enjoyed many classes, I never made the Honour Roll.
After school I moved to the closest mid-size city and started work at a camera store. Retail. Long hours and mediocre pay, but I learned a lot more about photography and was living on my own. I was active in the local community theatre company; working back stage, taking pictures, and being on the group’s Board. A great way for a gay person in a small town to find other gay and gay-friendly people. And I learned about ‘cruising’ – meeting strangers for sex and very occasionally friendship. The public library, a certain park, socializing after rehearsals. Of course the person I was most attracted to was not able to admit to the world his desire; double-entendre and anonymous notes that only left us both frustrated. And then there was the night a Director had all the cast (and me as photographer) do a ‘trust-building exercise’. The one where we pair up and take turns falling back into the other person’s arms. I was paired up with him…. he fell back and I managed to catch him without being inappropriate. But then he felt a sudden urge ‘to use the restroom’. Ah tortured youth.
The job at the Camera Store ended when the owner decided to go into semi-retirement and bring in a Store Manager, who brought along a whole new staff. My first bout of Unemployment. I found a job in the camera department of a national discount store chain and continued to spend my time at Theatre Kent. Not too long after I started that job, there was a ‘gay rights activist’ interviewed on CBC Radio. I didn’t hear the interview, but I did happen to read a Letter to the Editor of the Chatham Daily News which ridiculed the entire subject, and was filled so full of contradictions that it begged a reply. So I did.
A week later my reply had not been published; a call to the Editor of that page was in order. He informed me he “would not publish such filth” in ‘his’ paper. I expected that to be the end of it, but either he had a change of heart, was ordered to publish it, or decided that doing so with my name on it would do me more harm than it would help. But even before it was published (in fact right after I mailed in my Letter to the Editor) I realized that I needed to come out to my family before the letter was published. I did.
And here I must confess that I did not do it well; instead of traveling home, or even making a phone call, I wrote another letter.
Mom called when she got it; she was surprised but not shocked. She loved me- she loved all four kids ‘no matter what’. It took Dad a few days. He had to work through it. But he realized that many of the things he had been taught were not right; people who don’t speak English well are not necessarily imbeciles, Catholics could be decent people, etc. So he had to re-think this. I honestly believe that the time and introspection led to a stronger connection. Total acceptance and love is something that, I understand, not everyone gets from their family. I have it from mine- at least my parents and sibling (and all their kids). My maternal Grandmother (‘Nanna’) decided it was a ‘cross to bear’ (although hers or mine I never did figure out). And I was asked not to tell my paternal Grandmother. Grandma was more Victorian than Queen Vic herself; she had an upper lip that could carry the weight of the world. (Note to self: a future story about Grandma and her amazing past to be added.)
My siblings are totally cool with this; every one has met the few men who have, at various times, shared my home and heart. As noted on my 100 Details About Me page, my eldest Nephew insisted on dancing with me at his wedding. Other than some teasing about how one sister slept with a very cute future-celebrity that I had a crush on, my sexual orientation is a non-issue. As said above, I know that I have been blessed with an incredible family. Not everyone is so lucky. But if I could find such acceptance over 30 years ago, how much more likely is it that your family will accept you if you come out today?
Perhaps more to the point- how much happier will you be if you accept yourself and surround yourself only with people (birth-family or family of choice) who love and accept you for who you really are?