Happy National Coming Out Day!
Since October 11, 1988, the first anniversary of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, this date has been celebrated as a day for LGBT people to live openly.
Runnin’ Scared asked a few gay and lesbian New Yorkers around town (and one just down the hall) about how they first came out, to themselves and others. Here are their tales.
Web Producer, nytimes.com
One may think a Southern Baptist university would not be an ideal place to begin the coming out process, and in most ways one would be correct.
Yet during my senior year, when I came to a true understanding and acceptance of my gay self, I felt it essential to share with my close friends, regardless of the environment. So I went on a coming-out spree, of sorts, systematically, albeit discreetly, sharing with individual friend after friend on campus, never quite sure each time how it would be taken. It was like playing emotional truth roulette. As it turns out, it went overwhelmingly well. I received only a couple of downright negative reactions, an occasional “what else is new,” a good amount of appreciation for the honesty and trust to disclose and, thankfully, a whole lotta love.
Village Voice Columnist, La Dolce Musto
While I was a sophomore at Columbia, I went to a gay student mixer at a nightclub. I convinced myself it didn’t necessarily mean I was gay or out or whatever, I was just hanging with my friends. Well, the second I entered the party, the loudest queen on campus grabbed me by the hand and screeched, “This is the newest gay member of the Columbia community — Michael Musto!” My heart skipped a beat, but then I noticed that no one even looked up or batted an eyelash. That was the best thing that had happened to me — my coming out was taken care of for me, and there was no turning back after that. That incident may have something to do with my later affinity for outing celebrities, lol.
Civil Rights Attorney, Community Activist
I came out in college in the late 80’s. My coming out story, at least to my family, is a happy one. I am fortunate, but still, coming out is a scary process.
But what you first need to know to appreciate my story are the words of the old “Alice’s Restaurant” song that chronicles the story of a draft resister getting arrested and a specific verse of the song where he describes how when he was in jail the other inmates asked him what he was in for and when he said littering “they all moved away from me” until he said “and creating a nuisance…and they all moved back, shook my hand and we had a grand old time.”
So I called up my mom to tell her I was coming home for the holidays and that I had something to tell her.
When I got home, before I could say anything, my sister said “Mom, tell Yetta the story.”
My mom, who is an artist and would travel around to different festivals, proceeded to tell me the story of how she was at a Women’s Music Festival at a workshop and everyone was sitting in a big circle. They asked everyone to go around the circle to introduce themselves. Each person introducing themselves in the circle also mentioned that they were a lesbian. My mom got more and more nervous until it got to her and she said “Hi, my name is Toni, I’m not a lesbian” at which point she recounts “they all moved away from me” until she said “…but I think my daughter is!” and she says “they all moved back, shook my hand and we had a grand old time.”
When she told the story my sisters and I all laughed and I exclaimed “I am mom!” and she gave me a big hug and told me she was proud of me. So in essence, my mom came out for me.
Founding Member, Queer Rising
My coming out story is a very simple one. By my sophomore year of college — at what must surely be the “gayest” school in the country — many of my friends already knew I was gay and I only lived in fear that my parents would find out. Which was ironic because I knew my parents already knew, and I knew they knew I knew they knew because they gave me all the opportunities in the world to tell them, in loving ways.
I went back home for winter break and, as my mom was doing laundry, it happened:
Mom: So, Jake, how’s your sex life?
Jake: Same as usual: nonexistent.
Then, I tried to deflect the situation with a crude joke which, thankfully, I cannot remember.
Mom: Fine, if you don’t want to talk about it…
Jake: (Freaking out, but casually) Is there something you want to ask me?
Mom: Is there something you want to tell me?
Jake: (Insides exploding) Look, I’m not going to tell you I’m gay, because you already know!
From the other room, I heard my dad laugh. We went into my dad¹s study, they hugged me (which was awkward), and they asked me questions: When did I know I was gay? Was it hard? How was I? They wish they had known so they could have helped make it easier for me. All said and done, they affirmed what I already knew: they loved me and were proud of me.
The story is a simple one, but my life changed on that day. Perhaps it’s not fair or accurate to say that the fear that had quietly consumed me evaporated but that’s what my memory says happened. It’s the day I finally was able to start growing up, to begin showing myself, to explore my real potential in the world. I happen to be blessed to have the greatest parents in the world, but even if they were monsters, I believe the results
would have been the same.
For Milwaukee, it was an unusually warm mid-October night. It was 1975 and I was outside the notorious River Queen, a downtown gay bar on South Water Street getting some fresh air away from the hot jam-packed proceedings inside. I was smoking a cig and engaged in intimate conversation with a sexy, tall David Bowie type that I was interested in. Suddenly, we both looked up to see a car across the street stop momentarily. We heard a POP, POP, POP! With each pop, a flash illuminated the interior of the car revealing the sinister outline of the three or four homo-hating occupants.
My glitter queen friend jumped up, screamed loudly and fell flat on his face, lying motionless. I thought he had been shot dead. When I reached down to turn over what I expected to be his bloody bullet-riddled corpse, I did see blood, lots of it, and it was quickly soaking the rolled-up sleeve of my shirt. My androgynous companion was fine. It was I, a scared 19 year-old gay kid, who had been shot once in the arm.
The River Queen shooting as it came to be known, provided the impetus for my coming out to my family. In the days after the incident with my right bicep throbbing and wrapped in gauze, I decided to come out to all four of my siblings. I didn’t know if I would tell my parents. I wasn’t sure how any of them would respond, though I suspected they already had some idea that I was gay. I needed love. I needed support. I needed to heal.
My memory of the actual conversations I had with each of my siblings has mostly faded. I will share what I do remember-coming out to my big sister Linda. We were very close and remain so to this day. Being five years older, she provided me with much of the mothering I needed as a child. She was as accepting as she could be in 1975. I told her I had also decided to tell Mom and Dad that I was gay and had been shot in a drive by shooting in front of a gay bar in downtown Milwaukee. She said, “You can never, ever tell Mom and Dad.” Her pain and shame came oozing out. Of course, I eventually did come out to Mom and Dad. Linda’s (and my) shame and embarrassment have mostly disappeared, as our relationship has grown even closer over the years.
Thirty years after that conversation, my beautiful, vibrant sister Linda found herself turning to me when her 15-year-old stepson Casey came out to her and my brother-in-law Dennis in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Love him the same way you have always loved him since you became his mom” I said. “Let him come to you. Be patient.” She and Dennis even attended a P-FLAG meeting in Raleigh and connected with other parents at various stages of acceptance. Though fearful and uncertain, they found that they too, were not alone. Just as I found it and a life beyond my wildest dreams after I stepped through the closet door that balmy October evening 35 years ago.