Every year, National Coming Out Day happens on October 11. This year, I thought I’d revisit my coming out story.
It was 1993. Picture, if you can, a world without cell phones, social media, or even the Internet. There were hardly any out celebrities to look up to. Queer characters on TV and in movies, when they existed at all, were sexless sidekicks or living with AIDS. My uncle and his partner were out, but they didn’t live nearby, and certainly, them being gay wasn’t something that was ever discussed. The rare times I heard anything about being gay, it was a punchline or a source of shame or sympathy.
Looking back, there were all the clues I needed to figure out my sexuality, but I truly believed for the longest time that any queer leanings were a phase I would outgrow. After all, I had very loud, public, and dramatic crushes on girls, and had had those my whole life. Yup, my cover was so good, I’d fooled myself; I was basically the only one fooled though. The “homo” and “fag” that everyone called everyone didn’t mean anything, right?
But then I met and became friends with a guy named Daniel, a friendship that ended as abruptly as it began. The depression that sent me into was way worse than when any of those girl-crushes went nowhere. Even if it was only in my head, I started to accept the fact that this wasn’t a phase. By the fall of 1993, I was ready to start telling my closest friends. Some took it well, some didn’t, but with every person I told, it got a bit easier. Still, I was nowhere ready to tell family, and I honestly don’t know when or how I would have, because one cold November night, a friend did it for me.
It was an accident and I never blamed her. It just spilled out one night along with a lot of other drama and chaos and tears and depression. And vodka. There was lots of vodka that night. Right from that night, my coming out story really did become my mental health story and my addiction story. For years, I would see them as unconnected. But no, they went hand in hand.
Mom didn’t want to believe it. She wanted to know who was to blame. She was convinced someone had molested me to make me turn out that way. Meanwhile, I could barely process what she was saying because I was 100% focused on the guy I thought I loved starting to date my best friend. It was a very fucked up grade 12 year, and certainly, it didn’t seem that coming out had brought me any closer to peace or happiness. Far from it. I started to self-harm. I started to flirt with suicide. I was in so much pain and all of that pain seemed to come from coming out.
So I went back in. High school was over and I was starting University in a new city, and this was a chance for a total fresh start. Certainly, my homophobic roommate helped reinforce that decision. I decided just to focus on school and forget about everything that had happened in the last 12 months. The way to forget? Booze. I drank so much that first semester. (Spoiler: alcohol didn’t make me happy, and spoiler: it got a lot worse after I came out again. That’s a whole different blog).
I started dating a girl named Kim. I knew I wasn’t straight but I figured I could fake it. What was four years? After University, I could revisit coming out. Who would it hurt (spoiler: Kim). But then I started taking Psych, and in that Psych class, there was a guy named Troy. He was handsome and happy and seemingly out and proud. I didn’t know if I wanted to do him or be him, but I knew the closet wasn’t working for me anymore. I broke up with Kim, figured out where and when gay people in Lethbridge gathered, and called a cab to take me away from the closet for good.
Ellen came out, and that was a huge deal. Matthew Shepherd got murdered, and that was a huge deal. Delwin Vriend took the province to court and won, and that was a huge deal. Mental health got better then worse then better then worse. Mom got better and better and better. Alcohol use got worse and worse and worse and then better. But my coming out journey? That was pretty done from that point on. Aside from those times I still catch myself “straightening up” around people I don’t know; that damage might never go away wholly.
But this National Coming Out Day, and so many other days, I am so grateful that yes, it got better.