I grew up in a semi-Catholic, liberal family in a Bay Area suburb. Our neighborhood was made up primarily of white and Asian families with 2.5 kids, tons of SUVs, and Golden Retrievers. This was not the land of diversity. My parents had a couple of gay friends, and one of my dad’s cousins is gay, but other than that I’d never really met any gay folks. The only queer people I knew of were men and a couple of butch lesbians. At the Catholic school I attended, we were taught that homosexuality was a sin, yet the gay people I’d met sure seemed nice enough.
I told myself it was a phase
I was ten years old when Ellen DeGeneres came out, and at that point I didn’t really have a clue even what was going on in my body anyway. It had to be a phase, right? The Internet was still basically brand new, so I didn’t have the ability to just simply Google to get more info. As I got older, things just continued to become more and more confusing. And since I was a feminine, sorta sporty teen, I thought there was no way I could be gay.
I told myself that if I just kept dating guys, I’d find the right one. I just hadn’t met him yet. So I went from boyfriend to boyfriend, all the while having a secret crush on a girl I knew. But then right when I started college, I did meet a really great guy. One who I had a ton of things in common with, who I loved hanging out with, and who I fell in love with. I figured this was it: I’d finish college, get married, have a family, do all the things I knew society—and my family to some degree—expected me to do. It was also during this time that my parents ended their marriage and my whole world came crumbling down. I adored my boyfriend’s family and clung to them, hoping to have a sense of what I had lost in my own family.
Creating What I Thought Was Normal
I married that guy when I was twenty-three. I’d been open with him and told him I’d had feelings for girls, but that it was just a girl crush. I decided to go about my life trying to just do all the “right” things, and figured that everyone had weird feelings they had to push away. I honestly thought that if I went through all the motions that my body and mind would align with what I told myself was “normal.” My life felt like it was out of control; at the time my parents were still fighting, and I dropped out of college after switching schools and then my major multiple times. I felt like if I maintained a stable relationship with a guy and family I loved, I could get it together.
A couple of years into my marriage, I became a hairstylist and started working at a salon. Between clients, I’d join the gaggle of straight girls and gay guys to talk about our relationships and sex lives. I started to realize that the way I’d been approaching sex in my marriage, as if it was more of an obligation, was not exactly the norm. You mean they actually liked giving blowjobs and didn’t fantasize about women during sex? Soon after starting at the salon, I became close friends with a couple of gay guys. I started going out with them to gay clubs and bars, to drag shows, and Pride, all under the guise of being the token straight girl. And as a fairly feminine appearing person, I was given the privilege of being able to pass as straight, which, as it turns out, can be a blessing and a curse. Yet somewhere in the depths of those gay bars, I realized that what I had been feeling most of my life wasn’t going away.
As I spent more time in gay spaces and met more folks, the sense of not being able to see myself reflected in the world around me began to dissipate. Gay friends of mine got married and started families, they were out to their employers, and they were living authentically. More diversity started showing up in the media. And I realized that the life I had dreamed of was possible, outside of a heterosexual relationship.
A Brutal Divorce, And Coming Out
After five years of trying to make my marriage work and live the life I thought I should have, I finally made the decision to live the life I wanted, and frankly needed. The fear of losing not only my family, but a family I’d married into and loved as my own, was finally outweighed by the fear of completely losing myself. I ended my marriage, and in the process lost the man who was my best friend, who I admired and loved deeply. Somehow I’d convinced myself that we would still be friends, but I had to respect the fact that I was no longer welcome in his life. My mother-in-law and I had been extremely close, talking daily, spending lots of time together, so coming out to her was truly harder than coming out to my own parents. She was so kind and supportive in the time that followed, but I knew her son needed her and that I could no longer expect to continue our relationship. And while time has eased the hurt and I still talk to her around birthdays and holidays, I know the relationship can never fully be restored.
Coming out to my own family, while stressful and scary, ended up bringing me much closer with all of them. I’m fortunate that every single person was accepting, albeit confused, but all found their own ways of talking with me to learn more about what I’d been feeling. They felt sorry that I hadn’t been able to come to terms with things earlier, but understood the societal pressures that LGBTQ+ people face. As I continued to come out to my friends and clients at the time, I was met with an overwhelming amount of love. People were very shocked initially but immediately switched to saying they could tell how much lighter and happier I was.
However, at the time there were a few people I was uncomfortable about coming out to. A client of mine in particular I had put together from chatting that she wasn’t exactly accepting of gay people. So I avoided the subject entirely, leaving out parts about who I was dating or where I had moved to. We became friends on Facebook after I had made a career change and was no longer taking clients. Soon after she sent me a message that shook me to my core. Upon finding out I was gay, she’d reconsidered her beliefs about it being wrong to be gay and reached out to talk to me about it. I immediately felt badly for not giving her a chance to know this vital aspect of my life. Another client I chose not to tell, found out through a friend of mine, and also reached out to offer support and talk to me about the experience. I had passed judgments on both of these women out of fear of being judged myself. In those moments I realized that I must never hide who I am.
I Did Have A Happily Ever After
Over the next nine months I became an entirely new person, or more accurately, the person I’d always been but couldn’t show. I’d lost over sixty pounds, changed jobs, moved, and met my now wife, Karyne, on OKCupid. Karyne is seven years older than me, and had been out since her freshman year of college. She helped me navigate the feelings I was still dealing with and understood the complexities of my situation. When Pride rolled around that year, one of my closest, oldest friends, Alex, whom I consider to be my brother and helped me so much when I came out, asked me if Karyne and I would like to walk in the San Francisco Pride parade with him, his husband, and their son. We immediately agreed, thinking really only of how much fun it would be to spend time with them (though I still think Karyne was really in it for the free T-shirt we got; she really loves a free T-shirt). We lined up early near the Embarcadero, surrounded by folks dressed up, rainbows everywhere, music blasting. And while none of this was new to me, it suddenly felt so very different. As our group turned the corner onto Market Street, we were met with crowds of cheering, smiling people, rainbow flags waving wildly, and I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. I fought back tears the entire parade. It was like being in a dream, but it was my real life. I was no longer an outsider to the community I belonged to.
I know that I’m lucky to have a supportive family, and live in a part of not only our country, but the world, where being openly gay is accepted. I don’t take that for granted. The most important thing I’ve learned from coming out is the importance of visibility. Because as we very well know, there are LGBTQ+ folks everywhere. In every job, in every race, in every religion, in every inch of our world. Gay characters in movies and TV shows are often still the token gay first, and then whatever the rest of their character is supposed to be. And while we have been fortunate to be in a country that, up until recently, was pushing for equality and visibility, we haven’t yet reached a point where LGBTQ+ folks are fully integrated into mainstream society.
But We Turned Away From Equality
After marriage was legalized in 2015, it became easy to feel like we had finally turned the corner on LGBTQ+ rights, especially living in the Bay Area, where it is common, even in the suburbs, to see gay couples and families. But over the last six months under this new administration, I, like so many others, have had to go back to wondering if these rights will remain intact for our entire country. My wife and I have a sense of security living in California, but we’re all too aware of the very real fears so many folks are feeling right now. Hateful actions like the Pulse Nightclub shooting, the murders of at least twelve trans people this year alone, along with our current administration’s lack of acknowledgement of the LGBTQ community on its website, the Census, and even denying Pride month itself, threaten our visibility.
I have had the privilege of standing on both sides now. And even though I’ve lived more of my adult life in hiding rather than out, I will never take for granted the importance of living a visible life that is full and authentic.
Pride is a reminder to us that the fight isn’t over. Until we are more equally visible among lawmakers, armed forces, workplaces, families, media, and all communities small and large, we still need Pride. We will need Pride until no person, upon their realization that they are gay, has to take pause, consider the possible consequences, and make a choice to possibly deny their very being.
What does pride mean for you and your communities? As an LGBTQ+ person, what Does Pride and visibility mean to you? Did it change after you came out? As an ally, what do you or can you do to step out of your comfort zone to create safe spaces and support visibility?