Sunday, October 11, 2015

it's national coming out day, or why october 13 is a personal holiday

Ten years ago today, I was sitting on my best friend's bed hanging out with a bunch of people from our dorm at Maryland. Someone mentioned that it was National Coming Out Day. How does that even work? They asked.

Like this, I said. I got up, went in her closet, and shut the door behind me. I opened the door and stepped out. "I'm gay," I said.

There was a beat of silence. I don't think anyone had expected it. "Dan, does this mean you wish to sleep with men!?" she exclaimed.

"It does," I replied quietly, and the conversation eventually went back to classes or weekend plans or something.

As they say, coming out isn't one moment so much as something you do over and over again: to friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and so on. But before that, you come out to yourself, and that's a gradual process too.

Looking Down Bus Lane
Blake High School at night in 2008.

I went to a progressive, artsy high school that even won an award for tolerance. There was a gay-straight alliance, but I never went to any meetings. There were a few out gay kids, but I didn't talk to them.

Instead, I chased after girls and asked them out. I wore football jerseys and tried to follow sports. I made jokes with my straight male friends. In pre-calculus, I'd stare at this boy who sat two rows ahead of me. Then I'd go home and tell myself that I wasn't really gay, I was just thought his leather jacket was cool.

A year before I came out, on October 13, 2004, I was walking to class with my best friend, the same one whose closet I came out of, when this kid grabbed me in the hallway and threw me against the wall.

"You were the kid who sang last week!" he said. My friend Matt and I had performed a song (it was "Hands Down" by Dashboard Confessional) for a show at school. It was a pretty big risk for a shy kid like me, and suddenly I was mortified.

Then, the kid told me how good I was. "Come on, give me a hug," he said.


For days, I tried not to think about his long hair, how he smelled, how his arms felt around me. I told my friends what happened. "I bet he's queer for you," they said.

One friend showed me his blog, where he mentioned meeting me and how weird he felt about it. "I think I might be gay," he wrote. I freaked out: Did he hug me because he liked me? Did he think I was gay, too? Would he tell anyone?

I confronted him at lunch the next day. "I read your blog," I said. "What are you trying to say?" He jumped up. "It's not what you think!" he yelled, and ran off.

That afternoon a note from someone I didn't recognize appeared on Instant Messenger: "Let me explain." It was him. He liked my song, and he liked that I had the courage to perform it.

Then he asked, "Do you dream, Mr. Daniel?"

"Yeah, sure I do," I said.

"I just want to know if I'm weird and if anyone sees it like I see it."

"Not weird at all," I replied. "I'm just surprised someone would ask that."

"If you ever expand on a friendship with me, you'll find I ask many strange and intriguing questions."


We started talking regularly online, sometimes for hours at a time. At school, he was loud and gregarious and always seemed to have a girlfriend. But online, he was quiet and thoughtful. He opened up to me about his life, about moving here earlier that year, about his old school where they called him a fag, about how sad and frustrated and invisible he felt.

He shared the poems he wrote and I shared the book I was writing. I never told him that I thought he was gay, because I thought it meant I had to admit I was gay, too. And I didn't want to admit it, but I was falling for him.

Months went by. I wrote girls poems and asked them out and got turned down. My straight male friends said they admired my persistence. My straight female friends were constantly fawning over this kid, and I was consumed with jealousy because they could have him and I couldn't.

The week before graduation, we were on Instant Messenger and he was asking after a female friend of mine. I told him not to bother because she was flaky and, besides, I always thought you might be gay. "I'm not queer!" he said. "I was just trying to show my appreciation for your song." He logged off. We didn't talk after that.

I started college three months later and soon sank into depression. I couldn't forget about this kid. I wondered if we'd ever talk again. And I slowly began to admit that I had had feelings for him, and that was because I was gay. I wondered if my life would change because of it. I was scared.

I saw a therapist. I went to a gay-straight alliance meeting on campus. I walked to class and saw boys that looked attractive and promised myself I would be fine.


And one night in October, I came out of my best friend's closet. Most of the people in my dorm were fine with it. One girl on my floor called me "brave." Why? I asked her. I don't think I would have survived otherwise.

Life is filled with these little moves that have big impacts. Coming out is just one of them. It was scary, and I can't say that after ten years it's been easy or that everyone's been totally accepting of me. But it's probably the best thing I ever did for myself, and I'm so thankful I had the courage that day to do it.


Jonathan Bernstein said...

Thank you so much for your story Dan.


Unknown said...

I agree, thanks for sharing...

Deena said...

You continue to be among the most fascinating people I know, Dan. In the continuing unfolding of your life are lessons for us all to admire and emulate. I thank you for continuing to be my teacher.

Meg said...

Thank you for sharing this very personal story.

I am a parent with young children and of course I think about their future. Will s/he be gay? That will be sadly hard for her/him at first but it is nice to hear how other people coped with tumultuous adolescent times.