The act of coming out is one of the more common discussions about sexuality. There are YouTube tutorials, articles that lay out the steps, and television shows that demonstrate examples of these moments. Coming out is hard. It’s a defining moment that influences your relationship with yourself and with other people in your life. The act itself is scary, but it is sometimes necessary for survival. The aftermath can either be heartbreaking or an immense relief. It’s often a mixture of the two. But coming out is far from a one-time deal. It is so much more than a planned conversation that you have with your loved ones. It can take years to come out to the people in your life.
You might express doubts about your sexuality to close friends, but struggle internally with it for a long time before consciously sharing your identity with others. You might come out to your friends at one point and wait a long time to come out to your family. If you come out to your family, it’s often not all at once then either. It can be a couple of members and then eventually extended relatives if you are comfortable with that. And it can take so much longer to be open in public about your sexuality. Even if you are out to almost everyone in your life, you may still take measures to be discreet for your own protection. PDA might be a hard limit for you, or you might embrace it regardless of your surroundings. Everyone is different, and everyone has their own defined comfort levels.
We often talk about coming out as a before and after experience. The discomfort of the in between is overlooked; personally, I found this to be the most difficult stage. Before I came out, I viewed the act of coming out as very definite. For me, saying it for the first time would mean solidifying my future. It meant that I would never be able to hide from my own reality again. Claiming my sexuality meant that I could never take it back. I would never be able to remain hidden or continue my life as a “straight” person again. Once you step out of the closet, there’s no way back into it. I spent a long time thinking that even if I was gay, that I could continue my life as a straight person and live a “conventional” life. I could not picture living as an out gay person. I could not envision myself happy or in love. I couldn’t accept myself, and I could not fathom the idea of anyone else embracing my identity. Coming out didn’t feel worth it to me, and I isolated myself with lies and repression. It was in this stage that someone close to me asked me if I was gay. As someone who was in a state of intense anxiety and fear of being found out as gay, this abrupt question caught me terribly off guard. I wasn’t ready. I froze. I couldn’t answer her, and so my silence did so for me.
The months that followed were painful, awkward, and gut wrenching. I hated who I was, and now someone else was aware of something that I had fought to keep to myself. She watched me closely and asked me questions that I wasn’t ready to answer. I was an uncomfortable and emotional mess. Coming to terms with my own identity felt nearly impossible, and now I was being watched while I did it. It took me months before I reached out to anyone else. Almost every moment that I experienced in this in-between phase felt excruciating. Taking steps to being out wasn’t something that I had planned. It was happening, and while no part of me regrets it, I felt so incredibly tormented at the time. Before coming out, I could comfort myself with denial. But after breaking the silence about my sexuality I was a mess consumed by emotion and fear. Being out has been incredibly healing and empowering, but the steps to get there were some of the hardest times of my life.
If your sexuality is anything other than heterosexual, understanding it and accepting it can be a long and complicated journey. Even if you have complete awareness of it, you likely will still experience an intense struggle with it and how you are received by society. There’s a lot of pressure on defining the one exact moment that you realized you were gay. People will ask, “when did you know?” sometimes with the best of intentions, but coming to terms with being gay is so much more complicated than waking up one day and realizing it. It means understanding that it is who you’ve always been. It’s difficult to describe what it feels like to finally accept a piece of yourself that you have rejected but carried with you your entire life.
Being gay is part of my essence. It’s who I am, but correctly identifying that aspect in myself is not something that I was always able to do. Growing up, it was something that I saw in glimpses of myself, but fought against. With time, I experienced further clarity, acceptance, and understanding. If I could simplify coming out to myself to one moment, I would, but it was so much more complicated than that.