For many in the LGBT community, coming out can be a difficult and sometimes stressful process. Opening up about who you are can seem like the hardest thing to do, especially when family and friends are involved. In the 21st century you would think that coming out has gotten easier, a little less stressful. And in some cases it has, but contrary to popular belief, the struggle of identifying yourself and your lifestyle to your loved ones, at any age, can still be a daunting task.
Recently after checking everything off my to-do list as "postponed" and "rain-checked," I, feeling totally accomplished and self-satisfied with my faux-productivity, invited my friend Jason over for our bi-monthly game night. He brought along his friend named Patrick.
Patrick is gay, 32, a PR consultant, and apparently just came out the closet less than six months prior to sitting on my couch and playing the deluxe edition of Scrabble. Being that I never had the chance to be in, I never had the chance to come out. This is kind of what happens when your favorite song at the age of seven is "Favorite Things" from the "Sound of Music" soundtrack.
The majority of my friends, who are openly gay, admit that coming out happened somewhere between high school and college and for some of us even earlier than that. I wondered what could have held him back. Was he ashamed of being gay? Was he afraid of his family's reaction? I, being consumed with questions, asked if he would indulge me in a quick interview. He graciously accepted.
When did you come out, and what prompted you to do so?
I came out on the Fourth of July -- officially -- but I started telling some of my close friends last Christmas... I just thought it was the right time for me to be honest with myself and to the people I care about.
Why did you decided to come out after 30?
I know this may sound weird, but I wanted to make sure... I wanted to wait, focus on my career, and not be type cast as "gay Patrick." I just wanted to be Patrick for as long as possible.
When do you think it's the right time to come out?
I think the right time to come out is whenever you feel comfortable, whenever you feel like you're not being your authentic self, is the right time -- it was for me.
Were your family and friends accepting of your decision to come out?
Actually, yes! A lot more accepting than I thought they would be: Some were shocked, but most, if not all, really didn't care, as long as I was happy, nothing else really mattered to them. My dad was actually the most shocked and the most supportive -- the only gay representation he had ever known was Jack from "Will and Grace" and Paul Lynde as the center square, and although I enjoyed their comedy, I was nothing like either of them.
Did fear hold you back in making your decision sooner?
In the beginning, honestly, yes! But, it was never about living in fear of bullying; I was 6'3, 210, and on the football team pretty much all through high school. It was more so because I didn't want people to think of me as one thing. I thought they would forget I was a great athlete, or that I enjoyed playing the drums, or that I had other interests. I was afraid of losing my identity, more so than anything.
What would you tell someone 30 (and above) struggling to come out?
I would tell them that life is short, and that although the decision to come out and when to do so is entirely theirs, it's not at all what they imagine it to be -- that it opens up a new world. People are able to see you completely for who and what you are, fully, and at your best."
Lastly, are you happy with your decision to wait a little longer than most?
I am happy. I probably could have come out a few years ago, but than, again, I feel like my experience is unique, and I think I made the best decision for me.
Everybody is different, every story is different, and whether you chose to come out pre- or post-30, allowing fear and others' perceptions hold you back may do you more harm than good. After talking with Patrick that night, it dawned on me: Coming out is an experience in and of itself. Of course, many of us hope to one day live in a world where coming out is less of an ordeal and more of a celebration; today, we will have to move forward, keep our head held high, and make the best decision we can with the cards we are dealt. I understand now, more than ever, that everyone's situation and motivation to come out is different. Even if you are 30, 40 or 50, when you come out is your choice, and your choice alone -- just so long as you make the decision to do so, eventually. It could be the best decision you've ever made.
Brandon Kyle is a Inland Empire-based writer, grad student, and events coordinator.