My final coming out — the real one, when I was 20 — was gut-wrenching.
I had a girlfriend at the time, but she lived in Texas. She’d come down with a semi-serious illness our sophomore year, and after she recovered, her parents withdrew her from Millsaps and moved her back home. I went to see her regularly, and she came to see me, but the relationship had definitely changed.
Or maybe not changed. It had become more transparent, more obvious.
When we lived on the same campus, Meg and I could pretend that we were romantically involved, and we both believed it. When we were separated, it became clear that we were very, very, very good friends, but nothing more. By the time I met Chad, I could see where things were going, but I didn’t want to admit it. Not yet.
Chad and I met on the dance floor of Bill’s Disco, the black gay bar in Jackson, which sat across the street from the white gay bar called Jack and Jill’s. Jack and Jill’s carded like a motherfucker, and of course, we were all underage. Bill’s didn’t care. Bill’s also had a speakeasy so they could serve beer after 1am. We spent a lot of time at Bill’s.
Chad and I hung out for several weeks. It was great. Then I introduced him to my friends. And one night, when I stepped out of the room for a minute, a friend asked Chad some questions about how we met. I knew that my friend could put two and two together, and that it was only a matter of time until she spilled the beans to Meg.
That wasn’t how I wanted it to end: ratted out by a friend, leaving Meg to wonder who was telling the truth. I wanted to tell her myself — so I did. I couldn’t muster the courage to do it over the phone, so I wrote a letter. It was about 10 pages long.
As I waited at the post office, one of my professors walked up and stood in line behind me. He was the only openly gay teacher on campus. He tried to strike up a conversation — I was in his Milton class — but I was so freaked about what I was doing, I couldn’t get many words out.
Then, the full weight of the situation hit me. There I was, sweating bullets over coming out, standing next to a man who’d been out for years, who had no idea what I was going through and was talking to me about mundane things like the weather and spring rush. I don’t know if you’d call that surreal or ironic or packed with meaning, but whatever it was, it made me laugh. My hands were still shaking when I handed my envelope to the mail lady, but I felt much better.*
My talk with Meg a few days later wasn’t smooth or easy; in fact, it was a little painful, but we got over it. And I thought, “Wow, that’s it. I’m out.”
But as we all know, coming out is something you have to do all the time. I come out as gay, I have friends who come out as fiscal conservatives, and I have a sneaking suspicion that my father will soon admit to me that he’s a Methodist. However, as everyone’s been saying the past few weeks, it does get easier.
Rarely is it easy. But easier, yes.
* None of that would’ve happened if I’d come out a few years later. I would’ve simply written an email and hit “send”. The result would’ve been just the same and just as important, but I wouldn’t have had that scene at the post office, which is what I remember more than anything now.