I realized, about a day after the fact, that last week represented a passage of 14 years since I first came out to another person. It happened at college. I’d been out to myself, somewhat, for a few months before, but I don’t really count that time because it was a tentative, exploratory, uncertain kind of growing-towards being an out person.
How can I recall the date? I told my best friend right after she’d opened the birthday present her family had mailed to her. Kind of sticks in your mind.
After feeling sort of stunned by the amount of time that has passed, I started remembering other people I came out to after her. I remember being really excited, but also nervous. I’d grown up in this little town and I’d gone through a few really difficult years of high school–years that I think most people in my life, including my friends, had no realization of just how difficult they were.
Almost all of my friends were supportive, and I’ll never forget my best guy friend’s response: “Actually, Charles, I’m not all that surprised.” He said that while we shot some pool in my parents’ basement. I was sort of offended. Hadn’t I been just sooo in the closet that nobody could tell? Ha. Good god, no.
I told one friend when we went ice skating. I loved to go ice skating even though the closet rink to my town was 40 minutes by car, in an outer ring suburb of Milwaukee. We’d driven out together, and skated around the rink during open skating, and as we sat on the bench unlacing our skates afterward, I told her.
This was a girl who I’d known for years. For most of my life. A girl who had sat next to me in band as people threw shit at the back of my head, who teased me mercilessly because they thought I was a fag, who had seen me humiliated in the lunch room by kids in my school on more than one occasion. I’d driven her to school in my little car and forced her to listen to Ace of Base, Madonna, etc. And when I told her, her face went pale. It crumbled with disappointment. She had a hard time keeping eye contact with me. Me? I sat there, smiling dumbly, thinking she was just surprised.
“You know what? I’ll pray for you,” she said finally. It was the conclusion of a long internal monologue that apparently ended in my favor. She put her hands on her thigh decisively. “I’ll pray that you won’t end up in hell for this.”
Naturally, an awkward silence opened up between us.
She said, “I want to tell you something, since you shared a secret with me.” She went on to explain how she’d been away from home, involved in a group that required her to be out of town for training and preparation purposes, and she explained that she’d gotten romantically involved with a man in her group. “He really wanted to have sex,” she said, “but I want to be a virgin when I get married, so I let him have anal sex with me.” She started crying a little bit. “And it was awful,” she went on. “It hurt so bad.” I could tell she was embarrassed and ashamed. I comforted her. I told her it was okay, that it was nothing she couldn’t or shouldn’t move on from.
It wasn’t until sometime later that I realized she had thought me coming out = her dirty anal sex secret in her mind.
And this week, I finally got angry about it.