My Coming Out Story (In a nutshell…seriously)
I started my coming out process during my senior year of college when I came out to my friend Sarah. I was trying to figure out how to tell our mutual friend (my best friend) that I was gay and she told me to just rip off the bandage. I’d taken Kathryn to dinner and planned to tell her there (she could totally tell something was up) but I chickened out. Literally. I got The Bill Self at 23rd Street Brewery and ate so much buffalo chicken that I thought I would throw up.
So I waited. And I felt the weight of my confession literally weighing on me for the next two days until I finally just spilled. She smiled, she teared up, and then she called me an idiot (or something similar) for waiting. And our friendship became my rock.
When I moved to Nebraska to work on my Master’s degree, I’d decided that I would live openly. On the first day of Orientation, while eating lunch with three other guys in my program, the conversation of marriage came up (two of them were recently married) and they asked if I, who had been sitting so quietly, staring at my Subway, had a girlfriend. I looked up and confidently (I hope…I was literally terrified) said, “No, but I’ve got a boyfriend.”
Their response was exactly what you’d hope for: “Oh. Cool. What’s his name?”
Later that day, I came out to the rest of the group in different ways, but that moment at the lunch table has been my defining moment. That is when I began living openly as a gay man. But it wasn’t for many more months that I would come out to my family.
In April 2013, I was having an argument with my sister over a piece of legislation back home to which I was ardently opposed (but my dad had helped to write), when she asked why I was so emotionally involved. I took a deep breath and said, “Because this could affect me. Because I am gay.” Neither of us said anything for a long time. “You know that I know and that I love you, right?” she said. I lost it.
It was another two months before I came out to my parents. My mom had surprised me at work and then we went out to eat and got ice cream. While we were eating my ice cream, we discussed my thesis (“Making Their Own Way: The Experiences of Gay Male Students in STEM”) and my purpose and I chose that moment to come out. Then, when I got home to celebrate with my family the following weekend, I also came out to my dad.
I am incredibly fortunate to have found such a supportive community, including my family. I still have a lot more family to whom have yet to come out, but I’m really happy with where I am. I know now that I can live openly and be myself without fearing retribution or persecution (for the most part). I’ve also recognized that I exist in a space which confers massive amounts of privilege upon me where I get to live openly and my officemates and students accept me.
But I also report to many people on my campus and if I choose to be open with them about my identity I know that it could have very negative consequences. My group could be penalized via the budget, program approvals, purchase order requests, or the general business attitude toward my office.
My students run a $150,000 budget for programming, my boss runs a similarly sized program for the arts in the community, I supervise two GTAs, a work study student, and an administrative specialist. What if my coming out were to reflect negatively upon them or make their work more difficult to do?
My fears aren’t completely unfounded, either. Recently, when attempting to bring an LGBTQ group to campus for a residency and performance series, my supervisor found nothing but roadblocks even though his advisory board had actually suggested the event and unanimously approved it. Members of my division who would describe themselves as feminists or, worse yet, women, have experienced direct oppression from the administration.
As much as I struggle with the guilt and shame that theoretically would exist if I came out professionally, I struggle more with the guilt and shame of not living authentically in my professional life.
Where I’m At Now
Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to any of this. Of course, it would be easy for some to say that I should just come out and be authentic because that’s the right thing to do. But you have to remember that although President Obama has signed an Executive Order protecting workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people, in Oklahoma, it is also still legal to fire an employee for perceived sexual orientation. The city of Stillwater does not protect its LGBTQ citizens from discrimination, either.
Others have suggested that if I experience discrimination, that I should just file a complaint with Human Resources. Unfortunately, I have already seen how ineffective that can be at my institution.
At the end of the day, I can only give so many presentations on inclusive communities, identity, and privilege & oppression before I expect to see some changes around me. Many times, I have felt as if I’m the only person on this campus who is concerned for the well-being of all students, staff, and faculty. When none of that is returned to you, it can feel incredibly isolating and defeating.
Where We Go From Here
I don’t think there’s an easy answer. We continue fighting the good fight. But we also keep supporting each other. We keep sharing our stories with each other in the hopes that we can connect and support one another.
No law will change how people feel. We have to do that. But I don’t think we have to do it alone. We can do this together.