Coming Out (Part 3)

Trying to figure out what to say

It’s been a little while since I posted more about my coming out and that’s really just because I didn’t know how to continue. Telling my story in this chronological order doesn’t really feel right at this point. There is so much more to it than just a sequence of events. There’s so much more feeling and struggle and joy and pain and happiness in it than just “I did this and then did that and then talked to this person…”

Plus, in my timeline of this story, I’ve already reached my college years. My internal struggle at this point was essentially over. Sure, I dealt with understanding how to exist in a heteronormative world, but I knew who I was and I no longer needed to deny it. I was dealing with so many other developmental tasks at this point that my sexuality really wasn’t that salient.

If you’ve read any of my thesis, then you’ve read about how difficult it can be for a gay person to exist in the hyper-masculine fields of the sciences. And yeah, it is, but I was so much more focused on my faith development, my studies, moving toward self-authorship, and changing my professional focus from meteorology to student affairs.

By the time I was a senior at KU, however, I’d settled in my faith development, my studies were quickly winding down, and I was well on my way to finding and getting accepted to a grad school. Suddenly, my sexuality was the most salient thing in my life. I finally took the plunge and really began my coming out process at KU’s Leadershape Institute.

For those who don’t know about Leadershape, the Institute is a week-long retreat for students that focuses on social justice, vision casting, and social change. The week is incredibly transformative so each participant is put into a family cluster. Your cluster is your home base and you become very close very quick. On the first or second night, I chose to come out to family cluster. I knew I couldn’t be anything other than 100% honest with them.

That really put the first crack in the door of my closet. Next, I confessed to my friend Sarah. Shortly after, I had that conversation with my friend Kathryn that I’ve detailed before. From there, I began to live more openly. When I arrived at Nebraska, I came out on the very first day of orientation.


Coming out to family is harder than it looks

But there’s a reason that coming out to your friends and acquaintances is separate from coming out to your family in the sexual orientation identity development models. Coming out to your family is so much more incredibly challenging. With friends, you know you can always find others, that people will always come into and out of your life; that is a family you can choose.

That’s the thing about irrational fears. They cannot be rationalized…suddenly every single fear you’ve ever had about coming out that you thought you’d already worked through comes flooding back and you can. not. stop. them. 

Your actual family, on the other hand, is not something that can be changed. But they could cut off all connection. Your relationship could change. And really, what’s worse than making already awkward gatherings even more awkward. I sweat enough as it is…I don’t need the extra pressure of an awkward conversation. (To be fair, I now welcome these conversations because they make all of us better. And my immediate and extended family has been the most amazing.)

When you’re in that moment, though, where you’re trying to figure out how and when to come out to them all, there’s suddenly this irrational fear that you’ll be asked to leave that family Christmas celebration. Or that you’ll suddenly be cut off. That you’ll no longer have anywhere to call home. That you’ll no longer be welcome.

That’s the thing about irrational fears. They cannot be rationalized. I never had any doubt that my parents would be anything but supportive and loving, but I was terrified of having that conversation. Because suddenly every single fear you’ve ever had about coming out that you thought you’d already worked through comes flooding back and you can. not. stop. them. 

The reason I cried when I came out to my sister over the phone in April 2014 wasn’t because I was suddenly so relieved. It was because I knew she could finally understand me. Because I no longer had to adopt some pretense for my actions and beliefs. And because those irrational fears were finally erased. It was the same feeling as when I cried after getting into a car accident. I was quite literally in shock. I shook. I cried. I sweated through three layers of shirt. I couldn’t breathe. I felt extremely nauseated. I had to hang up and focus on finishing the last two blocks of my drive home.


Coming out really never stops

This series could literally go on forever. Unfortunately, it would start to look a lot like “Well, today I had to come out to the mail delivery person. Huzzah.”

I think that’s partially why I chose this venue to “complete” my coming out. I was tired of having to tell people. My sexual and affectional orientation is extremely important to me and sits at the very core of my being, but those conversations are exhausting. I would much rather have that 437th conversation about why I left meteorology, or explain for the 9,663,234th time that calling heavy rain a “monsoon” is outright wrong, or explain for the umpteen-trillionth time what it is that I do than have to come out one more time.

But the thing is, I know I will have to come out forever unless I’m fortunate enough to become some major worldwide celebrity…which really doesn’t seem likely. I’ll have to come out to everyone at the doctor’s office once I finally select a new primary physician, I’ll have to come out anytime someone asks me to donate blood, I’ll have to come out to my future partner (which you would think wouldn’t be necessary but, believe me, it is). But this is all ok. 

WeRise

It’s ok if for no other reason than that I was able to tell my story myself. I didn’t have to deal with people spreading rumors and secrets behind my back (that I know of). I didn’t have to deal with the threat of physical, emotional, or psychological violence related to my orientation or perceived orientation. I didn’t have to deal with the questions, the disapproving looks, and the rejection.

It’s ok if for no other reason than I know that I will never be denied healthcare because of who I am. I will never be accused to just being too greedy and deemed untrustworthy by a potential partner because of my orientation. I will never have to fight for the right to exist in the first place.

It’s ok if for no other reason than because now I am able to focus the conversation on educating others about the coming out process. I am able to speak up about my experiences with the hope of encouraging or supporting someone else. I am able to speak up without fear of losing my job, my home, or my insurance.

In the future, I am hopeful that I will be a little more consistent with posting. I am also hopeful that I can at least temporarily leave this conversation behind and move to using this blog to discuss the issues that are important to me as a first-year professional, as a social justice journeyer, and as a person.

Craving the Research Rush (Or, Is This Normal?)

I promise to not link to my thesis often, but at least knowing what I researched might be helpful for understanding what I’m discussing below. I also just feel like making a shameless (SHAMELESS, I tell you) plug to up my views and downloads because I’m superficial like that.


I make a lot of plans that don’t really pan out.

I’ve mentioned previously that I graduated with my Masters degree in May 2014. While grad school was incredibly taxing, it was among the most incredible two years of my life. When I left my undergrad career choice (Atmospheric Science and meteorology…we’ll discuss my path to student affairs at a different time) behind to start at Nebraska, I was petrified that I would get halfway done and realize I was on the wrong path.

Fortunately, that never happened. Sure, I struggled at times – like learning to write multiple high-quality papers every week that required an exorbitant amount of critical thinking whereas my undergraduate experience was far more concerned with understanding equations.

Then came time for thesis work. I’d been awaiting the day we’d work on theses with an equal amount of dread and excitement. I was finally going to be able to research something important to me, but I was also going to be asked to conduct professional research, write what is essentially an academic textbook, and become an expert in something I was just barely beginning to understand fully.

But I jumped in. Head first. I started meeting regularly with my advisor for thesis work in August and put together a strong plan. After receiving IRB approval, I was raring to go. Unfortunately, I woefully underestimated the population available on my campus and was soon faced with the challenge of finding more participants.

I had three options: continue with just one participant and attempt an ethnographic study; attempt to receive approval through other institutions and listservs and then recruit there; or scrap my idea and start over. After considerable panic and many, many conversations with my classmates, I decided to go for option two. And I’m so glad I did.

With the help of my incredible friends and colleagues, I was able to create something I am incredibly proud of. But the idea of beginning another research project or even taking a formal class within the foreseeable future sounded like a fate worse than death.

So I made another plan (because all my previous plans have worked out so well. I could probably fill an entirely blog with posts about my “best laid plans”). This new plan was to give myself two years at whatever job I found before considering another degree. That would give me one more year of validity for my GRE scores to apply to new grad schools. Whether I would work full-time and be a student part-time or vice versa was to be determined later.

My plan seemed perfect. I could get a break from school and get some excellent experience as a practitioner before restarting my academics and pursuing a career in the faculty.


But really…is this normal?

I’ve been at Oklahoma State for just more than four months. And while the summer was rough (new place with no friends, no hobbies, and no programs), the start of the school year has been phenomenal. My students are incredible. I am constantly in awe of their creativity, their sensitivity, and their dedication. They make me want to work harder.

But lately, I’ve been feeling the itch to get back to researching. I truly miss reading articles, reflecting critically on them, discussing them with colleagues and mentors, preparing a research methodology, and writing. Oh, how I miss academic writing! I feel like such a freak! I want nothing more than to write something new.

Maybe it’s the act of listing yourself as an author. Or maybe it’s seeing people google topics and download your thesis. Or maybe it’s the prospect of someone thinking you’re an expert.

Whatever it is, I just can’t shake the feeling that I need to be conducting some type of research.

The first time I mentioned to a friend that I was considering starting a new research project, I got a tremendous amount of side-eye (it was through the phone, but still – I can recognize shade from more than 200 miles away).

I’m wondering, if I have any colleagues reading this who have conducted research, is this normal?


Other terrifying thoughts

There’s a lot that goes into a research project. To conduct research at OSU, I’ll have to go through CITI training again (which is terrible and boring and just…ugh). This project would also essentially be unsupervised and would be my first professional work.

Another terrifying thought is attempting to narrow down a single topic enough to the point of being researchable. In my readings currently, I’m discovering a boon of new ideas and theories, which means my head is swirling with possible topics.

Right now, I’m reading up on sexual aesthetics and their use in “new masculinity.” I’ve also got some reading to do from Kimmel (my masculinities hero) on masculinity as homophobia. I’ve also got some interesting articles focused on the intersections between sexuality, gender, and other identities like race (how homophobia differs between white and black heterosexual men) and faith identity (how homophobia presents itself in the Bible Belt).

I am a firm believer that professionals in student affairs need to be constantly reading and learning about their students and at the very least, I hope to live up to my own expectations. I’m also seeing a pretty clear theme emerge among the articles I’ve found interesting enough to download in the past week.

In any case, I’m actually really excited to read these articles and begin a new research process. There’s a very real chance that I’ll be posting article reviews here just as a manner of safe keeping (look forward to that…). Or maybe I’ll just chronicle my attempt at creating a catalog of what I’ve read.

Wish me luck! 🙂

Coming Out (Part 2)

For a brief (lol) introduction to why I’m posting a Coming Out series, check out Coming Out (Part 1.5). For some context, you may also wish to view the coming out story of Daniel Pierce, which I am still unable to watch.


Ah, Childhood

One of the first questions you get when you’re coming out is “When did you know you were gay?” For me, the answer is simple. I always knew I was more attracted to males.

Even when I was in preschool, I remember feeling more comfortable around the girls in my class or the little neighbor girl. I think all the adults around me sort of thought it was cute that I played with the girls. I’m pretty sure I was called a “Ladies Man” more than once. But I only played with them because I was more comfortable. I knew that by playing with girls I wouldn’t have to talk about who I liked or who I had a crush on. And, as they talked about boys, I could join in or at least not have to talk about girls. I knew that I could be different without being abnormal.

That is a very powerful thing, by the way. Getting to be different without having to be abnormal. There is no worse feeling in the world than knowing you’re not like everybody else and knowing that being so makes you pretty undesirable. From a very early age, I learned how to exist in stealth mode. It occurs to me now that this existence has probably led to me being a pretty loud-mouthed activist today. Oh well.

I had my first crush in kindergarten, though. Yes, it was on a boy. It was very confusing because I’d only ever heard or been told that boys liked girls. So I just assumed that it was nothing. As a kid, you have that ability; that privilege to just let things go as something you don’t understand because OH MY GOD THERE’S A NEW TOY IN THE BOX AND I HAVE TO PLAY WITH IT RIGHT NOW. Being a kid is great.


Middle School is Confusing Enough. Also, High School

Those feelings don’t just go away, though. I had them all throughout elementary school and in to middle school. That’s a weird time to begin understanding that about yourself. While I’m fortunate to have grown up in a family where I was never told that I couldn’t be something. I was always told that I would be loved unconditionally. That doesn’t mean it was any easier to understand who I was.

That’s the challenge of living in such a heteronormative culture. I never really saw gay people on TV. And when I did, they were mostly the butt of the joke (even on everyone’s favorite, FRIENDS, gay men are never portrayed positively or as successful).

In high school I had my first “girlfriend.” I put that in quotes because I knew it wasn’t real. For me, it was a way of attempting to reject my sexuality. I spent all day watching the guys in my school, but knew that I shouldn’t/couldn’t be gay, so I began “dating” my best friend. That wasn’t a good idea for a lot of reasons.

While I was in high school, I joined a church and became very active. I was looking for some way of reconciling my sexuality with a faith. I wanted to be told that it was OK. That was OK. Instead, I found an environment where if you didn’t fit into their very narrow box, you were berated, treated with a healthy dose of disapproval, and prayed for. I didn’t need to be prayed for. I needed to be accepted.


Letting Go – Or, Sometimes Life Sucks

As I was turning 18, getting ready to head off to college, and preparing to vote in my first presidential election (a monumental time by itself), I began expressing my deeply liberal worldview on Facebook and elsewhere. I was absolutely shellshocked when I was met with nothing but animosity, veiled and not-so-veiled insults, and accusations of a poor parenting structure by my church family.

I could not believe that I would get this kind of reaction from a group of people I attended services with. Our sermons were generally a very positive experience. The pastor did not preach fire and brimstone or end-of-times lessons. He generally discussed love, service, and living your faith, so it destroyed me to discover that others in the congregation had interpreted everything so differently.

While that has turned out to be a powerful character-building event for me and has led to me discovering my beliefs more fully, it was very painful to experience as I moved away from home. The most painful was realizing that the very people with whom I thought I shared an unconditional love used nothing but conditions to qualify their love for me. I realized that coming out at that time would be completely unsafe. So, as I started at KU, I remained as closeted as possible.


Thanks Again

I recognize that that’s a lot to cover in one post, so I’m going to stop it here. For those who have studied LGB identity development, I’ve already covered the first two processes in D’Augelli’s model and am working on the third stage of Cass’s model.

It’s important for me to share this part of my life as well because I want others to know that even though the struggle with their identity, they can get through it. I was fortunate to grow up in a home environment where I never truly had to fear for my safety or shelter. Even so, I struggled to accept my identity internally. It sucked. It was hard. But I’m glad I went through it because I now know that nothing can ever shake my foundations.

My next post will delve deeper into my college life and the external coming out process. Again, I want to thank everyone for reading and following my journey. I’m looking forward to finishing the bulk of this series and using it to move forward into other topics.

Be good to each other.

 

Coming Out (Part 1.5)

I’ve detailed some of my coming out process in an earlier post, but I wanted to come back to it again. The coming out process is just that: a process. It never truly ends and only sometimes gets easier. But it’s important to do, to share, and to support.


Totally Moved

In my search for things to do, I rekindled my romance with YouTube and watched pretty much anything ever recorded by Hannah Hart. I first came to love Hannah because of her My Drunk Kitchen videos (a lifelong goal of mine is to record one of these with Hannah and also host my own inebriated cooking show).

This video is really just an aside because I think it’s important that everyone see it. Also, it’s the very first episode, so you’ve got hours of laughter and enjoyment ahead.

I had known for a while that Hannah identified as a lesbian, but it really wasn’t a big part of her videos. And then I found her secondary channel where she discusses much more personal topics, vlogs her trips, and challenges her fans (the Hartosexuals) to do good.

While perusing the channel, I found her Coming Out series. Started in November 2012, this was Hannah’s way to address her sexuality and explain some of her background. Since then, she has posted a total of six videos, the most recent last month.

That last video, taken backstage at the LGBTQA+ panel at VidCon2014, really inspired this post.

I’ve decided to share the entire playlist because it’s just that important. But skip ahead to the sixth video if you need to save time.


Why I’m Sharing My Story

On Friday, while doing everything I could to stay awake at work, I saw a post by someone, who identifies as gay, asking why it was everyone felt the need to “come out” because, as he said, “it’s not like you would do it if you were straight.”

I sat at my desk saying to myself over and over agin, “Of course it’s important for people to come out!” After several minutes of fuming and outright frustration (which I apparently didn’t hide very well, judging by my administrative assistant’s concern), I had a sort of breakthrough.

I decided to re-watch Hannah’s story. I was thinking about how important it is for all openly queer people to share their story. I remember when I was coming to terms with my sexuality thinking how I had no idea what to say or do because I didn’t know anyone who had come out.

Why do people feel the need to come out and make their sexuality known? Because simply loving themselves is completely radical. Because other people need to know that they can also be exactly who they are and still find happiness, love, and support. Because it’s important for people to know who I really am. It’s important for me to let go of this secret and to share it with the world. It’s important for me to begin living my life, not upholding this facade I’ve created.

It is important that people know I am not ashamed to be exactly who I am. It is important that people do not assume I fit their stereotypes. And perhaps most importantly, I want every young person I encounter to know they can be out, happy, and successful, too.


How I’m Sharing My Story

I’m still struggling and trying to figure out the best way to do this. My story, like most, is very long and contains both good and bad. I’m thinking I might make a YouTube video, or I might just write several smaller-ish posts.

In any case, I hope that with each post on this blog, I reach just one more person. I haven’t spoken with each of my family members about my sexuality and don’t intend to. But I do intend to make it known to each of them that they know and (I hope) love an openly gay person who, just like them, dreams of success, love, and family.

 

The best TEDx talk I’ve ever seen

I know I included this video in the previous post, but it’s important enough that I think it deserves its own post. 

I’m not going to say much about the video this time around because I want you to watch and come to your own conclusions. For me, this video is defining my first year as a student affairs professional. I’ve used it in a professional retreat setting, a student retreat, and with my officemates as a conversation piece. 

 

 

 

P.S. to Ash Beckham: If you or your management ever see this post, I would do basically anything to have you speak at Oklahoma State.