Sex Education for the Real World…

 


Coming Out; Self-Discovery And Affirmation

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Posted January 28, 2013 by Kimani in Love. Life. Erotica.

This week’s guest writer chronicles his quest to find understanding outside the closet…

 

 

 

 

Coming Out: A Process of Self-Discovery, Ownership and Affirmation

 

 

I remember it was a cloudy day in April; I was a senior in high school at the time. The school day had ended quite early as was usually the case for us seniors who were given the privilege of more relaxed class schedules. A friend and I were walking toward the Q64 bus stop when he asked me a question of the sort that I’ve always dreaded being asked, “so which of girls of our class are you interested in?” It was the kind of question many, if not all, guys that age have been asked at one point or another and are expected to answer proudly without hesitation. And many do so but I’ve long known I was not like many guys in that regard. Already, I could feel the beating of my heart pick up pace just a bit- at least that’s what I thought. Usually, I’d lie or sheepishly smile without saying anything in a futile effort to divert attention but this time I wanted to take a different approach. Without giving it too much thought, I answered, “none,” smiling uncomfortably. “What do you mean none? You’re a guy; you have a penis. There’s got to be someone…You know, I wanna see you with a girlfriend, man. I’m gonna’ try to set you up with one, what do ya say?” After another awkward exchange I was finally able to muster enough courage to tell him the truth, “I’m gay”.

Quite frankly, I don’t recall whatever it was in that moment that possessed me to willingly embrace the degree of vulnerability I’d never dared to face before then; at the time, my friend identified strongly as a conservative Republican and I wasn’t sure I was ready to handle what I’d potentially set myself up against. But he wasn’t that person I was afraid of. To my surprise, he was actually quite offended that I had taken, as he saw it, far too long to disclose that information; that in turn led to another awkward exchange. Needless to say, the first time I decided to come out to someone other than myself was by no means perfect but in retrospect it was one of the best days of my life. Since then that friend has become one of my closest of friends and we still talk to this day.

Coming out is not something you do only once; it isn’t a single event that forever alleviates one of the decision to disclose that aspect of oneself to others. Because of our heterosexist society- one in which it is already presumed that one is straight regardless of one’s sexuality, an LGBT person may quite conceivably come out many times over the course of his or her life. That’s what it means to be queer, in part. Case in point, I decided to come out in a very public way via Facebook a couple of months ago. Not only was this the first time I decided to share that part of me with so many people at once and in that public a way but also, and perhaps more importantly, it was the first time I reached out to family members other than my own mother. I like to think of coming out as a process of self-discovery, ownership and affirmation.

Generally, my family and friends were very receptive to my personal revelation; many sent me personal texts reassuring me that I had their love and support but there was at least one moment in which I was put on the defensive. In particular, the manner in which I chose to disclose my sexual orientation was interrogated: I was asked whether I considered how others such as future employers will perceive me and that perhaps it would have been better that I told my family members in person rather than broadcast this information so publicly; that the fact that I announced this truth about myself in such a way may have rendered certain relations irreparable. I was not surprised by this response; because I was ready to share the truth about my sexual orientation I was prepared to face that kind of response and far worse.

That someone may treat me poorly because of my sexuality is not an indictment on me but on that person in the same way if I were being abused or mistreated on the basis of my skin pigmentation. I’m not going to change my sexuality because some folk still find it offensive or morally wrong. It’s not an option; my sexuality is a fact about me. If sexuality were in anyway a choice it is not plausibly the same as choosing what flavor ice cream you want to eat: think about a person or any set of persons you’re attracted to and then try to not have that response. Think about a person or any set of persons you’re not attracted to and try to feel attraction. If you’re anything like me, which is most likely the case, such exercises are rather pointless. Of course, I want to be careful not to reduce matters of sexuality to mere attraction but the main point here is that my homosexuality is a fact about how I experience the world; that’s an empirically verifiable understanding of sexuality that ought to be taken seriously. Part of the frustration of being gay in this society is that at the level of both popular and political discourse, the idea that people like me are somehow mistaken about our own first person subjective experiences is still given respectability. My rights to equal and fair housing, employment, protection from violence and discrimination among other things depend upon the opinions of those who remain ignorant, often willfully so, about sexuality. As Jay Michaelson so eloquently stated, the fundamental battle that underlies the gay rights movement is the fight for the right to “self-definition, to say I exist-and to be believed.”

Ideally, I would have wanted to come out to each and every family member personally. There’s nothing like that one on one interaction, the awkward give and take, and all the anxiety that comes with such an encounter. It’s a very uncomfortable experience but in the end, luckily for me at least, the world becomes more human. When I came out to my high school friend we both shared something about ourselves in that moment; of course, I trusted my friend with the most intimate of all personal information but he showed me the depth of his friendship and love. Coming out is a bilateral and reciprocal experience; the people you come out to come out to you as well in a sense. And often what causes someone anxiety when making the decision to come out is that one does not necessarily know how others will receive one especially if they have treated the topic of homosexuality negatively or remained silent on the issue. To come out is often to make a leap of faith; the faith that the other will embrace you when you’re most vulnerable. I am the son of Afro-Caribbean immigrants and was raised in a highly Christian inflected community. Growing up, I became very familiar with negative attitudes concerning homosexuality whether at home, family gatherings, Sunday school –in spite of attending a more liberal denomination-and from teachers and peers until high school. What made coming out to myself so painful and difficult was, in large part, that I had internalized all of the attitudes I learned to accept as normative.

The decision to come out was not one that I ever took lightly. I knew when I first came out that I had to tell my family that I’m gay: it’s only fair to them and me that they know who I really am. Coming out is a chance for me to be loved for who I am, freely, without any pretenses. But the decision to come out is mine to make; I do have a say in how and when I disclose that information. Moreover, given the history and status of being LGBT, it’s my belief that anyone who faces the decision to come out owes that much to themselves; as queer people we have the right to analyze our own situations and make the best decisions for ourselves. In my case, I did not feel obligated to come out personally to each and every one of my family members because I do not share that kind of interactive relationship with all of them. I don’t share any common experiences at all with many of them let alone anything so intimate as my coming out; I doubted they would have expected me to do otherwise. Honestly, if anyone ended all ties to me supposedly on the basis of the way I came out there were more problems in that relationship to begin with; namely that, they weren’t as connected as they thought themselves to be and don’t care to learn more about me whatever the circumstance. But even if that were not the case, life is too short to waste it on people who don’t love you. I made a conscious decision that if I ever found myself in such a situation, in spite of the pain, I’d have faith that I’ll find love my own way.

So far, my coming out process has gone rather well- quite contrary to my expectations; I seriously underestimated how much people can and do change. Unlike so many LGBT people at home and in the broader global community, I’ve been quite fortunate to have many wonderful and loving people in my life. I’ve lost some relationships along the way but the ones I’ve gained and the others which have been strengthened were all well worth my choice to come out. Sometimes, I think I did wait too long: it would have been nice to know what full acceptance, love and support feels like earlier in life. At the same time, I believe it would have been wrong to pressure myself into doing something I wasn’t ready to do. My coming out, thus far, was by no means romantic or ideal but that’s what life is like generally. As far as I can see, we waste life unless we live it fully, embracing its lessons and cherishing all the wonderful people you’ll meet, and keep on going forward. I hope the day when coming out is no longer a spectacle will soon come.

 




About the Author

Kimani

A NY transplant in Florida, Kimani has taken on the task of educating the world on sexual health and education. The Mount Vernon native has seen AIDS and HIV spread through her community like wildfire, and hopes to cease the transmission of these and other diseases one person at a time. If you know better, you're inclined to do better.

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