Still coming out after all these years

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month. Early Pride transformed from parades into month-long celebrations with corporate sponsorship and an endless display of rainbow merchandise. LGBTQ+ pride was born in the early 70s in the wake of the Stonewall riots from which the LGBTQ+ rights movement was born.

Tweet by Alexander Leon

I came across a tweet earlier this year that describes a good bit of my life experiences as a gay man. This is my coming out story told through the words of this tweet.

Coming out is the process an LGBTQ+ person goes through to understand their sexual orientation and gender identity to live their life as the person they are.

The coming out process differs for each person. It generally happens in stages as mine did. My coming out was rewriting the version of myself to reflect who I truly am.

Sacrificing authenticity

Living life with authenticity is accepting who you are and being truly who you are. At age eight in 1962, I had same-sex attractions. I did not know what it was but knew I was somehow different. I sensed it was something I had to hide. That part of my life was hidden for the next 17 years. Hiding parts of myself was hard work and emotionally taxing. It involved intricate lies to project an image of a person that was not me.

Minimizing humiliation

A good bit of hiding who I was was to avoid humiliation during my school years. Schools in the 60s and 70s were a far cry from the accepting environment for today’s LGBTQ+ youth. It was a matter of survival to live in the closet during my teens. I preferred to be unknown, struggling to avoid people and situations that might reveal who I was.  

Minimizing prejudice

I recall in a 1968 freshman class hearing the term prejudice for the first time. It was most likely in the context of racial discrimination. Prejudice is the partner in crime of humiliation that kept me in the closet for the first 34 years of my life. I feared not being accepted by family, friends, classmates, and coworkers.

Becoming truly me

I reached a turning point in 1979. I was tired of the secret. It was time to live with authenticity and move past the fear of humiliation and prejudice. I took my first step outside of the closet at a gay men’s potluck in Kent. It was my first experience in a gathering of gay men. I walked in the door unhappy and scared. I left a happier, hopeful person.

Walking to my car from that potluck, I heard my name. I turned to see Rick Lange walking towards me. Rick was one of the potluck’s organizers. He sensed it was my first time out of the closet. We chatted. He said he was available to talk anytime. Rick became my mentor through many discussions and his library of gay books. I would be remiss in not mentioning him as a significant influence in my life as a gay man. Alas, I lost track of Rick many years back.

Living with authenticity and pride

The process of unpicking the parts of my life that I created for all the above reasons has been a lifelong exercise. It has been over 40 years since I took those first steps out of the closet. It continues today with this post.

My coming out led me down a healthy happy path. I found and married the love of my life. I became involved in LGBTQ+ advocacy in my personal and work lives. I left that quiet hidden person in the closet and am a much more outgoing person loving life. I owe this to living my life with authenticity.

Closing Pride thoughts

LGBTQ+ people spend a lot of effort protecting themselves and creating a false narrative of who they are. This is something that the non-LGBTQ+ person does not have to do to live a normal life. My message as Pride Month comes to an end is that Pride is integral in reclaiming a normal life from a life driven by conforming to a false image of yourself. Pride is accepting who you are and living your life with authenticity.

Thank you to @alexand_erleon for the tweet to led me to tell my story.

Tom Bilcze
The gay guy

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