"Mom, I think I'm gay... " heart pounding, tears flowing.
"Honey, of course you are. And just know, that if you ever get to Bert Reynolds, he's mine first... " a smile, arms welcoming.
It was the front seat of a blue Oldsmobile Cutlass S on Lemon St. in Long Beach, Calif. I was the 17-year-old high school senior on his way home from school, who had spent weeks crying at night and years dealing with the urges because I knew I was different and I would be an outsider. She was my mother, my 4'9" devout Catholic hell-raiser of a woman who just saw any hopes of a grandchild from her boy, her son, her shining star, a woman who probably wanted it to not be true but there it was, so she opened her arms.
I didn't get a call from the President of the United States. I didn't get letters of support from dignitaries. There weren't press conferences, news channels didn't debate the impact of the decision on anyone, tolerance was not preached. We hugged and went in the house and the "you'd better tell your father" part started. He was fine as well.
That moment galvanized an unapologetic life of being out. If my mom and dad could love me, if my friends accepted me, well then, the world be damned. I've been called every name in the book (still to this day), I've had to run faster, jump higher, I've broken barriers (being gay in the pre-Modern Family world, being out in the '80s, '90s and beyond wasn't a piece of cake) and been the "first openly gay" this-or-that countless times. I've even had to fight for the right to sue in a wrongful death case when my partner died, to make the state acknowledge we mattered. A few laws got rewritten after all of that thanks to my suit. Being gay, and coming out, becomes a part of us, especially if you're a public figure or entertainer. Ask Ellen, I'm sure "openly gay" was her first name for years.
Millions of kids have repeated the scene between me and my parents... long before and will long after. For some it doesn't end the same. It ends with get out, you're not my child, how could I have raised you, where did I go wrong, we'll pray it away, we'll fix you, you are dead to me. Others have to deal with parents that think it's a phase, it will pass, just haven't met the right man or woman. Some never tell their parents, having it go unspoken forever; never sharing such an important part of their life. And then lucky ones, like me, have parents that love them still; even if they don't understand or sometimes wished it wasn't so, they still loved right through it.
Coming out, personally, publicly, it doesn't matter, it's all the same. Today, the dangers are less. Yes, dangers. Remember there are still many states where it is legal to fire someone for being gay. Sitting here in Long Beach, Calif., I still couldn't get married to another man (should I ever find a date). People still feel free to hide behind religion to be bigoted and say hateful things in the name of their distorted view of an ancient text written by men in ancient times in Aramaic.
But first, it's personal. Telling those you love. Then, it's public. Telling people where you work, people in your world, even strangers should you have a partner to introduce (or spouse in some states). Or, if you're a sports star or entertainer, telling the press.
But it took as much courage in the front seat of that Cutlass, and takes as much courage in living rooms, bedrooms, and homes across America and the world for people young and old to tell those they love that they are, in fact, something other than straight, as much as any sports star can muster. And the only accolades they get are the joys that come with living and open life unencumbered by lying about who you truly are.
No one comes out to be first, to get phone calls from presidents, to blaze a trail or burn down a wall or build a bridge, to make a social statement... we, they, us, we come out to simply be honest with ourselves and those we love. It's harder for some, and some never do it. But once you do you realize how much of a big deal it isn't.
So congrats to Jason Collins and to all that choose to live openly and honestly and shame on those that would tell them to do otherwise based on any belief system or profession.
And Mr. President, I'm waiting for my long overdue call.
Follow Charles Karel Bouley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/therealkarel