On The Ricki Lake Show's "Coming Out" episode, which aired this week, we met some strong, brave men and women. Since the episode aired, the response has been powerful, inspiring many to share their own personal stories, including me.
Thanksgiving 2004. It was a typical holiday gathering with family, friends, and wonderfully endless calories. But as I spent time with my family that holiday, I felt something within me beginning to change. Some conversations were getting harder to avoid, and some truths were getting closer to coming... out. After I got back to my room at home, and after removing the belt that was holding in the entire meal I had consumed, I started to write a letter. I don't know that I even began the letter consciously, but the words flowing out were as intentional as could be, and the feeling was as real as any I'd had before.
"Dear Mom," I started. Before I could catch up to my pen's movement, I realized that it seemed to have developed a mind, or at least thoughts, of its own. It had written words that had never crossed my lips, but somehow, as the ink touched the paper, the feelings felt real, and the message was clearer than ever and couldn't be taken back. I was finally telling my mom, "I am gay."
Four pages, a tear or two, and what felt like mere minutes later, it was finished. It had taken me 19 years to arrive at this moment. From a crush on Craig in first grade to seeing LGBT people on daytime TV, including on Ricki Lake's first show, I identified with gay men in a way that, for some reason, I couldn't name. I thought girls were pretty, and I wanted to hang out with them, but boys were a different kind of attractive; I wanted to get to know them (sometimes biblically). It was a long, confusing, sometimes hurtful, uneasy, uncertain, and unforgiving path that had brought me, this pen, and these pieces of paper to this moment, one that would undoubtedly and forever change my life as I knew it. I felt accomplished and liberated. Now... I had to deliver it. Ugh.
I drove from my dad's house to my mother's. (Coming out to my father wouldn't happen for another year, and it wouldn't happen in nearly the amicable, thoughtful way my that mother was being gifted.) My plan was simple: to drive over, put the letter in the mailbox, and steal away like a thief in the night. Had she known that my thoughts included the words "steal away," she wouldn't have really needed the letter, but I digress. The flaw in my plan was an unforeseen one: As I arrived at her house, she was in the driveway. Well, there went that.
I put the letter into my glove compartment, greeted her, and entered the house, pretending to have come over just to visit and steal some holiday grub. The letter would remain in my glove compartment for months, as my confidence drifted off as I fell asleep.
Spring was now quickly approaching. I needed to do this.
David, a friend and brilliant dancer, invited me to a dance studio where he was in the process of choreographing a piece to a song called "Here's Where I Stand" for a TV show. I'd never heard of the song before, and I was honestly more fascinated with the creative process and the dancing, leotard-clad young man whirling about the hardwood floor. Somewhere between an arabesque and a back attitude (the only dance terms I remember to this day), I heard the words of the song: "Here's where I stand. Here's who I am. Love me, but don't tell me who I have to be. Here's who I am. I'm what you see."
These words struck me. Almost involuntarily, I was choked up (and I'm not a crier). It was as if the world had started fading away. It was just the song (and the dancing boy) in the room. The words were going in one ear and settling somewhere in my head, trickling down to my heart. It was my story, sung beautifully, and so clearly. Almost immediately afterward I watched the movie Camp, from which the song comes. I got the song and played it repeatedly, almost as if hearing the lyrics would build me up to get me over the hurdle ahead.
After a couple of days of listening to the song on repeat, I woke up frustrated and exhausted. I was fed up, thinking, "I can't take this anymore." No matter where I was, that's all I thought about. At work making Caramel Frappuccinos, I was thinking about it. Driving home from the Frappuccino-making place that will remain nameless, I was thinking about it. Drinking the Frappuccino I'd surreptitiously made for myself before going home, I was thinking about it.
That night I listened to the song over and over. Finally, while everyone was asleep, I folded up the four pages and attached the letter to my mom's bedroom door with a small piece of blue painter's tape swiped from the interior paint project happening in our house at the time. How did she not know?!
I went to bed and quickly fell asleep. I was mentally drained from the day gone by. The next morning my mom crept into my room to grab something, inadvertently waking me, before quickly going back to her own room. I turned over to go back to sleep and heard her door close.
The panic started.
I jumped out of bed and into the shower, freaking out. "Why did I do that?!" I asked myself. Those five small words played over and over in my head. I couldn't think another thought.
That day set off a chain of events that led to me becoming pretty depressed very quickly. I had so many questions about my faith and sexuality. Would God accept me? Did I have to change in order to be acceptable in the sight of God? For a few weeks I found myself on a manic roller coaster, experiencing highs when I had a great day, yet I was never more than a thought away from plummeting to the lowest of lows, where I would feel deep regret, sadness, and frustration. Nothing had changed. After all the years of praying, I couldn't stop thinking that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Will Smith were the hottest things walking. That still hasn't really changed, for what it's worth.
I can't speak to everyone's experience; I can only recount mine. As for it getting better, almost eight years later, it certainly has. But it didn't just get better, as the phrase may imply. I had to participate in the process of making it better. I had to learn to accept myself, embrace who I was, and learn that God loved me just as I was (intentionally) created.
However you arrive at the moment when you're finally ready to say, "Here's who I am," no matter how huge the challenges may be, it will get better.Read more from contributors at TheRickiLakeShow.com: