At brunch last Sunday one of my closest friends was gushing over a guy he met out. His suitor is smart, handsome, employed, rents to own, and has a shared penchant for pizza at 3 a.m. After listing his suitor's "teen-dream traits," my friend qualified that there's one problem: Prince Charming came out only a few months ago, at 28. This red flag waves especially crimson to my friend, who came out when he was 16.
There are real challenges in dating someone who only recently left the closet. Sometimes a recently out man falls into "repeated adolescence," where he jumps from bed to bed and collects hearts. Other times he's so desperate for his first same-sex relationship that he rushes into one. On top of that, there are serious conversations that need to happen with frequency; there are awkward things to learn that span new bars and new sexual positions -- sometimes even new cuts of jeans. But beyond the psychological struggles and sharp learning curve, there is a stigma attached to "late bloomers": their choice is almost universally attributed to weakness.
I'm optimistic that we'll live to see a time where coming out more naturally aligns with coming of age. Maybe in 10 short years there will be less need for the "It Gets Better" project, and our definition of "better" will be repurposed to indicate going from good to great. But I hope that as we evolve, we continue to be respectful of those who take their time in stepping out of the closet.
I often use my own coming-out story to articulate this belief. I came out to most family and friends when I was 19. I came out to my father, a devout Muslim, when I was 26.
For seven years I lived my life 99-percent out. My boss, my doctor, even my favorite Starbucks barista knew I was gay. And while I knew that my dad would struggle with the news, I couldn't understand what kept me from saying those two words. I also struggled to understand how profoundly it weighed on me. During first dates, I skirted around the issue. I would meekly tell dates that my dad probably knew but that we didn't talk about it.
After difficult conversations with friends and hours of self-reflection, I felt ready to tell him. It wasn't a function of being a certain age or being with or without a boyfriend. I realized that I was at a point where empathy for my father outweighed my own self-pity. I was mature enough to understand why he struggled with the issue, and I genuinely sympathized with his tragically antagonistic view. It took seven years for the scale to tip, and on one of the most difficult days of my life, I was glad that I waited. My father and I remain close because I went into the conversation prepared and with a compassionate view of how he might (and did) react.
Everyone's coming-out experience is different. And the decision to say "I'm gay" takes into consideration hundreds more factors than merely how friends and family will react. I know that it's getting better, and I continue to hope that, as it does, we are all incredibly thoughtful about what it means to be supportive.