I lost a friend my senior year of high school -- someone who was very, very close to me. The kind of friend that I imagined I would have beyond high school, through college, into adulthood and beyond; the type of friend that would be there to share a celebratory drink when I landed my first real job and would be there to toast me when I marry; someone who I would share my greatest joys and my deepest sorrows with. Unfortunately, he hasn't been and won't be there for any of those things. He died.
However, he didn't die in a way that I had experienced up to that point in my life. He didn't face a terrible illness. He wasn't in a terrible accident. He surely wasn't murdered, and he absolutely didn't take his own life. Instead, this dear, beautiful friend of mine died of ignorance.
"You work with that faggot from English class, don't you?" he said to me jokingly at lunch as I ate a cafeteria sandwich that surely had been in the school's refrigerator a few days too many.
"That fucking queer who sings in that high-pitched opera voice," he continued, "the homo who likes to write his own musicals."
My mind was blown; my fists tightened.
"I have quite a few co-workers, dude," I responded, "and a few of them are from English class."
"You know the fairy I'm talking about," he joked.
My heart raced; my blood pressure rose.
"Dude, I know he works there," he was getting angry.
I was boiling, "don't say another word," I warned him.
"I'm your friend, not that cocksucker..." he began.
He never finished. I cut him off, "Screw you," I yelled, "Screw you, you freaking asshole." I stared long and hard into his eyes. He knew that he had made a mistake. His lip started to quiver. "I don't work with queers. I don't work with homos, and i certainly don't work with faggots." I was saying my final words to him. "I work with people."
I turned around, and in that moment he died. I'm sure he's still out there living somewhere, but to me he died in the hallway of my high school as I yelled in his face. He fell from the face of the earth as far as I'm concerned.
Recently, that beautiful co-worker of mine, that wonderful human being who sang with the voice of an angel, that confidant who was always there with open ears and a warm embrace, that exemplary human being who opened the doors to his home to any and all walks of life finally shared his "secret." He came out to Facebook and to the world.
I sat on my computer, reading his post, with tears streaming down my face. I cheered. I liked the post. I commented. I cried. I choked back my emotions, called my girlfriend and shared with her the news.
"Aw, how sweet," she said -- the usual response of a modern Los Angelino who spends her Tuesday nights playing dodgeball in a primarily gay dodgeball league, "that's really great for him." Clearly, this wasn't something that would affect her the same way it did me. "What time are we leaving for dinner?" she asked.
Dinner? How could I think about dinner? I wanted to get on a plane and give this friend a hug, and I wanted to congratulate him -- not because he came out, but because he was free.
I can't imagine the burden that comes with holding a secret like that for one's entire life. The stress, I'm sure, is unimaginable. The sneers, smirks and disapproving glances from everyone who made a joke about the kid who wouldn't tell anyone what they all seemed to already know.
On the other hand, I can't imagine the weight that was lifted from his shoulders, the number of people he inspired, the smile that came across his face, or the love that burst from his heart when he clicked, "post." He was free -- through and through he was fucking free.
I can't thank him enough for the strength that he's given me as an individual to hold my head high and let each and every person know what they already assume about me. So finally, after all of these years, with shaky hands, a racing heart and teary eyes I am finally ready to tell everyone I know:
I am straight.
Don't laugh -- it's not funny. Sure, you all knew. You've seen me flirt, you've seen me date and you've seen me love, but I've never proclaimed it for each and every person that I know. So will say it again:
I am straight.
Seriously, I cannot describe the exhilaration that I feel in this moment. I feel on top of the world. I feel the wind beneath me. I am soaring above each and every person on the face of the earth. I am flying. For once, I am completely and utterly alive.
We have placed a lot of weight on the notion of, "coming out." It is a nail-biting, stomach-turning and life-altering experience for the person baring his or her soul to the world. On the other hand, it is an, "I told you so," or a, "you'll never believe what I just heard," or in the best of scenarios, it is a "I'm so happy for this person." But now, it is time for each and every one of us to lift this weight, together.
Sure, a voice can be heard, an action can be seen and a gesture can be felt, but love and understanding can change the world. I encourage each and every one of you to use your voice. I implore you to stand up, be seen, and raise your hand. But above all, I encourage you to open your arms, embrace the people in your life, and accept them for who they are.
Each and every one of you is incredible. Congratulations on being the person you are today. I will leave you with the mantra my mother repeated to me nightly as a child and I urge each of you to always remember this statement, "you matter, you are beautiful and you are loved."