Today, on National Coming Out day, I thought I would share my thoughts and a bit of my own story. I came out to my friends and family in the summer of 1995, over 18 years ago, just after graduating from high school in Naperville, Illinois. It feels like such a long time ago, but it is a time I still carry with me, always fresh in my mind.
Internally, it included confusion as I tried to understand why I was feeling something different from anything I had been told or seen about human sexuality. I became depressed when I thought I was alone–that no one else was like me, that somehow I had been made wrong. I even experienced thoughts of suicide while I struggled to figure out how to live with the realization that many people would rather have me dead than gay. These thoughts were reinforced when, on the first night I ever allowed myself to express questioning my sexuality to another person, we were followed and beaten on the street in Muncie, Indiana. It wasn’t the first time I had heard the words “queer” or “faggot”, but it was the first time I had been called them, and the first time I literally felt the hatred some people harbor towards gays.
I was fortunate to come away from that experience defiant. I had been raised by my amazing parents to rise above cruelty, and to believe that being a good person would eventually be rewarded. Though revealing my sexuality to my parents initially created some tension between us, I came to understand that it was their fear for my safety that truly concerned them. A parent can hardly be faulted for that.
I went off to college that fall of 1995 and began my life as an openly gay man. It was such an important period in my life–to truly embrace and know myself, to meet others like me, and to re-create myself in the image of my own choosing, free of others’ expectations. That experience is, ironically, what eventually gave me the strength to go back into the closet when I enlisted in the Marine Corps under DADT in 2002.
Those years were very hard on me emotionally and physically as well, being constantly reminded as when I was younger that what it means to be gay is often misunderstood. I came to know homophobia as I had never known it before, and it came in many different forms: from the guys who are only gay when they’re drunk and then regret it when they’re sober to the proud bigots who will loudly explain exactly what we should do with all them queers.
I learned from my drill instructors that females and faggots were the only ones who couldn’t do close-order drill, but I also learned from them that I was particularly good at it. Over the years, I learned all kinds of things about how gays would destroy the fabric of our military, but also that I was a good Marine, officer, and leader. I lived my core values, I embraced our ethos, and I worked hard. The Marine Corps became part of me, and me part of it.
When DADT was repealed in 2011, I was finally able to pull everything together. After having made the most of my situation as a re-closeted gay man in the Marine Corps, I came out for the second time in my life. I experienced many of the same feelings as I had so many years before, but this time it was with the wisdom of all those years: I knew I would survive.
My life has been at times very difficult, but at others mind-blowingly awesome. I have learned and grown to a point to truly love who I am, and I wouldn’t trade any experience of the life that brought me to this amazing place. My life is filled with enough family, friends, and love to drown out any hate. That alone has allowed me to keep coming out, to keep discovering what makes me “me”, and to make sure I am living as genuinely, honestly, and openly as I can.
My advice to anyone who cares to follow it is this: come out, as yourself, every day. The world needs you to be you–gay, straight, geek, jock, whatever. It takes some practice, some courage, and some effort, but it’s so worth it. I’m here for you, as are so many others. We want to know what you’ve been through, and we want you to reach your potential and fulfill your dreams. You deserve to be happy, and you’ll only be happy when you’re true to yourself and honest with others. We will all be happier as a result. Whatever you fear will happen, there are people out here who will love you, and we can’t wait to meet you.