Wiser words may have never been spoken on a television program than the quote above. No this is not from Will & Grace or Ellen. Don't jump right into the stereotype already based on the topic of this blog. This quote was spoken by Jussie Smollett as Jamal Lyon on the hit TV show Empire in last week's episode. As soon as I heard the quote I quickly melted into a pan of emotion. 3 lines. 3 lines from a TV show. 3 lines from a TV show that sum up my personal emotions on a regular basis. Who knew?
October 11 is National Coming Out Day. A day where those who identify themselves within the LGBTQ community celebrate coming out and those who are community allies can stand up and show their support. October 11, 2017. A day of celebration. A day some of us have also dreaded for an entire year.
Coming out can be a scary experience. You are putting all your eggs in a basket and making yourself vulnerable to those you confide in, talk to and care most about. The range of emotion you go through is almost indescribable. And you prepare yourself for the full range of response from others. You hope for acceptance and love. You fear rejection. You worry about being ignored. And part of you hate's yourself for even being in the position.
Nowadays we seem to live in a world where everyone is accepting, or so we are to believe. Same sex marriage is legal in North America. Polls indicate most people consider same-sex relationships morally acceptable (thanks for your moral acceptance heterosexual world...enjoy sitting on your throne above us still with that type of statement alone btw!). An increase in the system of laws in place to reduce discrimination against LGBTQ members are being sought. More celebrities and athletes and musicians and, you know it, are coming out and helping to create a safe world for all members of society. Heck I even read an opinion piece in The Washington Post penned by a gay professor at Ohio State University who wants to put an end to National Coming Out Day because "America is a safer place in 2017."
But is this really real life? Are we really experiencing a massive wave of acceptance because more celebrities and athletes are either coming out or showing their support publicly in comparison to year's past? Come on....
Don't get me wrong here. The outstanding work You Can Play and Outsports does to show better inclusion in modern society from a sports perspective is amazing. The stories they share from athletes who receive positive response from coming out is heartwarming. And yes, this is a huge step forward. We have moved the needle forward as a society in comparison to what our parents, uncles, aunts and cousins went through. And this is a good thing!
But for every positive story I read, I ask myself "why was that not my story?"
When I opened up on my sexuality to my two closest best male friends it was the scariest moment in my life (until I hit publish on this blog post I imagine). These were two dudes I loved like brothers. They were family. I would give anything in my power to be there for them. Help them. Protect them. Care and love them. Support them. Whatever they needed, whatever time of day, wherever I am in the world, I would be there for either of them. So to be vulnerable to rejection made me want to throw up. My stomach was upset and I was almost in tears just trying to find my own courage.
That is the acceptance story we most often hear from celebrities and athletes as well. If you read most of the personal story accounts from athletes on Outsports, in general, the story is relatively the same to mine above. This is awesome!
However, let us not lie to ourselves either. We still have mass shootings like Orlando. We still have hate. We still have fear. And we have a new set of people to deal with. The closet people. You know who they are. The people who in public do not verbally rally against the LGBTQ community but don't stand up and support it either. Even worse, we have the fakers. Those who say verbally they support equal rights for all.....until they have to showcase a supportive action towards the community. Where are they then? The people who say they are in support because they are more fearful of looking "homophobic" in the eyes of others so they go along with the majority around them to not draw attention to how they really feel. These are the people I fear most of all. They are really more focused on their own ego and their own perception from others than to really be a true ally. And they exist....please do not read this and kid yourself in thinking I am making this up. You know it is true.
Every athlete in that lockeroom is accepting of your gay or bi teammate? Every celebrity on that movie set is supporting your stance on LGBTQ issues? Every co-worker in your office is ready to stand next to you in fighting for equality laws in the workplace? Really? Everyone? Come on....the needle has moved forward but not THAT forward...yet!
I don't have to second guess this assumption....I already know it is true. Remember I said I opened up to two of best male friends? Let's discuss the second experience shall we?
With one positive experience coming my way, my wall was down a bit and my confidence was maybe 0.5 of a point higher now. I am a pessimist at heart, what can I say?! But I did honestly, in my deep negative heart, believe I would be like one of those fortunate soles on Outsports who had a 100% acceptance record when he first opened up. When I sat down across the table from Colin to tell him, I had the same overwhelming range of emotions come over me the entire time. With him, I even cried. And this was in public....at a bar no less. Not the ideal location but in my mind I also thought if he was to reject me at least he wouldn't do so in a very negative or demeaning way in a public setting right?
When I broke down and told him my story, he was sympathetic. He also thanked me for opening up and letting down my wall. A wall he would often discuss with me in the past and say "one day you will let it down and I will be waiting on the other side." It was a few statements like that which made me really trust him in opening up and being honest. I hate feeling like I am lying to someone I care about. And so it happened....and the conversation flowed.
The problem arose not in the immediate moment but in the passing of time. He grew distant. What was the standard norm of daily texts or conversation was now growing inconsistent. The friendly banter and conversation went from multiple times daily of just joking around or creating the safe conversation space of opening up to one another on anything going on to maybe brief text conversations once a week to few times a month to a few months of no conversation at all. Sure he was busy and going through his own personal things, like we all are. So while I was getting concerned, I also tried to be patient and not pin this in direct correlation to the big reveal we had months prior. But going 100 to 0 is tough to swallow folks.....and the coincidence factor wears off when you can almost pinpoint the exact time things changed.
Now perhaps this was paranoia setting in. And I will admit perhaps I pushed the envelope of acceptance too far by wanting to talk about it with him and get his reaction. I didn't get the same positive feedback from Colin I got from Nick so I wasn't sure how to handle his response. This was new to me as well. I didn't know what I was doing and all I was worried about was losing a best friend. I was selfish at times as well in thinking solely about how I was feeling and lost track of the consideration for how the news may affect someone else and how they look at me.
But then I think....wait a minute you! What has really changed in your relationship? I am still the same guy. There is no way someone is friends with you for the sole reason you share the same sexual orientation. How many of you go to a bar and meet someone or join a sports team or have water cooler talk at work and ask, "Hey so you are into chicks right? Sweet...we are best buds now"? Come on! So no way the bond of friendship should change because of sexual orientation either right? I felt guilty. I blamed myself for our friendship falling apart. And it drove me to suicidal thoughts.
I didn't want to live in a world where I could lose one of my best friends all because of sexual identity....and something I really cannot change nor control over myself. I am who I am. And rejection sucks! Now I would go back and read the Outsports articles and get mad...or depressed...or suicidal again. No seriously, this is honest raw emotion here. Why are these guys getting to keep their bro's and I lost mine? Why am I not good enough? Why does everyone get a happy ending story but I don't?
Yay another athlete came out and everyone loves him/her and supports them. With Nick and Colin, I truly believed I was in a safe place. Both had other friends within the LGBTQ community in their personal and professional lives. While my mind always told me one or both would reject me, deep in my negative black heart I really did always believe both would accept me and our friendship would be stronger for it. I never expected one to do a 180 turn and never talk to me again.
It still hurts to this day. It is frustrating. It is difficult to see others be tied to a friendship with someone who I cared so much about who no longer cares about me in return. And it hurts the most thinking it is all my fault. I don't think that feeling will ever go away. It is worse than a breakup. Well I guess it is a breakup....a friendship breakup. In a relationship you move on to the next person but still have your core support system. But what happens when the breakup is with someone you considered one of your core supports? Now what do you do? Who do you turn to? And how do you recover?
Why is it once we know a person's sexual identity it becomes a defining characteristic of who they are as a human being? My entire life I have been bullied, ridiculed, harassed and beaten up (yes I mean physically with kicks, punches, sticks and rocks) over how people perceive my sexuality to be. Since elementary school all I have consistently been called is "fag". The most insecure part of me comes out when having any conversation with any other male. My first thought in my head is "I wonder what sexuality he is labeling me with right now?" and following that up with asking myself, "Is he judging me in a good way or a bad way?" If you are a guy and we have a conversation, trust me those two questions have gone through my mind along with a plethora of responses before you have finished your first sentence in our conversation. And I am in fear the entire time. I don't have the same fear talking to women. I have also not been judged as hard by the female sex in my life as I have with guys. Women aren't going to punch me in the face based on their assumption of my sexuality. A guy will....a guy has....a few actually. And no, I was not "hitting" on them or "wanting" them. Get over yourself if this is why you shy away from the LGBTQ community. You aren't that awesome where everyone wants you ok!!
The hardest part about writing this is the fear that by some odd coincidence any male friend I am close to right now will read this and have the same reaction as Colin....and I will be down another friend. I don't have a lot of guy friends as it is. Well I don't have a lot of friends period to be completely honest so just opening up at all is scary. When you are starting with a handful of good friends, losing just one is catastrophic to your world you know?!
So here I sit and I write and have a heart of regret and fear and remorse and sadness. But I also write with optimism in a way because National Coming Out Day should be about being honest with who I am. It should be about me just feeling good about being me and not feeling I need to live under a rock or in a turtle shell my entire life. And it helps just sharing to let others know it isn't always going to be good and accepting and happy in the world like the media and many celebrity/athlete stories showcase. You will lose friends. You may lose family. And it is going to suck.
But you will survive, even if just barely like I have. This is their loss. This is his loss of my friendship because deep down I am a great friend. I have stood by those I care about when they have dealt with pain and sadness from losing jobs to being cheated on to death in the family. And I have stood by those I care about celebrating new relationships, a wedding, the birth of a child, new jobs and everything else positive in between. I want to draw attention not to the miserableness I feel towards a former friend but to the fact I cannot keep letting it drag me down anymore. I need to be open with me and get this weight off my shoulder.
I have turned away from possible relationships with both men and women in the past because I doubted my own ability to be in a relationship with either. I was too busy questioning who I was and living in a world of fear when I could have just let my heart be open to an experience and maybe could have found the special someone in my life already. I have never been in a real relationship. I was too afraid. And I didn't think it was fair for me to go into a relationship with anyone when I was caught up in questioning who I am. I am already too screwed up in the head...why would I want to bring someone else into that?
I know I will lose some friends over this post. I know I will lose followers. I write a sports blog and hope others enjoy it with the same passion I have for the sports I write about. But I also know this honesty about #NCOD will lose me some readers and subscribers. I know some who know a former friend will hate me for what I have wrote and have a negative response towards me now. And I will live with that. And that sucks. It is another feeling of rejection. But on the flip side, I have been living in fear and hiding my entire life already.....what is changing here? At least now I can know who really has my back or who really doesn't care about who I decide to share my bed with.
I can just be me....I am the same person remember. Nothing has changed.....except how you view me now! And I cannot control that....and I have to let that go.
So welcome October 11. Welcome National Coming Out Day.
Now let me go crawl into my bed and hide until October 12!!