In the space of the next few days, I turned a lot of thoughts over in my head. In the form of this relationship, I had found a vessel to carry me away from the uncertainty and anguish of my high school years. Now, I felt like I had been thrown off the side of the ship and had no land in sight. How long could I stay afloat?
After much deliberation, I came to a stark realization that if I were going to continue living, I had to come to terms with who I really was. There could be no more lies, there could be no more hoping for the right girl. The problem was I didn’t know how to find my way towards the door of a closet from which I desperately needed to escape.
I decided to quit UC Riverside and move back home. In fact, I still have the list of pros and cons I used to help me make this decision. In the next few weeks, I canceled my tuition for the autumn term, sublet my apartment lease, arranged to transfer my job and applied for school at Santa Clara University, a small Jesuit school a few miles from my parents’ home.
For all the pros and cons, there was one primary reason I chose to move back. There was one person, the cousin of my coworker at the cinema, whom I knew was gay. He was the only connection I had with someone who presented a healthy, happy and well-adjusted image of homosexuality and I need that type of image in my life.
Within just a few weeks of returning to the Bay Area, I invited Mark for dinner in San Francisco. On the hour drive there, I plied him with dozens of questions, the same questions that everyone who is struggling with his or her sexual identity always has: When did you know? How did you feel? Who did you tell? How did they react?
After a large dinner, we drove back to the South Bay and with the most incredible anxiety I told Mark that I, too, was gay. Of course, I think this wasn’t a surprise to him. I now know that when I’m asked that barrage of questions, that the person is probably on the verge of coming out.
Mark was incredibly supportive, asking thoughtful questions and providing assurances that everything would be fine and giving me the affirmation I badly needed. By the time we returned home, I had expended so much energy that my stomach was empty again, the large meal having already digested itself.
That was the first time I opened the closet door.
I started coming out to other people at work – I naively hadn’t realized that there were other gays and lesbians working with me – and gained more confidence along the way. The reaction was usually positive and several people said that they weren’t surprised. As hard as it was to take each subsequent step out of the closet – and as each of those conversations with friends and colleagues started, my heart pounded and my mouth was dry – each step made it a little easier to realize that it was okay to be gay.
By this time, it was the early autumn of 1990. I started attending SCU in January 1991 and for the first six months was closeted at school. I was immersed in studies and started getting involved in the student radio station. Now that I was out to many friends and colleagues, I wanted to be open in school.
The student bulletin listed a gay and lesbian support group that met on Wednesday evenings in the same building as my department. Each week I would think about attending and would sometimes pass by the building, looking up at the lighted windows and trying to work out which room the meeting might be in.
I didn’t work up the courage to enter the building, climb the stairs, and walk into the room to attend the meeting until the start of the next term in September 1991. Ironically, just two years after finding that courage, I was the very out and very visible president of the organization.
I recall that about this time I had one copy of The Advocate (an early national gay publication) containing an interview with Madonna, that I kept buried deep in my desk drawer, wrapped in a paper bag. No pornography or anything else, just this one issue that I was terrified my parents might discover. I finally decided that I needed to come out, because I couldn’t live with fear anymore.
To prepare, I spoke with each of my gay and lesbian friends and heard their stories about coming out or choosing not to come out. On the recommendation of an advisor, I got a copy of “So Now That You Know”, a book by Nancy Hayward and Betty Fairchild that is an excellent resource for parents whose child has just come out to them. I read through it and practiced what I was going to say.
Uncertain of when I would tell them or whether I would chicken out, the need to finally be honest and break free of my fear gained momentum. Like the increasing humidity in advance of a thunderstorm, there came a point where I could not longer contain it. One day I suddenly told my parents that after dinner I needed to sit down and share something with them. After the dishes were cleared and my sister had gone off to watch TV or do her homework, I closed the kitchen doors and took the first step that would begin this hardest of journeys:
“I have to tell you something. And I want to you know that if I didn’t love you so much, I wouldn’t share this with you…”