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, who 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 needed 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 adviser, I got a copy of “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 no 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…”
You’ve put a lot of care and love in writing this story.
Haha~good timing! When the meal was finished, and there were no choking on food! Anyway Chris, you got us hooked. I’m very much interested on how your parents reacted, especially your dad. I think this may be worthy of expanding into a short story series.
I love the way that you phrased that last sentence. I think I will need to borrow that one day when I finally tell my dad. 🙂
Ahh I knew you were gonna stop at the monumental moment! The intrigue continues…
@Rm2046 – Got to keep them coming back.
Oh, you are masterful with a cliff hanger. I can tell you are a pro at telling this story.About UC Riverside…did you know Steven Shum when you were down there?Where did you work that you could transfer back to the bay area?
Wow. Wait I think I said “Wow” so many times to your posts. You’re so lucky you had a mentor, friends, and examples around you to support you. Did you ever tell your family about your suicidal thoughts? I also wonder if that book has ever been translated into other languages as many cultures are hardly accepting of LGBTs.
Chris, you’re so brave & honest to write this down. <<>>
Keep on going. I enjoy reading stories like this
@Wangium – Didn’t know Steven. I worked for AMC Theatres, so it was just a matter of transferring locations, nothing too difficult.
That is a great start.
no. no, no… don’t stop now………I want to hear more.
I just wanted to let you know that I’m reading, albeit silently 🙂
You broaden my horizons again!
I don’t know if I could ever come out to my dad but I have been thinking about it with my mother. It seems like the dad is always the hardest to come around, and the mom is the more softer one. Anyway, thanks for planting a seed of hope to get me started. Look forward to the conclusion.
Chris, I think you’re an amazing person for many reasons, but especially for your bravery and honesty. Thank you for this post and for sharing such private thoughts and feelings with us. I’ve unfortunately given up on my own blog for the time being (mostly because I spend my entire life working on projects for school), but am known to update my FB status and photos on at least a weekly basis. I’d love to add you as a Facebook friend, if you don’t mind.
…waits with bated breath….
I remember (and still have) the letter in which you told me. I treasure it for the privilege of knowing. Of course it never changed how I felt about you. I’m glad you are sharing your story.
Chris, I think your blog in general, and especially this story, will provide valuable recollections for you and insight for the people who love you (and really, who doesn’t!). Your nieces and nephews, and all those others who you touch and will one day be without you, will have a priceless link to their history and an inspiration.
Well written! I was feeling the building anexiety – thankfully I know this story has a very happy ending.
Yoo hoo… it’s 20:13 EST now which means it’s 7:13 Big Mango time. Where’s chapter 4?
@ElusiveWords – I did, yes. And continued to make changes up until the time of publishing.@brooklyn2028 – It probably isn’t my own original phrasing but along the lines of something written in the book. Feel free to use it!@CurryPuffy – Some day in some book, it will become a short story.@minhaners – This is the first time I’ve shared that information, which makes this a little bit of a risky choice. As for the book, I didn’t find any information about it being available in other languages, but I know that the group PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) has chapters that are culture and language specific around the world.@chow@ireallylikefood – Glad to hear.@christine24666 – I agree with you. Generally, mothers are a little more accepting and in tune with this aspect of their children than fathers are.@doiturselfer – Would you believe I had the wherewithall to keep a copy of that letter? It is in a box of cards and letters in my sister’s basement. I should pull it out and re-read it one of these days.@albertmoore – Albert, I think you know about the yearbook project I have, right? I’ve been turning these blog entries into published books, with copies printed for both Emily and Ava. Hopefully it creates a good written history for them.@murisopsis – Kind of like watching the movie Titanic, right? We all know how it turns out…@ElusiveWords – Patience, patience…
I have decided that this is the best way to read this…all at once…not having to wait a day or so in between installments…lolRuth Ann
In college, I had my crisis in faith… I lost the certainty I had of the existence of a loving God. I was thrown into chaos and I dived into books, especially psychology to make sense of what I am and whether I am a mental disorder and slowly gained some breathing room. Books saved me. I lived on campus and was aware of the GLBT support group but never had the guts to reach them. My final decision to coming out to people came much much later after college. Chris, I “wasted” more time than you in this regard =P But I do believe nothing is wasted and I bet you know that too! ^^
@ZenPaper – Not wasted, per se, but time that could have been put to much better use had I grown up in a space where I could have been comfortable being myself from an early age. There is no point in living a life of regrets, but there is value in recognizing how life could have been better spent.
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