Nowhere to Hide

“Honesty is the best policy.” I have been told that for years. But, unfortunately, there is one thing I actively chose to hide about myself, because I knew people where I was living at the time would not and could not understand. I was in that same position, in those same shoes. I barely understood my own emotions, much less who I was, or who I would eventually choose to love.

Even though I am out and proud as a mildly autistic man, I chose to hide the fact that I was gay. I willingly chose to go into the closet for 10 years because I knew I did not understand what drove that emotional reaction that caught me so off guard. I knew I could not ask someone else for advice, because not only do I really hate talking about myself, but I knew that even asking about how to sort out the conflicted emotions I ended up having would rip off so many mental Band-Aids I had put in that I would feel so vulnerable, and I did not feel safe doing that.

So, I guess I will go ahead and start from the beginning. I was bullied a lot in elementary and middle school. Most of the time, the bullying was xenophobic in nature, as the guys who bullied me neither understood me nor valued who I was. Which is why I so deeply valued the friends I made who were other guys. I valued them because they were not just my fair-weather friends, and I will forever treasure and value them. You know who you are.

In high school, luckily, I felt safe to be who I was in school for literally the first time in my life. The bullying ceased because many people finally came to understand what I went through on a daily basis with my mild autism (and still do to a certain extent). I truly cherish my friends from high school, including some who have gone to be with the Creator.

High school was its own thing, and I am very lucky for that. I was in show choir, and was grateful to have met someone so inspirational as John Jacobson of America Sings on two separate occasions doing ‘Singabrations’ at Walt Disney World. Both times our choir did Singabration when I was in high school, he said “I don’t care what color your skin is, or who and how you worship, or whether you are gay or straight,” and that, in retrospect, was the most incredibly bold and inspiring thing I have ever heard. It is a truth that I will hold to my heart forever.

When I was a senior in high school, I was the youth representative for what was then my Episcopal church, Grace Church in Camden, at the Diocesan Convention in Greenville, SC (which is nearer to where I lived with my mom). That was an eye opener for me, as Bishop Gene Robinson had been consecrated and installed as Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, and many in the Episcopal Church, especially in the conservative South, were outraged that a gay man could be a Bishop of the Church.

This was long before I knew anything about Believe Out Loud congregations like the one I thankfully attend now, and the utterly homophobic resolution to condemn the diocese of New Hampshire for consecrating and installing Bishop Robinson almost went through unanimously… except for some lone, brave voices like mine who said “NAY” about as loud as they could. To say I began to struggle hugely with my beliefs after that would be a grave understatement.

As I struggled with my beliefs, life would intervene again with a different plan. When I was 21 years old, I had an experience I will never forget, for all the wrong reasons. I had what I can only describe as an intense crush on someone… only it was another man. I have never felt that way about anyone, before or since.

I was then a student living outside of Chapel Hill, NC and was on a public transit bus headed back to where I was living when I spied someone walking out of the technical college. I remember him vividly. He looked to be either a former Army or Marine, or he just worked out like mad, because this man was smoking hot. The best way to describe what happened next was a real life equivalent of the heart eyes emoji.

That lasted for what felt like ten minutes, and then I came out of my stupor and felt a wave of petrifying fear come over me. Fear of admitting what had just happened, as well as what the world would think. In retrospect, I was experiencing what homophobia and xenophobia literally felt like, and I instantly felt sorrier for all of my bullies when I was younger, because fear of what one does not understand is so much worse than anyone can possibly imagine.

So that very day I went into the closet and stayed there for 10 years. I have been out publicly to some people for about a year now, but I am only now coming out because I need to become fully honest about who I am, and who I choose to love, as I continue to blossom into the man I need to be. I thought I was bisexual for a while but really, in retrospect, I needed to be able to accept that I was attracted to other men.

How did I come to finally accept who I was after ten years? The answer is twofold.

First, at one of the first cons I ever went to in 2016, I found someone who has become such a good friend who was cross-playing as the Pink Power Ranger. (As an aside, “cross-playing” means you are cosplaying a character that is of the other gender.) I found the comfort level he showed to be something absolutely awe-inspiring. That helped to push me off the fence as far as my struggles with my sexuality and my faith were concerned (as I was still struggling mightily with both at that time). I consider him to be one of my good friends and the experience of spending time with him is one of the best things to have ever happened to me.

Second, I discovered one of the most incredible independent comics ever, Check Please, which was originally posted at Tumblr. The main character of Check Please is Eric Bittle, a shy, sweet Southern kid who moves north to a fictional university in order to play collegiate hockey. And it turns out that he was very much in the closet (much like I was when I discovered Check Please). I saw so much of myself in Eric Bittle that it very much helped me in bringing me to the point where I am now. I am deeply grateful to Ngozi Ukazu, the creator of Check Please, for creating this incredible work. It has transformed queer representation forever.

Representation is critical. Seeing yourself onscreen, on a comics page, or in other forms of media, matters more than you can possibly imagine.

In conclusion, I admit that in writing this, I have absolutely no idea how it’s going to land. I know a lot of my friends have… let’s just say differing views and leave it at that. I can only hope that this explanation will resonate with them. If not, I will bless them and let them go. In the chaotic and crazy world in which we now live, it seems nothing controversial can be said without personal and professional repercussions. I can only hope that by sharing my experience, it helps someone else who may be dealing with this exact same issue. To you I say, be authentic, be proud, and be you.