Go Into the Closet, Then Come Out
The first time Jake Kelsey acknowledged he was gay, he’d just met another gay man. He always knew on some level, but there was never an identifier, or something definitive that described how he felt. But while visiting his older brother at college, Jake was introduced to a friend who’d just started at the university, and was out. They all hung out one night with a bunch of other dudes. Seeing him made Jake realize what he’d subconsciously been cognizant of his whole life.
“I was like, oh!” he remembers. “There’s a name for it. It’s not just a difference.”
From a young age, Jake says he was a “little performer,” singing and twirling around the house, vocalizing while his mom Connie egged him on gleefully.
“Be a little opera man!” she’d say. Jake, still in diapers, would puff up his chest and yodel, “La luh la luh laaaaaa!!” He also dressed up in women’s clothing. Connie was once cooking dinner in the kitchen and heard a clicking noise coming from the garage. It was eight-year-old Jake in heeled tap shoes dancing, flailing his legs around while he leaped.
Around this time, family members began discussing the possibility of Jake being homosexual. Jake’s uncle Maxy was once visiting his mother and father Kevin at their home when his parents asked Maxy, “Do you think Jake will grow up to be gay?” Both Maxy and his wife responded yes.
His hometown of Broken Arrow, located in the northeastern part of Oklahoma — a region commonly referred to as the “buckle of the Bible Belt” — was a suburb through and through: cul-de-sacs, manicured hedges and kids riding bikes. Out of the some-odd 1000 students in Jake’s graduating class at Broken Arrow High School, there were a number of kids that were out. They encountered tension, derision and sometimes violence. But Jake never experienced such negativity.
September of his freshman year, Jake passed a note to his best friend Rachel that read, “I’m gay.” He was sitting right next to her, but could hardly formulate the words on his tongue, crippled by nerves. “We were all alone in my house,” he says. “I couldn’t bring myself to just say it. The first time, you know?” Rachel was receptive, supportive and said she was aware of it. After that, Jake told a few of his friends in theater with whom he was spending enough time that he thought they ought to know. He still rolled the information out slowly, and devised a plan to make the announcement to those closest to him before he left for summer camp in New York. He was more afraid of an awkward interaction with his fellow classmates and their parents — he’d known most of them since kindergarten—than for fear of retaliation or being ridiculed.
“That’s an amazing feeling to have,” he states. “A lot of other people are so terrified. In that regard, I was lucky. No one really gave me that much shit for it. The other gay guys, they would come out and people would target them,” he recalls. “One time, a friend of mine got called a faggot from some kids driving in a truck.
“I think I had been friends with most, knowing the different groups of people, that no one really fucked with me.”
Jake also recognized that coming out in the early Aughts gave him an anonymity-safety net specific to that time period — the Internet.
“I came out to probably 20 people before I left [for New York,] and then that summer, I came out to everyone on AIM,” he says. “The age of technology really helped my coming out. I could do it almost anonymously.”
Almost a year after he slipped the piece of paper to Rachel, Jake had told all his friends. Now, the biggest hurdle to conquer stood before him like an imposing wall: coming out to his parents.
“It just so happened that they were the last ones,” he says. “Because it was, maybe, official then. I felt like that would be the scariest, even though I was so close with them and I still am.”
It was two weeks after Jake had returned from camp, and he’d been acting distant. He knew he wanted to tell his parents, but didn’t know how to bring it up. Should I write it in a note again? he asked himself. No, no. He didn’t want to make that big of a deal of it.
He’d been going running in the meantime, to stave off the stress of giving the big reveal. Connie could tell something was wrong, since he rarely went on jogs. She pulled Jake aside one day and said, “You’ve been acting different since you got back from New York. What’s going on?”
They were in his dad’s office, which faced the front porch of their family home.
Kevin was a fireman, so his gear — heavy-duty gloves, helmet, boots — was strewn around the room.
“I have something I need to tell you, but I’m super nervous and I don’t want it to be awkward,” Jake remembers saying.
“Well, do you want to take a second?” His mother replied. “Go into the closet, breathe, and then come out of the closet.”
The reference went right over Jake’s head.
“What? No, I don’t need to do that,” he told his mom. “I want to tell you that I’m gay.”
His father lit a cigarette.
“Honey, that’s OK,” his mom said. “We know. We love you no matter what.”
His dad simply said, “My biggest fear for you is how other people are going to treat you.”
But Jake wasn’t treated poorly. Although he felt anxious about the reception — would his dad’s coworkers at the firehouse make snide remarks? Might people feel uncomfortable knowing the truth? — he says his experience was “the perfect situation.”
“We already have a whole other set of problems just being humans,” he states. “Add feeling like there are people out there who don’t believe you should be married, or want to hurt you because of [who you are]. It’s very easy for LGBT, especially youth, to become really depressed.”
The last person Jake came out to was his brother—the one who initiated the connection of dots in the first place. Jake signed online, and told him on Instant Messenger. Although his brother asked why Jake hadn’t yet told him, he also told his younger sibling that he didn’t care at all, and supported him.
“I wondered if that was gonna happen, him being upset that I held off on letting him know,” Jake recalls. “And whether it did or not, I knew I’d be OK.”