It took me ten years to come out. Between the time I sat, crying, in an Italian restaurant at the age of 17, telling my family I thought I might be gay, and the night in New Orleans when I finally accepted myself as a gay man, a decade passed.
I think sometimes about all the things I missed in that decade. I missed having a boyfriend as an adolescent. The exploration of sex and romance which most teens go through while they’re in high school, I did in my late 20s. I missed fully embracing my emerging sexuality at precisely the time many would have considered me most attractive – my twink phase was over before I even got to enjoy it. I missed being an active and open participant in the struggle for LGBTQ acceptance at my high school and university because, trapped in the closet, I could only be an “ally”. I missed the opportunity to know myself as a gay teen – I would have been a great gay kid, a little firecracker of activism and positivity, and I never got to see that.
I regret that. I mourn the little gay kid I could have been, who I never got to know.
But my ten years in the closet are part of my story now. They are part of what made me who I am. Although sometimes I wonder about the escapades an out, proud, 19 year old me would have got into on the campus of Cambridge University (I went to a college colloquially known as “Homotown”, for god’s sake!), I know that it’s easy to imagine that the past would be amazing without realizing it could have been atrocious. Coming out as an adult has its advantages: at 27 I had the financial means, knowledge, and just enough wisdom to make it a completely joyous experience. The stories many of my friends tell, of teenage years destroyed by bullying, or spending their early years in the LGBTQ community running a gauntlet of people wanting to take advantage of them, remind me that sometimes coming out early isn’t all roses. There are challenges whatever route you take, and while I have regrets, I don’t have many scars. My coming out, once I got around to it, was fun, a celebration of love and lust and community. I loved it.
One of the greatest joys of my life has been to hear, more than once, that my speaking and activism has encouraged young people to come out to their friends and families. Whenever I hear that, I cry. Coming out is a beautiful act, a powerful expression of love for yourself and for humanity. By coming out, each of us makes it just a little bit easier for other people to be who they want to be. By confronting our fears, we help others face down theirs. The idea of “coming out” is a gift from the queer community to the world, an encouragement to everybody, queer or not, to root out shame and self-disgust, and find peace with who we are.
So, whatever closet you’re living in, I encourage you to come out today. Be yourself. Be happy with yourself. Smash the closet doors. Come out.