Happy National Coming Out Day!!!!!

Just in case you did not know it, today is National Coming Out Day! NCOD was started in 1988 by Dr.Richard Eichberg and Jean O'Leary in celebration of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which was held in 1987. At the National March on Washington, 500,000 people marched on Washington, DC for Gay and Lesbian equality.
Now days, NCOD events are aimed at raising awareness among every day people about the Gay and Lesbian community and to provide resources for those coming out, their families and friends.

I have often been asked when I knew I was Gay, and while I have long known I was attracted to guys, say from around the age of 10 or 11, I really did not know their were other people in the world that were like me until I was in my middle teens. For many years I really thought there was something very bad wrong with me that I was not a like the other guys in my class at school. Of course they were always talking about their girlfriends and things and while I had many girls who were my friends, I just was not attracted to them in a boyfriend/girlfriend sort of way.
So I kept my "dark secret" to myself and played the game so no one would know I had this "major defect". Yes I even had a girlfriend for a while in High School. I really tried to fit in but inside it was not working. When I was around 14, my family started getting involved in the Baptist Church, and it was there that I found out there were many people like myself in the world and God hated them all. At least once a quarter, my Pastor felt like it was his duty to
warn us about the horrible creatures that God hated so much call homosexuals. It was
during this time in my life that I really started to hate myself. I would pray and pray and ask God to change me and not let me have thethoughts I was having about different guys at school and please make me like I was suppose to be. (Little did I know at the time She had already made me just like I was suppose to be!) It was a very depressing and self hating time in my life. Now if you had known me at the time, you would not have seen a depressed, self hating guy, O no you would have seen some who was always upbeat and fun to be around, you would have liked me and probably would have wanted to hang out with me. Everyone loved me, except me.
Now you must realize a couple of things, this was during the 60s and early 70s when being Gay was a very bad thing. Anywhere in the US of A you could lose your job if they knew you were Gay or Lesbian. We had no laws to protect us against anything. You could be arrested and taken to jail just because you were in a Gay bar. And also I lived in a very small country town in Southeast Texas. I had no one I could talk about this with at all. I honestly thought I was the only person like me in Silsbee. I was alone with my deep dark secret, and hating the awful person I was, everyday.

I kept my secret with me for many more years, doing whatever and acting however I needed to so people would never suspect who I really was. I have to tell you that when you carry self hatred inside of you for a long time, it eats away your soul. I was a great actor, most people in my life never suspected at thing. I even married and had 3 beautiful children, had a nice house and a good job. But after 10 years, the marriage ended in divorce and I was a wreck, a really big total wreck. I went into a really bad depression, my doctor told me if I did not get away from all of it I would end up having a nervous breakdown.

My sister and her family were living in Casper, Wyoming at the time of my divorce. My brother-in-law was working as a directional driller and his job was located there. My sister has always, ALWAYS, been my best friend. Now of course I was close with my Mom but my sister and I have always had a special close relationship. She knew of course what I was going through and
when they were home visiting during this time, she tried to talk me into moving up to Wyoming with them and getting myself together and making a new start. Of course I told her there was no way I could, I could not think about not getting to see my kids (which I got to see for a few hours one day a month) and my life was there an blah, blah,blah. So when their visit was over, they went back home to Casper, without me. Things continued to go downhill for me emotionally over the next few weeks, I was getting more depressed. My whole family was really worried about me. I did not find out till a few years later they were really afraid I was going to commit suicide, which actually never entered my mind. Then while I was at work one day, I realized I just could not take it anymore, I walked over to my desk, picked up the phone and called my sister and told her I couldn't handle it anymore and could I still come stay with her.
That is all it took. In about 2 weeks, I had quit my job, got rid of my apt,packed up everything I owned and was living with my sister and her family in Casper, Wyoming. There were conditions for me being able to come live with them, I could not work for 3 months, they took care of what few bills I had, I was to rest, hang out with my sister and get myself back together physically and emotionally, and after that 3 months, we would go from there. I was so fortunate to have people who loved me so much. They provide me with a truck (yes a truck) to drive an a credit card to put gas in it. Spending money would "appear" on my dresser from time to time. In short,
I truly believe and will always believe, they truly saved my life.

It was during these 3 months as I tried to put my life back together, that I was able for the first time in my life start dealing with something I had always known but kept buried deep down inside of me, I was Gay. I went to the Casper Library and found some wonderful books on being Gay and I ready everything I could find. (Now I need to stop and clarify something here, before
I got married, I had had sexual experiences with a few other guys so I was not totally stupid
about what guys did together). I came to realize more and more that I wasn't this sick horrible creature that I always hated. It was not an overnight transformation but it was a good start.
I "accidentally" met a guy in the mall (no not in the restroom!) who I suspected was Gay and the second time I went into the store where he worked to buy something, he actually invited me to have coffee with him and I did . As we were having coffee he flat out ask me if I was Gay and I was a little shook up and I told him I was pretty sure I was. He told me he was and if I needed to talk he would be happy to listen. Wow, I finally had a Gay friend! We did become friends and he introduced me to several of this friends. It was a real eye opener for me. Of course I was still very much in the closet to my sister and her family so I wanted to go out with some of them I would just tell her I was going out with some of my new friends, which was true. It was during this time my life really started to change. I was actually discovering more about myself and liking who I was. During one of the trips to the mall with one of my new friends, he told me this certain clerk who worked at B Dalton Book Store was Gay and his name was Calvin. We didn't even go into B Dalton's that day but I looked in and saw what Calvin looked like. A few days later
I went to the bookstore to actually buy a book and Calvin waited on me. Now it was a Gay themed book that they did not have in stock so he ordered it for me. Well I left the mall and drove home and when I walked in the phone was ringing. I did not think anything of it, but when I answered it , it was Calvin from the bookstore, and he asked me out to a dinner party he was going to that night. He had picked up the fact that I was Gay from the book I ordered. I have to tell you I was speechless. So that night I had my first date as a Gay man and then that lead to a second date which lead to Calvin and I being partners for over a year and a half.

Now when Calvin and I decided to move in together, I knew that I would finally have to come out to my sister. I can in no way express to you who terrified I was. I had heard stories from some of my new friends about how their families and friends had reacted to their coming out and it was not all positive. One of my friends family had disowned him and did not want to have anything to do with him anymore and this was so terrifing to me. I just did not know what I would do if my sister reacted like that. But I had to do it. So one night when my brother-in-law was away on business, I asked my sister out to dinner. It was during dinner that I kept trying to tell her I was Gay, I almost broke down and cried once I was so scared and finally she looked up at me and said" Honey, why don't you just go ahead and tell me you're Gay before your steak gets cold". My jaw must have hit the table. I could not believe she already knew and she said she had known for years and was just waiting for me to come to grips with it on my own. I asked her who else knew and she said her whole family knew. My two nephews loving called me "Auntie James" behind my back. They knew Calvin was much more than just my new best friend. I will always remember the weight that was lifted off of me as we sat there an talked about it. I was finally able to talk to her about everything.

That was the first time I had come out to someone I loved. Through the years I have come out to the rest of my family and have always had a positive experience. I have also come out to all my friends through the years and unfortunately I can not tell you they have all been positive experiences. Some walked away and I have not heard from them since.

Coming to terms with who you are is a very liberating experience. But every one's experience is different. Every time I go to a Gay Pride event anywhere, I always think as I look over the crowds, that for every Gay, Lesbian, Bi or Transgender person there, there is a story of when they realized they were different and their journey into being who they are today. So when you have the opportunity to have a LBGT person as a friend, just realize that the person they are today is the result of a very long road of self awareness and pride.

Like I said before, coming out is a very liberating experience, but is it not a one time event.
It is something all of us in the LGBT community have to do over and over everyday. As we travel to new places and new friends come into our lives, there is always another time for us to come out. I know one day, maybe not in my lifetime, but one day, who we are as won't
matter and every one will justbe accepted for who they are.


ps. Just a few years after I graduated High School, I found out that there were 5 other Gay guys in my graduation class besides me. I had know all of them from the first grade all the way to graduation. We were all so in the closet we did not know about each other. One of them, Benny,
I had a crush on from our freshman year through graduation. And I found out that he too
had had a crush on me during the same time. What a help we could have been to each other
if only we had known.