Today is National Coming Out Day. Here is my story.

National Coming Out DayHappy National Coming Out Day! Here’s my coming out story. I don’t think I’ve ever shared this before, but here goes. When I was 20 and studying in Japan, I was basically in love with my best friend… who, unfortunately, was straight. And a fundamentalist Christian. That in itself led to a particularly thorny couple of years involving a ex-gay ministry, which I’ve already written about in case you’d like to read it (see http://huff.to/1yXDCaY). But what I didn’t mention in that article is that before I came out to my best friend, I’d written a letter to a man I’d never actually met.

His name was Todd, and when I was in high school, he spoke to our entire class during a special assembly. He was a teacher at a neighboring high school — he taught English, if I remember correctly — and although he told us his last name, he told us just to call him Todd. He was the first openly gay man I’d ever really heard speaking about his experiences at length. He started the lecture by asking people to shout out any derogatory names they’d heard for gay people. Most of them I won’t repeat here; if this story ever makes it to Facebook, I’m afraid I’d be banned because Facebook’s anti-hate-speech engine doesn’t understand context. But suffice it to say, there were the usual suspects: “queer,” “f–got,” “fudge packer…” I even remember one person saying “square donut,” which drew a laugh from the assembled crowd. But then Todd turned it around, and asked us to imagine what it would feel like if those same words were hurled at us as insults, or even threats. It was a very powerful moment. The whole speech was very moving, and at times touching… like when Todd related coming out to his grandmother, who replied, “Well, sweetheart, even Jesus didn’t have any children.” I was closeted and rather terrified of coming out at the time, so I didn’t have the courage to speak to him afterwards, but the entire experience stuck with me and I’ve never forgotten it.

Fast forward three years, and I’m back in Japan, in love with my best friend who couldn’t love me back in the way that I longed for. I was wrestling with those feelings of loneliness and fear that we’ve all experienced at some time or another, compounded by the isolation of being 7,000 miles from home. So before I came out to my friend, I wrote a letter to Todd and addressed it to him at his high school. My tone was at once lonely, desperate, and oddly apologetic. It was a bit clinical as well: I remember using the word “homosexual” instead of “gay” (I used phrases like “I’ve suspected I was a homosexual since I was 12 years old”). I repeatedly asked Todd if there was something wrong with me. If I was normal.

About a month later, Todd’s response arrived by airmail (this was 1993, and email wasn’t particularly prevalent yet). It was handwritten. It took me about a week to open it, because part of me believed that the letter would confirm my worst fears: that I was, in fact, damaged. I half-expected the letter to contain punishing language, chastising me for what I assumed was my deviant soul. The reality, of course, was the opposite. The best word I can use to describe Todd’s letter is “soothing.” He reassured me that being gay is in fact okay, and even better, that there’s a huge network of support out there. He sympathized with my loneliness, and while he didn’t know of any support groups in Osaka, he gave me a phone number for an LGBT support line back home in Boston. He encouraged me to hang in there until I came home, assured me that things would get better, and told me that if I ever needed to reach him, he’d be there for me and do whatever he could.

Sadly, I didn’t write back.

If you haven’t read the Huffington Post article I linked to earlier, here’s a quick summary of what happened next. I wasn’t quite able to hang in there. I continued to fall head-over-heels for my friend, to the point of trying to convert to Christianity just so I wouldn’t feel so damn alone. I tried as hard as I could, but in my heart of hearts knew I was wasn’t being true to who I really was inside. The conversion therapy didn’t work — it never does — and I spent several years recovering from the effects that the ex-gay ministry had on me. I’d chosen the wrong path… but the right one was still waiting for me, and I’m now happy to be out and proud and comfortable with myself, even if it took me a few extra years to get there.

Anyway, that’s my coming out story. Maybe a few of you can relate, or are in a situation now like I was back then. I also just want to say that Todd was right, you’re not alone, and there is tons of support out there. You can read other coming out stories and find your local LGBT peer group by visiting the It Gets Better Project website at ItGetsBetter.org. And remember to love yourself, stay true to yourself, and above all, trust your heart.

– Jesse

P.S. Todd, I know it’s a long shot, and I don’t know how to reach you anymore, but if you happen to be reading this: THANK YOU. You gave me hope when I needed it most, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

Me and Dirk at NYC Pride in 2015

Me and Dirk at NYC Pride in 2005

 

3 replies
  1. Tony W Lanier
    Tony W Lanier says:

    Jesse, I want to thankyou U because U R my idol! I love U & Dirk & the work the both of U does! If anyone don’t like/love this, they should mind there won business! A good man is so hard to find? I do value the both of U very much. There’s nothing like a good hearty man by your side! Always know that I’m on your side & I love your videos! I hope the both of U R having a great day!

    Reply

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