Hello! It’s been a while since I posted an interview, and all of a sudden I have a few of them to publish. My fellow GLSEN Ambassador, Carly F., who I met at this year’s media summit (retroactive info on that forthcoming) conducted several interviews with a few of us on what we thought of the process. More will be available soon, but for now I’ll post her interview with myself, and with my other fellow Ambassador, Sarah T.
And if you like the questions Carly asked, go ahead and check out her first post on the GLSEN blog, her website, and look out for an interview I did with her on what it’s like to be a Christian ally to LGBT youth, coming soon. And while you’re at it, check out a post by yet another Ambassador, Loan T., and his fantastic Tumblr.
So much to do! So much to see! So much to read!
Anyway, without further ado, Sarah’s interview (below it is mine). Enjoy!
Q: How do you identify (gay, lesbian, transgender, gender-non-conforming, etc.)?
A: I’m really laid-back when it comes to how I identify myself, so while the technical term for my sexual orientation is lesbian, I usually lean more toward gay/queer. I really only refer to myself as Queer when I’m with other members of the LGBT community, just to avoid confusing people further.
Q: How long have you known you identify this way?
A: I’ve been able to identify my attraction to girls since…. forever, really. But I didn’t know that it was different/there was a word for it until the seventh grade, when I became friends with two girls who identified as LGBT and explained it to me. I kinda lived under a rock.
Q: How long ago did you come out?
A: I started coming out to friends that I hoped would be accepting in the seventh grade, but that wasn’t always the case. I lost a lot of friends coming out. It wasn’t until the summer before my sophomore year in high school (2009) that I came out to my family.
Q: How hard a decision was it to make, and how much time passed between the time you made the decision and the time you actually came out?
A: It took about ten minutes between the decision and the action. I figured that, if I didn’t do it at that second, it would be a long time before I had the nerve again. It was a ‘pull the band-aid off quick’ kind of a situation. It was a terribly hard decision to make, but when it came down to it, I was sick of living a lie. I was sick of calling my girlfriend my “friend.” I was sick of telling my mom I was on the phone with/text messaging my cousin. I didn’t feel right about it and I felt like it needed to be over.
Q: What is your coming out story (i.e., when and why you decided to come out, who, how, and why you came out, what happened, etc.)?
A: Well, I’d been pondering the decision all summer, mainly because I was in a pretty stable relationship with a girl. I felt like I was lying to my family and some of the people around me by not sharing that part of my life. So, about mid-August, I was instant messaging with my girlfriend and we were talking about her coming out to her mom two summers prior. She sent me a message that said “You do realize that you need to tell your mom, right?” She meant to send “You do realize that you need to tell your mom at one point, right?” but didn’t send that until I was already downstairs, about to tell my mom.
Q: Was coming out easier, harder, or the same as you expected it to be?
A: Definitely easier. I feared being sent back to a Christian school where I had been outed that spring. I feared counseling, being cut off from my friends – including and specifically my girlfriend. I feared my life taking a dramatic turn for the worse. But, as my mom came to terms with it, none of that happened. I was more free to talk to my mom about my girlfriend, about my other LGBT-identified friends, and I didn’t feel like I was hiding.
Q: What were the benefits of coming out?
A: Speaking for myself, I didn’t feel like half of my life was a lie. I didn’t need to worry about who found out about my girlfriend, I didn’t need to keep two different Facebook accounts, I didn’t need to lie about who I was talking to until all hours of the night. I felt like I could live my life without fear.
Q: What were the consequences of coming out?
A: Outside of my family, I lost a lot of friends from the Christian school realm of my life. Actually, I lost most of those friends. While I’d like to be able to say that they couldn’t have been too good of friends if they couldn’t accept my identity, that’s not the case. They were amazing friends. They were kids that I grew up with, and it’s hard to think that they’ve walked out of my life because I happen to be attracted to girls.
Q: How is being out of the closet different from being in the closet?
A: I’ve found that I don’t cringe at the word “lesbian” like I did before I was fully out. I’m more free to talk about my girlfriend and I feel more like a part of society. There are so many people in my life that accept me just the way I amt hat the people that come into my life and don’t accept me don’t really make that much of a difference.
Q: Do you feel like you have to “come out” again whenever you meet someone new? What are the similarities and differences between coming out for the first time and just telling a new acquaintance?
A: This is a difficult question… I don’t think it feels like “coming out” all over again, to be honest. Nothing will match the stress of deciding when to/finally being able to come out to my mom. Even if I’m more inclined to think that my orientation will be an issue, I’ve yet to experience a situation where I’m not honest about myself at one point. Whether it be sneaking something about my girlfriend into a conversation or outright saying that I identify as a lesbian, I’m never not honest about who I am.
Q: Overall, would you say that coming out was the right decision?
A: Definitely. Being honest about myself was the best choice I’ve ever made.
Q: Is there anything you wish you could change about the way in which you came out (for example, the order of who you told first or the way in which you told people)?
A: There is one person I regret not coming out to sooner – my dad’s oldest sister. She and I are almost attached to the hip at family functions and I never made the right moment to tell her. I regret not telling her for myself before she saw my spot on the Dr. Phil show for an anti-bullying panel.
Q: What do you wish you had known about the coming out process or being out before you came out?
A: I wish I could’ve been better prepared for the people that would ultimately walk out of my life. I don’t know if I could’ve/would’ve done anything different, but I wish I would’ve known that they wouldn’t have reacted well. Maybe I could’ve done myself a favor and been emotionally prepared for when they left.
Q: Do you have any advice for LGBT youth who are thinking about coming out of the closet? What should they consider when trying to make that decision?
A: I would suggest bringing the general topic of the LGBT community up, when coming out to family. Personally, I was watching the episode the the Ellen Show where she came out, on national TV, and casually asked my family about what they thought about it. When you can gauge their reaction, it’ll be easier to deal with. I also don’t recommend waiting forever. You really only hurt the people closest to you when you hide who you are. And you hurt yourself, in the process.
WHERE ONE INTERVIEW ENDS AND THE OTHER BEGINS…
How do you identify (gay, lesbian, transgender, gender-non-conforming, etc.)?
Labels aren’t too big a deal for me – I’m fine with gay, lesbian, queer, or “likes girls.” Haha. “Gay” is probably how I identify myself to other people the most frequently, though.
How long have you known you identify this way?
I came out to myself unequivocally, or knew unequivocally, somewhere in the middle of my freshman year of high school. But I had an idea of feeling this way a lot earlier – it just wasn’t until later that I connected all of the dots.
How long ago did you come out?
I came out toward the end of my sophomore year of high school, almost a year and a half ago.
How hard a decision was it to make, and how much time elapsed between when you made the decision and the time you actually came out?
From the minute I knew I was gay, I never questioned that I would eventually come out – it was just a matter of when, and a matter of feeling ready to do it. So I waited nearly two years between when I knew I liked girls and when I first told someone.
What is your coming out story (i.e., when and why you decided to come out, who, how, and, why you came out, what happened, etc.)?
The first person I told was my cousin, who is three years my senior and is gay herself. I had reached a point recently where the thought of coming out was constantly on my mind, was more of a weight than it had been before, and it was the first time I’d seen her in a while. It so happened that that night, she told her own coming out story to my siblings and me (I’m a triplet). The four of us chatted casually for a while; nobody else could have known how my heart was pounding or what I felt on the brink of. At one point in our conversation, my cousin joked about gaydar, the semi-facetious ability that some people claim to detect others who are LGB-identified.
Can she sense that I am? I wondered nervously, silently. Still joking, she pretended that her arm was a gaydar sensor passing over each of us in turn, and only activating with a beep-beep-beeping noise as she pointed to herself. But you’re wrong, I remember thinking. You’re absolutely wrong.
Later that night, I waited until my siblings had gone to bed and asked her to come into my room. I stood up facing her, feeling rooted to the spot, and managed to choke out, “I think I might be gay.” She said, “it’s okay,” she reassured me, and we kept in touch about it sporadically over the next few weeks over Facebook until I worked up the nerve to come out to the rest of my family and close friends.
I told my siblings next who said they kind of already knew, followed by my mom, and then my dad. With both of my parents, I really spit it right out in a way that’s pretty amusing in retrospect. I went to my mom’s house (my parents are divorced), and the first thing I said to her when I walked through the door was, “Hi Mom, two things. I need my Algebra 2 textbook, and also I’m either gay or bi.” (Now I see myself as gay, although I do think that sexuality lives on a spectrum of fluidity depending on the individual from very fluid, to not fluid at all, to other things entirely.) My mom proceeded to laugh at me a little bit because of my chosen delivery, and then we talked about it. My revelation to my dad was similarly abrupt, as I’d asked him to take a walk with me, and when we got outside we were talking for some reason about Hogwarts houses. “I think I’d be a Ravenclaw,” I said, “and also I’m gay.”
Was coming out easier, harder, or the same as you expected it to be?
Maybe I should have known it was going to be fine, but I didn’t. I knew that my parents supported same-sex marriage, and I knew that we had family friends who were same-sex partners. I even had a friend at the time that I knew was gay, although he wasn’t out. I knew all this, I lived in New York City, and yet I was still terrified to tell the people I cared about a fundamental part of who I was, and who I am.
No one close to me had ever told me that homosexuality was wrong (but one or two people who weren’t close did). Besides, I was an avid reader of the news, and an observer of manifold, subtle signs around me in the whispers of friends and the clangor of popular culture. These signs said that being gay was at best, something to be embarrassed about, and at worst, a stigma I would carry that would prevent me from having a “normal” life like my brother and sister. I’d read so many stories of kids who got kicked out of the house, or kids whose parents refused to speak to them or affirm them.
That’s why I stalled at first. I am an outspoken person, leery of keeping any secret for too long, and this was a big one. (I can’t even fathom the people who remain closeted late until adulthood, or even for their whole lives.)
What were the benefits of coming out?
There were so many! Telling my friends something so personal brought me closer to a lot of them, and a few have even been able to confide in me about their own same-sex attractions because I took that leap. It feels so much better to be open, to be able to have become an advocate for other youths like me, and to have met so many amazing people along the way. Being able to date girls now isn’t bad, either. ☺
What were the consequences of coming out?
I’ve been lucky, and I haven’t faced any serious discrimination. (I just wish that were a given, instead of something I have to say I’m lucky about.) And I haven’t really lost friends, although I did become less close with a couple, and there are things I have to think about now when I’m around different people. Certain friends I know I can talk about cute girls with, while with other friends that subject is to be avoided because it might make them uncomfortable. In the same way, I have certain friends that I know never to talk politics with because I can’t bear to ponder the impact that their political preferences would have on my future.
How is being out of the closet different from being in the closet?
It’s the difference between captivity and freedom, and the difference between insecurity and confidence. But it’s also the difference between anonymity when certain remarks are made or political topics crop up, and an awareness that the people around you are thinking about you…too different to describe easily, in mostly good ways.
Do you feel like you have to “come out” again whenever you meet someone new? What are the similarities and differences between coming out for the first time and just telling a new acquaintance?
All the time! You can never stop coming out for your whole entire life. Whenever you meet a new friend, neighbor, classmate, or coworker, it’s often inevitably something they will have to know. When a new friend asks if I think anyone in our history class is cute – boom. When a guy expresses interest in me – boom. When I go to an office party at my first job out of college and my plus 1 is my girlfriend – boom.
But what I’ve already, fortunately, found is that the more times you come out, the easier it gets. As long as you come out when you sense that you’re with accepting people, and you don’t make it a big deal, then it won’t be a big deal.
Overall, would you say that coming out was the right decision?
Is there anything you wish you could change about the way in which you came out (for example, the order of who you told first or the way in which you told people)?
Yes! When I came out to my friends, and finally said the words, even though I was fairly certain that they would still like me, I uttered them in a near-whisper. My expression solemn, I acted as though I was confessing to some horrible crime rather than just letting my loved ones in on a basic fact. In every case, the delivery of my news, rather than the news itself, was what caused the recipients distress. I heard from them, “cool!” and “that’s great,” and “I love you,” not words of condemnation. But in response to the build-up, one friend remarked, “That’s all? It looked like you were going to say something really bad!”
I should have been way less dramatic about it. I was scared, but I made it harder for all of us, because they had no idea what I was about to tell them.
What do you wish you had known about the coming out process or being out before you came out?
That’s what I wish I had known – to broach the subject with more confidence and humor than I did. That’s what I do now.
Do you have any advice for LGBT youth who are considering coming out of the closet? What should they consider when trying to make that decision?
It isn’t easy, but you’ll be proud of yourself and feel a lot better when you do. You are perfect the way you are, your friends and family deserve to know, and any of them who think less of you afterward aren’t worthy of you. But make sure you wait until you’re ready. And if you know that your family is very homophobic or transphobic, even if you feel sure about who you are, you might want to wait until you are out of the house or financially independent before you tell them. Confide in accepting friends first, and wait the rest of them out, because the news will be very hard for some people who have believed that it is wrong their whole lives. These people love you, but you’ve given them a rude awakening, and they might think that it goes against all the values they’ve ever held, or all the religious services they’ve ever attended. It’s said that as soon as you come out of the closet, that pushes your family in – now you’ve come to terms with yourself, but they have to start from the beginning.
Do you have any advice for LGBT youth who have made that decision but don’t know how to do it/where to start, or are afraid of what might happen?
Don’t come out until you’re ready, and when you do, start with someone who you trust not to tell anyone else and who you know will love you no matter what. Also, make sure to test the waters with your family and friends by bringing up something LGBTQ-related in the news or on a TV show that you watch, and see how they react. That can be a barometer for how they might take it when you come out to them. Go to a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting at your middle or high school, if one exists. Make sure that you’ll be safe! Imagine what your life will be like when you no longer have to hide. You can do it!
Where can these youth seek more, anonymous advice or resources on coming out?
One of the things I did was watch a whole bunch of people’s coming out videos on YouTube. A lot of people recorded their coming out stories and posted them there, and it really reassured me to see how many people were out there, and who had successfully gone through it already. Videos for the “It Gets Better Project,” also on YouTube, as well as queer collabs such as “YourFruitLoops” can be great resources as well. Be sure to check out GLSEN.org, the Trevor Project, and EveryoneIsGay.com, too.