Traditionally, August 7 has been my gayest day of the year. It’s the day I celebrate my anniversary for coming out for the first time, to my father. I will honor the tradition on this my fifth gay anniversary, but I’m not feeling gay today, just incredibly sad. The aftermath of the terror attacks in Norway is just beginning to sink in, and the full consequences will not be clear until much later. It’s is with great sorrow and gratefulness for the inspiration he was for me and so many others, that I dedicate this post to the memory of my great friend Tore Eikeland (1990-2011), who was killed on July 22. One of the last times I met him, we marched together for LGBT rights. Among many, many other things, he made me a prouder gay.
August 7 is the one day of the year when I allow myself to be absolutely, unabashedly, one-hundred percent gay. I don’t know much about personal courage, living in a liberal country with my liberal friends and liberal family, but I can’t help but feel a little bit of pride when I think back at the day when I finally took the leap, and told others about my true identity. That’s also why I so deeply admire all the young people growing up knowing, or simply fearing, that their being gay will cause them pain and exclusion, and then do go ahead and do it anyway – because they want to be true to themselves. These things take character.
But then again: Will you ever meet someone as critical as you are of yourself? For me, the hardest part of the whole coming out process was to convince myself that this was the real deal, that my attraction and emotional bond to guys was not going to go away. I was never a self-hating gay, I simply had trouble coming around to the fact that I was not quite like anybody else I knew. I had my first serious crush on a guy (a classmate of mine) back when I was thirteen, and another one when I was fifteen, and I guess I had briefly asked myself the supposedly terrifying question ‘You’re not gay, are you?’ (notice the somewhat defensive phrasing), but as those crushes faded, I simply went back to being the presumed heterosexual. Strangely, I never considered the fact that I never had any female crushes as an indication of gayness.
Anyway, it was not until I moved away from home back in 2004 to go to university, that I started rethinking who I really was. Even though I love both my older sister and my twin brother, and they both had been very supportive of me at all times, I found it liberating to get a chance to redefine myself to other people, without having them comment on every minor change in my personality or appearance. When I think back on the period between fall 2004 and Christmas 2005, I’m always struck by how obvious it seems to me now that I was slowly adopting a gay identity, and how I still didn’t see it myself. Sure, I found a little bit of myself in such different pop-cultural works as Gregg Araki’s heartbreakingly earnest and beautiful gay-themed Mysterious Skin and encores of Dawson’s Creek, but still I couldn’t (or didn’t want to?) collect the dots emotionally, so to speak.
It might seem odd, then, but what eventually made me realize I was gay, was that my twin brother came out to me in late November 2005. We’ve always been close, and of course I was both happy for him, and proud of him for acting on his realization. We gave each other a big hug, and I told him how happy I was for him. This was not my full reaction, however. I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but when he had left that night, I also battled a strange sense of envy. It wasn’t that I wasn’t truly happy he had finally concluded he could be open about his orientation; I was. Instead, I battled the conflicted feeling that he had somehow beaten me to it. At the time, I wasn’t ready to admit, neither publicly nor to myself that I was gay, but I assumed (wrongly, as it turned out) that the fact that he was now openly gay, could make it harder for me to conclude with regard to my own sexuality.
In retrospect, this of course seems like a really silly concern, but it was real enough back then. Gays pondering their identity ask all kinds of questions, not all founded in reality. Thus, one of my prime concerns, as I became more and more convinced throughout the spring and early summer of 2006 that I was in fact gay, was whether people I loved and trusted would consider me a ‘copycat’ if I came out so soon after my brother. They didn’t, of course, and had I not been so self-absorbed at the time, I would have realized the entire assumption was just silly.
When I retell the events of my self-realization to other people, I tend to say that I realized I was gay almost overnight. From what I’ve written so far, that of course is an exaggeration. But even though I might comprise what happened for dramatic effect, it’s not entirely false. It is in fact true that I decided to come out the very same day I told myself in a ‘it’s-not-just-a-phase, there-is-no-way-I’m-gonna-change-the-way-I-feel, this-is-the-point-of-no-return’ kind of way that I was gay. You can believe me or not, but as I woke up on Saturday August 5, 2006, from a night of conflicting feelings, and days of going around weighing the pros and cons, rejecting the last lifeline (‘Might I at least be bisexual?’, ‘What about that nice girl back in kindergarten?’ etc), I decided I couldn’t take it any longer.
And then I chickened out. Just like my brother had done the year before, I decided I wanted my father to be the first to know. Picking up the phone to call him probably is one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life, and that excruciating insecurity lingers, even though eventually I couldn’t get myself to tell him. I wanted to tell him in person, but I didn’t have the guts to arrange for us to meet. When I dropped the idea, and instead started talking soccer with him (a common passion), I was truly ashamed of myself for being weak, but also for not ending my state of emotional limbo.
As I often do when I’m frustrated or insecure in any way, I turned to writing to try to gather my thoughts and feelings. For therapy, I sat down and wrote a long essay, much like this one, to get down on paper what I felt about being gay and what should happened next. I went to the subject from every angle; writing about gay role models, the public attitude toward gays, and how I thought I would fit with gay sterotypes; early clues in childhood memories, my high school crushes, feelings about gay porn, and finally, what you could call a ‘roll-out strategy’ for how to come out to friends and family, how to tell them, when and in what order. This might sound silly (and it probably is, too), but as I wrote I had this one lyric from the deliciously catchy Savage Garden song Affirmation constantly churning in my head: ‘I believe you can’t control or choose your sexuality’. It became sort of a mantra for me in the coming days.
My plan to first tell my dad, then my brother, followed by my sister and my two male best friends, was very close to getting scrapped when my sister dropped by that same evening. My head felt like it was going to explode, but again I couldn’t find the right way to say it. I knew she would be perfectly fine with it, but I forced myself to stick to the plan, though not before I had tried for several hours to make smooth segway into the topic of gayness. Even though in my many ways it was a painful evening, I learned one thing: In coming out to people, I had to be straightforward. Looking for ways to let the conversation just naturally turn to my own feelings, would only offer me excuses to back out. When I finally told her, a week later, after I had come out to my dad and my brother, I just straightened up and told her. She had in fact said for years that she thought I was gay (which, come to think of it, might have weirdly contributed to my insecurity), so she wasn’t exactly surprised. When I said ‘I have to tell you something. I think you might have heard it once before’, referring to my brother’s coming out, she simply broke me off, asking: ‘Is this more of the same?’, and started laughing. The laughter made me feel a little small, but she soon hugged me and told me she was cool with it. I loved her for it.
Anyway, dear reader, if you’re still with me, I’d like to return to the chronological order of events. By Monday August 7, I was back where it had all started two days earlier. Phone in hand, I was ready to call my dad to set up a meeting. I actually went though with it this time, but in a way, to say ‘I need to see you. There’s something I need to tell you’ was just as hard as breaking the actual news to him. I guess it had something to do with the fact that once I’d set up the meeting, there would be no way back. I had already made him understand I had something important to tell him, and if I tried to talk myself out of it, he would ask questions until he’d uncovered what I wanted to tell him. When he finally showed up, at 3.45 p.m., I was so nervous I thought I was going to die.
When I wrote earlier that I had to go straight to what I wanted to say, that too was a slight exaggeration. I hadn’t done this before, and I tried to buy time by making small talk about sports or the weather, or whatever. But that works for only so long, so at about 4.05 (I remember the time fairly exactly because I was watching my cellphone nervously every other minute), I said something along the lines of ‘There is, however, a specific reason why I wanted you to come. Over the last couple of days I’ve been doing some thinking. I think you might have heard this before, but here goes. I’ve found out that I’m gay, too.’ Even though I fought it vigorously, I had a smile on my lips when I uttered the word ‘gay’. I guess it was a sense of pride.
Then my dad smiled and said ‘Would it be appropriate to say congratulations?’. I nodded, and immediately I knew that all my paranoid questions had been more of a way for me to get my life in order, than founded in reality. He went to say all the things you want your dad to say in situations like these: ‘I’m glad you told me’; ‘Do you need any help breaking the news to friends or relatives’, ‘You have to do this in the way that you’re most comfortable with’ etc. In fact, he even asked me the ‘When did you know’ question, correctly sensing that I needed to talk to someone about this. I think I was even prouder of him than he was of me.
Coming out of course is a continuing process, and I’ve gotten progressively better at it. But on this very day two days ago, I didn’t have the capacity to imagine it would ever get any easier. That, among other things, is why today I once again embrace that old Savage Garden mantra: ‘I believe you can’t control or choose your sexuality’. I chose to live with it.