We celebrate YOU
It is National Coming Out Day, and if you are in a safe space, able to be out as your true and authentic self, we celebrate you. If you're not yet there, we celebrate you. Those of us at Unbroken Horizons want you to know that we see you. You are loved. You are worthy of love. You matter.
We have been given the privilege of sharing coming out stories today. Three of our scholarship recipients, Jean, Adrian, Lydia, and a passionate Unbroken Horizons volunteer, John, have given us permission to share their stories with you. To you all, thank you for your bravery and your visibility.
My favorite coming out story is the day I talked to the eldest person in my family about my sexuality, my maternal grandmother. I always imagined that it would be hard for her to accept me as a gay man, considering that she is a rural woman who just finished elementary school and was in her early 70's at the time. To my surprise, she was the most understanding.
I remember taking an afternoon walk with her and seeing a pretty handsome young man pass by. I let my gaze follow him, and she noticed it. "Your grandfather was just like that, un papi chulo," she said. I felt like it was the perfect opportunity to talk about my sexual orientation with her, so I seized the moment and said, "I've got your taste them, mama."
She stopped walking and looked at me. I was very nervous, so I tried to keep the conversation in good humor. "Do you think we will make a lovely couple, mama?" I asked. She stood right in front of me for a few seconds in silence, and then said, "entonces eres pajaro, Jean?" I was about to cry but gathered all my courage to say, "yes, mama. I am gay." ("Parajo" is a derogatory term to call gay men in the Dominican Republic, meaning "bird").
She hurried to hug me as soon as I started crying, and after a while she asked me to stop. She said, "this is not going to be easy, mi nino, so you must be prepared. You have to do great at school and learn everything, even to fly, because birds are born to fly."
My fingers were interlocked so tight, I could feel my circulation slowly being cut off. My best friend sat next to me, focusing on beating a boss in Final Fantasy, oblivious to the fact that I looked as if I were about to vomit. I glanced over at her, took a deep breath, and blurted it out, "I like Zoe."
She didn't flinch. "Yeah, me too. She's really cool."
I almost laughed. "No, I mean I LIKE Zoe."
Sage stopped, and pressed the start button on her controller.
"What, like in a gay way?"
This time, I did laugh.
"Uh yeah. Like in a gay way."
There was no reason I should have been so nervous. Sage had come out to me a year prior, and practically all our friends didn't identify as straight. But I didn't know what I identified as. I'd had crushes on boys all throughout my childhood, and meeting Zoe, then realizing that no, I didn't just want to hang out with her. I wanted to hold her hand, and kiss her. This was a foreign and scary concept.
Sage turned towards me.
"Are you a lesbian?"
I shook my head. "I don't know, man. I just know that I like her in a way that's definitely more than friends."
She leaned back and put her hand on top of mine. "When did you realize?"
I scratched the back of my head.
"Like 3 weeks ago," then I paused. "I chopped all my hair off cuz she said it would look cute."
Sage burst our laughing. "Yeah, you're definitely not straight." She sighed and looked over at me. "Were you scared to tell me?"
I pursed my lips, then nodded.
"I don't know. I guess I didn't want you to think I was faking it or something. I don't know if I'm gay enough to consider myself LGBT."
Sage gave a small smile. "If you like the same gender, you're gay enough to be LGBT."
We both entered a fit of laughter, and afterwards, I felt some weight lift off my shoulders. It was my first time admitting to someone that I knew I wasn't heterosexual. But it wasn't my only time coming out. When you're LGBT, you come out over and over and over again. And each time, it's a bit different. Each time, you don't know if it's going to go better or worse than the last, and the fear of something going horribly wrong still sits in my brain. Coming out when you don't give yourself an exact label can cause others to question your validity, even from those who reside within your own community. Sometimes it ends relationships, but at the end of the day, I would rather come out to a million homophobes a million times than stay in the closet. Being able to own who you are, being proud of your sexuality and how it has shaped you to be the person you are today, will only bring happiness. If anyone shames you or cuts you out of their life for being LGBT, they aren't worth the grief. If I had stayed in the close, if I had continued to have friendships with people who actively hated people like me, I might not be here to share my story today. You are brave, and you are loved, and there are people waiting to welcome you on the other side of the closet door.
I already know I will cry at my wedding. Clearer than boundless blue sky, I can see myself wrapped in his arms, tears streaming down my face as we dance our first steps as one. Enveloped by the people who truly love me for who I am: my chosen family. A testament to the pure beauty that is triumph born of deep tragedy.
I grew up in an idyllic suburban neighborhood in Minnesota. My childhood should have been filled with lemonade stands and playgrounds but was instead characterized by a sense of isolation. I never really fit any mold that existed for boys my age, hating every organized sport my parents signed me up for. While deep down feeling jealous of my sister who was free to take ballet and ice skating classes without judgement. I was only able to live freely within the realms of many imagined universes. Cosmos of which I became increasingly ashamed as my parents indoctrinated me into their Catholic worldview.
Early in life, self-hatred and fear were introduced to me as products of a rigidly heteronormative upbringing. A culture which was further reinforced by the devotion of my parents to their conservative Catholic faith. I was brought up attending mass every Sunday, raised on the absolute moral authority of a flawless church. A church which professed the fundamentality of marriage between one man and one woman as the key to a holy life and a cornerstone of human society. My head and heart were filled with affirmations of the beauty of the unique union between a man and a woman as a perfect reflection of God’s love. The only way I would ever reach this ultimate goal of heaven was upon the sanctioned pathway of holy matrimony. As I found myself dragged deeper into my parents’ faith, I quickly began to lose any sense of self.
I still remember the day in fourth grade when I first heard the word gay. A boy on the playground was using this alien term to make fun of someone else. I had no idea what it meant and, being curious, asked friends what it meant. From their answers, I developed a vague idea that it indicated some negative implication about boys who liked other boys. Hoping to gain a clearer understanding, I asked my Mom what the term meant after stumbling upon it, used to mean happy in this case, in The Swiss Family Robinson. Her initial shock and question for the context tipped me off that it was not something estimable. From that point on, the word seemed to haunt me; coming up in conversations and playground insults routinely. I developed a fascination with this foreign idea of boys who liked other boys and this mysterious term that seemed to carry so much power. As any child of the 21st century would do, I turned to the internet to find answers. Under a secret bunker of bedsheets, I spent hours combing through google search after google search, trying to understand whatever “gay” was. My dutifully nosy parents eventually discovered my escapades when checking my uncleared search history. This led to a violent confrontation that left me sobbing on the floor, trying to explain why I had committed this grave sin. I was crushed by shame and filled with fear as I was gouged with my naked secrets. From that day on, I resolved to never again let myself tread upon such corrupting paths.
In 2012, I was given the chance to prove I had been healed from the sins of my past deviations. Anti-LGBTQ+ legislators in Minnesota placed an amendment on the ballot which would enshrine marriage as an institution between one man and one woman in the state constitution, effectively banning gay marriage. The side supporting the amendment was known as the “Vote Yes” campaign while the pro-LGBTQ+ side was known as the “Vote No” campaign. The “Vote Yes” campaign had no bigger supporter than my mother who would proudly wear their button wherever she went. A true champion for traditional marriage and family values, she sought out several yard signs and went as far as to throw away literature expressing support for both sides of the issue she saw at a church. In my eyes, this was the perfect opportunity to regain my parents’ trust and showcase myself as the perfect heterosexual son. I vociferously defended the “Vote Yes” campaign to my middle school classmates and made a point to distance myself from any who opposed it. When we attended the state fair, I stood by my mother when she found the “Vote No” booth and started yelling at the gathered supporters. I felt extremely passionate about the “Vote Yes” campaign and did my best to exemplify my mother’s feverish devotion. So deep was my emotional opposition that I fell into depression when the amendment was narrowly defeated on election day. Though I was disgusted that “deviant ideas would soon permeate classrooms,” as “Vote Yes” literature warned, I finally felt that I had put the sins of my past behind me.
Since its National Coming Out Day, that sentiment obviously did not last. By the end of eighth grade, I became friends with a boy named Nathan who had transferred to my school the previous year. We were so seldom seen apart everyone referred to us as a pair. Without fail, Nathan and I shared everything from our deepest secrets to our lunches. I called him my best friend because that’s the only way I knew how to express how I felt about him. I had never experienced the electricity of love before and did my best to acknowledge it while maintaining my mask of heterosexuality. While he was my first love, Nathan was also my first heartbreak. For high school, my parents decided that I was required to attend a private Catholic school to be safe from the influences of corrupt mainstream culture. Nathan and I were split apart just as I was beginning to understand how much he meant to me. My new high school was a dark wilderness of loneliness, exhaustion, and fear. Seeking warmth, I would text him every day for support as I attempted to establish my bearings. He replied a few times but I was usually left without response. All of a sudden, I had seemingly been left to fend for myself. This boy who had shown such deep interest and care for me quickly turned his back on me when I needed him most. I was slowly freezing to death as the fire he and I built cooled to ash. Nathan had already made me feel emotionally confused when we were friends but his new found lack of care left a deep burn in my fragile sense of self.
Wounded by Nathan, I grew increasingly desperate for any type of connection reminiscent of our experience. One day, I was texting a boy named Tyler after a long day at my new high school. He and I had been friends in middle school but we had never been particularly close. My conversation with Tyler quietly took a turn from school when he initiated a game of virtual truth or dare. By the end of the night, he had convinced me that it would be a good idea to send him mildly explicit pictures of myself. His justification being that he was bored and that it was only a natural progression of the game. Feeling deeply lonely, I obliged and immediately regretted my decision. I felt sinful and dirty. I wanted to cry and I was scared of the inconceivable act I had just performed. Tyler calmed me down and told me that I had nothing to worry about and that he had prayed about it and felt that God had forgiven and cleansed him. I too prayed and felt no such relief, only a furthering of my overwhelming sense of guilt. This quickly became a pattern as he exploited my loneliness and innocence for his own sexual gratification. I was victim to Tyler’s sexual abuse for months. He used me because he knew I was closeted and had no one that I could turn to. I felt forgotten by the world as my deepest secret was turned on me in a sick fashion. My sexuality was my greatest weakness and he used it as an easy means to exploit me. I was left with feelings of guilt and confusion as I was forced to confront my truth. At first, I would dismiss my abuse as merely an answer to boredom or some form of natural experimentation. Quickly this became panicked fear which Tyler disregarded as me not being man enough to complete whatever he was daring me to do. Through this framework, he was able to exert his control on me until the Summer after my freshman year when I had several camping trips that prevented communication.
After one such trip, I came home and found my entire world burned. My parents had discovered texts between Tyler and I on my phone after I had left it behind. In an instant, I was twelve again; crying at their feet for forgiveness. Rather than show concern for what I had been through, my parents only pressed me to divulge the full extent of what I had done with Tyler. Telling me they needed to know because Tyler’s mom or the police might need to be involved. Shaking and sobbing, I placed my hand on the bible they forced towards me and swore that no nudity had ever been involved. From there, they asked me endless questions about my intentions and the details of what I had done with Tyler. I laid on the ground, a mess of human emotion, too overwhelmed to respond other than to refute their worst fears. There was nowhere and no one I could turn to in my hour of greatest need. The parents who professed to love me more than life were shaming me for being a victim of sexual abuse. Abuse which was partially due to the toxic environment they had created. They had labelled my sexuality a deviation, making it all the more easy for Tyler to exploit it. I woke up the next day feeling entirely hopeless and seeing no purpose in continuing to live my life. Only after days of space was I able to regain any sort of positive outlook towards life.
Following my parents’ discovery of my sexual abuse, I was forced to become more comfortable with the idea that I was the deviant they suspected me to be. This meant that I was more open to the idea that I might be interested in other boys. I had signed up for my high school’s cross country team at the end of freshman year in order to become better friends with a boy named Sam who I had sat by in some classes. Sam and I became closer and by December we were texting each other every day. I really enjoyed spending time with Sam and, through him, was able to start to find some healing from my experiences with Nathan and Tyler. I trusted Sam and opened up to him about some of what I had been through, he was receptive and supportive. My friendship with Sam allowed me to develop a sense of safety and the notion that I was at a point where I could begin to unpack some of the baggage weighing me down. Initially, opening up to Sam left me feeling freer and happier but this evolved into a growing sense of sadness. Recounting the traumas of my life left me wounded, vulnerable, and lonelier than ever. Years and years of repressed pain hit me and broke down any self-confidence I had. I became depressed and turned to self-harm as a form of medication for what felt like an unstoppable pain. I had been so deeply damaged by so many people who were supposed to love me. My parents, relatives, friends, and romantic interests had all hurt me and often abused me in some way. I felt absolutely unlovable and and hated by the world. This depression came rapidly and then sat with me for the better part of my sophomore year. Eventually, I was able to find the support I needed in my school nurse who was an excellent listener and had created a safe space in her office. I sat with her for hours each week, recounting the pain and suffering of my worst experiences. She listened and provided supportive words of love and acceptance. As a result, I felt heard and understood for the first time in my life. With this new base of support I was able to start to grow past my depression and establish a more positive mindset. The pain I had became tolerable as I learned to let go of the past and look to the joy the future could bring. I learned that love could come from unexpected places and there would always be people I could fall back on when I felt like the world had abandoned me. The school nurse saved my life by showing me that I was worthy of love and that I could heal from the pain and hate of my past.
Meanwhile, Sam and I’s relationship continued to develop. As I leaned on him for support, he began to open up to me about some of his own struggles with identity and belonging. We became kindred spirits, establishing a level of trust and vulnerability neither of us had ever experienced. From this environment was born an innocent entrance into my sexuality. On April 20th, 2016, Sam invited me over to his house in order to work on a lab report we both had due the next day. It was late at night and we were both working when I started having a breakdown, shaking uncontrollably as I was overcome with the pressure of the assignment. Sam asked me if I wanted a hug. I initially refused, scared to embrace my true feelings. A few minutes later, when he asked again, I eagerly obliged. And there we sat for hours, hugging each other close. It was innocent and beautiful. Needless to say, we did not finish our lab reports. We had, however, taken our relationship into uncharted territory. Both of us had moved past our internal homophobia and years of repression and been nakedly honest. There was no more denying how we felt or who we were. We had both shown our true selves without rejection for the first time. I will remember that day for the rest of my life as my first coming out experience.
The first time, however, I fully acknowledged that I was gay was not until February 9th, 2017. Following our first hug, Sam and I would meet nearly every day, after school, in his car to hug again. We would sit there as the world passed us by, hearts pressed together in a quiet expression of love. With Sam I felt a sense of complete acceptance and home that I had never experienced before. In those moments, I was able to unabashedly be myself in a way I had never been able to in the past. Sam was my escape to truly living for the first time. He showed me that it was alright for me to love myself. I learned that this part of my self was nothing but absolute beauty. So many barriers that I had built up for years began to dissolve and my truth started to emerge. Still not ready to fully admit the truth, both Sam and I found girlfriends by the Fall of that year. Sadly, we had stopped hugging in parking lots. Even though I had grown by leaps and bounds, I was still held back by fear. It was not until a snowy day in February that I was able to admit the truth. It was February 9th and, after a long day, I was heading home from school. I was doing some deep reflection on the annoyance Sam and his girlfriend’s relationship caused me. When all of a sudden, I was hit with a realization as if I had been in the path of the semi truck that was roaring past. “I’m in love with my best friend,” I first whispered. This breath of truth was soon followed by further repetition until I was shouting at the top of my lungs, “I’M IN LOVE WITH MY BEST FRIEND.” I had finally admitted the irrefutable truth. That night, I texted my openly bisexual friend, Arthur, and poured everything out to him. I told him all about Sam and our relationship and our hugging and how I felt. I told him that I was bisexual, still not ready to entirely give up the idea of dating a girl. Arthur was nothing but supportive and welcoming towards my admission. His positive reaction helped me to continue to build the confidence I would need to come out to others. By the end of the year, I had come out to my close friends and broken up with my girlfriend. After further reflection, I found enough confidence to accept and admit that I was gay rather than bisexual. This was one of the most difficult parts of the process as it meant fully giving up on the idea of living any part of the life that was imagined for me when I was younger. But, positive reaction after positive reaction showed me that I had surrounded myself with a community who would support me no matter who I loved. My coming out experience was capped by the Twin Cities Pride Festival that June. I was fully out as gay to my friends and, for the first time, publically acknowledged this aspect of my identity. Nails painted blue, pride flag draped over my shoulders, I was the most honest version of myself I had ever shown to the world. Owning my identity and confident enough to share it with the world, I felt unstoppable. My sexuality had become an inseparable part of my identity that no one could ever take away. I had claimed gay as a term of power and triumph. I was acknowledging that I would never fulfill the future forced on me but, rather, that I would build one of my own design. My eyes shined bright as I looked toward the hope of the boundless future ahead.
That is the story of how I grew from being a boy full of internalized homophobia to an out and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. Since I first came out, I have continued to grow and develop in my sexuality: I’ve had boyfriends, come out to my dad, and continue to learn how to live as a more authentic version of my self. Through all of this I have struggled and suffered through many challenges, as every member of the LGBTQ+ community does. Being queer lends itself to a unique set of joys and tragedies that bind us together. Coming out is an extremely powerful part of our journey that often defines who we are. There is nothing more personally affirming than this a declaration of pure identity. Through coming out I have been able to find my voice and the strength to view myself with confidence and love. This is a never ending journey in which the first declaration is only the first few steps on what will be a beautiful, winding route. Never doubt that you, as a queer person, belong and have a seat at the table. We are valid members of society upon which full rights and protections should be afforded. You are always worth it, no matter what your family, friends, or anyone else says. To be queer is to surround yourself with a chosen family who will always lift you up and support you. I have been fortunate enough to have many adoptive parents and siblings and I know that, no matter who you are, there will always be room for more. Take your time coming out and make sure you do it at a time and in a way that is safe. As soon as you do, know that there will be a wide community waiting with open arms. In closing, I will leave you with a quote that inspired me to find self love when I was first coming out from the song “Heaven” by Troye Sivan,“So if I’m losing a piece of me maybe I don’t want heaven.”
You are beautiful, worthy, and loved.