The Catharsis of Coming Out

Being comfortable with myself continues to be life changing.

In the wake of the Orlando murders, many of us have been left with unanswerable questions. I myself spent a considerable amount of time dissecting the layers of information; my preferred coping mechanisms are over-rationalization and intellectualization, hence this post.

Among many revelations over the last few days, it seems the murderer frequented the nightclub and had a profile on some gay dating apps. This is an issue with so many layers including terror, fundamentalism, mental health, and gun control, but now also becomes about internalized homophobia — something I’ve dealt with.

I came out almost two years ago. Two years before that, I started the slow, agonizing process of telling close friends and family members I felt different: I am gay. Many people will tell you the process of coming out is never-ending, that because being gay is counter-normative, we’re constantly having to re-announce that we prefer the same sex.

I can attest that I haven’t stopped coming out. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have received only love and support after my announcement, but even more so to have had friends and mentors to help me become overtly prideful of my homosexuality.

If you’ve ever met me, you know I love attention. At 6’4”, 250lbs with a hefty beard, I revel in the opportunity to announce that I love men. This feedback loop, the catharsis of coming out, the power in being proud of who I am, has taught me to do the same with my other personality quirks.

My identity was built by a collection of traits I saw and related to in the groups I was a part of. For the majority of my life, the most informal group was athletes, and I knew athletes weren’t gay, ergo neither was I. As I’ve been able to become my own man, I’ve also been able to truly realize who I am. The biggest internal struggle has been in defining what makes a man.

I am woefully unqualified to speak on gender identity, but I believe our narrow definition of masculinity and “being a man” greatly inhibits our society. Recently, I’ve found pleasure in things that are classically defined as feminine and it’s done nothing to undermine my ability to play rugby and shotgun beers.

This winter I got my first pedicure. My rugby teammate, Raul, accompanied me and helped pick out a deep blue nail polish with sparkles. It was…a new experience. But as a self-proclaimed “butch queen in bro drag”, it felt like the right thing to do (I do love attention after all). Yet the first time I was changing my socks at the gym, I tried to curl my toes and hide my nail polish.

Here, a gigantic oaf of a human who has lived in the gym and should have no fear of other patrons, I was yet again petrified of judgement. Amazingly, I survived. In fact, nobody seemed to really notice or care. So, day after day, I returned to the gym, and day after day I worried about what people thought of my now jagged and nasty blue sparkly toenails (rugby wasn’t doing my feet favors).

Shortly after, I visited a friend in LA and was greeted with another new experience: high heels that “fit” my ogreish feet. The attention-loving butch queen in me couldn’t resist the urge to try them on, especially among the privacy of my friends. Again though, I was mortified of photographic evidence surfacing. Slowly but surely, my irrational fears were overtaken by the self-actualization that I’d be happier being myself than the person I thought other’s wanted me to be.

This Memorial Day at the Bingham Cup — with some light goading — I strapped on those 4-inch heels, pulled on a tutu, slapped on some eye shadow, and owned the closing ceremony.

I’ll admit, not my greatest lewk, but like Zoolander, I’ve got to keep reinventing myself ¯\\\_(ツ)\_/¯ I’ll admit, not my greatest lewk, but like Zoolander, I’ve got to keep reinventing myself ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In the void of misunderstanding, it’s easy to revert to fear, easy to push people back to the median. We’re often times more comfortable in the short run being predicable, checking the applicable boxes, and yet, I want to share how much my life has improved with every incremental moment of self-actualization.

My over-rationalization and intellectualization over the last few days led me towards the conclusion that many of our cultural problems are fed by a narrow definition of manhood. However well-intentioned our cultural pillar of man as the protector, we’ve ended up with pervasive sexism, rape culture, and an obsession with guns.

Nobody explicitly wanted me to internalize homophobia, to hate myself, to be filled with paralyzing self-doubt. Nobody forced me to spend years agonizing that the life I built, the friendships I made, would crumble if I were honest with people around me. But those feelings weren’t born out of thin air, they came from subliminal signals from the people I most closely related to.

I let myself internalize those principles. But I also got out of that cycle by accepting myself, piece by piece.

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the privilege I have in being a gigantic white male. Even so, the thought of coming out was a fear like no other I’d faced, and I tried to block Von Miller once (spoiler alert: it didn’t go well). Being gay didn’t fit into my former definition of being a man. But, my willingness to be more open and honest about myself has allowed me to challenge my previous definitions and strengthen my friendships.

We’ll never know if the Orlando shooter was gay, what internal conflicts he was struggling with, and why he chose to take so many innocent lives. We do know that the shooter was homophobic and that the world we live in is still rife with homophobia, in part because of our narrow definition of what it means to be a man.

What’s most important though is to remember the victims of Pulse, who were comfortable being themselves. Since June is Pride Month, we all have the opportunity to celebrate their lives, honor those who spoke out before us, and be proud of who we truly are.

This haircut was a little much…