Coming Out: The Story of a Gay.net Editor
It was on a Saturday afternoon, during the summer after my freshman year of high school, when my best friend, Heath, said six words that changed my life. “I dare you to kiss me,” he whispered in my ear as we playfully wrestled behind the locked door of his bedroom. I knew my feelings for him had been developing into something greater than friendship over the years since the day we first met in our Jr. High English class, but until that moment I never imagined he could feel the same way. In fact, I was certain I’d never meet anyone who did.
Growing up in a strict Pentecostal Christian home meant I had been programmed to think homosexuality was the worst sin imaginable long before I even understood what it was. As we awkwardly began to make out at the foot of his bed, I forgot all about the countless nights I had pleaded with God to cure me and, for the first time in my life, everything made sense.
By the end of our sophomore year, our relationship had become a sexual one and while being with Heath always felt right, the awkward silence that followed each of our intimate encounters did not. My own religious upbringing coupled with the fact that Heath lived in a house where his stepfather, Patrick, and older brother, Sean, made antigay remarks on a daily basis, made the idea of talking about our physical relationship more frightening than the act itself. Nevertheless, I knew what I felt for my best friend was more than physical, and I was convinced he felt the same way about me.
To this day, I’m not sure what came over me one afternoon as we were playing a game of one-on-one basketball in his backyard. Like so many times before, I playfully kissed Heath to distract him while he aimed for the backboard, but this time I forced the words “I love you” passed my lips as the ball left his hands.
Heath stopped and stared back at me, eyes wide with fear. Long seconds passed and suddenly my voice was not my own. “I don’t care who knows it,” I said. “I’m tired of pretending like nothing is going on. I’m gay, I love you, and I know you love me too!” It was the first time I had said the words out loud, and I actually felt my shoulders relax as the weight of our secret left my body. But my admission had a completely different affect on my friend and lover.
His eyes narrowed as he shook his head from side to side. “I’m not a queer,” he said through clenched teeth.
“How can you say that?” I shouted as tears began to roll down my cheeks. “All those times we…”
“Shut up!” He screamed as he ran forward and shoved me into the tall, wooden fence that separated his backyard from the alley behind it. His reaction caught me by surprise and before I could recover, Heath grabbed my left wrist and began to twist my arm behind my back while he used his entire body to keep me pinned, chest first, against the fence. “Just shut up! I’m not queer, and I don’t want to be around queers!” he shouted. Wrenching my arm closer to the back of my skull, he leaned in close to my left ear and said the words again, but this time his voice began to crack. “I’m not a fag like you,” he repeated, obviously fighting off tears of his own.
Angry, I pushed back against him and spun around, ready to defend myself, but my heart sank when I noticed Heath’s homophobic brother, Sean, standing in the back doorway of their house. The look on his face told me he’d overheard our conversation and the reason for Heath’s violent outburst became clear. All I wanted was to be honest, but revealing my true feelings and admitting who I was had taken our relationship into a dangerous realm.
At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around Heath and hold him close, but I feared for his safety even more. I lightly pushed the young man I loved aside and locked eyes with his brother. “Heath is not a fag… like me,” I said as I began to walk away, but before I could take two steps, Heath sent a hard shove into the middle of my back, causing me to stumble and fall to the ground.
“If you breathe a word of this to anyone else,” he said, “I swear I’ll kick your ass!” Seeing tears in his eyes made it impossible to be angry with him. Heartbroken, I got up and ran down the side of the house and into the front yard where I had left my bike earlier. Wiping the tears from my eyes, I jumped onto the blue seat of my silver BMXand began to pedal as hard as I could away from there.
In the months that followed, I made several attempts to reconcile with Heath, but he ignored me. Any time we passed one another on campus, I was invisible. And the letters I left in his locker always went unanswered. Eventually, I saw less and less of him around, and when I returned from summer break to begin my Jr. Year of high school I learned from a mutual friend that Heath and his family had moved away. I couldn’t believe he was gone. The news left an ache in my chest that lingered for weeks, but as those weeks became months, my sadness was slowly replaced with a new sense of freedom. It dawned on me that I no longer had to carry the burden of someone else’s secret, and I realized living a life in the closet, unable to even say goodbye to a person I loved, wasn’t a life I wanted to live. For the first time, I realized admitting I was gay wasn’t a mistake. It made me a stronger person, and I haven’t looked back since.
JASE PEEPLES is an Editor for Gay.net and a contributor for Advocate.com, Out.com, and She Wired. He lives in San Francisco with his partner.
Follow Jase on Twitter: @jasepeeples