Coming Out: The Story of a Gay.net Staff Editor
In celebration of National Coming Out Day (October 11) Gay.net will be sharing stories throughout the month from several members of our community who not only kicked down the closet door, but continue to inspire, encourage, and give us hope for a brighter future.
I hardly knew Brandon, the fraternal twin of my friend Elliot.
Unlike his athletic and outgoing red-haired brother, Brandon was tall, blond and quiet. He liked independent films, electronic music and coffeehouses like me, but that was all I really knew about him.
Whenever I came over, Brandon would mostly stay in his bedroom. Occasionally, he’d appear out of nowhere in the hallway, but then he’d vanish for the rest of the day just as quickly.
Once, while sitting in the game room, I saw him in a towel gently closing the bathroom door. He saw me looking and offered a small wave. I waved back. He quietly walked to his bedroom and shut the door.
A few months before my sixteenth birthday, Brandon came out.
When Brandon came out, he came out full-force. He joined a gay youth group and started marching in Pride parades and AIDS walks. He began saying things like “Oooh gurl, stop!” and “Honey, please!” in a sassy girl voice punctuated by finger snaps. He got an earring, what seemed like a new wardrobe of colorful skin-tight shirts and a rainbow belt. He even started going to gay bars — places, my mom said, where older men slipped Spanish-fly into young mens’ drinks so they could take advantage of them later.
I felt both envious and angry at Brandon; envious because he had the guts to come out no matter what anybody thought, but angry because in doing so, he turned into the flaming queen I worried I would turn into if I ever came out.
Keep in mind that the only gay role model I had while growing up was Dr. Frankenfurter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, that insane cross-dressed clown who entangled a wholesome straight couple into his tawdry web of gender-bending sex-games.
And then there were all the skeletal AIDS patients dying on TV, those perverted sinners who (according to my mom’s Christian radio) had brought down a plague from God for unnaturally laying with another man.
Those seemed like my only choices for life as a gay man, and I hated both.
So I came to loathe the gay homo hiding deep inside me, the one that made me good at singing but bad at sports, the one that made me like the faggoty Care Bears and not the macho G.I. Joe toys, the one who screamed like a girl, feared fistfights and enjoyed wearing my mother’s heels for a laugh.
I was a sissy and what’s worse, one who wanted to see his guy friends naked, which was weird, gross and made God hate me.
Nevertheless, I had no choice. I had felt drawn to boys since kindergarten.
As we sat “Indian style” on the rug during Mrs. Hammert’s story time, the boy in front of me leaned forward to hear a little better. And as his shirt lifted over his jeans, revealing the waistband of his underwear, a warm tingly feeling spread over my chest, similar to the feeling I got when watching WWF.
The girls in my classes seemed friendly. I even dated two in high school. But to me they were polite, pretty and comforting — like a warm floral blanket fresh from the dryer — whereas guys were mischievous, rugged and fun — like well-bred German Shepherds.
Throughout middle school and high school, I was surrounded by hunky, milk-fed jocks and my brother’s handsome heterosexual friends. They were loud but funny, rude but confident. They wore shorts that showed off their hairy calves and accentuated their magnificent asses. I’d go through their overnight bags whenever they left the house and huff their underwear like paint rags.
The few times I ever saw one shirtless, I nearly went into convulsions.
In secret, I kept a chart of all the guys I knew with columns for different body types, underwear preferences and dick sizes (which I calculated by the size of their hands). Then, whenever I showered, I paired them up into tag-teams and fantasized about them wrestling naked, dominating each other in one punishing erotic hold after. My showers took hours.
But despite all the fantasies, I didn’t have the guts to actually touch a guy. I didn't know any gay guys my age and I worried that if I ever made a move on a classmate, that they'd tell all the popular kids. Word would spread around school and one day on the way to English class, some random Mexican moron would push me down and start kicking me for being a maricon.
But luckily, Brandon attended a school many miles away, so even though I had mixed feelings about him, I could still fool around with him without fear of getting outed.
After his brother went to sleep one night, I asked Brandon to stay up and talk for a while. In the game room, I started some lame conversation about his school projects — my hands shaking as my nerves crackling and heart raced with anxiety, working up the courage to ask.
Then, in the middle of describing an osmosis lab in his biology class, I popped out with, "Would you like to fool around?"
He paused, raised his eyebrows, smiled at me and said, "Sure!"
When we got into his room Brandon said, "Hold on, I want this to be perfect." Then he turned on some white Christmas lights arranged in a spiral on his wall, put on an Underworld CD and then went to his desk to position his “Flamin’ Moses” Bible story action figure so he could watch.
Flamin’ Moses had a long grey beard and an intense stare. He held a mighty wooden staff in his outstretched hands. For a boy raised Southern Baptist, there was no worse thing Brandon could have done than angle God's prophet so he could watch us do it. But I forgot all about that as soon as Brandon began gently kissing me, the stubble around his lips so different from the smooth and soft lips of my previous girlfriends.
We rolled around for several hours, gradually shedding clothes as we kissed and kissed, our bodies grinding against one another, our hands running down each other’s backs and legs.
But when he asked, "Do you wanna go ahead and take off our underwear?" I chickened out and said no. We stopped making out about ten minutes later and when I left, I made sure to say that I didn't want a goodbye kiss — so butch was I.
The next day, after years of holding it in, I told my mom that I thought I liked guys.
My mom was my number one fan and confidant throughout my entire life. She read every article I wrote for the school newspaper and consoled me for entire nights after she divorced my abusive father. But she had also been raised Pentecostal and believed that demons could enter your head if you touched the TV during televised David Copperfield magic specials. So, I could only guess how she'd react to her son casting his lot with the Sodomites.
"It's just a phase," she said. "I used to be curious about my cousin's body too when we bathed together. We touched each other and kissed. For a while I wondered if I might was a lesbian too. But it's normal. It’s just something all kids do."
"Mom, I really don’t think this is a phase,” I said. “I’ve kinda felt like this since I was a kid.”
My mom got very quiet. She went into her room, grabbed her keys and said, "C'mon, I gotta run some errands.”
While on the highway, she told me that if I chose to be gay, I’d never have children, a spouse or an easy life. I’d get drugged and raped by older men. I’d receive death threats and have a dead dog left on my doorstep with its anus torn out. I’d get lynched, they’d cut off my penis and let me bleed to death in the woods.
I'd never be able to teach in public schools because parents would accuse me of molesting their kids. It would ruin my life. And after all this, the odds were that I'd probably catch AIDS or something worse and die alone in quarantine separated from my friends and family.
It all seems so silly and extreme now, but as a teenager, I was devastated. I had no idea how ugly life could be, and I cried and cried and cried the entire way until we got home.
I realize now that, in her own fucked-up but loving way, she wanted me to know about all the about horrible shit that happens to gay men. At least this way, if I came out and something bad happened, it wouldn't be because she hadn't warned me.
And though it's sad to admit, she basically scared me back into the closet for another four years. During that time, I worked tirelessly to become straight. I had poured through psychology textbooks and if Pavlov could condition his dogs to salivate at the sound of the bell, I could recondition myself to get hard at the sight of a woman.
I read magazine articles and human sexuality textbooks to find causes of homosexuality so I could also find a cure. Every now and then, I'd try and stop masturbating, but I never lasted more than a day or two. I even tried whacking off to Playboy in the bathroom, but I always left feeling bad that such beautiful women had to sell their bodies for money.
At the end of my rope, I began kneeling down in the shower and at my bedside, pleading for God to take the thoughts away and give me the strength to be good. I wept and begged and clenched my hands together extra tight until I felt too sleepy to continue.
None of it worked.
Finally, I left my home and went to college, looking forward to a chance to start fresh among an entirely new group of people.
But in my small liberal arts college, the only gay people were freaks. There was a nelly bear who wore rolled-up denim shorts and combat boots every day, two scary identical dykes named "Moose and Marv" who both worked the sandwich line in the cafeteria and a venomous, clean-cut twink who proclaimed himself "Queen of the Rumor Mill” while spreading gossip about guys he suspected to be gay.
I couldn't. I just couldn't.
My sophomore year though, I finally met a guy — a red-haired freshman from Arkansas named Connor who lived in the dorm where I worked as a RA.
Connor first approached me to discuss whether my fraternity would accept a gay student like him. And because the aforementioned nelly bear was also a frat brother, I said yes. But as the conversation progressed, we realized that we were both Libras, both majoring in English and both had abusive fathers.
I convinced him to stay the night and we both slept shirtless. By the next morning, we were making out naked and spurting cum on both of our bodies. I had finally done it.
But that didn't mean I had come out. I refused to acknowledge or show any affection to Connor on campus. I never got him gifts or took him out to dinner, afraid that someone would see and get wise.
Once, when several of my residents knocked on my door mid-coitus, I made Connor hide under my desk and threw a blanket over his head.
Six months later, our relationship ended because he had "accidentally" sucked two dicks while attending a naked 4th of July party near campus. It was just as well. He was too obvious for my tastes.
At the start of the next school year however, I met Ash, a tall, green-eyed slouch with an adorable mess of brown hair and a friendly, apple-cheeked face. I asked him out and over the next few months, we quickly fell for each other.
He wore t-shirts from bands I'd never heard of. He liked poetry, smoking weed and watching art movies. He made beautifully dark drawings and collages. He was masculine, had strong hairy pecs, wore briefs and had — thank you God — a big dick. He was everything I'd ever wanted in a boyfriend.
But a month or two into dating, he asked "Why don't you ever acknowledge me in public?"
"Well," I explained. "I'm a resident advisor. I'm in a fraternity. I work for the community service office. Our school is Presbyterian and I have a high status here. I don't want to ruin that by getting fired or harassed for being gay."
"Oh," he said and thought for a while.
"Well," he continued, taking a drag on his cigarette, "if you keep ignoring me in public, you might as well start ignoring me in private too."
My heart sunk. I loved Ash, I really did. I just didn't want to become the next Matthew Shepard.
So I went to one of my fraternity brothers for advice: a pot-smoking, Dungeons and Dragons playing, religion-slash-philosophy-slash-computer science major who planned on becoming a Unitarian minister. He had a long beard, wore dingy hippy clothing and never wore shoes.
I figured that if a guy like that couldn't give me sage-like wisdom, I was screwed.
Smoking a clove on the snowy front lawn of our frat house, he said, "Okay, so you're afraid of coming out, but you also love Ash."
"Yeah," I responded looking at the snow on the leaves of a magnolia tree.
"So… it basically comes down to which one of those is more important to you."
And standing still for a moment and searching my heart, I knew that he was right. I had lived unhappily and afraid for a long time. And everything my mom ever warned me about never came true.
On the contrary, the people I told had congratulated me and felt happy that I had found Ash. I felt more honest, less ashamed and more capable of expressing myself without fear. After 20 years on Earth, I was finally being true to myself and my feelings.
This all happened 12 years ago. Ash and I have since parted, my mom has come to accept me and my partner Mike unconditionally and I've made a proud career fighting for LGBT culture and equality around the world.
My entire existence, I just wanted to the freedom to write books, to teach young people and love my partner wherever I go — all the things that the fundamentalists on my mom’s radio said I'd never ever have and didn't deserve. Nevermind their noise, their righteousness or their horrible, damaging words.
They were wrong. And all that time, my heart had been right.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The man in the photo next to me is my partner, Mike.
DANIEL VILLARREAL is a Staff Editor with Gay.net and a contributor to The Dallas Voice. He is also an adjunct professor od digital literacy and viral communication. He lives in Dallas and speaks in the third person.
Follow Daniel on Twitter: @hispanicpanic79