This Wednesday, October 11, is National Coming Out Day. So in honor of this day, I would like to discuss something I really haven't discussed before: when I came out to my parents.
All too often, I discuss the sleepless nights, the drug-fueled sex, and the self-loathing I experienced from being closeted. Then, of course, I discuss the struggles I've faced, existing as an out and proud bi man attracted to all genders.
But the actual coming out to my family, I don't discuss in much detail. Honestly, it's because I didn't believe it warranted a story. They didn't kick me out of the house. They didn't say they never want to see me again. They didn't claim I was confused. They didn't say, "Well... then if you're attracted to men and women, just be with a woman so your life will be easier." Rather, they supported me unconditionally.
But looking back on it, I think there is a story here worth telling. There were a few more complicated aspects of my coming out process than what initially meets the eye.
So if you'll indulge me, I'd like to share what happened when I came out to my parents, but before I do, I want to give you a quick timeline of my attraction to men.
I started having same-sex attractions when I was three. I used to play the kissy monster with my friend in preschool, when I ran around the schoolyard trying to kiss him; he'd run away screaming. (He was my best friend for many years!) When I was a tween, I remember talking to my therapist, saying "I imagine everyone naked all the time, and I think I might be gay." He said, "Who cares! If you're gay, you're gay! Imagine me naked for all I care!" At 16, I told my psychiatrist that I really think I may be gay; he said since I'm attracted to women, I'm not gay. When I proposed bisexuality, he said that's not a real thing in men. "That's simply something that Cosmo made up." At 18, I first hooked up with a guy... hammered. For about four years I continued having inebriated sexual encounters with men. At 21, I first had anal intercourse with a man, and at 22, I finally claimed the bi label.
Then about three years ago, in November of 2014, at 23 years-old, I was home in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving, and my parents and I were out to lunch together — just the three of us.
I hadn't planned on coming out to them yet. I wanted to have everything "figured out" before I did. I was afraid there would be an influx of questions — ones I wouldn't know how to answer. Embracing my attraction to multiple genders was new, and claiming the actual bi label was even newer. At the time, I actually had very little "figured out", so to speak.
My parents knew I had a very "gay lifestyle", and by that, I mean I had predominantly gay male friends and more often than not, went to gay bars instead of straight ones. I loved participating in activities that are deemed part of gay culture without labeling myself as a queer man.
At brunch, my dad asked if that's ever weird. Do my friends ever come onto me? Do I have trouble meeting women because of it?
Now, my parents aren't pushy parents, but my dad was pushing. Clearly on purpose.
I told him my friends don't come onto me. It's not like that. And I still have opportunities to meet women.
Finally, he asked, "But why?"
I clarified, "But why what?"
"Zach, you seem to really partake in gay culture without being gay. Why? What do you gain?" He wasn't judging me. His tone wasn't rude or antagonistic. He simply wanted to know the answer. He also suspected the reason might have something to do with the fact that I'm not 100% straight.
My heart started racing. I honestly thought it was going to break through my ribcage and continue beating on the floor. Despite being 99% sure my parents would still love me, I was still absolutely horrified at the thought of coming out to them. (I cannot imagine what it's like when folks come out to their parents, knowing that they will freak out or withhold their love.)
I began my sentence, preparing to lie, but I instead began to stutter, I — I — I", and my mind drew a blank. God knows I had been lying to my parents about drinking for years (Sorry mom and dad, but I feel like this won't shock you), but I couldn't lie to them right now. My brain was going into overload.
After a stutter followed by a long pause, I finally said, "I like men too. I'm bisexual."
I must have looked more frightened than a deer in the headlights because my parents were quick to tell me, "Honey, we know, and we still love you."
They suspected I liked men too for... well, forever. And given that they've seen how I respond to breakups with past women I've loved, they knew I wasn't gay. A gay man doesn't cry for a week straight after breaking up with a woman. A bi man, however, does.
The only thing my parents were upset about? That I didn't tell them sooner. How incredible is that? They were hurt that 1% of me suspected that they might not be okay with it.
I told them that I wasn't sure for so long, and felt like I had to have everything figured out before telling them. They told me how ridiculous that is. How they could have helped me with my coming out process.
I had no response. They were right. But I was so consumed with my identity, and in such a rough place with it, that I didn't want to have to be that vulnerable around my parents. I considered it, of course. But I wanted to "know" everything about myself beforehand. I didn't realize that saying, "I don't know" is a valid answer to anything that has to do with your own sexuality.
So on this day, I would actually like to apologize to my parents. I'm sorry I didn't come out to you sooner and include you in my struggle. I know now, you absolutely would have been able to help. It had nothing to do with you, and all to do with me, and where I was at the time.
And I know it feels like forever ago since I came out, but I want to say "Thank you". As I don't think I've ever said so formally. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for not freaking out when I said I'm no longer pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and rather, am going to be a freelance writer who posts about "gay sex". Thank you for being incredible parents all throughout my struggle and journey.
On National Coming Out Day, I think it's important to recognize not only those who have the courage and strength to come out, but also those who unconditionally support us and give us the strength to do so.
So again, thank you, mom and dad. I love you both so much.