What 226 Stories About Coming Out Taught Me

This originally appeared The Good Men Project. Republished here with permission.

What coming out stories share in common.

When I launched WhenICameOut.com, all I knew was that a repository of short coming out stories needed to exist somewhere—a way to get a snapshot of the good, bad, and ugly of the coming out process. I expected that a few of my friends would contribute stories and I’d occasionally get a submission from a wandering Internet surfer. Now, 226 coming out stories later, I’m amazed and grateful for all the anonymous contributors who have opened their hearts to showcase the broad spectrum of emotions and reactions that can accompany the coming out process.

The stories have begun to take a shape in which one can read something about “the state of coming out today.” I’m grateful to say that state is largely a positive one—or, at the very least, a hopeful one.

Here are the things I’ve learned in the short time since launching When I Came Out.

It Does Get Better

Many of the submissions I receive start out negatively and have a happy ending. Those with years of perspective talk about families eventually getting over their initial anger, confusion, or rejection. People write about having learned to love themselves, finding new families among their friends, and spending decades with a partner they love.

When I came out my mother disowned me and I was on the streets at 14. I’ve taken care of myself and am doing well at 42. My mother has lost out on knowing what a good man her son became.

Not only have many individuals’ lives gotten better over time, but the shift that our culture has gone through is evident in many of the stories. Happy endings that might not have been possible decades ago are now found throughout the site, including coming out in traditionally masculine environments.

When I came out to my fraternity brothers they said, “We know,” and gave me a beer and a hug.

When I came out to my squadron after the DADT repeal, everyone shook my hand and told me how brave I was. I didn’t feel brave; I felt proud about how far the Air Force and the military came that day.

It May Not Be as Bad as You Think

Many contributors have shared stories of fighting anxiety and fear to come out to friends and family, only to discover that everyone was supportive and loving. Sometimes those hearing the news are offended that the one coming out thought they would be anything other than supportive! In many cases, friends and family already knew or suspected.

When I came out, my Dad cried, “I knew it!” and punched the air. I looked on in astonishment as my Mom laughed and then said, “Seriously, though. He called it when you were in high school.”

Given the often nervous buildup to coming out, many contributors share how their friends or family thought something much worse was coming, that they were going to confess to being addicted to drugs, having a terminal illness, or even having murdered someone! For those who are supportive, hearing that the only confession is about the individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity turns out to be somewhat anticlimactic.

When I came out my uncle said, “Oh, is that all? I thought you were going to ask to borrow money.”

There’s Still Work to Be Done

Despite the many positive, hopeful, and sometimes hilarious stories that fill the site, there are still those who face terrible harassment, misunderstanding, or disownment today. It breaks my heart every time I get another submission about someone who was kicked out of their house or called horrible names by their own family. Sometimes it’s impossible to know whether the story happened yesterday or years ago, but evidence from the news and elsewhere confirms that there are still many, many people facing hardship because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

When I came out to my parents, my mom said there was no salvation for homosexuals. A few days later I got back from my friend’s house to find all my belongings packed by the stairs. I didn’t ask why or argue; I took my bags and left. I spent a few days sleeping in my car during the winter.

Even when the reaction isn’t quite that severe, confusion and misunderstanding are rampant. There are many stories about those who think that coming out is synonymous with having AIDS, and many contributors have tried unsuccessfully to explain to loved ones that there was no traumatic life event that caused their sexual orientation or gender identity.

When I came out, my mom wanted to know who had molested me because that is how she thinks people “become” gay. She refuses to believe that I have never been sexually victimized.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I started When I Came Out for three main reasons.

  1. I wanted to show those still in the closet that coming out may not be as bad as they fear, and that living with the anxiety of being discovered can sometimes be worse.
  2. I wanted to give hope to those who have come out and faced negative reactions by sharing stories of how things have gotten better over time for others.
  3. I wanted the straight population—allies, indifferent, and haters alike—to hear first-person stories of what it’s like to face rejection and hatred from one’s own loved ones, as well as to see models for what a loving, supportive reaction looks like.

I still think all of those are important missions, but something else has emerged out of the collection of stories as well—a sign of hope that our world is moving toward one of more acceptance, more understanding, and more love. Alongside that has come my own conviction that I need to do all I can to create that better world, not just on the Internet but in the lives of everyone I know and meet. Let’s build that positive change together.

Jessica Wode founded WhenICameOut.com in January 2012 as a place to share short, user-submitted coming out stories. A Seattle native at heart, she currently lives in Chicago, where she works as a data analyst, a freelance copyeditor, and a job search coach—and sleeps sometimes.

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