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I never got the chance to come out (#NationalComingOutDay)

by Jeremy Hooper

Even though I have shared every aspect of my gay life in so many fora, it occurs to me that I have never really told my coming out story. So here goes.

IMG_0093Home for Thanksgiving during my third year of college, I did a load of laundry before I was set to return to campus. It wasn't until my clothes were already wet in the washer that my parents informed me our dryer had been acting up and would never get my clothes in a suitable condition in the hours I had left before it was time to leave. Their advice was for me to head down to the local laundromat and dry my clothes there, which is precisely what I did.

When I completed the uneventful chore, I returned to a clearly emotionally charged house. I didn't know why. I couldn't know why. I had no reason to know why. For me, it was the most routine return following the most rote of experiences. I wasn't suspecting tedium to meet drama.

I also wasn't as on guard as I had been in prior years. By this time, I was out to everyone at school and in my personal life, short of my family. I was already on my second real boyfriend, with a few randoms in-between. My friends and created community were wonderfully supportive, so I has dropped so many of the walls and so much of the armor that I had used when I lived at home during high school. Back then, I knew and was perfectly okay with being gay, but I knew that my parents were not. By this time in college, I still knew that to be true, but I found myself caring less and less. I started seeing whatever problems they had with me as being exactly that: their problem and not mine.

So I return home, clothes smelling of Downy. I instantly see my mom, eyes stained with tears.

She didn't confront me so much as just sort of babble some stuff about me hurting her and myself and my life. It was all kind of a blur, but it didn't take me long to realize she was talking about me being gay. I was blindsided by the whole scene, and a bit scared as well. But mostly I was confused. How had she "found out" for sure? This was a time when email was in its infancy and social media wasn't yet a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg's then-adolescent eye, so it wasn't nearly as easy for parents to stumble on a child's oversharing or make contact with a jealous ex-boyfriend. Even as I pieced together the "why" of this AfterSchool Special playing out before me, I was somewhat more focused on the "how."

It wasn't until the 160 mile drive back to school that I figured it out. In acting class that year, the professor had us all keep a journal. I had never been the kind of kid to keep one, so for me it was like a new toy. I splurged on a really nice one and found myself writing in it not only for my acting assignments, but for every aspect of my life. It became a trusted friend and tool for sorting out my confusion. It never left my side.

Except it did leave my side one time during that Thanksgiving visit home: when I was at the laundromat. And that is when my mom went into my back and chose to read this most private of books. This is how my mother confirmed her suspicions that her son was, in fact, a gay man.

For me, this was a betrayal that I never really shook. Anyone who knows my story knows that the ensuing years were ones filled with much familial strife and that, to this day, are defined by broken connections. But while creation of a gay son was the struggle for my parents, I spent the weeks and months and years following this episode knowing that I could never again trust my parents to honor my personal space, right to privacy, or ability to time my own life's major moments. No matter how harsh or argumentative the wave of non-acceptance got on the other side, I maintained (and continue to maintain) that I am the only one of the involved parties who had a right to be outraged. Being gay is who I am; being a snoop was a parental choice.

I always feel a little weird on this day because I don't really have a National Coming Out Day story. I'd love to have one like my husband's which goes something like, "I'm gay" before an instant follow up of, "Oh thank God, I thought you were going to say you had cancer" and an immediate decision to seek out the local PFLAG chapter. That, however, was not in the cards for me. My story is messy and wrong and was pulled out of me like a tortured confession. I will forever wonder how things might be a little different, especially on my end, had I been able to do it on my own terms.

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