National Coming Out Day and My Coming Out Story

October 11, 2013. A lot of people don’t know the importance of today’s date. To be honest, I didn’t. I hadn’t heard of the importance until recently. October 11, 2013 is the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day. I spent a few days thinking about when I came out. My coming out is just like any other coming out story. I wasn’t even going to mention it because it really isn’t anything special or anything so different. Except the more I thought about it, the more I realized how important that day was and still is to me. It’s a big part of MY story. It’s like one of those days everyone always remembers: where were you when Kennedy was shot; when Elvis died; on 9-11. The only difference is my coming out is specific to me.

Stage One: Me
I knew I was “different” when I was eleven. I blame Dolly Parton and the invention of CDs. That’s right. Back before we could just google the lyrics of a song and before everyone had ITunes, people actually went out to stores and bought CDs. The great thing about CDs (as opposed to cassettes) was a cover book usually came in the jacket of the CD with lyrics already printed. Thank God we no longer had to rewind (you may have to google that word if you’re younger than 20) a cassette 10 million times and scribble each word down on a piece of paper. So there I was, sitting in front of my mom’s CD player (the first I had seen), going through her boyfriend’s CD collection. I don’t remember any other CD I listened to that day. I just remember the cover of Dolly Parton’s “Slow Dancing with the Moon” CD and knowing the song “Romeo” with Billy Ray Cyrus. So I popped the CD into the huge floor model CD player (yeah-it’s also before the small portable CD players). As I lay with my back on the floor, I listened to “Romeo” about a dozen times. I was finally able to enjoy reading along with the lyrics and memorizing each word so effortlessly. But as much as I liked that song, I had new songs to listen to and lyrics that I didn’t have to take a whole day to write down. So I moved on to the next song.

As I half-listened to each song, I flipped through the book and looked at all the pictures. I had heard of Dolly Parton before this day. But I had never paid any attention to what she looked like. Remember, this is LONG before google images made seeing what someone looked like so readily available. Sure there was TV, but at 11, I wasn’t watching country music videos (was CMT even available in the early 90s?). I was captivated, looking through all the pictures. And then I came to song number six: “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”. I listened to Dolly sing as I looked at her picture…and when she got to 1:25 in the song (yes…that exact moment), I knew I was “different.”
Here’s a link to the song and exact moment:

But, unfortunately, that’s not my coming out story. It would have saved much heartache and time had I admitted it there, laying on the floor, listening to Dolly Parton. But in one minute I knew I was different and in the next, fear stepped in and took me for a very long, dark ride. I was scared to even LOOK at pictures of Dolly Parton until I was 18. I feared the feeling I had because of how I was raised. Pentecostals preach Hell and damnation and fire and brimstone. And even at 11, Hell was very real. So I avoided Dolly Parton and her great big….eyes. I continuously lied to myself. I pretended not to feel some weird excitement and triumph when I was 14 or 15 and saw “The Puppy Episode.” I ignored how I knew Rosie was a lesbian before she came out and never questioned why no one else saw that from a freaking mile away.

And then one day, when I was 20, I met a woman. And I knew I couldn’t keep trying to drink my thoughts away and lying to myself. So I went to get a haircut. It was just supposed to be a trim. But the more I thought about it and looked at magazines, the more I wanted more than just a trim. So when I sat down in the chair, I pointed to Halle Berry’s short hair, and said, “This is what I want.” That night on my way home from the haircut, on Rt. 50, coming down from the set of lights that cuts off to old Rt. 50, I was finally able to tell myself something that I couldn’t even form the thoughts to for so long. As many times as I had tried, they wouldn’t form. But that night I finally felt like on the outside what I felt like on the inside. I finally was able to tell myself that I was gay. I came out to myself on January 2, 2004. I guess it’s just one of those days you never forget, kind of thing.

Stage Two: Friends
The very next day I went to the place where I worked. My very best friend also worked there. She was stocking the cooler, so I went back to talk to her. I told her I had something to tell her and that I was a lesbian. She slowly and dramatically inched her way backwards, away from me, and said, “Ummmm….ok.” And then she busted out laughing. In the next couple of months, I came out to all of my friends and coworkers. I never had any problem at all. No one made me feel any less worthy.

But I never really feared coming out to my friends and coworkers…

Stage Three: Family
I told you I was raised Pentecostal, right? Well…I knew it was never going to be easy to come out in my family. No one had done it. I didn’t even know a gay person growing up. So I didn’t come out immediately. I honestly can’t remember which came first; the chicken or the egg. I think I am a master at repressing memories. I can’t remember if I came out to certain family members before I came out to my dad or if I came out to my dad and then came out to certain family members. Some of my family took it like no big deal. Some said they couldn’t condone it, but it was my life. But it came down to me inviting my new girlfriend to my dad’s house to watch the Pro Bowl downstairs. Dumb idea, yes. She was very butch. A person would have to be totally blind to not know she was a lesbian. So I explained that my new friend was a lesbian. No big deal, right? We were just watching football…until we started drinking. You remember what happened in your parent’s basement when you were alone with your girlfriend or boyfriend, right? Well…I was no different. My dad is also not a stupid man. The hickey was probably a clue to this was no ordinary “friend.” I was disrespectful and I wish I could have come out a different way, but I was a coward that probably had to be entirely too drunk and foolish to ever come out to my father. So it is what it is. He called me upstairs and asked me if I “was one of them.” I managed to confirm that yes, I was one of them.

I won’t rehash particulars or any hurtful things said by either of us. He wasn’t happy, of course. But he loved me. I’m sure, looking back to ten years ago, it was not easy to understand “lesbian” for him. He was also raised Pentecostal. No one talked about gay people in my family. We didn’t have gay friends. We didn’t have gay neighbors. And if you did, no one talked about it. And even though I heard the Hell threat nearly every single day for the first few months, he also told me he loved me. He was scared for me. My mom was much easier to come out to. I said, “Meet my girlfriend.” She said, “Nice to meet you.” But she also had moments where she feared what being a lesbian meant for me. She watched “Boys Don’t Cry” shortly after I came out and called me hysterically crying in fear for my safety. She also mentioned eternity a time or two. But neither of my parents ever shunned me or made me feel unloved, and for that I am luckier than some who have come out before me.

It’s been a decade since I came out. I came out before I knew anyone who had come out. It was a much different time just ten years ago. I didn’t know anyone gay who could walk me through the steps. The internet was not what it is today. I couldn’t just reach into my pocket, pull out my phone, and google coming out stories. My story isn’t a great story. It’s not one of those great stories people will remember forever. But it’s my story. It’s unique to my life. My coming out took place in a car when I was all by myself, coming back from a haircut. When I came out to myself, everything changed. Sure, coming out to everyone else was scary. There are still days that aren’t easy. But that day, driving back home, my whole life changed. And I will never be ashamed or regret the decision to love myself enough to accept myself.

Coming out didn’t “make” me. But it definitely helped shape me. To all the people that secretly google coming out stories and wish they could come out, our stories are an important tool. And because of that, it’s important to keep celebrating National Coming Out Day and keep telling out stories.

Published in: on October 11, 2013 at 1:59 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for sharing your story! I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. Great story! Thanks for sharing!

  3. The only coming out story any of us remember is our own. And that’s the way it should be. But I enjoyed reading yours just the same. had to laugh at the “cassettes” part. Like you’re old because you remember cassettes. The first record player in our house was a windup Victrola playing 78’s. Now THAT’S old.

    Brava Aschlie!

    • Thank you so much, Marguerite!

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