Thursday, October 21, 2010

To come out or not to come out (or "to wuss out or not to wuss out")

I ended my last post with a bit of a cliffhanger: after writing down what I'd like to say when I decide to come out to my brother, I contemplated sending it. Before I share whether I sent it or not, let me tell you a little about my brother and his coming-out story.

There were signs that Simon was gay while we were growing up -- many of those stereotypical signs that really have nothing to do with sexuality. Simon has always been a sensitive soul, and he was a bit of a crybaby as a kid. I'd play with his G.I. Joes and Lego, while he was happy to play house or Barbies. In high school, people would make fun of guys in drama, or on the color guard, or who listened to Canadian Brass, and I'd say, "Hey, my brother does those things, and he has a girlfriend."

But once he was in college, there were more concrete signs, like the poster of shirtless Jim Morrison on his dorm-room wall. Sure, straight guys might have Doors posters, but not naked Doors posters. Then there was the time he wanted to go clubbing with friends during winter break. My dad looked up the club to make sure it was in an okay part of town -- and discovered it was a gay club. My brother swore up and down that he hadn't known.

During the spring semester of his junior year, Simon increasingly mentioned his friend Steve. During spring break, Steve came up and met my parents because he and Simon were going to share a two-bedroom apartment for their last year of college.

On April 1st (note, kids: this is probably the one day a year you should never come out), Simon sent an e-mail to all of his siblings, letting us know that he and Steve were a couple (he'd come out to our parents the night before). I got the e-mail while I was at work. It wasn't a shock, really. I'd already picked up that Steve was special to Simon. But my reaction to Simon's confirmation shocked me.

I cried. Part of it was hurt that he'd felt he couldn't tell me sooner, and empathy for all the times he'd struggled and maybe not had anyone he felt he could talk to. I knew there was more to it than that, but I could never let myself figure out the real reason I had cried.

Of course I never told Simon any of this. I e-mailed back and told him I loved him, thanked him for sharing with me, and said I was happy that he'd found someone special. When I called him that night, we didn't really talk about it at all. Later, yes, but that night, we danced around it -- just had a normal conversation, as if nothing had changed. And really, nothing had -- except he could more openly talk about all aspects of his life with me.

So here I was on the other side of the fence. Over the past year or so, Simon had said things here and there that let me know he at least suspected I wasn't straight -- at one point, he talked about my "future husband," then paused and corrected himself "or partner or significant other." I'd actually switched to gender-neutral pronouns for myself (about 4 years ago, before I was even willing to entertain the possibility of dating women), but I just kind of skated around the issue when Simon did. After that, I stopped getting hints from him.

I have wanted to tell Simon for a while; I've come so close so many times, but found it impossible to get the words out. And there's always been so much I've wanted to make sure I say. There have been only two concerns holding me back (besides not knowing how to say it): 1) I wanted to be absolutely sure -- after all, this isn't something you can take back. 2) I felt a little guilty asking him to keep my secret from the rest of the family when he'd had to keep his own for so many years.

Writing down my thoughts really helped; I worded it as if it were a letter I were going to send. I prefaced it with my concern #2 -- telling him I wanted to share something with him but didn't want the rest of the family to know, so he should stop reading if he wasn't okay with that. Then I told him not to read it at work, but not to worry because it was good news.

After the jump, I started with what had precipitated my decision to come out to him; I told him that I had not gone to the Pride event to support him so much as I did it to get to know people in my local LGBT community. I thanked him for his courage to be out, and let him know that I would not have been able to accept my own sexuality had I not had his and Steve's example of what a loving, same-sex relationship could be like.

I apologized for not coming out sooner, and explained some of the reasons why I couldn't. I did let Simon know that I planned to come out to the rest of the family once I was in a relationship. I confessed that I had cried when I'd read his coming-out e-mail, and explained that I thought it was partly out of jealousy and fear that I would never be able to know his happiness, that I'd never be able to accept myself.

After writing the letter, I took a few deep breaths. Was I really ready for him to know? Was I sure? Would I ever want to take this back? What if, after finally finding a woman, I discovered that I prefer men, after all? But I know this won't happen. Even if things don't work out with a woman, that just means she's not the right woman. Or even if I do find that 1 in a million guy that I'm attracted to, Simon would be able to understand. It wouldn't stop me from being attracted to women.

I sent the letter (by e-mail) and then left for a class. When I got home, I had two messages from Simon -- one by voice mail, and the other by e-mail (in case I didn't get the voice mail). He thanked me for sharing, told me he loved me, and assured me that he would keep it a secret until I was ready. When I called him back, it was eerily like our conversation after he'd come out -- we danced around the topic; it was like nothing had changed.

But I know something has changed, and we'll be closer now that I don't have to worry about "slipping up" anymore. Since I've come out to Simon, I've felt an incredible lightness. I know I can't go back, but I don't want to go back. I'm coasting down this hill now, and I think I'm starting to see the rainbow from under the clouds.

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