My coming out to my family was stolen from me by a nosy mother and a loud-mouthed aunt and after more than two decades I’m still sore about it.
No, seriously, let me explain.
For you to really understand, we have to go way back to my childhood and hit a few landmarks.
I grew up in a small, rural town in East Texas in a—mostly—devout evangelical household. I say “mostly” because mom and dad liked country music and they let us celebrate Halloween. I’m not sure most of the members of our church knew that, but if you know anything about evangelical churches then you know that’s walking a very thin line.
By the time, I was seven or eight years old, I knew that gay people went to hell. By the time I was 12, I knew that I was gay.
And so I played straight. I dated a few girls through high school and into college where I met a young woman and we began seeing each other exclusively.
And all the while, my eyes were constantly drawn to the men in my classrooms, at work, walking down the street.
Naturally, I hunkered down. I thought if I prayed hard enough, and believed hard enough I could change these thoughts. I could be straight.
I proposed to the woman I was dating, and she said yes.
She won a grant to study abroad for a year. While she was living in a student’s hostel in London, I was at home attending classes, picking out invitations and going over music and decorations. I even found Celtic harpists for our reception!
Maybe I wasn’t pulling off the straight act as well as I thought I was.
I had a lot of free time on my hands, and as the saying goes, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.”
My idle hands found themselves wrapped around the neck of a beautiful young man one night a few weeks before my fiancé was due home for Christmas break. From the moment our lips met, I knew that my acting days were coming to an end and I was terrified.
I tried to take my own life, but with the help of friends and an amazing professor, got myself into counseling.
When the time came, I picked her up from the airport and drove to her mother’s house. We talked about her trip and the fascinating people she’d met abroad. When we finally arrived, her mother and sister were asleep and she asked me what was wrong.
Apparently, I hadn’t been as active in the conversation as I thought.
My mind rushed to think of what to say: I was tired. It had been a long day.
I opened my mouth and the words “I’m gay” fell out instead.
Needless to say, my engagement had come to an end, and after a restless night pretending to sleep on the couch, I got up early the next morning and cried all the way home where I broke the news to mom and dad that their eldest son would not, after all, be getting married.
My dad seemed un-phased, but my mom, well, she acted like a mom. She asked me what happened, and I made up stories, doing my best to remain calm.
I confided to a coworker about what had happened and she put me in touch with her brother, who was gay, and said he’d be a good friend.
Turns out he was, and we wrote letters to each other almost every week.
John was a funny guy and he would include rather naughty pictures of our favorite actors in his letters along with suggestions for places to go to meet other men my age. I was still living at home, and I would hide his letters along with all of the other interesting items in the back of my underwear drawer, far away from prying eyes.
Let me tell you something you might not know. Your underwear drawer may be a scared space your dad won’t touch, but I assure you that your mother will.
One morning, at 6 am no less, my mother woke me after my dad had left for work and told me that she’d “accidentally found John’s letters” while putting laundry away. Never mind that her accident would have taken serious commitment to make, my mind was reeling as she asked me the question I’d been afraid of for a decade.
“You like women, right?”
Not what you were expecting?
For the record, I am 43 years old and to this day my mother has never said the word “gay” to me.
I looked at her sitting on the end of my bed and thought it would be an easy lie to tell. But I couldn’t tell it. I just didn’t have it in me anymore.
“No,” was my only reply. I watched as my mother’s heart broke and her tears flowed freely.
She insisted we pray, forbade me to tell my dad and went to work. Within two weeks I had taken a knife to myself, again, with the intention of ending my own life.
My doctor upped my Paxil dosage and my counselor and I doubled down on our sessions.
Flash forward a couple of months: I’m sitting at a family reunion, when one of my many aunts sat next to me and makes small talk for about 2.5 minutes before asking, “Waylon, are you gay?”
I was shocked, but I told her that I was. I also told her that mom wasn’t ready to talk about it and dad didn’t know. Naturally, the next time they paid her a visit, she told them and said they needed to accept me for who I was.
Bless her heart…
I was banished from home for a good six months while the news of my gayness spread through the family thanks to that same aunt, though I did manage to beat her to the punch with my two brothers who took it surprisingly well.
Gradually, my exile was lifted, and 20 years later we have an uneasy peace between us. They even buy Christmas gifts for my husband though they did refuse to come to our wedding.
Still, I’ve always felt that moment was stolen from me. It should have been my own story to tell in my own words when I was ready, and I’ll always wonder if it would have been smoother if I’d had that chance.
I suppose I’ll never know.