This past Friday was National Coming Out Day, an initiative that celebrates the power of coming out and encourages out, LGBTQ people to share their stories of coming out.
As an out, gay man, I love reading and hearing everyone's stories. I find it so inspiring, seeing people boldly stand in their truth publicly. I have had a few occasions where I've actually had friends come out for the first time on social media on this day. I think it's an incredibly powerful initiative to create empathy and visibility.
So, in honor of this initiative, I want to share two stories with you today.
First, is the story of my experience with The Human Library as their "gay book" at a recent event hosted by UCLA (read below.)
Second, is my own coming-out story.
"TALK TO ME ABOUT BEING GAY"
This year at Burning Man, I had the pleasure of participating in a very cool project called The Human Library.
(UCLA's description of The Human Library at their recent Community Classroom event.)
Here's the basic conceit: just like you check out books in a regular library, in the human library you check out human books.
In their own words from their website:
"The Human Library® is, in the true sense of the word, a library of people. We host events where readers can borrow human beings serving as open books and have conversations they would not normally have access to. Every human book from our bookshelf, represent a group in our society that is often subjected to prejudice, stigmatization or discrimination because of their lifestyle, diagnosis, belief, disability, social status, ethnic origin etc."
When I returned to LA after The Burn, I was so excited about the project that I asked if I could continue volunteering with them, and they invited me to participate in a library they were hosting at UCLA's Community Classroom series at ROW DTLA.
I had the most brilliant conversations at this event.
Here's what I can tell you about them (while honoring the confidentiality of those involved.)
One of my conversations was with a gay couple who met at church, but whose relationship is kept secret because they weren't ready yet to come out to their community and families. I got to sit with them and talk to them about their love, and about my experience of coming out. I told them that coming out is a deeply personal choice that should be made only when they felt it was right, and that they shouldn't feel rushed to come out. I felt honored to get to be one of the few people who got to experience them together, and that I got to be a resource for them at this stage in their journeys.
Later, I sat with a woman who suspected that her brother was gay, but didn't know quite how to ask him or invite him to tell her. She sought my advice for the best way to bring the subject up.
Another conversation was with an older gentleman who shared that his church was against homosexuality, but that he was doing his best to deconstruct his homophobia to be more open to gay people.
Each of these gateways into discussion lead to really beautiful understandings between us, and I felt like I walked away from each conversation learning as much, if not more, than the readers did.
I am so excited by this project that I am actually working with them to create Los Angeles's very own Human Book Depot, consisting of local books (the books at the UCLA event were mostly from San Francisco) who are trained and available to volunteer at LA-based events in the future.
If you're in LA and interested in being involved with this in the future, either as a human book or as a librarian (it's exactly like it sounds) then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send you more information.
MY COMING OUT STORY
This is a photo taken of me in March of 2009, right around when I came out for the first time, just before I met my husband. It was taken around 6 months before I came out to my high school friends and family, and one year before I came out to my home town in an open letter on Facebook...
My coming out happened as I think many people's does, in stages.
I came out to my friends in LA first. I was in college, studying theater, and after a Summer job stage managing at The Hollywood Bowl, I started working for a company called Upright Cabaret, which was based in West Hollywood (little did I know this job would change my life in so many ways.)
Through this company and the community surrounding it, I had begun to make a number of friends who were openly gay. I'd had friends in college who were out, but this was the first time in my life that I was a part of a community of people that were unabashedly gay and proud of it. It was also a time when I was gaining a lot of gay role models-- people I could emulate and look up to. I started to feel a lot less ashamed of my sexuality, and I saw possibilities for my future that never existed for me before.
This period of gay empowerment inspired me to tell my roommates and close college friends, who weren't very surprised. There'd been rumors of my clandestine gay encounters throughout college, and there were also a lot of tell-tale signs. Luckily for me, my friends were all immediately accepting and supportive. They provided the foundation of acceptance I needed to begin the next stages of coming out...
It wasn't long after telling my roommates before I felt emboldened enough to begin openly dating for the first time, and soon after that that, I met my husband.
We both were contracted to work on a show in Palm Springs with Upright Cabaret. We met in the showroom, where he was rehearsing for his performance that night. After he finished rehearsing, he came over and we were introduced by my boss. My future husband shook my hand, looked me dead in the eyes and said, "He's cute." When we got home from the gig to LA, I had a Facebook message asking me out. We had our first date within the week, and we've been together ten years now.
The love that I felt for my husband is what inspired me to want to come fully come out a year later. As I wrote in the open letter to my town:
"I met someone that makes me happier than I have ever been. He is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and it saddened me that I could not share my overwhelming joy with the people I loved most in the world. I felt absolutely no shame in my relationship, and I knew there was no longer any reason for me to keep my sexuality a secret from my close friends and family."
I remember that it felt like life or death at the time, telling my family and the friends I grew up with. It felt like I was possibly going to have to give up everything that I'd ever loved, the support system I'd counted on my whole life, in exchange for being truly seen and known.
I am grateful to say that I am very lucky that in all of my experiences of coming out, I've never been met with resistance or shaming.
Both of my parents were immediately accepting and loving.
I remember the first words my Dad said were, "So...who's the lucky fella?" My mom reassured me that she loved me no matter what.
My high school friends were the same. Immediate love and acceptance. I know this isn't the case for a lot of people, but I think it's important to share my experience, because I want people to know that it's possible that it not be a dark story, but a hopeful one. I really felt that way when I was talking to the closeted gay couple at the Human Library. They are hiding their love away for fear they'll be rejected by their family and community. I wanted them to know that I also had that fear, but that wasn't what happened to me...
It wasn't long after I came out to my friends that word got out in my hometown that I was gay. One friend had let it slip, and as news spreads in small towns, it was coming back to me that the word was getting out, and rumors were circulating as to whom I might have slept with. So I decided to take control of my own story and speak for myself. I wrote a note called, "COMING OUT: My experience as a "gay" person in a small town" and posted it to Facebook at 7:32PM, tagging people from my town so they would see, and inviting them to share it if they wanted.
Reading down the comments now, I'm still blown away by how loving and generous everyone was, outpouring support in a moment when I felt completely exposed and vulnerable.
I have heard that younger generations are having an easier time coming out now than ever before, and this makes me really hopeful. But still, many people are attacked, shamed, and rejected when coming out. This keeps many in this world living in the closet, hiding their true selves away.
I hope that initiatives like National Coming Out Day change this for good. I see a future where every person feels safe to express the full fluidity and diversity of their sexuality. I want us all to have that freedom.
And I am so grateful that my coming out story was one driven by and filled with love.
"THIS. IS. LOVE. CHARITY CONCERT"
A Fundraiser for Freedom for Immigrants
I'm honored to be collaborating with producer David Krich and some phenomenal talent to raise money and awareness for a very important cause.
We hope that you'll join us for our charity concert event, "This. Is. Love."
Join host, Tony-nominee, Norm Lewis (ABC's Scandal, Broadway's Phantom of the Opera, The Little Mermaid, Porgy and Bess) and performers Shoshana Bean (Broadway's Waitress), Tracie Thoms (RENT The Movie, Broadway's "RENT," "Falsettos"), Adam Pascal (Broadway's Rent, Aida), LaVance Colley (Postmodern Jukebox) and more on Nov. 8th at The Sayers Club in Hollywood for songs of resistance, compassion and hope to benefit Freedom for Immigrants, a nonprofit monitoring the human rights abuses faced by immigrants detained by ICE through a national hotline and network of volunteer detention visitors, while also modeling a community-based alternative to detention that welcomes immigrants into the social fabric of the United States.
This is a limited-capacity event, tickets will sell out.
Please buy now to ensure your space at this event!
And if you can't make it in person, you can always---
DONATE TO FREEDOM FOR IMMIGRANTS
That's all I got for now, thanks for reading!