Forgiving Those Who Take Forever To Come Out

Dear World,

I came out of the closet when I was 15.

At the time, I lived in a house right under this waterfall:


I worked here:


And I went to this gross high school:


I’ve actually always hated that phrase, “coming out of the closet.” It implies you’ve been lying about something your whole life, when in reality you’re just a kid trying to figure out who you are. As much as I resented that term, however, I decided it was important to come out because I thought it would be beneficial for the kids at my isolated high school to know a gay person. I also told everyone I was Jewish for the same reason. Being that I am also partially Latino, I was a one-person diversity parade.

A fun fact about high school students is that they are, for the most part, terrible human beings. The mixture of insecurity and lack of experience cause kids to be horrible to each other, and naturally people who stick out end up receiving the majority of the bullying. Looking back, I’m kind of surprised at how open I was, considering I went to high school in a conservative, predominantly white and Christian community.

When I chose where to go to college, I chose the school furthest away from my hometown. I headed off to Cornell in upstate New York, an idyllic college that felt more like 4 years of sleep away camp than school. Being that Cornell was much more diverse and known to be liberal, I was surprised at how few out gay people I met when I got there. More pressing than the liberal bent of the campus is the preppy desire to be perfect. Thus, a lot of my gay classmates waited until they left that intensely competitive environment to come out of the closet.

And come out they did. A fun fact about Cornell students is that most of them move to New York City upon graduating. They do this to make peace with themselves for having spent the last four years in a tiny town that is constantly under a snow cloud. I moved there too, into a cute little apartment in Chelsea. I’d go out to crazy underground gay bars and for the first time, I started running into some of the guys I knew were gay in college but who were not out because they were in some fraternity or on Student Assembly.

And this is when I started to resent closeted people. Where had all these gay guys been when I was in college? Where had they been when I was in high school for that matter? I found it annoying that in the cut-throat, competitive college environment where it was trendy to be preppy and straight, everyone was. Meanwhile, me and the other dorky gays made up the visible gay community on campus. The closeted guys left it up to us to pave the way for them to come out of the closet in a city filled with gay bars and rainbow flags.

You get the sense when you come out early that you have somehow made it easier for everyone else to do so. This is likely true, as more visible gay people leads to a better understanding of the diversity within the gay community and greater acceptance from straight people. Knowing this makes it easy to resent people for staying in the closet. Another reason to be annoyed by closetedness is that closeted men make terrible partners. Firstly, they decrease the dating pool by not being visible as potential mates. Second, they force you to engage in all sorts of conspiratorial acts to conceal their true identity to those around them. So yeah, closeted people pretty much suck.

I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about closeted people for a long time. Mainly that I felt they were relying on people like me do their job for them. Their job being to go out into the world and be like “Hey There. I am a huge homosexual and I am also totally okay. Get over it.”

I’ve recently met a few guys who have challenged my ideas about coming out of the closet. These men, who didn’t come out until they’d hit their 30s, spent their entire youths clinging to the heteronormative fantasy life they’d always imagined they would have, always had been expected to have. Most gays experience some sort mourning process for the straight life they thought they’d have. Because we live in a society that defines success by our ability to fit into some kind of cookie cutter life (love, marriage, house, babies), it’s hard to say goodbye to the idea that you are going to grow up to be a heterosexual. I remember, as a 12-year-old, planning on being gay in college and then turning straight when I graduated. I have no idea how I expected this to happen, but I did. I believe many closeted guys believe in that kind of magical transformation, that if they just try hard enough their life will fit into the mold they want it to.

Most of the closeted guys I’ve met have had some sort of intense external pressure (or perceived external pressure) to hide themselves. One friend cites his father’s constant derogatory slurs about gay people as the reason he’s not out to him at age 34. As much as I think he needs to tell his dad so his dad can, like, meet an actual gay person, I understand his hesitation.

Hearing stories like his makes me realize I need to recognize my own privilege. My childhood looked something like this:


I was allowed to wear whatever I wanted. I was allowed to play with whatever I wanted, whether it be a doll or a pile of dirt (I liked both). I wasn’t raised to feel weird about any of that. It wasn’t until I got older that the other kids policed me on what was “normal.” Growing up like this gave me a sense of entitlement about acceptance. I’ve never understood homophobic people, because to me they just seem backwards and uneducated. I’ve always felt entitled to acceptance, and written off anyone who didn’t approve of my gayness as a bucktooth yokel (to be honest, most of the time they were).

I realize this is not the case with everyone. Some people have family members who are otherwise intelligent human beings that for some reason have a mental blockage against gays. These are the people who are likely to be closeted. And it just doesn’t seem fair to be mad at closeted gays who grow up around these types of weirdos.

So how do we deal with our closeted friends? The answer to this one is boring. I think the key here is to wait them out, while showing them that it’ll be okay when everyone knows they’re gay. Being intolerant about their decision to be closeted just gives them another reason to be alienated from the gay community.

Saying goodbye to the anger we have for those who remained closeted while we were out there being gay, making it okay for them to be gay is an act of liberation. Sure, it’s annoying to wait for people to step out of the closet. But as cheesy as it sounds, each person has his own journey. As much as we know it’s good for the community to come out, we can’t force closet gays to come out. But we can be patient, non-judgmental, and try to understand their reasoning for remaining closeted. Most of us clung to that closet door at sometime or another.


PS: What is your story? When did you come out as a gay? As an ally? As a homophobe? Tell me everything.


Filed under Life

48 Responses to Forgiving Those Who Take Forever To Come Out

  1. Kevin Orlin Johnson

    It’ll be interesting to see the response to this one, Orlando. Basically it’s about one of the things that most puzzles me about my gay friends and associates: so many demand acceptance for their own choices but refuse to respect the choices of others. This one may rank on the Richter Scale alongside the one about why gay guys hate their bodies!

  2. I really like what you said about how you always felt entitled to acceptance- I wish more people felt this way!

  3. Susan Day

    Your post today is one of the best, if not the best , thing I have ever read on the Internet. Thank you.
    ( straight, middle class, wife, mother, artist, from london, Ontario, Canada, who for reasons other than sexual orientation relates to being ‘the other’ )


    • I feel the same about many things Orlando writes.. phenomenal stuff.
      And same here: Happily in love with my husband & five offspring, living in the sticks of northern Minnesota.
      Thoughts have been triggered.. Going to read all these comments & then chime in on this topic as it indirectly relates to me.

  4. FVK

    Everyone has there own path so you shouldn’t resent people who are still in the closet…who knows…maybe they like it there lol.

    • micj

      To each their own, own but I get being a little irked by people who allow others to do the heavy lifting then reap benefits of those before them. I am a professional woman working in a male dominated field, and I know it comes courtesy of generations before me. Feminists of today feel the same way about today’s women that don’t appreciate the hard fight. I get this

  5. Eva Marie

    I remember in college when my first friend to come out announced he was gay. I was incredibly honored that he had trusted me with that information. On a fundamental level, I just don’t understand why the choices other people make that don’t directly affect me are any of my business. I extend that curtesy to everyone and expect it in return. What does really piss me off is when others tell me what I can and cannot do if it doesn’t affect them. I now vocally support the gay community (and liberal causes generally) just so people in the relatively conservative place I live realize that there are other opinions than the majority.

  6. jeff

    Try coming out in the late 1970’s in North Carolina, after being the president of the youth group at your Southern Baptist church….UGH.
    I did it finally in the 80’s but it wasn’t always an easy journey

  7. kc

    As one of those who wished a “hetero-normative” lifestyle, I myself didn’t come out until I was 27. There was a self-imposed pressure to not come out due to my very conservative upbringing (Catholic, father was an ex-marine and a cop). When I eventually did, he buried his head in his hands and then after a few minutes, he said, “You’re my son, and I still love you,” and those were the most important words I’ve ever heard in my entire life. It meant that I could finally be who I always knew I needed to be. I wish more closeted gays could have stories like your or mine.

  8. Lindz

    I met my friend when we were 16. I knew he was gay maybe instantly, but, without a doubt, by the time we went to university. He didn’t come out of the closet or even to me until we were 29 years old. Now granted, there were many years through university, grad school, etc where we lived in different cities and saw each other spordically at best. But, still. Long.Time. It actually made me angry at times. It felt like he was being dishonest with me. It felt like he didn’t trust me. Which hurt. But, it’s all water under the bridge now. In hindsight, it was his story to tell when he was ready to do so. My only role in that story is his friend. And as his friend, I love him and whomever he loves, just so long as they love him as much as I do.

  9. rae

    This is such a well written post Orlando! I love your blog so much, but I don’t know if I’ve ever commented. I am a straight woman so I don’t have a coming out story, but I did come out as an ally, which was hard for me at the time! I live in South and my in laws and a lot of my family are very involved in some very anti gay organizations. I remember at 19 getting up the courage to put a human rights campaign sticker on my car. My now mother in law knew what it was and flew into a rage and I felt so great when my boyfriend at the time, now my husband stood up for me and told his mother that he couldn’t be a bigot no matter how much she wanted him too. Now she avoids the topic when we are around because she knows she won’t get silent listeners anymore.

  10. Great post.

    I don’t have an amazing story of when I became an “ally”, which I guess is what I am. I grew up in Germany (and a few years in Korea) on a military base, where everyone came from diverse backgrounds and nobody really looked the same. So, for me, I’ve always been open and accepting of everyone, and maybe I’m just naive, but I remember most of the people in my schools growing up to be the same. Sure, there were a couple of jerks (cause there’s really no escaping them) but for the most part, everyone accepted everyone. I don’t remember the moment where I learned what gay meant, it was always just a known for me, for as long as I can remember. I found, as I moved to the U.S in 2001, that people here are way less accepting, and I find myself debating way more often then I would like on why everyone should have the same rights regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. It’s actually quite annoying. I’ve also met more than a few “down low” gays, which really is the only issue I have with some gays. Being closeted is one thing, being deceitful is another. But that’s a discussion for another day.

    I don’t even know what the point of my comment was anymore, lol. Again, great post. 😉

  11. I came out to my family 2 and a half years ago. The day I came out to my mom was the same day she met my boyfriend. It was an intense day and I probably lost half the hair on my head. Religious reasons were behind me waiting until I was 21, but since then I have changed and grown in leaps and bounds for the better times a thousand. Looking back I almost wish I had come out in high school and had owned it and been as awesome and bad ass as I could be, but then I wouldn’t be where I am today with an amazing man and friends I probably wouldn’t have ever met.

  12. Brad P

    Your comments on college really resonated. I grew up in Canada, but went to university in the UK. I was out to my friends and most of my family in Canada and the US by age 19 or 20, but was no out at university. It was almost the fraternity/student assembly thing: I was on the crew team and competing at a really high level, and has this fear that if I came out, I’d be off the team.

    But the biggest impediment really was the lack of other out people. When I looked around, I could see literally no one (okay, no one cute or that I’d want to hang out with) who was out. So the calculation to me was “okay, I could come out, but then I’d not be rowing any more and I’d STILL not be getting laid.” It made sense at the time, and of course the number of my crew mates who’ve ended up coming out is kinda funny.

    But a big part of me wonders whether everyone was in the same boat – just waiting for one or two more people to come out to make a critical mass that showed it was worth it.

    And this isn’t even that long ago – 1994-99.

  13. I found this post to be extremely interesting. I didn’t come out to my family until I was 23. I hd a serious boyfriend that my family didn’t know about and I had been slowly stepping into being out and gay for about a year. I always knew I was gay and didn’t feel like it was bad, I just didn’t like the fact that I needed to tell people. There was also some fear behind it too. I was heavily involved in my church and didnt think it would be recieved well. So my point is, that because I came out after college, I am always fascinated by people who came out early. My boyfriend came out when he was in high school and it thrills me to hear his stories from that time. I think you’re right, everyone has their own path. And while I wish that I had been brave enough to be gay in high school and college, I wasn’t. But I am who I am now because of that.

  14. Growing up, my uncle always brought his male roommate to family occasions. It was just normal to me. His father, my grandfather, was as bigoted as they come but he didn’t seem to mind that his son always had a male “friend” with him so none of us did either. I grew up going to Catholic school but I don’t recall a “gay agenda” back then. When my uncle finally came out to me after I graduate from HS, I wondered why he didn’t think I already knew. I think acceptance, for the most part, is inherent. Either you have it or you don’t. I loved that he trusted me with his lifestyle and sort of educated me by bringing me to places like The Castro, etc. I love my gays.

  15. Awesome post about a topic not discussed often enough. I myself came out to almost everyone in my life around the age of 16, minus the grandparents and the like (I’ll let them find out through the inevitable wedding). Though I had a deep feeling that I was a homosexual, I was hesitant to jump the gun before most of puberty had passed, since that’s one hell of a move to take back.

    I understand that it seems like a natural move to “inform” someone that they’re gay before they come out, but in reality this simply makes it more difficult for them. For them to eventually come out after that point, they must not only admit that they are gay, but that you were right while they were wrong. Thus I agree with your strategy to “wait it out”, since time is the best way for them to find themselves.

    With that said, I have several friends and coworkers who I feel will never come out of the closet. They’ve spent most of their lives in an attempt to be normal, and to be gay in this age requires a sort of “Look at me, I’m different!” For some people, it’s literally worth it to fake being straight your whole life for the purposes of fitting in, keeping the family happy, and having kids “the real way”. I must admit, it took me a while to learn to respect this type. It is a lifestyle that takes a great deal of perseverance, and it is one that everyone is entitled to.

    I feel like in the long run, it is best to trust someone when they state their sexual orientation. Even if I know otherwise, it isn’t my place to decide what they divulge to others.

    • Jordan

      “I understand that it seems like a natural move to “inform” someone that they’re gay before they come out, but in reality this simply makes it more difficult for them. For them to eventually come out after that point, they must not only admit that they are gay, but that you were right while they were wrong. Thus I agree with your strategy to “wait it out”, since time is the best way for them to find themselves.”

      Thank you for this. When I am frustrated by my dear friend’s refusal to come out to those of us who love him and want him to be happy (I know/we all know he is gay despite him never telling us), I will remember these words. I would never want to make it more difficult on him when he does decide to share this part of his life with us.

    • micj

      Wow, I liked that. I think I may be too judgey regarding people who don’t come out or stand up or what have you. After all It is about respect all the way around

  16. kpk

    i found your story because of louis’s link from facebook, and thought i would share with you a link to piece that was published last month. it takes a few minutes to read. speaks to much of the discussion you thoughtfully shed light upon.

  17. Joanna

    As an ally, I sometimes have issues with closeted people as well because, while you are out there paving the way for them, I am thinking, how much more accepting can I appear for you to feel comfortable. But you make a great point. In the end, no matter how much you pave the way for them or offer support, people are ready when they are ready.

  18. Lesley

    Just have to say that photo of you is adorable. My little boy wore his sister’s dresses, etc, and had to have his own fairy/butterfly wings or whatever other thing she wanted. Now that they’re in kindergarten and the other boys have opinions about that sort of thing, he’s mostly stopped except at home when he gets into playing with his sister. I’ve never encouraged him one way or another and don’t give a darn what he ends up wanting to wear or who he wants to be with, but even though I’m pretty sure he’s straight it makes me sad to see him becoming susceptible to/aware of the pressures and prejudices out there.

    • For the sake of discussion & in the idea that meaningful conversation can change the world.. I have to chime in.
      I have four sons (and a daughter.) My youngest is, like your son, a kindergartener. My oldest are twins, who are now 15, the age Orlando says he came out. At 15, I can see where these guys have a pretty solid idea of their interests & orientations. (Though this may not be standard for every kid.. there are late bloomers, we all develop at our own rate.) Kindergarten however.. For you to say that you’re pretty sure he’s straight, I had to back track & re-read your comment to see how old your son is.. Kindergarten. Here’s where my chiming in comes to play…
      I don’t think kindergarteners should be thought of as gay or straight.. they are simply children. With minds & imaginations & creativity, that will grow & mature into whatever they’ll be.
      I don’t think it’s right to peg or guess at a kindergartener’s sexual orientation, when they haven’t even come close to sexually mature beings yet. My kindergartener wants to marry me & snuggles in bed whenever possible. I definitely don’t think that he’s going to want to do that for life. He’s a child. He loves his mom & his dad & his dog & his toy story figures and his kindergarten teacher.
      One of the greatest aspects of parenthood to me is the wonder of what our kids will become. We can only watch them grow & wait & see.
      It sounds like you have an open mind, and that’s good.. I think you’ll need it a little longer.
      On another note, I totally agree & understand what you’re saying about feeling sad about social susceptibilities. I felt the same way and I shared thoughts on that here:
      I was proved wrong about our boys, though, as here is the youngest, a couple of years later: They are each unique!

      • Lesley

        I don’t think he’s already gay or straight yet and am in no rush to find out. I only I phrased it that way because I do think people are born one way or the other. I don’t want to say he has yet to decide, as if it’s a decision.