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Today is National Coming Out Day.

I’ve decided to take a break from my regularly scheduled program of writing about booze and write about coming out.

In August, I had been out for 12 years. It also marked my 7 year anniversary with my husband. It’s crazy to think that I’m hitting the anniversary where I’ve been out longer that I was ever “in.” I remember being in high school and thinking when I turned 28 I would have been out as gay longer than I was ever straight. Well, I’m not there, yet, but I’m getting close. less than 2 years until I hit that milestone.

As I’m debating what to write about in honor of National Coming Out Day, I thought about writing objectively. Generally, out gay people make more money than closeted ones. I could write about how out gay people  are happier than closeted gays. I could write about how gay teens are more likely to kill themselves, be harassed, or be homeless than straight teens.In fact I have written about how gay people’s suicides have affected me. I could write about gay panic or trans panic and how American society condones killing gay people as a legal defense to 1st degree murder, so long as you’re scared of the gay person.

But I know as I write about this, that you all know that. You all know that it’s important to come out.You know all of this.

The Worst of It

I’ve been out so long, it doesn’t feel like I have a coming out story. I just have a story, but that story is intrinsically tied to my homosexuality.

I grew up an hour from Westboro Baptist Church.

I once had a man tell an employee of a coffee shop to tell me that I should keep be careful, because he kept a gun in his car. This was because I checked him out. When I reported this to the owner of the coffee shop, he told me it was my responsibility to be careful in his place of business. I easily could have been a murder victim with a defendant using a gay panic defense.

When I was in high school, I had a classmate call me a fag every day for a semester. I could time trains by it, because I ran into him every day at the same time for a semester as I went to buy lunch.

There were parts of my high school where I would almost have an anxiety attack, because I was worried that someone would try to throw me off a bridge in the school, down 3 stories, and kill me.

I remember being younger, sitting in a bathroom, and counting pills, because I knew how many I had to take to kill myself. I never swallowed any, but I counted for hours. I then fought depression and suicidal tendencies for most of the next 10 years.

I went to a high school where some of the other gay people had to kill themselves or transfer out-of-state, because it was that awful. This was public school, by the way in 1999.

I can’t give blood in the United States, because there was an article about my partner and I dating in my college newspaper. Lambda Legal said that I could have sued the blood bank if Kansas would have had a non-discrimination law in place.

Most of this is a blur. So what did I do with this?

It got Better

I became one of those people who is so gay you can tell from my resume that I’m gay. I helped found the 3rd Gay-Straight Alliance at Manhattan High School in Kansas. I helped found a chapter of Delta Lambda Phi at Kansas State University. I presented at a conference sponsored by GLSEN in Kansas City.

I also got really lucky. My parents took a long time to come around, but they did. They also never stopped loving me. I was terrified they were going to kick me out but, they didn’t. They supported me in the ways they knew how, which took some doing for two parents from rural Kansas who still live there. I’m proud of them.

One of my best friends came out six months after I did when we were in high school. You should see us when we get together. She’ll tell me, “I’m her hero.” I tell her, “You’re the reason I didn’t kill myself.” We get nauseating going back and forth.

All of the other “It Gets Better” Project reasons. Partner of seven years. I’m now in law school as a super out gay man. I have been told I have been hired to add diversity for sexual orientation. I have been told I’ve gotten leases, because I’m gay. In Raleigh, I know people because I’m gay. We have more in common than that, but we started there. I’ve gotten great friends, vacations, beach trips, Emporia trips, internships, and an amazing partner who I wouldn’t trade (unless a cute, single, rich oil baron comes along.)

So, all things considered, I’ll take it.

What about National Coming Out Day?

When we think about National Coming Out Day, we need to do more than come out. Even if you’ve been out for 10, 20, or 60 years you still need to come out. But as part of our coming out, we need to tell our stories. Living where homophobia is normalized. Having suicidal tendencies. Being beaten up. Being threatened.

It gets better, and people need to know that, but for a while it can be terrible.

Before I got to the amazing experiences, I had to go through so rough ones. I could have been a victim of gay panic. I could have been murdered. I could have killed myself. I was lucky enough to be around people who loved me, who didn’t want that to happen. However, I owe it the people came before me, some of whom literally had to die to make my experience better. I owe it to the people who came after me, because I could do something about making my small corner of the world a better place. I worked to create change, but I also told my story. A lot.

At 26 years, with 12 years of out gay reflection, I realize the person I owe it to the most is myself. I once stood on a precipice, where I easily could have stayed in the closet and not had those experiences. I could have killed myself. I might have been murdered.

But for the grace of God, went I. Not all of these kids have the grace of God. One of my fraternity brothers was hospitalized multiple times by his father who tried to beat the gay away. He also had to go through electroshock therapy. His father is a pastor.

I have a different fraternity brother, who did eventually kill himself. Mostly for reasons unrelated to his homosexuality, but that were systemic from it. It’s difficult to reach out to people who pushed you away.

And then there are those I don’t know. Who try to kill themselves and fail. Who run away. Who prostitute themselves. Who are homeless. Who are physically assaulted.Who are raped. Who are murdered.

As gay people, we know these stories. Sometimes we are these stories. Sometimes, but for the grace of God, go us. We need to tell our stories. In honor of the people we were before we could tell our stories, and in honor of the people who still can’t.

Happy National Coming Out Day.

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