Eight months ago I posted an ad on Craigslist looking for another 20-something-year-old guy to meet up with, just like many young gay men who are willing to embrace the fact that it may end with being drugged, raped and murdered.
While I want it to be true that guys like me flock to online classifieds, I know the odds are sub-par. For my situation, though, it seemed like the only viable choice.
I was not out.
I had not told anybody about my plans to find someone via the Internet, nor that I would be going for drinks with somebody who responded a week later. But, walking from my apartment and texting my blind date, murder barely crossed my mind.
The back-room bar of a Chinese restaurant in Tigard was a fucked-up yet perfect stage for my first meeting with Sean. Waiting out front was a guy who fit the description I’d been given, also seemingly on mild alert for his possible Craigslist death. Plenty of drinks later, Sean and I had killed an hour talking at a booth inside the increasingly empty bar.
We decided to go back to my place across the street to keep the night going. Both of us were 22 years old. He’d come out upon moving to Portland and knew that I hadn’t yet. In fact, he was officially the first person to know I was interested in men, despite the sometimes-questioning friends. A passion for High School Musical at a young age isn’t especially subtle. But in any case, he knew. I knew he knew. I was finally able to be honest with somebody.
Not that I couldn’t have been before. It was just preferable to talk with a person who had been in my position, and fairly recently. We kept in contact throughout the week.
When the next opportunity to meet up arose, I wanted to go. However, there was a catch. He was at a bar with his roommate and friends who knew why I was coming to see him. I had to decide whether I was ready to be open to the concept of people knowing about me within a week after I had told the first person in my life I was gay.
For Sean, I was.
After that night, I was comfortable around his friends. I felt included, never judged. I realized that maybe I should’ve tried it out long ago. I had Sean to thank, as well as his friends. But the idea started swirling that I needed tell my friends about the guy I was dating.
That’s when I hit the brakes. I started to think of the responses, the textbook replies.
“I knew it!”
“How long have you known?”
“Am I the first person you’ve told?”
There seems to be an underlying air of narcissism that comes with the confession. In my mind, those I told could have a strange sense of entitlement from having a gay best friend, or that being the first to know would undercut what I’d just told them.
Months went by. Spring was rolling around, and Sean and I were still going out. I had still not told anybody we were dating.
Every day we were together, I knew I was moving towards the truth. But Sean was growing tired of being a secret. I reassured him that it would be soon, but he seemed uneasy, as if I were hiding him from the people I love because I was embarrassed by him. In actuality, I was just ashamed by myself. I couldn’t muster the courage to say I was on the verge of loving someone for the first time in my life, because it was with a man.
With no Portland alternatives, I went to California for a summer class. From Sean’s point of view, I was leaving for two months with no proof I was planning to introduce him to my friends or family when I was back—except my word.
On the night before my drive down, we met one last time. When I made it home, he unexpectedly told me that it had to end. There was no future and we were on different pages. He couldn’t stay a secret but didn’t want to force me to do something I wasn’t ready for. But I was. I really was.
It was too late.
My inability to get over my own issues with coming out had officially ruined what was a great relationship with a person I cared for. Which brings me to my question: Why does coming out have to be so gay?
I do not mean gay as stupid, but gay as gay.
For a group of people who deserve and fight for equality, there is still an act separating us from being equal. Coming out. At what point during a straight teenager’s life are they expected to sit down, write a letter, however it may be done, and express to their parents that they are interested in the opposite sex?
If I had been able to move past the stress of the anticipated questions and stereotyping that would be potentially thrust upon me, I would have come out in a split-second. Told everyone I knew: “I have a boyfriend. I love being with him.”
But I didn’t.
He moved on.
And now I am alone in trying cope with my own self-destruction. I have yet to tell anybody what has happened in the last eight months.
Hopefully, today, this can end. I am writing this one week after finding out Sean is dating someone new, and has been for a short period of time. It killed me to hear, while I try to remain happy for him. He put trust and faith in me as his first relationship and I let him down. Not only that, but I drove him to look for someone who could offer something I didn’t: openness.
The views on coming out which I have expressed are my own and may be wrong. This is just how I feel, and I wish I had read something similar before starting our relationship.
Then I may have known that it is OK to be who you are, and that coming out could be the simple act of saying you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, without the emotional talk afterwards if you aren’t interested in having it. That when you care enough about somebody, nothing else should affect it, including approval from those you love. Stuff that seems obvious, but at the time got erased from my mind.
In hopes of having a more successful future relationship where I can tell my friends and family about any guy I care about, and as a way to apologize to Sean, I do not plan on stepping lightly out of the closet, but instead will do it with the strategic finesse that comes from a story being published for an entire city to read at once.
So here it is, at 23 years old. I, Will Leetham, am gay.