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A coming out story…. or novel.

I didn’t choose a wedding date close to National Coming Out Day on purpose but I feel like it was the natural force of the universe. Now, I can show anyone who may be struggling with coming to terms with themselves or just scared to be who they really are how amazing life and love can be when you finally let yourself love the real you. Now, they can see photos of one of the most amazing days of my life. One filled with love and laughter and happy tears. Smiles and hugs.

I am not going to act naïve. I know the moment you come out everything is not sunshine and rainbows, well maybe rainbows, but not all sunshine. I know things can become more difficult, dark and confusing. I have been there. I have been through the valley in the blackness of a night without stars but I kept pressing on and I was able to reach the mountain peak on a beautiful day.

My journey was not a short one. Did I realize I was a lesbian when I was a kid? No. I had no idea what the hell that word even meant until probably junior high. I grew up in a small town on the edge of Appalachia, not exactly the center of diversity. I wish I could empathize with children who realize this today, but I can only be sympathetic because I cannot put myself in their shoes at that age. I wish I could because I cannot imagine the stress and pain it causes someone already going through the trials and tribulations of childhood.

In high school, I kissed a couple of girls here and there. I mean, everyone was doing it. We were at a weird junction in time when girls started kissing other girls to get attention from the boys. I wasn’t kissing them for that reason, but they didn’t need to know that. I had one friend in high school who was “out”. I say “out” because she was out to some, but it wasn’t something she broadcast to the entire world. Both she and I had family that worked at the school and that were on the school board so we attempted to “help keep a good image”.

She was the only one who knew I was leaning in that direction. I continued to date boys and truly was in love with one, but there was just always something bothering me I could never put my finger on. Being gay in our area was definitely still taboo at the time. One of our gym teachers was a lesbian and the harassment and things said about her all the time were heinous. I cannot play completely innocent here because in my adolescence I was a very, very different person and participated in things I wish I could slap the shit out of myself for now. Anyways.

Then, it happened, I went to college.

My freshman year I attended Mountain State University in the heart of West By God Virginia on a volleyball scholarship. Imagine my surprise on arrival when 8 out of the 12 girls I lived with were lesbians or bisexual. Even some of the “straight” ones turned gay with a little bit of liquor. I was in a whole new world and it was more than overwhelming. I hated that school but only for its poor excuse for academics and how horrible our team was. I loved it for giving me the ability to broaden my horizon and finally realize it might be possible to be who I was beginning to realize I was.

It wasn’t something that happened instantaneously. I was still attempting to date boys but at the same time had started hanging out more with the lesbians of the house. I mean we all lived together in one big house with one kitchen. We all played volleyball or softball, some both. We were all together all the time. I learned so much from them, both happy and sad. Most couldn’t tell their parents or anyone except those friends, some were obvious and never had to actually tell, and some had parents they had told/who knew and refused to accept it. I was lucky to have experienced that level of diversity in that regard because it would become very beneficial later in my life.

I transferred to a different university the next year for the other reasons I hated the place. There, I was also lucky enough to find and meet a very diverse group of teammates and others. It was there I found one person to confide in more than ever. She was my best friend, my biggest supporter, and totally gay. Though she never once really came out and said it, it was pretty much just understood. She took care of me. She helped me in so many aspects. She was shy, I was loud. She trusted few people, and at the time, I trusted everyone. I’m just lucky to be one of the people to fall in her circle.

We were really just best friends. I remember my grandparents whispering something and then telling me all this non-sense about her. They must have sensed her orientation or something or maybe it was the way we acted together but later on in life, my grandma would vehemently state it was this friends fault I was “turned gay” yadda yadda yadda. (Don’t hate my grandma too much yet, you’ll get the chance to be super angry at her later, but I promise you will love her again)

I finally started trying to semi-date girls at this point. I never actually dated one, but I might have snagged a few for some fun here and there. I went out to the bars, looking for boys and now girls too, with the exception of the gay bars, those I stuck to the girls haha. My first experience at a gay bar was in West Virginia. That is a whole different subject and story so we will move on.

I got into a serious relationship with a boy halfway through my junior year of college. Though, I cannot say I was the best girlfriend. I still went out and might have flirted and made a few passes at some girls during my time still in school. Once I graduated however, it was on to “the real world” and doing those things you are supposed to do. Get a good job and get engaged.

I had a job at the university shortly after graduation and then engaged not too long after that. I had a lot of lesbian friends at this point and even a few co-workers. Things were going just fine, or so I thought until I was smacked straight in the face by an overwhelming realization about who I was. I was not straight. This realization was brought on by a girl who shall remain nameless, though anyone who knows me, knows who she is.

This girl would change my entire life, literally. I had known her my whole life. She went to school with my brother. (Funny side note: She was his first girlfriend. Cue laughter) What many people didn’t know was her personal life. Or any of that little group of girls lives for that matter. The only reason I knew she was interested in girls was because I went to school with her former girlfriend’s sister.

Before she changed my life, her life was changed. Something very horrible and traumatizing happened. I feel like I don’t have the right to even talk about it, but it is what changed the course of my path and a big part of the story, unfortunately. Her girlfriend killed herself with no warning. I attended the funeral with a few friends because this was one of our friend’s younger sisters as I said. The whole time I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, not in a creepy or sexual way, but because I knew most people in that room just thought they were best friends and really the love of her lifetime had just torn her heart out. I have told her this before, but I will never, ever forget that look on her face that day.

Fast forward through a few months. I had chatted with her and the little group of girls. Attending their basketball games etc. Like I said, I had known these girls my whole life because my brother was in their grade and he was basically friends with all of them. This little group was my favorite. These girls were like little sisters to me. I realize how weird that sounds with how I started this out, but she was the one furthest removed from the little sister feeling. She was just a part of the package.

Being the cool big sister, I hosted them for a party at my place, my fiancé at the time was with the boys somewhere. I was 5 years older than them. It seemed like a lot but now we all know 5 years is nothing. We had a few mutual friends in the grades between us so a few others came over and we cooked and partied and listened to music and took pictures with disposable cameras and my dinosaur of a digital camera.

I am sure by now you are thinking will you freaking just talk about coming out already. But I am. This is my coming out story. It didn’t happen in a day, a week, a month, or a year. Yes, there were the times I flat out told it to people. But coming out is so much more than that. You have to come to terms with yourself first. Come out to YOU. Sometimes that takes longer than we expect.

This party was the first time her and I ever really spent time together. We all talked and laughed and acted ridiculously. It was a night we all cherish I think. Because of this night, we started chatting more and more, mostly me trying to break through to her because I knew deep down she was hurting and at the time, all I wanted to do was make it better.

We hung out a few more times with some of our mutual friends. The ones who were in between us in age. The ones who were still in college so I didn’t feel like I was hanging out with high school kids. Though there were a few times I found myself the odd man out. Then, graduation. I was there because of my brother primarily but it was a joy to watch the girls all graduate. I have all my pictures with all of them. I want to interject that out of those 5 girls, only 1 is straight. The rest hadn’t really come out except in those other girls.

Now that she was out of high school, she was free to hang out more. My fiancé was basically a drooling slob. All he did was eat Xanax and drink his version of sex on the beach. She was basically our third wheel but ended up being the person who I spent the most time with because he would be incoherent or pass out early. We would stay up late talking in our guest bedroom. I would make her dinner. I had no intentions at all of what would follow.

One night hanging out with some of our mutual friends at a nearby university, a girl asked me if it was okay if she asked her out. (I guess I was viewed as her gatekeeper or mom or something) It was with that question that my heart screamed NO to my brain. Luckily, I didn’t say that out loud before I had time to process it. I mean I was engaged. I was going to be married in months. I hadn’t even realized I was in love with her but I was, already. Something about her had gripped my heart and wasn’t letting go but I felt like I didn’t have a choice so I swallowed and replied OF COURSE!

They started dating but we had still been hanging out a lot. The timeline in between some of all this is a little hazy but I had A LOT going on in my head and it now has been over 11 years ago so I apologize.

We attended a music festival together with the previously mentioned best friend from college and probably my favorite picture of her ever was from that show. That day I talked to my best friend, before I barely got it all out she told me I had to let her know. I needed to be with her. We talked about the wedding and what was I supposed to do?

It was within the same week two things happened. My aunt who doesn’t believe in marriage asked me why the hell I was getting married anyway and my stepdad told me the same thing he had told my sister before her wedding “If you don’t stay married at least 5 years, you owe me all the money back.” It was when I asked myself, “Will it last five years?”, that I knew I couldn’t do it. It was May, almost June, our wedding was scheduled for the end of July. To say I was at a turning point in my life is an understatement. I went home that night and cried, a lot.

I called my mom the next day and met her for a chat. I did not mention the fact I was totally falling for someone else but explained I couldn’t go through with the wedding. I couldn’t deal with the issues he had any more and I was scared of where they would lead. Everything had already been purchased for the wedding, though I had not yet sent out invites. (I suck at that stuff) I had them, just never sent.

After our discussion, they were okay with me calling off the wedding. There were some kinks to work out, like the fact we couldn’t get a refund at the venue but we basically decided we would just have a party there instead to celebrate me NOT getting married. (I would later show up WASTED to this party because my best friend thought I should go to the bar at 10 a.m. that day)

They were okay with this decision even though I had not let them in on one of the biggest key pieces. I was going to let that one go for a minute. I mean, her and I were not dating yet. She had a girlfriend. I went home that night and sat him down. I told him I thought we should postpone the wedding. I couldn’t find the strength to just say I was done but, he did that for me. His response was “Well, why stay together then?” I replied, “Good point.” And that was it. 3 years. Done.

I felt a weight lifted like I had never felt before. I was free. I wasn’t just free from a relationship that turned into a disaster, I was free from the “normal” life I had locked myself into. I was free from myself. I was free to become the person I am today, though that would take many more years and many more mistakes, it was the moment in my life I was able to finally breathe.

I called her immediately of course. I told her I wanted her. I told her she needed to be with me. I’m very lucky she chose to be with me. Her girlfriend at the time was NOT happy with me but I did not care. I wanted her. She was mine. She knew before I did I think about us, or that there would be an us.

Finally, we were together. Things, to me, were perfect.

Since he moved out, I had to find a new place to live so I moved closer to work. It wasn’t too far from where she was going to college so I thought it worked well. We had some ups and downs, just adjusting from friendship to a relationship.

I had her over with some volleyball girls from the college one night, and that is when everything changed. I won’t go into those details. It was not a pretty end to our relationship. I was broken. I’m talking a million glass chards on a floor.

So, I tried to move on. I somehow ended up back into the old me. I was just searching for something. These were the Myspace days. I had met a girl from Cali who I connected with instantly. Not in that way, but as a friend. She was friends with lots of bands and one day I told her I was going to see one of them play and she asked me to help them out with a road favor. So I did. That is the day I met my ex-husband.

I’m going to jump through parts of this because well, some of it was amazing, and the rest is an ugly mess. I moved to Cali about 6 months or so after meeting him. I still talked to her, but our conversations were usually argumentative at this point. I couldn’t deal with her anymore. I had to run away, and that is exactly what California was for me. The escape.

I’m not going to act like I didn’t love him. I did. We clicked so well. We were basically best friends. Plus, he was in a band I loved. How could that not work perfectly? I moved out there with someone who ended up moving back 3 months later, but I lucked out because he had come home from tour about two days after I moved out there so I had time to establish some things before he left for another tour.

I didn’t talk to her much during the three years I was in California. I saw things on Myspace and here and there on Facebook. (At this time, you still had to have a university or recognized business email to join Facebook) In the end, I tried to shut her out because it just broke my heart and I wanted to give him a fair shot.

In hindsight, I realized he never stood a chance in the long run but I was happy. I was living my California dream with basically my best friend. We got married. Had a great first year of marriage.

I have to note in here that I had made a few friends at work that were gay. I had bonded with them over the fact that I “used to be” gay. I even knew a couple of the girls were dating each other though it was mostly a secret. (These girls will play HUGE roles in the actual act of me coming out.) I thought I would be more exposed to it in California, stereotypically, but I never owned a car the whole time I lived there. I walked and rode the bus etc. The only time I was around people outside of work was with his family and occasionally my first friend I made myself. There were moments I thought about her still. When I would write poetry, a lot of my best poems stemmed from the heartbreak with her rather than the current status of my love.

Back to the first year of marriage with him. As I said, it was good. However, we struggled financially. He had quit his band due to some bullshit, which tore him apart. He had started to work for his grandpa’s company but working for family can be hard. My job paid crappy too despite being in management and I worked horrible hours opposite of him. I spent more time with the dog in a week than him.

The cost of living in California is ridiculous. It just got harder and harder and something had to give. We finally made the decision we would move to Ohio. I couldn’t believe he actually agreed but I had opportunities there I didn’t in Cali. We could stay with my mom while he found a job and then we would be good. We set out for Ohio in May.

I never knew this trip would be the beginning of the end.

I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in years now. The last time I had seen her was at my going away concert my friends threw for me. She showed up with the girl. All I needed her to do that night was tell me to stay and she didn’t. I remember watching her walk away that night all the way to the car. Waiting, wishing. Nothing. I took that as my sign.

Three years had passed since then, almost to the date. I had been back about a week or so when I went to pick my little sister up from junior high volleyball practice. I had opened the doors and BAM!

I was face to face with her. I mean inches. I was frozen. My heart had stopped beating. I saw the look on her face, I can only imagine the look on mine. I would have never thought she was there with her little sister. She didn’t live in town anymore. I was a mess when I left. My head was spinning at 1000mph.

I spent a few sleepless nights. I honestly don’t remember how or when but at some point I messaged her or she messaged me and we had started chatting here and there. As I said, my head was a mess.

Suddenly, it was like I didn’t know how to act with my husband. I am not proud of some of the things that followed. I consider myself a faithful person, but I was not in the months that followed. I lied about where I was going. I snuck around to see her. I planned trips with friends but didn’t mention she was coming along. I couldn’t help it. I was overcome with everything I had ever felt about her and even more. I was just lucky that she felt the same.

I won’t forget the night he and I lay in bed. I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t tell him why. I knew I had to end our relationship. I had to end our marriage. He was still my best friend. I felt so guilty the whole time it was going on but I knew. I knew I had to do it. I didn’t know how. We were less than a month away from our 2nd anniversary so it made it even worse.

With tears in my eyes, I finally told him I was sorry. I was sorry I couldn’t be his wife anymore because I knew in my heart I was gay. There it was. It was out in the universe now. I had said it aloud. I couldn’t stomach to tell him I had been seeing her behind his back. I just couldn’t though, in hindsight, it might have saved a lot of things that happened when he did find out.

The next day I had a conversation with my mom that we were going to get a divorce. I didn’t tell her right away why, but I did tell her very shortly after. He packed up his things after we had handled some paperwork. We had no reason to get lawyers. I told him I didn’t care what I got as long as I kept our dog.

During all this, she seemed happy and excited. I had done it again though. Left another guy for her.

I helped him pack the Penske truck. This time it wasn’t a joyous occasion like when we moved there. This time, I felt strange, especially with his dad there. I watched them drive away and went inside. I cried for probably an hour. Not because I had any regret, just because I had hurt him, because I knew it had to be done, and because I knew that now, I had to tell my family. I wanted to be with her and I didn’t want to hide it. I knew this was merely the calm before the storm.

I got myself together and jumped in the car. I had already made plans to spend the evening with her and I had planned on making things official with her. And I did. I understand that I was not legally divorced yet but I was not about to wait on California’s legal system, and I am glad I didn’t because that took forever, especially since I was still in Ohio. However, it was a wonderful night.

Again, I realized now was the real battle. I had already faced plenty of backlash for the divorce to begin with. Everyone seemed to love him. Sad thing is, they loved her too. They always had. I mean for Christ’s sakes my grandpa and dad were the first people there when she was in a horrible car accident. They asked about her and checked up on her all the time. That was all about to change though.

I really didn’t know how to approach my grandparents. I don’t think I ever really figured it out. One day I finally told my grandma. That did not go over well. She basically gave me the ugliest look ever and like she was going to cry. I just didn’t know what to do. It was rough. My grandparents are my world. I didn’t tell grandpa. I didn’t for a few years when it was too the point it was pretty obvious.

I couldn’t bring her anywhere except my mom’s. Since the divorce, I couldn’t afford a place on my own so I was stuck. I had told my dad though I think he figured it out first. He is pretty whatever about everything so I will admit it wasn’t too bad. He was still married to the wicked witch of the west. She didn’t seem so keen on it but you can probably tell by the way I referenced her that I didn’t really care about that.

Probably my biggest heartbreak of my long-term coming out as I call it was my little sister. She still barely talks to me. She was only about 13 or 14 at the time. She is the one I wish I could go back and somehow do it differently. Do something to make her understand. To change the whole way she thought or viewed me after that. She was my sidekick, and I lost her. I have never gotten her back. Though now I don’t think it’s because I’m gay, now she just doesn’t care. All the bridges were set on fire and there was no repair I guess. She’s 19 now and I tried 2 years ago but my efforts didn’t make it far though we are civil because we share 3, soon to be 4, of the best nieces and nephew ever.

I’m going to skip through a lot of time here. Only because I would have a blog post that would take 6 days to read. The initial coming out was terrifying. I had lost friends because people felt they needed to choose sides in the divorce, and well, in the end, but farther down the road, I lost the girl too. I had not lost, however, the impact she had on me. Yes, I was devastated, fell to pieces but she had given me the push.

Over all of those years, she was the catalyst that helped me find myself and then a second time when I had l lost myself. I will forever be thankful and feel in debt for that reason.

But I am going to jump ahead, a ridiculous amount of events and a few years later, I met another girl who changed my life. The lessons she taught me about being proud of who I was are invaluable. I will forever hold those close to my heart as well. Unfortunately, it was because of my inability to be able to embrace being open and some other reasons that I lost her too. Mostly my own fault. She even lived with me for 3 months on an extended vacation from her job and life in California. I wouldn’t take her to family events and it tore her down. Caused arguments. Ugh. I hate thinking back about it. I mean I had already come out, right? Why could I not let myself be open about it? Either way, I fucked it up. I envied how she was able to just be okay with it. I always felt like part of it was because she grew up in California and I grew up in Ohio. The environment really is a factor. When you live in a place you are scared of the consequences, it isn’t fun. (Unfortunately with the state of the world today, I sometimes still get nervous in certain environments or catch the horrid looks they give my wife and me.)

So, after that, I finally embraced who I was. I couldn’t risk breaking someone else’s heart because I wasn’t happy with who I was. I was out. I was open. I was proud. I would not allow myself to lose out simply because of fear. I had done the hard part right? I had officially come out to the family but this is the lesson I have learned the most since that time – you never just come out once. That is something others who don’t have to come out, i.e. straight people, don’t understand. The rest of your life from the initial coming out is one big coming out story. Though they might not be as overwhelmingly terrifying or nerve-wracking, you end up “coming out” to all new people who might come into your life. You come out without saying it when you walk in public holding hands with your wife, you come out when you get tired of people referring to your spouse as “him” at work because you try to keep work and personal life separate, you can be faced with coming out any time, any day.

I am now lucky to have a woman who is also proud to be who she is. Because of her, I am stronger, I am happy, I am gay and I am proud. I will never, ever let who I am hide or be sheltered. I will never have to because I will have her by my side. My big, gay side. I will continue to take on the challenge of coming out every day. I will continue to fight to help others feel safe enough to do the same. I know the world right now seems volatile and scary to do so, but there is no better feeling in the world than when you finally find yourself and are proud of it. So come out, come out, wherever you are. Be happy, be free, be proud, be you.

Here are some photos of what it looks like to be happy with who you are.

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