Out of the Closet, Into the Gym.

I’ll be honest. For a moment, I was feeling a little cocky today. I checked out my blog statistics and realized that my eight total blog posts had received over 10,000 unique views from 11 different countries. I felt really proud that this little site with only a handful of posts ended up having such a wide reach. Sharing my story here ended up being a source of healing and empowerment for me. Another part of me, though, saw those stats and inexplicably felt kind of empty inside. When I started the blog I was passionate, purpose-driven, and full of conviction. Coming out was scary, but it was also exciting! There was a romance to it. An exhilaration. I had a “fight the good fight / change the world” sort of mentality. Since then I’ve found myself more settled, realistic, and — to be honest — lacking inspiration. I saw that so much of the world was dug into their beliefs about gay people and unwilling to change, and I found that many of the exciting notions of progress I had developed were rooted in naivety and ignorance. I was a baby gay awakening to the harsh realities of the real world post-closet. So, I stopped posting for a while. Most of this year, actually. I wasn’t feeling inspired or connected to this so-called community. Was there even a “gay community”? As a new year begins now and I reflect on 2013 as a whole, though, it turns out I actually learned quite a bit.

It’s been just over two years since I came out to my very religious, former church pastor, conservative parents. That was the last frontier in my year-long adventure of “letting people in,” as I called it. In the past three years, though, I’ve learned more about what it means to be a gay man than my arrogant former self ever could have imagined. As terrifying as it was to come out, it was also a very hope-filled experience, not yet faded or humbled by any lived realities out of the closet.

For the most part, I’m in a pretty great place right now. I grow more comfortable with myself each day as I continue to work on fully letting my guard down and adjusting to post-closet life. I sometimes let myself get away with more effeminate mannerisms that I had previously worked so hard to stifle. Some things — like crossing your legs or wearing a deep V-neck shirt, for example, are accessible only to hyper-masculine, confident straight dudes or openly gay ones. I’ve been experimenting with where on that continuum I might like to be and how coming out has freed me up even in small ways like what I feel I now have permission to wear. I used to be so insecure and terrified of being outed that I would speak in the deepest voice I could muster, try never to let my wrist go limp, and avoid ever publicly discussing the “chick flick” movies and TV shows I secretly binged at home. As that huge burden of stifling my inner self was finally lifted, I also found myself easing into an unexpected comfort with so many of these micro-gay-isms. Coming out wasn’t just about letting people know who I am, but also about letting myself feel free to loosen the grip I had held so tightly on the walls that separated other people from ever knowing the most authentic version of me. I began to figure out who the unfiltered Nate might be.

As a (closeted) ally, I thought I knew what LGBT discrimination looked like. I didn’t know that I would soon be yelled at as exiting gay bars, laughed at when walking in the park with my boyfriend, sent hate mail from former loved ones, asked suspiciously if I would be bringing a plus-one to a work dinner, or be told that “some people don’t think it’s appropriate” that I continue serving in leadership roles in my spiritual community. I knew what I thought discrimination looked like on other people. But I didn’t yet know what it looked like on me. I was so afraid of being minimized by the word “gay,” that I refused to adopt it at first. In the beginning, I was one of those judgy gays who advocated for equal rights, but still said I wasn’t really into the “gay scene.” As if all the gays of the world were engaging in the same activities simultaneously in one fabulously high-heeled parade. Or as if I was better than the gays that were in whatever “scene” it was I had imagined. My own fear and insecurity was manifesting in a version of internalized homophobia that I couldn’t yet see. I was determined to be a “different” kind of gay. In short, I was terrified to be associated with a people that I hadn’t even really tried to know yet.

I found myself suddenly very self-conscious of my body and fashion. Take a look through old photos (or actually, please don’t!) and you’ll see easily that fashion and fitness were not things that had ever occurred to me to care about. Dressing in some trendy way would have been a potential indicator of being gay, so not caring about my appearance (in my mind) helped secure my place among the straight guys. Suddenly, I felt all this pressure to have abs and a more stylish wardrobe. Do I really have to go to the gym every day now? Do I really have to throw away all my boxer shorts and buy new bikini briefs with designer patterns? Was it okay that I didn’t know a single thing about RuPaul’s Drag Race? I had all these questions, but it felt like all the other gays had already figured it all out on their own. They were already a part of the club, and no one was particularly interested in leading a freshman orientation for me.

Suddenly, I found myself in a culture of mean girls. A mean-girls culture that I loved and hated all at the same time. Guys would say something so mean about someone else, but in a very funny, quick-witted way that I found mesmerizing. I was immediately drawn to it and wanted to be “in,” hesitating instantly, though, with the lingering question, “What mean-spirited joke would they then make at my expense when I walked away?” It became easy to join in and was also kind of competitive. I found myself wanting to beat them to the punch — say the funnier burn and say it first. Then they’d burn you back, but that just meant you were in. Some of it felt so juvenile, but most of it felt like the thing we were all supposed to have done a long time ago. That’s when it occurred to me that many of life’s developmental milestones and transitions probably happen later for LGBT folks, depending on when in life they were able to come out. While most of my straight friends back home were getting married and having babies, we seemed to be going the other way. And I didn’t mind one bit, dammit – we were free! We were finally able to dance in public with someone we liked and make out with strangers in bars! It was our time.

Sometimes, though, I would fear becoming that one guy. The single fifty-year-old in a speedo doing molly at the gay club until 4am every weekend. Or God-forbid the open-relationship guy. The guy who only goes to the gym so he can cross reference the guys on Grindr with the guys on Scruff, while then pretending to be committed to another person. (At least, that’s the only way I could imagine an open relationship at the time). The guy that — even out of the closet — can’t find love, can’t be happy, and may not ever be able to achieve the life he wanted for himself. Honestly, the end game I’ve always wanted for myself is the one where I’m an old professor who hosts an NPR show, is in a monogamous healthy marriage, and has a few kids and grandkids who come to his house for Sunday dinners. Yes, I’m still an Oklahoma boy at heart. But even in our increasingly more inclusive society there still aren’t a lot of examples yet to show me what that can look like. Historically, the gay man is the uncle in the family, not the dad. And as much as I loved pretending to be a parent to my niece over the holidays (sorry to have bombarded you with photos), it also reminded me of what I don’t have. Something that was magnified by the endless stream of “guncles” filling up my newsfeed. Are we always just the uncle? Do we get to be the dad?

So, I’ve found myself with an extended case of bloggers block (yeah, it’s a thing), unsure if I could criticize a community I want to advocate for and unsure if I could even understand experiences that I hadn’t lived. The truth is (believe it or not) I had romanticized what it meant to be gay. It was noble to be an activist for a marginalized group of people, I thought. What I failed to see is that the true humanity of advocating for equality is acknowledging that not only are gays just as good as straight people, they’re also just as everything as straight people. As funny, mean, racist, sexist, athletic, rude, spiritual, monogamous, slutty, creative and so on. Anything that any person can be, a gay person can be, too. That’s the point I guess. And three years later, I get it. We’re all just people. Doing the best we can.

My first year out of the closest was really still halfway in the closet. The second one was spent in a relationship. And this third one allowed me to really actually connect with others and learn from different experiences. To learn about gay advocates, gay partiers, gay couples, gay community leaders, and all the other types of gays I didn’t know existed. To see that there’s a piece of me in each of them and something I can learn from all of them. To stop judging them and stop judging myself. To stop trying to be a “different kind of gay” or a “non-scene” gay, and just be the kind of gay God made me. To let my guard down, let my wrist go limp, and let Nate be Nate. I’m grateful for every step in that journey, every person who was a part of it, and every good, bad, and ugly decision I made that got me where I am.

So, in my final 2013 reflections, I’d like to just be thankful.

  • Thank you to my best friends and fraternity brothers, Logan and Michael, for always going through the same thing as me and knowing every thought I have before I even acknowledge that I have it. I honestly can’t imagine life without you (or our group text).
  • Thank you to mentors like Chris and Ken who opened up their family and their home to me. And Dafina who teaches and inspires me with every single thing she says. Even the posts about Scandal.
  • Thank you to Chi Epsilon who has not only provided endless entertainment and legitimate professional advice, but has helped me better understand and appreciate the journey and sacrifices of those who’ve come before me.
  • To my friend Justin who took me under his fabulous, Britney-loving wing and helped me navigate the new life I was building for myself, without judgment. And for never being mad one bit when all I want to do is go out for a glass of wine and talk student development theory and “weird crowds”.
  • To my sister and all the incredible friends scattered across the country who have supported my journey and made it so much more fun and meaningful than it ever could have been without them.
  • To Ben and Stacy who not only trusted me to take on leadership roles in their church, but made an intentional and genuine effort to bridge the gaps between LGBT folks and spiritual pursuits.
  • To Stetson University, an incredible place to work for many reasons. Not the least of these is that when one job deemed me an “inappropriate” candidate as a gay man, the one I already loved gave me a promotion. It is definitely a special kind of comfort to work in a place that is so supportive that it allows everyone to just focus on doing the “significant, vibrant” work that matters most for our community.
  • To Beyonce for dropping that midnight surprise.
  • And to the hopeful vision of myself as a father somewhere in the future. This blog started on a foundation of hope. And I’m happy to say… I have my hope back.

To the better future we will create – Happy 2014!

 

-Nate

 

 

 

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