I was walking through a building on my way to the business school for a class, when I noticed a sign for a “National Coming Out Day” workshop. I was surprised when the thought “I should go to that” popped into my head. How could my brain betray me like that? I knew I wasn’t gay.
That was 2005. Here I am, ten years later. And yeah, turns out, I’m gay.
I have an amazing capacity for compartmentalization. When I first suspected I was maybe not like the other guys, I was in high school. I remember talking to my bishop and he asked me if I was struggling with same-sex attraction, and I cried and said that I was. We were supposed to meet again to talk about it, but I never set up another appointment. At the time, I thought it was controllable and changeable, and I could do it myself. So I put the episode in a box and set it on a shelf.
Another time, I was harassed in the halls by my classmates. I still don’t know what they knew that I didn’t, or if it was just plain old teenage cruelty. The episode shook me, so I wrote a letter to my seminary teacher, asking for help. I don’t really remember what I said, nor do I recall his response, but I was comforted by it. I knew I wasn’t gay. I knew I’d be ok. And my shelf got another box.
I had always wanted a family of my own. I come from a large Mormon family, and I dreamed of what it would be like to have kids who I could guide, who I would be there for, who would grow up to make me proud.
To get there though, I’d have to have a wife. I didn’t really love dating though. I had a small close-knit circle of friends in high school, and some of them were girls. Being the obedient type, I didn’t date until I was 16 and then only in group dates. There were a couple of times I had a girlfriend briefly, because that is what you did. But they didn’t stay romantic for very long, usually evolving into very platonic friendships.
But I didn’t worry about it. I didn’t have to, because I was going to go on a mission, and after that, I’d worry about dating.
I was a freshman at the University of Wyoming when Matthew Shepard was pistol whipped and left by the side of the road to die just a few miles from my dorm. The Westboro Baptist Church came to protest his funeral, and storms of ugly and storms of grace swirled around Laramie.
The image that remains in my mind from that experience is the students dressed up as angels, surrounding the WBC, protecting the world from their vile message.
That whole episode was formative for me, but it probably kept me in the closet for a whole lot longer that I should have stayed. If I had really understood the symbolism, I would have realized that I was surrounded by people I love, and that I could trust them to be angels surrounding me.
But it was ok. I wasn’t gay. At least I was pretty sure I wasn’t.
In my mission, they handed out the “Lock your heart” talk, which basically tried to keep missionaries from falling in love with the girls they were serving, and also keep them from pining away from their sweethearts back home.
It was easy for me to lock my heart. Very easy. Maybe a little too easy. But after all, I had all that practice with boxes and shelves.
After my mission, I dated a bit. I even got pretty serious with one girl. For values of “pretty serious” that include lots of hand holding, but not much kissing.
One day, my dad asked me what it was that I liked about her so much. I couldn’t really answer the question. And that was disconcerting for me. I should have been able to articulate all of the reasons why I was so over the moon.
But I couldn’t.
Shortly after that, we broke up.
I think my dad blamed himself for that for a long time, but it was really my fault. I was trying to force something that was a really great friendship to move over into a romantic relationship, and eventually the cracks in the walls showed through, no matter how hard I tried to patch them up.
That pattern kept up for years. I had a series of platonic friendships with women that skated around the edge of being romantic relationships. I was convinced that eventually something would happen, something would be different the next time, and I would meet the person who would feel right.
I watched all kinds of other friends and family members meet and fall in love and marry. I kept telling myself that if it could happen for them, it could happen for me. I kept telling my parents that it would happen when it happened.
But I was losing hope that it would happen.
A few years after my stupid brain betrayed me, I finally had the moment where I looked long and hard at the boxes on my shelf. And I had that “A-ha” moment. In fact, I was gay. I was ready to start peeking out of the closet.
But then Prop 8 happened.
That shoved me back into my closet so hard, it probably knocked the crown molding off the walls.
It was in California, the other side of the country, and didn’t directly affect me in any way, shape, or form. But suddenly, everyone had an opinion about gay marriage, and because the church I trusted and loved was suddenly pouring so much into this fight, I couldn’t possibly edge open the closet door.
The angels that had surrounded me in Laramie had vanished.
Over time, and after a few more failed attempts at turning a friendship into a romantic relationship, I began to realize maybe I should get some help. I had participated in some online support groups for same-sex attracted Mormons (who would never use the word gay to describe themselves). The men there seemed to believe that with therapy, you could change your orientation enough to marry a woman happily.
Let me be straight with you (and pardon the pun), but for most people, that isn’t ever going to happen.
I didn’t know that at the time, and clung to the hope that I could change, and with the help of a trusted friend, set up my first appointment.
It took six months, two therapists, hundreds of dollars and a mistaken “diagnosis” of sexual anorexia , before the therapist suggested I write down my homosexual fantasies and we would work on “poisoning” them in our next session.
Fortunately, I never made it to that next session. I didn’t have any fantasies that I could think of to write down, only attractions. I knew enough to know that would be a very very bad idea to try to poison my attractions. So I quit.
That was when the really hard work began.
I made one last attempt at a romantic relationship with a woman. I was considering marriage, mostly because I wasn’t getting any younger, and it was about time, and the relationship seemed like it would maybe work.
Being the good Mormon boy, I went to the temple to consider it and pray for an answer if I should do it. The feeling I came away with could be described as “Well, if that’s something you really want to do, ok. But you have to really want to do it.” Of course, that left me with something to think about. I hadn’t told the woman of my orientation yet. I didn’t think I could.
A few weeks later, I woke up at 4am to an existential dread like no other that I had ever experiences. In that moment, I had my answer. I knew that my orientation wouldn’t change, that the boxes on my shelf had broken open, and there was no use lying to myself anymore.
I was gay, and it wasn’t going to change, and to enter a mixed orientation marriage was a very bad idea for me.
I broke one last heart, and to this day, I regret that I couldn’t explain to her exactly why I couldn’t go through with a marriage.
From then until now, I have been on my journey out of the closet. I’ve had successes and failures along the way.
When I prayed another time, I got a very distinct impression that I was loved and that I was ok as I was.
I made some missteps in my coming out process. Early on, I updated my Twitter Bio to “Nerd. Reader. Writer. Watcher. Analyst. Gay. Mormon.” to see if I was comfortable being out on social media. (I picked one that doesn’t get read by a lot of my IRL friends on purpose).
That accidentally outed me to a whole host of people when rather than talking to me, one enthusiastic friend talked to all of our mutual friends. He assumed I was completely out, so it was an easy mistake to make
After a little bit of panic, I settled into it and let it ride. I had no bad experiences with those friends or any others.
I also failed miserably at coming out to my family, for which I am terribly sorry. Some of them never heard it from me, even though I thought they had. (Big Mormon families are hard to keep track of!)
I have also had many successes.
One thing I learned again over the last 3 years is that I am surrounded by angelic friends and family, who have been incredibly supportive , and that I should have trusted those angels to bear me up long before I did.
So yeah, I’m gay. My brain was right all those years ago. It just took a long time for my heart to catch up and let me love myself for who I was.
 I won’t argue whether sexual anorexia is a real thing. It might be, the research is mixed, but the symptoms the therapists claimed fit me look suspiciously exactly like what a gay man trying to be straight looks like.
This post was originally published on Medium on October 11, 2015