I painted my nails yesterday. As I sit in my car (at a red light, I swear) typing away on my phone, I’m looking down at the rich color. It is too dark to qualify as emerald. Not blue enough to be a true teal. What really matters is that it is shiny.
And it feels good to be this fabulous. It is a relatively new feeling. Three years ago, this Midwestern 27-year-old would have missed out. Hell, three months ago I would have seriously overthought things. Because that bright spot of color is a bit of a calling card. It doesn’t exactly scream “I’m gay” to the world. It is literally just paint. On my fingernails.
Or so you would think.
It raises questions, though. My mom, a typically non-confrontational angel, grimaced after she saw me rocking an icy blue color recently. When we went to a family holiday party she asked if I could take it off. Because what would my uncle think?
He epitomizes “manliness,” after all.
Hopefully, he’d appreciate my fine motor skills and excellent concepts of color theory. “Oh, Mikey! That ultramarine with those jeans and that tattered, vintage sweater you insist on wearing every time I see you? Simply brilliant, man,” he could gush between servings of pasta at my grandma’s table. Or it really could be an end-of-days situation. So, best to avoid at all costs. Sadly, I acquiesced to the request. The decision hit me with instant regret.
I can be my own worst enemy like that. I internalize problems the same way I internalized my sexuality until I was 25 years old. Unfortunately, they don’t give out Olympic medals for those truly impressive repressive abilities. So this is a habit I deeply desire to shake.
And I am.
Because I am on a journey to love myself more. I’m struggling to embrace the inner, very fantastic, very gay me. In the process, I’m rewriting years of self-doubt and hoping to emerge from this transformative chrysalis newly minted. Hopefully, there are medals for this hard work as I transform myself from awkward, pre-godly Hercules into my fully evolved form: the still very awkward but much more adorable Hunk-ules.
Granted, I never would have been able to complete this metamorphosis alone. Obviously, I’d like to thank my friends, family and God(ney Jean Spears) while accepting my medal in a lengthy speech at the imaginary awards banquet I am hosting. But I also owe a lot to Troye Sivan.
Well, not just to Troye, the doe-eyed choir boy who grew up in Perth, Australia but was born in South Africa. There were others who came before him to lay the groundwork (I’m looking at you on the very slim chance you’re reading, Britney Spears). But, frankly, I owe a lot to his debut LP, Blue Neighbourhood.
The album dropped in 2015, mere months after I accidentally (more on that later) came out to my family. Although technically Troye is years younger than me (I mean, I’m basically a grandpa in some sectors of the gay community), the album resonated.
It was the first time I had heard a collection of music that so wholeheartedly celebrated an artist’s homosexuality. As a “baby gay” new to displaying my homosexuality to the world, I found a flicker of hope that things would get better after listening. I began to realize just how broad my future could be. Now is probably a good time to mention Troye paints his nails, too. Basically, we’re twins!
Since its release, Blue Neighbourhood became my unofficial soundtrack. Listening to it, I began to lay the groundwork to move into the future. It inspired me to face a new set of challenges and to live more authentically. The sweet synths and drilling bass showed me a new way of looking at the world.
Listening hurts a bit, though. It is a story of a young gay coming out. And while I may be newer to the LGBTQ community, I’m surely not new to the world at large. Remember, I technically qualify as a grandpa in the gay world. So, the album also reminds me of things I have missed out on. It balances the heartache of missed experiences with hope for the future.
Growing up, I learned to see the world in shades of gray. I learned that nothing is ever as easy as it seems and there aren’t always clear-cut answers. Listening to the album, I started seeing my world in shades of blue. I may not have mentioned this yet, but blue is my favorite color.
Like Troye, I’m about to give you a chance to see my life in shades of blue. What follows is my coming out story set to songs off the album. Unfortunately, I was not blessed with the voice of a baby angel. But I love to write, and I want to tell my story. So here goes nothing.
“My youth is yours.”
“When did you first know?”
This is one of several dreaded questions that emerge in a young gay’s life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked the exact moment I realized I was gay. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d assume it comes up approximately once every time I’ve had to come out to someone new. So, probably a billion times by now.
However, I can’t give you a direct answer. Can you imagine if you could pinpoint an exact moment in your life and say, “this is the cause of one very specific part of me?”
But, I have a few guesses.
Let’s start with the Pink Power Ranger, my first role model.
Oh, Kimberly Hart. How I loved (and still love) you. If only my burning passions had been of the youthful heterosexual variety like they were for so many other boys of the ‘90s. Why couldn’t I wake up to dreams of kissing you? Instead, I envied your brilliant costume (which came complete with a skirt, because you were the “girly” Ranger) and your graceful moves. Don’t even get me started on your sass. And your adorable boyfriend; can we share?
I mean, by now we all know I dreamt of kissing Tommy, the beautiful and wildly masculine Green (future Gold) Ranger.
I owned at least two of your action figures (and an oversized, stuffed version complete with a plastic head, which I wielded as a weapon if my brother came too close). When one of them got run over by a lawnmower, I insisted on a burial. I wouldn’t be overly surprised if I contracted the local harpist to perform while I placed the single shovelful of dirt over the mangled corpse. I was extra like that even back then.
It should come as no surprise, considering my intense, friendly love affair with the Pink Ranger, that I wanted to be her. Recently, I learned just how demanding I was when a friend revealed I always forced her to play the Red Ranger during our dramatic reenactments of the latest episodes.
That requires a commendable amount of grit as far as I’m concerned. Basically, I was the original go-getter.
I’d like to think I was wild when I was younger. I was a pink-loving, Ariel-T-shirt-wearing, Jasmine-action-figure-toting spitfire.
Looking back, I envy who I was.
Those carefree vibes burned brightly through my earliest years, but they gradually lost their luster. I dulled some of my more feminine instincts in an effort to fit in. At my parents urging (later their insistence), I signed up for various sports teams and became a reluctant and highly uncoordinated student athlete.
After years of bouncing from soccer (which required far too much running in muddy fields) to baseball (where I learned to fear balls being thrown at my body) and basketball (where the balls were bigger, and I was rewarded for my sole basket with an ice cream sundae), I decided it was time for a change. I wanted to learn how to dance. There were far fewer balls involved, and I wanted to float across a stage.
What I didn’t mention when eighth-grade me asked my mom if I could take classes is that I wanted to be more like Britney Spears (relatable, amIright?). She had recently replaced the Pink Ranger as my idol. Hello, early signs of my burgeoning homosexuality. Could they have been any louder?
Luckily, she agreed.
Cue my graceless happy dance followed by immeasurable stress before my first class. I would be the only boy there. Thankfully, I managed to keep up. I trained my body to move. Excitedly, I donned my costume (oversized white pants and a tragic cowboy hat) to deliver excellent bell kicks during my first recital.
For the first time ever, I was a star. I left the stage preparing to accept offers for roles on Broadway. It was only after I got offstage that my mom told me people in the audience were saying I was gay.
Here was my first reminder that society expected me to be something. And while I wanted to be myself, I began to realize I may have to fight for that right.
“You were wild here once, don’t let them tame you.”
Isadora Duncan said that. She was a pioneer of modern dance, but I like to think of her as one of the most amazingly Bohemian bad bitches in history. Here is another idol, and her words have become a creed of sorts.
Young me perfectly embodied it. Year after year, I insisted on getting back on stage despite (or in spite of) what people were saying. I refused to let them get between me and what I loved. I felt unstoppable. Except for one little problem. Eventually, it all caught up to me.
And then I tamed myself.
“I’m just a lost boy, not ready to be found.”
“When are you going to come out already?”
I’ll never forget the first time I heard that. I was a freshman in high school and already embroiled in an inner battle over who I was. Like any young Catholic schoolboy (masters of guilt), I was handling my budding interests in the male form the only way I knew how: hard denial. Or, you know, just trying not to get hard in the locker room after gym class.
Unlike Troye, who came out at 15, I fought being gay. I crushed on boys and convinced myself it was merely a distraction before I eventually married a girl. Being straight was all I knew, and I wasn’t ready to accept anything else.
Which means I certainly wasn’t ready to be accosted by strangers about lusting after Zac Efron (do not speak to me if you don’t recognize his endless beauty).
Unfortunately, that was about to happen. At my school, we had regular mass services. However, our chapel was not big enough for the whole student body, so those of us with lesser religious inclinations (also known as me) spent the hour in a silent study hall. Obviously, we spent that time piously reflecting on upcoming tests and unfinished assignments that may be due next period.
What godly individuals we were becoming.
During one of those blessed breaks, a girl sitting in front of me turned around. I knew her in the way you know a stranger in a class of 200. Not well. In fact, we’d never spoken. Was I, the quiet freshman, about to make a new friend?
Sitting at my miniature desk, studiously bowed over a book, I remember thinking she was going to ask to borrow a highlighter. I don’t know why, but I was sure that was the logical explanation for what was about to go down. Instead, she dropped the question.
“When are you going to come out already?”
My response, being 14, shy and traumatized, entailed gaping at her like Britney stared at the camera during her disastrous performance at the 2007 VMAs.
Full disclosure: I didn’t even know what coming out meant at the time. But, I knew, in this context, with this relative stranger asking me in a silent study hall, that it was not a good thing. I felt a sense of shame permeate my body and undoubtedly blushed. Not the best denial, but also not a wholehearted announcement of my gay-ness.
By the next time someone asked about my sexuality or pulled out the equally dreaded questions about potential relationships, I had come up with a handful of excuses. I was dating school. Dance, drama, or choir kept me busy enough. I was waiting until I got accepted into the French Honors Society (desperate times call for desperate measures).
I wasn’t even ready to come out to myself. And part of that was because, in my school, no one was gay. People came out after we graduated, but I faced these struggles alone.
Thank god for the internet.
“I was trying to be like you. I was trying to be cool.”
Although I’d never had any issues finding porn online (sorry, Mom); it took me years to find anything resembling a true community of gays interested in anything other than a quick release.
Once I got to college, I turned to YouTube. There, I found endless cat videos and an adorable video of a baby stuck in a watermelon. But I also found coming out videos. Chiefly, I found Troye’s. And I was obsessed.
Here was a boy who came out at 15. At the same age, I was hiding behind my admission to the French Honors Society to avoid even talking about relationships. Meanwhile, he was opening up to millions of followers.
Inspired, I came out to myself. I looked in a mirror and owned my truth.
“I’m gay. Like, really gay.”
And it felt good.
Thanks to alcohol (a story for another time), I managed to start coming out to my friends. And they were supportive. In my cozy home away from home, I began to shed some of the wards I’d erected around myself. Yes, this is a good time to use the word erected.
However, I wasn’t out to my family. And I wouldn’t be until I was 25 and living in Chicago with my brother.
Now seems like a good time for this story, so here goes.
“Counting to 15 (or 25).”
“Is this your way of coming out to me?”
Well, fuck. I guess it is now.
The ground dropped out from underneath me as I realized exactly what just happened. It is way too early in the morning on October 6, 2014. I’m getting ready for my hour-long commute to work when I see the email.
Apparently, I’m going to be coming out to my family today.
The night before I sent my mom a message asking her to check a blog post I’d written. While grabbing dinner in the city, my brother and I were approached by a woman who had escaped a life of domestic abuse. While my brother ordered her something to eat, we spoke. She had been on the streets for seventeen days.
My heart broke.
When we returned to our warm apartment I wanted to write something. But I was worried it would seem preachy. Cue sending an email asking my mom to proof-read. However, I forgot my plans to write a week’s worth of content centered around National Coming Out Day as an “advocate.” Those posts started this morning.
Take a wild guess which my mom read first.
Understandably, she had some questions. Inconveniently, they were going to have to wait until we both finished work for the day.
Suddenly, I was willing to stay late.
“The truth runs wild like a tear down my face.”
When I’m nervous, adrenaline takes over. Blood rushes to my face, which burns hot enough to melt the sun. My knees lock, making it impossible to run from danger. I shake dramatically as though the ground directly underneath me has been hit by an earthquake. It is not a pretty sight. Obviously, I am doing all of the above now.
A half hour earlier, I dragged my feet up the steps of our third-floor walk-up. For the first time, I wished there were more steps. The prospect of exercise has never been more welcome.
Thankfully, my brother is waiting for me. He delivers words of support and tells me it is time to stop running. I hope he is right.
Anxiously, I dial my mom’s phone. The words came out on a gasp.
“Mommy, I am gay.”
“If I’m losing a piece of me maybe I don’t want heaven.”
I love my mom more than words.
There are so many times I was so close to telling her. The words would dance inside my mind as we rode side-by-side in the car. I knew she wouldn’t be able to escape, and, if I was driving, the shock may not cause us to veer off road.
But, the moment never seemed right. And time is up now. My brilliant plans (of having a boyfriend, having been kissed, having stability in my life) fade to black as I face my new reality.
We both cry. I wish we were together so we could hug. But her voice is enough.
As I aimlessly wander around my apartment, I see a future. We’ll move beyond this and be stronger.
It is clear that this is new. This is scary.
We’ll get through the new and the scary. Together.
“Trying to keep faith and picture his face staring up at me.”
“Do you want me to tell your dad,” she asks.
Well, now that you mention it, kind of. But it should come from me. Instead, I ask you to pass the phone. And here is proof that a heart of gold overcomes religious bigotry every single time.
“Can you put Rachie on the phone,” I request.
Nothing quite like coming out to your entire family. One after the other. Over your cell phone.
“Only seeing myself when I’m looking up at you.“
For some reason, I am most afraid of being honest with my sister.
She has been my baby as much as my parents. Six years separate us, and it’s an ocean of time.
As the oldest, it is my job to protect my younger siblings. But sometimes I need them.
“So? That just means we get to talk about boys now,” she assures me.
Fierce warrior; never leave my side.
Just like that, a burst of laughter cut through the fresh tears springing to my eyes. I let her words begin to numb my pain. Maybe coming out won’t be that bad after all.
“There’s a glimmer of hope like an exhale of smoke in the sky.”
Coming out is a never-ending experience. I haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. How do you work it into a conversation. Do you even need to? To quote Love, Simon (seriously, see this movie), why is straight the default? Sometimes I think it will never get easier.
But coming out later in life is even harder. I’ll never get those years I lost in the closet back. I won’t get to be one of the adorable gay couples posting prom pics to Twitter. I won’t have my first love story in high school. I’m pretty sure a good love story is the only thing that makes high school manageable.
I realized all this before, but I doubly realized it the first time I saw Troye live. I was back in Chicago for a weekend getaway with my friend in 2016. She had agreed to come to the show with me. What she didn’t realize was that (after classily sipping a 4-Loko because nostalgia) I’d break into tears at the sight of Troye onstage.
My heart ached in my chest for all the years I had lost. But it also ached with joy to see the example being set in front of me.
Troye was gay. He was proud. He was radiant. He was everything I ever wanted to be.
He was everything I still can be.
Leaving the theater, I wiped the tears from my face. It was too good of a show to drown in sorrow. And I left with a new mission. Because I saw a future beyond the years of self-doubt.
Now, I am approaching ease.