There’s a secret I was hiding for a long time.
Secrets can be fun to keep, like when your friend’s parents tell you that they’re going to be having a surprise party for them and want you involved in the planning process. Or when your friend tells you they’re planning to get engaged to their significant other and you’re one of the only people they’re telling.
But secrets can also be really dark. Secrets can kill. There are those of us that have a secret that they bury deep down inside. They burn at your stomach lining and shake you to your core. They make you frightened when you even dwell on them and push you to your brink. You work so hard to bury these secretS way down deep inside that your brain almost resets to denial mode, as if you don’t face the secrets you’re keeping head on they can’t be real. These are just some of the emotions I was forced to deal with until I was finally pushed to the limit and let my secret out.
I’m sure by now you’re wondering what’s this “big secret” I was keeping. No, I didn’t harm anybody. I didn’t rob a store when I was younger or tell some big lie to those I cared about. I didn’t cheat on a test, I didn’t buy my way into college, I didn’t steal my friend’s significant other. I didn’t have an affair. My big secret was actually a rather simple one, now that I can consider it from a different perspective. My secret was that I was gay.
Boom. I said it. The power it feels to even put that on paper now- and not even blink at it- is indescribable. I can assure you it took me a long time to get to the point I’m at, and I want to take you on the highlights of that journey with me- and I promise you, there’s a reason I want to share this with you that I’ll get to at the end.
The first question people typically ask when they encounter someone telling them they’re gay is, “when did you first know?” While I don’t have a concrete answer to that, there are some experiences that stand out. One of them is the high school gym locker room. I specifically remember looking at other guys- some, not all (another misconception is that gay men want ALL men- I can assure you that is not true)- and finding them attractive. While many straight men can say if another guy is handsome, I remember feeling that it was more than that. There was definitely a sexual attraction of sorts; however, I wasn’t ready to come to terms with it. I decided that maybe I was bi- or maybe it was just a “weird thought” and I bottled it down inside.
This didn’t stop people from asking if I was gay, which I definitely got asked more than once. I remember one incident- in the same locker room I described- where I was definitely checking out one of my friends legs and he full on asked if I was. I shook it off, insisting to him that no, I wasn’t, and told him I didn’t know what he was talking about. I also remember a few people at times using the derogatory “f” word in my direction, but I still, in my mind, wasn’t ready to deal with the fact that I could be gay.
In high school, I didn’t date or go to prom. There were two girls I was “interested” in, but I was a “never been kissed” type in high school. Rather than deal with the emotions surrounding it, I threw myself into academics and became somewhat of a nerd. I pursued AP Chemistry and AP Biology. I decided I was going to be a Chemist, and hung around the “nerdy” kids, where at least I could somewhat fit in to an extent. I also wrote a lot of poetry and, while being a writer was something I wanted to pursue, my parents didn’t want to pay for college if I was going to go for creative writing. They didn’t see how that would make you any money post-college. I couldn’t disagree, and at least being a Chemist, I knew I could find employment and then hopefully write on the side.
Before getting into my college years, where things definitely started to shift, I also want to mention there are a few other things developmentally in my childhood that stand out to me as not coincidental now that I look back on them. While some of them may come off as stereotypes, in my reflections they aren’t coincidental. These include:
- Wanting a Ken doll from one of my friends for my birthday
- Enjoying playing with Polly Pocket
- Loathing sports and gym class
- Being friends with a majority of girls, and finding male friendships either not interesting or more difficult to maintain due to a lack of common interests
- Loving shopping
- Loving theater, specifically “RENT” on Broadway, which spoke to me in a way that, now looking back, should have been way more obvious than it was then.
- Wanting to watch shows like Beverley Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Sex and the City, and Queer as Folk.
- Listening to artists such as Ani DiFranco and Tori Amos (whose song “Precious Things” had a huge impact on me. I would play it often on my Discman, with the lyrics, “these precious things, let them bleed, let them break their hold on me” feeling more cathartic than I could ever describe. I remember thinking “this woman is singing my life in a song I didn’t write.”)
- Reading The Babysitters Club book series as a kid, and wanting to read books by authors such as Judy Blume instead of series such as The Hardy Boys.
There are countless more examples I could dwell on, but these are just some of the highlights. College, though, is when my journey of self discovery really started to get interesting.
The summer before college I began hanging out with two girls who I’m not going to name due to protecting their privacy. It was obvious at the time to many that one of them had a thing for me. While I didn’t act on it that summer, you know what they say about college. It’s a time for experimentation and my experience was definitely about to begin.
I began attending Rutgers University in the fall of 2005. As I previously mentioned, I was more of a nerd in high school. I never drank. I never touched a drug. I never “snuck out of the house.” I was an all around good kid, filled with a keen sense of Jewish guilt from my Mother if I even did the slightest thing wrong. Once I arrived at college, though, I decided I wanted to try a drink and I was going to try one that first night. I remember going to a frat party and having ONE beer. I remember feeling so warm and dizzy almost, feeling like I had to get out of there. Looking back, I laugh that ONE beer had me anxious and nervous and feeling like I was the biggest rebel in the world.
After that first night, I definitely began a slew of having fun and partying. While some of those nights out could fill a novel- and I would venture to guess they would be quite entertaining to many a reader- that’s not the point of this particular piece. So, fast forward a few months into college, and the two girls I mentioned I had been hanging out with came to visit. We ended up having some drinks, and sure enough the girl that was interested in me and I started hooking up. To be clear- and fully transparent- hooking up that night meant just making out and not much more. I remember feeling some sort of reassurance inside, as if this was confirming that I clearly was not gay, as I was making out with a girl. Was I interested in her? Not at all. But did it feel assuring in a weird way? Absolutely.
We would continue “hooking up” until the summer before my Junior year, which looking back is when my self acceptance really began. One night a few weeks before my birthday, our version of “hooking up” went all the way, and I knew I had to put a stop to it. It wasn’t necessarily just because I knew I was gay, but it was also that this girl was developing feelings for me that I knew I couldn’t reciprocate in the long run. There was another part of me I hadn’t discovered yet, and it wasn’t a part of my journey that she was going to fit into at all.
Which brings me to my “first kiss,” which also occurred the summer before Junior year. An old camp counselor of mine who was at least ten years older than I was (who I coincidentally remember singing Rent songs with) ended up coming to visit. I wasn’t 21 yet, so I couldn’t drink when we had dinner, but he did. We then went back to my place. I started having some drinks and one thing led to another and we ended up starting to make out. As things were potentially going to progress to another level, my roommate came home and we quickly stopped. The camp counselor and I fell asleep together in my bed, but he snuck out in the middle of the night without saying a word. I remember waking up on little sleep, feeling confused, guilty, upset, unsure of what had gone on. I remember consulting with an older, gay man I was friends with at the time to say what happened. I still wasn’t sure I was gay, but I knew that something had happened that I could never turn back from. I had been changed and felt a change and it was absolutely terrifying.
The camp counselor never spoke to me again and to this day I’m not sure why. Maybe he couldn’t deal with the fact that he had helped bring someone out or he felt he’d made a mistake or something else entirely. There are a million reasons I can come up with in my head, but at the end of the day they don’t matter.
After that initial kiss, I bottled inside the fact that I was gay still. I didn’t tell anyone, even though a few close friends kind of had suspected it by this point.
Senior year of college I ended up living at home with my parents. Two things happened that year that would change everything. One was a lunch I went to with my Mom, when I met her at her job. We went out for lunch and on the way back she directly asked if I was gay and said somethign to the tune of, “I’m just trying to figure out if I’m going to have grandchildren or not.” I didn’t admit at that point that I was gay, but I rememebr how badly that stung.
Later on that year, I distinctly remember coming back one night, quite drunk from a night out, and my Mom confronted me head on. She asked directly if I was gay. Drunk me had more courage than sober me ever would, and in my drunken state I decided that this was a now or never moment. I finally replied that yes, I was gay. And that was that. My coming out process officially had begun, my self acceptance had begun, and my journey to finally finding what made me happy had begun. I was done staying in the closet, I was done denying who I was, and it was time for me to finally be myself and find my happy.
While this sounds trite, the truth is that “it does get better.” My life now, at almost 33, is so much better than I ever imagined it would be. While it was tough for my parents (more so my Mom) to initially deal with, both of my parents are now completely accepting of who I am. I have a husband and two kids (yes, Mom got her grandchildren), a career I love, and so much more. While I have my ups and downs like any other human being, the truth is I found my happy, and life is more than I ever could have dreamed of.
Which brings me to why I’m sharing this with all of you… for me to find my happy, to be myself, to accept myself, I had to let these “demons” that were torturing me go. I had to accept who I was and tell the world. In the little time since our CELEB Instagram has begun- and now this site- tons of women have started to come forward with their truth. They are sharing stories of men who took advantage of them, men who sexually assaulted them, men who used their power to take advantage of them, and more. While this is completely different from being gay, I am certain that them sharing their stories and living in their truth is them also taking a great weight off their shoulders. When you say something out loud, it enters the universe in an entirely different way. And if it’s something that has been eating at you for a week, a month, a year, many years- getting it off your chest is freeing and powerful.
I want to encourage each of you to take back your power and to live your truth. I want you to know that, as Editor-in-chief of CELEB, I am here for you. I care about you, your pain, your struggles, and if you have a story you feel that you need to tell, I want to help you live in your truth as best I can. I lived a lot in the dark, and now I’m living in the light. I want nothing more than to help you bring your dark to light, so you can live a better life that you’re meant to be living.
Some of you may have known me before I wrote this, but I doubt there are many of you who knew my story and my journey on such a personal level. In the words of Jay Z- yes, far from a stereotype I’m a huge rap fan- allow me to reintroduce myself. This is me and I am here.