Coming Out of the Closet: How I Guided People Through My BIG Change
I grew up in a small rural town on the prairies of Canada â€“ the town had about 300 people in it. I knew I was â€˜differentâ€™ while in school but I didnâ€™t actually know I was gay until university. I did my 3rd year of studies over in the UK and thatâ€™s when it all started to make sense. When youâ€™re in a different country, all of a sudden you inherit the ability to re-invent and it was magical.
Back in Canada and all done university, I had moved to Toronto for a job I had at the time and was traveling back to the prairies to visit family from time to time. I had come out of the closet in my Toronto life but hadnâ€™t really told anyone back at home on the prairies â€“ it was easy not to, as they were so far away. I had experienced the art of telling people I was gay in Toronto but there was something about telling your parents and closest childhood friends that was a bit terrifying, I have to admit.
Telling immediate family â€“ an emotional buffet
Ultimately on one visit home I ended up telling my brother and sister and then parents. I was kind of shocked that no one had figured it out?! Afterall, some of my friends in Toronto said I was â€˜REALLYâ€™ gay, whatever that was, lol. My brother and sister were pretty fine with it. My mom and dad had more emotional reactions. Mom cried, dad was angry â€“ the whole 9 yards. It was like an emotional buffet. I got to go back to Toronto and let them process it on their own time, which is fair. I had years to sort it out, so I couldnâ€™t expect them to be immediately 100% fine with an idea that was really new to them.
Telling everyone else â€“ a managed approach
I then realized that word was slowly trickling to other friends and family back at home and I wanted to make sure they heard this in the right way. Time was of the essence, so I devised a bit of a plan. I reached out to everyone I knew with a letter or email, told them Iâ€™d â€˜come outâ€™ and booked a 1-to-1 meeting with them all where they could ask me anything they wanted. Meetings were tightly scheduled and everyone got 15 minutes â€“ I had a LOT of people to talk to.
I was really clear that they could even ask questions they thought might be contentious or might make me angry. It was admittedly fairly â€˜business-likeâ€™ and uber-organized but it seemed to be the most efficient way to get through all the people I had to talk to. My hunch was that this would be a way to help take any awkwardness out of an idea that I was all of a sudden â€˜differentâ€™. By my taking the initiative to â€˜letâ€™ people ask questions and talk about this I would hopefully make this a bit easier for people.
Take a deep breath and dive in
The phone calls were a good idea, with a good helping of awkward questionsâ€¦but thatâ€™s what Iâ€™d asked for. Iâ€™d kind of take a deep breath before each one and then dive in â€“ like diving into a big tank of water with a weight around my waist and then slowly taking it off. Reactions to me being gay were all over the map but I expected that. Iâ€™m really glad I did it. It often meant sitting through awkward pausesâ€¦â€¦but the 15 minutes was theirs. This was a big change in how people around me were going to see me and I wanted to make it a positive experience. Feedback by and large was that the process was really liberating for people.
Uh oh. The Grandparents…
Now there is another layer to this story. I hadnâ€™t set up conversations with my grandparents (all 4 of them were alive at the time) as I was trying to figure out the best way to tell them. I was cautioned by my parents & others that I shouldnâ€™t tell my grandparents under the warning of : â€˜there are certain things that they donâ€™t need to knowâ€™. OUCH! However, the train was out of the station (so to speak) and I let everyone know that I was indeed telling the grandmas & grandpas and at that point people braced themselves.
I donâ€™t know what everyone was expecting really? My grandparents had all been farmers and I think everyone â€˜thoughtâ€™ theyâ€™d lose it because they assumed they were narrow minded. However no one really knew as theyâ€™d never asked, â€˜Hey grandpa, what do you think about homosâ€™?!
Ahhh! The wonderful grandparents!
The beauty of their reactions was incredible. They were understanding, and asked amazingly open-minded questions. In short â€“ this was nothing to get in a tizzy about. And of course these people in their 80s, made everyone else take a good look at themselves. People whoâ€™d been cautioning about not having the â€˜oldâ€™ people know I was gay were simply projecting part of their difficulty in dealing with homosexuality onto others. But when these people with decades of life experience ultimately said â€˜this is fine!â€™, I think people felt a little sheepish. Lesson: donâ€™t underestimate the elderly.
Nothing to hide
Telling everyone I knew that I was â€˜meâ€™ and what â€˜meâ€™ was, is something I look back on as a good thing. With a few bumps along the way it ultimately brought me much closer to everyone around me. Iâ€™ve got nothing to hide so donâ€™t waste time in my day doing crazy things like explaining to people why I donâ€™t have a girlfriend. Yeesh!
Being an out gay man has allowed for some great musical experiences too, as Iâ€™m a full time singer-songwriter-pianist and tour about 100 shows a year. Itâ€™s influenced my writing to a degree and has certainly brought me to many LGBT events around the country to perform my music in addition to the other theatres and concert spaces I perform in. Iâ€™ve had people ask me what itâ€™s like being an â€˜outâ€™ performer. I like to think that people who get the honour of doing anything on a stage have to strive to be themselves.
If youâ€™re a gay (but closeted) performer, I think youâ€™re doing a disservice to yourself, and your audience. If youâ€™re not willing to give your full self on stage (or at any workplace for that matter) people can sense it. Itâ€™s intangible but people feel it. Further, if you are holding something back the reality is that youâ€™re spending part of your available waking hours hiding something and that energy in turn canâ€™t then be productive for you.
Be yourself and take the steps to have nothing to hide and doors will start to open. Itâ€™s magic. Guiding my coming out process was a pretty cool personal experience and has brought me closer to everyone around me, and has been really freeing. Itâ€™s ultimately led to a much more confident and happy life.
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- Coming Out of the Closet: How I Guided People Through My BIG Change - September 26, 2013