Coming Out of the Closet: How I Guided People Through My BIG Change

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 – the town had about 300 people in it. I knew I was ‘different’ while in school but I didn’t actually know I was gay until university. I did my 3rd year of studies over in the UK and that’s when it all started to make sense. When you’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 hadn’t really told anyone back at home on the prairies – 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 – 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 ‘REALLY’ 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 – 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 couldn’t expect them to be immediately 100% fine with an idea that was really new to them.

Telling everyone else – 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 I’d ‘come out’ 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 – 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 ‘business-like’ 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 ‘different’. By my taking the initiative to ‘let’ 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 questions…but that’s what I’d asked for. I’d kind of take a deep breath before each one and then dive in – 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. I’m really glad I did it. It often meant sitting through awkward pauses……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 hadn’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 shouldn’t tell my grandparents under the warning of : ‘there are certain things that they don’t need to know’. 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 don’t know what everyone was expecting really? My grandparents had all been farmers and I think everyone ‘thought’ they’d lose it because they assumed they were narrow minded. However no one really knew as they’d never asked, ‘Hey grandpa, what do you think about homos’?!

Ahhh! The wonderful grandparents!

The beauty of their reactions was incredible. They were understanding, and asked amazingly open-minded questions. In short – 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 who’d been cautioning about not having the ‘old’ 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 ‘this is fine!’, I think people felt a little sheepish. Lesson: don’t underestimate the elderly.

Nothing to hide

Telling everyone I knew that I was ‘me’ and what ‘me’ 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. I’ve got nothing to hide so don’t waste time in my day doing crazy things like explaining to people why I don’t have a girlfriend. Yeesh!

Being an out gay man has allowed for some great musical experiences too, as I’m a full time singer-songwriter-pianist and tour about 100 shows a year. It’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. I’ve had people ask me what it’s like being an ‘out’ performer. I like to think that people who get the honour of doing anything on a stage have to strive to be themselves.

If you’re a gay (but closeted) performer, I think you’re doing a disservice to yourself, and your audience. If you’re not willing to give your full self on stage (or at any workplace for that matter) people can sense it. It’s intangible but people feel it. Further, if you are holding something back the reality is that you’re spending part of your available waking hours hiding something and that energy in turn can’t then be productive for you.

Be yourself and take the steps to have nothing to hide and doors will start to open. It’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. It’s ultimately led to a much more confident and happy life.

Jeffery Straker

Singer-songwriter-pianist Jeffery Michael Straker performs over 100 shows per year across Canada. He recently recorded for CBC radio’s ‘Canada Live’, had a music video chart in the top 10 on Much More Music Canada and in 2012 toured in Africa. Tour stops range from intimate house concerts to club & theatre shows and include a recent sold-out concert (capacity 2000) with the full Regina Symphony Orchestra. Visit www.jeffstraker.com for more info + tour dates.

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22 Comments

  1. Hi Jeff!

    What a fantastic story! And what a great way to reveal your true self to your friends; by appointment. I love that.

    I trust and hope that your father’s anger dissipated quickly. I’m the father of three boys and one girl. Their mother and I raised them is such a way that we hope and pray that if they “discovered” (is that the right term? IDK) they were gay they would have no compunction about telling us. Our reaction would likely be. “And?”

    Sexual preference has nothing to do with the value of a person. It sounds like your experience in coming out to your friends and family was better than many other stories we hear about. I’m happy for you and enjoyed reading your story. Thanks.

    ~DC

    Reply
    • hi! I was going to post a bit more about my mom & dad but since you asked!— my dad’s anger did slowly disappear. It took awhile but he’s pretty cool with things now and we’ve certainly grown closer. My mom’s crying when I told her I was gay was the strangest thing. For a few years I interpreted the tears as ‘sad’. But when we really got to talking about it WAY after I dropped the bomb, she told me that they were tears kind of for herself. For being a mom (who is the closest person to a child) and not having seen that I was gay. She kind of felt like she’d failed a little. It was so self-less it was really amazing. I never imagined that as a possible reaction. But it just goes to show, communication and chatting things through is ‘rather’ important. You can make up meaning to anything if you want to and you can be very wrong about it! Glad u liked the post sir!

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  2. Jeffrey, I am so impressed with how you told everyone and opened yourself up to criticism. But, more importantly, you opened yourself up to growth. Living your life as you want, and not how others might want you to, is so liberating. You don’t have to go around pretending. I am not gay, but I have gone through a great deal of my life acting several parts (and to think I was a teacher and not an actress and can never hope to earn an Emmy or Oscar!).

    Our approach to life isn’t for everyone, nor would I want it to be. I love learning to live my own authentic life every single day.

    Oh, and grandparents are the best. Our family had a very similar situation to yours, and they handled it so well – better than anyone, in my opinion. Many elderly people are wise. They know that their days are numbered, and I think they often see things much more clearly than the young.

    Beautiful post! Many thanks for sharing your story!

    Reply
    • hey Tammy – glad u liked the post. ‘Authentic’ is the word, absolutely. Learning (or trying) to live life through authenticity is the key. loved your response

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  3. Thank you so much for your open heart and your courageous spirit. This story genuinely touched me and I am grateful to have read it.

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    • Thanks Juliette

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  4. Thanks for featuring this story on the blog! I really appreciate it. it was actually kind of liberating to type and it happened a few yrs ago so it was neat to sum it all up. love lots of the other stories on here too! cheers JS

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  5. Jeffery daring to be who you truly be is what I believe will change the world.
    You are an amazing person and performer.
    The gifts you bring to the world are so much more than your musical talents.
    Thank you for being an amazing example of embracing yourself and allowing those important in your life the opportunity to do the same.
    BTW-your notes about your grandparents…totally agree. They are all so much more conscious then we often give them credit for.

    Reply
    • Christine, those are some lovely words coming from you. thank-you. And yes, grandparents….all that life experience sitting there inside them just waiting to be tapped into.

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  6. Hey Jeff,

    Loved reading your story. You will always be to me that wonderful energetic talented boy I used to babysit (even though you’re all grown up now), you had a shining star even at that time. Christmas was always special for me as you, Jill and your Mom would always sing or play something at Christmas Eve service. Flute, fiddle, etc. How many of us can say that we made a career out of doing something that we love. Thanks for sharing your story with others who may find strength and comfort in your honesty.

    Reply
    • oh Tammy – so nice to see such a personal connection posting about this! thanks for that. There’s a whole separate story that could be written about ‘encouragement’ from people around us. I feel lucky to have had a lot of amazing, encouraging, non-judging people in my midst.

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  7. Hey Jeff- you did this on my 32nd birthday! What a great day to do something so inspiring :)

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    • Happy birthday! glad something in that resonated with you Codi

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  8. Wonderful and up lifting story Jeff. I wish I had “come out” earlier in life. But the past is just that..the past! Move forward, I know I feel much happier, more at peace with being the true me with nothing to hide. I had one elderly aunt aunt who I was was very concerned about telling, she is in her 80’s, her response was so full of love and acceptance. Nothing changed in our relationship, we are still very close. Some family members have ongoing issues and no longer keep in touch with me, but that is their issue, life is far to short. See you next weekend @ the concert!

    Reply
    • Yes indeed – move forward eh? so true. there comes a point somehow, where you realize that no matter what you do you certainly won’t please everyone. And to just get on with it is the best thing to do. good for you for doing so.
      (PS – looking forward to the symphony concert!)

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  9. Hello Jeffrey,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. You’ve amazing courage and strenght. It takes a special person to share their story as you have. May you continue to inspire everyone though your music. I know the best has yet to come! Your family must be so proud of you!

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    • you’re so encouraging – the best is yet to come! I hope so too cheers

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  10. Thank you for sharing your story Jeffery! As a Saskatchewan performer, you lead, motivate and teach in so many ways. My favourite lessons from you are honesty and openness, respect for self, family and community,as well as passion, pride and courage! These are so important for the continued development our province’s youth.
    You are inspiring the change I want to see!

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    • oh wow – that’s so kind of you Deadra!

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  11. Hey Jeff, WOW! What a story. I’m so glad you chose to share it. I have known for a long time that you’re a very special person. I’m proud to be your friend (and grateful too.) Love you!!! muah (virtual kiss)

    Reply
    • Mona! glad u read it. it’s been burbling around in me for awhile and I’m lucky that it got a chance to appear on a blog like this. thanks for the kind words. xo

      Reply

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