I was at the Pride parade the other day and was reminded of my own coming out journey and how I sometimes remember it and sometimes I forget. I’m posting this letter so I don’t forget.
When I was 22, I wrote a coming out letter to my university roommates. At the time, it was the scariest thing I’d ever done. I’d been living a double life, the stress was weighing me down and I needed to come clean. I just had no idea how they’d react. We were separated for the summer and due to come back for our final year that September.
One note: this letter was written 24 years ago. I was dealing with a lot of internalized homophobia and judgemental attitudes, which are reflected in this letter. I was trying to separate myself from what I perceived as negative stereotypes. A few passages made me cringe, but that’s who I was, so to edit it out is to edit out my own growth.
May 26, 1993
Dear Andy and Bill,
Hey guys. How are you doing? Sarnia is Sarnia. I always tell myself that I’ll “lose it” by the end of the four months, but already one month has gone by. It’s scary how fast time flies. Which is the main reason why I’m writing you this letter. I had originally planned to give you this letter before we all moved out, but with exams and all, I couldn’t find the time. Besides, the circumstances had to be right and with everyone taking off at different times, it made things difficult. Then I promised myself that I would mail this off within the first week of us moving back home, but with work and unpacking, well…To be truthful, I’ve been postponing this letter. And I don’t really want to write it, but I feel that I have to. And I have to get this out to you before too much time passes.
Right now, you’re probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about. You’re gonna have to be patient with me, because this is really scary and I can’t say that I’m looking forward to telling you what it is that I want to say. But I can’t walk away from our 3 years together without saying something. As I said, be patient with me.
Before I start, let me just say that in all honesty, I had a really great three years with you guys. I don’t think I could have asked for better roommates or better friends. And, as a general rule, good friends should always be honest with each other, right? Even though that may mean the end of a friendship. This is what I’m most afraid of. Nevertheless…
As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been a little different the past two years. I’ve become more distant, going off to different places, meeting up with different friends. And I have to hand it to you guys. If I had been you, I would have been pretty pissed off. Suddenly, I’m not there and our friendship suffers as a result. I apologize for this. I never wanted our friendship to drift, but there were a lot of things going on in my life which inevitably caused me to drift away from a lot of people that I was once close to.
I’ve been telling a lot of lies the past three years and for this I’m really sorry. But I felt that I didn’t have a choice. You see guys, I’m gay. I’m not kidding. I wouldn’t joke about something like this. I can imagine that this is probably coming as a big shock right now. Please continue reading this so that I can have a chance to explain myself. Maybe then, some good will come out of this.
I’ve always known I was gay. Some people have a day of “revelation,” but for me, I’ve always known. Even before I knew what the technical term was. Being gay wasn’t something that I accepted easily. Up until second year university, I planned to get married, have six kids and live in a home with a white picket fence. It’s funny how much your need to be “normal” can overpower your reality. In fact, I never even admitted to anyone that I was gay until last year. (My parents still don’t know.) It was very difficult because not only did it mean admitting it to someone else, it also meant admitting it to myself. I had to come to the realization that the fantasies I once had (ie family, children, etc) were never going to be realized. I came to the conclusion that this was the way I was going to be for the rest of my life. You see, I can’t change. There was no event in my life that “caused” me to be gay. As I said, I’ve always known. Always. I think that there is some truth behind the developing theories that homosexuality is biological rather than environmental. And although it may seem disgusting and unnatural to you guys, it’s the most natural thing for me. And it is the only way for me. It’s weird and I don’t expect you to understand. The only thing that I ask is that you continue reading.
As I said before, I’ve always known I was gay. I want to stress this point, because it’ll be tempting for you guys to think that I suddenly became “gay.” That’s not true. Andy, remember the guy you went to see “Night of the Living Dead” with? He was gay. Bill, remember the guy you went to Champs with during Frosh Week? He was gay. You see, although I realize that your perceptions of me change, Brian the person doesn’t. I have to admit I’m proud to say that I was always myself whenever I was around you guys – or at least as much of myself as I could be. See, I don’t change. You only know another side to be and although I admit it’s a pretty big side, I’m still the same guy. I realize that this will take some getting used to. I don’t plan to rush anything.
I can’t say I’m anxious to go back over the past three years and admit to all the lies that I’ve told. However, some explanations are in order. In first year residence, I knew that I was gay, but I thought that it was something I could suppress. I didn’t think that it could actually become my lifestyle. However, in second year, I started going to the gay bars. There’s three in London. You’d never know they were there. One of them is right around the corner from the Ridout. I remember the first time that I went. It was Homecoming Weekend of last year. Remember when Matt and Heidi came down? I got all pissed up and staggered in there, scared shitless, but nonetheless, curious. Much to my relief, there weren’t any drag queens or leather men. Just a bunch of normal looking people. Soon after, I found myself going there more and more. The second time that I went was when we went out for our birthdays last year. I got all drunk and snuck away. Only this time, I met someone. His name was Ed and he was the DJ at the bar. I told him I was gay and how I was afraid to tell my roommates and he told me about a friend of his. This is where Lisa comes into the picture. He told me his friend would pose as my girlfriend so that I could get away a lot easier with fewer questions asked. I felt bad about lying, but at the same time, I wanted to go to the bar and at the time, it seemed like the only solution. Please understand that these lies weren’t told to be malicious. I looked at it as saving my own ass. Let’s face it, guys. If, when you asked me where I was going, would you have been OK if I had said, “Oh, y’know. Out to a queer bar.” So, I would throw Lisa’s name at you and that would be enough. I would like to say that I am good friends with Lisa. We were just never more than that.
I’m trying to think of what I want to say and tell you guys. But it’s impossible to write everything down.
Last summer, I was going down to London more and more. I was meeting more people and making some friends. The only way I can describe myself is a kid in a candy store. I was finally allowed to express a side of myself that I had suppressed for 21 years. It’s funny, because you start to become absorbed in it. The bars can suck you in (no pun intended) because it’s the one place that you can feel at ease. But at the same time, it’s not a healthy atmosphere. Too many fags in one area can drive you crazy.
This year was pretty rough for me because I was living a double life. On the one hand, I valued your friendship, and on the other, I was scared that if you knew about me, our friendship would be over. I wanted to keep things in the house as calm as possible, because school work suffers as a result, too.
I’m sitting here, racking my brain, trying to think of all the questions you would ask, trying to get all of this down in a coherent manner, but I’m not so sure I’m doing a good job.
I guess what I want most is to maintain my friendship with you guys. I want us to be able to continue on. I wasn’t happy with the direction our friendship was headed in by the end of this year. Truth is, I never wanted to stop being your friend. But c’mon guys, I didn’t feel too good when you talked about “fags” in a repulsed way. You see, I don’t want to live a typical “fag” lifestyle (ie having all gay friends, only going to gay bars, never having straight friends). I don’t want to isolate myself in that way, but if you guys reject our friendship, do I have a choice? I don’t want to live that way. Please don’t convince yourself that you could never be friends with a gay person. You have been friends with one for the past three years. Please remember that.
As far as friendships go, I want to assure you that that was all I ever wanted from you guys. Don’t be scared of me. Don’t feel threatened. There’s no need to. I just want you guys in my life as my friends. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what course we’ll take when September rolls around.
Bill – hey babe. It’s really “hip” having gay friends nowadays. You’ve always been open minded to new experiences. I think that we could get along great. Shoot the shit about literature and Leonard Cohen. I’d really like for us to get together for coffee next year.
Andy – I know you want to do what’s right. And I know that you’re going to have difficulty in adjusting to this. Please don’t push me aside. You always made me laugh and that was what I always liked best in you.
A lot of my friends said I was stupid for writing this letter. They said I should walk away. But I couldn’t do that. I had to be truthful. Friends deserve to know the truth, no matter how painful it is to tell it.
Please give yourselves time to get used to this. It’s taken me 22 years to become comfortable (somewhat) with it. I don’t expect you guys to be OK with it any sooner. If this is, in fact, the end of our friendship, I can’t say that I will understand, but I will reluctantly accept it. What other choice do I have? I only ask one thing; if you do decide to walk away from this, please go with a changed attitude towards gay people. They’re not only the men in tutus on the Geraldo show. They’re also people that you can be friends with. If you can’t accept this, then at least I’ll know that straight men and gay men can be friends, can be roommates, and more importantly, can relate to one another. The past three years have proved that to me.
I greatly appreciate any kind of response. Please take time to think things over, to think of the questions you want to ask. Remember, regardless of our differences, I’ll always be your friend.
Endnote: My partner and I got married last year. My roommates were there for the celebration. We remain friends to this day.