10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was in the Closet

Originally Published: April 3rd, 2014; Updated: June 24th, 2014

Recently, I’ve had a few readers reach out to me in response to this piece I wrote about Disney’s Frozen, sharing candid personal details about their life and struggles they’ve faced in regards to growing up gay and taking those pivotal first steps towards coming out of the closet and eventual personal acceptance. Comments and stories like these touch me on a deep, personal level more so than any individual “praise” of my so-called writing abilities because coming to terms with such a defining aspect of individuality is extremely difficult and to be able to reach someone out there in the interwebs makes me feel like everything I went through was more universal than I ever could have imagined while growing up.

This is an important concept, one outlined in the game-changing “It Gets Better” campaign, but the fact of the matter remains that, despite all of the social advances inherent with internet communication (chat rooms, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and even blogs like this one), there are still many, many people out there who continue to feel resentment rooted in their sexuality and who lock themselves tightly in the closet out of fear of retribution from a society who still fears what they don’t understand.

This is a very real fear for a lot of people. Despite claims to the contrary.

Last year when I queried with my first YA contemporary coming of age novel about coming out of the closet and the realization of my protagonist’s identity through self-exploration and falling in love for the first time, I was met with quiet opposition:

“You need more of a hook than simply ‘coming out,'”

and “Coming out isn’t enough anymore,”

and “Nobody wants to read about simply coming out,”

or my personal favorite, “It’s 2013 and we’ve evolved past the necessity for coming out novels.”

I must have missed the memo that said my entire 23 year struggle needed to be more exciting, with a more explosive inciting incident. I didn’t realize that my constant barrage of self-hatred and my inability to stare at my own reflection in the mirror wasn’t enough to warrant a solid hook in a novel. I also wasn’t aware of the fact that our entire societal mindset had changed so much so that immortalizing the coming out process was no longer warranted. The inherent implication in these beliefs is that we’ve progressed to the point where coming out of the proverbial closet is no longer needed; we can just be gay because the closet door no longer exists. This implies that the closet is no longer a closet, but a large, wide-open space filled with members of every single community ready and willing and waiting to accept us with open arms.

Unfortunately, there are many people that live their lives in glass closets; they’re out in some respects (maybe online, in various chatrooms, on Twitter, but not on Facebook because Mom and Dad and Grandma are members of Facebook), but in public, they’re still walled off, living their lives among everyone else, yet confined by glass walls that render them unable to speak out, if they can even speak at all.

This fear of coming out is still very much alive, even in 2014, and I suspect that it will continue to present fear to many young people for a long time, until we reach a place of utopia where it truly doesn’t matter.

Until we become a world that parallels that of David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, I’ve decided to compile a list of ideas and fragmented pieces of advice I wish I was given by someone who had already gone through what I was going through at that time. This post was really inspired by one particular reader who reached out to me on Twitter last week after finding my blog; after some back and forth, I got to know him a little bit and the fears he faces on a daily basis are eerily similar to fears I felt once upon a time. I felt emotional compelled to write this because he affected me on such a fundamental level

10. Being different is not a handicap, it’s an asset. Nobody, gay/straight/black/white/whatever, should strive to fit into any mold. There is no such thing as “normal” anymore, and anybody telling you otherwise is afraid of change, afraid of the “different,” the “other.” What’s “normal” for me might not be “normal” for somebody else. And guess what? Gay men and women are more creative, more accepting, and less afraid to fail because we’ve been faced with failure and opposition our entire lives. Once you realize that being different means “unique” and “wonderful” and “extraordinary” all wrapped into one, you’ll be able to see that you can accomplish so much more than you ever thought possible.

09. You are beautiful. Stop having extreme body issues. In the gay community, there are some seriously unrealistic expectations in regards to body image. Six pack abs and 0% body fat are standards. For who, exactly, remains to be seen because this is such an unattainable goal for most of the population.

Don’t feel like you’re not worthy of love because you don’t have rippled abs or perfect facial hair or any other cosmetic feature you deem worthy enough to allow you to feel worthy of others’ affections/attentions. Abs don’t last a lifetime.

08. You are worthy of love. Everyone is worthy of falling love. And when you least expect it, it will sneak up on you and take your breath away and be everything you ever dreamed it would be. Trust me. I’ve been there.

I’m there right now. I’m living every single romantic fantasy I ever imagined when I was in the closet. And believe me, falling in love is every bit as amazing as The Notebook, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Titanic promised and more (hint: it’s actually SO much better.) Just with dudes. And less dying in horrendous iceberg crashes. Hopefully.

So stop thinking you’ll never find love because once you love yourself enough to step out of the closet, the world is your oyster!

07. Remove expectations. Those who reject you don’t have your best interests at heart. Human nature is all about self-preservation. When we reject something or someone, it’s because it or they don’t fall in line with what we “expect” from them. Remove those expectations. Allow yourself to understand that when somebody rejects us for being gay, they’re doing so because we don’t fit into their mold. But that is just one persons opinions/standards/expectations.

Those are not reflective of the rest of the world. So don’t let those expectations fuel your fear. There are still so many people who believe that being gay is a choice. That doesn’t make them your mortal enemies, it just means that they haven’t caught up to the rest of the world yet. Don’t be afraid of meeting those people because those are the people who, after they get to know you, will change their minds and feelings and THOSE are the moments that will restore your faith in humanity.

06. Don’t hate those around you who don’t understand you. Homophobia stems from a misunderstanding of what being gay truly entails. It’s often rooted in religious and cultural practices, which generalize the idea of gayness and categorize it as inherently evil. In other words, it’s not anyone’s fault, let alone yours, that people don’t understand you. Don’t let these fears prevent you from living your life truthfully, honestly, and proudly.

05. Don’t be afraid of the “Gay” stereotype. Being gay is so much more than all of the accompanying stereotypes. That said, don’t run away from the stereotypes because you feel they’re not masculine enough. Most of that fear is wrapped up in the heteronormative beliefs we grew up with that made us feel like outsiders in our own homes to begin with. Don’t perpetuate the hate. Embrace the fabulous.

Until we can embrace ourselves, the rest of the world won’t.

04. Be honest about who you are. Don’t hide yourself away. Be proud.

I get that most of what being in the closet entails is a lot of lying, a lot of gender neutral pronouns and nodding your head every time your dad or grandma asks when you’re bringing home a nice [insert race/nationality/religious affiliation] girl, but do so knowing that you ARE proud of who you are. Don’t hate yourself every time you lie to your family and friends; we lie to protect the ones closest to us, and most of that stems from us thinking that we will hurt our family members beyond repair if we’re honest. Maybe that’s the case. At least, that’s what I grew up thinking. In the end, it’s really all comes down to you and what you need to do for yourself to make yourself happy.

You get one life. One chance to get it right. Why waste time being unhappy? Be proud of who you are because you are amazing, you are inspiring, and one day you’ll admire yourself for being honest. Anybody who is worth anything to you will agree.

03. Take more chances. Put yourself out there. 

I waited so long to set myself free because I was afraid to take more chances and be bold. Go after what you want and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t achieve the highest heights because you absolutely can. So often, as sheltered closeted gays, we’re taught that the outside world will never accept us: We’ll never be able to hold high-powered jobs because of some half-cooked idea that sexuality matters in the workplace. Wrong.

Be who you want to be. Go after your dream(s).

But in order to succeed (in anything), you have to believe in yourself.

02. Love yourself. One of the biggest mistakes I made growing up was that I didn’t love who I was. I never did. Part of that was because I didn’t know how to love myself in a world I feared could never love me. If I thought that nobody had the ability to truly love me, than how could I ever love myself?

It’s easy for me to say, “Love yourself,” and it’s harder to actually put into practice. Spend a portion of your day reciting out loud the parts yourself that you love. Maybe you’re good at sports? Or something creative like art or writing. Or maybe you’re a pop culture aficionado. Or maybe you’re just a genuinely good person who strives to make a difference in the world. Look at yourself and repeat out loud everything that you have to offer. Believe those words. Be those words.

Be the change you wish to see.

01. “I love you unconditionally for who you are because you are perfect.” We don’t say “I love you” enough to people we truly love, and when we do, it’s done so in jest.

I wish that someone had sat me down and said to me: “I love you for who you are” because despite not being out and proud, I needed to hear it from the people I held closest to me. It was only after I came out that pretty much all of them said, “Yeah, I knew you were gay.” When I asked, “Why didn’t you tell me that?” because it could’ve saved me a lot of heartache, they all said, “It was your journey to take.” Those closest to us somehow always know our deepest secrets, our darkest fears, and for most trapped in the closet, that includes everybody around us we hold dear finding out about us and turning their backs on us. So even though I knew that they did love me, I would have loved to hear “I love you just the way you are.”

So to everybody out there struggling to find their identity and come to terms with who you are, know this:

You are not alone.

You are perfect.

You deserve love.

You are every bit as equal.

You are everything.

8 Comments

  1. I love and have always loved you JUST THE WAY you are!!!! To this day I think you have so much creativity to offer the world. I believe in your talents and you!!! I couldn’t have asked for a more awesome nephew!!!!!

  2. I was shouting “AMEN!” after every single one of these. Moments like this, my friend, are what it is all about… doing the TRUE work to inspire and heal, on WHATEVER level possible, because there is always someone going through some shit… ESPECIALLY when it comes to gay youth.

    I so could have used your novel (and this post) when I was a young, searching gay. Coming out narratives are hugely important to building self-love and esteem and true healing, and anyone who says otherwise… probably isn’t gay.

    1. It really puts a lot into perspective, I must say. Especially in regards to what is TRULY touching readers lives, which cements our share philosophy of SOME PEOPLE’S opinions being just a touch outdated……. I mean, #love and #light.

      But really, yeah, I agree. I could have used my own novel growing up. Gay fiction/nonfiction needs to be published in all of its coming out/post-coming out relationship revelatory glory! And yeah…it’s amazing how many people THINK they know what readers want from a LGBT fiction/nonfiction book, yet they themselves aren’t gay.

  3. IDK if you’re novel got published (if it did I’d love to read it, or point me in the direction of where I can read it!) but as a fellow LGBT writer (but in a different field than you; YA fiction), I do kinda agree with what they said. I think a novel does need more of a hook than just coming out of the closet NOT because it’s not important anymore, but because there are so many stories out there about it for free and currently in print (I can think of 20 off the top of my head). I think to public a contemporary book like that, and to convince a publisher to take a chance, because all lgbt literature that you want to be main stream, is taking a chance. you need more of a hook to attract a larger audience, larger than just ‘i’m struggling with being gay’. an agent is taking a risk by taking any new writers book, since its time, money, and resources they could have put towards another book; if they dont think your book can sell, or make a good profit, they wont take a chance. so finding a unique hook, not to be popular, but to have your voice heard, is important.

    then again, i think their words were harsh and very unprofessional without giving advice to you. my advice, and of course take this with a grain of salt, is to find a unique way to tell the story, but addresses the same things.

    1. My novel did not get published. I decided that I needed to go back and retool it and give it more of a “hook.” Also, I DO write YA fiction, exclusively (besides my blog posts); I have my MFA in Writing for Children.

      I DO agree that a book has to be about MORE than just coming out, which mine was/is, but I guess what I wrote wasn’t enough to make an agent take a chance on it. That’s fine. I’m revising it now while querying with a totally different YA (still LGBT-related, but different thematically).

      Once I FINALLY get an agent, the whole blogosphere will know about it haha

      Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the advice!

  4. Just discovered your blog through a friend’s Facebook and wanted to say I appreciate your posts so much. I have fallen victim to every single one of those ten pitfalls you listed and #1 is oh, so true! I’m still in the closet to most of the people I know, but every day I try to do as you’ve instructed in #2 and I feel like I’m moving ever so closer to being able to not only accept who I am, but share a part of myself I’ve locked away from the world for 19 years.

    I love reading blogs like yours because sometimes it’s so easy to, while you’re facing your own struggles, believe you’re the only one who’s ever had to endure them and being reminded that that’s not the case is so reassuring. Keep up the good work! 😀

  5. Thank you so much for this. I just “came out of the closet” as bisexual and this really helped me out. I’m glad my cousin showed this to me.

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