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  • Evan McCoy

And So We Go

I was outed to my parents at the age of 15.


There are some moments in life when we wish we could hit pause. We beg to stop, take a moment, and rewind to some before, something safe and known and true. The future has a way of endlessly erasing the present and overshadowing the past, leaving us breathless in our desire to step away from whatever just shifted our world off its axis. Sometimes, we wish life could come with a warning.


If I could go back to the moment before I stepped into my bedroom and realized that my deepest secret had been lain bare to the people I cared most about keeping it from, I would have told myself this:


Stop. Take a breath. When you step into that room and see what is on that bed, you are going to think the world is ending. It isn’t. This is just a fracture, a speed bump, something that can (and will) be mended. But for now, darling, you’re spinning recklessly toward disaster.


It had been a long day. I was on a highly competitive volleyball team, and each weekend of that hot, languid June saw us traveling to some new city to play in another tournament, each one more draining than the last. It was all leading up to Nationals at the beginning of July, the light at the end of the tunnel for this exhausted team of teens who were used to spending their summer days lounging instead of training.


My mom and I had been in Louisville that day, my parents taking turns ferrying me to these tournaments and cheering me on. I should have known that their tireless support on the volleyball court would translate into unconditional love for who I was, but teenagers don’t see the world that way. To me, the thought of my parents embracing my identity was as fragile as the chances my team had of actually succeeding at Nationals, two impossible dreams without a reality to ground them.


I’d been playing volleyball all day - five matches, six matches, seven - too many to count. I was tired, ready to collapse on my bed and enjoy the next day, our only day of rest in the entire week. My mind was running on autopilot, which I suppose explains why I didn’t immediately register the fact that the coming out note I wrote to my best friend was sitting on my bed atop a gently layered pile of my socks, ready to set my world on fire.


It looked so innocent sitting there. I thought it must be an errant piece of homework, perhaps the draft of one of my summer reading essays. My dad must have found it and put it there, proud that I was still focusing on school despite dedicating so much of my time to my sport. It wasn’t until I got closer that I realized what it was.


I’ve heard the saying “blood ran cold,” but I didn’t understand what it meant until I realized what that note was. It’s really quite accurate - your heart stops beating and your limbs go numb from shock. It feels like your entire body is suddenly encased in ice, and you wonder if you’ll ever feel your blood flowing again, ever be able to move your fingers or curl your lips into a smile.


All I knew was this: somebody in my family had found and read my coming out note, and they wanted me to know they read it. Why else leave it on my bed, so gently perched atop a pile of lovingly paired socks? It could have been a message of support, but my mind read it as a warning: I know about you and your secret, and this isn’t something you can hide from.


My dad and my sister were both home that weekend, so it could have been either of them who found it. I wrote the note in my sister’s room six months prior, so I prayed it was her. I convinced myself that I must have been careless, that I must have somehow left it in her room after writing it, even though I knew that wasn’t true because of how I treated that note like a loaded gun - I thought it had the potential to ruin me. I thought she likely already knew I was gay, so her being the one to find it was the lesser of two evils.


The reason the details of this moment are so clear to me are twofold: first, it was a lightning strike moment in my life, a moment that seared itself into my memory for the strength of the emotions it conjured. Second, though, is the journal I kept from this period of time. It’s a meticulous journal, full of my thoughts and fears about being a gay teenager and trying to find my way in the world. And here’s what hurts me to read about, even to this day: my shame.


There are no words to explain how crushed I feel, I wrote, This is not how it was supposed to happen, how they were supposed to find out. I was supposed to tell all of them on my own terms. Now it’s shattered. I’m so scared, and ashamed. And so we go.


Those are the words of a kid who just lost all control of the one thing he so desperately wanted to own.


The next few days were a blur of false pretenses. No one in my family confronted me. No one said anything to me about the note. I was living in a state of constant terror, waiting for someone to tell me they knew and that they were disappointed in me and that they would never view me the same way again.


But instead, I was treated with painstaking normalcy from every member of my family, until I was ultimately able to convince myself that no one had read the note: they had simply found a piece of paper, assumed it was mine, and placed it on my bed.


Like all teenage delusions, that one was shattered when my parents confronted me over dinner a week later, all of us sitting with styrofoam boxes full of chicken wings in front of us. I don’t remember the details of what they said, but the message was this: we found your note. We read it. We know you’re gay, and we love you just the same.


In the note, I had written to my friend about the fear that my parents wouldn’t love me anymore once they knew I was gay. They had given me no reason to think they would turn their backs on me. But they didn’t have to when society told me, again and again, that being gay was wrong. That being gay was a sin. That being gay made me different, and that being different was bad. That my gayness inherently changed me, othered me, ostracized me.

That hate was all I knew, so why would I think my parents would love me?


But love me they did. I’m one of the lucky ones, and I am grateful for that each and every day. My parents needed to come to terms with my sexuality and deal with it in their own way. I have a feeling it caused more of an emotional toll than they allowed me to see, and I’m grateful they kept that hidden from me.


Nothing changed after that, except that I could breathe.

My parents are wonderful for how they treated me after discovering I was gay, but that’s how parents should treat their children. That’s what being a parent is: loving your child unconditionally. The parents who kick their gay children out, who refuse to support them, who “accept” it but then ignore that aspect of their identity - those aren’t parents at all. They are cowards.


To this day, I don’t know how my dad found the note. I talked to him about it today, actually, and he insists he found it on my bed, read it, then put it back. I believe him. But I know for a fact that it was tucked away in my closet. Maybe there’s a supernatural force at work that knew that was the right moment for me to reveal myself to them, or maybe there’s a more rational explanation for how the note got to my bed.


What kills me is that I will never truly know.


He never told my sister, and for that I’m grateful. I came out to her later, stepping into her room at the beach house we were renting in South Carolina and leaving my heart on her bed. She never stopped loving me for an instant.


This is what I ultimately learned: that the trials we overcome in life weave the fabric of our successes. Being outed to my family made us closer. It made us confront the deepest parts of ourselves and expose them to each other, leading us toward a healthier future.


My story has a happy ending, but many of these stories do not. I urge you all to lead your lives with compassion and never be the villain in someone else’s tale. Love is always stronger.


The lives we lead will take us to unexpected, wondrous, brutal places.


And so we go.


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© 2018 by Evan McCoy