Shaky Hands, Shaky Heart
I came out for the first time while riding a school bus on a dark morning in the middle of winter.
That moment isn’t what I remember most clearly, though. I remember how much my hands shook the night before, as I sat at the desk in my sister’s bedroom with the chipped white paint, writing a note to my best friend under the guise of getting some homework done in peace. It was a note telling her I was gay.
I was a freshman in high school and it was the first year my sister was away at college. I didn’t have a desk in my own room, most likely because of the numerous bookshelves that took up every inch of spare wall space. Because of this, I spent much of that year secreted away at the desk in her room, living out the fantasy I’d always had of studying diligently at a desk while also soaking in the remnants of a sister I missed.
I have no idea what inspired me to come out at this time, or why I chose writing a note to a friend as my means to do so. You can come out in infinite ways, in infinite stages of life, but for me it came in the form of putting my heart and soul into a slip of paper as a lost and lonely teenager. Maybe I was too afraid to voice the words I was writing down, but I think it was mostly because I’d always been better at expressing myself through the written word than through any other form of communication. I never trusted my voice to represent me as well as my words did.
Memories are funny, because I’m not entirely sure exactly when I wrote the note. It could have been any wintry month, but I think I recall the sparkle of my dad’s Christmas lights dancing to the sound of tinny holiday music outside the window as I scratched out the note in wobbly script. I remember thinking it was a strange dichotomy - the joy of those lights against the terror in my heart. I tried to harness their energy and use them as strength. It sounds silly, but the smallest things sometimes can get you through your toughest moments.
The toughness in that particular moment didn’t come from any impending threat of danger. I was not in the process of spilling my soul - I was simply preparing to do so. I think I had warned my friend that I wanted to tell her something serious, but I was under no obligation to actually give her the note. I think that’s another reason I did it this way: I needed time to work up the courage to actually give this piece of me away, so I figured out how to do it in digestible stages.
Of course, the risk of writing it all down was that my secret became a physical object, and physical objects have a way of quickly spinning out of our control. I could have lost it, it could have been stolen, it could have been manipulated in any number of ways. Of course, no one cares that much about a random fifteen-year-old’s coming out note, but high schoolers can be vicious and it could have easily fallen into the wrong hands.
That’s why, on the dark, cold morning I gave the note away, I immediately demanded for it to be given back to me. My friend and I were sitting on the icy vinyl bus seats, whatever meager heat the old bus was able to provide piping through the air around us. The bus we rode was naturally loud, between the clang of the heater and the ambient road noise, so I wasn’t worried about being overheard. I told her that I was giving her the note, but that I was to watch her read it and then she had to give it right back to me.
Looking back, the friend I chose to come out to first is an interesting choice. She wasn’t one of my oldest friends, but at the time she was one of my best friends. There was something about her that put me at ease - she came from a liberal family and she had always been open about anything and everything. She made me laugh every day. There’s just something about people like that that makes you trust them.
We don’t talk anymore - not for any particular reason, we just fell out of touch - but I don’t regret my choice to give this secret to her first. She took it and protected it, and she never respected me any less because of it. If anything, she became a fierce warrior in defense of me when it was necessary. I would still consider us friends, even if we never talk again. I hope she does, too.
She was probably giggling internally that morning on the bus, marveling at my intense demeanor over what she surely thought was something trifling - or, more likely, something she already suspected. But she went along with it and soothed my nerves by agreeing to my strict terms, telling me that everything was going to be okay.
Giving her that note was terrifying. It took more bravery than most events in my life have required, before or since. Before you come out, your homosexuality is something private, an inside joke between you and your fear. It’s like a baby bird, protected in the nest from any form of danger hurled at it: homophobia, hatred, or tasteless side comments. As long as it remained hidden and safe in the nest, nothing could hurt it. As soon as you push it out of the nest and encourage it to fly, you are putting it at risk of falling out of your control toward something you cannot even imagine.
I don’t remember that moment much, but I remember it went well. My baby bird soared, at least temporarily. I remember stuffing the note into the bottom of my backpack as the bus pulled up to the school, praying that it would stay there for the remainder of the day. My friend swore up and down that my secret was safe with her, and that was that.
I had come out for the first time.
Of course, nothing is ever quite that simple. That note came back to haunt me in ways I never could have imagined. I think I used it come out to a few more friends, then tucked it away in a safe place deep in my closet, immersed in old projects from elementary school - a place I thought no one would ever look.
My parents eventually found and read that note, about a year later. And that is how I accidentally came out to them, completely against my own will and without any intention of doing so. But that’s fodder for another blog post.
I’ll leave this one with this: coming out is never easy, especially for the first time. If you ever find yourself in a situation in which someone is coming out to you, please recognize that they are baring a part of their soul to you, and they need you to protect it with whatever power you have to do so, and to love them harder than you ever did before.
Take that baby bird and help it soar.
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