I'm heading home to Iowa with my partner next week. We have two big events drawing us back to our roots, my class reunion and his family reunion. You know, a nice relaxing vacation.
I reconnected with many of my high school friends thanks to Facebook. They clearly know I'm gay now. I was a total closet case in high school, but I had a fairly good closet -- I think.
Iowa has changed significantly since high school. Most notably, marriage equality is a reality. If 2010 me could go back to 17 year old me and tell him, "Hey everything is going to be OK. Some day you will be able to marry the man of your dreams," 17 year old me would have puked.
I would have puked and ran to a Young Republicans meeting. That's right, Young Republicans. (I told you I had a good closet.)
I imagine I'm going to get this question from a few people I have not spoke to for a long time, "So when did you know?" Let me answer that now, 6th grade. It was terrifying, and I felt terribly alone.
I lived in fear for 3 years of middle school, 4 years of high school, and 2 years of college.
Despite my chipper go get 'em exterior in high school, I was really a frightened and terribly depressed young man.
Like most gay men, I was incredibly driven. I was a member of a dozen clubs, the student government, the high school band, the National Honors Society, a lead in Much Ado About Nothing, and even Prom King. I was also the best damn cook in cooking class. While so many people thought I had it together, I was falling apart.
The summer after college was emotionally devastating. Once I didn't have a million responsibilities distracting me, the voice of self loathing would not leave my mind, "You're gay and you're disgusting. Either you're going to hell, or you're going to die with your secret."
I was raised Catholic.
Once in college, I found the courage to pick up the book Coming Out by Michael Signorile. When I was in New York with Bil Browning late this winter, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Signorile.
"Your book saved my life," I gushed.
"Well, I hope you're ok now," he said with a concerned look for his safety.
"I am. I'm great now," I reassured him as he stepped away.
I have to admit that going back to see people who I felt I had to hide from is very freeing.
I wish I could go back and have a chat with 17 year old me. I would say, "Hang in there. The world is about to change. You are not alone. You are going to end up with the best friend and partner anyone could ask for. You are going to be happy, and safe, and loved for being you."
I can't go back in time, but maybe someone is reading this right now who is just as scared as I was. So to you, know that you are loved and life will be good. You are beautiful and special. Please don't be frightened. Everything will turn out better than you can imagine.