As far back as I can remember I've always chased girls. I'd frequently buy my middle school "best friend" flowers and boxed chocolate with my $5 a week allowance. When I could, I'd slip my hand into hers at our youth dances and in the wee hours of the summer morn, I'd ride my bike over to my her house after her parents left for work just so we could sleep next to one another.
During eighth grade, I befriended my math teacher. She was an awesome lady with two adopted daughters. Her "best friend" would frequently bring her kids to class for a visit. I was pulled out of class for these special visits so I could hang out with her kids for a minute. How cool was that?
That same year, I did a presentation for my English class on what it means to come out of the closet. I don't remember much about the presentation, except that I had doodled someone literally stepping out of a closet onto a huge piece of white poster board and read a couple of coming out letters from a book that I found at the library. My math teacher caught wind of my experimental presentation and asked me to come present it to her classes.
Alone in the Dark
I came out to my mother the fall of my freshman year. We had just finished eating dinner. My mother's then husband went upstairs to do some work, leaving my mother and I to clean the kitchen. I wore a somber expression on my face that my mother recognized.
"Honey, what's wrong?" she asked.
Throughout the years, I've played the conversation that occurred that night over and over in my head. In fact, I wrote a monologue about it in high school entitled, "Alone in the Dark." Sadly, I've lost this piece but I do remember performing it in front of teary-eyed peers for my high school's theater festival.
"Mom," I said after what felt like an eternity of silence, "I think I'm gay."
I hadn't given any thought to telling my mother this information. Heck, I hadn't even given myself much time to think about it. The words just rolled off my tongue and for a split second I felt the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. Finally, all the romantic mix-tape making, carnation buying, early morning sleepovers and late night chats on my see-through telephone made sense. I. was. attracted. to. girls.
"I'm sorry," my mother said holding back tears, "What did you say?"
This was not the first time I remember ever seeing complete disappointment in my mother's eyes. The first time was when I stole a pack of Bubbalicious gum from the corner store when I was eight. I was made to give it back and apologize.
The Cliffs Notes version of what happened after my coming out conversation went something like this: I went to therapy for being gay for three sessions before telling my mother, "There is no way I am going back," and then vowing to myself that I was going to get out of Michigan. My mother and I seldom saw or spoke to one another the remainder of my years in high school. But that spring, I jumped back into the closet and got myself the sweetest, nicest, most supportive boyfriend ever. For the next year and a half, I was going to play it straight.
The Two Worlds of Nowhere
With much persuasion from my best friend, my sophomore year I penned my first full-length play entitled The Two Worlds of Nowhere. Essentially, the play served as my coming out story and featured storyline adaptations taken from the film Longtime Companion and the Ryan White story. I ask you to please remember that I was just fifteen years old when I wrote this play, and with the exception of my math teacher from two years before, I had no mentors. During this time, it was just me, my super-sweet boyfriend, and my best friend who pushed me to write the play.
On May 19, 1995, The Two Worlds of Nowhere was performed by a few of my peers in my high school's auditorium. The local press ran a small story and my high school's newspaper ran a feature story. I felt on top of the world.
I'd be lying if I said backlash didn't erupt, because it certainly did. My sophomore English teacher allowed the kids in the class to berate homosexuality and allowed one to ask openly with no penalty or remorse, "Why do fags exist?" Instead of correcting my peer, my English teacher just laughed and said "You know, I really don't know." I grabbed my bag, left, and never returned. It didn't help that the same year, my high school guidance counselor, while handing me back my PSAT scores, told me that I would never amount to anything. This led to me missing class and racking up one of highest unexcused absences on record. To be honest, I'm shocked I even graduated.
I'd Like to Start a Gay Straight Alliance Please
My senior year my new high school's guidance counselor, whom I never heard of before, pulled me into her office.
"I want to help you," she said.
"Leone, I looked at your records... I want to help you. Tell me how I can help you."
My senior year I decided it was time to make my mark. After being taken under the wing by my new guidance counselor, life began to get a heck of a lot better. My grades slowly went up. On top of doing better in class, I had taken a job at Planned Parenthood in which I would go to middle schools around Ann Arbor to talk about the importance of safe sex and sexuality in general. I also became one of my high school's Peer Advisors. I would talk to my peers who were curious about their sexuality or who just wanted to talk to me about what it was like being gay. I don't know what happened but suddenly I went from being an embarrassment to one of the coolest kids in our class. Due to my commitment to the community, I was awarded a "Volunteer of the Year" by the local rotary club.
I also decided that it was time to start my high school's first-ever gay straight alliance. It wasn't easy; I had tried the same thing my junior year, but received repeated turndowns from teachers. Now that I had a supportive guidance counselor on my side, I felt like I could do just about anything.
The winter of my senior year, I began leading my high school's women's group. Requesting help from the same teacher who sponsored the group, I requested her assistance in my endeavor to start my high school's gay straight alliance. She agreed, but there were a few rules I had to follow. To protect my peers, the group had to meet at 8pm and we had to meet in a room with where the glass doors were covered. I'm happy to report, twelve years later the GSA is still going strong.
No Dress for Me, Thanks
That spring, I attended my high school prom in a tuxedo with my then girlfriend who was in college. (Huh, maybe that's why I was so cool?) A couple days later, I walked with the 1998 graduating class. On my cap I tacked on the brightest gay pride flag I could find. To this day, I swear I received a standing ovation.
Recognizing National Coming Out Day
Sixteen years later, I realize how lucky and fortunate I was to come out when and how I did. I don't want to leave you hanging with any suspense. My mother and I did make amends and today, she is a strong advocate. I haven't convinced her yet to march in PFLAG, but perhaps this personal post will ignite her to take this next step. It would mean the world to me if she did. And yes, I finally left Michigan and moved to California for a few years. Now, I live in Brooklyn, New York, with my partner.
I am a firm believer in coming out and the importance of being true to oneself. I understand that there are a number of cultural and personal issues that stand in the way of doing so. For this reason alone, I will fight harder. I know there are others, like me, who understand at a young age who they are, but are not sure how to share it with those around them. The LGBT youth suicides that flooded the news recently are horrific and tragic and each ignited me with the passion to work even harder. And now I am in a position of safety, from which I can fight for my equal rights, and those of others around me.
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