"Hey Mom and Dad, do you have a second? I want to talk to you about something."
It was the Saturday night of my four-day fall break during my freshman year of college. I had enjoyed a great weekend at home with my family, and now I was preparing myself for it to take a nosedive: I was about to tell my parents that I'm gay.
"Sure thing," my dad said, muting the television in the living room. I looked at the TV and saw that Saturday Night Live was on. Damn. We were in the middle of the 2008 election cycle, and the country, my parents included, was completely transfixed by Tina Fey's impersonation of Sarah Palin. I considered turning around, saving the conversation for another day - after all, I didn't want to ruin the first good episode of SNL in upwards of five years.
The show went to commercial, and I willed myself to push the conversation onward:
"OK. So I know this is probably going to be weird, but I don't want you to get mad or anything. And I want you to know that you can ask me whatever you want about it, because I'm really comfortable with it." I paused and half-watched the Kleenex commercial out of the corner of my eye, cursing myself for forgetting to bring in the box in case my mom started crying. "I'm, like, gay and stuff."
Yes. I came out to my parents by telling them that "I'm, like, gay and stuff." And stuff.
Thankfully, they didn't fully hear, so I had a second chance to do it better. I hesitated a bit again, but this time I spoke with more confidence: "I'm gay."
My mom and dad both sat semi-frozen for what felt like four seasons of back-to-back SNL episodes. Then finally, my Dad opened his mouth, testing his theory that if he just starts talking, things won't be awkward. "Well," he said. "I'm...I'm really glad you feel comfortable telling us. We're really glad you could tell us. Let's talk about, let's just talk it out."
My parents' exposure to openly gay people was pretty minimal - it was basically limited to the token gay character on reality shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race.
But we talked about what it meant for me to be gay, I told them about a guy I had been seeing for a few weeks, and they said they wished I had told them earlier.
"You know that nothing will change the fact that we love you," my Dad said. "You're stuck with us, bud. I don't want this to be any sort of block to a relationship between us."
We hugged, and my mom joked that I was too handsome to be gay, and even though the conversation was awkward, I felt fifteen times lighter as I left the living room and began packing up for my return trip to school.
A few days after I returned to college, I got a letter in the mail from my mom: A card that said something to the effect of "Glad You're My Son," mostly because I don't think Hallmark makes cards that say, "It's OK You're Gay!" My dad sent a similar email, telling me that more than anything, he wanted me to be happy.
In the next few months, we hardly talked about my sexual orientation at all. One time I brought up a news story about Proposition 8 passing in California, and my parents both murmured a nod of acknowledgement without saying anything. I thought that we were going to have that sort of relationship forever - a relationship where they know I'm gay but don't really want to talk about it.
But then, over the next few years, it got better in baby steps.
In April of freshman year, Mom asked me if I had met anyone special up at school.
In November of sophomore year, I sent them an article I wrote about the Food & Drug Administration's ban on gay men donating blood, and they both responded telling me I did a good job.
In March of sophomore year, I told them about a parade for LGBT rights that I attended while studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and they seemed interested.
In May of junior year, they supported my decision to intern with The Bilerico Project.
And in August before senior year, they welcomed my first boyfriend into their home with open arms. They treated him like they treated all of my siblings' significant others, asking about his life, joking with him about how he put up with me, and forcefully requesting that he take a second helping at dinner.
From there, it was like we had broken a barrier. Mom started asking me how my relationship was doing and coached me through the challenges of long-distance dating. Dad complimented the rainbow-printed drinking cups that a friend had bought me for Christmas. They both comforted me when I cried about being broken up with, telling me that eventually I'll find the right person. And now, they proudly tell their friends and family members that I work at Freedom to Marry, writing every day about committed same-sex couples and why they should be able to marry the person they love.
Dad texts me when something huge in the marriage movement happens; after President Obama said he supports the freedom to marry, Dad texted me something like, "That's great, right?". Mom clicks "like" on all of my Facebook statuses about marriage, and sometimes she'll send me a weeks-old news story about an LGBT rights development, which always makes me smile. Dad told me a few weeks ago that he tries to read every blog post I write. And Mom made those delicious "gay cupcakes" for my graduation party this summer.
In the past four years, I've found that the coming-out process is just that: A process. For me, it was a process of having dozens of similar conversations with all of my friends and family members about being gay, what that means, and what it doesn't mean. For my parents, it was also a process: A process of getting comfortable with the fact that while their son may never fall in love with a woman, he's no different than their heterosexual children, and that they can still support me wholeheartedly in the things I'm passionate about.
Today, on National Coming Out Day, we acknowledge and celebrate that process by reflecting on our own steps forward, applauding everyone who has taken that step, and encouraging those who are not yet ready to take that step.
(This post was also published at Freedom to Marry)