Nat’l Coming Out Day 2017

In honor of NATIONAL COMING OUT DAY … There by the GRACE OF GAY go I! When I was 16, I had the most ingenious idea. Like one of Charlie’s gay angels, I decided I would infiltrate a gay youth group as a project for psych class. I recruited by sister-from-another mother Diane, as the other angel. (C’mon Sabrina always partnered with Kelly.)

We decided to wire Di with a hidden tape recorder (before the days of iPhones), which in 1983 was not an easy thing to mask. I’m not exactly sure why we were being that elaborate. Perhaps, I thought it would be fun to capture the gays speaking their native language. Or, more likely, I was starting to develop the gay drama gene.

I should probably back up a bit. I have always known I was gay. I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb singing Ethel Merman and Judy Garland, and dancing like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers rolled into one. There wasn’t some magic moment where I asked myself, “Am I supposed to like boys instead of girls?” I never panicked with fear about it either. It always seemed natural.

So, by this time, I had already come out to myself, many, many times. When I was 14, I walked a mile from our apartment on the beach that summer to buy my dad his Sunday New York Times, because the store would sell me gay porn magazines.( Sorry mom and dad. I think you’re old enough to know.)

I came out to myself again, the following summer, when I had a very brief tryst with a boy who was on a teen tour with me in Israel. And, I came out again, months later, after I got my driver’s license, and stopped at a hole in the wall gay bar on my way home from Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s. (Sorry again, mom and dad.)

But, I’d never actually told anyone I was gay. I never said those words, not to my first quasi gay friend, who tried hitting on me six months earlier when I was shopping as Saks with my mother in New York City. (We’re still friends.) And, nor even to Diane, who was now Batgirl to my Batman in our clandestine “Operation Minnelli.”

One day, we were driving to the gay youth group, and I pulled the car over. I was shaking and sweating. I looked over at her, and blurt out, “Diane, I have something to tell you. I’m gay.”

There was a moment of deafening silence. Then, being the sensitive girl she is, she burst out laughing. And not just a “ha, ha.” More like a full on belly laugh, followed by, “OMG, no duh!”

Grateful to Di, then and now. Part of my life for 42+ years.

Coming out is different for everyone. For me, it was the natural continuation of a journey I’d been on my entire life, that happened to escalate once puberty set in.

By the time I was faced with having to tell my parents, a year and a half later, I was out and proud. By that I mean, I wasn’t ashamed of being gay. I had gay friends. Kids I grew up with knew and were accepting. More importantly, I could say to my parents that this is how I was born. It won’t change how successful I may or may not be. I will still be the same person they raised.

And my dad, who never even suspected I might be, listened to everything I had to say, and without skipping a beat, got up, put his arms around me and said, “we love you no matter what.”

I’ve never lost sight that I am one of the luckiest guys in the world. I never, ever take that for granted. I realize, in many ways, being born into the family I was, I was more the exception to the rule, than the rule.

So, I’ve always tried to do 10 times more than the person next to me to help those struggling.

Too many people aren’t so fortunate. They struggle to find acceptance from friends and family, and from themselves. It doesn’t always come easy. Sometimes it doesn’t come at all.

Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day. It’s so important that we each do our part in that process. Everyone’s journey is different. There is no right or wrong way to take a step out of the closet. For those of us who are able to be out front, let’s share our stories of experience, strength and hope.

For people who are finding their way. Try taking one tiny step. Maybe it’s just telling someone privately online. Or, perhaps, it’s just looking yourself in the mirror and saying, “I am, who I am. And that’s okay.”

To our families, friends and allies, take a moment. Share a story. Post something to show support. You never know how one kind, supportive word can change a person’s life forever.

And, yes, that is 17-year old out and proud me, 1985.

With that, mom, dad … world, my name is Jeffrey, and I’m a gay.