Coming Out

One morning early in 1989 I woke up and discovered that the world had changed. It wasn't a visible change, but it had a great effect on my life. For the first time, I woke up and realized that there wasn't anyone sleeping next to me.

That might not sound like much, but until that morning I had never thought about it. Being with someone had never been a conscious thought. Waking up and not having anyone there to put my arms around was a new and lonely prospect.

There was no question that if I ever wanted to find someone, I would have to come out of the closet and admit that I was homosexual.

Amazing Heroes

Near the end of my college career, a friend gave me several copies of Amazing Heroes, a magazine about the comics industry. One issue in particular was fascinating. It had two long articles. One was about a comic writer & artist named Matt Howarth. The other was the second part of a two-issue article about gays in comics. I devoured both of them.

Something in the article about gays in comics struck a chord. It wasn't in the text, it was a simple three-panel quote from issue 7 of Omaha, The Cat Dancer. Here it is.

[Rob discusses his loneliness]

This comic hit me right between the eyes. I knew what Rob was feeling: ever since that one morning, the lack of someone special in my life had become a constant feeling. At age 22, I'd never dated, much less made love with someone. Physical intimacy had never been a part of my life. And for the first time it was lonely, sleeping alone.

I use the phrase "physical intimacy" because that's the way I interpreted the feeling. It wasn't a get-yer-rocks-off urge, it was the desire to touch and be touched. Sex would have been okay as part of it, but not by itself. What I wanted was the feeling of sharing intimacy as part of friendship, like the characters in the comic.

I didn't jump right out of the closet. I'd known since early adolescence where my desires lay. Books by Samuel R. Delany and art by Boris Vallejo were some of my earliest indicators. I had a decade to adjust to the fact, and that wasn't really a problem. The hard part was deciding to change my life, to disclose what I felt to the rest of the world. Did I really want to do this? If I didn't, would I always feel lonely?

It would take some thinking about.

Lunacon Weekend

Fortunately, most of the people I knew were going off to Lunacon, a weekend SF convention, in a few weeks. I decided to stay home and make the decision then. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.

March 8, 1989, was the Wednesday before the con. Lisa, a friend from college, called about the household's plans. Though we'd been good but not best friends, I had spent one of the most fun nights in my college existence with her. She was curious about why I wasn't going to attend the con. When she asked what I was going to spend the weekend thinking about, I surprised myself and told her.

It was just like, well, coming out: my stomach was knotted, and I was sweating and keyed up. To her it wasn't a big deal. She asked how much experience I'd had, and I told her none. She suggested it might be a phase. I didn't think so, I replied, and told her I'd let her know when I found out.

So my first coming out experience was long distance.

That weekend another good friend called, and I was only slightly more ready to tell him. Stomach in knots, etc. He took it very well, and we talked for two hours. (Odd... my second coming out experience was long distance as well!)

After everyone came home, I started coming out to them. Reactions ranged from exuberant ("That's great!") to unexpected (muscular spasms). One of the most interesting questions came from my housemate Beth, who asked "How do you know you're attracted to men?". I had to think about that for a while, then asked her "How do you know you are?". We spent time comparing the mechanism of attraction.

It wasn't all peaches and cream. I told some people by email because I wasn't getting on well with them at the time. I don't recommend this approach and regret that I took it.

After my friends all knew, I told my family.

Badges and Banners

The next step in coming out was changing from thinking of myself as homosexual (a sexual orientation) to identifying myself as gay (a cultural identity). It took a while. As Joe Jackson sang in "One to One":

I agree with what you say
But I don't want to wear a badge
I don't want to wave a banner like you
But I don't mind it if you do

Happy while at the March

But events happened that changed my mind. Going to the 1993 March on Washington was an incredible experience. Can you imagine what it's like to be on a Metro train filled with people like you - for the first time in your 25-year life? Can you imagine hundreds of thousands of people with whom you share something you're finally proud of? It was the greatest demonstration of community and pride that I've ever seen.

Always Coming Out

Lloyd Waiwaiole, one of the organizers of the March, said something fascinating one day: his act of coming out for that week was telling the people at his bank that he's gay.

This blew my mind. Coming out suddenly became something that doesn't ever end. There will always be people who don't know my orientation. There will always be people to come out to. There will always be causes to fight for. There never will be a final chapter to this story.

This quote, from Pastor Martin Niemoller, is as true today as it ever was.

In Germany, they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me -
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

I'm looking forward to the next chapters.


Since I came out a number of my friends have come out as well.

About a year later I called Lisa and told her it wasn't just a phase.

At a comic book convention early in 1997 I met Andy Mangels, the author of the article mentioned above. I told him my story and thanked him. He was happy to hear the story. I picked up a copy of Gay Comix #22, which he now edits. It has a tale of Rob's first date.

It was a little late to be a good parallel, but left me feeling warm and happy.

[Rob has fun]

Last updated 29 March 2003
Rob & Rikki images ©1987, 1994 Reed Waller & Kate Worley. Used without permission. MLI photo ©1993 Stephen Chappell. All other contents ©1998-2002 Mark L. Irons.