For me, the Fourth of July will never just be a holiday where I celebrate America’s independence; it’s also the day where I celebrate the beginning of mine.
I could say a lot about how America isn’t exactly the land of the free for 70% of Americans that don’t live in a state with marriage equality, or how LGB people can be fired in 29 states and T people in 34 just for being who they are, or about a hundred other things that need to change – but most of us know all this. Instead, I’d like to talk about some of the wonderful parts of my coming out.
I came out on July 4, 2009 in a 30-minute, unplanned monologue filled with penetrating silences and about two dozen repeats of “I’m just not… I’m just not” before I was finally able to add “into girls.” Saying the words “I’m gay” after almost five years in the closet would have been too difficult.
My best friend Christa patiently waited, probably figuring out what I was going to say long before I said it but letting me make the difficult step. It still makes me tear up to think about what a rock she was for me in that moment and the weeks and years to follow. A couple of weeks later, we sat in her room just talking about cute celebrities. I had never been able to talk about someone I actually thought was cute until halfway through 17 – everyone else was doing it at the lunch table at 11. I remember I always said Pamela Anderson or Carmen Electra. LOL
Every single friend I came out to in Little Rock, Arkansas – where I never thought it would be okay or accepted – welcomed me with open arms. It got easier and easier as I saw my support system growing, as I was able to develop friendships I felt were open and full. No one even blinked or had second thoughts.
I got to make real change with some of these friends, putting a face to a “controversial issue” and making them realize that it’s just love and we’re just people. And even if they felt uncomfortable, even if just for a moment, they knew they loved me and they made sure I knew that too.
I came out to my family towards the end of 2010. They have shown me that support comes in many ways, whether it’s Brad’s crude gay jokes (how could he ever stop making fun of me after so many years of doing it just because I came out to him?), Jessica and my lunchtime gossip sessions, my dad treating me like nothing had changed or my mom’s newfound activism.
And then there was a moment over a year later where we got in an impassioned discussion about the minority experience at dinner with my grandmother, Jeanie, at the table. I was discussing how minorities have to face every new interaction cautiously and hyper-aware, and my family kept saying, “why do you feel like a minority? Do you feel like a minority because you’re Asian?” To which I, in the heat of the discussion, passionately replied, “because I’m gay!” They hadn’t thought of that, which in itself is kind of beautiful, but I said this knowing that Jeanie didn’t know.
Jeanie turned to me, grabbed my hand and told me, “that’s okay. You’re still naming your daughter after me, right?” As you can imagine, I went to the bathroom and cried for about 10 minutes.
Since then, I haven’t had to worry. It’s been easy, and I’ve been very, very lucky. I’ve come a long way from a scared, lonely boy who thought he would marry a woman and get over it.
I am privileged to celebrate this Fourth (both July 4th and my fourth year!) in Washington, DC., where DOMA and Prop 8 were just struck down and where equality will one day be granted to all Americans in all states. I celebrate it with new and old friends, whether they are in Little Rock or Chicago or even London. I celebrate because today, I feel independent and proud and loved (okay and really, really cheesy and sentimental). For that, I am very thankful.
Happy Independence Day.