I came out of the closet in stages.
I came out to a female friend at 14 years old, shortly after my first kiss with a boy.
“I have to tell you something,” I told my friend, still holding tight to the secret I was eager to share. “Promise you won’t tell?”
She was very patient and listened through my “I can’t tell yous” and “Nobody knows.”
After several pinkie swears and cross-my-hearts, I spilled the news.
“I’m bi.” I told her.
“Me too!” she squealed delightedly.
We hugged and laughed and talked about liking boys and girls.
I felt relieved I had told someone. I no longer had to bear that burden alone. I wasn’t sure if I was bisexual or gay. I really didn’t want to label myself. I chose to say I was bi because that’s how I felt at the time.
Her reaction encouraged me to tell another friend. This time I basically blurted it out.
As we were walking out her front door, I said, “You know I’m bi, right?”
She stopped in her tracks. “No,” she said.
“Well I am, is that ok?” I caught her off guard.
“Yes. I’m just surprised.”
Her surprise didn’t stop her from treating me the same and telling no one.
Throughout middle school and high school, I shared my secret only with close friends.
The summer after my senior year, word got out that I was bisexual. I told a couple girls in confidence, and one girl spread the gossip like wildfire.
Looking back, it amazes me it took that long.
I was lucky to have a supportive and loyal group of friends. Growing up gay in small town Iowa was not easy, but having friends I could count on helped me.
I started getting messages online from classmates. A couple of guy friends were angry, possibly feeling betrayed for being friends with a gay/bi dude. They stopped talking to me after that. Two of my female friends were upset I didn’t tell them first because they thought they were better friends than the girls I told. As if their feelings mattered more than mine.
I went to college at the University of Northern Iowa, near where I grew up. I slowly started coming out to more and more people.
The whole town of Hudson knew I was bi, and my parents eventually heard. My dad confronted me about it one day, but I denied it. I wasn’t ready.
By the end of my senior year in college, I was out to everyone I knew, except my family. A lot of people judged me at school, but some really good friends accepted me.
I started dating guys, and I began to feel more comfortable being myself. Still, it felt like a double life. I would come home and lie to my family about a fake girlfriend.
After graduating from college, I moved to Brooklyn, a place where it seemed less terrifying to live a non-hetero life.
At the first company I worked at, I was told not to mention it, but that was it. I kept that side of my life quiet at work.
The first record label I signed with said I shouldn’t discuss my sexuality. Not an easy task. Still, I dated and had fun and eventually met the man who became my husband.
Then my boyfriend, now husband, and I moved in together. My family visited NYC, and I introduced them to him as my “friend.” It started to get old.
Here I am with the man I love, and I still felt I needed to keep it a secret.
After a couple years, I decided enough was enough. I was pretty confident my parents would not take my coming out as gay well.
I sat down and wrote them a letter. I waited over a week, poring over the words, making sure I said everything I wanted to say. Finally, I sent the email. My stomach sank, and I felt scared, alone.
My mom responded in a day or two and called me a wonderful son, and said she would always accept me. No response from my dad.
I called my Grandma Wilson not long after that.
“How are you, Jim?” she asked.
“Good,” I said. “Grandma, I have something to tell you.”
“Sure, what is it?”
“I have a boyfriend.”
I didn’t think she heard me. My hands were shaking.
“Yeah. I have a boyfriend.”
“Grandma, I’m gay!”
“So what? I knew that a long time ago!”
I laughed, relieved. I told her my dad wasn’t speaking to me.
She paused and said, “Well you know what that is?”
“That’s just too damn bad.”
“Just give him time,” she told me. “He will come around.”
My dad didn’t speak to me for years, but eventually, he did come around. Both my parents attended my wedding and have been supportive since.
It took what felt like a lifetime, but I finally feel comfortable in my own skin. I am unafraid to be myself completely. I used to scoff at the “it gets better” campaign, but looking back, I can see that it does get better.
I feel free to write about being gay in my songs and talk openly about it in my daily life. I am surrounded by friends who support me.
My life may not be perfect, but I’m happy and free to be who I am. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.