I didn’t come out until I was 31.
They say it’s a continuous process that you’re never done with, but if you measure by the yardstick that “you’re not really out until you tell Mom and Dad,” then I came out to my parents in 2000, over sandwiches at the kitchen table in Orland, Maine.
I’d told my brother a couple years before—my goal was to get this over with before I was 30—but it took slightly longer to tell my parents. I don’t know why, apart from the garden-variety fear. I had little to lose in a material sense: I was living a thousand miles away in St. Louis, I had a secure, well-paying job, I’d just bought a house. If my parents disowned me, I wasn’t going to be thrown out on the street without any way to care for myself.
I would, however, lose the two people I loved more than anyone else in the world.
So, I went to Maine for a visit. We stopped at Tozier’s on the way home from the airport to pick up sub sandwiches—they call them Italians up there. My father had had a heart attack a year or so earlier—seriously, I was not worried that my news was going to send him into the hospital again—and I remember him asking me when we got home if I wanted to see the surgery scar.
“What? God, no!” I said. (I still don’t want to see the surgery scar.)
Mom cut the sandwiches and put them on plates. I stopped eating after a few bites and told them I had something I wanted to talk about with them. And then I proceeded to hem and haw, prefacing my prefaces with even more prefaces. My coming-out speech needed an editor.
Turns out, my mom’s a good editor.
“Oh, just spit it out,” she said.
“Fine! I’m gay.”
“Do you feel better now?”
“Good. Now eat your sandwich.”
Later, my father, the retired Marine, the one who’s been shot at and bombed and worked in explosive ordinance disposal (and still has all of his fingers, which is a feat in that line of work), said he felt like he’d let me down. He couldn’t believe I’d spent so many years carrying around that knowledge and not feeling like I could unburden myself. Being gay isn’t a burden, of course, but I think I know what he meant—that keeping a secret from people you care about is a burden in itself, and it keeps you from being who you truly are around them.
Amazingly, none of us cried, but then, we are Mainers.
How could I ever have doubted them?