John, Cornwall, UK
(formerly, New York, NY)
I knew I liked men before I knew what to call it or that it was an issue for some people. I don't think we ever stop coming out, that is the sad reality for us even with all the progress we have made. That said, I do like to mix it up at times when asked if I am gay. Sometimes I'll respond "only on days that end in y," or "only during months that end on the 30th or 31st." When asked about February, a sly wink and silence is a sure way to continue the humor. My "grand" coming out was a two part event separated by about 6 months. I came out to my friends in 1992, I was 15 and the day I decided to tell my best friends in high school was April Fool's Day.
That was not intentional.
I met my friends on the bus as I did every morning and I knew that it had to be then. I had been carrying around secrets the last month, things at home were not that great because my mother and stepfather were always fighting, our relationship was problematic to say the very least. As a result, my friends were like my family. We told each other everything and hung out all the time. The month before I came out though I distanced myself as I had discovered the West Village as well as cruising areas.
So that morning, instead of going to homeroom and first period, we went to the diner near school and over coffee I told them that I was bisexual because I thought that would be easier for them to digest. They of course reminded me it was April Fool's Day and it was only after seeing my face that they realised that I wasn't joking. The thing is, I was still lying. I wasn't bisexual, I knew I was gay and so within days I was truthful about being a gay man. I was very lucky at how supportive they were. Nothing changed with them and in fact, our bond became stronger because we were back to no secrets.
I had always had issues fitting in at school from being the class nerd, the teacher's pet, too skinny and picked on for looking weak. When I told two friends who didn't go to the same high school as me, they suggested that I meet another guy from their school who had also come out. I think it was an attempt at a set up but I agreed and it was hanging out with him and his gay friends that I was introduced to the Hetrick Martin Institute (a gay youth center in the West Village) and BiGLYNY (Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Youth of New York). I also went to my first gay bar, Uncle Charlie's at the tender age of 15 with the world's worst fake ID bought for $20 in Times Square.
I started to live two very different lives, one in The Bronx which was closeted save for a few close friends who knew and one downtown, especially on Saturdays when BiGLYNY met at The Center on 13th Street. In Manhattan I was out and proud while at home I was isolating myself from my family by not being honest. My dad died when I was 9 and so my mom was the only parental figure in my life. She was both mom and dad to me. I was also mama's boy so it hurt both of us that I was distant. Truth is, I was afraid. I was afraid of what honesty would do to an already strained mother/son relationship.
During that time I became more involved with BiGLYNY and made friends who are still like family to me. Everyone was at various stages of coming out and their stories were just as diverse. I was fully immersed in the gay scene, going to clubs, sneaking back into our apartment through the fire escape at 5am. I stayed away from home for days, sometimes with my then boyfriend, or with friends, or with whoever I picked up. I lied to my mother and said I was staying with friends from school but that was never the case. In addition to my youth group, I had a circle of friends who were artists in the East Village, they were part of the more alternative scene within the gay scene and introduced me to different types of music, modern art, and leant me books that were subversive and thought provoking. They were responsible for "gayducation."
As I became stronger and prouder, it became harder and harder to go back into the closet at home. At one of our weekly BiGLYNY meeting's I began discussing with a then friend about coming out to my mother. The first thing he said was make sure I have a place lined up to stay that night and for a few days after, and make sure I have some money just in case. I hadn't thought about the reality of the situation till then even though I knew from the group that some were living in shelters, or with friends because they were thrown out. I hadn't thought that that was a possibility.
I had very little money saved but a friend of mine from high school offered to help me out if I needed it and a place to stay for a few days. I then arranged to stay with a few other friends as my then boyfriend had been at college on Long Island so living together was not an option. In retrospect, it was very organized.
One September evening I got home late after spending the afternoon going through my plan with a few friends. The only thing I knew as I opened that door into our apartment was that I had a place to go to, a bag packed under my bed and about $300.
I called out for my mother as soon as I walked in and she answered back from the bathroom. I didn't even ask her if I could go in, I just barged in while she was on the toilet and said "I need to tell you something."
She looked at me surprise. "Now is not the time."
"Yes it is."
She looked at me as if to say "fine."
"Mom, I'm gay."
She sat there in silence.
I said it again, just in case she hadn't heard it. "Mom, I'm gay." I began to tear up because as I heard the words I said, I felt like I had disappointed her. I had let her down for not being the son she had always thought I was.
She looked down at the floor and then up at me. "Huh, well I knew you were having sex with men but I didn't think you were gay."
Now it was my turn to be shocked. "What? How did you know?"
She gave me an all knowing look, you know the ones that mother's give you when they are onto your bullshit. "Johnny, not a single girl has called this house in months except for Gaby and I know you are not having sex with her." This was and remains true. Gaby and I have been best friends since we were 13.
She then asked me to turn around while she got up from the toilet and I stood there expecting the worse. Waiting for her to explode but she put her arms around me and said "I love you." I broke down into tears. Tears of joy this time.
I turned around and she gave me a kiss on the cheek, wiped tears from my eyes and then asked, "you're not going to start wearing women's clothes now, are you?"
I let out a laugh. "I'm gay, not a drag queen."
She smiled and said, "Ok." Years later she did see a photo of me in drag and thought I looked pretty but that is another story.
Our relationship became stronger after coming out and continued to strengthen until her death in 1998. She protected me from the homophobic rants of my stepfather and was always proud of me. She became a maternal figure to all of my friends and there was always a place at her table for any one of them.
I am eternally grateful for who she was and not a day goes by that I do not thank the stars that my coming out experience was positive. I know so many people who weren't as lucky and I never take that for granted. Not even now twenty five years later.
John Lugo-Trebble considers this more of a space to engage personal reflections and memories with connections to music and film.