The fallout of coming out

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Photo of Nicholas Clark

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I stood at the top of the staircase, overlooking my entire family. Confusion painted their faces as my shaky hands opened the trifold poster. Across the rainbow cardboard were the words, “I’m gay,” scribbled in white. I flashed them to my family.

In case the message wasn’t clear, I followed up the poster with a hesitant: “I’m gay.” All eyes darted to me and the poster.

Silence blanketed the room until my dad broke it. “It’s fine,” he said. “We already knew.”

The next thing I knew, my aunts, grandparents, cousins and everyone else who was present engulfed me with hugs and kisses. Tears streamed down my face as everyone said different variations of, “I love you,” “You’re so brave” and “I’m proud of you.” 

It seemed like the ending to most LGBTQ+ shows and films (think “Glee” and “Love, Simon”), in which the main character struggles with their sexuality and identity and, once they’re ready, comes out to their family and friends. Most of the time in these stories, everyone is accepting, or at least eventually warms up to the queer character. Even if their family and friends do reject them, the character will find an accepting group that’ll become their chosen family. At the end, the protagonist usually finds a partner and lives happily ever after as they ride off in the sunset — or something like that. 

It’s a heartwarming ending, and we all feel happy as the credits roll and everything falls into place. 

These final acts are definitely more enjoyable compared to other common queer storylines, which are often abysmal. One popular one is to have the protagonist and their love interest break up due to the pressures of living in a heteronormative environment. If that doesn’t happen, the characters may simply die from their struggles with identity.  

I don’t particularly like those endings, since they make me bawl, feel no hope for the world and tweet existentially about how true happiness doesn’t exist. They further the idea that LGBTQ+ people can never be happy because their “lifestyles” are too different from “mainstream” society. In coming out, I’m so grateful to have escaped the sad and painful endings of queer movies such as “Call Me By Your Name” and “The Children’s Hour.”

Still, it seemed that no queer media I watched was able to capture the true fallout of coming out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m so lucky to have a loving and supportive family. No one reacted negatively to my reveal, and that lifted the weight of the world off my shoulders. Coming out for me was the first step in revealing myself to the people I love. The secret was out, and, tired of hiding, I felt like I could finally exhale.

“I should be glad, right?” I thought. “It didn’t go horribly wrong, but why, then, don’t I feel satisfied?”

For the longest time, I hid anything that could be considered “gay” about myself, unsure of what my family’s reaction might be. I was an actor, playing a heterosexual version of myself: I watched “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in the dark, never wore anything too flashy, listened to Ariana Grande with my earbuds. Honestly, I deserved an Oscar for my performance. 

But as this dichotomy continued, the straight version of me inevitably took the spotlight, smothering my queer side. I regulated my gayness to a background actor and began to despise it. Although it was the authentic me, the fact that I had to hide my sexuality made me think it was taboo. I’d slowly convinced myself that the straight Nicholas was the one I had to be.

Not only that, but I also started to project this hatred onto anything queer. I’d roll my eyes if I saw a gay guy listening to Lady Gaga or look the other way when Twitter discussed the latest groundbreaking LGBTQ+ film. I avoided anything related to being gay like it was the plague. This internalized homophobia pervaded my everyday life — an illness with no cure.

All of that inner turmoil doesn’t disappear when you come out. My hiding and hatred of my queerness were tied to my identity, and it was hard to distance myself from them. 

I felt especially guilty since my family and friends were so accepting, and many LGBTQ+ people actually do face painful endings. I felt I was complaining about being in a privileged position, that I was being overdramatic. But over time, I’ve realized that pain is pain, and comparing yourself to others won’t solve your own pain.  

Nothing can genuinely depict coming out and the effect it’ll have on you — the mixed emotions of peace of mind and distress, the combination of happily ever after and Shakespearean tragedy. I’m glad I came out, but there are still many problems to face.

Let my story be a cautionary tale to anyone wanting to come out: It’s a complicated process. My humble advice: Don’t base your expectations on fictional characters. Oh, and definitely invest in a rainbow trifold.

Nicholas Clark writes the Monday column on LGBTQ+ issues in media and politics. Contact him at [email protected]