I had just moved back to Chicago when I decided to come out, and despite being at the center of a volcanic emotional eruption, I was determined to begin building a life for myself, determined to take a deep breath every once in a while, leave my apartment, and make some new friends.
The problem was I had no idea what I was supposed to tell these new friends. I was still working on my comfort level with saying I was gay to any people, let alone new people whose reactions I could not predict.
I made one very good new friend in particular, and when we met, everything about being gay was still so new to me that I had no idea how to approach saying anything to her. It almost didn’t feel fair to impose all that I was going through on her so soon.
So for about two months, I faked it. I never quite lied to her, but I certainly did a lot of pretending. I pretended I wasn’t crying myself to sleep at night pining for a girl who didn’t want me, and I pretended that the only thing I was trying to figure out was how to find a job. When she asked me dating questions using “him” and “guy” I simply did not correct her, and the few times my recently broken heart came up, I avoided all pronouns and changed the subject as quickly as I could.
But I knew the longer I didn’t tell her, the bigger of a deal it became, the more it felt like a secret I was harboring out of shame.
With her and others, too, I was afraid of all the things no one should ever have to be afraid of—afraid I’d make her uncomfortable or that she’d automatically start to fear I had feelings for her. Nothing she ever did made me think she’d react that way, but I had concocted all the worst case scenarios in my head. And even though I wanted to have the “well if she reacts poorly I don’t want her in my life anyway” attitude, I knew it would bother me if it bothered her.
Mostly, though, I just felt guilty putting so much on her when she hadn’t known me all that long. Telling her I’m gay wouldn’t just be telling her I’m gay like it would be if I’d been out for years. It would mean inviting her smack dab into the middle of my coming out process. It would be telling her I was currently in the midst of the most transformative period of my life, that I was on the frontier of everything, simultaneously battling how to get over my first love while trying to start some sort of new life. It’d be telling her I was still trying to discern just how to be, that I was constantly breaking down, convincing myself I had no idea what I was doing and would never figure it out.
When my article, The Brain on 23, went viral, I realized something. She, and every other person around my age, was feeling these things too, regardless of their sexuality or anything else. We are right on the cusp of adulthood, and we are all experiencing the most transformative periods of our lives thus far. We are all on the frontier of everything and trying to figure out how to be, whether that means how to pay the bills, how to cook ourselves dinner, or how to fall in love. We are all trying to start some sort of new life, and we all break down and convince ourselves we have no idea what we are doing. Everyone is uncertain, and if I was going to wait to be honest with people until I felt like I had everything figured out, I was going to be waiting a very long time.
Everyone is going through something, and nobody is looking for perfect friends. We are just looking for people with whom we can bond over a mutual lack of clarity.
When I finally told her, she said without even pausing, “I just want you to feel like you can be yourself around me.” I almost cried. I had built it up into something so terrifying, and it was so easy. Nothing changed about our friendship except that I could now actually talk about my life. That day, I vowed to never leave pronouns out of a conversation again. Meeting new people has since become a far less stressful thing to do.