I recently “came out of the closet” and, to my surprise, the world outside my little charade hasn’t changed much — except for a newly found happiness, of course. I made this decision a little after Christmas and I haven’t looked back since, but I have to admit that the decision itself was the most difficult one I’ve ever had to make. The pressure it presented and the unknown that waited on the other side wasn’t easy to set aside or overcome. However, coming out has made my life infinitely better, and other gay teenagers should know that they don’t have to live in an environment that forces them to keep their sexuality secret. I’m saying this in hopes that someone, somewhere will be helped by knowing that, because I understand the fear, pain and doubt that keeping this secret creates.

For years, my sexuality was something I didn’t talk about even among my friends, and when the topic was brought up I would begrudgingly spout out mumbles, half-truths and lies. It was difficult, but manageable. How hard is it to lie and say you had a crush on some random girl from English? The answer is surprisingly complex. It’s both the easiest and most difficult thing to do. This lie makes you seem more “normal,” but it, also reinforces the feelings inside you that you’re something inferior.

I lived knowing that I wasn’t being true to myself. I went through the motions of daily life and kept myself excessively busy with clubs, sports and organizations, but I knew all along that it was to stop myself from thinking about the part of myself I was covering up. It was suffocating and undeniably painful to lie to the entirety of my family and friends — every sentence I uttered needed to be checked and each action analyzed. The consistent fear that someone would discover my secret was the worst part. Slipping or making a mistake was simply not an option.

Despite this dishonesty, I had an amazing high school experience. I was able to make friends and form bonds without worrying about being judged any more than the average teenager. With my busy schedule, I found a love for writing and athletics and steadily whittled away the four years. Looking back, I wish I was strong enough to come out back then because I think high school would have felt more complete if everyone knew, but emotionally I wasn’t ready to let everyone know what I had kept hidden since grade school.

During my first year here at the University, the strain of retaining my facade started to become too much. I had trouble sleeping and, despite the fact I was living away from home, I still had to watch everything I said. Why could other people live their lives and be happy, but I couldn’t? I decided to take my life into my own hands and come out. After a near heart attack, I was finally able to tell my parents what I wanted to for years. Without a second’s hesitation they both said that I was their son, and their love for me would never falter. For me, this was the most liberating experience of my life, and I am more than proud to say that I have been supported by everyone I have told thus far. I can only wish any other gay person who makes this decision the same luck.

The best advice I can give is to make sure you’re ready, because your life will change, hopefully it will be for the better, but it will doubtlessly change. Some people never tell a soul, others come out in middle or high school. Others still, like myself, wait until college and the “real world.” But all teenagers struggling with their sexuality should know that you’re not alone. Despite the way you may be feeling right now, you’re not. There are people you can talk to and steps you can take. If you’re not ready to tell your parents or friends, call a hotline and talk about it. Maybe there is one person you feel comfortable with: tell them. The University offers help as well, and the Spectrum Center exists for just this reason. The center has a coming-out support program and people are there just waiting to help you.

Instead of feeling isolated and weak, feel strong – the first step is knowing you have options. I’ve lived through my personal Dark Ages and I’m stronger for it. I hope reading this helps at least one person, because if it does, telling my story was worth it. I’m gay: who cares? If you’re gay too, stand and be proud.

Matthew Shutler is an assistant editorial page editor. He can be reached at mshutler@umich.edu.

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