Frankly My Dear, I’m Gay
“Before you echo ‘Amen’ in your home or place of worship, think and remember… a child is listening.” — Mary Griffith
Hazardous Waste: Do Not Dispose of in Trash
I still remember the first time I felt disposable. I was just a boy, listening in on my parents as they bickered back and forth about a very disturbing scene that they saw on TV. The sound of disgust and anger filled the room and my step-dad quickly changed the channel. I thought to myself, “What could they have been watching that was so bad?”
I heard my step-dad boldly say, “Thank God our son isn’t a faggot.” While I didn’t know what a faggot was, I could tell that it wasn’t a good thing and whatever was on the TV had obviously interrupted their peaceful night at home on the couch. But what he said next, unknown to me at the time, would be the first nudge towards a path of emotional and psychological turmoil. His words, spoken with a fiery passion, brought about that feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach, nervousness, and a sense of unease. He said, “If he were gay, I’d beat his ass and kick him to the curb.” I saw the dark silhouette of my mom nod in agreement, and that was the first time that I realized my parent’s love wasn’t unconditional. Those words weighed heavy on my mind as I tried to fall asleep that night. I couldn’t shake the idea of my parents treating me like that because, until that point, I was oblivious to the fact that your parents didn’t have to love you. I wasn’t sure as to why I felt the way that I did. I didn’t know that I was gay or even what the word really meant. I just knew that my parents had drawn a line in the sand upon which I was never to cross. I was only 6 years old at the time.
That scene with my mom and step-dad still plays in my head from time to time as I make my way through my mid-20’s, trying to figure out who I am and where I fit in this world. Thinking back to that moment often leads to feelings of anxiety and self-loathing, so I try not to go there. But it does help to reflect on how my past experiences have culminated into the biggest coming out story this side of the Mississippi. Okay, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away with myself.
No Place in Heaven
Growing up in rural Arkansas meant that I was automatically indoctrinated into the Southern Baptist Church. I mean, everyone who’s anyone was there every Wednesday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday evening. I remember riding the bus with my friends and talking about how excited we were to spend our Awana Bucks after service.
I couldn’t have cared less about learning scripture or understanding the core beliefs that the bible taught. It all just seemed a bit off to me. But the one about a man lying with another man seemed even more ridiculous to my young, developing mind.
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” — Leviticus 20:13
I remember wondering why God would want someone to die for loving another person, even if they were two men. After all, doesn’t God love all his children? Didn’t he sacrifice his own son for his people? So, why in the hell would he wish death upon anyone for any reason? This didn’t sit well with me and it led me to ask more questions. Anytime I brought up the conversation about two men, I would get strange looks and no answers. I eventually stopped going to church which, unfortunately, made me an outcast among my friends.
By the time I was in middle school, I knew I was different. I didn’t fit into the box that society had set aside for boys my age. While I didn’t wear my mama’s high heels or play with pretty dolls (my parents would have had a fit), I found that my interests didn’t align with the other boys my age. I didn’t like sports, action figures, or roughhousing with the other kids. I was more of a quiet, curious kid looking to make sense of the world.
Being bullied at home and at school was just another part of my day. I guess it was easy for other kids to pick up on my differences and it made me a target. Some of the worst bullying came from two brothers that lived in my neighborhood who were a grade or two ahead of me. For years, I was beaten and harassed by those boys. I guess they got a kick out of watching me hunch over in fear and in pain. When I was 9 or so years old, I finally stood up to them after they knocked me off my bike with a metal baseball bat. But it was two against one and I found myself yet again sandwiched between the cold concrete sidewalk and their heavy boots.
I soon realized that I didn’t really like any of the girls in my grade. My fascination with other boys, though, was a realization that hit me harder than that cold metal baseball bat. At first, I thought they were just cool, you know? The boys who played sports would take their shirts off and I would think, “wow, I wish I could be out there doing that.”
I often found myself wanting to be like the other boys. Of course, I didn’t realize that I was attracted to them, and I certainly didn’t think much into why I felt that way. I just knew that it felt wrong. I knew that I had to stop looking at them because I would be recognized as a freak and from what I learned in church, God wouldn’t like that very much.
In hindsight, I always knew that I was gay. There wasn’t any single event that made me aware of it, but by age 13 or so it became increasingly obvious to me that I had no interest in girls and that boys were my thing. It is unfortunate that I found myself alone in a world of bigotry and homophobia at such a young age because it had such a profound impact on my life. The environment in which I grew up had conditioned me into the very back of my walk-in closet, right next to my step-dad’s musky old pair of work boots.
Say You Love Me
I met one of my best friends in Jr. High, right around the 7th grade. We spent countless nights staying up to watch YouTube videos or to tinker with our computers (we were both really into technology). He was one of those friends who would just show up at your house and help themselves to whatever’s in the kitchen and your parents wouldn’t even mind.
Like most gay men before me (and those to come), I started to develop some feelings for my straight best friend. That’s your cue, Steve Grand. It’s pretty common for gay guys to develop feelings for their straight guy friends, just as it’s totally normal for developing teenagers to go stir crazy from their emotions. But amidst the whirlwind of feelings that I was having, I knew two very important things:
- I didn’t want to lose him as my best friend.
- I needed to get over whatever feelings that I had for him, fast.
I tried my damnedest to push my feelings aside and find other things to focus on when I got a little too, ahem, excited.
Thanks to an unfortunate breakup with his girlfriend, I had the chance to ask him about what he thought about the LGBT community. See, his girlfriend at the time had come out to him as bisexual so they broke up. It was as if the universe had arranged for this one opportunity to ask him about his stance on homosexuality without raising any questions.
His response wasn’t what I had hoped for, but it was exactly what I had expected.
“I don’t mind what they do, that’s their business, but I wouldn’t want them in my circle of friends.”
So, what does an emotionally traumatized, lonely, closeted kid in the middle of Arkansas do when his best friend that he now has feelings for tells him he wouldn’t be his friend if he knew he was gay *breathe*?
Let’s just say there’s a reason as to why I’m just now writing this, some 13 years after that conversation took place.
I compartmentalized all the thoughts and feelings that I had about other men, locked them up, and threw away the key. There was absolutely no way I could ever be a homosexual. I remember telling myself over and over that I would never look at another guy again. It was disgusting and wrong. By God (yep, him again), I was determined to be straight.
One of the best things that you can do to get over someone is to put some distance between the two of you. I, being the stubborn homosexual that I am, had to learn this the hard way. We ended up moving in together after graduating from high school, which made the process a lot harder than it had to be.
We’re still friends to this day, but I haven’t confessed to him my attraction towards him or that I’m gay. He has a girlfriend and kids now and perhaps he’s changed his views on the LGBT community. After all, when I asked him, he had just broken up with his girlfriend because she was bisexual.
I still fear what will happen when he finds out the truth, and that is something I am going to have to work through. It appears unraveling all the lies that I told to protect myself from being hurt will undoubtedly bring about the very pain that I so desperately tried to avoid. But this is my truth, and I cannot hide from it anymore.
Not the End of Me
Tears for Fears had it right, it’s a mad world. There’s nothing worse than watching life pass you by while you stand idle in the distance, too ashamed and afraid to live authentically.
I found comfort in a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pair of headphones. Drinking became a daily ritual to numb the pain and keep any bad thoughts at bay.
Then, out of the blue, something happened that went against everything I had thought to be true about myself and my sexuality. I befriended, fell in love with, and married a woman.
I was a borderline alcoholic when I agreed to go out with her. After all, I had hit my lowest point in life (so I thought). I wanted to be straight and here was a girl who I connected with and happened to like. So, I went for it.
The feelings that I was having for her were heightened by the fact that I had gone so long without the emotional comfort of another person. After all, I was emotionally dead, with no room for love or happiness, but keen enough to let out a casual smile every now and then to make people think that I was okay. I hadn’t genuinely smiled for a long time until I met her. She made me feel like I could find peace as a straight man, which was something I was desperate to do at the time. I wholeheartedly believed that I had overcome the disease of homosexuality and that I could be a happy guy in a normal relationship.
She introduced me to her son not long after we started dating. He was 6 years old at the time and he lived with his dad in another state.
It killed me to see her away from him, but she couldn’t travel or care for him as a single parent. So, I made the 2-hour drive every weekend to pick him up and take him home.
We dated for 6 months or so before we moved in together (we picked out a house and I surprised her with it, fully furnished, keys in a card, on Valentine’s day) and we got married after a year. I loved my family and finally found a bit of happiness in life. I quit drinking cold turkey and settled in as a husband and step-dad.
It was my goal to be the best role model for them and do my best at parenting. We shared unofficial custody with his dad (more on him in a minute).
Over time, our relationship got complacent and we started to argue excessively. While I don’t remember why we argued, I always remember feeling like I was never enough for her. I also felt like I was never fully satisfied in the relationship. Yes, we had good times and I was overall happy, but I never felt complete. This led to some insecurities and without warning, those thoughts about men started to creep back into my mind. I didn’t know what to do or how to process what was happening at the time. The fact that I was thinking about another person while married went against all of my fundamental morals and beliefs. But before I had the chance to even think about what it all meant, I found out that she was cheating on me with her son’s father. I came home from work (we had an argument the night before) and she decided to leave for her mom’s. Her family told me a few days later that she ran off with him minutes after I dropped her off.
I was heartbroken, depressed, and ready to give up after our marriage ended. The only grasp that I had on a happy life had walked out the door with her son. I still remember her hugging me and reassuring me that we’d figure things out. I remember her son not wanting to let me go as she started to take her bags to the car. Little did I know, this would be the last time that I’d ever see him again. It took weeks of begging before I realized she had removed both of them from my life completely. I felt as if I had lost my own child.
Amid a shattered world, I found solace in knowing that her son was reunited with his mom and dad, together, as a family. Also, once I got over the initial shock of things and had a chance to analyze everything, I felt a bit relieved that I no longer had to try so hard to be with her. But where did that leave me? I felt so broken and unwilling to go on. Every time I saw an attractive man, I felt like I was doing something wrong by even thinking about him in any sort of way. As time went on, and I had less and less contact with other people, those feelings started to consume me. I had become so deprived of what I wanted most, I eventually gave in and started to explore my forbidden side. I had to finally say, “Enough is enough.”
It took me nearly a year to get over my relationship, and in that time, I ate my feelings. I had a lot of feelings… 375lbs worth of feelings to be exact. I was financially broke after my divorce, in horrible health, and mentally, I was a mess. But somehow, I managed to pick up the pieces of my shattered life and start over.
Looking back now, I am grateful for the pain and suffering that came after it all ended. I also know that I was not emotionally stable enough to be in a committed relationship. While she treated me so badly during the last few weeks of our marriage, I feel like I got what I deserved for trying to be someone that I wasn’t… for dragging two people down into my whirlwind of a life in hopes of making myself happy.
I found out that rock bottom indeed had a basement, and I had made my bed in the darkest corner of the room. But when you are at your lowest point in life, there is not much that you can do other than give up or fight like hell to pick yourself up, brush off your shoulders, and stumble up the cold, concrete stairs that led to an even more frigid, scarier world. And that’s what I did. That’s what I’m doing right now as I write my story.
Frankly My Dear, I’m Gay
After my divorce, I found myself sitting in my parent’s house staring at the blank walls of my bedroom wondering what I was going to do with my life. I had dropped out of college, gotten my heart torn to shreds, filed for bankruptcy, and moved in with my mom to help her care for my two adopted sisters after my step-dad unexpectedly left the picture (he didn’t die, well he did die, but not until after he royally f*cked up our family and left…but that’s not my story to tell.)
One thing was for sure… I couldn’t pretend to be someone that I wasn’t anymore. Life was miserable for me because of it and I was terrified of what I might do to myself should I continue to imprison myself in my figurative closet. I had to find a way to get some resemblance of my life back, even though I had no idea what that might look like.
I finished college and soon started my own web design business. Back in the early part of 2018, I officially came out to myself as gay. It took a lot of soul-searching and reasoning through all the experiences that I had been through to get to the point where I could even say those words to myself out loud. I had to really think about my marriage and figure out the feelings that I had for my ex-wife because they were in fact real. But above all else, the only other option that I had at the time would have led me to an early grave, so I didn’t have much of a choice. It was either live authentically, as a gay man or die because I couldn’t bear to live again as I had for so many years before. I couldn’t lie to myself anymore.
On October 11, 2018, I came out to my older sister who grew up and lives in California. It was the scariest moment of my life and I cried for a good hour before and after sending her the text message. This was a pivotal moment in my life because I finally let someone in on the big secret. I had never been as vulnerable as I was then, telling her something that I at one time was so ashamed of. It was such a liberating moment for me, and for once in my life, I could finally see light at the end of the tunnel.
I wish that I could have mustered up the courage to tell her sooner. She might have been able to help me navigate my life and see things from a different perspective.
Looking back, I wish I would have called her instead of sending a text message and playing down the importance of that moment. But it got the message across and it was easier for me to do it that way.
During our conversation and in conversations afterward, we made a commitment to get me to California within the next 5 years.
I know that I’ll be happier there and I can be open with my sexuality without the fear of repercussions, but I now must decide on how to tell my mom and my dad (biological dad, if you’re confused).
Even though my mom loves me, she still carries with her those same beliefs about homosexuality that I heard as a child, eavesdropping on their conversation in the living room. Having to live a double life was bringing back those same feelings that I had when I was totally in the closet, so I decided to go ahead and tell her and just hope for the best. If all else failed, I could leave for California and ask to crash on my sister’s sofa.
Before I could get the chance to tell my mom that I’m gay, my little sister (one of the two adopted sisters that I have) told us that she was bisexual. Let me just say that sh*t hit the fan. Our mom did not handle the news well, as I had foreseen during my own times of contemplating telling her my truth. This kind of forced me to come out to my little sister because I didn’t want her to feel alone like I did. I was conflicted about whether I should come out to my mom and tell her that she has two gay kids, but I stood the risk of being forced to leave. I didn’t want to stay for my sake. I didn’t want my little sister to be left alone without someone in her corner to back her up and put our mom in place when she starts spewing her homophobic slander.
Our family shunned my little sister and started putting my mom down for “raising her that way.” This is the same family that also disowned my cousin for dating a person of color on Christmas Eve. She couldn’t even come to our Christmas dinner.
Part of me wants to believe that my mom just needs to be educated on LGBT issues. I will always love my mom and I’ll probably always seek her approval, but if she doesn’t come around sooner or later, I will have to leave if I am to ever obtain the life that I so desperately want. I don’t want to have to hide who I am in my own house. I can’t continue to lie about who I’m dating or where I am going or why I haven’t met a girl yet. As hard as it is to say, I must prepare myself for the possibility of giving my family up to pursue the fulfilling life that I know I deserve.
It has taken me a long time to get to where I am today, and I am not anywhere close to living the life that I have only dreamed of having since I was a kid. But I have made amazing progress in my physical and mental health along the way. I’ve lost over 100lbs, cured my hypertension, and got off all medications. I have since met a few people who have shown me that not only is my situation too common among LGBT people but that it does get better in time. I still come across a lot of hatred towards the LGBT community. Arkansas still isn’t the safest place for LGBT people, but I have started to voice my opinion in hopes that someone will hear me and have a change of heart. Coming out to myself was the catalyst to all of the transformations that I’ve made so far in my life, and I will continue making progress until the day comes that I can proudly tell the whole world that Frankly My Dear, I’m Gay.
“Part memoir, part self-help book, Frankly My Dear, I’m Gay takes readers on a light-hearted, poignant, humorous, and multi-faceted journey out of the closet, with a nationally known author, blogger, podcaster, speaker, and Coming Out Coach, Rick Clemons. Embracing the trips, falls, and triumphs of learning to walk in a new set of heels, Clemons brings a fresh perspective on how to be uniquely you as a flag-waving, or quietly standing on the sidelines, member of the LGBT Community. Calling upon his own, and client’s experiences, Clemons doles out amusing yet sincere insights and advice for navigating a mutually respectful divorce, raising children as a gay parent, and tips for learning how to date, mate, and be in a healthy same-sex relationship.”
This book really helped me come to terms with my sexuality and explore my options for coming out to both myself and others. I recommend anyone who is struggling to come out at a later age in life give this a read.