Seven years in prison and a lot has changed.
My cousin Johanna and I were born nine days apart in families with three kids and both of us have struggled with substance abuse. During a conversation with her last week, I told her I wanted to do something on the blog to support Pride Month.
She said, “Well, in case you missed the memo, I’m the only straight kid in my family now.”
Both her brother Tommy or her sister Jodi came out when I was in prison. When I heard the news, I felt joy for my cousins accepting and sharing who they are. I can only imagine the freedom they felt. I am guessing it’s similar to the feelings I felt walking out of prison.
I reached out to both of them and asked them to join the conversation on resilience2reform in honor of Pride Month.
Here’s my conversation with Tommy:
To me, gay pride means just be yourself. It has been difficult throughout history to talk about being gay, but today is a world where everyone can openly be themselves.
What has your experience taught you?
The idea of me being gay has taught me to be opened-minded about everyone. No one is completely “average” or “normal,” everyone has something that makes them different, and acknowledging this creates an open mind for acceptance.
If you could go back and have a conversation with your younger self? What would you say, and would you have done anything differently?
To the younger me, I would say don’t be afraid of coming out. I thought people around me, including my family, would think of me differently – in a negative way. But now I realize that people will always think of and judge others, so what’s best for me is personal happiness and growth. I would tell my past self to not think you must be ready to come out, but that your family will be happy to get to know you better, no matter when you tell them.
Who was the first person you told and when?
My friend Nick, when I was 20-years-old.
When did you tell your parents?
When I was 26.
When did you know?
I’ve known my whole life.
Talk about your feelings when you were in the closet. What did that battle look like? Did you want to come out the whole time? Was it painful?
I would say the main reason I didn’t come out of the closet sooner was tradition. Even when I had gay desires, I would still date women because I thought that was the right thing to do. I made those decisions myself, believing I ought to have relationships with women to continue my family. But after growing more, I realized my gay thoughts are not a bad thing, and in fact, I should act on them. Being myself meant I had to change my beliefs about what tradition meant. And once I had accepted that new definition, I was able to accept myself and truly come out.
Does Gay Pride Month or Week have a significant meaning to you, and what do you do to celebrate it?
Not really. I think it’s great to celebrate, but I don’t have a connection with Pride Month. Nothing too different. Maybe go to more gay bars. Haha!
Now that you’re out, do you feel love and support?
I feel very supported after coming out. I was actually surprised that some of my older relatives were so supportive. After I told one family member that I had a boyfriend they replied, “I’m very happy you found a buddy.” I knew they meant well, and that was all I could ask for.
How about you and your sister, Jodi, who came out first? Did you guys talk about your secrets with one another?
Jodi and I didn’t really talk about being gay. That is until after we came out. But before, I was too embarrassed to talk about it – I hadn’t really accepted it in myself then. Jodi was the first to come out to our parents though, which was kind of scary to watch but also, awesome because it was courageous. It gave me the strength to talk openly too.
What do you want the straight community to know?
There are probably more gay people in your town than you might suspect. Just keep an open mind and be kind.
What would you say to those that support you?
I would say thank you for being open-minded. Not everyone understands what being gay means or what life is like, but knowing that I’m supported gives me happiness and peace.
What would you say to those that don’t?
The world is changing, you might as well too.
Who has been your biggest supporter thus far and what do you want to say to them?
My biggest supporter is my friend Nick, the first person I came out to. I’d like to tell him thanks for being understanding and patient. He watched my experience with a new lifestyle and was very supportive without putting pressure on me. Having someone to listen to and talk with has been amazing. Thanks, Nick!
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