A little over two weeks from now, on July 12th, marks the 24th anniversary of my coming out. I still think of that day often, as well as the person who held the door open for me and made space for me to say out loud what I had spent the first 24 years of my life hiding. I had grown up in a town of 5000 people, a town where there was only one out person I knew of, and I never saw anyone treat her with respect. A town where gays and POC, if they were mentioned at all, were done so with derision and words you shouldn’t say in public. Going to college, though it was also nestled in another small town about the same size as my hometown, was necessary for me to become who I was supposed to have been all along. There weren’t a lot of out gay people on that campus at that time, but there was at least one brave man, and I wish I could thank him for having the courage to go first. But the person who held the door open for me wasn’t from that small town, nor did she go to that school…she was from Chicago, four hours to the north of me. She was the bff from back home of one of my friends who came to campus when our mutual friend graduated, 1.5 years before I did. She and I became fast friends, but I didn’t come out to her until 2.5 months after that graduation. We talked all night under the stars and she opened up the world to me. I remember at one point she even said, “There’s more to the world than small towns.” With her encouragement, I started coming out to my friends: first our mutual friend, then others. They all took it well. I came out to the rest of the campus while I was giving my part of a debate in Ethics class on the topic of gay marriage. I made no big announcement, but as I casually pulled my Pride rings, which I had been secretly wearing under my shirt for months, out for all to see, I saw nods of acknowledgement and smiles of encouragement from those who knew what it meant and knew what I had just done. It would be more than a year before I told my family. I had recently graduated, the girl I had come out to and I had been broken up for months but were still friends. They knew her and loved her. They accepted me and after that the next two relationships, they accepted them too. When my mother died and I went to clean out her apartment I found the pictures of the children of one my ex’s I had sent her. That ex and I had been broken up for seven years by that time and she had never met them because we lived out of state, but she still kept their picture, I’m guessing because they had once been a part of my life.

In the last 24 years I’ve had to learn to accept myself as different aspects of my identity have revealed themselves to me. There is more to my identity than I had always thought, and it can’t be summed up so easily with a word or two. I’m in my late 40s and my identity still continues to evolve. My parents are gone, so I can’t share this part of my journey with them. I have no idea how they would feel about the next steps I’m taking. They might be appalled, unforgiving, unaccepting…or they might be ok with it, as long as I’m happy. The little girl whose hair my mother always tried to get to hold a curl and to wear a dress once in a while, never really existed, though I tried to be her for a while. When I was eight and made to wear a dress to my brother’s 8th grade graduation, I made a declaration afterwards that I would never wear a dress again, and my mother, never into dresses and skirts herself, accepted my decision without protest. Forty years and counting, still haven’t worn one again. It feels like an accomplishment.

By this time next year, I hope that there is a different name on my state ID, and I’m able to wear button-up shirts with ease. Other changes may still be ahead for me, as things continue to evolve. I’m just glad that I have more people on this journey with me than I had before. Twenty-four years ago there were a lot of lonely times. For me, it did get better, and I’m glad to say it continues to do so. Happy Pride everyone.