In honor of National Coming Out Day, I decided to open up a bit about my own coming out story and how having more LGBTQ representation in stories and in the media could’ve made it so much easier. We all want to feel represented. This is why representation is so important to me.
When I first started to understand my sexual orientation, it was a question mark. It was an ambiguity, an abnormal piece of me that I couldn’t comprehend. I feared it and I hid it. I stuffed it as far into the darkness of my pocket as I could, and hoped that no one would ever get too close and find it. Buried it deeper and deeper.
I felt myself vanish.
It was natural for me to turn to stories to escape from the world around me. And so, while I was trying to escape myself, I turned to stories. But the stories couldn’t help me. There was a disconnect. This part of me, this thing I was trying to understand… I couldn’t find it. It’s not that these stories didn’t exist; it was that they weren’t accessible. In my eyes, it was missing from these stories, from the television shows and books.
I was missing.
As I started questioning my sexuality, my passion for writing started to take off. I had imagined this fantastical world where my friends and I were the heroes. Somehow I convinced myself to share this story with them, and they read it, and it became part of us. They’d ask me what was going to happen next. They were eager, throwing their imaginations into the mix; together, we forged something that almost felt real. It made me feel like my writing could be something important.
Naturally, as a part of the story, I paired some of them off. I thought, what’s a good story without romance? So one by one, their characters fell for each other. As for my character, he fell for fiction. He fell for a woman. Even in the story that I wrote, the story that I found comfort in, I had to hide myself. Because if I didn’t, all of my friends would find the secret I had pocketed away so carefully.
This new part of me wasn’t in my books. It wasn’t in a TV show or a movie. It wasn’t even in my own writing.
I was invisible.
Whatever this part of me was, it could’ve been forgotten if not for the spiraling pain, building a wall around me, caging me inside myself. I had sewn the pocket shut. Locked in a jail cell deep inside, how could this thing hurt me? How could anyone find out? I was the only one with the key, and even I didn’t know how to unlock the cage.
Of course, I had heard people talk about being gay. I knew it existed. It was real. But it couldn’t be part of me.
In middle school, I found another home in stories: theater. I loved enveloping myself in a character, exploring their world as if it were my reality. But off the stage and in the dressing room, my castmates antagonized another boy, one who they thought was too feminine. One who they thought was gay. And when I thought that I might be gay, I thought they’d come after me too. I no longer felt safe. This home of stories became a cage too, but it was one I knew I could escape. Once again, stories failed me. When I started high school, I never dared return to theater.
My highs and lows were tremors, some cracking earth and some just shaking my core. And throughout all that time, I couldn’t rely on my passion to give me an escape. Because for all of my life, this part of me wasn’t present in stories. It didn’t belong in stories.
I didn’t belong.
I repressed it like an addiction — I always circled back. But being myself wasn’t an option. Accepting myself wasn’t an option. So maybe I was looking at it all wrong. Maybe I was trying to hone in on my passion in the wrong way. I turned to stories once again, the ones that excluded people like me. And finally: story became my salvation.
I became a story.
I dated girls, I lied to myself, and I lied to the world around me. I forged a new persona, kept my pocketed secret sewn away, and I banished the pieces of me most likely to erode my new exterior.
Now that I was like all the stories I knew, I belonged. I made sense. And thanks to the feeling of near peace, I hid even longer. I kept crafting my story, until writer’s block hit and my character gained a mind of its own.
So once again, I turned to my passion: stories. I ravaged until I found the tears in the thread. As soon as the narratives of people like me appeared, the thread unraveled. I watched coming out video after coming out video. I found forums filled with people like me. Once I had given up on my masked narrative, the open narratives of others like me brought me back. My sexual orientation was no longer a question mark sewn shut or a story gone wrong. It was a real, genuine piece of my identity.
Toward the end of my junior year of high school, I started to come out. If not for the support of my loved ones, I know I would’ve recrafted that character and that story that I hid behind for the previous years. I also know that if my passion had shared the stories of people like me in the first place, I might not have hidden myself.
We need LGBTQ characters in books, on TV, in movies, in videogames. We need LGBTQ authors and actors and musicians. Being present and well represented is the best way to help people come to terms with who they are.
Things are changing. I’m able to find the characters that represent me more easily. Characters that could’ve saved me had they been written a few years earlier. We’ve had TV shows like Looking and books like Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Having stories like these is essential, and we need more of them. We as people shouldn’t struggle to find ourselves represented in the world around us and in the stories that occupy that world.
This is why diverse stories are important. When we turn to stories for an escape, we should always be able to see a piece of ourselves in that world. Because if that piece of us is missing, then we never escaped in the first place.