May 21, 2014 – a day that will be engrained in my soul for the rest of my life. This was my day of liberation after a lifetime of hell and isolation, and this was my moment to at last break through and take that giant first step to start living my life, or as I had done every time before, I could allow the self-doubt and paranoia creep in to push me right back into my self-imposed psychological, social, personal, and familial prison.
The simple fact is that I had been imprisoned in the closet for the last decade or so, and as I have come to know, I tortured myself and missed out on so much largely because of my own uncertainties. Faith, family, and believe it or not, Facebook aided me in making the decision to break out of that closet cell, a decision that had somehow eluded me my entire life.
Growing up as a gay kid in socially conservative west Texas is far from easy. It is even more difficult when you come from an equally conservative and religious family, one who consistently made their collective feelings clear that homosexuality was a sin. To make matters even worse, there were some within this large, complex, and ironically very diverse family that had taken their views to an extreme, with terms like "cocksucker", "peter puffer", and other crude terms tossed around carelessly every time a gay figure or story popped up on the television or even in conversation. These disgusting and, at times, theatrical outbursts tore at me each and every time as that iron closet door became heavier and heavier, making it seem impossible that it would ever be pried open. The saddest fact of this truth was that I cowered with my reality, while they flagrantly and proudly professed their ignorance.
This also happens to be the same family -- oddly enough with many of the loudest and most callous at the forefront -- that has embraced me and shown nothing but love, with perhaps a healthy dash of shock and confusion, since coming out two months ago. I find it difficult to blame the ignorant, particularly the majority of a community who firmly and (for the most part) innocuously believe what they believe. I wholeheartedly believe that the only way to change minds and hearts is through personalization and education, as seems to be evident thus far in my case. This is not to excuse the hateful rhetoric spewed, but it simply goes to further the point that when it suddenly becomes personal, eyes and hearts somehow seem to be magically opened and softened respectively.
My childhood, while confusing and undoubtedly hectic at times, was normal for me because it was all that I knew. I had fun and fought with my brother and sister growing up; I endured through a home headed by two virtual kids themselves who would ultimately divorce and fragment what little stability my siblings and I knew; and I even played Little League baseball. Nothing seemed too out of the ordinary, other than the fact that, of course, I was being defined by societal and familial expectations. Obviously, even though I did know that I was different and indeed attracted to other boys, being a kid did not entail much focus on my sexuality, which led to a typical yet untypical childhood, the difficult times having little to nothing to do with me, as these happenings were entirely out of my control.
Puberty, combined with the multiple factors alluded to, are what started to chip away at me, the consistent chipping leading to so many cracks that almost led to a complete shattering of everything about me, including my literal life. My parents would divorce and start new families; my grandpa would die unexpectedly of a massive heart attack; my dad was on death’s doorstep after breaking his back in a workplace accident; and I would be ripped from one of my few outlets, baseball, because of my parents’ selfishness and immaturity. The dark skies grew black and began to fall around me as the vicious but inevitable cycles pertinent to my sexuality would begin to steam forward with no stopping them. As dark as this time was, though, and as traumatizing as it was for reasons not solely focused on my battle with my sexual reality, it did not even come close to comparing to the gloomy times awaiting in the cycle of self-hatred.
This phase really reared its ugly head when I was just finishing high school. The prior stages had already done their immeasurable damage, but this one would bring me down to my lowest point, and would unfortunately last for several years.
Starting when I was just 18, I retreated into a world of isolation and depression. What few friends I had, I simply left behind after high school. To take it a step further, I even began pushing my family away, developing into a person that my family would come to know and expect, but not the true person I was inside. I had, on the surface, become a cold, seemingly heartless asshole who could care less about anybody or anything. I pushed those who loved me most away, and I withdrew into my own little world of self-pity and self-hatred.
During this time, I started to get comfortable with a stagnate and repetitious pattern. I would literally go to school, go straight home afterward, go to my room to wallow in my misery, and repeat the next day. Weekends were even worse, as I had all day to allow the rotting and internal scabbing to fester up and ooze its infection. My social life was nonexistent as I very rarely left home, it getting so bad that I would refuse to even go to special and holiday events with my extended family.
This became my new and permanent normal for around four years, and truth be told, I am still recovering from the effects of that time of torture. I had, as illogical as it seems now, convinced myself that being gay made me unworthy of any type of joy. I hated who I was, I had just stopped caring, and I was beyond being lost. This is when I began wondering if life was even worth living anymore, as I had practically been a walking dead man for so long anyway.
Contemplation is such a tricky word. I sometimes ask myself whether or not I actually contemplated suicide, but to me contemplation means to be on the verge of acting. To answer my own question, I never had a blade to my wrist; I never had a noose around my neck; and I never had a gun to my head. I did, however, fantasize constantly about simply ending all the pain. I thought that nobody would care, with many barely even noticing and some perhaps even being relieved, if I would simply take my own life. I had declared an internal war on myself, with the end result being that I would lose no matter how it ended, or this is at least what I had convinced myself. Thankfully, I would finally start taking tiny but gradual steps forward in being the gay man who I knew with absolute certainty I was born to be.
I had found a website called Outsports that connected gays with sports, something that seemed like a contradiction beforehand, and I started to accept, embrace, and understand myself when reading stories of guys around my age who echoed exactly how I felt for oh so long. The openly gay athletes like Scott Heggart and Alan Gendreau (just to name a couple) of the world helped somebody who they had never even met, a struggling, young, gay west Texan, without even realizing it. I treasured the stories of those who could empathize with me, and they helped me tremendously in my march forward. I would begin blogging, more as a personal diary to express myself the best and only way I felt I could, and I also developed a relationship with Christ that has kept me pushing on even when I felt like throwing in the proverbial white towel.
Outsports also exposed me to other gay guys, some of whom have become instant friends, and others who surprisingly attacked me for not only being in the closet, but questioning my motives in making comments on the site. This opened my eyes wide, and proved to me that the gay community itself was very diverse in its own right.
Through my writing and reading pertaining to those who I could relate to, I was now able to start being easier on myself. Through my new-found friendships and new sources of inspiration and education, I had even gotten to the point of not only embracing who I was, but actually loving myself. Just a year and some change ago, I started taking the necessary steps to undoing a decade of damage. I was making slow but steady personal progress on many levels, and I even began exploring online dating. I thought I had met a great guy, we hit it off in what actually ended up being a very bizarre situation, but this would all fall apart just a couple months ago, bringing me down to a new low.
The day that my boyfriend dumped me and ripped me apart by attacking my insecurities left me with two choices: I could either revert back to my old ways, reversing so much progress that had been made, or I could, for the first time in my life, reach out and ask for help. In what would prove to be the best decision of my life to that point, I chose the latter.
Two simple sentences on Facebook on May 21 would finally free me from the closet when I simply wrote, "I never do this, but I’m feeling pretty low right now. So much bullshit." The replies were immediate, debunking my belief that nobody cared, as aunts, cousins, other family members, and even my estranged mother reached out to me offering support. It was one aunt in particular, though, who finally gave me that opening to reveal my reality when she offered, "Just let it go. Whatever it is, we are here." I would go on to message her, revealing that I was gay, to which she said that it had been speculated by many for some time, that it did not matter, I deserved to be happy, and that they all loved me no matter what.
Next thing I know, I started receiving messages from many other family members, some of whom I was most scared to tell, echoing that some had their suspicions, but that it did not matter and that they loved me no matter what. I even had one aunt who has been more of a big sister offer to hook me up with some of her "hot gay friends." The relief felt is beyond describing with words, and I wondered why if they all knew, then why did they not help end my pain, but I realized that I was the only one responsible for setting myself free.
Although I have finally broken out of that closet of captivity, I do understand that years of pain and suffering will not be erased by that one day; additional steps will and are being taken to reverse what seemed like an eternity of stagnation and isolation; and I know that, despite my family overwhelmingly accepting me thanks to a simple Facebook message sent to an aunt impulsively out of desperation, things will not always be sunshine and rainbows from here on out.
But, what I do know for certain is that I am me for the first time in my almost 25 years of life. I can now live and love and am happier than I have ever been, but most importantly, I can reach out my hand to those young boys and girls who are stuck in that all too familiar deep, dark, lonely ditch of despair and do my absolute best to help bring them out of it.
No person, whether young or old, deserves to be permanently enveloped by that darkness with suicide seeming to be the only escape, and I resolutely believe with every fiber of my being that it is my responsibility to let the lost know that there is light, there is hope, and you can find it and be that much stronger, wiser, and happier once you do. The phrase may be overused, but it does indeed get better. Do what is best for you, be as strong as you can while doing it, and remember that you are far from being alone.
Michael Perkins turned 25 on July 20 and lives in Odessa, Texas. He is a recent college grad getting into education, although he does not see himself teaching for very long. He can be reached via email at: email@example.com. He also writes the blog "Imprisoned in the Closet," a title no longer accurate.