Last Friday, with sports on hiatus, I took the opportunity to pause the “Baseball 24-7-365” format of my “3 Strikes, You’re Out” podcast to have a conversation about my coming out experience. I spoke for over an hour with Calvin Cato, one of my best friends in comedy and one of the first people I ever came out to—even before my parents or my sisters.
I refer to Calvin as my Gay Sensei. He is the Grindr Splinter (Splintr?) to my Rainbow Donatello.
Specifically, I wanted to flash back for a moment to that fateful night we hung out shortly after Thanksgiving 2014, when I told him I had developed a life-altering crush on another guy in the NYC comedy scene. There is a question that’s been lingering in my mind for a couple years: was he surprised?
One of my biggest fears when I started telling my friends I was attracted to guys was that I felt I was fundamentally altering their perception of me and had no idea what to expect in response. I’d spent 35 years in the closet and had written numerous stand-up bits and a senior show at college about my lack of ability with women. This felt like it was going to come from way out of nowhere and would make them question everything they thought they knew about me.
I feared I’d established my closeted self so thoroughly in their minds that in some perverse way, it was too late to let them know about my true self. My biggest worry was that our conversation would go:
ME: I’m gay.
CALVIN: (pulling out a notebook marked “CONVERSATIONS WITH KEN”) You told me you liked Alyson Hannigan once on...August 24, 2009.
(Tom Daley spontaneously blocks me from his Youtube channel.)
So on the podcast, I asked Calvin if my coming out was a surprise and his response was pretty brilliant...
“I was surprised! I obviously knew you for a while and you had never really talked about anyone you were attracted to either way. I feel like for a while I was always such a private person about that...So I just knew you as a person, I never thought about either way on the spectrum. But then the more you talked about it, I was like, ‘I guess I can see it!’ I guess for me it’s hard because I’m never surprised anymore, if that makes any sense. I guess I’ve always thought of sexuality on a spectrum...
“Because I feel like you just can’t tell. I feel like because you can be queer and have so many interests that people would consider ‘heterosexual,’ I never thought of you that way. And I never think of anyone that way who tells me that they’re queer.”
With all of my fears at that time, it honestly never occurred to me that my friends would have a reaction of depth and nuance to my coming out. In a way, I was so trapped in my own head that I assumed the response would have to be binary: yay or boo, for or against, “Love, Simon” or every Kirk Cameron movie. Which, in retrospect, was as absurd as thinking sexuality itself is binary.
I’m glad that I got to hear this because it gave me a much better appreciation for how coming out impacted the people I care about the most. Calvin and I had a wide-ranging and very thoughtful discussion about topics like this throughout the podcast. But don’t worry, we also had plenty of time to talk about belting out Björk’s “It’s Oh So Quiet” on Lesbian Night at Ginger’s.
Click here to check out this week’s edition of The 3 Strikes, You’re Out Podcast. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts. Or your favorite podcast engine.