In Honor of National Coming Out Day 2017, These LGBTQ People Share Their Stories
No two ‘coming out’ stories are the same. National Coming Out Day, going back 29 years, happens every Oct. 11 as a way to celebrate the personal stories of those who have come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer. (And as allies, too!)
National Coming Out Day was first observed in 1988 to commemorate the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It serves as a reminder for all that LGBTQ people have fought for through the decades.
Here’s something we know: coming out is important. Studies have shown that when someone knows another person who is LGBTQ, that person is far more likely to support equal rights for all under the law.
So to all who have ‘come out’ as LGBTQ, we thank and salute you.
Below, some of our favorite queer people tell their National Coming Out Day stories:
1. Alaska Thunderfuck, drag queen
When I was 17, I told my mom that my boyfriend was just my friend from school — the perfect cover.
What I hadn’t taken into account was the fact that my mom worked for the school district and was soon able to deduce that my boyfriend not only didn’t go to my school but was 19 and lived an hour away.
She pulled me aside in the kitchen and calmly asked, “Are you a homosexual?” I cried, we hugged and now she loves coming to drag shows.
2. Matthew Camp, model, actor and designer
When I was 15, I lost my virginity to a boy at my school. He was best friends with my sister’s best friend. Eventually, my sister found out and she told my mom. My mom called me in to her room to ask me if it was true, and I told her it was. And she started crying.
She said she was crying because I was having sex already, and not because I had sex with a boy. She made that very clear. She’s a good mom and never made me feel ashamed for being me.
3. Kit Williamson, actor/filmmaker
The first person I came out to was my 7th grade girlfriend, Bea. Girlfriend isn’t really the most accurate term; we were close friends that went on one date and then promptly broke up so we could go back to reading manga together.
I was incredibly nervous, but she accepted me immediately. So did my sister, the next year, and the rest of my friends at school. It was harder for me to come out to my parents, and before I had worked up the courage to talk to them about it, they discovered it in one of my journals.
Things were really rocky between us for a few months, but after a lot of emotional conversations and a little professional counseling, our relationship was even stronger. I feel really lucky to have had so many people support me, especially growing up in a conservative state like Mississippi.
4. John Halbach, actor/producer
I took way too long to come out, considering my friends and family are totally lovely and amazing and I suspected I had nothing to be afraid of. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until my junior year of college that I mustered the courage to start coming out.
After telling a few of my closest friends at school, it was time to tell my parents when I got home for summer vacation. Picture it: Minnesota, a Sunday afternoon, and I was sitting on the couch with my mom. She was playing Tetris on her Gameboy and I was watching the Barbara Streisand movie The Mirror Has Two Faces (naturally).
I had been meaning to tell her for a while, and I’m not sure why, but I suddenly resolved to tell her during the next commercial break. For some reason I took that commitment very seriously, and when we got to that commercial, I turned off the TV, asked her to pause her Tetris and told her I was gay.
She was wonderful and said she loved me, and we laughed and hugged and it was such a relief. Then my dad came downstairs and I told him, and he adorably celebrated by making cosmos for everyone. (Sex and the City was HUGE then!)
5. Marti Gould Cummings, drag queen
I went to a Catholic high school and was picked on a lot during my freshman year for being effeminate. I finally had enough and came out as gay. The minute I came out, the popular girls wanted a gay best friend, so I started sitting at their lunch table and their boyfriends stopped teasing me. From then on I had a really great high school experience, but I was still scared to come out to my parents.
When I moved to NYC two weeks after graduating high school, I was like a kid in a candy store. I went on a date with this guy named Kris, who I met on Myspace. I told my brother about the date and later that day my dad called me to ask how the city was, ask how school was going and to ask me how my date with Kris went.
That is how I came out to my parents: by my brother telling them I had a date because I was too scared to say anything! My parents are the most loving and supportive people, and I am so proud to have them in my corner.
6. Erik Blood, musician/producer
I was 15 when my sister came out to me in Ellensburg, Wash., while in a Kentucky Fried Chicken drive thru waiting on a box of popcorn chicken.
“I’m a lesbian” was tossed at me out of nowhere and with no emphasis whatsoever. I either said “I know” or “OK,” trying to convey that I was cool with it. I don’t think it occurred to me to say “Me too” until much later. I finally told her over the phone some months later. “I knew it!” was screamed jubilantly at me, followed by “Well, I didn’t know it, but I think I knew? You fucker, I thought you were so uncomfortable around my friends!”
I didn’t tell my parents until at least a year later, when I was grounded for staying out with my friend Nicole too late. My mom assumed we were having sex. “You want to know why I’m always over at her place? Because her and her mom are the only ones who know I’m gay.” This was immediately followed by a gasp and then her picking up the phone to tell our neighbor that she wouldn’t be going to aerobics that night. “What did I do wrong? Both of my kids are gay,”* she said.
I hung out in my room until my dad got home. There was a soft knock on my door, and in walked my smiling father. “Hey son! Mom tells me you’re gay!” he says, never breaking his wondrous grin. “That’s fascinating!”
This was followed by a series of very inquisitive and gentle questions, always letting me know that it was cool. I later found out that my mom had called him at work and said, “George, you need to come home. It’s Erik.” And after what must have been a terrifying drive home, he walked into the house and into their bedroom. “What is it?” he asked, worriedly. “Erik says he’s gay!” mom said. My dad immediately relaxed and said, “Oh, thank god, I thought you were gonna say he was a Republican.”
*This malaise lasted exactly four days until she sat down with me and yelled her fears into the room and we both cried and hugged. Immediately after we went grocery shopping and she asked, “So do you think Ray Liotta’s hot, ’cause I do.”
7. Josh Trujillo, cartoonist and game designer
The first people I ever came out to were people I’d never even met. When I was 13, I was a member of an anime message board so I could discuss Sailor Moon and Digimon and Dragon Ball Z. As silly as it was, I could be a truer version of myself hiding behind a pixelated avatar.
Stress from being in the closet wrecked me, and I finally needed to tell someone. One day I posted a thread, coming out to the community, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
It would be a few more years before I felt comfortable coming out to friends and family in real life, but those internet friendships sustained me (and still do, honestly). For the most part, the internet has been central to exploring my queer identity and being a part of the larger community. It’s something I’m incredibly grateful for.
8. Vrai Kaiser, podcaster/reviewer
I came out early for the previous generation and late for the current one. I was about 23.
I was going to postpone it longer (possibly forever), but my brother offered to back me up when my parents and I went out to his family’s house for Thanksgiving. Of course it had to be Thanksgiving — call me an old-fashioned aspiring disappointment.
I made a whole evening of it. My dad was downstairs watching football. “Dad, I like girls,” I mumbled as quietly as possible into his arm.
“OK,” he said. We have a rapport.
Then I put on The Castle of Cagliostro, my favorite movie. Afterward, I made a terrible joke about how obviously bisexual Lupin III is, which I could relate to. It was a terrible joke, because my mother started crying. Or maybe that makes it the best joke, on me.
She came around, but it was a, shall we say, traumatic moment. And all of that was much easier than trying to come out as genderqueer. I’m … I’m still explaining that, constantly.
I could give a lecture series on the singular “they” at this point.
9. Tom Ernsting, event manager and model
I married my college girlfriend at 25, even though I knew at the time I was gay. But back in 1985 the world was a different place. AIDS was killing thousands of people. I was always “Tom, do what you are supposed to do,” so I married, joined the country club and worked in banking.
Over time, living in Chicago, I started meeting other gay men at the gym. They were professional, active and smart. It made me feel less “ugly” and more comfortable. After my son was born, the pressure of it all became to great, so on April 23, 1987, at 1 p.m., with my six-week-old son in the bedroom, I told my wife I was gay and wanted to move out. She listened, went to the gym (!) and came back and wanted to work it out, but I told her it was too late.
I had a small group of gay friends at the time who comforted me and guided me. But the rest of my world exploded. I lost all my straight friends (“How could you do this to your wife and child?”) and most of my family. But I knew it was the right decision for all of us: to live honestly.
It was a rough few years, but my wife remarried and my son has four siblings. My second ‘coming out’ was to my son when he was 12. That was even scarier — the thought of losing him. But he accepted it from the very start. We have an excellent relationship that is stronger than I could ever hope for.
Sadly, my mother died right after my wife and I split, and my father grew into Alzheimer’s, so they never got to see me as a fully happy, well-adjusted gay father.
10. Tyler Wallach, artist
One day I felt compelled to sit down at the family computer and write my future-self a letter of the struggle I went through during junior high and high school — of realizing who I am and overcoming suicidal thoughts from constant bullying early in life. So I wrote a letter, maybe seven pages long, and after some trouble with the new printer, finally printed a copy, sealed it up and addressed it to myself to be opened in 10 years.
Well, it was 2005 and at-home printers sucked, so of course after I printed out my letter another copy printed without my knowledge. Naturally my father found the letter, and that opened up an entirely new dimension of my life to him. He folded the letter into thirds and left it on my bed, underneath my pillow. That night, when I came home from school and went to bed, realizing there was a second copy of the same letter folded up underneath my pillow, I was in complete shock. I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t breathe. My huge secret had been burst wide open.
My dad knew but chose not to bring it up to me out of respect for when I would be ready. I remained shocked for a while and didn’t really know how to bring it up in conversation, so after about a week my dad finally pulled me aside and said, “Tyler, listen, I know you know I read your letter, and you’re leaving for college in two weeks. I think me, you and your mother need to sit down and have a serious conversation.”
I immediately start crying and hugged him. We went downstairs and sat in the living room with my mother. I expressed regret that I hadn’t told them sooner. I just didn’t know how and wanted to be sure in my decision and confident in my choice.
They were both visibly shaken and emotional about my coming out. They were worried about my safety, they were worried it was their fault, they were worried about HIV, they were worried about their son. It wasn’t an easy conversation — for any of us — and it has taken many, many years since then to learn, on both sides, that you may not always understand the decisions your loved ones make. You just have to accept them. It’s that simple.
While I wish I had a more cliché ‘coming out’ story, unfortunately I stumbled out to a not-so-impressed audience. But it ultimately taught me patience, understanding and what true love really looks like. The experience shaped me to be the compassionate and caring person I am today, so ultimately I’m glad my dad found my letter and tucked it under my pillow that night.
11. Jorge Gallegos, social media consultant and blogger
It’s not a secret that I’m gay. Hello, have you seen my Instagram? It’s full of shirtless male models and half-naked pictures of me. But there was a time when I couldn’t be or express the real me, a time of confusion, anxiety, guilt and even depression. Times when I couldn’t understand my feelings toward men, and I hated myself because of that. It took me a while to finally accept those feelings and love the person I am today. Despite being out to the majority of my friends and some relatives, coming out to my parents was a lot harder.
Growing up as a Catholic guy in a small town in Mexico didn’t make things easier for me, either. Although I wasn’t very discreet about my preferences (I mean, my bedroom walls were covered in Calvin Klein underwear ads), I still didn’t know how my parents were going to react. It’s one thing to think your son is gay and another to hear him say it.
I wasn’t afraid they would kick me out of the house. I was more scared to disappoint them and feared they wouldn’t love me anymore. But back in 2013, right before I moved to NYC, I finally had the courage to come out to my parents. Much to my surprise, they completely understood. My mom was crying, but only because she was so heartbroken that I’d been going through all of that by myself. My dad, as Mexican and macho as he is, was very understanding.
Not everyone has a good ‘coming out’ story, especially if you’re Mexican. A lot of my friends still live in the closet, in fear of what their family and friends would think about them. I chose to live my truth, and I consider myself very lucky to have a caring family that supports me and loves me no matter what.
12. Salvador Camarena, stylist
I remember it like it was yesterday. Now, I was naturally a late bloomer in everything, and by everything I mean everything! I was 22 or 23 years old, and while going to college I worked at Banana Republic near my hometown of Indio, Calif. My childhood friend Christina (we’ve been friends since the fourth grade, by the way) came back that summer from college and started working at the same store. As Christina and I helped close down the store, I remembered my New Year’s resolution: to come out to at least one person and live my truth.
I was nervous and terrified, especially coming from a traditional Mexican and Catholic background, but I’ve always felt I could tell Christina anything. In my head I told myself, “Tell her you’re gay, tell her you’re gay.” So as we folded sweaters across from each other at a display table, I looked her dead in the eye and said, “Christina, I have something to tell you.” I felt like I was on the top of a roller coster about to drop, and said, “I’m gay.” Christina looked at me and gave me a hug and said, “OMG Sal, that’s great! It’s OK, I have a cousin who’s gay.” She was the first person I ever ‘came out’ to.
I moved to Los Angeles a couple of years later, still not out to my parents or immediate family. Well, in preparation for my 10-year reunion, I came out to my three older brothers. They were nothing but supportive and kind, and I had them meet my boyfriend at the time (now my partner of nine years, Ross Mathews). Since I was heading home for my reunion and bringing Ross with me, days before my reunion I decided to call my mom and tell her. She had already heard whispers of this from my siblings, but nothing directly from my mouth. I basically said, “Mom, I’m going to my 10-year high school reunion, and I’m bringing my boyfriend with me.” She was pretty much in hysterics.
On our way to the reunion, I had the bright idea of stopping by my parents’ house just for a quick hello. Ross agreed but was more than a little nervous. My father was very pleasant with Ross and I, while my mother was cordial but distant.
As the years progressed, everyone in my family became accepting of my sexuality and my relationship. I’m extremely proud of them for their personal growth and their expanding knowledge of the gay community. But the family member who had the most growth was my mother. She passed away seven months ago, and on her last day Ross and I visited her at home. She was glowing and happy. As Ross and I said our goodbyes, not knowing she would pass that night, my mother looked at us both with a huge grin on her face and said, “I love you, mijos” (mijo means my son) as we walked away. I looked at Ross and just smiled at him. I knew then that she didn’t just accept me for who I am; she accepted my partner for who he is, too.
Now I am completely fulfilled knowing that my mother got to see me live my truth.
13. Deva Station, current reigning Miss Gay America
I am not a young queen. I grew up in a different time. I think now coming out may be easier. You have so much on television. You have Drag Race all over the media, touring the United States as celebrities. You have gay icons in politics. You have gay icons in movies. In every facet of life, it’s there. It’s visible. We have legalized gay marriage, and there are so many things just pushing forward.
I think it’s easier than it was when I came out. My coming out was not a great thing. I wasn’t accepted by my parents or my family. I grew up in a very small town, and that was rather difficult, but I think that shapes who you are.
I have the ultimate respect for the person who determines when the time is right for their coming out. You can come out at 14. You can come out at 30. But you have to do it when you’re in the right mental state, when you know that your surroundings are going to be safe, secure and uplifting.
I don’t think there’s a rush. For me, there’s not a rush for people to come out, but I think it’s important to know that you are safe whenever you do want to come out, and there are so many support systems to help you through the process.
14. Freddy Rodriguez, blogger
I have two coming out stories, one for each of my parents. They separated when I was only a baby, which resulted in me growing up with my mother and stepfather during the week and seeing my father every other weekend.
My mom was my best friend when growing up, so it was easier for me to come out to her first when I was ready. At the age of 15 I fully knew I was gay and had my first boyfriend, who was 18 and a senior in high school, living one town over from where I grew up in south Texas. I lied to my mom and said he was my best friend to explain us hanging out so much.
After a few months of feeling uncomfortable lying to my mom, I told her I was gay one night. My mom and I spoke every night before going to bed, about anything that bothered me, so it felt appropriate to tell her then. She didn’t get mad, as I think she already had a feeling. Her biggest concern was not telling my father or stepfather until I was 18. She was concerned they might not be as understanding and get angry. So we didn’t really speak about it again until I was 18.
At the age of 17 I moved to live with my father in a larger city. My father’s girlfriend at the time had a feeling I was gay, so she suggested to my dad that he ask me. At this point I was confident in who I was — a gay guy sort of in the closet. Funny enough, we were at Chik-fil-A having lunch, one of our favorite places to eat together. He asked, and without hesitation I said yes, that I was indeed gay.
Compared to my mother he was much more hurt. He thought he did something wrong in raising me and was upset I wouldn’t marry a women or have children of my own to carry on the family name. But I was relieved to have finally told him who I really was.
His worries and concerns were put to ease after we talked about it not being his fault in anyway, and that I could still have children if I chose to. Now at the age of 26, I couldn’t be more happy and lucky to have both of my parents fully accept and love me for who I am.
15. Colby Melvin, model and activist
Looking back, it’s almost hard to believe I only came out six years ago. I was 22 and living in Mobile, Alabama, one of the most conservative areas of the country. I’d convinced myself that my attraction to men wasn’t because I wanted to sleep with them but because they had the body I wanted.
Growing up, I was taught that if you masturbated or had anal sex you would burn in hell. That was pretty much the extent of my sex ed. So when I discovered that my attraction to men was because I was actually gay, I came out the very next day. I was scared of how this new aspect of my identity would affect my life, but I’m happy to report it was by far the best decision I’ve ever made.
Life has become so much more fulfilling and happy once I decided to fully embrace myself for who I am. Initially I lost some friends, even some family members, but what I gained was a stronger chosen family I couldn’t live without today. People think once you decide to come out that’s it, but as I learned, that’s just the beginning. Coming out is sort of the declaration that this is your life and you’re going to live it the way you want to. As you should! We only get one life, and it’s too short not to live it as 100% ourselves.
But I don’t think ‘coming out’ is exclusive to being gay. Everyone — gay, straight, anything in between — should ‘come out’ as their own person. When we stop living to please others and start living our own truth, that’s the real coming out. I think everyone should come out as their own person.
It has become much more accepting to be gay today, but we should still push people to embrace their true personality. Embrace your inner weirdo! Don’t be afraid to show the world the beauty that’s inside you! Happy National Coming Out Day, and may the future see you accept and share the true you.
16. Michael Henry, actor/comedian
I remember when I was 19, my friends and I went to a sorority party at a bar in Queens, New York. A friend of mine who was there was bi, and I didn’t know it but she had a friend there named Andre.
Long story short, I drank and drank and drank and somehow found Andre. We kissed and danced in the back rooms of the bar and on the dance floor. When we kissed on the dance floor, I could hear people saying we were gross and disgusting. People even tried to peel us apart.
The first time I kissed a beautiful boy, people told us we were gross and disgusting.
On the car ride home, my friends didn’t say anything to me about me kissing Andre. Until that night when I was sleeping over at my best friend Sara’s house. I couldn’t sleep. We were both in her day bed staring at the ceiling and she said, “Michael, you’re gay. So what? That’s OK.” That was the first time my response to someone telling me I was gay was, “Yeah, I am.”
We fell asleep and ate McDonald’s in the morning. I thank Sara for being the first person to tell me that it was more than OK for me to be gay, and for always being there for me.
17. Alex Liu, sex researcher and documentary filmmaker
I came out at 17, and luckily it went great. My friends and family were so loving and supportive. As more people come out, I’m hopeful that eventually everyone in the world will not only come out about what makes them queer, but also that they’ll be able to find people who will love and support them for all their kinks.
18. Bryan Safi, comedian
I came out to my friends in college. It was New York, it was easy and, best of all, no one was surprised. (Which, frankly, was also annoying. I put a lot of effort into my lies!) My parents, however, were a completely different story.
I grew up in a very right-wing, veeerry religious, veeeeeerrrrryyy conservative family in Texas. There was no way I could have come out before the age of 18 without the threat of conversion therapy. My mom came to visit me when I was 22, and while I was at work one day, she found in my closet a letter from my first boyfriend. Her reaction was brutal and gutting. It stung, at the time, like nothing else.
Cut to over 10 years later and my parents … have not budged. Not even an inch. They remain, in their words, heartbroken, ashamed, humiliated. I, however, have moved many inches. I got married last December to my best friend and my hero. I make my living discussing LGBTQ rights and doing everything I can to bully the bullies.
I am not my parents. I got out when it was safe, and I’m (mostly) happy. My life started at 22, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
19. Eric Slade, documentary filmmaker
In 1979 as I was about to leave for college, my mom and I were having dinner downtown. Midway through the meal, I stopped and said, “You know, I basically consider myself bisexual.” My mom, not missing a beat, responded, “No you’re not. You’re gay.”
She seemed totally fine with it all. But on a college break she told me she had been having a hard time. “I just feel like it was something that I did that made you gay.”
“Well,” I said, “if you did something, then I should thank you, because I’m glad I’m gay.”
“Oh for goddsake,” she said, “that just sounds like something you read in a book.” And she was right. I had. (It was in Loving Someone Gay).
20. Viktor Belmont, adult film star
I ‘come out’ a lot. I’ve recently had the immense privilege of passing. That means every potential date I have — when I meet a cute boy in a club, whenever I want to pursue something physical, emotional or intimate with someone — I have to come out. Again and again.
At first, I was filled with fear. I remember getting smashed in the face with a 40 oz by a boy who I thought was cute while we were on a date. I outed myself to him as we were walking around the Mission in San Francisco, and I saw a range of emotion pass over his face.
Fear. Anger. Disgust. He then reacted violently and told me I was lying to him about who I was. It hurt.
It was a couple of years before I even tried to go on another “date” with a man. I’d casually hookup through apps, where I could navigate telling someone I was trans without them being in front of me. But I limited myself to that. I vowed to never trust anyone who might hurt me for who I was.
Then, I met “Gabriel.” Gabriel and his friend came into the hat shop where I worked. He was a soft-spoken pretty boy. He had a smile that made my knees weak, and we flirted while I sold him a straw Panama hat.
We went on a couple dates, and things were great. Then one night we went back to his house. I still hadn’t told him I was trans. I was so afraid he would say something terrible, or that he would be upset once he found out. We were sitting in his room, making out. I told him I needed to stop, and he said he understood, but I wanted nothing more than to get him into bed. It felt like he really wanted it, too, so I gathered up the courage to tell him.
He was silent for a minute. He had soft, warm, beautiful honey-brown eyes, and I looked deep into them. There wasn’t fear or anger. I could see the wheels turning in his mind. He smiled and gave me a kiss on my hand then put my hand between his legs. I was holding onto his dick, and my breath felt caught in my chest.
“This doesn’t make me who I am,” he said. “This is part of me. Part of me I hope you want, part of me that I hope you like, but it does not dictate who I am.”
Then he put my hand against his heart. “This makes me who I am. This is how I love. How I feel.”
I felt a wave of emotions pass over me. I asked if it was OK to kiss him. He smiled and laughed, and I pushed him onto the bed and we ended up fucking for hours.
Gabriel helped show me that my worth was measured by my capacity to love and be loved. That I can adore my body, and someone else’s shame, confusion or hurt is not mine to unpack. He helped show me that my body is an amazing body. That my trans-ness doesn’t make me any less desirable.
He eventually graduated college and we went our separate ways, but I’ll never forget coming out that time. And now? Every time I come out I’m proud. I own it. I know that being trans is amazing. I know that I’m powerful, desirable, loving, kind, and my trans body is beautiful. I get to come out almost every day.
I’m proud every time I tell someone.
21. Rey Ortiz, fashion designer
From Jehovah’s Witness to witnessing my truth, coming out to myself was a lot tougher than coming out to others.
I was a late bloomer. I knew what I liked sexually but somehow felt safe keeping it unshared. After all, I was a master at faking it while going to church as a Jehovah’s Witness for over 20 years, even after knocking door-to-door for routine “preaching and teaching you the godly Bible ways.”
The experience of accepting a label for my sexuality was a long journey that started when I was 26 years old, only 10 years ago. The reason for the delay was definitely religion, constant guilt and a lack of understanding. The more I think about it, the more I realize I was doing the same thing my religious peers were doing — not acknowledging the evidence and pretending I wasn’t gay.
Through amazing and supportive friends — both straight and gay — I was able to verbalize the word “gay” and apply it towards myself. I’ve heard many times that people knew, and even my mom said the same during a heart-melting conversation. I remember sobbing and being inconsolable because all the instances from my past life proving her argument flashed through my mind. I was finally able to truly see the obvious.
I came out after going to my first gay bar, Club One in Savannah, Georgia. I fell in love with the feeling of being free and honest with myself. Coming out made me feel more respected and accepted by others. I wish I’d done it sooner, but coming out is not about changing who we are but showing ourselves and the world the real us. Life is good since I have one less weight to carry on my shoulders.