I grew up in a small rural town on the prairies of Canada – the town had about 300 people in it. I knew I was ‘different’ while in school but I didn’t actually know I was gay until university. I did my 3rd year of studies over in the UK and that’s when it all started to make sense. When you’re in a different country, all of a sudden you inherit the ability to re-invent and it was magical.
Back in Canada and all done university, I had moved to Toronto for a job I had at the time and was traveling back to the prairies to visit family from time to time. I had come out of the closet in my Toronto life but hadn’t really told anyone back at home on the prairies – it was easy not to, as they were so far away. I had experienced the art of telling people I was gay in Toronto but there was something about telling your parents and closest childhood friends that was a bit terrifying, I have to admit.
Telling immediate family – an emotional buffet
Ultimately on one visit home I ended up telling my brother and sister and then parents. I was kind of shocked that no one had figured it out?! Afterall, some of my friends in Toronto said I was ‘REALLY’ gay, whatever that was, lol. My brother and sister were pretty fine with it. My mom and dad had more emotional reactions. Mom cried, dad was angry – the whole 9 yards. It was like an emotional buffet. I got to go back to Toronto and let them process it on their own time, which is fair. I had years to sort it out, so I couldn’t expect them to be immediately 100% fine with an idea that was really new to them.
Telling everyone else – a managed approach
I then realized that word was slowly trickling to other friends and family back at home and I wanted to make sure they heard this in the right way. Time was of the essence, so I devised a bit of a plan. I reached out to everyone I knew with a letter or email, told them I’d ‘come out’ and booked a 1-to-1 meeting with them all where they could ask me anything they wanted. Meetings were tightly scheduled and everyone got 15 minutes – I had a LOT of people to talk to.
I was really clear that they could even ask questions they thought might be contentious or might make me angry. It was admittedly fairly ‘business-like’ and uber-organized but it seemed to be the most efficient way to get through all the people I had to talk to. My hunch was that this would be a way to help take any awkwardness out of an idea that I was all of a sudden ‘different’. By my taking the initiative to ‘let’ people ask questions and talk about this I would hopefully make this a bit easier for people.
Take a deep breath and dive in
The phone calls were a good idea, with a good helping of awkward questions…but that’s what I’d asked for. I’d kind of take a deep breath before each one and then dive in – like diving into a big tank of water with a weight around my waist and then slowly taking it off. Reactions to me being gay were all over the map but I expected that. I’m really glad I did it. It often meant sitting through awkward pauses……but the 15 minutes was theirs. This was a big change in how people around me were going to see me and I wanted to make it a positive experience. Feedback by and large was that the process was really liberating for people.
Uh oh. The Grandparents…
Now there is another layer to this story. I hadn’t set up conversations with my grandparents (all 4 of them were alive at the time) as I was trying to figure out the best way to tell them. I was cautioned by my parents & others that I shouldn’t tell my grandparents under the warning of : ‘there are certain things that they don’t need to know’. OUCH! However, the train was out of the station (so to speak) and I let everyone know that I was indeed telling the grandmas & grandpas and at that point people braced themselves.
I don’t know what everyone was expecting really? My grandparents had all been farmers and I think everyone ‘thought’ they’d lose it because they assumed they were narrow minded. However no one really knew as they’d never asked, ‘Hey grandpa, what do you think about homos’?!
Ahhh! The wonderful grandparents!
The beauty of their reactions was incredible. They were understanding, and asked amazingly open-minded questions. In short – this was nothing to get in a tizzy about. And of course these people in their 80s, made everyone else take a good look at themselves. People who’d been cautioning about not having the ‘old’ people know I was gay were simply projecting part of their difficulty in dealing with homosexuality onto others. But when these people with decades of life experience ultimately said ‘this is fine!’, I think people felt a little sheepish. Lesson: don’t underestimate the elderly.
Nothing to hide
Telling everyone I knew that I was ‘me’ and what ‘me’ was, is something I look back on as a good thing. With a few bumps along the way it ultimately brought me much closer to everyone around me. I’ve got nothing to hide so don’t waste time in my day doing crazy things like explaining to people why I don’t have a girlfriend. Yeesh!
Being an out gay man has allowed for some great musical experiences too, as I’m a full time singer-songwriter-pianist and tour about 100 shows a year. It’s influenced my writing to a degree and has certainly brought me to many LGBT events around the country to perform my music in addition to the other theatres and concert spaces I perform in. I’ve had people ask me what it’s like being an ‘out’ performer. I like to think that people who get the honour of doing anything on a stage have to strive to be themselves.
If you’re a gay (but closeted) performer, I think you’re doing a disservice to yourself, and your audience. If you’re not willing to give your full self on stage (or at any workplace for that matter) people can sense it. It’s intangible but people feel it. Further, if you are holding something back the reality is that you’re spending part of your available waking hours hiding something and that energy in turn can’t then be productive for you.
Be yourself and take the steps to have nothing to hide and doors will start to open. It’s magic. Guiding my coming out process was a pretty cool personal experience and has brought me closer to everyone around me, and has been really freeing. It’s ultimately led to a much more confident and happy life.