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The coolest most awesomest thing ever happened today. Jason Collins an NBA basketball player for the Washington Wizards came out as a proud gay African American man. This guy has no idea how many young African American men he’s helping by coming out. When you live in a small town in the bible belt of America all you hear is negative things about being gay and it can make you feel extremely lonely and isolated. After a while you start to believe all the negative things and begin to hate yourself. Seeing someone like Jason Collins come out can help change that… and that is a very huge big deal.
I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea’s classmate and friend at Stanford. Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community. It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities. For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason’s colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned.
I am very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength and courage to become the first openly gay athlete in the NBA. His decision marks an important moment for professional sports and for our country. I echo what my father said in his statement and similarly hope that everyone, particularly Jason’s colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned.
After reading NBA star Jason Collins’s coming out story in Sports Illustrated and watching his interview on Oprah, I began thinking about my own coming out story. It was extremely freeing just like Jason said his experience was, but mine lacked national attention, a call from the president, thousands of articles, millions of supportive tweets, and a primetime Oprah Interview. Apparently you have to be a 7 foot NBA basketball player to get all that so I guess I can’t feel too upset at the snub I got from Oprah and President Obama when I came out (lol). My story was a little different. There was no big decision to come out to everyone all at one time. There was no call to family members to schedule a big sitdown talk. My coming out was a long journey that varied with each person I told. Some people I told face to face. Some people I told over the phone. Some I told with an email message. A couple times I got a close friend to tell someone for me. And then there was this one family member I told in a letter. I’ve written about my coming out story a couple times over the years but I’ve never written about the people I came out to and how each of those experiences played out. Of course everyone had different reactions when they found out and most reacted positively and expressed their love and support. There were a few negative responses but under the circumstances I understood. Hearing something like that is a lot to process and deal with so I prepared myself mentally (as best I could) for that possibility. I had no illusions about the risk I was taking by telling the people who meant the most to me. The thought of losing family and friends scared me to death but I knew it had to be done. I carried that load throughout my whole life and I just couldn’t carry it anymore. This secret was destroying me. I faked happiness for far too long and was finally ready for the real thing. It took a very tragic event to get to that revelation. I’ve written about that as well so I won’t go back into that dark twisted tale again in this post.
The first person I ever told was my friend Jessie (Jessica Kirk). I met her while working at a call center during my sophomore year at East Carolina University. At first I didn’t like her at all. I thought she was a loud rude stuck-up yankee and I’d have nothing in common with her. After working with her for a week somehow we became fast friends. We were so close that everyone at work thought we were dating. I decided right away that she’d be the first person I came out to. If we weren’t together at her apartment or hanging out at my apartment we’d be at work together or talking on the phone. I chickened out two or three times before I worked up the courage to tell her. We were on the phone one night playing the question game. I’d ask her something about herself and no matter what the question was we had to answer it truthfully. We took turns going back and forth for about an hour then I suggested a question that she could ask me. It was something stupid like what type of person are you attracted to or something like that. I think she could sense why I wanted her to ask that question but she played along anyway and asked. Then I told her I’m attracted to guys and I’m gay. I was scared as hell about how she might respond. Then she said that’s great DeMon I’m so happy you felt close enough to share that with me. I was speechless for a while but I could actually hear sincere happiness in her voice so I knew she really meant what she was saying. After getting off the phone I felt like a whole new person. For the first time in my life I was truly happy and looking forward to the future. I was amazed at how wonderful and freeing it felt to open up and tell someone this. I never gave much thought to that saying “the truth will set you free” until then. I know it sounds cliche but it’s the absolute truth. I’ll love Jessie for the rest of my life for helping me come out and live my life truthfully. I can’t think of too many people that have effected my life in the way she has and I’m very grateful for that.
The second person I told was my cousin. We grew up like brothers almost. I feared his reaction the most, but I knew I had to tell him. I tried to tell him right before he went away for boot camp but again I chickened out. Jessie knew I wanted to tell him so she suggested I write him a letter while he was away at boot camp. I thought it was a great idea so that’s what I did. Waiting for his response was nerve-racking. After a very long two weeks I finally got a response from him. He told me in his letter that he already knew and that it didn’t matter to him. He told me we were family and nothing is going to change that. Needless to say I was very happy to hear that from him. A lot of straight African-American men would have freaked out and never talked to me again… especially those who grew up in the south, so I give him props for not going that route. It made me respect him even more as a person after that. I also told him not to tell anyone else in the family and he kept that promise for years. That’s very commendable in our family because everybody knows everybody’s business and secrets don’t remain secrets for very long (lol).
The third and fourth person I told was my best friend Shante and her sister Tamika who I’m very close to as well. Shante was looking for a place so I asked her if she wanted my extra bedroom. While I was helping her move her things in I told her very casually that I was gay and I have a boyfriend that spends the night a lot. Her reaction was very positive. I wasn’t too worried about her reacting in a negative way because I knew she loved me and I knew she would never judge anyone. She’s just not that type of person. I would have told her sooner but she moved to Connecticut and got married right when I was starting college. After I told her of course she had a million questions and we stayed up all night drinking and talking. I wasn’t too worried about telling Tamika either. She has always been very open minded and not judgemental at all. She probably has the biggest heart out of anyone I know but she doesn’t let too many people see that so I’m blowing her cover by writing this (lol love you Mika). Shante and Tamika gave me huge boost of confidence right when I needed it most. Years later after my parents found out, Tamika called me and told me to come live with her for a while in South Carolina if I needed to get away from everyone while they sort things out. I told her I’d love to take her up on her offer but I have a dog and a boyfriend. She told me they were welcome too without hesitation. She swooped in right when I needed her most and I love her for doing that. I never felt like a freak around Shante and Mika. They were more than supportive, they were my cheerleaders when my life didn’t have much cheer in it. I don’t know anyone more loyal then they are to me. I love them both and I should tell them that a lot more often.
After telling those four I slowly became more comfortable sharing that with people. I think the whole coming out process for me lasted about 5 years. All four of them changed my life for the better and I love each and every one of them for it. Now everyone in my life knows I’m gay, both friends and family. Back when I was closeted I couldn’t even imagine my family still loving me the way they do. My parents haven’t disowned me (even though they don’t fully understand that being gay is not a choice), I can talk to my sister about my boyfriend and she’s totally supportive, and it’s made my friends and I even closer. I’m engaged to the most wonderful guy I’ve ever met and I’m very optimistic about our future together… and who knows, maybe my family will surprise me and attend our wedding. Anson says I shouldn’t give up hope so I’m trying to take his advice.
I would also like to acknowledge my friend Casey and her husband Joey. I forgot how I told Casey but I do remember how cool and supportive she was after finding out. Her husband Joey reacted pretty much the same as she did. He even went to a couple gay bars with me and my friend Tim before. It takes a very secure guy to go to a gay bar without feeling as though his manhood is being threatened (lol). A few years before I came out to my family, my friends and my boyfriend threw me a surprise birthday party. My sister and brother were there along with a few of their friends. Halfway through the party two drag queens showed up because my boyfriend invited them. When they walked in it was like the music stopped and everyone turned their attention to the lady-boys walking in singing happy birthday. Joey saw the panicked look on my face and quickly came to my rescue. He pretended they were his guest instead of mine, which was so completely amazing of him. I was on the verge on a breakdown and I don’t know what I would have done if Joey hadn’t been there to take that bullet for me. I’m not sure if I ever thanked him for that, so if I didn’t… consider this a slightly delayed thank you.