Written by Benjamin Hawes | June 1, 2017
Today is the first day of LGBT Pride Month, and I had the realization that I have been openly gay for 6 years. A week from today, I turn 25, and I have been open about being gay now for 6 full years. I wanted to sit down and record this story for me to have, for the world to have. I want to tell you my coming out story.
Taking it way back to my childhood, I always knew that I was very different, but I never connected anything with sexuality, as kids tend not to do. I have a few flashbulb memories in my younger years where I felt totally independent from what other kids were doing. I remember being friends with only girls, and I remember that I didn’t participate in things that other boys liked doing. I signed up for gymnastics and I loved it, but I just knew that it wasn’t super manly. I remember not signing up for soccer and baseball every year, and just knowing that it was different from what my older brother and all of his friends did.
I loved art, I loved music, I loved all of that. All I wanted was to be a famous actor or to be a musician. I didn’t care about being masculine because I didn’t need it. I was never interested in doing things just to fit in.
I always knew I was “different” from other people, but I truly didn’t care. I liked myself and I wasn’t really self-conscious about who I was or what I did. I don’t know why, but for as long as I can remember, I have been really content with who I am, and I haven’t worked very hard to fit into any boxes.
Like most kids, I never thought much of my sexuality or who I was attracted to until around 6th grade. And that was when people started to ask me about it. I knew that there were guys that were masculine, and I knew that I wasn’t one of them. In 6th grade, I was walking around with a beautiful bowl cut that had highlights, and my voice wasn’t even remotely deep. I didn’t play any sports, I was BFFs with a ton of the girls at school, and I obviously wasn’t interested in dating any of them.
I don’t really think I was bullied. I think that people genuinely just wanted to know if I was gay. And I still didn’t know what I was attracted to, or what the word gay even meant. But from my peers, I did know a few things about what it meant to be gay.
I knew that it was something I shouldn’t be. I knew that being gay was supposedly a bad thing that nobody wanted to be. That if you were gay, you were less of a man. That you would be some kind of an outcast and that you could get bullied. I knew that when guys thought something was lame or stupid, they’d call it gay. I knew that if someone didn’t like you, they used gay slurs to describe you.
I didn’t know that being gay just meant that you were attracted to the same sex. I only knew that it was something that you didn’t really want to be (I was totally wrong, but I’ll get to that later).
In general, I kind of just did my thing. I remember that when I went to school dances, people asked me if I was gay. I remember that people just thought I was gay, and I kind of functioned as a guy who was different and who people thought was gay. I honestly didn’t think too much of it.
When I got to high school, there were a few guys who were out as gay, and I didn’t really think I was much like them, but I still just didn’t think much of it. At that point, I genuinely never connected 2+2. I didn’t even know what 2 and 2 were.
I remember genuinely thinking that I had crushes on a few girls. I remember listening to love songs and thinking of girls because I just figured that I was straight (You always think it’s not going to happen to you). I asked girls to dances, but it was never even remotely romantic at all, and I just continued to function that way.
All of that said, I really wasn’t hiding “who I was.” I was very open about how much I loved Britney Spears, and I didn’t have any problem being artsy and pretending I was famous and cosmopolitan. One of my catchphrases was “there’s no such thing as too much glitter” and I was very open about that.
I definitely didn’t dress as well as I do now, and I do regret that.
People would ask my friends if I was gay and they later they told me about this. My friends would just tell people “I really don’t know” and “he’s just Ben” and things like that. Like most of my problems in my life, I just kind of bottled this up until it was ready.
I remember there being a moment in the car ride home from a Miley Cyrus concert with my best friend Kelly where I was talking about how beautiful Miley Cyrus was, and how she was my dream woman. Kelly asked me if I could, would I want to be with Miley Cyrus. And I remember being flustered and trying to come up with an answer.
I remember lots of little moments like that in high school. People asking me what I thought of girls, and me kind of brushing it off.
I know that this is hard for people to digest, but in high school, I did know that guys were what I was interested in. I was able to identify when a guy was attractive, and I knew I liked that. But even though I knew that I was interested in guys, I genuinely didn’t know that it made me gay. I 100% thought I would grow out of it. I 100% thought it was something that would leave me. And I hoped to God that it would. I never imagined that I would carry through later on and actually come out of the closet as a gay person. That was so out of my realm at that time.
I had thoughts like “if someone were gay, why would they ever want to come out? Aren’t they just choosing a harder life and aren’t they just subjecting themselves to people hurting and hating them?”
In reality, I didn’t really care that I was gay at that time. It just wasn’t on my radar. Still, at 25, I don’t totally care about dating. Through my life, dating and relationships just haven’t been a big focus.
That said, I struggled with it through high school and everyone just wanted to know. And people asked me all the time. It was something that people needed to know about me. And because it was such a focus in so many of my conversations, it felt like something I should address.
College – Freshman Year
When I was 17 and applying for colleges, I got into school at San Francisco State. And I chose to go there. This was one of the first times I had a thought of being gay. I remember thinking, very quietly and very subconsciously, that if I went there, it might be a good place to come out of the closet.
When I got to college in 2010, I had a hard first year. I had friends and I liked being in college, but I just mean that with my identity, I was a little bit lost. I remember that I was in an all-male wing of the dorms and hating that because I just wanted to be around more girls. I remember there being groups of guys that would hang out together and I just didn’t get it. And I felt like if anything, I was more manly for hanging out with girls all the time.
I remember there were nights where I would ponder this. I would think about what was wrong with me and why I wasn’t like those groups of guys who hung out with each other. I honestly never hated myself, and I really wasn’t ashamed. I was just confused. It was a really reflective year.
San Francisco is a place where a lot of the people are part of the LGBT community, and they seemed to really like being a part of it. I remember them being incredibly open about who they were, and being so taken aback by that. Likely trembling about the idea of what people would think of me if I was part of it.
I remember that people would ask me all the time if I was gay, and it wasn’t them bullying me or hurting me, but people would ask me all the time. It got to the point where it was happening multiple times a day.
There was a time when a gay guy who was a friend of a friend who tried to tell me what I was, and I really, really hated that. I was talking about a performance on an awards show where Cee-Lo Green had a very colorful feathery bird-like costume on.
Being that I love big loud things, I said at dinner one night that I wanted to someday buy that costume because I loved it. And he said, “Because you’re gay.” And I stopped him and he said it again. “Because you are gay.” I hated that so much. (I now know that’s a scene in Sex and the City)
Things like this happened to me all the time, but this time I went home that night and just was torn to shreds. Did people think I’m gay? Do people know I’m gay? Do I even know if I am? Do they care? Do I care?
That spring, I went home for Easter, and my family went to church. That year, I had made a few declarations to my mom about my dating life that made it pretty clear that I was struggling. And like most do, my mom always knows everything.
I remember very clearly talking about these things with my mom on the drive, and while I don’t remember exactly what I said, I do remember exactly what she said. She did what every parent should do. She just turned to me and said: “You know, Ben, we would take you any way you are.”
That whole year was a struggle for me, but those words coming from my mom meant the world to me. It turned out that I still wasn’t ready. It just wasn’t the time.
The Summer I Turned 19
That summer, I’m pretty sure I had a textbook 101 identity crisis. I manned up super hard (Or I thought I did, at least). I was doing a manual labor job where I wore boots and drove a truck with the radio stuck on country stations. I quit listening to my treasured teen pop stars and started to leave behind the things that did make me who I was. I was finally coming to the idea that I could be gay, but I was rejecting it.
At that point, I was probably 90% there. In the back of my mind, I knew I was gay, but I just figured I would never ever come out. I truly didn’t see a reason to do something like that.
It wasn’t until my annual family camping trip that I made that decision.
Now, this is going to sound so weird, and I know that, but this is what happened, and that’s why you’re here, right? My family goes on a camping trip each summer at my uncle’s place in Washington State. You know I don’t get out much, and there must have been something in the air one night because I had the most vivid dream I have had in my entire life.
As I slept out on the deck under the stars, I had a vivid dream.
In the dream, a younger cousin of mine came to get me and he said to me “we know, and it’s okay.” And he grabbed my hand, and he took me from person to person in my life, and they all said those words.
(It was very similar to Michael Scott’s proposal to Holly, and I can’t not address that.)
After each person said “we know, and it’s okay,” he took me to my mom, whom I dearly love and respect, and she hugged me and said “I know, and it’s okay,”
Again, I know that sounds super strange, but that is the dream I had. When I woke up with tears in my eyes, I knew that I was ready. I like to think of my life before that dream and after that dream.
I grew to accept myself, my past, and my uncertain future. That day, I sat on the end of the dock on the lake just thinking. About me, about my friends, about my future. I didn’t know what it meant, I didn’t know where it would take me, and for the first time in my life, I was at peace with that.
I couldn’t believe that I was going to make the decision to come out of the closet. I couldn’t believe that I was facing that. That I was actually going to do this.
I made the decision that when I got back to school in August, that I was going to start fresh with this new identity, and that I would just tell people because I was finally ready.
The Actual Coming Out
I had made that decision because I was going to be making new friends as an RA that year at school. I mean, honestly. Who’s going to be more accepting than RA’s?
In the first few days, I had little urges to say it out loud, and I didn’t. How do you say it? That word? I couldn’t. A couple of days in, I went to dinner with a few new friends and continued to not say it out loud. Something came up about women wearing watches and I said something dumb like “I love women who wear watches” and something about how I would only marry a woman who wore one.
I was with a group of friends who called that out immediately. They knew that I wasn’t straight.
Later that night, two of them sat me down to talk about it. It was late in the night, and we were in a small dorm room just talking and getting to know each other. One of them started to tell me that he used to say the things that I say about girls. That someone had to pull it out of him, and that he would have never come out of the closet unless someone made him.
That night, he pulled it out of me. I was really struggling to defend myself and hold my ground on why Miley Cyrus was my dream woman. I was sitting there confused as to why 2 weeks ago I had made this decision to come out of the closet, and I was now sitting in a room lying my ass off about how much I like girls.
I got so nervous that night I had to leave the room for a minute, but when I came back in I spoke those words… kind of.
I came back into the room, sat down on the tiny couch I had to myself, and my face went white. I then paused for what felt like forever, and I said “I………am.”
It was the craziest feeling. I was more nervous than I had been about anything, and I felt so threatened by the fact that the secret wasn’t mine anymore. It felt like the story wasn’t mine anymore. I had just met these people and I told them my deepest darkest secret. What was stopping them from telling everyone else? Why would they care who knows? They won’t protect this. They won’t protect me like I will protect myself.
They looked at me and they said, “you’re what….. gay?”
I said, “yes.” I knew I couldn’t say the word. It was really hard for me to say that word.
I then instantly said, “but it doesn’t mean anything.” And they didn’t know what it meant. But I did.
My whole life, being gay meant something to people. And whatever it meant, I never wanted to be that. I never wanted to to be someone’s gay friend. I never wanted for assumptions to be made about me because I was gay. I didn’t want to be in a box that I had worked so hard to break. I was me. I was just Ben. And I never wanted that to change.
Things changed after that, and my friends didn’t leak my secret. As I went to bed that night, it really felt like something was released. The “weight off my shoulders” metaphor did not apply. It felt like I had burst. It felt like there was something that had been inside me that was now shooting out. Maybe I had watched Katy Perry’s “Firework” video too much but it really felt like like fireworks sparkling out of me.
The next day I told 3 people and I became obsessed with telling people. In 2 days, everyone at school knew. You know how I get about self-promotion, and this was a big story.
I was so happy. I was living freely in San Francisco and I was really, really happy about that.
It was unreal. I couldn’t believe that people were okay with this and that they seemed not to be shocked. So in September, I texted (my dream coming out method) 2 of my best friends from high school and told them that I was gay. I told them that it wouldn’t change anything and that I hoped they were okay with it. And they were!
Don’t get me wrong, I was totally still struggling with it, I didn’t know what it meant, I didn’t know what I wanted to do about it, and I was kind of lost with it. I honestly still am kind of lost with it sometimes.
I wanted to take my coming out to the next level. On the phone, I told my friend Victoria that I wanted to just send my mom an email telling her, and she didn’t think that was a great idea.
She had the idea that I should send a physical letter, and that I should send it to both of my parents, not just my mom. I was worried about doing both parents at once, but she was wise, so I followed her advice.
I crafted a letter, and I put it in the snail-mail and waited for 2 days for it to arrive at their house. It was hard to trust that it would get there quickly, and I knew it would feel like forever. I couldn’t even think about it so I just walked out to the mailbox and put it in and walked back.
In the letter, I had requested from my parents that they email or text me before they called me because I didn’t want to have their initial reaction over the phone. I knew I just wouldn’t answer the phone.
A couple days later, I got a letter from my dad and a phone call from my mom. My talk with my mom went as expected, and she was really helpful. She offered to help me and tell the family members for me. I really appreciated that. She was very comforting and matter of fact about it.
The letter from my dad really meant a lot to me. He emailed me and let me know that all he wanted is for his kids to be happy and that he always thought I would be happy. He said he hoped I wasn’t worried about telling them, and that he loved me, and that all he wanted was for me to be happy.
Every parent should take note from my parents. That simple message that no matter what, they would have me anyway I came was huge to me. And it’s a huge privilege that I had that.
After I told my parents, I decided to tell EVERYONE! So I hopped on Facebook and sent the following note to my friends:
I have something to tell you. I am Gay. There. I Said it. It’s not a secret, and you can do what you want with this info, I am not trying to hide it or anything. I didn’t come to terms with it until a bit ago, so don’t feel like I’ve been lying to you, or something. I care about you and I wanted you to be one of the first people to know. I am sure it isn’t much of a surprise to some of you, and If you have any questions, please let me know. Anyways, have a great week!”
The next day was the best day of my life. I had now told everyone. I was out. I was open. I didn’t care who knew. That’s the most freeing thing in the world. All day, I was receiving notes from family, from friends saying that they loved me, that they didn’t care, and that I was fine.
It turned out that coming out of the closet was an absolutely amazing decision, and I’m so happy that I ended up doing it.
There’s more of the story that followed my initial coming out, and I’ll post that on another day, but when I look back at all of these years that it took me to come out, I think there are some lessons not just for young LGBT people, but for everyone.
The lessons I learned
- My first lesson is that with coming out, timing is really important. If you’re someone who might be gay, don’t let people define you. Trust yourself. Allow yourself to experience the world as you, allow that time to happen. If you think someone in your family or group of friends might be gay, let them come out on their terms. Allow that person to come out when they’re ready.
- My second lesson is that nobody should ever try to fit a mold. You shouldn’t ever try to become something if there is a label you think you might identify with. And you shouldn’t accept a label just because other people put it on you. You should simply be focused on who YOU are, and let all of the other details fall into place.
- My third lesson is that you should make it a point to tell your family that you love them and that nothing would change that. You should be open with them that if they were gay, you wouldn’t stop loving them, that you wouldn’t cut them off, and that you would take them any way they are.
I’m really happy that I trusted my own timing and I just focused on being who I was before I put a label on who I was. If nothing else, I have a great foundational understanding of who I am, outside of just being gay.
Being gay is a huge part of who I am, and I’m really proud that I have been able to continue to be an individual, and make decisions that are true and authentic to me, and not just in line with labels and stereotypes that others project onto me. I was able to fit the pieces into the timeline because I trusted myself, and I didn’t let others define me.
I’m really happy in my life as I turn 25, and I hope that someone finds this and it helps them. Thank you so much for reading this. Have an amazing week 🙂
My story is full of privilege. For one, my parents were 100% accepting, and nothing changed about the support they gave me. I also was able to finish my education and continue to a great career. In the LGBT community, I have more privilege as a white man than any other intersection of the LGBT community. For my 25th birthday, I have pledged to raise $1000 for The Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention and crisis assistance to LGBT youth who don’t have the support and love that I had.
If you are able to, please consider donating any amount to this foundation by clicking my link here. And I have a video below to show more about them!