Monday June 18th, 2012 Visalia City Hall

If anyone had told me, oh, say back when I was in high school, or even for a decade or two after that, that I would end up as some kind of “community leader”, standing at the public’s podium at the City Hall, and accepting a proclamation for that community, I’d have thought they were simply nuts.

Something’s changed.

Even after years of working in jobs that required “extensive public contact” (as a requirement in the ‘experience’ section of the job application for 9-1-1 dispatcher listed it) the idea that I would be able to stand before a group of City officials and a large public presence and speak was something I for years would not have been able to contemplate, let alone actually do.  (Not that I gave the best commentary, mind you.  I’m still kicking myself how little of what I meant to say actually got said, mostly due to nerves.  If I have another opportunity to do something like this, they may need exit music cued up to get me to shut up!  I hope.)

I feel like I’ve been running for several days, and have only now had a chance to slow down and think about the whole event.  Sunday I was in Fresno at the BBQ hosted each week by The Express, followed by tea at Teazer Tea in the Tower District with Ted.  Monday was the Proclamation, followed by dinner at Ryan’s Place.  Tuesday was TEDG, followed by a long gabfest at Tom’s house with several members of the community, as we downed cookies and pie.

Now I need to do household chores, like mowing the lawn!  Ugh…  that’s not something to which I’m looking forward!

But, back to the subject at hand.  Something’s changed.

I think I’ve figured out what that something is.  I’m out.  No longer hiding, no longer afraid someone will figure it out.  If you don’t attract any attention to yourself, then it’s unlikely anyone will pay enough mind to you to figure out that “OH MY GOD!! HE’S GAY!!”

These days I’m thinking that was really the basis for my extreme shyness, and fear of public speaking or any kind of public appearance.  I was quite “happy”, for a long time, to keep to the background, and not be the focus of any attention.  That wasn’t completely bad, I tend to do well in support roles, working in the background to help accomplish things.  There were opportunities that I passed on, however.  Things I could have done had I not been in hiding.  Perhaps places I could have gone, things I could have seen, and even maybe things I could have helped with.  They were all out of reach to me, or so I made them, so that I would not have to risk being found out.  That’s not a very rewarding way to live.

So now I’m out.  I’ve been out for some years now, but I really can’t say how many.  My coming out wasn’t a sudden event, or even occurring over a short time period.  It’s been a more gradual affair, with me becoming more at ease with the idea as time went on.  I can’t really point to a single moment where I “came out”, and say “that’s when it happened”.  I suppose I can say I’ve been out for ten years, depending on how you define “out”.  Work was one path, family was another, friends yet another.  At some point, starting ten or fifteen years ago, my closet vanished.  Something changed, and it took me a while to realize that myself.

I’m out.  You hear about others who come out and say things like “I feel like a great burden was lifted from my life”, or “I’ve never felt freer”.  It’s true.  If you were like me, in the closet (deeply so) for a long time, especially as an adult, the freedom one feels to no longer be hiding is wonderful.  It’s not that others have to accept you, or like you, or even be aware of you.  It’s those self-imposed limits no longer there, that lets you consider things you’d never have when the closet door was always in front of your face.  Suddenly (or not so suddenly, but eventually) possibilities exist that you never considered before.

You know what?  Some of those possibilities are fun!

I’m a bit disappointed in myself for letting it take this long, but I suppose we all have our “journeys”.  Mine has been influenced, in a positive way, by many.  My dear friend Ted has been a tremendous role model.  When he’s seen something that he felt needed doing, he’s jumped in and done it.  When someone or some group needed help, he’s been willing.  He’s always thinking about ways to help.  He’s supportive and positive.  Brooke is quite the community leader, too.  Creating Family Fest, a wonderful annual event at Mooney’s Grove park, designed to include everyone, including the kids, she also runs a local gay blogsite, and is an officer in a regional LGBTQ advocacy group.  Nate decided that more nightlife choices were needed in the area, and set out to achieve “gay” nights at a local club.  He’s also been active promoting and organizing Visalia Pride.  The folks at TEDG, PFLAG, Visalia Pride Lions, COS Pride, and the school GSA’s all stand as fine models to me and others.  Our journeys don’t have to be alone.

If we take longer than others to reach our waystops, each of us is still the product of the journey so far.  I hope my journey continues, and that I don’t fall back into old habits.  I suppose all we can do is cheer each other on, be supportive, and sometimes give or receive a swift kick in the backside when it’s needed!