It Gets Better

Today is October 11th, 2017. Its National Coming Out Day. I’ve been out to my family for roughly nine years but not by my own accord. Nine years ago, I was outed by an ex and it flipped my life upside down for a good portion of my teen years. My original plan was not coming out to my parents until after college because I knew that they disapproved of gay men. Often hearing the painful rhetoric containing of “sissies” and “faggots” from the conversations a room over. My teen years were rough, it took me about six years to finally be comfortable with myself being a gay man. Through those years, I handled internalized homophobia, isolation from family and friends, and a metamorphosis of my identity which lead me to the person I am today. Hello, I am Jules Schock and this is my coming out story.
In 6th grade I learned what the word “gay” meant. My neighborhood friends would use the word in replace of “stupid” or “lame”. Due to context clues, I always figured that the word “gay” literally meant that until I asked one of them one day. It was weird, they talked about guys liking dudes and it didn’t really connect with me. I had a bunch of guy friends. In a way, weren’t we all guys who like dudes? We didn’t hang out with girls much. The rhetoric was confusing.
In 8th grade, I understood what “gay” was but I didn’t use the word to describe myself. I saw my interest in guys because guys were more like me than what girls were. At this same time, I didn’t “like-like” girls in that way. Girls were just friends to me the same way that my neighborhood guys friends were. I decided to keep these emotions to myself.
There was a guy who would go to the same Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments as me that I hung out with a couple times. He was the first person who told me he was “bisexual”. The way he made it sound was so fascinating. It was liking both guys and girls. Bisexual seemed like it fit me. Before my freshman year of high school, I told myself I was bisexual.
Growing up with anti-LGBT rhetoric everyday meant that I knew I could never come out. My parents would talk down about gay people all the time. “Fags” were made fun of in my high school pretty often so the only place I felt was online. When I played stuff like Runescape online, I would tell my online friends that I was bisexual. It felt easier to say it there than in real life. In a chat room, it’s just text that people scroll through and then it’s gone. Plus, it’s not like people would bully me off Runescape, let’s be honest.
I dated a guy in my freshman year of high school. It was very brief but it was the first ever “gay” guy that I’d ever dated. My sexuality made me so insecure that I would only date guys who were much more feminine than I was. I felt like if I was “the man” in the relationship, it would make me feel better about being gay. I was still in the closet and only a small circle of my friends knew. At this time, I was still bisexual to them but I felt that it wasn’t such an equal appreciation anymore. Shortly after a couple months, my ex cheated on me and we broke up. In a fit of rage, he sent photos of us to my parents online. I had been exposed. I was outed.
Now that I was out of the closet, everyone found out. All those hateful connotations that came along with the word “gay” applied to me now. What I didn’t know about high school is that I was going to deal with those connotations a lot until I graduated. At first, it got to me. I was still insecure about my sexuality so all my actions and hobbies were “guy” hobbies. I tried to play sports, be into cars, and typical dude stuff. Maintaining masculinity was so important to me that I was trying to do everything I could so I could be gay without people calling me gay. It skewed the way I felt about gender norms. I still only dated feminine guys because it made me feel better about myself. I didn’t know anything about what it meant to be gay, all I knew was that my life was about to get much harder than what it was before.
Word got around school and I didn’t really have to come out to my neighborhood friends. They found out from gossip at school and that was fine enough for me. I didn’t talk to them much for a couple years partially due to shame. This same feeling drifted over my family as well. I remember a family gathering where all the parents and grandparents were talking about “this generation of gays and lesbians”. They kept telling us that everything was fine and we were part of the family but it didn’t really feel like that anymore for some time.
It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I figured out what a LGBT community was. There were gay/straight alliances online and I would read blogs from people talking about their coming out experience. For once I was talking to a group of people who understood what I was going through and I was able to be open with. There were these concepts and code-words for everything in the gay community. To the way our bodies were to the attributes of our personality as a gay man. It was a whole new language.
Senior year of high school is when I finally took my knowledge into the world. I knew some things about the LGBT community from online chat rooms but it was my first time being gay and proud in public. It was uncomfortable at first, holding a rainbow flag while volunteering at a youth center. Once I met other people, the uncomfortable feeling faded away. Later that year, at 17 years old, I went to my first pride. Being in Chicago was the first time I had ever felt comfortable in my skin. You see all the portrayals of the LGBT community on tv but it was weird to be living it. After that day I learned a lot about what it meant to be an out gay man. It was about being yourself and not apologizing for it.
By the time I got to college, I was out to everyone. My family disapproved a lot but they “put up” with it so long as I wasn’t one of those girly gays. When I left for college, it made this easier to deal with both for me and my parents. The LGBT community in college was so much more structured and elitist than it was back home. In high school there was like the typical social circles of the jocks, art students, band geeks, and so on. In college there was those social circles but then each social circle had their own mini-circles. In the LGBT community, there was the drag gays, skater lesbians, edgy bisexuals, “Masc4Masc” gays (they were so mean!), and the wholesome good trans folk. I had a small group of gay friends in high school but it was a different game in college. I didn’t know anyone. There was a pool of LGBT community right in front of me and I was so hesitant to dip a toe in.
I still never felt like I belonged. I had spent the past 4 years trying too hard to preserve masculinity and hiding my gay identity just to meet people who knew they were gay since they were children or had come to terms with it much smoother than I. In a weird way, being around a real community disfigured what I thought it meant to be gay again.
So here I went, from isolation, to belonging, to isolation again. I grew more internalized homophobia as I tried to ration out a methodical way of being gay in the world. I blamed culture for a long time but that didn’t go well because I, too, am a product of culture. Not apologizing for anything for how I went about myself in the world overlapped into how I felt about others in the LGBT community.
It wasn’t until I found a new group of gays that I learned what it felt like to be an outsider collectively. This group was a drag house. All the guys there were feminine gay men and it really helped me challenge what I thought about myself in terms of my own masculinity. If these guys were the way they were and didn’t have any issues with it, then why should I? They taught me so much about going against the grain of what it means to be a gay man. They taught me that I can be a gay man without people assuming, and if they did, so what? They didn’t pay my bills so why should I care what they thought about me?
Nine years later, I can look back and see the progress I’ve made when coming to terms with my sexual identity and how my family and friends feel about it. I have amazing friends that accept me for who I am today, undoubtedly. My family has made efforts to show that they care about that aspect of my life, which was better than just being shut out. Most importantly, I have confidence in myself to be the best at being myself. When talking about coming out, they always say that “it gets better”. Sometimes that line gets lost in all the drama of day-to-day life and you may forget that. I’m here to say that it does get better. It might get better for some quicker than others but I promise that it does happen. Look, my story took 9 years but here I am. The world isn’t as dreary as it looks because there’s pockets of people who will love you and support you no matter what. Take it one day at a time and most importantly, be brave.

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