I remember the first time I saw two men holding hands was back in the year 2001. My family had taken us to visit my Uncle (also former Godfather) in Jersey City, NJ. We went to New York City, NY to see times square, the statue of liberty and a few other tourist attractions. It was around 8:30 pm on a Friday night when two men were walking down the street, smiling, laughing and holding hands. The reaction from my parents was one of pure disgust. My birth father nearly stopped breathing at that moment and my birth mother started to pray (I think that’s what you call her actions at that moment). My brother, sister, and uncle didn’t even give it much attention at all. My uncle, noticing the reaction from my parents looked at them and said, “at least when they hold hands they are happy.”
After that evening was over, I laid in bed for well over two hours thinking about his statement to my parents. It bugged me so much that I confronted him the next day to inquire exactly what he was referring to. In short, he said people deserve to be happy with whoever they are with, regardless of gender and regardless of race. Several years later, when I was living with my uncle, he and my aunt (his vindictive wife) made it their life’s mission (literally) for over a month to essentially drag me out of the closet. At the time, I never thought of myself as a flamboyant person, but later realized how irrelevant that was.
The moment I finally had it with this ongoing pursuit to drag me out of the closet was when my uncle and cousin were sitting at the kitchen table. My aunt wasn’t home yet and I was the one cooking dinner. I don’t recall exactly how cooking hamburgers turned into to me finally just saying “YES I AM FUCKING GAY, ARE YOU SATISFIED NOW?” but it did. My uncle immediately came over, gave me a big hug and said: “Ryan, I’ve known this for years, don’t worry, we still love you and always will.” If only that were true….
My aunt came home later that night and my uncle almost immediately told her the news that I had come out of the closet. Instead of her saying something compassionate, supportive or comforting, her exact words were “I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT! I KNEW BOY WAS GAY!!!” She used to call me “Boy” all the time. I hated it, she knew it, but still did it anyway.
In summary, you shouldn’t let others dictate when you’re comfortable coming out of the closet. I did it out of pure frustration just because of the never-ending mission to discover something I didn’t feel ready to disclose yet. If I could do it over again, I would have brought a girlfriend home the next day to shut them up about the topic. Although that didn’t happen for me, you do have a choice. Come forward when you feel ready but don’t feel as though you must because of external pressure. Although I’m glad the burden was lifted from my shoulders as a 19-year-old teenager, coming out was my decision to make, not theirs to force out of me.
Keep in mind that the Pride Community has resources and support networks to help you through the coming out experience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s more available today than ever before. Back in 2001, it’s very unlikely I would have known where to look or how to obtain help. Today, with raised awareness, we are a community, family and support network for each other. Speak up, reach out, and when YOU are ready to come out, do it on your terms, not someone else’s.
Ryan A. Starzyk
Chairman, Education and Outreach Committee