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P.S.: STRUGGLING WITH COMING OUT

Posted by on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 in Many Voices, One VU, Personal Well-Being.

Tom Agger, ’17,
School of Engineering

When I finally came out to my parents, I was relieved. “Finally, I’m done with this” I thought to myself. I had started writing them a very generic camp letter. I don’t know who came up with the idea that kids and parents would both rejoice at the exchange of meaningless letters, and looking back, I’m pretty mad the whole shebang exists.

There’s often nothing good to say. “Hey mom! Today we had a dairy meal, instead of a meat meal!” (par for the course at a Jewish summer camp). Or “The six year olds that I’m a counselor-in-training for are jerks! Who would have thought?!”

Tom AggerThis letter was more of the same. Its one distinguishing feature was a slightly abnormal flamboyancy. Flamboyant because I had borrowed someone’s glitter pens to scrawl each line of the letter in a different color.

I had been stressing about coming out that whole year. The year had progressed slowly, with all my friends finding out through a grab bag of different media (gchat, in-person confessions, more gchat). At this moment in the summer, however, the only thing troubling me was the uncomfortably small bed I had to sleep in. Until Deborah Secular entered the scene.

Deborah was my first fling. Two years prior, her contagious laugh and tendency to blurt out nonsensical phrases in inappropriate situations caught my eyes, ears and heart. We swiftly began a “camp relationship”, which ended on relatively good terms with the end of our summer camp. Deborah was the only thing that reminded me of my newfound sexuality.

Seeing her face again at camp led me to spontaneously write what I thought was a seemingly innocent phrase at the bottom of my letter: “P.S. I’m gay.”

I thought this plan was fool-proof. I had eliminated the stress and awkwardness of an in-person sit down with my family. I had run the hypothetical situation through my mind hundreds of times, and this seemed the easiest way. No one would be upset, right?

Wrong. So wrong. I came home two weeks later to my mom crying hysterically. Her face was puffy like a tomato, letting me know that the crying had been long-term.

This isn’t a sad story, though. My family is all the good stuff: accepting, short, loud. After two awkward weeks of explaining my situation, and explaining it again, everything slowly began to morph back into a sort of normalcy. My mom started smiling again, but she still seemed a little uneasy whenever I would talk about my guy friends. We have continued to work towards complete normalcy (aka, me complaining to my mom about dates gone wrong), but we still haven’t quite reached that point.

The sad part was, I thought my “coming out” was over.

What I’ve learned since is that, even in these years of inspiring gay rights victories, I still feel I have to “come out” to everyone new I meet, especially on campus. Even as I keep ignorantly thinking ‘this time will be the last.’

I’ve tried all the different approaches ranging from subtle and deliberate, to overt and dramatic.

Recently, while on study abroad, many of my classmates and I flooded the same restaurant and were received warmly with handshakes and greetings from Frenchman. I proposed we play two truths and a lie to get to know each other. The other students asked me to go first, and I had it all planned out: “I’ve hooked up with a monk. I’ve never ridden a roller coaster. I once sold avocados to Julia Stiles.” A couple of poorly phrased questions later and everyone had deduced that female monks don’t exist.

This influx of new people in my life, namely more than 150 Georgia Tech students in France, forced me to revisit the discomfort of coming out. The two truths and a lie method worked, but it definitely didn’t eliminate the probing questions (“How long have you been gay for? So do girls, like, gross you out?”) I so desperately try to avoid.

Of all the environments in which I have come out, Vanderbilt was one of the more comfortable. In a place where differences are celebrated and quirks are cause for curiosity instead of rejection, I felt almost welcomed to come out. Even within Vanderbilt, however, new situations are cause for new awkwardness. Coming out to my first year floor wasn’t the end of it. Afterwards, there was coming out to my Visions group, then to the Visions group that I led, to the radio show I host, and so on.

In short, I’m still looking for the right way to tell people how gay I am. It sucks that I still feel the need to make these grand announcements, but I do. But maybe next time I can just let them read this updated version of my terribly blunt camp letter.

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