Michael, in his own words:“It’s easy to forget where you came from. What I mean is, it’s entirely possible to forget formative events, or the face of your favorite teacher, or the name of your child (I’m looking at YOU, mom). But one thing you never, ever forget, is your “coming out” story, if you have one. This usually reflects the time and circumstances you grew up in, and my story is no exception.
It’s the fall of 1991, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Yes, jerk, there is electricity and running water, and yes, New Mexico is a state. Despite Nirvana’s Nevermind just having been released, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 is still in heavy rotation on my Walkman. I own all the cassingles from it. I’m still mourning for the last Star Trek movie to feature the original cast, The Undiscovered Country, and my future boyfriend is probably being born (long story).
My boyfriend at this ancient time in 1991, however, is sweet, kind Max, who also happens to be my first boyfriend. He’s pretty great: awesome musical taste, handsome, really funny. We meet in freshman acting class and instantly connect through our mutual interests of Drakkar Noir and making out. He tolerates my Star Trek obsession the best he can. I mean, like, you know how some nerds are sexy? Yeah, I wasn’t one of those. Max was also with me when I get drunk for the first time from half of a Bartles & James wine cooler. Good times.
So the Big Event happened at the dinner table one night. I had moved out to go to school at UNM, which stands for the University of New Mexico (but is secretly the University Near Mom), but it was a couple miles from our house. Both my parents were enthusiastic smokers, something I didn’t think about until I moved out and then came back to visit. What. The. Hell. is that smell, guys? Why is there a chest-level cloud in the house? And why is grandma wheezing so much?
I don’t remember what we were eating, but I do remember it probably wasn’t Mexican. Despite my latin roots (on my mom’s side), I never developed a love of Mexican food. I had been hanging out with Max more and more, and had brought him over to meet my parents a couple weeks before. I also don’t remember what my parents and I were discussing, but I do remember as the meal ended my mom finally broached the subject: “Michael, is Max bi?”
The needle could not have skipped harder on the record as I set down my fork and looked at them. I imagine that I was cool and collected, but in reality I probably looked like a deer in headlights as I stammered “Uh, no. Of course not.” There was a long, long pause as they just stared back at me. I decided it was now or never.
“Yes. Yes he is. And so am I.” I didn’t bother correcting them at the time that he and I were gay, not bi. Maybe asking the question this way was their way to soften the blow for themselves, that maybe for them me being bi was like being “only half gay”. In any case, they both went down the “We still love you, you’re still our son, nothing has changed” road. And honestly, on some level they must have already known. I learned their real reactions later: my mom, being a director of an HIV-advocacy organization at the time, and friends with several gay artists, took the news all in stride. My dad, being the son of a Lutheran minister, privately struggled with it, but put on a supportive face. Why? Because he loved me, and he realized that love was evolving.
I’m lucky. Now, 20-some years later, I’ve turned 40. Both of my folks are amazing and supportive. My dad asks me how my boyfriends are whenever I’m dating someone, reads my posts about the shitshow that is my dating life (pro-tip: if a guy is ignoring you, it secretly means he is ignoring you). My mom tries to fix me up with literally every gay man she meets. But in the end, I’m fortunate. There are a lot of queer women and men out there whose tale is a lot different, whose coming out story is more fraught with pain and outright rejection than mine. There are people who don’t even have a coming out story yet, because of circumstances in their lives.
I look forward to the day that we don’t even need coming out stories, that it’s just universally accepted that we love who we love. But for now, we have these stories, and slowly but surely, the stories will get better and better. Let’s share them.”