“As a young 1st generation Italian-American in the ’80s growing up in the small community just north of the Adirondacks in New York I felt isolated not only because we didn’t have many other Italians in our community, but also as I grew older my loneliness and isolation became my suppression of myself as a gay man. I didn’t want to be gay and more importantly my fear was other people would find out. So I did what many people did, denied myself of who I was, kept quiet, remained a shy person, held in my emotions, and most importantly dated girls – or at least attempted to, but I wasn’t really good at it. Looking back I didn’t do these things intentionally knowing I was gay, I did them and acted this way because it’s all I knew how to be. I had a fear someone would know something about me that I didn’t know about myself. I’m not a feminine person and knowing I’m gay surprises many people, but the friends that really knew me as a teenager and as an adult; that really got to know me for me and knew my heart, soul, and mind – they knew I was gay before I knew. And when the time came for me to tell them I didn’t even have to say the words, they just said “I know! It’s ok, and I love you for trusting me and finally realizing who you are.”
My coming out was a difficult time as I’m sure it is for many gay youth. I was 18 years old and like many teens of the 90s, I started to explore the internet and went to chat rooms. In such a small community there was no gay youth center or gay groups in schools so I turned to the internet to explore this part of my life and my curiosity. I began chatting online with another gay Italian, the same age as myself. I felt relief finally not only in the fact that I had another Italian person to speak to, but most importantly another gay Italian – in those days I didn’t think gay existed, let alone gay Italians. He was going through what I was going through. We became great online friends for months and eventually met as he was only within an hours time in Montreal, Canada. Entrusting one another, and having started a friendship, over a few years we finally were able to admit to ourselves that we are gay, but just to each other. No one else could know. This was when my struggle with my family began as my mother eventually overheard us on the phone. She questioned everything I did until I finally had admitted it. Just saying the words “I’m gay” was like I had hit a brick wall. A brick wall of relief that I had taken down. I felt like the sun was shining upon me, birds were chirping, angels were singing, trumpets were playing – it was far from that – but I felt relief, like I had just been born. My heart pumped with joy and I felt a heavy burden was gone and I was no longer alone – even though I still at this time did not realize the extend of what there was out there for an LGBT community I knew who I was for the first time – and that in and of itself did not make me feel alone.
Eventually, after months of counseling with psychologists and priests, family arguments and disagreements, I decided to move across state to Buffalo, NY for college. My family and I began to get along better at a distance but my ‘dark secret’ was a burden to them, never spoken about to extended family, and when I visited home I couldn’t discuss my ‘gay lifestyle choice’, as my mother would call it. Soon, I began dating a guy, Steve, that I had met at a restaurant that we worked together in. We dated for four years before we moved in together. Even though my family knew about Steve, they never disrespected him in any way, they just did not discuss him. To them he was my roommate. The breaking point was when I told my mother Steve and I were going to be getting married. In the discussion I told her I had a new family, an accepting family that welcomed me, and that I wasn’t a humiliation to, and if Steve couldn’t be welcomed in her home I wasn’t welcomed either. It was then that my mother said to me that I was never a humiliation, she only feared what society would have done to me and how the world would have treated me. She’s never been more proud of me standing up for what I believe in and that I’ve become a stronger man that she’s never been more proud of. I guess our interpretation of how we view things, and how we believe others view things, will never change unless we speak up. Since then, Steve has been welcomed into my family’s homes and we celebrate holidays and events with each others families. We’ve been together 13 years now and since my struggle of coming out Steve has become my best friend, my companion, my heart and soul, the man I plan to grow old with and hopefully raise a family with someday.”