Michael, in his own words: “To me, being gay is an orientation, an the innate truth that guides attraction beyond your control. I think being out is more important than being gay; being out is the choice to own that truth, and that takes courage. Everyone has something to come out about.
My biggest challenge is fighting internal homophobia, the constant split-second judgments I make about how out to be, how to answer questions in the office or for a new job or meeting someone on the bus. My greatest success has been my marriage, which, though similar to many other successful marriages, in many ways had no real template to follow.
I came out in high school and was treated very well by everyone. I sometimes wonder how much of that was the kindness of my peers and teachers, and how much was the way I worked so hard to make others comfortable.
(With regards to the gay community in DC) DC is very, very gay.
(Advice I’d give my younger self) I would tell a younger me to be more courageous and more curious.”
John, in his own words: “Being gay means you’re attracted to members of the same sex. Sex is a very important (and fun!) part of that, of course, but it goes even beyond that. I’m not just a man who likes to get off with guys — I also seek affection, companionship, and love with and from other men, and to give that to them as well. That — and sexuality, of course — is why I identify as gay.
It took me a very, very long time to get over my internalized self-hatred. I was raised Catholic, and very religious at that, so that meant that as I awakened to my identity as a gay man, that realization was accompanied by intense feelings of shame, anxiety, isolation, and guilt. I did everything I could think of — up to and including attempting suicide — to try and not be gay, and it was only once I reached that point that I realized that if I’d been so spectacularly unsuccessful at getting rid of it, then it was probably meant to be there in the first place. I’ve come a long way since then — from a scared, self-loathing gay Midwestern Catholic to an out and proud gay LGBT equality advocate — so I’d say that journey has been one of my greatest successes. But as Michael said, my greatest success would definitely have to be my marriage. Like any couple, we’re both flawed people, and like any marriage, ours has its ups and downs, but at the end of the day, the one thing we can count on is our enduring love for each other. Even if I had nothing else in my life, my marriage to Michael would be enough.
I realized I was different when I was very young — maybe 5, 6, 7 years old — long before I knew that that difference had a name. I came out for the first time during my freshman year of high school, to a friend of mine who I was in plays and musicals with. He was already fully out, so it was his example that inspired me to take that first step. I came out very gradually to select friends after that, even as I was still struggling to make peace with my being gay. It wasn’t until the summer after my senior year of high school that I came out publicly, to my parents, family, and community. Some reacted negatively, but the people who mattered most — including my parents, brothers, and grandparents — embraced me and my truth.
(With regards to the gay scene in D.C.) It’s funny — as someone who’s coupled, my experience of the D.C. gay scene is very different than that of my single friends. They tell me that the D.C. gay scene is cliquish, catty, and can be brutally cutthroat/backstabbing… but that hasn’t been my experience at all. Michael and I have made many wonderful gay friends here. We have many friends in D.C.’s thriving Russian gay expat community, and we also are close with some incredibly amazing lesbian couples. So yeah, gay D.C. is pretty fabulous!
I don’t know that I’d have any advice to give to my younger self, because I really don’t believe in living with regrets; all of my experiences have helped shape me into the person I am today. If I could give advice to kids like my younger self, though — kids who feel alone, who have a hard time accepting and loving themselves because they’re gay, and who struggle under the weight of internalized homophobia and religion-based bigotry, I’d tell them to hold on. I’d tell them not to listen to anyone, whether it’s family, peers, religious leaders, or the voice inside their head, who tells them that they are broken, sinful, evil, or bad. I’d tell them that they are beautiful and that they’re loved just the way they are, and that there’s a whole community of people ready to welcome them with open arms.”