National Coming Out Day: Here's why I waited until age 48 to tell people I'm gay
Share this article:
By Kellie B Gormly
Washington - You might think that being queer is so widely accepted these days that there is no need for a day like today, National Coming Out Day. But let me tell you, I came out of the closet recently at age 48 after a lifetime of angst.
I've been looking forward to this day for a long time. My secret has been buried under layers of shame, grief and denial.
It shouldn't be such a big deal to come out as gay, but in the conservative 1980s growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona, the thought of being gay was horrifying and inconceivable to me.
Then, as a young adult - possibly in a move to rid myself of being gay - I became an evangelical fundamentalist Christian, which made my sexual orientation even more forbidden.
To be gay, as the beliefs go, is to be unacceptable to God, and the only way to avoid sinning is to repress and kill that part of yourself. Christian fundamentalism told me that God would heal my broken soul and change me into a heterosexual, if I repented, prayed, and tried hard enough.
Deep down, I knew this wasn't right, but I was desperate. I thought it was my only hope for a happy life. I vowed to reject and fight my attraction to women, and sought ex-gay Christian counselling to "pray away the gay." I heard nonsense from people in the faith community like, "I love gay people but hate this sin" and other shaming tropes.
Some good things did come out of it, actually, like dealing with and healing some childhood trauma. The theory is that these painful issues from one's upbringing are what make people - all inherently heterosexual - become warped and attracted to the same sex, and by dealing with the pain, the attractions will shift over time.
These childhood issues did need to be addressed and healed, and I gained a sense of self-worth. I found a certain peace with the past. However, underlying this all was a terrible anxiety, knowing that the only successful and acceptable outcome to this journey was a rewiring of my deeply ingrained sexual orientation. But it wasn't meant to be.
What started as a journey filled with healing and hope turned into a nightmare that I couldn't wake up from for years. The experience of failing to force myself to be straight led to a rock-bottom emotional state. I believed I was better off dead than gay.
I struggled with addictions and other destructive behaviour - namely alcoholism - and I now look back with compassion toward my younger self and see my drinking for what it was. Among other things, I drank as a way to numb and escape the pain, and because it was an outlet for all that love with no place to go.
I then turned to food as a replacement for alcohol and, having lost all hope for ever having romance, I lost my will to stay healthy and I gained a huge amount of weight.
One of the most painful things to happen is my relationship with my sweet mother, who passed away in 2017. She for several years hinted that she knew I was gay and that she loved me unconditionally, but tragically, my beliefs led me to reject her acceptance and shut her out emotionally. By the time I was finally ready to confide in her the secret she'd wanted so badly for me to share, it was too late. She was too far gone with dementia, and I never had the chance to embrace Mom's unconditional love and acceptance.
But now, as I work through my grief about the years that should have been filled with happiness, I can celebrate who I am. I am working to get healthy and reverse the years of damage I did to my body.
I am finally at a place of full acceptance and peace as a gay woman. I even fell in love and got my heart broken, but at least I'm looking in the right ballpark now and not trying so hard to make that happen with a man. It's never too late to find love and start living authentically.
While I am not a fundamentalist Christian anymore, I still have a strong relationship with God and faith is an important part of my life.
I no longer repent for being gay, but I do repent for my internalized homophobia that, for many years, led me to fiercely oppose gay rights and make many mean-spirited comments about gay people. I deeply regret the things I said as I took my internal war out on others.
I know that there are closeted gay people out there hurting just as badly as I was. I want you to know that you are not alone. That's why National Coming Out Day was created in 1988. It's on Oct. 11 because that is the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
There is plenty of support out there. If I can do this at age 48, you can too. I'm finally free. Let the rest of my life begin now. Just as I believe God intended it to be.