I recently celebrated my third gay birthday. The 12th of August 2009 marks the day I came out to my parents… via SMS. This is how it happened and what I learned.

Coming out was a long process for me. I have known I was “different” since before I even knew what the word “gay” meant. My first step was to tell my friends.

After a high school career of being a “straight” A-student, I decided that during my first week of university I would get drunk for the first time and tell my close friends that I am gay. So, as planned, I drank around ten Brutal Fruits for some liquid courage. It wasn’t pretty. As it turns out, they weren’t surprised. They also weren’t deaf, dumb or blind, so I think they saw it coming.

That night involved a lot of sexy dancing (or what I thought were great I’m a Slave for You inspired moves) and me trying to undress my hot jock friends. It ended with me almost getting knocked out by a bouncer shortly before hurling all over my friend’s car. The rest of my friends got the “I’m gay, SURPRISE!” anti-climax at a fish ‘n chips shop at The Waterfront. I keep it classy.

I waited for almost three more years to tell my parents. I was scared but I made an agreement with myself that I would tell them the truth after I had moved out of home. I didn’t want to be around for the crying and screaming and all the drama. If you’d met my family you would understand. We’re like aggressive, emotional Italians. They were the last and most important people I had to tell.

God bless Facebook and nosey Jehovah’s Witness aunts… If your mother gives you the biggest coming out opening ever and asks via SMS, “Are you gay?” after being prompted by your stalker aunt, take it. (Even if it was a couple weeks before you were planning to tell them in person.)

Three years. It’s hard to believe that my other 21 were spent in that dark and damp closet. How did I do it? How was I able to be happy or fulfilled without being my full and true self? Oh wait, I wasn’t! Coming out was without a doubt the best thing I have ever done. And I have done a lot of cool stuff!

My only regret is that I didn’t come out of the closet sooner, at the very least in high school. Maybe I would have been able to start dating earlier. At 24, I feel completely stunted in the romance department. While all my straight classmates from Hicksville High are getting married or are on their third kid (not a great yardstick, I know), here I am: alone and not a boyfriend prospect in sight.

I probably shouldn’t be so hard on myself, though. It’s only been three years of failed romantic affairs. On the other hand, I am 24, turning 25, and that’s like 39 in gay years. My prime is just about over. (Cue Psycho soundtrack.)

I am in awe of any young gay kid that comes out as early as possible. I think it is so much healthier for your state of mind (as long you’re not in danger of being thrown out onto the street or beaten up, that is). If you own your sexuality, no one can make you feel bad about something you’re proud of.

“Most people think we’re all unsuccessful, slutty hairdressers who will eventually die of AIDS. You have to introduce them to the truth…”

Are you thinking of coming out the closet? Or have a friend who is? This is my gay (completely non-professional, non-expert, non-medical) birthday advice…

1) Make gay friends. Have a supportive group of close, knowledgeable gay friends that can advise and support you when needed. These days this often happens through online social networks. Now be careful not to confuse ‘friends’ with ‘I want to suck your cock’. Sex and support very rarely come from the same place. The platonic relationships tend to be the more helpful and lasting ones when you’re still a baby gay.

2) Educate yourself. Read as many gay books and watch as many gay movies as you can. Being informed on gay issues and queer theory will inspire and fuel your confidence in who you are and what you stand for. Knowing what science and religion actually say about homosexuality makes for a great rebuttal against all those lies you’ve been told.

3) Speak to someone. Going for counselling and just having someone unbiased to talk to was really therapeutic for me and I recommend it to anyone. Try and work through some of the damage caused by locking up your natural desires and living a dual reality. Gay people are damaged thanks to the bullshit we have to deal with from the rest of the world and we need to make sure we take time to heal.

4) Tell people (as long as it’s safe). For me, coming out to my homo-ignorant parents was my biggest hurdle. You should be aware that once you’ve told your parents the truth, they are probably going to go through the stages of grief. Their original dream for their son (the one of a wife and 2.5 kids with a white picket fence) has suddenly died. The stages of grief are: denial/isolation, anger, bargaining and depression, after which acceptance will follow.

Remember the last stage will almost always come – it just takes time and effort. Often a bad reaction is less about you and more about them. You cannot let others’ opinions of you affect who you are, what you do or feel about yourself.

I had to deal with parents who were both religious and conservative, which are very good indicators for ignorance. Any prejudice comes from ignorance and I think it’s our job to teach our parents about gay people. They only have their heteronormative view of the world and have probably had very little, if any, exposure to gays. Most people think we’re all unsuccessful, slutty hairdressers who will eventually die of AIDS. You have to introduce them to the truth, or at least try.

Remember that many gay people are filthy rich (pink money) and there is a disproportionate amount of very successful politicians, entrepreneurs and tertiary-educated homosexuals. That’s a fact.

5) WARNING! There are psychological and emotional implications when you free your soul and mind. Most of them are extremely positive, like feeling unburdened and joyful, but scheduling in sexy time with boys and gay clubbing tends to have a negative effect on your studies. Keep that in check. School is vitally important and should be made the priority.

I, for one, seriously contemplated leaving school but I stuck it out and I am so very glad I did. Taking a leave of absence or changing your study choice are far better options than quitting. Remember, being gay is expensive and you will need a good job to fund your fabulous lifestyle.

Be strong and patient and lean on your friends who will/may become your family of choice. And eventually, like mine, your actual family will most likely come to either embrace your gayness or at the very least tolerate it. (Or, they won’t and you need to be ready for that too.)

I think it took me so long to come out because I had no gay role models, support, info or resources. The internet wasn’t as freely available back when I was a tween as it is now. Once I got what I needed at university I was able to set myself free and be happy. I hope that can happen much earlier for others now and my goal is to do everything I can to help it along.

My gay birthday is a reminder never to forget where I came from and how I got where I am today. Coming out never ends, it just gets a whole lot easier. Let’s Gay it Forward.

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