Coming Out

Wouldn’t you think that after so many years of hiding, hiding would be easier? That it would bother me less? I know I’m not alone; we all hide a little. I suppose the extent to which we hide is just a matter of degree.

Last night I mailed a letter to my father. I told him I am bisexual. It’s something I’ve kept secret from my family, with a few exceptions, and even some of my friends.

When writing the letter, I was on edge; trying to think of the best way to say something so important, so uncomfortable, was difficult. I felt overwhelmed with anxiety. Was I making a mistake? I know my father, right? Telling him wouldn’t damage our relationship, would it? The truth is, I’m not sure. He and I never had a discussion that breached the topic. My father is conservative and I was raised catholic. When writing the letter, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was about to damage one of the most important relationships in my life. Will he still love me the same? I’d like to believe he will. Even though I was apprehensive, I finished the letter, in doing so the importance of it hit home. I’ve stuffed and mailed plenty of envelopes, especially since my prison tenure began, but this was different. There was something special about dropping this letter into the mailbox. As it left my fingers and disappeared through the slot in the box, I was filled with a sense of pride and relief. I knew at that moment, no matter the outcome, I had made the right choice.

Ideally, I would have sat my dad down and had a face to face conversation, but I mailed the letter from FCI Allenwood, a low security correctional institution located at the foothills of White Deer, Pennsylvania. I’m in jail. I’m a federal inmate. Prison is an eye-opening experience, starting the minute you walk through the door.

Arriving at my new home was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I hadn’t slept much the night before, my stomach churned as I made my way to the front gate, knowing when it closed behind me, my freedom would end as my life as a prisoner began. The booking process was tedious. There was lots of waiting in a holding cell. I was strip searched to ensure I hadn’t brought contraband onto the compound. My mugshot was taken and my tattoos photographed and documented. A nurse took my vitals and I was handed a bedroll and told to head to the unit that would become my home for the next few years. It didn’t take long to realize that prison takes you back to an earlier time where bigotry and ignorance were the law of the land. With just a few footsteps, decades of progress seemed to simply disappear.

It has been six months since I self-surrendered, and since then I have lived among a hatred that I naively hoped no longer existed in this world. This ignorance has driven me to and prompted me to write my father yesterday, and you today.

I am not open about my sexuality here. Not out of embarrassment or lack of pride, but to be 100% upfront, it’s because I’m being selfish. I have a daily routine and friends, and I don’t want everything to change. I suppose it’s the same reasons I told myself growing up – the same reasons to convince myself to continue to hide. Who I am should never depend on where I am, yet it does.

Yesterday I was reading and had two inmates standing in front of me, discussing a gay man they knew. They kept referring to him as a a “fag” and spoke about him like he was nothing more than scum. I wanted to put down my book and scream “I’m gay! You speak to me daily, eat with me, work out with me. How can you base your opinion of someone solely on their sexual preference and not their personality?” These scenarios are not the exception unfortunately, the are the norm. Just recently during the NFL draft, I overhead another inmate: “The NFL is making it seem like it’s okay to be a fag. I swear if my son came home and told me he was a faggot, I’d punch him in the face.” Once again I wanted to speak up. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. Yet again, I said nothing. I stood there, quiet. That is true cowardice, knowing what is right and not standing up for it. I can’t put it any simpler than this: I was scared.

I have a friend in prison named Mark. He is openly gay and I have mad respect for him for being who he is here. I told him that I’m bisexual. It’s liberating to be open about that with someone here. Still, I find the thought of anyone else finding out to be daunting. Recently, he said something to me that really struck a nerve. We were speaking about the times when I could have stood up for myself but didn’t. He said, “When people hide who they are, they end up being part of the problem; and you are either part of the problem or part of the solution – there is no other option.” He admits that as an openly gay man, even he is at times part of the problem. I had never looked at it that way before, but it is so true. I am part of the problem. I guess I’m not as brave as I ought to be. Is it the world I grew up in that makes me fear being open about my true self? It saddens me to think that so many others feel the exact same fear.

Friends and family members who I have not yet come out to will inevitably read this. Well, this is me. This is who I am. Today I’m more comfortable that I was in the past. I’m far from the bravest person in the world, but I’m getting better. What I know today with no uncertainty is that I no longer want to be part of the problem. So what’s the solution? I wish I knew – but whatever it is, these steps are my first toward being a part of it.

– John