My Experience: Coming Out in the 21st Century

Photo by Chris Pierce McCleary

I almost thought about introducing this interview with a cliché sentence about how difficult it can be coming out. For the sake of not sounding like one of those asinine “How To” articles, I have chosen to eschew. Truth is, I have no business writing that sentence, because I have no idea how difficult coming out must be. Anyway, I had the privilege to talk to Seth Girod, a local musician and one of the founding members of the eccentric art gallery and music venue, Dreamland. We had an enticing conversation about sexuality, gender, and his experience coming out to his family.

How old were you when you first discovered your sexuality?

Probably eight or nine, around the time when I first realized I wasn’t the typical straight kid.

How old were you when you came out?

To my family, I was 21. To friends, I started doing that in high school, probably when I was 17. Slowly through college, until I moved to Buffalo in 2007, is when I came out all the way.

What was like it like coming out to your family?

I was raised really religious. My parents are Seventh Day Adventist. It is one of the Christian churches that aren’t so happy about gay people being a thing. Growing up and hearing that a lot, I wasn’t sure how my parents were going to take it. I started coming out to my friends because I didn’t feel safe telling my parents at first. I was going to college five minutes away from my house and still living with my parents, I just couldn’t come out the way I wanted to. That is a big reason why I came to Buffalo in the first place, because this was the furthest school I could go to in NYS where I would have a significant amount of distance so I can forage my own life.

I came out after my first semester at UB, after I came up with a plan for if my parents kicked me out. I had a bunch of support and a lot of friends. I was getting involved with the LGBT club there and ended up running it. It helped me formed a good foundations so I wouldn’t be worried about what my parents did when I went home. I came out over Christmas break. It was almost on accident. My mom and I were friends on Facebook and she saw me partying. She asked me why I was hanging out with so many gay people so I thought ‘I guess we’re going to have this conversation now.’ I wanted to bring it up in a different way but I thought ‘alright well you’re curious, and you probably know anyways so let’s just talk about it.’ At first they were really harsh. My dad stopped paying for school and I had to take out a bunch of loans. My mom was mostly sad because she knew what I’ve been dealing with all through middle school and high school, getting made fun of and stuff. And now actually being out, she was worried about me. It has been eight years since. They’re great now, my dad is still not 100% fantastic, but he at least doesn’t pretend that it is not a thing. He knows I am going to have partners and they’re going to come around, and he is respectful. It went from me being worried I wasn’t going to have a place to stay with them, to them completely being okay.

Why is it that the mom seems to take it better than the father?

It’s that shitty masculinity, scared of the unknown kind of thing. Gay guys scare straight guys and they don’t know how to process that. Their masculinity is a bit fragile. I think he grew up in a really homophobic culture in the Caribbean and being gay was never normalized for him. It was always something gross, terrible, and an abomination. They hid behind religion as the thing that makes that lifestyle not okay. Its multiple factors, cultural and religious mostly.

I think everybody falls somewhere in the middle of the gay/straight spectrum. No one is 100% “straight.”  Your dad isn’t immune to this spectrum. Do you think he oppresses those feelings?

I’m weary of saying that no one is completely, 100% straight. I do think there is a lot of fluidity that people like to pretend doesn’t exist. I think a lot of homophobia is seeing yourself maybe being attracted to someone of the same sex and not knowing how to process those feelings, so you get angry and scared. That’s something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to talk to him about. Most straight guys reaction to that if you bring it up is ‘no I’m not gay I’ve never been attracted to a man.’ There is no conversation, it is kind of just a wall.

Do you think this mindset comes from masculinity in the media? The James Bonde-esque kind of men. Or does it have more to do with religion?

Its socio-cultural factors. Gender presentation and sexuality are different, varying on cultures. Being masculine doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you’re toting a gun with giant muscles and taking home a bunch of chicks, but that’s what it has come to mean. It is a pervasive thing.

Society presents an image of what a man is supposed to look like.

And what a woman is supposed to look like. It is a very binary-dichotomist thing. This is one box, this is the other box, there is no in between. It’s much defined.

A lot of hostility brews when you deviate from that path.

Right. Like you’re not allowed to be in between or outside. It doesn’t make sense. The thought is, ‘we can’t categorize you, so it’s not okay.’

So you were raised by a religious family. Are you still religious?

No, I am completely Agnostic. I don’t subscribe to any sort of belief system, except believing in self and community, the general golden rule status. I do thank religion for helping me build a good set of ideals. But I think religion has been more toxic than helpful for me. I’m cool with other people being religious and I’m always respectful of other people’s beliefs, but it’s not something I see myself being able to pick back up, ever.

Pride Parade has been around since the 70’s. And now gay marriage is legal country-wide. Do you think it is easier to come out now than it was in the 50’s?

It depends on what you mean by easier. It has a lot to do with your social circles. If you have a liberal and forward-thinking social circle, it’s probably not going to be a big deal. But, if everyone around you is a super homophobic, ‘traditional,” conservative human, you’ll probably have a pretty tough time. That is not to say the social climate around LGBT issues isn’t any better I do think in some respects it is, but we also just had a mass shooting in Orlando. Shit is still fucking real. It’s not a game.

I had a conversation with a friend about gender, and the idea that gender doesn’t exist. What is your stance on that?

I think gender is very real, but only because we socially make it so. Genitalia shouldn’t dictate gender presentation, or personal presentation. I think people should be able to act, dress, look, and do the way they want to regardless of what their body looks like. I do think that gender is made up and stupid, but at the same time you can’t really get away from all of the social constructs that people build up. If I’m a person with a penis, and I walk around in a dress, makeup, and feminine jewelry, I will probably get looked at a certain type of way, whether I identify as a woman or not.

It is nice to have an idealist sort of view, like gender doesn’t exist or matter to me, but it fucking matters to other people. You can’t get away from that. As someone who is currently questioning their gender, I have been thinking very critically of what gender means to me and the way that I present, the way I want to present, versus the way I’ve been socially conditioned to present. I think it would be a great thing if we could move past all of that and I could just wear and do what I want and not worry about being judged, ridiculed, and possibly murdered for the way I want to look, but we are not there yet and I don’t know if we ever will be.

The other day, I was having this conversation with a friend of mine, and I was mentally examining my current social circles. I have a very limited amounted of straight hetero-typical friends. Most of my friends are queer, a lot of them are POC and Trans. When you surround yourself with people like that, it’s a little bit easier to play with gender and sexuality notions, and feel more comfortable to think of gender as only a social construct and something that doesn’t matter to you. But lets’ say I didn’t have the social circles that I do I don’t think it would be quite as easy to facilitate those conversations.

So you don’t think we will get to that place where it is normal to think that way?

When I first started doing community work, I probably would have said yes. But I really don’t think so. I think the majority of people are genuinely going to have that status quo mind set and the majority thinking is going to stay the majority thinking. I think there is always going to be little pockets of people that rally against that and work for change, and I do think that change is possible, but I don’t think that we’re ever going to reach a point where the majority of people think as radically as lets’ say, I do. I think it takes a lot of awareness and mental work to think about the world critically like that, and for a lot of people that is not on the radar. Most people know what they’re told and they are happy with keeping things that way. It’s difficult for me to see a world where there is an extreme brain shift within a large group of people.

I’ve always been bothered by the “gaydar.” To me, that means you throw people in a stereotypical category of what gay or lesbian looks like.

I do think it is sort of antiquated, but in my friends circle it’s sort of a joke. You know, if someone’s queer, they’re queer. If they’re not, then they’re not. You’ll figure it out at some point. Is there a stereotypical uniform, mannerisms, and presentation? Maybe. I don’t know. It’s hard. But we stereotype for a reason, we create little categories and sometimes people start to embody those stereotypes. Maybe you shouldn’t count on your “gaydar” 100%, but maybe it will help you find someone you can talk to or date.

To think of it as an absolute thing would be very silly but I don’t think it’s a completely negative thing. It’s problematic, definitely. But what else do we have really. It’s a typical straight person’s world. Most people you talk to and you’re interested in getting to know, they might be straight, probably, most of the time. You’re able to feel that out socially from a really young age, whereas being gay you don’t have that. Prior to the era of being able to be out and open with stuff, if there was no tells or certain things you did to delineate yourself, even if it was an underground knowledge only gay people knew, how else do you find each other?

I haven’t really done much study on this sort of thing, but from social knowledge and background, I would like to think the gaydar sort of developed from a kind of need to do that because you couldn’t be out in the open with your sexuality, so you have to use stuff like that. While I think gaydar can be problematic, there is history and social importance to it.

You mentioned people embodying stereotypes. Do you think people internalize those stereotypes and become that way, or is it a natural formation?

That’s tough. When I came out, you get these ideas of what a young gay boy is supposed to be. You want to be attractive, you want people to like you, and you want to be able to meet people. So, in my case I presented the way I thought I was supposed to act as a gay guy because I wanted to meet other gay people and have them know that I am gay. I definitely did go really hard with that and maybe over compensated a little bit. But I think it’s about finding your comfort level with that sort of thing. How much do you actually fit in to this gay stereotype versus how much are you trying to because you think it is what you’re supposed to do? It’s different for every person. For me, it was a little bit of both I guess.

Gay rights was originally about sexual freedom. Then, the conversation changed to marriage. What does gay rights mean to you?

I think it is important to delineate the difference between the mainstream gay rights movement versus the LGBTQ or queer rights. Something with a more intersectional stance. When you think of the typical gay marriage narrative, it’s typically a white, middle aged gay or lesbian person. It’s not that 18 year old Trans homeless kid who’s forgotten about. The mainstream gay rights movement started out with sexual freedom and then moved to marriage. It falls in line with the mainstream hetero-normative ideals that come with relationships and life trajectory. You’re supposed to get married, have kids, a house and a dog, and you’re 9-5 white collar job. “Live the American dream,” or whatever.

That mainstream movement tends to forget about very important groups of marginalized people that, 1) maybe don’t want that sort of life or, 2) don’t have access to it because of their social and economic situations. When you say gay rights, I do think of marriage equality but it’s less on my radar than a more intersectional standpoint that is there for everyone instead of just this cookie cutter box of what your gay life should be. It is so much to dissect.

I think a lot of the times when people think about gay rights, marriage is the first thing their brain goes to. There is almost no talk of the countless gay people that are dealing with other issues besides marriage. For example; not having a place to live; being HIV positive and  not having access to medical care; wanting hormones but you’re unable to get them because you don’t have insurance; getting kicked out of your house and not having anywhere to go. There is a lot of other things to think about versus just marriage

I’m polysexual and I don’t think marriage is the end all be all of relationships. I think the entire institution is antiquated. It’s a multifaceted issue for me. It is frustrating that the gay rights movement was first chopped up to marriage equality, and now that that’s done and past we moved on to gender rights, which is super important but it’s almost as if the movement takes one thing to focus on and you forget about everything else. If we’re talking about marriage equality and stuff like that, it’s upsetting that this stuff the community ends up caring about on a macro level is only accessible for a very middle class typical human. I think a lot of people get forgotten with that sort of mentality.

What is some advice you have for you LGBT people who don’t feel comfortable coming out yet?

Don’t do it until you feel safe. There is all this hype about coming out because visibility is powerful and, ‘be yourself.’ Not everyone can do that. Some people genuinely have to fear for their lives when they come out. To say things like that is a really privileged, fucked up mentality in my opinion. If you’re talking to a young 15-year old Baptist kid who would get sent off to some “pray away with gay” camp, I would not tell that 15 year old to come out to his parent’s. That is a terrible idea. If you do, make sure you have somewhere to go so you’re not forced to go to this place. It’s situational, and it depends on the person. It’s not always okay to come out and you shouldn’t feel like you have to until you’re ready.

 

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