If walls could whisper
They would whisper to me
"We'll keep you sheltered my dear, but we can't set you free
Jordan Mackampa, Salt
I sat in my stifling apartment, staring at my phone. The sun was beating through my window, and although it seemed that my air unit was trying to cool the entirety of the world, I was covered in sweat. My fingers glided swiftly across my screen, punching each letter on the keyboard like my life depended on it. To me, in that moment, it did. In that tiny, tiny Instagram caption box I poured out my soul. I let my heart write for me. I finally let myself speak.
As easily as the writing had come to me, however, there was one final button to push. I couldn’t do it. I stood, paced my tiny living room, never feeling so confined. The room grew smaller as the phone in my hand became larger. I couldn’t look away from the words I’d written and read over what felt like a million times. I pressed post.
I pressed delete. I deleted the post seconds after it was published. What was I doing?I had to be crazy, I told myself. Then, the Paul who had been boxed up for so long, abandoned and denied, made his voice heard. You’re not crazy. You’re not worthless. You are brave. You are going to change the world. And it all starts with being true to who you are.He was right. I was right. What I was about to post mattered. No feeling of fear or isolation could deny that. So, with hands shaking, heart pumping, and mind racing, I pressed post. And just like that I had just announced to over 2500 people that I am gay.
The date was June 26th, 2018. I didn’t wake up that morning knowing I would make that post. If you know me, you know that I can be impulsive, and that once I have an idea, I have to execute it as quickly as possible. I remember scrolling through Instagram that morning, a day well into Pride month, seeing so many courageous people sharing their coming out stories and how happy they were to be in the LGBTQ+ community. I scrolled in awe, knowing that each person I saw had gone through an incredible journey to get to where they were. I knew this for a fact because many of them had been lived their lives so vulnerably online. I thought to myself, I want to be that person someday.
In the summertime, after a long run, I like to rest on the front stoop of my apartment. The street converges in a slight V shape right in front of my doorstep, giving me a wide-angle glimpse of my city. To my left, the street leads me into the city, where factories, corporate offices, and local business compete for productivity against the dog days of summer. In the opposite direction lies neighborhoods, country lanes, and dozens of swimming pools filled with the fresh faces of summer. As I looked left, and then right, watching the wind whisper to the leaves, I realized how at peace I was. How in just a few months I had come such a long way. Hadn’t I, then, reached a place where I too could boldly share my story? Immediately my mind started working. I knew I wanted to do it, and I knew it had to happen that day. The question was how.
Hours later I had my announcement all ready to go. I had taken a self-portrait wearing a new shirt: a simple long-sleeved white tee with the word “society” embroidered in rainbow lettering. Fitting, I thought. Along with this photo, I had crafted what I believed to be the perfect announcement. Quite a few people in my life knew my current (and very recent) state of self-acceptance, but the wide majority of people, even family, had no idea, or were questioning. I wanted to set the record straight (we love word play!).
Here’s what the post said:
The decision to publish this did not come easily, but when have decisions worth making ever been easy? I have often heard that there is no goodtime to come out. It’s not one of those things where the moment just feels right. Sure, circumstances matter, and there are definitely people who will be more accepting and willing to listen than others. But the truth is that coming out is terrifying. It is a complete baring of the soul, lying it out for inspection. Coming out is absolutely no less than opening oneself up with the full understanding that you are allowing anything and everything to come in. It is terrifying and it is beautiful. This massive social media announcement felt monumental, and it was. This was a level of bravery that I had never had before. I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.
That summer was the most intense period of growth in my life. Therapy had challenged me to be more honest with myself. Seeing how much change it had brought to my own mind, I then began to be more honest with those around me. Unfortunately, it did not always benefit me in an obvious way. Here’s are some of the things I learned through some pretty painful times:
That summer I had a conversation that absolutely shattered me, leaving me to question why I decided to open up.
Fear: Isn’t it easier to live in hiding?
Truth: Easy wasn’t my end goal. Happiness is.
That summer I also decided to admit my feelings to a man I have very strong feelings for.
Fear:You know this is unrequited, so why even bother?
Truth:Bravery does not require anything in return. This is my way of reclaiming my mind. I will not let fear dictate what I do and do not say any longer.
I started a podcast that I knew would feature an episode where I spoke openly about my sexuality.
Fear:People will listen to this and judge you. Your community will not support you.
Truth: My community needs people to boldly share their stories. I am willing to be one of those people, even if I don’t know they will react.
Even with all the trials I faced that summer, I knew I was making progress because I was able to boldly walk through them. I could finally face the creatures that made me afraid and call them what they are: monsters made of shadows, and I was now a creature of the light. I had not only come out of my cave, but now I was filling it with demons, giving them a taste of their own medicine.
In the end, I decided to come out because it’s the right thing to do. I live in a small community that, though a wonderful place, lacks diversity. This lack and subsequent hegemony seemed to penetrate my entire life. Growing up, facing high school, even attending a large institution like Indiana University, I had always existed within an ecosystem perfectly configured to cater to my privilege. I don’t blame my family, or my church, or my upbringing, but everything in my life has always been safe. I had never been challenged, or asked what I reallybelieved (or how I really felt, for that matter). And that worked for me, because I’m white, and I was closeted, and that’s how the world operates for the majority. One of my favorite creatives, B.T. Harman, said something in his “Blue Babies Pink” series that really put this into perspective. Essentially, he said that admitting this truth in me would not only destroy my current ecosystem, it would require me to step out of some of the privilege I so easily existed within. This could very realistically be a demotion in life. It was a big decision for me. But as the comments lit up my screen, as the messages and calls began coming in, I knew that I had made the right decision. I didn’t do it for the validation, but being validated showed me that I’d done the right thing, and no, the world wasn’t going to end.
I was, for the first time in a long time, finally happy. And in this happiness, I realized that I’d just placed an incredible responsibility on my shoulders. Although I was happy, I wasn’t yet confident that I could bear this new burden.
The final installment of Coming Out of Fear, Installment Four: The Hero, will be released February 3rd. Make sure to subscribe here to be notified, or head to my website paulsatchwill.com to read it on my blog. In the meantime you can find my thoughts on Twitter, and on Instagram.