}

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Outaversary

Today is an unusual anniversary: 35 years ago today was the first time I did anything to publicly identify myself as gay. I don’t know how many of my gay friends can remember the specific date, and it may be sheer luck that I do, but the importance of that date has never left me: It was the day I started to stop being afraid.

On April 5, 1981, I went to a meeting of what was then called the Gay People’s Union at my university. Afterward, I went with some of the folks to get a bite to eat, then on to the only gay bar in town. It was the first time I’d ever met any other gay people I didn’t know already, and it was as exhilarating as it was terrifying.

After some time away from my university, I returned in January 1981, after my parents had died. I wanted to finish my degree, and to forge my independent life. I knew part of that would mean coming out, but how? I had no idea how to do that.

I knew from previous years that the student newspaper printed a listing of all student groups meeting in the Student Center, so I knew that the Gay People’s Union met there. I watched the paper every day for a listing of their next meeting—and then the one after that, and the one after that. In fact, I have no idea how many I didn’t go to.

The meeting before the one I attended, I went to the Student Center and to the meeting room. I don’t remember if I planned to go or not, but that day I learned that gay people aren’t punctual for community events. I waited around—but didn’t want to make it look like I was waiting around—because I wanted to see what the people who showed up were like. It’s not like I expected them to have green scales, cat eyes, and talons, but I did want to make sure they weren’t “weird”. I have no idea what that meant, and, in fact, I didn’t even then.

I found a seat near the room and opened a book, glancing sideways toward the door from time to time. When some people finally went in the room, I walked past and peered in, using a sideways glance, looking through the full-length glass window next to the door. They seemed alright, but I wanted another look—but I didn’t want it to seem like I was having another look. So, pretended I suddenly remembered something (even though there was no one around to see my acting), then I turned around, walked back past the door (with another sideways glance), and walked to a nearby payphone. I grabbed the receiver and rang my own phone in my flat, glancing slyly over at the meeting room. I pretended no one answered (well, that wasn't pretending—I was ringing my own phone…).

Then, I walked past the room again and—I went home.

I was angry with myself, not for being afraid, but for having gone that far and no farther. I still had no idea if I wanted to be part of the group or not.

So, next meeting, I told myself, I’d actually go—and, I did. I don’t remember anything about the meeting at all, apart from the fact my heart was racing and beating so loudly I was sure people could hear it on the next floor. Still, even though I don’t remember it, the event was fine—the folks were welcoming, especially the leaders of the group who had some experience in making newly out people feel safe. One of them was working on his Master’s in psychology, and eventually became my flatmate and a kind of mentor, giving me books to read and teaching me about gay culture—all the things I never knew existed. But all that was some weeks away at that point.

I also can’t remember where we went to eat, but I think it was kind of diner-like place near the train station, and then we went to the bar. I was terrified and excited all at once. We weren’t out late, and I probably left when they did, and went on home (I don’t remember how, but I guess someone gave me a ride). I was buzzing.

That evening was when I took my first steps toward being who I truly was, learning not just to accept myself, but also that I was part of something much bigger than just me, I was part of a whole community. As I put it when I talked about this (in less detail) in 2009, “On that 1981 day I started to stop being afraid, though I had more work to do.”

In that 2009 post, I talked about how it is that I can remember the date at all, but the reason I remembered to blog about it today is that Facebook reminded me. Sometime back, I added a “Life Event” about my coming out, and today Facebook included it among my “memories”. So, I shared it (image above), dubbed it my “Outaversary”, and then realised I really wanted to tell the whole story of what happened that day back in 1981.

Sometimes, if we’re really lucky, we can remember very specific and important dates when our lives change dramatically for the better. November 2, the 1995 date when I arrived in New Zealand to live, is a very important one, though I have plenty of others related to that date, too (and I blog about them all…). But the date that made even that possible was April 5, 1981, because that’s the day that my adult life truly began, and it was the first day of the authentic me.

And if that isn’t worth celebrating, then I truly don’t know what is.

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