Blue Wave pride — One Darien High School grad's coming out experience, in five moments
In June 2012, on the eve of my high school graduation, I came out of the closet as gay. In the five years that have passed, I’ve continued on a journey of self discovery, and I’ve learned to embrace my multiple (sometimes conflicting) identities with pride.
In honor of June being pride month, I’d like to share my coming out story in five key moments, all of which happened here in Darien. I hope in sharing my experiences, I may help to broaden our community’s perception of what it could mean to be from Darien.
One thing I’d like to make clear is that my “coming out” story is really a story of me coming into consciousness of my own feelings. This internal journey was a multi-layered process which involved stages of recognition, denial, understanding and acceptance. You can think of this journey as addressing that existential question, “Who am I?”
I’d like you to think of this process as distinct from, yet intimately related to, the process of coming out. On the other hand, coming out addresses external questions, such as, “What do people think of me,” and “How will I render myself intelligible to others?”
I first perceived my capacity for being attracted to guys during middle school, around seventh grade. While I did keep this observation private, I didn’t feel particularly threatened by it. I still had crushes on the girls at school, etcetera. The idea that I could be gay was still so utterly foreign to me that, at this point, I never even thought to worry about it.
This all started to change around the time of my freshman year at Darien High School. My attraction seemed to become more and more one-sided. I started to realize that if anyone knew this secret fact about me, I was at risk of being perceived of as gay.
I’d internalized such profound homophobia from my surroundings that I was certain being perceived of as gay would be synonymous with social death. I felt this homophobia with such inevitability that I never stopped to think if it was right or wrong. It seemed black and white: Being gay was “other.” I was me. I couldn’t be “other,” and I couldn’t imagine living in a world where my community saw me as such.
Moment 1: March 2009
That evening, at swimming FCIACs, I hear one of my teammates lob a homophobic insult. That night, I lie in bed, promising myself that my feelings had to change. I close my eyes, and envision myself there in the locker room, getting beaten up by seniors from one of the other teams.
I kept my uncertainty about my sexuality buried somewhere very deep for most of my first three years in high school. The drama and spectacle surrounding junior prom forced me to confront this uncertainty in an uncomfortably public way.
Prom is one of the rites of growing up in our society, and beneath its pomp and circumstance, it has a distinct flavor of socializing cis-hetero-normativity. The ritual starts weeks in advance, when boys outdo each other, asking out girls in whacky, creative, and all-too public ways. Then the boys dress up in their tuxes, the girls in their beautiful dresses. At pre-prom, weepy-eyed parents take photos of their kids pinning boutonnieres on their lovely dates. At after-prom parties, folklore suggests there may debaucherous behavior. Finally, weeks after prom, some couples may start dating, embarking on long-term high school romances, the stuff of dreams.
It seemed to me that each ring of the prom circus was a test that, if I failed, I risked the penalty of being labeled gay. Inwardly, still unsure of my sexuality, I decided to approach prom as a test. I asked a girl I was friends with. I thought if I were capable of developing feelings for a girl at all, then I just might for her. Or, if I made it through prom season and still found my back bending under the weight of performing heterosexuality, then maybe I’d have to consider the possibility I was gay.
Moment 2: April 2011
I’m hanging out at Weed Beach with my prom date. We’re sitting in her car eating takeout food and watching the water. I think how this is the moment when I’m supposed to kiss her, as if that would somehow make me a real man, safe from suspicion. Instead, I turn to her and say, “You know, I’ve never really talked about this before, and I’m not gay, and think I’m emotionally attracted to girls, but I think I’m, like, physically attracted to guys, or something.”
She blinks at me in surprise. She’s more educated about this stuff than me. She mentions pansexuality and asks me if that’s what my experience feels like. I tell her I don’t know, but that it doesn’t sound exactly right. I’m uncomfortable. We drop the subject, and we don’t talk about these things again for a long time.
Moment 3: May 2011
Prom has just ended, and some of my friends gather for a party. One of my female friends’ date is a boy from another class, one of the only “out” guys in the entire school. There’s a pool, and we’re all about to go swimming. I step aside for a moment to change into my trunks. While I’m alone, I notice that I feel far more interested in my friend’s prom date than in my own.
Moment 4: May 2011
After-prom was a hit. We pulled our first all-nighter and stayed up watching the sunrise. My mom picks me up, and I tell her how great a time we all had. We arrive home, and just before we get out of the car, I tell my mom that I’m not sure, but that I might be gay. We sit there in the driveway for an hour, talking. The mood is desperate. We drop the topic, and we don’t mention this conversation to each other for another year.
Junior prom confirmed for me that I wasn’t interested in girls. Then, later that summer, while I was at a jazz camp, I experienced my first real crush on a guy, and proved to myself I could have emotional feelings for guys beyond the attractions I was long familiar with. In my journey of coming into consciousness, I had reached a definite level of understanding, but it would take time to translate this understanding into acceptance.
The spring of my senior year, I finally looked myself in the mirror and said, “I’m gay.” I was finally ready to accept not just the truth of my own desires, confirmed through years of lived experience, but also the potential social consequences of identifying as such. Guilt, shame, fear, and secrecy had exhausted me, and my only option left was to embrace my sexuality.
I began telling my close friends and family by sitting them down and asking them to read a short memoir that explained my relationship to my sexuality. I’m blessed in that I received nothing but support from my loved ones. Initially, I’d planned on publishing this memoir in my school newspaper as a gesture of support for others in my position and defiance against those had made me feel ashamed of who I was. I ended up pulling the article at the last minute.
Moment Five: June 13, 2012
It’s the day before my high school graduation. I sit at my desk — there’s one thing I have left to say. I type a status about how I’m sick of lying, about how I want to walk for my diploma with my head held high. The last line reads, “love is love, get over it.” I close my eyes and hit enter. The next day at graduation, when I walk, I get a big round of applause.
I began interacting with the broader LGBTQ community during college, and the relationships I have forged as a part of it have given me new life. I’ve become privy to the sad reality that members of the queer community face disproportionately high levels of depression and sexual assault. Nonetheless, since coming out, I’ve been able to grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be.
Darien is my home, and the LGBTQ community is my chosen family. At times, it’s been difficult for me to reconcile my membership in these two communities. I know, however, to fully accept myself, I must embrace my love for both, and reject the fallacy that to feel at home at one, I must downplay my membership in the other.
If you took a walk along the Post Road in downtown Darien, “gay paradise” may not be the first thing you think. Darien is no Provincetown, and it’s no West Village. However, I think Darien is a paradise, and furthermore, Darien is home to gender-bending, norm-defying superheroes of all ages, races, and creeds. We are your gay brothers and sisters, and we are here to stay. Let’s put a little rainbow back in “Blue Wave Pride.”
Happy pride month, Darien.
Christopher Janson is a 23-year-old, life-long resident of Darien, Ct. He graduated from Williams College with a BA in Japanese in 2016, and will be moving to Boston this fall to pursue a masters in Double Bass Performance at Boston Conservatory.