It’s October 11th and that means it’s #NationalComingOutDay, both an encouragement to folks who want to make the leap and a celebration of those of us who already have. Despite tons of fears about the future of queer rights in the US wrapped up in the upcoming election, it’s still the best time in modern history to be out and proud, and gets better the more voices we add to the fray.
I believe I’ve told my coming out story before on this site, but here it is just for shits and giggles. I spent most of my twenties on the road doing random one nighter comedy gigs, and working at part-time jobs and as a substitute teacher in order to plug in the gaps. Most of the gigs that I did were in very small towns, very working class type bars. Sometimes they were a lot of fun. I’ve never been a heavy drinker, but I definitely remember getting hammered at a bar in Novi, Michigan because the audience just kept sending up shots. But there were definitely a lot of venues where I knew that if I came out, I’d never work there again. And there were enough of those venues that I basically felt like I had to choose between being a professional comedian or being myself. Over time this internal conflict started eating away at me. I developed a horrible issue with insomnia, staring at the ceiling, through it, into the void that was my life, gripped with the terror or what all I’d lose if I came out.
Then, in 2009, I did a gig in Hannibal, Missouri; home of Mark Twain. It was a seven and a half hour drive from my house in Columbus, Ohio. Normally a gig that far away had a hotel room included, but this one offered instead that if the comics didn’t want to take the hotel, we’d get paid an extra $50, with the idea that we could get our own cheap room somewhere else out of town on the way to another gig or back home. My friend Bill and I decided that we’d just make the trip there and back and pocket the extra $50. Geniuses.
We struck out early that morning and made the trip, made longer by traffic and road construction, and arrived at the Star theater for the show. Unfortunately, despite the kind of cool venue (an old movie theater that had been turned into a banquet space), the show was awful. There was a small turnout, they sat really far apart from each other, and no matter what we tried to do, we couldn’t seem to get the audience to engage with us. After both of us had done our sets, we took our lumps, collected our pay plus our additional $50 each, and headed back out on the highway.
It was somewhere around Indianapolis, having taken over driving while Bill slept, sitting stuck in bumper to bumper construction traffic, despite it being three o’clock in the morning, and fully feeling the gaps from the pieces of my soul that had been sucked out during my set, I just knew that I no longer had it in me to stay in the closet in exchange for experiences like that. I decided that if coming out meant the end of my career, then it wasn’t much of a career to lose anyway. I got home around 5:30 AM, stumbled into my bedroom and posted several photos of myself dressed in women’s clothes on Facebook, with a short, barely coherent note explaining myself to the world, and fell asleep. It was seven years ago, and I’ve never struggled with insomnia since.
What’s your coming out story? Share it in the comments!