My first encounter with homophobia appeared in fifth grade, via my elementary school’s local bully, Curtis. From a social capital lens, I was a top tier elementary school attendee. Other kids copied my fashion, listened to my stories, and showed interest in the things I was interested in…everyone, except Curtis. Curtis hated me. For two solid years, every time Curtis saw me, he referred to me as, “Gay Boy,” pushing me into walls and imitating my higher-pitched-not-yet-hit-puberty stricken voice. At some point, I even started to respond to this new identity. I was Gay Boy, no longer Michael Goodman, and minus the “out gay” part and in major fear of the repercussions of disagreeing with Curtis.
I avoided this bully at all costs, and made a conscious decision that I, Michael Goodman, was not gay. Furthermore, I made a conscious decision to place all things in the path of being “outed,” including several girlfriends, a Varsity soccer experience, and even a two-year stint as the praise and worship leader of my church’s youth group. But in the back of my mind, I kept hearing Curtis’ voice, saying, “come out, come out, wherever you are, Gay Boy.”
As much as I wished for a flawless path to self-discovery, my “coming out” journey was not all rainbows and pride parades (pun intended). Leadership and sports kept me in the closet for years, and created a self-doubt that prevented me from being my full authentic self. The idea of “passing” was real for me, and when I graduated college, I did what a lot of closeted Oklahomans do: get the hell out of town. I moved to Los Angeles shortly after graduating, and attempted to put the past behind me. On the drive from the airport to my condo, the two women who picked me up in Los Angeles chatted with me about the best bars in LA, noting, “a few gay bars you (they were talking about me) would love.” I stayed silent in the back seat, and in that moment decided it was time to be out, and time to be proud.
It was not as easy as it sounds, and was actually a long journey where I lost friends and created conversations that are still happening with family members to this day. Homophobia is alive and well, and as a gay leader, I had to accept that reality quickly and consciously. I see this moment every single day. And to resolve any feelings of being further marginalized, I have elected to be “out” and open with my students and community members here in Bloomington, Indiana. Not all student affairs professionals are afforded this…luxury, however, we all have a “Gay Boy” title we are attempting to evade. Being “out” has helped the continued dodge.
I recently wrote a blog, where I challenged my peers to “come out” – not necessarily as gay, but as…whatever. We have so many things we could be proud of, open about, and encompassed in, and in order for us to truly lead with authentic relationships, we have to be open. We have to be “out” (in whatever ‘out’ means for each of us). But it’s not easy, and it’s ongoing. One of my good friends had been with his partner for years, and upon attending the work holiday party, forgot that there were some ‘higher-ups’ who still didn’t know he was gay. This created for an awkward first hour, followed by conversations of support and love. Again, this is not always the norm, but nevertheless shows a need for us to feel comfortable in whatever bomb we are close to dropping on people.
And again, this is my challenge to my colleagues and students: “come out.” Come out as whatever, whoever you want to be or whoever you would like to support. Just come out. Working closely with Indiana University’s Incident Teams, I have learned that allies and supporters standing for something out of their wheelhouse often goes further than an oppressed population standing for their own selves (my own self). Hell, it wasn’t until this last year that I felt truly and effortlessly comfortable being “out” in my own current environment. I advise fraternities and sororities, which can be some of the most homophobic and heterosexist communities in student affairs. But I have come to appreciate the learning and vulnerability associated with this community of undergraduate students.
Just one month ago, I stood with four of my fraternity community officers at an event, and talked about my coming out journey with them. This group of men asked me several questions and eventually threw in some support to validate me as a mentor and guide. Just days later, one of them texted me about a news piece he saw that day, citing marriage equality as a continued possibility. “This could be a historic moment,” he texted alongside the screen shot of his news source. This was a win not just for me, but for all of us as advisors.
As a gay person, I know that I will never be “fully out,” and in my quest to dig deeper into who I am and what impact I can and will make on this planet, I have come to terms with this reality. In addition, I have come to terms with the power of perspective, and the power we all hold by living just a little more out each day – and in whatever form ‘out’ means for each of us. Here’s to being open, honest, and vulnerable.
Michael A. Goodman currently serves as the Senior Assistant Director for Fraternity and Sorority Life at Indiana University Bloomington, and also serves as the Co-Chair of the Gender Incident Team through the Division of Student Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington. Michael is a proud student affairs professional, and also blogs “on the side” at michaelanthonygoodman.wordpress.com.