Happy Anniversary

Making the choice to come out let Adam Nelson live openly. 10 years later he looks back at how he did it.

Making the choice to come out let Adam Nelson live openly. 10 years later he looks back at how he did it.

Summer, 1999

Hey Dad —
After I got back from Europe I told many of my friends that I am gay. I want you to know that I have been saying this and that this is how I am.

I am delivering these words to you in a note because there never is a good time to just say it. I told Mom on the phone but it was awkward. I thought this might be less awkward.

I have no problems with the way I feel. I am not embarrassed. This note is to force the issue. I think Charlotte and her family should know. You can tell them or I can tell them. They can be told before my stay with you or after my stay. They can be told or we can wait for them to ask.

I say again: I have no problems about how I feel. I want to be open. You can make the decision on how they find out. It might just be less awkward to let them ask. But let me know.

You’re it for mail tag. Dad, write back soon. E-mail me or something.

Love, Adam

Ten years ago I came out to almost everyone in less than twenty-four hours. That was a busy summer. I was a year out of high school, had just turned nineteen, fresh home from a year abroad, preparing to start college, and planning a trip to visit my dad near the headwaters of the Mississippi.

I had spent the previous two years contemplating the prospect of coming out. The hardest part was that coming out meant admitting I hadn’t been fully honest with everyone. I remember a sense of comfort about being different, but admitting a lack of honesty tormented me.

I wondered why gay people even needed to come out in the first place. It was frustrating knowing that being out would have been so much easier if I had just been out from the beginning.
I didn’t know any better at the time so I blamed myself for just holding it in. Now I know that society denies gay people the privilege of being out from the start of our lives. Not being honest wasn’t my fault because I didn’t hold it in; everyone else assumed it didn’t exist.

In my ignorance, I searched for a solution, and the one I found involved going abroad after high school. While abroad, everybody in my life was new to me. Having never met these people meant that being out didn’t require admitting a lack of honesty. It didn’t work; I’m not sure why. After a year with two stints abroad, punctuated by a semester at college, I still hadn’t come out. Time for a new plan.

The new plan involved holding society accountable for denying us all the privilege of automatically being out. If they cared to know, they’d have to ask.

At 3:00 a.m. in a restaurant with high school friends home for the summer, the question came quicker than I had anticipated.

“What’s up with you and the ladies anyway, Adam?” I choked on the make-or-break moment before the waitress could ask, “What can I getcha?” We each ordered, and the conversation moved to another topic.

Disaster! For two years I had aimed to come out with dignity. After two times abroad, and two distinct plans blundered, more self-blame and disappointment would have followed if the conversation hadn’t worked its way back around to the topic, and I came out.

To avoid the appearance of holding back I promised myself that everyone in my life had to know in the same day. All or nothing.

At 4:00 a.m. I called Mom from Grandma’s house, where I was staying that summer. Mom wanted to talk about it but I didn’t. She told me she still loved me, and I said, “I know.”

One thing I hadn’t counted on was how emotionally exhausting coming out can be. Physically exhausting, too; I could hardly lift the phone. Emotionally spent, lacking the energy to speak but determined to proceed as planned, I sent Dad a letter.

Ten years later, it took Dad a few weeks to dig the letter out. Reading it, I see how I put my parents in a place to experience life from my perspective. I made it their responsibility to tell the extended family and even suggested, “It might just be less awkward to let them ask.”