UW-Madison student Charlie Martin found his unexpected confidence after given a kick out of the closet
It was August 2005, about two days before I was moving back to Madison for my sophomore year of college. I decided earlier in the summer that I would no longer try to force myself to believe that I might possibly still have a little bit of a “straight” gene in me. I tried relationships with girls who never lived close to me. Only having to see them once every two weeks really made the front easier to keep up. I had begun to get pretty close with a particular girl and I panicked. Suddenly, I had a glimpse into my future and saw myself: 40 years old, “happily” married, three kids, and stuck in suburbia. No one really knew who I was and had no real connections with anyone. I don’t think that’s something anybody wants for themselves. So the panic attack made me realize this wasn’t something I could change. I’m a gay man—that’s that.
Back to August 2005. I’m packing my things at my parents’ house. This was the last week that I would ever truly live at their home. On the second to last day I went to grab something I had stored between my mattresses and much to my surprise, it was missing! I was shocked. I knew my mother had found it and was waiting for the right time to bring it up. I’m not sure how long she knew, but about 2 hours before we were leaving to shop for all the essentials for my first apartment we were having a nice quiet lunch and she sprung it on me. “Charlie, are you gay?” I paused for 5 seconds. God, it felt like an eternity. I sat back in my chair, crossed my arms, looked her in the eye, and said, “Yes.” I couldn’t believe I told her, that I told anyone! I felt awful, nauseous, and nervous; I knew things were about to change. My heart was racing as I sat there hoping for the best, expecting the worst. She asked a couple typical questions: How long? How did you know? But after that 5-minute exchange, not a word was spoken between us for 3 hours except for things like “Do you want silverware with plastic handles? Sometimes they can melt in a dishwasher.” At the end of the day, she asked if she could tell my father. I said, “Absolutely, he has every right to know.”
The next day, my father and I had a few moments alone. He turned to me to say what my mother told him I said. He asked me to see a counselor because I have a tendency to act a bit spontaneously without thinking through my actions 100%. I realize only now that’s really what he meant, but at the time I couldn’t have been more offended. I went anyway. The UW-Madison counselor at University Health Services was incredibly helpful. He helped me become comfortable saying the words out loud, “I’m Gay.” After two sessions, he told me that he doesn’t think I need to be attending these sessions regularly, but to call him on an as-needed basis. That was the last I set foot in his office. Within two weeks I came out to one of my roommates who reluctantly reciprocated but nonetheless reciprocated. We told the rest of the house that night, and began slowly spreading the word around Madison to all of our friends. Although many didn’t believe me at first because I had a girlfriend for a fair portion of the previous year, they were all incredibly supportive. I feel very lucky to have found the group of friends that I did in Madison. By the following spring, everyone I was in contact with knew who I was, including my friends from the small private catholic high school I went to.
So I’m sitting here now, on the Camps Bay Beach in Cape Town, South Africa on my study abroad program (which everyone should do!) trying to think why I should write my story. What’s so special about me? Then it dawned on me; its because it has made me who I am today. These last two years have really made a huge impact and difference in my life. I’m much more confident in myself and comfortable in my own skin. I’m no longer hiding behind a complete lie just to fit in, and the connections I have with my friends are stronger than ever now because I can actually open myself up to them without a fear of being judged. I finish this article with a grin stretching from ear to ear, which I owe to my mother and father. I don’t think it was their intention, but honestly, that kick out of the closet and into a 10×10 room with a counselor sparked the freshest and best chapter of my life.