by Michael King
This is, I imagine, something like the feeling in a skydiver’s spirit moments just before the jump. My fingers are shaky, my head and heart overflowing with words, my emotion a strange cocktail of optimism and fear and courage and quiet. I open the door, look out. Here it is:
Hello. I’m Michael King. I’m 25, almost 26. And I’m gay.
This blog post marks my first time really saying so – in clear terms and not context clues. Over the past few years, as I’ve gathered the courage to raise my voice and share my story, I have become convinced of the significance of taking this step. Of saying these words. We are not meant to hide ourselves; we should take heart and speak ourselves into existence. Those last four words have become commonplace in my conversations with LGBT friends and family. The courage to share our stories is essential, as stories light the way for those who may feel surrounded by fog. So here is me putting my words into action. My story is important; I’m telling it.
A statement on empathy. In case you missed it, today marked the announcement of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in the United States. Regardless of “where you stand” on the “issue” of same-sex love and marriage, this is a momentous and historic day. A turning point. In his discussion of the ruling, President Obama encouraged celebrators to respond to the news with empathy for those who – out of love and firmly held beliefs – see the ruling as no cause to celebrate. There are incredible human beings in my life who belong to this category, who love me and other LGBT humans deeply but who have not (perhaps cannot) find peace, understanding, hope. For those people, whom I love deeply, I move forward with empathy and compassion. This is not an apology, but an acknowledgment. I know I am loved; know that you are loved in return.
If you are reading this and you belong to this category, I encourage you to consider compassion and empathy as well. This is not a mark of weakness or of uncertainty, but a mark of courage and love. If you are reading this and cannot keep space for me – all of me – in your life, then I wish us both a bridge over whatever sorrow that loss brings.
On being succinct. I am a shamelessly verbose individual. Telling my story, in full breadth and vivid detail, is at the core of my spirit. Earlier this year, following the decision to come out to my family, I began to write on my reflections and experiences related to this journey. Heartbreaks, high school crushes, new discoveries, light musings, and so on. The running document, as it is, spans about 85 pages. I have just begun to crack the surface, to write out the true depth of this journey. And so I will work to be succinct. This is not my full story; if you want to know more, reach out and ask.
The path to courage. I wrestled with myself for 22 years before looking myself in the mirror, exhaling, and acknowledging what I had always known: my heart is drawn to men. There were plenty of signs along the way, clues that I willfully ignored in the effort not to take up too much space for anyone. One of the most important people in my life, in what I now know to be a characteristic act of bravery, shared his story with me. Overwhelmed by connection to what he was saying, I found the courage to stop turning a blind eye to myself. I pulled at the thread; the facade began to unravel.
In grad school, I began working with college students on a day-to-day basis. One student, a beacon of light who inspired student leaders to feel included and empowered, made his way to my office one day. Sitting down, hands shaking, he spoke himself into existence. I encouraged him to be brave, to share his full self, to follow the light within. The moment he left, I caught a glimpse of myself in my computer’s reflection. Hypocrite, I told myself. All the advice in the world, but none of the follow-through. I thought of the people I’d helped through this journey before him – the student who pinned a note on my door in my first year as an RA, the friend who prepared himself to tell his parents, the students I led in a conversation meant to dissolve perceived barriers between the LGBT and Christian communities – and I realized it would soon be my turn to follow this advice.
Today marks that day. I am not immune from the fear of rejection, of hurtful criticism, of being dehumanized and misunderstood and/or cast aside. But I am brave, I am hopeful, and I am strong. Inhale and exhale. I am worthy of the space I take up, and my story is worth telling.
On loving someone who is LGBT, like it or not. If someone has come out to you, understand that – whether it seems like it to you or not – this is a radical act of courage. I know – it seems crazy that a simple declaration of self can be perceived as a radical act. But such is the nature of being LGBT. Our stories are met with a wide array of responses, running the gamut from joyful tears to broken hearts to senseless violence to deafening silence. So, if someone comes out to you, please work to empathize with the vulnerability of the leap they have taken. Thank them, hug them, and let them know they are loved.
If someone’s LGBT identity is incompatible with your moral view, I encourage you to consider some things. First, understand that there are very few – if any – arguments you can present to an LGBT individual that she or he has not already wrestled with extensively. If your arguments are based in faith, and the individual grew up hearing the same messages, I assure you that verses (and bad maxims) are not news to that person. Tempting though it may to speak up and argue, I encourage you to listen. Reach for understanding. Second, I encourage to you think about the natural response you feel when your views – especially your views regarding your story, your life, and your being – are met with brash argument. There is power to listening, to empathy, and to understanding. I assure you this is not your journey to control.
If you love someone who is LGBT, I empower you to reach out to that person as often as you can and let her or him know about their significance. LGBT human beings often see damage to their support systems. On days of celebration – weddings, new job announcements, historic breakthroughs – many of their families will respond with silence. Or worse. In times like these, friends and makeshift families are ports in the storm. “I love you” and “you matter” and “you did it” are lights that fill the empty spaces. Reach out. Give love.
On my story. There is so much to say, and I am not ready to piece it together into something and publish it for anyone just yet. If you have questions and you love me enough to reach out, then I will honor your courage by responding with vulnerability and honesty. My life thus far has been beautiful, rife with brave, bright, and brilliant people who have lifted me out of challenging times and pointed me toward my light. I am encouraged, not only by the news of today, but by the incredible hope and strength within the stories of the people I have met and continue to meet. I am still working to live and share a worthy story. There are miles to go before I sleep.
On our stories. In closing, I want to share with you something that I wrote in the 85-page document I’ve been working on. It struck something within me, resonating with a truth to my experience:
Before we came out, before we’d summoned the courage to tell our stories, the audacity to be ourselves, we dreamt of what it would be like. We imagined how it might feel to rest our head on someone we were drawn to, rather than to work tirelessly to draw ourselves into someone acceptable. I dreamt of meeting a boy, holding his hand and feeling ripples up my arm. Of kissing him in times of celebration and after silly arguments. We imagined, it seems, that our coming out would be followed by our very own “happily ever after.”
And so we fought the barriers within ourselves, then we fought the barriers within others. We bared our souls and began to try, to endeavor toward the concepts of love and companionship. It was this dream – this vision of finding someone to hold us through hard times and dance with us during good ones – that gave us the courage to be.
The truth of it, I’ve realized, is that we did not only fight for the right to love and be loved. We fought for the full experience of love. We fought to have our hearts broken and to scramble to make sense of how something so wonderful could have sifted through our fingertips. We fought to get knocked off our feet by attraction, to navigate perils like long distance and unaccepting families, to spend one moment in passionate embrace and another wondering if the person sitting right beside us has any idea as to who we are. We fought for all of it, for the joys and the fears and the heartbreaks and the new chances and the questions and the jitters and the bouts of hopeless devotion and the arguments and the long hugs after.
We fought so we could join the fight, so we could know the full range of the human experience. We fought to belong to the hard world of love. We fought for our humanity, and – once we fought our way out and into the world – we found ourselves to be humans.
I have taken the leap. I have chosen to be brave. There will be joy, there will be heartbreak, and there will be growth. This is the journey of life.
Love and light,