June 8, 2013
I was 25 years old. I was a devout, born-again Catholic who went to charismatic prayer meetings and prayed in tongues.
And I despised myself. To my core.
Every night I prayed, "Please, Jesus, please make me like girls. Please."
I did psychotherapy, hypnosis, aversion shock therapy and group therapy, and was prayed over to have this demon exorcised from me.
One night, as I was going out to the bathhouse for the umpteenth time (you can see how effective all that therapy was), I stopped dead in my tracks, in the middle of a gas station.
"I can't take this. If I don't do something, I'm going to kill myself."
The burden of failure, the double life, were just too much to bear. So I decided: I would take a year off from religion. Just a year, to see how it felt.
Instantly, a thousand-pound weight was lifted off my shoulders. I smiled so big it hurt.
A few weeks later, I stood on the sidewalk, watching the Chicago Gay Pride Parade. At the end, people joined in. I watched them. More and more joined in. I watched. And I stepped off the curb.
My heart pounding, I marched the rest of the route, noticing some friends and co-workers along the way.
"Well, I guess I've come out," I thought.
I had, and never went back in. And never went back to religion.
I can't say life has been a breeze since then (I hate all the gay movies that end with someone coming out, as though that solves all your problems), but I didn't kill myself and I've marched in many Pride marches since, usually with ACT UP.
It's a great feeling.
Off the sidewalks, into the streets!
Mark Milano is the publications manager at ACRIA and the editor of its quarterly international HIV prevention, treatment and policy publication, Achieve, as well as its other publications.