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._