Two days before last Christmas, I came out to my best friend because he came out to me first. Danny had been fidgeting all night. Riding shotgun while Steve, another friend, drove, Danny kept looking back and forth between the two of us until Steve finally had enough.
"C'mon, just do it."
Danny, the Ivy League aspiring brain surgeon and high school varsity soccer captain, took a breath and then leaned over the seat with a stupid grin. "OK… I'm gay!" He exploded with laughter, bouncing about in his seat.
And I shot back, as coolly as I could manage, "Yeah, I knew that. I'm gay too."
This provoked a second round of bouncing even louder than the first. Danny shook his seat, Steve cheered, "I knew it! I knew it'd happen like this!" and I teased them both for being so dramatic, while inside I was screaming too. I finally had someone to get through this with — if only I were the bouncy type and he were a little more disenchanted like me.
In high school, there was Danny — the super-earnest and athletic valedictorian with a can-do attitude — and there was me — his chubby Jewish and obviously gay best friend who just wasn't quite out yet. In the fall after senior year, he went off to Yale with a pair of university-branded sneakers and I moved to Manhattan to become even more of a mensch at NYU.
So this was going to be great! OK — we were a bit different and a bit far away from each other, but there was always the internet, or a solid phone calls, or maybe a visit or two.
A week after Christmas, I decided it was time to come out to all of my friends once and for all. Sitting in my kitchen, I told my friend Sam my big, obvious secret. She gave me an only slightly condescending "aw," then a soft hug and said, "I knew. But can we talk about Danny?" This became a pattern with almost all of our mutual friends. It was nice being accepted so effortlessly, but also a bit deflating for something that I felt like had taken such lifework to be greeted with shrugs more so than cheers.
In the months after we came out to each other, I didn't check in with Danny as much as I thought I would. Everything was going great, and I didn't really need his far-away shoulder to lean on. Each time we'd call the other and swap stories, Danny would tell me about the friend who cried dramatically on his shoulder, or the girl at the party who just wouldn't believe him. I only had tales of NYU cynics telling me, "So what?"
I set a deadline of the end of that summer to come out to both of my parents. I envisioned a completely out-of-the-closet life at every possible second. Freedom was just around the corner — but it was over a steep cliff.
However breezy coming out to my friends had been, my confidence chilled whenever I remembered riding in the car with my mom as an 11-year-old. "I really don't think gay people would choose to be gay," she said. "It just seems like such a hard life. Why would someone choose that?" I knew she really wouldn't care, but I just didn't want to take the chance.
When I told my mom, we were standing next to her car on the corner of 12th Street and First Avenue. The words came out of my mouth slowly and she smiled politely, tried not to cry, and told me to "be safe" and that she was happy for me. She texted me later with affectionate motherly texts complete with heart emojis. It was sweet.
"Err, I have to tell you something. I'm gay, Dad," I said three months later on the same corner. He bowed his head for a second, looked up, and told me that he knew already and that he was fine with it. We had a long talk about our relationship, and it was great. It was the quiet finale to my calm walk out of the closet.
I called Danny five minutes later. I was finally 100% out and wanted to let him know the good news and encourage him to come out to his own family, who we both knew weren't going to be as accepting; Danny's parents were far more conservative. I think part of the reason people were surprised Danny was gay was that it was unfathomable to think his parents could produce a gay son.
"Oh man, that's so great. Happy for you, man," he said with the faintest traces of excitement. "I'll call you back in 10 minutes and you can tell me all about it."
He never called back.
But armed with a studly boyfriend and courage-drunk on love, Danny rounded up his entire family after his a cappella group's fall concert and spilled the beans. His siblings were as mostly happy and a little freaked out, but his conservative parents were mortified. They told him it was a phase. They said he was just being influenced by his surroundings.
I didn't really know what to do. Finally, we were out of our closets, but locked in the separateness of our circumstances. Whenever I called Danny, the best I could offer him were platitudes about how time changes people and that he should stay strong.
It was now safe to tell my parents about my best friend too. They were both blown away by his sexuality. My dad was driving when I told him and he almost crashed into the divider. My mom started crying when I told her about Danny's struggles with his parents.
Watching my parents give Danny the Hallmark moment I desperately craved surprisingly made me less jealous. I went into my coming-out process wanting screams, golden reality-show moments, and a story of two best friends making it together. What I got was the same life with acceptance from those who loved me, and a best friend who was hurting pretty badly, but of whom I was still jealous. I had found a dark side of coming out when I got caught up in a process that requires you to examine yourself almost obsessively — studying your personality, what you mean to others, and what sex means to you — and turned that into extreme selfishness.
I couldn't really help Danny come out, and he couldn't help me. Seeing how our experiences diverged made me realize I shouldn't be comparing myself to him in the first place. My jealousy was completely misplaced. You can only come out for yourself, and although some part of me wishes we had done it together, I don't think it would've even been possible. To really come out of the closet and accept myself, I needed some blinders and a dose of reality. Thank god I didn't have a best friend to lean on.