Last night while I was working, an older man came into my bar. He was wearing his actual military uniform. With a proud gait and shoulders straight, he walked up to me and asked me for a beer. He didn’t care what kind, so I gave him a good ol’ American beer—Budweiser. He paid for it, looked at me with bright eyes, and said “you don’t know how long I’ve waited to be able to do this.”
A military man, walking into a gay bar, finally allowed to tell the world that he is gay, that he is proud of his country, and now, himself. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is finally gone.
After that happened, it took me a moment to register the look in his eyes, but it was most definitely pride. And when I looked at him, I saw a man who was so proud of himself, that it reminded me of what it finally felt like to come out.
See, coming out of the closet is an incredibly difficult process. Even if it goes smoothly, like in my case (my family could give two shits whether I like boys or girls), it’s still difficult. To stand up to the world, and bravely claim yourself—that’s not an easy feat. It’s one thing to admit to yourself that you are gay, but to actually vocalize it, to put it out into the world, knowing that once you do it your life will forever be changed—not an easy feat, indeed.
For me, one of my biggest concerns was that people were going to stop thinking of me as a man. I mean, I’m a pretty tiny guy, so people generally don’t see me as masculine; but I do. I am fully cognizant of my manhood, and I am proud of it, which is why I was worried that after I came out, people were going to see me as even less of a man then they already did. That I might lose respect in some people’s eyes. That was scary to me.
Turns out, the moment I came out was the moment I actually started to get that respect I had been craving for so long, which was confusing to me for a while, but I think I’ve got it figured out now. See, it takes a lot of balls to be proud of who you are, knowing full well that you may not be accepted or liked by others. As scared as I was to come out, I knew that no one could ever, ever take that pride away from me. And my family saw it too—they loved me before I came out, but they loved me even more after.
The first time I walked into a gay club, I was terrified. Not because of all the gay people, but because I’d never been to a club before and I didn’t know how to dance, but that’s beside the point. As soon as I stepped in, I knew that I was making an important decision in my life, and I was resolute and unwavering in my faith in myself.
I was claiming myself—not as a homosexual, but as a man.
Although, in retrospect, if I didn’t go to that club, I might have been able to focus on my school instead of going out and getting drunk and laid every night, which might have led to me actually getting a college degree, which might have led to some semblance of success in my life. But that is neither here nor there.
To the officer who came into my bar last night, I salute you. You are what we all strive to be. Proud of yourself, honest with the world, and loved.