Tampa Bay Comes Out

-written by Tiffany Razzano
-from the CLGBT Blog
-October 12th, 2012

Some coming out stories will make you laugh so hard you cry, and others will just make you cry.

Coming out stories are as diverse as the LGBT community itself. But, hopefully, all of them will inspire and encourage you to live your life openly and proudly.

In honor of National Coming Out Week, I’ve compiled the coming out stories of a variety of LGBT residents in the Tampa Bay area. Feel free to share your own!

Sheree L. Greer, Tampa
Author and Hostess of Oral Fixation, a monthly LGBTQ open mic

I came out to my mother during lunch at Colombia Restaurant right at the St. Petersburg Pier. At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was because of my impending admission or the fact that I’d had three Mojitos, but everything seemed outrageously and stereotypically gay. The table cloths were pink; the silverware glittered like sequins. There were these crazy guitar licks, blaring horns, stutter-step snare, bass drums, and Diana Ross’s sweet, sweet voice jumping in and out before the beat dropped. “I’m… coming… out… I’m coming…” I whipped my head around, wondering where the music was coming from, wondering why everything was bright and shiny. “I’m coming… I’m coming out.” I wanted to rub my eyes to see if what I saw was real, but I knew it wasn’t. I went with the fantasy anyway, because, well, I fucking love Diana Ross.

The two dark-haired women with the sharp, geometric haircuts who sat across from us, who were just friends a few minutes ago, were suddenly on a date, leaning in, breasts on the table, licking their lips, giggling. The waiters pirouetted around tables, handing out multi-colored menus, singing the specials while doing shoulder shimmies. My head bobbed uncontrollably to the beat. “I’m coming out. I want the world to know.”

My mother stared at her plate, missing the show: the waiters got into a chorus-line, legs kicking higher than Las Vegas Showgirls. “Got to let it show!” The women on the date nodded and winked at me, building me up. The waiters smiled, doing jazz-hands.

My mother cleared her throat. My throat clutched. Everything stopped. Suddenly, with my back-up gone, I felt utterly and hopelessly alone. Yet, it had to be done. I had to do it. Tired of lying to myself and exhausted from lying to her, my mother, my friend, I went for it.

“Mama, I’m gay,” I said, my hands fumbling with my napkin, nudging at my silverware.

“I know,” she said, placing her hand on top of mine to calm it. “I know.”

Jeremy Gloff, Tampa
Musician

It was a sunny November afternoon in 1995. I’d been kicked out of my parents’ a week earlier and had nicely settled into my first apartment. The living room was already furnished — cozy 1970s plaids and browns.

I sat on that couch with my keyboard hammering out a song I was writing for my third album. I’d recently had my heart broken by a boy. Everyone knew I was gay. I didn’t know yet. Sometimes I told people I was bisexual. Sometimes I told myself I just “loved people no matter what body they existed in”. No matter what I told people, losing my home and Scott in the same month was devastating.

My first two albums talked about my gay relationships. But always when writing about a boy the pronoun would be “you” “they” “them”.

But that sunny afternoon in 1995 I began to write a song called “Prince Charming” about Scott. And I used the word “he”. The second I put that word on notebook paper I realized…I was gay. I was never in a closet. I just didn’t realize it. I didn’t put two and two together. I fantasized about boys and had “relationships” with girls. It was that afternoon I realized in my simple mind that it’s perfectly normal to have relationships with the people you fantasize about. And everything made sense and came together. The second it dawned on me that I was gay, I was open with everyone.

And all it took was a two letter pronoun.

“He could be my Prince Charming on a tall white horse…”

Melissa Schuck, Oldsmar

I spent most of my childhood looking up to the tiny wooden shelves of local used book stores. I would wander along the walls, reading the summaries attached to eye-catching spines. Princesses. Ghosts. Average businessmen. These people were often strange, but always a real part of the universe. I remember the first book I read that presented the idea of race with the overt indeterminateness it deserves. The author described what made the characters laugh, what made them cry, what they wanted to accomplish, and what stood in their way. They never had to define or defend the meiosis that took place within distant relatives. I found comfort in how strange and real that was.

Books have caused me to look at each person as their own character living in their own novel -— each strange and real. I remember a boy in my fourth grade class who was excellent at math. Most of the time he sat in the back, quiet and uneasy, but when multiplication was mentioned, his eyes lit up with an infectious confidence that I always thought was so beautiful. In fifth grade, I sat next to a girl who would look at everyone with the kindest blue eyes and a genuine smile. She had an odd sadness about her, but we giggled nervously whenever we spoke. It wasn’t until high school when someone informed me that those feelings were what made me strange.

“You’re gay,” she said. “But not as gay as I am.”

She blended the words with drops of evil sarcasm while believing sexuality could be rated on a 100-point scale. Apparently, my gayness only earned me about 63 points — a failure compared to my exemplary peer. As a teenage girl, I worried about whether I was smart or pretty enough, but gay enough? Was I strange, but not strange enough? I never mentioned that idea again after that, which actually made me happier.

Evil sarcasm girl became the character in my story that everyone hates. You know, the characters that aggravate readers while wavering in the awkward space between hero and villain. The ones who make the protagonist stumble but never stop. She was a strange nuisance, but a real character in a story others may read more of some day. Until then, I am content just knowing I will always be the hero of my own book — strange and real — regardless of the actions of any characters.

Michael Keeffe, St. Petersburg
Executive Director, Trans*Action Florida

My coming out story: I used to pretend to be a girl. But seriously, my first coming out was at 14, when the only explanation I could find for my internal feelings was the term lesbian. I came out again 20 years later to my partner and my mother as transgender, but it would be another six years before I began to talk in wider circles about my “situation”. In 2007, I began to live full-time as male, but did not begin my physical transition until 2009. I am the T in LGBT.

Niki Diaz, Tampa

My middle brother and I are pretty close. But having grown up in a very conservative household we’d never had a direct “I like the ladies” talk, as I could never find the “right” moment to bring it up.

Finally, the right time came in the form of a Friday evening on a rooftop bar watching the sun slowly set as we nursed beers and laughed at ridiculous childhood memories. Terrified that the moment would pass, I looked at my brother and blurted, “I like girls.”

My statement was met with a raised brow and a narrowing of the eyes as he asked me what I meant.

“I mean, I like them. I like-like them. I find them attractive, in a dating way.”

Feeling as though I left little room for interpretation, I sat back as my brother stared off in the distance, squinted his eyes, then shrugged his shoulders. Sensing a nod of acceptance was brewing, I began to relax. That is, until I noticed an expression of indignant confusion come across his face as he turned to me, and loudly inquired, “Really? Not even Justin Timberlake?”

Looking back, had I known this would be my brother’s biggest protest regarding my sexual orientation, I’d have worried less about being disowned and more about perfecting the choreography to “My Love”.

Amber Dame, Dunedin
Owner, Tru Colors L.G.B.T.Q. Dating Service and Singles Events

Coming out as a lesbian after a heterosexual marriage was easy in some ways. Those who knew me best already knew. In fact, my ex-husband told me six months after we ended our marriage for good, “I already knew you were gay, the whole time.” My childhood best friends initially said it was just a phase. I still cringe at our “strap-ons are the same as straight sex conversation”. According to my mother, I was just overweight, and couldn’t find a decent man. This also led to a weight-loss of 80 pounds, and the occasional text message to my Mom saying, “I love you. I lost 15 more pounds, and yes Mom, I am still gay.”

Of everyone I came out to, my daughter, who is now five, was my favorite. We had a few small talks about how people can love whomever they want, men or women, and sometimes both. During Pride 2011, we were sitting in a cafe eating lunch, surrounded by many affectionate lesbian couples. After looking around the room, her little brown eyes looked up at me and said, “Mom, who can love each other?”

Holding back tears, I repeated the same things I had been sharing with her. “People can love whomever they want, and Mommy loves women. This is ok. What is really special about this is one day you will have another mommy who will love you, and care for you just as much as I do.” Her reaction was true acceptance. There was nothing shocking, embarrassing or scary about what I said. Seeing women in love and in person, she finally understood what I had been trying to share with her. Mom is gay, no big deal, and now we both look forward to the day Lily gets an extra mom.

Jenny Miller, St. Petersburg
Yoga Instructor and Retreat Organizer

I was a senior in high school. It was 1990, and I was as gay as could be, but I was desperately trying to follow the bad advice my coach had given me: Just keep it under wraps until you get out of here. I kept a list (hard copy) of people who knew, or who I suspected knew. I had a mullet, baggy shorts, and a girlfriend, but no one was really asking, and I sure wasn’t telling. On my calendar, I crossed the days off until graduation like a maximum security prisoner.

One Saturday afternoon I was leaving my dad’s apartment building when he and his girlfriend rolled up in the parking lot. They hopped out of the car and said, “Hey, we just came from the gay pride march! And we got you something.” Mortified, I held out my hands to catch a t-shirt my dad was tossing to me, Mean Joe Greene-style. It was big and white with an inverted pink triangle on it. My dad had just outed me.

Bryan McCallum, Tampa

When I was 16, I started actively exploring my sexuality. I was in high school, had a couple of gay friends, and I got my first job as a bag boy in a local grocery store. I wanted to keep that I was gay from my family for as long as possible, but I ended up outing myself to my Mom (who is a lesbian) in the most foolish way possible.

From time to time, I gave my Mom money so I could use her credit card to buy CDs or books online, since I didnt have a debit or credit card yet. One night while browsing the Internet in an attempt to “explore” my blossoming sexuality, I came across a website that offered lots of gay porn VHS tapes for sale.

My Mom had never given any indication that she actually double checked my transactions when I did use her card, so I felt it was safe to order one of these videos for my viewing pleasure.

After about a week, the video arrived and I, of course, watched every nanosecond of it, for research purposes. I thought I had gotten away with my sneaky transaction and that she was none the wiser. A couple days later, I received a phone call at work, which was rare. I was a 16-year-old bag boy. I wasn’t exactly getting a lot of phone calls at work. Well, it was my Mom on the phone, and she didn’t sound too pleased. She said the bank had called her about a suspicious transaction on her account, for a gay porn website. Continuing on, she said she had called the company and had gotten all the details, even the name of the video which was “Don’t Kiss Me, I’m Straight”. Bad taste aside, I was in complete shock and was speechless. She then said something that I’ll never forget: “So, you like the boys huh?” Not only did she know, but she knew the name of the porn that I had been watching non-stop for a week, and which was already seasoned from many vigorous sessions of “research”.

I immediately hung up the phone, went to the bathroom at work and started crying.

Here started my downward spiral into the depths of awkward and embarrassing coming out moments. To this day, I can’t get that voice out of my head, saying, “So you like the boys, huh?” It still makes me shudder.

But no voice can match that of my grandmother. In a single sentence, she can shatter self-esteem, wreak havoc on good taste, and provide fuel for many an opportunistic therapist later on in life. Her name is Olga, and she’s from one of the old countries. Cuba specifically. Being half Cuban myself, I can’t really generalize them or group them into any set category. Cuba has its share of homophobes, just like everywhere else. I can’t discriminate.

One lovely summer day, months after the aforementioned incident with my mother, my extended family and I went on an outing to a well-known Chinese buffet in order to celebrate my grandfather’s birthday. Olga’s husband, Emilio, is her opposite. He’s always polite and mild mannered, and has nothing critical to say to anyone. He’s very go with the flow, very Zen. That being said, it’s most likely he was whipped into this state after years of putting up with Olga.

Once we all were seated, a young Asian man proceeded to get the drink orders for my family. Instantly upon leaving, my grandmother stated in Spanish something like, “Oh wow! What a faggot that waiter was.” That’s right. She dropped the “M” word. Maricon. Faggot. Just spelling the word doesn’t give the word justice. It has to be said in a particular way that lets whoever heard it catch on to the built-in disdain that comes with simply pronouncing the word.

I looked around at my family members, who didn’t seem too shocked at what my grandmother had said. They were just used to it. I, being newly out to my mother, felt a feeling of pride and indignation swell in my chest. Or it could have been the Kung Pao Cat Guts I just scarfed down. Either way, I was pissed and was not having it.

Even my lesbian mother didn’t really flinch (the same mother who found out about porn and asked if I like the boys, confusing I know, but when you grew up with Olga as a mother you tend to somewhat despise and resent your gayness.) I stood up and scanned the eyes of my family and said out loud as I found Olga’s eyes, “Soy Maricon”. I am a faggot. I got up and left the table, and the restaurant, and drove myself home. As I was leaving, I just remember a look of shock on my grandmother’s face, and I heard later my grandfather was trying to console her, even telling her it’s ok if I’m gay.

Later in the week we did speak, and it wasn’t all that awkward, except for the part where she insisted that I just haven’t met the right girl yet or when I heard her say to my Mom on the phone, “How could you raise a son like that?” I’m sorry that my Mom had to take any of the brunt of the wrath of Olga, but at the time I couldn’t help my outburst at the restaurant.

We still talk to this day, me and Olga, and I still love her to death and have just learned to accept that she holds that archaic way of thinking about homosexuality. She never apologized for herself or what she said and neither did I. It doesn’t change her love that she has for me, as she still tells me she loves me every chance she gets. Granted, it’s a harsh, some might say battering sort of love, but that’s how she rolls.

She tells me I should have studied to be a pharmacist, tells me how I’m smart, but I never used my brains for anything, what a waste, and so on. I just take it as crazy Olga-speak now and don’t pay it too much attention. It took her a while to stop suggesting girls for me to date, and instead, now she just finds faults with any guy I may be dating. Nagging me about them, telling me their faults, telling me I am who I associate with, when she has no idea what these guys are like. Any boyfriend I have is referred to as just the friend. And no matter how successful or good looking a friend might be, she still always gives the friend a cold look and even colder introduction at family gatherings. Then she just pretends like the friend never existed, and, like Iran with Israel, refuses to acknowledge the friend’s right to exist.

Then after the gathering, she’ll talk to me “alone”, while my friend is just feet away, saying in Spanish how much she hated my friend and that she didn’t like the looks of him. Later, I usually have to apologize for her shocking audacity. She doesn’t seem to care that most people study Spanish over any other language in schools these days. Anyone that dare call her on this rude behavior is just a Maricon after all.

Janelle Montgomery, Tampa

Just one coming out story? I’ve many and the list grows daily with every new person I meet.

I’ve come out to all the key people (Mom, Dad, and my sister) in different ways. My husband knew I was attracted to women before we married. Three years later, he discussed it with his mother, and I divorced almost out of total embarrassment (I could never look my mother-in-law in the eye again knowing she knew my dirty secret). As it happened, his family was much more supportive than my mother, who advised me that I needed a strait jacket and sent cards about how Jesus could help me. That was 15 years ago and a lot has changed. Now she tells me I look like Ellen and should send my picture in to her TV show (I’m not sure why). This week she’s even mailing my partner a gift.

I’m forever telling clients, doctors, and new friends. Sometimes it makes me a bit nervous and other times I watch them get nervous. I came out once simply by opening my laptop to discuss some plumbing work with a builder only to have him see me and my girlfriend kissing on my desktop background. I went red and he laughed. A client who weirdly didnt expect to hear I was gay said in response, “Oh… I know you’re not meant to be surprised in these situations but …”

And my favorite reaction? On hearing I was divorcing because I’m gay, my old boss said, “Is that sad news or should I get a cake?” We had cake that afternoon.

Lauren Klinger, Largo

Being asked to tell a coming out story is weird, because, like all people, I tell or choose not to tell a version of my story to every person I meet. To my doctor when she asks whether I’m taking pregnancy precautions, to coworkers when they ask whether I’m married, to students who ask about my rainbow-colored star tattoo. But the easiest coming out story I can tell is the one of coming out to my Dad.

My Dad is the dad all my friends try to make their “second dad,” because theirs isn’t around or isn’t that good at it. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is break up with my boyfriend of eight years, which I did at 26. He was part of our family, so telling my Dad was necessary but terrifying.

I went over to my Dad’s apartment unannounced and crying. “I broke up with Nick,” I said.

“That’s terrible!” he said, stopping my heart with a jolt of guilt and shock. “I mean,” he continued, “if you think it’s terrible?” He said all the things then that you think an amazing father should say, about supporting me and being there for me and wanting me to be happy.

I could’ve left out the “why” of it all, and waited to tell him my breakup wasn’t about Nick’s shortcomings, but about his shorts, so to speak. But I was desperate to feel relieved of all the burdens I’d been carrying, so I said, “But I have to tell you why.”

As I searched for the right words, he stopped me and said, “It couldn’t be because you’re more interested in people of the other gender, could it?” I burst out laughing. “How long have you known?” I asked. “Oh, not long,” he said. “Only since you were about 15.”

Alexandra Lundahl, St. Petersburg

Coming out to myself may have been the hardest part of my “coming out” story. It took me far longer than it should have to realize that I am bisexual, and my then-husband realized it a full year before I did. But when I finally realized and accepted that I’m bi — in a rambling, stream-of-consciousness email to my best friend at age 26 — then everything made sense.

Granted, it was also a lot more complicated. I was married. He strongly encouraged me to explore my gay side. A long story began. But my actual coming out? It was wonderful. My husband and best friend threw me an intimate “coming out party.” My parents were wonderfully supportive. Even my extremely Christian and conservative aunt, when she found out much later, she didn’t understand it, but she mainly wanted me to know that she still loves me no matter what. (Sure, there’s room for improvement on her understanding of homosexuality but I’ll still take this as a win.) All of my friends were great. Even the more old-fashioned people at my job were pretty cool about it.

Because of all the support that I have received, I now don’t even blink when I easily mention my bisexuality to absolutely anybody. I don’t pause and worry about what if they think of me negatively if they know. I am proud of and comfortable with who I am, and I embrace my sexuality. I hope that in the near future we won’t even think of our coming out stories any more than how we think of the general coming of age because being gay will be just as accepted and “normal” as being straight.

Camilla Shoosmith, St. Petersburg

I’d met her when I was 15 at a concert at the State Theater, a tiny woman just oozing personality. Maybe it was her green mohawk or the fact that she was the only woman in the moshpit and she was holding her own amongst burly tattooed men. Either way, it was love at first sight, my first female crush. I gathered the courage to talk to her and we exchanged numbers. Over the next week we talked on the phone every night and eventually decided to make it official. I had a girlfriend. Now how to tell my parents.

Products of 1980s British punk, my parents were the most liberal parents of all my friends. They had many queer friends but I knew it would be a different story if their own daughter were gay. Plus, they already had to deal with my insistence on black lipstick every day and listening to death metal as loudly as I could.

I planned this long speech about how I loved them and appreciated them for letting me experiment with being Goth and how lucky I was to have great parents. I would tell them over dinner, right at the end, after everyone was full and getting drowsy.

One day, about a week or two after I officially got a girlfriend, my father, sister and I were at a restaurant. I told them about my new friend, how she went to the arts magnet and all her friends were artists and her hair was green and she loved concerts as much as I do.

After a while my father stopped me and asked simply, “Is she your girlfriend?”

“Yes.” I shoved food into my mouth to avoid saying anything further.

“Okay,” he replied.

Amanda J, Las Vegas, NV (formerly Clearwater/St. Petersburg)

I always played around with the idea of being gay while growing up, telling my folks, “Hey, you know my friend so and so? Well, she’s my girlfriend now.” They never questioned it and Dad always got a good laugh, saying at least I wouldn’t get pregnant.

In my late teens, I had photos of girls on my bedroom door and wall. At one point, the photos had been of male punk bands and boy bands. I think my Mom was always a bit suspicious, but I never revealed my true romantic life to her. I never was really confused about my sexuality, just uncertain how to explain it to other people. I figured everyone would have something to say about it. “Look people, I am interested in men, but also women. I see people as people and that is the way it goes, for me at least.” I prefer women over men, which is why I believe I always chased women and never men.

When people bring up the stigmas about bisexuality, I tell them my side of things and I think they walk away with a more positive, less “greedy” perspective. I was always encouraged by my female significant others to tell my parents, “Hey guess what, I really am gay or at least bisexual or… open sexually?” But I never felt like discussing sex or relationships in great detail with my mother and especially not my father, as we were never quite as close.

As an adult, I started dating an amazing woman and decided I would share this with my family. I never exactly explained my sexuality, but I think saying, “Look, I met someone and she is absolutely delightful” was enough to get the ball rolling. They saw me in mainly failed relationships with men prior to this and now see me happier than ever with my girlfriend. I am lucky my entire family is supportive and loves me no matter what, because I know that isn’t always the case. I am grateful for the love I have found and happy I am being honest with my family about my same-sex relationship.

Manny Alvarez, Tampa

I was just an 18-year-old teen driving by the Old Plantation Bar on Kennedy Boulevard in 1982 until the day I had the nerve to enter the bar and the rest was history!

Darcy Rouh, Tampa

I came out when I was 18. I’d been claiming “bi” up until then while in a long-distance relationship with a guy for what felt like forever (almost four years). Having just graduated high school and moved to South Florida (where he was) to start college, it was then that I realized why I’d been in a long-distance relationship all along. Shooting myself in the face seemed more appealing than going home to him every night. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I got honest with myself and everyone else. I’ve been “out of the closet” for almost 12 years now and life is beautiful.

Frances Cochrane, Philadelphia (formerly Weeki Wachee)

Let me tell you how I discovered what bi meant.

I was in the sixth grade and a seventh-grader came up to me and asked if I was bi. I asked, “What’s bi?” She explained to me that if you were bi, not only could you have a boyfriend, but you could date a girl as well and told me I should consider being bi because I would get a lot of girlfriends. I giggled at the idea. I was in the sixth grade!

My Uncle Peapod and Aunt Martha were gay, so, I wasn’t clueless.

I just thought the bi thing was a bit gross. And strange.

One night, I was going to stay at my best friends’ house. Her name was K.D. and before I came over, she made a confession to me over the phone. She was bi. Well, I made a similar confession, but clearly stated my interest in females exclusively. We started dating that night. I was in the sixth grade. It was all pretty innocent. Seventh grade rolled around and I started skipping school to go and spend the day with her when she got suspended. One of the neighbors spotted me walking down 301 on a school day and called my Mom. Mom drove over and caught us kissing.

And that was that. It was out there. After that, I planned to kill myself, wrote a letter, and the letter was discovered before I got the balls to do anything. There was lots of running away from home, lots of shame.

My parents briefly sent me to see a shrink. When he told my father that I was a normal teenager just struggling with unsupportive parents, and that he wanted to see my father more one on one, my father ended the therapy and neither of us ever went back.

I struggled with being a lesbian for a while, even in my early adulthood. I tried being with a man to please my family, but it just didn’t work. I was always depressed and hated it. Around 22, I gave up on pleasing my parents and lived how I wanted to live. My parents don’t fully accept who I am. Mom constantly reminds me that I’m getting older and should settle down with a man, get married, etc. We clearly don’t have the best relationship. She blames my “lifestyle choice” for my struggles of today.

Recently, I’ve finally started standing up for myself and telling her to fuck off. Tonight was one of those nights.

Evan Betz, Clearwater

When I told my mother I was gay, she replied, “Well, duh.” Dad just wondered how the hell I was going to give them grandkids. I assured him that there were ways. As for the rest of the family, I just showed up to Thanksgiving dinner with my girlfriend Ryan on my arm. And her hand didn’t leave mine all day, well, until the food was served.