By Jaime Cryer
I found myself staring in the mirror the other morning, lost in the thoughts of the years prior—years that have been hard. My heart was heavy that morning with the reality of how much life had changed. My phone no longer rings like it did before. Nobody calls to check on me or to simply say “I love you.” If I don’t make the phone calls, it could be months before I hear from the ones I used to hear from daily. I remember saying out loud to myself, “I am still me.” But truth be told, I am different. I am still the same me, but a different me—all because I shared the secret that I thought would be buried in the ground with my body, without anyone ever knowing. The secret that I was gay.
Although I fought really hard, my secret didn’t lay dormant. The real me was buried far beneath layers of shame and fear. Religion had bullied me into being ashamed of who I really was. The fear of rejection—the kind of fear that claws at you in the empty hours of the night—had paralyzed me. Fear and shame drove me to live a life different from the hidden person I was. For 35 years, I got up every day and put on a mask, a plastic smile, and played the part that I thought I was supposed to play. It all looked believable on the outside, but I was dying on the inside. Dying to live. It was an empty and lonely existence.
I can recall the details of that time in my life like it was yesterday. What I remember most was the overwhelming fear that consumed me when I thought about sharing my secret. I felt I would rather take my own life than to expose my secret to anyone. I had never told anyone of my struggle.
I grew up in a small town in Louisiana and in a very religious home. All of my life, I lived with an overwhelming desire to please everyone. The desire to be loved and accepted shoved me down this path. That same desire forced me to stay in empty relationships for far too long and tolerate things that I never should have. I believed that if I revealed what was hidden, it would mean complete rejection. I was in my second marriage, and I knew that my secret would destroy my wife, devastate my family, and leave my children confused. Death felt like an easy escape when compared with having to reveal that I was gay.
I remember the day that I told my secret for the first time. I was pacing the floor in my home, feeling completely hopeless and alone. To be honest, I planned to end my life. Too many people would be hurt by the truth. I was at the crossroads of who I really was and who I was pretending to be. Sometime during my breakdown, I heard my cell phone ringing. I looked at the phone and saw it was my Aunt Janice. I debated about answering it or not. I finally answered the phone and tried to sound normal. We made small talk at first, and then she asked me, “Are you okay? You have really been on my heart.” I tried to lie and I sat quietly, trying to swallow the lump in my throat. I said to her, “No, I am not okay, but I can’t tell you why.” She kept pushing me, and I finally just said, “I am gay.” Her reply to me was, “Who the f–k cares?”
After talking to her, I felt lighter. Fear began to dissipate. I then told my oldest sister, who has been so supportive. I told my twin brother next. I waited until after Christmas to tell my wife, and I told my mother last. To say it was hard is an understatement. I can tell you that a part of me died during that time.
I knew coming out was a risk, and I honestly never thought I would. I knew that the truth would devastate my family, and it did. People tried to get me to go to church for prayer, to have a “homosexual spirit” cast out of me. Some people walked away from me. I have been judged harshly, and I’ve paid a high price to be the person that I kept hidden.
I grew up in the church, and the fear that something was wrong with me consumed
me. At age 10, I hid in the bookstore of my church, crouched behind a shelf in the dark, trying to read a book that was on sale about homosexuality and how to be “free.” I spent years begging God to heal me. I prayed, I went to the altar for prayer, and I secretly went on my own twice to ministers to have that “spirit” cast out of me. My efforts were futile. Religion and fear bullied me into pretending to be someone that I was not.
It has been a few years since I came out. It has gotten easier. I look the same, but deep down I am different. I am the same, but changed. I am happy now. I no longer feel alone even when I’m surrounded by people.
I have an amazing man in my life who has shown me what love really is. But because I spent so many years hiding from who I really was and feeling so unlovable, it has not been easy to accept that someone genuinely loves me. My partner, Jonathan, and his family have accepted me—and all that comes with it. As we build our life together and make plans for the future, a part of me is sad that my family will never accept us as a couple and will miss out on our life. Some days may be hard, but at the end of the day I am happy. I am still the same me. A different me.
This is Jaime Cryer’s first contribution to OutSmart magazine.