People think of "coming out" as something you do once - perhaps twice if you aren't completely honest the first time - but in my experience at least coming out is something you're required to do over and over again. Sure, the gossip mill and social media might be able to take care of most of it for you, but time and again you're going to be confronted with that new person, or new circumstance, and you're going to have to do it all over again.

The first time I was tempted to come out as gay (or more accurately a bisexual who is ALMOST exclusively attracted to men) was in high school. After years of being tormented by school bullies, of which there were thankfully few, I was confronted on school bus returning from a debate trip by my best friend: "Are you gay?"

I nearly said yes, then, but she added, "Because I always defend you, but if you are, I'll save my breath." I thought this meant she wouldn't support me if I was, though she probably only meant that she'd would not keep telling people I was straight. Defend was a bad choice of words, and it didn't help she had confronted me in front of half the team.

It would be a few years before I'd admit some level of attraction to men, and then it would be to a younger, female friend in private, after she admitted some confusing entanglement with a girl. I came out to her. I didn't say, "I'm gay." I explained the confusing and complex layers of my attractions. Truth be told, I was attracted to her, and had been since I first met her.

Over the years I would tell a few people, all of whom would keep my confidence. I confessed being attracted to men and women to my wife. As a student in divinity school, I would open up to a friend, again a woman, who was a generation old than me and a good friend.

After my separation, when I began dating my current partner, Cody, I was again confronted about my sexuality. This time it was a male friend at synagogue of nearly seventy. He said, "So James, I have to ask.... 'This male friend we've been seeing you with?'" My heart seized up a bit but I said, "He's my boyfriend." He simply replied, "That's what I told my wife, but she couldn't tell one way or the other." And that was that.

I would tell my mother finally, both about my sexuality and the sexual abuse I had suffered as a teenager. I told my supervisor at the synagogue religious school - I taught teenagers - and offered to resign (which she refused). I told my grandmother and father later that same year, during the winter holidays.

When my partner and I had been together for half a year and started talking about living together during the coming summer, I decided that I couldn't hide anymore, but that I couldn't take the death by a thousand outings anymore, so I took to Facebook and came out in the modern fashion. I told everyone all at once.

But since then I've had to come out another hundred times, and will have to do so thousands of times more. It's a straight world, and everyone makes assumptions one way or the other, based on the most baseless of evidence (socially constructed gender norms).

Two of my high school students saw Cody and I walking down the synagogue halls holding hands. Two weeks later when I, in passing, referred to myself as LGBT, they were shocked. I introduced myself to my college students as the editor of Out & About Nashville, and mentioned having as son and a boyfriend, and one of my students later told me that the class didn't fully realize I was gay until midterms.

So coming out isn't really always a big one-time deal, especially in a world that defaults to straight with such strength that even coming out doesn't always get through to people! Coming out is a process, undertaken in many ways, in many moments, and those are a few of mine.

What's your coming out story? Share it in the comments below, or email us:





This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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