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OutServe Magazine | August 14, 2014

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On Coming Out

On Coming Out

As always, the OutServe membership continues to impress me with their strength and courage. I am extremely proud of every troop who submitted their picture and bio to be published in this issue of OutServe Magazine. Coming out is never an easy process, and doing so in such a public manner makes you a prime example for other troops who are currently struggling with their own sexuality.

Now that DADT no longer looms over America’s military, many of its troops now face a new, and equally difficult challenge: the process of coming out. The stresses and uncertainty of how people will react can be paralyzing, especially if you really care about the person you are telling.

For me, coming out to my parents was one of the hardest challenges I have had to face. While the possibility of them not accepting me for who I am was terrifying, I knew I couldn’t continue to hide from them. I toyed around with the idea for a while, and can vividly recall sitting on the couch at my friend Derek’s house this past January. We had a deep and philosophical discussion about being gay and in the military, and after hearing about how he came out to his parents, my mind was made up. The next time I saw my Mom and Dad, I was going to tell them.

Coming out, I firmly believe, is part art and part science…over the next few months, I deliberated on the logistics of the matter. First off, I decided to tell them face to face. No other means of communicating the message seemed adequate or respectful enough. I knew my parents would have questions to which I owed an answer on the spot – no phone call or handwritten letter would do.

The next decision I had to make was a matter of syntax. I needed to find the right words, which turned out to be easier said than done. I was worried about there being too much build-up. If I danced around the subject too long I feared the conversation would either get sidetracked and I would whimp out, or they would assume something was seriously wrong. Is our son in trouble? Is he dropping out of the military? Is he getting deployed somewhere dangerous? I didn’t want to do that to them.

For the next two months, I practiced telling them. In the aviation community, we call this “chair-flying”, and I did a lot of it. I found myself practicing whenever I was alone. On more than one occasion, I’m sure I was that crazy person carrying on an imaginary conversation from across the traffic light.

After work one Friday, I made the six hour drive home. That night, I went out to dinner with my parents, and afterwards, met up with some of my best friends from high school. I told my buddy Mike, who is also gay and out to his parents, what I was up to. As he gave me a huge hug and told me how proud he was, I made him promise to not let me chicken out.

Even though I could barely sleep that night, the next day seemed to come all too quickly. Just as I had planned, I took them to lunch, went shopping with my dear, sweet mother, and spent the day with them. Call it “buttering them up,” but I wanted to remind my parents of how much I love them … and in the event of that worst case scenario, I could have one last, great day together with Mom and Dad.

As soon as we got back to the house, I told them I needed to talk to them about something. Before my parents could scatter about their Saturday business, I brought them into the family room and let them get comfortable. At long last, the “chair-flying” paid off and the words came out flawlessly:

“Mom, Dad, I’m tired of hiding a big part of my life and not being entirely honest with you. I’m gay.”

I knew at some point they would have something to say, so I paused there to give them a chance to speak. I think they were still too shell-shocked at this point to say anything, so I continued on.

We talked for the next two hours, I continued to tell them how being gay was no big deal and that my relationship with them was unchanged. I still loved them, still wanted to get married and adopt a kid or two, and was still the same son they did such a good job of raising.

The conversation ended with a big hug between the three of us. I decided to give them some alone time to talk without me. I left the house for a few hours, and my mother said she has never seen my father cry so hard. Initially, it was hard on them … but I must say, I’m impressed at the courage they displayed as they promised to support me – no matter what.

Unfortunately not every coming out story will have a happy ending like mine. Call me old fashioned, but I firmly believe having support back on the home front is important to doing a good job in the military. Why fight if there is nothing at home worth fighting for? I am lucky to have such great parents, and am glad I could be there for them through this whole ordeal. They mean the world to me, and I know we have grown stronger as they have taken on the role of the parents of a gay son, and airman.

Karl B. Johnson is an Air Force C-17 pilot who has been serving on active duty since 2008.