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On National Coming Out Day, I'm Proud to Be Gay

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Pride could be defined as having a sense of one's own proper dignity or value or self-respect. Because today is National Coming Out Day, I was reminded of my own journey towards that feeling in a most original setting.

"I just wonder, can you talk about anything non-gay?" That was the question posed to me on a job interview.

"Did you notice you brought it up first?" I pointed out. "Actually I didn't talk about gay anything until I was 25, so my final answer is, 'Yes.'"

I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. In the first column I ever wrote that was published, I made a point of not discussing my sexuality. I wrote about dating but did not mention the sex of the person as that was not the point of the story and I knew that would only get in the way of my message.

People still told my mother, "They'll know he's gay, you know," and "Why does Donald have to write about being gay?"

Nevertheless, any accusations up to this point were hearsay. But in my second column almost two decades ago, I came out of that supposed "closet" publicly and purposefully for when I finally figured out I was gay, I wanted to shout it to the world.

I wrote about how I had major orientation confusion until my mid-20s. I was raised in a rural area in a fundamentalist religion. I never met an open practicing homosexual until I first entered a gay bar at 25.

I remember as if it were yesterday -- being afraid to enter that gay bar. Of course, all I had heard were horror stories. "Where are the people in leather and chains?" I thought to myself. I actually thought I walked into the wrong place -- everyone looked normal!

But it was a long journey to get to the place where I could be proud of my sexuality. I was conservative by many standards. I had even quietly, respectfully left the religion of my youth. I just decided I could no longer pretend to be something I wasn't. I still respected faith and never disparaged my former religion.

But that coming out column created quite a commotion. Soon after, I experienced hang-ups on my answering machine. In hindsight, I naively did not connect them to my column. Eventually I called back the last number on my phone.

"Hello, were you trying to get a hold of me?"

"Yes, we'd like to talk to you about your article." I recognized a voice from my past, a Minister from my former faith. He continued, "We'd like you to come in and talk to us. You are still considered a member of the congregation."

Any naiveté I had left crashed and burned in a hurry. I hadn't been to a service of any kind in 10 years.

"I'm not coming in."

"So you are disassociating yourself."

"Of course I'm not!"

Back and forth we went. Finally I said, "Whatever. Do what you have to do!"

I was very frustrated and I felt hurt, but not confused. I knew I was just being honest for the first time in my life, albeit in very public way! I heard the message loud and clear: "That's what you get when you talk about being gay!" I wanted to crawl into a silent shell, but why should I? Been there, done that!

I decided I would choose all future public declarations of my "gaydom" very carefully. I would take the high road. We all have a choice and I chose not to be bitter.

I eventually found the label "gay" something to be proud of. The first quarter century of my confusion and pain needed a day of reckoning. My quest since coming out had been to be a positive, healthy example of a homosexual life style -- well, as much as humanly possible.

When people think of me, I hope they think of the human being first and what that means. The gay label is just one small part of the big picture. But take it away and I wouldn't be me. I believe that my orientation is as much a part of me as the skin colour I was genetically given.

I don't think my orientation is up for debate.

Because I was a caged bird growing up, I had a desire, and then a need to sing it in a public manner. I guess I was trying to make up for lost time. My journey to pride was a Pyrrhic victory at best. But am I proud? Well, I can talk about lots of things other than being gay.

At least now it is my choice.