My 16-year-old self’s biggest nightmare

I spoke at a great school on Friday. Sunrise Mountain High School in Las Vegas, with fellow authors Katie McGarry and Hannah Harrington. We did four talks in the auditorium, 80 minutes each.

It went really well. The kids were fun, asked good questions. Around the third session, however, I realized what was happening. I realized it as I stared out at the kids, waiting for Hannah to finish as I would go to the podium after her.

This was, in fact, the nightmare I’d had back in high school.

In that nightmare, I was forced to stand up on stage in front of hundreds of classmates, and, with all their eyes on me, I had to come out of the closet.

After I came out again in that third talk, I made the joke, but no one really laughed.

And why would they?

All these years later, every time I said, “I am also an out and proud gay man,” I got a huge ovation. The kids clapped and whistled and hooted. They also did so when, in each Q&A session, a student asked me if I had a boyfriend and I answered that not only do I have a boyfriend of 10 years, but we’re getting married in a couple weeks.

It’s a funny thing when you live out your nightmare, time and time again, and you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because it’s so powerful, the memory of what i was afraid of. Everyone pointing and laughing. Being shunned, made fun of, beaten up after.

But the shoe isn’t dropping. There may be places where for kids that other shoe does still drop, daily, but often it doesn’t.

It’s true that a few kids came up to me and asked me whether I still got judged for being gay. I said “Yes, definitely.” They nodded their heads, because they know what that’s like, too. But I added, “That’s always going to happen. But we don’t have to focus on that, because there’s a lot of applause out there for being who you are, too.” And they nodded at that, too. Because there is for them, too.