Op-ed: My Life 10 Years After Coming Out on MTV
BY Advocate Contributors
October 11 2011 5:00 AM ET
I felt like the world was put on pause as I faced a last
chance to turn back around on this path. Then finally I said it: “I’m
gay.” I didn’t know much about skydiving then, but looking back, that’s pretty
much what it felt like.
Dad gave me a hug and let me know that everything was going
to be OK, and like he said, he just wanted me to be happy.
The next person I came out to was not as accepting – my
mother. As soon as I tried starting the conversation while in front
of the cameras, she knew what I was getting at. So she looked at the
producer and said, “Is that done?”
Not long afterward did the crew fly back to New
York. I remember feeling so disappointed, especially since I didn’t
want MTV to put text on the screen that read, “Joel tried to come out to his
mom but was unable to.” So I took matters into my own hands. I
grabbed my home video camera, set it on the dinner table and hit “record.” At
that table my mother and I had our most honest conversation ever.
“When did you realize you were like that?” she
asked. “I mean, your kind.”
“What’s my kind?” I responded.
My mother at this point grew angry and said, “You know what
I’m talking about. You’re afraid to say it.”
“I’m not afraid to say it. I’m
gay. I’m gay. I’m gay and I’m happy to be gay.”
When the show aired in 2002, I got thousands of letters from
people who were just like me, saying that I helped change their life for the
better. I had complete strangers approach me on the street thanking
me. What got to me the most was when I would hear stories from
people who were suicidal, but after seeing the show it helped them realize that
their life was worth living.
Still, my relationship with my mother wasn’t the
best. It took her a long time to accept me for who I am. A decade
later, I’m not living the life my parents expected. Instead of marrying a
woman, I met a man named Jason and we spent an amazing 8-year relationship together.
Instead of being a doctor, I became a supervising producer on a network television show
that changes lives. I feel like I have the best job in the
I had no idea how big of an impact television had on viewers
until I did the show, so I asked MTV for a job and they gave me
one. One of my goals in life became helping tell the stories of
people who feel like they have no voice.
Whenever I’m having a rough day at work, now at NBC, I
remind myself of that 19-year-old Joel who simply wanted to tell his story, and
that gets me through the day. It’s been an amazing 10 years since I
came out of the closet and I guess my one piece of advice is this: Forget
about expectations. If you’re thinking about coming out on this National
Coming Out Day, if you believe you’re ready, then be brave and trust that your
parachute will open.