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Telling our

Telling our


Twenty-five readers opened up their lives in the October 11 issue of The Advocate, but these men and women also have stories to share as we mark National Coming Out Day

Eileen GearingAge: 44 Residence: Orlando, Fla. Occupation: Medical biller

On coming out: After years of feeling suffocated in the workplace, I decided it was time to come out and be proud of who I am. At my last job in Connecticut, my constant fear of rejection perpetuated a web of lies that were way out of control and very hard to keep track of. I promised myself when I moved to Florida the lies would end. I currently work in a very small medical office and have become close friends with two very conservative female coworkers. One of them is a preacher's daughter who voted for George Bush based on "moral" issues, and the other one would have voted the same, had she made it to the polls that day. After two years of enduring a nagging pit in my stomach and waiting for the right moment, I finally sat them down and said, "I am gay." The reactions from both women were all I had hoped for; acceptance, compassion, honesty, and respect were given to me that day. A 50-ton weight was lifted off my shoulders and that pit in my stomach is long gone. I came out to my boss and the rest of my coworkers a week later, and they too showered me with love and support. The truth never felt so great.

John StormonAge: 48 Residence: Olympia, Wash. Occupation: Water quality technician

On coming out: I work for the state of Washington, Department of Ecology, protecting groundwater quality. Although I've known that I'm gay since I was in college, I haven't shared that fact with others until now. At the age of 48 it's time to be out and proud. I like to think of myself as an honest person; I'm tired of lying to the people I care about. I'm not sure how coming out will change my life, but I hope that it will help me to be more open and share my feelings.

Sue DeVolAge: 34 Residence: San Diego Occupation: Law enforcement officer

On coming out: I entered Point Loma Nazarene College, a small Christian school in San Diego, when I was 17 years old. I shared my dorm room with three other girls, and my quad consisted of 12 girls total. We had little space between us, and my girlfriend would visit a lot. After a few months I got a letter from the dean of students requiring me to meet with her. My roommates had sold me out. They didn't even approach me with their concerns! I was blindsided. Right out of the gate, the dean asked me if I was in a homosexual relationship. I didn't lie. "Well, Sue, you have an easy decision to make now. Either you can tell your parents or I can. And being a parent myself [how smug of her to say this], if my daughter had something like this to tell me, I'd want to hear it from her and not the school administration." My coming out consisted of being forced to tell my parents that I had a girlfriend. I wrote them a letter because I didn't have enough courage to tell them in person. Mom thought it was a phase, and Dad refused to talk to me. I was too young to handle this, especially without any support. I knew I wouldn't get backing from my roommates, school administration, or anyone else. My folks still aren't excited about my sexuality, but I know they love me and are proud of my other accomplishments.

Paola LipovskyAge: 36 Residence: Bethel, Conn. Occupation: Banking associate

On coming out: I am currently in a committed 10 1/2-year relationship with my wonderful partner, Patty. I'm out to my family and friends, but not out at work. I feel like I'm leading a double life every time I go to the office. I never talk about what I did on the weekends because I am so fearful of sharing my true life. Sometimes I wish someone would ask me if I were gay, because I think I would answer truthfully; I can't seem to say it myself. For over a decade I've lived this way, and I am getting really tired of being so scared and deceitful. I hope by writing this I will be free of my fears and I'll come out completely.

Jan UnderwoodAge: 51 Residence: Bakersfield, Calif. Occupation: Associate clinical social worker

On coming out: I got married at 19 years old but soon came to the realization that I was more attracted to the lesbians at my local hot spot than to my husband. I soon divorced and made my way to the lesbian table at the bar. Unfortunately, I could not fully come out. I was so scared of what society would think of me that I fearfully followed the norm and married for the second time. My second husband and I started going to individual therapy around the tenth year of our marriage. On my first visit to the therapist's office I announced I was "bisexual." While in therapy, the truth kept surfacing, and I soon had to confess to my husband that I was living a lie; I was not a heterosexual woman. It was painful but absolutely necessary to give my husband--and I--the dignity we both deserved. After my divorce I fell in love for the first time. When that relationship broke up, I called my father and confessed with a torrent of tears that this "friend" was a woman. My sweet 70-year-old father was nurturing, compassionate, and emotionally understanding. He held my hand, comforted my heart, and dried my eyes even though he was 1,500 miles away.

Michele A. HelbergAge: 31 Residence: Astoria, N.Y. Occupation: Theatrical company manager

On coming out: The most moving part of my coming-out process was when I finally let my parents in on what had been weighing so heavily on me--that I was a lesbian. I was living in New York City, and being in the closet was something that was becoming so stressful I went into therapy. After one particularly powerful session I walked back to my office, as I typically did, and in a moment of empowerment, I called home. My dad answered as I knew he would. "Dad," I said, "there is something I need to tell you." Now, we have always had a great relationship and could talk about anything, but I do think the abrupt nature of the call and perhaps the shaking in my voice scared him a little. He urged me to continue, and I did. I will remember to this day what he said when I finally finished rambling. "You are my daughter and I love you. There is nothing more to say then that." It was like a 10-ton weight had been lifted. At the time I wasn't ready to continue my process and tell my mother just yet. She was from a big traditional family; her father was a Catholic deacon and her sister is a nun. However, when I finally did tell her the response was the same: "You are my daughter and I love you."

Renee SheldonAge: 24 Residence: Ashtabula, Ohio Occupation: Child case manager

On coming out: I was working as the assistant manager at Waldenbooks and was engaged to a guy named Andrew. When I first met Andrew I told him I thought I might be bisexual and he told me it didn't matter to him. A couple months after we got engaged, my boss and I started hiring summer help at the bookstore. This persistent girl came in and said she was very interested in the position, so she was hired. Her name was Kerri. We started getting close and having personal conversations. I found out she had secretly dated a girl in high school, as had I! I couldn't believe it. She confessed she had developed feelings for me, which I had for her. I was up front and honest with Andrew about everything. I had my first kiss with Kerri on July 11, 2003, and we've been together ever since. We have a house together and three cats. We're both just about done with undergraduate school and on our way to grad school. I'm going to school for counseling, she for law. It's a wonderful little life we have together, and I couldn't ask for more. Both our families are very supportive, want us to get married, and enjoy seeing us so happy.

Thomas CabanissAge: 57 Residence: Halifax, Va Occupation: Currently unemployed

On coming out: I was 45 when I came out in my hometown of Danville, Va. I have two daughters, and at the time the oldest was 16 and the youngest was 12. My oldest daughter will not speak to me, but my youngest daughter had accepted it, and we still speak to each other. I told my mother about it, and she absolutely refused to accept it. I came from a strict religious Baptist background, and that's why my mother will not accept it. She was confined to a wheelchair at the time, and I believe she would have fainted if she was standing up. She died in 1998 with a prayer for my salvation on her lips. I hated to lose the love and respect of my family, but I could not live my life for them. As for my oldest daughter, I am afraid I've lost her forever, but as long as I have my youngest I think I can survive.

Bob Schwartz Age: 65 Residence: Fort Lee, N.J. Occupation: Retired attorney

On coming out: After many years of marriage and three children, I came out to my wife. While we struggled, trying to see if we could create some type of family, I found support in the Gay Fathers Forum at New York City's Gay and Lesbian Center. There I met a man named David and learned something: If not him, there really was someone out there whom I could love and with whom I might live honestly. Well, it was to be David. We moved in together, and shortly thereafter I proclaimed our love to all, putting David's picture on my office desk. My secretary told me that when I wasn't around, colleagues would stand in my office and stare as though the Shroud of Turin were draped over the chair. After almost 20 years together we've created a wonderful family with six accepting adult children and six adoring grandchildren who see us simply as "Grandpa Bob" and "Grandpa Dave." We hope our open love is a beacon to them and their generation.

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