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Howard Stern's Closet Shove

Howard Stern's Closet Shove


"Are you willing to sit in the chair and answer the following question: Are you gay?"

For any closeted employee in any workplace, that question might be frightening. But it was even more so, since my boss wanted me to answer that question when I was taking a lie detector test. I didn't care about my boss's or coworkers' reactions, though, I worried about my mother finding out -- the mom who 10 years earlier said she'd disown me if I was gay. But I had reached my boiling point. That boss, radio icon Howard Stern, just wanted a good comedy bit for his show, and I wanted to see if I could trick the test and try to convince people I was straight. A difficult goal, since for months, my sexuality was questioned on the radio show after staffers and listeners learned I had been to certain places -- a Madonna concert, "caught" leaving a movie theater with another guy by a colleague, etc.

But it wasn't just a radio bit that pushed me over the edge. Howard had just gotten married, and he spent months talking about finding his true love. My parents, whose approval I always sought, had just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. Along with a breakdown at home -- hearing a love song that caused me to cry uncontrollably for hours -- those are what sent me over the edge. I knew I had had enough. I loved my mom more than anyone, but I decided over those few weeks in late 2008 I could no longer live my life to make her happy, but instead it was time for my own happiness. I never imagined a day when I'd admit I was gay. I was certain my parents would pass away before I'd even consider a relationship with another man. But that all changed December 1, 2008, when, instead of trying to trick a lie detector test, I came out of the closet live on the air in front of Howard and the rest of the staff on his show.

"For the last 20 years, I've been lying to myself, my friends, my family ... it's time for me to come out of the closet and admit I'm gay." I said it, but I didn't really believe I had said it. I didn't have time to comprehend it. I was on the air with Howard, with staffers reacting, listeners calling in, and my own mind trying to second-guess where it was all going. Howard immediately said, "Well, I admire you for that. I'm very proud of you."

Hearing someone I looked up to for so long -- not for his comedy, but for his unwavering support of free speech -- be so supportive was a huge relief. But I knew he would be supportive. We had spoken on the phone days earlier, and Howard urged me to tell my family before doing anything on air -- advice I followed. Announcing my sexuality for the first time publicly, I wasn't as nervous as I should have been, because my mother wasn't going to find out on the air. I couldn't do that to her. I came out to her earlier over the phone, again crying uncontrollably. She went through a myriad of emotions -- shock (to learn her only son was gay), hurt (that I waited so long to tell her), fear (of how people may react). But after minutes of an awkward mix between silence and sobbing, she said, "I just want you to be happy. I love you more than life itself." That was all I needed. It was then I knew nothing would stop me as long as I had my mother's acceptance.

The day I came out on the air, I told Howard, somewhat smugly, that I wouldn't be the stereotypical gay guy, waving a rainbow flag in the parade, singing Liza Minnelli or Barbra Streisand show tunes. Well, I still haven't done either of those things. But I do regret saying that because I find myself wanting to be more out and proud -- posing for a No H8 photo, taking a trip to Fire Island, and preaching to friends and family on Facebook how it hurts me that our nation's first black president, who made civil rights history with his election, says he's not in favor of gay marriage.

Two years after I came out, I wanted to celebrate not only who I am but who we all are and encourage those who were thinking about coming out to do so. With Howard's support, I hosted my own one-hour radio special on his channels at Sirius XM, called Closet Cases. I talked to others who have come out, and their stories resonated. Rosie O'Donnell told me her ex's parents sent their daughter to a "pray the gay away" church every weekend during college. I spoke with former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, whose coming-out was frozen in my memory -- I watched him announce his sexuality during my regular morning shift at ABC News years earlier. Star Trek's "Sulu," actor George Takei, spoke with me about his coming-out at age 68. And gossip guru Perez Hilton and I spoke about the tragic string of gay suicides in late 2010 due to school bullying.

I won't say coming out is easy, but at some point everyone has to realize life is precious and every day you live your life for someone else, it's a day you're missing. I find myself still trying to figure out who I am. Am I the out individual who should be dating and hoping to one day raise a family, or am I still the same guy who would meet someone discreetly after going clubbing? Being half Puerto Rican, should I be the next the Ricky Martin and adopt a child alone, or will I raise a family with the man of my dreams? Maybe I'm still somewhat lost and confused, but I'm 100% more clear than I was in the closet. I am certain of one thing that's absolute: I hope everyone dealing with coming out has a mom like mine or a Howard in their life -- someone to tell them it's OK to be who they are.
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