Thank you for joining me for the third National Coming Out Day interview. As mentioned previously, October 11th is National Coming Out Day (October is also LGBTQ History month in the U.S.) and it so important we embrace who we are.
Today, I’m joined by Brian Bartlett and Dan Patterson.
SG: Hi, Brian and Dan, thank you for joining me today. To get things started, how do you both identify on the LGBTQ spectrum?
BB: I identify as gay.
DP: I identify as gay as well.
SG: Could you share your coming out experiences?
DP: I didn’t come out until after my service in the military. I knew I was gay around 10 or 11. The first time I was with a man was in 1999, after I left Italy in 1998. My engagement to my fiancé ended awfully, and she got married a month after the engagement ended. I took a long hard look at my life, and slowly came to terms with who I was, and where I was going with my life.
The first person I came out to was one of my friends, when I lived in Maryland. She was, as was everyone else afterwards, was completely shocked. About a year later, I came out to my parents. I told my mom first- I was 25 at the time, and she asked if it was a phase. My dad’s side of the family is very conservative, and when I told my dad, he said he was going to disown me. And later, he said that now that he is older, he is more open to things, and it is something he can accept. I about fell over. When I started work in Rochester, I didn’t come out at work for a few years. When I did, there were a few people that distanced them from me, but they realized that I was the same person.
Overall, it has been a long road, and I don’t think you ever just come out once.
BB: I didn’t really realize I was gay, because I didn’t know what to identify it as, until about middle school. I just wasn’t sure what it was categorized as, I just knew something was different about me. I was pretty lucky; my parents came to me when I was 17 and told me that they thought I was gay, and they told me that I needed to accept myself. They told me that there were places I could go to learn and meet friends and explore this identity, and through that process, I found the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley’s youth program. Toby Greenfield was the youth leader at that point, and throughout the second half of high school I was attending the youth programs, learning about the LGBTQ community. Coming out in high school and in public since then has been very nonchalant. And I think I’ve found it easy to come out because of my parents’ response.
Its been an easygoing process for me. When people ask if I’m gay, I’ll be honest. If they ask about my relationship, I’ll tell them about my boyfriend.
SG: You mentioned being in a relationship; how long have you and Dan been together?
BB: Dan and I have been together two years this month. This has been the longest relationship I’ve been in, and the best one.
SG: What challenges do you think our community faces?
BB: I think as gay men, we’ve been pretty blessed with the open-mindedness here in Rochester. I think however, for those who identify as trans* or who under the gender-queer umbrella, are sometimes looked down on. I think its easier to be a gay man in the U.S. or in Rochester, but its not the same experience for everyone.
DP: I think we need to work on continued visibility. Its about visibility and education.
SG: What advice do you both have for someone who is coming out?
DP: Take the time to focus on yourself, and realize who you are. Being authentic to yourself, and accept and love yourself.
BB: You need to learn to love yourself, because there are factors about yourself that you need to embrace; those things make up your identity, and will be with you for the rest of your life. You are so much more than one identity, and that embracing your inner character will make you the best person you can possibly be.
SG: What different factors have you embraced about yourself?
BB: My HIV status.
DP: His story- I’m fully in support of him sharing. Its a road, and a drama that he has had to deal with. And he has handled it head on, coming to terms and talking about it. His story has been quite the beacon for a lot of people.
BB: In the same vein of coming out, I am HIV positive. I’ve been positive for about seven years, and I contracted HIV from a non-consenual encounter with a friend who assaulted me. For four years, I didn’t know, and about three years ago, I got back on my feet, and started to take control of my health. In relation to National Coming Out Day, this pertains because HIV is something that is very stigmatized, there is a lot of taboo, and myth and misused science behind that stigmatization. It is something that has redefined the culture of the LGBTQ community.
When I considered coming out publicly about my status, I was worried about what people might think or say. I finally realized, last year, that internalization was eating me alive, and caused me personal frustration because I wasn’t being my most authentic self. I made a Facebook post, last year in December, and it was a second coming out process. I told family that didn’t know, former boyfriends and close friends. Prior to making this a public statement, I formed a support-base, and found a time and place to go public. And the feedback and support has been immensely supportive. People message me about their status, and sexual assault- people that I don’t know, and some I do.
SG: As a seri-discordant couple, have you felt any challenges?
DP: Brian is not my first long term relationship, nor is he my first encounter with someone who is HIV positive. About a year before Brian and I, a former boyfriend told me after the fact that he is positive, and that was about the time Truvada [PrEP] had come out. I discussed that with my doctor, and did my homework, and started the medication. When we first started dating and the discussion came up, it wasn’t a huge shock to me, or a stumbling block. The key is education.
SG: I can’t disagree with that. Thank you both for talking with me today, and sharing your coming out journeys.