The Permission to Live Openly
The Permission to Live Openly
Admitting who we are is truly a powerful feeling.
For me, that was choosing to acknowledge what I had known since early childhood, yet had been scared to admit out loud for fear of rejection from family, friends, roommates, community, teams, co-workers, and church.
Growing up in the eighties, there were no visible role models for gay men who were championed for how they were born.
I witnessed and was the recipient of bullying, name calling and ostracizing, all which kept me further from the truth of admitting an aspect of who I am: a gay human being.
It took me until my thirties to feel safe enough to come out and have a fully realized life.
Permission is a funny thing that we learn early on, and I ultimately came to understand that I desired the permission of my parents to feel safe in admitting what I thought was a secret, only to learn I was the last one to know.
My mother had died years before, and we were alone on her last night. I sat holding her hand and I almost told her.
I retreated, though, fearing that if it was our last conversation and her reaction was one lacking compassion or understanding, I would have a hard time living with that feeling.
She exhibited only acceptance and unconditional love throughout my life, and yet I was still scared.
I don’t regret that decision, and have come to learn how a loved one can be as powerful in death as they are in life. I talk to, and listen to her everyday.
My father and I were sitting on the beach staring at the Atlantic off the coast of central Florida, an unplanned tradition at the end of each visit over the past decade.
Usually that conversation led to confrontational words from him over my choice of an artistic profession, or the perceived lack of profession on my father’s part.
It often ended in tears, shed by yours truly, followed by a two and half-month punishment from me of no contact or phone calls until my birthday.
This cycle went on for many years until I had learned one of the greatest lessons in my life. Learning to listen, breathe, and not react is the most powerful choice we can make at any moment of perceived confrontation. This day was different, and I did not see it coming.
Calmly my father stared at the crashing waves and simply said to me, “I don’t understand a lot about your life, but I know you are a wonderful son, you are a great brother, you are a fantastic uncle, and you could make a living at being a friend. I think we are all meant to share our lives with someone, and I don’t understand why you choose not too. I hope it is not because of your sexuality, because I wouldn’t think any differently of you.”
All my therapy and yoga had prepared me to breathe, not react; I was in fact peacefully silent. As we walked up the wooden beach access he said, “Are you going to say anything?”
I nodded my head gently no, and smiled ever so softly. I had gotten the permission I had so desired, and I didn’t even have to ask.
That five-plus hour plane ride home was one of confusion and relief. It was like forgetting you bought the ticket, and winning the lottery.
At this point I had abstained from sex except for once or twice a year, sleeping with a woman to keep everyone at bay. At that point in my life, I had no more than a few sexual encounters with men.
I started feeling out friends for their reactions to homosexuality and had conversations with those I believed I could trust.
I met “Max” that year and he was instrumental in the process. He and his partner lived together — they had lots of friends, a fantastic life, successful careers, and they were gay.
They are a great example of any true loving and meaningful relationship. I always said to Max that his life illustrated to me that gay would be more than okay.
It took me a year to tell my father. On a hike the following December, Max said to me, “Go home. Tell your father. Get on with your life.”
I was hoping to go out to the beach this December evening with him, but the sun was setting quickly so we ended up in the backyard. The orange sun setting in the distance created silhouettes through the oak trees as we sat on rocking chairs looking west. It was beautiful.
I said to my dad, “A year ago you asked me a question, and I wanted to answer you. I am gay.” This time I did the talking and he did the breathing.
When he did speak, he said, “We had always known since you were a little boy this day would come, and I thought your mom would be here too. She would know just what to say (or not say) and she would know what to do (or what not too). I have regrets about how I have handled certain situations throughout your life, and so tonight as an ambassador for us both I will do everything I can to get it right. I love you, I know she would say that.”
My stepmother called me a couple weeks after the holidays and said, “I didn’t think I could love you more, but if I can, then I do.”
Though my journey was uniquely specific for me, the fear I felt is one shared by countless others. Three things I learned are:
- Do it now. Time may be our greatest advocate.
- Be compassionate with yourself, for it leads to compassion with others.
- Trust that those people who truly love and support you will be there to learn and grow together.
We are at a pivotal time historically for the issues of tolerance, acceptance, and humanity.
For me, “coming out” as a gay man was a meaningful personal step, and my shared experience illustrates that it gets better.
This is not to say that I am without challenges, yet I now deal with them honestly, openly, and draw on those in my life as well.
I believe every human has something they can “come out” and deal with openly rather than fear that holds us hostage.
Subsequently, self-acceptance has trickled into growth and opportunity in all aspects of a meaningful and rich tapestry in my life.
Living openly as a gay man has been an awakening of all possibilities that are born from authenticity. My family and friends are supportive, my work became more creative and increasingly frequent, I fell in love and had heartbreak only true intimacy can deliver.
I am hopeful I will find that intimacy again. I have found that being honest about who I am attracts people and opportunities, for being fully alive is celebrated and respected.
KEVIN KENDRICK is a photographer, actor, and writer. For the past decade, he worked with families throughout the United States and Europe to document their lives with still photography. He is based in Los Angeles, California.