WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Mountain Masquerade No More

By on May 17, 2016

Cover story author on coming out and thriving in a small community.

This week’s cover story, ‘Come Out, Come Out,’ is a reminder of the quiet battles facing some Jackson residents.

This week’s cover story, ‘Come Out, Come Out,’ is a reminder of the quiet battles facing some Jackson residents.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – I’ve done drag a few times (notably on Halloween), but never felt the impulse to make it a regular experience. Unlike Hákon in this week’s cover story “Come Out, Come Out,” I don’t have a grandmotherly persona living inside me who gives blowjob advice. Sadly. In fact, growing up as a closeted gay kid in Jackson, I would have been horrified to even remotely identify with Hákon, or the other folks I interview in the story, like James DuPont or Zoë Taylor.

I was so ashamed of my sexuality that I smashed it deep into a corner of my mind, convinced that I was sick or handicapped. I even tried praying the gay away with a Christian pastor, who promised it was possible, and Jesus would be so much happier for it. I was a naïve freshman at Jackson Hole High School. I wanted to have nothing to do with the LGBT community, and that venomous attitude continued until I finally came out of the closet when I was 21.

But even then, I lacked any sense of pride. I would never tell anyone outright that I was gay, saying that it was none of his or her business to begin with. I’ll just let them assume I’m straight, I thought, and things will be OK. As the Laff Staff took off, I started to become a recognizable member of the community, and I became so scared that everyone was going to know that I was gay and think differently of me. And sure there were the people who said, “Oh, I always knew you were gay,” but none of them ever stepped forward to offer support before I came out. I didn’t have anyone come out and say, “Hey, I’m just letting you know that, whatever’s going on, I’m here for you.”

It wasn’t until after all that pain and depression that I realized that the support group was in fact there, my safety net of accepting friends had been right beneath me this entire time. All I had to do was jump. The problem was that I didn’t know it was there to begin with.

In doing the interviews for this week’s cover story, I received some amazing words of encouragement for closeted members of our community. Anne Marie Wells was blunt.

“We need you,” she said, recalling a story about a high school student who felt comfortable to come out to her because he saw how Wells didn’t care what other people thought. “It’s weird and shocking for the pioneers, but after a while, it doesn’t become news,” she said.

I’ll never be able to take back the years I lived in gay-shaming regret and it’s something that sticks with me even to this day. When I moved to Chicago in 2012 for two years, I was out, open and happy, and even had an active dating life. Admittedly, Jackson is a difficult place to taste the fruits of the LGBT dating world, as Taylor mentioned in the cover story.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I’ve had a few people in Jackson tell me that they wish they could be out and open about their sexuality, but are unable to because of social and cultural norms. Others stay in the closet because their family and friends are ultra conservative.

I agree with Wells that straight allies of the LGBT community should be more vocal about their support, especially with those closest to them. The stronger the safety net, the more likely people are to jump into it. After backing down from a full ordinance, Jackson Town Council passed a resolution condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Decemeber. It’s a start at least. But if our community rallied behind more equality and anti-discrimination efforts, Jackson would be that much more of a special place.

I’m so thankful for the people in my life who have been supportive of my path and have given me a sense of belonging that I always thought I lacked.

And while I don’t have a constant impulse to dress in drag, I’ve learned how important it is to be public about every aspect of your being. This week’s cover story is a proclamation that, yes, Jackson is ready to catch you. I am ready to catch you. You just have to close your eyes, trust your gut, and take the leap. PJH

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