A Coming Out Story
A Personal Story by Toby Harriman
This is my personal story. A story I don’t think I have written anything about yet, at least publicly. A story that many may feel is not professional to get so personal, which to me is part of the problem. Especially in the creative industry, I feel we tend to mask so many personal issues with beautiful visuals when at the end of the day, we all have very personal feelings. Quite frankly, I have only been open about this to a small group of friends and family. I don’t want to hide this part of myself to anyone anymore.
I am bi/gay.
It wasn’t until 2018, when I was 28 years old, that I finally decided it was “time.” Time to tell a secret I held in for so long. Time to come true to myself. Time to find pure happiness, time to find a life that is more comfortable for me. It just was time.
I had held in my secret for at least 15 years. A secret I knew all the way back in middle school, if not earlier. (This may catch some by surprise!) A secret a few probably assumed about me anyways. But in the end, it’s a secret I wish I let out early on. I waited far too long.
So why am I finally writing about this now?
Well, I guess I ask myself all sorts of questions. Why did it take me so long to come out? Was it where I grew up? Was it the schools I attended? The people I hung around? Was it because there wasn’t enough of the “other” people like me in my close circles to make being anything other than heterosexual feel right, or normal or safe? I had and still have lots of questions that continue to spin around my brain.
Except for this, I have always been transparent and a pretty open person about pretty much everything. I never really cared about what people thought of me. But I guess I always had that possible doubt and that uncomfortableness that everything would change if I came out. By coming out would I become the only one around me, for me? Or would it open more doors? Would I lose friends or gain stronger ones? If a so-called friend cared, were they even a close friend to begin with?
2009, moved to SF for college!
Maybe there’s a reason why I came to San Francisco in 2009 for school and didn’t stay on the East Coast. However, I did just like the idea of the West Coast anyway. The art school I choose with the bonus of NCAA athletics — that is exactly what I wanted. But I also knew San Francisco was the city that was considered, at least from my point of view, to be the gay capital of the world. I think I was the only one from my high school class who attended art school, and one of the few who went west.
Still, even in San Francisco, I held the secret in for another nine years. Just going through each day, acting like it wasn’t even a thing. Was it because of my friends and who I surrounded myself with? Why did I continue to keep this lie and secret? As you can see, lots and lots of questions for a long time.
Being LGBTQIA+, either openly or in secret, is not easy, mentally, for anyone. It especially has not felt normal or comfortable for me — yet at least. There’s that part of me wanting that “normal” life too, being able to have genetic kids and a wife. I even question being more bi than gay — which is probably true — but I know deep down my interest in men outweighs women.
To be honest, relationships and dating have never been my forte anyway. I am an entrepreneurial artistic type who has put my entire focus into my career. I’m always chasing the next job in order to pay that next bill, and I’ve felt I can’t fit in time for a relationship, or have been afraid that I wouldn’t be able to give the partner the same attention as I do my career.
But, despite all of my questions and hesitations, I knew that a relationship could release so much stress and end up being better for my career and mental stability. I couldn’t hold onto my secret anymore.
2018, the big year!
The year that closet door opened. Well, maybe I just cracked it and whispered it to anyone within my circle or nearby. Maybe a few hints here and there on social. But I definitely have not “publicly” come out, I haven’t made a statement, a post or really mentioned or showed my pride anywhere.
Maybe I wanted to be as normal as straight people are. My thought was always “straight people don’t announce they are straight, they don’t have to push it in people’s faces” — but like many issues, this is because being LGBTQIA+ was never considered normal. Being straight was basically “required” it felt, but being gay was always a path and a journey down a dark road with lots of hate, questions, conflicts and fear. Or is it?
I guess I had to make my first steps, like everything in life. 2018 was that time. It was the year I finally decided I should try, after years of “browsing” dating apps like a spy, it felt. I say that because I used the apps for years browsing the same sex, but would switch back and forth to sort of hide it. I’d log in and switch back and browse, in hopes I’d find something — love or maybe just better answers. But that year I decided to leave the app set for once. Step 1!
Step 2, I finally responded to a few guys instead of ghosting like I did with everyone for years. Step 3, I decided to meet up at a bar with someone I felt was potential.
I got lucky. Both kinds of luck I guess. But the best luck was finding someone who was finally like me. Well, 10 years ahead, but still. Someone I was able to finally talk to in this way — although I’m sure this person wasn’t expecting to go on a date with a guy who literally came out that night. My first date was the first person I told other than my mom, who sort of knew early on and pulled it out of me the same year. Either way, the date couldn’t have gone better. After seeing each other for a month or two, we even traveled together. We didn’t continue in that way, but we’ve stayed close friends and even better travel buddies. I was fortunate, to say the least.
I have been on two other app dates since then and they did not go the same way (although they weren’t total disasters). But like all dating and relationships, not everyone is meant to be. To be honest, this all still feels foreign to me: dating and being bi/gay!
I guess I’d also consider myself (jokingly) a straight acting/looking gay. I’m not flamboyant and am personally not really interested in that lifestyle, look or vibe either. I’m not into drag, not into dying my hair, makeup, wearing rainbow-colored underwear while waving a rainbow flag around while marching during a pride parade.
These days I ask myself even bigger questions, now that I have “come out.” One of those big questions: Will people know about me this way if I don’t share my pride, voice my pride publicly, put a rainbow flag in my Instagram bio, or fly a flag outside my house or put a sticker on my car? Do I have to? Do I want to? Can I just go about being the same and hope life figures me out and I randomly find someone?
2020, coming out publicly!
If there is any time to come out publicly, it’s now — at least here in the U.S., it feels more accepting than ever. I see friends and even now-famous people who grew up in my small, white, straight town who are now very open and pushing for rights and supporting the movement. It’s a blessing to see this.
I have never felt more ready and more comfortable as I sit here writing this, and even sharing this story with a friend and someone who I have never shared these feelings with, someone I met randomly in Alaska years ago, having her help me with my writing structure so I can make sure my feelings come out on paper the same way my feelings and thoughts are. I was never a great writer. I try to tell stories through visuals instead of words. But over the years, especially now, visuals can get lost in social media algorithms and drowned out among the thousands of other visuals shared every day.
Ultimately, I am sharing this now because I can’t stop asking myself, who am I missing out on and who is missing out on me? I hate labels, but will this label make my life better?
I want to be more open, with myself and with my audience, my friends, my family and beyond. And hell — I want to find love and a partner to share a life with. Over the past couple of years I have also wanted to use my platform for better, for change, for causes and for education. I may just be a photographer on the face, but we all are unique inside, and I feel sharing personal stories may help not only myself, but also others, younger and older.
I know there could be thousands of people like me — quieter types who are a bit shyer to come out. I want those people to know it’s okay to be who you are and love who you want, whether you are bisexual, transgender, gay, lesbian, straight, queer, intersex, pansexual, polysexual, non-binary or asexual. It took me at least 15 years, but I know that now and am getting more comfortable. I’m proud to take this next step in being fully myself and I hope it can inspire others to come fully to terms with themselves as well, but just know, there is no rush and sometimes you just have to do it when you feel it’s right and on your own terms.
Photo by: Andrew Studer