The Rainbow Tattoo I Waited Forever For

When I told my dad I was gay over text, I waited frozenly for the ding of my phone to indicate his response. When I told my mom I was gay during a car ride — as Adele’s “Love In The Dark” played in the background — I waited frozenly again for the end of the chorus. Each time my brain raced as it tried to piece together what they could possibly be thinking, and what they’d say to me in the coming seconds. Pessimism clouded my mind.
Both of my parents suggested that I should wait to tell my brothers. And my friends. And, really anyone. They told me they loved me, no matter what, and that they always would. I knew that. Yet, I could feel that their thoughts, hopes, and plans for what my future should look like were somewhat dashed. I’d never give them the grandson or granddaughter they want (at least in the conventional way) and I wouldn’t marry a woman (unless I’m still single at 35 — @ you know who you are).
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After attending Catholic schools my whole life and growing up in a midwestern state, I knew coming out to them would be hard. This forced me to hide, which delayed revealing my homosexuality to most people. In my dreams, I tried to imagine what it would be like to come out earlier, but when I woke up I’d always return to reality and a reflection of someone who wasn’t happy.
Through a year filled with nights of grinding teeth, my parents and I reached a sort of agreement towards the end of 2017. They asked me to wait until my youngest brother graduated from high school to come out to them and everyone else; I understood, I think, or at least tried to. The thought of my brother being treated differently by his friends solely based on whom I’m attracted to was something I didn’t want him to face. My parents, and then my brothers, had accepted me completely and unconditionally. I’m beyond thankful for that. But I was ready to never have to conceal myself from anyone ever again — even if they weren’t — and it was frustrating to wait.
But I knew, however, that one day it would all come out, come crashing down — loudly — and they knew it too. I would often hide behind the words that said I didn’t have to come out because “wasn’t it obvious,” or the Instagram pictures that made it “so impossible for me to not be gay.” Yet what scared me the most was the first encounter; that first time telling a friend, family member, co-worker, or stranger while you sweat as you wait and watch how their eyes react and wonder if they’ll ever talk to you again. That limbo was a void that forbid me to envision the life goals that I so greatly wished for: marriage, love, self-honesty, and peace.
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First times, although elating, can be absolutely terrifying. And when my youngest brother Tommy graduated from high school this past May, I was united with that moment I’d seen so many times in my mind: when every anxiety and worry wrapped in a box of masked truth could be carried out into the open. I wanted it for so long, and then didn’t when I’d think about every possible outcome. But I learned to no longer be afraid to be myself and to present the most authentic version of my heart to the people who mattered most — and to those who had no idea who I was. That type of vulnerability, to be so emotionally unarmed, is so scary.
I’ve always wanted a tattoo. But what I wanted, an image or maybe song lyrics, remained a mystery. I’ve also always wanted to come out — fully — and remove the disguise that halted me from things, like dating or talking to friends about parts of my life I once could never say out loud. But, when and how I would do it always stayed locked as another ‘first’ in my mind — maybe, like, getting a tattoo — that constantly waited as I was never able to punch through its sharded, yet clear piece of glass. The transparency came from watching others who made it seem so easy. But there’s no college class that teaches you how to come out; it’s personal and special and is only for you to know when you’re ready for. (And that’s okay). For me, silence was then a safety I’d always retreat to. Until today.
When I decided to get my first tattoo — a rainbow permanently inked on my arm — it started as a process that at first stung, a bit (like most tattoos often will). Minutes passed. But soon the shaking from the nerves and the buzzing pain on my inner arm started to fade as I watched the colours of my identity join the tiny hairs above my veins like soulmates. I’d soon leave the tattoo parlour totally changed, yet not at all, as this rainbow is a symbol of what — and who — I’ve always been. When finished, my friend Olivia and I stepped onto Court Street in front of Nice Tattoo Parlor in Brooklyn and expected a sunny afternoon, only to be welcomed by a downpour.
Outside, there was no rainbow along the horizon, as it would have lived up to the metaphorically dramatic storyline I’d like to visualise. However, there was still a rainbow — now, part of me — which broke through the glass I once could never get through. It allowed light and pride as the storm that once hovered me for so long finally ceased. And when I look down at that tattoo now, it’s hard to believe I ever lived without it.
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