My name is Rick Sindt and I am a sophomore at North Park University, where I am currently pursuing an Art and Psychology double major. I grew up in a small town south east of the Twin Cities, in Minnesota, along the Mississippi River. I grew up with two loving parents and one brother. We lived in the country and always had an assortment of animals around ranging from barn cats to sled dog teams. I have a large extended family and I grew up much like any other boy. This past fall I started the process of coming out.
What has surprised me the most about coming out is that when I come out to people I am not given space to be me. People who I come out to still hold me to the image they had of me as a heterosexual, or they expect me to become their preconceived notion of who a gay man is. I first started telling people in September of 2010. The first person I told was one of my closest friends. I decided to tell her because she continued to ask me about girl interests in my life. I grew tired of putting on a charade, I felt like I was living a lie, and I knew the only way to liberate myself from that feeling was to name my sexuality to someone. She handled it well and graciously. At the time she was alone with me in this journey and it was difficult for her to be the only one who knew. I was finally willing to talk about my sexuality with someone and I talked about it persistently.
Eventually I told more people but I told people I knew would provide a safe place. I was not ready to tell people I thought might react negatively. It took me a long time to get to where I was and I knew a negative reaction could be detrimental to my journey. My parents came and visited for Thanksgiving. I decided beforehand it was time I come out to them. Nothing about that weekend went according to plan. I ended up telling my mom in an alley walking back to my apartment. I knew at that time I could not lie to her anymore, and I came out to her. At a time when what I really needed to hear was, “You will always be my son and I love you” my mom was shocked and responded with “are you sure?” The subject of sexuality had never been openly discussed in my house before and we had very little practice in how to handle ourselves in these situations. She asked me not to tell my dad or brother because she wanted to think and pray more. Over the course of the weekend, my mom went from being hesitant about telling the rest of my family to requiring me to. My parents have handled it better since, but initially when what I really needed was support to be myself and figure out what this meant for my role in the family I was not given the space to be, or do, that.
About one month ago a cousin of mine, who I see about once a year, sent me a message over Facebook. The main question posed in the message was, “Hey Rick, are you out yet?” I was shocked by this message not because of his forwardness, but because his word choice did not give me the option not to be gay. There was no space for the possibility of being a heterosexual in this situation. What would have happened if I wasn’t gay? I informed my cousin that I am out, or in the continual process of coming out. He replied once more stating that he was happy for me and his whole family assumed I was for a while but didn’t want to say anything because they know how “religious” my parents are. All of the statements, stereotypes and assumptions made in this interaction hindered a healthy conversation and I did not feel that I had space to be myself; whoever that could have been.
Recently, I started a new job working at a fitness center. I teach swimming lessons there and love interacting with the kids. During my first few weeks, a coworker of mine began to pry into my personal life. I could tell from the start that she was a little uncouth. In our second interaction she, very forwardly, asked, “What is your sexual orientation?” I admitted to her that I was gay. I was hesitant but decided to do so because I had finally gotten to a point where it is not something I felt ashamed of being. During my next week at work, she claimed that there was a bet going on among my coworkers concerning my sexuality and that she was the person nominated to “do the dirty work” of finding out. I considered this harassment and took it to my supervisors who handled the situation superbly. Later, I found out a bet never took place but that instead she was very tactlessly spreading this information around my workplace. Other coworkers recognized this as inappropriate, made it clear to me that they stood with me on the issue, and wanted to make this a safe place for me to work. This person was not creating a safe place for me to be myself. After many conversations with my bosses, this person was removed from her position due to her behavior.
I have a friend named Tyler Carlson. He is the first male I came out to who has chosen to get to know me better. Because of this, Tyler is playing a vital role in my life. Tyler has given me space to be who I am and that has given us the opportunity to become very close. I feel the most loved when Tyler does not hold me to the image of who I was when he thought I was a heterosexual, and simultaneously does not hold me to his preconceived idea of who a gay person is. We give each other space and because of this we have been able to learn, grow and converse with each other in very healthy ways. I do not hesitate to call Tyler one of my best friends. He gives me space to be confident and explore who I am.
I tell these stories to encourage others to create space for the people around them. When someone comes out to you, let them have space to be themselves. Do not tell them that you are surprised, or that you knew all along – these statements are not helpful. Instead, be encouraging and let them know that you love them no matter what, and that you will let them be themselves in a world expecting them to be otherwise. Nathan Albert described coming out moments as holy moments to me, and I whole-heartedly believe that. As a gay man I can confidently say that the best thing someone has done for me is give me space to be myself. I feel the most loved when people like Tyler give me room to breathe. I think that is what we all want: room to breathe. I encourage others to give everyone room to breathe.