My mother made those Woody Woodpecker costumes for my brother and me. Halloween was my favorite time of the year, because you could completely pretend to be somebody else for the night. And bring out a different personality, while no one could see who it was. And yes, I'm the one on the right. At times as a teenager, I'd look at a photo like this and be embarrassed by such behavior.
I realized somewhere around the age of 6 that I was gay.
But growing up in a very small farming area of southern Indiana, I didn't know what that meant.
Or, that someone could live a productive, healthy life being openly gay.
My parents made me join the Boy Scouts and serve in the church, but I never felt comfortable or accepted.
I suppressed being gay until I was 21 and an art student in college. I could no longer take locking myself in the bathroom, and crying for hours wishing I could change myself.
My parents didn't believe me at first, and then went through the whole 'what did we do wrong?' phase, and eventually they just didn't discuss it.
Now, as a 34-year old man with a loving partner of 7 years, I look back at a picture like this and laugh about how even at that age, I OWNED IT! My family was surprised, but they have completely accepted my partner. How they never knew is beyond me.
At one time, I thought safety and acceptance came from wearing a mask. I see my coming out as the first time I said 'I love you' to myself. And I can not look back in anger, because conquering the fear of coming out was the greatest challenge I faced.
Life does really get better when you live it with openness and honesty.