Guest Contributor: Troy Iwata
Another F*cking Coming-Out Story
by Troy Iwata
I was asked to write a piece on my coming-out story. Why? It was National Coming-Out Day and I had just spent a good 30 minutes on an Instagram post that my declining 1400 followers and I would cherish for the rest of our prestigious lives. Now, I don't consider myself a writer-writer but I am an actor. So naturally when a friend asked me to write something for Hapa Mag I thought, “Ooh! Something that'll make people in my hometown think I'm actually doing something with my life.” Done deal.
Then, a dilemma. A coming-out story. My coming-out story. Another f*cking coming-out story? Another skinny twink (straight people: Google it, but don’t click on Images) who grew up singing showtunes for his mom in a makeshift t-shirt dress, who dressed up as Nala for Halloween and was scared of sports and all the balls they had to offer. So what makes my story different? Why is my perspective unique? I dunno, maybe it’s not, I'm literally typing this as I speak aloud alone in my apartment. So let’s find out if me and my gayness are special.
*Cue 90s grunge “Friends” sitcom transition music.*
I always knew I wasn't straight, but I didn't know I was gay until 7th grade when a frosted-tipped kid named Nick bullied me with the term. He had to explain what it meant, on account of seeing me not hurt but confused. “It’s when dudes like other dudes!” To which I replied, “Oh, yeah that makes sense.” He then pushed me into a bush. Nick was clearly obsessed with me. The next five years would consist of heavy textbooks hiding boners, wearing two pairs of underwear to hide boners, and wondering why the all-school announcement that a grizzly bear just attacked a kid outside and now the school is on lockdown just gave me a boner. Ya know, kid stuff. Eventually I went to college and literally nothing changed, not even the bears.
Here’s a dumb thing to say only because it’s painfully obvious: we’re all scared to come out, in any sense of the term. There’s a fear of not being accepted, being harshly judged and even losing a relationship. That was my nightmare. I stayed in the closet all throughout high school and into college. By then my big brother had already come out himself and seemed to be doing fine from what I saw. But of course we all think we’re the exception, so that didn't change my outlook at all.
When you’re young and closeted, that fear of your secret getting revealed is always at the forefront of your mind. Before every action and word I made, my first thought was always, “Will this make me seem gay?” It consumes you despite your conscience being like, “Troy, no one is going to think you’re gay for ordering the burger, just Nike it up and do it.” And then you proceed to frolic to the counter and whip out your velcro Billabong wallet.
If you’re wondering why I'm not going into great detail about what it was like growing up as a gay kid in a small conservative town with one movie theater, multiple pedophiliac school teachers and a Santa-themed amusement park, it’s because this is a piece about coming out. My fucked up childhood of mountain living will have to wait for another time.
I didn't actually come out to anyone myself until I was 21. My best friend from high school went to college in Utah and had just converted to Mormonism after admiring their conservative lifestyle, so I was super excited to speak some sin unto her. Like ripping off a bandaid, I just let it out and told her... over text because she and her modestly-covered shoulders were in Salt Lake City. I’ll never forget what she told me: “I love you. I love who you are. This changes nothing. If anything, it makes it better.” I cried in my apartment on my dirty twin mattress that didn't have a bed frame. She's the coolest Mormon I know.
My coming-out process would span over the following years. I never personally felt the desire to make an official coming-out announcement on Facebook or (as I like to call them) do a “gay launch.” So I told people individually when the timing felt right for that specific person. I told close friends, I told my siblings. My mom jumped the gun and told me. Back to that fear of coming-out to a negative response, I was fortunate to not yet have an experience like that, there were obviously friendships that seemed to fade following my news, but they never felt cut off. It was more of a slow discovery of someone’s true colors. Any relationships that ended post coming-out felt like a gradual goodbye rather than an exile, and I think that applies to everyone whenever they jump to the next stepping stone in life. You outgrow people and vice versa, and sometimes they catch back up later.
The first devastating response didn’t come till recently. This past Christmas my brother and I were un-welcomed to celebrate the holidays with our dad and his family. He’d known about both of us for some time but showed obvious signs of denial, and I guess it finally boiled over. My nightmare was happening. Someone close whom I care about and love didn’t accept me. It wasn’t a friend, a colleague or a distant relative. It was my own dad. The guy who taught me how to ride a bike, took me camping, and pinned on my Eagle Scout badge hasn’t spoken to me in almost a year now.
As I’m typing this, part of me feels like it wants to just talk about how hard it is and how sad it’s been, to victimize myself. But a stronger part of me has no desire to do that. As the holidays approach again, I remember a year ago when everything went down. I thought to myself, this is a bump in the road, it’ll blow over, they’ll change their minds. My nightmare was that they wouldn’t, and guess what. They haven’t. When I tell this story to people I get a lot of “I’m so sorry” and “That’s horrible” and “That must be so difficult.” Sometimes it is, but I still woke up this morning proud of who I am, where I am and what I’ve accomplished. I look back on this past year and see how strong and upstanding my loving family can be.
My brother and I are a year apart. We never liked each other growing up, but we talk every week now. I see this past year not as a time of loss but as a time of strength and love and fighting for what’s right. A lot of us are scared to make that leap; to come-out, to reach out, to take that opportunity, etc. But perhaps I am living proof that whatever hypothetical fears we have cannot and will not stop us from personally moving forward and growing. I’m living through my nightmare. It’s difficult and sometimes I feel like I’ve lost control, but everyday it’s closer to ending.
Troy is an NYC-based actor, singer and writer. The spawn of a Japanese dentist and Russian/Jewish dental hygienist, most people can’t tell what heritage him and his amazing smile come from. As a result, he most recently starred as an Afghan dancing boy in the Off-Broadway premiere of The Boy Who Danced On Air. Troy can be found in print ads, national commercials, network television spots, and heard on multiple cast album soundtracks, all part of his maniacal plan to normalize the “exotic-labeled” Hapa look. -_- You can usually find Troy in his apartment because why would he leave it? Or online @MrTroyIwata and www.TroyIwata.com