Darren grew up in the Newport Beach, Calif. area with his mother after she and his father divorced. He described the area as “a quiet beach town, very different from today’s ‘OC’ moniker.” And when he was younger, Darren remembers being enamored with some other boys his age. He didn’t know how to label himself. But he did know this was something to hide.
His father and older brother lived in a small town in Michigan, where Darren went to attend high school.
“I essentially spent my time going back and forth,” he said. “That, as you can imagine, was certainly interesting as a budding queer kid.”
While attending high school in the Michigan town, Darren was pushed in the hallways, beaten up and called the f-slur.
“And what’s odd is that both my father and stepmother were teachers at that school; it was surreal,” he said. “They knew, but these things weren’t discussed. Unfortunately I didn’t have the strength at the time to stand up for myself. And I was still figuring out what other kids seemed to know more about me than I knew about myself.”
The first person Darren came out to was his older brother, who was a young adult living in Washington, D.C. working in journalism.
“I knew he wasn’t going to turn away from me,” Darren said. “His approach was, ‘let me know if you need me.’ It wasn’t ‘I’m going to take you under my wing and help you come out.’ He’s a cisgender heterosexual person but I knew he had my back. For example, he played a large role in soothing our Mother’s tearful reaction at unexpectedly learning I was gay.”
Shortly after he graduated from high school, he boarded a train back to the west coast to attend college. His freshman year, a couple of school friends met him at a local diner to study, and asked if the thought of sleeping with another man ever crossed his mind.
“‘Yes,’ I said. It had.”
But he was still afraid to come out, even if he had support. Around this time, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was coming around to the public eye and bringing bouts of negativity toward the LGBTQ community. “There was such a stigma, such a dreadful stigma,” Darren explained. “So it took me a good couple more years to carefully open up to people outside of my innermost circle.”
He then moved to West Hollywood in his 20s and “embraced his gayness,” getting involved in queer nonprofit organizations and AIDS support groups.
“This was a bittersweet time in our community. We were rallying together as our brothers were dying daily,” Darren said. “It was an horrific but also beautiful time to be queer.”
One thing Darren wants to say to those in the LGBTQ community who might not be ready or in a safe space to come out is, it does get better. Find helpers. Find safety. Respect yourself, even if others aren’t respecting who you are at this moment.
“A common schoolyard bully, once they realize they can’t get a rise out of you, often gives up. Provided you are safe, don’t let them see you sweat. Then, try to find a trusted person for help. I wished I’d had an ounce of that in me when I was a kid. I was somewhat of an easy target.”