There are two examples from my life when I was living fully out, gay and proud, and expressing who I was.

And then I screwed it up!

I guess within the limitations of the status quo I came out “too much and too far.” The outside influence and opinions of other people forced parts of me back into the closet.

When I was 35 (in 2001) I had a faux-hawk hair cut done for Toronto Pride that June, and for the first time ever I dyed my hair. The tips of the faux-hawk were stop-sign-red. I love the colour red – it’s aggressive and vibrant – and that was the energy I wanted to express at Pride that year.

I remember going to train one of my personal training clients at her home. The look she gave me when she opened the door and saw my hair cut…. She suggested I should tone it down to try and fit in.

The most symbolic example of me living OUT was when I got my ears pierced.

In the late 80s I got my ears pierced. I wore different types of hoops for years, but always larger than what most men would wear.

Darren Stehle in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Pride, 1993.

When my personal training career wasn’t going so well I took a job at a high-end gym in the Toronto Financial District. Management told me I’d have to take my earrings out. Men were not allowed to wear jewelry for “safety reasons.” The truth was nothing short of homophobia.

I took the earrings out, but they were a physical symbol, a way I could say without words, “I’m gay. Notice me. I’m queer. I’m different.” I wasn’t wearing small studs that people wouldn’t notice, I wore big hoops that really drew attention to me. Perhaps I needed the attention, but now I realize for the 10 years I worked at that club, I never once put those earrings back in – even when I was done work.

I know now that for every year I didn’t wear those earrings, I lost touch with various parts of myself – my identity – and the best of who I was.

I put parts of me back in the closet to try and fit into the status quo, to do well in my training business. In truth, my clients at the gym wouldn’t have given a fuck about my earrings. They only wanted two things: a great, safe workout, and an excellent relationship with their trainer – both of which they received.

Perhaps taking my earrings out was symbolic of why my personal training business never took off.

I’m not boasting, but I was an exceptional personal trainer, movement and nutrition coach. I was a consummate professional. But if you can’t be all the parts of who you are, if you have to closet and suppress any part of your gifts, talents, and identity – especially when a core part of your identity is being a gay man – you can’t be completely you. You can’t fully express all the best parts of you that come together to create the whole.

One of the beautiful things about being a gay man is being able to look at the world in a different way, being able to see through things in ways that other people don’t see. Things like, Why do gay men connect so well with women? Why are gay men so much better at listening and empathy than straight men?

But if you want to excel as the best of who you are you need to live out all of your qualities and strengths. It’s like the ‘Princess and the Pea’ story. If you’re laying on top of 10 mattresses and you’re pressing on a hidden part of you that’s been stuck under the last mattress for many years, that’s going to make you uncomfortable until you pull it out and deal with it.

This is what the Living OUT Movement is about

It’s about living without the discomfort of hiding any parts of who you are. It’s about embracing your gayness, along with all your hopes and dreams that you may have tossed back into the closet when you first came out.

Living OUT the best of me

When you hold back any part of who you are, you will always be second guessing yourself.

You might wonder if your actions are perceived as too gay, or if someone will see a part of you that you don’t want to reveal. There are times when we need to protect ourselves from physical harm. There are situations in the workplace where you might worry about being too out, if that could limit your career growth.

But what the fuck is, ‘too out’?

And why can’t you just be YOURSELF?

Meaning, be gay and all your other qualities, skills, and character traits – in other words, your unique identity.

You – WE – as gay men, are valuable contributors to society. We are unique individuals with insight that is different from our heterosexual counterparts.

Sure we may stand on the margins and feel excluded. Sometimes we think that if we just step a bit inside the box we will be accepted. But no! That’s not what we need to do. As soon as we step into that box, we suppress and oppress the parts of who we are.

And yes, much of this depends on how old you are, when you came out, and where you live. I came out at 18 in 1984 thinking, “OH, I can finally explore who I am. I can explore my sexual identity by having sex with men.” But BAM! AIDS happened. What the fuck!?

Suddenly this virus was killing gay men and no one know how to stop it or prevent it. Politicians and religious leaders were condemning gay sex, saying this was god’s wrath on the evils of gay men and sin.

Fear, guilt, and shame made many gay men go back into the closet, or at least hide major parts of themselves from others, and or to protect their self-esteem. Many men didn’t want to have to face these emotions and criticisms.

So you came out of the closet – all the drama and time it took to get to that point – and whether it was AIDS or something else you thought, “Oh shit! So I’ve come out but maybe I need to go back into a box to fit in and feel safe.”

Then you put parts of you back into the closet. You suppressed parts of your human expression – your identity.

This is what the Living OUT Movement will work to address.

Living OUT is for gay men who have got to a point in life asking, “What the fuck? Why have I gone back into a kind of closet after coming out the first time? Why am I not living out the best of who I am?”

This is not be to arrogant, or in your face, instead it’s about knowing that happiness means being ALL of you without apology to anyone else. If someone can’t accept you for who you are, that’s their issue, not yours.

Once you get to that place of living fully out all the parts that make up who you are, that’s when you can do great things. That’s when you can have an impact on the people around you, or on the world.

Break out of the box you’ve built up around yourself.

With help from me in the Living OUT community to support you growth, and from your interactions with other members.

It’s not just about “flaunting your gayness” (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), it’s about embracing your gayness, your queerness, and living it with ALL the other parts of who you are. Because THAT’S who you are!

You are more than just a gay man. You deserve to love and express that part of yourself, and to be loved by others, for every iota of who you are.

Have you left the best parts of you in the closet?

What I’ve discussed in this article is just taste of what we will be working on in the Living OUT the Best of Me Community. Click here to find out more and get on the list.

The Live OUT The Best Of Me Program

~ Be gay and be happy! 🙂

Featured Photo by George Kedenburg III on Unsplash