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Your e-mails: Coming out -- then and now

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(CNN) -- Despite homosexuality seemingly being more tolerated and accepted across U.S. society, telling a parent, a child, a family member, a friend or a co-worker that you are gay is still an experience fraught with fears of rejection and discrimination.

CNN.com asked readers to share some of their stories to find out if "coming out" today is easier than, perhaps, decades ago, or if it is still the same. Here is a selection of e-mails, some of which have been edited for length and clarity.

Holly Waters from Richmond, Virginia
I am a lesbian mother of two sons from a previous heterosexual marriage. Coming out was very difficult as my upbringing was very conservative. Sexuality was never discussed in any form by anyone in my family. I came out at age 33. I was very curious about gay "things" back in the 1980s, but thought I could never go through with "it." I have a wonderful, loving partner now. I and my two sons adore her very much. I am 37 now, but my family will still not accept that I am gay. They just can't handle it. They won't "come out" as parents of a gay daughter.

Robert Buss from Eugene, Oregon
I can't really remember being closeted. One of my cousins told my paternal grandmother when I was not even a teenager. She seemed fine with it. She never told anyone that I am aware of. I was around 17 when I officially came out to my mother. It started one evening while she was cooking dinner in the kitchen and I was sitting at the dining room table doing my homework, and mom was talking about boyfriends she had had in high school and college. Then she finished with "I JUST LIKE MEN" and I said, "Yeah, so do I."

She asked me to repeat myself and I said, "I like men, too." Mom then sat down and asked me how I knew. I told her I had been with a few men and liked it. We talked for awhile about it. The only thing that she disapproved of was the fact I was having sex with men before I was even a teen. She wanted to have the man jailed but I wouldn't tell her who it was. She went to her grave without knowing who it was. She did have a few suspects. My older brother is gay also. So for the last 35 or so years, I have lived openly gay and thus far have had no problems or setbacks from being gay. I also must say being gay isn't an easy life or a life wanted by a lot of people. But I would not willingly change being gay.

Ricky Dennis from Phoenix, Arizona
I came out over three years ago now. I grew up in a small town of less than 3,000 people. Being gay wasn't something that you saw or dealt with on a daily basis. It was definitely the single most scary, terrifying, yet relieving experience of my life to tell my friends and family that I am different than they all had assumed that I was. The experience for me was much more positive than I ever anticipated. My mother, stepfather, sister and everyone else was amazing. They all made sure to tell me how much they all loved me. Looking back now it was the best decision of my life. After my experience I can't imagine what it would have been like to come out even 10 years ago.

David Kelsey from Las Vegas, Nevada
I am deaf and gay. I came out eight years ago to my family. They were upset and against me. They've threatened to cut me off from them. My parents wrote me a long letter saying that they will not contact me, do not want me to visit them, think that I will die in hell and think that there is something wrong with me. I think it doesn't matter who you are. I am who I am. It is too bad that they refused to accept who I am. I think no one should be judged regardless of how they look or their lifestyle. I think coming out today is a lot easier than years ago because I think more people are getting exposed to gay community and their cultures.

Tino Valentino from Tyler, Texas
I came out when I was in high school. Before I came out, I would get picked on and made fun of because people assumed I was gay! It became a really big problem on my shoulders. I prayed to God to make me straight, I wanted to like girls, I wanted to be normal. My prayers were not answered. I often thought of suicide to take the pain away, but being raised Catholic, I was taught that suicide was not ever to be considered. I was at work one day, when all that weight became unbearable. I have never had a breakdown before, but at that point, I knew what the problem was, and I knew what I had to do to fix it. I went home and told my parents. I didn't know how they would react, but at that point, nothing could get worse. Surprisingly, my parents accepted me with open arms. Knowing I had thought of suicide, they knew the extent of my mental damage and didn't want to hurt me any more than I was. I feel that if society was more open to being gay, I wouldn't have had a hard time like I did, and I thank God for allowing me to break down and come out as opposed to committing suicide.

Ed Bice from Phoenix, Arizona
I started "coming out" in the 1970s, and am still coming out today. I guess it never ends. You're always meeting new people throughout life. It was hard coming out at first, but after a while, like anything else, it got easier. I'm still a little nervous when telling someone. I'm not sure why. For the most part it's always been a positive experience. I do think its easier today than years ago. However, it still shocks me that there are still a lot of people out there who think it matters whom one sleeps with. I just don't know what they are afraid of.

Mike Wernick from Columbus, Ohio
I am 53 and struggled terribly with my coming out almost 10 years ago because I was married and had an 11-year-old daughter and took that commitment seriously. But I also knew that my outer life was very much at odds with my inner one and felt convinced that if I did not address this it would take a physical toll on my health. I sought counseling, pastoral counseling, and spiritual direction, and came to accept that I am gay.

My coming out was difficult because of the homophobia that I had internalized over many years. While I was growing up, men on TV or elsewhere who appeared to be gay were diminished and ridiculed. There were no positive gay role models to emulate, and when I finally began to walk with God through my coming out, it wasn't until I was almost at the end of the journey that I began to meet others who could guide me the rest of the way.

I was supported by my family and (virtually all of my) friends, and have been partnered now for almost eight years (to another gay dad). My daughter told me when she was 16 that she was glad I told her I am gay when she was 11 because some of her sense of herself is based on who I am, and if she didn't know who I am she would have a harder time knowing who she is.

I earned a BA in Religion in 1977, have almost always felt connected to God, have participated in a discernment process in my diocese and am now about to begin Episcopal seminary in the fall to become a priest.

Joshua Layne from Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I am 24 and have been in a monogamous relationship for five years. My coming out experience was painful, horrendous and it brought a lot of blood and tears, literally. My mother said she would have had an abortion if she knew she would have had a gay son. She said she hated me. The night I left home after being kicked out, she said she hoped I got AIDS and died. I survived while moving into my dad's parents' house. I was respected and treated with respect whether or not they agreed with me being gay. My partner, Justin, and I spend weekends visiting with my grandparents as often as we can. They love him and have respect for our relationship.

My mother was very religious in the "Appalachian church of God" way. It was devastating for me. My mother and I don't speak. I have a beautiful extended family in my college town in Murfreesboro. I work for a great company and go to a wonderful college, which I a graduating from this year. It truly depends on the people who you allow yourself to be around. It sometimes feels daunting that people are even against civil unions. I love Justin and he is the world to me. I am also a Christian. I am a member of the Episcopal Church, so I'm in the middle of all of that stuff. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, resurrection and the rapture. So I guess I'm not the norm. I believe it is getting better.

Cindy Stewart from Fullerton, California
I knew I was gay when I was 16, but being raised in a Quaker household in Indiana in 1964, I also believed it was a secret I would have to take to my grave. The 35 years I lived in the closet was like trying to contain a nuclear explosion. I tried so hard to be who I was expected to be and live the way I was expected to live. I tried two marriages. I suffered thru two major depressions. I was suicidal. I believe the stress of living that lie triggered the multiple sclerosis that I have. At the age of 51, I came out. Yes, it was much safer to come out at that time than back in 1964. More of my family is accepting of my lifestyle, although some are not and they certainly aren't enthusiastic about it. In 1964, I would've been disowned. After coming out, I felt like tons and tons of lead was lifted off my back. The MS has gone into remission and old limitations have gotten better. I started my life all over again at 51.

Skip Barnes from Dallas, Texas
Growing up in Texas in the 1950s, I did not know what a homosexual was, but I knew that there was something different about me -- something that I felt must never be shared with anyone. As I hit puberty, I began to realize that I was attracted to the other boys, and finally, I realized the nature of the secret I had to keep. Fortunately for me, years later, while I was in college, my mother came out for me, telling me that she had always known I was gay. After the shock wore off, the relief flooded in, and my life has been an open door ever since. Was it genetic? I don't know; was it environment? I don't know, but I do know it is me, just as much as being lefthanded and having brown eyes.

Daniel Harper-Nixon from Santa Fe, New Mexico
Personally, my coming out was about as uneventful as one could make it. One evening, a few weeks before heading off for college, I stopped my mom before she headed to bed and said "I want to tell you something" (very cliche I know). "I'm... um... I'm gay."

Her response was, "Oh, that's nice dear." Figuring that perhaps she either didn't hear me or was trying to play it off, I approached her again in the morning asking her if she heard what I said last night. She said she did. There was a bit of silence, staring at each other. I said, "Well... what do you think? Don't you have any questions?"

"No, why do you ask? Do you have any questions about it?" Suffice to say that threw me since I had mentally prepared for a negative reaction.

Stanley Wasilewski from Windsor, Connecticut
I was actually outed by my brother to my family and by friends at work. This was in 1983. It was a different time and was a pretty rough time for me. My family is quite religious and not accepting. As a result of a conversation with my mother, I had no family contact for well over a year or more. Work was another story. I was a cop in Hartford, Connecticut, and the only openly gay cop in a force of over 500.

I was called a f-- over the radio several times and most friends shunned me for fear of being labeled gay also. My career path died and I was regularly harassed by some supervisors to the point that I considered leaving the job. Eventually, I had to have it out with some of these people, sometimes to the point of violence. As the years went by, I think attitudes started to change when my peers realized that I had not changed, that I continued to work professionally as I always had and a younger, somewhat more liberal thinking crowd replaced the old school, intolerant types. Eventually I reconciled with my family, but they still feel that homosexuality is a choice, no matter what I told them about my life. Other than talking of my homosexuality, we have a nice relationship, though it bothers me that they still try and ignore that part of me, even when I am in a long-term relationship.

Randy Jones from Tulsa, Oklahoma
I came out to my family in Tulsa, Oklahoma during the mid-1980s. The climate for "acceptance" was only found in the small oasis of select friends and family. My parents were initially very unhappy about my revelation. However, my brothers were fortunately supportive and continue to be to this day, along with their respective families. My parents have dealt with my homosexuality in the best way they know. Today, we rarely speak of the issue but there is continued mutual love and support. Living as an openly gay man in the 1980s was both frightening and liberating. For the first time in my life, I could be honest about myself with the world. At the same time, the disease that would eventually become known as AIDS was killing the first enormous wave of victims. Ignorance about the disease was rampant, causing people to live in fear about exactly how the disease was passed between people. It was during this time AIDS was thought of as a "gay disease" or "gay cancer." Fortunately, science and society have made great strides about AIDS, although a cure continues to remain elusive. I have lost many friends from my "coming out" era both directly and indirectly from AIDS. I feel very lucky to be here in 2007, as a surviving member of the gay community who came out in the 1980s.

John Keating form Braselton, Georgia
I do think things are getting better for me as a 45-year-old gay man. This question comes at a time for me (Father's Day weekend) that brings back such bittersweet memories. It was this same weekend 23 years ago that my parents confronted me by asking "the question." It didn't turn out well. I was thrown out of their home with an hour to collect all my things and had my car taken away from me. It was a very traumatic time for me, one that I will never forgive them for. But for them a number of events changed their outlook even though it did take years. My partner of 17 years and I have faced all kinds of attitudes from people, but mostly positive. The most touching thing anyone ever did for us was the time the elderly couple who used to be our neighbors found out we might be evicted because our landlady was toying with the idea of selling our rental house. They were so concerned and didn't want to lose us as neighbors that they offered to help us buy the house. My parents are great now. Seven years ago they took Matt and me on a cruise; the four of us had a great time together. I'll always have those wonderful memories, but also wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been tossed out by them.

J. Jameson from Bangor, Maine
I've tried to write about my experiences in coming out as bisexual in college several times, but have found it quite difficult to explain more clearly than I can right now, without feeling as though I was writing an autobiography.

Going to college in Downeast Maine, I came out at a very unpleasant and stressful time in my life. In frustration, I told the only two people in school who I considered to be true friends standing in the middle of a hallway one afternoon. Expecting disaster, I spoke because I merely felt that things could not get much worse.

I could not have been more wrong. Not a single derogatory word has ever been spoken about my sexuality since then, and as an "open secret" from then on, it wasn't long before the whole student body that cared to know, knew that I was a bisexual male in a long-distance relationship. With time, my number of friends grew. Eventually, I was considered as much "one of the guys" as any self-professed nerd ever could be.

I had the best summer of my life with those guys, and will never forget just how great it felt to be fortunate enough to live without prejudice. Even today, I don't "advertise" my sexuality, even though my boyfriend and I have been together for over five years. Our families are both very supportive, my co-workers may know -- though it has never been said -- and I simply don't think it matters to anyone.

It does hurt, though, to know that we may never have the same legal rights as a married heterosexual couple. We're committed, monogamous, and have no intention of changing this. I feel that we deserve the right to build a stronger future together.

Kat Wood from Virginia Beach, Virginia
I came out to my family more than 13 years ago. I came out when I was in my 30s due to the fact that I tried for so many years to oppress my true identity. I was raised in a very conservative, right-wing, religious family. I tried for years to hide my true identity. I tried to fit the mold of a heterosexual woman; married, had children, taught school. When I finally learned to accept my own sexuality, I finally (when confronted by my parents) decided to tell the truth -- from my heart with great pain. I knew this news would be very difficult for my parents to understand and accept, but after a while, they finally accepted me for who I am and love me unconditionally.

KC Miller from Lawrence, Kansas
As a 23-year-old lesbian, my coming out story thankfully isn't a negative one. My parents responded wonderfully. They (my mother, father and step-parents) didn't seem too surprised, and all conveyed at the end of each day they just want me to be happy regardless of who I'm loving. They have always welcomed my significant other with open arms and open hearts, for that I am truly blessed. I think as LBGT children we tend to prepare ourselves for the worst and most likely expect it, but thankfully I was shocked by the lack of reaction I received. As for the rest of my family, well the ones who know, they are completely supportive as well and also just want my happiness.

Ray Dragon from Raleigh, North Carolina
I am a gay male, having "come out" over 20 years ago. Looking back, I feel that I came out to myself (by way of my first encounter) long before I was comfortable to come out completely to the rest of the world. Coming out to my family was less painful than I would have imagined, however. Being 27 years old and never married, I had them all "suspecting" and most were just glad I had found someone to spend my life with. I broke off some decade-old friendships rather than face the (possible) rejection by the friends. I truly regret that decision, but at the time it was the only way I knew to handle the situation. I handled coming out at work by taking a voluntary layoff. It took me five years of being out to myself and my family, being in a committed relationship, and working for a company that offered benefits to partners before I was able to come out completely to all who I knew.

Flynt Nichols from Carrollton, Texas
My "coming out" was very difficult. I came out at 30. My entire family had a difficult time coming to terms with my being gay. They ignored me and refused to talk to me for about a year. My only contact with how their lives were going was through two cousins of mine who gave me a lot of support and love. Also, I had a good therapist who helped me through my anger and pain. It was after a year had passed that I had the courage to confront my family again and say "Enough is enough. Get over it. This is who I am and nothing can change the situation."


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Nick Anderson, 22, and his mother, Lynne during Washington State University's "Mom's Weekend." He came out three years ago.

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