By Chandler Wilson
Until 13 months ago, senior journalism student Mikey McCareins had never told anyone his secret. Growing up in an Illinois suburb and attending a Catholic private school in northern Chicago, McCareins never felt as if he could be honest about his sexuality.
As a young teenager, he knew he didn’t fit the flamboyant, feminine stereotype that everyone in high school associated with being gay. He loved hanging with his guy friends and playing sports, things straight people he knew did. To him, this stereotype and his lack of fitting it did not make sense, leading him to internalize his confusion for years, never telling anyone anything.
After a few years attending the University of Oklahoma, McCareins not only saw how accepting the people around him were, but he had grown exhausted from hiding who he was for so many years. In the fall of 2017, McCareins left Norman, OK to study abroad in Europe. While abroad, he gained the boldness he needed to tell his friends and family his long kept secret, and by the time he came home last December, he had told everyone he loved the truth.
One year later, I sat down with McCareins to discuss what that time abroad did for him, what led him to finally decide on coming out and what it has been like since returning to the United States nine months ago.
CW: At what point were you like ‘this is who I am, and I am okay with this’?”
MM: That’s tough. I think I hadn’t totally accepted it until, like, January of 2018 after coming back to Norman from study abroad because I hadn’t been out in the States ever until after I got back. Once I got back on campus last semester, my close friends knew and word had spread a little bit, so it was once I was able to hang out with them and see that nothing had changed at all, like everything was the same with them.
CW: Were you scared of it being different?
MM: Yeah, and it was surprising. I was kind of concerned not that we would never talk again, but that it would affect our relationships in some way.
CW: Did everyone receive you well?
MM: Yeah, they really did.
CW: Your family too?
MM: Yeah, I wasn’t as concerned with my family, just knowing them. But I am bad with serious conversations and always have been. I’m just a very light-hearted and joking person, so I never found the right time to bring it up with my family. But yeah, everyone has received me well, and I haven’t felt any negativity from anybody close to me.
CW: So all of this happened when you were abroad. That’s when you decided to come out as gay. Tell me about that.
MM: My family first in August. My brother was actually visiting me. We were doing a trip around Europe before my classes started. He took a week off of work to do that with me for my birthday, which is Aug. 23. We were in Brussels, and we both got kind of drunk the night before my birthday. We came home, and I was so tired and drunk, and I ended up hitting my head on a bed frame and bleeding everywhere. I’m laughing because I didn’t even care because I was that drunk. Basically, I had no care that night at all, so I just pulled out my phone and texted my sister a long message basically saying, ‘I know this is pretty random, but I’m drunk right now, and I just wanted to tell you that I’m gay. I’ve known for awhile, but I could never tell anyone.’
CW: So did you tell your brother that same night?
MM: No, he was literally in my room. Like we were sharing a hotel, but I didn’t tell him even though he was right next to me. I just texted my sister with him sleeping next me, but he didn’t know. I told my sister she could tell my parents.
CW: Your sister told them for you? How was that?
MM: Yeah, she told them for me. When I sobered up, I figured I might as well tell mom and dad and that I would just talk to them about it over the phone or on FaceTime, but in the meantime my brother still didn’t know and I was doing this trip with him the whole time. So yeah, I came out to my sister and parents around the time of my birthday, then when he got back home, they told him for me.
CW: Was it easier to do it over the phone or text rather than in person?
MM: Yeah, I think so.
CW: Were you scared to do it still?
MM: Yeah, well… okay, actually it was easier because I was drunk, so I just didn’t care at all. If I was sober, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But it definitely was easier to do it over text because I could think out what I was going to say and give them time to think in return before they had a response, which was the same case with my friends too.
CW: So your friends came next.
MM: Yeah, I think I would have told my friends in person if I was in the States but since I was abroad, I really only had text or call.
CW: What made you feel like that time abroad was the time you were going to tell everyone?
MM: Well my family had known for like three-and-a-half months by the time I told my friends in December on my way back from Copenhagen. It was a solo trip because my best friend’s from study abroad were busy that weekend, so I just went to Copenhagen, which is like a three hour train ride by myself for two days. It was a lot of alone time and a lot of thoughts to myself.
CW: What about that made you want to tell your friends?
MM: I was on the train back, and it was midnight on Sunday night in the middle of nowhere, and I was just, I don’t know, I felt comfortable, I guess. I felt comfortable with myself, and I was just thinking that I’m gonna have to tell them eventually. I was thinking about how I had to tell them before we graduated because I just want them to know. I don’t want us to go separate ways without knowing because either I’ll never tell them or it will be super hard or awkward to tell them. Something clicked, and I just drafted out this long message. I asked them to take me seriously, that I wasn’t joking and that I was being serious. I literally said that like four times, that I wasn’t joking around and for them to please take me seriously.
CW: Would they think you’re kidding?
MM: Yeah, like they aren’t homophobic, but we all joked around about stuff. So I copied that text and sent it to six people, them immediately sent another message that said, ‘I’m gay.’ Then, like, their responses pretty much just started flowing in from there.
CW: Were people surprised?
MM: Oh yeah, people were really surprised. Either they thought I was joking or they were just in disbelief.
CW: Do you think that has anything to do with the stereotype that being gay means, like, being flamboyant or feminine or that gay men are only friends with girls, or any of those stereotypes that are not necessarily true at all? Did that play into people being surprised at all?
MM: Yeah, definitely. I had always been concerned about that. Like, I have known since I was mature enough to know, so like 14 or 15, but I just tried to push it to the side until, like, the last two years. My initial perception when I was younger was like, ‘This doesn’t make any sense. I love everything that straight people like.’ I don’t come off as, like, a gay person or whatever, but like obviously this is who I am, so as a young kid that really confused me.
CW: You seem like you don’t think like that anymore. What has changed?
MM: As I got older, and especially now, since I’ve met more gay people I’ve realized, just like you said, that there is a notion that is wrong about gay people, that we’re all super flamboyant. I don’t know.
CW: Did you struggle in high school?
MM: It’s hard to say. Deep down it was hard because I had to get really good at faking that I liked girls. Like when my friends would make comments about girls, I think I was pretty good at playing along, but it was just tough hiding it. I was already starting to get tired of hiding it. Eventually it got to a point, about a year and half ago, where I was just tired of lying and hiding. It was tough, but I am so fortunate with the people I surround myself with, and I am lucky to have a good circle around me. Everyone has been really good to me, which has eased the transition, and I know a lot of people aren’t as lucky.
CW: That’s a blessing for sure.
MM: Yeah, a lot of people don’t see themselves ever coming out to their families, so they have to hide it their whole lives. It hurts even thinking about that, like keeping that secret your entire life and just hiding something that important… I can’t imagine. Overall, I am really lucky.
CW: Now that you’re settled into who you are and your friendships, are you dating?
MM: I started looking to date once I got back from abroad, but yeah, I am dating. The past nine months have been so different for me because I had never dated before, but now I’m out and I can, and I’m mostly comfortable with it. I’m actually seeing someone who went to LSU now.
CW: Oh, that makes me smile. Are you happy?
MM: I’m happy and life is good. It’s still so recent, so I have some lingering emotions and effects and stuff with it, but overall and in the long run, I’m on the up and up.