Coming Out Changed Our Lives But It Didn’t Change Who We Are

Coming Out Changed Our Lives But It Didn’t Change Who We Are

Spending your life as someone you aren’t is an impossible ask of anyone. But oftentimes, it’s almost more difficult to show your true colors than it is to simply fit into the mold of what you’re “supposed” to be. Those of you who’ve spent any time in the closet likely understand this sentiment well.

If we’re being honest, being gay in the horse world could almost be considered “easier.” As traditional as the industry can be, it’s pretty inclusive and welcoming to people of all backgrounds and lifestyles. But it’s also easy to feel inclusive when males are often presumed to be gay if they ride horses.

As we reflect on Pride Month, my fiancé, Brian Feigus, and I sat down to think about the journey we’ve been on together. Both Brian and I came out much later in life than most. While this timeline was our own, this doesn’t define the timeline of others. Coming out is an emotional, liberating feeling — but it has to be done on your own time.

Pride is a chance to celebrate the progress that the LGBTQIA+ community has made and a chance to lay the groundwork for even more. So in honor of Pride Month and as a word of encouragement to anyone struggling to find their footing in a world that’s not always the friendliest, allow our love story to show what life can be like, unfiltered.

Steven: I knew I was gay from a very young age, but until my relationship with Brian, I wasn’t fully out. It wasn’t that I felt I couldn’t be out, I just felt I wasn’t 100% ready.

I grew up in southern Florida and while my family was loving and supportive (everything that I wish others had growing up), the kids in school were a completely different story. Queer. Faggot. Homo. It was daily that I would hear these awful words hurled in my direction. I struggled. I remember going home from school one day and pacing my room. Back and forth, back and forth, wishing and hoping that I could somehow “fix” myself. Wondering what it was about girls that I didn’t like, and if there were a way to change that.

In past relationships, closeted and not, I felt like my truth was at least partially hidden. I no longer wanted that. At age 24, I finally met Brian. Little did I know things were about to get a whole lot brighter.

Photo by Elise Cook.

We met through Instagram as many people do these days. At first, our friendship just consisted of liking each others’ posts but eventually evolved into more conversation. Our relationship wasn’t publicly known and Brian was still mostly closeted. I brought up the topic of coming out pretty early on and he had said that he would consider coming out if he met the right person.

With Brian, I needed to remember that not only was the concept of being out and in a relationship new to him, but it was also new to his family. I learned how important it is to be empathetic during this process. The decision to come out isn’t one that a person comes to lightly and in some situations, sadly, there are negative repercussions.

During these conversations with Brian, I thought back to when I first got involved in horses and a few people I knew tried to out me before I was ready. Anyone who has experienced this will tell you that from that first taunt, however “harmless” it may seem, it feels like the clock is ticking for you to address the elephant in the room. Those jokes take away any freedom to come out on your own timeline. In an odd way, though, maybe these experiences, as awful as they were, were the collective push that I didn’t know I needed.

What I can tell you is this: coming out has helped me thrive. My family was endlessly supportive of my decision, and my friends good-naturedly joked that it was about time. Suddenly, it was as if a weight had been lifted.

...coming out has helped me thrive.

I have always been passionate about horses, but I decided a long time ago that making a career out of them wasn’t in the cards for me. So I set my sights on real estate, eventually landing a gig in New York City that allowed me the financial freedom to finally set foot back in the stirrup. But therein lay another roadblock. I was in a relationship with a professional, winning rider. Would I be viewed differently if I were to pick up riding and showing more seriously under his wing? While this was a worry of mine, Brian reassured me that it didn’t matter what anyone thought. The decision to be around each other and share our love of horses was enough of a reason. And he was right!

Brian: I grew up in Colts Neck, New Jersey, and sports were my go-to throughout high school. To be honest, I didn’t really focus too much on my sexuality during this time. I’m a very competitive person and juggled many sports while also managing to fit in riding at the same time. I, too, had a loving and supportive family and friend base. I consider myself to be among the lucky who did not endure a lot of bullying growing up.

What did affect me, though, were some of the relationships I had before meeting Steven. I’m a very trusting person and, unfortunately, I learned through some personal and professional relationships that trusting people so readily can backfire. So I put up walls. The thought of opening myself up to the potential of that pain again was almost too much for me. Instead, I just focused on the horses and what I could control.

As my professional career in the hunter/jumper world began to take off, I focused on work and nothing else. My friends and family would joke that I was gay and I would just flippantly deny it - partially because I wasn’t fully ready to be out in the open, and partially because a relationship just wasn’t something I was interested in. I am a big believer in the concept of fate and that everything happens for a reason. This was never proven to be more true than the day I got a follow request on Instagram from Steven.

For me, the decision to come out came from a few different places. With Steven, I felt I was finally ready to open myself up again and while that’s still hard for me at times, I’m grateful to him for encouraging me to be more free and open. Coming out wasn’t something I was afraid of in theory - I was more worried that once I did, aspects of my life would change. I feared that people would view me differently even though I am the same person now as I was before I came out. Nothing has changed. Ultimately, for me, it was about finding the right person and the right reason to come out. It wasn’t about the pomp and circumstance, or to make a big gesture. I just wanted to feel like it was the right time.

Equestrians take note. This is how proposals are done.

I had a harder time telling my straight friends than my family. As a gay male it can be very intimidating to tell your straight male friends that you’re gay. But once again, I was proven wrong. My friends have been nothing short of accepting, encouraging, and loving towards me.

Coming out is a process that requires bravery, but if my experience shows you anything, it’s that it doesn’t have to change anything. If you’ve taken care to surround yourself with the best possible people, then nothing will change.

Steven: I like to compare being out to removing the filter on your life and showing your true colors for all to see. It’s a brave process. No one should ever be pressured to come out in anything but their own time. For Brian and I, this process seemed to occur naturally. On our first date, I remember asking if it was okay for me to post photos of us on my social media. His response was that he would never tell me what I could or couldn’t post, and that he wouldn’t hide me - or hide from me.

Together, the full coming out process was completed. I’m sometimes asked if I regret not coming out sooner, knowing now what support there is and how welcoming of a community I’m in. And my answer is no. I truly believe that I spoke my truth at the time that was right for me and at a time in my life where I could truly appreciate the progress our community has made.

Brian: Going back a bit to early in our relationship… after a few months of FaceTiming and talking, Steven came down to Florida for and we went to Disney World for our first date. This place holds a lot of personal significance for me as I’d spent a lot of time here growing up and I wanted to share this big part of myself with Steven. For me, it really is the happiest place on earth.

Coming out is an emotional, liberating feeling...

So, many hours of car rides, phone calls, and Facetime chats later, it make perfect sense to ask Steven to marry me at this very same place. We’d talked about getting engaged before but decided that we wouldn’t make any decisions until we’d been together for one year. One week before the anniversary of our first date, I began planning the proposal I’d been waiting to do for the past year. But first I got Steven’s parents’ permission for his hand — something I’d always planned to do.

But it wasn’t just the proposal! Just a few days before, I had somehow managed to plan and execute a surprise party for Steven’s 25th birthday. His friends from all over the country flew in to Orlando for it, and a few of them stayed to go to Disney with us. I have to say a special thank you to Bryan Carpio, Steven’s best friend, who was on the phone with me almost daily as I tried to pull off the ultimate surprises.

Thanks to all of our friends and the gracious Disney employees, it was such a special moment. All of the stress of planning two big surprises, while competing in the grand prix ring and coaching students at the same time, was more than worth it.

Steven: I was so shocked — he did so well! The video went viral and had so many people from all over commenting on it. A true testament to love conquering all.

But of course, there were several people who brought back those memories of high school bullies with their hurtful comments. This time, though, something different happened. For every negative, derogatory comment, there were several from supporters — from strangers! — defending us and showing no tolerance for hateful comments. If that doesn’t exemplify just how far we’ve come, I don’t know what does.

For us, Pride is a time to remember everything that it has taken to get our community to where it is now. We still have a long way to go, and there will always be hateful individuals who attempt to bring us down. But our opinion is this: if our love story helps one single person feel less alone and more included, and if this story helps them at any point of their own personal journey to living their truth, then our purpose is served. Remember, Pride extends so much further than just the month of June. Pride, progress, and equality are year-round efforts.

I remember not long ago, I was in New York for Pride. I attended a party on a rooftop, and I took a moment and looked around at the city. As far as the eye could see, every building was lit up in the rainbow colors symbolizing Pride. In that moment, I took a moment to be grateful. I looked back at my teenage self, pacing back and forth in his bedroom, and I told him he would be proud of where I am now. I told him that being openly gay is one of the more freeing and empowering feelings a person could have. I told him that I know he was lonely, but that in just a few years his life would be filled with love, friends, and family.

That, my friends, is unfiltered truth. I encourage you all to live yours.

Read this next: We Can Make the Equestrian Community — and the World — a Better Place for Queer People

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