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National Coming Out Day: Colorado teen says acceptance saved his life

Aaron Michael performs
Posted at 9:27 AM, Oct 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-12 11:27:38-04

Editor's note: This story touches on the subject of kids' and teen's mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you can dial 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 24/7, visit Colorado Crisis Services, or click here for a list of resources in Colorado.

DENVER — October 11 is “National Coming Out Day.” While there are positive aspects to confiding in others, revealing a gender identity or sexual orientation can sometimes put a person at risk of harm.

Aaron Michael was 11 years old when he first realized he liked boys. He was gripped with fear at the thought of telling others.

“When I started to get those feelings, I felt like a weirdo,” he said.

Aaron Michael began to research what it would be like to come out.

“Every gay person I saw who told their story was like a horror story. Like, it was always they got kicked out or they got beat," he said.

Aaron Michael wrestled with what to do.

“I was already going through a deep depression at that time, and I was suicidal,” he said. “And I knew if I didn't come out, I probably wouldn't be here.”

Aaron Michael then made a life-changing phone call to his mother. When he told her that they need to have an important conversation, she offered to take him out for ice cream.

“While I was in the car, I just like I started bursting out crying,” he said. “I was like, ‘Mom, I’m gay.’”

Her response calmed his fears.

“She was like, ‘I love you for who you are… you're still my child.’ And from then on, I just feel lucky to have a mom who supports who I am,” said Aaron Michael.

Mental health therapist Dr. Tara Jae said in moments like these, parents should center their children's experience instead of their own.

“One of the things that we talk about a lot is how parents need to really support their kids and put their egos aside,” said Jae.

Jae said adults can sometimes forget how difficult life can be for young people as they learn and grow.

“As adults, we forget what it was like and we think we know better,” said Jae. “When in fact, we're hindering our youth to just grow up.”

For Aaron Michael, coming out was a major moment in his life that helped shape his identity.

Growing up, he had always enjoyed makeup, singing and dancing. After coming out, he finally felt free to fully explore that part of himself.

“I remember watching Beyoncé and Michael Jackson, like all these entertainers,” said Aaron Michael. “And I was like, ‘I want to do that.’”

It wasn’t long before he was gracing the stage at drag shows and drag brunches. He even appeared on the Discovery+ show "Generation Drag."

“Before I came out, I was ready to end it,” Aaron Michael said. “I'm glad I didn't, because I would have missed out on all this.”

Jae is the founder and executive director of Youth Seen, an organization that empowers the social and emotional well-being of LGBTQ+ youth. For resources, click here.