Content warning: The following story contains references to a person's coming out story, which may be triggering for some readers.
"Equal," Matt Carpenter
Sunday April 8, 2012. Denton, Texas.
I was about one month away from graduating from the University of Oklahoma with my Master’s degree. I traveled down to Texas because my parents had driven up from San Antonio to visit my brother while he went to school at the University of North Texas. I had just finished my comprehensive exams, and it was a good weekend to see the whole family before graduation weekend.
Two months prior to this, I came out to my fraternity brother, the first person to whom I ever said the words “I’m gay.” I had chickened out two weekends in a row prior to this, and it was distracting me at work, in classes, in every facet of my life. He was my roommate at the time, and it was one of the most terrifying and wonderful experiences of my life. He already knew, because my internet history and data management skills on a computer were less than stellar back in the day, but he never pushed me and possessed the grace that a true friend should have and let me get to coming out at my own time. I’ve since been his best man at his wedding, and he will be mine, but back to the story….
One month earlier, I spent one weekend of my Spring Break to drive down to Denton and come out to my brother. Like every other person I had come out to, the themes were the same. “I have something important to tell you; it’s been eating me up inside; I just really want to be truthful with you.” That weekend was one of the best weekends I ever had with my brother, because I finally felt I could be myself with him. We went out, I probably had a drink or two too many, and I probably told him things he never needed to know about me. And that was a freeing experience as well.
But this Sunday was special. This was the only time I knew my family was going to be together prior to my graduation, and I knew I didn’t want to drop this on them during graduation. So this weekend would have to do.
Did I forget to mention… this was Easter Sunday?
If there ever was an odd coming out story, it would be a family dressed in their Sunday best, after Easter Mass, having lunch at a Fuddrucker’s Hamburgers, with a very large (6’3”, 270 lbs.) man crying and barely muttering out words. Not my prettiest moment. But that day was the start of a new portion of my life.
I felt like I could be honest with my mother and father and not lie about who I was or was not dating. I could be honest to all my friends on a level that I had never done before, but that they all had done to me. I was able to actually share my personal life with others.
Over the past five years since coming out, I have been lucky enough to find someone who is odd enough to say yes to spend the rest of his life with me. And while most would say, “Oh great, you got your storybook ending,” the coming out process has not ended.
I come out when I have to correct our vet when I take the dogs in for an exam because the bill is in my fiancé’s name. It happens when I get asked how close in age we are apart because we look remarkably similar for brothers. It happens every time people see my fiancé’s full name and use female pronouns. I never take it as an affront, but it’s just a reminder that a part of my identity can be easily ignored if I don’t have Mack right next to me with our engagement rings on.
In summer 2013, I walked in to Main Street Tattoos in Norman, OK to get my first tattoo. It was probably an impulse decision to get one, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I got an equal sign, the symbol of the Human Rights Campaign. My identity as a gay man was very important to me, and I wanted to put it out there for all to see. Unbeknownst to me, a week before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, it ended up being exactly one week before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. I have jokingly referred to it as my “gay barcode” for the government to track me, and one told a bunch of sixth graders that I got it because I “really like math.” But it means so much more to me as time passes.
My equal sign is my visible representation of my identity. While I cover it up at work due to its placement on my left calf, it’s visible most of the time. I don’t always think about it, but it’s always there. And that’s something that can’t be erased.
Tattoosday is way to demonstrate the storytelling quality of tattoos as well as the healing quality of tattoos.
If you would like to share the stories behind your ink, send us a picture of a tattoo or tattoos that have a significant story tied to your survival in life. Then write at least 400 words (you can write as many as you'd like) about the tattoo, it's meaning, and what it means to you today.
These stories will all run on Tuesdays!
One per week! So you have plenty of time to submit them to us!
The caveat with TATTOOSDAY is that we will not be making you a free piece of art, instead, your ink IS the art we will share with the story—which makes the most sense. BUT we will send you some stickers for sharing your story with us!