Discovering my authentic self

Discovering my authentic self

Is National Coming Out Day about something more than revealing your sexuality or gender? Could it be one step in the path toward authenticity? It is a journey well known by the LGBTQ+ community but familiar to many as they search for themselves in a world that sometimes wants them to be someone else. Each of us has our own story. Here is mine.

As young children, we live authentically, unaware we are unique individuals in a broader community. Inevitably, authenticity comes into conflict with cultural expectations. Intended to allow us to thrive in a world with others, many are good: sharing, manners and boundaries. However, some are misguided: living up to parental expectations, gender roles and sexuality are just a few examples. Parts of us become threats to our survival. We must fit in or face exile from family, friends and a society that deems those parts unworthy.

In my case, it was my sexuality. I received daily reminders that this part of me had no place in this world with statements such as “Boys like girls and girls like boys,” “Don’t be so gay,” or “That boy is a fag.” I heard it in societal and religious views, such as, “AIDS is God’s punishment to gays for immoral behavior.” I witnessed it in the violence directed at a gay boy in middle school. Shame took root, and with each successive jab, it spread. I began changing my behaviors and tucking the “bad parts” into what I now know as “the closet.” Anything that could be hidden was. I worked to create an identity I could be proud of, one that others would admire and respect. I slammed the closet door shut, turned off the lights and forgot who I was. But behind that door were secrets — secrets that could destroy me.

As the decades passed, I built a life. I had it all — a beautiful wife, two amazing daughters, family, friends, a career and a home in the suburbs. On the outside, it was the “American Dream.” Inside, a war raged between the man I wanted to be and the one I feared I was. The secrets consumed me, shame intensified and loneliness set in. One slip, and the dream would end, but the pain wouldn’t.

I slipped.

The identity I had created could no longer keep me safe — my wife knew it wasn’t me. I was forced to face the secrets hidden in my dark closet. In it were the things I most feared; it’s why I put them there. They were the shameful parts of who I was, of who I am. I repeatedly denied it, trying hard to hang on to the false identity, but the door had been opened, and there was no way to shut it. The battle raged for months and took me to the darkest places of my being. It tore apart the man I had created — the “American Dream” reduced to ashes. I had to rebuild.

Overcoming years of cultural and self-conditioning was challenging, and at times, it still is. It was okay for others to be gay, but internalized homophobia kept me from permitting myself to be. I went to therapy, joined support groups, read every book I could find on the topic, journaled, meditated and went on retreats. I started the painful and exhausting process of letting family and friends in on the secret. There were days when I could barely find the energy to stand and others where the future seemed promising. Writing a memoir became my greatest healer. In it, I found false narratives that have guided my thoughts for decades and truths I had buried. In it, I began to find me: the authentic me.

Moving toward authenticity can be a long and painful process for some and often never ends. It can include deep shame and conflict, leading to crisis, destruction and rebirth. It is, at the same time, a beautiful journey of self-discovery. On this National Coming Out Day, I’m sharing one step of my path toward authenticity. I am proud to be a gay man.

Al Manshum is the senior vice president of support services for Advocate Health.

Prioritize your mental health by finding time to talk with a behavioral health provider. Find one in Illinois or Wisconsin.

Related Posts



  1. Thank you for sharing. I see you, and I acknowledge and accept you and your authenticity. The more we share our stories, the easier it becomes.

  2. As someone who had endured the same self struggles, I got very emotional reading this. I feel like this part of our lives in the LGBTQ+ are so often overlooked and most people have an extremely hard time relating to us in this way.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I can only imagine how difficult and exhausting it has been for many, many years not to be able to find your true self and share that with the world. I am happy that you are getting more comfortable doing that now and hope you will continue to feel comfortable being your true self no matter what situation you are in.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story with such grace and honesty. Very powerful.

  5. Donna LaJeunesse October 13, 2023 at 11:53 am · Reply

    Thank you for having the courage to live an authentic life and sharing your story. Living authentically is where we are truly free, illuminate, thrive and how we truly connect with others in meaningful ways. We are all in it together! Blessings and gratitude.

  6. Beautifully written. Thank you for modeling leadership through courage & authenticity.

  7. Thank you for expressing your feelings so eloquently. Growing up in the early 80’s I can relate to hiding who you were and doing what you felt would make others happy. It wasn’t until after a divorce (to a genuinely wonderful guy for a year) that I realized I needed to tell those close to me. At 17 I fought through T-Cell Leukemia and won but I couldn’t be who I wanted to be? With age and incredible people in my life, I will never again pretend to be someone I am not. Thanks for writing this- you are an incredibly courageous man, and like I tell everyone who asks me if it is a “choice to be gay”? I respond every single time the exact same way:
    “Why would anyone choose to be a minority, choose to be ridiculed and attacked by those who don’t agree with who I am”?

Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author