The coming-out story that gripped the world

Randy Phillips' YouTube webisodes remind everyone how hard coming out can be -- and of the importance of listening

Topics: LGBT, Don't Ask Don't Tell,

The coming-out story that gripped the world

Randy Phillips is a 21-year-old American soldier stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Areyousuprised is the Twitter and YouTube personality who, since last April, has been anonymously posting updates on his life as “Just an average GI, who happens to be gay.” Phillips has a “conservative, more traditional… hard to talk to” mom back home in Alabama. Areyousuprised shares his “It gets better” story, answers questions from subscribers, and tosses off wry observations like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell training was this morning. It was a great presentation that nobody listened to” and “It has been kinda awkward since I told my boss, but he has only called me faggot about twice since.” Earlier this month, Phillips used the repeal of DADT to reveal that he and Areyousuprised are one and the same. He did it by coming out to his parents. On YouTube.

“He has no clue,” he says, dialing his father’s phone number, half a world a way. “Nor do any members of my family.” The video, uploaded two weeks ago and currently galloping toward five million views, is a nail-biting experience in suspense. “Hey, can I tell you something?” he asks nervously. “Will you love me, period?” And then, after extracting from his father a promise of devotion, he tells him that he’s gay. There’s an excruciating pause — likely a combination of Dad registering the information and a spotty international connection — and then a reply. From the tiny phone in Phillips’ hand come the words “I still love you, son…. It doesn’t change our relationship, you hear me?”

It’s a powerful moment of unscripted, unhesitant acceptance – one that has rapidly made Phillips an inspiration all over the world. The beauty of the clip isn’t just Phillips’ poised candor; it’s just as present in his father’s rapid, unconditional response. As one typical commenter noted, “Your dad gives me hope.” This being YouTube, of course, there’s also plenty of stomach-churning homophobia in the mix as well, but the positive impact of the video is undeniable. As they end their conversation, in a moment every parent should tuck away for future reference, Dad lays it out plainly. “You’re my son and I’m very proud of you.”



Yet life doesn’t always offer clear-cut hugs and happy endings. Phillips’s next video, recorded about an hour after he spoke to his dad but posted 10 days later, shows his considerably more strained conversation with his mother. After admitting before the call that “I think it’s going to be a little bit harder,” he goes through a similar drill. “Do you love me mom? Will you always love me?” Obtaining her assurance of “Always have, always will,” he tells her, “I’m gay.” There’s a pained silence followed by a stunned, “Okay. Yes, I still love you.”

But the news is obviously hard for her. Mom adds: “You know what it says in the Bible about that? A man should be with a woman, and a woman should be with a man, not a man with a man or a woman with a woman… I don’t know exactly what verse that is…. That’s why God created Adam and Eve.”

In all of his videos, both anonymous and full-faced, Phillips presents himself as a thoughtful, grounded young man. He’s frank without being timid or confrontational, asking a colleague, “Are you cool with it?” after he comes out to him. That’s why, though his clips are moving and eloquent, there’s an “ambush” aspect to them as well. Speaking of not asking and not telling, Phillips does neither when he’s videoing his conversations with his parents. To be fair, he may have obtained permission off-camera later, but the drama of his family’s spontaneous reactions is mitigated by the implied intrusiveness of sharing them with the world.

Yet in their rawness, Phillips’s videos show that coming out is an experience that affects not just the person talking, but the one listening as well. When his mother admits, “I’m just in shock” and “I’m worried about your spiritual well being… you better be, too,” it’s not exactly ideal, but it’s truthful. Not everyone can be like Phillips’s fellow solider, who shrugs a casual “It’s all good” when he comes out to him.

In that regard, Phillips’ message is vital to both gays and straights — it’s a shining example of how different people will react in different ways to the same information, and how expectations on both sides can be challenged. What’s no big deal to your buddy may cause a whole lot of soul searching for your mom. And the best gift we can all ever give each other is the space to let whatever love and acceptance already exists crowd out doubts, confusion and fear. Sometimes, a person just needs a little time to gain perspective, as Phillips clearly seems to intuit when he tells his mother, “I didn’t want you to find out after I was married to a woman for 10 years, and have everything fall apart. I wanted to tell you when I was still young, Mom.”

It’s fitting that Phillips chose as his alter ego a character called Areyousuprised. Because sometimes, when a person comes out, you are. Honesty and acceptance might not always come easily, but it’s only when the former exists that the latter possible. Phillips tells his mother, “You said you always wanted me to be happy. I’m happier now than I ever have been.… because everybody knows and I don’t have to hide anything… I don’t care if everybody knows. I’m proud of myself.” And in the space of just a few minutes, a Bible-clutching conservative, a woman who frets over the souls of the “Adam and Steves” of the world, lays it out plainly. Her “shock” aside, there’s still one thing she knows for sure. “There’s nothing,” she tells her child, “that will stop my love for you.” And though Phillips looks exhausted and wrung out, he doesn’t seem surprised by that at all.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>