James Bosch: Coming Out Again

Written by James A. Bosch MA, LMFT on November 24, 2019

Survivor Stories
Intersecting Identities

Burned as an infant, James Bosch has dedicated much of his professional life to helping other burn survivors and their families heal and find meaning after a burn. Acceptance of new life, new body, and finding new meaning are at the core of his work. James is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist practicing in California and a member of the Mental Health Support Team at Phoenix World Burn Congress.

Below, James explores his parallel journeys of coming out and accepting his differences as a gay man and a burn survivor.

“When did you know you were straight?”
“How did you come out to your family as straight?”

I love this YouTube video, in which a reporter asks apparently heterosexual people these questions. The answer is usually “What do you mean? I just was,” or a confused look and a baffled, “I didn’t have to come out as straight.”

The coming out process is unique, often complicated, and individual for everyone. For some, it feels very unsafe. It seems to be getting easier as acceptance grows, but we still have a very long way to go. Most straight people aren't able to grasp what it’s like to declare your sexuality.

But a burn survivor might be better suited to understand what it feels like to come out. Like many LGBTQ kids, a burn survivor might be bullied on the playground. They may be instilled with shame, fear, and confusion.

As a gay man and a burn survivor, I've asked the same question: “When do I tell my story?”

“When do I tell someone about my burn trauma?” “When do I show my hidden burns, reveal my inner fears?”

All my life, I’ve had to accept I was different. On the inside, I was different from the other boys. Because of my scars, I looked different on the outside too. As a result, my own coming out process was long, many-layered, and sometimes painful.

First, I had to face my internal shame and come out to myself. As a gay male, I struggled to fit into an overtly masculine family and a heteronormative society. After I came out to myself, I began to tell safe friends, colleagues, and, last of all, my family. The whole time, I was overwhelmed by the fear of rejection and ridicule.

Having been severely burned as an infant, I faced a parallel journey of acceptance and coming out as a burn survivor. By the time I was in my early 20's, I was working in the burn industry and felt like I had done a lot of work accepting my scars.

But when I finally had the courage to fully embrace the gay community of San Francisco, I had to come out as a burn survivor all over again. I can't speak for my lesbian, bisexual, nonbinary, or transgender peers, but my own experience of the gay community has included a huge emphasis on visual perfection. 

Pictured left: James Bosch at Pride 2016 with performer and friend Frida K. Hole.

Suddenly, I found myself on a different kind of playground where - once again - I felt like I wasn’t like the other kids. In a different kind of struggle, I had to learn to accept my visual differences in this new world.

Being a burn survivor and being gay were both journeys of healing shame.

The shame of constantly being told -- overtly and subtly -- that I was not normal. That I was different. Both were journeys of acceptance and self love.

I've never seen a more diverse group of people come together than under the roof of compassion and acceptance that is Phoenix World Burn Congress. But for a long time, I felt ours was a missing voice. When an LGBTQ support group was started at Phoenix World Burn Congress, I was so grateful. We needed a place to heal too.

In the burn community, we often say “Judge me for my character, not my scars.”

Well, do the same for me, and accept me for who I was born to love.

I’ll leave you with something a wise friend once told me: when you see a flurry of butterflies, you don’t judge the ones flying lower or the ones that are more blue or red. You admire them all for their equal beauty.

Let’s do that as a burn community.

Happy Pride. 

To support all burn survivors on their journeys of self-acceptance and transformational healing, the Phoenix Society offers the following resources: