Thursday, July 7, 2011
The Humiliation of Coming Out as Gay
I first realized that I was attracted to other boys when I was 12.
In the months that followed I made excuses for my thoughts and tried to deny that I might be gay.
But denial didn't change the facts. Instead it ramped up the pressure I put on myself.
Ultimately, the pressure became overwhelming.
Fifteen months after The Realization I had a huge emotional breakdown and accepted myself as gay. I was 13.
I immediately felt better.
But self-acceptance was only one piece of the puzzle. I had no idea what to do next. Specifically, should I tell anyone?
There are kids today who come out as young as 12 or 13, but I can assure you that absolutely no one came out at 13 in 1980. So, although I accepted myself as gay I decided to keep it a secret - for as long as necessary.
At 15 I took my first tentative step out of the closet. Actually, I hadn't intended to step out at all. I sent an anonymous note to a crush but the note turned out to be much more revealing than I had planned. The fact that I blew my own cover was infuriating but the anger was nothing compared to the fear I felt. What if I was discovered?!!! I didn't feel at all ready to come out.
My worst fears were realized about two weeks later.
In very large block letters, someone wrote the word "FAG" across my locker, in fake Halloween blood.
That small incident was one of the biggest traumas of my life.
There was something about the surprise of seeing the word, the way it was written, and the fact that fake blood was used - somehow it touched the most vulnerable part of me. All of that together created a huge tidal wave of self-hatred that quickly overwhelmed me. I fell into a very deep depression.
The depression became a life and death struggle. I was only able to break free when I realized that I didn't have the courage to kill myself.
It's turned out that my cowardice at 15 has given me a lifetime of inner peace. When I decided I had no choice but to live, I also decided that holding on to negative ideas about homosexuality was pointless. I experienced an all-or-nothing crisis of self-acceptance and emerged completely at ease with myself.
In the three decades since, my relaxed attitude about homosexuality has expanded. I'm now at ease with all expressions of it, from the most macho S & M leather dudes to the most effeminate girlie 'girls'. Homosexuality doesn't bother me. And why should it? It's part of who I am.
Now I'm wondering if I'm too comfortable with my sexuality. Here's why:
About six weeks ago my wife and I had the most detailed conversation yet about our future. I found it quite revealing, a little stunning, and an important lesson for myself and other married men who contemplate coming out.
What prompted our long conversation was my improved physique. (Yes, this is me.)
She's been really, really pissed that I've been putting a lot more effort into looking good. She says it's a clear signal that I am about to toss her aside.
As we got into my motivations, she suddenly erupted, "I just wish you'd move to San Francisco! I see what's happening to you. I've seen this before, I know what happens!"
What she was referring to was one of her good friends from college who came out in his mid-thirties. After coming out, his personality dramatically changed. He's not quite Nathan Lane in the "Birdcage" yet, but he's close.
She continued, "I don't know how you could think of doing this to the kids. Oh my God! The humiliation! EVERYONE will talk about us. ALL the kids' friends. The kids will never be the same!"
At the time, I told her she was being ridiculous. I had no intention of doing anything to embarrass or humiliate anyone. I found her reaction to be shocking and over the top. I dismissed her fears as being grossly exaggerated.
But the next day I started to think more about what she said. Maybe her fears are extreme, but maybe she's not entirely wrong either.
Yes, in many ways the world has caught up to my views about homosexuality - that it's no big deal. But just because I'm very comfortable in my own skin and just because I live in a very liberal place, that doesn't mean I should disregard my wife's fears.
Fear is a very powerful emotion and even when it's irrational, it's something that should be taken seriously.
What I'm thinking is that even if my wife is completely paranoid, I would be smart to pay attention to her worries. Ignoring her or dismissing her could come back to bite me in the ass, in a few different ways. I'm thinking that if (or when) I come out, it's something that we should plan together. Yes, this is my coming out but it dramatically affects her and the kids and how they feel about themselves. Abstract homosexuality may be no big deal but when it's your husband or your father, maybe it is.
I think when the typical married closeted man reaches the point where he's ready to publicly come out, he just want to get it over with. Or, he at least wants control over how it happens. When you're married and a parent you undoubtedly ask yourself how can you minimize the impact of your announcement on your family. But do most guys let their wife and kids decide when and how to come out? Probably not.
Some of you may think I'm crazy for considering giving my wife a major say in how my potential coming out is handled. To that I'd say, don't worry, I'm not giving her carte blanche authority. I should also point out that I'm so blase' about my sexuality that it doesn't make much difference to me if or how I come out anyway. Since I don't care that much and she cares a lot, why not try to do as she asks?
It seems to be that, ultimately, it doesn't matter much who you tell or what you tell them or who you tell first. If people like you and they don't like something they've heard, they'll give you the chance to clear your name. If people don't like you or are ambivalent, why knock yourself out worrying about their opinion of you?
I know that I'll be fine no matter what happens. I'm very confident about the kids too. So, if my wife wants me to be the flaming asshole bad guy, why shouldn't I let her have her way?