Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I Came Out to My Kids: The Aftermath

When I came out to my kids, I expected them to be accepting and supportive - and they were.

What I didn't expect was my 18 year old son to respond by coming out as bisexual.  His announcement blew me away and ever since then I've been trying to figure out why I'm so surprised.

The only clue I've had that he might not be straight is his aggressive support for gay marriage.  But I chalked that up to the fact that he's a very loyal guy and he has a number of gay, lesbian and bisexual friends.  Other than that, his heterosexuality has seemed obvious.  He's only downloaded straight porn (so far as I know) and he's had at least a dozen different "serious" girlfriends since 6th grade. And now that I'm thinking about it, I've never seen him display the slightest affection for any of his male friends, including the gay ones.  It's weird to me that he's bisexual.  It really is.

Although my son's coming out was my big surprise that day, I got another surprise two days later.

That was a Sunday and it began with my twelve year old daughter pleading with me to take her to an all-day "fan" event an hour away.  She found out about it at 9:50AM and the event started at 10.  Although I had other plans for the day, I reluctantly agreed to take her.  My ex, Gabbie, was not pleased.  It turned out that she wanted to spend a few hours with me having lunch and running errands.

My daughter's event dragged on much longer than I expected.  It was supposed to end by 5, but my daughter insisted on waiting in line for autographs until 6:20.  When I got home an hour later, I expected a peaceful Sunday night family dinner.  That's not what I got.

It had been a quiet day, apparently, until my oldest son decided he was hungry and proceeded to eat half of the food that was intended for a six person dinner that night.  Gabbie yelled at him and he yelled back.  What he chose to say was stupid and dramatically escalated the fight.  He said, "You can't tell me what to do, you don't live here anymore!"   What he said is not true.  She's only partly moved out.  But even if she was completely out, he shouldn't have said what he did.

Charlie then poured gasoline on the fire by interjecting himself into their fight.  He pulled my son aside and said to him, "You need to better appreciate your mum.  You have no idea what she's been going through!  Did you know that your dad is..."

It's at that point that Charlie's story and my son's story diverge.  They each swear that it was the other guy who first announced that I was gay.  Both of them are frequent liars so it's really hard to guess which story is true.  As much as I'd like to blame Charlie, it makes more sense to me that my son would bring the topic up than it does for Charlie to do so.  And, actually, it wouldn't matter who said it first, except if it was Charlie -  holy shit!  What would have happened if he outed me to my kids before I could do it myself??

The argument between my kid, Gabbie and Charlie was the opening act for the night.  The Big Event began when Gabbie privately asked me if it was true that I had come out to the kids.  I told her I had.  She immediately burst into tears, then violently cried for a solid 20 minutes.  Her reaction completely stunned me.  I had to ask her, "Why are you crying??"

"Because you're a selfish, selfish bastard!  All you do is think about yourself!  Why did you do that?!!!"  More violent crying followed.  Then she sneered, "I was just your BEARD!  That's what I was, your BEARD!"

I hope my wife's reaction seems bizarre to others, because it certainly was to me.

What I haven't said is that she and Charlie spent the afternoon at the bar.  They were both well-lubricated when I came home at 7:30.  I'd like to think that her drunken state had a lot to do with her reaction, and it probably did, but I also think it caused her to share more of her thoughts than she otherwise would have.

Her violent anger - her rage, actually - completely baffled me.  Yes, she did ask me if I was gay twice before we got married and I lied both times.  She has every right to be pissed off that we got married in the first place.  But I came out to her two and a half years later.  She was 25 and we had no kids.  She moved out to her own apartment for two months.  During that time she knew I had a gay "friend" that I was spending time with.  She even walked in on us once while we were watching a gay-themed movie together.  There was also a period of time, right after we got back together, where I tried to be open with her about guys I thought were good looking.  With all that in mind, I can't understand why she feels so deceived. When we got back together, 19 years ago, she knew exactly who I was and what she was doing.  At least that's what I've always believed.

Her story is totally different.  She says I took it all back.  I told her I wasn't gay, never had been gay, and didn't want to be gay.  I honestly don't remember saying any of  that, nor do I feel I would have.  Coming out to her relieved me of a huge burden, why would I want to retract it all??  I didn't.  That's why her version baffles me; she swears I told her things I would never have wanted to say.   On the other hand, what I do remember is repeatedly telling her that I was never going to leave her for someone else.  That was totally true, and it would still be true today, if she hadn't dumped me.

Usually Gabbie's memory is fantastic.  It's far better than mine, especially when it comes to details.  For that reason I'm willing to accept her story.  But I still don't understand how she can honestly believe she was tricked, especially because whenever she got angry, she would say, "I just know you're going to leave me for someone else some day."  She was always pointedly gender neutral.  If I had really convinced her that I was straight after point-blank telling her I was gay, why would she do that?  Only because she believed I was gay.  I know for a fact that I never tried to convince her I was straight.  I just stopped being open about my sexuality, because when I was, it made her extremely agitated.  I would have much preferred honesty but I went back into the closet because that's clearly what she wanted.

Whatever.  It's all water under the bridge now and I have digressed.  Back to the present day...

After Gabbie calmed down somewhat following her crying fit, we had a short conversation about our history.  We recapped everything in a few sentences: she said I tricked her, I said I came out to her 19 years ago, she said I took it all back, I said I didn't.  At that point it was obvious that we'd never agree and it was also obvious that it didn't matter very much.  Her next question was, "Why did you tell the kids?"

The primary reason I came out is because it's time for me to be honest about my developing relationship with Dean and I can't do that if I stay in the closet forever.  I didn't tell Gabbie that.  She already skewered me for being selfish; I didn't need to give her any additional ammunition.  But I did tell her a secondary reason, one that I thought she should be happy about.  I said, "I did it because the kids have been so hard on you.  I think they're upset because they know you're moving, especially now that half the furniture is gone.  I want them to stop blaming you.  Isn't it better for you that they know the truth?"

"I think it was a terrible thing to do.  I just know they're going to be very traumatized by this!"

We talked for a little while longer, and I reassured her that the kids seemed to be fine, then I left her to fall asleep.  I knew that would happen quickly because she was very tired - and still somewhat drunk.

Her reaction to my coming out to the kids really surprised me.  Yes, I knew she'd be mad that I hadn't asked her permission to do so, but I never expected that she'd be enraged.

She was so angry that I spent that night restlessly second-guessing my decision to come out to the kids without telling her first.  I purposefully didn't want her there because I wanted to do the talking, and not be verbally dominated by her.  But if cutting her out of the conversation meant permanently pissing her off, that would be a decision I'd deeply regret.  As I tossed and turned I kept wondering if I'd made a huge mistake; she was so incredibly angry and upset about it. 

I finally feel asleep for a few hours, then I woke for good at 4:40.  I was nervous about seeing her that morning.  Would she continue with her angry tirade?  Or would she pretend it never happened?

It turned out that all my worry was for nothing.  When she said hello for the day, she was as giddy as I've seen her in quite some time, especially when sober.  We didn't really talk about the night before or my coming out very much.  She asked me again how the kids responded and I gave her a play-by-play, although I omitted my son's announcement.  The kids' nonchalant attitudes seemed to satisfy her and that was the end of the conversation.

It's now been two weeks since my coming out and her overall mood has noticeably improved.  I'm not sure if that's because she hopes the kids will blame me for all the drama in their lives, or, if she's just relieved that they know about me and they aren't damaged for life.  Probably it's some of both.  I don't know why she never listens to me.  I wanted to come out nearly a year ago but she specifically forbade me from doing so, all because (she said) she was concerned for their welfare.  I'd like to think this is another lesson for both of us - that hiding the truth is not the better choice.

There's been one other weird after-effect I've noticed since coming out.  My oldest, the bisexual, suddenly wants to talk to me about hot girls much more often than he has in the past.  Just the other day he said, "Aren't those girls hot, dad?  Check them out!" - and he expected me to reply.  Even if I was pretending I was straight I wouldn't have leered at a couple of 17 year olds, but now that I have come out, I'm totally confused by his behavior.  Maybe he's hoping I'm bisexual, and not gay, that way we'd be more alike??  I really can't explain it and I can usually read his mind as if it was my own.

My daughter also surprised me with a recent comment .  Once again she prattled on and on about me getting married again and having more children.  Even before coming out, whenever she got on that soap box, I told her repeatedly  that I was done having kids.  But now that I have come out, I find her persistence on the issue astounding.

Each time my kids have said these things I've pretty much ignored what they've said.  I'm not sure what else I should do.  Dean says they're testing me, and maybe they are.  He says that I'll know when the time is right to forcefully correct them and, until then, I shouldn't worry about it.  I have to appreciate Dean.  He's definitely the yin to my yang.

27 comments:

  1. Wow... that's a lot of things that happened. Concerning your oldest son, he may be trying to find a way to talk to you about his sexuality. He probably feels closer to you than ever so he wants to share important stuff with you. Maybe he doesn't know how to do it... so talk to him :)

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    1. Thanks for your interesting comment JF. I'm not sure whether I agree or not. I need more information from my kid. I don't see a reason to push the issue with him, so for now, I'll wait for him to share as much as he would like, whenever he likes.

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  2. I second what JF says - I was trying to think from your son's point of view, and even though he may have several gay friends, he probably feels closer to you than ever, and could be an amazing time to really connect with him.

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    1. My son and I are pretty well connected but I don't want to be too close, yet. He still has a lot of growing up to do. Until he's more mature I think he needs a father more than another buddy. Some will say that it's possible to be both, however, he might soon need some tough love to get started in life. Now is not the right time for me to try wearing both hats. At some point in the future, I think we'll be very close.

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  3. I third what JF said. Part of what your son discovered through your coming out to him was that you are a sexual being. He probably just didn't really see you in that way before, and now that he does he's anxious to be able to relate what he's going through with you. I think Dean has a point about testing, but I think this is probably more about your son's stuff than about your stuff. He's trying to share and start a dialogue. He is pointing out to you the people he's sexually interested in. Obviously not appropriate for you, but I doubt he's thinking like that, he's probably just finding his way on how to discover and discuss this part of himself with you. And I really think that's great. Encourage those conversations.

    Your daughter may be kicking up the new family thing because your coming out to her has reinforced that you are going to go on to have a new partner/family one day. She may be testing. She may be nervous in some way, or she may be trying to show you her approval and support for you, even getting excited about it to show you her happiness for you. When she talks about your having kids, does she specifically say with another woman? If not, then she heard you, but maybe she just doesn't know what the future holds or how to show support.

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    1. I've always been a good listener for my kids. All three of them enjoy talking to me because I patiently listen and let them direct the conversation. With teenagers, I think that's as 'encouraging' as I realistically can be.

      My daughter thinks of families in traditional terms. A mother and a father are necessary to have a kid. So, she specifically talks about me marrying a woman. This was a regular topic of conversation for her prior to my coming out. Since coming out she's only mentioned it once. If she continues to be traditionally minded, I'll have to redirect her to the more likely outcome. I actually think her curiosity will be sated as soon as I announce my relationship with Dean. He has three kids, including two girls who are slightly younger than my daughter. She'll love the idea of having two new sisters.

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  4. Also, don't forget that your son came out to you. That's a big deal for him.

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    1. I agree that it's a big deal, but on the other hand, he hasn't mentioned it again nor shown any interest in men.

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  5. I think you'll be an amazing role model for your kids, especially your son. They will soon grow tired of your wife's drama and tirades (if they haven't done so already) and gradually withdraw their support.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Buddy Bear. My wife is already on very thin ice with the kids. It'll be interesting to see what the 'new normal' will be once my wife has been moved out for a few months.

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  6. My wife outed me to my kids during the divorce. I was stunned and scared, but the kids didn't seem bothered. What was on their minds was -- who was going to take care of them? Were both parents going to put all our energy in a partner search?

    8 years later and I still have the love of the kids and they love my partner too. And they later got close to their mother again too.

    So I think for all of us with kids -- we are looking at things with fear and vulnerability. Their questions are often more practical -- who's going to need me, who's going to feed me?

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    1. Your experience mirrors my own, at least so far. The kids are most interested in themselves. That makes sense and is fine by me. I'd prefer that they speculate on their own lives rather than mine.

      I have hope that my kids will become more forgiving of their mother in the future. It's good to see that happened in your situation.

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  7. I think her reaction was caused by the definitiveness of it all - when you came out to your kids, it was like the last straw that made everything real for her. She was probably fooling herself into believing that she could compartmentalise the issue and let things sit - memories do funny things to protect us too. You probably literally pulled the floor away from under her.

    Also, not sure if you know but kids (late teens and early 20s) these days often say they are bi because it is a cool thing. I am not totally convinced when kids of that age 'come out'.

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    1. Thank you for your insightful comment Sunshine. What you've said about my wife's reaction makes a lot of sense to me, especially about compartmentalizing.

      You might also be right about bi being a cool thing. I really don't care about his sexuality. He's free to be as straight, bi or gay as he wants to be.

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  8. Your son might actually feel that he can talk about his sexuality with you in a way because you both came out at the same time. He might perceive being out as meaning the two of you can talk about hot guys and gals.

    He might also be uncomfortable about his revelation to you and be trying to deny what he said. Remember that all of this is confusing to him too. Maybe he is trying to discover if you are really gay or bisexual. You are the father of three kids and that might make him doubt that you are really gay.

    Your kids love you but are confused and trying to understand it all. You have been their rock for so long that they are probably questioning what other change or revelation will come next. You probably seemed like the one constant in that household and they are probably feeling unstable. Your mother's alcoholic boyfriend moves in and your father lets it happen. They fight regularly and your mother comes home drunk. Now your father tells you that he is gay. It has to be unsettling and you might become a bit weird while you try to figure it out--and you might need to test the rock to see if he still cares.

    Just be who you have been with them and they will love you for it. Be patient. Be calm. This will work out.

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    1. When you say, "This will work out," I totally agree. I'm very optimistic about my kids' futures. I have been their rock and I will continue to be.

      I didn't write about it but a big part of my coming out conversation was focused on setting goals and working toward them. I want to show them that difficult times can be overcome, and in fact, can be opportunities for positive change.

      The hard part for them right now is that we don't have a "new normal" yet. But by January 1 we will.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

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  9. It sounds like Gabby's days in that house are numbered. Let's hope she and Charlie exit soon. I think things will go better when it's just you and the kids. I think they see you as the more stable parent. They may have sympathy for her, but they will gravitate more to you for security. I guess I'm not surprised that they don't care that you're gay.

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    1. Yes, Gabbie's days in the house are numbered. I don't have a final move-out date yet but it will be no later than October 1. None of them have any sympathy for her. I actually wish they did.

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  10. Your son is a liar or to put it more politely, does he have an uncertain relationship with the truth?

    Gabby's a puzzle as you present her. She has clearly, absolutely said that she doesn't want to be with you; now she behaves like you have dumped her and she is a tragic, deceived woman who was your beard. It doesn't sound right. Is she an alcoholic or have some disorder, do you think?

    Anyway, thanks for keeping on reporting and I wish you well on this journey -- and how great that you have a boyfriend or whatever we call it nowadays.

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    1. Hi Jason - I don't understand what you mean about my son being a liar. Yes, he does have an uncertain relationship with the truth, but I'm not sure what, exactly, you're referring to.

      Yes, Gabbie is a puzzle, for exactly the reasons you say. I don't understand her actions either. More and more I'm thinking she is an alcoholic. Still, it's hard to be certain if that's the reason for her contradictory behavior.

      As always, thanks for your kind support!

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  11. You seem to be handling all this with so much more maturity, clarity, and concern for your children than you wife will ever grasp. She is after all the one that has been self obsessed, the center of attention, the lackluster mother, and the one that started the affair in front of you and the kids. She clearly does not listen, or remember, things that maybe she would prefer to ignore as they cannot be integrated into her own world view.

    You are doing so well by your kids too.

    This thing about your son being bi - I think all teens question some things about their sexuality, and very straight guys find themselves admiring the bodies of other guys in a way that can be confusing and even alarming. Good for him and you that he can express his own period of discovery using words that in a way bond you together. His identity is fluid, and perhaps looking back, you realize so was yours at his age too.

    If as one commenter said, it is cool nowadays in some teen circles to be "bi", this is a replay of the period in the late 60's and 70's when the word in my social circles in my post college days was that women were turned on by a man that could show his emotions, and might have authentically explored his pan-sexuality by trying some things with guys. It was a pre-AIDS, full flowering of the sexual revolution. The glam-rock scene and rise of cool androgyny came with it. History does repeat itself and maybe what is hip now in high schools is a healthy version of what so many of us had hoped would come out of the 60's and 70's.

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    1. I hadn't thought about bisexuality being cool nowadays, at least in some teen circles. My son's liberal, open-minded friends are certainly more likely to think that way compared to kids in more conservative areas. I suppose that one of these days I'll find out just how bisexual he is, or isn't. Until then, I'm happy as long as he's happy. I haven't heard that bisexuality is making a resurgence among teens as it did in the early 70s, but as you say, history tends to repeat itself. Maybe someone needs to write an article about this for Rolling Stone. Are you up to the task?

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  12. Oh come on.....REALLY? I have to say that your wife was correct to be surprised and upset that you came out to the kids without her knowing. I think at best you should have discussed it with her before you did. Ideally came to an understanding as to how and if not at least informed her. Drunk does not help but it does not also give you some complete out in terms of co-parenting. It is the constant in all of this that you will forever be thew parents of your kids. It is both of your responsibility to do it as best you can and your duty to rise above your issues (both of you) and see only the best outcome and most responsible setting for them. Do not make them your confidants. It is not their job. As to your son, your fascination with his outing himself (at his still undecided age) is borderline hoisting your issues on to his back, again not what he needs. Of course these are the ideals and no matter how hard we try we will jot get it right every time, but not an excuse not to try and remember we are parents first, as soon as the seed and egg do the dance.

    On the issue of misconstruing the history, I cannot even begin to imagine how that magnitude of recast happens. Is it possible that you communicate so poorly with each other? traveling on separate tracks of understanding of the anatomy of your relationship for how long now? Have you asked yourself is that possible? By your own admission you withhold from her. Of course i assume blameless belongs to nobody. But if I have learned anything from my own experiences it is that I have had to make great effort to not assume I am understood and there are what is said and what is heard and they may be two entirely different things. Better to wash rinse and repeat and verify both of your understanding. The stakes are not just between the two of you. How this plays out with your kids will matter. Do you share this blog with her? That is a choice you are of course free to make but depending on the answer it also tells that it is one side of the equation. I do not believe that the endless cheering on and non critical thinking that sometimes flows on these sort of blogs in the end may be not what is needed. Sometimes a friend is critical and that is the support that is most of aid. Take care and best of luck.

    N

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    1. Well N (is that short for Nenne?), thank you for taking the time to write a superb and challenging comment. You are right about the "endless cheering on" and the "non critical thinking" that tends to flow on these sorts of blogs. Sometimes that's not what's needed. Genuine friends can and should be critical, particularly if that's what it takes to be helpful.

      About blind-siding my wife: We did discuss the issue, two or three times over the past 21 months. Her feeling was that I should stay in the closet indefinitely. She even encouraged me to find a "nice, quiet, submissive" wife. That comment made it clear to me that she was not concerned about how the kids would handle my coming out; what really mattered to her is how she'd look to others. As a result, I've known for some time that my coming out was one of those issues on which we'd never agree. I would have preferred to come out sooner, but I waited a very respectful 21 months and I came out with as much regard for her as I reasonably could. My surprise was that she actually believed that I would stay in the closet as long as SHE wanted. THAT'S what amazed me.

      About my son and using my kids as confidants: I very much agree with you that my kids should not be my confidants. Nor should they be my pawns. As you can see from the comments above, some men see my son's coming out as a bonding opportunity for the two of us. In time, as he matures, that might be true. But for the foreseeable future, he and his siblings need a father, not a buddy. As a father, I have a responsibility NOT to make them confidants and certainly not to make them pawns.

      About "hoisting" my issues onto my son's back: That comment made me laugh out loud. I could care less what his sexuality is, EXCEPT, it bothers me, as an aware, involved parent, that his announcement was completely the opposite of what I expected. The illogical aspects of the situation really puzzle me. Beyond that, I don't care how he labels himself.

      About misconstrued history: One thing to know is that we've been together for nearly 26 years. I came out 20 years ago (this week) so the conversations we're talking about happened a long time ago. Secondly, homosexuality is a very touchy subject for my wife. She fell hard for another closeted gay guy her freshman year of college and his behavior fundamentally affected her. In many ways her experience with him played a big role in how we got to where we are. Even to the point where she seems to have confused some of her feelings and history of him with me. Also, the deep hurt he did to her has made me want to be extra sensitive about this topic. That has meant NOT dwelling on the subject or repeatedly rehashing it. Given her history and my desire to stay with her, "wash, rinse and repeat" would have been far more cruel than kind, and it certainly didn't seem necessary.

      About 'the stakes': Our situation has nearly played out. She has her loser boyfriend that she "can't" give up; they have a place together; the house is being sold; and by unanimous agreement, the kids will live with me. At this point, we just need to finish the transition and make sure the kids feel supported to do what they'd normally do, as kids.

      Thanks again for your thought-provoking comment, N!

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  13. I really love the thoughts everyone has on your kids' responses the last 2 weeks.

    As for the different recollection of events between you and Gabbie I had exactly the same experience with my ex-wife. I know what I told her about having sex with a man and giving her a chance to call off the wedding. But she doesn't remember it that way - not as dramatically opposite as your wife's, but that I had soft-pedalled my transgression and she had no idea. I believe for both women they remember what they want to remember.

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    1. Hi Paul - Thanks for sharing your story. After thinking about this for a while, my belief is that people (all of us) tend to hear what we want to hear and our memories are based on what we've heard.

      Rather than play the blame game I'm trying to accept whatever my wife says. That's relatively easy to do in my situation because my wife's long affair trumps everything.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  14. Hi Paul,
    Interesting bolgg.It is good to see you have a positive relationship with your kids. Give them time, their whole world has gone upside down and although they appear to have taken your situation in their stride I am sure they will question you more as time goes on.

    I was interested in your comment of accpeting what ever your wife says. Why? Dont you have enough baggage? If you look at what she says and it has a ring of truth for you deal with it other wise put it aside. I love broad shouldered guys but really with what you are going through I dont think even yours are that broad! Give your self a break you seem to have done well so for now good for you!

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