What follows is a guest post from a lifetime friend of mine who recently found the strength to reveal his long hidden sexual
preference to his family and friends.
It is an intensely personal story many people will benefit from reading - not only people struggling with the same issue - but also those who should reach out and show their acceptance and support for people whose only sin is being human.
At our stage of life the days pass by like autumn leaves flying past the window. When most of our days are behind than ahead, we come to hope that we did more with our lives than just take up space and consume things. We want to know that they had meaning. We assess how well we used our time. We think about the events that shaped what we’ve become. Most people get a satisfaction from the families they began. They can be proud of commitments to spouses and to the kids who wouldn’t be here without them. As a single man I have no spouse or kids, so my satisfaction must come from one other thing that most people wish to have, which is to say integrity. I try to live a life guided by that moral compass. Most of you would, I imagine, say that I’ve done okay by you, which is to say that I’ve been a good brother. I hope you’d say that never I knowingly harmed anyone. I believe in our family and have enjoyed the times I’ve spent with one or another of you over the years. But my moral compass tells me that I’ve failed miserably. Miserably!
I keep people at arms-length. I’m afraid of everyone I meet and every encounter I have. I’ve lived with an anxiety that rises and falls throughout the day, one that has plagued me from my teens until now. It shriveled my sensitivity and empathy. It robbed me of any peace whatever and kept me from developing close, caring relationships with anyone. It is the reason why I scowl more than smile. I suffer these things because I’ve been living a fiction.
One cannot live a fiction with integrity. If I were to die like this, my life would be an empty shell with less than no meaning. You’d have known a fictional character who called himself Rod, and I would have lived an entire life without the integrity that means more to me than anything else. Confronted by this awful fact I know that I must correct the error. However many years remain to me, when I face death I want it to be as an honest man. So here it is: I’m gay. I’m attracted toward members of my sex with the same strength of feeling that you have for the opposite sex. I’m indifferent to the opposite sex the way you are indifferent to members of your own. No one ‘did’ anything to make me gay. I wasn’t abused as a child. I did not ‘catch’ it from somebody else. It simply was.
Looking back, I can trace my feelings to when I was a kid in early grade school. Of course, I did not know then what the feelings meant or that they weren’t the same as those of any other kid. I didn’t pay much attention to them until I was an adolescent in high school, when it gradually became clear how different my feelings were. Even then I didn’t know that there was such a thing as homosexuality until I was almost out of high school. I still remember the time and place when I put all the pieces together and I realized to my dismay that I was gay. I say ‘dismay’, because I knew that anyone known to be gay was treated like a leper. A wall goes up that separates gay people from the sympathy that people usually extend to each another.
It was a nightmare that I could not wake up from. I hated being gay. Mainly, I hated it because everybody else did. Most people I knew were revolted by the idea of anyone being attracted to members of their own sex. All of their references to gays were infused with a note of disgust that came through in their voices, their jokes, their facial expressions and their gestures. ‘Queer’, ‘faggot’, ‘queen’, and ‘pervert’ were never far from their lips. It brought out their dark side. Given half a chance, guys would beat the hell out of anyone they thought was gay.
I bought into the idea that to be gay was to be a pervert. There was an unspoken assumption that people who are gay somehow brought it on themselves through their own wickedness. Why should such people merit respect or consideration? Why shouldn’t they be objects of righteous contempt and get slapped around for their loathsome behavior?
I never imagined I was wicked, but I did think that there was something wrong with me. All I wanted was to be like everybody else. I needed outside help, but there was none. I was completely by myself, alone, with no one to help me figure out what was the matter with me. While still in college I saw a psychiatrist for nearly two years. I tried dating a number of women during college and later while working at TACOM. None of it worked, of course. I couldn’t change my feelings of physical attraction.
Try to imagine why anyone in their right mind would choose to be gay. Just for a moment imagine what being hated by nearly everyone would feel like. Ask yourself why anybody would want to be rejected or to risk physical harm. Now imagine that the only way to escape the hatred was by changing your sexual orientation. I can tell you from first-hand experience that it can’t be done. Sexual orientation is not a choice. It is a fact of life.
However, acting on homosexual impulses is a choice. I could decide how to play the hand I was dealt. Only two possibilities came to mind: The first one was that I could announce to the world that I was gay, knowing that I’d be marked for life. From that point forward, whenever people met me or talked about me or thought about me, the first word that would come to their minds would be GAY. For some people I’d never be anything else. No other description would come in a close second. Nothing else I did or said would matter. [You’ll see this soon enough for yourself.] To admit to being gay is to be ready to endure an abiding ill-will, an unending rain of poison from nearly every person who knew about it. I rejected this possibility because I just couldn’t face the thought of all that animosity.
The other possibility was to live as if I were ‘normal’. If I acted ‘normally’, then I’d be sheltered by the uncertainty of family and friends. I could avoid the poisonous rain. And it turns out that all the people I cared about were perfectly okay with that. As long as no one knew for sure then I’d get the benefit of a doubt and the fiction could continue. Acting ‘normally’ meant that I couldn’t draw undue attention to myself. I could never let my guard down. I had to watch everything I said. I had to laugh at the jokes, and nod at the nasty comments, and pretend that they didn’t hurt. I couldn’t share confidences. I had to submerge feelings of physical attraction all the time. I had to deny myself close human contact with anyone. I could not allow any but the feeblest of warmth or intimacy. I gave up feeling anything at all. Only by doing all this could I stay in the shelter and avoid the thousands and thousands of poisonous little droplets.
Despite my best efforts the fictional life hasn’t worked very well. Having bottled up my feelings in so many ways, I suffered two nervous breakdowns and had recurring bouts of black depression. I never had special feelings for someone else, nor anyone for me; and at my age I don’t expect I ever will. I’ve lived in an emotional desert that most people would do anything to avoid. The act didn’t fool friends who had long known without my telling them that I am gay. None of them have ever raised the subject because they sensed rightly that I don’t want to talk about it. But the thing is that my friendships lack the depth that can exist only when friends share their vulnerabilities in trust.
I don’t know who among the family members my real friends are. It is impossible for me to ever be at ease with the very people who mean the most to me. Likewise, it’s impossible for anyone else to be truly at ease with me. My failure to be honest about my sexuality rightly makes me the object of mistrust among everyone who suspects I’m gay. I’ve had to endure jokes and remarks intended to make me squirm. I lived like a coward, without dignity, cringing in fear that one day I’d be exposed. So I gained very little by the fiction. My silence has affected you as well, though you probably haven’t noticed it. It allowed you to inflict harm every time you show contempt for gay people. It allowed you to nurture prejudices that my honest life might have softened.
You may find what I’ve said hard to accept. Some of you have long been told that people choose to be gay. You may think it self-evident that homosexuality is a deliberate rebellion against God. Maybe you think that gays are possessed by the devil. Or maybe the gays you’ve seen on TV and at the movies makes wickedness the only explanation that fits. I’m talking about the guys dressed up like chorus girls, the fairies, and the flamboyant marchers in gay pride parades. Surely, you may think, they choose to live as they do. I can’t answer for them or explain them to you because I don’t know much more about them than you do. I don’t know what motivates them. I don’t know anyone who behaves as they do. However, I do know what it is like to have an entire life instantly judged on the strength of a single word. While I don’t understand their effeminate ways, I can imagine that the crap they endure must dwarf anything that I will ever experience.
You, on the other hand, have a lifetime of memories that include me. If you believe that being gay is evil, then you’ve been in the company of an evil person every time we’ve been together. I was gay when you saw me sitting on our parents’ living room floor in front of the old black and white TV. I was gay when we sat down in the basement to every breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was gay when you saw me get confirmed. I was gay in high school. I was gay every Christmas and Easter. I was gay at every family reunion, wedding, funeral, camping trip and card game, and at every celebration of joy and sorrow. Do your memories of me support the idea that being gay the same thing as being evil? That’s what all this comes down to. How you answer the question will determine what you do next. You can continue to believe that anyone who is gay is also wicked, or you can see from a brother’s example that maybe they are not.
Maybe you’re wondering why I waited until now to tell you all this. You might better ask why I waited so long. There were, over the years, who-knows-how-many times when I could have told you, only to chicken out at the last minute. It’s always been easier to let things slide. Well the act is over. I will live the rest of my life with the consequences, some of which I regret to say will also be yours.
What now? I haven’t a clue. I dread this ordeal. The thought of it is the main reason I haven’t said anything before now. I expect it will be a humiliating experience, as in fact it already is. Writing this is painful. Dredging up these feelings is painful. Pushing the ‘Send’ button. Wondering how you will react. You’ll have a share of pain too, and it may last a long time. Some of you will feel anger and shame that someone in the family is gay. Your feelings might harden into resentment and animosity. The common knowledge that I am gay could cause a rift in the family. You may all shun me.
I think, though, that being honest is worth the risk. I have to believe that you prefer an uncomfortable truth to agreeable lie. All I want is for things to continue as before, except that now you’ll have a real brother instead of a fictional character. We’ll see if that is possible. What will happen will happen, no matter what I want or what you wish you didn’t know. Understand that I’m not apologizing for what I am and cannot change but for acting like something that I am not. To those of you who can’t accept what I’ve just told you, I guess this is goodbye. You have to do what you believe to be right. I can hope that circumstances will change.
What will I do now? Again, I haven’t a clue, except to say that however I live my life from this point forward will be my business, just as you rightly felt all these years that your business was entirely yours. I’ve already exposed more vulnerability to you than any of you ever have or ever will to me. There’s no more that I feel obligated to share.
We’re at a crossroads here. You may feel deeply hurt. You may feel a loss, as if someone died. That is how it feels to me. Some of you may find it hard to contain your feelings and want to respond immediately, which would be a mistake. It took me years of reflection and several months to write the four pages that you spent only 20 minutes to read. I ask that you wait a week before contacting me. There’s a lot to think about. Take the time to talk to each other, to your spouses and your families. Sort this out among yourselves before saying something that cannot be taken back.
I’m deeply sorry for whatever pain this may cause you, but there is really no alternative. It is a test of the love we say we have for one another. Every test in life is always unwelcome, but it is only during such times that we find out what our bonds are really made of. Please -- no prayers for a miraculous recovery. Pray instead for the wisdom to get through this. Pray for the strength of the family.