There are less extreme reasons why it isn’t safe for everyone to come out, I get that. So not everyone is ready. But…
Being in the closet isn’t just an inconvenience. Studies show that being closeted adversely affects your physical health. You live in a constant state of high anxiety about people finding out and what they might do when it happens. This affects us the same as extended trauma, inducing the same sorts of stress changes to the central nervous system as PTSD.Coming out is scary. Some of your family and friends will react badly. There may be drama. You may have the unpleasant surprise to find that some of the people you were sure would be fine with it are not at all. On the other hand (and I speak from personal experience), you may be pleasantly surprised at some of the people who support you—one of my aunts that I was certain wouldn’t react well was the first person to say to a bunch of my relatives, “If you have a problem with Gene being gay, then you’re going to have a much bigger problem with me!”
And coming out isn’t a one and done thing. People will continue to assume you’re straight. You’ll find yourself coming out again and again. But the thing is, being out is so much better than being in that closet. You will be amazed, as you process the aftermath, at how much energy you were expending worrying about people finding out. You will be surprised at the sheer weight of the stress you were dealing with being closeted. Like me, you may discover that a lot of health issues were fueled by that stress, and they get a lot better once you’re no longer hiding, deflecting, thinking of plausible lies, and constantly dreading someone finding out.
I wish we lived in a world where fear of being who we are wasn’t so real.
But one of the small ways we can make the world a little less scary for queer people is to come out. As a teenager, the one time I saw a gay couple on a news program being interviewed about the gay rights struggle probably saved my life. There were two men admitting they were gay—two men who had been in a committed relationship for years and seemed happy. It was a ray of hope I desperately needed.
And that’s one of the reasons I am out. It’s why I mention my queerness as often as I do. So that some frightened queer kid might see that, look, there’s a gay man who is happy, has a good life, has people who love him, has friends—gay, straight and otherwise—who have his back. So, maybe, we can be a glimmer of hope for them.
No one deserves the closet. No one deserves that fear and self-loathing. When you’re ready, come out. It really is a wonderful world outside of that closet.
I don’t think that I should impose my faves on other people. I will enthuse about things I love so emphatically that it sometimes comes across that way, and I am sorry to anyone that has felt that I was pressuring them to like everything I like or dismissing their difference of opinion.
At least I’m not as bad as some people. One of my friends was recently scolded for using the phrase “sportsball.” The person doing the scolding said that sportsball was a derogatory term that implies that people who like sports are bad. To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement.
I’m a football fan (specifically most often the Seahawks) and I use the phrase “sportsball” all the time. Sometimes I use it when the topic under discussion is a sport that I am less well informed about, such as professional Soccer or Basketball. Sometimes I use it because I know that I am talking to people who do not like sports, and I am attempting to signal that I understand they might not find the topic as interesting as I do. And sometimes I use it to communicate the fact that I know it is an entertainment and a luxury and not of real importance to the life and well-being of 99% of the planet.
For someone to leap to the conclusion that “sportsball” is a derogatory term is laughable, at best. I, certainly would never disparage someone simply for being a fan of one or more sports. Unless that person is a fan of the New England Patriots, or the Dallas Cowboys, or the Philadelphia Eagles—because those fans are just not right in the head. To be fair, plenty of them think the same thing about Seahawks fans, but that’s one of the weird things in sports culture, at least the portions of it I’ve been involved in—we trash talk each other’s teams all the time.
I have a very old friend who is a big fan of the Arizona Cardinals, and he teases me by calling my team the Sea Chickens all the time. And I have been known to make the comment that his team’s mascot should be a possum, because they play dead at home and get killed on the road. There’s also one of my sisters-in-law who is a big Kansas City fan, and before the last divisional re-org, our teams had to play each other twice a year, so we have been known to taunt one another whenever the other’s team loses.
But those are people I know, and we know that just because we’re super enthusiastic about our faves, that doesn’t mean we’re talking about something that really matters in the big scheme of things.
That isn’t true of all forms of criticism, though. It’s one thing, for instance, if I say that I really enjoyed reading the science fiction of Robert Heinlein when I was younger. Or how much I learned from reading the non-fiction of Isaac Asimov (and also loved his sci fi work). It’s quite another if I tell other people they must like those writers or else. Particularly if they are offended by Asimov’s personal sexual misconduct, or Heinlein’s sometimes rampant jingoism (and his weird attempts to not be racist or sexist that come across very differently today).
I don’t deal well with certain types of scary movies. I have nightmares, they crank up my anxieties, and sometimes I get physically ill. I have friends who can’t watch really violent shows for similar reasons. Certain shows sometimes hit some of my other buttons—characters who remind me of my abusive father, for instance. Worse, situations that remind me of specific beatings. So there are some shows and even some stories, that I get partway through and have to put aside. There are a couple of authors whose work I refuse to read any longer because they are overly fond of certain tropes/actions/plot devices that have a similar effect on me as those aforementioned scary movies. My approach to all of these things I dislike is to not buy them, not read them, or not watch them. I don’t tell other people they are bad people if they partake of those things.However, there are other books I don’t read or shows I don’t watch because the stories themselves promote and revel in various kinds of bigotry or oppression. There is at least one author who took that beyond the fiction to write op-ed pieces in various publications calling for laws to oppress certain categories of people (women and queers, mostly), who fundraised for organizations who actively sought that oppression, and who even in some of the op-ed pieces explicitly encouraged the bullying of children who appeared to be queer, and wrote justifications for gay bashing. For those kinds of things, I can’t just stand by quietly. I speak. I write critiques. I encourage people not to spend money on those things. And, yes, I do think less of the people who read those works.
That’s different than referring to something one doesn’t enjoy as much as other people by an intentional misnomer.
And don’t get me started about separating the art from the artist. Scroll back up a few paragraphs where I explain that I love work by certain people who were less than exemplary in all aspects of their lives.
The thing is, it’s okay if you don’t love the stuff I love. As long as what I love isn’t causing harm to you or others, or encouraging harm of any kind to you or other people, I think I should be able to enjoy it, and you can ignore it, and we can be friends. And if I happen to say I don’t like something you love, that isn’t an attack on you. Even when my critique is emphatic, I’m commenting on it, not you.
But I think the Weird Al said it best:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
I’ve written a couple times before why I support renaming Columbus Day. Yes, I’m a pasty-white-skinned blue-eyed guy whose ancestors came from places like Ireland, England, and France, but I recognize that I only got to be born here because a lot of horrible things were done to the native peoples, including driving them off the land.
And don’t get me started on how the European invaders just had better technology and the land was underused. Get yourself some history about the pre-colonial Piedmont Prairie and Forests, which were maintained by multiple native tribes, who did controlled burns and crop rotation in some portions, carefully leaving other protions alone, so a huge number of species of plants and animals (including a species of woodland bison) could thrive there. The European colonists made land sharing deals with native tribes… and then decided to ignore their own deals and through encroachment, clear cutting, dam-building, and the occasional outright slaughter drove the indigenous people away. And also drove a bunch of species into extinction.
And if you’re the sort of person who uses “illegals” as a noun and yell at anyone with dark skin, or a non-European name, or who just disagrees with you politically to “go back where you came from!” I have to say, “You first.” Until then, shut up.
Other people have written a bit more about the historical reasons we rename the day and why Columbus isn’t a hero. And since some of them are natives, you should read what they have to say on the topic.
Unfortunately, among the replies from other friends and acquaintances expressing support, sympathy, and so on, there was one guy—someone who thinks of himself as a good friend of hers—who chimed in to angrily ask why you would speak up later just for spite.
Even though I don’t know this guy myself, one reason I know that he thinks he’s a great friend of the woman who posted the original story is because, as she and other people tried to explain that spite had nothing to do with it and so forth he described himself multiple times as a friend of the woman. He also said that he believed her story, but he also thought that if she hadn’t reported it at the time, it was wrong to report it later. “Why ruin his life over one little mistake years ago?”
And he really couldn’t understand who so many of us were describing his comments as attacks.
I don’t know how to get through to people like that. Someone who views sexual assault as “a little mistake.”
But it’s just a symptom:
When you think about it, this whole “oh my god it’s a scary age to be a man we could all be accused of sexual assault at any time” is a huge gaslighting campaign. It makes the simple request to not be sexually assaulted or harassed seem like something unreasonable and absurd, like sexual abuses aren’t a serious thing in the first place.
And it really annoys me that the same people who are up in arms trying to ban trans people from public bathrooms are the same folks who are screaming “fake news” and “innocent until proven guilty.” The last one really gets under my skin in connection to the Kavanaugh nomination. The presumption of innocence is an important principle, yes, because before a person is deprived of their freedom (sent to prison), the state should be forced to reach a certain standard of proof. But Kavanaugh isn’t in danger of going to prison over this. We aren’t depriving him or property or freedom or his life. We’re just saying the maybe he’s not a good candidate to be decided the fates of millions of other people under the law.
Also, the presumption of innocence doesn’t kick in until after there has been a thorough investigation of the alleged crime. And people don’t want us to do that (and no, telling the FBI to look into things for a week is not a thorough investigation).
The Republican Party has been the home of racists, misogynists, and homophobes for decades. They’re been liars and hypocrites for just as long. And they’re clearly demonstrating now that there is no bottom. There is no depth of immorality or deception they will not sink to. Just as there seems to be no limit to how much B.S. the Republican Base will eat up.
Once again as autumn settles in I find myself feeling like a new door has opened. I mostly blame school. Between grammar school, middle school, high school, five years attending community college part time while working, then three years at university, for 21 years the end of summer meant a new year beginning. And then I had a few years where I was just working full time without that fall reset until I joined the newly formed Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus, and for the next eight years fall meant the beginning of a new chorus season. It was a lot like school: we’d have our Pride concerts and march in the Pride Parade in June, then have a couple months off until rehearsals resumed at the end of August/beginning of September.
So, while Spring may be what most people think of as the time of renewal for the natural world, for me it’s autumn.
For various reasons, for the last 20 years, the day after my birthday (which is in the last week of September) feels like the big turning point. I start thinking of it as being October on the day after my birthday, which is kind of funny.
I had hoped that this weekend would be a nice, relaxing time when I could finish some chores related to getting the plants in my huge collection of pots and planters on the veranda ready for winter, re-assess my goals, and maybe make some progress on long lingering projects. But I would up working until almost midnight Friday, and still had to put in a few more hours during the weekend. Then there was some construction happening on our building: some work on the roof, and because one of the access points to the roof is a hatch right outside out door, for a big chunk of the weekend there was a ladder braced out there. It didn’t technically block us in, but it was awkward getting in and out of the house. So the weekend was a lot less relaxing than I would have liked.
And I missed two tasks that I’d really meant to get done during the weekend.
Fall is here. Decorating season has begun. We don’t have much in the way of Halloween or Harvest decorations up, yet, but we’ve made a start. And once again I’m re-assessing goals. One thing that has become clear this year is that I have to stop thinking of the long work hours and associated stress as a temporary thing. It’s just a reality of our economy, now. I need to find a new way to keep making progress on personal projects including by not limited to writing, without feeling resentment when I don’t have the energy and time that I used to. That includes both attitude adjustment for me, at the least.
But this is the perfect time of year for me to do that, because it’s my personal time of renewal.
With all that has been in the news lately, it should come as no surprise that I have been thinking of the many ways that we are all socialized to accept, excuse, and even enable a lot of socially aggressive behavior from guys. And also how we, as guys, are socialized to aggressively pursue what we want. So, when what a guy wants is sex, well, having been told your whole life never to take no for an answer, well, a lot of those guys are going to do some bad things to get it. And many of the rest of us will deflect, deny, or minimize the severity of what they have done, sometimes even when we witness is.
And yes, even when we are the victim.
There have been many times over the last 28 years that I have tried to write about my experience being sexually assaulted. I have stopped myself from publishing it many times. Because even now, 28 years later, I’m still ashamed. There is a part of me that still believes it was my fault. I was a grown up man, and men are supposed to be able to take care of themselves, right?
Looking at the way people talk about the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, I see that millions of people still blame the victims in these cases. They often insist that it isn’t blame, it’s disbelief. Why didn’t she say something sooner? Why didn’t she report it? They are completely unaware that this refusal to disbelieve is exactly way when one is a victim of sexual assault, we don’t say anything.
So, it’s time to share my story, including why I didn’t report it. Obvious content warning: alcohol, queer men dating, and sexual assault. Don’t click on the link unless you’re prepared…
Admonishments about me acting in a manner inappropriate for my gender and/or age came from Dad and certain other relatives, plus teachers, and of course classmates. Such admonitions were often accompanied with more than just verbal abuse. They kept coming even after my parents divorced and I moved 1200 miles away from Dad. Grade-school and middle-school kids can tease and bully cruelly, but it’s nothing compared to the lengths teen-age boys will go. Just like the teachers who had told my parents earlier that there was nothing they could do about the bullying as long as I “talked like that and acted like that,” the guys who targeted me in my teens and twenties would tell me it was my own fault. If I just would stop “acting like that” they’d leave me alone.
It wasn’t just me this happened to. I still remember a news commentary show that I used to love watching on PBS, when they covered the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979. If you look at historical pictures of the immense crowd, you will see huge numbers of men and women dressed in polo shirts and slacks or t-shirts and blue jeans. There wasn’t a lot of people in glitter or marching nearly naked. But the only footage this news show included in their coverage were shots of the very few individuals (and it was a tiny minority—this wasn’t a Pride Parade, this was a coordinated activist event that thousands of people traveled cross country to participate in) who were dressed very flamboyantly. And one of the pundits on the panel said something along the line of, “if the homosexual community wants civil rights, they should stop acting like that.”
Even though I was deeply closeted at the time, I wondered why queer people needed to earn their rights. The definition of a civil right is that you are entitled to it regardless.
At some point during the process of coming out I had the epiphany that they did genuinely believe that it was an act. I mean, I had one relative angrily yell at me after I came out that I was just “doing it for attention.” Right? Why would anyone want to be publicly known as being a member of a group that is regularly targeted for violence just for fun?
I still don’t know all the little behaviors and verbal ticks about me that set some people off. Given how many times since I came out, even during my Big Earring Phase, other people would mistake a woman friend as my wife, I know that the I’m not that gender nonconforming. Regardless, it isn’t an act. It has never been an act. It’s me being me. Yeah, I like to sing along to songs that I like. I like to dance, even though I know I’m not good at it and even if I’m just by my self. I like wear bright colors—including pink and purple. I love purple anything. I get excited and nerdy as f—k about things I love. I cry out loud at sad or poignant scenes in books, movies, or television episodes I watch (heck, I cry at some commercials!). I don’t often wear makeup, but I know how to put on mascara and eye-liner and I’m not ashamed of it. I grow flowers. I make my own flower arrangements for the house.
And yeah, I’m a guy who likes men. I have fallen love with a couple them over the years. And that isn’t an act either. That’s just me being me.
One of the reasons I’m thinking about this right now is because an old friend who has moved back to the town where we went to high school together, ran into one of my cousins that still lives back there, and was a little appalled when said cousin mentioned being glad I don’t visit often because “he just acts gayer and gayer every time I see him.” Probably a good thing I wasn’t there. Because I probably would have said, “Honey, I ain’t acting!”
The only time I was acting was back when I was trying to avoid more bullying or ridicule, trying to force myself not to do the few things I had figured out qualified as “acting like that.” When I was closeted and scared to death to be myself, that’s when I was acting.
This post is going up late because today is my birthday. I took the day off from work. I slept in. I spent much of the day reading or just watching the birds at the feeder, and the larger jays and squirrel rummage threw the spillage on the deck under the feeder. My husband left a bunch of gift bags scattered around the house, and a couple of packages from my mom were here, so every now and then I would open one. It was a fun way to spend the day. My husband took me to dinner at one of my favorite local eateries. He made me a martini (he makes the best—when we first started dating he was working as a bartender, but oddly enough, he doesn’t like to drink himself).
It has been a good birthday.
I’ve written before of how the AIDS crisis (which began when I was a closeted 20-something and was still ravaging the community by the time I was out in my thirties) had made me feel I was unlikely to live into my fifties. When you go to 16 funerals over the course of a few months, mourning guys who are dying in their twenties, thirties, and forties—it just feels as if the Sword of Damocles is hanging over your head. It really did seem that it wasn’t a matter of whether one would get sick, just when.
And so I find myself a bit surprised and a lot grateful to celebrate this birthday. I’m getting close to 60, and I honestly didn’t believe back then I would make it to 50.
So I am happy and thankful. Especially this year and this week. Yesterday morning at work we all learned that a guy we all work with (and a guy who is a couple of years younger than I) suffered a fatal cardiac arrest on Sunday. I usually close my birthday posts with some bit of wisdom or advice. This year, I’m going to quote one of my other co-workers while we were all processing the news together: “It reminds us to treat everyone with kindness and respect, because we never know which conversation will be our last.”