The first time…
I was 25 years old the first time I told another human being that I thought I might be gay. As I mentioned yesterday, I had tried many times to broach the subject with my best friend, but his reaction to the mere mention of the topic of gay or bi people was always so negative, I kept chickening out. And I had begged, pleaded, and sometimes angrily argued with god about it for at least a dozen years. But even when I was praying for god to take those feelings away, I couldn’t say the words out loud. What if someone else heard me?
The person I ended up telling was a new friend I had met when I transferred to a university in Seattle to finish my degree. And because the university was a Free Methodist school, being honest about my sexual orientation could have gotten me kicked out. At that time in my closeted perspective, revealing the truth to just about anyone I knew would lead to devastating consequences, so the university’s policy didn’t seem any worse than what I was already dealing with.
Anyway, eventually a number of mutual friends informed me that people were wondering why I hadn’t asked Julie out on a date… including Julie. And it was clear that some of that wondering was making people speculate about what my reasons could possibly be. Which, from past experience, meant the gay rumors were not going to be far behind.
The thing was, I had become very good friends with her by that point, and I had more than a slight suspicion that she might not think having a gay or bisexual friend was a horrible thing. But I also knew that if I had inadvertently given her the impression I was romantically interested that it wouldn’t be right to keep leading her on. It seemed my only choices were to tell her the truth and let her decide if she wanted to remain friends, or to back off the friendship.
As mentioned above, when I told her I thought I was gay or maybe bisexual, it was the very first time I’d said it aloud. Not only was it a previously unspoken statement, it wasn’t entirely accurate.
See, I had absolutely no doubt that I wasn’t heterosexual. Absolutely none. Because while I had never said I was gay out loud, I wasn’t a virgin, either. I had had sex with other guys. It had been furtive, scary, and in one series of cases I’ve mentioned before, not always consenual. But there was no doubt whatsoever about my attraction to and ability to enjoy sex with another guy. So when I said that “I thought maybe” I might be gay or bi, I was being at least a little self-delusional. I knew I was at the very least bisexual, and by that time I was fairly sure that I was exclusively gay.
She didn’t react with disgust. She didn’t run away. She didn’t whip out her Bible and start trying to get me to repent. She asked questions, we talked.
It was a profound moment. I had finally said it out loud. It sounds like a cliche, but the truth is that actually saying it aloud does change how you feel about yourself. I had been so afraid to say it, as if saying it would make it more real than it already was. In a way, it did make it more real, but not in the monstrous, life-destroying way that my worst anxieties had imagined. For one thing, finally saying it out loud made it something I could deal with. It wasn’t a nebulous mass of anxieties any more. It was something almost tangible, now.
The good thing was that Julie accepted my revelation without condemnation. The bad thing was that her willingness to remain friends and maybe be more than friends, made it really easy for me to keep deluding myself. I settled very quickly into self-identifying as bi (even if it would still remain a secret from almost everyone for a couple more years). And I allowed the person who was quickly becoming my new best friend start calling herself my girlfriend, as well.
There were consequences and prices I would pay for that, eventually. And I wasn’t the only one who wound up hurt by the time it was all over. There were a few more profound moments: The moment I realized I had fallen in love with Ray. The very sad moment when I realized that I had never been in love like that with anyone before. The sad and painful moment when I told my wife that I wasn’t bisexual after all. The many sad, surprising, angry, and tearful moments as I came out to other people. My participation in the Coming Out Day March. The amazing day when Ray asked me to marry him. The heart-rending moment when the doctors told us Ray wasn’t going to wake up. The moment, months after Ray’s death, when I realized I had fallen in love with Michael. The day Michael and I finally got legally married (which included a lot of moments where I laughed and cried).
All of those things add up to a life that anyone ought to be thankful for. I certainly am grateful.
In some ways all of those moments are dwarfed by the immense feeling of relief and the profound epiphany that admitting the truth (or as close to it as I could get at the time) reduced it from a looming horror to a situation to be dealt with. And none of those moments would have been possible without that first, tentative step that I took out of the closet that night in 1986.