I’ve come out to friends and family over the last few years to universal support.
Now, though, I’m approaching twenty-nine - the work still feels like its just beginning. Many of the challenges to contend with are not those I can simply consult my mother on.
Some say, for instance, it is a common theme in gay lives that after coming out there is a period of promiscuity, the use of sex to validate and make oneself feel powerful in an attempt, often unsuccessful, to mitigate years of the opposite. I had such a period. I knew I could love and be loved (I knew a fulfilling future as a gay man was possible), but that didn’t mean I knew if I could want and be wanted back. Was I actually sexually attractive to those I myself found sexually attractive? It had to be conned.
And after all, the act of coming out was also the act of finally possessing my body. True physical freedom for the first time is intoxicating – a lesson most boys learn when they’re teenagers. Gay men who come out in the post-teenage years must wrestle with an enduring sense of belatedness. In terms of physical experience they are in all likelihood late to the party: hence another reason for promiscuity.
But more urgent is the emotional and relational lag.
I look at how many of my straight male and female friends are in committed relationships, and I wonder where they possibly got them. Did they buy them at a store? Did they order them online?
A relationship is not a commodity, but the feeling that I am dealing in commodities is one I persistently fight off. It is not easy to connect with another man in a way that lasts beyond the bed and the dawn, and my idea of a relationship, what I’ve watched my straight counterparts engage in for years now, still seems very much out of reach. Of course, it’s not because relationships are a privilege exclusive to heterosexuals or that I personally could never be in one, and I know that. It is that I, as with sex in high school, wield no experience and therefore no capacity for imagining – much less the ability to attain – sustainable romantic involvement.
Sustainable. What a notion for life after the closet. Is such a life sustainable? Is such pride without fear possible?
I’m certainly going to try for it – though, truth is, I still suffer anxiety at being gay in a largely heterosexual world. Every day I come out to those who meet me for the first time – and when you look someone you barely know in the eye to tell them you’re a homosexual, a flinch is always to be anticipated, by you if not them.
I still fear rejection. I fear fists. I fear a knife in a dark alley.
It is very easy to point fingers at a source of my fear. I can point them at my parents, teachers, peers, and above all myself: if those who stay silent despite understanding the darkest heart of an injustice are those most culpable of collusion, then I am most culpable in the matter of my own misfortunes. I can condemn the cultural narrative of homophobia that sweeps us all up from square one and which we alone are responsible for propagating.
But neither my experience nor native belief indicates salvation through blame. No matter the object, blame is only an expression of bitterness. It achieves no betterment on past faults and missteps, only more faults and missteps. If there is one positive thing that comes of the closet, it is good faith. I am of course only here, writing this to you, because I finally found faultless belief in myself.
With good faith I remember one boy in particular.
Not the actor who rented a motel room with me one stormy night, or the young banker who took me back to his glorious apartment in the West Village, or even of Will, the only one I think of as a real man and who is, to this day, probably the only person I’d climb the Himalayas with for fun. Not them, but my old crush from high school.
I’ve realized, these years later, that I was projecting onto him for the sake of practice. I needed to remember not so much that it was OK to be gay (I was, regardless) but that I too could be subject to mutual desire. I was like an actor and that boy was my mirror and what I was doing was line preparation, just as much as it was a kind of sexless venting of the libido and a roundabout reminder to myself that I was, at the heart of it, maybe too gay to function.
Now, occasionally, I check up on him through social media, and in what little surfaces I see a child grown into a man. I hope that he, like me, has had something propelling him to be not just confident but better, some opportunity he’s seized that allows him to understand more than himself, to understand the value of his beautiful body but also the potential of kindness and the power that people – if treated properly – can bring into one’s life. He didn’t know the story any more than I did. Though I hated him as much as I wanted him simply because he denied me, he did not know he denied me. He was not my enemy.
So now I’m taking this – my story – on the road. I’ll tell it to anyone who will listen. Someday, he’ll hear it. Someday, perhaps, we’ll apologize to one another. I’ll forgive him and he’ll forgive me. And, finally, we’ll be face to face.
We’ll be man to man.