"The truth hurts."
Coming Out. Everyone talks about it. Ellen DeGeneres actually did it back in April. But why do we press ourselves to come running and screaming out of a Closet that we've grown accustomed to all of our lives? Because we grow claustrophobic. We long to peer out of that Closet door to see what strange and exciting things are waiting for us out there. We feel trapped. We feel the need to get rid of our dirty laundry which hides with us in the Closet. We want a sense of freedom. We want people to know who we truly are. We want to tell them the truth. In 1991, I did just that.
I was a freshman living in a dorm at The University of Kansas, and I had led a sheltered life up until that point. Here was an opportunity for me to explore my horizons, so to speak. For years, I had been in a great state of denial. Sure, I had thoughts and fantasies, but I could never equate them with the words "gay," "homosexual," or "faggot." I simply would not accept those terms as defining me. I could not. After all, "fags" are disgusting creatures that lurk around dark corners and prey on children, right? That's pretty much what I believed for so many years of my childhood. But I grew. And I learned. And in March of 1991, I accepted the truth about myself. I wasn't any different from anybody else. I just happened to be physically attracted to guys. The scary part was: what if someone found out? Could I live my life knowing this and never being able to act upon my feelings? Would I have to resort to sadness and masturbation for the rest of my life? That kind of a life looked rather pathetic to me. So, I took a deep breath and stopped by a friend's dorm room, and we went driving for awhile around Lawrence.
If you've ever been to Lawrence, Kansas, you know that it is truly a wonderful place to be. It's kind of like a liberal island in the middle of a sea of Bible-thumping conservatism. The people are very cool, and pretty much anything goes in Lawrence. Where the rest of Kansas is flat, Lawrence is green and hilly. Needless to say, driving there in the winter can be a bitch. But on this particular day, it was warm and sunny driving around town in my friend's Ford Probe GT. We had this thing for just driving around and checking out the sights. There was always something new going on in Lawrence. That day would turn out to be no exception. Pulling out of a Texaco station I asked my friend a question, "What would you do if you found out that a friend of yours was gay?" My friend (we'll call him Mike) gave me a strange look and asked me why I'd asked that question. "Because someone just told me they were gay."
What a cover. Dump the issue on some unknown victim. But I couldn't have just come out and said, "Well, because I'm the friend, and I'm gay." Hey, for anyone that has come out of the closet already, you already know that seemingly simple questions and answers like these could change your life forever. Mike finally replied, "Who is it?" That's Mike for you. I should probably mention that his high school debate team took State. Let's just say that he's good at interrogating people. At this point I was kind of in a corner. I didn't want to incriminate anyone I knew so I just steered the conversation back to some generic person. Mike grew suspicious. Finally, he said, "Well, it really wouldn't matter, I guess. A person is a person, right?" I kind of nodded at that. For some totally bizarre reason (and there is much sarcasm present in those last four words,) we drove around Lawrence for the next ten minutes in complete silence, with the exception of the wind blowing through the open car windows. Finally, I tell him, "What if I told you I was gay?" He just shrugged. "Okay then," I said, "I'm gay."
Mike looked over at me and said five very surprising words to me then: "I think I already knew." From that point on I find out that he, too, was gay, and had just been pretty silent about the whole thing for lots of good reasons. We eventually became best friends (and, for the record, no, we did not ever sleep with each other. This fact continues to surprise and amaze our friends both gay and straight to this day). But that was the one friend I would wind up keeping for life. After telling Mike that I was gay and not getting clobbered to death, I naturally grew bolder and decided to tell another person. Then another. Then another. Then something strange overpowered me that would eventually change my life forever. You see, I had taken to hanging around the only other gay people I knew, a bunch of gossipy, strong-willed, nellie queens (Mike excluded). And their influence grew on me. Oh, we can joke about "recruiting" people all we want. But, I was gay and needed acceptance. With these guys I found it. With my newfound friends feeding my ego, I took the bait. I became an outspoken fag.
My voice and my actions mysteriously took on the "light-in-the-loafers" stereotype. I became so sure of myself and so full of myself that nothing else mattered. If you didn't like me now, then you were just a closed-minded bigot, and to hell with you. Someone might have said at the time, "You're a different person, now, Patrick." "Of course I am," I would have replied, "This is who I truly am... I am gay!" I was young and angry. Angry for people not accepting me for "who I am". Angry for having to just suddenly start my life at the age of 18. Needless to say, during all of this frivolity, I became quite loud and obnoxious in general. I went to all of the gay rallies. I was visible in every sense. I could have cared less what anyone thought. I was free! I was also blinded by my own actions. Keep in mind that I was experiencing a highly egotistical euphoria, and was completely clueless to the fact that I was wrong. Oh, yes, I was pissing people off left and right and it thrilled me. I loved it. But it never occurred to me that I was actually wrong in my actions until a dear friend from Israel named Yael came up to me, bravely sat me down and said, "Patrick, I don't know what's happened to you, but you're completely different now. I miss the old Patrick. The old Patrick was kind and wonderful and loving. This Patrick is obnoxious and awful! I don't care if you're gay. I love the fact that you can be comfortable with being gay. But how you're handling it is alienating people from you. You've got to find a better way."
I cried. It was as if I had snapped out of some strange dream. I had been so used to believing that there was a certain "way" to be gay, that it never occurred to me that (most of) my true friends would have accepted me just as I was, that the radical change that had occurred in my behavior was only doing more harm than good. Once I truly opened my eyes to the world around me, I saw. I didn't need my "rainbow colored glasses" anymore. I just needed my God-given eyes. Those eyes made me realize that some of my new-found gay friends weren't really friends at all, but that I was just the new playtoy in their world. Gay life is harsh. In the closet, or out of the closet. It's harsh. Don't let anyone try to tell you different, either. When I first came out, I was so naive. I became the "fresh meat on the market." I was used, thrown about, tossed around, and scrambled. Everyone had only sex or some other self-serving agenda on their minds when it came to me. Sadly enough, except for Mike, no one in the gay community really gave a shit about me at all. They were all too busy fending for themselves. I finally decided I was going to fix the problems that had occurred in my life during my dreamlike state. Only I was about to find out that my happy gay "dream" was about to turn into a personal nightmare.
Next month I will continue with how I was outed by an anonymous source to my father, and how I wound up in the national spotlight.