Rob Bourke

December 1997

A different kind of Christmas

The Christmas holidays have always been my favorite time of the year. From Halloween right on through the new year, I love the special decorations everywhere, I love the bustle in the stores, I love the big meals, I love the smell of spiced cider and hot chocolate. I love football, and yes, I even love the music and the kid's TV specials. For me, the Super Bowl of Christmas specials was always Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

I suppose its obvious now. I always identified with Rudolph. He was a misfit, with his nose so bright, and when his parents found out about it, they tried to hide it in shame. Donner made it clear that no son of his would have such an unacceptable nose and poor Rudolph's friends wouldn't let him play in any reindeer games. The hero who would later save Christmas was forced to pretend to be a kind of reindeer he was not, or leave Christmastown where red nosed reindeers were simply not accepted. I don't know how I came to identify with Rudolph so strongly at age eight, but I had it pretty well figured out by twelve.

My parents never managed to figure it out for themselves. Okay, so I never dated in high school. And it didn't mean anything that I more than often talked about one or two of my close friends at college. I had lots of friends. Denial is a strong thing. It permitted my parents to imagine all sorts of things about me that weren't true, even in the face of the obvious.

Of course, denial did the same thing to me. I knew I was gay. In sixth grade sex education class they told me my feelings about girls would be changing soon. Well, I certainly hoped so because I was starting to have some awfully strong feelings about guys. I was pretty sure if I just ignored my feelings that they would change, or at least go away. Denial. By the time I was fourteen I realized that I was always going to be attracted to other guys. I knew this was quite unacceptable in my family, and that being called gay was one of the worst insults possible at school. I knew I could never let anyone know. I denied all my feelings. Like Rudolph with his red nose covered in mud to appear black, I conformed. But as Rudolph's voice sounded stuffy, nasal and false with his fake nose, so my personality was stifled and muted.

On the outside I was unemotional and detached. I had lots of pals, but no close friends. Even my family didn't know the real me. I couldn't tell my parents anything about my social life, for fear they might figure things out, given enough clues. (I didn't know how powerful their denial was at the time.) My social life wasn't in any way gay, it just didn't include many of the expected straight milestones (first date, first kiss, etc.). I didn't allow anyone enough information to realize that. I was just the nice, friendly, quiet guy who everyone knew, but no one really knew well.

On the inside, I was gay. It was frustrating when I'd be out with a friend and he'd say "hey!, did you see her?!", pointing to a hot babe who'd just walked by, and grinning maliciously. Of course, I hadn't noticed. Its not that I didn't like girls, I just didn't notice them physically, the way my friend had just done. It was more likely that while he had been checking out the girl who walked by, I was checking out him. Of course I was good at hiding it, and I don't think I was ever caught looking at a guy. Also frustrating was that I didn't ask to be gay. I didn't want to be gay. I didn't do anything to deserve being gay. Nonetheless, I had to deal with the stress that somehow someone might find out how I really felt. What a crock!

When Rudolph finally grew weary of hiding his red nose, he ran away from Christmastown. He hoped he could find a place where his nose wouldn't be offensive, or at least a place he could be alone and not offend anyone with its glow. I graduated from high school and went to college 2000 miles from home. It didn't work. I still had to keep up the illusion of being straight for my new college friends, and now I was surrounded by literally thousands of very cute guys! After being chased by the abominable snow-monster, Rudolph found a temporary home on the Island of Misfit Toys. But that wasn't for me. I liked the real world and wanted to take my rightful place in it. I couldn't accept being banished to some separate but equal place for gay people. And I didn't want to have to pretend and to have to be alone anymore.

Then, one foggy Christmas Eve, the whole world learned that Rudolph's nose was red, and despite that fact, he was still a fine reindeer with much to offer Santa and Christmastown. Even Donner was proud of him. Is this where the analogy breaks down? Can I make being openly gay as heroic an act as saving Christmas with a shiny nose? Well, perhaps not in such spectacular fashion as the fabled reindeer, but yes, I think by living my life the way I want to, I can provide a good example for others, so, yes I can use my same sex orientation for the benefit of all. Sharing the experience of outing myself will be the focus of this column in the upcoming months. I hope all Oasis readers will be able to take something positive away from reading it.

This year the holidays will be a different kind of Christmas for me. I still love this time of year, and all my family celebrations should be the same, but there's something new. Three months ago I came out to my parents. They're doing OK, but things aren't normal. At first my mother even assumed I wouldn't spend Christmas with my family this year because I'd be with my "Other Family"! I was outraged when she imagined that, but both of us are over it now.

In the months to come I'll write about what the holidays were like, how I managed to come out to my friends and parents, and why I decided to come out at all. Please e mail me at bourke@mbay.net with any specific questions, or topics, or just to say hi. You can also visit my Web page at http://www.mbay.net/~bourke

Oasis, in the last year that I've been a reader, has been very important to me. I hope to give something back now. It seems there are a lot of red nosed reindeers out there.

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