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Rob Bourke

February 1998

Life in the closet and other strange and unpleasant stories

It was the beginning of a new year. The start of my seventh grade winter quarter. My school was a Jr. High, covering grade 7-9, so I was a freshman at my first new school since kindergarten. The Fall quarter was full of changes for me as I learned the new rules of how to be a teen instead of being a kid. I had made a few mistakes along the way, but was preparing to recover from them. For instance, I found out that it was bad form to wear a polo shirt buttoned all the way to the top. That was an easy one. I also learned that it was bad form to be seen to like other guys too much. That wasn't so easy to put an end to, but you can read all about it in my column from January 1998.

As I started the second half of my seventh grade year I was optimistic that all that gay stuff was behind me. I was sure if I worked at it, I could learn to like girls. In fact, the whole gay thing was probably just a phase.I was due to turn 13 in a couple more months and I was sure that my hormones would take care of everything. There was even a girl who was rumored to like me! I wasn't actually interested in going with her, but I talked to her often just to be seen being interested. Things were also looking good because I was starting to fit in with a lot of different groups. There were the D&D geeks who liked me (although I didn't actually play the game), I was in the school band where many of the popular kids were my friends, I hung out with the brains in math and science classes, and I was even friends with the stoners. I didn't bother with the jocks because I was on the city swim team year-round, and had been for the last four years. There was no way any of them were in nearly as good shape as I was by just playing football or basketball a few months out of the year.

As summer neared all the insults and teasing that had beleaguered me during the previous fall had stopped. I was a successfully reformed homosexual. At least outwardly. My hormones were kicking in on schedule, but they weren't having the desired effect at all! One warm spring day I was walking down the hall to class when one of the guys I thought was cute passed me walking the other way. He was wearing shorts (a rare treat in the cool climate here.) Before I knew what I was doing I had turned around and started on the long way to my class, just so I could follow him and check out his legs! I really surprised myself. It was about five seconds later before I realized what I had just done, and why. All I could think to myself for the rest of the day was "damn, Rob, you really ARE gay."

This was, of course, unacceptable. I'd lived through a few months of being ostracized and was not prepared to continue that way. I liked my new, reformed reputation. My strategy was to be asexual. I might steal a glance at a cute guy every now and then, but no one could ever know. It turned out to be pretty easy. Not everyone in Jr. High was interested in dating. I could quite easily pass as 'not interested/assumed heterosexual'. Nice thing about American homophobia - everyone is assumed to be straight until called into question. Nice if you are building a closet anyway. I made it through the ninth grade without anyone wondering about me at all. The tenth grade was even easier because I moved with my parents to England for a year. I didn't really know anyone there so I was more of a social ghost than a presence. It was when I came home to high school things got a little more tricky.

I only had to deal with two years of high school, being overseas for the first. When I came back, I found myself to be very changed. I had seen a lot of things whilst in Europe. I had learned about many different cultures and paradigms and began to see through all the traditions and values I had taken for granted before. None of my school friends had that perspective. It amazed me how little had changed during my year away. The biggest difference was now almost all of my friends were dating. I didn't know how to deal with this. I guess I missed a critical year in the transition from Jr. High to High School. My solution was to simply ignore it all.

Instead of doing all the social stuff after school hours, I concentrated on studying to get good grades, and my swimming. I did a lot of swimming with the team. Meets on weekends, and four hours practice each weekday including weights and running. That kept me busy enough that no one questioned my lack of a social life or girlfriend. I was also careful to avoid close friendships with girls. I wasn't a woman-hater or anything of the kind. I just wanted to avoid getting close to them. That way I never ran the risk of a girl wanting to get seriously involved with me. Much better, I thought, to avoid the question completely, than to have to make up a lie about why I wasn't interested in holding hands or kissing.

Amazingly enough, this strategy worked! I got through high school without going on a single date and no one questioned it. My parents thought I was too busy to be interested in dating, and my friends were to busy dating each other to notice that I wasn't. When it was time for college, I figured I could just continue the same strategy. A well-managed closet provided a comfortable life. It was a little different from my friends life style, but at least I had friends who liked me in high school.

I had to make all new friends in college. I was in the ROTC, got involved with several fraternities, and became a DJ on the campus alternative rock station. I was suddenly more popular than I had ever been before. Being away from home for the first time I also discovered parties. I was having more fun than I had ever had before. My friendships were much stronger too, since they could be extended past the high school classroom and into every facet of my life. I was successfully getting away with being straight and having fun doing it!

There were a few challenges to maintaining my straight identity, however. Most of the time I didn't really think about being gay. But sometimes I'd meet a really cute guy and I'd get all nervous and want to become friends. Deep inside I knew why I felt that way, but I made sure no one could tell how much I was attracted. Another challenge was when I was hanging out with friends and one of them would suddenly say "Wow! Did you see her?!" It seemed to happen a lot. Of course they'd all be drooling over some girl in Daisy Dukes that had just walked by, and I wouldn't have noticed a thing. That one was hard to recover from, so most of the time I'd just ignore it. Sometimes I'd just lie and say I'd seen her and pretend to be impressed. That was a little risky when I hadn't even seen who they were talking about, but I always got away with it. No one seemed to notice when I instinctively but discretely checked out a cute guy either. I guess they just didn't notice them the same way I didn't notice the girls that so much impressed my friends.

The first time a had a real problem with being gay and in the closet was at the end of my first year in college. I had grown very close to one of my friends during the course of the year. We spent a lot of time together, at parties, playing golf, or just talking into the early hours. I began to realize that I felt a special attachment to him like I'd never felt for anyone before. I realized that I was in love for the first time. It was a wonderful feeling, but also frightening. I felt so good when I was with him, and often thought about him when we were apart. As I came to the conclusion what I was feeling was love, I was forced to see that my physical attraction to guys went much further than I had dared to imagine. That conclusion was hammered home when I learned my friend was to transfer to another school at the end of the year.

June came and I found myself standing in the dorm parking lot telling my dear friend goodbye for the last time as he drove away. I couldn't tell him how much I loved him or how much I would miss him. I couldn't talk to anyone else about how much it hurt to see him go. I just had to smile and wave and take it and not let it show. The last thing I learned in my first year of college was how to suffer a broken heart - alone.

Its strange. Being in the closet had never struck me as a negative thing. I thought that by being straight I would make my life much better, and make my friends and family happy with me too. Even that night after my friend left, I didn't feel the closet was the problem. Being gay was the problem. The closet was merely a solution. Now I knew that to continue working this solution I'd have to be more careful with my friends. I certainly didn't want to accidentally fall in love with a straight friend again. It hurts too much. My solution to the gay problem also gave me a stronger personality, I thought. I had to deal with all my problems on my own, I couldn't go cry on anyone's shoulder.

I think love must be part of human nature. We can't avoid it. I tried. But it was only a few years later when I noticed I was in love with a friend again. It crept up on me. I didn't realize I was falling for him until it was way too late. This time it was more complicated though because about the time I realized I'd fallen in love with him, I also realized that he might be in love with me too. We spent all our spare time together. He never dated or talked about girls. He never even did that "Hey! Did you see her!?" thing. I spent the next six months wondering if I should come out to him and see if he was interested.

Before I got up the nerve to say anything he ditched me for a girlfriend. I was crushed. One day we were spending all our time together, and the next day he was completely blowing me off. It was worse than the last time. Without realizing it I had organized my life around my friend and suddenly had nothing to do and lots of time to contemplate my loss. Once again, I couldn't turn to anyone to help mend my broken heart and I was alone.

Things started getting very scary then. I was so full of emotions, but completely cut off from them. I couldn't show anyone my real feelings about anything. A small crack in the dam could result in the whole thing collapsing. Who knows what I might have said if I started talking? After a month or two even I couldn't tell what I was feeling. I guess I managed to bury my emotions so far that they couldn't get to me. I didn't care about much of anything. I was cranky all the time. I wasn't eating right. I was drinking way too much, and often alone. After almost a year of living like this it got worse. I found out what depression was.

I thought I'd been depressed before; when I felt bad after doing poorly on a test, or after loosing a close game, or when I heard someone important to me had passed away. Those things were nothing like depression. After moping around for months, both furious and sad, depression set in. Depression rises from within with a force all its own and smothers every conscious thought. When depression hit I would feel cold to core of my body. I would alternate rapidly pacing around my apartment trying to find a way out of my situation and then lying motionless on the floor for hours feeling a crushing sadness. The sadness would rarely let me sleep, and often woke me in the middle of the night. Everything seemed so pointless then. Life was pointless. Even suicide seemed too pointless to bother with, but it was a potential way out.

The depressions weren't continuous. They came three or four times a week. The rest of the week I was my normal, unemotional, detached self. One day I found enough energy to try out a free AOL disk and discovered the world on line. I was, of course, drawn to the gay stuff. It was perfect because I could sneak around in complete anonymity. I discovered web pages of gay guys who seemed completely normal! It was amazing. They weren't all perverts in leather harnesses, or queens in high-heels singing show tunes. Those sort were certainly around, but it amazed me how many normal guys there were - with boyfriends! I started trading e mail with some guys. They became the first people I ever expressed a gay thought to. Of course they didn't know my real name, or even what state I was from. It was significant, however, in that the first crack in the dam had appeared. Privately I was a wreck and I knew it. But I enjoyed being able to express my gay feelings in comfort on the internet. It made me happy. I went on for months that way, a paranoid gay on the internet and a depressed straight guy in real life.

One night, moping around home alone with a drink, an idea floated up out of my mind that had never come to light before. I was stunned by my idea's utter simplicity and stark implications. I realized the obvious; I was closeted because I didn't want being gay to ruin my life but being closeted was ruining my life anyway. So, if these other nice, normal guys on the internet could be openly gay and enjoying their lives, why couldn't I? Wouldn't that be better than being not gay and miserable?

In the blink of an eye I realized that I had to accept my nature and live it - publicly. I cried the rest of the night, sometimes sobbing and sometimes completely wracked with tears. I was enraged at fate, or at god, or at whatever had made me this way. But the difference between these tears and those tears from before was that they were tears of acceptance and not of desperation. It was a night in the garden of gesthemene. A night of bitterness and pain, and a night of accepting what must be. After that horrible night of grieving for myself, I knew it was time. I had tell another living, breathing, human being, face to face, that I was gay. I had to express my gay feelings. I had to find a boyfriend.

But that is another story...

Rob

As always I welcome your remarks and questions. My e mail address is bourke@mbay.net or point your web browser to http://www.mbay.net/~bourke

Come on, write to me damn it! Don't make me beg!!


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