I learned many things in college. For instance, I learned how to calculate the bonding angles of certain atoms with other atoms. I learned how to write a sentence with appropriate verb/subject agreement and parallelism. I learned there is no evidence to suggest early hominids carried clubs. I learned that a Guinness Stout is not poured or draughted, but rather, built. Some of the things I learned about in college have stood me in good stead, others have had little use other than as background knowledge.
One of the more unexpected lessons I learned in college was about love. To my surprise, I found I was quite capable of love and that it had a way of sneaking up on me that I hadn't yet figured out how to control. I spent the last years of my teens getting that sorted out. By the time I turned twenty all my barriers against being gay were complete and I was ready to get on with life. Unfortunately, there were some unexpected complications that went along with not being gay. You can read all about them in last month's column .
One terrible night I was alone and depressed when I realized I had spent most nights the past few months that way -- alone and depressed. Everything seemed so incredibly pointless. I was pointless. In a moment of revelation I knew the only way out of pointlessness was to live completely, to accept and live all the aspects of my personality. I had been hiding my gay feelings to avoid a life of misery and exclusion only to discover that in hiding my feelings I had created for myself more misery and exclusion than being gay could possibly have. I had to come out, to use the popular term.
Reaching the logical decision to come out is not the same as actually doing it, however. It was another three months before I had the courage to face up to my fear and tell another living soul that I was gay. Who would I tell first? It had to be my best friend, Will. He was the only good friend I had, and I certainly wasn't about to go to a family member. The trouble with Will was that I had accidentally fallen for him. I didn't mean to, and he wasn't aware of it, but I loved him. Sheesh! Why couldn't I find someone to love who could love me back?! Well, because no guys knew I could love them for starters. I wouldn't tell him that I was head over heels for him, but I would tell him that I was gay. I had no plan beyond telling Will as I couldn't conceive of a world where others thought of me as a homosexual.
Finally, in August of 1995 I knew the day had come. I called Will the night before and told him I wanted to talk. We agreed to meet after work at the local pub. I made it home a little early so I decided a good stiff drink might help, then walked over to the pub to meet Will. We talked about... well, I don't know what we talked about. Nothing. I had a couple of beers while we were there. When it was time to go Will offered to give me a lift home. In the car I took a deep breath and told him I really needed to talk, so we went back to his place where he asked "OK, what's up?"
This was my cue to say I'm gay. My heart was racing, I was dizzy, I felt like I was going to throw up. It wasn't from the alcohol. I think maybe half an hour passed with me beating around the bush talking about nothing. Will was starting to get impatient as the hour grew later. I didn't notice the time pass. Finally, he looked at his watch then asked again "So,what's up, Rob?"
I thought "Oh, god! Oh, god! I'm gonna do it!" I felt the rush you get as the roller coaster floats over the top and rapidly gathers terrifying speed. I looked at the hardwood floor, knowing the words I had to speak. Knowing how, once spoken, they could never be taken back. I felt just as if I were holding a gun to my own head, summoning the courage to pull the trigger. Straight Rob was committing suicide so that gay Rob could live. Yet up until this moment I had dedicated my life to keeping gay Rob from ever seeing the light of day. I took a breath and, still looking at the floor, said "Will, I'm gay."
Silence. For a moment he said nothing. He didn't get up and rush over to give me a TV-style hug, nor did he run from the room screaming. Intoxicated from a mix of alcohol and adrenaline, I have no clear memory of what his first words were. I think it was something like, "Oh, that's it?" It didn't seem to bother him. He asked a few questions about how sure I was. I started to settle down enough that I could tell him I was quite sure. I was so relieved that he could talk about it! Will was getting tired of hearing me repeat that sentiment and finally said "Rob, this is the nineties. It's no big deal. You're gay -- get over it."
He drove me home and I thanked him for not abandoning me. Mentally spent and probably still a little drunk I went to bed. I laid in the dark, my mind racing through a thousand thoughts all jumbled together. I was exhausted, excited, and relieved. I had changed the world and had not been destroyed. I was still myself, except now one other person knew my life's deepest secret. The secret I had spent so much mental energy keeping for so many years was out. I still had no plan for what I would do next, but now I knew it could be done.
Over the next few weeks I met with my friend once or twice more. He listened while I laid bare my innermost thoughts. I don't really know what all I told him. I verbally vomited all the gay feelings and thoughts I had for the past fifteen years. Just being able to tell Will who I thought was cute while we were growing up made a big difference to me. He listened in silence. After a few of these conversations I had said most of what I needed to, and I think Will had listened to more than he wanted to. I started to see less and less of Will. He was always busy when I called, or not in the mood to talk or go out. I could even detect a hint of anger in his voice sometimes when we talked. It was subtle at first, but after a month or so I got the idea that he no longer wanted me around. He seemed OK with everything at first, but slowly and deliberately disassociated himself from me. It hurt an awful lot to be rejected by my oldest friend. It hurts now, almost four years later. I still don't know exactly why he ended our friendship like that either.
About the time I told Will I was gay, I made a new friend, a girl. I had deliberately avoided friendships with girls in the past. I couldn't run the risk of one liking me and then having to come up with a lie about why I didn't like her in the same way. But, since I was going to be openly gay soon, what would it hurt to make a new friend now? Star had short black hair and hazel eyes. She was about my size, and in great shape. She was cute, for a girl, but I later told her I thought her brother was cuter. We went to movies and plays, went for walks, and I enjoyed the company. Sometimes she would hold my hand, something I'd never done before, but she maintained it was still on a strictly friends basis, because that's what I said I wanted. It was back at my apartment after we'd gone to a Christmas party together that she finally expressed her frustration with me. I had let her kiss me in the car. I wanted to know what it was like to kiss a girl. It didn't work very well. I didn't like it and she could tell. "Don't you like me, Rob? Why can't you kiss back when I kiss you? Why are you so nervous about holding hands? Why do you only want to be friends?!"
I had to tell her. This was going too far and I was going to hurt her badly if I didn't come clean now. This was exactly why I'd never made friends with girls in the past. Sometimes it sucks to be right. The butterflies came back. The dizziness came back. My voice cracked. I started to stammer out something when Star asked "Rob, are you gay?"
"Yes, that's it! I love you, Star, but not you the way you want me to love you right now. I can't love you that way." I felt the tears welling up. How I hated to disappoint her like this. She was laughing and crying simultaneously. She felt such pathos for me, and such sadness for our relationship. She could see this was an enormous strain on me and ignored her disappointment to help me with my difficulty in telling her.
She asked me if she was the first person to know. I explained to her about Will and how that had gone. She hugged me and assured me we'd be friends always, and that she was determined to make a good fag out of me, so that I could be happy. Star was so wonderful! Later, she dragged me to the mall and made me point out all the guys I though were cute to her. I'd been spying cute guys for ten years, but I'd never breathed a word of it to anyone. It turned out to be so much fun to compare notes with a friend! Finally I understood what all my friends were feeling when they checked out cute girls together!
Star was more responsible for dragging me out of the closet, kicking and screaming, than anyone else. I am very grateful, and it turned out to be fun! One night she rented the movie Threesome for us to watch. She thought I was just like Josh Charles' closeted gay character in the movie. I identified completely and told Star I thought he was very cute too! It was a wonderful time while Star helped me learn to express my gay feelings. My depressions became fewer, and less severe. I was less snippy with people and more tolerant. I was becoming a generally nicer guy.
I could now see the next steps I needed to take in the process of accepting myself. I needed too meet some other gay people in real life. I needed some gay friends to help me. I needed to read books on coming out. I needed to start bringing the rest of my friends and associates in on the secret so that it wouldn't be a secret anymore. One of the most compelling reasons to be openly gay is to avoid wasting energy on hiding the truth. Only six months after first squeaking out the words "I'm gay," I had become much less ashamed of that fact. I was seeing enough reward for coming out that I knew I wanted to continue the process in a step-by-step manner which would eventually lead me to the ultimate and final goal. Telling my parents. Then I would be free of secrecy and fear.
Next month's column will deal with all the phases between first coming out and when I told my parents. Telling parents deserves a column all its own. It's only been six months since I managed to do it -- that story is still developing.
As always I welcome your remarks and questions. My e mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org or point your web browser to http://www.mbay.net/~bourke
Keep those cards and letters coming folks!