I've been letting other people know about my homosexual feelings for about three years now. In that time no one has been more surprised to learn that I'm gay than myself. Yes, those of you who have read my past columns know that I've been aware of my feelings since childhood, but for some reason my orientation still surprises me. I'll be thinking all sorts of random thoughts, perhaps in the shower where I do some of my best thinking, when suddenly the thought "Wow! I'm gay! I really am gay." just pops into my head. I'll suddenly realize the truth of those words all over again like it was the first time the thought ever occurred to me. Amazing! I think other guys are attractive and have an ability to fall in love with them. Thats what other people call 'gay', but for me its just one of the circumstances that is a part of my existence. There are so many implications that late 20th century civilization attaches to that word (gay) that I don't relate to. That is perhaps why I am so surprised to find that I am gay every time I think about it.
It strikes me as odd that my friends have not been so surprised. None has said that they already knew or assumed I was gay. They just didn't find it to be a big deal when they found out. Telling my two closest friends required a huge mental effort and all the courage I had. That story is described in last month's column . I discovered that telling the second person was much easier than the first and that I enjoyed the feeling of honesty, relief, and peace that came to me when I did. After the trauma of telling my two best friends about my same sex attraction I was suddenly eager to tell as many of my friends as possible. My next opportunity was the Super Bowl of 1995.
I usually have a group of friends come to my apartment to watch the game with me. I was determined not to turn the thing into some big coming-out event, but if the chance arose for me to talk about this in the course of normal conversation, then I would make sure I didn't miss it. The game was fun. I didn't think about my plan much at all. It was not so much a plan as a strategy, just an option I would exercise if it made sense to do so in the context of how events came to pass.
After the game a sitcom came on with a gay character. The topic of gay rights and homophobia came up and everyone seemed to be expressing positive opinions about it all. Some of my friends said they even knew some openly gay people. Opportunity had fallen right into my lap! I began to get that giddy roller coaster pit-of-the-stomach feeling again. I was actively savoring the experience. You only get to tell a group of your best friends this kind of thing once and I knew it. When it was my turn to interject an opinion I asked the group "what would you all think if I said that I was gay?" I had everyone's attention.
My friend Justin answered immediately, before an awkward silence could smother the conversation, "It really wouldn't matter. Are you gay?"
I smiled, "Good, because I am." There was excitement in the room, the general feeling that something very cool had just happened to us all.
"Wow! Thanks for telling us, Rob!", said Justin, "how long have you known about this? Do you have a boyfriend?"
For about ten minutes I answered a few general questions about my newly revealed orientation and then the conversation naturally moved on to other things. My friends were grateful that I trusted them, that much was obvious, and no one had any hang ups about it. That the discussion drifted off onto other things was my clearest indication that it wasn't a big deal to my friends at all. The fact that I was willing to share this previously hidden part of my personality with them was more important to the group than the nature of it.
I went to bed that night feeling a sense of satisfaction and peace that I hadn't previously known. I drifted off thinking about what I had learned together with my friends. I realized that my same sex orientation was part of the core of my being. I realized that I don't get to choose who I am. I am me, born a white, middle class north American at the end of the 20th Century, and I am gay. That is the life that I have to live and make the most of. Then I fell asleep and slept better than I ever had in years.
Over the next few weeks and months more friends learned about my orientation. I became more confident that there was nothing wrong with me and none of my friends seemed to think so either. I decided it was time to make some friends who were actually gay. Nervously, I set up coffee meetings with a few of my gay internet friends that were in the area. I was so relieved to find out they weren't monsters, but just ordinary guys like me. It renewed my confidence to learn I could pick my friends well, even on-line. Over time I integrated my gay friends into my life and discovered that they offered not only support and mentoring as a newly openly gay person, but many other talents and interests completely unrelated to sexual orientation.
Despite all my friends, hobbies, and activities I found I was still a little bit lonely. I wanted a close friend I share everything with. One who would be around often. One who would share his thoughts with me too. What I think I needed was a boyfriend. Escaping the destructive stress of the closet was only one reason why I came out, to reap the rewards of finally having a special guy just for me was another. During the summer a couple of my friends had me over for dinner to introduce me to another young single gay guy they thought I might like. I was very nervous but accepted the invitation. Things went well, so we agreed on a date the next week. That went OK too, but we weren't hitting it off quite the way either of us had hoped, so we decided not to date each other. He gave me a kiss goodbye (the first time I ever kissed another guy! - it was very cool.) and we parted ways with no hurt feelings on either side. I'd never even been on a real date before. It felt like I was learning things I should have learned when I was 15.
By Christmas time I was feeling more confident, I was open about my orientation with just about everyone except my family and people who might have contact with my family, I'd managed to make another good friend out of a potential date, and I was still hoping to find my special guy. One evening I was feeling a little fluish, but decided to go to a Christmas party I'd been invited too simply because I knew I'd never meet anyone if I just stayed at home. If you want a boyfriend, you've got to go out and find him, I thought. This particular party wasn't a good place to look, however. The party was being hosted by some very good friends of my parents, a family I'd known even as a little kid. There were lots of people from the neighborhood I grew up in - mostly my parents generation, but some of my old schoolmates too. At this party I was completely closeted - my parents and almost everyone who knew them were there.
There was also, I noticed, a rather cute young guy I'd never seen before there. I found out, indirectly of course, that he was from the hostess' office, where, as fate would have it, my Mom also worked. Dangerous, yes, but he was cute and my hormones insisted I meet him. When I later spied him on the couch, with an open space next to him, I decided to make my move. I scooped up the house cat, Mike, to use as a conversation starter and sat on the sofa next to the cute guy, with Mike in my lap. The cat trick worked! The cute guy's name was David and he liked cats. We talked for an hour about favorite pets, movies, TV shows - you know, all the get acquainted topics. We were really hitting it off! I started to feel more giddy and excited about David as time went by. Not only was he cute, but I was starting to like him a lot, and I could tell he was feeling the same way about me. I wasn't sure if I'd met a new date, but I knew I'd made a new friend. For the time being, I was assuming he was going to be a date.
After an hour or so of talking with David, I noticed that my perception of the whole room had narrowed down to just us two. We were starting to flirt too. Since I still held Mike that cat, David was kindly passing me snacks from the food tray. There was lots of 'casual' contact as he handed me crackers with cheese. For just a moment I thought he was going to pop a cracker straight into my mouth! It seemed appropriate at first thought, but then I wondered what the rest of the party guests might think of that. My parents were there, for crying out loud. That was when I realized that there was still a party going on around us. I decided I'd better go mix with a few old friends who had filtered in, so I put down the cat and excused myself from David for a while. While I socialized, I would occasionally look over in David's direction. We'd make and hold eye contact, and one time I even gave him a little wave and a smile - he waved back!
At the end of the party, I was tired, but I made sure I went back to say good night to David. I told him it was fun meeting him, and then in an unusually bold move for me, I invited him over to my apartment, maybe to watch a video of one of the TV shows we had learned we had a mutual interest in. He said that would be great! I was so excited I thought I was going to explode right there. I memorized his e mail address and sent him a message as soon as I got home, saying how fun it was to meet him, and suggesting a day to get together to watch a video.
Friday, a week later, I finished perfecting the appearance of my apartment and myself and was pacing nervously outside when David pulled up in his car. I invited him in right away and offered him a drink. He chose a Coke. These first moments were very awkward the last time I attempted a date. This time, it wasn't quite yet officially a date and it was going so comfortably I couldn't believe it. It was almost like being with an old friend. We ordered a pizza, then settled in on the couch to begin our Absolutely Fabulous video marathon. After the pizza was gone and the second or third episode was running we each stretched out a bit on the sofa, shoes off, feet up. Each time one of us would get up to change the tape or get another Coke, we'd end up a little closer together.
Around midnight we'd run out of Ab/Fab episodes and we were talking while channel surfing. We were so comfortable together we found we could talk honestly about almost anything. I had such warm feelings about David that when we were finally so close on the sofa that he leaned against me and rested his head on my leg I was not surprised in the least. Oh, sure, I was excited! But it felt comfortable, natural, even fun! I rested my hand on his head. Smiling up at me he said I made a nice pillow. I told him he was a pretty good arm rest.
We kept talking and sort of watching TV for another hour or so while I ran my fingers through his hair. It was so nice! I thought I might drown in contentment and happiness. I didn't want it to ever end, but eventually David lifted his head from its resting place on my thigh and sat up next to me. Then, he started to lean forward and put a hand on my shoulder. We kissed! It wasn't like the two or three pecks I experienced from failed dates before, and it was nothing like the time I kissed my (girl)friend, Star. It was wonderful! I had no idea kissing could be so joyful, so tender, so exciting -- all at once. David and I kissed for an hour or two non-stop! It was late at night when we both agreed it was time for some sleep. I offered to let David stay on the couch, since his place was about half an hour away. It took me at least another hour to fall asleep, no matter how tired I was, because of the excitement of knowing such a neat guy was sleeping in the next room and he liked me too!
Saturday morning we woke around ten. I went out into the living room in my PJs, turned on the Disney cartoon lineup and sat on the couch next David, who was still lying down under a blanket. Before long we were snuggled together under the blanket watching Pooh Bear. I'd never been so relaxed and comfortable in my life. I couldn't stop smiling as I soaked in the warm glow of new found friendship and the opportunity to share my feelings of affection for my new friend in a way I never had before. My heart was filled with joy. David and I spent the day together, going out to breakfast and then walking on the beach before he had to go home. We both agreed to get together again as soon as possible. My wish had finally come true. Rob Bourke had a boyfriend!
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
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