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My Easing Out Story

I’m calling this my “easing out story” because I never actually came out in any dramatic sense, which seems to be the case for most young pe...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

My Easing Out Story

I’m calling this my “easing out story” because I never actually came out in any dramatic sense, which seems to be the case for most young people today as witnessed in the hundreds of YouTube videos. The whole “coming out” scene seems to have developed into a world-wide phenomenon and, I have no doubt, has contributed to a wider acceptance of gay and lesbian people in general. This will also contribute to the eventual (I can only hope) complete elimination of homophobia. At this rate, everyone will have at least one gay friend, acquaintance, or family member by the time they have graduated high school thereby relegating a person’s sexuality to the annals of trivial or banal information which plays no part in the choosing of one’s friends, colleagues or employees by the time they are adult. The internet has made the world a more connected place and has begun the process of blurring the differences between north, south, east, west, small town and big city. This can only benefit us all. However, most of the stories appear to be posted by young people. Young people have a courage that has not yet been tainted by the cynicism of “the real world” which develops in our consciousness when we have graduated from college and have dived head-long into the work force and other aspects of ‘adult’ society. The fact that people are now addressing this issue at a young age is very positive because once the ‘G’ word is out in the open, it can’t be taken back. The phenomenon is also forcing older adults to come to terms with the harmful nature of their age-old attitudes and redressing them according to the new environment. This applies to both gay and straight. Things were not always that easy or straight-forward.
I am an ‘older’ gay man approaching my 60th birthday and it occurred to me that I should jot down some of my experience, not so much to merely tell a story, but also to demonstrate the progress which has been made during my lifetime. Even so, my journey has been much easier than many of my peers though not without drama. Some time ago, I wrote a short-story based on my very first experience with another boy and as an introduction to the rest of the story, I copy it here. (Note the names are fictitious).
He was always in love. Not with a single person but always with someone; sometimes with more than one person at the time. Not always on a sensual plane, but sensuality undeniably played a major part in some infatuations. In fact, his first love affair began as mere sexual exploration and quickly turned into a real and enduring affection. His name was Howie and he was literally the boy next door. Two months into their relationship, Didier would find himself curled up in his bed trying to find sleep but unable to relax because he could not stop thinking about Howie. He imagined Howie in the bed beside him, holding him and with his heart pounding so hard that he could hear it; he thought “I wish I could keep him here for all of my life”. That was quite a thought for a seven-year-old to formulate.
Whatever the circumstances, the die was cast and his whole life from here-on-in would revolve around passion. His family life would encourage him to seek solace outside that would provide him (in a strange sort of way) with the emotional stability he would need to grow.
Howie was just two years older than Didier but for a 7 year-old that seemed like a generation of difference. He was, after all, one third his own age older. Although Howie did not socialize with him openly, in private he was very eager to teach Didier the ‘ways of grown-ups’…at least that was the way he explained it to him. Didier was slightly small for his age while Howie cut quite a figure for a nine-year-old. Of course his size commanded respect but Didier saw him as a figure of authority and awe. He hung on Howie’s every word and revelled in the attention he was given. Whenever he saw Howie on the street with his little group of cronies, he understood that he was not to expect any kind of acknowledgement from him. One of the group, Vince, was a chubby little Italian kid from up the street who enjoyed bullying the smaller children and this was tolerated until he began to physically abuse them. Whenever that occurred (and it was often) Howie would always wait until the very last moment to intervene…but he always did. Howie was the alpha male in the group and no one ever defied him. Even as Howie was saving Didier from an Italian attack, he was more concerned with disciplining Vince than in comforting the victim. Didier didn’t mind and at times even would gently provoke Vince in order to see Howie in action. He loved to see Howie in action!
For the next two years, all Didier’s hopes would revolve around keeping tabs on Howie’s schedule and the anticipation of their daily trips behind the garage or under the basement steps or in other camouflaged and discreet meeting places. The tenderness and attention he received from Howie would compensate the total perceived disinterest from his parents.
In the meantime, his family was growing and before long Didier found himself the eldest of two, then three, then four children and was appointed the ‘responsible’ one through no fault of his own. This meant that he would be expected to use all his free time in ‘watching’ his younger siblings and this necessarily resulted in a paring down of the time he would otherwise have spent with Howie. However, it had the unexpected result of adding the active participation of Howie in seeking out moments of solitude and a dimension of passion in the encounters beyond what two young boys could possibly have expected under usual circumstances. Didier’s love for Howie increased proportionally with the decrease in their meetings. There were many nights when Didier would cry himself to sleep because he had not been able to be with his love that day. Even on those days he would find solace in merely seeing him come and go from the house next door through the window of the family living room. Nevertheless, their meetings were no longer on a teacher/student level but had, over time, evolved into a coming together of lovers who had been united by circumstance. The encounters were always too few and too brief.
What would have been a logical consequence to an adult came as a devastating chock to Didier: His family had outgrown the house they called home and the date was announced for them to move on to more spacious accommodation. Didier was inconsolable but his parents assumed that this was simply a child’s over-reaction and were convinced that he would calm down as soon as he saw their new house. They never actually asked him why the prospect of moving upset him so. Had they asked, he would have told them but...they didn’t; nor did he volunteer the information. He had no idea that his relationship with Howie would have caused considerable consternation or that it was in any way unusual. The only thing he had learned about sexuality from his parents was that moments of intimacy were meant to be private. This had been re-enforced by the way in which Howie conducted their meetings. He had no concept of right and wrong when it came to love or sex. If the truth be known, he wasn’t even aware of the existence of sex as an independent phenomenon. The only thing he understood about his situation was that he was deliriously happy when he was with Howie and equally miserable when they were apart.
Howie’s reaction to the news was to take it a great deal more calmly and his only comment was one of resignation. “Of course,” he said, “the house is much too small for you now.” The only up-side to the upcoming move was that Howie made much more of an effort to seek Didier out at every opportunity. Didier was allowed a great deal more lee-way in the few weeks leading up to the move, probably due to his parents’ noticing his change of humour when he was called out. They probably thought that he was in the process of forgetting his sadness. They had no clue!
On moving day, Howie kept back, preferring to observe the proceedings from the safety of his front porch. He displayed no emotion, at times pretending to be occupied with things going on up the street. He did not budge from that spot nor did he make any overt attempt to say ‘goodbye’.
Once the last truck was packed and the family’s last belongings and children were bundled in the back seat of the car, Didier stared through the window at Howie sitting disinterestedly on the front porch. He waved frantically back at him as they drove away but Howie only looked in his direction at the last moment, raising his arm only slightly to acknowledge Didier’s departure. This left Didier with a deep feeling of unfinished business and he comforted himself with the thought that this was not their last meeting. If it had been, then Howie would surely have made a greater gesture of showing his heartbreak which had to be as great as his…didn’t it?
Months of sheer agony ensued! Didier thought of Howie every waking minute of every day and even his dreams would be invaded.
After incessant pleas to his parents for permission to visit the old neighbourhood, he was given leave to walk home with one of his schoolmates, who lived only two blocks from their former home on the pretext of doing some school work. This was not true, of course, but until that time he had not been able to convince them to allow him the journey on any other basis. He walked his schoolmate home and said goodbye (the fellow was unaware that he had been used as an instrument of deceit) and continued on to the old neighbourhood.
This was the hour at which Howie and he would have met and on approaching the old house he noted the absence of activity throughout the neighbourhood. Having come this far, he had no intention of giving up this easily so he sat himself down on the curb and waited. He did not have to wait very long (though it seemed like hours) when he spotted Howie approaching from up the street in the company of a boy he did not know. The presence of this boy had no effect on him whatsoever as he was completely fixed on his love coming nearer and nearer. He did not move from his spot on the curb and waited for Howie to catch his eye. He had to come very close so as not to miss his inevitable reaction. He stopped dead in his tracks and just stared at him for a moment then turned to his companion, said something in his ear, then turned back and walked toward the boy on the curb. His companion continued on and walked up the stoop to Howie’s front porch and sat down. Howie came to Didier and said ‘Hi’ in a very flat and unemotional tone. Didier was beaming with a smile that stretched from ear to ear. On hearing this greeting, Didier sprang to his feet and fought the urge to throw his arms around his older boyfriend. Howie for his part stood a good three feet away and made no attempt to reach out to Didier nor did he smile or display any other sign that he was glad to see him. His next words were sharper and pierced Didier’s heart like a dagger: “What are you doing here?” he scowled.
Didier suddenly felt the need to defend his presence there and told Howie a story about escorting a schoolmate home because he was ill and, well, he thought he would take a last look at the old house, upon which Howie began berating his family and the disgusting condition that they had left the house in and…and…and…there was just no end to the recriminations that were being dished out. Didier went into shock and heard nothing that was being said. He only heard the tone of Howie’s voice and his heart sank to his socks. His oratory complete, Howie turned back and walked to his companion who was waiting on the porch. He grabbed the waiting boy by the shoulder and led him into the house. The door slammed and Didier was left standing on the curb, frozen to the spot and stunned. He stood there for what seemed like an eternity before starting off for the long walk back to school and then home at a pace that would make a snail look back in frustration. He sobbed soundlessly all the way home.
The first and only love he had known had left him a nine-year-old with a grown-up broken heart!
He would mope around for months with this heavy burden but eventually circumstances would overtake him and he would put it aside. He never forgot…he simply moved on.
Years later, when he was 13, he would see Howie again but, in spite of his attempts to isolate Didier, they were never alone. Nothing happened and they never saw each other again.
THE END (or, more accurately: THE BEGINNING)
Right! I hope you enjoyed that, now let me tell you the rest. I promise not to get too anecdotal…but it may not be that easy.
In general, I have to admit to a relatively liberal upbringing. I was the oldest of a large family and I was given more-or-less free-reign when it came to the kids I hung around with. As a result, I never had to hide a boyfriend or meet anyone clandestinely. My boyfriends were always welcome in our home and in my bed although my parents neither suspected nor asked any questions. There was no one to reprimand me or tell me that what I was up to was not quite acceptable. I did not do any pursuing, as such, but I was an easy seduction. I had boyfriends that I slept with and I had boyfriends that I played with. Anyway, you get the idea. I had developed, at a very early age, a keen sense of who was what and never been disappointed. So far, so good! Then…there was high school!
High school then, as now no doubt, seemed to revolve around teen hormones. Sex was on everyone’s mind. It was an endless game of match-ups and break-ups and I soon realized that no one seemed to be playing by my rules anymore. So, in spite of earlier innocence, I threw myself into the closet I had never known and began flirting with girls. For some odd reason, I was very popular among the girls. The boys were split into two groups: those who loved me and those who hated me…there was no middle ground. The advantage to this split made the choice of friends easy. I attended what was referred to as a ‘tech’ school, which meant that the population was 90% male. I was in the arts course so I had female classmates. The ‘tech’ boys were jealous and tended to bully the arts boys. They spent far too much time in macho displays and pissing contests. I loved it! I hated it! It was different from day to day. Anyway, I allowed myself to fall in love with everyone (as one did) of either sex. My choice of girlfriends leant itself naturally to the virginal ones. Go figure! I held back on the boys as I always had a boyfriend at home waiting at the door. We didn’t all attend the same schools.
My best friend from high school is still my best friend and he has been witness to everything that I’ve been through as I have been witness to his life too. He is straight. In the stupor of a night of binge-drinking, I came out to him. His reaction was to put his arm around my shoulder and tell me…”I don’t care”. In the clear light of the hang-over that followed, he needed a single day to process the information but on the second day we were closer than ever. I was the ‘best man’ at his wedding (I also sang) and I delivered the eulogy at his wife’s funeral a year ago. I have always had the knack of choosing beautiful people as friends. I don’t mean the group in frocks and high-heels although some of them qualify as well. My other high school friends are still friends and I keep in touch with them regularly. At some point, my male and female friends began to defend me against the onslaught of the bullies who inevitably banished the ‘Q’ word about. At a later point (I can’t really remember when) I asked them not to do this anymore. This was my ‘coming out’ to friends. After that, I no longer needed or felt compelled to hide my sexuality. It was never talked about.
It was during this time that I met my life-long girlfriend, Bonnie. She had an ambiguous sexuality but her hormones were working over-time. She could give any of those ‘tech boys’ a run for the money. About half-way through high school she decided that she was a lesbian. We became attached at the hip from that point on-ward. She taught me a lot and, as you will see a bit later, was a devoted friend. We were completely honest and open with each other and shared everything about our lives. There was actually an incident involving one of my play-mates (no sex) whom I had fallen head-over-heels in love with and who was crazy to get into her pants. She teased him and led him to believe that there was a possibility that they might become more intimate given time. She thought, however, that he should try sleeping with a lad (by the way, I was available) to experience the difference. I slept in his bed that night but alas, I could not make the first move and neither could he. Wasted opportunity, perhaps, but it’s the thought that counts.
Outside of school, I was an ardent air cadet and had over the years advanced in rank until I had the distinction of being the highest ranking cadet in the history of the squadron until then. Here, I experienced an unfortunate incident related to falling in love with my next-in-command. While I was a cadet, I was satisfied to lust from afar (at times that could be closer) without ever making any kind of move. Nor did he know about the rest of my life. At 19 I was retired from the movement and my underlings had planned a surprise birthday party in the cadet-hall. My next-in-command was given the task of delivering me into the darkened hall under some pretext or other. He succeeded but while we were fumbling in the dark for light switches, I was reaching over to touch him rather inappropriately when the lights came on to the roar of the shouts of “SURPRISE!!” I collapsed to the floor, half from the shock of the surprise and half from the terror that came over me as the possible consequences of my planned action had I been a second quicker. That was a close one! The party was great and completely outside of tradition. The following day, while chatting with him on the phone and laughing and reminiscing about the events of the previous night, I decided to confess my feelings to him. How lucky it was that I chose the telephone to make that admission. If we had been face-to-face, he would probably have remodeled mine. Suddenly, the vulnerability of my situation became obvious to me. We never saw each other again. He has, however, recently become a Facebook friend. But the event made me defensive and cautious, something that I had previously chosen to reject.
Growing up this way, I found myself falling in love at the drop of a hat and rarely had less than two boyfriends on the go at any one time. I don’t even wish to tell how many I have had at my peak. Suffice it to say that some of them knew each other as well and group-therapy was not altogether unknown to us. But childish games aside, there were two special boyfriends whom I loved very much and who had no idea of the others. After graduation I left home but maintained the relationships although distance and circumstance made our meetings less frequent. I had plans to work and go to college and move in with one of them and establish ourselves as a proper couple. On one of my Saturdays working at Agnew Surpass shoe shop, he came to see me all bubbly and smiling from ear to ear. In my naiveté I assumed that he was overjoyed to see me since we had been separated a little longer than usual and that he was looking forward to our time together after my shift was done. Instead, he announced that he was getting married….to a girl! I was shocked but mostly hurt! I sent him packing with every kind of verbal abuse that a wounded animal might produce.
Well, at least I still had one boyfriend left. Shortly after the above incident, I moved in with Bonnie and her girlfriend JJ. We had a ‘gay-old-time’ most of the time and the boyfriend came when called. He preferred to meet me when the girls weren’t home and, of course, I had no objection to that as it made the event much more intimate. I had still not ‘come-out’ in any public way…i.e. to the family and work acquaintances, but the knowledge of my living circumstances made people suspicious. One night, lying in bed cuddling with my boyfriend and listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer, he suddenly turned to me and said: “I don’t think we should do this anymore…its wrong.” I was stunned and, once again, very hurt. What could I do? He married a woman two weeks later.
Now I had no boyfriend at all! I became confused and lost as to how to remedy the situation. I came from a small city that, as far as I knew, had nothing to offer in the way of meeting places for people like me. Of course I was wrong but would not know about this until later. I began to spend more time with my lesbian roommates and in the course of our partying I managed to meet other gays. I spent less and less time with my straight friends and never ever mixed the company. This was quite revolutionary for me all the same. But I was now living two lives. Together with 11 of my new friends, we found a location and opened the city’s first officially ‘gay’ club, operating on a banquet license renewed each weekend. My college friends suspected and some even asked directly whether I was gay. Each time, I was over-defensive and denied it. On the weekends at The Twilight Villa Social Club, I was completely open and outgoing.
By now, Bonnie and JJ were split up and JJ and I were now the only tenants of the apartment. My parents…actually only my Dad, was very confused. As fate would have it, JJ was killed in a car accident and on the day of the funeral, my Dad made the unusual effort of taking me under his wing. On the drive back home, he asked me to explain the nature of the relationship that I had with JJ. In his absence, I told my Mom that I would have an honest talk with him at which point she asked to be driven home first. My father became quite excited and after dropping Mom off at home he took me to a bar which he knew quite well. He knew a lot of bars quite well. He ordered drinks and just sat across from me with eyes wide open in anxious anticipation of what I was about to say. I don’t know what he expected but I know it wasn’t what I was about to tell him. I was grieving and too weak and angry to hold back. I explained that JJ and I were just friends and that she was in fact a lesbian. Of course he asked why I would choose to live with a lesbian. I told him that I had a boyfriend named Billy and we were planning on living together as a couple. He stared at me in complete silence for the longest time and then suddenly broke into uncontrollable sobs. I was shocked as were the other patrons of the bar who quickly recognized the signs of family crisis and promptly ignored us. I spent the rest of the afternoon consoling my father and drinking with him. We got very drunk. The happier I got, the more miserable he got. But the cat was out of the bag and I never lied or hid from anyone ever again.
Even so, the struggle had only just begun. I was free but there were far too many places where I was no longer welcome or where my basic human rights were not respected. I had to endure the humiliation of seeing my boyfriend thrown in jail because the convenient nature of his marriage to Bonnie was discovered. This resulted in his eventual expulsion and my quest to get back with him. Since then, I have become the first person to be granted residency in Denmark, strictly on the basis of a relationship with a same-sex-partner; but that’s another story. We’ve seen the recognition of same-sex-couples on many fronts and the openness and dialogue which abounds in the media. Most importantly, our work and struggle has given strength and confidence to a new generation who will not waste the best years of their lives repressing their sexuality and emotions and hiding their true identities from their friends, family and colleagues. Their rights as human beings will be on a par with all others…almost! WOW!
So, that’s my ‘easing-out’ story. It only took me 16 years from the time I realized my sexuality to the day when all pretense expired. I can’t tell whether my story is the same as anyone else’s but I know that I have heard some pretty horrific coming out stories full of heart-ache, rejection and in some cases even violence. Mine had none of that but what it lacked in excitement it more than made up for in dragged-out time and frustration. Still, if my man had lived, we would be celebrating our 30th anniversary in two weeks time. I’m a happy and well adjusted old gay.

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