Well, these past few weeks have been very interesting. As I had indicated was my goal a couple of weeks ago, I’ve now had lunch or breakfast with a dozen or so (gay) guys and have been to a couple of get-togethers at which I met a couple dozen or so more guys. In addition, I’ve enlarged my network of “on-line” friends by both e-mail and telephone. So what are my thoughts and impressions at this point?
I have to say (please don’t laugh) that something I’ve been struck by over and over is the sense of surprise to discover there are other guys out there like me. I mean, I’ve always known that there are gay guys, but “they” were always “them” – people that were classified and shoved away, a result of my hyper-developed self-defense mechanism to disassociate myself from anything and everything homosexual (at least to the extent it was visible). My association with the “gay world” was limited to secret thoughts and furtive forays into the realms of online eroticism. None of my experience extended beyond myself.
Now, however, I’m one of “them,” and as I meet more guys, whether in person or on-line, perhaps because almost all of them are or have been Mormons and because I have kept my gayness so secret for so long, I continue to feel this sense of surprise that these guys are like me. I guess I assumed that no one was like me; thus, the surprise. I don’t know … it’s just kind of weird and takes a little getting used to.
Another thing I’ve discovered is that I’ve kept the real me hidden for so long and am so accustomed to always being on guard, that I find it challenging to let my guard down and be more open. This is easier in one-on-one situations; more difficult in group settings. But I’m working on it.
That being said, I’ve also had experiences while interacting with guys in which I feel a tremendous sense of freedom to be myself, to allow myself to be gay, to act the way I feel like acting instead of constantly worrying about whether or not the way I am acting could be perceived as gay. I cannot really describe how good this makes me feel. It’s like the real me is emerging after being kept under wraps since at least puberty. While at a party the other night, a couple of the guys asked, jokingly, whether I wanted to “go back to being straight,” to which I responded with a firm and even exuberant, “NO!” I cannot “go back,” nor do I want to go back.
Along the way, I continue to have “existential moments” from time to time (like the one I wrote about here regarding my (in)ability to compose a list of my ten favorite movies). For example, while at one of the gatherings I attended last week, one of the guys very sincerely asked me what my interests and hobbies are. Suddenly, everyone in the group was looking at me, and I’m sure I had that deer-in-the-headlights look. That’s how I felt, anyway.
Again, I’m so used to “non-defining” (or “un”-defining?) myself that when someone unexpectedly asks me a question like that, about who I really am, I freeze. Literally. It’s like my mind grinds to a halt. Fortunately, one of the other fathers there came to my rescue by pointing out that, when one has children, one often has little time for anything else. But of course, that wasn’t the real answer. The real answer is that I have been so dissociated from my Self for so long, so accustomed to safe-guarding my private little world, so hyper-vigilant lest I express any interest that could be considered (not matter how remotely) “gay,” so accustomed to giving “the party line” that I literally implode when asked to reveal who I really am. (Notice how I phrased that, i.e,. in terms of “revealing” rather than openly “sharing.” Freud moment.)
I believe that this will improve with the passage of time and by virtue of getting “out there” and interacting with people – something I’ve not done for a very long time. I also plan to take concrete steps to validate and give expression to my interests. For example, while I don’t yet feel ready to join the Salt Lake Men’s Choir, I am planning to join another choir after the New Year, thus giving myself permission to express an interest that I have smothered for many years.
I guess what I’m trying to say boils down to this: I’m learning that “coming out” – at least for me – involves a lot more than just coming to terms with my sexual orientation and revealing that to people who have always seen me differently than I see myself. “Coming out” also means stepping out of the shell that one has very carefully constructed for oneself and allowing one’s true identity to breathe and gain sustenance after years of being held bound and gagged in the basement, barely surviving. The light of the noon-day sun can sometimes be blinding, but I am becoming accustomed to the brightness, along with the sweet fresh air and lovely sights and smells that exist “out there.”