Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Guest Post: On Selfishness, The Closet and Coming Out

Today’s guest post was written by Philip.  He originally sent it to me as an e-mail in response to a couple of posts from last week, here and here.   I thought others could benefit from his words, and he has given me permission to post it.    

I have a different spin on the discussion of selfishness.

First, "selfishness" was my wife's word.  I prefer the word "self-centered".

I think my wife didn't support me in my efforts because she had not a clue what was going on –and, to be honest, neither did I.

Here is what I have learned since....

First, I had incorrectly assumed everyone understood the concept of closet.


My wife didn't go into the closet at 12 years old like I did.  She didn't spend every single day from age 12 on being constantly reminded that she was in the closet like I had been.

The reality was that she had never even spent five minutes thinking about the closet; much less living in one, and it was unreasonable of me to expect my wife to understand something she had never experienced.

Second, I had incorrectly assumed the closet was an easy concept to understand.

The closet was in my bones.  It was in the bones of every gay person I had ever met.  We were all "intimately familiar" with the concept.  None of us had ever needed to put it into words.  We already knew.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until years later when I came out at work that I realized many people didn't understand why I was coming out because they just didn't understand what it was like to be in the closet.  So I told myself that all I had to do to get their support was to explain it to them.  That's when I hit a wall.  I had never tried to have a discussion about the closet with people that were not intimately familiar with it already.  I couldn't put it into words that they could understand.

I ended up creating a list of what I couldn't do while in the workplace closet, what I had to do to stay in the workplace closet and how being in the closet at work impacted my life outside of work.  I kept adding to that list as I remembered things.  By the end of the second day I more than had the words.

My coworkers reactions were all positive.  Most said "I had no idea" or "Really?"  My favorite response came from a coworker that went from "why are you doing this?" to "why didn't you do this sooner?

Third, I found out that it doesn't matter if you are 18 or 38 or 58 or 78 when you come out, there are some stages that can't be avoided; that each of us has to go through.

For instance, independence.  For years my wife had pretty much run the roost.  All of a sudden, I am no longer such a blank slate.  I am discovering likes and dislikes.  I am discovering I have opinions about all sorts of things including who I want to socialize with, where I want to live, what kind of work I want to do.  This after so many years of marriage.   Changes make for a bumpy ride.

Sometimes the stages were almost funny.  For instance, I developed a fashion sense overnight.  My wife had always bought my clothes.  Now all of a sudden I pretty much hated everything my wife had bought me.

Bottomline ... don't assume your wife understands.  Maybe some explanation will be necessary before she can be more supportive.

She may not be gay but she can understand how missing out on some of the most important years in a person's life might impact their personal growth.  She will remember how self-centered she was during that time (i.e., her own adolescence).  She should be able to accept that you have to be somewhat self-centered now because after years of delay - you are now going through what she went through so long ago.

I have heard it described as a second adolescence....it's not, it's our first adolescence...long overdue.


  1. Amen, brother. It is our first adolescence. For those who want a more academic take on how our own development can be more fully understood, I point you to Erik Erikson's lifetime work (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erikson's_stages_of_psychosocial_development).
    It's not specific to the story of gayness. But it is really interesting stuff for those who want to understand themselves better.

  2. The brilliance of life and being gay is that there is a constant stream of self-discovery and a constant need to be discovered. It's beautiful.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. @Martin - Thanks for your comment and for the link. Looks intriguing.

    @Lead Singer - I personally appreciated your comment very much. It was timely. Thanks.

  4. Yep, it is our first adolescence but it moves fast. In two and a half years I've now reached my mid 20's, so-to-speak. Probably in another couple of years I might be caught up.

    I too found that the concept of the closet is a difficult one for many people. It was even a difficult one for me at first but in a different way. It took time to realize that I was indeed hidden deep in a closet. And what I was hiding in that closet actually wasn't what I thought I was hiding. Sexuality was the first thing that fell out when the door was opened. Not, homosexuality, just sexuality in general. Then later, when rooting around, I found homosexuality and then later found my the rest of my core self. All hidden away under piles and piles of other people's cloths.

  5. I was attempting to explain this "gay adolescence" to my sister just the other night. I am hoping to write a blog about my perspective of it, from a gay woman's view, in the next few days. Thank you for this post. And, thank you to Philip for allowing it to be posted.

    love and respect, always.