Friday, October 11, 2013 is National Coming Out Day. The impetus for this is to help the public realize that gay people are an important part of their daily lives, whether in the family, at work, at play, in the community or even in church. It is very clear to everyone that the more visible gay people are, the less likely homophobia will raise its ugly head. For those of us who have come out and live openly and authentically, the day also affirms our dignity.
So, I will share my coming out story and, if anyone reading this also has a story to tell in order to celebrate the day and honor our lives, please contribute as well.
I probably started my coming out in 1957 at the age of seven when I kissed a boy named Chuck at the local park. He just looked at me funny, but didn’t say anything and we continued playing. Apparently, no big deal! I developed a crush on a boy in my 5th grade class in Riverton WY in 1960. I didn’t really know how to hide it, but no one seemed to notice how I felt; everyone just considered us friends. We moved that summer to Halliday, North Dakota and, once again, I developed a crush on a neighbor boy, Merrill. And again, no one picked up on it; we were just considered friends. Well, I have no idea if these boys had any romantic feelings for me, but by the age of ten, I had figured out that I needed ‘to hide the light’ and not let the other kids or the adults become aware of my affection for him. The subtle ‘message’ about this was loud and clear. The only person who had a clue about my feelings was my Dad and, in retrospect, I realize he dropped hints that I should cool it.
By the age of fourteen, it was becoming pretty obvious that I was gay and my Dad had ‘the talk’ with me around midnight on a school night. He woke me up and made it clear we needed to talk. He first asked me if I had a girlfriend, which, of course, my thought was, oh no, he wants to have ‘the talk’ about the birds and the bees! I told him that it was midnight, I already knew about the facts of life, I had to get some sleep for school in the morning, and, no, I didn’t have a girlfriend. Dad said this was more important than school and followed up with the question, “Well, do you have a boyfriend then?” I nearly fell out of bed. I told him that I was only fourteen and I wasn’t ready for girlfriends or boyfriends. So, no, No boyfriend. Dad looked at me and said, and I’ll never forget these words, “You know, you will have a boyfriend one day. Do you know what a homosexual is?” I did know, and told him, yes, I knew. He then continued, “You know, that’s who you are, right? I think you are a homosexual and if you ever have a problem adjusting to that, please come to me and we’ll find you some help with it.” This was 1964. My father may have had a lot of faults, but when it came to me and my sexuality, he understood and was clearly supportive.
I was in total shock, though. My Dad thought I was gay! I really didn’t consciously know yet that I was gay. I carried Dad’s words with me through high school and simply avoided most social interaction that would lead to dating, sex, and all that. I did, as a senior, find a friend who was a girl, Kari, and we ‘dated’ through the year, but I actually was more attracted to her dad. He sometimes took me sailing with him on Puget Sound and I really enjoyed his company. He taught me how to tie knots, unfurl the sails and other little jobs on the boat. Being with him and feeling what I did when we were sailing together made me realize my Dad was right. But I had no idea what to do with that realization. It was 1968 and society was coping with its racism and the problems that resulted from political assassinations and the Vietnam War. Gay people were simply not yet on the radar.
I ended up in the military between 1968 and 1972 and I started a gradual ‘coming out’ with my friends in the army. They all talked about it behind my back anyway and of course that got back to me. I never really confirmed or denied any of the rumors, but my closest friends and apartment mates, Steve Marshall, Dave Fair, and Eddie Lind got the idea and often teased me about it, but in a nice way. They would point at guys and ask if they were ‘my type’. I did go out with one guy for a couple months while stationed near D.C. my last year of service. He had a car and I didn’t, so he would come over to pick me up to go out to dinner and a movie. Whenever he was at the front door, Steve would always yell down the hall, “Hey, Gary, your date’s here!”
I did fall in love with a couple guys–one in Vietnam and one in D.C. when I was stationed there. But I never acted on that and never revealed my true feelings for them, because they were my friends. The guy in Vietnam figured things out, though, and we had a short discussion about it. He told me he knew what was going on with me and that it was not a problem for him, but he was only going to be a friend and nothing more. I told him that was fine; I didn’t expect anything else. It was said and done and we stayed close friends until he went back to the States. I never saw him again after that.
After the military, I went to college and I lived communally in a house initially with three others. Melanie, Valli and Dan. I told Dan at one point that I thought I was gay and he just looked at me with that ‘so what’ expression. I just shrugged my shoulders and told him I just wanted to let him know. At one point, I left my personal journal in the living room and Valli read it. It led to comments about me being gay. I was angry about it, not because they thought I was gay, but because my friends had opened and read my journal. We all got over it and it never really damaged our friendship. During my time at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, I really did think I could do it all and have it all. It was 1972 and the possibilities seemed endless. I fell in love with one of the men in our circle of friends, Gary F., although people didn’t get that and thought I was following him around because I was interested in his girlfriend, Melanie. They ended up getting married. Here I was trying to be obvious and it was misinterpreted. I lost direct contact with Gary F. over the years, but reconnected with him 30 years later. I admitted to him how I felt about him back then, and thereafter, we stayed in contact. He sent me poetry, letters and cards until he died in June of 2010.
But, in 1972, because I thought I could have it all, I also got together with my best female friend, Enid. I wasn’t really hiding in the closet as much as I wanted to experience as much of life as I could. In the end, I did fall in love with her, too, and I thought, OK, I really like this woman and I wanted to be a father, so why not? So, yeah, maybe not smart–I thought I was in love with two different people, one a man the other a woman, both in my larger circle of friends. And since Gary F. was obviously straight, I was left together with Enid, which was for me perfectly acceptable at the time. She is an amazing woman and I still care deeply for her and she is the mother of my two children. She is still one of my favorite people in life. My Dad was furious with me when I introduced her to the family and even more so when I told him we were going to get married. His response was, and I quote, “You’re going to ruin that woman’s life and you know why!”
We got married in 1974, had two kids by 1977, and by 1978 our relationship was drastically transforming and, because of her own personal issues, she opened the door for me eventually to move on. Our marriage was really over already in 1979, but I still wasn’t ready to leave, and she asked if we could stay together for the time being. Finally, in 1983 I informed her that I was going to start dating men, and introduced her to my first real boyfriend, Rohm. It happened like this: I had been away studying in Portland for a summer quarter, where I met Rohm. I called her and told her we needed to talk so I went home for the weekend. I told her that I had met someone. She looked at me and smiled and asked, “Are you having an affair?” I had to say, yes. She asked me then what her name was, and I had to say, “His name is Rohm.” She started giggling and said, “So Gary’s human after all!” Pretty amazing woman. But there’s something behind that comment: I really did have this uber-responsible sensibility and was pretty judgmental about people who didn’t live up to their personal responsibilities, especially regarding family. I suppose I had that attitude because of my rather irresponsible father. So, for me to step outside of my family and start a relationship with someone else–especially with a man–seemed a bit out of character.
It took another three years for the kids to grow up enough and for me to tie up all the loose ends to leave and start my life anew, which I did in 1986. I don’t exactly remember when I came out to my own family. I believe, I told my younger brother, Lyman, first sometime in the mid-80s. After I had left the house, my Dad called Enid and asked her if the reason for our divorce was that I was gay. (He had known that all along…) She told him to discuss it with me. Well, there was no need. In the end, coming out for me was such a long life experience lasting from my teen years until I was 33, that I can’t pinpoint one watershed moment that I could say ‘that’s the moment when I stepped out of the closet.’ If there was such a moment, it was probably when I announced to my wife that I had a boyfriend. But even then, that wasn’t some great crescendo or climax in my life.
Coming out is a constant process. There are always people who have to be told. I was a high school teacher for 35 years and had to ‘come out’ every year with each new group of students. I never had a problem with students reacting badly. They were always understanding, caring and accepting. And if someone wasn’t, I never heard. Coming out is something I often have to do in the most mundane circumstances. Just today I went to the eye doctor and she asked me about my insurance. I said that I was now on my spouse’s policy. She then asked, ‘Where does your wife work?’ I had to say, “My husband works for the V.A.” She immediately apologized and then continued the examination.
I’m now married and living a wonderful retired life with my husband. We met more than seventeen years ago on August 4, 1996 in Lincoln, Nebraska and we’ve been together ever since. We were legally married in Vancouver, Washington on May 4, 2013.
So, that is my story! Now, what’s yours?