Thanksgiving in the USA When You’re Gay and Closeted
It’s Thanksgiving here in the USA and a very odd time to be a closeted gay married man. Big family gatherings tend to accentuate the feeling of loneliness and separateness because it’s a time of hiding and internal stress. While my family, my wife’s family, and a few old friends will descend on our home today, it becomes a time for me to put on my happy family mask and pretend everything is just fine.
While I go through the rituals, secretly I can’t wait until the forced happiness comes to an end and I can return to my quietude. There is a surprising level of stress when the person you really are inside has to remain hidden throughout a ‘joyous family event’ – pun intended.
I spent last weekend in New York City visiting my sister as well as spending time with two gay men I’ve come to know. These are two men who have become friends and I found the time with them somewhat joyous. There was no hiding. I could be exactly what I was, and older, (but still handsome), married, confused, gay man on the cusp of coming out at 55.
An Old Friend is New Again
One of the men I spent time with is someone who I knew in college back in 1976/1977 and then we drifted apart only to reconnect when I reached out to him last year. There was pure joy in our meeting–a sense of honesty and friendship which I found deeply cleansing. He was someone who I slept with twice during that first year of college, and who I had a terrible crush on back then and still find very attractive today. Dare I say that I still have a crush on him??? Yes, I do. He’s in a 20-year relationship with another man and I wouldn’t ever want to intrude on his life or relationship. But if he were single again, then…maybe.
When I came out to my wife in July of 2011, I began therapy with a very decent straight male psychologist who helped me through a very difficult period. But as the year progressed, I found therapy less and less useful and stopped seeing him about two months back. I will be starting therapy with a new therapist who runs an LGBT therapy center later this week. I feel I need to work with someone in the gay community who may better understand what I’m going through and can better help me make the transition from a married gay man to out gay man.
I recently read the book the Velvet Rage by Alan Downs. I was struck by his descriptions of how we, gay boys would become gay men, felt and were treated because we were different. In my case, I really began to understand that my father’s coldness and distance towards me from a very young age was tied to me not being the son he had expected. I wasn’t athletic and hated sports; I was overweight and effeminate–not quite the son my masculine 1950’s father who grew up playing football, went to school for engineering and business; read Ayn Rand, and extolled the virtues of capitalism and entrepreneurial success, had expected. He treated my sister, who was two years younger, as the son he really wanted. I remember feeling so separate and shut out as I watched my father and sister have ‘deep discussions about the world’ when my sister was only 8 and I was 10.
Downs talks about the ‘toxic shame’ we feel from being made to feel so different from a very early age, and it certainly rang true for me. Yet, ultimately, I did what my father wanted, and even though we were not close, I pursued a career that I thought would make him proud. Rather than be the artist I had planned to be I begin to feel driven to make the kind of money that would let me live comfortably. I left art and pursued a career in technology, continuing to climb the corporate ladder to some very senior roles in major corporations. Meanwhile, I never got the same approval from my father for my successes that he gave my two younger less successful entrepreneurial brothers.
Lots to tell and share but the journey goes on.
Happy Thanksgiving to those of you that celebrate this holiday. I hope for all LGBTQ men and women clarity of thought and action.