When I was 14 or 15, I tried to commit suicide. I did this after reading the chapter on homosexuality in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), a popular book at the time, written in 1969 by David Reuben, MD. My father had a copy in his library.
The book painted a sick, miserable, distorted picture of the ‘gay lifestyle’. I remember reading of furtive meetings of men in parks and bathrooms which left me feeling sad and hopeless. I was sure a tortured twisted life lay ahead of me. Nothing really mattered. Looking back, I was probably profoundly depressed. I felt that my life didn’t mean anything and one night took a bottle of Darvon from my parent’s medicine cabinet and downed a handful of pills, sure that would do the trick. I woke up the next morning feeling sick as if my muscles were shaking and weak, but alive. My parents never knew what had happened. Waking up the following day was a turning point in my life, and having lived, I decided that I really wanted to live. I never thought about killing myself again.
This was 1972, and being gay was still a “curable illness”. I was in tremendous pain and knew I needed help. I asked my parents if I could see a therapist. Somehow I knew that whatever I told the therapist, whom my mother had picked, would be shared with my parents. My mother found a therapist, but I only had a handful of sessions with him before I decided to stop seeing him, never having discussed my homosexuality.
When I was 16, I took a personal growth course, popular at the time, that set in motion a series of events that led to years of therapy. The course was called Silva Mind Control and taught by a wonderful, bright, dynamic woman who I trusted. After one of the sessions, I went up to her and asked if I could speak to her privately. I was very nervous and spoke with a soft voice. I told her I was gay, that I did not want to be, and asked if she could recommend a therapist for me to see. Ultimately, through a woman who worked for her, she recommended Orgonomy or Reichian Therapy. I learned that this therapy was a combination of talking and body therapy. That the practitioners were all trained in psychiatry and then did an additional course of study in Orgonomy. That the purpose of treatment was to free the life energy or sexual energy, which Reich named orgone energy, that had been ‘blocked’ through early life events. I read, Me And The Orgone, by Orson Bean, which left me incredibly excited. I believed I had found something true and profound. I knew with the certainty of a true believer that I would become straight through the therapy. I saw a Reichean Therapist in Philadelphia for two years before going off to college and seeing another Reichean Therapist in Northern New Jersey for the next nine years through my college and graduate school years.
I could write a lot about Orgonomy and the specifics of the therapy, but suffice it to say that after all the wasted years I spent in Orgonomy, I did not change from homosexuality. Orgonomy, with all its self-importance and sureness, that they had the corner on the truth, were sadly wrong. I don’t know what Orgonomy believes about homosexuality today. Still, in the 1970s and 80s, they clung to the perspective with absolute certainty that the therapy would indeed change a person from homosexuality. Looking online as I wrote this posting, I found an article written in 1978 titled, A Case of Homosexuality, which is written with unfathomable, arrogant, psycho-babel that it’s hard to imagine today that it was taken seriously. Still, it was seen as a very scholarly article at the time.
In 1983 I saw a talk show where a group of men described how they had changed from homosexuality through the study of a philosophy (whose name I won’t mention) that was taught in New York City. Soon I was beginning to study this philosophy and shortly thereafter stopped therapy. When I finished graduate school, I decided to move to New York City so I could devote myself to the study the philosophy and did so for the next three years, living with three other men who were also ‘studying to change from homosexuality.’ Again, there’s much I could write about this period, but suffice it to say that I did not change from homosexuality through my study of the philosophy, which I later realized was a cult.
I probably should be angry. There are years where I could have been an out gay man that was robbed from me. But I find it’s hard to get angry. I made choices along the way. I turned a blind eye to the gay liberation movement and gay culture, which I continued to see through the warped sick lens of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex. AIDS scared me and I was happy not to be close to it. When I look back, I don’t understand why I so stubbornly clung to things that didn’t work? Why could I not accept myself for who I was?
When I was in high school, I saw myself as such a radical. But all the choices I made since tells a story of someone quite mainstream. I don’t think I could have rebelled against the full weight of the society towards homosexuality in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. I didn’t have that kind of courage. It’s only because the world has changed so much in the past 10 years in a positive way toward LGBT that it made it harder for me to stay hidden in the closet.
Over the past few years, I’ve done a tremendous amount of reading of gay history, gay autobiographies; books about married gay men; books about the history of AIDS, and iconic gay figures like Harvey Milk. I have immersed myself in all things gay, and continue to do so. One of the most powerful change agents in this process was Glee. Seeing Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss) sing, Baby It’s Cold Outside, brought tears to my eyes and was transformational. Watching first Kurt and then Kurt and Blaine as their relationship grew, were powerful role models for me about what it meant to be a gay man. It had me believe that that love between two men was possible in a way I hadn’t really understood before.
While the past few years, taken as a whole, have been life-transforming, from a closeted married man to out gay man, it was moments like Glee or reading the autobiographies of men who came before me like Greg Louganis that made the most significant difference. I feel grateful that my coming out has been so positive. I couldn’t have imagined how wrong I’ve been all these years about the gay world and what it was really like. I didn’t realize how all the early perceptions of the gay world so heavily colored my perspective until recently. With each day, I’m relearning what it means to be a gay man in America in 2014, and I love the journey.