Dear Mom and Dad,
It has been a year and two months since I moved out of my marriage and house and into my new life. While the transition actually began two years before I moved out, moving out was the catalyst for tremendous personal growth and change in my life.
While you have asked an occasional question, we have not talked much over the last year about my new life and I thought you might like to know a bit more. It has been an amazing journey and I cannot wait so see where this road takes me next. The letter that follows started out as a short note to you and grew into a longer narrative about the last year. I hope you enjoy learning about the life of your oldest son.
It is no small feat to come out as a gay man in your mid-50s. When I was wrestling with the choices I was about to make in the summer of 2011, I was very afraid of what it meant to walk away from the life I had built. I would be walking away from my family, my home, my wife’s family. I didn’t know how you and my siblings would react. It meant giving up the life I knew, and was comfortable with, and starting from scratch. I did not know if I could do it. I was frightened that I would end up sitting alone in an apartment, depressed, regretting the choices I had made.
In the end the pain of inaction was too great. For a long time I was frozen by fear and did nothing. At the same time, I felt that I was dying inside a little more each day. I found myself withdrawing, talking less, caring about very little and getting angry over trivial things with my wife and son. I was very depressed. I knew that I needed to find a way to move forward and I knew that meant coming out.
After a very long painful time of wrestling with what I would do, I finally came to the decision that if I was going to come out in my mid-50’s then I was going to give it my all—and that has been my motto ever since. Giving it my all meant moving past my fears, stereotypes and comfort zone to find ways to meet people and get involved with the gay community. I knew coming out meant building a new life for myself, and it would take work. I also knew that I had to be bold and courageous to succeed on this path. At many steps along the way I encountered my own internalized homophobia and stereotypes of the gay community which I had to challenge. There have been many times which I saw my fear emerge which I had to manage and move past. But each time that I have challenged and moved past my fears, internalized homophobia and stereotypes I have felt stronger, more integrated, and happier.
The first group that had a powerful and positive effect on me was GAMMA, a support group that has meet twice monthly in Washington, D.C. area since 1978. According to their website, “The group grew out of the ashes of the Cinema Follies fire, [a gay pornography theater], on October 24, 1977, which claimed the lives of a number of married men.” GAMMA is composed of men who have been or are married or involved with women. Some of the men who attend have chosen to stay married while others have moved out of their marriages. GAMMA has no position on what is the right path for a man to take, and is only there for support. Each man’s story is different but very powerful.
This wonderful group of courageous men has formed the core of my new friends and was an important support for me as, step by step, I made decisions about the direction my life would take. Hearing men who have chosen to stay in their marriages, talk about their lives in GAMMA meetings, was very important in my journey. Some of the men who have chosen to remain married also have relationships with men outside their marriages, mostly with the knowledge of their wives. Hearing about these men’s lives helped me decide that I needed to move out of my marriage in order to heal and become a fully integrated, healthy person. I saw that I could no longer live a life that straddled the fence.
In the fall of this year I became one of the volunteer meeting facilitators at GAMMA. Facilitating the GAMMA meetings have been very rewarding. Most meetings have 10-15 men and there are usually a few men there for the first time. The format of the meeting is simple. We first go around the room and each man introduces himself and talks about his life and the issues he’s struggling with. Once everyone has spoken, we open up the discussion and focus on the major themes that have emerged. Men speak honestly, courageously and deeply and it is always a moving and powerful experience. Even though I’ve moved past many of the issues the newer men are struggling with, I always learn something, finding it food for my soul. It helps me not to forget the years of pain and indecision that I went through.
There is also a number of Meetup groups I have gotten involved with. Meetup.com is a website that helps people form local groups on any topic. In the Washington, D.C. area there are many Meetup groups that have an LGBTQ focus. Montgomery Men is a group of gay men that meets for dinner once a month at restaurants in Montgomery County where I live. Usually about 40-75 men show for the monthly dinners, and I have made a number of wonderful friends from these events. Another group I have participated in is Northern Virginia Gay and Lesbian Professionals that have a monthly cocktail reception in the Northern Virginia suburbs.
There are two groups I have begun to get involved in for LGBTQ IT professionals. The first is oSTEM, which is a national society dedicated to educating and fostering leadership for LGBT communities in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. I’ve signed up for their mailing list and planning to go to an event soon. The second group is NOGLSTP, which stands for National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals. I recently went to a NOGLSTP dinner in Baltimore, which was a lot of fun. In November I plan to send a representative from my company to the national conference, Out To Innovate, jointly sponsored by both organizations.
I have also gone to a number of GLOE events. GLOE is part of the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center and stands for GLBT Outreach & Engagement. The first event I went to was their Purim costume party. I decided to volunteer to help them set up the event so I could meet some people before the party began, and it was a great ice breaker. I went in a Top Gun costume I bought the day of the event and had a fantastic time. Next I went to GLOE’s annual Passover Seder, which used a Haggadah that members of GLOE had written, and made for a very powerful and moving service. I ended up sitting next to a man I had by chance gone on a date with the day before and discovered we would both be at the Seder. I met another man, Michael, who was at our table and we’ve gone on a number of dates and begun to get to know each other.
This past June I went to the National Pride Shabbat service on Erev Pride (the night before the Capital Pride Parade), led by Rabbi Laurie Green of Bet Mishpachah, the Washington DC area congregation for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Jews, and members of GLOE to celebrate Pride. The service was powerful and moving and it felt so good to be in at this service with the LGBT community and their allies.
The day after National Pride Shabbat I went to my first Capital Pride parade in Washington, D.C. followed a week later by the Baltimore Pride parade. Both were powerful testaments to how the world has changed. I was surprised to see how corporate the Washington parade was, with Marriott the major sponsor and groups from many major corporations, churches and synagogues marching. In D.C. I assembled a group of friends and we had a wonderful time watching the 2 ½ hour parade. The next week In Baltimore, I had arranged to meet my friend Tom who was helping a group of his friends decorate a float for the parade. Tom and I ended up on the float for the Baltimore parade throwing colored beads, the kind you see in New Orleans, out to the crowd. It was an absolutely joyous experience.
I have also made the rounds of a few gay resorts. In December I went to Ft. Lauderdale to a gay guesthouse by myself and had a great time. I met a wonderful group of men from all over the world and it was a very empowering experience. In June I went to Provincetown, MA with my friend Ralph, and met up with friends of ours that live on the Cape. We had a fantastic time exploring Ptown. Next week I go to Rehoboth Beach, DE for the first time with my friend Michael, who has rented a house for the week with about six of his friends. It should be a lot of fun.
Following my interest in art and culture, I have gone to a number of events with the Chrysalis Arts and Culture Group, an LGBT group that regularly visits museums, memorials, historic sites and galleries. I went with Chrysalis to see the Van Gogh Repetitions show at the Phillips Collection and to see the Degas/Cassatt show at the National Gallery.
I have also gone sailing twice with Rainbow Spinnakers, a gay sailing group in the Washington, D.C. area. I have been to LGBT documentaries, film screenings and plays across DC with different friends. And the list would not be complete without the men’s yoga class I take on Saturday’s with my friend Tom. I also just returned from the group’s annual yoga retreat in Western Maryland, which was just fantastic. Over two and a half days we did four yoga sessions, one hike and one Thai massage class. I was exhausted when I got home, but had a great time.
Along the way I have met lots of great people. And most importantly I have been happier, more engaged, busier, and having more fun over this past year than I had for a very long time.
But why so much, so fast? Well, like Marisa Tomei said in My Cousin Vinny, I feel that ‘my biological clock is ticking’. I feel that I only have this small window of time to live this new life and I want to do it all. For too many years I lived emotionally in the shadows. Today I want to be engaged in the world in an honest and public way. While I don’t regret the choices I made (my wife has been my best friend and my son is just amazing), staying in the closet had me feel, as I wrote, like I was dying a little bit each day. Increasingly I was in tremendous emotional pain. In coming out I decided to fully embrace this new life.
All of this is prelude to the choices I am making now as I move in to this next phase of creating my new life. I have shared with you that I am being considered for a board seat with not for profit health care organization. This will bring a new level of integration to my life, combining a depth of knowledge about health care, health care operations and IT, with a deep interest in medicine and a strong desire to find ways to give back to the LGBTQ community. Joining this board will also make me more public within the LGBTQ community. I welcome this new more public role, and I hope it will open doors for involvement in other LGBTQ organizations in Washington, D.C.
There are also some exciting changes taking place for me at work. Let me begin this part of the story with some decisions I made late last year. Through my company, last November, I was invited to attend the Baltimore Symphony Black Tie Annual Fundraiser. I really wanted to go because the musical group, Pink Martini, was performing. I asked for one ticket, they gave me two tickets. Because I was not out at work I did not feel comfortable inviting a man to go with me as a date. I wrestled with this for a few weeks before deciding that I was not going to go, and I gave back the tickets. But out of this came the decision, that if I was going to have the life I wanted, I really needed to come out at work.
In March of this year I began coming out at work and over a two month period I came out to my boss, who was tremendously supportive and encouraging, to all my peers (two men have gays sisters, one man had a gay brother who came out of a marriage to a woman, and two other men had best friends in college who were gay—who knew?), and the people who work for me (one of the men who reports to me is gay and another has a gay son). I met with each person privately, mostly during a planned 1:1 meetings, and in total spoke to about 25 people.
Coming out at work has been nothing but a positive and empowering experience. I had the hope that coming out would open new doors and it has. The week after beginning to come out at work, I went to two company sponsored events, with my co-workers, and with a date! The first was annual fundraising dinner for Food and Friends, a Washington, D.C. group that began providing meals to individuals with AIDS who were home bound and have expanded to individuals home bound by cancer and other illness. The following week I went to the Preakness Stakes with a date and watched the horse races. It was so empowering to feel so at ease with a date in work related settings.
On coming out to the head of Human Resources I learned that the company was planning to start what are called Affinity or Resource groups, which exist in about 90% of Fortune 500 companies. The first two resource groups planned for 2014 were LGBT and Veterans, with more to follow next year. The head of our HR group told me that she hoped I would play a leadership role in the LGBT Resource group, and I said I would. At first the idea of being so public at work struck fear in me. This would mean going public in a way that I had not even contemplated. As I’ve done through this whole process the past three years, I decided, after a lot of soul searching, to move forward, in spite of my fear, and embrace this new role.
I am now the executive sponsor for the new LGBT Resource Group at my company. We had our first organizational meeting last week, in preparation for launching the group in October. We pulled together a small core group of about ten gay men and women from across the company, plus representatives from HR and Marketing/Communications, to plan for the launch of the group. It was thrilling. We talked about what it meant to be LGBT at the company and really concluded that while there were no overt barriers, it was a culture of don’t ask don’t tell. We also discussed what kind of programming we would like to have. Ideas included: different LGBT organizations we could volunteer with and raise money for; mentoring programs for younger LGBT employees; educating employees on LGBT issues; marching as a company in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore pride parades. To be able to have this kind of open conversation at work, endorsed by work, was another powerful step in feeling whole and integrated.
I’ve intentionally kept the topic of love last, since it’s a more complex topic to write about. No, I haven’t met the love of my life, but I do get the award for going on the most dates in a single year. After moving out on my own last year I setup profiles on both Match and OkCupid, both online dating sites, and have met some great men for dates through both sites. I’ve also met lots of men through all the activities I’ve described, and have gone on dates with a few of them as well. I’ve gone out with some guys more than once, and out of that has grown a number of good friends, but I’m still looking for Mr. Right.
The core decision I made early in dating is just to have fun and make it about getting to know another person. I’ve tried not to worry if he wasn’t ‘the guy’. Because of those core decisions, even guys whom I knew in the first few minutes were not a good fit, I still enjoyed getting to know. For me, it’s as much about building community as it is about finding a partner, so I’m enjoying the ride, and trying not to worry about the destination. There’s a core group of men I’ve gotten to know better and we continue to go on dates, plan activities, and spend time together getting to know each other better. I do hope to find love, and if I don’t, it won’t be for lack of trying. But wherever I end up, I will certainly have enjoyed the ride.
So what’s next? Well, as I said, l hope love is in the cards. But beyond that I am having a great time in my new life. I feel whole and integrated for the first time in my adult life in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. I feel at ease with who I am and proud of how far I’ve personally traveled this past year. Through GAMMA I know many men in similar situations and most of them have had much more painful journeys than I have in coming out. I see the world opening up in a way that I couldn’t see or imagine just a few years ago. I remember saying to myself, before deciding to come out, and before I really could see a way to move past the walls I had erected around myself, ‘well, maybe this is the ball game’. How wrong I was.
I feel empowered and excited about this next phase of my life. I have the support of my family and friends, which have been amazing. I have the support of my company in being very public as a gay man and that is thrilling and empowering. And my wife and I continue to rebuild our relationship and I feel very happy that we have an increasingly warm friendship. Yes, she’s doing Thanksgiving again this year. And of course my son has been consistently supportive and amazing.
I am excited to see where this journey takes me. So if the next time we talk, if I say I’m a little tired, it is just that I’ve been a little busy this past year. And it has been a wonderful busy that I would not have missed for the world.