I never knew why my parents transferred me from public school to a private all boys’ Episcopal school in third grade, while my sister was sent across town to a co-ed Quaker school.
I have vivid memories of the school. Handsome athletic boys with crew cuts in their burgundy and gold stripes school sweaters–the school colors. These boys excelled at sports. And to my dismay, after school sports were mandatory year round. In the years I attend the school, third grade through sixth grade, I played soccer, wrestling, track and baseball. I was a mediocre player at best who never really understood the rules of any team sport. I was usually the last one picked for a scrimmage, which I always dreaded. The whole culture of men’s sports was painful to me for many years.
Looking back, I wonder if my parents saw something softer, effeminate, less than manly, that they thought needed some manning up at an all-boys school. The years at the all-boys school were painful from beginning to end, but I never became more manly or better at sports.
I remember around the same time my father bought a full size basketball hoop for our driveway. He took me out to shoot a few baskets and show me how to play. I found basketball boring and uninteresting and didn’t last long in front of the house. After just a few tries to get me to play basketball my father gave up asking. I am sure that I was a disappointment to him. While he wasn’t a sports fanatic like some fathers, he was the product of a family where he and his brother both excelled at sports. He did not understand a son who had little interest in sports, played with dolls with his younger sister and liked to hang around the women at family events. No, I was not my father’s son.
Looking back, it is clear to me that I displayed, from avery young age, a number of behaviors that should have told a perceptive parent that they had a gay son. I think my mother, grandmother and aunt knew from a very early age that I would become gay. I know from conversations with my aunt that it was a topic she and my grandmother had discussed. I doubt it was a topic that they ever discussed with my mother, but nonetheless, they all knew. My father on the other hand was probably in the dark. My father knew I was not the son that he imagined, but I am not sure in those early years he understood fully what he was observing.
My father’s reaction to me left our relationship distant and old. My father worked hard to be successful in the world. He came home after long days, tired and cranky, and although he tried to be a good father, he was easily annoyed by me. I stayed out of his way as a child because I knew he was quick to anger and we often fought. I did not feel that I had a father that I could be close to. On the other hand, I was very close to my grandmother, who thought everything I did was perfect, and I was close to my mother and aunt.
For too many years I believed that the ways I did not fit in was my fault. It was my fault that I did not excel at sports. It was my fault that I was uncoordinated at soccer, baseball or football. It was my fault that I could not understand the team sports. It was my fault that I did not fit in with the other boys. It was my fault that I was different, liked to play dolls with my sister and felt less masculine than other boys. I know now that I was really the victim of a society that had not yet progressed far enough to honor the difference of a child who didn’t fit the stereotypical male mold. As a society, we are only now learning to recognize the uniqueness and specialness of a boy who will grow up to be gay.
I was a bright, talented, artistic child, but for years I felt bad about myself and had very low self esteem. What saved me was work. I began working in college part time and loved it. While I hid the gay, I excelled in the workplace. I found in job after job that I got tremendous positive feedback from the people I worked for and with. It was through work that myself esteem got stronger and stronger, and while the gay remained in a hidden corner, I continued to find respect and success at work.
As I began to come out as a gay man three and a half years ago, it began to dawn on me that the part of me I kept hidden, the gay part, which still had low self esteem, was the same person who was successful in the workplace. I began to see the path to put the gay me together with the successful business professional. It was a very empowering realization.
Coming out at work has put the successful professional together with the gay man. The result has been empowering and positive. I’ve gotten overwhelming support at work as I have come out to people and for the first time in my adult life the two parts of me have continued to become integrated.
Coming out proudly is the thing that fights all the negativity we grew up with as gay men. Coming out is the empowering event that fights all the times we were picked last for a soccer scrimmage or coldly treated by a father, uncle or grandfather who didn’t feel comfortable with the effeminate little boy in front of him. Coming out is the single best way to fight how we were damaged as children.
I could not have imagined just a few years ago how coming out would make me stronger. Each time I tell someone honestly who I am, that little boy picked last for baseball fades into history. I’m not the son my father expected. I wish dad could have embraced with all his heart who I was from the beginning, but I can not replace what I missed. ‘Just get over it and move on’, has been my motto. Coming out, and coming out big, has helped the healing in ways I could not have imagined. Let the coming out continue!