For the past three years I’ve attended a peer support group for men who are gay, bisexual and questioning and who been married to or involved with a women. The meeting at their best are powerful and life changing, and they have helped me during every step of my journey.
Most men come to these meetings for the first time are still married or involved with a woman and usually have children. The questions about coming out are always a part of the discussions:
“Who should I tell and when?”
“Should I come out to my wife?”
“My wife knows but we haven’t told the kids.”
“My wife doesn’t want me to tell anyone?”
“How do I tell my parents who are older?”
“Will all our friends abandon me when I come out?”
“I only like a certain type of guy. Will I find that at my age?”
“Am I too old to be coming out?”
These are tough questions which every man married to a woman and thinking about coming out has to consider.
When we think about coming out, our psyche can dredge up all kinds of false stories that work to keep us in the closet. Most men coming to this support group, as I was, are married, established, settled in their live, and in the closet for years. We usually cannot see with any clarity what the other side of coming out looks like.
But there is one thing I have observed repeatedly in myself and others: we believe the voices in our head telling us to stay in the closet originate from us. Men often describe all the reasons why they cannot come out and believe their thoughts are their own.
I think this is something very American. I mean, we’re Americans after all! No one messes with our thoughts. Our thoughts are ours and ours alone. We ignore the history of LGBT oppression in our culture and thousands of years of Judeo-Christian anti-LGBT rhetoric. We think we are individuals, and the culture has no power over us. Nonsense! It has been the weight of culture and religion on our shoulders, plus family, that has kept us in the closet for way too many years.
I’ve been amazed at various steps in my own journey how old thoughts would appear in my mind. Thoughts like: “Why are you doing this…telling people about some sickness you have?” I have continually fought back those thoughts, telling myself they were old dead recordings from long ago, in order to move past my fears and take the risk of coming out.
Every time I have surmounted my fear and come out, I have felt a lightness and energy that is fantastic. But prior to coming out, I could not see the other side of my fear. All I could see was my fear, and the thoughts in my head which felt like my own.
One of the things I have learned in the process of coming out is to look at the fear and the thoughts in my head as an object, as something separate from me, and examine them critically. Most often the fear and stories I told myself were the voices of my family, the voices of society, the voices of religion, and truly, the voice of oppression. Seeing those voices as other, as not me, has helped me push them back and get past my fears.
But I think part of the arrogance of many men, particularly Americans, is that we believe every thought in our minds is ours. We own ourselves and our thoughts. It is very hard when you are in emotional pain to see that what you’re feeling is not wholly your own. What may seem like a stray, very valid thought, is really is the voice of a thousand years of civilization bearing down on you. Most of us find it very difficult to put it in that perspective.
Therapy helped me immensely to see that the ‘old tapes’ playing in my mind was the closet pulling me back into its cold embrace. I also learned that it was ok to be afraid, but to be afraid and still move forward in spite of my fear.
The most powerful evidence that all the negative thoughts about coming out were false, is that they slowly disappeared as I have come out to a larger and larger circle of people.
Today I am fully out with family, friends, and work. Those old oppressive thoughts are no longer in my mind. They have been replaced by an excitement and energy to explore this brave new gay world I have entered. I want to make the most of the time I have, after coming out so late in life, and to be a positive force and make a difference in the LGBT community.