The time between realizing quietly to yourself that you are gay or bisexual, and telling your female partner or spouse is one of the most difficult and lonely periods of life. Trying to decide the right course of action can eat a man up inside and cause all sorts of emotional pain.
For me, it was a long journey between coming to the firm conclusion that I was not bisexual but gay and coming out to my wife. Even though I had extensively discussed my attraction to men early on in our dating relationship, I had felt it was mostly in the past, and the topic went underground for many years. When I married my wife it was because I felt I could have a full loving and sexual relationship with her and believed my attraction to men would lessen further as our relationship grew.
I remember a brief moment on the second day of our honeymoon in Paris, walking down a side street near our hotel, with my new wife. As a handsome man walked towards us and I felt my attraction to him stir. In that moment I felt surprise that my attraction to men was still there. In a naive way I thought my wedding would complete the change in me.
We moved to the suburbs, when we got engaged, where the men were mostly married and older and there was not the draw of streets full of young attractive men that I has seen before marriage while living in New York City. For a long time after we were married I was sure that I must be bisexual because I enjoyed sex with my wife, but when I was on the streets of Manhattan where I worked, I would look at attractive men and get excited.
Sometime in the midpoint in our marriage, I finally made up my mind, after a lot of internal back and forth, that I was gay. By that time we had a young son, a nice home, and a settled life. I believed I had made a life commitment to my wife and son and had no intention of going back on my commitment. I saw the gay part of myself as a secret corner of my being kept tightly under wraps. I had a loving family and was determined to keep the gay from seeing the light of day.
But then something began to happen. It became harder and harder with each passing year to keep the gay at bay. The world around me continued to change dramatically and gay was not only accepted, but was now cool. But the internalized homophobia, that I was unable to see for a long time, was a powerful deterrent against coming out.
The space and time between coming out to yourself as gay or bisexual and telling those around you, particularly a wife or female partner can be extraordinary painful. I did not want to rock the boat of my married life and so I continued to divide myself in two. There was the public husband, father and successful professional. And there was the gay man inside that I discussed with no one.
As the years progressed I pulled back inside myself, got quieter, became an observer, unengaged in life around me and lost my enjoyment of many things that once had mattered to me. Interests that had brought me joy earlier such as doing wheel thrown pottery, visiting museums, riding my bike, all lost their flavor and became dull. I was increasingly depressed. Yet, even the depression I was determined to keep hidden.
In recent years I felt this increasing pressure to come out which I fought against. While society had made it easier for me to come out, it was finally the glimpses of living an honest, integrated life with a level of integrity that was ultimately the big draw to come out.
There is much that I could write about the processes of coming out and how it changed me, suffice it to say that in the year and five months since my wife and I separated have been the happiest of my adult life. The depression that was a constant companion for many years before coming out is long gone. The internal compartmentalization which kept the gay hidden, which I felt as brick and mortar walls within me, also no longer exists.
The world has changed dramatically, but the federal appeals court ruling last week in favor of anti-gay marriage laws in four states speaks to the negative messages that still exist loud and clear in our society. Just like all the anti-gay messages we received as children, the fight against marriage equality continues to take a toll and pray on in our adult minds with messages telling us to keep our ugliness hidden.
The only way I have found to fight the sheer emotional pain of hiding in the closet is to come out. The more I have come out publicly and proudly the happier I am. I feel integrated and whole in a way I could not imagine. I do not know why it takes so many of us so many years to make the decision to come out. Coming out has been powerful, integrating, pleasure giving and right. Coming out can fight the depression, isolation and loneliness of the closet. As Ellen Degeneres said so many years ago on Oprah, when asked why she was coming out now, she replied, “because it is ok”.