Four times a year I board a plane to attend a board meeting as a board member of a company that my employer is part owner of. While I came out last year to about half the people who attend this meeting, I have not come out to everyone, and because of that, each meeting has a certain level of stress.
Three of the four annual meetings are in the company’s offices, but the fourth takes place in a resort and often includes spouses at the non-meeting events. I have not brought my partner to this event because it just does not work for him logistically to take a vacation from work so he can hang out with the spouses, mostly women, while the board meets.
My not coming out to everyone on the board has to do with my fears about how it will be received. Each board member, mostly men, represent their companies, also part owners in this business. The men have a certain straight, male edge to them that makes me unsure about my coming out. These are the kinds of men who always made me uncomfortable growing up. Also, there has not been an appropriate way to come out, until this meeting.
Last night at the board dinner I sat at a table with a board member from Michigan and his wife and another board member from Boston who had brought her sister with her. I had not come out to either of these board members.
The wife of the Michigan couple is an author and the topic of self-publishing came up. I jumped into the conversation to share that my partner, who did all the work to publish a book on Amazon a few years back for a friend, was currently writing a book that he was planning to self-publish later this year. I mentioned that we had also been discussing self-publishing a book my mother had written in the 1990s but never published.
I am out in so many parts of my life that I began to talk about my partner before I had even realized that I had just come out to the table. Immediately I had a pang of anxiety at having outed myself. How will these people I barely know react to my coming out so casually? I noticed the one man at the table giving me a penetrating look, (I was possibly reading too much into this look), as he considered what he had just learned. While I found the group to be open and welcoming I was surprised at my own reaction, that tiny jarring response in the gut, as being outed unexpectedly, by me.
My partner emailed me an article from the Huffington Post a few days ago which he said was “a very thought-provoking article. It’s long but very important.” He later told me that it was a must-read for gay men. I had not had time to read the article until the board meeting ended and sat reading it as I waited for my plane flight home to board.
It was a fascinating article titled, The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness by By Michael Hobbes. In the article, I recognized the stress I felt in this board meeting in the past and had felt the night before in outing myself unexpectedly with a group of straight people in a business setting.
The article describes what some researchers have called “minority stress.” It goes on to say that “Being a member of a marginalized group requires extra effort.” For “gay people,” the article says, “the effect is magnified.” It compares the stress to PTSD, but unlike a specific traumatic event, it described the years of daily compounded trauma that gay people can experience.
Part of what was missing for me in this particular board meeting was one of the company’s Vice Presidents who was on vacation. She is an out lesbian and is married to a wonderful woman. I have gotten to know them both over the past few years and missed being with them and having them at the event. Their absence had the effect of me feeling somewhat isolated at the meeting as the only gay person there. Even though, as I noted earlier, I am out to about half the group of company executives and board members, it still feels lonely to walk into a room where I am silently different, and it creates a low level of stress.
While the Huffington Post article did not provide many answers, it did a very good job of describing what gay people go through and the effect it has on them, including higher levels of a “wide array of health problems” beyond the general community.
I agree with my partner that this article is important and will use this as the basis for discussion in two weeks of a support group for men who are gay or bisexual but have been married or involved with women, as I was. As men who have come out later in life, we all experience a level of stress at our difference. It should make for an interesting discussion.
So this feeling of gay men feeling stress in the world based on their difference is real. I always ask myself before coming out, “Is it safe to come out to this person or these people?” But I am so used to referring to my partner as part of my life that I did not think before mentioning him, and only then felt the stress of wondering how my coming out had been received.