Things in Common
What do November, giving thanks, the GLYS 20th anniversary GAYLA, my life as a gay man, coming out, having permission to be who you are, and victimization all have in common? Read on:
I was at a staff meeting recently and we went around the group answering a question about each person’s attachment, connection to GLYS. I gave my usual just the facts answer about having worked on the original grant twenty years ago but there is much more to the story.
In November 1983…no wait…I need to go back more than a year. In 1982 I was married and working in Buffalo at a well known agency as a therapist. I was approached by an activist in the gay community, Tom Hammond (who also worked with my wife; proof that there are only two degrees of separation in Buffalo!) Who asked me to join the Advisory Board of a new organization called Gay and Lesbian Youth of Buffalo or GLYB. He said that as a respected straight therapist I would lend credibility to the project. What he didn’t know, heck, I was only just really knowing myself, was that in my feeling and fantasy life I was not all that straight! So I joined the Advisory Board and immediately felt smitten to the Board president. In the Spring of 1983 I finally acknowledged my Gayness to myself and then to my wife. After much discussion of all the possibilities we amicably separated that August and I came out full steam ahead. The Board President, with whom I had been smitten, figured out that I was Gay and available, after I unashamedly flaunted myself at him! He invited me to my first Gay party…there have been few times in my life that I have been so terrified as that moment walking into a party of gay people. Would I fit in? What do they talk about? Will I be funny enough? Will they like me? I stood outside for twenty minutes before I could muster the courage to walk up to the door. Well, later that night I asked Mister Board President out on a date the following Saturday night for dinner at Just Pasta and we were together from then on for the next 14 ½ years. That all started 20 years ago in November.
So what about coming out, permission and victimization? I was raised in a strict, Irish, Catholic home by my mother’s father (a mean, cantankerous old man with lumbago: that is something that makes mean people even more irritable) and my aunt(my deceased mom’s sister), a tough, salty woman cop. What chance did I have under these circumstances to stray from the rules, besides my brother had already taken that role. I was the GOOD KID, period! There was no GLYS, no openly Gay peers or even adults, heck, there was no Gay, that word didn’t become common place until much later. There were just queers, sissys, fairys, and fags and I sure as heck did not want to be counted among them(even though I was occasionally called one of those names. I think that was because I was smart (and maybe they knew what I was only much later to accept about myself.) So without any perceived wiggle room I went on to date and eventually at 29 years old to marry. It was only six years later, in a cultural atmosphere that was just beginning to be slightly more accepting and with a GLBT community that would/could no longer live secretly in the shadows and that insisted our existence be recognized and more than just tolerated, that I could not any longer beat down and suppress my true self. In this atmosphere I found the strength to give myself the permission I needed to come out. OK, so where does the victimization come in? I grew up in a culture that victimized me by holding me hostage to a heterosexual standard in order to be accepted. In turn that same culture victimized, with my assistance, my wife and her family by forcing them to have to give up on their hopes for the lives that they surely anticipated, expected and felt entitled to that were all lost when I came out. Had I been allowed to feel OK as a Gay man earlier in my life, in my teens for instance (!!!), I would not have put the burden that I did on my wife, her family or myself. (I have remained friendly with my ex-wife and her family over the years and I am happy about that as I believe they are as well.)
I have seen men and women in my counseling practice over the years who have been torturing themselves over their same sex feelings as a result of cultural and religious stigma. People who have married because they truly loved their spouses but who also felt no other options. People who then struggled with their feelings privately or sometimes not so privately. Often, if they do come out, their spouse feels victimized, betrayed and sadly often doubts that they were ever really loved or cared for. The larger reality in these human tragedies is that both parties are the victims of a culture that provided no options in any real way. The costs to all parties and to society are huge when individuals cannot be truly authentic! It is only in very recent times that options are beginning to emerge in real, credible ways as the culture, slowly to be sure, but nonetheless moves forward in its thinking about and acceptance of GLBT persons. Perhaps some day there will not be a need for safe place like GLYS, but for now and the foreseeable future, I am glad that there is a GLYS and I appreciate the positive impact it has had on my life as a man who is Gay.