“It is only one thing to figure it out [that you’re gay], the other is to be good with it.
The second thing is pretty hard, harder, very difficult, and a victory.”
Thus wrote one my University of Illinois fraternity brothers in a comment to my last post about wrestling with my homosexuality while a Mormon missionary in France years ago. I found his words, especially coming as they did from a straight man, very insightful and thought provoking.
Since coming out 6-1/2 years ago, I have reflected numerous times on “what I knew and when did I know it,” particularly as I have approached writing a memoir of my life to this point. Some gay men I have talked to tell me that they knew they were gay at a very young age, years before they went through puberty. Others have said they didn’t figure it out until their late teen years or early twenties or, in the case of one friend, until his late 40’s.
My efforts to understand my own early journey have been clouded by the fact that my parents were going through a very bitter divorce at the same time that I approached and went through puberty.* The trauma associated with that obscured and skewed my memory for many years, but some things have become clearer over time.
For example, I used to think that my homosexuality didn’t emerge (shazam!) until after I went through puberty. But as I examined my childhood more carefully and thoughtfully in recent years, I realized that I was always gay, but this sexuality wasn’t actualized until I went through puberty. Once my attraction to boys became obvious to me, it scared me to death, and I realized that I had to (or rather, thought I had to) tone down my exuberant personality lest I be thought of as queer. It was a new experience, being in the closet, cropping one’s life, but something with which I became excruciatingly familiar in the decades to come.
As I advanced in my teenage years, I knew I was definitely attracted to boys not girls, and as I wrote in a recent post, I had at least one pretty serious crush. However, I assumed that this attraction was a passing thing, a phase, that I would eventually pass through. I certainly didn’t perceive myself as “gay,” a term that was just coming into common parlance. Situated as I was in my small town in southern Illinois 20+ years before the Internet became available, “gays” were people in San Francisco or south Florida who were as foreign to me as the aborigines of Australia.
The male bonding I experienced in my fraternity in college had the effect of submersing my attraction to men. This phenomenon tended to bolster a belief that my “homosexuality” was not innate but the result of external forces: my abusive mother, my historically distant and preoccupied father and their traumatic divorce. Nevertheless, I never dated except at fraternity dances, I occasionally looked at gay porn in my comings and goings to and from my father's house in Ohio and my mother's in southern Illinois, and my thoughts were always of gay sex, not straight sex.
As I graduated from college and went to work for my father’s oilfield equipment company in the wilds of Zanesville, Ohio, I continued to believe that I would eventually marry and settle down – when the right woman came along. That didn’t happen in Ohio. I think I had one date during the two-year period I lived there. The right woman would have to land in my lap, because I certainly wasn’t going to seek her out.
Then, I ran into the Mormon Church. My father’s business failed in the recession of the early 80’s (which resulted in a collapse of the domestic oil industry), and I ended up moving (long story) to New Orleans. There, my LDS employer introduced me to the Church. Coming as it did during a period in which I was particularly vulnerable and seeking direction for my life (I was, for example, seriously entertaining thoughts of entering the Catholic priesthood), this development seemed providential.
Among other things, joining the Mormon Church seemed to offer a path away from feelings of same-sex attraction and a path toward what I wanted: a stable marriage and a family. It also offered certainty, community and direction. I was baptized, and less than a year later as I prepared to leave on a mission to France, I met the woman who would eventually become my wife.
I’ve written about all of this before; the important point for the purpose of this post is that our meeting seemed to prove to me that God would provide if I did what was “right” and continued along the path upon which I had embarked. To me, it was though He knew that I couldn’t go out and find a woman; He would have to provide. And He did.
Then, I went on my mission, about which I wrote in my last post. It was on my mission that I realized that my feelings of attraction to men, despite my joining the “true Church,” would never go away and – this is important – they were innate, not simply caused by environmental factors in my childhood. I wrestled both during and after my mission as to what to do with this knowledge. Go ahead and get married to the woman I had met? Seek out another woman? Come out?
I eventually decided on the first option, knowing that my feelings of attraction likely would never go away completely. At best, they would lie dormant, always present, but always requiring repressing, denying, and managing. And that’s what I did through almost twenty-five years of marriage – at great cost, I might add, to myself, my ex-wife and my children – finally coming out in the fall of 2010.
And so I return to my fraternity brother’s comment. It was one thing to figure out that I was attracted to men. It was quite another to admit that I’m gay. The first time I ever voiced that out loud to another person (and to myself) was in October 2010. I could never bring myself prior to that time to admit that I’m "gay," let alone “be good with it.”
I find it interesting that I am once again writing about these things. But I find that, after Mark’s leaving and a period of mourning following his departure, I kind of feel like I’m coming out all over again … or continuing a process that was in some respects paused when I met Mark. And thus the journey continues.