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Thursday, October 11, 2012

National Coming Out Day

The first time I kissed a boy I was 29 years old. The first time I had consenting sex with a boy I was 15. Those intervening fourteen years were full of confusion, denial, less than safe sex (in less than safe places), a marriage, a birth, minor brain surgery, and a divorce  . . . in other words, life. None of that matters in terms of my coming out story and yet somehow all of it matters.

I was closeted for most of my life. Only in my teen years when I began noticing boys and girls and when I had fantasies about both boys and girls. the most confusing thins, though, were the times I'd focus on the men when I watched or looked at porn. I never wavered in my belief that the male form was just as desirable as the female form; which in itself was confusing as I was raised the same way everyone typically is that you will marry and love one woman.

I was never sheltered from homosexuality. I went to an Arts & Academics High School, and I was exposed to and had many gay friends (remember I was fifteen when I first had consenting sex with a man). I understood Gay, but I never felt gay. I liked girls too. I had sexual urges surrounding both. Yet my understanding at that stage in my life was that you were either gay or straight. Imagine my confusion at being both! I didn't even have a word for it, bisexual was something that girls were, and apparently all girls were as well. I did, however, admire anyone I knew who was openly gay. I wished I was as sure about who I was as they were about who they were. Ironically, I was, but at the time I didn't know that bisexuality was a valid identity for a male and I lacked the esteem and confidence to make it valid in spite of this. As it happened, there were three events that would happen around this time, which would put me in the closet and shut it's door for fourteen years.

The first thing that happened was having sex. By the time I was fifteen I'd already had sex with girls but never with boys. My first time with a boy wasn't like "fireworks" and "trains going through tunnels" and all that. What it was, however, was familiar. To contrast it against my sexual experiences with girls up to that point, I knew what I was doing. Here was a body I understood. I knew how a cock worked. I knew the ways to touch, fondle, stroke, lick, whatever; in order to make it feel good. When it was over, though, there was no afterglow. What I mostly felt was more confusion and a healthy dose of fear. No, not fear. Shame. I felt ashamed. I knew I couldn't tell my family. I knew I didn't want to "give up" girls. I knew I wanted to do it again with boys, but that I had to never do it again; and so I didn't. Not for a really long time. Instead, I stepped into the closet.

The second thing that threw me into the closet was gay porn. Also at around 15 or 16, my mom found a gay pron magazine of mine. When she confronted me, she was angry. Though, as I recall, the source of her anger wasn't the fact that I owned gay porn, it was that it had been left in the bathroom where visiting family members could have found it. She was embarrassed and she didn't want to have to explain her "gay" son to the rest of the family. So, when she asked if I was gay, I answered honestly and said that I wasn't. After all, I did still want girls. The closet door began to shut.

The final thing that pushed me into a fourteen year exile was homophobia. Specifically a homophobic moment with my mom. I had been dating a black girl and my mom was less than thrilled. She was very honest that she knew it was wrong and that it was just the way she was raised, and to her credit she was understanding but also protective. We have a mixed family and so her misgivings didn't and still don't make sense to me. Still, it was beyond her comfort level, until I asked her the following question: "would you rather I date a black woman or a white man?" She answered, "black woman." From there I don't remember much of the conversation, but I do remember clearly that she said to me that if I were gay it wouldn't affect her love for me, but it also didn't mean my partner would be welcome at Christmas. And with that one final statement I knew that I could never be honest with my family about who I was and how I thought of men. The closet door shut and I remained there, in the dark for fourteen years.

During that fourteen years, I lived a horrible cycle. I denied my attraction to men and tried really hard to forget it. The cycle, however, was more than persistent. It started as noticing the men when I looked at porn. It continued to finally buying gay or all male porn. It culminated in illicit encounters with men in bookstores, cars, alleys or, if I was lucky, a motel. If no men were available there were phone sex chat lines (this was the days before the Internet was "mainstream") which resulted in my not having a phone due to hundreds of dollars in phone bills for several months at a time. Dangerous to be sure, but even worse, it left me feeling empty and ashamed. Each time I would throw away all my porn, and resolve that it was just a weak moment. I would focus only on women and decide that my "urges" would subside when I met "the one." The cycle only repeated.I eventually got married when I was 24. I was physically faithful to my wife, though the cycle of porn continued and even grew as I gained more and more access to the Internet. I never told my wife I was attracted to men, though.

After a few years I fell ill and nearly died. Brain surgery saved my life and I made a full recovery. this is another story. What matters for this story is that, when one stares their mortality in the face a great many things become clear. I realized that life is short and I wanted to live as a whole, genuine person. As a result of this I eventually came out to my wife. She did not take it well and after a long, painful process we divorced; even though I came out as bisexual. With my marriage over, I was free to really explore who I was. I didn't say experiment. I said explore. I tried on the label of bisexual when I was 28 years old and I started "dating." I learned quickly that bisexual dating for men is basically hooking up or one night stands. While the danger factor may have been removed, I recognized this was the same pattern I'd been in before I got married.

Then, I had my first kiss.

In all the encounters I'd had over the intervening years, male kissing was always very taboo. I didn't and don't understand this. Perhaps, this is because I love kissing so much. At any rate, I had been helping out a gay friend of mine by giving him rides to and from work when his car broke down. I was also "out" for the first time and so I openly flirted and made it clear that I was completely gaga for him. Eventually our friendship evolved and next came the moment I came out to myself. Completely and unequivocally came out. No quotation marks, no hesitation. It happened when he asked me:

"What would you do if I asked you to kiss me?"

I said I would do it, and he replied, "Well then why aren't you?" and I had one of the deepest most passionate kisses of my life. In the words of S. Morgenstern,“Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.” It was fireworks. It was trains through tunnels. Just that one kiss was more amzing and affirming than the previous fourteen years of illcit sex. And for the next several month I was happy and really feeling whole. Alas, we ultimately wanted different things and it was not to be more than a summer romance. From that point on, however, I was out to friends if not family. The immediate benefit to this was the fact that I no longer feared sex with men and so I didn't seek it in secret. I was no longer having dangerous sex. 

Completely coming out, or coming all the way out? That came as the result of activism. I had begun dating a woman who was polyamorous and this seemed like a great idea to me because I had denied my bisexuality for so long, I wanted to be free to explore it more. So we entered a relationship and she was the most supportive woman I'd ever met. In fact, if I hadn't been burned so badly by marriage I think I'd marry her. I was hired as a contributing writer for Bi Social Network and was literally over the moon about it because I had been struggling for years as a writer. My family had long known my desires to be a writer and I couldn't wait to share it with them. The only problem was that I felt I couldn't. Ultimately, with the encouragement of my life partner I decided to come out. I was nearly 30, I had a son, I'd faced death (literally) and I could be proud of who I was.

I chose to come out to my sister first. She'd always been accepting of me and so it was easier. She wasn't surprised and said she had suspected for a while. She congratulated me and has proven over the last four years that she accepts me no matter who I love and I am more than grateful for her. She is a beacon of support when life gets me down.

My mother  . . . this was harder. I had the memories of her disapproval from my teen years looming in my memory. I knew she wouldn't accept it and I fully expected to be disowned. Surprising me, however, she was supportive. She hugged me and she said she loved me and nothing would ever change that. She also said she couldn't have been more surprised if I'd said I had been half alien. She wasn't in favor of telling the rest of the family. Honestly, I'm not sure to this day if aunts and uncles and cousins know. But in that moment she accepted who I was even if she didn't accept my expressing it. She asked me to allow her the belief that any future boyfriends are "just friends" though I am happy to say we are working through that now.

At any rate, I came out and have been living out to everyone for four years. My partner and I are both bisexual and maintain our polyamorous relationship. Living a genuine life has led me to a life as a writer, to Los Angeles and the GLAAD awards where I met Josh Hutcherson, Chaz Bono, Milla Jovovich and many more people. It has led me to many more opportunities than trials and ultimately more love than I could have hoped for. I am free to date men and I do. I prove Dan Savage wrong every day of my existence.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.