Coming out of the closet is never an easy thing to do. Days prior to the event you go through what can only be described as an exercise in dread. You fear the worst. You fear those near and close might distance themselves from you, as if you’ve been lying to them the whole time, a stranger in their midst. For me however, I did exactly that. I lied to my parents. It was a survival tactic based on the foundation and reasoning behind these three strategic lies.
I knew I didn’t like girls from a very young age (I was 8). I remembered being jealous of my Aunt Theo because she had a sense of style I wanted to copy. I even went so far as to go into her makeup one afternoon because I thought my eye lashes needed “volume and texture”. I even got in trouble for using my mother’s lipstick and lip liner. However, as my mother proceeded to yell at me for wasting “expensive lipstick” I did manage to get a “damn that’s impressive” before being sent to my room.
I knew that I hated getting Valentine’s Cards from girls. It didn’t feel right. Sure I would find girls pretty to look at, but I wasn’t pining for them. I’d rather gossip with girls than hold their hands. Then on one heaven sent evening, I remembered watching Beverly Hills 90210 at my grandfather’s house and I laid eyes on the man who’d help making getting Valentine’s from girls in school bearable:
This would be my very first and freshly minted lie. If I pretended every girl who sent me Valentine’s in elementary school looked like Jason Priestley, it would make my interacting with girls easier. I could fake “liking them”. As long as I kept pretending I could even fake excitement when my mother would ask if any cute girls gave me Valentine’s. With the exception of one high school I went to where there were two other gay kids, my family lived in communities where there didn’t seem to be any gay people. I had no one to look towards in my community who was openly gay. So faced with that dilemma, how would I continue to fool my parents into thinking I liked girls?
On one afternoon in 1992, I remembered watching Oprah in front of the television at home. On that particular show, Oprah talked to her guests about “coming out”. As one of her guests talked about his journey, he talked about how he would tell his parents he was into girls and labeling crushes by using this code:
And then he would describe how he would feminize the name by changing Ben into Jen, Michael into Michelle and Eric into Erika so on and so forth to avoid ridicule. Learning that became my second and most reliable lie. It was easier to talk to my parents about my being interested in girls once I learned that little trick. While it wouldn’t be until after I joined the Navy I discovered the joys of gay sex, there were indeed quite a few boys I’d have crushes on in high school, Jason Motte in particular (who’d later go on to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals).
Between those two lies, at least I was somewhat able to convince my parents I seemed interested in girls. I felt relief until my father found a poem I wrote about needing to come out of the closet and well worn “Abercrombie and Fitch” catalogs under my bed. Even after that incident continued to lie.
Why you ask? Because my father being the blue collar guy he was would make occasional jokes about gay men around my brothers and I growing up. Even before I knew what gay was, I remembered feeling alienated and offended. Going a step further I would even say I was afraid that if I told him the truth he would disown me, he being shocked with a hint of massive disbelief that something as efete as I sprung from his loins. My mother was no better. Into my 20’s she would declare that I shouldn’t act gay around her or her second husband in her house (and this was after I came out). Wanting to appease her, I obeyed, safe in knowing that as soon as I left her house and was back in New York, I can have a martini or 10 to blow off steam.
I always knew she knew. From the time I went into her closet to reorganize her boots and shoes by “prettiness” and the mini drag shows I’d exhibit by trying on her dresses, I knew by the time I was adult enough to be aware of it she was disappointed in me for not being “masculine” or “Greek” enough. The easiest way I could bury that sense of disappointment whenever she looked at me was booze and plenty of hard drugs.
Though I was open and out to friends, I always felt tortured to some degree when it came to my family. I wanted to be loved by them, especially my mother. I wanted her to have that look in her eye that screamed “I’m proud of you” or “I love you”. But when she would say those words I felt repulsed. For years, as I would go to see her for the holidays, I’d puke on the train ride up out of fear of being picked apart God forbid I said something that might be a bit femme.
Then earlier this year I realized the third lie I had been using. That lie, the biggest one of them all was appeasing my mother by going back into the closet by butching it up. How does one exactly “butch it up”?Butching it up is firstly toning down my wardrobe by wearing a lot of greys and getting rid of clothing that appeared “flamboyant”. Secondly, I would watch clips of “The Sopranos” on YouTube so I can train myself to have something of a New York accent. I never had much of an accent, dropping the occasional O whenever I’d say “coffee” or “long”. But why would I watch clips of “The Sopranos” you ask? Because if I didn’t “sound” gay but macho, I wouldn’t have to hear my mother chide me for “acting gay” in her house.
This charade I just described lasted 5 years. Then one day I realized something. I discovered that I didn’t need to juggle the third lie anymore around my mother to make her happy. I discovered that if I need to mold myself into someone else’s definition of what they wanted me to be then they, friend or family have no business being in my life.
Once I realized that, I felt like I had come out of the closet again. This time however, I was free to be me, never having to mold myself for anyone ever again. And it’s 2017 for Christ Sake. It’s way easier for me to be a gay man in 2017 than it was when I first came out in 2003. People, for the most part are pretty accepting.
Have I been assaulted for being gay?
Yes. (In 2003 in Omaha, Nebraska while traveling to New York)
Have I been subject to homophobic taunts on the job?
Yes (for 3 years)
Those events were horrible to say the least. But if there is anything I’ve learned, homophobia is simply hate masked in a label. As time passes on, there will always be someone somewhere who hates someone because they’re different. And if you happen to be different, being the victim of homophobia can either be an excuse to hide or, it can be a reason to step out and shine anyway in spite of hate.
So today, I choose to shine and not hide.
© Gregory J. Broderick 2017