This development was a bit disconcerting. I’m not a big fan of tattoos. I don’t mind if you or anyone else has one – or more than one. I just don’t want one myself. And I had sort of assumed my boys would have the same view.
After the initial surprise, though, I began to think about the characteristics of this particular tattoo, and it reminded me of my own gay identity.
First, like all tattoos, it’s permanent. It will be with him for the rest of his life. Second, it’s visible, but it is – for a tattoo, at least – rather discrete. It’s in the middle of his back and when he’s wearing a shirt, you can’t see it. Third, it is intrinsically bound up with who he is. His tattoo is a symbol incorporating a snowflake, and it marks him as an avid – dare I say, obsessive – skier. (Which is why he lives in Wyoming.)
And all that reminds me of how it is to come out and live out.
First, when I stepped out, I knew there was no going back. I’m out for the rest of my life. Second, while I’m certainly not hiding it, I also know when to be discrete. I don’t lead every conversation with the fact that I’m gay. It’s a part of me, but not the whole of me. I’m me. I just happen to be gay. It’s like my son and the tattoo. He’s a nice, good-looking, 27-year-old guy who happens to have a tattoo on his back.
Third, and most important, is the fact that being gay is basic to who I am. For the moment at least, skiing is basic to my son’s life. He can’t live without being on the slopes, and the tattoo says so. I can’t live (at least not fully) without living as a gay man. And being out says so.
And here’s another important thing. My son is really proud of his tattoo. He thinks it’s totally great and he wanted me to see it. Well, I’m proud of my “tattoo” too. I’m proud of who I am and that I’m (finally) out. And I want the world to know it.
Like getting a tattoo, coming out should involve serious consideration. I’ve said this before. It’s not something to be taken lightly. So if you’re thinking about stepping out, it might help to think of it as getting a tattoo. It’s permanent. It can be discrete or blatant – your choice – but it marks you forever. It’s a part of who you are.
And, it’s something to be proud of.
A pervasive popular image of the gay male – especially for those who are looking at them with interest, but from afar, like I was – is studly and fashion-model handsome. And here’s another: slender, 20-ish and cute as a button, with up-to-the-minute clothes and utterly amazing hair.
Well, behind every stereotype there’s a grain of truth, but if this image is holding you back from getting out there and being who you are, get over it.
I’ve been knocking around Nashville for nearly 36 years, and during that time I’ve been involved in all sorts of activities, both business and social, where gay men were part of the scene. At the time I came out, I imagined I knew, or at least knew of, just about every gay man in town. Not! Which is a good thing. The guys I knew tended to be several things: financially successful, socially visible and, generally speaking, gorgeous. I’m pretty average in all three of those areas and I was totally intimidated.
Don’t be. What I’ve learned – and it’s pretty logical when you stop and think about it – is that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of regular guys on the loose in Music City who are out and quietly going about their routine lives. They aren’t all in great shape and they tend to have very average hair. They drive Toyota Camrys, take their kids to soccer games, buy stuff at Home Depot and – OMG! – some of them even wear Dockers and sensible shoes.
And something else: many of them are lovely, lovely men. Some of the sweetest, and coolest and best I’ve met. Smart, kind, funny, spiritually evolved. All sorts of things that make for a good friend or a good boyfriend.
An example: I know a guy – in his mid-30s, no knockout, but nice looking and still in good shape – who wears some of the most dismal clothes of anybody I’ve ever met. Drab shapeless pants – yes, sometimes with the Dockers label – utterly banal knit shirts, frequently with horizontal stripes in icky colors, totally unfashionable shoes, selected primarily for comfort, I assume. He’d make a civil engineer with a pocket protector full of different color pens look slick. I’d love to see him out of those clothes, in part because the clothes are so dispiriting, and in part because – well – I’d like to see him out of those clothes. But even in them he is one of the sexiest men I’ve ever met. He is kind-hearted, and cheerful without being sappy. He’s smart and he’s funny. He has a partner whom he loves and treats with respect. And in my book, folks, all that adds up to sexy. Plus, in warm weather he wears shorts – baggy, brownish cargo shorts – and one can admire his totally wonderful ex-marathon-runner’s legs. Yum! What a nice bonus!
So, get out there and be yourself. Let the cuties be cute and don’t worry about it. And, if you happen to be really cute, know this: We all get old and die eventually, so don’t let it go to your head.
[This post is one of a number I published almost all at once in the first weeks of writing this blog in an effort to build traffic. Almost no one was paying attention back then, so I’m going to re-post some of the better – most useful, I hope – entries over the next few months.]
When I was just coming out, a gay friend, a man I’d known for more than a few years, met me for a drink one night to offer advice and counsel if I wanted it. A nice gesture, much appreciated.
We talked about all sorts of things and eventually got onto the topic of his relationship history. He’d been in two – both of them intense and long-lasting – and now that the second one had ended, he said he’d never be in another. Always the romantic, I was disappointed by this news, but given my gay-juvenile mindset at the time, the only thing I could think to say was to ask him, “What do you do about sex?”
But does it apply to men who, like me, aren’t in a relationship at present, but haven’t given up on the concept either. In that situation, what does one do for sex?
Well, there’s the one-night stand variety, sometimes difficult – especially for us middle agers – to come by, and potentially damaging in a variety of ways. There’s romantic dating that often leads to sex with all sorts of emotional complications. And there’s something in between. A friend with benefits.
This can work if it’s done right. There’s a level of intimacy that makes sex better than the one night stand variety, and yet there’s a sense of freedom that’s not available with romantic dating. You get some of the best of both worlds.
Will it work for you?
A couple of things to consider: Who’s the friend and where’s the benefit?
Is the guy truly a friend? Meaning, is he really available for an arrangement like this – with both its commitment and its limits? Will he tell you the truth if things change? Will he be discrete? If he’s truly a friend, then the benefits will flow both ways. You both get something you need and want and that’s a good thing.
If you have a true friendship, and the arrangement is truly reciprocal, it can be beautiful. But there can be pitfalls.
Sex unleashes powerful drugs in the brain and if both partners are going to keep things on a truly friendly basis, they both have to be careful not to let things get out of hand. One person wanting more out of this arrangement than the other can lead to disaster. If it’s one-sided in any way, it can become the ugly step-sister of a rocky relationship. All the emotional bad stuff with none of the security. You can lose a friend as well as the benefits. This is one reason to take things slowly and make the sexual part of things occasional. Best not to get ahead of yourself.
In addition to guarding your heart and making sure neither party gets hurt, you have to make sure the arrangement doesn’t rule out anything else you might want. If you still see a long-term relationship as a worthy goal, then you have to be careful to be available to that possibility and not let the friend with benefits thing lull you into complacency. You could wake up alone, years down the road, not knowing where the time went.
So – does it work? It can. It all depends on knowing what you want and acting on that. Go into the arrangement with your eyes open, your goals clear, and your heart in check.
And have a good time.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that my hair has begun to turn gray.
What am I supposed to do with this?
Three years ago, I shaved my beard because it was almost entirely gray and people were telling me it made me look old. Now here comes gray hair – as in the type on top of my head. And, short of shaving my head – which I think would be a big mistake on several levels – or getting a dye job – another potential train wreck – I’m stuck with it. So, I need to be okay with it. And I think I am.
Second, if it looks anything like my sister’s silver-gray hair, it will actually look pretty cool – distinguished, as they say.
Third – and this is the most important point – it’s me. As I really am. And that’s what this blog is really all about. Being oneself.
I went through the pain and risk of coming out at the age of 55 because I had come to the point where I couldn’t live someone else’s life any more. Living out, as I really was, had become the only option for me.
I came out, aware that I was stepping into a subculture that puts a high premium on youth and beauty, two things I didn’t have a great deal of, but also aware that I really had no choice. If I was going to be sane and happy, I was going to have to come out.
As I’ve said many times in this blog, I’m very glad I took the step. So many things in my life are so much better, it amazes me that I managed to hold out as long as I did. That said, my age has definitely had an impact on my social life. It’s harder to find eligible men at my age. If nothing else, the pool is smaller. But there’s also that youth and beauty thing. I know men my age who are still chasing twenty-somethings. Not me. Not that I’d turn one down necessarily, but youth and beauty aren’t my main focus.
And that gets back to the business about being myself. I’m David at age 61, gay, out and beginning to go gray. I’m taking things as they come – and that includes my hair. I’m fine with it.
We all have one occasionally. Nothing in life seems to be happening. For the newly out, trying to establish a social life, this can be especially disconcerting. All sorts of questions can pop into your mind. Am I really not all that desirable? Have I made a big mistake? Will this ever end? Life can seem like one big Mojave desert.
When I was first coming out, I had the erroneous idea that men would be all over me simply because I was out, or I had had the guts to come out – or something. Didn’t happen. Relatively little has simply dropped into my lap. I’ve had to put some effort into getting dates, and sometimes it seems like the well runs dry.
So what do you do?
This applies to your inner self especially. When things get tough, I tend to shut down and retreat from the world – emotionally if not physically – and nothing much happens – in any area of my life. Being available simply means opening yourself to possibilities, bagging the negative self-talk, and letting things happen. Don’t be too specific. Just be open to whatever.
No one can see you if you hide. Once you’re emotionally available, get out there in public. If you can, go where the boys are. That can be to the bars (I always go with a friend) or to volunteer activities, or to the gay chamber of commerce meeting. Or something else. Simply be visible. Two of the best dating relationships I’ve ever had happened when guys noticed me and made the first move. I was just sitting back reviewing the scene, and – this is important – not expecting, or pining for, anything in particular to happen. Neither turned into the relationship of my dreams, but both were fun and ended on good terms.
If things are still slow, and they might be,
It’s a way to make yourself visible. A lot of people don’t like this idea, but I’ve done pretty well with it. It’s really safer, both physically and emotionally, than trying to pick someone up at a bar. At least you know the guys you see online are looking for the same thing you are. It’s a place to start. There are all kinds of sites – both free and paid – and some seem to work better for me than others, but they all work for someone or they wouldn’t be out there. My current favorite is OK Cupid, a free site that matches people as well as any of them do, and avoids the hook-up-only and the no-pants stuff you find on other free sites. And, of course, it’s free. A good thing. I’ve met a number of interesting men online. Again, none turned out to be the man of my dreams, but I’ve had some fun dates and one guy has turned into a good friend.
There’s no magic bullet here, and some dry spells last longer than others, but the fact is that things happen only when you allow them to. So get busy.
I love to write. It’s fundamental to who I am. But sometimes I get blocked. I can sit for hours, knowing I want to write, totally unable come up with something to write about. When I get this way, the best thing I can do is to simply take the plunge and start writing. That’s what I did to get this blog post started. I find that inspiration and insights often come along as I write. So I just started writing.
It’s like that with coming out, too. It’s not possible to know exactly where you’re going when you start the journey. And if you sit around waiting until you get everything figured out, or until the perfect moment arrives – like me sitting around waiting for a writing idea to come into my head – you’ll likely sit there forever and miss all the good stuff coming out has to offer.
By this I do not mean this step should be taken lightly or without preparation. You can use as much preparation as you can get – therapy, a support community, a clear idea of how you’re going to rearrange your domestic life – but sooner or later you have to make the step. And once you do that, the unexpected invariably occurs. The unexpected can be good or bad. Usually it’s some of each – much like the rest of life.
One wonderful thing I discovered was that I could have a better relationship with my sons. I didn’t expect rejection. They had been raised in a gay-tolerant atmosphere and both of them had gay acquaintances their own age. But I didn’t expect my coming out to draw us closer. One of the boys told me several years later that, while he had always loved me, he had always felt a distance between us. Now that I was out, he felt like he knew the real me, and the gap had closed. How great is that?
On the downside, I found that dating was harder than I expected. I had had visions of being surrounded by all sorts of eligible, willing men who would be all over me because I had the coolness and courage to come out. Well, it didn’t exactly happen that way. It’s not like I’ve been a hermit, but dating successfully has required a degree of work and persistence I hadn’t foretold.
Would advance knowledge of either of these things have changed my direction or my timing in coming out? No, probably not. But fear of the unknown certainly did slow me down. As a result, there’s no doubt I missed some good experiences living out.
Coming out isn’t all that much different from any other major life change. It’s like moving to new city to take a great new job. You prepare for the move as best you can, but moving and living in a new place will be full of surprises, both good and bad. You can’t predict who your new friends will be, or what your favorite places to eat will be, or exactly what the commute to work will be like. But you know you’ll have friends, go out to eat and get yourself to the office. So you accept the unknowns, make the move and find your way as you go along.
So, if you’re wondering or wavering, I say, Take the plunge! The water’s fine. Inspiration, encouragement and insights will come to you as you move along the road.
Photo: Snappybex http://tinyurl.com/9zlp39x
Human beings are story tellers. We tell the stories of our lives – mostly without even thinking about it.
But it’s not just late bloomers. I’ve heard coming out stories from gay people of all stripes. We tell the stories as a sign of membership in the club. We tell them to share, and therefore ease, some of the pain – of growing up gay, of living in the closet, of the coming out process itself.
I often find myself telling my coming out story to someone I’ve just met, and if that person is also gay, hearing one in return. It can be overdone of course, but generally speaking, it’s good to tell others your story, and to listen to theirs.
But we need to tell our stories to ourselves – first and foremost.
It makes things real. Telling yourself your story reminds you of both the struggle and the benefits. And it keeps both in perspective.
Telling my story reminds me of where I came from. It reminds me of where I’ve come to. And – most important – it reminds me that neither of these places is completely good or bad.
Coming out is good. I’ve said that over and over in this blog. But most people leave something good behind in coming out. And most people have found their lives – while improved – less than perfect when out. This is life as it is. Always compromised in some way. Perspective is key.
So tell yourself your story.
Remember what it was like before you came out, when your dark secret or that nagging sense of doubt was a part of your life every single day. And remember the good times you had, because there certainly were some of those, too. Maybe it’s the joy of seeing your newborn child, or having fun at your wedding. I had fun at both of mine. If you’ve not been married or had kids, maybe it’s enjoying sports with your buds, or even getting a promotion at work. Into every life some sun must shine. Honor that.
Remember your coming out. The fear, the pain, the excitement, the relief. Relive your first experiences after you were finally out. I thought I was literally going to have a heart attack the first time I walked into a gay bar all by myself. Remembering that makes me laugh at myself, and also makes me want to hug the frightened child I was in that moment.
Finally, look at your life today. Even if you haven’t been out for long, look honestly at the benefits and the losses. Remind yourself that life is never perfect – compromises and struggles will always be there – then, standing apart from the stresses of moment, assess whether your life is better than is was before you came out. If so, congratulations. You’ve come home.
If you can’t say that on balance you are better off, then work to deal with it. Once you’re out, it’s pretty nearly impossible to go back in, so you need to get to work on yourself and get happy being out.
As I said, this is all about perspective. I find it especially helpful in dealing with the inevitable day-to-day frustrations and disappointments. Reminding myself of my story, telling it again, whether to myself or to a friend, reminds me of how great life can be when you come out of the shadows.
Telling the story can be as enlightening for the teller as for the hearer.