Since Michael plugged this guy again, it’s a good time to link this post of his, in which he recounts how seeing the trailer for Brokeback Mountain brought back to him his own ambivalence when coming out:
Why can’t I quit you. Why can’t I quit these feelings for my teenage friends. Why are my dreams of this. Why can’t I make jokes why can’t I talk dirty why can’t I feel comfortable when the girls walk by us. Why does this feel forced. Why am I apart. Why am I hiding why am I out here looking for secret encounters why am I a cheating lying fool. Why can’t I be more intimate with her. Why can’t I change. Why can’t I figure my way out of this box.
I think Chris is right when he says that you probably have to have come out in middle age for what he’s talking about to resonate in the specific way it did with him. But one of his commenters is also right when he says that most of us went through the same enraged self-flagellation in whatever way was suited to the age and other circumstances in which we found ourselves coming out.
The last woman I ever dated was smart, attractive, funny, sarcastic; she and I had similar spiritual views and arty tastes. I worked so hard at trying to make myself fall in love with her you would have thought I was studying for the bar exam. In fact, I felt as if I were studying for the bar exam–without having gone through law school. Nothing was intuitive, it was all complicated, my friends acted as if it made perfect sense but it was all arbitrary to me, and I tried to work it into my brain but nothing would take hold. Getting a summa cum laude degree in Japanese literature? Ha. Cakewalk, compared to trying to make yourself into another person. I hated myself for it and, to my everlasting discredit, took it out on her.
I treated my first boyfriend like hell, too. No, you’re not imagining things if you see a pattern forming here; and yes, I did grow up eventually. He helped quite a bit with that, actually. He told me once, soon after we’d started tentatively dating, that he’d come out to his mother when he was 13.
I think I physically dropped my drink. 13, as in, junior high school 13? At this point, he explained quietly that, considering what the generation of gays before us had given up to make it easier for us to be true to what we were, he thought the least he owed them was to be up-front about being gay once he was sure he was. I can’t say I’d recommend that course of action to 13-year-olds, but as a way of thinking, it stuck with me. It’s one of the reasons that, when I started reading blogs, I decided to comment about gay issues using my full name.
Another helpful conversation I had early on was with a friend. This was in my “I’m probably not even really bisexual; this is just an experimental-type stage I’m going through on the way to finding the right girl” phase. (Believe it or not, that made sense to me at the time.) At one point, he’d had enough of my self-pity routine and snapped. I then got a version of the speech I now find myself having to give to younger guys when called upon to play big brother (though I use less testy tones):
“The first time you were with a man, did it feel as if the whole world suddenly clicked? As if you were a whole person? As if you could breathe normally for the first time, even though you hadn’t realized you weren’t before? As if the fact that you were alive made sense? Okay, now, having done that, having figured out who you are, you seriously think you’re going to rein it all back in? Go back to being 1000-Repressions Charlie–”
“My grandfather’s English and I grew up in Pennsylvania; the straight men in my family are repressed, too.”
“Shut up. It’s like, you have the talent and the natural inclination to be a great statistician, and you’re sitting around bitching because you can’t be a concert pianist. Just knock it off.”
“Why is everyone so goddamned eager for me to be gay?”
“No one wants you to be anything, man. We just don’t want you to be a liar who ruins his life.”
I’m glad I was ready to listen–which is not to be taken as a criticism of men or women who take longer to figure things out for themselves. I just was past the stage in which I felt vaguely unlike my friends and figured that I was kind of an introvert, and pretending otherwise was foolish.
All of which is a long way of saying, I second Michael’s endorsement. Chris writes beautifully, whether he’s talking about joy or pain. Or both at once.