At some points in my life, I have felt that I am the only one. The only one who…
…wears boots every day and refuses to wear dress shoes or sneakers.
…is a professional in a management position, yet eschews dressing the part. Suits, ties, and dress slacks have always made me feel uncomfortable. Mostly because I hate looking like a clone, but also because my body type just doesn’t look good in fitted, tailored clothing.
…refuses to have a smartphone. I can afford one, and have had a couple of them in the past so I know the benefits they bring with mobile access to instant information and communication. But I find them very hard to use when poking my fat fingers at them, and most of all: I really resent the ransom that providers charge for monthly service. I really hate making rich companies richer and feeding corporate greed.
…am the only gay man who people in groups with whom I serve and volunteer know. Seriously, I have long been “the first”… elected to student leadership positions in college, appointed to chair major groups in my community, elected to public office, elected to serve as an officer in a local volunteer fire department, elected as an officer in a motorcycle riding club. All of these … I was the first gay man serving in these roles and positions. I was not appointed or elected because I am gay, but because of who I am, what I know, and what I brought to group communications and leadership. I was always, “that leader who also happens to be gay,” so my sexual orientation was always a “so what?”
…am married and desiring to be out and recognized with my man as my husband.
I have learned that at some point while I felt as if I were the “only one” … especially living as an out and open gay man among a world of heterosexual people, I really was NOT the “only” gay man among these groups. I was, maybe, the “only” OPEN gay man, while any other gay men did not reveal their sexual orientation beyond trusted individuals.
I sure know what that’s like, by the way. I lived in the closet for a significant part of my life when emerging in the professional world. I had to. At the time — 1980s — being gay was still considered to be a really bad thing, perverted, and a sure way to be passed over for promotion. (But then again, refusing to dress up and wear clone attire also was a consideration about being passed over for promotion.) The 1980s was when AIDS emerged as a “gay disease” and few people knew enough about the illness that they jumped to some rather rabid conclusions that even knowing a gay man meant that you were going to get the disease and die a horrible death.
Like some gay men, I thought it would be more comfortable to hang out with “my own kind” so I didn’t have to hide my sexual orientation. I joined some gay-oriented clubs and activities. Best benefit of that was meeting my man at one of those clubs. I even joined a gay motorcycle riding group. But I soon learned that gay men are best managed in small doses. The cattiness, gossip, and drama of these groups were too much for me (and my [then] partner [now spouse]) to accept. They actually made me ill. (No wonder straight men have such opinions about gay men when the drama queens get so much attention by their flamboyant and over-the-top behavior.)
But public perception being what it was, I had motivations to keep my sexual orientation to myself. Those who knew me well — mostly my family and closest friends — knew that I was gay, but they kept my secret. There were people who were politically against me and tried to bait me when we competed in races for elected positions by taunting me with statements like, “he’s gay! He doesn’t have a wife or girlfriend! He’s 40 years old and is a ‘bachelor?’ Really?” Sure… I heard all that. It was hard to focus on the issues and not respond to those taunts. But living through that toughened up my character.
The ’90s were a decade of transition. I met my man in 1993 and we built a house and lived together since 1998. At the same time, society was changing and was slowly, begrudgingly, becoming more aware that some men were gay. I often heard among the straight circles in which I led my life, “as long as those ‘dudes’ didn’t attempt anything sexually with me, they can do what they want; just don’t shove it in my face…”
Then by the late ’90s, I really had enough of living one life at home with my man, and another life in public. I felt that I was living a lie. I could not live that way any more.
So when I was elected to public office in the late ’90s, my (then) partner (now spouse) held the Bible upon which I took my oath of office. Soon thereafter, my (then) partner (now spouse) attended the swearing-in ceremonies at the fire house when I was elected to serve as a volunteer officer.
What happened? Nothing. Not a damn thing. I did my jobs. I was successful. People were learning that a successful leader can also just happen to be gay and that one’s sexual orientation had nothing to do with his leadership abilities and comfort in serving in public office.
I also changed jobs in 2004, and it was then that I came “out” fully. I no longer had the mantle of quiet hiding that I bore in my previous job held from 1977 to 2004. I could be who I am: open, free, and honest.
I wanted to ride my motorcycle with a group of safe riders who knew interesting places to explore and visit. So I joined a motorcycle club associated with the brand of motorcycle that I own. I enjoyed riding with them, and as they got to know me, they entrusted me to serve as a leader in the club and to serve as a Road Captain. While I did not wave a flag, I never hid that I was gay and living with a man. In fact, when we married, the Chapter President congratulated me in the club’s monthly newsletter. Being gay and riding with a brand-oriented motorcycle club did not matter.
Yes, there were (and are) a few club members who talk about me behind my back and shy away from me at social gatherings. I have learned that some men just cannot accept that another guy can ride a Harley, be gay, and be married to a man. But it is not the club — it is those few men who have issues of their own that I can not (and will not) fix. That is their problem, not mine. It took me a long time to learn that.
Overall, I have felt at times that indeed I was “the only one.” I know that I was and am not “the only.” I am, however, a man who is confident and comfortable in his own skin (and skin of lots of cows… LOL.)
Advice to those who are in a similar position? Relax, be yourself, and live a lifestyle of integrity and honesty. Avoid those who have issues or personal problems. Hang out with those who are accepting, educated, and also self-confident. You will find that men and women who are confident in themselves do not feel threatened by others who are different, and they can become good friends.
Life is short: know that you are not the only one. Become more open and not fear reprisal. It really does not happen (at least in my world in the Free State of Maryland.)
PS: someone asked me why I blur the patches on my rider’s vest (club colors.) That’s because the club headquarters contacted my local club sponsor and asked them to ask me not to post images of me with identifiable patches, because my website (and this blog) were not considered by them to be “family friendly.” So I complied with the request in a way — blurring the patches and not identifying the club by name, but not removing the photos. They said they were responding to a complaint, and it only takes one homophobe to complain and cause them to react. I’m a biker and an owner of a Harley and ride with groups. And I am gay and married to a man. So be it. Get over it.