Closet: clos·et [kloz-it]
1. a small room, enclosed recess, or cabinet for storing clothing, food, utensils, etc.
2. a small private room, especially one used for prayer, meditation, etc.
3. a state or condition of secrecy or carefully guarded privacy. Gay liberation has encouraged many gay people to come out of the closet.
4. water closet.
I extend definition #1 also to include boots, but I am writing today about definition #3. Guys who carefully guard their privacy, particularly those who identify as gay, questioning as gay, or simply don’t know their sexual orientation yet they know they are not interested in women sexually.
I know the feeling. I once lived in the closet, too. And I thought I was fooling everyone to believe I was straight. Instead, I was miserable and feeling that I was leading a double-life.
Living in the closet, or hiding your sexual orientation, is like living a lie. You learn to tell what are at first white lies, but can easily become very complicated lies to hide your sexual orientation. While I didn’t do it myself, I know some gay men who claim to have a wife, children, and all the regular trappings of a typical straight married life.
That works along fine until …
- the office Christmas party where your spouse is invited, and you keep making excuses about her having to work overtime, weekends, or out-of-town on travel.
- the community picnic where everyone else brings their kids. For some reason, your kids are busy at soccer camp or are visiting their grandparents.
- you are asked something quite innocently about how your family felt about some local event, and you have to make something up, then worry about remembering the details if asked again by someone else.
- you forget and tell one person that the age of your daughter is 11, and someone else that she’s 9.
- you’re asked why you didn’t attend the Dad’s night at the local PTA, and who was your child’s teacher again?
I dunno, I’m making this up, but these are stories that some gay men have explained to me. The fear, concern, and strain… and pit-of-the-stomach feeling horrible about lying over and over again.
I was in the closet from about age 20, when I realized that I was gay, until about age 40, when I had been living with my partner for five years and we began to build the house that we live in today.
During my years in the closet, to fulfill my “straight-acting” but in-the-closet lifestyle, I would carry on a bit more of the macho bad-boy-biker image. The boots, the bike, the leather jacket, the language. Few people believe that anyone who rides a big-ass motorcycle in heavy black boots, leathers, etc. could ever be gay. That worked for me well. After all, I identify with being a masculine man, so behaving that way was comfortable, because it is who I am. I often let the “Biker Dude” image cover for my male-male sexual orientation. (Though I never could bring myself to talking about or oogling women the way some bikers do.)
When I lived in the closet and was asked about my personal life in rather mundane, ordinary conversations, I did my best to change the subject or provide a non-answer. For example, “how old are your kids?” … my response … “I just became an uncle again for the 14th time! Isn’t that great? Wanna see the pictures?” … a quick diversion of the subject usually worked fine. I never lied, but then again, I didn’t answer the question.
Once I recall saying, “I don’t have kids, though some day I hope to.” I don’t quite know why I said that, because it led into a conversation that I didn’t want to have about if my wife couldn’t have children or if we considered adoption. Yeah, “we.” I had to fess up pretty quickly to say, “I’m not married. Have to do that first before we have kids!” with a quick smile and a forced laugh. Yeah, right…
Then I had to fend off occasional strong suggestions about dating … the friend’s sister, the former classmate who is now single, or (worst of the worst)… the boss’ daughter. I found ways to fend off these suggestions, but it wasn’t easy. I remember getting so worried about the boss feeling as if I were rejecting his daughter that I had to see him and privately tell him that I was having a tough time personally right now and wasn’t dating anyone. Technically, that was the truth… I wasn’t dating anyone because I was already in my partnership with my beloved, one-and-only man! But the boss was a retired Colonel, and I thought he never would understand. That boss never once said anything negative about gay men, and to this day, I regret that I never gave him a chance to accept me for who I am by being honest about my sexual orientation.
A friend of mine is a retired state trooper (not from my home state.) He and I both share a passion for motorcycling. We exchange email often, and he reads this blog daily. He told me that he never knew any openly gay cops, but had his suspicions of some of his colleagues. The guy who lives alone. The guy who always shows up single to picnics and parties. The guy who does some of the things I described above — changing subjects, avoiding topics of conversation about things about which he doesn’t know, or just flat-out lies. Cops, in particular, can spot a liar rather quickly. Cops are excellent “readers” of people. They know who is telling the truth and who is making up stories.
I came out of the closet gradually. First, my family knew. My twin brother, God love him, told me that he knew I was gay before I did. My siblings had their suspicions, so when I admitted, sheepishly, that I was gay, their response was, “so tell me something I don’t know. Big deal.” Yet as long as I remained single, I never revealed my sexual orientation at work or in the community.
I finally got courageous enough to come out of the closet publicly when I built our house. That was a major undertaking, and a large mutual expense. There was no way that I could hide the fact that this house was for two men, and “that guy over there” is not only my financial partner in this gig, but also my personal, loving, caring, heart-to-heart partner. There was no way that I could pretend that I was single or that my partner didn’t exist. So I began to tell people, like my local planners (as I subdivided a farm into residential lots), my architect, construction crew, and then … my colleagues at work.
Nothing. Nada. Diddly-squat. Zilch. Big Yawn.
Everybody about whom I was worried about their reaction said pretty much what my siblings said, “we already figured that out. Big deal.” Yes, I did have a few people react with horror and withdraw. But when you think about it, they were the type of friends who were your friends because they thought they could get something from you. Once they realized that they couldn’t, they dropped you like a rock.
My partner and I don’t run around the neighborhood waving the rainbow flag. We don’t get all a-flutter about things that gay guys stereotypically do. I don’t know Madonna from a pair of dress shoes. We live ordinary, settled, mundane lives, and keep pretty much to ourselves. That’s fine. People who know us know that we’re gay, but as I’ve said often, “I’m that (specialized professional) and that community leader and that biker who also happens to be gay.” I am not “the gay guy who…” My identity is what I do… for a living, in my community, or for fun… not “gay comes first.” I don’t hide it, but I don’t flaunt it, either.
My life now is content, peaceful, and honest. I have my integrity back. People know that I’m an honest man who is reliable, helpful, and supportive. They know that I’m not a pervert who may try to impose a “gay agenda” on their son. I am just who I am, out and open, comfortable and content.
To summarize: closets work best to store clothing and boots. Lying is known — even when you don’t think others know. They do. Be honest. Start coming out slowly, but learn that it really isn’t as bad as you think. There is life outside that closet, and it is fun, fulfilling, and joyful.
Life is short: be honest to yourself… the rest will follow easily.