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Closet Confessional

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

How I literally came “out of the closet” and what it taught me about honesty and compassion.

1992 was the first year I voted in a presidential election. It was also the year I told the world I was gay. Just shy of 20 years old, I decided it was time to take politics and the business of our government seriously. It was also time for me to take myself seriously. The election had brought with it an air of newness. Things were changing in our society and the public was looking for something fresh. The contest was between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Clinton was storming the nation with his sense of humor, progressive policies and brave speak about a new way of governing and recognizing human rights. We were at the beginning stages of the internet revolution, and everyone seemed ready to focus on “what’s next?” My friends and I were inspired. I was particularly motivated to vote and to make a change in my own life. I needed to move to what was next. And so, it was on a rainy day in the early part of 1992 that I sat my girlfriend down and told her who I really was. What happened next was not only humorous but a true testament to compassion.

The story begins like most coming out tales from the 1990s. I always knew I was gay deep down inside. The first clue was probably my incessant desire to watch the first Superman on VHS, over and over…and over again. I mean there was just something about Christopher Reeve in that movie, let’s be honest. It didn’t make any sense to me at the time, but I can also remember as far back as 10 years old, having a certain feeling when a handsome man was in my presence. There was an urge to talk to him, a desire to engage. I also remember I couldn’t stop staring, probably to the point of making them uncomfortable at times. “Why is this creepy kid staring at me?”

Later in life I rationalized these desires into “comparative envy”. The urge was a strong interest to look like them someday, and me, as this scrawny and awkward kid, was just awash in jealousy of their beauty. The staring was simply a valiant effort in ‘research’.

Years later, and in my early days at college, my research led to experiments. It was not something that was easy to do because there was no way for an 18-year-old college student to find other gay people. I was in school in Philadelphia and that did not make it any easier. I was too young to go to any bars and email, mobile phones and the internet were years away from being mainstream. The best I could do was to look in the local newspaper for “chat classifieds”. If you don’t remember what they were, they were basically the land line version of today's Bumble, or as I now like to call it, “How to find a guy in 10 printed words or less.”

Flipping open those back pages of the paper, I would desperately search for a series of words that sounded intelligent and handsome. It was often fleeting. Most of them were phrases like “Single Gay Male, 28 Seeks masculine, willing to do anything.” Ok that sounded safe. Or “22 here for it, and you. No married men please” My first thought was, “What, was that actually a required clarifier? What kind of world was I stepping into?”

It was only when I stumbled upon something like, “Cute. Nice. Looking for another nice guy.” that I would get up the courage to even leave a message. I would find the rare times that I could be alone near a phone, having shared an apartment with two roommates. I would wait for them to go out for the night, and then carefully take out the hidden paper, search for the circled codes, and start dialing. Each classified had a set of digits for the ad, and you could dial the numbers to leave a message. You could leave these series of voice mails for each other, and then work out a way to meet. No pictures, just descriptions and a hope and a prayer that when you did meet, you were not “voice catfished” by the other party.

It was horrifying. I was scared I would say something stupid and babble on, or worse, actually meet and have him be a troll. I was a hopeless romantic at 18 and I had a tendency to talk too much and was easily intimidated. These voice chats were a landmine of haphazard potential screw ups. I think I actually once said,

“Look forward to meeting later and see what’s going down”, as if I was so cool.

I would then realize what I just said and would frantically try to re-record, hitting all the wrong buttons and then just hanging up in panic. Devastated in a sea of embarrassment, I would assume the person listening to that message would think I was a dork. Why was this so hard?

The two times that I was successful in meeting someone was a complete disaster, in a way that was just very discouraging. I won’t share the details, but let’s just say after they happened, I thought to myself…”is this what being gay is like? You can keep it!”. At the ripe old age of 18 I thought it was so easy to brush off my sexuality as if it were a cafeteria option.

So, I gave up. I convinced myself it was just a phase and that my feelings and urges were just exploratory. I had dated girls in high school, I could do it in college. This was not a big deal…all would be ok.

It wasn’t long into my first real relationship with a girl that I realized my plan was not foolproof. Moving beyond the niceties of dating and casual sex meant there was meaning in the interaction. I had found someone who was kind, talented, pretty, sweet and inspirational. There was a constant feeling nagging at me that I was a fraud and pretending my true desires were not there. It was not fair to her, or to me, to live in a lie. I was able to fake it the best I could, but the unease and stress were always with me.

Our relationship continued unabated. We were both involved in the arts and would find ourselves working together on various musicals and other theatrical events. We also had a large group of mutual friends, including the two women I lived with as roommates. They were amazing, and we would all hang out together at coffee shops and just talk for hours. The irony was, I was living the complete Three’s Company situation. We shared a two-bedroom apartment where the girls shared the larger room, and I had the much smaller room. In this version however, Jack was actually gay, pretending to be straight, and not the other way around. Mr. Roper would have saved so much time.

Despite all this, the anxiety of my secret continued to weigh on me. As we spent more time together, I could tell that it was heading in a more serious direction. She was from a big family and marriage at a young age was not uncommon. And in case you are wondering, we were also having sex, which I guess being 18 and then 19 was my body’s way of saying hormones were stronger than emotion.

The torture started to show up in my mood and my well-being. I was anxious and angry all the time. I would be short with her, when there was no reason to be, and I was sometimes even avoiding her. I knew I had to be an adult and face this or it was going to be awful for both of us. It was time I mustered up the courage and just be honest with myself and her.

I remember it was in fact raining and we finished dinner one night, and ran back to the apartment. I decided I was going to tell her. The girls were both out, so we had the place to ourselves. I also remember I was so nervous I had been sweating and jittery all through dinner and now back at the apartment I was pacing around as if I had no idea where anything was. We were both wet from the walk with her a little drenched and me thankful the water was hiding the perspiration. She began to recognize something was wrong and finally just asked me if I was ok.

Moment of truth. I approached her and grabbed her hand, and then guided her into my roommate’s bedroom. Even in my moments of hysteria, I remembered that my room was so small the bed was up on a platform that you had to climb, like a bunk bed…I was not going to come out to my girlfriend in the equivalent of Romper Room.

The girls’ room was large and had enough space for two beds with the furniture on the right and two doors for two separate walk-in closets on the far side of the room. I sat her down on the bed closest to the door and continued my pacing. Walking briskly from the entrance to the room to the closet directly across. Back and forth I paced, rubbing my hands together and sweating. From the entrance door to the closet, into the closet and back out again. Back and forth, back and forth.

“What is wrong with you?’, she asked. “I have never seen you like this, are you ok?”.

“No, I’m not ok”, I said. “I have something to tell you.” Pacing, pacing, pacing.

She looked at me a bit confused, “What is it, you can talk to me about anything.”, she said.

“I know, that is why I am here and telling you first. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long-time, so I just need to come out and say it.” I continued to pace, going back and forth from door to closet.

“What is it?” she said, with a cute smirk on her face as if she was thinking I was going to ask her to marry me.

One last pace, and then I walked to the center of the room and stood in front of her and just blurted it out, “I’m Gay!”, I exclaimed.

To be honest I can’t exactly remember the look on her face in that moment, but I do remember the reaction was not one that I expected. She began to laugh. Not just any laugh but a guttural one, as if a really good comedian had just slammed a joke.

“Why are you laughing?”, I asked. Bewildered.

“Well,”, she said “If you really are gay…you literally just came out of the closet and told me.”

I looked book at the shoe marks in the carpet going into the closet and back out. I immediately started laughing too and then we both began to cry. In that moment we could do nothing but embrace each other and sit there holding each other for some time. She finally asked if I was sure. I told her I was. She then did something so amazing, that it sits with me to this very day.

She told me that she loved me, and that she would need some time, but that she also knew this was very difficult for me. She commended me for being brave enough to do it and thanked me for my honesty.

She also told me that she would be there for me during a difficult time.

And…she was. Despite how much this must have hurt her, she stuck by my side. She checked in on me all the time and after I met my first boyfriend, she even took the time to come meet him to make sure he was good enough for me.

It was shortly after that, she sat me down and told me she was glad to see I was doing well. She said it was good to see me on my new journey, but now it was time to begin hers. I simply smiled and said, "Yes, it was." I thanked her for being there for me, and we hugged and parted ways. It was a long time before I saw her again after that.

I never realized it in that moment how amazingly compassionate and loving she was to me during that time. She put aside her own pain, until she knew that I was ready to live my next chapter. I feel honored and privileged to have known that kind of love and to have known her. I learned the power of being honest with yourself from that experience, but I also learned the power of being compassionate to others, even when they may unintentionally hurt you. Like the other strong women in my life, my first real girlfriend showed me what it means to be a good human. I am forever grateful. Thank you.

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