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One Person at a time –a Coming Out Chronicle

Published in “The Independent Gay Writer – All About Books and Writing”

Volume 2, Issue 4, April 20, 2004

It was well past midnight on a hot, humid Monday night in mid-July 1989. I had just returned to our home in North Dallas after attending a baseball game where the Texas Rangers trounced the Boston Red Sox. Not at all interested in sports, I attended the game with a busload of co-workers on a company-sponsored night out at the ballpark to be a good team player by lending my support to office morale building. Still, it had been a fun evening and I even won $100 based upon my prediction of Red Sox runs scored during the seventh inning. I arrived home drained from the heat and tired, as the game didn’t end until close to midnight and the thermometer flirted with the 100 degree mark throughout the game.

Upon entering our bedroom, I noticed a note on the bed. My son Nathaniel was at camp in New Hampshire for eight weeks and my wife wasn’t due back home until the next day. Linda was away for two weeks chaperoning a group of AFS foreign exchange students on their trip up to New York where they would depart for their homes around the world having lived with host families in Texas and Oklahoma for the past school year. We were due to leave for Great Britain for a two-week vacation Friday evening.

I picked up the note with a puzzled expression on my face trying to figure out who could have put it there. It was from Linda. Right away something didn’t feel right. She wasn’t due home until the next day. Why did she return home early? Where was she? I started reading the note and all of a sudden my stomach was in knots and I started to shake.

“I came home a day early. I know you won’t understand this and will probably be mad but I have checked into a hotel. I need some space for a while to sort some things out. You won’t be able to get in touch with me. I have left this note for you because I didn’t want you to worry that somebody had stolen my car. Please try to understand. I need to do this for me.”

I panicked as the note fell to the bed from my trembling hands. Linda had tried to get through to me for years but I had rejected her pleas to talk. I loved her deeply but there hadn’t been much intimacy in our marriage. She attempted to share her frustration but I clamed up anytime she brought up the subject. She had left notes for me but I froze every time I saw one. We had gone to a marriage counselor/sex therapist a few years earlier. Linda worried that she wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough or thin enough. We had both dropped a considerable amount of weight on one of the medically supervised diet fasts that had recently swept the country. Although we were both fit and trim our physical relationship had not improved.

Though exhausted, I didn’t sleep that night. I walked into the office on Tuesday morning in a daze and was unable to focus on work. I called home every ten minutes hoping beyond all reason that Linda would be there. Somehow I made it through the day though I am sure that I didn’t get a stitch of work accomplished. Sleep was almost non-existent again on Tuesday night. Where was she? Why was she doing this to me?

I returned to work even more strung out on Wednesday and again called home repeatedly. Amazingly, nobody at the office seemed to notice. Finally, around noon Linda answered the phone. I felt relief that was short lived as I heard an edge in her voice that was foreign to me.

“We need to talk and your office probably isn’t the best place. I can meet your someplace if you want.”

I replied that I would come home right away. I rose from my chair and walked out of the office without letting anybody know I was leaving. I was in a trance. The twenty-minute drive home seemed to last forever. I ran scenarios through my head of what I would say. Thank heavens Linda was home. I was angry because I felt abandoned and out of control. I was tempted to give her a piece of my mind for putting me through two days of panic. However, when I walked in the door I just gave her a hug and sat down. Then I listened, really listened for the first time in our marriage.

Linda poured out her heart about how unhappy she had been for years. She kept hoping that I would change. After years of attempting to get through to me she finally had given up. She had fallen out of love with me and now she needed to take care of herself. The spark that was us had died for her. I had a panic attack and started to sob uncontrollably for the first of many times to follow during the next six months.

After listening to Linda I admitted to myself and to her that I was a major part of the problem. I realized that I had been depressed for years and I promised her that I would go into therapy for us. She told me that I needed to go into therapy for me regardless of whether there would end up being an us. With or without an us I would be a happier person once I faced my own dragons.

Linda was shocked that I was finally taking ownership of my issues though she admitted that it might be too late. She hadn’t been prepared for me to own my inadequacies based upon my history of being unwilling to face them in the past. She agreed to stay with me as we both entered therapy, each on our own. We agreed to proceed with our trip to England.

I immediately called the counseling center covered by our health plan and scheduled an appointment nearly three weeks later which was the earliest one that I could get since we were leaving the country for two weeks. The trip was awkward and strained. I was still in love with her but she was distant. I was tentative in everything that I said or did. What had once been a natural relationship was now a detached coexistence.

Upon arriving home I went to the counseling center and saw a psychiatrist who put me on Prozac and told me it would probably take six weeks to be assigned a therapist. Those long six weeks inched by. My marriage was disintegrating right before my eyes and I had to wait six weeks to see a therapist. I called the center weekly to see if I could get an earlier appointment. They said that there wasn’t anything available any earlier and if it got too bad that I should admit myself to their hospital.

Fortunately the effect of the Prozac ramped up over the six weeks so the chemical component of my depression was brought into balance. As the anti-depressant took effect I realized that I had been depressed since my early teen years. My son arrived home from camp a few weeks after our return from England and as far as he knew, life was normal. For me it was anything but normal. It took every ounce of energy to hold my fragile life together.

At least I was able to focus on therapy once the Prozac kicked-in and I finally had met with the social worker that was my assigned therapist. After six or seven sessions the therapist told me that I had dealt with my major issues and that it was no longer necessary for me to meet with her.

Luckily Linda and a life-long friend told me that I had barely scratched the surface and both recommended that I find a different therapist. Linda’s psychiatrist gave her a referral for me to a psychiatrist who upon my first visit immediately ordered a complete physical and a battery of blood work to among other things check to see if I was a therapeutic level on Prozac.

As I started therapy with Dr. Bruce Zik it wasn’t long before I admitted to Dr. Zik that I was attracted to both men and women. I told Linda that one evening when we were out to dinner but months later when I came out to her it was apparent that my earlier comments hadn’t registered. I had been totally faithful to my wife. As I told her, “What difference does it make if I am attracted to all of the people on the beach and not just 50% if I wasn’t going to do anything about it.”

As therapy proceeded I faced my issues of depression and began feeling much better about myself. My outlook on life was balanced for the first time. I no longer lived in the on-going turmoil of inadequacy, failure, self-hate and despair that had plagued me for the better part of twenty-five years. My life was in flux but for the first time I knew that I would somehow survive.

I became a better parent in that I was less harsh in disciplining my son. As I became more comfortable with myself I became less demanding of him. Nathaniel and I grew closer by the day as Linda maintained an ever-deepening distance from me. Her depression worsened.

Finally, during Thanksgiving weekend Linda mentioned that she felt it necessary for her to move out of the house and live on her own. She stressed that her living on her own was the only way that she would be able to deal with her issues. I spent the next few weeks trying to convince Linda to reconsider her decision. I knew that if Linda left she would probably never return.

Linda moved out the week after New Years so that we didn’t ruin our son’s holidays. Nathaniel was in the sixth grade. The news was devastating to him, as he hadn’t noticed the turmoil that we had been suffering the past five months. Linda found a small apartment just a mile or so away. She worked out of our house and was able to be home when Nathaniel returned from school each day and would stay with him when business travel would take me on the road. She left for her place just before I returned home from work each day.

Within a few months Linda realized that our marriage was over. As much as I wanted to try and rebuild our lives together there was nothing left for her to rebuild. I couldn’t get angry with Linda because she had tried to get through to me for years and I just hadn’t responded to her pleas for help until it was just too late. I felt this terrible guilt and sorrow about opportunities missed. I had married for life. There had been no divorce in my family or amongst my parents’ friends. Linda was my best friend and I realized that besides losing my wife, I was also losing my best friend.

As devastating as it was, the crumbling of my marriage freed me. I was finally able deal with my sexuality in therapy. I had nothing more to lose, as everything that really mattered, with the exception of my son, had been lost. Dr. Zik was extraordinary. As the same-sex issue came to the fore, I asked him two questions. First, I wanted to know if he had much experience dealing with the coming out issue. Second, I wanted to know if he was comfortable dealing with homosexuality. He responded that he didn’t have much experience dealing with patients coming out but that he was totally comfortable dealing with homosexuality. Dr. Zik promised me that if either of us felt that he wasn’t adequately addressing my needs that he would help me locate an expert who would.

As Linda had recently begun group therapy I asked Dr. Zik if he thought that group might be a good option for me to consider. He responded, “Absolutely not!” His belief was that if I entered a straight group that some members might be homophobic and they would try to convince me that I wasn’t gay. If I entered a gay group that members would try to convince me that I was gay. He reasoned that just because I had feelings of attraction to other men didn’t necessarily mean that I was gay. I could be bisexual or just curious. He thought that it would be best for me to work through the issues on my own.

As therapy proceeded, I admitted that my feelings of same-sex attractions dated back to early elementary school and that they were not just fleeting. They were strong. I never had fantasies about girls. I had crushes on boys as early as the first or second grade and they lasted all the way through school and into adulthood. By the time I was an adult I had become better at repressing them somewhat. I rationalized that all people probably had such feelings. Linda’s delivery of our son had been a difficult one and my interest in sex after Nathaniel’s birth quickly abated. I attributed my lack of sexual desire for her to feelings of guilt over my getting her pregnant and thus I was responsible for the difficulty of her delivery.

Dr. Zik suggested that I not act out on my same-sex attractions until I did more research. He believed that if I had a good same-sex experience that didn’t necessarily mean that I was gay. If I had a bad experience that didn’t necessarily mean that I wasn’t.

I began to read just about everything that I could get my hands on. The first time that I went into the Crossroads Market, the gay bookstore in Dallas, I was certain that the camera crew from “60 Minutes” would be outside when I left the store ready to shame me to the world. As I began to read I started to find myself one book at a time. I wasn’t alone in the world. There were plenty of other people like me. I was on the way to finding inner peace that had eluded me for over 37 years. I had found home!

I was raised in Huntington, a bedroom community to New York on Long Island’s tiny North Shore. My parents were liberal believing that all people were the same, regardless of religion, race or nationality. However, they made occasional snide comments about fairies. I was aware of two gay men in Huntington. One was an effeminate florist and the other a lisping clerk at the local camera store. I wasn’t anything like them so I thought I couldn’t be gay.

In school I had been beaten up. I dreaded taking showers after gym class as I was often pushed around. My lack of depth perception coupled with my lack of coordination and my throwing a baseball “like a girl” made me the last person chosen for any team. Rides home from school on the bus had been torturous from elementary school onwards. Sometimes there were fights and I always lost.

My parents had tried to toughen me up over the years. I remember having different mannerisms corrected as not being masculine enough. Dad had a client who taught judo and I was pushed into taking private lessons with him to help me learn to defend myself while I attended junior high. I didn’t do very well and I dreaded each session. The lessons in what I perceived as aggression were both foreign to my nature and humiliating.

One day the Judo instructor flipped me a bit too forcefully and as I slammed into a floor matt the wind was knocked out of me. That was the end of judo! Butch aggression died almost as quickly as the accordion that I handed back to my mother after one lesson years earlier. Polkas and martial arts were both banished from my life forever!

When I married Linda my parents were relieved. They had been fearful that I might be gay. They had never said anything to me about their fears. Still I could tell that I wasn’t macho enough especially for dad. I had spent time at family gatherings with the women talking about family relationships and friends rather than in the den with the men talking about sports.

I meant the world to my parents and I hold nothing against them. They sacrificed constantly for my wellbeing, often doing without so that I could go to camp and participate in other opportunities that became available to me their only child. They loved me unconditionally.

I was off to college just one year after the Stonewall Riot. Had I come out in the 70s mom and dad would have adjusted and I could have seen my mom as a PFLAG activist once she had enough time to process the information. Pity the poor soul who belittled her son! I can hear her now, “Not with my son you don’t!”

Both of my parents were dead by the time I came out in 1990. On the one hand, it was easier for me as I never had to face their hurt. On the other, I have grieved that my parents were never given the opportunity to really know their son for the person I really am; we all lost out in that regard.

As I came to terms with my sexual orientation I shared the information with Linda. She wasn’t homophobic, having attended a prestigious music college. She had several gay classmates who were friends and was accepting of her lesbian cousin who came out while during our marriage. Still my news was devastating to her. The gay community and our culture were foreign. As I became more openly gay she found me confusing and frustrating. She didn’t know me any longer. She hurt.

Several years after my coming out I learned that Linda had cried for weeks after my telling her that I was gay. Linda questioned her own judgment concerning how she could have been so wrong about me. If she erred in trusting her instincts about her own husband, how could Linda rely on any of her other assumptions in life? Our marriage appeared to her to have been a sham and she had to face her anger and feelings of my betrayal.

As I came out of my closet Linda entered a closet of her own. How could she admit this embarrassing news to her family, friends and others? She felt ashamed as if she had done something wrong and feared people would blame her or fault her choice of spouse.

When I entered the gay community I had a plethora of support organizations from coming out groups to gay parent groups. There were even support groups for my son. Linda had nobody to whom she could turn. She harbored anger towards my parents for letting our marriage go through and resentment towards me for not facing my own sexuality before marrying her.

Fortunately, we never purposefully hurt each other and never used Nathaniel as a pawn. In fact, the hardest decision that Linda made was that it was in Nathaniel’s best interest to live with me. I had become stronger since my therapy had begun and Nathaniel and my relationship was solid. She barely had enough strength to get through the day at work and process her own issues.

Linda was then and remains to this day the best mother our son could ever have. She suffered stern judgment from some for what was the most selfless decision in her life to allow Nathaniel to live with me. Linda lived five minutes away and spoke to him several times daily; they visited constantly. Neither of us ever paid any attention to our divorce decree. When Linda and Nathaniel were together whenever they wanted to be.

We shared the same attorney for our divorce; there was no acrimony between the two of us. The child visitation boilerplate on the divorce decree was 75% of the legal document. How sad that two people who at one time were in love so often turn hateful during and after a divorce and the children are the ones who suffer most. Nathaniel never had to worry; he had two parents who were always there for him unconditionally. As the years have passed we continued to co-parent our son.

Coming out to my son was my most fear-filled challenge. I brought Nathaniel into the world and the last thing that I ever wanted to do was add pain to his life. Nathaniel had been raised in a home where from when he was two years old, foreign exchange students of every religion, color and nationality were the norm. One never knew what culture would be discussed at our dinner table with students from every corner of the world. Both Linda and I have always stressed that prejudice is one of the most disagreeable traits that any person could harbor. Differences were to be celebrated, not feared.

When Linda moved out we decided that it would be a good idea to have Nathaniel see a therapist. He had a lot to deal with. First his mom moved out. Next, the reality that his parents were divorcing landed on his young shoulders. This was followed by the news that we would be selling our home and would move into an apartment. On top of this we ended up giving away his dachshund as the apartment that we moved into wasn’t big on pets. Our primary concern was finding a place where Nathaniel wouldn’t have to switch schools nor have to live far from his friends. Pickings were slim. We felt that with all the stress facing our son who on top of everything was on the verge of puberty, counseling was a necessity for him.

As Linda moved out I reconnected with a roommate from a semester abroad program in Bruges, Belgium on which I had participated during my senior year of college. My roommate Jim had become my best friend and he came out ten years earlier than I had. We stayed in close contact for years but after he came out he drifted away. In truth I had always been attracted to Jim. He went through some difficult times after coming out and had cut off most of his friendships out of shame.

As it happens Jim’s lover left him the same weekend Linda had moved out of our home. We reconnected instantly and were closer than ever. He had visited me and Nathaniel and I him several times before I came out to Nathaniel. Unfortunately Jim grew sick from AIDS and finally died four years after I came out. His family remains dear to me ten years after his passing. Nathaniel adored Jim and his lover who had returned shortly after leaving Jim. Nathaniel knew they were gay. Still there was a chance that Nathaniel might balk at the news that his dad was gay. I feared that he might be unwilling to continue to live with me.

Nathaniel was only a few months away from heading for summer camp when I came out. I faced a dilemma. Should I come out to him before he left for camp or should I wait until he returned home in August? There was no question that I was going to come out to Nathaniel. I felt that timing was critical. I wanted him to have enough time in therapy to process the news before leaving for camp. On the one hand it made sense to wait until he came home and had the entire school year at home to deal with the information. However, I feared that Nathaniel might overhear me speaking on the phone, He might run across a piece of mail, gay newspaper, magazine or a book that I hadn’t put away or he might overhear a comment made by somebody else who already new about my sexual orientation.

His therapist suggested that I should wait until the end of the summer. However, when I relayed my fears to her she understood. What would happen if Nathaniel found out a few days before he left for camp? That could be devastating. So I decided to tell him five weeks before he left for camp.

The night I came out to my son remains etched in my memory. There is an old adage that things happen in threes. This was a night of three big events. When I got home from work Linda and a realtor met me at our house and we signed all of the paperwork to list our home on the market. I loved our home but couldn’t afford living there without Linda. Putting the house on the market symbolized the finality of our relationship ending and the onset of a new phase in my life. After signing the paperwork Linda left to for her apartment.

I sat Nathaniel down on the sofa in the den and told him that he had dealt with a great deal during the past few months. I had one more thing that I needed to discuss with him. I told him that I had no idea how he would react to what I was going to tell him. I wondered out loud that after I shared what I had to say whether he would want to continue to live with me. However, I stressed that ours was a relationship built on trust and that he could come to me at any time with any issue that was facing him. If I expected him to confide in to me then I also had to be able to be honest with him about my life. I reminded Nathaniel that my friend Jim was gay and he said that he knew that. I told him that after a great deal of work in therapy and soul searching I had realized that I was gay too.

My son’s response was, “Is that all? I thought you were going to tell me something really bad. If you think that I wouldn’t want to live with you over your being gay then you don’t know me very well.” Years later Nathaniel recounted the story to friends about my coming out to him as having taken an hour. In reality it took three minutes at most. It lasted an eternity to both of us.

I had seen Linda’s father a few months earlier and he had asked about the reason for the break-up of our marriage. He had inquired into whether we had been having any sexual issues to which I had replied no. I hated to lie but at that time Linda and I had decided not to share the fact that I was gay with her family until we were ready. After I had my discussion with Nathaniel, I called Linda’s folks and came out to them. My father-in-law told me that he wasn’t surprised and had wondered if that had been the cause our marital problems. Linda’s parents are good people and though I haven’t seen them but twice since our divorce, they have always been pleasant on the phone when calling to speak with Nathaniel. I felt the need to get it all over with that one evening and what an evening it had been.

As I put Nathaniel to bed that night I poured a single malt whiskey into a tumbler over two cubes of ice. It had been a prized purchase made in Edinburgh during our trip to the UK the previous summer. I am not a big drinker but if ever I deserved a good stiff drink that was the night.

My son was able to discuss my sexual orientation with his therapist. He admitted years later that absorbing the news of our divorce had been more of a trauma to him than my coming out. As Nathaniel progressed through school we had occasional issues to deal with such as who to come out to and how to handle friend’s questions.

While he was in junior high one friend spent the night. His friend knew I was gay and asked Nathaniel, “Your dad won’t come into your room in the middle of the night and do anything will he?” Nathaniel replied, “My mom is a single straight woman and if we were staying at her place would you ask the same question?” Nathaniel’s friend got it and that was the end of that drama.

As I navigated through the gay community I was fascinated by the new culture that I had joined. In some ways I felt like a foreigner who had moved to a new land. I read voraciously about all facets of the glbt community and continue to do so. Within a few years I felt as if I had gained a “Ph.D.” in gay studies. I became more knowledgeable about gay rights, culture, history and politics than most of my gay friends who had been out since their teen years. Soon I joined a variety of glbt organizations.

During my marriage to Linda I was oblivious to the amount of prejudice, hatred and abuse facing our community and as I became acculturated to my life as an openly gay man it didn’t take long for me to become an activist. I was outraged by the plight facing glbt youth. I felt an urgency to make life better for our community. That burning drive remains.

Linda went on to co-found straight spouse support groups in both Dallas and New England. Before long we ended up in a variety of newspapers including a front page article in the Sunday New York Times and on both the Rolonda and Donahue shows. US News and World Report came to Nathaniel’s high school graduation, in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I had moved for fifteen months for his senior year in high school. The magazine featured us as part of a story that they published concerning kids raised by gay parents.

I started writing and was involved in two gay book projects and in 2000 dedicated myself to the fight against Laura Schlessinger being given a television show by Paramount. I became one of eight national steering committee members with StopDrLaura.com. I continue to freelance write for newspapers and magazines and am actively involved in the fight for same-sex marriage as an activist with dontamend.com.

As I read that note from Linda nearly fifteen years ago with my hands trembling and my stomach in my mouth I could never have imagined that on April 17th of this year, at the age of 51, that I would legally marry the man of my dreams in a ceremony in Toronto, Canada performed by the first openly gay justice in the province of Ontario. Our friends and families would be in attendance.

Linda remarried several years ago and he is a nice man. I met him at dinner with Linda during a recent trip to New England. I was thrilled to see Linda happy and at peace. Linda and I remain in touch from time to time mainly concerning Nathaniel but also to share major life events. We each wish the other well. So often people think we have control over our lives. As my wise Dr. Zik, once remarked, “We are lucky if we have influence!”

If I am convinced about one thing concerning our fight for acceptance and equality it is the importance of coming out. As Dr. Rob Eichberg, author of “Coming Out An Act of Love” and founder of both National Coming Out Day and the Experience Workshop pointed out, “Coming out is a process.” It takes time to come out and we continue do so for the rest of our lives.

By coming out to our friends, family, co-workers and others in our lives two major accomplishments are realized. First, we become happier as individuals because people love us for the persons we truly are and not false images that we project to protect ourselves. We no longer need hide or pretend that we are somebody that we aren’t. By having honest relationships with the people whom touch our lives the relationships are more meaningful and rewarding. Secondly, the more people who know us the more successful our battle for civil rights becomes.

As my partner and I publicly proclaim our love for each other (both in the ceremony in Canada and by sharing our story with people in our lives) the subject of same-sex marriage has become real to the many folks who know us and they in turn become advocates for our rights. Family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers whom we have enlightened become allies in our war against hate. Just as homes are constructed one nail at a time so is the movement built for glbt rights by coming out to one person at a time.

For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a horse the rider was lost,

For the want of a rider the battle was lost,

For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

–Old Nursery Rhyme