Big Love has a tagline on the cover, “Coming out of the closet is never easy.” Although I’ve written many, many gay-themed stories, I don’t know if I’m sure I’ve ever tackled coming out as directly as in this one.
You can read Big Love (and I hope you will!) if you want to travel the tears- and laughter-strewn path of the coming out process of my main characters, but I wanted, in this post, to share a little bit about my own coming out, some of which mirrors the process of my characters Dane and Truman in the book.
Remember—knowing you’re gay isn’t the same as accepting you’re gay. I might have known I was gay when this picture was snapped, but I certainly gave it no credence.
That's me at about age seven at the party my father’s workplace held for employees’ kids every Christmas. It would not be the last time I would sit on a burly-bearded guy’s lap, but let’s keep this sweet and simple. Even then I was fastidious about my appearance and like to think that my bowtie, V-neck sweater, and Chukka boots would look good even today. As a gay child, I knew even then that classics never go out of style.
I was pretty happy when that picture was taken, but with the advent of adolescence, the bad stuff was in full swing. I was a very troubled young man, at best called a sissy (or fag, queer, homo) and tormented verbally by classmates and, at worst, physically bullied for sport (just like Truman in Big Love). Like the song goes, I was always the last chosen when choosing sides for basketball. I had no friends. I spent my time with my baby sister, walking her around the neighborhood in her stroller. How I loved that little girl! She was my salvation without even knowing it. Unfortunately, a little boy pushing a stroller around back in the early 70s only added to the abuse for my being “different.” Back then, I had no self-esteem and could only cast my tormentors as right in their abuse—after all, deep inside I knew was some kind of freak. This is when the self-loathing started and I retreated deep into the closet, thinking and praying for deliverance from being “that way.”
I remained hidden and tormented until I went away to college, to Miami University, where I could not only fulfill the dream of sharpening my craft as a writer, but where I could cast off the shackles of being derided as a sissy and someone only worthy of being punched as I stood in line for lunch in the school cafeteria. Because I chose a school where almost no one else in my class went (save for an overly bright girl, who had been tormented as much as I), I could recast myself as one of the guys, a blessedly straight boy…and I was able to fool most everyone. I wonder now if I was naïve in thinking my dark secrets were as hidden as I believed.
University was where I met and fell in love—with a woman. We were engaged; we got married. We had a wonderful sex life (when I could make myself believe I wasn’t passing some sort of test or that I was pretending); we had a child. Through all those years, I was deep, deep in the closet, wearing the thickest of masks, so thick I could barely breathe. But I weathered the storms of self-doubt, of recrimination, or terror, telling myself, throughout a decade, that if I played the part long enough, I would become the character I thought I should be (much as Dane does in Big Love).
But that gay guy inside me would not rest until I paid him heed. The harder I fought to be someone I wasn’t, the harder the gay part of me fought back. It came to a point where I realized that no one in my life—not family, not friends, not my wife, not my child—loved me for me. Because no one knew who I was.
It became a matter of living a lie and watching my soul, my very essence, shrivel up and die, or make a choice—a choice that, as time went on, became more and more unavoidable. Finally, at age 30, I had to lay down the shield and the sword and stop fighting.
With the help of a therapist, I stepped cautiously out of the closet. I was so scared, I leapt at the first cute guy who smiled at me and we were living together within a few months, causing, in part, a contentious divorce and custody battle. At age 30, my face of gay was out of the closet, but still yet unfulfilled.
See, I never had an adolescence, that experience most people go through when they try on different personas, play the field, experiment with life to see who they really are and what suits them.
My adolescence came way too late, in my mid 30s and early 40s. I plead the fifth on those years, but let’s just say there was a great deal of experimentation and pushing the gay envelope. I tried everything (and everyone) at least once.
My face of gay in my 40s was accepting, but unloved. I went through many relationships, some as long as two years, others lasting only minutes. Some of those affairs were conducted in only seconds, on a crowded Chicago el train, spoken with the eloquence of the eyes.
It wasn’t until I had given up on love and accepted me for me that I found true love. And that’s my face of gay today, with someone I am now proud to call husband, legal in all 50 states.
Because at this point, being out and being gay is all about one word: family.
Teacher Dane Bernard is a gentle giant, loved by all at Summitville High School. He has a beautiful wife, two kids, and an easy rapport with staff and students alike. But Dane has a secret, one he expects to keep hidden for the rest of his life—he’s gay.
But when he loses his wife, Dane finally confronts his attraction to men. And a new teacher, Seth Wolcott, immediately catches his eye. Seth himself is starting over, licking his wounds from a breakup. The last thing Seth wants is another relationship—but when he spies Dane on his first day at Summitville High, his attraction is immediate and electric.
As the two men enter into a dance of discovery and new love, they’re called upon to come to the aid of bullied gay student Truman Reid. Truman is out and proud, which not everyone at his small-town high school approves of. As the two men work to help Truman ignore the bullies and love himself without reservation, they all learn life-changing lessons about coming out, coming to terms, acceptance, heartbreak, and falling in love.
This post originally appeared at Prism Book Alliance.