That night it happened, that night I had my gay epiphany, was a brutal, agonizing downer. I was an emotional wreck — disgusted, appalled, frightened. And all I’d done is admire a man, an athlete, a member of the NY Knicks.
That night, so long ago, 25 years to be exact, is chiseled deep into my memory. It’s there, forever. I was at Madison Square Garden, with some guys, a Knicks game. I was bored, detested basketball, so silly, men running up and down the court in their underwear, fighting over a ball. Please!
But I found myself concentrating on one particular player, a Knick, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Tall, dark ebony, sooooo muscular (God, was he muscular!), stunning African features… A genuinely beautiful man. I was mesmerized, just in awe of this African God.
That night, home, alone, in bed, he was still front-and-center in my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I started fantasizing, he and I were out at a bar, sharing a couple of beers; he and I were in my apartment, watching the tube, on the couch; he and I were wrestling, kidding around; he and I were embracing; he and i were kissing, in bed…
The next day, I got drunk, called in sick to work. I hated myself for what I’d spent the night dreaming of. But try as I might, I couldn’t stop playing over my fantasies, sober or drunk. I picked up a woman later that week, but was a complete failure in bed.
Truth to tell, I’d pretty much always been a failure with women, both physically and emotionally. In my twenties, into my thirties, I’d never been able to truly throw myself with undimmed passion at a woman, something always held me back. A part of me wouldn’t go all the way.
As weeks, and then months, dragged on after my fateful night at the Garden, I began wondering to myself just who I was. I’d drink myself into a stupor, a way to ward off answering myself. A way to come to grips with who I was. By now, I’d stopped looking for a woman, I was celibate, frustrated, without a sexual outlet.
Finally, six months into my celibacy, bleary-eyed, hung over, a three day growth, I glumly considered myself in the bathroom mirror — and to this day I do not know where the remark came from, the words just came out — I mumbled four words: “I think I’m gay.” I actually cried, a 35-year-old man, crying, tears streaming down my cheeks.
More weeks, more months went by, as I tried to understand what I meant when I said those four fateful words. Without consciously doing so, I was now looking at men, on the street, in bars, in stores. Some would catch me and scowl, as if they could see into me, as if they knew something about me that I wasn’t yet sure I knew. Other men ignored me. But a select few held my gaze, and I’d quickly look away, embarrassed.
Eventually, I realized I had to act on my statement, had to find out just who and what I was. I got up the courage to go to a gay bar, it took me an entire week. I’d walk by, hesitate, and move on; I’d start to go in, notice a couple of people approaching, and turn away, not wanting to be caught entering a gay bar. I know, what a fool. I mean, these were complete strangers to me.
At last, I went into a gay bar, barely managing to eke out to the bartender that I wanted a beer. My voice was barely audible. But after a couple of beers, I began to relax, looking around at the men at the bar, playing pool, lounging at tables. And at that moment, I realized I was with kindred spirits, I felt utterly at home. Whatever doubts I had about being homosexual evaporated. I knew, really knew, that I was a gay man.
Which is odd, because after all the miserable, drunken days and nights, it wasn’t as if I’d actually kissed a man, gone to bed with him, made love with another man. Yet, standing there, by myself, among a bar full of gay men, I not only knew, but I was relieved, as if some huge yoke had been dragged from my aching shoulders.
It would be weeks before I actually went on a date with another man, a date in which I was awkward, ill-at-ease; I just knew that all the people on the street and in the restaurant could see that I was gay. Only later did I realize just how true this was. My date was a black man in his early forties. And the rule of thumb is that a black man and white man, both over thirty, out at the movies or a museum or a restaurant, they scream gay. But I didn’t know that then.
Soon, I settled into a double life: het by day and at work, gay at night and in private. But as the years passed, I grew increasingly frustrated, stressed, at this lie I was living. I spent eight years in the closet; eight years fraught with close calls, deceit, and self-hatred for being in the closet.
Finally it became too much. With my boyfriend at the time, I bumped into two friends, a married couple. As we stopped and chatted, I turned and introduced Derrick as my boyfriend. It just happened, no pre-thought, no planning. Wham! So there it was, out there.
I had outed myself. And what is even odder is that the couple shook his hand and we, the four of us, chatted a few minutes more and nothing was said. Had they known something about me all along, something I hadn’t really known for all those years? I don’t know, but once I’d broken the ice, it was over for me, all the lying and hiding who I was.
Talk about lighter than air. It was so easy. Perhaps because I was older, more mature, as were friends and colleagues, perhaps that made the transition so smooth. Perhaps because I live in NYC, where people don’t really care what you are. I had no family, that certainly made it easier.
But whatever the reason, I was from that instant on, Gay, Out and Proud.
I’m From Salt Lake City, UT. “I woke up as the plane touched down on the runway. The familiar mountainscape outside was a comforting sight, but I couldn’t help feeling more out of place than I ever had before. I wasn’t the same kid who had left here a month earlier. Or maybe I was, but something was clearly different. And I was starting to think that different wasn’t such a bad thing.”
I’m From Adelaide, SA, Australia. “I knew I was gay. When I was alone. In the dark, in the safe cocoon of my bed. When my own hands touched myself, and those images and thoughts went toward the movie star, the guy I had seen on the street, or my best friend. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
I’m From Perth, WA, Australia. “I already knew I was gay but hadn’t accepted it. I had crushes on friends and knew what attracted my attention at school, on the beach, on the street, at my tennis club, etc. I remember when I was about 19 and had changed tennis clubs. I arrived early one Saturday and Ashley, a pretty blond boy probably a couple of years older than me and a country boy, asked if I would like to go out to a court and hit. “Sure” I replied. He hit the ball okay, was a nice guy and yeah, very easy on the eyes.”