Do you live in small town America? I did. I know the struggle of feeling different. As a boy, I lived in the little town of East Hartland. My uncle called it “Walton’s Mountain” because it had that feel. I knew I wasn’t like the other kids from an early age, but didn’t know what it meant other than it must be something bad. Different was always bad then.
My three sisters and I never really wanted anything. We had two loving parents who were good providers. Our family was on the upper side of middle class and lived in a big house right next to the Tunxis State Forest. That was my safety place, my playground. No matter how odd I felt, or how often I got picked last for this team or that, I could always go to nature and feel safe and grounded. Nobody to judge you, and nobody to judge.
My family moved to Pennsylvania when I was 14 and everything changed. It got harder. Being the new kid AND adolescent AND feeling “different” — yikes! I didn’t know where to fit in so I didn’t try. However I retreated into books, music and art. Not a bad thing, but lonely. When I discovered that my differentness was being gay, I got really scared; in the mid-80’s that was bad. Plus there was this new “gay cancer” thing going around, later known as AIDS. I couldn’t disappoint my family. I was the only son and had to carry on the family name: Smith? Seriously? Yeah, that’s what I believed. Either way, I knew I wanted to be a dad and family man so I hid deeper in the closet.
This meant living a double life; very painful and NOT recommended. Eventually I met a woman I felt safe with and was able to be sexual with her, as long as I had my outlets. Again, not healthy. We stayed together for 14 crazy years and brought three wonderful kids into the world.
When the marriage fell apart, I finally decided, “Okay. This is it. That part is over so I might as well get honest.” My wife was the first person I told, “I’m gay.” She struggled but felt like it was all the more reason the marriage needed to end. Mom was the second and she was proud of me. Ever have one of those moments where you finally say what you needed to, feel HUGE relief, like you can breathe again, only to have an, “Oh gawd! What the heck did I just do?!” Yeah. That was one of those.
It’s been a crazy journey from there. I fell into the joys of alcohol and depression for some time. Eventually, though, by being true to myself, and staying clean it HAS gotten better! Some people ask, “So you’re saying everyone should come out at an early age?” No. I’m saying each of us have our own journey. We take the people we love on that journey and have to consider them as well. When/if we DO finally decide to come out, remember that our loved ones will have their own process with acceptance – or lack of acceptance. My dad still struggles and refers to it as a “moral and physical error.” I have to allow him that, but it doesn’t stop me from being true to myself. I believe by staying true and showing people that I am happy and comfortable with who I am, they’ll get there someday.
One of the interesting twists is my kids. Today they are 19, 15 and a half, and 13. You know what they think about my being gay? Not much. They had a harder time with the divorce and my struggle with alcohol. As far as being gay, they accept it, make jokes about it, tell their friends – in short they have the comfortable space with it that I never had as a kid. It makes me hopeful for LGBT youth today.
Wherever you are on your journey – regardless of your age or situation – be true to yourself, be respectful of others, and love your life!