It took my mother’s diagnosis and death from a glioblastoma brain tumor in 2004 to finally make me realize that going through life closeted was no option at all. I’d known I was gay since my high school years in the late 70s/early 80s, but growing up in a traditionally conservative family and community kept me from living that aspect of my life. The AIDS crisis of the 1980s kept me even more closeted given the public reaction to gays and the still-lethal disease. But the more I remained in the closet, the more I realized that I was letting life–a full, complete life that included all of who I am–slip away from me.
My 40th birthday was a day of both release and sadness. I learned of my mother’s terminal diagnosis the same day I finally came out to my longest-known high school friend. His acceptance encouraged me to approach other friends, colleagues and even my sister, all of whom either accepted it with little fanfare or responded with something akin to, “Oh, I already knew that, I was just waiting for you to find out!” Now after six years, I am living a more fulfilled life with my partner and with nearly everyone who I care about knowing me better. That said, there are two gaping holes in that fabric of people who know. Due to her rapidly deteriorating condition at the time, I never got the chance to tell my mom, a regret I will carry with me to the grave. As for my dad, his social conservatism knows few bounds given his proclivity of using racial slurs when referring to anyone who isn’t white. To not trigger a major rift, he is the only person in my life who does not know that I am gay. It makes me sad, but the turmoil such knowledge would trigger would be worse still. For Dad, and for me, the adage of “ignorance is bliss” works best — for now.