I’m from Tamms, Illinois. Practically no one who isn’t from Tamms has heard of it. It is a small, dying town in southernmost Illinois. Farm country, beautiful to look at…regrettably, sad to live in.
I grew up knowing almost everyone in town. We lived outside of town, a few miles into the countryside. My school was small — 48 kids in my class. I knew all the teachers, where most of them lived. It was very isolated and insulated.
I think I knew I was gay early on. I didn’t know just what “gay” was…didn’t even know the word in that sense. I knew I was different. Different than the boys and different than the girls. More comfortable with the girls than the boys. I remember looking admirably at a few older relatives and friends, feeling these strange feelings within me that didn’t really trouble me as much as confuse me.
I think it was in junior high or late grade school that someone first brought to my attention that I might be gay. Oddly enough, it was a teacher. Some kids had gone into that phase of calling everyone “fag” or “faggot,” and the teacher for some reason sort of played along. I remember it making me feel uncomfortable in my skin, awkward and uneasy around people I had previously thought of as friends…sad, really.
I remember starting high school, which brought on showers after gym class, and shirts/skins in P.E. I quickly picked up on the other boys’ changing bodies. And I liked it! I also liked the fact that my gym teacher was a tall, lean, fit, hirsute man. I loved to watch him move and wonder about what was concealed under his clothing…
Unfortunately, high school was when the teasing began…not just for being a “fag” (even though I denied it vehemently), but for seemingly everything I did or didn’t do…I couldn’t live up to anyone’s standards at school, including teachers. They didn’t tease me, but the kids did. Luckily, that teasing never became physical.
I survived high school, and went on to college. Still in denial about my sexuality, I continued to marvel at guys on campus while still trying to figure out how to date women. This was not successful for me until later on in college…imagine that!
It was during college that I experienced my first brush with major depression. This is notable, because it was a running theme for me, continuing to this day. I don’t think it was so much because of my sexuality but because of my reluctance to ADMIT my sexuality to myself and learn to embrace it.
After a year of college away from home, I moved BACK home to continue in a community college. This was where I sort of “found” myself, forming a niche for me to learn and grow in. And I actually formed a relationship with a woman. She was my age, is still a great friend today, and I went on to marry her and father a beautiful daughter with her. We divorced after two and a half years. It devastated me…wonder why?
I lived as a single man for several years after this, dating only twice during that time. Each experience was awkward and uncomfortable, as the sexual feelings just weren’t there for me. I continued to be involved in my daughter’s life…and after a few years, I did meet another woman who stirred something within me. We dated for a few weeks, and then moved in together. We had a son together…stayed married for about 5 years. During this time, as well as a few times before our relationship started, I was having casual sex with a couple of men from time to time. No relationship or anything…just some sexual exploring…testing the waters, as it were.
I remember during my second marriage, I would be making love to my wife, dreaming and fantasizing about men during each encounter with her. I eventually told her of my feelings, and at first it was kind of a turn-on for both of us. After some time, though, I think she realized that I was much more serious about my feelings for men than I was of my feelings for her. I cared for her, but was realizing that I was just miserable, stuck in a marriage that didn’t satisfy either of us. I remained faithful during the marriage, but she eventually felt forced into a couple of affairs. We agreed to divorce, and what started out amicably, ended miserably. It has continued in that groove to this day, unfortunately.
I came out after the divorce, at age 35. I remember feeling a huge sense of freedom, of feeling as though a weight had been lifted (which sounds so trite and cliché). So, I began to wonder why I was having more and more problems with depression. I think, now, that it was because after years of caring for everyone else (I was a nurse by profession) including my family, I felt guilty about caring about myself for once, and for doing what was right for me to do. My coming out was gradual…I am blessed to have had a mostly positive experience with the exception of my second ex-wife. My family continued to love and support me, and my friends were essentially indifferent — they all continued to love me for me. They still do!
I have since moved on to have two relationships with men. One was brief, sort of a long-distance affair that was fun and eye-opening for me. We ultimately agreed that we were just better as friends and so ended the intimate part of our relationship. We remain friends to this day, thankfully. He is a wonderful man. I’m lucky to have had him in my life as I did.
I am now in the second year of my second long-term-relationship with another man. For the first time in my life, I feel “right” and that I’m doing what I should be doing, with whom I should be doing it. It is amazing to know that had I done this whole “coming out” thing earlier, I could’ve felt this satisfaction and contentment so much sooner! We have become political activists of sorts, working together with a group of people trying to promote and encourage equal rights for ALL citizens — especially people within the LGBTQ community. I am proud of who I’ve become and I’m happy in my life right now. My only real regret is that I didn’t come out sooner.