Thursday, July 26, 2012

Coming out a tale of fear...

Something has been telling me that this is a topic I need to talk about.  One of the things I pride myself on is the ability to take complex concepts and write about them in such a way that anyone who reads about it can understand the topics.  I try hard to break down these topics to make sure that the most people can benefit by what I write about.  For the LGBT community the largest fear is often the fear of being found out about their sexual preference by friends and family.  Coming out is probably a young gay persons biggest nightmare and fear that they have to face. The art of deception is practiced and they become experts at hiding their true selves from family, friends, co-workers and peers.

In most cases these young men and women perfect their ruse so convincingly that they often times can start to believe if for themselves, most develop the idea that they are bisexual and often have sex with anyone and everyone.  In all honesty this is probably not a bad thing.  It helps them to figure out which group they feel more comfortable around and identify with.  Generally through this period of experimentation they figure out which group they develop stronger attachments too and where their attractions really gravitate towards. Unfortunately, because of their upbringing and feelings of difference as well as guilt drive these young individuals to hide who they are and fear discovery of their inclinations so they do everything they can to hide what they are feeling.

It seems that feelings of guilt as well as fear of discovery paralyzes young people and keeps them from truly feeling comfortable with themselves.  Another fear is that of letting parents down and living up to expectations that have been thrust upon them.  They feel miserable about having to live a dual life and some cannot seem to get past these feelings.  Young men and women of color have more concerns to deal with because they have different concepts about masculinity and have a belief within their culture that being gay or different automatically makes then effeminate. This is not necessarily true, but within their culture a different divide exist from that of caucasians.  It seems that culture and society paints the picture of gay men to be girlish, effeminate, and gives the impression that a gay person cannot be masculine what I term unclockable, which just means that other people would never suspect them of being gay.  As someone who has dated a lot of men of color I can tell you that most of them don't consider themselves to be totally gay at all, they would rather label themselves as bisexual.  Though in most cases they refer to themselves as heterosexual even though they are fooling around with a gay or bisexual.  Hence the evolution of the Down Low phenomena.

Hell to almost everyone I have ever encountered the tale of coming out has always been one of great fear and dread.  Everyone fears the reprisal of those they know and how they will react to the knowledge of their true sexual preference. Often times this fear is a motivator for a person to keep potential partners at an arms length and give others the impression that they don't know what they want and that they are searching for something.  At one point I used to call this phase a persons slut phase.  Where experimentation and the changing of partners seems almost like a weekly event.  When I was growing up we jokingly referred to those we were dating as the flavor of the week.  At some points in my life I changed my boyfriends almost as fast as I changed my hair color and I can tell you that was often, because I grew up in the 80's and was very much into the club and bar scene even though I was often underage. 

I am here to tell you that every gay man and women goes through the terror of coming out.  There is nothing that I know of that is going to alleviate the feeling of exposure and the terror you are not going to be accepted and that you are going to be rejected by family and friends.  The fear is so powerful and gripping that you will do anything to keep from being exposed. But I can tell you that no matter what you think, it is much easier than you imagine, and another thing is this no matter what you think after the initial reaction people are going to come around.  You are going to find that once you have come out the stress of living a double life and keeping all those lies in place that a sense of completion and wholeness will envelope over you.  You are going to find others that know what you are going through and can and will sympathize with you.  Remember, we have all been through it and we have survived.  I am not saying that it is going to be easy, but trust me you are going to find that you want to out yourself before someone else inadvertently does it for you.  I also have to tell you that your mother knows already, and though she may be hurt, angry and react badly at first, she is going to be the first to come around and accept you for who you are.  There is a biological connection with your mother, that you don't readily have with your father, and trust me telling your father is probably the hardest thing you will do.

Here is the reason for the reaction you experience, I can tell you that any type of bad news, injury, illness triggers the same response in everyone.  These are the 4 stages of grief and as with everything else in life people have to deal with them in their time and way.  But trust me everyone goes through them and guess what it doesn't matter what age or what the situation turns out to be.  The first response is going to be denial.  For some reason they cannot believe that it is true, and they will not talk  about it or address the situation, in the hopes that it will go away. Further, they may even suggest that there is something wrong with you, that you are going through a phase and that it will pass. But, for them it is actually a form of wishful thinking and away to avoid the feeling of guilt.  The second phase is Anger,  now this anger may seem directed at you, but in truth it is turned inward.  Parents automatically assume that they are responsible, that they did something wrong, or that something forced you to this situation.  Trust me this is probably the hardest stage of the process you are going to have to endure.  The third stage is depression, and guess what both of you are going to experience this.  Unfortunately, the guilt of their anger and denial are going to force you to second guess yourself and try to once again hide who you really are. This of course is a natural response, yet it is difficult to endure and sometimes climb out of.  But, you know who you are and what makes you happy, and you need to remain true to yourself and not let their concerns weigh you down.   The final stages are acceptance and hope. Now, I am going to tell you that even when you get to these stages there are so many thoughts and concerns that are running through your parents and friends heads, and there is going to be a fair amount of worry that goes along with it.  But you will see that everyone that loves you and cares about you is going to come around, it takes time and patience on your part and understanding of what a person goes through.  Remember even as others are going through these phases you yourself are going to experience them as well.

You might wonder if it is worth all the pain and hurt that you are going to go through, but believe me it definitely is.  Because once you have come out, you are going to feel a heavy weight lifted from you, you are going to feel complete, you are going to feel relief that you no longer have to hide who you are.  Now, when most people get to this stage they really let their hair down and go wild and crazy.  I guess it is part of the process itself because you act outrageous, get bold and daring and try things you have never done before because you are released from the fear that has been griping you.  Again, as I have pointed out this is a natural thing to do. But, a word of caution here, your parents and friends have every right to be concerned for you, and your safety.  Even though times have changed quite a bit since the time I came out, the world is still a violent place, and there are still bigots and haters in the world that are going to try and steal your joy and hurt you.  Plus, relationships all end in pain of some kind no matter how long they last.  Further, there are terrible illnesses out there that you can be exposed to.  When I came out there was no real knowledge or understanding about AIDS and HIV, and I lost a lot of good friends to the disease in the 80's and early 90's.  Now, I don't want this to frighten you and discourage you from being yourself and discovering who you are and what you can be in the world.  Today, HIV is no longer a death sentence like it used to be, with proper care and treatment you can live 30 to 40 years of a normal life, and new treatments are being developed every day.  I believe that in your lifetime a cure might actually be found and the disease eradicated once and for all.

I want you to be courageous and adventurous, explore your sexuality and have fun doing it.  Find others like yourself that have similar interests and be yourself and honest about what you are feeling.  Take the time to really explore your feelings and be sure that you express them often.  Make sure that you don't hold them in and hide them, because you are going to have problems later on in life if you don't figure out how to express yourself and communicate how you feel to others as well as yourself. I am not going to tell you that being in the LGBT community and lifestyle is going to be easy, or that you aren't going to experience hardships. Because let me be totally honest, same sex relationships are much more difficult then other relationships. The reason for this is because you have all the normal problems and pressures of relationships you also have the sensor of societal norms, which is just a way of saying that everyone expects you to be "straight".  As I have said there have been great strides since I came out in the early 80's till now, but there are still the religious bigots and others that are going to tell you that you are wrong, that what you feel is wrong, there are going to be others that criticize you and tell you that you are sick.  Then on top of those you have other considerations and persecutions to rise above.  Especially if you are like me and get involved in a interracial relationship.

I will talk more about relationships and interracial relationship in greater detail in another blog entry.  This one entry is an attempt to expose the fears and lies that are keeping you in hiding, denying yourself the way you truly feel. It is my hope that those who read this can understand what is going to happen when they come out and that it will make it easier for them to make the transition.  I mentioned earlier the topic of bisexuality, and that is another blog topic that I am going to explore in the future.  It is important for you to come to terms with your own feelings and desires, and to be honest to yourself and those that care about you and you them.  I am not saying that it is going to be easy, that you are not going to feel pain making this transition, or that you aren't going to run into opposition.  What I want you to understand in the long run, when all is said and done, you are going to feel so much better, and feel a sense of relief that is so profound and comforting.

Please keep in mind that at first you may lose some friends, there are going to be a few that will never be able to wrap their mind around your sexuality, they are going to think that you made a choice, or that something outside of your life cause you to act that way.  In most cases the ones that are truly your friend are going to come to terms with it and come back into your life.  The ones that don't and ridicule and make fun of you, cut them loose, they are not truly friends and they honestly aren't looking out for you or even really care about you, they are around you for some other type of reason or hidden agenda.  So if they leave you haven't lost much at all anyway.  Once you have come out a whole new world opens up for you, and you are going to learn and experience things you never dreamed of.  Trust me you are going to develop an extended family, there are going to people you are going to grow to call your Gay Dad, Gay Mom, you are going to have gay brothers and sisters, even nephews and so forth.  Your life is going to become very interesting and rewarding.

I need to warn you though about drama, it is very prevalent in the gay community and at times you are going to run into those that live for drama and love to stir it up.  These end up being trouble makers and usually are very unhappy and lonely, the strive to make everyone around them as unhappy as they are.  They hate to see you having fun and enjoying yourself, they try and sabotage every friendship and relationship that might threaten what they perceive as their place and standing in your life.  Trust me when I tell you are going to get to a point in your life when you are not going to want to have these types of people in your life and the stress that they bring and keep fluent in your life. Eventually, you are going to want to live in a drama free zone.  But when and how that comes about is as different as the individuals that are involved.  Trust me it may be fun and entertaining at first, but it quickly will become a drain and full of stress, that you can avoid and do without in your daily life.

Let me fill you in on my story, give you some idea of how things could go and how it all turned out.  It is amazing how perceptive some people can be, and the ones that love and care about you the most are most likely the first to know your secret.  I know this to be true because honestly my dad's mom knew before everyone else.  Now, I was very open about my sexuality my senior year in high school to everyone except my parents.  Like I described above I was totally terrified about coming out to my parents.  Now, I will be honest my parents had to know, but they were deep in denial, my parents were going through a lot of their own issues and fighting and if you ask my family were really abusive to me and my brother.  However, in my sophomore year me and a couple of neighbor kids were caught by one of their fathers and my parents were told, of course trying to preserve my secret I lied about everything and I assumed that they bought the lie.  I know for a fact that the other two lied to their parents as well.  How I know this one of them became my boyfriend and we were together off and on through high school and six years of my navy life.  I guess to be really honest we fooled around for several years after I got out of the Navy.

For a year I was stationed at the Naval shipyard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and I would spend as much time with my grandmother's as I could.  Shortly before my dad's mother died she told me that I was a special and loving person and that I needed to live my life to the fullest and make myself happy, that she knew how special I was and that she loved me all the more for it.  Never to let anyone tell me that my feelings were not normal or that I was different because I wasn't and that above all things she loved me and accepted me for the person I was and who I would become.  Now, this was very emotional and moving for me because I had never confided in her or told her about my preferences before this.  I am so thankful that I had a couple more months to spend with her before she died.  It was her wisdom and insight that kept me going when things turned bad, and when I finally told my parents and how their reaction went.  My mother screamed at me, pulled an earring out of my ear, and told me that her father told her but she never believed him.  My father, wouldn't talk to me and for the entire time I was home on leave, which thank God was only two weeks, life at home was unbearable. Every time my mother would get mad at me she would swear and through stuff up in my face, at one point she even told me "How can you defend that person against me I am your family and the only relation to you is your blood on their dick."  Now this was vile and offensive too me because I wasn't actually taking anyone's side in the fight, but this is how my mother lashed out at me, she used words and guilt as weapons and waged war pretty unfairly.  She has since come around and believe it or not is my best friend and number 1 fan.

Honestly gay life is not for the faint of heart, or someone who is not strong. You are going to face challenges and situations that are going to test you, but like the old saying goes "that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger", believe me it is true.  Some of us are not cut out for the gay life and they live in denial and fear, they even get married to hide their attraction to same sex partners, some can live with it, others can't and step out on the sly behind their families back.  Some get the courage later in life to come clean and end up hurting others, mainly their wives and children.  My first serious relationship that I had was in the Navy.  Beside the guy that I was fooling around off and on through high school because in his mind he wasn't like me and couldn't love me and be with me in the open. However when I was in the navy, I met someone shortly after I graduated boot camp, he was in the same barracks and A school that I was in in Great Lakes.  His name was Karl Kevala, and I fell hard for him, we dated for quite a while when we were in the Chicago area. He took me home to Maryland and I met his family, including his sister who I stayed friends with for years.  He graduated from school before I did and was sent to his ship and we lost touch for a little while, but he stumbled back into my life a couple of years later and though at first he was with someone else, we eventually got back together, and because of this I applied to go to the same C school as him.  We dated the entire time he was there and we even went back to visit with his family.  But once again he was sent to the fleet, unfortunately when that happened my dad's mother died and I was devastated and before I knew it I was diagnosed with cancer and discharged.  Now the plan was that Karl and I were going to go to Italy together and be stationed with one another this never happened. We lost touch, and I believe it wasn't till February of 2007 that I was able to get in touch with him again.

I am a little fuzzy on the year but I remember that he called me back on February 14th, which was Valentine's day, only to tell me that he had gotten married two years before to a woman, that knew his past and accepted him.  He then asked me if I was sure I was gay, that he never really felt comfortable being identified as gay.  He did clarify and tell me that he did not regret the time we were together and that he cared for me, but his wife wouldn't understand if he stayed in contact with someone he was involved with in the past.  He asked me not to contact him anymore and for the most part I have respected those wishes and have left him alone.  To the point when I was letting everyone one know about my health condition and was preparing for the major surgeries that were so dangerous and there was a great chance that I wasn't going to make it, I didn't call him and let him know what was going on. I figured he had his life now and he didn't care if I was going to die, so I left him in peace. I am sure if something would have happened to me, my mother would have contacted him to let him know. Because he was a big part of my life, and my first true love.   When I got out of the Navy in 1992 I met a man named Michael and we were together till he died in 1996, he accepted me and gave me the moral support that I needed till my parents came around.  It didn't hurt that he was rich and owned one of the biggest gay bars in Orlando, and he loved me.

Fear is a powerful motivator, and it can paralyze you and keep you from acting.  But it can drive you to  be secretive, deceitful and lie to yourself and everyone around you. Coming out is never easy, but honestly it isn't as hard as you might think, and you can do it.  When you finally do you are going to be amazed at how scared you were for absolutely no reason whatsoever.  As I am fond of telling you time and distance heals all wounds, and perceived hurts.  I am not a big fan of the DL culture, I have met so many young black men that are fooling themselves, claiming to be straight and yet are what I call gay for pay. Trust me if you have an act of same sex sex, you are either bisexual or gay.  Time will help you decide, and you need to be absolutely honest with yourself and your partners.  Talk to them, tell them what you like and what you don't.  If you prefer not to label yourself till you know exactly what your feelings and emotions are telling you is absolutely acceptable, however it is important that you search inside of you and be honest about what attracts you, what you like and go from there.

No matter where you are at in the process remember everyone of us, your friends and peers has come through the same situation as you are going through. Find someone you are comfortable with and talk to them, listen to their experiences and what happened when they came out.  Surround yourself with people that you are comfortable with and build a support network, confide in them your fears and your thoughts, you will be surprised to find that many of the fears you have they have had in the past and have confronted them, and have won.  

It is important to confront your fears head on and do what you feel in your heart is right and feels good to you.  Remember no one can tell you if what you are doing, feeling or thinking is right or wrong, because every situation is as unique as the individuals involved.  But lean on your network and draw the strength you need to make the right move.  Nothing is ever really set in stone and if you like Karl change your mind years later so be it.  There is someone out there for everyone. A person that completes you and makes you whole. If you let fear keep you from exploring and finding that person you are going to miss so much, and probably end up making yourself feel very miserable in the process.  Coming out is a liberating process which can only serve to help you grow and mature, and feel more comfortable with yourself.

As always my hopes and dreams are with you,

Uncle B