Society has come a long way since 1979–the year I came out. I never dreamed we’d see gay marriage (now legal in a small number of states) or Emmy-winning television shows featuring gay characters. In honor of National Coming Out Day, I’m retelling my story about that fateful night.
In 1979, I worked second shift full-time at a hospital in Lexington, KY. I had benefits, the money was good, and it was always possible to pick up an extra shift for time-and-a-half pay. I moved out of my parents’ house, went to parties with the nurses after work, and was frankly too busy to be bothered with anything as mundane as school.
The shift rotation was such that I was off one weekend out of three. Friends on the same rotation meant having someone to do things with when days off fell on a weekday. Lynne was on my rotation. We’d gone to high school together and had a lot of mutual friends. On a Monday night in September of my 21st year, we were off work and wanted to go dancing. We went to every club in town, but being a Monday night, they were all dead.
Desperate to have fun on our only night off, Lynne suggested we go to the gay bar where the dance floor was always hopping. I absolutely did not want to go. But Lynne begged and pleaded and promised we would leave if I felt the least bit uncomfortable. So we went.
Up to that time, it never occurred to me that I might be gay. Gay people were either pedophiles or flaming queens that liked to dress up as women. Perverts. That was not me, therefore, I was not gay.
Besides, I thoroughly enjoyed sex with women. With a continuous string of girlfriends dating back to the fourth grade, how could I be gay? It just wasn’t possible. Rather than gay or bi or straight, I preferred to think of myself as honest. Surely every man in America sometimes wondered how an attractive male friend or coworker would look naked. I was just honest enough to admit it. Right?
The gay bar was called Johnny Angel’s, and was more popular then than any time before or since. The name changed several times over the years but the place had been a gay bar since at least the sixties. Everyone referred to it as the bar no matter what the sign over the door said, so they finally just changed the name to The Bar. As far as I know, it still operates under that name today.
We presented our IDs, paid the cover charge, and headed for the huge spiral staircase that lead to the disco. The thump of the base hit your ears long before you heard the music. Large face-less photographs of breasts, legs and other body parts carried the eye upward to the brick archway at the top of the stairs. Through the arch you could see flashing lights, and reflected in the mirror behind the marble bar, more brick arches and the obvious source of the music. My heart was in my throat.
We walked through the arch past the room-length, mirror-backed bar and through another brick arch to the dance floor. Everywhere I looked, guys my age danced with each other. Not a dirty-old-man in the bunch. There were a couple of drag queens, and some straight people, but the overwhelming majority were guys around my age more or less just like me. More than a couple were downright cute! I was shocked, speechless, and absolutely certain I was gay.
I danced like I had never danced before. I kept my eyes on Lynne, avoiding any possible eye contact with the cute boys dancing all around me. My mind raced as the implications of my new awareness sunk in. I was gay. Was I ashamed or mortified or suicidal? Not at all. I was excited, curious, and oddly at peace. Everything made sense now. At long last I’d found a label that fit.
By the weekend, I’d fallen in with a group of gay friends that were closer to me than my own family during those first few years. It’s a good thing. Lexington was a small town for its size, especially when you have as many aunts, uncles, and cousins in the city as I did. Within days, the aunts were talking with Mom about my trips to the gay bar.
Telling someone his decision to be gay means he will burn in hell rarely gets the desired result. I figured since I was going to burn anyway, might as well get as much sinning under my belt as I could. I did everything I was big enough to do and then some. At least I’d have fun memories to carry me through eternity. Except I don’t remember all that much. The rest of my twenties are a blur.
Fast forward through a lot of drugs and alcohol, several bouts of therapy and a stint in rehab, a number of failed relationships, and a couple of decades. My wonderful partner and I are about to celebrate ten years together, I have a great job that I love, and a multitude of friends. I am truly blessed, and couldn’t be happier here in…
My Glass House
6 responses to “National Coming Out Day”
Oh, yes, I remember some stories about Johnny Angel’s. Ha. My nephew and his girlfriend of 5-6 years have just split. They have an adorable little girl, Lucy Jayne, (you’ve probably seen pics on FB). We didn’t know about the split for a couple of months. Poor girlfriend got interrogated by my mom, who couldn’t reach my nephew on the phone for his birthday. She just said “it was a mutual agreement”. When she finally got ahold of my nephew, he said the same thing. “she wasn’t happy, I wasn’t happy, it was a mutual thing”. Thankfully they are still friends and so far so good with the baby thing. Since they were never married, there are no “custody” guidelines. Hopefully it won’t ever resort to a legal thing. Anyway…. I have been seriously wondering if he is gay. His mom left my brother affter 16 years of marriage when she realized she was in love with a woman. The nephew has always been very involved in gay activist groups and works for a company called Georgia Voice that (for lack of a better phrase) is “gay friendly” and promotes/supports/reports on related issues. he has always participated in the Pride stuff, and always “likes” a lot of GLBT stuff on FB. (I thought it was pretty much in support of his mom) Their nanny was/is a FABULOUS gay guy, and their friends were about a half gay/half straight crowd. So. I am wondering if he is entering a new phase of “himself”. I’d love to ask, but I guess it’s really none of my business. If that is the case, then My Mama will of course have a mental meltdown, and the news would “send her to Milledgeville” (what she told my brother and me every time we did something to upset her when we were growing up). My nephew would know this, and I imagine he would avoid her finding out at all costs. I am kind of mentally preparing my arguments to her when/if she finds out and she goes nuclear, which will in turn FURTHER send her to Milledgeville when she learns what MY true thoughts are. I guess I’m just borrowing trouble worrying about something that may not even be a reality. If it is the case, I’d like to let him know that he has a friend in the family… probably the only one he will have on our side, except his dad and stepmom. But I guess the best thing to do is just wait and see. okay. just had to tell someone. whew. felt good to Come Out about it.
If he’s gay, having a supportive aunt would be a huge help. Things are better now, but the family (and church) still cause the most problems. You might just let him know how supportive you are in general so if he is gay, he’d know someone in the family has his back. And I have no idea if your mama can see your comment. It’s a safe bet she doesn’t read my blog though. LOL
If you see a mushroom cloud over my way, you’ll know she saw it. But I can’t see anywhere on FB that it acknowledges outside activity using the FB log-in info. I’ll just be in a super-watchful mode and see if i pick up on anything with him, and go from there.
Hey. If I comment on here using my FB login… there’s no way Mama can see this, is there? Oh Lord.
“I was shocked, speechless, and absolutely certain I was gay.” Ha! This so brought me back to reading Glass Houses. Love it!
Thanks Amy! Actually, this is a slightly modified version of one of the posts from Crotchety Old Man that eventually became Glass Houses.