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