“I’m not gay” homosexuals turn up in my stories from time to time. Readers — especially women (do straight men read my books?) — question how he can be in denial about being gay when he’s having sex with men. Openly gay men know exactly who I’m talking about because these guys hit on us all the time.
The “I’m not gay” homosexual doesn’t deny enjoying sex with men. Misperceptions about “the gay lifestyle” and what it means to be gay blind him to the truth. That he might be gay is just too horrifying to even consider. What would his family say?
Growing up, that I might be gay never occurred to me. Don’t laugh, it’s true. Everyone else knew, but I had no idea.
That I’m sometimes a little slow on the uptake is well established and no doubt played a role. But I blame society. Before I could walk or talk, disdain for feminine behavior in boys, including and especially physical attraction to other boys, came through loud and clear.
As far as I knew, nobody in real life, movies, or on television was homosexual. Being queer was the worst thing that could happen to a guy. Sex with another man wasn’t just a sin. The love that dare not speak its name was also a mental illness and against the law. Those who engaged in such behavior were perverts to scorn and ridicule.
Where did those thoughts come from? Religion is only partly to blame for an attitude that pervaded society in the 50s and 60s and persists among some even today. Don’t believe me? Check out this 1961 public service announcement warning against the homosexual predator.
Like every other kid in America anywhere near my age, I grew up believing homosexuals were either drag queens or pedophiles. With no place to put my feelings for other boys, I repressed them, shoving them deep into the recesses of my mind where I didn’t have to think about them.
When I was 21, a friend dragged me kicking and screaming to my first gay bar. I had absolutely no desire to be around a bunch of pervs. But the second I saw handsome young men dancing together — guys I could identify with — I knew.
Coming out opened a floodgate of repressed memories and feelings. Looking back, that I’d always been gay was clear. Undoing twenty years of socialization so I could own the label with pride rather than shame took years — a painful, self-destructive decade I wouldn’t go through again for all the money in the world.
Coming out is easier now. Even so, “I’m not gay” homosexuals are everywhere. My favorite example came on Jerry Springer a few years ago. The guy was sleeping with his son’s best friend, but they weren’t gay or anything like that. Dad and his boyfriend said so, over and over again, freely admitting they loved each other, but unable to say they were gay. Talk about a stigma.
More than anything, I feel sorry for “I’m not gay” homosexuals and the women they marry. I understand the fear and self-loathing lurking beneath their denial. Been there, done that. Dealing with the repercussions from coming out was rough. But living a lie and hating the person inside for the rest of my life would have been worse — a lot worse.
Once the cat was out of the bag, I didn’t feel I had much choice about whether or not to own my gayness. I can’t pretend to be something I’m not. Coming to terms took some time, but once I did, I never looked back. Nearly forty years later, I couldn’t be happier, and I’m proud of myself for having the courage to be me all those years ago.