Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Emerging From the Closet - Coming to Terms Living as a Gay Man

I stopped my on going chronology of my coming out process back at the time I moved out of the marital home in August, 2002. I now want to pick up that story and to reflect on my experiences and thoughts. I was definitely an emotional mess at the time and, while, facing the fact that I was indeed gay, I was anything but comfortable with it or happy where my life was at that point in time.

I suspect that no matter when one comes out, there will always be a potential for loss of friends, one’s existing social network and things that make up the familiar framework of daily life. In my case, having been married for 24 years and very involved in civic and education matters, politics, etc., and having almost no gay friends in the area, the stage was set for a huge vacuum to develop when I took the plunge of moving out. Perhaps part of this was based on my decision NOT to remain living in Virginia Beach where I was far too well known. Rather than face the gossip and endlessly encounter people, I moved to the Ghent area of Norfolk – about 20 miles away as the crow flies, but a totally different community, both socially, politically and in terms of gay acceptance. The immediate result was that socially I knew almost no one at all and most of my former “friends” in Virginia Beach cast me aside as I became invisible on the occasions I would attend school functions for my children or similar events.

As for the gay community and life in that community in the Hampton Roads area, I again knew basically no one. To make matters worse, given that so many in the local LGBT community live largely “under the radar,” meeting people with similar backgrounds and interests is all the more difficult. In terms of meeting other gays, the options as I saw them were (1) going to clubs, (2) chatting on line or (3) becoming involved any organizations that I could find that might attract other gays. Obviously, the club scene does not engender deep or philosophical conversations and I am not one who likes to just sit around basically getting drunk. Hence, I gravitated to the one gay club that focuses on non-stop dance music and where one truly did not need a partner to be out on the dance floor. I still go to that club, The Wave, with some regularity because dancing provides great aerobic exercise and for me dancing is a catharsis – losing one’s self to the music and forgetting the crap in one’s life. Surfing provides a similar benefit for me.

As for chatting on line, I met some nice people, although far too many are looking to hook up for sex and one seems to be little more than a piece of meat in their mind. I will not deny succumbing at times to such people, but it certainly was not something fulfilling, especially in retrospect. The fear of being alone sometimes would simply be too strong. At times in those dark days, any intimacy was better than nothing.

I was also very much plagued with the issue of being so much older at the time I came out. I viewed myself largely as a “has been” before I ever even got started. There are still times I feel that way about myself. Gay life certainly seems to worship youth and beauty in many ways and I did not have the youth part and could not remotely deceive myself of that reality. I suspect most gay men have hang ups about age and looks, but coming out into the gay community at age 50 is definitely a major downer. The other issue I found is that among the more desirable guys closer to my age that I did meet, most were already in relationships and off the market. Thus, those available were either “damaged goods” or were not seeking a committed long term relationship. As for younger guys, finding one with maturity and an attraction for someone older like me definitely limits the field of potential partners. Too often, a good heart and mind are no competition for toned abs and a tight body.

As a result of these factors, I generally despaired of ever finding “Mr. Right” and at times felt that I had lost my former life but had gained nothing to replace it. My long distance relationship with RH (that involved few actually meetings) ended during this time frame, further darkening my world. During this period, I also was not out at work, which added another layer of stress and anxiety to my life. The larger law firms in this area are still not very receptive to gays who live their lives openly.
In this somewhat pathetic mode, I muddled along and tried to focus on my therapy and getting to a point where I was OK with who I was as a gay man. Looking back, I am not sure if there was any easier process that I could have tried to follow. Perhaps in other larger cities with more openly gay populations, but not here in the greater Norfolk area where countless gays are still not out at work and many of those in the military live in fear under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Being at an age and in a profession where relocating to another area job wise was not a viable option, I was basically stuck in Norfolk, for better or for worse.

I’d be lying if I did not admit that there were many times that I contemplated suicide as perhaps my best option – often just as a means of ending the sense of isolation and pain. I often felt that I had lost everything and had nothing acceptable to replace it. I was in a very, very dark place. In fact, prior to meeting Raymond nearly two years after moving out, I had largely decided that I had no intention of seeing my birthday in 2004. An overdose of pills, a surfing "accident" and other methods were regularly contemplated. Probably the one thing that held me back was the impact suicide would have on my children: severe emotional pain and damage and an increased risk of their possible future suicide.

Through out this period, my long suffering therapist was challenged with finding ways for me to see that the current state was not the guaranteed future reality. I am sure I was a total ass at times, but he kept on pushing me to accept the now, knowing that things COULD change for the better, if I would but believe it. I owe him so much for his never giving up on me and talking tough to me when I needed a good smack down.


Java said...

Da'yum boy, that's shitty. It seems better now, from the way you sound these days anyway. I hope it is. And I think your blog is very helpful for others in similar situations.

I'm glad you are picking up the narrative again. Where can I find the old posts of the earlier bits of the story?

Java said...

P.S. I'm glad you stayed around on this side of the dirt.

Anonymous said...

i just discovered your blog, michael.

it's a great blend of news and politics, besides your perspective at this point your journey.

as a married man who's also gay, i really appreciate your take.

ron in kansas

Anonymous said...

omg, it is like i wrote that post. im only 30 and feel the same way, especially as a "has been."

daveincleveland said...

i can relate michael to so many of you feelings, thoughts,fears, and yes plans that include pills...i am not a surfer so death by surfing would truly be an accident....this particular time really just plain sucks, and glad you have come as far as you have, and its only going to get better for you buddy

Billy said...

We have all gone trought some sort of 'self loathing' part of our lives, were fear and insecurity takes over from the rational. I'm glad you had a therapist to fall back on during your dark days...

Anonymous said...

i am a reader of your blog and hv been following your journey of your divorce through your blog. I feel for your obstacles and challenges tht you face.

i'm 31 and i've live through my gay life for almost 10 yrs. Even starting younger, it is not any easier and i am still working my way through as time passes.

i have suffered the pain of confusion, loneliness, lost of loved ones and one thing i am most grateful is having a connection to my spiritual self. The inner strength has helped me through the hard parts and made grateful for the good things that comes.

i wish you the very best as you're holding on through this difficult period and may things be better soon for you.

james in kl

Michael-in-Norfolk said...

All of you - thanks for all of your positive comments and support. Ron and James, I am deeply touched by your comments. Drop me an e-mail some time if you'd like to chat.