“I woke up one morning when I was about fourteen and was clearly aroused. I had just had a dream about a boy from my high school track team. I remember thinking to myself…’What the hell was that?’ I was mortified at myself. That was the first time I began to question my sexuality. I’d say from there, it led to me finding my eyes gravitating toward handsome men in the Sears catalog. In 1983, I was a junior in high school, and I saw an ad for Jockey underwear featuring a baseball player named Jim Palmer. He was pretty dreamy to me. It was at that moment that I distinctly remember saying to myself for the very first time ‘I’m gay.’
Thus begins my story of being closeted for over three decades.
Growing up in Northern Michigan in the 1970s, there really was no gay person in town, in my family, or even on TV in whom I could have seen a reflection of myself. Well, Liberace was around, but he was an outlier and definitely not the image of gay I could see myself as. There was one boy in school who I believe was gay, and he was picked on mercilessly. I think about him often.
I was the poster child of a successful, involved high school student. President of my class for a year, on the Student Senate, co-editor of the high school newspaper ‘Cats on Campus,’ and President of the National Honor Society. I was voted most likely to succeed. I saw no place in my mind to disclose my sexuality at home, to my friends, and especially not at school. In my mind, I would have been ostracized and would have definitely lost my place in the school hierarchy. So, I went into the closet.
I played the role of a straight boy. I dated some, had girlfriends, went to Prom, and did all the traditional things I was supposed to be doing. I suppressed my feelings and pushed on. I was raised by a single mother struggling to provide for us. My father went to prison when I was in second grade, guilty of bank robbery, and he didn’t resurface in my life really until I was about seventeen. Sadly, my mother died of lung cancer when I was just eighteen. I have a brother who was three years younger, but we were never that close. I was supposed to be the ‘role model,’ so the thought of coming out to him never entered my mind.
I went off to college and had a great time. A calendar of Christie Brinkley in various swimsuits was clearly on display in my dorm room to keep away any doubters that I was straight. I always played along with the guys for fear that they may ever find out I was queer. You see, in my mind, I was just like the other guys. I liked to do guy things, watch sports, etc.…I wasn’t necessarily attracted to the perceived gay lifestyle. Except one thing—I was definitely attracted to men.
After Mom had passed, I didn’t really have a home or family connection in Michigan. I had just finished up my sophomore year at Central Michigan University and didn’t have a place to stay. My father had taken a job in Virginia and asked me to come down and stay with him. While not close with him, it seemed like a new, summer adventure. I was raised to always take care of and support myself, so I was able to get a job at the local IGA supermarket helping out in the produce section. This is where my path in life took a clear turn down the road of being deeply closeted.
Love and Marriage
I had no intentions of finding or wanting a girlfriend. An attractive and forward girl approached me who also worked at the store as a cashier. She had a guy who she was off-and-on seeing but found herself attracted to me—I think partly because I wasn’t really expressing much interest in her and I was a challenge, lol! We began a relationship that summer, and it was fun and different and, honestly, kind of exciting. I thought to myself, ‘Well, maybe I could be straight?’ Was it possible?
Fall came, and I went back to Michigan to return to college. Deep down, I felt deceptive. I consider myself to be an honest person and didn’t feel good about my true feelings towards her. They weren’t 100% real. One night, shortly upon my return, I called her up and told her the distance was just too much and I wanted to break up. It wasn’t the real reason. I needed to end this path of deception. She was very upset. We hung up the phone. A minute hadn’t passed when she called me back and said I wasn’t breaking up with her. I was her soulmate, and she wouldn’t accept my decision to let her go.
She visited me that winter at college. I was a virgin. At this point, we had been dating for several months. I remember coming into my room that night and seeing her in my bed. I grabbed a blanket and a pillow and continued to lie down on the floor next to my bed. She laughed at me and said, ‘You’re not sleeping down there are you?’ Embarrassed, I got up, lay in bed, and, yes, had sex for the first time. My other roommates had slid condoms under my door to ‘cheer me on.’ I’m not going to lie. It did feel good. Great really. It gave me hope…and a reason to continue my fake façade.
While still in college, I almost came out one night with a friend of mine. We were talking alone. She was a good friend to me. I almost had the words come out of my mouth to begin a conversation with her, but then another friend approached us…and the moment passed.
Flash forward. This lovely woman would become my wife and the mother of my two children. I had made a choice to choose the closeted path. The safe one that society accepts. Deep down, I wanted what everyone wants…to be accepted, to be in a relationship, to have kids —the American Dream. Her family was wonderful to me. They became my family.
My mother-in-law referred to me as ‘Mom #2’ since mine had passed. The family owned a real estate company, and I, like most in the family, obtained my real estate license. I liked it and together with my father-in-law grew the company from one office with two people to a chain of seven offices with over 100 agents. I was second in command, and I was proud of all that I had accomplished. I was successful and loved. No one ever questioned my sexuality. Why would they? I was closeted with the door nailed completely shut!
While he was a good man and very good to me, my father-in-law would come into my office on occasion and make insulting statements about the gay community and would make casual statements from time to time like ‘did you see what that f** did?’ This was said by someone who I admired and looked up to. I was absolutely going to remain in the closet and was never going to come out!! I lived in a small, conservative town. I was respected. I had chosen a path, and now I just must commit to it. At this point, I had two young children, a boy and a girl, and I had responsibilities.
Closeted and Alone
Life then threw me an even bigger curveball. My wife developed some, we’ll just call them ‘serious issues’ that slowly destroyed what marriage we had. It also resulted in the loss of her income. It was nightmarish. We separated, and I essentially raised our kids, aged four and seven, on my own from there on. It was super tough. I was the sole financial provider. The thought of coming out was not even remotely a possibility.
Despite a long separation of over ten years, the kids had grown, were off to college and I was finally able to complete a divorce. I was still very closeted though. Now, closeted and all alone.
From the outside looking in, I was happy, successful, and living a good life. I was well known in my community, the President of my local real estate association, and had an abundance of friends. I had two kids who cherished me. However, inside, loneliness, depression, and hopelessness began to set in. Big time.
I would laugh and be involved and was outgoing during the day.
At night, many nights, I would sit at home and sob. I didn’t have hope for any real happiness…and it was getting worse. At this point, I was 50 years old. I’ll admit that suicidal thoughts came and left my brain, but they never took root. I’d never have done that to my kids.
Finally, I found the courage and strength, while at the beach on vacation, with my very best friend. I had known him since the sixth grade but had never spoken a word about my being gay. I was a pressure cooker about to burst. I’ll never, ever, ever forget how difficult it was to get those words out to him. All the while, knowing that he would be fine and understanding. I had to break the shell, the lie that I had created for myself. He, of course, was surprised but instantly was the friend I knew he would be.
I knew I couldn’t tell anyone else until I had told my kids. They were my world.
It took me over a year to find the moment to open up to them. It wasn’t planned. I was walking with my daughter, and we were having a conversation. Somehow it led to the topic of being gay. She made the statement, ‘Can you believe, Dad, that in this day and age that people would remain closeted to their loved ones when they know that they’re loved?’ It was like an anvil hit me on the head. This was the moment. She had handed the opportunity to me on a silver platter.
We grabbed a bench, and I came out to her. You see, it is an incredibly tough thing to come out for most anyone, but it’s even more difficult when you have to break the mold of being the dad that your kids knew and adored. It scares, no it terrifies you to the core to do that. You know that they would want you to come out to them. You know they will still love you and not judge you but finding those words…damn, that is rough.
My daughter and I cried for a few minutes but mostly happy tears. She loved me. That never changed for a second. I then reached out to my son and told him. This was tougher. It’s just a guy thing, I guess. I didn’t want to disappoint and shatter his image of me being his dad. As expected though, he was awesome and never made me feel anything but loved.
After this, I was quick to tell my closest friends who were all super cool. I told other friends that I knew would tell ‘everyone.’ I was done hiding. I was out of the closet for good. It wasn’t all blue skies though. Two people dear to me, my mother-in-law, and my brother both were accepting but had said I had made a choice and I must live with it. My mother-in-law said that when she got up that morning, she could’ve chosen to put on pants, but she chose to put on a dress. It was a choice. Hurt me to my core.
I was still extremely apprehensive about how my coming out would affect my real estate business. My friends had been cool, but would my being gay scare off the clients that had trusted me for years? Surprisingly, to me anyways, the answer was no. I am fully out now. I’ve not had a single client respond negatively to the news. Quite the opposite.
While walking around downtown last year, I looked ahead and saw that a rainbow of flags had been placed on two of the main streets. There were tons of them to celebrate Pride Month, and they were beautiful for my eyes to see. I cried. It was the first time the city had done this. The local Ace Hardware store donated them. I wondered if there had been imagery like that when I was growing up if my path would’ve been different and if I would have come out earlier. I know that the answer is…yes.
I am, finally, authentic and true to myself. That huge, heavy weight that I carried around on my back for entirely too long has been dumped, and I am free to be me. Looking back now, there were some choices I clearly made on my own, but coming out late in life really wasn’t a choice for me. My kids had to come first.
Life is good. I’m happy. Finding a partner remains elusive but the difference now is…I have hope.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Chip Taylor of Fredericksburg, VA. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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