Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Story.

Here is my coming out story, as I remember it.

I had what I suspect is a typically fucked-up -- typical for homosexual kids, maybe for all kids, I don't know, I don't think people really talk enough (or honestly enough) about these things to know what is typical -- introduction to sex and sexuality. Unacknowledged-by-day (and completely unsatisfying) sex play with a friend starting when I was about 14. Deep fear and shame about it. Eventual admission to myself that I was homosexual. Really sordid "first time" with a predatory older man. (Come to think of it, the second time was of the same genre.) My first criterion when I went to choose a college was that no one I went to high school with be going there, so I could come out without my family or anyone in my hometown finding out.

And when I got to college I came out big time, told anyone who would listen, made plenty of gay friends (I was a theater major), went to my first gay nightclub, developed that sense of defiant pride which is part of any good coming out story. I wore a pink triangle button on my book bag. When people asked me what it meant, I wouldn't say that I was gay, but I would say that it was the symbol homosexuals were made to wear in the Nazi concentration camps.

Two years later, I moved to New York. I was in art school, I lived in the East Village. Being gay was not a big deal; in fact, for years I hardly knew any straight men. I fell in love, and I took my new boyfriend home to Indiana to meet my parents.

What's weird about this is that I was 22 and I still hadn't come out to my family. My folks are fairly liberal about some things, but they have what seem to me very strict, traditional attitudes about sex and relationships. My mother took a dim view of cohabitation before marriage and, especially, divorce. Homosexuality looked to me to fall into the same category.

When Eduardo and I arrived, it was the middle of the day and we went to meet my mother at the library where she worked. I had a thatch of bleached platinum hair on the top of my head with the sides and back clipped short and dark, and Eduardo probably had some equally outlandish haircut. We were both probably wearing oversized plaid Bermuda shorts and Bundeswehr tank tops -- that's what we wore most days (cut me some slack, it was 1983!). [When I get home to Austin, I'll post a photo or two of Eduardo and me from our East Village club days. I have some good ones.]

That night my mom told me how a custodian at work had made a crude gay joke about me to her. She pleaded with me to tone down my appearance while I was in town. She was crying. She said that she didn't want to make me feel ashamed of who I was but that she couldn't bear the ridicule. This is what I remember. She also said something about my earring. (I had had my left ear pierced a few years earlier, my first year of college.) She said that she understood that some men wore earrings as a "symbol of their sexuality," and I understood her to mean that she knew I was homosexual and it was okay. There was nothing more explicit said about it until much later, but I took that conversation to be the moment when I came out to my family.

My father acknowledged the news with stories, told to my mom but meant to be passed along to me, of his own father who he is sure was homosexual, stories that I think he intended to convey that this was not something scary and foreign to him, that he had some context for it. But I'm speculating. My father is a reticent man and was even more so then.

Another piece of this tale is my memory of a slim paperback, left on top of a pile of magazines in a rack in my parents' house, called something like How to Talk to Your Gay Child or What to Say When Your Child Comes Out, I don't remember exactly. This must have been when I was in college, before Eduardo. In my coming out narrative, this scene functions to show how accepting and ready my parents were long before I had the nerve to bring it up to them.

Last week Mom and I were having one of our long, rambling conversations, and she recalled a conversation with my brother, when he was in the Navy and I was in college, in which she told him that I was gay and his jaw just dropped. My brother and I are a year apart, we shared a bedroom growing up, we're very different but have always been close. Mom said he was stunned that he could not know something so important about me. I was trying to figure out when this conversation could have taken place, trying to put the timeline together. I said, "How early did you know?"

She said, "I don't know, I guess it was when you were in college that you came out."

"No -- I didn't come out until I brought Eduardo home."

"Oh, no, it was earlier than that."

"No, I know I didn't tell you before that. I would remember that."

"You must have."

"Well, anyway, I should have known that you knew. You left that book out."

"What book?"

"Like How to Talk to Your Gay Son or something like that."

"I don't remember a book. You must have left that book out. It wasn't us."

"No! It was in the magazine rack. You left it there for me to see."

"I don't remember any book like that."

"I know when I came out to you. I brought Eduardo home, there was that whole flap about my appearance, and I told you."

"Steven, I'm sure you told us earlier than that."

A friend of mine (he's a writer) recently said that as far as he's concerned "one's life is basically a story," and I agree, but I don't like to think that my life is only a good story because I'm writing it after the fact.

I know I saw that book!