Friday, December 25, 2015

Coming Out, Forty Years Ago Today

I was walking with my niece, and she asked me how I came out to my family.  I suddenly realized that the story that I was about to tell her, happened exactly forty years ago, on Christmas day, 1975:

This photo was taken a month or so before the fateful day.
I lived in a matriarchy, with no support from my older brothers, or my father.
Yes, Navy boys could have facial hair back then.

After twelve years of Catholic school, I was done with going along with everybody's expectation of what a good Catholic boy meant.  I had spent all of high school with a girlfriend, and yes, we had had sex, but I had to fantasize about my male friends in order to go through with it.

I had been in the Navy for a year and a half or so, by this time.  I had been the youngest male in my generation, and my mom had been trying her hardest to make me a "Momma's boy".  I was tired of it, and I needed to cut the apron strings.  I achieved that goal.

I showed up on the back of my boyfriend's motorcycle, with both of us in full leather.  We walked in, and I handed my mom her present, saying "Merry Christmas, Mom - This is my boyfriend Mark, and he will be sleeping with me tonight"  After a few minutes of stony, shocked silence, my mom blew up, disowned me, and ejected us from the house.

Try to understand - I had no better ideas on how to come out.  My role-models as a gay man were Charles Nelson Reilly, Paul Lynde and Liberace.  In other words, freaks, pansies and objects of ridicule, as far as society was concerned.  Elton John would take another year to come out, after I did. I was the VERY FIRST openly gay person in my entire family's genetic history.  This was unknown territory.

Also, I was an angry punk in those days - I had attempted suicide twice (the world doesn't allow for gay Catholic boys), and I had recently nearly died from a drug overdose.  It shocked me into finally seeing a (luckily, gay) Navy psychiatrist, and he helped me to quit fighting my nature. I spent the last 2-1/2 years of my enlistment being VERY OPENLY GAY. Back before Reagan came in, bringing the Moral Majority with him, we were the new Civil Rights movement, and nobody dared to hassle me.

I quit having anything to do with anyone in my family, and I spent a few years diving deep into the gay culture of the 1970's.  I pigged-out, and did my best to give up on ever seeing my family again.  However, right around the time that so many of my beloved friends, lovers and mentors died, my sisters sought me out.  They made it clear that they loved me, and wanted me in their lives.

My family was deeply dysfunctional, and I never had any relationship with my much-older brothers that was losable in the first place.  Same with my father.  I never regained any kind of friendly relationship with my mom, who died fourteen years later, STILL opening every conversation with "You DO know that you're going to hell, right?"

From the perspective of four decades further along, I can tell you that it turned out a lot better than I ever expected, back then. I get together with my sisters twice every year, and we celebrate family with our loved ones around us.  Somehow, I became the family patriarch... the most-loved uncle, and the grandpa-substitute for the youngsters whose own grandpas don't care for them.

I've had two sisters and a niece come out in the last few decades, and I like to think that my own path made it easier for them.  I have no regrets.  If I had to do it all over again, I would.  The experience helped me to become the man that I am.

No comments:

Post a Comment