Many tales from the closet: Homosexual life from the inside out
By Brad Lister
'I'm gay.' They are two simple words but they pack an emotional punch. Not just for the families and friends who are told' but for the gays and lesbians who have to come to that realization and have decided to come out.
Unlike television, everything isn't resolved in a half-hour sitcom. The process, however, does happen in steps. Before coming out to other family members, you have to come out to yourself. "I did that at the end of my fourth undergraduate year," says Carolyn Grassely, a Western graduate student.
Why is it such a hard decision? "What keeps gays and lesbians in the closet is this dreadful feeling they are isolated that somehow they are only person in the world with this dreadful secret to keep," says Western modern languages professor James Miller. Of course, gays and lesbians aren't alone but Miller points, "We grow up isolated from our people."
The act of coming out, says Miller, is "The most important political act that any gay or lesbian can do." He adds, "living out, not just coming out, does more and has much broader unacknowledged political effect on the people around you."
Reaching the decision to leave the closet behind is a different process for everyone. For Andy Sinclair, former USC Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Commissioner, tension had been building for a while and he wanted to come out totally.
"I came out at the end of grade 13. The first person I told was my best friend, a woman, and she was just this amazing person who listened to everything," he says.
After that he told most of his friends and family and he says it went fairly well. There were some problems though. "For a week I wore this earring and I loved my earring. It was my own little version of gay pride. But then a couple of my friends were really concerned that I was being so out and that I didn't need to tell everybody I was gay. I guess they were concerned that I was going to be in some kind of danger."
It may have been a concern, but for Sinclair, they were friends who really weren't supporting him fully. "They aren't the people I hang around with anymore. The people who were totally behind me and just supporting in whatever I did those are my friends now."
The road for some, though, isn't as easy. Timothy Lauzon, a third- year chemical engineering student at Western says, "Personally it has taken along time to realize and accept my sexuality.
"Puberty hit, what a terror that was. The guys were looking at the girls and the girls were giggling at the guys. To tell the truth I didn't get it," he says. "Even after I found out about [homosexuality] in sex-ed I still didn't understand. That was okay because for me at the time, being gay wasn't an option."
Lauzon's road was fraught with a lot of peril. "I had my first sexual experience when I was 18. I waited until my parents went away for a week to visit relatives."
He had read an ad in the paper. When he called, the man assured him he was 30 and attractive. He turned out to be 55, gray and balding.
"I was shocked but I went through with it anyway."
The process of coming out as it has been mentioned, is one that takes years for some gays and lesbians to reach. Miller says in personal terms, coming out is often perceived as a 'psychological crisis.' "Things reach a head and there are these terrible secrets that you have to divulge or expose. That is terribly unhealthy," he says. "Rather than see it as a crisis that breaks regard it as a long term evolutionary process."
Families in some ways also go through a grieving process. "I think with my mother, she'd never really known someone who was gay but she was active in this gay cause," says Sinclair. Sinclair's father, a United Church minister, was active in the push for gay ordination. He says for her, there was a grieving process where she was losing the son she thought she had. Eventually acceptance may come for some, Lauzon says of his family, "they love me for what I am."
Grassely also felt the same kind of grieving process. "I think my mother thought that I wouldn't have children but she's come to understand that she hasn't necessarily lost that vision for my life."
What helps gays and lesbians come out are the support services that are offered. But what makes the step a whole lot easier is the support network from friends. "I thought I was this really progressive heterosexual because all my friends were lesbians," says Grassely. "My step out of the closet was actually just a short step because I already had the support in place."
Some gays and lesbians who come out have not had just their life change but that of their children as well. "I came out in 1989 and I was certain I'd have a huge amount of trouble with my children's school since they were living with me and that there would be problems there. It turns out, and I only learned this two or three years later, that it had been a huge learning experience at their school. They had never before had an out gay parent before. They had discussions. They had proved to be extremely supportive of not only me but of my children. All of this was going on and I had no idea that any of this was happening," says Miller.
Miller attributes this to the fact that he was out not just in a small social group, but out socially in his children's world.
The closet many gays and lesbians feel is the place that we have to stay hidden in. "The closet is part of a large pattern of social censorship," says Miller. What he hopes gays and lesbians realize now, is that institutions have been formed, legal goals obtained and there has been a creation of a gay and lesbian culture.
"Rather than see any of it as being depressing or intellectually flattening, it is incredibly exhilarating. A lot of suppressed energies come up the drain, out into gay and lesbian culture," says Miller.
The best part about coming out, though, is that it's the honesty gays and lesbians are finally having with themselves. "It's finally being honest with myself it allowed me to be me and there's no feeling like that in the world when you've been pretending to be someone else so that now you finally stop and be yourself," says Grassely.
The best advice for those starting to come out is that you are not alone. "Don't be afraid and have faith in the people you're afraid to come out to," says Sinclair.
He adds, "Go with the flow of how you're feeling, coming out is ongoing."
Most of all though, "Don't let anyone make you feel bad for coming out," says Sinclair.
©Graphic by Janice Olynich
SOMEONE MAY BE GAY. A sea of many faces and amongst this group any one of them could be gay. Just remeber the next time you crack a joke or say some kind of snide remark. You never know who's listening.