I’m not the most courageous man on Earth—not even a close second. So when I pulled on my suit that day and tied my tie, I wasn’t preparing for my usual daily battle in the business world, envisioning myself a knight in shining armor, so much as tying on my chain mail for fear of being stabbed to death.
Yet somehow I was finding the courage to move, one step after another, toward the trail I had dreaded since I’d come to sexual consciousness—or should I say willing sexual consciousness? I was going to tell someone my terrible dark secret, the secret about myself that everyone already seemed to know except for me. I wasn’t ready to face the world with this secret, but I had to reveal it if only to save my dear friend Beth from further suffering.
Even though I wasn’t ready to suffer the consequences, I knew I had to tell her. It was a risk I had to take, as her friend. Beth was in therapy largely because of me, trying to unravel why our relationship had “failed.” I knew I could ease her suffering by telling the truth, but the truth was so fearsome that I had run away from it, denied it even to myself, all my life.
I had come finally to accept that I’m gay.
I still couldn’t bring myself to trust anyone with this formidable reality just yet. I didn’t feel prepared for the repercussions I knew could come. Having entered pubescence sometime on or about the year 1966, I had come of age just at the tail end of a time when homosexuality was the “love that dare not speak its name”—and hardly anyone did, except in contempt and disgust. The only public reference to homosexuality I had ever known I had read at an impressionable age as a line in the newspaper, grouping together “…murderers, rapists, and homosexuals,” and I became convinced that, because I knew I was homosexual, I also had it in me to commit rape and murder.
What a boost to my self-esteem!
I believed I could lose my friends, my family, my job—everything that was important to me—for being honest about who I am. I had suffered a long time because of the pariah status of what I had finally come to accept as my all-natural, True Self. Many times I drove along the Delaware River between Trenton and New Hope, picking out trees to crash my car into (the river usually not deep enough there to swallow a car), but never finding the nerve to go through with it. But I was done suffering. I had found the courage to accept myself as my Creator had made me, as I had come to understand this essential part of my being. Yet I wasn’t ready to face the consequences of getting honest with the world around me.
But I had to come out to Beth.
We met at the beginning of my freshman year of college. I had gone home with her older brother, Josh—soon to become my fraternity brother and one of my best friends—and years later she told me she fell in love with me the moment she laid eyes on me.
I hadn’t noticed.
My insensitivity to this romance wasn’t for lack of determination. I tried and tried to find a girl who aroused me. Don’t get me wrong. I liked girls—still do. I just never felt even the slightest urge to have sex with one of them. Oh, I pretended all right. In fact, I called myself a “leg man”: When a “hot chick” walked by and all the guys were ogling her, I’d make some lewd comment about her legs: “I bet those legs go right up to ‘er ass,” an appropriate horny college boy phrase I'd learned while working as a trucker.
But all along, I knew the girls just didn’t turn me on—hard as I tried, and as much as I was motivated to relieve the psychic pain. I usually, however, found some of those horny, ogling guys far more interesting. Back in those days, I had many fantasies about the other boys. During my fraternity days, although I wasn’t good at sports, I always managed to get the job of team statistician, which gave me the right to go into the locker room before and after games. I got to see lots of naked college boys. Unfortunately, I never got to touch any of them.
That frustration changed when I was in graduate school. One of the young jocks in my neighborhood had taken to hanging out with me just about every day. That started in early June and, as the days turned hotter, he wore less and less clothing. He was an athlete—when I met him he was playing baseball, but he also played soccer and wrestled. His body fulfilled my every fantasy. He was smooth, sleek, cut, slender. Even his cocky attitude, his slangy-stupid way of speaking got me all tingly. And when he stripped his shirt off, which was often, I imagined myself like one of those cartoon characters whose eyes pop out of his head, body electrified like one big lightning bolt. Apparently, my reaction to his near-nakedness didn’t escape his notice.
The first time we had sex, I realized how natural homosexuality is—for me—and that my body, in harmony with my instincts, my emotions, and my spirit, is geared for lovemaking with other men. For the first time, I didn’t force arousal, I didn’t pretend enjoyment. It all happened spontaneously, unpremeditated.
But because the society I grew up in condemned the sexuality that came naturally to me, I was forced to hide my true feelings, my true love, ridden with guilt and toxic shame. And, unable to deny such strong drives as love and sex, I drank and drugged in order both to escape my honest feelings, as well as to unlock them when a libidinous opportunity came along. No wonder that love and sex became so disconnected for me, as I sank further into alcoholism and drug addiction.
As much as possible, I steered clear of single women. I knew I had no “business” with them and, as I grew older, they became more and more suspicious of my sexual leanings. Hiding became difficult.
Then, at a family backyard barbeque, Beth confessed to me that she had fallen in love the first time she set eyes on me in her family kitchen ten years before.
“Thank you,” I said, hoping that would be the end of it. It wasn’t.
“How about coming up for a visit next weekend?” she said. My blood ran cold in the hot July sun.
“I have other plans next weekend,” I replied.
“Then how about in two weeks?” she countered.
I pretended to think hard about it. I parried. “I’ve got something to do that weekend, too.”
“Then what about the weekend after that?” She wasn’t going to take “No” for an answer.
So I agreed to drive up to North Jersey for a weekend. I made plain to her that I was interested in just being friends. I also made sure she understood that I would agree only if I could sleep on the couch.
“Oh, I wouldn’t think of having you sleep on the couch,” she said. I told her I wanted to remain just friends, and I didn’t want to ruin that by sleeping with her. (Isn’t that the very reason some hetero women enjoy dating closeted gay men so much?) She agreed to let me sleep in her bed, and she would sleep on the couch.
That weekend, about an hour after we went to bed, each in our separate places, she crawled into bed with me. Could it be called “rape”? I certainly could have fought her off. I could have gotten dressed and left in the middle of the night. But I was so terrified that she would figure out the truth of my sexuality, and then tell the whole world, that I felt compelled to let it happen. So no, we each had our own agenda. Mine was to continue in hiding. She took advantage of my cowardice to satisfy her lust for love. We were both sick. But it was not rape.
Not surprisingly Beth instantly committed us as a consummated couple. So I forced myself to commit these unnatural acts, over and over again. Even though I made no effort to develop a relationship, she planned every weekend for us, always willing to make the two hour drive to my place in South Jersey. No amount of thoughtlessness on my part would discourage her.
By November, I was so unable to cope with the situation that I accepted a new position with my company, which required relocation to Connecticut. When I called Beth to tell her that I was moving and couldn’t see her any longer, she offered to move with me. Finally, exasperated, I told her forcefully that I did not love her, that I did not want to date her, that it was over between us.
Christmas Day she met a guy in a bar and married him just after the new year began.
The following year, chaste for a year and having explored my sexuality within the context of a gay church in New Haven, I left my job and moved back to South Jersey. Six months later, Beth called. She had heard I was back, had just left her husband, and was ready to get back with me. Furthermore, she was doing intensive psychotherapy, trying to get over my rejection of her.
So, as I said, I had to tell her.
I arranged to meet her at a hotel in Princeton, the halfway point between our two homes. She would come from work nearby.
The hotel sported a huge atrium lined with deep red and black marble slabs. Marble steps descended a few at a time to landings offering plant-enclosed grottoes for privacy to people sitting, drinking and chatting in overstuffed chairs, gradually dropping to the lower level. A waterfall cascaded down a marble-stepped stream bed to a pool below swimming with red, gold and white koi. The glass-domed roof soared some ten stories above the atrium floor, where hotel room doors opened onto walkways overlooking the atrium. When the place is empty, even your footsteps echo throughout this enormous marble and glass cavern.
Because she was coming from work and would be dressed in a suit, I'd donned my sky-blue seersucker suit, with powder blue shirt and pastel tie. I figured I’d look as gay as possible. That July day the temperature soared to nearly one hundred degrees, and the drone of the cicadas reminded me of Joni Mitchell’s Hissing of Summer Lawns. I cranked the air conditioner and pointed the car toward Princeton.
I took three hours to make the forty-five minute drive. I kept imagining Beth’s reaction to my revelation: She would get up from her chair, leave our grotto, and turn as she reached each landing to scream, “You faggot!” at the top of her lungs, “faggot” bouncing from wall to wall, ceiling to floor, throughout the cavernous atrium. The palms and bamboo plants would spontaneously drop their leaves, and all eyes would be on me.
Several times I thought to turn back. I stopped at a gay café in gay-friendly New Hope, Pennsylvania, for a drink. I watched two young workmen—obviously a gay couple, dungareed legs and construction-booted feet entwined—exchange intimate glances and touches as they discussed the job they were doing. How I ached for that kind of intimacy with a man!
I reached the hotel early. Maybe I can go on pretending I’m not gay and avoid all this pain, I thought. A gorgeous young man swimming laps in the hotel pool laid those thoughts to rest.
Beth showed up wearing her sky-blue-pink seersucker suit. Big smile. I saw it coming: “Oh look, we match,” she said. “We are so the perfect couple!”
We found a grotto—I made sure the plant cover surrounding us was the thickest—and settled in for a few drinks. Made nice chitchat. I said something about having become a Christian when I was twenty-three.
“I didn’t know you were a Christian,” she said. Then, with a mischievous glance, “What else don’t I know about you?” Roguish smile.
I took a good swig of my scotch. Swallowed hard.
“Well, Beth…there is something you should know about.”
Hearing the seriousness in my voice, she gave me a worried, sideways glance. Breathlessly, nervously, she said, “What is it?”
“I’m not sure how to tell you. You’ve been in therapy, and I don’t know if this is going to make you more unhappy.”
Now she looked really worried. “Just tell me,” she said.
“Well…and this is something I don’t want anyone else to know about just yet.”
“I won’t tell anyone. I promise. Just tell me!”
She spit out her drink she laughed so hard. “I knew you were joking!” she said.
That response I hadn’t anticipated.
I cautiously explained what I’d been through, how I’d done every thing I could to please her, while fantasizing about men. How she would moan during sex, breaking my concentration and I’d have to start all over again. How I’d jerk off to gay porn after she left, just so I could feel like myself again. That had to hurt.
“I thought you just had a lot of staying power,” she said.
I finally got her to understand I wasn’t joking. As the truth sank in, she seemed to take it well. So far, at least, she wasn’t making a scene. But then she got one of those “brilliant idea” looks—you could almost see the light bulb above her head.
“What?” I asked, nervous.
“Now we can play again,” she said.
“What?” Incredulous. I knew what she meant.
“Now we can have sex again.”
I wanted to run screaming from the grotto. “Beth. We need to work on your self-esteem,” is all I said.
She nodded sadly.
That night, she called one of her ex-husbands with the news about me.. He turned around and called to warn Beth’s brother, because Beth’s brother and his wife had a young daughter who was also my godchild. He felt they deserved to know that, being homosexual, I could be a danger to her.
And so I was thrust into the future.