Like butterflies ready to spread our wings, yesterday Tom and I emerged from our protective cocoon and took flight. Actually, we drove, but for the first time in three months left the confines of the Phoenix metropolitan area.
North two hours climbing the switchbacks on I-17 out of the valley into the mountains. Past stately saguaros and wild-west warning signs … Deadman Wash, Horsethief Basin, Big Bug Creek, Bloody Basin, Trump 2020, Emergency Curfew 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., Fire Danger High … before landing safely on Carolyn and John’s driveway in the shade of their pines. Twenty degrees cooler in the mile-high bliss of Prescott, Arizona.
I didn’t make this psychological connection until this morning. But cocooning in a condo for three months to dodge a global pandemic … albeit a cozy two-bedroom desert unit that’s about to get a fresh coat of paint to brighten our internal space … is rather like living in a closet for one quarter of the year.
Sure, since March we’ve ventured out on numerous occasions. Daily walks and weekly trips to the grocery store behind masks. More recent outings to our community gym to stay fit and Super Cuts for haircuts that didn’t occur over our bathroom sink. But nothing on the order of an actual day trip away from our immediate community.
Ask any previously or currently closeted gay man. He’ll tell you. There is misery in physical and metaphorical confinement.
I’m not suggesting that the stay-at-home order in states across this country and around the world has been a breeze for straight people. But I have a number of friends in the Phoenix Gay Men’s Chorus and Windy City Gay Chorus in Chicago, who don’t have partners. They live alone. They’ve been missing the camaraderie of the gay community. People who would normally be available to sing, hug and laugh in person are unavailable except on Zoom. Gay people are missing their lifeline and the reassurance that comes with an open life in a freer society.
This wasn’t going to be a story about coming out. When Tom and I returned home late yesterday afternoon from an idyllic day with Carolyn and John to see their lovely new home in Prescott, I had grand plans to write a quieter piece about breathing the pine-scented mountain air two hours northwest of Phoenix.
It really was grand. Spending several hours with our adventurous and compassionate friends, previous residents of Anchorage, Alaska, whom we would see sporadically at their Scottsdale condo. In 2019, they uprooted and transplanted their lives to become full-time Arizonans … fortuitously landing in a home filled with loads of charm, unlimited possibilities, carved wood character, and window seats that reach into the tall pines.
Tom and I had intended to drive up to see them in their new home before now. Of course, that nasty COVID-19 disrupted those plans. Fortunately, we endured. It was worth the wait. Our much-anticipated celebration–clinking glasses outdoors under a blazing red patio umbrella–finally happened on June 4, 2020. It was a day in a year none of us will forget.
Today, Tom and I resumed our life in Scottsdale. I boarded a treadmill around 9:30 at our community gym. A pleasant older woman, smiling from a safe distance (eight feet to my right on her own treadmill), said good morning. I returned the favor. We had exchanged hellos before.
She asked me if Tom and I were relatives. I said no. She told me we look a lot alike. Then, came the moment. The one every gay person knows. Should I out myself and speak my truth or just let this pass?
You probably know what happened next. I came out … again. The first time was with my ex-wife, then my sister, sons and mother … all in the 1990s. There have been dozens of times since. With neighbors, colleagues, clients, acquaintances, store clerks who asked “Are you guys brothers?” as they scanned our groceries … the list goes on. The coming out process is lifelong. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s a one-time episodic event.
At any rate, you guessed it. On June 5, 2020, I told a friendly lady on the adjacent treadmill at Club SAR that Tom is my husband. That we’ve been a couple for nearly twenty-five years (actually, it will be twenty-four in August). That I didn’t see the resemblance, though couples do often take on similar characteristics and gestures.
She kept smiling. Told me she was a retired nurse. Asked if I was retired. I told her I had left behind my corporate job years ago and now write. The conversation ended rather quietly. It was cordial.
I know there will be countless times in my life, when this will happen again. When I will out myself in an innocuous place. It doesn’t have to be Pride month in a year when our current president is hell bent on rolling back the rights of all Americans.
Living my life as an openly gay man is a commitment I’ve made to myself and other gay people. We need to remind ourselves we aren’t alone in this frightening world. We need to remember that happiness comes with visibility.
Whether I’m breathing the pine-filled Arizona mountain air with dear friends and allies like Carolyn and John or down in the valley with people I’ve yet to meet, there’s no turning back. The truth will set us free.
8 thoughts on “I’m Coming Out … Again”
Different, but maybe sort of the same. Coming out with Tourette Syndrome is still really hard for me. I’ve done it in two work places and with a handful of friends. Every time it’s the most awkward thing. I’m sure at first coming out was really awkward/scary for you. Hopefully after 25 years as a couple, it’s something you’re pretty used to now. My brother lives alone. I feel really bad for him. Living in a family of four honestly gives me all the interaction I need.
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I imagine the Tourette Syndrome coming out process would be never ending too, Jeff. The strength you discover along the way comes from the fight.
In spite of myself, I’m still embarrassed by the fact that I have TS. Not sure if that’s an emotion you dealt with early in your coming out process. I’d guess it’s more a fear of rejection.
Back in the 90s when I first came out, I was afraid of rejection and losing my family and friends and being ostracized. On a few occasions, I was also afraid for my safety. Equally irritating, I often felt invisible living in the straight suburbs. Life is so much better now, but I worry about the hate that is still present in some corners of our society.
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This is a beautifully written piece! You wove so many different elements into such a cohesive and fun-to-read essay. Its a good reminder of the continuous process of coming out, and the constant feelings of vulnerability around it.
And you wrote a good road trip, too!
I hope you will consider submitting this for a writing contest.
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Thanks Tom. I’m proud of this essay. I wanted to capture the beauty of the moment with Carolyn and John, cast against the larger landscape of living an honest gay life in a tumultuous time.
I love this piece, the perspective and the photo. I hope your book campaign is going well.
Thank you, Julie. Book sales are slow, but just yesterday someone purchased An Unobstructed View on Amazon. My heart always skips a beat when that happens. Hope you are enjoying the early days of a midwestern summer!