Closet Hang-ups

Did you hear the one about the ex-gay icon sitting in a gay bar? No, this isn't a joke--it really happened. John Paulk, who, along with his "ex-lesbian" wife, appeared on the cover of Newsweek in 1998 for a story about "ex-gays," was recently spotted (and photographed) in a Washington, D.C., gay bar bandying a cocktail while chatting up the young man next to him.

When confronted by journalists about just what he was doing in a gay bar, Paulk replied that he had stopped into the establishment, without realizing it was a gay bar, in order to use the bathroom. Uh huh. I don't know about you, but I often feel the need to enjoy a cool, pink cosmopolitan after nature calls!

Poor John. I almost feel pity for the retched, self-loathing little queen of denial. In fact, maybe those of us in the gay community should clasp him to our breasts (only in a figurative sense) and help the cretin turn his life around. Paulk could become our patron saint for closeted people. Here is someone we can hold up to other closeted gays and say, "See what happens when you try to deny your own feelings?"

So, in honor of National Coming Out Day on October 11, the second most popular Gay High Holy Day (Gay Pride is number one), let's take a peek back into our closets to see what excuses many of us used or believed prior to "coming out." And maybe we'll be able to offer Paulk some assistance in controlling his self-hatred too.

"I can't be gay!" Maybe if we said it loud enough we would have believed it. But while our mouths were saying one thing, our eyes were looking elsewhere. No matter how hard I tried to pretend I was just as straight as my friends in high school, even though they didn't have an extensive Better Midler record collection, I just couldn't stop lusting after the cute blonde boy in swimming class. Sure I dated friends who were female. There were no physical longings though. Despite my strongest objections, and even earning a varsity letter in table tennis (yes it's true), I couldn't shake the feelings I had for other men.

"I'm just going through a phase!" Once I realized I had these feelings, I figured it must be a phase and, at some point, I would wake up and miraculously be heterosexual. Almost every sex book I could surreptitiously read in the library said that a lot of people, particularly in adolescence, develop crushes on members of the same sex. The fact that I was in college at this point only made me think I was developing more slowly. No need to panic yet.

"God wouldn't make me gay!" To be honest, I was never wrapped up in the old "If I pray hard enough, God will make me lust after humans with large mammary glands" excuse. I figured that when, in junior high school, I developed a healthy crush on the minister's son, aptly named Peter, God was pretty much telling me that my sexual orientation was OK with Him. Lots of other gay people, though, get stuck in this conundrum.

"The doctor will cure me!" In graduate school, I figured I would speak with a psychologist about my still-unabated yearning for men. But after two visits with Dr. Hanick (Don't panic--call Dr. Hanick!), he didn't seem very interested in my homosexual feelings. He was more intrigued with my dysfunctional family and, undoubtedly, the numerous journal articles we could have spawned. So with very little separation anxiety, we parted company after a few visits.

"I'm really bisexual!" I was bisexual --- for two months. I never really put the heterosexual part of "bi" sexual into practice though. It was just before I came out that I used the word "bisexual," sort of like putting my toe in the water before I dove in. Is this fair to our brothers and sisters who really are bisexual? No. But a lot of gay people still have a self-described "bisexual" period.

"It will hurt my family and friends!" Within a week of "coming out" to myself and actually saying the words "I'm gay" to someone else, I called and told all of my friends. Their reaction, for the most part, consisted of, "We already knew. We're glad that you finally put two-and-two together!" Granted, my mother, to this day, has a hard time talking about me being gay. But that's her issue, not mine. Maybe I should call Dr. Hanick for her.

"I can't come out because gay people are nasty!" One of my favorite local homophobes was quoted in the daily paper recently saying that problems in the gay community included alcohol and drug abuse, sexual abuse, promiscuity and infidelity. As my friend Dan said while reading the article aloud to me, "Well duh!" Of course those problems occur in the gay community, because they also occur in the straight community. The problem is that homophobes conveniently fail to point out that more than 90 percent of child abusers are married heterosexual men, that 50 percent of straight marriages fail, and that alcohol and drugs don't care what you do in bed.

I've been asked many times whether someone should "come out" or not. And while I may make light of some of the issues we face when coming out, you should never lightly take the coming-out process in your life. If you're prepared for the worst, then I think you're prepared.

The worst case scenario, by the way, usually doesn't happen. How many "out" gay people do you see trying to get back into the closet (except for poor self-loathing Paulk of course)?

Happy National Coming Out Day!

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