My “coming out” essentially coincided with my college graduation. Oh, I had known long before that that I was gay, but I had made the conscious decision to avoid and postpone dealing with the issue until I had graduated from college. I did this because I feared living “the gay lifestyle,” whatever that meant, would take over my life and would dominate my priorities and distract me from my goal of completing college.
While I did secretly explore and cautiously dabble in the gay world while in high school and college, I did it undercover and from its outer edge. As I neared graduation and realized my mission had been accomplished, I became more daring, more open, and began meeting other gay people. As predicted, my priorities changed. Once I became a college graduate, I no longer had to worry about studying, finals, or grades. While my next project was finding a job, not an easy task in economically devastated 1970 Seattle, my main focus became finding my place in Seattle’s gay scene. I was able to accomplish this rather quickly, with little difficulty, because, even in 1970, Seattle had a large active, visible gay community.
I gradually removed myself from most of my friends from high school, college, and family connections who were not gay. It was a conscious choice based on the dread of having to repeatedly “come out,” explain myself, and the fear of each person’s reaction. But the most important reason I stepped away or avoided so many former friends was that I felt they no longer related to me. Nor I to them. We lived different lives.
Therefore, in my early twenties, I began surrounding myself exclusively with gay, lesbian, or young single hetero allies, usually female. My roommates were gay. My friends were gay. Places I went catered to a gay clientele. My interests and priorities were gay. The gay world became my comfort zone. With the exception of family and co-workers, I essentially cut myself off from the heterosexual world. Obviously, I still could see it around me, watch it on television, and experience it through movies, but I, for the most part, avoided relationships with most straight people, particularly new ones. We were different. We had different priorities. We led different “lifestyles.”
This practice continued for more than 20 years, including five years working in banking in Portland. Of all the coworkers I had in those five years, I considered three “friends.” I didn’t need more; I had my gay social circle and social life to surround me, protect me. I returned to Seattle, held two short-term jobs at which I purposely made no friends, and then was hired by the Seattle School District as a special education assistant.
Even though I found myself in another essentially heterosexual world, one now including teenagers, I couldn’t see myself returning to the closet. I had been, after all, a card-carrying homosexual for 20+ years at this point. Therefore, as I got to know individual staff members, I let them know I was gay. Within a short time I began facilitating gay support groups and AIDS awareness groups and, as a result, students too became aware that I was a single gay man. And while there were a few bumps in the road, for the most part, my being an openly gay high school staff member was not a problem. In fact, I would say, over all, it worked to my advantage. But more important, it helped numerous students.
Even though I was “out” at school, I did not become close friends with many staff members even though they were supportive of me and, more important, our LGBTQ students. I had strong collegial relationships with many people with whom I worked and I genuinely liked and respected them. But, on some level, I did not consider them close friends. I rarely participated in outside-of-school activities with them, even if they were all-staff events. I certainly would never have suggested getting together for dinner, grabbing a beer, or doing a weekend day trip with an individual. I resented having to attend required workshops, retreats, and conferences, often overnight, prior to the beginning of the school year because I feared these events were held so we could develop closer, more intimate connections. Even though I knew I was blessed to be working with some of the finest people I had ever met, I still felt, to some degree, that since they were not gay, we led quite different lives. I knew that at the end of the day, they would go home to their spouses, children, and family lives and I would go home and protect myself in my world of gay friends, places, discussions, and priorities.
Then I retired, left Seattle, and moved to Mexico. Now, while Ajijic does have a visible community of gay Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans, it is an overwhelmingly heterosexual place. And I immediately found myself falling back into my old habits. As I would meet heterosexual couples, widows, widowers, and divorcees, I would label, and categorize them, and separate myself from them emotionally and gravitate toward my gay community. But I noticed that many of the gays I associated with here had many heterosexual friends, connections they had made here. Perhaps, I thought, this was because many came from places with smaller gay communities than Seattle. But then I realized they probably had better integrated themselves into a more balanced social world than I had as younger people and were more comfortable socializing outside the confines of their gay lives. While I knew I would be making numerous changes in my life and routine by relocating to Ajijic, this was one I had not considered. Once here, though, I quickly realized this was a lifestyle change I would have to learn and adapt.
Of course, being older and wiser now, I can reflect on my past and recognize the errors of my ways, poor choices I made. It is easier for me now to make an effort to be involved with more straight people than it was as a young gay man. I interact with my heterosexual neighbors and community more comfortably, more frequently, and with greater ease than I ever did in Seattle.
I finally have learned, late in life, to better accept the straights around me, recognize our similarities rather than focus on one difference, and tear down the barriers I had, decades ago, built up between us.
There is, however, one aspect of heterosexual behavior I cannot overcome. I cannot understand, accept, tolerate, or forgive it. It has to do with their sexual practices and the devastation it can wreak on the world. If it were not for the allegedly normal sex acts of the heterosexual lifestyle, we can all agree, we would not have Trump.