We Need to Talk About Kevin

I came out of the closet far later in life than I should have, and when I finally decided to go through with it, it was largely out of fear of becoming Jim McGreevey.

McGreevey, you may or may not recall, was the openly straight governor of New Jersey—complete with a wife and two kids—who was forced to resign in 2004 following a sexual harassment claim from a male underling.

Finding himself boxed in by events of his own making, McGreevey opted to kill two birds with one stone by stepping down and coming out at the exact same moment.  “My truth is that I am a gay American,” said McGreevey at the press conference that would end his career, adding, “I engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony.  It was wrong.  It was foolish.  It was inexcusable.”

It took McGreevey 47 years and two marriages to work up the nerve to reveal his true self to the world, and were it not for the sordid circumstances that more-or-less forced his hand, he may well have gone to his grave without owning up to who he really is, denying himself the chance to pursue a happiness that every straight American takes for granted.

What a sad little life that would’ve been—and what a rotten way to free himself from it once and for all.

To a then-closet case like me, McGreevey’s misadventures were a major wake-up call as to the miseries that come from living a lie for decades on end, be they sham marriages or professional ruin.  While I had no immediate plans to run for statewide office, I determined then and there that my own coming out would occur entirely on my own terms and long before I entered middle age and made a series of irreparable, self-defeating life choices.

In the end, I succeeded on both fronts, and though I hadn’t thought of McGreevey for quite some time, recent events have caused me to consider his case anew—and also to reflect how McGreevey is no longer the gold standard for how not to announce your homosexuality in public.

The new champion in that department is Kevin Spacey, the beloved Oscar-winning star of stage and screen, who confirmed his long-rumored queerness in late October after being accused of sexually assaulting the actor Anthony Rapp at a house party when Rapp was 14 years old.  In a widely-panned “apology,” Spacey claimed no recollection of the incident in question, proffering that he must’ve been six sheets to the wind and (by implication) behaving totally out of character.

In the fullness of time—i.e., within a couple days—it became clear that Spacey’s plea of ignorance was a big bucket of baloney:  He had, in fact, engaged in decades of predatory sexual behavior toward vulnerable teenage boys, several of whom have since come forward with their stories of abuse—all backed up by assurances that, within the Hollywood bubble, Spacey’s secret life of pederasty was no secret at all.

Initially, Spacey attempted to spin this horrific saga of sexual menace into an inspiring Big Reveal about his complicated sexual identity—and, in so doing, resurrecting the toxic age-old assumption that every gay man is a pedophile at heart—and major news organizations went along with it until the collective wrath of Twitter forced them to see the forest beyond the trees.

And yet, to my mind, Spacey’s life is a cautionary tale about the consequences of living duplicitously, which in certain ways is a uniquely gay problem.  While very few gay men share Spacey’s predilection for underage boys—let alone the pathology and chutzpah to act upon it—it stands to reason that anyone who chooses to conceal his true sexual desires for an extended period will inevitably be prone to unsavory (if not outright immoral) expressions of those desires at some point down the road.

Hence the imperative for every gay person to come out as soon as humanly possible.

Just as marriage can serve as a stabilizing force in any halfway-meaningful relationship, so does the act of coming out enable one to behave in a healthier, more mature fashion in virtually every aspect of life—not least in the physical realm.  This is precisely why marriage has so long been regarded as the brass ring in the LGBT rights movement:  By legitimizing same-sex unions, society encourages openness between consenting adults and the broader public, thereby reducing the prevalence of the sort of surreptitious—and morally fraught—sexual encounters that anti-gay crusaders are supposedly so concerned about in the first place.

The implication here—totally unprovable, of course—is that had Kevin Spacey summoned the courage to embrace his gay identity early in his career—and had Hollywood fostered an environment where such a thing were feasible for a talented and ambitious actor—he might not have felt the need to slink around at parties and in bars in search of fresh meat.

Then again, maybe not.  Perhaps Spacey is simply a dirty old man who enjoys feeling up clean young men, and no amount of social acceptance of LGBT folk would’ve made a dime’s worth of difference in how he behaved when the movie cameras were turned off.  You certainly can’t blame the booze:  I’ve been drunk as much as anyone in my time—both in and out of the closet—and never once found my hands creeping into places they shouldn’t be (except maybe the cookie jar).

All the same, the fall of Kevin Spacey—like the fall of Jim McGreevey—is a critical reality check for anyone who thinks he can maintain some grand fiction about his sexuality from one end of his life to the other and somehow not cause others (or himself) any pain along the way.

In fact, you can’t, and you’d best not even try.  There is no happiness in the closet, and to be gay is to come out—maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

Christmas Cruelty

The month of December is chock full of Christmas TV specials.  Jewish atheist that I am, I plan on catching just about all of them.

While the sheer volume of holiday programming ensures a great diversity of subject matter, it seems fair to say that if we could only save two of them to carry into the next century and beyond, they would have to be A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  And as singular as those Christmas classics are, they have one big thing in common:  They are two of the most depressing programs ever inflicted upon American families.

Yes, they have happy endings.  (Sort of.)  But the trials their protagonists undergo are not merely challenging:  they are borderline sadistic.  It gets you wondering:  why should Christmas, of all things, be so bloody painful?

Admittedly, in Charlie Brown’s case, the abuse is more or less politics as usual.  A Charlie Brown Christmas begins with the ceremonial missed field goal (courtesy of Lucy) and proceeds with Charlie Brown assuming the role of Christmas play director for no apparent reason except for all the other kids to ridicule every decision he makes—including, most memorably, his choice of an actual sapling (rather than an aluminum pole) to use as the gang’s official Christmas tree.  “Boy, are you stupid, Charlie Brown,” says Violet, telling the group, “He isn’t the kind you can depend on to do anything right.”

We laugh because it’s a cartoon, but we also realize that when this happens in real life it’s called bullying, which has a way of burning emotional scars that can take years to heal.  (If you manage to live long enough, that is.)

Then again, at least the torture that Charlie Brown experiences is strictly at the hands of his fellow adolescents.  While children can be very cruel indeed, there is a particular and arguably worse trauma that comes from being bullied by grownups.

Enter Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

It’s easy to overlook—what with the lighthearted theme song and the charming stop-motion animation—but the early scenes of the 1964 classic include behavior toward the titular character—by adults, mind you—that is jaw-droppingly callous.  When we say “all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names,” that includes his own father, Dasher, who forces Rudolph to conceal his peculiar proboscis and, when Rudolph objects, barks that “there are more important things than comfort:  self-respect!”  The flying coach, Comet, is the one who incites all the name-calling after the fake nose falls off, and it’s Santa Claus—Santa Claus!—who sees Rudolph’s shiny red bulb and tells Dasher, “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

Piled on top of this is a parallel story involving an elf, Hermey, who would rather be a dentist than one of Santa’s slaves, but is told that an elf’s lot in life is to make toys and follow orders.  When Hermey pleads that he just wants to “fit in,” the boss coldly retorts, “You’ll never fit in!”

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what in the heck is wrong with these people?

Admittedly, this program first aired 51 years ago, back when child abuse was an accepted form of parenting and schoolyard hazing was a fun way to make friends.

Ultimately, Rudolph is a story about empowerment, individualism and acceptance—hence the happy ending, in which Rudolph and company defeat the Abominable Snow Monster and save Christmas from that meddlesome fog—but until we reach that point, it’s essentially a story about being heartlessly exiled from society because of the ignorance of others.  The program’s finest quality is that it pulls no punches, and we cherish it, in part, because we suspect that it could never get made today.

The whole plot screams “allegory!”  Personally, I’ve long seen Rudolph as a metaphor for homosexuality and coming out, and I was delighted to conduct some quick research and find that the rest of the Internet has the exact same theory.  (One blogger noted that “Island of Misfit Toys” would be a fantastic name for a gay bar.)

Indeed, for any closeted young person, it’s nearly impossible to see Rudolph and Hermey rejected for who they are and not be overcome by waves of fear, shame and guilt over the emotional tsunami that’s going on in your head.  While my own childhood was not nearly as traumatic, that doesn’t make watching Rudolph any less poignant.

I’m sure the show’s creators had none of this in mind in 1964.  The genius of the script is that it can be adopted by anyone who feels like a misfit toy and wishes the rest of world would cut them a little slack.

If Rudolph has a weakness, it’s how, when the folks at the North Pole finally do accept Rudolph, it’s for the dumbest possible reason:  utility.

Apart from having saved the town from the monster, Rudolph is made a hero because Santa realizes his glowing appendage has an immediate practical function—namely, guiding Santa’s sleigh through the storm—and not because having an odd facial feature is an incredibly stupid reason for banishing someone from his own hometown.  Santa and company welcome Rudolph because they realize they need him—not necessarily because they want him.

That’s a rather ambivalent lesson, to say the least, suggesting one’s personal quirks are fair game for ridicule and condemnation unless other people happen to find a specific use for them.  I am reminded of the title an old essay by gay rights pioneer Andrew Sullivan, “What Are Homosexuals For?”

In a way, the conclusion to A Charlie Brown Christmas is the more honest of the two.  After Linus’s famous soliloquy quoting from the Gospel of Luke, the whole Peanuts troupe wanders into the snow, steals all the fancy decorations from Snoopy’s doghouse and reassembles them onto Charlie Brown’s feeble sapling.  They have actually learned something:  Beauty is not always apparent at first glance, but you can always find it if you look closely enough.  “Charlie Brown is a blockhead,” Lucy concedes, “But he did get a nice tree.”

As we well know, that’s about as close as any Peanuts kid gets to genuine human affection, so this counts as an unqualified triumph for good old Charlie Brown:  He stubbornly resists the commercialization of Christmas, and in time, everyone else realizes that he is right.

It’s a warm payoff to a very cold setup, and like Rudolph, it shows how Christmas has a way of bringing out people’s better angels.

But the real test—as both of these great shows understand—is whether this yuletide kindness can survive all the way to December 26.

Here, There and Everywhere

From a new survey on sexuality in the United States, two conclusions can be drawn.

One:  San Francisco is still the gayest city in America.

And two:  Everywhere else is tied for second place.

OK, the latter is not precisely true.  But it’s pretty darned close, and it serves as a critical wake-up call for those who think they know how sexual orientation works and are mistaken.

It is often thought that our country’s demographics are segregated by geography—that different regions are populated by different types of people.  Sometimes this assumption is true.  However, here is an instance in which it could not be more false, and it is far past time for us to acknowledge it loud and clear.

The new study is from Gallup, which sought to measure the percentage of self-identified gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.  To no one’s surprise, the region in and around San Francisco came in first, with 6.2 percent of its residents falling under the LGBT umbrella.  Portland, Ore., was second with 5.4 percent, followed by Austin, New Orleans and Seattle to round out the top five.  (My hometown of Boston was sixth.)

Meanwhile, the metro area of Birmingham, Ala., boasted the lowest proportion of publicly LGBT people, with 2.6 percent, followed by Pittsburgh, Memphis, San Jose and Raleigh, N.C.

Viewing the complete results of Gallup’s poll, one could conceivably devise any number of theories about America’s gay, bisexual and transgender population and how it is distributed from one coast to the other.

My own takeaway is as follows:  Gay people are everywhere, and in almost equal amounts.  Whereas black people are disproportionately concentrated in the Deep South, and Jews are most plentiful in New York and Southern Florida, sexual orientation does not discriminate based on geography.  A baby born today has the same probability of being gay—or straight or bisexual—no matter where in the United States he or she is born, and Gallup has just proved it.

At this point, you would be right to cast a skeptical eye on such a claim, since the numbers I have just quoted would seem to suggest the opposite.  If the Bay Area has nearly 2.5 times as many self-identified LGBT folks as Birmingham, shouldn’t we assume that sexuality is, in fact, a byproduct of one’s environment?

No, we shouldn’t, and the key is in the term “self-identified.”

You’ll note that Gallup here has made absolutely no attempt to calculate the actual number of gay people who live in different areas of the United States.  In fact, it would be nearly impossible to do this with any accuracy, since there are so many gays and lesbians who prefer to keep their sexual identity a secret—not least from poll takers, who are duty-bound to take respondents at their word.

So long as a significant proportion of the LGBT contingent remains in the closet—a group whose size, by definition, we can never know for sure—any answer to the question, “How many gay people are there?” will remain elusive.

Our best available option, then, is to take the limited information we have and engage in a bit of learned conjecture.

To wit:  Gallup informs us that, percentage-wise, the area around Portland, Ore., contains roughly twice as many openly LGBT people as Birmingham.  Now tell me something:  Knowing what we know about both places, is a closeted gay person living in Birmingham equally likely to come out as is a closeted gay person living in Portland?

(Hint:  That was mostly a rhetorical question.)

Indeed, why would any gay person in Birmingham come out if they could possibly avoid it?  The state of Alabama has certainly made the notion of living openly as a gay person as unappealing as possible.  Last month, for instance, when a federal judge ordered the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Alabama Supreme Court immediately overruled that decision, rendering some probate judges so flustered that they stopped issuing marriage licenses to anybody.

That, just for starters, is the toxic atmosphere that a gay person faces in the Deep South, a region where public support for gay equality lags far behind the country as a whole—let alone a place like Portland, which, by contrast, has held its annual Pride Festival every year since 1994 and which elected an openly gay mayor in 2008.

So of course there are twice as many openly gay people in Portland as in Birmingham:  The latter gives its residents every reason in the world to remain in the closet, while the former provides an environment as safe and as welcoming as anywhere in the country.

As such, when we learn that 2.6 percent of Birmingham is openly gay, we can only wonder about the untold scores of Birminghamians who are in the closet and, for reasons of self-preservation, have no immediate plans to slip out—men and women who, had they grown up in a place like Portland, likely would have publicly embraced their true selves years ago.

Again, we have no meaningful way to ascertain precisely how many of these poor people there are, but I would be amazed if the number isn’t substantial.

My inkling is that there are just as many members of the LGBT community growing up in Dixie as there are in the Mid-Atlantic and the Pacific Coast.  That if you factored in every municipality’s down-low gays with its out-and-proud gays, the numbers would be roughly equal from one town to the next.

If you insist on more concrete evidence for this hypothesis, you need only look slightly deeper into Gallup’s own data.

Note, for instance, how No. 11 on Gallup’s list, Louisville, Ky., is 4.5 percent openly gay, while No. 43, Milwaukee, Wis., is 3.5 percent openly gay.  As it happens, the survey’s margin of error is +/- 1 percent.  That means that two-thirds of the entire sample—and, by extension, two-thirds of the country—is in a statistical tie on this metric.  And that’s before any of my fancy sociological theories come into play.

Long story short (too late?), there is no credible argument that being born in a certain place makes you more or less likely to be gay.  Period, full stop.

The reason this matters—the reason we must recognize that human sexuality knows no geographical boundaries—is that it serves to counter the idea—implicit in so much of our legislation and rhetoric—that homosexuality can somehow be contained, if not fully stamped out.

While it has been left to other, more authoritarian countries to attempt to literally eradicate would-be sexual deviants—namely, by making their bedroom activities punishable by death—American anti-gay lawmakers are similarly obsessed with the notion that gayness can be made to go away—in this case, by nudging it out of places where it isn’t welcome, such as Alabama, and into modern-day Sodoms and Gomorrahs like Boston and Seattle, which will just have to deal with the hellfire that will inevitably follow.

And this would be fine—an illustration of the wonders of federalism in a heterogeneous society—if homosexuality only existed in blue states, or if every gay person had the ability to pack up and move upon realizing who they really are.

But, alas, that’s just not how it works.

Gay people are everywhere, as are the bisexual and the transgendered.  You can try as hard as you can to push them out of places like Alabama, but they will just keep on being born.  So all you’ve really done, then, is made your state a hotbed of hostility and ignorance toward a group of people who are never going away.  People who, sooner or later, may decide that being targeted and discriminated against for the crime of existing isn’t quite as much fun as it sounds, and will seek other accommodations.

It is a fundamental law of human nature that people will allow themselves to be unjustly victimized for only so long before insisting that their basic dignity be respected.  The police department of Ferguson, Mo., learned this the hard way with respect to black people.  Is it too much to ask that the residual injustices toward gays be resolved with a little less violence and drama?

We had better hope not.  We can’t all move to San Francisco.

Not Broken, Just Bent

Last Saturday, October 11, was National Coming Out Day, when the privately gay among us are encouraged to go public.

As it happens, in the South End neighborhood of Boston, Saturday also marked the final performance of Bent, a chilling two-act drama that handsomely illustrates why coming out can be a terrible and deadly idea.

We’ll call it an unfortunate coincidence.

The play, first performed in 1979—with no less than Ian McKellen as its original leading man—chronicles the torture, imprisonment and mass murder of gays by Nazi Germany before and during World War II. (At the time, “bent” was another word for “queer.”)

For all that European Jews suffered as a singular target of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich during the Holocaust, Bent argues that the plight of the continent’s homosexuals, while not on the same scale, was no less ugly—and far less known by the public, then and now.

(From the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: “Between 1933-45, an estimated 100,000 men [in Germany] were arrested as homosexuals, and of these, some 50,000 […] were sentenced. Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of the total sentenced were incarcerated in concentration camps.”)

The Boston production of Bent, performed by the Zeitgeist Stage Company, centers on a volcanic performance by local actor Victor Shopov as Max, a promiscuous gay coke user/dealer in 1930s Berlin. In the opening scene in his apartment, Max witnesses his one-night stand getting his throat slashed by a group of bloodthirsty SS officers as part of Hitler’s 1934 crackdown known as the “Night of the Long Knives.” Soon enough, Max and his boyfriend, Rudy, are themselves apprehended and forced aboard a train for Dachau, from whence they will never return.

Upon arriving at the camp—in the play’s most controversial sequence—Max finds a two-tiered system amongst his fellow prisoners: There are the Jews, who are made to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing at all times, and there are the gays, branded with an inverted pink triangle. While the Third Reich abhors and mistreats both groups, an inmate explains to Max that homosexuals are considered the lowest life form of all.

Quick-thinking schemer that he is, Max endeavors—successfully—to convince the prison guards that he is Jewish and not gay, in order to secure a yellow star and (comparatively) favorable treatment.

That’s right: As the Holocaust was getting underway, certain victims determined—perhaps rightly—that assuming a Jewish identity was the least bad option.

That, in short, is what it meant to be gay in Germany in 1934. That was the reward for “coming out” as the person you really were.

(How, you may ask, does Max go about “proving” to the Nazis that he is heterosexual? The phrase “you don’t want to know” may be an overused cliché, but in this case, you really don’t.)

Faced with this horrifying yet undeniable epoch in recent human history, we could content ourselves with the belief that the tenets of Nazism have long since vanished from the Earth, replaced by such appealing alternatives as pluralism, tolerance and democracy. That announcing you are gay—or merely being suspected of it—is not the potential death sentence that it once was, and that everyone today is free to be precisely who they are.

We could say these things as many times as we like, but they wouldn’t be any less of a lie. The point of Bent—much like every creative work ever made about the Holocaust—is that the past is never really past, and that all the evils perpetuated by preceding generations are forever at risk of reasserting themselves in all corners of the globe. That is, when they haven’t been there the whole time.

When it comes to the systematic persecution of gay people, the contemporary examples thereof are almost too numerous to count, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. When open homosexuals are not being rounded up and massacred by the score—as they are, in some cases—they are being denied the basic dignity and autonomy of straight people through legal proscriptions on their employment, their sex lives and their freedoms of speech, assembly and expression.

I underline this grim reality—on the heels of National Coming Out Day, no less—because, as I have said before, this is the best time in the history of the world to be gay. A closet case in 2014 has fewer reasons to remain as such than anyone at any other point in time—particularly here in America, where gay marriage did not exist in 2003 but is now legal in 29 states and counting.

(I would be remiss not to mention that Berlin, where the Bent horror show begins, has had a gay mayor since June 2001.)

In other words, the act of coming out is probably always going to suck in one way or another. For the typical person, it will never be an easy or obvious thing to do and will forever carry all sorts of risks, even though the rewards are as legion as ever before.

I realize this is about as ambivalent as coming out advice can possibly be, and slightly less than encouraging for someone currently weighing the pros and cons, knowing that in announcing one’s homosexuality, there is no turning back.

However, as a general rule—and based on personal experience—I maintain that being honest about your sexual identity is a prerequisite to true happiness in life. Coming out does not solve every problem, but staying in the closet means denying yourself the possibility of being loved by another person. In the absence of that possibility, the pursuit of happiness—the notion of having a fulfilling life—is not merely difficult, but impossible.

The moment I first took coming out seriously was seeing Gus Van Sant’s movie Milk, because it showed how much fun being openly gay can be—particularly for someone with an outsized interest in politics. From then, it took me about eight months to work up the nerve to break the news to my closest friends, and another three years to tell my parents, who provided unconditional support without batting an eyelash. That I could have ever feared otherwise, in retrospect, seems just plain silly.

But I am not necessarily typical. In this and other ways, I consider myself just about the luckiest man on the face of the Earth, with a loving family in an open and welcoming society. I have never suffered because of what I think or who I am, and have never felt that pursuing my true desires was either dangerous or brave.

And so seeing a play like Bent, as I did on Friday, was as much of an eye-opening experience for me as it would be for the average straight person, since it takes place in an environment no less alien to my own than, say, the story of Anne Frank, even though she, like me, was a Jew.

In perhaps the play’s most audacious moment, Max and his most trusted fellow prisoner, Horst, stand several feet apart, both looking straight ahead, and begin a steadily-intensifying erotic verbal exchange that would put a present-day phone sex hotline to shame.

You see, the two of them have been employed by the SS in the task of carrying a large pile of heavy stones from one end of a field to the other and back again, 12 hours per day, every day until further notice. This exercise, they soon understand, has no purpose except to slowly drive them both insane and squelch any hope they might have of ever getting out of Dachau. What is more, under no circumstances are they permitted to touch or make eye contact—a detail torn straight from the pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four—and speaking to each other is frowned upon as well. At the start, a heavily-armed guard assures them, “I will always be watching.”

In this environment—one that is inhuman by design—they decide to make love the only way they can. Yes, it might get them killed, and it certainly won’t improve their physical circumstances in any case. It doesn’t matter: Their love for each other has become unavoidable and, to them, is worth following through on. Their act of love is also an act of defiance. Before they die, they are going to live.

That, finally, is why coming out is worth it in the end: Because it’s the key not just to happiness, but to life itself.  There isn’t one without the other.

Ain’t Too Proud

We are in the midst of Gay Pride Week here in the capital city of the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, with a full roster of activities and events planned across the greater Boston area, culminating in the annual Pride Parade on Saturday.

Your humble servant will not be out marching this weekend.  Nor do I plan to participate in “Queeraoke” in Jamaica Plain or attend “Pride Night” at the Red Sox-Rangers game at Fenway.

None of these goings-on particularly piques my interest, and engaging in any of them would be an empty gesture on my part.

I am not proud to be gay.

Now, I understand that striking such an attitude in today’s particular political and cultural environment can come off as an act of heresy, since gay people in 2013 are not allowed to carry any ambivalence whatever about their gayness.

What is more, this Thursday holds enormous significance for me on this front, being the anniversary of the day I announced my orientation on Facebook.  While the positioning of this moment in the middle of Pride Week was coincidental at the time, I can accept the overlap today, as my series of comings-out are, in fact, among the proudest acts of my life.

But simply being gay?  What’s so special about that?

This, in so many words, is the distinction we ought more precisely to draw:  Acts vs. facts.

I am proud to have publicly acknowledged my homosexuality because I could have chosen not to.  Because it required subjecting myself to the possibility of certain social hardships that could have been completely avoided by my simply shutting up.  (I hasten to add that, to date, no such unpleasantness has ever occurred.)

By contrast, the gayness itself is just one of those freak accidents over which I have no control.  Like the color of my eyes or the geographic origins of my kin, my sexuality is a simple fact of life, completely uninteresting in and of itself.

To be sure, there are many people who define themselves entirely on the basis of their sexuality.  (Most of these people are straight, but never mind.)  Historically, the gay rights movement has been nothing so much as an expression of identity politics, its leaders regarding themselves as homosexuals first and Americans second.

In earlier, more repressive days, such an approach made some sense:  Building a strong movement required unquestioned solidarity amongst its members, which in turn required a strident emphasis on the one characteristic that bound them all together.

The trauma that is coming out can operate under a similar dynamic.  As a means of alleviating the inherent loneliness that living in the closet engenders, one tends to hew to every gay stereotype one can get one’s hands on.  To announce one’s homosexuality is to officially join the gay community; on such an occasion, it is only polite to defer to the community’s values and traditions, no matter how ridiculous and antiquated they might seem.

However, in the years since that big bang of my existence as a publicly gay person, I have parted ways with certain gay orthodoxies, realizing that, in many cases, I never truly believed them in the first place.  They did not represent the “real” me.  Like a kid who takes up smoking in the hope that it will make the cool kids accept him, I was merely going through the motions.

As time has marched onward, the fact of my homosexuality has diminished in importance in my daily life, and would rank fairly low on a list of ways in which I might define myself—an exercise I generally resist in any case.

More important still, I have come to terms with the twin facts of, first, knowing that I do not easily mesh with whatever it is the “gay community” today represents, and second, that I do not particularly care.

For all that I hoped coming out would provide me with a “crowd” with whom I could find comfort, inclusion and common cause, the experience of being openly gay has shown to be one more illustration of my true self as a perennial outsider—even within groups that are, themselves, a collection of cultural misfits.

Perhaps this all sounds a bit dreary, but it is something which I have long come to accept and would have no other way.

Of this, I suppose I can also be proud, although I do not need to march in a parade to express it.