Thursday, October 11, 2007

20 years of gay

Today was a momentous day, and I didn't realize it until I heard on the radio that it was National Coming Out Day. 20 years ago on this very day, I went to Washington, DC, under the nurturing wing of Chris Bartlett and friends. At the time, I was resigned to being gay, but not the least bit excited about it. I could only imagine a life barely skirting depravity and insanity, if not worse.
We arrived in DC on the eve of the March on Washington in 1987, and walked around Dupont Circle.
Before long, I met a handsome blond named Bruce from Cincinnati, and I kissed a man for the first time in my life.
We kept kissing for another 8 hours or so, sitting in the back of a van that some people were driving around from one monument to another.
And my life changed forever. All in one rush, I came to realize that it would be possible to be gay and, well, gay in the 1920's sense of the word. And since I'm not a secretive person, I came out. I went through a bit of a militant phase, painting pink triangles on the back of my hands, talking about being gay with everyone. Including my family. That didn't go over so well at the time, but things have gotten much better since, and there has never been a moment of doubt about the love that binds our family together, even when things were at their most stressful.

Well, as I mentioned, I heard on the radio that it was National Coming Out Day. On my favorite morning radio show, the gay shock jocks Fernando and Greg, were asking if the day really means anything special, does anyone really pick this day to come out just because it's National Coming Out Day?
They asked for anyone to call in who wanted to come out on the radio. I decided to call in with my story, since I figured that coming out on the very first coming out day might be interesting enough. I didn't get on the radio, which looking back on it is best after all, but Greg chatted with me for quite a while about the whole situation. He was such a sweetheart, and has such a great voice, he's very expressive and natural, not butched up like most guys, and he's got a Texas twang rolling over the top of it. I've never understood the South, but the accents make me feel all gushy inside.

Above, I described my experience as "coming out", which is a term that refers simultaneously to "coming out" in the sense of a debutante, presenting oneself to the public as eligible, and "coming out" of the closet, a space where gay men hid like skeletons.
But really, I didn't "come out" except out of the fog I myself was in. It was never really a matter of hiding myself from others, it was only about hiding myself from myself, and others as a corollary.
These days, I'm quite convinced that the term "coming out" has lost all reference to its metaphorical roots. Now that being gay is seen as a possibility for pretty much anyone, there isn't really much difference between "coming out" and just plain old growing up. No longer is there nearly as much need to differentiate oneself from the norm, as being gay has become essentially part of the norm.
And now "closet" and "coming out" get applied to everything, usually things that have a twinge of scandal, but not always.
For many years, I've been describing college environments as post-closet, if not completely post-gay. I don't know what metaphors have stepped in in place of the closet and coming out, if any. Anyone have any ideas?

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