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Adams, Tony E.
Learning, living, and leaving the closet :
b making gay identity relational
h [electronic resource] /
by Tony E. Adams.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 274 pages.
Dissertation (Ph.D.)--University of South Florida, 2008.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic dissertation) in PDF format.
ABSTRACT: Gay identity is inextricably tied to the metaphor of the closet. This tie is best exemplified by the act of "coming out of the closet," an act when a person discloses a gay identity to another, an act of self-identification and confession that others can motivate but never force, an act typically thought of as necessary, dangerous, and consequential, and an act often viewed as a discrete, linear process. Gay identity is also frequently framed as a self-contained trait thus making coming out a one-sided, personal affair.In this project, I use autoethnography and narrative inquiry, life story interviews of four gay men, life writings by gay men, mass mediated accounts of the closet, and my personal experience to describe three epiphanies-interactional moments that significantly change the trajectory of a person's life-of gay identity: (1) "Learning the Closet," a moment when a person first becomes familiar with the metaphorical space; (2) "Living the Closet," a moment when a person privately acknowledges a gay identity but publicly discounts this identity by saying and acting as if it does not exist; and (3) "Leaving the Closet," a moment when a person discloses gay identity to others.I conclude by describing the "double-bind of gay identity"-the dilemma that forms when a person cannot escape the closet-and argue that once a person identifies as gay, the closet becomes a formative influence on her/his life; a gay person can never live outside of the metaphorical space again, can never live as an out gay person everywhere. I also use a relational perspective to understand how gay identity and the disclosure of this identity implicate others in a gay person's social network. A relational perspective removes gay identity it from the individualistic realm and situates it among beings-in-interaction. In so doing, the experience of the closet becomes removed from the exclusive burden of the self-contained gay person to one in which coming out becomes a shared responsibility by all individuals involved in a relationship.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Advisor: Arthur P. Bochner, Ph.D.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Learning, Living, and Leaving the Closet: Making Gay Identity Relational by Tony E. Adams A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Communication College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Arthur P. Bochner, Ph.D. Kenneth N. Cissna, Ph.D. Marcy Chvasta, Ph.D. Carolyn Ellis, Ph.D. Charles Guignon, Ph.D. Date of Approval: June 12, 2008 Keywords: Sexuality, Gay Men, Coming Out, Autoethnography, Narrative Inquiry, Interpersonal Communicati on, Family Communication Copyright 2008 Tony E. Adams
i Table of Contents Abstract ii Preface iv Chapter One: Introduction 1 Chapter Two: The Importance of the Closet 11 Chapter Three: Method 27 Autoethnography and Narrative Inquiry 27 Epiphanies 34 Procedures 35 Life Story Interviews 35 Gay Life Writings 42 Autoethnographic Data Sets 47 Analyzing the Data 50 Representing the Data 52 Chapter Four: Learning the Closet 57 Chapter Five: Living the Closet 104 Chapter Six: Leaving the Closet 139 Chapter Seven: Making Identity Relational 183 Revisiting Us, Four Years Later 202 Chapter Eight: Gay Dilemmas, Reflections, and Criticisms 207 The Double-Bind of Gay Identity 211 Changing Conditions of the Closet 223 Making Coming Out Relational 232 Epilogue 239 References 245 About the Author End Page
ii Learning, Living, and Leaving the Closet: Making Gay Identity Relational Tony E. Adams ABSTRACT Gay identity is inextricably tied to the metaphor of th e closet. This tie is best exemplified by the act of coming out of the clos et, an act when a person discloses a gay identity to another, an act of self-identific ation and confession that others can motivate but never force, an act typically thought of as necessary, dangerous, and consequential, and an act often viewed as a discrete, linea r process. Gay identity is also frequently framed as a self-contained trait thus maki ng coming out a one-side d, personal affair. In this project, I use autoethnography a nd narrative inquiry, lif e story interviews of four gay men, life writings by gay men, mass mediated acc ounts of the closet, and my personal experience to describe three epiphaniesinteractional moments that significantly change the trajec tory of a persons lifeof ga y identity: (1) Learning the Closet, a moment when a person first becomes familiar with the metaphorical space; (2) Living the Closet, a moment when a person privately acknowledges a gay identity but publicly discounts this identity by saying and ac ting as if it does not exist; and (3) Leaving the Closet, a mome nt when a person discloses gay identity to others. I conclude by describing the double-bind of gay identitythe dilemma that forms when a person cannot escape the closetand argue that once a person identifies as gay, the
iii closet becomes a formative influence on her/hi s life; a gay person can never live outside of the metaphorical space again, can neve r live as an out gay person everywhere. I also use a relational perspective to understand how gay identity and the disclosure of this identity implicate others in a gay persons social network. A relational perspective removes gay identity it from th e individualistic realm and situates it among beings-in-interaction. In so doing, the experien ce of the closet becomes removed from the exclusive burden of the self-contained gay pe rson to one in which coming out becomes a shared responsibility by all indi viduals involved in a relationship.
iv Preface To my supporters, advocates, and friends from Southern Illinois University: Ahmet Atay, Nilanjana Bardhan, Jay Brow er, Amy Darnell, Brad Gangnon, Jonny Gray, Chris McRae, Ron Pelias, Sandy Pensoneau-Conway, Amy Pinney, Adrienne Viramontes, John Warren. To my supporters, advocates, and friends from the University of South Florida and Tampa: Wendy Adams, Marielana Bart esaghi, Korrie Bauman, Elizabeth Bell, Laura Bergeron, Robin Boylorn, David Brunnell, Sara Dykins Callahan, Liz Edgecomb, Christine Grogan, Antoine Hardy, Andrew Herrmann, Stacy Holman Jones, Jane Jorgenson, Ashley Kincaid, Yvonne Kline, Li nda Levitt, Wren Colker Levitt, Cara Mackie, Sebastian Melo, Derick Miller, J eanine Minge, Seven Mitchell, Mark Neumann, Mike Nicholas, David Payne, Steve Phalen, Ally Rhodes, Emily Ryalls, Steve Schoen, Rachel Silverman, Fred Steier, Jillian Tullis Owen, Tim Willis. And to my supporters, advocates, and friends in other places: Christopher Birdsong, Craig Rich. To those that keep me organized: Keysha Williams, Sheri Plummer, Anne Copeland. To those that keep me gay-ly sane: Ric Ashcraft, Lucas Me hl, George Garrett, and Lane Thompson. To Nikki Neuman for teaching me how to write. To Lenore Langsdorf for having faith in me.
v To Rachel Dubrofsky for amazing feedback on most all of my work . and for keeping me out past my bedtime. To Michael Levan for being a wise mentor and an honest friend. To Keith Berry, who has continued to walk with me through my masters program, my doctoral program, and whom I hope will continue to walk with me throughout life. To Michael Rome, for being there for me and my mother. You are a blessing. To Ken Cissna for professional guidance and the willingness to support my work. To Charles Guignon for encour aging me to tell my story. To Carolyn Ellis for the blunt-but-compa ssionate criticism that makes my work grow, for teaching me about ethics, about rela ting, and for the always-present enthusiasm when talking about my research, enthusiasm that makes me feel smart and worthwhile. To Marcy Chvasta who I first met as an undergraduate at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in 1999, who helped me get into the masters pr ogram at SIU in 2001, who helped me get into this program in 2004, and who provides me with unconditional love and support. I hope Ill always be your kiddo. To Art Bochner, my guide who never lets me fall, who pushes me to take risks, who cares just as much about my well-being as the work I produce, who calms me when I become an emotional mess, and who teaches me about being a better person. I hope I make you proud. To Brett Aldridge who I miss more a nd more each day and who makes much of this dissertation possible. And to my mother who keeps me gr ounded. I hope that I make you proud, too.
1 Chapter One: Introduction A love story assembled from primary sources A Hallmark card: two white dogs occupy th e front, facing each other, trying to interlock jaws. A comic bubble emerges from one of the mouths. I lick you. I mean, I LIKE you, it reads followed by an inside in scription of Okay, both and a personal message: Baby, have a happy end of th e semester. I love you!! Phish kissee. Brett **** Phish kissee: a term of endearment that Brett and I made after adopting a Beta fish named Alexander, Alexander Prettifish. Br ett and I would often ex change fish kisses, an act modeled after what the two of us t hought phish kissees woul d look and feel like. Kiss-kiss-kiss-kiss-kiss using cupped, touching mouths woul d be an adequate linguistic representation. **** A yellow Post-it note posted on my office desk: Phish Kissee to a boy who has a thesis. I defended my Masters thesis today. It included a dedication to Brett: Thank you for your remarkable presence th is past year. I hope that, at least in some form or another, you will always remain in my life. And thank you for understanding when it came to my school-rel ated stuff. I may have been busy, but I thought of you often. (Adams, 2003, p. ii)
2 A dedication to me, from Brett, in his Masters thesis, a project he completed a year after mine, a month after moving away fr om each other, twenty months before his death. To Tony, my closest friend and unfaili ng support: who has taught me that love may adapt and evolve in disconcerting ways . but may also, from time to time, escape intact, if not quite unscathed. (Aldridge, 2004, p. iii) **** Another note: Good morning and good morning. Fish kissee and fish kissee. A card for my 24th birthday. The front has an image of an ornately dressed Asian woman surrounded by an array of flowers, the inside filled with a personal message: Happy Birthday. I love you and hope you have a good day and year, you dirty old man!! I hope youll let me take you out for a birthday dinner toni ght or later this week. Have a happy, happy day. Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! etc. etc. Brett A note posted, again, on my desk: Hello Tony. I am writing a paper and became afraid that my brain might explode so I t hought Id write you a little note. Here it is. Brett. Another yellow Post-it: Thank you darling!! And another: Fish kissee.
3 And another: Hello from Brett A. Fish kissee. Fish kissee. Fish kissee. And another: Darling, I went home. Call me there when you get here. **** A note with relational code: Who is a pumpkin? followed by Who is? followed by Who? followed by . While I regretfully forget the origin of pumpkin, I remember that it was an intimate term that Ill never use on or around anyone ever again. Tony, I am in the Kleinau [theatre], or as the French call it, Le Kleinau, another note reads. Come find me and we will have talking. B I can tell a lot about a person by the langua ge she or he uses. Brett: Creative, energetic, and bursting with love, not e after note after note after note. **** A love story assembled from memory. Bretts desk is behind mine. Backs faci ng each other, the two of us exchange comments about his first time teaching and hi s first time in graduate school and comments about my second year teaching and my second year in the same graduate program. I find Brett fun and attractive but ne ver think Id like him because Im insecure (and didnt think hed like me) and fear reje ction (so I never make the first move). Furthermore, I know that a friend of mine likes him and I dont want to interfere. Im also interested in another guy whos not interested in me, a man I often ta lk about with Brett, my back-faced colleague. Positioned in this way, I do not see the face of a person I upset with my talk: Brett liked me but never said so; he was insecure and feared rejection; he knew I liked someone else and didnt want to interfere.
4 **** I arrange a dinner with the guy I like and his best friend, not a date just a friendly meeting. I tell Brett that hes welcome to come. He says hed like to and that hed drive. In his purple Pontiac Sunfire, I notice unwra pped needles strewn about the floor. Im diabetic, Brett says. Cool I say, not knowing what diabetes is or why diabetes has any relation to the need les on the floor. **** Brett slipped into a diabetic coma one ni ght . He had talked to some friends earlier that day and felt fine. (Joshua, 2006)1 **** At the restaurant I sit next to the guy I like who doesnt like me. Brett and the guys best friend sit on the opposite side of th e table. Everyone eats chips and salsa and rice and beans and Brett pulls out a needle, inserts it into a bottle of clear liquid, then into his upper arm. Im diabetic, he says to th e others as he wipes a drop of blood from the quickly-pierced skin. The dinner ends and nothing progresses with the guy I like. He refuses to date even though I continuously probe him about dating. Brett and his fr iend pretend they do not hear me get rejected. Feeling foolish and insecure, I try to stay friends, believing that friendship is better than not hing though I do hope hell change his mind and realize that the two of us would be good together. I say bye to the guy and his friend, then get into the purple car and hope that Brett had a decen t time, hope that he doesnt find me silly, hope that he wont quit talking with me. 1 I received Joshuas permission to use his words in this project.
5 **** The next day at the office Brett greets me with a nervous Hi. Hope you had fun last night, I say. He replies with a Yes, I did followe d by a Would you go on a date with me? An ambivalent sure comes from my mouth, shocked he would ask after the previous nights affair, shoc ked that he, a fun and attract ive person would find me, Mr. Insecurity, attractive. Ive wanted to ask you for the past m onth, Brett continues, but you always talked about the other guy and I didnt want to interfere. Being insecure, he says, I didnt want to feel rejected. **** A date at Garfields, a restaurant. While looking at the menu, the two of us realize that were both vegetarian and shouldve gone to a veggie-friendly pla ce. We also realize that the two of us arent there for the food. The meeting is about being and talking together, seeing if we are compatible, seeing if Brett is likable, seeing if he finds me likable, seeing if I can quit th inking about the other guy I like. When the food arrives, Brett takes out a needle, fills it with insuli n, and inserts it into his upper thigh. This time the shot does not draw blood and I try to fa thom how inserting a needle into your body feels. The date goes well and ends with a brie f kiss. At school the next day I ask if hed like another date and he responds with yes. So we go on another, and continue being together, often, for the next year and a half. ****
6 I had sex with another man, Brett sa ys upon entering our apartment. I look at him, quickly, and then laugh. I think, hope, hes kidding. I promised that Id always be honest with you, he continues. It happene d last week when you werent home. **** I know Bretts home tonight in his room listening to Judy Garland, k. d. lang, or The Mikado soundtrack. At the gay bar across the stre et Im on the prowl for an attractive man to make him jealous, to flaunt my guy-catch ing abilities. After a few drinks a victim is spotted and invited to stay the night. I lie to the victim by saying I live with a friend who Ive never been attracted to and with whom Ive never been intimate. The victim agrees to stay. On entering the apartment, th e two of us move towards my room, a move interrupted by Brett opening his bedroom door to apologize for hurting me and to wish me a good night. But he sees my guest and slams the door without saying anything. Ive won. He says nothing for a few weeks. I feel sad, ashamed, and immature. Some victory. **** Brett slipped into a diabetic coma one ni ght . He had talked to some friends earlier that day and felt fine. (Joshua, 2006) **** Bretts the guy I lived with when I came out to my father. Brett and I moved in together a month before my dad called to ask about my sexuality. I heard a rumor about you, my dad says. I become nervous. I heard that youre living with a guy. In fact, not just living with, but fucking this guy. Is this true? Weeelllll, I stutter, no, its not true Who would say something like that? That doesnt matter. Im ju st glad it aint, he says.
7 Yeah, me too father. Thats silly. Ill ta lk to you soon. The conversation ends. Prior to this conversation I never thought I would tell my da d that I fitand did not fitparticular labels, that is, gay and straight respectiv ely. I planned to live my life not informing my father of significant others such as Brett or my same-sex desire. I feared being disowned and hated and did not f eel I could deal with my fathers response. Call him back, Brett pleads. This is your chance. Here was Brett, a person who came into my life, loving me, teaching me the value of openness, giving me the strength to do wh at I never imagined doing before. I called dad back. Hello, he answers in an upbeat, much happier tone. Yeah, dad, its me. I just wanted to te ll you that its trueI am living with a guy, my boyfriend in fact. So rry to burst your bubble. I hear nothing, so I decide to lie to make the situation better by telling my father that his recently deceased mother, my gr andmother, knew about my same-sex desire. And grandma knew about my sexuality and my boyfriend, but she thought it would be best if I didnt tell you. She was always fine w ith it, but realized, as did I, that you would not accept it. Sorry if Im a disappointment. Silence, but soon a stuttered response: Shheee knneww? Yeah, she did father. Well, he utters more fluen tly, I guess Ill call you soon. Bye, dad. Take care. My dad doesnt speak to me for six months. ****
8 After a year of living together, Brett decides to try to act on Broadway and I decide to pursue my doctorate. We separate geographically but remain close emotionally. **** Ttt-ony? I hear when I answer the phone. Yes? Its Adrienne. I cant believe Im the one to tell you . Im so sorry, but . . Whats the matter? I ask. Bretts dead, she says. His sister just called me. You should call her. Adrienne and I hang up a nd I call Bretts sister. Hi, Sarah? I ask, unsure of her name. T his is Tony Adams. I lived with Brett in Carbondale, Ive heard about you she sa ys through tears. Brett died last night of diabetes. Ive been calling people listed in his cell phone. Im sorry. I didnt want to have to tell you this. **** [Brett] had talked to some friends ea rlier that day and felt fine. (Joshua, 2006) **** Bretts familyindividuals I never mettold Adrienne and me that Brett died of juvenile diabetes, a condition he had since his early teens. Later, tw o of Bretts friends tell me that on the weekend prior to his deat h, Brett told his dad that he fitand did not fitparticular social labels, that is, gay and straight re spectively. Brett not only had diabetes, but had also told me about a history of attempted suicide.
9 Brett was 29. Before our relationship, he lived with a man for four years. Since he lived near his parents, I assumed he had come out to his family, assumed he told them he was gay. But prior conversations with Brett re-play in my head: Are you out to your family? I ask. They know, he responds. and How do your parents feel about your sexual ity? I ask. We dont talk about it, he responds. and Id like to meet your family, I say. Maybe one day, he suggests. Brett never told me he had said anything to his family about his sexuality. He only said they know, nothing more. Wh at did they know mean? I wonder. **** I struggle with Bretts absence in my lif e. When he first died, I would call his cell phone and hear Hi. This is Brett. Leave your name and number. Ill get back to you soon. Bye. Now when I call I hear The numbe r you have reached . . His service has ended. Soon, someone else will have his number. What caused Bretts death? The simple e xplanation is Brett di ed of diabetes. I dont want to believe his d eath had something to do with coming out to his father. **** Brett helped me overcome the most importa nt disclosure of my life: telling my father that I am attracted to men, that I iden tify as gay. I envied Br etts apparent openness
10 and ability to tackle the world without mu ch regret, his courage and confidence about saying, knowing, who he loved. A pillar of strength, he made me feel strong too. To think that Brett may have died after telling his fa ther that he found men attractive, that he identified as gay, makes me ill. **** I will never know if Brett killed himsel f. His obituary says his was a diabetesrelated death. I could contact his family and ask if diabetes really was the cause, but this could make for unnecessary, painful controvers y. Even if they confirmed the diabetes story, I know an alternative st ory exists, the suicide story. Besides, why would they tell me? Besides, Brett is dead. I miss him. Besides, nothing will bring him back. **** A year after Bretts death I have a dream In it, I see Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Carbondale, Illinois, familiar places all mi xed together. Im standing somewhere in a medium-sized, hilly downtown, the ground co vered with snow. A man walks past me. Brett, I say and he looks. I run to him, he casually walks toward me. Im okay, he says, and then tells me that hes really not dead but that he had to change his name. I wake but force myself back to sleep. I dream again, the setting is the same but without snow, without Brett. Have you seen Brett, I ask a stranger on the st reet, but she doesnt answer. Brett! I yell, and ge t no response. I wake.
11 Chapter Two: The Importance of the Closet Bretts death motivates me to write about the closet, the lite ral and metaphorical origin of gay identity (Urbach, 1996, p. 69; see also Betsky, 1997), and about coming out of the closet, the most canonical expr ession of being gay (Perez, 2005, p. 177; see also Kong, Mahoney & Plummer, 2002). Gay id entity is defined by and synonymous with the closet, and once a person self-identif ies as gay, the closet becomes, according to Sedgwick (1990), a fundamental feature of soci al life (p. 68); the gay person can never live outside of the closet again. Bretts death motivates me to demonstrat e that the closet is not a natural or inevitable fact of lif e (Hacking, 1999, p. 12), to suggest that life in the closet need not be as it is, is not determined by the na ture of things, and should be radically transformed (Hacking, 1999, p. 6). I write to sh ow how the closet suffocates, to make new descriptions and new possibilities for action of the closet possible (Hacking, 1990, p. 81), to reconstruct closet-realities in life-enhancing ways (Conquergood, 1986, p. 40). The closet is a powerful social construction in need of reform. Bretts death motivates me to write about aspects of the closet not addressed by coming out research such as how a person ente rs a closetto come out one must first go inthe relationality of closet life, and the connection betwee n timing and disclosure in a gay persons life. Contrary to the opini on of some writers who minimize these experiences (Jolly, 2001, Seidman, 2002; Se idman, Meeks & Traschen, 1999; Signorile,
12 2007), I want to investigate whether the closet still manifests itself in a variety of painful ways. In my experience, there are detrimental consequences for coming out. Bretts death motivates me to make im plicit norms of sexuality explicit, to call attention to harmful interpersonal practices. It is when norms and practices are made known that they can then be talked ab out, negotiated, and changed (Berlant, 1997; Bornstein, 1994; Garfinkel, 1967). Bretts death motivates me to describe the workings of the closet, a contribution that I hope will reduce the all to frequent suicides among the gay population (Russell & Bohan, 2006; Bornstein, 2006; Goltz, 2007). Bretts death motivates me to write for individuals who believe they are truly good for nothing (Lorde, 1984, p. 168), for people like Jonathan Reynolds, a 15-year-old boy regularly teased about possibly being ga y who positioned himself on railroad tracks in the path of an oncoming train; a boy who, lying face-up against one rail with his feet against the other, held his cell phone above his head and text-messaged his family and friends to tell them that they are not to blam e for his death. Tell everyone that this is for anybody who eva [ sic ] said anything bad about me, he wrote to his father and to Sam, his 14-year-old sister. I do have feelings too. Blame the pe ople who were horrible and injust [ sic ] 2 me. This is because of them, I am human just like them . None of you blame urself [ sic ] mum, dad, Sam and the rest of my fam ily. This is not because of you. (cited in de Bruxelles, 2007). Bretts death motivates me to write for re lationships fractured from the disclosure of same-sex desire and/or gay identity, re lationships that change when a person moves
13 from one category to another, when a paradigm shifts that alters every aspect of [a] life narrative (Couser, 1997, p. 64; see also Garrick, 1997; Kuhn, 1996), a shift that retroactively revises the past (Hacking, 1995, p. 249), and for individuals relationally ostracized from others because of this cha nge, persons who are banned by peers, kicked out of homes, disregarded. Bretts death motivates me to write fo r people like James, a friend who quit going home because of his mothers re action to his gay identity. I havent been to my parents house since 1990, he says. I came out to my mom in 1988 and she to tally freaked out. Did she say you couldnt come to their house? I ask. No, but the first few times I visited after coming out she made me use paper cups and paper plates and plastic silverware. She kept my food in a separate space in the kitchen and I wasnt allowed to eat off of any of the regular dishes. Because you said you were gay? Yeah. She equated being gay with having AIDS and AIDS, she thought, was contagious. But the AIDS epidemic was str ong at the time so I somewhat understood her reaction. Then you stopped visiting? No, I stopped when she started following me into the bathroom to spray Lysol disinfectant on everything I t ouched. I felt contaminating. Bretts death motivates me to write fo r the same-sex couple who told me that when they stopped at the border of Canada a nd the United States, they were accused of kidnapping their son, accused of trying to smuggle him across the border because they
14 were gay, accused of being pedophiles, and fo r the gay man who told his sister and her husband that he and his partner would gladly wa tch their kids if they wanted to travel somewhere for their wedding anniversary. The husband responded by first accusing the gay men of being pedophiles, saying, If you think I'd let you two perverts look after my kids, youre sicker than I t hought (Burnie, 2008). Gays with children: a potentiallydisgusting mix. Bretts death motivates me to write for individuals who live in or move to the United States but are unable to help make a partner a citizen or bring a partner of the same-sex. Bretts death motivates me to write fo r persons who come out after weeks or months or years of (heterosexual) marriage, and who must then ne gotiate not only their sexuality but also the spouse s feelings of betr ayal (Grever, 2001; Pearson, 1986). The grief experience of straight spouses who learn of their husbands or wives homosexuality cannot be minimized, Duffey (2006) writes. Few marry without the hope of enjoying l ong-lasting, supportive, passionate love. Learning that a spouse is gay places the straight spouse in a difficult position. A person must consider which loss is more palatable: staying married to a spouse who may love you deeply but who ultimatel y feels attraction and romantic love toward others or undergoing the grie f experience involved in divorcing and releasing all that comes with it. (p. 90) Bretts death motivates me to write for children who knew their parents as heterosexual but then negotiated a parents s eemingly-new gay identity. I just found out my dad was gay, a former student says in an email to me.
15 I was wondering if you have some time to ta lk. He was outted having an affair with a man. Hes still married to my mo ther but they have separated. A lot of people in my family do not know. I know he feels ashamed, scared, and worried. I want to help him know that its okay. I hate that he feels he mu st hide his feelings. I understand his apprehension and will resp ect his privacy, but I am afraid the secrecy and shame will hurt him more. I know it hurts me. Bretts death motivates me to write for a person unable to be at the bedside of a loved one because her/his re lationship with the partner is unsanctioned by hospital authorities and most st ate and federal laws. Bretts death motivates me to write for people like Mark, a man individual dying from AIDS-related conditions. Jacquard (2007) writes of being Marks home health care worker. Marks family abandoned him during the time of his illness. When they did see him on their once-a-year visits, Jacquard says she found herself saying gay repeatedly in an effort to desensitize them (p. 22). At his side near death, she called his mother and sister one last time. What should I say? his mother asked several times. Hes your son, Jacquard said. Tell hi m that you love him, and anything else you need to say will come to you. To the best of her ability, Jacquard want ed Mark to hear that the people he only saw once a year did care. But by that time, I was all that Mark saw, she writes (p. 22). Imagine those last few words, a for ced telephone conversation, a last, embodied interaction tarnished by a person being of a particular kind and others being scared of this kind.
16 Bretts death motivates me to write a bout the sources of invalidation of gay identity such as the conversation I overhe ard at a church gath ering, one in which a distressed gay man talked about how his mother did not want him and his partner at the family reunion. The couple attended the reunion the past five years but the mother called to say that the family did not want the tw o of them around. The family did not want to validate the same-sex relati onship (see Lim-Hing, 1990/91). Bretts death motivates me to write for people like Ricky, a gay high school student who, on arriving at a f ootball game, hears shouts of What the fuck is that fag doing here? That fag has no right to be here (Pascoe, 2007, p. 68). The shouters proceed to throw bottles, rocks, and ketchup at him. Bretts death motivates me to write to combat misogyny among gay male communities, the demeaning of women in gay mens language (Jones, 2007), and gay mens obliviousness to all forms of oppre ssion, not just oppression based on sexuality (Tillmann-Healy, 2005). Bretts death motivates me to write to combat homophobiathe fear and hatred of homosexualslike that observed by John Ra y, a Professor at Montana Tech (Butte). Ray sent a campus-wide email criticizing the negative responses he observed to a campus-wide showing of the same-sex love film Brokeback Mountain He received the following email response: SHUT THE [FUCK] UP....PLEASE STOP SENDING THESE STUPID EMAILS. GET A SHRINK IF YOU NEED SOMEONE TO COMMUNICATE WITH. WE DON'T CARE!!!!!!!!!!!! I SWEAR TO GOD...I WILL FIND
17 WHERE YOU LIVE AND BEAT YOU IF YOU KEEP SENDING THESE DUMB EMAILS OUT TO EVERY ONE. (cited in Emeigh, 2006) Concerned for his safety, Ray informed the pol ice of this potential threat, but may have learned that speaking against the fear and ha tred projected towards a kind of people can, in itself, become a taboo practice. Bretts death motivates me to write to combat hate, the hatred of gay people but also the hatred of straights. Consider disc ourse from the I hate straights campaign targeted to gays: Dont be fooled, straight people own th e world and the only reason you have been spared is youre smart, lucky, or a fight er. Straight people have a privilege that allows them to do whatever they please and fuck without fear. But not only do they live a life free of fear; they flaunt their freedom in my face. (Queers, p. 1; Berlant, 1997) Or consider a daughter and fath ers visit to a gay male bar. A waiter asks the daughter to leave since the bar adheres to a men-onl y policy. [I]f a homosexual was refused service, she complains to a reporter, [I] w ould be the first to stand up for his rights (CBC News, 2007). Or consider another exclus ionary example: The Peel Hotel in Melbourne Australia won the ri ght to exclude heterosexuals and lesbians. This exclusion rests upon keeping out both a kind of sexual ity (male and female heterosexuals) and a kind of sex (females, as a lesbian identity often suggests). The owner, Tom McFeely, wants to provide gay men with an envir onment where they could freely express their sexuality because there was a problem with heterosexuals and lesbians coming to the venue and making gay men feel like zoo exhibits . It is assumed that a safe environment
18 will develop at the exclusion of others. Its a very sad day when two friends, regardless of their sexuality, cant go into a venue a nd dance together (McFeely, cited in Miletic, 2007). Bretts death motivates me to write, like E. Lynn Harris (2003), hoping that by sharing my experience [I] will give hope to ot hers who are learning to deal with their difference. I want them to know that they don t have to live thei r lives in a permanent dont ask, dont tell existence (p. 6). Bretts death motivates me to write to make amends, to work to be a more compassionate person, to engage in a constr uctive conversation with a status quo that privileges and normalizes heterosexuality. To forgive, Pelias (2004) writes, is to recognize the messiness of being human and to position ourselves to be forgiven of our own human foibles. All of our mistakes have company. The more we learn to accept, the less there is to forgive (p. 163) I write to recognize and acce pt my messiness, to tell and share stories to atone for my past (Couser, 1997), to help relationships Ive abandoned to heal, to apologize to people Ive taken for gran ted and to those I wished harm. I write to love, to better acknowledge my responsibility to and for others (Cor nell, 2007), to realize my mutuality (Miike, 2007, p. 275). I write to make known and help appease human suffering, to live with an eye for social just ice (Pelias, 2007a, p. 49). I write not just about the person I am and have been but also about the person I want to be. Bretts death motivates me to write fo r myself. Im a gay man. Ive lived in and out of the closet. I perpetually negotiate coming out. ****
19 I started this dissertation more than a decade ago when I began hating myself for hating gays, for calling others faggots and sissies and fairies, for laughing at the boy in high school who hung himself for thinking he was gay, for not being phased by the religion teachers son who suffocated himself inside the family car, because as some rumors had it, he was gay too. I experien ced other sources of guilt and shame: I remember recording an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 with Brian Austin Green in tight white boxer briefs, replaying the s cene over and over agai n until the tape quit working. I remember waking at 4:30 weekday mornings to watch a man on an exercise program who sometimes wore spandex, highli ghting his bulge. I w ould mute the sound on the television so my mother wouldnt hear and felt depressed on weekends when the show wasnt on. I remember going to Walgreens with my grandmother and sneaking off to the magazine rack. There, I hid an issue of Mens Health a magazine with a plethora of shirtless men, inside Sports Illustrated for Kids When my grandmother found me in the magazine aisle, she said shed buy the Sports Illustrated for Kids but I adamantly refused, knowing that shed find my Mens Health tucked away between the pages. I remember finding my moms Playgirl that she kept hidden under her bed, enjoying that I no longer had to look at underwear models in the JCPenneys catalog, making sure that each time I looked at the ma gazine I would do so slowly, turning each page with care. I would replace the magazine ju st as my mother had it: cover-side up, title toward headboard. ****
20 I started this dissertation in 2001 when I embraced the possibility that I was attracted to men and began to identify as gay. This shift altered every aspect of my life narrative. New narratives became possible, ga y narratives that didnt occur to me and werent available to me prior to being named, identified, and categorized as gay (Hacking, 1990; Rosenhan, 1984). When I embraced the label gay, my life trajectory changed in significant psychological, relationa l, and material ways. I often woke to onslaughts of despair. I quit talking to many members of my family. I isolated myself from close friends. I engaged in reckless acts that put my health at risk. I acted carelessly and felt alienated. During this time, I began graduate sc hool at Southern Illinois University. I undertook research that culminated in Twos Company: Living the Gay Life Straightly (Adams, 2002) and Apparently Im a Homo-Phoney: Being Accused of Being Straight (Adams, 2003), projects that outlined my struggles to identify and accept myself as gay. Subsequently, I wrote I Hate Being Gay (Adams, 2004) a text that outlined characteristics of internalized homophobia, a se lf-inflicted fear and hatred made possible by recognizing and embr acing a same-sex sexual identity. After completing my M.A., I started the doctoral program at the University of South Florida. There, I wrote Speaking for Others (Adams, 2005), Seeking Father (Adams, 2006a), About Self-Hatred (A dams, 2006b), and Mothers, Faggots, and Uncontestable Experience (Adams, in pre ss), projects that centered on connections between gay identity and social interaction. Thus, I arrive at this dissertation, a proj ect inspired by Brett s death and informed by my experiences with same-sex desire and gay identity.
21 **** I ground this project abou t gay identity and the me taphorical closet on seven premises gleaned from the literatu re and research on gay life. First, gay identity is a contentious identity Individuals who identify as gay often are targets of physical violencereferred to as hate crimessolely for claiming this identity or being perceived as gay (de Bruxelles, 2007; Kis & Fi nley, 2007; Pascoe, 2007). Same-sex partnerships are not recognized as a legitimate kind of coupling in a variety of contexts (governments, hospita ls, families, etc.), and many gay persons, shunned from their homes for identifying as ga y, must work to create chosen families for support (Berzon, 2002; Cory, 1951). In the United States, institutions like the military (Brouwer, 2004; Butler, 1997a; Madhani, 2007) and the educational system (Graves, 2007; Gust, 2007; Gust & Warren, 2008; Je nkins, 1994; Jennings, 1994; Kimmel & Mahler, 2003; Kirk, 2008; McIntosh, 2007; Meyer, 2005; Shallenberger, 1991; Taylor, 1994) require a gay person to vigilantly regulat e and/or remain silent about her/his samesex desire. Same-sex relationships are ofte n absent from or disregarded in mundane conversation (Feigenbaum, 2007; Glave, 2005; Van Gelder, 1998), and a variety of religions position gays and th e gay lifestyle as immoral and disgusting (Bennett, 2003; Brouwer and Hess, 2007; Chvez, 2004; Cobb, 2005; Garrick, 2001; Minkowitz, 1995; Moon, 2002; Rodriguez, 2000). Gay identity can indeed be contentious. Second, gay identity is inextricably tied to the metaphor of the closet (Betsky, 1997; Urbach, 1996, p. 69). This tie is best ex emplified by the phras e coming out of the closet, the act where a pers on discloses a gay identity to another (Butle r, 1997a; Gagn, Tewksbury, and McGaughey, 1997; Gross, 1991; Kong et. al., 2002; Perez, 2005).
22 Third, coming out is necessary when gay identity and same-sex desire are conceived of as invisible phenomena a ccessible only by way of confession (Burgess, 2005; Foucault, 1978; Nicholas, 2004). While the act of gender inversionwhen a persons gendered appearance differs from he r/his sex assignment (based on biological, physical criteria)is assumed to be indi cative of homosexuali ty (Battles & HiltonMorrow, 2002; Beam, 2005; Bell, 2006; Bo ckting, 1999; Clatterbaugh, 1997; Clayborne, 1974; Cory, 1951; Davidson, 1985; Escoffier, 2003; Frank, 1993; Gagn et. al., 1997; Halberstam, 2005; Halley, 1989; Hom, 1995; Hopkins, 1998; Kimmel & Mahler, 2003; La Pastina, 2006; Meyer, 1995; Meyerowitz 2002; Padva, 2004; Pascoe, 2007; Perry & Ballard-Reich, 2004; Phellas, 2005; Pronger, 1998; Seidman, 2002; Shakespeare, 1999; Stanley, 1974; Stein, 2004; Walker, 1993), co ming out only happens when a person says I am gay (Butler, 1991; Chirrey, 20 03; Fuss, 1991; Kailey, 2005; Minson, 1981; Shugart, 2005). In other words, a man who dres ses as woman is not considered to have come out (see Bloom, 2002). Fourth, the closet draws its meaning only in relation to heteronormative contexts These contexts position indivi duals as straight until proven gay (Butler, 1991; Garrick, 2001; Shallenberger, 1991; Solis, 2007), a nd value heterosexuality more than homosexuality (Butler, 1993, 1999; Fo ster, 2008; Yep, 2003). In homo-normative contexts like gay pride parades or gay bars, however, coming out is irrelevant; gayness is often assumed. Fifth, coming out can be a dangerous act Contrary to the opi nion of some writers (Jolly, 2001, Seidman, 2002; Seidman et. al ., 1999; Signorile, 2007), disclosing a gay identity can motivate humiliation, disgrace, vi olence, and social rejection (Adams, in
23 press; Clatterbaugh, 1997; Cory, 1951; Frank, 1993; Glave, 2005; Hom, 1995; Johnson, 2004; Kimmel & Mahler, 2003; Lim-Hi ng, 1990/91; McLean, 2007; Mosher, 2001; Pascoe, 2007). Depending on a gay persons previ ous secretive behavior s, she or he may also be prone to charges of deception and manipulation (Downs, 2005; Saylor, 1992). The dangerous characteristics of coming out ofte n correlate with the potential for suicide, an act prevalent among gay persons and pe ople who question their heterosexuality (Russell and Bohan, 2006; Born stein, 2006; Goltz, 2007). Sixth, coming out is conceived of as a necessary act Disclosing a gay identity is framed as healthy (Cole, Kemeny, Taylor, Visscher, 1996; Downs, 2005; McLean, 2007; Phellas, 2005; Seidman et al., 1999; Seidman, 2002), mature (Rust, 1993), and politically beneficial (Burgess, 2005; Chee, 2006; Corrigan & Matthews, 2003; Dow, 2001; Gregory, 2004; Gross, 1991; Kirk, 2008; Rasmussen, 2004; Shugart 2003; Signorile, 1990, 2007). Not disclosing is thus framed as unhealthy, immature, and politically ineffective as well as an act of silence i ndicative of internaliz ed homophobia and selfhatred (Fone, 2000; Hopcke, 1993, 1995; Meyer & Dean, 1998; Yep, 2003). Seventh, coming out is conceived of as both a discrete, linear process with a definitive end (Gagn et al., 1997; Kus, 1985; McDonald, 1982; Rust, 1993) and an inescapable, ever-present life-shaping process (Seidman, 2002, p. 8; Berzon, 2002; Butler, 1991; Halley, 1989; Garrick, 1997; Plummer, 1995; Sedgwick, 1990; Shakespeare, 1999; Urbach, 1996). Notwithstanding these seven premises of gay identity and the closet, three limitations of this identity construction and metaphor must be mentioned. First, gay identity and the narrative of comi ng out are not universal phenomena Rather, they
24 signify a Eurocentric understanding of sexua lity and same-sex experience (Jolly, 2001; Kong et. al., 2002; Labi, 2007; La Pastina, 2006; Lee, 2003; Phellas, 2005). This understanding assumes that individuals who enga ge in same-sex sex acts must be gay or, at the very least, bisexual. Second, gay identity and the closet metaphor hav e come to be descriptive of white same-sex experience and white same-sex challenges (Anzalda, 1991; Boykin, 2005; Fung, 1996; Johnson, 2001; Halberstam, 2005; Henderson, 2001; King, 2005; Lee, 2003; Perez, 2005; Ross, 2005; Yep, 2007). In the Unit ed States marriage equality is often positioned as one, if not the, most pressing i ssue for gay individuals. However, same-sex marriage is often the most pressing issue fo r privileged (often white) gay persons, not necessarily all gay persons. Though same-sex marriage receives a significant amount of attention, there are plenty of other important issues overshadowed, even disregarded, because of the focus on marriage, issues like racism, homophobia in non-white communities, immigrati on, and homelessness. Third, gay identity and the closet metaphor are often male-biased and misogynistic (Halberstam, 2005; Jones, 2007; Tillm ann-Healy, 2005). For instance, gay is a word that can be used as a general, neutral descriptor of both men and women (for example, gay marriage) and a word used to distinguish men and male experience (for example, gays and lesbians; Hubert, 1999).2 Lesbiansgay womenare also excluded from definitions of sex (acts) and sexuality, particularly when sex is conceived of as something that only occurs when an (origina l, at birth) penis penetrates a vagina and/or 2 The website www.gay.com is the epitome of gay male bias. Even though the word gay is used, the website predominantly caters to men and male experien ce. The dual usage of ga y is similar to how the generic he functions: He was/is used as a term to generally describe both men and women but also a term specific to men.
25 when a penis ejaculates, two criteria that ex clude any possibility of female-female sexual relations (Butler, 1991; Frye 1983; Johnston, 1975). I was never in danger of being thrown in jail for practicing sodomy, Creet (1991), a woman, writes. Not surprisingly, what constitutes homosexual sex in the public eye has always hung on the penis (p. 29).3 Furthermore, some people believe that men can only be gay if they assume a passive, penetrated role in sex. In this us age, a gay label does not apply to active, masculine penetrators. A man who has sex with another man has little to do with gayness, Labi (2007) writes. The act ma y fulfill a desire or a need, but it doesnt constitute an identity (p. 74). It is bei ng a bottom that is shameful as bottoming means playing a womans role (p. 78). Th is criterion speaks to the masculine, misogynistic biases of gay identity, speci fically how playing a womans role is positioned as shameful (see Frank, 1993); as Halberstam (2005) observes, gay men experience shame from being feminized in some way and against their will (p. 226). Gay male shame can thus originat e from devaluing the feminine. **** Gay identity is a contentious identity inextricably tied to the metaphor of the closet. Coming out is necessary when gay identity is invisible, and is an act relevant for heteronormative contexts. Coming out is a da ngerous act but also one usually perceived 3 Sex is often defined as an act where a penis penetrates a vagina and/or an act that involves an ejaculating penis. These criteria make it impossible for women to have sex with each other as female-female sex acts often do not consist of penis-vagina penetration or ejaculating penises (Frye, 1983). Heterosexuality and penile ejaculation are key criteria for sex, the latter criterion best observed in the discourse of the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton affair: It was Clintons ej aculation on Monicas dress that signified sexual relations happened; if the/his semen would not have been there, sex would not have occurred. In this project, however, I define sex (acts) as those that involve genital arousal, not necessarily acts motivating orgasm or acts contingent upon penises and vaginas.
26 to be necessary. And coming out is conceived of as both a discrete, linear process, and a process that does not and cannot end. These premises direct me toward new que stions about gay identity and the closet. For instance, how do people discover and enter the closet (if one comes out, one must have gone in)? Once in the closet, how do persons conceive of coming out? How does coming into the closet, living in the closet, and coming out of the cl oset influence a gay persons relationships with other people? Many of the preceding premises frame gay identity as a self-contained trait detached from others and the disclosure of this identity as a one-sided affair. How do gay persons navi gate the dangerous but necessary act of coming out? And how do gay individuals nego tiate coming out as both a discrete and linear process and one that never ends? These questions speak to my goals for this project. First, I plan to examine epiphanies of gay identity, defining moments that, once they happen, significantly change the trajectory of a gay persons life. Second, I want to better understand the relationality of gay identity, specifically how this identity and metaphor implicate others in ones social network and reflexively act back on the gay person. A relational view removes gay identity from the strictly personal and individu alistic realm and situates it as an encounter between beings-in-interaction.
27 Chapter Three: Method In this chapter, I provide an overv iew of autoethnography and narrative inquiry, the methods I use to investigate gay identity and the lived experience of the closet. I then define my use of epiphanies and their re lationship to gay identity, and detail the procedures I used to conduct research for this project. I conclude by describing how I worked with my data and how I represent my findings. Autoethnography and Narrative Inquiry My research uses the methodological tools of autoethnography and narrative inquiry to make sense of gay identity, sexuality, and inter action. Autoethnography, broadly conceived, calls a person to use her or himself, reflexively, as a lens to view larger social systems in an attempt to c onnect personal, particular experience with cultural, general experience. Narrative i nquiry, broadly conceived, considers stories important ways to conceive of and (re)pres ent experience. While sometimes viewed as disparate genres, autoethnogra phy and narrative inquiry are similar: Both weave together life and art, experience and theory, evocat ion and explanation, refuse closure and categorization, realize words matter, and cr eate texts designed to change the world (Holman-Jones, 2005, p. 764). Autoethnography and narrative also allow me to write for audiences that traditional academic research excludes, a move that can make important and practical change possi ble (Bochner, 1997; Ellis, 1995a; Goodall, 2004, 2006). Autoethnography is a research method that uses analytical to ols and systematic analysis to understand the pe rsonal, the mundane, and the practical. It is a method of
28 documenting (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno) (Ellis & Bochner, 2000). Au toethnographers adhere to the logic that self-criticism is essentially social criticism (Mead, 1962, p. 255), and believe What is most personal is most general (Rogers, 1989a, p. 27, original in italics). The very terms by which we give an account, by which we make ourselves intelligible to ourselves and to others, Butler (2005, p. 21) writes, are s ocial in character, but also terms through which our singular stories are told (see Delany, 1999; Meininger, 2005; Spry, 2001). Similarly, Atkinson (2007) argues that each individual life experien ce is simultaneously in some ways like no one elses (unique), in some ways like some others, and in some ways like everyone elses (universal) (p. 231). As an autoethnographer, I embrace the assumption that in speaking for and about my self, about my experi ence, I speak for and about others, about cultural expe rience. Culture flows through me. Autoethnography is a method for doing both auto biography and ethnography When a person writes an autobiography, she or he retrospectively and selectively writes episodes from her/his life. However, an autobiographer usually does not live through these experiences in order to make them a part of her/hi s autobiography; the autobiographer relies on memory, interviews with others and texts such as photographs, journals, and recordi ngs (Goodall, 2006). Ethnographerspersons who study, repr esent, and are defined by their relationship to a culturedescribe the liv ed experience of a gr oup of people (Brodkey, 1987). Ethnography, as a method, is flexible and unstructured (L eeds-Hurwitz, 2005, p. 329); it does not adhere to strict, defin itive criteria (Deegan, 2001; Goodall, 2001; Van Maanen, 1988). The primary goal of ethnographic research
29 is always the same, regardless of the pa rticular project: The researcher must incorporate multiple disparate stories into a single coherent narrative that is, in all major ways, true to them all, providi ng original insights unavailable to the individuals involved in any one story, but which become apparent when the set is viewed as a whole. (L eeds-Hurwitz, 2005, p. 329) An ethnographer works to make the strange aspects of a group familiar for insiders (members of the culture) and outsiders (Maso, 2001). This is accomplished by writing thick descriptions of cultural happenings, de scriptions designed to facilitate cultural understanding (Geertz, 1973, p. 10). Ethnographers immerse themselves in a cu ltural field in orde r to participate, observe, and document their travel, talks, a nd tribulations with members of the group they are studying. Ethnographers interview th ese members, participate in and observe cultural events and rituals (Geertz, 1973; Makagon, 2004), ex amine members ways of speaking and relating (Ellis, 1986, 1995b; Lindquist, 2002; Philipsen, 1972, 1975, 1976), and analyze cultural artifacts like clothing, architecture, and texts like books, movies, and photographs (Borchard, 1996; Goodall, 2006; Neumann, 1999). An ethnographer does not apply pre-determined, sense-making struct ures to members e xperiences, but allows her/his findings to emerge from he r/his fieldwork (Jorgenson, 2002). Critical ethnographers, however, do not ju st describe the expe riences of a group; they also evaluate these experiences. Cr itical ethnography is c onventional ethnography with a political purpose, an approach that f acilitates social cons ciousness and societal change, aids emancipatory goals, and negates repressive cultural influences (Thomas, 1993; p. 4; see also Conquergood, 1991; Horner, 2002; Tillmann-Healy, 2005).
30 While description itself can be a critical ac t, some ethnographers sp ecifically intend their research to be critical, that is, to motiv ate cultural change and transformation (Ellis, 2007a; Denzin, 2004; Pineau, 2000; Rambo, 2007; Ronai, 1995, 1996) Autoethnography combines aspects of autobiography and ethnography. As an autoethnographer, I include experiences that at the time I experienced them I did not know I might use. I see everything as mate rial (Lamott, 1994, p. 136) and, to borrow a phrase from Lenore Langsdorf, I believe it s all research (personal communication). In this study, I treat many of my lived experiences as meaningful, valuable phenomena that I can use in my research. I at tend to mundane conversations I have in classrooms, my office, at bars, and with family and friends. I try to pay close attention to the billboards I pass while drivi ng on the interstate and examine the internet sites I visit. I attend to my embodied sensations, and collect birthday cards, post-it notes, photographs, stickers, and recordings, texts co lored with traces of others. I save interesting news stories and journal articles, and consta ntly analyze the meanings of song lyrics, television shows, radio programs, and movies I try to remember and document important, profound, contradictory, and painful conversations, fee lings, and events such as when a former student told me that his pare nts disowned him after saying he was gay, and when another student sought advice for responding to her fa thers coming out, and when a third student told me that she was scared to tell her parent s about the woman shes loved for five years, and when one of my best friends said hi s mother hasnt acknowledged his same-sex desire twelve years after he came out, and when a stranger in a bar told me about the pains of having to come out to his son, and when a high school friend told me that he doesnt know how to quit the ex-gay therapy he s been in for almost six years, therapy
31 designed to cure his homosexual disease, th erapy paid for and required of him by his parents. I document these interactions on cock tail napkins, in files of email conversation, and/or by journaling, and I use them as data in my search to understand how people make sense of gay identity. Moreover, as a critical autoethnographer, I interpre t and evaluate the lived experiences of gay men. The desire for social change motivates much of this project. I want to improve the experience of being gay in the United States, and humanize the experience of the metaphorical closet. Ethnographers have traditi onally conceived of culture in terms of people located in a geographical space, an area known as th e field (Buzard, 2003). However, gay culture is not confined or restricted to space. A few gay-related physical fieldsfor example, gay-oriented living spaces (B ell and Valentine, 1995; De lany, 1999; Kirby & Hay, 1997; Levine, 1979), bars (Corey, 1996; Slavin, 2004), bathhouses (Bain & Nash, 2007; Berry, 2007; Styles, 1979), AIDS-related facilities (Cherry, 1996), classrooms (Gust & Warren, 2008; Meyer, 2005; Pascoe, 2007), softball fi elds (Tillmann-Healy, 2001)do exist, and it may be possible to study gay-themed ev ents like gay pride pa rades (Herrell, 1992; Johnston, 2005; Kates & Bel k, 2001), but gay experience is not confined to these.4 Often, gay has been defined as a cultur e constituted by same-sex desire (Bolton, 1995; Ginsberg, 1974; Lee, 1979) and trauma (Cornell, 2007; Cvetkovich, 2003; Downs, 2005; Halberstam, 2005; Perez, 2005; Sedgw ick, 2003). Desire and trauma, however, 4 The lack of gay physical space perpetuates the idea th at gay is not a culture, or should not be treated as one. I remember one of my professors in graduate school, a professor who studied intercultural communication, argue vigilantly that gay is not a cultu re. The assumption that gay is not a culture can also be noted in Yeps My Three Cultures (1998). Yep, a gay man, does not consider gay one of his three cultural groups. I thank Keith Berry for informing me of this essay.
32 typically lack any definitive, visible characteristics, making it difficult to know when one is or is not immersed in gay culture. An altern ative is to view gay as a cultural group with particular ways of speaking and rela ting (Hayes, 1976; Jones, 2007; Leap, 1996; Nicholas, 2004), and permeated by a variety of culture-specific discourses such as coming out of the closet (Brown, 2000; Se dgwick, 1990; Urbach, 1996). Thus, in this dissertation, I attend ethnographi cally to the discourse of same-sex desire and trauma, ways that gay persons speak, re late, and negotiate the closet, and texts that explicitly describe and evaluate gay experience. Narrative inquiry focuses on writing storie s that can be evaluated in terms of their uses, functions and the role they play in personal and cultural life (Plummer, 2001, p. 401). Instead of direct-relation-to-external-ev ents truth, the truth often adhered to by historians and scientists (Gaddis, 2002; White, 1980), narr ative inquiry strives for narrative, pragmatic truth, truth that values what narratives do for us as writers, audiences, and, more generally, as humans. As Bochner (2002) says, it is not the facts themselves that one tries to redeem through narr ative tellings, but rath er an articulation of the significance and meaning of ones experiences (p. 86; see Bochner & Ellis, 2006). Coles (1989) and Frank (1995) emphasize how narrative inquiry encourages readers to think with stories rather than think about them, and, in writing, to try to teach a lesson in living (Mandel, 1968, p. 221). The importa nce of a narrative rests upon what it does for others (Couser, 1997; Goodall, 2004; Kvale, 2002) and what it reveals about cultural selves (Hampl, 1999). Narrative inquiry also works to identify canonical cultural stories and demonstrate how these stories influence people (Andrews, 2002; Bruner, 1991; Butler, 1997b; Frank,
33 1993). Canonical stories are convent ional, authoritative, and difficult-to-resist scripts for living, projective storylines th at plot how ideal social selves should live in order to meaningfully contribute to society (Tol olyan, 1987, p. 218). Identifying and questioning canonical stories allows people to conceive of taken-for-grant ed experience in innovative ways, fathom cultural change, and better understand personal responsibility and human agency (Bochner, 2001, 2002; Pelias, 2007b, 2008).5 Autoethnographers and narrative research ers believe that stories function as equipment for living (Burke, 1974, p. 293; Brummett, 1984; Frank, 1995; Knight, 1990; Tololyan, 1987) and can provide a ground for social action (Ellis, 2002; Pineau, 2000). Stories are important because they simultaneously represent and constitute lives (Gannon, 2006; Greenspan, 1992, 1998; Ricoeur, 1986). The representational function of personal narrative te xts allows readers to witness the horror of it all (Denzin, 2004, p. 140; Bochner, 2002; Ellis, 1993, 2007a), gain access to information not seen on after school specials and movies of the week (Gingrich-Philbrook, 2005, p. 312), and resist th e domination and authority of canonical stories (Bochner and Ellis, 2006, p. 120; Adams, 2006; Allison, 1996; Berry, 2007; Boylorn, 2006; Jago, 2002; Rambo, 2007; Ronai, 1995, 1996). The constitutive function of personal narrative shatters a nd re-stories past experiences to make better, more hopeful e xperiences possible (Parry, 1991; Richardson, 5While he does not use the word canonical, Coles (1989) describes how he challenged dominant psychological stories, specifically the story of valuing of theory more than story. Similarly, Frank (1995) deals with ways that patients can negotiate commonly heard tales about what it means to be a patient (and, by default, what it means to be a doct or), and provides ways to re-make deviant illness narratives into empowering, positive, and normalizing stories.
34 2001) and allows authors and audiences to beco me the stories told (Bruner, 1986; Couser, 1997; Denzin, 1989, 1998; Plummer, 2001). The double gesture of a personal narra tiveits representational and constitutive functionmay textually imprison a lif e (Shepherd, 2005, p. 50; Ellis, 1986, 1995b, 2007b; Jones, 1997, 2002; Wolcott, 2002; Wyatt, 2005, in press), but can also make discovery and self-constitution possible (Schrag, 1997, p. 16). Epiphanies Epiphanies are interactional moment s and experiences that leave marks on peoples lives (Denzin, 1989, p. 70; Bochner & Ellis, 1992; Ellis, 1993); transformative events that alter re lationships (Baxter & Pittman, 2001, p. 4); milestone occurrences that shift relational de velopment (Rust, 1993, p. 52; McDonald, 1982); frequently remembered moments that motivate a persons life to proceed in significant, unexpected ways (C ouser, 1997); and times of exis tential crises that, like broken tools (Heidegger, 1962) and breaches (Garfinkel, 1967), force individuals to attend to experience. Epiphanies happen when typical and typifyi ng ways of thinking and acting become upset and unsettled (Z aner, 2004, p. 65), and are events after which life never seems quite the same. Epiphanies are important because they di srupt, reveal, and rub against relational assumptions. They shed light on ways people ne gotiate intense situations and deal with the effects that lingerreco llections, memories, images, feelingslong after a crucial incident is supposedly finished (Bochner, 1984, p. 595). Epiphanies are also selfclaimed phenomena: one person may consid er an experience transformative while another may not.
35 In this dissertation, I use life story interviews, life writings by gay men, mass mediated accounts of gay identity, and my ow n experience to identify and understand epiphanies associated with gay identity a nd the metaphorical closet. I work to outline assumptions of this identity and metaphor, asking questions such as What might epiphanies and turning points specific to ga y identity suggest about the lived experience of sexuality? How does claiming a gay identity implicate others? and What communication strategies would allow gay i ndividuals to better navigate relational strife? Procedures I conducted life story interviews with f our gay men and analyzed memoirs written by three gay men. I also analyzed four anthol ogies of gay life writ ing and a variety of mass mediated accounts of gay identity. Al so, I examined my own experience of publiclyand sometimes not so publiclyiden tifying as a gay man. In this section, I detail the procedures I followed. Life Story Interviews Life stories provide insight into how people make sense of their lives at the moment of sharing. A person s life story, the one he or sh e chooses to tell others Atkinson (2007) writes, is what is most important to him or her and is what gives us, the casual reader as well as the researcher, the clearest sense of the persons subjective understanding of his or her lived experience, his or her life as a whole. (p. 233)
36 The purpose of life story research is to ex cavate the internal c oherence of a persons story rather than seek external criteria of truth or validity (A tkinson, 2002, p. 135). The life story is atheoretical in that people do not tell their own story base d on a preconceived theory. As individuals, we experience the world not as scientists, though a theoretical lens, but as persons who are trying to give meaning to our own unique or universal lived experiences. (Atkinson, 2007, p. 234) In studying and sharing life stories we can le arn about ourselves, pur ge our burdens, and validate the meaning of our e xperiences, helping others s ee life in innovative ways. In Life as Narrative (1986), Brune r provides one way of doing life story research. Bruner is interested in how peopl e tell the stories of their lives (p. 22). Believing that lived experience is best described through st ory, he conducted life story interviews with a family of four: a father a mother, a son, a daughter. He first asked each person to tell her/his life story in about half an hour, and th en spent another half hour to ask each about how she or he constructed her/his story. Bruner concludes by suggesting that the patterns in the form of a story influe nce the structure of lived experience, forming an inextricable connection between the stories a person tells and the life she or he lives. Like Bruner (1986), I conducted life story in terviews with four self-identified gay men.6 Unlike Bruner, however, I was interested in both the form and content of each story, particularly how each man co nstructed his life but also wh at he said about his life. 6 The Institutional Review Board at the University of South Florida approved my plan for these interviews on May 14, 2007.
37 Each of my life story interviews consiste d of three meetings. In the first meeting, I asked each man to record his life story in th irty minutes. To help with the recording, I gave each participant an instruction sheet with the following prompts: 1. Tell about significant life-changing mo ments you have experienced. These are moments after which your life never seem ed the same, moments after which your life felt different. These are moments about which you may have worried, moments that happened unexpectedly a nd without your control, moments for which you could not prepare for or predict. 2. Tell about what happened before each moment: Could you prepare for this moment? How did you interact with other people before this moment? How did people react to you before this moment? 3. Tell about the thoughts, fee lings, and experiences you had during each moment: How did you feel while this moment happened? How did you interact with people during this moment? 4. Tell about the thoughts, f eelings, and experiences after these moments. How did you view yourself? How did you thi nk this moment would impact your future? How did other people res pond to you after this moment? I was present for two of the four initial mee tings. I planned to be absent, but two of my interviewees were uncomfortable blindly spea king into a recorder without my guidance. I encouraged the other two interviewees to return their recorded life stories to me at their convenience. In the second and third meetings, I fo rmulated comments and questions based on information shared in the first interview. These comments included my responses to each
38 mans life, areas that needed greater specifica tion, and/or topics th e men did not discuss but, based on my knowledge of them, I felt ha d impacted their lives For instance, if I knew that a mans gay identity influenced hi s experiences but the ma n did not explicitly discuss this influence, I inquired into his t houghts about gay identity as well as why he left it out of his story. I used interactive interviewing in the s econd and third meetings (Ellis, Kiesinger & Tillmann-Healy, 1997). Interactive interviews are best used for getting an in-depth and intimate understanding of peoples e xperiences with emotionally charged and sensitive topics (p. 121). Interactive inte rviews usually occur with friends and/or acquaintances and with people who all have personal experience with the topics being discussed. Interactive interviews are collabo rative endeavors between researchers and participants, endeavors in which researchers and participants probe each other, together, about issues that transpire in the conversation. Interactive in terviews usually consist of multiple interview sessions, and are firmly situated within the context of emerging interpersonal relationships (un like interviews among strangers). I conducted interactive interviews with gay men to get in-depth accounts of gay experience. All of my intervie wees were friends and acquainta nces, and all of us also had personal experience with the topics disc ussed. Many of the in terviewees, two in particular, interviewed me about my signi ficant life-changing moments related to gay identity and same-sex desire. In itially, I had not planned to be interviewed for this project or to engage in interactive interviews, but I welcomed the opportunities when they arose. The conversational nature of the second and third meetings allowed me to verbally, not just textually, respond to my own thoughts a nd questions. In so doing, I learned about
39 myself, specifically about painful issues that I may not be ready to tell and areas that I need to better understand for myself. I felt as if we, as gay men talking together in these interviews, were engaged in a shared enterprise. In one of the interviews, a participant began to interrogate me about painful, personal issues relating to my childhood. I quickly became angry, nervous, and upset with myself and with the interviewee. I even tried to end the conve rsation saying that I didnt want to talk about my issues anymor e. But he continued to ask questions and inform me of my abnormalities to the point where I started crying and he laughing. I do not believe interviews should make such unw anted and intense discomfort possible, and, as a researcher, I know that I would not berate another person about obviously-sensitive issues. Our heated conversation ended my rela tionship with the participant. Nevertheless, I include some of this troublesome in terview at the end of chapter six. I transcribed each interview within one week of its occurrence, typing interviewees words as recorde d. I eliminated fillers like uh and um and repeated phrases that seemed unnecessary. For example, if a person said I think, paused, and then said I think again I did not include both phrases. I produced more than 120 pages of transcript. This was my first time conducting life st ory interviews. As such, I encountered a few unexpected concerns. First, I need to be mo re strict and forthri ght with collecting the initial life story. For instance, while I planned to be absent when participants recorded their initial stories, two pa rticipants were uncomfortable recounting their life on tape without my presence. If I do not want to be present during the first recording, then I need
40 to create other forms of guidance. And while I allowed the other two participants to return the initial story at th eir convenience, I did not receiv e one story for eight months. Second, I found the task of asking others to record their story without being present difficult. I prefer to arrange meeti ngs with people, ask open-ended questions, and maintain some control over the conversati on while still allowing our conversation to proceed in unanticipated direc tions. I recognize that one purpose of life story research is to abandon such controland this is a pur pose I valuebut I didnt think that, as a researcher, abandoning a signi ficant amount of control w ould be so challenging. Here, I introduce my participants. I use pseudonyms for each. Dave an able-bodied white man, was my first boyfriend. Born in Tennessee in 1976, he is a spiritual person though does not sp eak of a religious affiliation. Dave has attended college periodically, but due to financial strains has not completed a degree. I met Dave at a bar in October 2001. We date d until early January 2002. Dave and I lost contact for about a year, but have si nce maintained a strong friendship. While our relationship as a couple last ed only a few months, Dave occupies a significant presence in my life. His comfor ting demeanor allowed me to learn about myself sexually. Dave specifically taught me how to masturbate. Even though I was 22, I had not done so. I attrib ute this to my naivet about male anatomy and sexuality, but also to a Catholic upbringing that emphasized the sinfulness of a man w ho wasted his seed. I mention my learning experience with Dave be cause it occupies a significant part of our relationship; he frequently reminds me a nd tells others that he taught me about masturbation.
41 Michael is an able-bodied white man in his ea rly-40s. I met him at the University of South Florida. A significant influence on Mi chael is Catholicism; most of his life has been connected to the church. He even gra duated from seminary, which is where he met his partner of more than a decade. Michael continues to work for the Catholic Church, producing documentaries and educat ional videos about religion. Michael frightened me when I first met him in a graduate school seminar on Postmodern Rhetoric, a course where he regularly spoke about the rhetoric of Catholicism. I considered Michael a masc uline man, a trait th at made me think, stereotypically, that he was heterosexual, and a trait that, when coupled with his affiliation with Catholicism, a religion of ten marked as anti-gay, made me think, stereotypically, that he didnt like gay peopl e. I didnt speak to him during the first few weeks of the seminar. I feared what he might say or do to me, and I did not want to be lectured on why my relationships with me n were wrong. While I regretfully acted on these stereotypes, I adhered to them out of safety. A few we eks into the course, Michael told another classmate that he had a male partner, and, knowing of my hesitancy toward him, the classmate told me. Michael and I th en began to cultivate a great friendship. Seth was born in 1986 in Colombia, South Am erica. He migrated to the United States, with his mother and sister during his mid-teens. I met him in January 2007 in Tampa, Florida at a Starbucks where he worked part-time and where I went to study. Seth is currently a student at the University of South Florida and Hillsborough Community College. He identifies as Hispan ic, Catholic, and is able-bodied. Soon after we first met, Seth and I regu larly ate lunch with each other. In June 2007 I traveled with him and his boyfriend to a concert in Atlanta, Georgia, and, in July, I
42 traveled with them to Chicago. While Seth and I do not see each other often, primarily due to my change in workload and his transf er from one Starbucks to another, we still visit with each other about once every few weeks. My lack of fondness for his boyfriend has also decreased our time together. Tyler is Seths boyfriend. He is an able -bodied white man, in his mid-20s, who identifies as part-Catholic a nd part-Jewish. Tyler is a counsel or/therapist at an elementary school for individuals with behavioral disord ers, and is working part-time on a doctoral degree in education. I have never interacted with Tyler without Seth being present. I believe Tyler has some contempt for me, though nothing has ever been said. He argues with most everything I say, ridicule s my writing projects, and regularly accuses me of having an abusive, abnormal childhood. I ha ve never seen him interact with others in a similar way. These negative acts motivated me to subtly probe Seth for information about Tylers thoughts about me. Seth once sa id that Tyler asked him if he found me attractive. When Seth said he told Tyler that he did, I remarked that that this may make Tyler feel jealous or insecure. I feel that Tyler prefers that Seth and I not be friends. Gay Life Writings I mentioned earlier that texts, part icularly life stories, both represent and constitute an individuals life (Bruner, 1986; Couser 1997; Denzin, 1989, 1998). The life story is both story that is told and story that is lived, Atkinson (2007) writes. Sometimes the telling can involve living, a nd sometimes the living can involve telling (p. 238). While life texts are se lective representations of e xperience and are not strictly lives as lived (Bochner, 2002; Bochner & Ellis, 1995; Fisher, 1984; Meininger, 2005; Nelson, 2001; Plummer, 2001), they are important because they constitute an authors
43 life and the lives of readers, particularly those that use texts as equipment for living (Burke, 1974, p. 293). Life texts written by gay me n thus represent patterns of gay culture and existentially constitute expe riences of this culture. In this dissertation, I analyze three li fe textsmemoirswritten by gay men, four anthologies of gay life writi ng, and a variety of mass-mediat ed texts that speak to gay identity and coming out interactions. Similar to my interviews, I analyze both the form and content of each life text, focusing speci fically on how each gay man constructed his life but also what he said about it. In my initial search of gay life writ ing, I found approximately forty book-length autobiographies and memoirs. Most, however, were quite specialized, addressing issues such as living with HIV, gay adoption, military experience, and same-sex fidelity. Only a few texts addressed a significant temporal slice of sexual identity negotiation, (for example, a story across childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc.). For this reason, I chose the following texts: Bernard Coopers Truth Serum (1996), Kenny Fries Body, Remember: A Memoir (2003), and E. Lynn Harris What Becomes of the Brokenhearted: A Memoir (2004). Bernard Coopers memoir, Truth Serum (1996), centers on his attempts to change his same-sex desire. Born an only child to a Jewish mother and father in 1951, Cooper writes about his strained rela tionship with his father, a la wyer, and his physically-close but emotionally-distant relationship with his mother, a housewife. He tells of ways he negotiated his same-sex desire in grade school, high school, and college, and of the mundane experiences that best characterize hi s family such as his mothers desire to obsessively fill a freezer with meat, his intimate relationship with a woman, his fathers
44 interracial dating excursion, and the moment he told his father that he was gay. Coopers story climaxes in 1974 when he begins to take a prescribed truth serum, a mixture of sodium pentothol and Ritalin designed to numb his same-sex inhibitions (p. 98). Paradoxically, however, this serum encourages Cooper to embrace these inhibitions. The story continues with Coopers failing attempt to achieve a muscular, well-toned, gym body, a body that speaks to a stereo typical gay aesthetic; he c oncludes with a description of his partnering with and caring for a person living with HIV. Kenny Fries memoir, Body, Remember (1997), describes his experiences being gay, disabled, and Jewish. Born in Brooklyn in 1960 to a father who was a butcher, a housewife mother, and a slightly -older brother, Fries emerge d with smaller-than-average legs and three-toed feet. Because of i nnumerable surgeries throughout his childhood, his legs also possess a variety of scars. Fries sa ys his parents supporte d him in most anything he wanted to do, and never treated him differe ntly for being disabled. They didnt treat him differently for being gay, either. Such accep tance is reflected in his fathers comment I wonder if youll have problems with women because of your legs and will turn to men (p. 44), and a question posed by Fries: Was it because of my disability that my parents so readily accepted my homosexual ity? (p. 195) While Fries able-bodied brother is gay as well, he does not discu ss his parents accepta nce of his brothers sexuality or, with the exception of a mutu al sexual experience during his youth, his relationship to the gay sibling. E. Lynn Harris memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted (2003), describes his experiences being Black and gay. Born in 1955 in racially-tense Little Rock, Arkansas, he emerged as an only child in a poor family. Harris writ es of his struggles
45 with an abusive step-father and an absent biological father, and his close connections with his grandmother, aunt, and an always -working mother. He writes of constantly praying to God to change his same-sex desire, what I, as a reader, perceived as the most disturbing characteristic of Harris life. For instance, he believes this disgust damaged many of his relationships, forced him to hide from his sexuality, and made regular bouts of depression, loneliness, thoughts of suicid e, and alcoholism possible. Harris uses his memoir to write himself into in a safe and accepting space, and, in so doing, try to help others avoid a dont ask, dont tell existence (p. 6). In addition to these longer works, I also examined four compilations of gay experience: Nancy and Casey Adairs Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (1978), John Prestons A Member of the Family: Gay Men Write About their Families (1992), Robert Trachtenbergs When I Knew (2005), and Ted Gideonse and Rob Williams From Boys to Men: Gay Men Write about Growing Up (2006). In each of these, persons write about ways that gay identity can affect social interaction. Word is Out (Adair & Adair, 1978) is a collect ion of 24 interviews conducted with lesbians and gay men. It is based on the documentary film by the same name, and includes transcripts of each interview. The interviews focus on gay experience in the United States, particularly in contexts lik e high school, the family, and the workplace. Because of the scope of my dissertation, I fo cused only on the interviews with gay men. A Member of the Family (Preston, 1992) is a collection of 26 stories written by gay men. Each focuses on the relationship a gay man has with his family, and addresses topics like regret about not telling a family sooner about a gay identity, the moment of coming out to another, and how relati onships can change after coming out.
46 When I Knew (Trachtenberg, 2005) is a collection of 85 s hort life stories about lesbians and gay men recalling the time they fi rst learned about their same-sex desire and talking about this desire with others. It in cludes a variety of notew orthy individuals such as the co-creators of Will & Grace and is a work intended for a mass, popular audience. From Boys to Men (Gideonse & Williams, 2006) is a collection of 21 stories written by gay men. Most focus on a gay man s experience during the first twenty years of his life. This collection is unique b ecause it focuses on childhood and adolescent experiences of same-sex desire, not on the canonical experience of coming out, current experiences being gay, or relationships a ga y man has with others post-disclosure. In addition to life writings of gay men, I also analyzed mass mediated texts that explicitly discuss gay identi ty and same-sex desire, text s like gay-themed publications, newspaper or magazine articles, popular inte rnet websites (for example, gay.com), Dan Savages Savage Love Podcast ,7 an audio relationship-a dvice program, television programs like Will and Grace and films such as Sordid Lives (Shores, 2000), Another Gay Movie (Adams & Stephens, 2006), and For the Bible Tells Me So (Karslake, 2007). I recognize that many of these texts, limited by time and space, rely on canonical scripts of gay life experience to tell a st ory, and that producers select and manipulate content in order to conform to particul ar genres (comedy, sex-advice column, documentary, etc.) and media (radio, televisi on, newspaper, etc.), but these observations notwithstanding, mass-mediated representati ons of gay identity and coming outeven those considered fictionalemphasize canoni cal scripts about what gay identity and coming out are or should be, and how gay-re lated interactions ma y feel. What makes 7 A Podcast is a free, internet audio broadcast. The br oadcast uses Pod in the title because it is designed to work with MP3 players like iPods.
47 these representations and scripts important is that they can inform (live, real) social interaction, a premise that gr ounds media and cultural studies research (see Berger, 1972; Brummett, 1985; Burke, 1974; Davis, 1997; Dow, 2001; Funkhouser and Shaw, 1990; Frsich, 2002; Langsdorf, 1994; McLuhan, 1964; Radway, 1984). Art imitates life, but life also imitates art. Moreover, the act of coming out to anot her is a difficult situation to observe physically. Researchers of gay identity must thus rely on self-reports about coming out. Consider Tylers (an interviewee) observation about coming out: My boyfriend [Seth] wanted me to be ther e when he talked [that is, came out] to his mom. I told him that would be unfair for her. With me there, she would be unable to express herself like she would want to. Without me, she could do whatever she wanted. If she wanted to sc ream she could scream. If she wanted to cuss she could cuss. (personal interview, 2007) Coming out, as an act of disclosure, is rare ly witnessed by outsiders. Sometimes an individual may ask another to witness the ev ent, as Tylers boyfriend asked him, but immediate observation, especially by a research er, is nearly impossible. And like Tyler observes, being present around significant disclo sures may also show disrespect for the disclosures addressee, furt her complicating the encounter. Self-reports of intera ction, however, can be limiting (Bochner, 1989; Soukup, 1992). They do not allow a researcher to observe the relationality of interaction or the natural aspects of a self-disclosure (in other words, the characteristics of an act that would have occurred regardless of and unhinde red by the researchers presence). This is another reason why I find mass-mediated repr esentations of gay identity and self-
48 disclosure important: albeit constructed and pos sibly fictional, they situate the disclosure of gay identity in a relationship and thus represent, for audiences how people relating negotiate self-disclosure and constitute, for audiences, how disclosure can and should work. Autoethnographic Data Sets As a self-identified gay man, I have pa rticipated in gay culture for almost a decade. It was not until graduate school, however, that I became educated as an ethnographer and autoethnographer. Thus, I have systemically observed and reflected on gay culture only within the past few years. My observations of gay culture stem au toethnographically from three data sets: personal experience, my participation in physic al sites that privile ge gay discourse, and informal interviews I conducted with gay men and lesbians. I make my gay identity k nown most everywhere. I identify as gay in most of the classes I teach. Most of my family members know that I desire men, and I openly discuss my same-sex relationships with strangers. I ow n a hat, a shirt, and a box of checks, all of which possess the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) logo, a logo that consists of a yellow equal sign housed within a blue square and a lo go that belongs to one of the largest, U.S.based organizations that addresses lesbia n, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) concerns. I use the logo to mark my everyday, mundane body, to show others who know of this logo that I am at the very least, LGBTQfriendly, to get recognized by others as possessing an LGBT and/or Q-friendly identity, to breed connection and make identification possible.
49 I mention these ways of making my gay identity known in order to illustrate why there have been so many situations when i ndividuals who identify as gay, or who struggle to identify as gay, have contacted me for advice on coming out and on ways to embrace a gay identity positively. These individuals knew that I self-identified as gay and assumed that I could understand their experience; they considered me safe with their information. For example, there was the person interviewing me for a job who told me that he was gay but no one else at his university knew; and th e student who wrote in a course paper that she knows she likes women but refuses to talk about it; and the hi gh school acquaintance emailing me for advice on coming out to othe rs. He found out my sexual orientation on www.myspace.com, an internet networking site These individuals shared their secrets with me, trusting that I would not ridicule them or out them to others. My gay identity, and my public embrace of this identity, has granted me access to unique conversations. I include and treat these informal and voluntary conversations as data in this dissertation. While these data are gathered uns ystematically and sere ndipitously, I believe they have a ring of truth a nd urgency lacking in other mo re organized and intentional efforts to gather data for my research. I also consider these particular situa tions part and parcel of my embrace of autoethnographic methodology: they are a part of my lived experience as teacher, mentor, and friend to other gay men. The situations speak about an identity often not discussed in common, normalizing ways, and th e situations repeated in these stories distinguish the experience of gay individuals from the experiences of other kinds of people. The situations are one s I frequently experience, and ones that speak to the
50 secrecy, fear, and isolation experienced by many gay men. They are an important and crucial part of my project. My observations of gay culture stem from my participation in a variety of sites that privilege discussions of gay identity and same-sex desire as well. For instance, I often visited bars, restaurants, and coffee shops that attract a predominantly gay clientele. I have taught the class Communication, Gende r, and Identity thirteen times. This junior-senior level course focu ses on ways that identity, specifically the identities of sex, gender, and sexuality, influence interaction. I regularly encountered conversations about gay identity in these sites, and recorded these conversations on napkins, post-it notes, audio recorders, and legal writing pads. Immediately upon leaving these sites, often within one week, I would use th ese fieldnotes to write more el aborate, detailed stories of the experiences I witnessed. My observations of gay culture also st em from informal interviews. In March 2003 and March 2006, I conducted interviews with seven of my gay friends about their experiences with homophobia, a fear and hatred of homosexu als. Each interview lasted approximately 30 minutes, and I recorded all re sponses via audio recorder. I did not use a pre-determined set of questions for these inte rviews, but often starte d conversations with How do you define homophobia? What is your relation to homophobia? and/or Have you ever experienced homophobia? I allowed conversations to proceed in impromptu, organic ways. I did not transcribe these interviews, but created narratives based on each interviewees expe rience within one week of our interview. I then asked each interviewee to comment on my narrative of her or his experience, and incorporated their comments into my interpretation. I use pseudonyms for these persons in this project.
51 Analyzing the Data Before writing this dissert ation, I first enga ged in an analysis of narrative (Bochner, 2002; Polkinghorne, 1995), an induc tive approach toward interpreting my personal experience and understanding the stor ies I heard or read about from gay men that I had used in previous projects. I engaged in initial coding of my experience and these stories, a process in which I looked fo r patterns across my preliminary data sets (Charmaz, 1983). I then analyzed these patt erns to observe themesrepeated words, phrases, storylines, and topics of discussi onpresent across the experiential and storied accounts. Initially, I ob served three major themesepipha niesof gay identity: (1) an individuals initial awareness of same-sex attraction, (2) an individuals first same-sex sexual experience, and (3) coming out, a period when an individual publicly identifies as gay or lesbian. I used these themes to organize my original formulation of this project. Then, I began my dissertation research by conducting life story interviews with and analyzing life stories written by gay men. I engaged in focused coding, a process in which I see how my initial c odes relate to larger amounts of data (Charmaz, 1983). In these new data sets, I noticed that a mans in itial awareness of same sex attraction and his first same-sex sexual experience are closely related themes, common storylines without any clear, temporal boundaries Consequently, I noticed anot her theme of gay identity, specifically a period between a persons awaren ess of same-sex desire and his move to come out of the closet. These observations motivated me to change two of my initial epiphanies to (1) the time of learning the cl oset, a period that often includes an initial awareness of same-sex desire and first same-s ex experiences, and (2) the time of living the closet, a period that ofte n includes secretive same-sex experiences and an initial
52 embrace of a gay identity. I structure this di ssertation around these two themes as well as the third theme, the time of leaving the closet. Furthermore, I noticed that for some gay men, these epiphanies occur, or at least are narrated, in a linear way. A gay pers on does not come out before she or he embraces a gay identity, before she or he is aware of same-sex desire, or before her/his first same-sex sexual experience.8 I have thus organized my pr oject both thematically and temporally. I also noticed several minor themes for each major theme. For instance, I noticed seven common topics of discus sion when individuals spoke of discovering the existence of the closet. I observed five characteristics of the time of living in the closet, and three significant time-influenced story lines of coming out. I use these minor themes to organize my three major themes, and I begin each minor theme with interviewees commentary followed by stories written by gay men. I c onclude each theme with my experience, informal conversations, and other sour ces that relate to the theme. Representing the Data I use a variety of writing techniques to represent my themes. I use a layered account as a writing strategy to integrate existing research with my data, findings, and analysis (Ronai, 1992, 1995, 1996, 2002; Rambo, 2005). I use different points of view and characteristics of showing and te lling (Adams, 2006a; Caulley, 2008; Ellis, 1993, 2004; Hampl, 1999; Lamott, 1994). I re-arrange sequences of events and change names 8 I do not have any accounts of a gay person who came out before she or he had a same-sex sexual experience. I imagine that there are many gay persons who come out before intimate contact with a person of the same-sex, but I do not have any examples. A reason for this may be that a person who thinks she or he is gay may first want to confirm her/his same-sex desire, e.g., by engaging in a same-sex sexual act. This is purely hypothetical.
53 and places to take pressure off real i ndividuals and organiza tions (Fine, 1993, p. 287; Richardson, 1992). I compress a significant amount of time into a single text, and I make decisions about the emphasis, tone, syntax, and diction when writing lived experiences (Mandel, 1968, p. 218). Also, I recr eate conversations from memory and edit interview transcripts for readability.9 A layered account is a way of writing a nd representing experience that uses vignettes, reflexivity, multiple voices, and in trospection (Ellis, 1991) to invoke in the reader the emergent experience of bei ng (Ronai, 1992, p. 123). Similar to grounded theory, a layered account emphasizes the proc essual nature of re search, showing how data collection and analys is proceed simultaneously (Charmaz, 1983, p. 110) and portraying existing resear ch as a source of questions and comparisons rather than a measure of truth (p. 117). A layered account works to produce a continuous dialectic of experience (Ronai, 1995, p. 396), conceive s of identity as an emergent process (Rambo, 2005, p. 583), and treats stories as importa nt as theories, personal experience as important as traditional academic research, and evocative, concrete texts as important as abstract analysis (Ronai, 1995, 1996). I use a layered account to represent my major and minor themes. Using vignettes, reflexivity, multiple voices, and introspection, I create a collage of texts that speak to experiences of gay identity and the closet. I include ever ything from newspaper and journal articles to interview data to personal e xperience, from televisi on stories to internet radio broadcasts to autobiographical writings. I weave my literature review in with my 9 I, along with three of my cohorts, elaborate on the ethics of many of these issues in truth Troubles (Tullis Owen, McRae, Adams, and Vitale, in press).
54 description and findings, and I choose not to separate story from theory, personal experience from research, practical application from abstract thought. I use italics to tell my story of gay identity and the closet. I temporally and thematically organize my story around fiel dwork observations, and I use asterisks to denote shifts between time and space, shifts from one persona to another, shifts across interviews, textual analyses, and personal e xperience, shifts across practicality and abstraction (Ronai, 1992). I use different points of view in my writing. Sometimes I use first-person to tell a story, typi cally when I have personally observed or lived through an interaction. I do so to present an inti mate, immediate, and involving eyewitness account of a situation (Cau lley, 2008, p. 442). Sometimes I use the second-person voice to bring you, the reader, into th e scene, to actively witness, with me, the experience, to be a part of rather than distanced from the even ts. To be honest, I also use second-person for personal moments I am shameful to claim. So metimes I use third-person to establish the context for an interaction, report my findings and present what others say or write. I use characteristics of showing and telling in my writing as well. Showing brings readers into the scene (Ellis, 2004, p. 142) most often through the use of conversation and active verbs. This allows readers to evocatively experience an experience (Ellis, 1993, p. 711). Telling, in cont rast, positions the reader at a distance. Telling provides an overview of a situation rath er than an evocative experience of it, and uses description that often lacks the immediacy of di alogue and sensuous engagement. I find showing and telling to be effectiv e and necessary writing strategies. I show events that feel evocate and emotionally-rich. Showing allows me, as a writer, to engage and re-experience a situation. Conversely, I tell about events that feel fragmented and
55 emotionally-empty, those in which my head takes priority over my heart, my thoughts over my feelings. Telling allows me, as a wr iter, to distance myself from a situation. **** In the next chapter, Learning the Clos et, I describe the epiphanical moment before a gay person enters the metaphorical closet (as in, coming out of the closet), a time that often includes an individuals initia l awareness of same-sex desire and her/his first same-sex sexual experience. In the fifth chapter, Living the Closet, I describe the epiphanical moment when a person lives in the closet, a time that of ten includes rampant secrecy and an initial embrace of a gay identity, and a time when a person privately acknowledges her/his gay identity but publicly discounts this identity by saying and acting as if it doesnt exist. I illustrate how this abstract, metaphoric space can feel. In chapter six, Leaving the Closet, I de scribe the epiphanical moment of coming out of the closet, a time when an individual verbally speaks of her/ his gay identity or same-sex desire. I show how individuals try to control time by trying to predict right times to disclose and attempt to create id eal relational conditions. Then, I describe the moment of disclosure of ga y identity and immediate responses to this disclosure. In chapter seven, Making Identity Relational, I show how a relational perspective of coming out can look. In so doi ng, I establish a ground to conceive of gay identity as relational, thus displacing the idea that gay identity is a self-contained trait. In the last chapter, Gay Dilemmas, Re flections, and Criticisms, I describe the double-bind of gay identity. I ar gue that when a person self-i dentifies as gay, the closet
56 becomes a permanent part of her/his life. The metaphorical space never disappears; coming out never ends. I conclude by discussi ng strategies to di srupt this double-bind.
57 Chapter Four: Learning the Closet I know my past by know ing my scars. Kenny Fries, Body, Remember The signs were there, but when you dont know where youre going, you cant read them and the signs dont mean anything. Raymonde C. Green, Signs A closet: a private room, an inner chamber; a place of private devotion and secluded speculation; a private repository of curiosities; a small side-room; as suggested by the phrase skeleton in the closet: a private or concealed trouble in ones house or circumstances, ever pres ent, and ever liable to come into view; a hidden or secret pl ace, retreat, recess; a den or lair of a wild beast ( Oxford English Dictionary cited in Sedgwick, 1990, p. 65). a life-shaping condition (Seidman, 2002, p. 8). a site of interior exclusion for that which has been deemed dirty (Urbach, 1996, p. 66). **** Coming out of a closet: a developmental sequence (McDonald, 1982, p. 47; see Rust, 1993);
58 an observable and systematic life process (Kus, 1985, p. 178); an act predicated upon family laundry, di rty linen, skeletons (Rodriguez, cited in Betsky, 1997, p. 16); an acknowledgment of one's homosexuality, either to oneself or publicly (my emphasis, Random House Unabridged Dic tionary, cited on dictionary.com); the processes whereby gay men, lesbians, or bisexuals inform others of their sexual identity (Gagn et. al., 1997, p. 478); an act of dangerous communication which infects its listener immaculatelythrough the ea r (Butler, 1997a, p. 116). **** When a person is said to be in the clos et, she or he possesses an always-there, wild-but-hidden, troublin g secret. When a person chooses, or is forced, to leave the closet, a private space concealing a taboo cu riosity, she or he makes known a marginal identity, unknown condition, devious desire. When a person fathoms coming out, she or he anticipates an-Oth ers response since coming out is a communicative act implicating others (Butler, 1997a; Chirrey, 2003; Garri ck, 2001; Mosher, 2001; Taylor, 2000). One can and does come out to oneself, but audi ences occupy a significan t presence in coming out processes as a person mightand sometimes mustexpose a skeleton an-other may condemn. However, if a person is said to have come out of the closet, then it must be assumed that this person earlier went into the closetone must go in before one comes out. But how and why does a person enter th e metaphorical space from which she or he
59 will later emerge? Is a person birthed into the abstract room? What conditions must be met before a person could ever come out? If a person is said to come out of the cl oset by disclosing a secret, then she or he must have an awareness of this secret and must want to keep the secret before she or he can emerge from the closet lair, a place only made possible by an awareness of a marginal and deviant (secret) identity and/or desire. When a person is said to have come out as gay, it can be assumed the person is aware of and has disclosed her/his same-sex desire; she or he has claimed a gay identity and the marginal and deviant status associated with it. A person would not say she or he is or has been in the closet if she or he doesnt know what a closet is or why sh e or he went into it in the first place. But what if I dont know or havent rec ognized my sexual desire as gay? If I have no idea of what gay means or have never encountered the concept of same-sex desire, would I be able or likely to descri be my experience as in the closet? Can a person come out without having known why she or he has gone in? Does a closet only form via hindsight, a re constructed looking-back? In this chapter, I highlight conditions of closet formation as they relate to samesex desire and gay identity. Sedgwick (1990) ca lls the closet the f undamental feature of social life for gay people (p. 68), but does not focus on the lived experiences that precede gay closeting. I portray what life might look and feel like prior to the closet, a portrayal of how and why an individual may first recognize and then enter the hidden, secretive lair. In so doing, I hope to comple ment and critique canonical discourses of the closet by showing that the cl oset metaphor only provides on e way to conceive of same-
60 sex desire and gay identity, that life can and does exist before ever being able to go in or come out. **** It is 1986. I am seven years old. My moth er and father erect one of those large, car-sized satellite discs in our yard. Living in the Illinois countryside ten miles from town we no longer need rabbit ear antennas to re ceive TV. The satellite gives us more than two channels. There isnt static interference with Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers and my mom can watch Scarecrow and Mrs. King without having to stand by the television and continually adjust the receptors. The satellite also introduces content from previously-foreign spaces: News from Nevada; prayer from Pennsylvania; and we ll-endowed-naked-white -dudes-from-I-dontknow-where. It is with the dudes I begin. As an only child I have the privilege of having my own bedroom. My parents rarely enter the space unless they need dirty laundry or want to check the status of my mess. I can shut my door without worry of in terruption. With the in troduction of the new satellite, I acquire my own television and sa tellite receiver, thus expanding my sphere of privacy. One night I retreat to my bedroom to watch TV before going to sleep. Goodnight, I say to dad and mom, then kiss mom on the cheek. Night, dad responds. Love you, mom replies.
61 I walk to the end of the hallway and ente r my room. I climb into bed, click on the television with the box-sized remote, and begi n to surf the plethora of channels now occupying my personal space. Disney, MTV, TBS, and WGN. I stop at HBO. A row of eight guys stand in a dimly-lit black room with their dicksbig, eight-tonine inch dicksdangling. Sculpted bodies from hours of gym work, each man has a six pack of abs complemented by bulging biceps. I stare at the submi ssive, standing men who seem to be awaiting inspection. I remember the program lacked a narrator and dialogue. Maybe I muted the TV so my parents wouldnt hear the program I enjoyed. A clothed man approached each unclothed guy, fondled his cock-andballs, and asked him to cough. Maybe I was watching a medical documentary. I remember each nude man becoming erect in response to the clothed fondler. Maybe this was a show on how to be a male doctor, on what men should do to other men so that they can heal and be well. But then the clothed man put each erect penis in his mouth, though not all at once. The men engaged in an eight-man orgy until every man got off, released his load, fired his money shot. The way I remember it, there was caressing, spanking, suck ing, and fucking, but I am not sure of the details. I remember that my mouth was mois t and drooling when suddenly the bedroom door opened. What the fuck are you watchi ng? my father screams. Turn that shit off! he screams again. My father approaches the television and unplugs it. He begins to say something, but stops and stares at me with large, angr y eyes. He resumes yel ling fuck-this and fuck-
62 that, grabs my wrist, drags me into the bat hroom. Uncertain of how I should respond or why my father is reacting in this way, I start to cry and hope his tantrum and my terror will soon end. In the bathroom, my father removes hi s belt and pulls down my pajama pants. He takes his waist-whip and spanks my ass as hard as he can. I wail. He spanks again. I scream. He engages in rigorous same-sex discip line, but this intimate same-sex contact has a different meaning than the contact I observed on the HBO-naked-man show. My father isnt trying to be kinky or incestuous. He s showing me that I must learn from this beating, not take pleasure from it. My ass r eceives its first lesson about same-sex desire. The spanking ends and father does not apologize. My eyes burn from crying, my ass sore and bruised, my mouth dried from yel ling. I return to bed and quickly fall asleep. Boys should not look at other boys, fath er says to me the next morning on the way to school. Boys get pleasure from look ing at girls, not boys. I nod and pretend to understand. Boys are disgusting, To ny. You must like girls. Yes, father. Youre still allowed to watch TV, he says, knowing I will better monitor its content, better monitor myself. I never agai n stray from Disney, MTV, TBS, or WGN, and my father and I never again speak of this incident. In a few years, when I am ten, my paren ts install cable te levision, limiting the amount and type of channels we receive. Th ey remove the car-sized satellite from our yard, the only material trace of my firs t same-sex experience. Father shows me Santa Comes Twice a heterosexual porn film, and tells me about the need for condoms and the
63 importance of boy-girl intercourse. I live with a father who cultivates opposite-sex desire in his son. **** In his memoir, Kenny Fries (1997) describe s the first time anyone used gay to describe his feelings. During spring break his first year of college, he visits Helen, a family friend. When he enters her apartmen t, she immediately asks: Youre gay, right? Fries wonders why Helen thought he was gay, but recalls being relieved by Helen uttering this word. I don t know if Im gay, he tells he r, but adds that he might be in love with [a man] (p. 44). In his memoir, E. Lynn Harris (2003) sa ys that he felt different as a young boy, but did not know why: As a child I onl y knew that if it wasnt my color, then what could it be? (p. 4). Me lissa, a person I interviewed in an earlier project, echoes Harris experience, saying I have known since I was young that I was di fferent, but I did not have a word to put with that difference. In high school, I realized that the word I needed to put with that difference is gay. I then reali zed the word I needed to put with that difference is lesbian. (cited in Adams, 2006b) **** I identified as a boy, white, and cat holic long before I identified as gay. I also was exposed to the terms straight a nd heterosexual well before I knew of gay or homosexual. I had not learned the meanings of any of those terms until my late teens. I am not suggesting that my same-sex desire did not exist pr ior to knowing these
64 latter categories, but rather that my identif ication with a gay label could not happen if I did not have the label (McDonald, 1982; Meyer, 1995). Delany (1999) observes: anyone who self-identifies as gay must have been interpellated, at some point, as gay by some individual or social speech or text to which he or she responded, He/she/it/they must mean me. That is the door opening. Without it, nobody can say proudly, I am gay! Without it, nobody can think guiltily and in horror, Oh my God, Im gay! Without it, one cannot remember idly or in passing, Well, Im gay. (p. 191) Furthermore, when a person is situated in a heteronormative culture, one that privileges opposite-sexed desires and heterose xual identities and posit ions individuals as straight until proven gay, then individuals do not learn about same-sex desire or gay identity until later in life (Elizur & Ziv, 2001; Gross, 1991; Hayes, 1976; Kus, 1985; Lee, 1979; Maurer, 2000; Meyer & Dean, 1998; Pa dva, 2004; Seidman, 2002; Shakespeare, 1999; Sloop, 2004; Solis, 2007). Our first crushe s, first infatuations, and first broken hearts, Williams & Gideonse (2006) write, are among the most profound moments of our adolescences, because they are often frustr atingly silent and solitary experiences (p. ix). These moments are silent and solitary because gay youth are typically born into environments that offer very limited experi ence with other members of the subculture (Kielwasser & Wolf, 1992, p. 356). Hopc ke (1995) agrees, noting that the incipient gay or lesbian child is all too often raised within a family unit that is at odds with his or her pe rsonality and in which little mirroring is provided that could confirm, much less affirm or celebrate, their affectional and sexual orientation. (p. 128)
65 If discussions of same-sex desire and ga y identity do occur, they typically happen during the teenage years. And when indi viduals learn to a ppropriate non-hetero categories and their accompanying cultural script s, they appear to embrace a new identity and/or desire that, coupled w ith heteronormative assumptions, make this identity and/or desire seem like a choice. In other words, if heterosexuality is assumed to be normal and natural, as an identity and/or desire that happens without an individuals choosing (Butler, 1999; Foucault, 1978; H opkins, 1998), then a person who is not heterosexual can seem to intentionally (and selfishly) go against nature. While it may seem obvious, a person cannot identify as gay if she or he does not know what gay is or means. If coming out of the closet means disclosing a gay identity, then a person who does not identify himself as gay cannot go in or come out. Yes, a person may recognize that she or he is attracte d to individuals of the same-sex before she or he can claim a gay label, but this does not mean that a person will know to say I am gay. Thus, a condition of the closet: An individual must be aware of and have the language and ability to describe her/ his identity or desire as gay. **** Its 1992. I am twelve years old. I take four Bud Lights from the refrigerator and put them in my backpack. I don t know what beer tastes li ke, but I know that it makes people feel funny. I also know that fee ling funny can induce im pairment, a condition where a funny individual loses rational cont rol, and I enjoy knowing that others will do funny things after feelin g funny with beer. Can I stay the night at Aarons? I ask mom.
66 I suppose, she replies. Need a ride? No, I can walk. I arrive at Aarons and take my backpa ck into his room. We play Nintendo and Frisbee with his dog, then listen to the most recent New Kids on the Block album. I wait until his parents go to sleep before telling him of the beer. You want a Bud Light? I ask. You have beer? he replies. Yeah, stole it from my parents. I open a beer, take a taste, and find it is warm, bitter, and disgusting. I take another sip. This is horrible, I say. Im not drinking anymore. Ill take it, Aaron replies. I hand him the can. He finishes it in a matter of seconds. Can I have another? he asks. Sure, I say. Impressive, I think. Aaron chugs beer number two, downs the third, then the fourth. Lets get naked, Aaron suggests. Ummm, okay, I reply. Then what? Nothing, but well be more co mfortable without clothes. Aaron quickly removes his battered tshirt, jeans, and boxers. I remove my running shorts, Sting t-shirt, and white briefs. Aaron approaches me and takes my dick in his hand. I grab his and we get hard together. He begins to suck. I reciprocate. He tells
67 me not to tell. I tell him not to tell, either. We climb into bed and continue to touch each others body. This feels good, I think as I dose off to sleep. **** With a few exceptions, I do not rememb er people saying, Youre heterosexual, Tony or that I should be. Rather, I remember people asking if I had a girlfriend and if I found a particular woman attractive. I re member learning what passes as love by observing (heterosexual) relationships in movies, books, and families. I remember catholic school health class where I learne d how penises and vagi nas fit together, each being the (only) complement to the ot her, the essence of womanhood being the possession of a vagina able to be penet rated adequately by a penis (Bloom, 2002, p. 120; see Bordo, 1998; Frye, 1983; Garfinke l, 1967; Greenberg, 2002; Padva, 2004; Bryant, 2005; Pronger, 1998; Sl oop, 2004), a genital inter-conn ection that Fausto-Sterling (1995) calls the true mark of heterose xuality (p. 132). Although I dont remember hearing explicit disregard for same-sex desi re, I do remember many of the priests telling me one should not waste his seed, a mant ra that condemned sex outside of marriage and non-procreative acts such as masturbation and same-sex intimacy. A condition of the closet: When a person recognizes that an identity or desire possesses a marginal status in th at it is not practiced or va lidated by the majority of a population.10 **** 10 Marginality is, of course, contextu al, and just because an identity or desire is marginal does not imply that it is unworthy or bad. Examples of marginal identities and/or desires in the United States could include persons with hobbies, non -dominant but still accepted religious sects (e.g., Mormonism, Judaism), and persons in wheelchairs as many spaces accomm odate, but do not privilege, wheelchair use.
68 Ben often stays the night. Were both 13 but Im jealous that Bens approaching puberty faster than me. He has a goatee, undera rm hair, and a deep voice. He has pubic hair and an often-erect penis. And I enviously admire his escapades with newly pubescent girls. When Ben stays the night, we sleep in the same bed, a closeness I appreciate. When I think hes asleep, Ill l ift his t-shirt to stare at his emergent belly hair, his trim and toned stomach. Im always cautious as I don t want to wake him with my touch. If he flinches or wakes, I pretend Im asleep. Wh en I expose his belly, I deem my work a success. I try to disassemble Bens belt, then hi s jeans, slowly raising the latching button ever so slightly, trying to remove the metal peg from its corresponding cloth notch subtly. When I finish opening his jeans and then expose his underwear, I deem my work a success. While its easy to unbutton and unzip Bens jeanshe typically wears a size bigger than his waistmaneuvering his underw ear is more difficult. Unbutton, unzip, spread jean flaps open, wait a mi nute before touching briefs. I pull out a mini-flashlight and shin e it on his crotch. Through his white underwear I see the outline of a half-erect di ck, one bigger than mine. I then steer his dick through the opening of the briefs by widening th e opening slowly and nudging his cock through the hole. My prodding often erect s his cock fully, thus making it easier to slide the dick through the slip. And when I expose his dick, I deem my work a success. I shine the light on Bens face. Hes smili ng, but acts as if hes immersed in deep sleep. I stroke his cock, maki ng it big and hard. I enjoy looki ng at it, touching it. I get
69 erect, too. I arrive at a point wh ere Im unsure of what to do w ith my penis or his, so I go to sleep. I decide against reassembling his clothes and allow him to do so the next morning. Ben and I quit sleeping together a fter a few of these excursions. We quit speaking, too. **** On the opening page of They Stand Apart (1955), a book that attempts to outline the immoral qualities of gays, Rees and Usill ask, Can nothing be done to cut out this cancer from the souls of men? (citing an English High Court Judge, p. vii). The cancer Rees and Usill refer to is homosexuality, a can cer of the soul, a twist in the mind, a bodily affliction, or a commixture of them a ll (p. xi). In response to the debate over homosexual identity as a choice or as some thing innate, Rees and Usill (1955) ask, Are those who indulge in these corro ding [homosexual] practices to be pitied as the victims of a disease or punished as criminals who have broken both the legal and moral codes of law? (p. xii). In the same book, Hailsham (1955) frames homosexuality as a significant moral and social issue, equating it with heroin addiction. He conceives of homosexual practices as contagious, incurable, and se lf-perpetuating (p. 24), and believes that same-sex intercourse is an unnatural activity of the sexual organs (p. 30). Thus, he argues, homosexuality and homosexual acts mu st be eligible for criminal and social sanctions (p. 31). While these dated sentiments may sound ab surd, remnants of such beliefs still infiltrate many facets of societ y. Michael, an interviewee for th is project, recalls learning the negative side of gay identity:
70 I grew up in a town of about 10,000. There were a handful of people that I had any sense were gay. It was a huge secret. I knew that the gay people in town were considered oddities, drastically unusual pe ople like circus freaks curiosities, and oddly human-like. I got this sense about how these people were considered, and I didnt want to do or say anyt hing that would put myself in the category of circus freak. (personal interview, 2007) Or consider the time Bernard Cooper ( 1996) asked his mother what a fag was. He says she turned from the stove, flew at me, and grabbe d me by the shoulders, asking Did someone call you that? Not me , he responded. Oh, she replied, loosening her grip. Cooper says his mother was visibility relieved, but still did not tell him about fags (p. 6). E. Lynn Harris (2003) speaks about first r ealizing the negative potential of samesex desire: [Donald and I] met behind a baseball field near my house. After small talk, we had sex in his car, a small Ch evy Vega, which he had driven from the field into a nearby alley. When we finish ed, I felt excited, but Donald wore a look of disgust. I asked him if everything was alright. He looked at me and shouted, You goddamn faggot, then he started beating me unmercifully with his large fist s. Every time I tried to escape his car, his fists pounded my face . . Suddenly this psycho stopped beating me, spit in my face, and then leaned over me, opened the door, and kicked me with the heel of his shoe out of his car into the cold rain. On the graveled alley I saw blood on my hands. My nose was bleeding. But I didnt think about the pain of his fists. All
71 I could think about was Donald spitting in my face. It was devastating. No one had ever done that to me. It was like he was saying to me, You dont deserve to be a human being. Youre lower than low. You aint shit . . I snuck back into my house soaking wet. I knew I had to change my life before somebody killed meor I killed myself. (pp. 88-89) Lane Thompson, a friend, also speaks to the negative qualities of gay identity and same-sex desire on his Myspace.com webpage: I grew up plagued by the knowledge that I liked boys. I hated it and I wanted to be normal so badly. I was convinced there was something very wrong with me and I could not imagine disappointing my fa mily so terribly. How could I be so vile? Everything I ever heard about ga y people was foul and loathsome. How could these people be so despicable and da re show their faces? I have been trying to accept myself ever since. A BBC News reporter reports that some people living in Iraq fear being killed because of a gay identity. I don't want to be gay anymore, an interviewee says. When I go out to buy bread, I'm afraid. When the doorbe ll rings, I think that they have come for me (McDonough, 2006). In anticipation of the 2006 World Pride Parade in Jerusalem, religious groups distribute flyers promising NIS (Isra eli New Shekel) 20000$4,766.45 as of March 9, 2007to anyone who brings about the death of one of the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah (Sela, 2006). Unlike gay killers in Iraq, Jerusalem gay killers earn money for cleansing a space of gays. Parade officials cancel the parade.
72 In Kampala, Uganda, Sheikh Ramathan Shaban Mubajje has suggested to the President that gays be rounded up and maroone d on an island until they die. If they die, he says, then we shall have no mo re homosexuals in th e country (365gay.com, 2007). In Idaho, a Post Falls business owner uses a marquee for social justice: Ped[ophiles] queers fags your [ sic ] in Idaho now (cited in Brodwater, 2006). Jim Valentine doesnt want queers and fags in his community. He makes his desire known to passing drivers. In Oklahoma, State Representative Sally Kern considers homosexuality a bigger threat to the security of the United States than terrorism or Islam (Michels, 2008). Former professional basketball player public figure, and role model Tim Hardaway expresses his dislike of gay people. I hate gay people, he says, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like [gay]. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States (cited in Winderman, 2007). National Basketball AssociationNBAofficials quickly distance themselves from Hardaways comm ents, condemn his language, and ban him from NBA-related appearances. A few days later, Hardaway tries to retract his comments, saying he doesnt hate gay peopl e, is good hearted, and believes hate was a bad word to use (Associated Press, 2007) But one is reminded of a capital-T Truth of communication: uttera nces are irreversible. Reparative therapytherapy that tries to convert gays to straightsis still quite popular (Bennett, 2003; Cloud, 2005), and many ga y individuals have Doctor Phobia, a refusal to disclose their sexual ity to health care providers out of fear that these providers
73 will provide unnecessary medicines, treatments, and (de)moralizing lectures (B. Adams, 2004; Gust, 2004). Many gay indivi duals thus do not receive adequate health services. March 12, 2007. Washington, DC. General Pe ter Pace, former chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calls homosexuality immoral and believes military officials must prosecute homosexual acts (Madhani, 2007). March 16, 2007. Louisville, Kentucky. Reve rend Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued that it is biblically justified to biologically alter fetuses to cure non-heterosexual sexua lities (Lindenberger, 2007). March 19, 2007. Bartow, Florida. William David Brown Jr. and Joseph Bearden stab Ryan Keith Skipper twenty times. Offici als designate the crime as hate, saying that Brown and Bearden stabbed Skipper becau se he was gay (Kis & Finley, 2007). The belief in the cancerous and unnatural nature of homosexuality still exists, but manifests itself in more insidious ways. A condition of the closet: When a person recognizes that an identity or desire possesses a devalued status in that it is condemned by many members of a population. Value is, of course, contextual, but when an identity or desire is devalued, it is often considered unworthy or bad. A person who a ligns with the devalued identity and/or desire may thus feel shameful, different, and guilty (Armesto & Weisman, 2001; Ellis, 1998; Goffman, 1963; Solis, 2007; Shallenbe rger, 1991). And, as Burgess (2005) observes, an identity that requires outing is one typically thought to be undesirable, or aberrant (p. 128). ****
74 I am fifteen years old. I have a fr iend named Chad. Hes been named Homecoming King twice, Prom King, once. Hes a fellow classmate and golfing peer. He can grow a beard overnight, and has been nominated as one of the five sexiest men in high school. Want to stay the night Friday? I ask Chad during a round of golf. I have some beer. Sounds cool, he says. I cant believe he agreed. Were not cl ose friends, only golf acquaintances. I find him attractive, desirable, but Im unsure of w hat my attraction is, w hat it means, or how I can explain it to others. How bout I come over a fter golf practice? he asks. Cool, I reply. On Friday, we arrive at my house. We watch television, talk about our upcoming homecoming dates, and wait for my mom to go to bed. When we think shes asleep, I pull out the warm beer. We climb out my bedroom window and begin to drink. Im still disgusted by warm beer, but I can now force myself to drink two cans. Chad drinks three quickly. When we finish the drinks, we return to my room and climb into bed. Lets play a game of tr uth or dare, he says. Fine, I respond, unsure how to play. Truth or dare, he asks. Dare, I reply. I dare you . to take off your cl othes, everything except your underwear.
75 I, um, cant do that, I say. You must, he demands. Its a dare. I comply, climb out of bed, and strip to my black briefs. I climb into bed again. Your turn, I say. Truth or dare? Dare. I dare you . to do five naked jumping jacks. Without hesitation, Chad climbs out of bed. He removes his shirt, revealing patches of hair, and unbuttons his belt. He simultaneously pulls off his jeans and grey briefs, revealing a semi-erect peni s, and begins to jump up and down. One, he whispers, up and down. Two. Three. Four. Five. Your turn, he says without reaching for his clothes. Truth or dare? Dare, I say. I dare you . to let me suck your dick. I hesitate to respond. You must, he demands. Its a dare. Sure, I say while removing my briefs. But Ive never Shhhh . he interrupts.
76 Chad climbs into bed, tells me to roll on my back, and places his arms on my chest near my shoulders. He looks at my fa ce, dick, face, and then slowly caresses my now-erect penis. It feels good in his mouth. I feel comfortable with him, with us. But Chad only teases my dick. He licks it fo r a minute or two, then says hes tired. He climbs out of bed, puts on his briefs, and then climbs next to me. The next day, Saturday, we wake without mentioning the ni ght before. My mom drives him home. Faggot! Chad yells at me in the school hallway. It is Monday morning, two days after our now-silenced rendezvous. Unsu re of whats happening, I see him approach me. What? Youre nothing but a cocksucker, he says while slamming me into a locker. What are you talking about? Shut the fuck up, fucking queer. Chad quickly departs, leaving a sm all audience staring my way. **** Can you think of an example of when you first learned abou t the taboo-ness of homosexuality?, I ask Dave during an interview. Yeah, I remember watching a [heterose xual] sex scene on HBO, Dave replies. I was 5 or 6. My mom said Dont look at he r breasts, dont look at her breasts. But the entire time I was looking at the guys ches t. By telling me not to look, I somehow knew that I shouldve been looking. But I di dnt care to. I liked the guys chest. But waitshe told you to not look at a womans breasts, I say. This seems to make heterosexual desire taboo, not homosexual desire
77 Yeah, but she didnt think of homo sexuality, he says. Everyone was heterosexual to her. So she assumed I was he terosexual, but because of my age she didnt think I should look at breasts. Ironically, what she didnt want me to look at was what she wanted me to look at. What if she asked if you were looking at his chest? What wo uld you have said? I would have lied because I felt dirty. I felt shame like I shouldnt be looking at him. It isnt right. (p ersonal interview, 2007) Michael, an interviewee, remembers being silent about his same-sex desire because he knew that it could get him into trouble: I remember going to a dance in the 6th grade and dancing with a girl. I found it kind of appealing. But I noticed that I got much more excited thinking about the guys. I didnt know what to make of that. Towards the end of 7th grade, certainly by 8th grade, and more certainly during my freshman year of high school, I realized that I still liked being aroun d girls enough, but my interests became focused on boys. While it was still fun to dance with a girl, this did not carry enough weight to counteract my clearly-b ecoming erotic interest in guys. But I knew that my attraction to guys was someth ing I didnt want to talk about with anybody. I had to keep it hidden. (pers onal interview, 2 September 2008) Raymond Green, a contributor to the collection From Boys to Men (2006), remembers that being a faggot was not just a harsh word but a status associated with so much negativity in the eyes of my family, peers, and the media that it was something that I just knew there was no po ssibility of me being. (p. 60)
78 In For the Bible Tells Me So (Karslake, 2007), a documentary about homosexuality and the bible, Episcopalian Bi shop Gene Robinson recalls his fear of talking about fee ling different: I think it was about 7th grade. And some friends some how got a hold of a Playboy magazine. And I realized that these pict ures were apparently doing things for these others guys that they werent do ing for me. And the second thing that I realized was that I better not show or say that these werent doing anything for me. I was always familiar with what th e Bible said. Anyone who was thought to be that way was an abomination before God. Foucault (1978) argues that when sex is repressed, that is, condemned to prohibition, nonexistence, and silenc e, then the mere fact that one is speaking about it has the appearance of a deliberat e transgression (p. 6; see also Bell, 1999; Corey & Nakayama, 1997; Gingrich-Philbrook, 1998; Kielwasser & Wolf, 1992; Lim-Hing, 1990/91; Owen, 2003). Greenspan (1992) makes a similar observation about the stories of Holocaust survivors: Not only were survivors not heard, but the very act of recounting risked stigma (p. 150). If a person wishes to speak about a marginal, devalued, and often silenced identity and/or desire, she or he must first break the silence (a breach of social order), acknowledge, prove and critique the exis tence of this silence (another breach), and then sp eak about the repressed, prohibi ted topic (breach, again). In heteronormative situ ations, heterosexuality implicitly informs these situations and is often never explicitly discussed. This makes it difficult for persons to discuss and critique heteronormativity becau se they must first break the silence around sexuality (a
79 breach of social order), acknowledge, prove, a nd critique the existe nce of this silence (another breach), and then sp eak of a repressed, prohibited sexuality (breach, again). Heteronormativity manifests itself in situations where I am still asked if I have a girlfriend. This is not a question of Are you heterosexual? but the implicit assumption is that I am heterosexual or that I at least desire women. But if I respond with I am gay and implicitly suggest that I do no t or would not have a girlfriend, I not only disrupt a silent assumption of sexuality, but also make sexuality explicit and introduce a possibly marginal and devalued sexuality in to the conversation. As such, the other may respond defensively with I didnt ask if you were gay or straight. I asked if you had a girlfriend. Such a response is what wasand was notasked. A condition of the closet: When a person realizes that a marginal, devalued identity and/or desire may encounter nega tive criticism from others if discussed. Speaking about the identity and/or desire is a taboo act, and, as such, may motivate a person to be silent; she or he recogni zes a need to hide (in the closet). **** Sarah, 23. Tony, 19. Acquaintances. Sarah, Jehovahs Witness. Tony, Catholic. Will you be my date for the company Christmas party?, she asks. You dont celebrate Christmas, he responds. I want to this year. Ill pay for everything. I suppose, he replies. Well make it romantic, she suggests. He pretends not to hear. Sarah RSVPs for the party and makes hotel re servations. Tony finds a fake I.D.
80 Sarah tells her parents she must work one weekend. Tony tells work he needs a weekend off. Sarah buys a size 6 dress, black heels, fake pearl necklace. Sarah buys Tony a black sport coat, matching pants, a yellow shirt, goldenrod tie, pair of black loafers, belt. Tony enjoys the free clothes. Souvenirs, he thinks. At the party Sarah and Tony drink doubleshot Strawberry Daiquiris, before dinner and during dinner. After dinner they sw itch to beer. Sarah becomes comfortable with Tony. Tony knows he should please Sarah. Hands slide along each others body. Fingers move into spaces taboo in public pl aces. Sarah touches out of pleasure, Tony obligation. They decide to leave the party ea rly, both knowing the touching will continue at the hotel with Sarah trying to restra in herself, Tony hoping she will pass out. The couple enters the room and moves toward the bed. The oversized comforter is quickly removed as they slide onto the uns cented, starched-white sheets. Making out begins, slobbery, sloppy kisses shared by both. Tony is drunk, Sarah drunker. I wann-you innn me, Sarah slurs. Now? Tony asks, worrying about the impossibility of an erection. Are you sure? Yeah, Im surrre. I wann-you innn me! she demands. The kissing continues as each prepares for a more intimate connection. Tony removes Sarahs daisy-yellow dress, then his belt, pants, and button-up shirt. Sarah removes her bra and underwear, then pulls Tonys boxers down to his knees. She grabs his limp dick. Whatzzz the matterrr? Sarah asks.
81 Nothing, Tony responds. Nervous and drunk. Tony finishes removing his underwear and grabs the condom from the nightstand. Hes unsure of how it arrived there as he didnt pack protection. He climbs on top of Sarah, sits up and on the top of his feet. He hovers over Sarah and stares at her naked, drunk, stimulated body. He then looks to his smooth chest, be lly, and cock and wonders how he will slide the protective device over the un-aroused penis. Whatzzz the matterrr? Sarah asks. Nothing! Tony responds. Im getting ready. Be patient! I wann-you in me! she replies. Tony places the condom wrapper between his teeth. He tries to open it while simultaneously steering clear of touching, li cking, spermicide. Success. He unfolds the condom and tries to slid e it onto his still-limp dick. He stares at Sarah who is much calmer compared to a few minutes ago. Shes hot, he tells himself, trying to get aroused. I want to be inside her now! Nothing. I want to fuck her hard, real hard. She wants it and so do I. Minutes pass. The penis doesnt move. Whatzzz the matterrr? Sarah asks. Doan-you think-Im prrretty? Of course I do, he responds. Minutes pass. The penis, still. Sarah is a man I want to fuck, Tony thinks. Like John Stamos or Mario Lopez or Jason Priestly. Mark Wahlberg in his tight and bulging Calvin Kleins. An erection begins.
82 This man is hot, he continues to fantasiz e, and hes hot for me. Look at his six pack, bulging cock, and firm balls. He sme lls like beer, cigarettes, man-sweat. An erection continues. Im straddling this mans dick and it feels good, tight. He knows how to move and he likes it rough. He want s my dick in him now! An erection, hard and steady. Are you ready! Tony asks Sarah. I want to fuck you, now! Yea-Iwanyou she mumbles in a single phrase. Tony inserts his cock between her legs. I ts in, he tells himself and begins to slowly thrust. Mmmmm Sarah whispers, ne arly passed out from the alcohol. Tony hears and immediately pulls out. Mmmmm sh e whispers again. He sees shes falling asleep and decides no t to continue. Tony slowly climbs out of bed, not wan ting to wake Sarah. He rinses off his penis in the sink, disposes of the condom, and puts on his boxers. He climbs into bed, snuggles against Sarahs back, and drapes his arm across her revealed breasts and stomach. The next morning Sarah wakes Tony as she climbs out of bed. She smiles at him, says she has a headache, tells him they must checkout by 11. He gets up, showers, and packs. Sarah and Tony talk little on the way home, neither of them discussing the night before or realizing that this will be the last time they speak. **** Earlier I told how Dave, one of my part icipants, hid his fasc ination with a barechested man from his mother. Michael, another participant, mentioned that his attraction to guys was something he could keep hidden and not have to talk about with anyone.
83 And Bishop Gene Robinson reali zed that he better not show or say that naked women werent doing anything for him, that is, to keep this lack of interest a secret (cited in Karslake, 2007). The Oxford English Dictionary defines a secret as something kept or meant to be kept private, unknown, or hidden; a thi ng known only to a few; and something concealed and classified, confidential and undercover (p. 753). If a secret were known, then it wouldnt be a secret; the defini tion of secret rests upon an assumption of inaccessibility and intentional deception (S immel, 1964). Thus, if coming out of the closet is about revealing a secret identity and/ or desire, then there is an assumption that this identity and/or desire is not readily accessible by others. Sexuality is an identity steeped in desire not an identity steeped in appearance or (visible) material conditions (Phelan, 1993, p. 5; Sh allenberger, 1991); if it were readily, easily visible, then coming out would be unnecessary. Sexuality is a self-claimed identity that lacks an excess of visual signs, and is less visible and easier to conceal than identities like gender, race, and age. For instance, I often make attributions of gender based on a persons appearance and subs equently interact with the person as a woman, man, and/or transgender. While some people th ink, or act as if, they possess gaydar, the totally unscientific sixth sens e that many people rely on to tell if [someone] is gay or straight (Colman, 2005, p. 9.1; Burgess, 2005; Johnson, 2001; Nicholas, 2004), their assessments of sexuality, and my own, are never as certain as their classifications about gender. For it is one of the misfortunes a nd pleasures of gay life, Scott (1994, p. 302) writes, that the imposed invisibility of homosexuality creates an obsession with identifying who is and who isnt, a practice engaged in to finer and finer degrees of
84 exactness. Notwithstanding the existence of the legendary gaydar, assessments of sexuality and same-sex desire necessarily ar e uncertain and fraught with unreliability and error (Bennett, 2006). Gender inversionthe idea that a pers ons gender (appearance) differs from her/his sex (biological, physical criteria)has been used, howe ver, often erroneously as a sign of homosexuality.11 Hopkins (1998) observes, boys who act femininely get classified as sissies, homos, or faggots and girls who are assertive, play rugby, or are unconcerned with cosmetics often get cat egorized as tomboys, butches, dykes, or ballbreakers (p. 44, my emphasis; see Battles & Hilton-Morrow, 2002; Bell, 2006; Bloom, 2002; Bockting, 1999; Clatterb augh, 1997; Clayborne, 1974; Cory, 1951; Davidson, 1987; Escoffier, 2003; Frank, 1993; Gagn et. al., 1997; Halberstam, 2005; Halley, 1989; Hom, 1995; Ki mmel & Mahler, 2003; La Pastina, 2006; Meyer, 1995; Padva, 2004; Pascoe, 2007; Perry & Ballard-R eich, 2004; Pronger, 1998; Seidman, 2002; Stanley, 1974). The attributions of gayness stemming from gendered performances also perpetuate the myth that gay men are wome n trapped in mens bodies (Christian, 2005; Hailsham, 1955; Hunter, 1992; Rling, 2006; So lis, 2007; Ulrichs, 2006). Moreover, the practice of basing attributions of a persons sexuality to the persons gender performances not only ties (invisible) sexua lity to the (visible) body but also makes surveillance and regulation possible (Foucau lt, 1978; Hacking, 1990; McIn tosh, 1968; Walker, 1993). Consider, for example, the title and ly rics of the same-sex love song Cowboys are Secretly Frequently (Fond of Each Othe r) (Sublette, 1981). The title and lyrics equate gender inversion with same-sex desire most notably in phrases like inside every 11 If gender inversion is a sign of homosexuality, then by default gender conformitythe aligning of a persons sex and genderis a sign of heterosexuality.
85 man theres a feminine, inside every lady theres a deep manly voice loud and clear, inside every cowboy theres a lady who'd love to slip out, and when you talk to a cowboy don't treat him like he was a sister. Or consider comments about sex, gender inversion, and sexuality made by Matt Hunt, a member of the social networking website Myspace.com: i [ sic ] wish it would be realized that being gay does not automatically mean being feminine. it'd be nice to see less of th e flamboyant, asshole, drug queens prancing around, and more men that actually act like men. keep the pitch of your voice down, and stop walking like you're bowle ggedits pissing society off. (Hunt, 2007) Matt expresses disdain for males (sex) who do not act like men (gender), and directs this toward gay individuals who, even though they are men (sex), may act feminine (gender). The harassment and the discrimination of lesbians and gay men, Kailey (2005) writes, is often based on perceived sexual orientationperceived through that persons gender presentation (p. 94). But sexuality, as an identity steeped in desire, is much more complex, inaccessible, and secretive than thes e performance-based attributions suggest.12 12 I would also say that any manipulation of sex and gender can cast a person as non-heterosexual, even if gender inversion does not occur. I mentioned that if a person feels as if her/his sex does not match her/his gender, she or he may undergo sex reassignment surgery. This could be considered a form of sex inversion, an act that might mark this person as trans-sexual or trans-gender. But even though such an act does not signal a persons desire for another of the same-sex, her/his trans-identity, a sexand gender-based identity, is often lumped with categories of sexuality, not with categories of sex and gender. The most poignant example of this is the use of GLB T Q. The identities of trans-ge nder and trans-sexual have no explicit relation to the sexualities of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/ or queer, but are often categorized with and thus considered a kind of sexuality.
86 A condition of the closet: Gay identity or desire must be aurally, visually, and physically inaccessible. When a person realizes that sh e or he possesses something not easily known or revealed to others, this person realizes that she or he harbors a secret. **** Gender inversion and gender conformit y, however, make sexuality contingent upon the enactment and achievement of two other categories: sex and gender. Sex, gender, and sexuality are interre lated categories, and thus any discussion about gay identity must include a discussion of se x and gender; as Seidman (2002) observes, managing gender [and sex] has been and still is at the heart of ma naging sexual identity (p. 49; Butler, 1996; Meyerowitz, 2002; Sedgwick, 1990; Shively & De Cecco, 1977; Stein, 2004). Jackson (2006) agrees, believing th at we recognize someone as male or female before we make any assumptions a bout heterosexuality or homosexuality. The homosexual/heterosexual distinction, she writes, depends upon socially meaningful gender [and sex] categories, on being able to see two men or two women as the same and a man and a woman as different (p. 113). Consider, for instance, an interview be tween Howard Stern and the bald, tattoocovered, muscular and mustached porn star Bu ck Angel (Stern, 2006). Buck identifies as a man with a vagina, but Stern tries to i nvalidate Bucks claim to a man identity. If you have a vagina youre a woman, Stern re marks, though he uses he to describe Buck during much of the interview. It is onl y when Stern actively thinks about Bucks vagina that Buck gets classi fied as a woman. Bucks male -gendered body conflicts with his female-sexed body, and while Buck argues that a vagina does not make a person a
87 woman (gender), Stern argues that Bucks va gina (sex) trumps a nd disqualifies Bucks claim to be a man (gender).13 To complicate the situation, some of St erns cast label Buck gay, though they never explain why. What makes Buck gay (or straight)? Is sexuality based on Bucks gender or sex? If sexuality rests upon his (masculine) gender a nd he is physically (sexually) attracted to other individuals who perform and id entify as men (gender), then this same-gender coupling may cast Buck as gay. If sexuality rests upon Bucks (masculine) gender and his attraction to ot her individuals who embrace a feminine, female appearance (gender), however, then Bu ck would be considered straight. If sexuality rests upon Bucks (female) sex and his attraction to ot her individuals with female sex criteria, then Buck would appear to be a lesbian. Howeve r, if sexuality rests upon Bucks (female) sex, his vagina, and his attraction to other individuals with male sex criteria, the penis, then this may cast hi m as straight. Interestingly, bisexuality is never discussed as a possibility. While I conte nd that gay identity, at least for biological males, rests upon sex, not gender, I acknowle dge that sexuality becomes increasingly complicated when a persons sex and gender conflict. The United States Air Force acknowledged th at it tried to find a way to make a chemical that would cause enemy soldiers to become gay and thus irresistibly attractive to one another causing their military units to fa il (Hammond, cited in Anonymous, 2007). While Pentagon o fficials quickly dismissed the plan, it illustrates a variety of assumptions about sex, gender, a nd sexuality. First, th e plan assumed that enemy soldiers are of the same sex, most likely males. Second, by saying that the 13 To see Buck Angel, visit www.BuckAngel.com.
88 chemical will increase same-sex attraction the plan assumed that all of the enemy solders are heterosexual.14 Third, the plan assumed, or pe rpetuated the assumption that individuals of same-sex desire will be unabl e to control themselves; they will become irresistibly-attracted-to-each-other, in short, sex-addicts.15 Another example is a story that Melissa, a friend, a masculine female, told me in a previous project: October, 1999. Minneapolis, Minnesota. My friends and I go to our favorite bar for happy hour. I walk in, sit down, and order a pitcher of Hamms. I soon had to go to the restroom. At that time, I had no fear of public facilities. I get up, walk past the crowded bar, and go into the womans restroom. I notice a lady primping herself in the mi rror. She was wearing black boots, tight jeans, and a black form-fitting shirt. Sh e had a beautiful body, long dark hair, and green eyes. I glanced at her quickly because I did not want her to know that I was looking. In the mirror I saw her stop primpi ng, cock her head to the side, and look at me. 14 These assumptions make each other possible. The goal of the gay chemical is to make enemy soldiers attracted to each other. If the soldiers consisted of bo th men and women and if they were heterosexual, then they would already be attracted to each other, possibly causing their unit to fail. And turning a co-ed unit of soldiers gay would be just as futile: instead of men coupling with women and women coupling with men, men would couple with men and women with women. Thus, in order for the chemical to work enemy soldiers must be (a) of one sex and (b) heterosexual, that is, not already attracted to each other. 15 The use of a gay bomb may seem absurd, but there is another instance when a gay bomb metaphor was used in a similar way. In 1955, Arthur Guy Mathews wanted newspapers across the United States to run headline EXTRA, EXTRA! COMMUNISTS AR E NOW CONVERTING AMERICAN YOUTH TO HOMOSEXUALITY TO DEFEAT US FROM WITHIN! This conversion, similar to the purpose of the aforementioned gay bomb, would make the new homose xuals shriek, scream, cr y and break down into hysterical states of psychoses when they are called upon to carry arms to defend our shores from the enemy. The goal of homosexual conversion was to make youth physically weak, and, as such, was considered by Mathews as Stalins Atom Bomb (cite d in Johnson, 2004, p. 37). Unlike the more recent gay bomb, this bomb assumes that men who become gay become feminized and are thus made weak and helpless, a homophobic and misogynistic assumption.
89 I then went into the stall. I heard her wash her hands and leave. I got a weird vibe from her, like she didnt know what gender I was. I felt that she wanted to ask if I was in the right restroom I came out of the st all and went to the sink to wash my hands when the restroom door opened. I looked in the mirror and saw a guy standing behind me. I then saw the girl walk in behind him. I remember thinking that this wa s not a good situation. I quickly grabbed paper towels, dried my hands, and tried to reach for the door but the guy grabbed my hand, sw ung me around, and smashed my head. Thats all I remember. I woke up sitting in the stall with my head wedged half on the toilet, half off. My hands were co vered in blood. My friends came in the restroom after hearing the guy tell th e owner that he didnt understand why dykes were allowed in the bar. I was taken to the hospital. A police officer came and aske d if I would like to press charges. I said n o. I was not ready for my family to find out about my sexuality. I was so scared and continue to fear public restrooms. (cited in Adams, 2006b) Melissas story introduces a situation wh ere sex, gender, and sexuality collide. Based on her assigned sex (female), she deci ded to use the womans restroom. Once there, Melissa noticed a woman suspiciously look at her as if she were in the wrong bathroom; her masculine gender seemed to conflict with the sex she claimed, demonstrated by the act of walking into a wo mans restroom. At this point, Melissas gender ambiguity may have motivated discom fort. Based on gender, the woman in the bathroom may have assumed that Melissa be longed in the mens restroom. However,
90 when the man who assaulted Melissa left the restroom, he said that he didnt understand why dykes were allowed in the bar. Inst ead of being thought of as male, the man assumed Melissa was a dykea term, derogatory in this case, that describes a (usually masculine) woman who is attracted to othe r womenbased on her gender inversion: her gender seemed to differ from her sex claim (again, emphasized by Melissa walking into the womens restroom) and, as such, an attr ibution of sexuality ( dyke) was made based upon a sex-gender conflict. I consider sex the socially agreed upon biological criteria for classifying persons as females or males (West & Fenstermaker, 1987, p. 127, my emphasis; Davidson, 1987; Greenberg, 2000). Bi ological criteria often in clude a persons internal chromosomes and reproductive organs, and her/ his external genitalia. Genitalia, however, often play a more significan t role in sex assignment wh en compared to a persons chromosomes and reproductive organs (Gar finkel, 1967). The emphasis on genitalia as determinant of sex is visually-motivated and vi sually-biased: a person is classified as a particular kind of sexed person based on what can be seen most easily; chromosomes and reproductive organs can only be seen by a special few (but are assumed by most untrained observers to align w ith an individuals ge nitalia). If I had a penis and a scrotum (marks of male gen italia), untrained others (such as non-medical professionals) may assume that I also possessed male ch romosomes and male reproductive organs.16 16 Intersexed individuals question this assumption. A few examples of intersexed bodies include persons who possess an enlarged clitoris that can be stimulated and able to penetrate a body, or persons who have an external vagina and internal testes (or vice versa), or persons who develop characteristics of vaginas and penises and physically develop characteristics of males and females (Coventry, 2000; Fausto-Sterling, 1993, 2000; Greenberg, 2002).
91 Moreover, sex can also be defined in two wa ys: sex-at-birth and sex-after-[sex/genital reassignment]-surgery (see Greenberg, 2000). Sex as a category is complicated by th e related category of gender. I consider gender the enactment of socially agreed upon criteria for cla ssifying persons as male or female, man or woman, masculine or femi nine (West & Fenstermaker, 1987, p. 127, my emphasis). Gender is assumed to be congruent with genital configurat ion (Gagn et. al., p. 479), what Sloop (2004) calls the genita lia-equals-gender e quation (p. 131). Gender is an ambiguous abstraction never physica lly or psychically actualized (GingrichPhilbrook, 1998; Gelber, 1997), an ephemeral, contextual, and complicated identity (Hopkins, 1998, p. 54) that is continually constituted and reconstituted through embodied, mundane practices (Glenn, 2000, p. 5; Butler, 1990). If gender is done wrong, if it does not match a persons assumed and a ssigned sex, she or he may experience or become open to criticism, punishment, a nd physical harm (Garfinkel, 1967). Sex assignment often influences a pers ons gender assignment; for example, a person designated at birth as male (sex, of ten determined by the presence of a penis) usually is encouraged to be masculine (ge nder). Here, sex, the phys ical and biological, can influence gender, the social and psychol ogical. However, gender assignment also influences a persons sex assignment. If I see a woman (gender) walking across campus, I may perceive this woman to be female (sex). Furthermore, a persons self-claimed ge nder assignment can be used to modify her/his sex assignment. For example, a person designated at birth as male (sex) but who feels and acts female (gender) may choose to undergo sex re-assignment surgery (not gender re-assignment surgery). Here, gender, the social and psychological, can influence
92 ones self attributions about her/his true sex, the physical and bi ological person she or he should be. I define sexuality in terms of a persons sex and attraction to an-others sex (Butler, 2004; Cory, 1951; Ginsberg, 1974; Sedgwick, 1990, 1993; Somerville, 1994). However, sexuality becomes complicated when sex can be defined in two ways: sex-atbirth and sex-after-surgery. A ma le (sex-at-birth) attracted to a female (sex-after-surgery) may be considered heterosexual whereas if the man had been attracted to the person before surgery, he may be classified as gay. A further complication: When a person has sex-reassignment-surgery but is still considered her/his sex-at-birth. C onsider, for example, the legal case Littleton v. Prange (1999). Christie Littleton was born male (s ex) and underwent sex reassignment surgery, an act that allowed her to change her name from Lee to Christie, allowed her to change her birth certificate from male to fem ale, and allowed her to marry a man, a heterosexual consummation further classifying her a woman as same-sex marriages were still illegal in Texas. Seven years after their marriage Jonathon, her husband, died because of medical error. Christie filed a su it against the doctors, but the defense argued that Christie was and will always be a man b ecause of her original sex-at-birth and thus had no right to marry a man. The defense w on the argument, invalidating Christies marriage to Jonathan (Greenberg, 2000). Sexuality has also been defined in terms of a persons gender and attraction toward anothers gender (Adam, 2000; B oykin, 2005; Elizur & Zi v, 2001; Glave, 2005; Jackson, 2006; Padva, 2004; Patters on, 2000; Ross, 2005; Sedgwick, 1990), but sexuality-defined-in-terms-of-gender suggest s that a feminine man coupled with a
93 masculine man could pass as a heterosexual couple. In most contexts, however, gendergender coupling is not considered indicative of sexuality. For ex ample, in most U.S. legal settings, a same-sex, opposite-gendered couple could not marry as they would still be considered a samesex couple. In this project, I study the experiences of biologically-sexed, sex-at-birth gay men (bio-men), not transsexual, sex-after-surger y, gay men (trans-men). When I refer to gay men in this project, I am referring to bio-men who are physic ally/sexually attracted to other bio-men. I believe that trans-men ar e men (gender) and that trans-men can be gay, but I assume that a trans-mans experi ence of gay identity, an experience often intertwined with a sex/gender change, is diffe rent for that of a bio-mans experience of gay identity, particularly because he does not have to navigate a sex/gender change. In other words, trans-men may have to negotia te coming out processes similar to gay biomen, but unlike gay bio-men, they must also attend to ways sex re-assignment surgery affects sexual identity and desire. **** Amy has bubbling energy, a bright sm ile, and, based upon the oversized brown backpack, seems dedicated to school. Like me shes in her first semester at Southern Illinois University, and, like me, she has comp leted two years at her local community college. I am nineteen years old. During the first weeks of the semester Amy and I arrive early to class, each awaiting the other. Always, we converse until the professor approaches the podium. Expectantly, we leave together, each sp eaking of forthcoming days, exchanging phone numbers, making plans.
94 I just ended a three-year relati onship, Amy says, ma king the conditions possible for a potential date. I think she likes me, but Im not sure. Maybe her flirting is an act of politeness, not inte rest. She hasnt asked me out nor has she mentioned any interest in a romantic affair. Want to go to dinner? I eventually ask, feeling confident bu t fearing rejection. Sounds fun, she says. I gleam. I think I like Amy. Shes smart, attr active, and motivated. I think we would connect well. I can and should date a woman, I tell myself. And Amy is perfect. We dine at Lonestar Steakhouse. In a few days we dine agai n at Applebees, and then at Quatros Pizzeria. In a fe w weeks, we watch, or try to watch, Shakespeare in Love It is during the watching of this movie where first kisses are exchanged, kisses that, for me, feel meaningless. Will you stay the night? she asks, an offer I refuse. Cant. I have class in the morning. Will you stay the night? she asks in class the next day. Cant. I must work. Will you stay the night? she asks a few days later. Cant. Im going out with friends. We repeat our dining cycle one more tim e: Lonestar, Applebees, Quatros. We kiss before and after each meal, but never are alone together again. **** The majority of Bernard Coopers Truth Serum (1996) focuses on his attempt to change his same-sex desire. I became the scientist of my own desire, he writes,
95 plotting ways to change my yearning for boys into a yearning for girls. I had enough evidence to believe th at any habit, regardless of how compulsive, how deeply ingrained, could be broken once a nd for all: the pl astic cigarette my mother purchased at the Thrifty pharmacy (one end was red to approximate an ember, the other tan like a filter tip) was designed to wean her from the real thing. To change a behavior required self-analysi s, cold resolve, an d the substitution of one thing for another: plastic, say, for tobacco. Could I also find a substitute for [my same-sex feelings]? What I needed to do, I figured, was kiss a girl and learn to like it. (pp. 6-7) Cooper continues, saying he had gotten to the point where I would try almost anything in order to change, from praying to giving up masturbation (p. 54). To be homosexual, he writes, was to invite ostracism and ridicule, and I would have done just about anything to escape my need to masturbate to images of men. I ba rgained with myself, made promises not to, devised equations of abstinence and reward (p. 67). E. Lynn Harris (2003) makes a similar observation: I dont recall the exact day I discovered I was gay or different. When I was young I always felt that it was something that only God and I knew. That was our little secret and made me feel closer to Him. Still, being gay was the one thing about me that I prayed constantly that God would change. He didnt. (p. 4) I realized that my [same-sex] urges we re getting stronger, Pozyki, a contributor to the collection From Boys to Men (2006), writes. [S]o I found the phone number of a minist ry that claimed they could help people stop being homosexual. I was assigned a counselor who would meet and pray
96 with me once a week until I became heterosexual, which I hoped would take no more than a month or two. (p. 95) McGinty (2006), a contributor to the same colle ction, writes of sim ilar feelings. At the age of sixteen, he remembers, I had to admit to myself that these [same-sex] feelings are never going away, and that one day I am going to hurt someone I care about unless I stop pretending they will (p. 284). When I first recognized my same-sex desi re, I believed it would change as long as I tried to get aroused by women. When I started to realize, however, the permanency of this desire, or that if I wanted to change it I might have to undergo years and decades of (harmful) repression and therapy, I started to embrace the desire and its corresponding labels. An acknowledgment of my desires pe rmanency did not push me into the closet but did serve as a condit ion for its possibility. **** Foucault (1978) writes that Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the pr actice of sodomy into a kind of interior androgyny. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species (p. 43; Bell, 2006; Chirrey, 2003; Lee, 1979; McIntosh, 1968; Meyer, 1995; Seidman, 2002; Somerville, 1994; Weeks, 1996). It is this transposition from being a temporary aberration to being a sp ecies, a kind of person, that Fuss (1991) says marks the moment of the homosexuals disa ppearanceinto the closet (p. 4). If coming out of the closet is an act that requires others to attend to a person being of a particular kind (Chirrey, 2003), if the sayi ng I am gay is a statement of being (Cornell, 2007), then a person can only experi ence the closet when she or he becomes
97 aware of the enduring identity and/or desire. A person acknow ledges that her/his identity and/or desire may exist for a substantial am ount of time or take a significant amount of work to change; same-sex tendencies become more than one time affairs. When a person begins to recognize and then embrace the stability of same-sex desire, recognize the desire as not a temporary aberration but ra ther something that will not change, then it becomes necessary for her or him to identify as gay. If a person believes an identity or desire will not endure, then she or he may allow time to pass believing that change could occur. A condition of the closet: When a person acknowledge s that her/his identity and/or desire will continue for an indeterminat e amount of time, perhaps forever, or will, at the very least, take a signifi cant amount of work to change. If such a perception of stability does not endure, then she or he may allow time to pass, knowing that her/his devalued kind of being may ch ange, hopefully for the better. **** Another pitcher please, I say. Bud Light. The bartender takes and fills the empty container. As I wait, I see a wom an staring my way. Our eyes connect and we exchange smiles. Four dollars, please, the bartender says I give him a five, take the pitcher, and return to my friends on the other side of th e bar. From the corner of my eye I see the woman watch my return. When my friends and I finish the beer, I notice the woman stil l looking at me. I decide to approach her. Hi, Im Tony.
98 Beth. Nice to meet you. Weve been exchanging glances all ni ght, I say. Thought I should introduce myself. Glad you did, she replies. Beth separates from her friends, I separa te from mine. We get another pitcher of beer and our own table. We exchange stories, finish the pitcher, then get another. We flirt, touch, and prepare for the next move: an outside-of-bar date, one-night sleepover, or both. We decide on a sleepov er at my apartment, a place within walking distance of the bar. The alcohol allows me to think I can in timately perform for Beth. Shes cute, I tell myself. I know I can be attracted to her. When we arrive in my room, we climb into bed. Beths skin smells like beer; her hair, stale cigarette. We sloppi ly kiss and cuddle. I remove her shirt; she removes mine. Pants follow. I begin touching her breasts unsur e of what I am supposed to do to or with them. She places her hand in my boxers and begins touching, stroking my dick. No response. I guess Ive had too much to drink, I say. Thats okay, she replies. Well wait until morning. The next morning I hope she forgets the lets wait until morning comment. She seems to forget and Im thankful. Beth and I date for six months, but spe nd most of our time together drunk. On most occasions, alcohol allowed me to think I could sexually perf orm for Beth. Shes
99 cute, I would tell myself. I know I can be attracted to her. But I also knew the buzz could also serve as an excuse fo r not being able to perform. I guess Ive had too much to drink, Id say most every night. Thats okay, shed reply. Well wait until morning. **** I have been arguing that ga y, as a kind of person possessi ng particular desires, is a difficult kind of person to observe; it is ha rd to connect same-sex sexual desires, as constitutive of this identi ty, to physical bodies (Butle r, 1991; Fuss, 1991; Foucault, 1978). A person who engages in same-sex sexual acts or who desires others of the samesex does not necessarily identify as gay or f eel that she or he should identify as such (Adam, 2000). The mark of the true sexua l deviant was the conscious inversion of gender normssuch as men wearing flamboyant clothing, using make-up, and displaying exaggerated mannerisms, Johnson (2004) writes. It was not necessari ly sexual contact with individuals of the same sex (p. 162). In places like the United States it was not until the 1950s that the sex of ones sexual partner was in creasingly more determinative of ones status than was ones self-presentation or role, regardless of whether he was insertive or receptive (p. 163). Even now, how ever, some men may only identify as gay if they assume a passive, penetrated, femin ine role in sex (Labi, 2007; La Pastina, 2006; Meyer, 1995; Phellas, 2005; Ross, 2005; Shakespeare, 1999). And there are men who engage in all same-sex sexual acts who do not se lf-identify as gay such as those working in the porn industry (Escoffier 2003; Seidman et al., 1999) and those who consider themselves on the down lo w (Boykin, 2005; King, 2005; Gonzlez, 2007; Phillips, 2005). My interviewees, along with Berzon (2002), Cooper ( 1996), Fries (1997),
100 and Harris (2003), all speak about a time of participating in same-sex sexual acts without or before identifying as gay. This is a reason why gaynessand sexuality in generalmakes some people uncomfortable: being invisible, it must be pinned down and negotiated in discourse; it lacks physical, observable qualities. I can say I am gay today, say I am straight tomorrow, and say I am bisexual the next, and there will be no physical traces of my transition. As such, sexuality is a self-claimed id entity. The closeta metaphor relevant to and made possible by gay identitycan thus only exist when a pe rson identifies as gay. The discourse of the closet does not necessarily apply to people others identify as gay. I could say that X is gay, but my claim would not push X into the closet. I may think that X is gay, or will be someday, or is lying to her or himself and others, but if X does not identify as gay, then X cannot come out of the closet; coming out is predicated on disclosure of an acknow ledged gay identity. I arrive to the seventhand most importantcondition of the closet: A person must self-identify as gay. If a person does not believe she or he is gay, then the closet has little relevance. **** Before a person can come out of a closet, she or he must first go into a closet. In this chapter, I highlighted seven conditions n ecessary for a gay identity and the closet to exist: a person must (1) have the language of gay and know about this kind of person; recognize that gay identity a nd/or desire possesses a (2) marginal and a (3) devalued status; realize that ga y identity and/or desire (4) may encounter negative criticism from others when discussed ; know (5) she or he harbors a secret that gay identity and/or desire
101 is not readily, easily accessible; realize that her/his gay identi ty and/or desire will (6) not go away on demand; and (7) self -identify as gay. When these conditions are met, then an individual discovers th e existence of the closet, a space where a door can be closed or opened, a space where coming out becomes possible, sometimes necessary, always problem atic. I describe this space in the next chapter. I also argue that on ce these conditions are met, once an individual identifies as gay, then she or he can never live outside of closet discourse again; the metaphor remains a formative influence on her/his life. I will retu rn to this idea in the last two chapters. **** I am twenty-two. Christina is my best friend of seven years and is seven years my senior. Our intimate relations hip begins in January. It en ds in May. During our time together my same-sex desire emerges, solidifies, and hurts. We should date, Christina sugge sts. We have fun together. Sounds nice, I say, but we live three hours apart. Ill come to see you every weekend, she replies. Youd do that? I ask. Convenient, I think. For you I would, she says. We couple. As planned, Christina visits every weekend. During our time together, we relax and watch television, go to dinne r, movies, and sometimes karaoke though she doesnt like to sing. Beyond the casual kiss, were never intimate. I know I am not attracted to her, but f eel as though I should be. Why havent we tried to have sex yet? she asks after a few months. Ive been too busy, I reply. And Id like to wait until were married.
102 We could be more intimate, though. I suppose, but I think were fine. I do want to be intimate, but she doesnt excite me. When we make out, I try to force an erection, to pass as attracted-to-her. I dont want Christina to feel unattractive. Two months into the relati onship, I begin to realize, th en acknowledge to myself, that I am sexually, relationa lly, intimately stimulated by men. But I do not have gay friends. The few people whom I think of as gay are people Ive lear ned I should ridicule, those I call fairies, queers, faggots, dykes disgusting human beings who can never get married, have kids, live meaningful lives, or stay free of sexu ally transmitted disease. The people I think of as gay are nothing but cock-sucking scum of the earth, immoral creatures not worthy of life, beings destined for hell. The people I think of as gay are people I despiseand resemble. Five months into this uncertain and turbulent relationship, I think about appropriate ways of ending us. I think about the possibility of making our relationship work, forcefully getting married and havi ng kids with Christina, while privately envisioning my love, lust, and desire for me n. I think about talking with Christina about my same sex desire, but then think that she cannot understand something that I dont understand myself. My desire feels to o new, weird, and disappointing. I dont like you anymore, I tell Ch ristina on the phone. Youre overbearing. Im not attracted to you, either. What? Why are you saying this? she asks. I dont like you. Youre bori ng. Youre ugly. Youre mean. She remains silent, and I thin k I hear her be gin to cry.
103 Were not compatible, I demand. Whhyy are you saying this! sh e whines. I love you, Tony! But I dont love you. Never have, never will. Dont call me either. She hangs up the phone. I do not call her back. I feel guilty and relieved. **** Christina is the last woman with whom I give off the impression of heterosexuality. After her, I quit deceiving myse lf. Instead, I retreat to Wyoming to work at a resort without a phone, without email, without contact with family and friends. I retreat into uncertainty confusion, despair, and shame. Wo rking as a bartender, I retreat into alcohol, a medium for suppressing my same -sex desire, a substance that allows me to continually suppress my feelings every night until morning. I retr eat into the closet.
104 Chapter Five: Living the Closet Closets are a place of death. Mel White, For the Bible Tells Me So (Karslake, 2007) Todays my last day, you say to y our boss of two years. Im leaving for Wyoming tomorrow. Sorry if this puts you in a bind. I need to leave. Why didnt you tell me sooner? she asks. I didnt know sooner. Your retreat to a Wyoming resort is made possible by completing an online application one Thursday afternoon, passing a phone interview on Friday, and telling friends and family on Saturday of the newlyacquired bartending joban abrupt decision to move more than 1500 miles, a reckless and sudden separation from others without much concern for their feelings. Heres the rent for three months, you say to your roommate, and hand him cash. Im leaving for Wyoming. Why? he asks, amazed by the m oney, intrigued with your plans. Because I want to. Dont ask stupid questions. **** The resort is located two miles east of the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. There is a restaurant, gift shop, bar, horse stables, and gas station on the property along with a house once occupied by Buffalo Bill Cody, approximately thirty guest houses, and male/female, rent-free living quarte rs for the employees. You share a room
105 with four guys, occupying the bottom of a tw o-tiered bunk. There is one shower, cleaned not too often, and your peers, other empl oyees, prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of every year. Most of the workers have made careers working at the resort, many having been there for ten, fifteen and so metimes twenty years. They treat you as an invasive stranger, summer help who will be gone soon. These others also distrust you. Many used to live on the street and had to work to secure lodging and food. Then they see you, someone who has never lived on the street, never worried about sleeping and eating arrangements. Youre an outsider, they believe, or a temporary insider, you believe, who will try to become, seem, or act as a permanent, sincere, and serious worker who cares about th em. You do this by saying that youll stay in contact if and when you leave, but know, secretly and silently, that when youre gone and when you refuse contact that their bitt erness towards outsiders will only increase. Their bitterness is justified, you thin k, but you care only about yourself. **** Michael narrates a time between acknow ledging his same-sex attraction and explicitly disclosing his gay identity to ot hers. It was the time between 14 and 21, he says. By my freshman year of high school I knew who I was attracted to, but I didnt admit to my attraction until much later. It was admitting to someone else that I was gay that I believed was a big deal. My sexuality was my private lot to deal with. And so I never explicitly said I was gay until much later. (personal interview, 2007)
106 Seth describes a time when he privatel y embraced his same-sex desire but acted as if it did not exist. Nothing felt normal, he says. Everything was pre-planned. I felt like an actor. Nothing felt real because I was hiding my sexuality and my relationships. I had to isolate a lot of people. I felt like I was in a very cold fridge, a freezer I couldnt socialize because it was too unnatural. It was kind of like being a puppe t. I was a puppet. (personal interview, 2007) In his memoir, E. Lynn Harris (2003) desc ribes a time when he initially embraced same-sex desire but did not speak to others about it: It didnt matter how many girls I dated or how many lie s I told. My infatuations with men were going to cause major problem s for me . I felt a great deal of shame. I was convinced that if anyone found out about my feelings for men I would be laughed off campus by the other black students. I guess it would have been easier if I was just looking fo r sex, but I wanted love. (p. 105) In For the Bible Tells Me So (Karslake, 2007), a documentary about homosexuality and religion, Reve rend Mel White observes that Closets are a place of death. So many ga y people are forced to live in two different realities: the world where they are pretending and then that closet world where they have these fears and feelings of guilt and anger and shame. In this chapter, I describe the epiphani cal moment of living in the closet, a time when a person privately acknowledges a contested social identity but publicly discounts this identity by saying and acting as if the identity doesnt exist (Seidman et. al., 1999, p. 9; Downs, 2005; Gr oss, 1991; Rasmussen, 2004).
107 Life in the closet is a time when a person tries to present her or himself as straight for others, a time of deception and duplicity, a time where an indi vidual hides her/his homosexuality in the most important areas of life, with family, friends, and at work (Seidman, 2002, p. 25), a time where an individual closely monitors his or her speech, emotional expression, and behavior in order to avoid unwanted suspicion (pp. 30-31), and a time when a gay person becomes a very good liar (Harris, 2003, p. 100). Life in the closet is a time when an individual comes out to oneself but not necessarily, or intentionally, to others (Chirrey, 2003; Lazerson, 1981; Shakespeare, 1999), a time when same-sex childhood fantas ies or close friendships often become retrospectively reinterpreted as early evidence of homosexuality (Rust, 1993, p. 54). Life in the closet is a time wh en a gay identity is disclosed through coded gestures (Urbach, 1996, p. 63), a time of ventriloquism, a c ontinuous learning of how to pass for straight, a mouthing of others stories in the absence of ones own (Monette, cited in Plummer, 1995, p. 84). Life in the closet is a time when a person carefully selects the books she or he reads, becomes increasingly guarded about her/his friends, and may join a hostile conversation about gay i ndividuals (Cory, 1951, p. 247), a time that cultivates and advocates for moments of extreme selfishness, a time indicative of shame, denial, and self-hatred (Phellas, 2005, p. 79), a time perceived as reckless, traumatic, and unhealthy (Brown, 2000; Signorile, 2007), a time when the fear of revealing one s sexual identity becomes a focus in the life of a gay man; violence keeps gay men in the closet (Clatterbaugh, 1997, p. 142). ****
108 A heroin addict shares your room, a man who says hes 35 but is easily mistaken for 50, a man who has worked at the resort for twelve years, a man whose veins burst through the skin of his nostrils and whose rottin g teeth perpetually fall out. He says hell get fake teeth if possible, which will serve as insignia of a drug habit you pretend to understand, but dont. He often asks for ri des to town to buy Pabst Blue Ribbon, pornography, and heroin. You usually comply. You dont really care about him or his life. Let him enjoy himself, you think, but know his body will soon fail, unable to sustain the drug habit that controls hi m, an addiction you enable. Why wont you speak to me? an ex-girlfr iend asks in a letter. What did I do to hurt you? she continues. Why wont you call? You trash the note and prepare for work. A co-worker gives you a gift, a small bottl e an inch-and-a-half in diameter with a small ship inside. The ship-inthe-bottle appeals to you; it speaks to your isolation, uncertainty, enclosing suffoca tion. He gives you the bottle because you engage him; you listen, react, and exude concern. You know y ou dont mean it, the attention you pay him is superficial. Others disre gard him because theyre tired of listening to him reminisce about a failed thirty-year marriage and th e despair he expresses about his estranged kids. You feel guilty about taking the ship-i n-the-bottle, one of his few possessions, because you know you wont talk to him after you leave. But you take it anyway. **** An email from a high school friend: Know ing that I identified as gay, he asked if I had tips for coming out. He wanted to learn how to not feel bad about myself anymore. Recently, he quit a six-year period of reparative therapy, which tries to make
109 gay people straight or at least unable to act upon same-sex desires. His parents required and funded the therapy. His embrace of a gay label called into question who he is and/or should be. Hacking (1990) contends that new cat egories of people create new ontologies (p. 70). Using labeling theory, a theory a ssuming that social re ality is conditioned, stabilized, or even created by the labels we apply to people, actions, and communities (p. 74), he notes that the activ ities in which we engage are intimately connected to our descriptions (p. 80). Similar to Hacking, Rose nhan (1984) believes that labels work like self-fulfilling propheci es: self-perception can be c onditioned by labels other people apply to us; it is difficult not to see yourself the ways others do. McIntosh (1968) directly applies labe ling theory to socially-marginal and socially-devalued populations. Sh e argues that labeling people in marginal and devalued ways operates in two ways as a mechanism of social control ( p. 183). First, labeling provides a clear-cut, publicized, and rec ognizable threshold between permissible and impermissible behavior (p. 183). Second, labe ling segregates individuals from others, making it possible to contain deviant prac tices and self-justifications within a relatively narrow group (p. 183; see also Foucault, 1978). Lorde (1984) agrees, noting that a label and its corres ponding evaluation can encourage one to dislike and hate persons aligning with a devalued label. Gay works as one of these labels. **** You receive a Federal Express envelope in need of a signature, the right hand corner marked with $18.00 of postage. Im not sure what happened to us an exgirlfriend writes in the letter. Im not su re why weve grown di stant. I apologize if I
110 scared you. Will you please call? I miss you. I love you. I only want the best for you. You quit reading, and throw it away. You mi ss the ex-girlfriend, your friend, and know you hurt her. But youre not ready to discuss your same-sex desire. Your boss is a gay man. Being the first se lf-identified gay person youve ever met, you wonder why hes lived at the resort for eight years. You begin to embrace a familiar stereotype: He must be si ck with HIV or AIDS (at this point both are the same). He has retreated to Wyoming to die an isolating and isolated death away from his New Orleans family and friends, away from anyone who knew him before he came out as gay and got sick. Throughout the summer this stereo typed sickness becomes your reality as you worry hes contagious and wonder what to do if he touches, kiss es, and tries to fuck you while you sleep, because youve heard gay people sometimes fuck sleeping men. Or maybe that is what youd like to do to sleep ing men. Youll worry more about your boss if he tells you that youre cute, and asks you to stay the night, a gesture you perceive as gay code for wanting to fuck. A few weeks late r, he does. In a drunken haze you politely refuse, but he asks again. You react abra sively, saying that you arent gay and dont identify with that word or have any desire for male relations, a lie of course. Youd like to amplify this abrasiveness by telling him that even if you were gay you wouldnt touch his sick body because hes a gross, less-than-hum an being who did one wonderful thing by not disgracing his family and friends, choosi ng to live isolated in Wyoming instead. **** Often, trauma is considered a defining ch aracteristic of gay identity (Cvetkovich, 2003; Halberstam, 2005; Sedgwick, 2003). If there is any characterist ic of homosexual
111 life that has been instrument al in the development of homogenous group traits, Cory (1951) writes, it is probably the pretense and the mask (p. 97). Tyler says that gay culture maintains its elf on people who feel disenfranchised and need to survive (personal interview, 2007). Downs (2005) argues that gay men are emotionally disabled by an environment that taught us we were unacceptable, not real men and therefore, shameful (p. 21), men th at, in the words of Lorde (1984), absorb loathing as a natural stat e (p. 156). Gay becomes not just a kind of person bound by same-sex desire, but also a kind of pe rson bound by and immersed in shame and the affiliated traumatic experience of identifying as gay. Life in the closet: an epiphany; a tu rning point during which gay trauma is felt most severely; a time when a person privatel y embraces a gay label; a time when shame takes hold; a time when internalized homophobia becomes lived experience. **** You begin to miss family and friends but know you cant speak about missing them because youre one of the few employees at the resort who has others to miss, others who care and shower you with love. Feeling confused and al one you decide to leave the resort forever one random Monday morning at 2 a.m., after finishing work, after securing the evenings cash and locking the bar, after gathering clothes from the room you shared with four guys. The bottled-ship gift man stops you at the door. He asks if youve had a good night to which you reply yes and that you re getting something in your car to which he replies, compassionately, watch out for the bison, bears, and moose because theyll charge, hit, and ki ll people during the dark hours of morning. Thanks, you
112 say. You say nothing of leavi ng or that youll never see hi m again. Its easy to end relationships this wayby avoidancewhich concerns you, but you act as if you dont care. When you arrive at the car, you still see the man sitting on the front step of the building. You enter the vehicle, turn on its headlights, and drive away without ever saying bye. You never want to be contacted by anyone at the resort, or by friends and family youve successfully managed to avoid these last few months. You struggle in your relationships with others. You dont want to be lonely any longer but are fearful to speak about your same-sex desire. Youre unsure of how to embrace your gay identity; you dwell in feelings of confus ion. You also dont like your abrasiveness with others, your lack of care about them, and your lack of like for yourself, but do not know how to escape the situation youre in. **** Tyler describes how the normalizatio n of heterosexualityand thus the abnormalization of homosexuality can motivate se lf-dislike: I find that a lot of indivi duals internally battle w ith being gay. They tell themselves, I want to live that normal life. I want the house with the picket fence and the dog and the family and I want pe ople to wave at me when I walk down the streets and I want that life that has b een painted for me, but I cant have that. (personal interview, 2007) Melissa, an interviewee from an earlier project, agrees: There are people that identify as hete rosexual because that is what youre supposed to be. You are not supposed to be gay. You are not supposed to deviate from the idea of having 2.5 kids, a d og named Spot, a house, a husband, kids,
113 whatever. Individuals internalize these ideas. There are so many people out there living in a fairy tale world, a world that sa ys you have to be straight in order to make it. I dont think such a belief legitimizes homosexuality. (cited in Adams, 2006b) **** Homophobia is defined as the hat red or fear of homosexuals ( Oxford 2001, p. 387; Kielwasser and Wolf, 1992).17 Internalized homophobia is defined as the gay persons direction of negative so cial attitudes toward the self , an act that can motivate internal conflicts and poor self-regard (Meyer & D ean, 1998; p. 161; Yep, 2003). As Cory (1951) observes, A person cannot live in an atmosphere of uni versal rejection, of widespread pretense, of a social world that jokes and sneers at every turn without a fundamental influence on his personality ( p. 12); Lorde (1984) ag rees, noting, To grow up metabolizing hatred like da ily bread means that eventually every human interaction becomes tainted with the negative passion and intensity of its by-productsanger and cruelty (p. 152). Internalized homophobia can also lead to an unfortunate curtailment of social and emotional life (Hopcke, 1993, p. 70). Wayn e, another friend and gay man who has been out since 1977, feels the curtailment of social and emotional life that Hopcke describes. As a fitness enthusiast, he deals wi th curtailment every time he visits the local gym, a place not conducive to gay people. 17 Even though homophobia possesses the homoprefix, I believe that homophobia involves a fear and hatred of all non-heterosexual individuals, not just homosexuals. In other words, bisexuals and queers can also experience homophobia, and while transgender-i sm and transsexual-ism do not involve issues of sexuality per see.g., one can identify as transsexual and heterosexualhomophobia can also affect these individuals especially when trans-individuals are disc ursively grouped under the sexuality category, e.g., LGB T Q. Homophobia does not just involve a fear of homose xuals; it can also describe a fear or hatred of individuals who disrupt mainstream conventions of sex, gender, and sexuality.
114 Im totally open and out at the gym, he says. Now I dont flaunt my sexuality around the place, but I do have my rainbow sticker on my car and a large pink triangle tattooed on my upper arm. If anyone asks, Im happy to tell them. Does this affect your interactions with others at the gym? I ask. Yeah. It affects me because I feel that I cannot go up to other individuals and have a regular conversation with them. I m not sure if I am going to slip and do something gay or out of the ordinarywhate ver that may besince they may freak out.18 I wish there was a gay gym in the area, but I dont think that ll happen anytime soon (cited in Adams, 2004). Relational constraints reside beneath the surface of this conversation. Gay persons may work towards being totally open yet must refrain from flaunting sexuality. Furthermore, Will believes that gay men shoul d maintain ordinary [read: heterosexual] appearances or risk being ostracized. And, fo r him, it seems that gay-friendly spaces, or at least desires for them, become impo rtant visions since such spaces provide opportunities for gay people to avoid worrying about whether they would slip into nonhetero behaviors and ther eby freak out people. Pain and inhibited interaction are defi nable features usually associated with internalized homophobia. Based on my intervie ws, observations in the field, and my lived experience, I argue that internalized homophobi a grows out of life in the closet, when a gay person engages in an inten tional and intense use of hiding practices, acts of omission, and lies, extreme bouts of selfishness, and ris ky or reckless sexual ac tivities. I describe 18 Hyde (1980) argues that the more anxious or fearful persons are about engaging in a given communication situation, the less lik ely they will perform in a way th at society deems acceptable (p. 140).
115 the lived experience of these practices, acts, lies, bouts, and activities in detail throughout this chapter. **** Id like to move to New York, Dana says. But if I move Camille would move with me. And this means that Id ha ve to tell my parents about us. You havent told them? I ask. No. But the two of you have been t ogether for three years, I say. I know but we tell a lot of people that were only frie nds. Im scared of how my parents would react. I dont want to be kick ed out of the house. I dont want them to cut me off financially. I dont wa nt them to hate me. Then why do you have to tell them? Why not keep the relationship a secret? Theyd think its weird if Camille and I moved to New York together, and its difficult knowing that those I love do not know who I love. What happe ns if I die? What if I am remembered to have never dated, ne ver loved? What would Camille do? Come to my funeral and tell others that she was just a good friend? Ive already had to face my death once. I cant think about my life, my death, without Camille. I met Dana in one of my classes. She is someone I consider a pillar of strength, someone who withstands significant turmo il but exudes self-confidence, someone who makes being fun and has fun being. When Dana was 22, she was informed that her kidneys were failing and that she would die if a transplant didnt happen. Danas mom gave her a kidney. Thats something many 22-year-olds dont experience, I say.
116 I know, she responds. I had to plan my funeral. I had to think about dying. And now Im scared to tell my pare nts that Im dating a woman. A tear runs down her cheek. I could die on the way home, she c ontinues. My kidney could fail again. My funeral would happen but the pe ople closest to me would not know about my love for Camille, our love for each other. Danas situation directly speaks to liv ing in the closeta time when a person privately embraces a gay identity and/or sa me-sex desire but publicly denies the possibility of this identity and/or desire. Livi ng in the closet is a persistently vulnerable experience, one when a self-i dentified gay person is more likely to conceal her/his feelings and erect a faade (Henry, 1965, p. 101). It is a time when a person keeps secrets, engages in hiding practices, omits information, and tells a surplus of lies. Seth also speaks of the pain of shrouding same-sex desire. My first boyfriend was Nicholas, he says. We met in school and we were fourtee n. But this was a big secret. You could never tell anyone at that ag e. It was taboo, one of the biggest taboos. At the same time I remember dating girls to hide. Bu t this was a big mistake. I ended up hurting Nicholas and causing more pain in me. (personal interview, 2007) **** I cant, to this day, imagine what childhood would have been like without the need for secrecy, and the constant vigilanc e secrecy requires, Bernard Cooper (1996) writes.
117 The elaborate strategies, psychic acrobatic s . . Every day you await disgrace. You look for an ally and do not find one, because to find one would mean you had told. You pretend to be a person you are not, then worry that your pretense is obvious, as vulnerable to taunts as the secret itself. In a desperate attempt at selfprotection, you shrink yourself down to n early nothing, and still you are there, as closed as stone. (p. 70) **** A scene from the novel Brokeback Mountain : Alma, Enniss wife, asks Ennis to use rubbers during sex because she dreads another pregnancy. Ennis refuses and says hed happily leave her alone if she didnt want any more of his kids. Elma responds, under her breath, with Id ha ve em if youd support em, and under the breath of that breath, with what you like to do dont ma ke too many babies (Proulx, 1999, p. 269). Elma has suspicions that Ennis is attracted to men and is having sex with another man, but Ennis continues to aggressively hide his attraction to men, a veil of secrecy, relationally manifest. Secrecy takes its toll on th e secretive person and her/his close, personal others. As Simmel (1964) observes, For even where one of the two does not notice the existence of a secret, the behavior of th e concealer, and hence the w hole relationship, is certainly modified by it (p. 330). **** Watch me pee, a female stranger demands. You are 22. Okay, you reply. Youre drunk at a party and easily oblige but you dont have any desire to watch.
118 When finished, she makes another reque st: Now I want to watch you. Okay, you oblige since youre at a par ty, drunk, but you dont have any desire to watch her watch you pee. Drive me to the liquor store, she says when you finish. Okay, you say, believing you arent t oo drunk to drive as long as someone else thinks you can drive well. Whaddya like? she abruptly asks in the car. Boys or girls? Girls, you say after a slight pause. On the ten minute trip, she asks about likes and dislikes, attractions and turn-offs, desire s and disgusts, and you realize you should figuratively take a few steps back, assemble re lational walls, deploy dishonest comments. You dont want her to think youre interested in an intimate relationship, and you lie and dodge questions and make up answers about seei ng someone, a girlfriend who couldnt attend the party. Want to suck my nipple? she asks on the drive back to the party I just got it pierced. Okay, you reply. Youre drunk and ea sily oblige but dont have any desire to suck. She reveals her large, pale breasts and puts a hand on the back of your head, moves it through your hair, and then pulls y ou towards an exposed nipple. You lick and suck, unsure of what to do, disliking what s happening, enjoying that youre making a story to tell heterosexual friends about the sexy woman who dem anded you lick and suck her pierced breasts. Your de sire to remain secret about your desire makes for a mockery of pleasure(Lawrence, 1914, p. 9), allowing you to participate in an
119 undesirable, intimate affair that will upon ending immerse you in an agony of irritation because you engaged in an intimate act you didnt like or want to do, an agony of torment because you engaged in an act that may have suggested you like this person in an intimate kind of way, an agony of misery because you still refuse to speak of your same-sex desire and took advantage of this pe rson only to make a stor y to tell friends whom you dont really want to impress by seeming to be a person you are not. After a few moans she pushes your head towards the other breast, and you continue to lick and suck, pretending you enjoy it, attempting to pass as straight, trying to garner pleasure from watching her receive pleasure from your tongue, mouth, and teeth. After a few minutes, she removes the hand from the back of your head, a gesture that implies you can stop. **** Consider how Tyler re-names himself for two kinds of people, those he perceives as friendly and those about whom hes uncertain: My first name is Tyler and my middle name is James. When I meet people that may have a problem with my sexuality, I introduce myself as Tyler. But when I meet people that I dont think will have a problem with my sexuality, I introduce myself as James. That way I can keep the world straight. If somebody says Hey James I know theyre friendly. If somebody says Tyler, Im not sure. (personal interview, 2007) Tyler shows a hyper-awareness of regulating who he meets and who might know of his gay identity through the mundane us e and alteration of his name.
120 Or consider how Seth engages in an exhaustive self-monitoring of his body in order to try to achieve a masculine-andthus-assumed-heterosexual male identity: When I was 15, 16, 17, I remember how important it was to learn the correct way to hold my hands. You wanted to look straight and not l ook radical. I would imitate students sitting next to me to see how they would sit and how they would hold their hands and how they would talk. I would try to grasp that voice, the deepness. I felt like I looked mechanical Nothing came out natural. I soon said Fuck! This is killing me! I hate having to sit a certain way, act a certain way to be accepted and so people wouldnt doubt my sexuality. I think a part of all this imitating still haunts me. (per sonal interview, 2007) Or consider E. Lynn Harris (2003) description of the s traight act he put on for his friend Brad, an act where he told Brad th at he was going to Jamaica with Maria and not Mario (p. 181), and the time he told his aunt about being in a relationship with Andre, telling her, however, that Andre wa s female (p. 142). Harris (2003) also credits his need to be an overachiever to hi s need of hiding same-sex desire: I realize it was the beginning of a period in my life where I attempted to overachieve so people wouldnt notice th e differences about me that I was beginning to hear loud and clear in my heart. Even though I wasnt having sex with anyone, I thought about it all the time, and most of my thoughts were about men. (p. 56) Or consider how Tim, a participant from an earlier project, describes life in the closet:
121 Kids are terrible. They call people names and do all kinds of mean shit, especially if you went to a small school like mine. Ki ds just pick out certain people, label them, and go from there. I was the person who called others names. I was the worst. I was also the one who was sneaking around engaging in same-sex experiences behind everyones backs. To this day, there are still 2-3 people I know that I used to call faggot. Mo st of them are now good friends. They havent been mean to me even though they should be. They should call me a lot of things now. (cited in Adams, 2004) These observations suggest that life in the closet is a time where it becomes difficult for a person to maintain a consiste nt account of oneself (Rust, 1993, p. 55), to be the self-same person across multiple interactions (Garfinkel, 1967). **** An ambiguously-headlined email from th e Navy Reserve: Leading a double life can be a good thing. How did the Navy get my email address, the address of a selfidentified gay man? Does the Navy want me to support and believe in the Dont Ask, Dont Tell policy, a policy that mandates I re place same-sexed desire with a public and rampant opposite-sexed front? Wh y is the Navy using the canoni cal double life phrase, a phrase that implies issues of authentic ity in embodied performance? Is the Navy condoningeven advocating forintentional, interpersonal deceit? **** I lied about not only my sexuality but a bout almost everything else as well, E. Lynn Harris says about the time between priv ately embracing his same-sex desire but
122 publicly disconfirming it. I told so many mi struths that it became hard to remember what Id said originally (p. 100). As Jeffrey, an interviewee in Downs (2005) project about positively being gay in the United States, observes, Ive been lying to everyone for most of my life. I lied to Tom, my best friend in high school, when he asked me if I was qu eer. I lied to every girlfriend who I used to prove to myself that I wasnt gay. I lied to my parents about who I was dating, what my life was really like, or even wh en I would get married. Ive lied to my employers, my doctor, and even the priest at my parents church by playing like I was straight. Ive lied to every lover Ive had about being monogamous when I wasnt. I guess I sound like some kind of monster, but Im really not. (p. 127) George, an interviewee in Phellas (2005) study of how gay men in Cyprus negotiate sexuality, agrees with Jeffrey, saying that telling his parents white lies, is a way of keeping them happy and keeping [himself] happy (p. 71). Sometimes, however, explicit lies may not be told, but instead information is omitted. As Dave says, Anytime I got a sexual urge, anytime I felt a romantic feeling toward a man, I felt an extreme wave of guilt and aloneness. And I would lie when I would sit with my mom who asks about a girlfriend and say, Im not seeing anyone right now. I guess I wasnt lying but rather omitting a truth. I felt isolated because I couldnt share my life with the people I l oved. (personal in terview, 2007) These responses suggest that life in the clos et is a time when lies accumulate like snow on a snowball rolling down a hill, a time of Im not seeing anyone lies and Hes my
123 friend from school secrets. These practi ces, acts, and lies become increasingly complicated when feelings of guilt and shame accumulate. **** A drive to meet Charles, a person who fi nds you attractive and asks you to spend the night, a man you drive two hours to see for eleven hours. Hes a person with whom you can maintain your local anonymity. You ha vent discussed your same-sex desire with anyone. You meet and eat and drink at Houlihans restaurant and then go to a club to drink and dance and talk about things not too im portant. While never exp licit, the two of you know youre there for one-time sex, not to embark on a future together. You leave the bar and drive to his apartment, both of y ou drunk and unsure of what will happen next. There you kiss, but when he tries to engage you sexually, first, by placing his hand and then his mouth on your semi-erect cock, you get nervous and lose your erection. You blame it on alcohol, and ask to reserve intima te acts until morning. Feeling sick from drinking too much you wake before him, use the bathroom, and leave without saying bye, or thanks, or talk to you later. **** If a relationship has to be a secret, y ou shouldn't be in it: A common clich decorating internet pages, newspaper advice columns, and self-help books, a simple and creative clich that positions secretive rela tionships as disruptive, never justified, and morally questionable. ****
124 Ill be back in the morning, you say to your roommate. Im staying with a friend. Okay, he says without question. You make the trip to Alexs three time s a week for two months, trips few others know about, trips to see an 18-year old runaway you met online, a man who lives with one of his internet friends. Alex doesnt ha ve a drivers license or a car or a job and spends most days in chat rooms or walki ng around the 300-person town where he lives. In a few months, Alex secret ly and silently runs away again. Rumors say he moved back to his parents home in Alaska, his name wasnt Alex, and he was younger than 18. A typical trip to Alexs involves ar riving to his house around 9 p.m. and leaving early the next day to make an 8 a.m. teaching obligation. Most of th e time is spent lying on a queen-sized bed that resides in a mu sty room, a time of touching and talking and listening to Ks Choices Not an Addict , a song on continuous repeat. You find sleeping next to Alex comfortable but so metimes wake restlessly to watch his white tanked-top body and young-but-worn, slightly-bearded face sleep. The two of you still kiss and continue to sleep in the same bed together, but the onset of mononucleosis (a.k.a. mono) prohibi ts you from seeing Alex for a few weeks. When your health improves, hell have moved someplace else with someone else he met online and hell disconnect all of his internet chat accounts and email addresses. You cant discuss your grief with anyone as you dont have any close friends, especially close gay friends, and your closest straight frie nds do not know of the trips and times you stayed with Alex. ****
125 E. Lynn Harris (2003) says he had no in terest in being friends with someone who was like him (gay), primarily because he did not like himself (b eing gay), and didnt think he could or would like other gays ( p. 111). Diane, an interviewee from an early project, describes the isolation motivated by sa me-sex desire. I lived with Dana for more than four years, she says. Dana helped care for my two children, a ssisted with my business, and provided much needed support after my divorce. One day we had a cookout for our lesbian friends. During the cookout, I remember peering towards the wooden privacy fence in our back yard and noticing a teenage boy, one of my daughters classmates, staring at me and my friends fr om over the top of it. When he saw me see him he jumped back onto his side. I wondered how long he had been there and if he may have seen women kiss and hug a nd talk about each other. My kids knew about me and my friends but most others did not. When my daughter went to school th e following week, students laughed at her. The neighbor had spread the news a bout me and my friends, and my daughter was harassed for having two moms. The ha rassment worsened over the next few months. It pained me to watch my daught er lose friends over my relationship, to see her constantly walk through the door w ith tears on her face, to hear her ask if she could transfer schools. I starte d to dislike my lesbian shadow. I ended my relationship with Dana and moved to another town. Ive only dated one woman since. My daughter and I never speak about my sexuality and I try to keep my desire hidden. Its painful to repress my feelings, but I must keep secrets. I love my daughter (cited in Adams, 2004)
126 **** Gay individuals may isolate themselves fr om others to hide their sexuality, but may also steer clear of other gay individuals ou t of a fear that they may be cast as gay-byassociation (see Boyd, 2006; Cory, 1951; Garf inkel, 1967; Lorde, 1984). As Lee (1979) observes, if a young homosexual became aware of others like himself through the medium of heterosexual culture, the stigmatized portrait of homosexual was so repulsive (pansy, fairy, dyke, faggot, queer, lezzie, homo) that many individuals denied their commonality with such stereoty pes, and many still do, forcing their continued separation from the gay community. (p. 193) Mike, an interviewee in Phella s (2005) project, says, [Before I came out] I tried to stay away from gay people. For a while I dated a woman to convince myself and the people ar ound me that I was heterosexual. If I was with friends and homosexuality was brought up I would be the first one to criticize gay people. (p. 72) Life in the closet usually is a time of isolation for a person beginning to privately embrace a gay identity. This embrace may motivate a person to move away from significant others (parents, frie nds, employers, etc.) so that th ese others can remember her or him in positive (read: heterosexual) ways (Bell & Valentine, 1995). As Goffman (1963) observes, maintaining physical distance allows a person to restrict the tendency of others to build up a personal identification of him (p. 99). Isolation can also take the form of r eclusive, interpersonal acts. A gay person choosing the safety of solitude rather than the danger of social encounters (Goffman,
127 1967, p. 39). A prominent function of shame, Garfinkel (1956) wr ites, is that of preserving the ego from further onslaughts by withdrawing entirely its contact with the outside (p. 421). Suicide is th e most extreme form of isolation, and can happen when a person chooses to face and accept destruction rather than experience anxiety and the loss of self-esteem (Leary, 1957, p. 15). **** Stay in bed, he says. Ill be back in a few hours. You like sleeping in his bed and enjoy being around him but find him too good for you, too sexuality active, too comfortable with men, too gay. When he returns he takes you to a small, isolated waterfall, a place where he kisses you and where you kiss him, a place where you think youre being watched. With the exception of skin -tight white boxer briefs, he removes his clothes and asks you to remove yours, a reque st adamantly refused after looking at and admiring his smooth, toned body. You know the work he does to maintain it and wish you had his discipline but then feel uncomfortabl e looking lustfully at a man, not a woman, a man who likes you, who cares, whose heart you ll soon break. In a few weeks youll meet another man you like, or think you like, and te ll this beautiful, ca ring man that you dont want to see him anymore because hes too gay and likes to please you too much and doesnt worry about what others think about men dating, loving, men. You still do. **** When kids in high school learned I was gay, they started threatening me, Dave says. I had one semester left. I stayed as long as I could but soon couldnt handle the threats. What type of threats? I ask.
128 The most significant one was at the be ginning of my last semester, he says, three days after we returned from Christ mas break. A bunch of football players pulled a gun on me. A gun? Yeah. After school they surrounded me at my car and held it to my forehead and said You need to get out of this school or youre going to go out in a body bag. If I had made my sexuality public by going to the pol ice I wouldve been outted to everyone. I couldnt do that. I was scared. But you were already outted at school . . Yeah, but I did not want my extende d family and my grandparents to be ridiculed about my sexuality. I knew it could ha ppen. I didnt want them to start getting hate mail. This is why I believe that once ga y people get comfortable with sexuality, we become selfish. When were not comforta ble, we accommodate everyone else. Thats an interesting belief, I sa y. So how did you respond to the gun incident? I went to the guidance c ounselor to see if I could tr ansfer schools. I had one semester left. Academically, I was in the top 20 of my 1200-person class. And I didnt care if I graduated with my friends b ecause many werent my friends anymore. How did the counselor respond? She said Dave youre being dramatic. She said youve only got one semester left. I said I will be dead. Let somebody stic k a gun to your temple. Then she said I could go to the police, which wasnt an option. This is intimidating, I say, especially for being . 18?
129 Yeah, I just turned 18. I wasnt thinking of anyone but my family. I left the counselors office thinking that I didnt have the support ne cessary to transfer schools and so I went to the administrative office a nd asked for a withdrawal form. I quit school. But this made for an additional problem th at Ive never told a nyone about. My entire family was so proud of me for being in the t op 20 of my class and that I was going to be the first person to go to college. I had a full ri de to Austin Peay University. But now all they knew was that I had a semester of high school left and I quit. What a disappointment. Many of them even said Im so disappointed in you, why couldnt you finish? My parents didnt te ll my relatives that they already kicked me out of the house for being gay or that I had a gun pulled on me at school. All a lot of my family knew was that I quit just because. Do they still talk about this? Yeah, and its been more than a decade. I was going to be the one to go to college and to make something of myself a nd do something that wasnt manual labor or something that wasnt a job just for paying bills. When I was no longer the one, the focus shifted to my younger brother. He became th e person and still the only one to have graduated from college. I was very happy to see him graduate high school and graduate college but it was supposed to be me. I have a difficult time talking about this with anyone. I cant believe this entire situation re sts upon a disclosure of sexuality, I say. I know. When gay people begin to get comfortable with their sexuality, theyre often perceived as selfish, he says. When theyre not comfortable, they accommodate everyone else. This was me being selfless again, never telling anyone the reason why I
130 had to quit high school. I couldnt. Talking a bout the gun incident would include talking about being gay. For many years, my relationshi p with my family all but died because I couldnt be honest with them. Even if I came out to them, I still think that being gay wouldve been my fault. Id rather be a disappointment for not finishing school. **** Taking with others you like but never ta lking about who you like to love. Selfless it is to never speak of your same-sex desire solely out of concern for others (Feigenbaum, 2007; Glave, 2005; Van Gelder, 1995). But one day you dislike the selflessness and make your desire a topic of talk. T hats fine with me, a friend says, but I cant speak to you anymore. You realize the more you talk about it, the more you hear the latter part of the sentence. You devise a solution: Become selfless again and tell the newly estranged friend that youve changed your mind a nd that you were going through a phase. Though you know these comments are lies, you wa nt to improve the relationship, an improvement made possible by discursively making visible one type of desire and making invisible another. Life in the closet, a time of conf lict between love and respect for another and love and respec t of yourself (Fries, 1997, p. 93) **** You create a picture-free personal ad on Yahoo.com. Sex: male. Age: 22. Race: white. Height: 56. Weight: 160 lbs. Attrac ted to: women and men. Best Attributes: personality, teeth, ability to drink alcohol. Nick, a 24-year-old, 58, 160 lb., wh ite, heterosexual, employed-by-the-Navy male whose best attributes include his body, eyes, and sense of humor, responds by
131 asking if youd like to meet. Excited that a man takes an interest in your profile, you agree to meet Nick that night. Its great to meet you, you say upon meeting Nick. I like your apartment comes next, followed by, Will my beer fit in your fridge? Though nervous, he seems nice and safe. Hes attractive too. The two of you sit on separate sides of the worn leather couch and prepare to watch an Austin Powers film. Can I get you a beer? he asks. Sure, you respond. You match each other beer for beer: If Nick gets a beer, you do too; if you get one, so does he. Want to stay the night? he asks af ter ten beers. You know he knows your response, knows you cannot drive, knows youve been staring at him all night. Yeah, you say. Want to sleep in my bed? he asks. You know he knows your response, knows you will say the bed is better than the couc h, knows that you want to touch him. Yeah, you say. In the bedroom you move in and out of a drunken haze, forgetting where you are, realizing that youre going to touch and get touched by Nick, worried about the hangover youll have tomorrow. The next morning you st ill feel intoxicated, shifting in and out of pleasure and disgust, in and out of conf usion and comfort, in and out of worry and excitement. You wake realizing t hat youve stayed with and are lying next to a stranger you first call Nate and who asks if you want to get fucked again. The again makes you nervous as it implies someone fucked y ou once already but you say sure because you cant remember being fucked and you want to remember how being fucked feels.
132 Nick applies what youll s oon learn is lube, a substance that eases access to intimate body parts. He climbs on top of you, lift s your legs in the ai r, forcefully thrusts his condom-less, lubed-penis into your now-lube d ass. It hurts, but y ou think pain must be necessary and unavoidable. After a few minutes, Nick quits thrusting and a warm substance glazes the inside of your ass. Youre tight, he says as sweat pours down his head. Thanks, you reply, unsure if tight is a complement or a complaint. You climb out of bed, put on your clot hes, and take some aspirin. You wander through the apartment, notice the amount of beer consumed, and worry about the lack of sexual protection. You overcome this dissonance by believing that Nick is safe because he is nice and would not want to transmit diseas e. Ill chat with you soon you say to which he replies okay but the two of you never meet again. **** Wednesdays and Sundays: ritual visits to the towns only gay bar, disregarding Thursday and Monday obligations. You drink to get drunk as alc ohol makes confident flirting possible. Drinks of choice: Triple-shot screwdrivers (three shots of vodka with remainder of glass filled with orange juice) and Long-Island Iced Teas (one shot of Tequila, Vodka, Rum, and Gin with remainder of glass filled with Coca-Cola). There is logic in ordering the triple screwdriver: if you ordered a typical screwdriver youd only get one shot, but if you ordered a Long Island, y oud get four; the alcohol in one triple is therefore comparable to the alcohol in one Long Island. A goal most evenings, never spoken of, often assumed, explicitly denied: find an attractive man with whom to spend the night never at your place, always at his.
133 Depending on the amount of alcohol consum ed, standards of attractiveness vary, standards not often realized until the next mo rning. If in the morning you find the man next to you unattractive, y ou make the waking encounter the last interaction. If he mentions the possibility of a relationship, you abruptly say it was nice meeting and that you must go to work. He gives his phone numbe r but you refuse to give yours. You leave by saying that you might s ee him at the bar on a Wedne sday or a Sunday, passively implying that a sleeping togeth er will never happen again. But if in the morning you find your sleep-m ate attractive, you ask to see him later that day and evening and the next day and the next days evening too. You hope a relationship might develop, but it is here where he says it was nice meeting and that he must go to work. He never offers a phone num ber but you aggressively give yours, and he says that he may see you again on a Wednes day or a Sunday night, in directly implying that a sleep together will not happen again. **** With each man I met there came a momentas he undid his shirt, as his breathing quickened, as a look of expectan cy claimed his facewhen he endeared himself by being alive beside me, Bernard Cooper (1996) writes. Im embarrassed to admit it now, but there also came moments of great disappointment when I never saw the man again, or saw him again and realized th at we had nothing but sexual attraction in common (p. 131). **** Reckless acts made possible by life in the metaphorical closet: intentional, interpersonal deceit; a lack of concern about ones s exual practices and protections;
134 unhealthy, dangerous and inten tional, other-inflicted harm; pe rpetual bouts of despair, uncertainty, sadness. Reckless acts: The many nights of driv ing home drunk, falsely believing in your sobriety, swerving over the middle, yellowdotted highway line, avoiding honking cars and construction cones and frightened deer, hi tting and destroying a stop sign with your car and leaving the scene of th e collision only to have the po lice call you the next day to say that your license plate was found at the once stop-signe d intersection. Reckless acts: Going home with so meone whose name you dont know but who you think likes you, believing your intimate interaction is promising and will progress into something more than just a one-time goi ng home but then waking the next day, to a person who, if found unattractive, will be av oided in the coming days and weeks, making conditions possible for an other s feelings of inadequacy. Reckless acts: Not responding to letters and calls from family and friends, not because youre scared to tell them that you re gay (you assume theyve already heard) or because youre scared to talk about your cu rrent same-sex relationship (you assume they dont care), but because you feel like n ever wanting to talk to them again. Reckless acts: Lying to friends and fam ily, refusing to see them out of a selfish desire to get drunk and then drive because youd rather spend the night with another man, any man. Reckless acts: Not showing up to a colle ge class youre teaching because youve decided to spend the night with a stranger, or arriving to teach unprepared as you woke only fifteen minutes be fore class begins.
135 Reckless acts: Having sex in a bathtub in the room next to where your roommate sleeps, a person you disregard by choosing se lfishly tofuck two others, a person to whom you only came out to the previous week, a person who, before you, did not know any gays. But you still decide to have bathroom sex over and over again without much care, occupying the bathroom with the men until 4 a.m. and then apologizing to your roommate the next morning when the three of you co me down the stairway and meet him in the kitchen. No problem, he says but you se nse that he is unco mfortable and angry and regrets living with a gay man. Reckless acts: Refusing to visit a doctor to okay your health, to see if youve contracted any STDs, to learn what gay me n risk by not getting regular checkups (B. Adams, 2004; Gust, 2004). Reckless is re fusing to acknowledge that youve had unprotected anal sex once (maybe twice) without regret (it fe lt good!), refusing to believe youve had protected anal sex five (maybe ten) times, refusing to talk about the ten (maybe twenty) blow jobs youve given, refusi ng to say that youve kissed at least twenty (maybe forty) men. Reckless is not sharing this history with the guy you meet tonight, the guy who adds to your number of same-sex kiss es and the oral sex count. Since hes nice and since you find him attractive, he adds to your anal sex count too, and, depending on the level of intoxication, you may allow the sex to go unprotected. **** Life in the closet: a time of conf usion, fear, isolation, secrecy, loneliness, interrelated feelings that r ub against each other, feelings a closeted individual moves within and between, eliminates and strengthe ns, perpetuates, dislikes, a time when you question support masked by a label of unconditional love, support based on others
136 knowing you as or wanting you to be a particular kind of person, support garnered from appearing and professing a desire for th e opposite sex innumerable times, support that has-always-but-now-only-maybe allows you to feel secure and relaxed. Life in the closet: a time when you feel confusion and fear like a fly perpetually buzzing near your ear, a creatu re that, no matter how hard you gesture, wont fly away, confusion that wonders whethe r others will dislike you if you choose to talk about why youre confused, confusion like a carrot dang ling from a string on a stick youre carrying, a carrot that keeps moving, ne ver settling, unable to be gr abbed, processed, devoured, confusion that feels like the taste of a familia r-but-unidentifiable substance, an ingredient whose name literally and figurativ ely rests upon the tip of your tongue. Life in the closet: a time when isola tion and secrecy and loneliness begin because your confusion becomes identified, talked about, and discussed, a time when support changes, a time when one inten tionally retreats from friends and family out of fear. It is a time when isolation descends : You secretly and silently acknowledge your same-sex desire but continue to ask opposite-sexed pe rsons on dates, planting intimate relational seeds in another with whom youll never c ouple regardless of how nice she is or how much you find her attractive or how much you li e and try. A time when isolation teases: You selectively acknowledge same-sex desire but refuse to date someone of the same-sex even though you still meet and kiss and fuck th em and then abruptly, without reason, end contact, motivating them to cry, scream, and say the go fuck yourself line. You understand his hurt but selfishly take care of yourself so th at you arent the person that has to tell another to go fuck himself.
137 Life in the closet: a time when a gay id entity is privately embraced, a time when a gay label begins to take hold on an indi vidual, a time when traumainternalized homophobiais most prone to be lived, notic eable in an individuals intentional and aggressive use of hiding practi ces, acts of omission, and lie s, in bouts of selfishand selfless-ness, and in an engagement in reck less acts. While these practices, acts, lies, and bouts may be simultaneously necessary and harmful, a gay person, when she or he begins to come out and disclose her/his identity and/or desire, becomes accountable for these practices, acts, lies, and bouts thus making for complicated, relational situations and possible assessments of manipulation and d eceit. I discuss these complications and assessments in the next two chapters. **** Thanksgiving morning, 7 a.m. Your cell phone rings. You scramble through the comforter on the foreign bed and try to loca te the buzzing device. The guy next to you moans a moan that suggests hes an gry and wants to return to sleep. Hello, you say in a quiet, raspy voice. What time are you coming home? the woman, your mother, asks. Im not, you say, then continue with a lie. I have too much work. Where are you? she asks. At home, sleeping. Why arent you coming home? she conti nues. I havent seen you in months. I have to work, you say, but know y oull spend the day with your boyfriend. But youve never missed Thanksgiving. I know but I have too much work.
138 Are you gay? she asks, and you become nervous. Ummm . no. Why? Have you ever tried to be gay? she continues. Ummm . no! Why are you asking these questions? Just wondering. Youve been distant the last few months. I miss you. Im busy mom, thats all. Im not gay. I promise. Not prepared to talk about your desi re for men you retreat, comfortably, knowingly, into promise afte r promise, lie after lie.
139 Chapter Six: Leaving the Closet March 2003. Amy, my first girlfriend, the one I met f our years earlier in college, finds my email address on the internet. Hi Tony! This is Amyits been a long time. How are you? Im married to a wonderful man. We re getting ready to have our first child. Are you married? Seeing anyone special? Children? Write back soon. I cant wa it to hear from you! I am glad to hear from Amy. We didnt e nd terribly but we didn t start well either. Hi Amy! This is Tonywe havent talked in three years! And Wow! about the marriage and the child. Im in school finishing my master s. Im not married and I dont have children but I am seeing th is great guy. (Yes, a guy .) His name is Brett. Where do you live? We should meet Id like to meet your family. Write back soon. A week passes. No response. When I come out to another person, I often feel paranoid, wondering how the other will react, how our relationship will be affected. I send Amy another message. Hi Amy! I hope youre well. I was wondering if you received my last message. If no t, let me know and Ill send it again.
140 Two weeks pass without response. I begin to doubt the possibility of a friendship. Did I say something offensive? Maybe she is shocked that I am dating a guy. Maybe she thinks I am immoral. Maybe this wasnt the right time to come out. Maybe she feels betrayed by medid she feel used? I se nd another message. Hi Amy. I was wondering about your lack of response. Did I offend you? I hope not. I apologize if I did. I never get a reply. I do not write again. **** In this chapter, I examine the time of coming out, the time a person speaks to others about her/his gay identity and/or same -sex desire. I first s how how individuals try to predict right times to disclose, try to create ideal relational conditions, and try to control time. I then describe the time of di sclosure and immediate responses to this disclosure. I conclude by illustrating how a nd why coming out never ends. It is always ongoing, and, as such, encompasses coming outs temporal and rela tional qualities. In other words, when coming out never ends, neit her does a desire to predict, create and control time. New situations make for new times to come out, new searches for right times, new worries about others, new reactions to respond to and remember. **** June 2003. I see Beth, my second girlfr iend, the one I met at a bar, three years prior, the woman with whom I spent most of my time drunk. Shes working in a Gap clothing store. Im looking at the clearance rack in the back when I notice her from a distance, in the front, folding womens polo sh irts, not being too atte ntive to the stores clientele. I hesitate, unsure of how to pr oceed: Do I approach her? Does she hate me? Do I tell her that I like men? Does she thin k shes unattractive because I wasnt attracted
141 to her? I decide to leave and avoid possible c onflict, but as I exit she glances at me. Our eyes connect and I see a look of confusion and ambivalence. I wonder if who she sees is me, wonder if she thinks that I want to m eet with her, wonder if she wonders why I am invading her space. She doesnt smile or fr own or wave or quit fo lding. I exit the store but immediately glance at her through the st orefront glass. She continues to work, uninterrupted, never looking outside, never acknowledging that we ever crossed paths. **** Tyler describes coming out as a time when a gay person can say I am gay and it does not feel dirty or icky or strange or odd, a time when a gay person is comfortable with his sexuality, and a time when if you told your parents and they were to disown you it wouldnt matter, if you told your boss and he or she fired you it wouldnt matter, if you told a friend and she or he were to leave you it wouldn t matter. (personal interview, 2007) Coming out is a time when a person is comfortable revealing a gay identity, a time when others reactions do not carry the we ight they once did, but also a time when a gay person still worries about facing the hard truth about some people. There are those people who you have admiration for and love dearly, who are amazing people, Tyler continues, but you have to come to the realization that theyre going to be okay with your sexuality and that theyre going to live up to that amazing person, or that they wont handle it very well. That can really degrade your view of that person. Its like youre rooting for the person to say and do the right thing, accept it, but for some people its not that eas y. (personal interview, 2007)
142 Coming out is a time when gay identity is introduced and discussed, a time that can consist of contempt, tolerance, and f ear of loss of approval (Burgess, 2005, p. 129), and a time of sacrifice and danger that can promote hostility, rejection, and even violence from family, friends, and total st rangers (Gross, 1991, p. 374). Coming out is a time when a gay person undergoes for others a paradigm shift by discursively transitioning from one community (straigh t) to another (gay; see Kuhn, 1996; Garrick, 1997). Coming out is an event that dramatically reshapes life; post-di sclosure, life never feels quite the same again (Plummer, 1995, p. 84). Coming out under any circumstances is an uncertain business, Taylor (2000) wr ites. No matter who youre coming out to and no matter what you already know about them, th ere is no way to predict how anyone will respond to this disclosure (pp. 69-70). **** Heteronormativity (often implicitly) priv ileges opposite-sex desire and frames individuals as h eterosexual unless stated otherwise (Solis, 2007, p. 128, my emphasis); heternormative situations are epito mized by the claim, If you hadnt said you are gay, I wouldnt have even guessed (Gust & Warren, 2008, p. 125, my emphasis). Heteronormativity makes it necessary for indivi duals who do not identify as heterosexual to disrupt the assumption of heterosexuality and make their non-heterosexuality known (Garrick, 2001; Shallenberger, 1991). However, when a person comes out, when a person speaks of her/his same-sex desire to an-other, she or he disrupts the assumption that she or he was heterosexual, makes sexuality discursively explicit, and introduces a possibly taboo sexual identity into the conversation. Similar to Bochners (1984) observation about disclosures in marriage,
143 coming out is an act of self-disclosure that r uns the risk of produci ng mistrust, dislike, and other negative impressions as it vio lates rules of proper conduct (p. 606). Furthermore, if life in the closet consis ts of intentional and intense use of hiding practices, acts of omi ssion, lies, bouts of se lfishness, and a participation in reckless acts, then coming out can reveal the presence of th ese practices, lies, bouts, and acts. This can frame a gay person as manipulative and deceptive, motivating her or him to experience humiliation, ascriptions of immaturity, and so cial disgrace (Goffm an, 1959; Cory, 1951; Chirrey, 2003; Phellas, 2005). Saylor (1992), in a coming out letter to his mother, writes I dont think I have ever lied when aske d a direct question. But I am guilty of being secretive and closed with you. Th at has caused its own problems. I dont like the distance it has created, and I know you dont. (p. 64). By coming out, he continues, the burden of evasion was off me; there was no longer a secret about why I was secretive (p. 67). While Sayl ors example epitomizes Simmels (1964) observation that The secr et contains a tension that is dissolved in the moment of its revelation (p. 333), new tensions emerge when a gay person comes out. The person is obliged to negotiate a history of secrecy and evasion, manipulation and deception. Hence a gay person feels a need to tr y to predict, crea te, and control the environment in which self-disclosure happens. As Henry (1965) suggest s, the self must perceive when to emerge and how to do it, for if it comes forth too soon and too vigorously, the lethal properties of the e nvironmentof any environmentwill kill it (p. 105). ****
144 September 2003. I try to contact Christi na, my third girlfriend, the woman with whom I began to embrace my same-sex desire the person I regretfully called boring and ugly and mean. Before we, or I, ended the re lationship, we had been close friends for more than seven years. I still have her ema il address and assume that she hasnt changed it in our two years of not speaking. Hi Christina. Youre probably shocked that Im writing you. You also may be shocked by the content of this letter. I had to write it. I wish I wrote sooner. Im gay. I have been attracted to men for a while but I never embraced my attraction. I tried to wish it away but realized it wasnt that easy. Im telling you this because I want you to know that you did nothing wrong when we dated. My frustrations stemmed from my confusi on. Youre a wonderful loving, intelligent and attractive individual w hom I cherish and miss very much. I apologize for any hurt I caused. I know this could be the last contact I have with Christina especially if she is angered by my writing or upset about my sexuality. Based on the experience with Amy, I write knowing this and thus try to predict and control the possibility of no response. I realize that you may not respond to this letter. I realize that you might hate me. I understand any response you have. I just want you to know that youre a great person. Im sorry for my actions. Im sorry for not writing. A prompt reply from Christina: Tony, I could never hate you. Even if we havent talked in a few years, youre still one of my best friends. Im glad you wrote. During and after our
145 relationship I was hurt. Id be lying if I said I wasnt. But after a few months, I began thinking about how you turned in to a completely different person, something like a monster. I didnt know y ou the last few months. Youd get mad at everything. You forgot how to laugh. I miss you. She concludes with I miss you and our frie ndship resumes. I feel validated, thankful, and relieved. **** Bretts death may have been motivated by telling his father that he was gay. Brett possessed many stereotypical gay characteristic s. He enjoyed theatre had a graceful and sarcastic demeanor, and was infatuated w ith Judy Garland. People may have assumed Brett was or could be gay prior to his disclosure, but this does not necessarily mean that Brett was out to them or even that they identified Brett as gay. Brett lived with a man for four years. I assumed that he had told his family that he was gay but when I asked Are you out to your family? he responded with an ambiguous They know. When I asked H ow do your parents feel about your sexuality? he responded with We dont talk about it. None of th ese comments suggest that Brett ever said anything about his gay identity, but ra ther that he thought individuals who paid any attention to his stereotypically gay interests and performances would have known. But he never said that he told his parents he self-identified as gay. My lack of knowledge of Bretts parents knowledge of his gay identity further adds to the possibility that something might have happened when Brett said I am gay to his father. Bretts father also never saw his autobiographical solo show Best Face Forward, a performance that ex plicitly addressed being gay. Th e absence of his father is
146 important, especially since he never a llowed me, a boyfriend and a good friend for several years, to meet his dad. Id like to meet your family, I would often say, but he would flippantly respond Maybe one day. Dave shared with me the story of co ming out to his mother. At the time, she worked third shift. She came home one even ing and found his boyfrie nd staying the night at their house. Dave was shirtless when she came home, and decided to put on the nearest shirt quickly. But he accidentally put it on in side out with the tag facing the front. He believed his mom noticed the tag, and thus a ssumed his shirt had been off prior to her arrival. This mistake, Dave believes, is what motivated his mom to ask about his gay identity two days later when she called and asked him to pick her up from a bar. But mom, he said, Ive got school in the morning. Cant you ju st stay the night with a friend, then come home tomorrow? Whats the matter? she replied. Got somebody there? Even though his mom may have found it weird that a boy was staying over at their house with Dave, this di d not suggest that he was gay. Or she may have assumed that he was gay, but it was not until he said something that his gay identity was revealed; it wasnt confirmed until she got into his car. Tell me its not true, she said. When Dave didnt respond to a direct confrontation of his sexuality, his nonresponse served as an act of self-validati on, a moment of coming out that motivated his mom to scream and kick the windshield and, later that evening, send him to the hospital with a concussion.
147 Daves mother may have thought that he was gay after abruptly coming home from work, but did not r eact to him as gay until he validated the possibility two days later. Why didnt Daves mother get angry wh en she first noticed him and his boyfriend? Why did she ask about Daves sexuality rather than assume he liked men? Confirmationa self -validation of gay iden titywas necessary. Consider a scene in the film Sordid Lives (Shores, 2000). A mother describes attending a homosexual theatre production in which her son wa s an actor. As viewers, we are taken into the production she describes, a performance of six naked men on a stage who come together to form three couples. E ach man gently caresses the other and we see the mother squirm in the audience. But for the mother, her sons participation in this same-sex theatre productionand her witnessing of itdoes not definitively mark his body as gay or imply, for her, that he self -identifies as gay. Th roughout the film she denies others attributions of her sons hom osexuality, and only discusses the sons gay identity when he says something about it. Until he says so, he has not come out to her. And consider the commentary from a Savage Love sex-advice internet broadcast (Savage, 2007b). Dan Savage, the host, rece ives a call from a man whose parents are married but whose mother may be a lesbian. How is it that you know your mo ther is a lesbian? he asks. I had actually known the woman she s seeing before she did, the caller responds. I came from a very small town a nd there is a small gay clique. And she was one of them I met through another friend. Y ou know, you kind of just pick up on things. I would walk down to the basement and ther e they would be, not doing that, but not doing what friends do.
148 And this has been going on all of your life? Dan continues. Ive mostly known for the last five or six years, the caller replies. Are you and your mother honest with each about the fact that shes a lesbian? Dan asks. Does she acknowledge that she is a lesbian? Has she outted herself to you? No, says the caller. She admitted once that she had an affair, but [said] she was kind of drunk and stoned at the time. Its not like your mother has said Hey, Im a lesbian. Im with this woman, but dont tell your father? Dan asks again. Yeah, the caller replies. So this is all you reading into this si tuation, Dan says. And you may be reading it exactly right. The caller responds with I want mom to come out and say Look! Im gay. And Im going to go live with this woman I love! (Savage, 2007b, my emphasis) Dan implies that the callers mom has only come out when something is said and put into discourse, not necessarily when some thing is done such as engaging in a samesex love affair. These examples illust rate why a person must self -identify, explic itly, as gay; people must confess a gay identity in order to come out. Coming out is not necessarily relevant for people who engage in same-sex acts or people who others identify as gay. Contrary to Jandt and Darseys (1981) argum ent that coming out for a lesbian or gay man may mean a debut, where an individual, for the first time, publicly identified herself or himself as a homosexual by an action, such as going to a gay bar (p. 15), I argue that doing something like going to a gay bar does not mark a person as publicly gay, publicly
149 out. Coming out requires saying something, not necessarily engaging in stereotypically gay acts; a statement of gayness and/or of same-sex desire must occur (Chirrey, 2003).19 I mentioned earlier that some men may only consider themselves gay if they engage in passive, penetrated roles in same-sex sex acts (L a Pastina, 2006; Meyer, 1995; Phellas, 2005; Shakespeare, 1999) A man may only feel that he is gay if he engages in the gender-inversion role of bottoming. A ma n who penetrates need not identify as gay and, if he doesnt, he will not have to worry about coming out. However, even bottoming may not encourage a person to feel or identify as gay. As Escoffier (2003) observes, a majority of men who have sex with men in the pornography industry identify as heterosexual ev en though they may be penetrated. In the context of porn, same-sex acts in particular positions may still not indicate a persons sexuality (especially when influences lik e money exist). Thus, a person must say something about her/his gay identity and/or same-sex desire in order to come out; engaging in same-sex sex acts doesnt necessarily mark her or him as gay.20 19 The dont ask, dont tell discharge policy for homosexuals in the United States military complicates the coming-out-is-saying-something claim: Sexual orientation will not be a bar to service unless manifested by homosexual conduct. The military will discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender. (Pentagon, cited in Anonymous 1993, p. A16, my emphasis) A man engaging in (ambiguously defined) homosexual conduct may out himself by engaging in this conduct; regardless of self-identification; his embodied stereotypical, gay-related practices in a military context might constitute him as gay and thus worthy of discharge (see Butler, 1997a; Halley, 1989). 20 Furthermore, when I say that a person comes out, I am saying that she or he makes a claim about samesex desire and desire for others with similar genitalia Coming out is not a claim about samegender desiredesire for another who embodies masculinity or femininitynor is it desire for an individual with similar chromosomes and reproductive organs. When I, a man (sex), say I am gay, I am saying I sexually desire someone with similar genitalia, a criterion of sex. I am not saying I desire someone with similar internal organs and chromosome s, also sex criteria, nor am I expr essing my desire for masculine or feminine beings, a claim about gender, not sex. I concei ve of coming out, a disclosure of gay identity, as a desire for same-sex genital relations. See Discovering the Existence of the Closet (Chapter 4, pp. 84-92).
150 I am not saying that others do not influen ce a persons outing process, or that if a person is not out others will assume this pe rson is straight. But coming out can only make sense when gay identity is self-claimed, confessed, pe rsonally made public (Shugart, 2005). As Foucault (1978) says, sexuality is elusive by nature; its energy and its mechanism escaped observation, and its causal power was partly clandestine; sexuality must thus appear through the labor of a c onfession (p. 66). Coming out is a linguistic act that offers up the promise of a transpar ent revelation of sexua lity (Butler, 1991, p. 15) that puts one inside the realm of the visi ble, the speakable, the culturally intelligible (Fuss, 1991, p. 4). Coming out is based on the pr emise that speaking ones identity is the most appropriate form of knowing it (Minson, 1981, p. 21). I can say that (I think) another person is gay, but I cannot say this pe rson is out until she or he validates my claim discursively. Coming out is an act of self-identification a nd confession, one that others can motivate but never force. This chapter thus focuses on a gay individuals self disclosure of sexuality and the relationality of this disclosure. I am not focused on the relational dynamics of others trying to out an individual (Signorile, 1990). **** You planned to come out at dinner but that didnt happen. Can we go for a walk, you ask. Sure, she says. After a few minutes fear hasnt diminish ed but you know you must act. You dont want her, a special friend, to hear from someone else. I have to tell you something. She stops.
151 You lean towards her ear, nervously gestur ing that its a secret, unable to say the I am gay words loud and proud because th ey still sound disgusting to you. So you whisper I am gay. She smiles. Why didnt you tell me sooner? she asks. I was scared. The walk continues and you re relieved. A burden, releas ed. Why didnt you tell me sooner? shell ask again. You knew Id be fine. I didnt know that. **** As a teacher, Im uncomfortable with stud ents knowing that I am gay in the first week of class, Michael says. But halfway through a semester, I dont care if they know. Theres always a certain amount of calculation, of predicti on, every time you come out. I think that most people have a good indication of how people will react to their coming out. I knew my mother would go ballistic, be an emotional mess for a while, sort it out and then be fine. I knew my dad would be uncomfortable, but would very quickly do alright because he had to. Whatever em otion was going on he would just eat or bury it and deal with it on his own. He di dnt want to be the asshole guy that is not open-minded. I knew thats how it would go. I predicted this to friends before it happened. (personal interview, 2007) Theres always a right time to come out and you have to feel the environment for when that right time is, Tyler suggests.
152 You have to get a sixth sense about who is going to take it better than others. In some ways its also about getting the right people on your side which may seem manipulative. But if you know others alre ady support you then th e process is a lot easier. It would be unfair to come out to someone if they will not have time to deal with it. It would also be unfair if you dont think theyll react. This is something I told my boyfriend. He wanted me to be there with him when he came out to his mom. I told him that would be unfair to her. With me there she could not express herself how she wanted. With ju st him, she had the ability to do what she wanted. If she wanted to scream, she could scream. If she wanted to cuss, she could cuss. I think that when a person co mes out, he or she needs to worry about how the other person is going to feel. (personal interview, 2007) Falconi (2006), a reporter for The Daily Mississippian, argues that A critical component of coming out is all in the timing. While the Thanksgiving turkey is being carved, for example, may not be the best time to blurt out Mom, Dad, I'm gay! as you reach for the cra nberry sauce. Awkward! Rather, choosing just the right time and setting to discuss your sexual orientatio n with those most important to you is crucial in feeling secure in get ting out of the closet. I came out to my father during a violent thunderstorm that knocked out our power, Keith Berry (2003) writes in his doc toral dissertation on identity constitution. In the dark, with my dad sitting in his chair, and me sitting across the room on the couch, I stumbled through a rehearsed paragraph in which I told him that I was gay. I said many difficult things, including my not wanting to disappoint him, not wanting him to feel respons ible, and that I did not c hoose to be gay. Such gay
153 coming-out clichs! He told me that he knew I was gay, stood up, stumbled with his severely damaged knees across the dark room, and told me, Youre my son. I love you and will always love you. (p. 119, my emphasis) Like most significant self-disclosures, a gay person will often try to predict right times to disclose, try to create idea l relational conditions, a nd try to control the time to come out; she or he will test th e waters (McLean, 2007; p. 161). It is the rampant contempt, hostility, and possible violence that stem from the disclosure of a gay identity that make the disclosure unique. The need to predict, create, and control time is thus a need for safety and protection. **** Brett: We need to talk. Father: About what? Brett: Me. Father: I dont want to talk about you. Brett: Im tired of lying. Father: I dont want to talk . Brett: Im gay. Father: [No response.] Brett: Dad? Father: You disgust me. [A few hours pass.] Bretts roommate: [Telephones fa ther.] Your sons unconscious. Father: I talked with him a few hours ago.
154 Bretts roommate: The paramedics are here. Father: Hell be fine. Bretts roommate: Hes dead. **** [Brett] had talked to some friends ea rlier that day and felt fine (Joshua, 2006) **** Barefoot Ron, a contribut or to the Parents and Frie nds of Lesbians and Gay (PFLAG) website, offers gentle wisdom to parents when responding to a childs coming out: PARENTS: Don't underestimate for a mi nute how important it is for you to be supportive to your gay/lesbian child especially, in the first few minutes AFTER they come out to you. Yes, those first few minutes are very important and will always be remembered. (B arefoot, n.d., my emphasis) Suzanne Westenhoefer (2005), a lesbian comedian, argues similarly that it is those first five minutes in coming out to your friends or acquaintances that are really the hardest (cited in Human Right s Campaign, 2005, p. 23, my emphasis). A caller on Dan Savages Savage Love sex-advice Podcast tells Dan that he was inspired by the previous weeks broadcast featuring a Catholic mothers response to her son who came out (Savage, 2007a). The caller te lls Dan that the story motivated him to come out to his conservative Christian pare nts. His parents, however, reacted much differently, more negatively, than the Ca tholic mother. The caller, dumbfounded by his parents response, called Dan for advice. Consider Dans response:
155 You were partly inspired to come out to your parents after lis tening to the Podcast where the Catholic mom read a letter th at she wrote about supporting her son and being there for him. You have to rememb er that that Cathol ic mom didnt write that letter 11 minutes after her son came out to her. (my emphasis, Savage, 2007a) Those first minutes: sometimes awkward, often scarring. **** Mom, Im gay. Silence. One one-thousand, two one -thousand, three one-thousand . An expressionless face faces you. A mild frown forms. Those first few minutes . Its just a phase, she replies. I was also confused at 22. I dont think so, mom. One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three . Youre too young to know, she says. But I dont think so, mom. One one-thousand, two . Mom? Those first few minutes, how important they are. **** A call from dad. I heard a rumor about you, he says. Y ou become nervous. I heard that youre living with a guy. In fact, not just living with, but fucking this guy. Is this true?
156 One one-thousand, two one-thousand . Weeelllll, you stutter, no, its not true Who would say something like that? That doesnt matter, he abruptly s uggests. Im just glad it aint. Yeah, me too father. Thats silly. Ill ta lk to you soon. The conversation ends. One one-thousand . Ten one-thousand . Thirty one-thousand . You call dad back. Hello, he answers in an upbeat, much happier tone. Yeah, dad, its me. I just wanted to tell you that its trueI am living with a guy, my boyfriend in fact. So rry to burst your bubble. Those first few minutes . You hear nothing so you decide to ma ke the situation better by making up a lie, telling him that his recently deceased mother, your grandmot her, knew about your samesex desire. And grandma knew about my sexuality and my boyfriend but she thought it would be best if I didnt tell you. She was always fine with it, but realized, as did I, that you would not accept it. Sorry if Im a disappointment. One . Shheee knneww? he stutters. Yeah, she did father. Well, he utters more fluently I guess Ill call you soon. Bye, dad. Take care.
157 Silence, the next six months. Those first few minutes, the next six m onths: sometimes awkward, often scarring. **** Dave recalls coming out to his father: One night after my senior year of high school started, my dad and I were watching a comedian on TV. The comedian made a gay joke and started laughing. My dad started laughing too. I looked at him a nd said, You know thats not funny and he said, Yeah it was and I said, No its not. Your sons gay. He looked at me and said, Are you sure? and I said, Y eah, Im sure and he said, Im okay with it. I still love you. I thought all was fine as he only became a little distant for a couple of days. But three days late r, when I returned home from school, I found my stuff on his front porch. He met me at the front door and said Im sorry but Im not okay with you being gay. God made Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve and I cant have you in my life anymore. He then slammed the door. (personal interview, 2007) Seth recalls his moms reaction after he came out: She cried a lot. She had the same emotion of losing somebody very important I made her understand that Im still the same person, and she then came to support me (personal interview, 2007). Tyler recalls coming out to his mom at th e age of 13: I was with my mom at a Smoothie King in Chelsea, New York. I said Ill have a pinea pple passion, mom Im gay, to go please. And she said Ill have the same, I always knew, to go please (personal interview, 2007). ****
158 I came out to my parents on the phone, Kenny Fries (1997) recalls. When I asked them why they were silent my mother asked: What do you want us to do, jump out the window? (p. 132). David, an interviewee in Nancy and Casey Adairs Word is Out (1981), recalls coming out to his father: I asked him if he was ready for a very heavy conversation. And he said, Yeah, let me grab a cigarette. I told him to gr ab the whole pack! This will be a very heavy conversation. So he brought th e whole pack and sat down and was smoking a cigarette. I told him that it was very important for me to be open with people who are important in my life and that what I had to tell him, I was telling him because I wanted to be open; I didnt want my life to be a secret. I wanted him to understand me and what I was doing. What I was telling him shouldnt upset him, even though it probably would. And I said Theres something Ive been meaning to tell you for months, but Iv e sort of been putting it off. Im gay. And he didnt blink! He said, Have you always been gay? I said, Always. And thenit really didnt seem to phase him he asked some very logical questions. (p. 138, my emphasis) Kevin Williamson, an interviewee in Robert Trachtenbergs When I Knew (2005), tells about coming out to his father: The fisherman, fifty-one, sits in his recliner in front of the television, flipping the remote, the volume blaring. Across the room, on the couch, sits his son, twenty-seven, staring at him; anxi ous, something on his mind. After several false starts and what seems like an eternity, the son speaks.
159 Son (quietly): Dad, Im gay. The fisherman hits the mute on the remote. The room goes silent. A long, agonizing moment. For the son, the world has stopped. He stares at his father, waiting for a response. Anythi ngthe silence is maddening. Fisherman: I figured it was that. His son is confused. Son: You figured what was that? More silence. Fisherman: Why we never talk. Both men sit there, starin g at the muted television. Fade to black. (Williamson, 2005, p. 49). Karel Boulery, another interviewee in Robert Trachtenberg s (2005) project, recalls coming out to his mother: My mom picked me up from school in our Oldsmobile Cutlass that smoked when you stepped on the gas. Anywa y, as she drove, we made small talk. Then, at the front of the house, sitting in the car, I turned to her and said Mom, I know you probably know already, but Im gay. Its not a phase. Its just me. And Im happy about it . . She looked at me, and then smiled. I was waiting for the hysteria I had heard about. But instead, she said, We ll, if you ever get Burt Reynolds, hes mine first. (Boulery, 2005, p. 35) ****
160 In For the Bible Tells Me So (Karslake, 2007), a documen tary about religion and homosexuality, Phil Reitan remembers hi s reaction to his sons coming out: When Jake came out I was home. And he wa s crying and told me that he was gay. It hit me so hard I felt like I just ha d a death. Or like somebody had kicked me in the stomach and just it took all the wind out of me. And it didnt go away. It was that way for months. It was the type of thing that you couldnt have 15 seconds of the day that you didnt thi nk about it. I had so many dreams for Jake. Somehow, they were instantly shattered in my mind. A father recalls his reaction to his sons coming out: I remember my first words: What can I do to change that? (cited in Aoki, 2005, p. 40). Musician Rufus Wainwright recalls hi s parents lack of acceptance upon first coming out. They were pretty upset initially, he says. But that has changed drastically. Now they re fine with it. They did have some cause for concernmaybe because it wa s 1987 and it was really a period where, from their perspective, if one was gay, one was dead with AIDS and everything. So, I think they were just scared out of their minds. (cited in Hughes, 2007, p. 9) Lim-Hing (1990/91) recalls co ming out to her mother: Mom, I said hesitantly, you know Im gay, dont you? I couldnt say the word lesbian to my mother. She be gan with a remark on how as a child I didnt play with dolls, which is untrue. I had a couple of favorite G.I. Joes, but I didnt argue the point.
161 I never talk about things you child ren dont talk about first, she then said, letting me know that sh e already knew. Then she sa id that she would always love me, and that if I was happy it was alright with her. (p. 20) Interviewing parents about their gay children, Hom (1995) found two significant temporal themes: (1) the attitudes of pare nts before disclosure /discovery [of a gay identity] and (2) the attitudes and reactions of parents after disc losure/discovery (p. 37, my emphasis). The act of coming out and others reactio ns to this actthose immediate seconds, minutes, hours, and daysare significant, of ten-scarring moments in a persons life, moments perpetually reme mbered and narrated. **** A coming out, a disconfirmation: Mom, Im gay. No you arent. Its just a phase. Telling others about your coming out, a disconfirmation reframed six months later: How did your mom respond when you told her youre gay? She responded fine. She wasnt upset. Telling others about your coming out, a di sconfirmation reframed after two years: How did your mom respond when you told her youre gay? She said she always knew. She was thankfully supportive. Time and memory are true artists, Dewey (1936) writes. [T]hey remould reality nearer to the hearts desire ( p. 104). Bochner (2007) agrees, noting that
162 memory is, in part, a response to what insp ires [a persons] reco llections (p. 198). Time and memory can remold an unwanted respons e, each time to better resemble desire, each time to alleviate pain, each ti me to forget the act of remolding. **** Michael told me the story of coming out to this father: At 24, I made a pact with myself about coming out to my parents. I decided that I had no need to impose my sexuality on my parents. I wasnt going to say anything when I was in their home, in their world. I didnt need to come storming in as gay. But I also decided that I wasnt going to change my home, my world to accommodate them. I wasnt goi ng to straighten up the house if they came for a visit. One day, I get a call from my dad sayi ng that he was coming to visit. I was like, Fuck! I knew what the implications were. My dad was coming to stay with John and me. I told him to meet me at work and wed go to dinner. My father was someone I respected a lot. I was convinced that my father would deal with my sexuality well, but th ere was always a risk that he might not. If he had totally rejected me, Im not sure how I wouldve dea lt with it. I felt bad for him and for myself. On an intellectua l level, I was not ashamed at being gay, but on an emotional level I somewhat was. So my father meets me at work and I plan to come out at dinner. I wasnt going to come out to my father at my wo rk because I wasnt out at work. I was nervous the entire ride to dinner, but I didnt want to come out during the ride
163 because I thought dinner would be more rela xed. I also knew that we would be in public so he couldnt totally freak out. Dinner moves along and I realized that I wasnt going to do it. I couldnt. I decide to come out at desert. Our pie arri ves. We eat the pie. But I dont come out to him. Ironically, it felt weird bei ng in public surrounded by strangers. I knew that I had to say something to my father when we were alone. We get in the car and were head ing to my house. I know that Johns going to be there and I vowed to myself to tell my father before we arrive. Were about ten minutes away. I knew I had to do something. In retrospect, I think my postponement was my way of backing myse lf into doing something that I knew I wouldnt have normally done. Dad, theres something I need to te ll you, I said. I need to tell you that Im gay. Pause, pause, pause. Well, I dont take th at as good, he said. Pause, pause, pause. I continued: I needed to tell you because when we get to the house Johns going to be there. Hes my part ner. We live together. I know this is springing a lot on you all of a sudden. If youre uncomfortable and need to stay at a motel, if you need to get out of the situation, that s understandable. No, no, no, he goes. Ill be fine. Okay, I said.
164 I knew that ideologically my dads quite lib eral and I knew that he was trapped in having to deal with this. He likes to think of himself as open-minded and progressive. Just dont tell your mother, he says after a few moments. Itll kill her. Okay, I responded. Pause, pause, pause. This car is front wheel drive, isnt it? he adds, a non-sequitur. Yeah, it is, I replied. (personal interview, 2007) **** At a bar predominantly occupied by gay men, I see Scott, a former student who I knew identified as heterosexual a few years ago. Scott! I say. I walk to him and we ex change hugs. I then look at his face, and, with my eyes nonverbally ask, What brings you here? He accurate ly interprets my nonverbal. A lot has changed since you last saw me, he says. A lot. Everything alright? I ask. Yeah, sort of. I broke up with my girl friend. And . And today I came out to my parents. They told me that I could no l onger live with them. They kicked me out of the house. I offer condolences and support, an d tell him to give them time. I see Scott again in a few weeks and ask, So . how are the parents? We havent talked, he sa ys. I tried to go to their house, but they wouldnt let me in.
165 I offer condolences and support, but sens e that his hope has started to fade. They just need more time, I reply, hopefully. **** Consider a scene from Will and Grace Jack: Mom, I have something that I wa nt to say to you. Ive kept this from you for a long time and that is wrong because that makes it seem like Im ashamed of something Im not ashamed of. I want you to know who I am because I am proud of who I am. Mom, are you wearing Chloe? [Laughter to relieve tension.] Mom, Im gay. Mom: Oh. [Assumes a sad facial expression.] Grace: Judith, its okay. So hes gay. Hes still the same little boy who gave you highlights for the first time. [Laughter.] Karen: Honey, I think youre missing th e silver lining here. When youre old and in diapers a gay son will know how to k eep you away from chiffon and backlighting. [Laughter.] Jack: Mom, Im sorry to disappoint you but this is who I am. Mom: You could never disappoint me. I just want you to be happy. In eight years of the show 186 episodes, this is the only episode where Jacks mother physically appears. From a producti on standpoint, this suggests that Jacks coming out and the reaction to his coming out are the defining moments in the (gay) sonmother relationship. Her lack of re-appearance may also suggest that coming out is the only important, memorable connection between them. **** Im attracted to men, you say.
166 Its just a phase, someone remarks. What a waste, says another. Youve not felt like a waste before. Have you tried sex with a woman? someone asks, a negation doubting your desire. **** A coming out experience featured in the comedy Another Gay Movie (Adams & Stephens, 2006). The scene: A son dressed in a flashy blue jump suit enters his house after spending the night with a man. He approaches his mother who is playing somber music on the piano. Son: Mom? Mother: I didnt hear you. You di dnt come home. Whats going on? Son: I think . I like guys. [Four second pause. The mother mainta ins what at first looks like a sad expression.] Mother: Duh! What took you so long? The movie jumps to the next scene with mother and son watching his childhood films. The mother says that his like of Madonna and an early swoosh in his gait (an instance of gender inversion) made her think that he w ould be attracted to men. What makes these scenes interesting is that, being a comedy, they are made to be humorous, out of the ordinary, atypical. And what ma kes these scenes interesting is that they emphasize (1) the moment of coming out and (2) reactions to this moment. ****
167 Coming out is viral: Id tell one person whod tell th ree others whod tell three more. Disclosures of gayness make for interes ting gossip as they often end a heterosexual assumption. But it wasand still sometimes is easier to allow so meone else to tell others of my sexuality especia lly those I fear might harm or reject me. This would allow me to avoid possibly painful and scarring r eactions as those first few minutes would happen without my direct, embodied observation. I do not suggest, however, that negative reactions are eliminated by a person who tells others about an-others gay identity. Consider Daves story: We were in the bleachers, in the band, all in uniform. It was a Friday night. I heard my ex-girlfriend tell a group of her fr iends that I was gay. I heard her say it, the phrase hovering above and spreadi ng throughout the bleachers. Im not exaggerating. Ive never seen anything spr ead like that before. Within a minute every head of every member of the band turned toward me. I felt like I was in a bad dream and that this cant be happen ing. But instead of nodding and telling her that shes just pissed that she cant get on my jock anymore, I didnt deny her claim. I grabbed my stuff, got up, and ran back to the band room. It felt like I was on fire. I couldnt think. I couldnt do anything. I quickly go t dressed and went home. Not one of my friends called that weekend and, come Monday, people started calling me faggot everywhere, all day long. My life in high school was over. It was never the same (personal interview, 2007) ****
168 Bernard Cooper (1996) describes his fear of telling his father that he identified as gay. It had taken me thirty years to achieve even a modicum of intimacy with the man, he writes, and I didnt want to risk a setback. It wasnt as if I was keeping my sexual orientation a secret from everyone; Id to ld relatives, coworkers, friends. But my father was a man who whistled at waitresse s, flirted with bank tellers, his head swiveling like a radar dish to ward the nearest pair of br easts and hips. Ever since I was a child my father reminded me of the cartoon wolf whose ears shoot steam, whose eyes pop out on springs, whose tongue unfurls like a party favor whenever he sees a curvaceous dame. As far as my father was concerned, desire for women fueled the world, compelled every man without exception . was a force as essential as gravity. I didnt want to disappoint him. (p. 168) Coopers fear foreshadows the time of coming out: Let me ask you something, said my father. I get this feelingIm not sure how to say itthat something isn t right. That youre keeping something from me. We dont talk much, I grant you that. But maybe nows the time. My heart was pounding. Id been thoroughly disarmed by his interpretation of world events, his mi nefield of non sequiturs, and I wasnt prepared for a serious disc ussion. I switched off the gas. The red jet sputtered. When I turned around, my father was star ing at his outstretc hed leg. So? he said. You mean Brian? Whatever you want to tell me, tell me.
169 You like him, dont you? Whats not to like. Hes been my lover for a long ti me. He makes me happy. We have a home. Each declaration was a stone in my throat. I hope you understand. I hope this doesnt come between us. Look, said my father without ski pping a beat, youre lucky to have someone. And hes lucky to have you, t oo. Its no ones business anyway. What the hell else am I going to say? (Cooper, 1996, p. 176) I want to emphasize three aspects of C oopers (1996) description. First, Coopers father, speculating that he was keeping something from him, invites Cooper to tell him what this something is. As I mentioned ear lier, coming out requires saying something; inferences about a persons gayness do not constitute a person as gay. Second, Cooper recalls his fathers immediate reaction to his coming out: without skipping a beat. Third, Cooper introduces a sentiment that fuel s a dilemma of coming out: Its no ones business anyway. Whose business is a gay identity? A gay persons intimate circle? Strangers? A gay person who believes that its no ones business becomes increasingly accountable for being manipulative and deceptive as she or he never speaks of her/his secret. A person who believes that its no ones business reinforces the belief that sex (acts) and desire should not be introdu ced into everyday conversation. A person who believes that its no ones business must sim ilarly believe that all relationships are no ones business or else she or he ad heres to a double st andard; opposite-sexed
170 relationships are okay to disc uss but same-sex ones must remain silent, and a standard that speaks to Pierces (2007) description of a bigot: [When a] bigot sees gay people holding ha nds in public, they say the gays are pushing their lifestyle on any observers, whereas when heterosexuals hold hands in public, it is sweet. For the bigot there are two ways of being affectionate in public, one for normal people and one for those who are contaminated by gayness. (p. 18) A person who believes that its no on es business also reinforces the interpersonal strain that he teronormativity makes possible, a strain that suggests its fine that youre [gay or] a lesbian, just dont make me really think about it (Feigenbaum, 2007, p. 7, original in italics), and a strain th at is often replicated, reinforced, and reflected by the attitudes, beha viors, and practices of even our best-intentioned allies (p. 7). You [a man] have never told them how it makes you feel when, thinking nothing of it, she refers to him as Honey, he to her as Sweetie, Glave (2005) writes, but both of them swiftly close their faces and cringe when you do the same, in their presence, with him (pp. 121-22). **** I have to tell you something, you say to your roommate of four years. He turns from watching TV and stares your way. Im gay. I started to think so, he replies, bec ause of that man you introduced me to last week. Thats my boyfriend, you say not thin king that the casual deployment of boyfriend might make him uncomfortable.
171 Im okay with it, he responds and you re relieved. But if my girlfriend didnt have so many gay friends, I dont think Id be as comfortable. Youre relieved again. **** Dave: I tell a lot of people that I ha d a rough time coming out. It wasnt easy. Ive been on my own si nce my mom found out right after I turned 17. Tony: How did she find out? Dave: She caught me and my boyfriend. I didnt have the choice to tell her. Tony: How did she catch you? Dave: My mom worked th ird shift. When she was at work, my boyfriend would spend the night. We would set an alarm just before shed get home. One night were in the living room making out, shirts off. I hear her car pull into the driveway. I knew it was her car because she had a muffle r with a hole in it and it would make an unmistakable sound. I was like Holy Shit! Thats my moth er! My boyfriend ran into the bathroom. He accidentally left his shirt and vest on th e couch, but I dont think she saw them. I ran to the dryer to find a shirt. She came in and asked Whats going on? Why are you still up? I told her that Jeff and I were watching TV. Tony: But why did she come home? Dave: She ran home for lunch or someth ing. It was weird. She never came home. Tony: Did she know Jeff? Dave: Yeah, she met him a couple of times. Anyways, my mom leaves and Im like Oh my God, that was too close. But then Jeff comes out of the bathroom, looks at me, and busts out laughing. What the fuck is it? I asked. Dave, he says, look down. My shirt was on inside-out and backwards. I rushed to put something on and didnt pay
172 attention. The shirt tag was hanging in front of my neck and I knew I was screwed. But my mom waited two days to say anything. Tony: What happened? Was she angry? Dave: At the time my mother liked to drink. Two days after she caught me and Jeff she called me at 3 a.m. and asked if I c ould pick her up from a bar. But I said Mom, Ive got school in the morning. Cant you just stay the night with a friend then come home tomorrow? And she replies, Whats the matter? Got somebody there? Thats when I knew she knew. She gave me a concussion when she got home. Tony: A what? Dave: A concussion. She gave me a conc ussion that night. She also broke her elbow. We both went to the hospital. Tony: Wait, you picked her up from the bar? Dave: Yeah. She started getting angry in the car when she said Tell me its not true and I didnt respond. Tony: Did you know what she was talking about? Dave: Yeah, there was no hiding . this is difficult to talk about. The situation felt very surreal. When I didnt respond, my mom started screaming and kicking the windshield. I was like, Oh my God, I cant have this and I felt like I got to a point where there was nothing I could do but sit back and wait to see what happens. When we got into the house, I got into a fetal position in the corner of the dining room and just started rocking, back and forth. Shes scream ing and cussing at me the whole time while throwing everything that wasnt tied down at my head. I didnt know what to do. I couldnt say anything. I felt like it was what I deserved. Her reaction was what I had
173 feared my entire life and now it was happeni ng. At the time, I felt like I was dying, not physically, but emotionally. Theres nothing I could do. The last thing I remember was her pushing her elbow through the sliding glass door. I woke up in th e hospital. She told the doctors I fell and hit my head. (personal interview, Dave, 2007) **** Dave speaks of another event, one that o ccurred twelve years af ter his brutal fight with his mother. She came to visit him, when he had pneumonia, a visit that required her to drive almost four hours, an unplanned visi t to see him for one of the six nights hed spend in the hospital. During he r stay, a female nurse walked into the room, an attractive woman, his mother observed. When the nurse wa lked out, she asked he r son if he saw a wedding ring. No, mom. Why would I notice? Because its natural to no tice, she replies. Its natu ral for a man to notice if a woman is married because if shes not w earing a ring that means shes available. Mom, gay men dont notice these things. I didnt know you were gay, she says. A pause fills the room, blood pressures rise. Ive got a headache, she says after a few seconds. I need to eat. I dont want to discuss this anymore. She leaves abruptly and angrily. The son remains confused. He told his mother that he was gay twelve ye ars ago, eight years a go, five years ago, and again last year. (personal interview, 2007) **** I dont think I could say that Im completely out, Tyler says.
174 My partner and I are not lovey-dovey everywhere we go. Coming out is a process you do over and over again. Most people dont walk into rooms wearing Hi, Im gay t-shirts. A st raight person doesnt walk into a room and say Im straight. So what does being out mean? Am I out right now? Am I out at home in my living room? Am I out when I put on a gay t-shirt and go to a gay pride parade? I dont know. If someone asks me, am I going to deny it? No. Am I necessarily going to come fo rward with the information? Not necessarily. I work in a career in which people ask me a lot of questions about family. Often there is a need to express my status, my lifestyle, so that they understand. Its appropriate. But I dont walk into a bank and say Id li ke to make a depos it and that Im gay. At that point its not necessary. Its not that Im not out. But my sexuality is not necessary information for that place, that environment. (personal interview, 2007) Signorile (1990) asks: How many people must one confid e in to be out of the closet? (p. 40) Is one out only when her/his gay identity and/or same-sex desire gets acknowledged? What happens when a gay id entity and same-sex desire do not get mentioned? Does a lack of talk about this identity a nd/or desire suggest a lack of acceptance (Cory, 1951; Glave, 2005)? When a person embraces a gay identity, sh e or he can never come out completely, definitively reveal her/his gay identity on ce and for all. A gay person, once gay, can never escape the closet; coming out is always ongoing. Being out always depends to some extent on being in, Butler (1991) writes. Being out gains its meaning only within that polarity thus making it necessary for a person to produce the closet again and again in order to maintain [her or himsel f] as out (p. 16). However, if coming out
175 does not end, then neither does a desire to predict, create, and c ontrol time. There are always new moments of disclo sure and reactions to the di sclosure to be encountered. New situations make for new times to co me out, new searches for right times, new worries about others. **** A father telephones his son. The son answers. Father: I heard a rumor about you. [Son ge ts nervous.] I heard that youre living with a guy. In fact, not just living wit h, but fucking this guy. Is this true? Two seconds pass. Son: Weeelllll . No, its not true Who would say something like that? Father [abruptly]: That doesnt matter. Im just glad it aint. Son: Yeah, me too father. Thats silly. Ill talk to you soon. The conversation ends. The son re-telephones his father. The father answers. Father [upbeat, happy]: Hello. Son: Yeah, dad, its me. I just wanted to te ll you that its true I am living with a guy, my boyfriend in fact. Sorry to burst your bubble. The conversation continues for a few more seconds. Six months pass and the father and son do not speak. **** A trip to a bar, the first time a father and son interact, face-to-f ace, in six months. Father [looking at server]: Look at her. Isnt she hot? Two seconds pass. Son: She looks nice.
176 Thirty seconds pass. Father [nervously looking around]: Look at these hot women. Arent they attractive? Son: I find men attractive. Father [abruptly]: I dont understand how Especially living around all of these women. The father changes the topic of conve rsation and tries to engage a tactful blindness (Goffman, 1967, p. 18). They do not discuss men, women, or attractiveness anymore that evening. Six months pass with the father and son phoning once a week. **** A face-to-face interaction, six months afte r the father and sons last face-to-face. Father [looking at son]: Vegas was amazing. One night I got drunk at this exclusive club where women walked around topless. You would have liked it. Son: Why would I have liked it? Father [hesitates and looks away from son]: Uh Two seconds pass. Son: I told you that I find men attractive. The father tactfully changes the topi c of conversation. They remain blind to discussing men, women, or attractiveness anymo re that night. Six months pass with the father and son phoning once a week. **** The son telephones his father. The father answers. Son [anxious]: I cant wait for you to meet my boyfriend. Hes very nice.
177 The father changes the topic of conversa tion without much tact. Implicitly, they ban themselves from discussing men, women or attractiveness forever. **** Rust (1993), a sociologist, conceives of coming out as a developmental process with a beginning stage and an end stage, connected to each other by a series of intermediate and sequential steps (p. 52; Gagn et al., 1997; Kus, 1985). Regression, she writes, occurs when an individual moves back in the developmental process. If an individual never reaches the end stage of coming outwhich, I believe, does not exist then an attribution of imma turity can occur (p. 52). Phellas (2005) describes the assumed importance of being out and the assumed trauma of staying in: Disclosing ones sexual orientation is thought to be [a] ubi quitously positive experience that creates self-acceptance a nd confidence through repeated practice. In fact, for gay men and lesbians, not making public pronouncements about their sexual orientation is presumed to be negative and less than healthy psychologically and is characterised by negative terms, such as living double lives, hiding, being in the closet, and be ing closeted. Living double lives or being closeted is presumed to indicate shame, denial, and self-hatred. (p. 79, my emphasis; see Cole et. al., 1996) McDonald (1982) claims that not ev eryone completes the coming out process (p. 54). His claim assume s that some people do. And Burgess (2005) believes a gay person can escape the closet as long as she or he openly identifies as ga y and/or lesbian (p. 139). Open ly, and perpetually identifying
178 as gay and/or lesbian, however, would seem to suggest that people would, in the words of Tyler, have to walk into rooms wearing Hi, Im gay t-shirts. Where heterosexuality is presumed, Urbach (1996) writes, coming out can never be accomplished once and for all. He further adds that the sustenance of gay identity (where straight identity is presum ed) depends on continuous acts of declaration (p. 69). The coming out process never ends, and completing the process is impossible; outness is a matter of degree that change s with context (Chirr ey, 2003, p. 28) and new disclosure challenges always exist (Ber zon, 2002, p. 171; Butler, 1991; Garrick, 1997; Plummer, 1995; Shakespeare, 1999). Halley (1989) observes: because the assumption of heterosexualit y applies in virtually every social interactionfrom the encounter of t eacher with student, salesperson with shopper, mother with daughter, Supreme C ourt Justice with clerkeven the most forthright and fearless gay man or lesbia n cannot come out once and for all in a single public disclosure; as she moves from one social setting to another, she will have to come out afresh or acquiesce in the assignment to her of a nonreferential public identity. (p. 947) Eve Sedgwick (1990) agrees, noting that the deadly elasticity of heterosexist pr esumption means that . people find new walls springing up around them . ever y encounter with a new classful of students, to say nothing of a new boss, social worker, loan officer, landlord, doctor, erects new closets whose fraught and characteristic laws of optics and physics exact from at least gay people new surveys, new calculations, new . requisitions of secrecy or disclosure. (p. 68)
179 In my words, new times to figure out when to disclose. A paradox of coming out: If a person is nt perpetually out, she or he may be perceived as self-hating, immature, and insecure If a person is perpetually out, she or he may be perceived as aggressive, awkward, and self-centered. T hus, individuals who identify as gay often simultaneously live in and outside of a closet, perpetually try to create, predict, and control environments for coming out, constantly receive and remember reactions to gay disclosure, conti nually find it necessary to remind others of their same-sex desire, and must prepare for accusations that one lives, has lived, and is living a lie as well as accusations that she or he is immature, has re gressed, and is selfhating. As Burgess (2005) says, coming out is important, but it does nt signal the end of the struggle (p. 126). **** Gay identity is inextricably tied to the metaphor of th e closet. This tie is best exemplified by the phrase coming out of the cl oset, an act where a person discloses a gay identity and same-sex desire for another, an act of self-iden tification and confession that others can motivate but never force, and an act relevant for heteronormative contexts. Gay identity is also inextricably tied to time. Disclosing a gay identitycoming outis a time that can consist of fear, danger, hostility, reje ction and violence. It is a time that can reveal a gay persons intentional and intense use of hidi ng practices, acts of omission, and lies, extreme bouts of selfishness, and a participa tion in reckless acts, all of which can position her or him as manipulative and deceptive. A need thus develops for a gay person to find right times to disclose. Th e act of coming out and others reactions to this actthose immediate seconds, minutes, hour s, and daysare significant, epiphanic,
180 often-scarring times in a persons life, ones that will be perpetually remembered and narrated. And coming out is con ceived of as both a discrete, linear process with an end time as well as a process that never ends. But what happens when coming out is a time of danger but also an act conceived of as necessary, healthy, mature, and politica lly beneficial? Consequently, what happens when not coming outbeing silentis framed as unhealthy, immature, and politically ineffective? And what happens when coming out of the closet is framed as both a discrete, linear process with a definitive end and a never-e nding endeavor? I return to these dilemmas in the last chapter. **** In a stale-cigarette smelling hotel ro om in Chicago, I sat on my bed and they sat on theirs, asking me about my past, probing me about my desires. The conversation started well, but then proceeded into uncharte d territory, one individual telling me that my childhood was not normal and the other not saying a word. I became defensive, unsure how to respond. Someone who has had your childhood doesn t come out of it without any sexual deviances, an acquaintance, a gay man, a therapi st-in-training, says to me after talking about this project and its relevance to my life. You must have a large amount of deviances. An affinity for bathhouses? A por nography addiction? One night stands? Lots of masturbation? Do you masturbate so much that you cant get in a relationship? I think my two longest relationshi ps went well, I say defensively.
181 That doesnt answer my question, he responds. You must have sexual deviances. You didnt have a su ccessful childhood as far as how a person should develop. A human being should progress differen tly. You didnt have a normal childhood. I dont like your use of normal, I reply. Normal in the psychological sense, he says. Normal is what the masses do as compared to what an individual does. You didnt have a normal childhood. Your childhood was abusive. I dont think it was abusive, I re ply. And I dont feel abnormal. Being shown pornography at an early age is abusive. Your parents shouldve been arrested. Youre watching something to make your desires align correctly. I think many of us are steered clear of same-sex desire. This is just one of many examples of how this happened in my life. But you may have psychological traum a. You were being forced to watch straight pornography in order to align y ourself correctly. This isnt a parent reprimanding a child because theyre watchi ng inappropriate material. This is a parent reprimanding a child for watching th e right material. Thats abusive. This happens to many children in the United States. That doesnt mean its not abusive, he says. Dont you have animosity toward your childhood? No, I dont. I enjoyed my childhood. Fo r the most part, I got along with my parents. Even if I could stir up some animosity I dont feel a need to reframe or change my memory of it. I guess thats just one way to cope with an abnormal life.
182 **** An attempt to understand the closet, how life in the closet feels, how a label you claim, an identity, influences your interactio ns with others. An attempt to show others manifestations of same-sex desire, their su ccesses and failures, ways they relate. An attempt to escape unnecessary relational burdens that hover, harm, kill. But new others emerge, others who grant you new burdens, ot hers who deem your closet negotiations abnormal, others who deem you an unworthy failure, others who try to kill hope.
183 Chapter Seven: Making Identity Relational I believe we [have] been strangers from a very early time on . I fe el certain today that even in the first, formative, wa lking and talking years, when Dad was trying I was pulling away. Ronald Forsythe, from Sons on Fathers: A Book of Mens Writing I could never prove any better as a s on than he had been as a father. Arthur P. Bochner, Its About Time My mom always told me that Id either be gay or marry a black woman. From sixteen on, I heard her say this every time I f ound myself in a duel with my father, every time I informed her of my hatred towards that man, every time I wished him dead. My mom always told me that Id either be gay or marry a black woman. Not that I had articulated my desire for one or the othe r, but she knew of my fathers two main fears: having a fag in the family or havi ng a son in an inter-raced relationship. My mom realized Id do everything in my power to spite him. My mom always told me that Id ei ther be gay or marry a black woman, a statement that became actualized when I came out to her at 22. Her response: I told you so. **** Im often asked how long Ive known t hat Ive been gay. That depends: Ive known that Ive been attracted to men since an early age but I didnt know that I fit the category gay until the latter part of my teens. And while I do not believe that my gayness was ever a choice, this framing by my mo ther and my constant desire to spite my father makes it appear as such. My storys not just about being gay, though. Its a story
184 about the troubling relationship that separates me from my father my father from me. Its a story of sexuality and sport, of gayness and hegemonic masculinity, of a fag and his golf clubs. Its a story of love and hate. **** In this chapter, I shift the experience of the closet from the exclusive burden of the self-contained gay person to one in which coming out is a shared relational responsibility. Specifically, I illustrate how a relational perspective reframes my relationship with my father. A relational perspective conceives of interaction as a co-constitutive endeavor where all individuals affect each othe r (Bateson, 2000; Bochner, 1997, 2004; Gergen, 2000; Yerby, 1995). A relational perspective tr eats interaction as a jointly authored, incomplete, and historically situated a ffair (Bochner & Ellis, 1995, p. 204), a slippery process constantly on the dynamic edge be tween order and disorder, sameness and difference, repetition and newness, linear ity and cyclicity (B axter & Montgomery, 1996, p. 69). A relational perspective assumes that people, together, make the experience of a relationship possible (Foster, 2001; Henry, 1965; Pelias, 2002). A re lational perspective views persons-in-interaction as interdepende nt, never-completely-predictable beings (Bochner, 1989; Miike, 2007); we ar e not machines (Soukup, 1992, p. 20). A relational perspective posits that inte rpersonal conflicts are products of joint interaction. The responsibility fo r and/or origin of the conflict cannot be assigned to one particular individual; each pe rson contributes. When we define a problem as a problem of the couple rather th an the fault of one of the pers ons in the relationship, Bochner (2004) writes, we dont strip them of agen cy. Quite the contrary, we enhance their
185 agency by saying in effect, together you create d this and together you can fix it (p. 6). Relational patterns continue until the pers ons involved acknowledge these patterns. Relationships can be repaired only when all persons involved take meaningful steps to accept responsibility without dive rting blame (Rogers, 1989b, p. 89). For instance, my father and I together play a role in altering our relationship: Neither of us gets off the hook and were both accountable. I used to blame him for our problems, but a relational pers pective has allowed me to see ways we affect each other; blame disappears. Im a victim, so is my fath er. Im an oppressor, so is he. We victimize and oppress together, simultaneously hurting an d being hurt while never deciding to quit. We practice stifling communicative patterns, and were both seeki ng love. Maybe were both in love. **** Im stuck between two canonical narratives one that says my father and I must try to work things out in order to fulfill our responsibilities as fa ther and son (Pelias, 2002), and another that tells me to let go of our relationship, to realize that I cant choose my relative. These narratives provide allor-nothing scenarios that do not allow for negotiation or relationality. I could terminate our relationship, but something inside me wont let go. Something important would be mi ssing and lost if I chose to walk away and never looked back. **** Characters Father: middle-age man who wa nts to say, Son, come here. Son: mid-twenties man who wants to say, Father, why?
186 Son: mid-twenties man who wants to say Father, come here. Father: middle-age man who wants to say Son, why? Mothers, sisters, aunts, grandparents, friends: vari ous ages, who constantly say, I dont know what to sa y (Pelias, 2002, p. 37). Extras Hegemonic masculinity: Culturally-dominant, stylized sets of repeated acts (Butler, 1990; Frank, 1993); a condition never physically or psychically actualized (Butler, 1999); the ephemera l, contextual, and complicat ed nuances of being a man (Hopkins, 1998, p. 54); a never-ending journe y towards ever-changi ng ideals (Gelber, 1997). Homophobia: The hatred or fear of homosexuals ( Oxford 2001, p. 387); a socially produced insidious force that infi ltrates the most mundane of affairs; an embodied insecurity that waits for the most opportune moments to strike; often affiliated with and made possible by hegemonic masculinity. Love: A feeling that trans cends all categories; reciproc al; an action that puts both hegemonic masculinity and homophobia to sh ame; shared; an emotion that binds regardless of circumstance; mutual; a social construct (Jaggar, 1989). **** I hear him laugh at my sarcasm. This doesnt happen much but he sometimes chuckles at what I say. I see his bright smile behind the laugh. His white teeth and dimpled face make it seem as though he has not a care in the world. I realize that I dont have fond memories of him or of us. Maybe I didnt care about our relationship. Maybe
187 unconsciously I tried to make it not work. Ma ybe I didnt learn how to like the same things. Maybe I forced my self away. Maybe we forced each other away. **** My fathers father physically abused hi m and his mother. My fathers father did not want a son or a daughterespecially one of eachso he treated them as though they didnt exist. My fathers father taught my father to be emotiona lly cold with others, to hit people you love if necessary, and to have resent ment towards children. My father loved his father. **** During high school, my father wanted to be a professional golfer. He played on the varsity team all four years and began wo rking towards a potential golfing career. Once graduated, he signed on with the team at the local community college. After one year of play, his father forced him to quit. His father could no longer manage the family business and thus made my father put his dreams on hold. After my first year of college, I asked my father if I could have the business. No, he said and further justified his respons e: Ive been miser able for thirty years. The last thing Id do is ask that of you. **** Once every year from the age of four until th e age of eight I played with my father in the local father-son golf tournament. I can t remember playing in the event, but I do recall every ending: we, as a team, would drive the golf cart to the pro shop and walk inside. Every time a trophy would await us, engraved with both our names. Every time, I loved themthey were pretty.
188 I dont think we ever played well enough to win the father-son tourney. I imagine, however, that my father gave the organizer money in advance so that a trophy would await us upon finishing. My dad knew how much I liked them. And he was proud of me. So a trophy awaited us every time regardl ess of our performance on the course, regardless of our performance of father-son. **** A streak of my moms hair dye became baked onto the wallpaper in the hallway. She didnt do it on purpose; my father threw her into the wall. Some of her color rubbed off leaving a black mark one f oot in length. My eyes connect ed with my mothers tearfilled pupils. My father told me to go back to bed. **** At fourteen, I watched my father punch my mom in the face. She didnt know I was watching nor did he. As I peered thr ough a window on a thirty degree, storm-filled night, I wondered if I should call the police. I wondered if I should step in to take a few blows for her. I wondered how a clenched fist hitting coffee stained teeth would feel. I wondered why my mom didnt have a towel to clean up her blood. I decided to go back to bed. A few months later they divorced. **** I decided to live with my mom. I trans ferred all of my belongings into her new residence. I dont remember the move, whether we rented a truck, how long it took, or my fathers reactions. But I do remember the few items I left behind: a bed frame, an entertainment center, and fi ve father-son golf trophies.
189 I cleared everything from my room at his house, everything except for those items. I never returned for them, either. Im not su re why I left them. I guess my bed frame and entertainment center wouldnt fit in my new room, but I cant account for the trophies. Unconsciously, maybe this is when I started to rid my life of my father, when my dislike towards him began to root. I believe the pr esence of the trophie s in a room absent everything else signifies the presence of a stra ined relationship, a relationship that would further become troubled and absent repair. I be lieve the trophies stil l remain on the shelf but, like our relationship, I imagine that theyre covered with a layer of dust. **** Once I tried stealing baseball cards. I got a rrested. My father picked me up at jail and took me to my mother. Upon entering her house, he slapped he r across the face. He called her a bitch and a worthless parent, and told me that he stopped her from having an abortion. I was an only child. Using this logic, he saved me. Using this logic, I shouldve worshipped him. Using this logic, he had a license to abuse my mother. Using this logic, my hatred for him intensified.21 **** In high school a few years a fter the divorce, my father encouraged (forced) me to join the golf team. I had come to hate go lf, but now it seemed like a mandatory requirement. The obligation soon became worse: my father encouraged (forced) me to get a job at the local golf course. Externally I had to perform golf lover. Internally, I cringed. 21 I have a half-sister. We share the same biological father, but not the same biological mother. My father married and divorced her mother before marrying mine. My sister and I never lived together. I interacted with her about once each month until I graduated from high school. Our interac tions then became more frequent.
190 Two years in a row I made it to the st ate golf tournament. By accident, though. The coach and my father were buddy-buddy, people who regularly did favors for each other, individuals who capitalized on the rhetoric of connection (Philipsen, 1975, p. 19). I made it to the state tournament twice, not because of who I was, but rather who my father was. I made it to the state tournament twice, an obligation I did not fulfill either time solely out of spite for my dad. State tournament, year one: Two team members and I rode with the coach to the destined golf course. On this day, we left sc hool early and thus missed lunch. On this day, I packed my own lunch, much to the amazemen t of my mother. On this day I packed it with bunches o healthy stuff: two cartons of milk, four cups of pudding, three cheese sticks. Im not good at digesting dairy. During the 40-minute car ride to the c ourse, I devoured my lunch. My car mates didnt notice anything awkward about its conten ts. A few hours later they would clearly remember. Thirty minutes into the three-hour round of golf, my stomach started to speak. It grumbled and moaned; I smiled. Fifty minutes into the round my stomach maintained a steady stream of dialogue. Pain formed; I smiled. At one hour, I had to shit. My coach rushed me via golf cart to the bathroom where I remained for the rest of the event. I conceded from the tournament. I beat my dad. State tournament, year two, less gruesome : The golf coach told me that Id be going to the state tournament again. She also told me that she didnt want a repeat performance. I pondered over being selected, my relationship with father, and how much I hated golf.
191 I decided to talk to her. Honestly. I asked her if our discussion could remain confidential. She agreed. I told her that I didnt like being on th e golf team. She could tell. I said that my father forced me to pl ay. She knew. She released me from the team, telling my father that my performance wasnt up to par. I broke his heart. I won again. **** Just like the son in Harry Chapins song The Cats in the Cradle, I soon left for college, three hours away. The physical and psyc hical rift between me and my father only grew worse. He rarely called me. I rarely called him. During a good month, we would talk twice usually for no more than five minutes. We mainta ined this habit for a few years. At least until I to ld him that I was gay. **** Here comes the cocksucker! my father says as I enter the rehearsal dinner of my cousins wedding. Its June of 2002 and I aint out yet. Yeah, my hairs blond dad. It was an acci dent. The salon person messed. . You call that blond? Thats not blond, thats gay blond!, he responds. Wow! cries my cousin in response to my fathers ruckus. Now all you have to do is put an on a dress and you can be the family faggot! Thanks, I say as my self-esteem plummets. **** As far back as I can remember both my father and my cousin would call me a faggot, primarily because I didnt live up to their definitions of and criteria for being a man. When I decided to tell them th at I really was a faggot, chaos reigned. ****
192 The first night in Las Vegas with my father. Post-dinner, 10 p.m. We take a cab to a female strip club that celebrities frequent. Or thats what a concierge told my dad. Like most strip clubs, the inside is dark and filled with smoke. Techno music blares from the speakers. Chairs surround dance floors lined with human cages. Were quickly and flirtatiously approached by a clothed waitress asking for our drinks. Budweiser, father says. Bud Light, I respond. A naked woman steps on our table. My father puts a dollar in his lap. She retrieves the bill. My dad gives me a dollar fo r my lap. She retrieves again. I take note of her smooth, strawberry-scented body. My fa ther places a dollar in his lap. Shes hot, I mouth to my dad. Sure would like to have her in my room tonight! I utter in my stock hy per-masculine voice I learned to use at strip clubs or when I watched heterosexual porn with friends. I k now how to play straight and such gibberish is one way I play straight well. Oh yeah? father responds. That can be arranged . . I pretend I dont hear and I pretend to look at the dancers newly-revealed breasts. I know he thinks this is a good father-son bonding experience. I feel guilty for maintaining a hetero faade. After an hour of stripper festivities we leave to check into the hotel. My father enjoyed the evening and I perf ormed as though I did too. Once we enter our room, dads cell phone rings. A voice te lls him that his mother, the person hes verbally abused his en tire life, has fallen ill. He shows concern,
193 arranges to return home the next day, and then prepares for bed. Not concerned or sympathetic, I lie and say I am wide awake, a bit hungry, and want to see Vegas nightlife. He tells me to be safe and have fun. I leave. I find a cab and head to the nearest gay bar. It feels weird leaving a female strip club with my father a few hours prior, hearing my grandmother is sick, and then venturing a place that will provide a same-sex experience and an alcoholic escape. But excitement takes over and any care I ha ve diminishes. I arrive and order a drink. Bud Light, I say while moving to the dance music. Bud Light, I say while stari ng at a shirtless bartender. Bud Light, I say while admiring exquisite drag queens. I acquire a nice buzz. I meet a cute man to touch. I do not have to give him a dollar. We dance. He doesnt smell like strawberry. We kiss and exchange phone numbers that I know will never get used. He asks if I would like to stay the night with him, but suppressing my desire I return to father. **** I only came out to my father because my grandmother died. We all make decisions in life. Som etimes on whims. Sometimes in pain. Or passion. Occasionally our decisions make no se nse. Other times they do. We constantly rework them, swim with them, and delay comi ng up for air. Im still working through this one. And Im gasping. Your grandma has just been rushed into open heart surgery, father says. Its a Monday in May 2003 and we just arrived to the Las Vegas Hilton. His cell phone rings. A
194 voice tells him that his mother, a person hes verbally abused his entire life, fell ill. I wonder how he feels. What? She only went to the doctor fo r a routine check-up, I respond. Lets fly back. No. You stay. Its too expensive for y ou to come. Ill go back. You return, as planned, on Thursday. But . . Do it. Shell be fine. Its another fals e alarm shes brought on herself. At this moment, I thought I saw a tear. Gran dma didnt make it th rough the night. Two months pass and I hadnt ta lked with my father sin ce grandmas funeral. He never made any effort to call me, nor I him. Until one day in July. Hello? I answer my phone, the phone in the house I share with my boyfriend. Yeah Tony, its your father. Oh, hey dad. How are . . Why havent you called? he asks. Well, the phone works both ways. And since its long distance, and since you have more money than I do, and since youve only called me three times during my four year college career, I decided, this time, to leave that up to you. I heard a rumor about you, he pauses; I become nervous. I heard that youre living with a guy. In fact, not just living with, but fucking this guy. Is this true? Weeelllll, I stutter, no, its not true Who would say something like that? That doesnt matter. Im just glad it aint. Yeah, me too father. Thats silly. Ill talk to you soon. The conversation ends.
195 I realize that I cant do this any longer Im tired and I lied to my father. Guilt and depression devour me. I pick up the phone and call him back. Hello, he answers in an upbeat, much happier tone. Yeah, dad, its me. I just wanted to tell you that its trueI am living with a guy, my boyfriend in fact. So rry to burst your bubble. I hear nothing, so I decide to turn the tr uth I just shared into another lie, a lie involving my recently deceased grandmother, his recently deceased mother: And grandma knew about my sexuality and my boyfr iend but she thought it would be best if I didnt tell you. She was always fine with it, but realized, as did I, that you would not accept it. Sorry if Im a disappointment. Silence, but soon a stuttere d response: Shheee knneww? Yeah, she did father. Well, he utters more fluently I guess Ill call you soon. Bye, dad. Take care. I thought my guilt would end after my disclo sure, but I soon realized that Id used my fathers mother and her corresponding death as a way to advance my gay agenda. I wonder about the ethics of this decision, but th en tell myself that its already done. My dad refuses to speak to me for six months. **** What cemeteries prove . is not that the dead are present but that they are gone. They are gone and, as yet, we arent. Philip Roth, Patrimony Two days before Christmas 2003, my (half-)sister and I visit my aunt, my fathers only sibling, to discuss holiday activities. While sipping on coffee with the evening news
196 serving as background noise, my aunt casually approaches the subject of father: my father, my sisters father, my aunts brother. She tells us that she s been concerned about him ever since my grandmothers death earlier that year, and provides evidence for her feelings: father has spent a good portion of his savings, ventures to Las Vegas for a once-a-month prostitute binge, and hasnt had any concern about seeing a doctor in spite of recent health problems. My sister and I nod in agreement, express (superficial) concern, and attempt to move towards discus sing another subject. My aunt doesnt budgeshe remains focused on father. Do you know what I bought him for Chri stmas? she asks, seeking to involve us in one of those never ending guessing games about something with which neither of us have much interest. No, I respond, trying to end the game prematurely. What can you buy for someone who has everything he wantsanother airfare to Vegas or some golf balls? His grave plot, she remarks. Its so mething that hell need one day, hopefully not soon, but you never know. And I knew hi s children would not purchase it for him. At this point, this moment that implicat ed me and my sister, my fathers only kids, I assumed a rather puzzled, probably annoyed look. I asked myself why my aunt would say such a thing, and I asked myself why I s hould be concerned about my fathers death. Do you think that is our fault, I respond irritably. Do you think that either of us should assume responsibility for someone who has never expressed concern about our lives just because he is our father? My aunt, not appearing too happy or pleased with my rebuttal, glares at me with that look in her eye, you know, that evil look that says one day such an attitude will
197 come back to haunt you, you little bastard, and stands up to walk into the kitchen. The oven timer goes off, saving me from a potential argument; her apple pie was done. **** My father visited one year after his mother died. At the time, I lived in Carbondale, Illinois; he in Danville. The trip between the two places lasted a bit more than three hours. With Amtrak, however, one could avoid a long car ride. Trains arrive at Carbondale twice each day, once at 9:30 in the evening and another at thirty minutes past midnight. Trai ns depart from Carbondale twice each day, once at three in the morning and another at 4:05 in the afternoon. During my five year stay in Carbondale my father came to visit three times. Each time he arrived on the 9:30 p.m. train. Each time he departed six hours later on the 3 a.m. Three times my father came to visit. Three times he stayed a total of eighteen hours, that is if the trains were on time. On ce he didnt arrive until midnight. Based on the train schedule, he le ft three hours later. During his last visit we bonded. We bonded o ver a slip of his tongue, a slip that forced a taboo word through his beer covered lips, a slip that informed me of my fathers love. We bonded over cocksucker. We bonded over cocksucker: I became draw n towards my father for the first time in my life, experiencing feelings I never kn ew existed, enjoying his presence and feeling comfortable with a stranger whom I would recognize as my dad. We bonded over cocksucker: After filli ng ourselves with beer, after discussing gay-related matters, and after allowing him to flirt with the young waitress.
198 We bonded over cocksucker: By intimate ly peering into each others eyes, exchanging superficial words of compassion like Im glad youre my son and Im glad youre my dad, and waiting until the other ran out of beer so the server could interrupt awkward silences that surfaced throughout the night. We bonded over cocksucker. **** Its good to see you father, I say afte r ordering a Bud Light from the twentyyear-old waitress who ca ught dads attention. Ill have a Budweiser, he asks. Yeah, it s good to see you too, he adds while perusing the womans body, objectifying her brea sts, her curves, her build. Im glad I came down before you moved to Florida. So hows the weather in Danville, I respond after a few minutes, a comment I chose to make even though I recognized that his town was only three hours away. The weather wasnt much different. Good and sunny, he remarks. Ive been able to play a lot of golf. But the course flooded a few weeks ago. Silence. Have you been watching the Cardinals? he asks. Nope. I dont watch . . Hey cutieBudweiser! he interrupts. I follow: Bud Light, please. Silence. Is your mother going to move you? he asks.
199 Yup. She . . Hey cutieBudweiser! he interrupts. I follow: Bud Light, please. Silence. Theres this new show on HBO called Deadwood , he says. Its really good. Its a tough guy shoot-em-up s how that features cowboys and men that dont take any shit. Theyre tough and theyre real men. Its a good story. I havent seen it, I remark, hoping t hat the conversation will become more active. I dont have cable, but maybe itll come out on DVD. Yeah, maybe, he responds. Hey cutieBudweiser! I follow: Bud Light, please. Silence. So how are you dealing with me being gay, I probe, a question I never would have asked unless alcohol had engulfed me in its magic. I had been out to my father for one year, but neither of us had discussed my gay identity in each others presence. I love you and thats what matters, he responds; I choke on my beer. Youre my son, and I wouldnt change anything about you. Silence. I know the potential problems with hom osexuality that exist in small towns like yours. I wanted to know how you were doing, I say. Just fine, he assures. Im proud of you. Hey cutieBudweiser! I follow: Bud Light, please. ****
200 Ive heard that the truth comes out with alcohol, truths such as how people feel and what bothers them in life. Following this theory, hidden emotions may surface when alcohol helps take off ones masks. A truth of love leaked out of my father this evening, a truth I grasped like a baby does a stuffed bear, a truth that brought my dad back into my life. The truth surfaced when he reflected on the word cocksucker, a taboo term used to devalue individuals who have done something wrong, a taken-for-gra nted word which often conceals, for most users, its gay, sexual connotations. But my father didnt take this term for granted. He showed his love, and displayed that he never wanted to hurt me, even with language. Hows Rick? I ask about a mutual friend of ours. Shit, hes a no good cocksucker, he responds. Before I add my two cents or ask why hes assumed such a negative positi on towards a once-upon-a-time friend, he continues: Oh, Im sorry. I dont want cocksuc king to offend you. I didnt mean it like that. I said it because all of the guys on Deadwood use it. I havent thought about the word much until now. Whoa, I say to myself. My father, an individual with only a year of college, realized the power of names and how speech can act (Butler, 1997a). My father, an individual who has managed a restaurant in a small, Midwestern community reflected upon his communication, positioning himself as a phenomenon of investigation (Ellis & Flaherty, 1992). My father, an individual ra ised by an abusive father, transgressed the realm of hegemonic masculinity and homophobi a, acting as a straight man inching towards his gay son while simultaneously making an apology that might cause him to
201 lose a portion of his manhood. My father, us ing one socially-taboo word, informed me of his love. But I did not respond to his response. I did not thank him fo r his consideration, nor did I tell him of my love. Awkward talk continued to surface throughout the evening, and our being-together remained plagued with silence. When the bar closed we decided to ge t something to eat. We started on an adventure to Steak N Shake, our favorite restaurant. In the car, I turned on my CD player to find Winona Judd singing I Want to Know What Love Is, a remake of the 80s classic. During the five minute trip, my dad sang with the words, sang as though they resonated with his body, and sang like nobody wa s watching. I wanted to ask what the lyrics meant to him. I wanted to ask, but did not want to interr upt. I liked hearing his voice. I liked hearing what I never heard before. **** Im stuck between two canonical narratives one that says my father and I must try to work things out in orde r to fulfill our responsibilities as father and son, and another that tells me to let go of our relationship, to realize that I cant choose my relatives and thus view our interactions as a waste of time. These narratives provide all-or-nothing scenarios that do not allow for negotiation. I have thought of termin ating our relationship, but I desire a more recipro cal exchange of love. I have also come to experience our rela tionship using a relational perspective. The father-son experience is a co-c onstitutive endeavor, and neither of us gets off the hook when trying to repair our relationship. Were both accountable. I used to blame my father for our problems, but realize that both of us affect each other and make problems
202 together. Im a victim, so is my father. Im an oppressor, so is he. We victimize and oppress together, simultaneously hurting and be ing hurt while never deciding to quit. We practice stifling communicative patterns, and were both seeking love. Maybe were both in love. **** Before boarding the 3 a.m. train on his mo st recent visit, I sold father my golf clubs. He gave them to me seven years prio r. I didnt need them anymore. I handed him the bag; he handed me the money. His aging ey es looked at the equipment with despair. My aging eyes looked at my equipment-free hand s with glee. He told me hed save them in case I changed my mind. I told him thanks, but no. **** Revisiting us, four years later Since acknowledging ways that I might influence our relationship, Ive noticed significant changes in how my father and I interact. For in stance, I began calling my father more often than our previous once-a-w eek ritual and would ta lk to him for more than our typical few minutes. Motivated, I believe, by my effort, he began calling and talking to me more often, too. Currently, we talk two-three times each week often for ten minutes or more. I also beganor rather forced myse lfto talk about t opics I previously considered off-limits, topics like race and racism, domestic abuse, and gay identity. Motivated, I believe, by my effort, my father and I no longer avoid these topics like we once did. June 2006
203 My father started dating a woman of Indi an descent, a woman darker-skinned that his usual light-skinned love-i nterests. To my knowledge, he had never dated anyone who wasnt overtly Caucasian. My father steppe d out of his skin-colored comfort zone, seeming to become more comfortable liking and loving who he wants rather than liking and loving people others want him to like and love. Race is still an issue for my father, but I also believe that skin color has lesse ned on his hierarchy of concerns. As such, I would imagine that the possibility of my marrying a black woman wouldnt be as terrible as I assume it once was. December 2006 Ive softened as Ive age d, my dad says on the phone. He called to tell me about his frustrations with a family friend. I know Tom dominates everyone, including his wife. Thats not right, and that s probably why his kids dont speak to him. I think thats also why one of his sons cannot keep rela tionships with women. He dominates them. I listen, wondering if dad ever recal ls dominatingabusingwomen. Thats what I knew of him. Now hes telling me th at domination is wrong, that hes softened. I wonder how I should, if ever, approach the topic of him dominatingabusingmy mom. I enjoy hearing his thoughts of softeni ng, and encourage him to continue to have and to live these thoughts. I decide against talking to him about a painful event from my/our history. March 2007 My father visits me in Tampa, Florida. He stays in my apartment for two nights, sleeping on the couch. A milestone achievement: he has never stayed a night in any place Ive lived.
204 During the visit, I approach our comi ng out interaction four years prior. Dad, I say, remember when I told you that I was gay? Yeah, he responds. You lived in Carbondale. You called and said you h eard that I was living with fucking a man. Remember? Yeah. And I denied the rumor at firs t but then said it was true? Yeah, I remember, he says. That was a difficult time. That was a difficult time for me too, I reply. Even though we didnt speak for a few months, I wanted to thank you for your re sponse. You never told me I was bad. You didnt physically harm me. You didnt kick me out of the fa mily. Some fathers respond to gay children in terrible, more drastic ways. Some force th eir children into therapy to change their same-sex desire. Some kick th eir children out of the family. Some children kill themselves because of their parents nega tive reactions. You didnt do any of this and I appreciate that. I heard you were gay a few days before I called, he says. I was upset that you hadnt called in more than a month. I thought I had made you mad. I mentioned this to a friend and she said that you probably didnt call because you were gay and were scared to tell me. I asked her why she thought you were gay. She said she heard a rumor that you were. So you didnt call me immediately after hearing I was gay? I ask. I assumed you did.
205 No. I first called Jack [a friend] whos e son came out to him a few years prior. We met for dinner and I asked him, as a father how he responded to a gay son. Jack said that at first he was upset a nd angry, but knew that he did a nd should still lo ve and support his son. He told me that even though I may be angry, I should love and support you as best I could. The best that I could do was unfortunately to not speak to you for a few months.22 By thanking my father, I get a glimpse of his processing of my gay identity, a glimpse of the person who I perceived to ha ve reacted negatively to my coming out. I learn that he seemed to have made an effort to understand my same-sex desire, an effort that I cannot now disregard when thinking a bout our relationship. My father stifled his own anger and decided not to express it openly; he waited until he could better accept it. More importantly, however, I would have ne ver learned of his processing had I not asked, had I not disrupted our typical pattern of being sile nt with each other about a potentially-contentious topic. **** Im sure that my father and I will conti nue to healthily and painfully disagree on topics like race and racism, domestic abuse, and gay identity, but should I quit talking to him if I do not like his beliefs? Do I sacrif ice my/our relationship because I find his thoughts problematic? On a larger scale, must I cut my ties with people with whom I disagree? I could, but would find myself livi ng a very lonely existence. A relational perspective suggests that people, together, can learn and talk about contentious topics, together. A relational perspective encourages me to have uncomfortable conversations 22 Before my fathers call, he and Jack had been estranged for many years. Hearing of my gayness, however, rekindled their connection. As of this writing, they maintain a strong friendship.
206 about uncomfortable topics, not remain s ilent about salient issues. A relational perspective values the ability to talk with another before one, both, or all people become unable to do so.
207 Chapter Eight: Gay Dilemmas, Reflections, and Criticisms January 2005. I am an instructor of a Public Speaking course. The first assignment is a Success Speech designed for students to speak about a personal achievement. As I do with many assignments, I participate. I want to further introduce myself to the students as well as provide an example of how an outlined speech might sound. I decide to tell of my success with comi ng out to my father, my success of telling him that I was gay. Initially, I receive a posit ive response from the class, but a few days later I receive a call from the chairperson of my department. Tony, the President of the university call ed me today, he reports in a serious tone. She told me that a students pare nts complained about you being out in the classroom. Who would complain about that? I ask. The parents dont think that being gay is a part of the unive rsity curriculum, he says. The president seems to agree. Frustrated, sad, and frightened, I respond: Im not going back in the closet. I dont want to hide from students, especially in a speech on self-discl osure. What should I do? You should be out in the classroom, he says, but should rethink how you do it. The conversation ends and I reflect upon the complaint against my claiming to be a particular kind of person. An identity I clai med threatened a student, a student who will
208 probably dislike my gay body, dislike me, fo r the remaining thirteen weeks of the semester. For the next few years, I remain closeted in courses where sexuality has no direct relation to course c ontent. I fear losing my job. **** When the conditions of the closet are met, then an individual enters a space where coming out becomes possible, sometimes n ecessary, but always problematic. Once a person identifies as gay, she or he can never li ve outside of a closet again, can never live as an out gay being everywhere. In this chapte r, I outline the dilemmas that emerge when a person cannot escape the closet, dilemmas rev ealed by many of the stories I have shared in the previous chapters, dilemmas that I call the double-bind of gay identity. I then conceive of ways to alter the canonical cl oset experience and conclude with a call to make sexuality relational. **** I arrive to an all-male-clientele salon. Dan introduces himself, and tells me that he is going to cut my hair. I find Dan quite ma sculine: he has a firm gait, deep voice, and a somewhat-disheveled, relaxed appearanc e. He guides me to his hair-cutting station. Throughout the cut, we talk about s ports, politics, and where were from. Im from Illinois, I say. Concord, North Carolina, he responds. I miss it. While I didnt in itially think about his sexuality seeing his masculine appearance and hearing how his misses small-town North Ca rolina motivates me to think that he is heterosexual. Stereotypes emerge: Gay men often do not miss rural areas and are rarely hyper-masculine. Though I study and teach about sex, gender, and sexuality, I still
209 cannot disband deeply entrenched assumptions. It doesnt help that the next part of our conversation is about women. You know what its like working ar ound hot women all day? he asks as a female employee walks by. I hesitate. Is he making an observation about the difficulties, or the benefits, of men and women working together in one spa ce? Does he want me to comment on his hot statement and say that I would love to work around hot women? Because I just met Dan, I find it awkward to say I am gay and am not sexually attracted to hot women. Um, sure, I respond uncomfortabl y and ambiguously, assuming that hes asking if I know about men and women working together. The conversation stops, and I sense that he is nearly finished with my hair. Want something to drink? he asks. No thanks. Im fine. Okay, he says. Ill be right back. I have to get some water. When he returns, I notice he has someth ing in his lip. I look into the mirror and see him spit in a cup and realize that he has been chewing tobacco for most of my haircut. I cringe. Hes hyper-masculine, misse s the rural past of his youth, asks about hot women, and is chewing tobacco, another stereoty pical, masculine, heterosexual act; I have never met a woman or a gay man who chews. These characteristics combine to make me nervous: As a gay person, hypermasculine men scare me. They were the bullies in high school. They are the people I s ee bash gays. They are the people that I find most uncomfortable with the notion of same-sex desire. He coats my neck with shaving cream and pulls out a straight-edged razor.
210 So do you have a girlfriend? he asks while caressing my neck with the sharp blade. That damn question. Hes not asking if I am bisexual or gay, but is assuming that I am straight. How do I respond? He has a razor on my neck. Nope, I say. **** I feel guilty for typifying Dan and cl inging to unquestioned heterosexual assumptions and guilty for not speaking about my same-sex desire. Should I have come out to him? Should I have arrived to the sal on and said Hi, Im Tony, Im gay? Should I have come out when he asked if I knew what working around hot women was like? Do I tell him that I am not attracted to women? Even though I am single, should I have pretended to have a boyfriend when he asked if I had a girlfriend? I could have lied, but would this have taken me off th e hook of self-condemnation? A few weeks later a friend of mine says hes been dating Dan for a few months. I am amazed. Assuming that Dan identifies as gay, I approach him the next time I am at the salon. Why didnt you tell me that you were gay? I ask. Why didnt you tell me that you were gay? he responds. At the time, I didnt think it was appr opriate, I reply. You scared me. Sorry, he says, but I didnt think te lling you was appropriate either. I assumed you were straight. ****
211 The Double-Bind of Gay Identity In heteronormative contexts, once a pers on self-identifies as gay, the closet becomes a formative, inescapable way of lif e, a metaphor she or he comes to live by (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). For gay people, the closet makes a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-dont existence possible, an ex istence akin to a Batesonian double-bind (Bateson, 2000). Bateson (2000) argues that a double-bind ex ists when five conditions are met: (a) two or more people (b) participate in a r epeated experience (c) in which a primary negative injunction makes whatever course of action punishable, (d) a situation in which a secondary injunction complicates the prim ary negative injunction, and (e) a situation in which a tertiary negative injunction prohibits a pers on from escaping the field, escape being in the double-bind (pp. 206-07). The closet creates a double-bind for ga y identity. The act of disclosing a gay identity to another is an act that occurs with two or more people. It is an act that gay persons repeat over and over again. There are punishments for a person, whether he chooses to come out or not (primary nega tive injunction), and punishments for a person who never comes to the end of coming out (s econdary injunction). One cannot do neither; you either stay in or come out. Either way, a gay person risks trauma, rejection, and/or disconfirmation. And with the closet and ga y identity being mutually constitutive, one cannot exist absent each other. Thus, as long a person identifies as gay, the closet occupies an inextricable part of her/his life; she or he cannot escape its field. In a heteronormative context, a person is often assumed to be straight until proven gay. She or he must thus come out of the closet, say something about her/his gay identity.
212 However, coming out is a time of sacrifice and danger, a time when a gay person can experience hostility, rejecti on, and even violence from family, friends, and total strangers (Gross, 1991, p. 374). Such hostilit y, rejection, and violence may occur because another is disgusted by or doesnt unde rstand gayness, and/or it can be rooted in the discovery of the persons hiding practices lies, omissions of information, bouts of selfishness, and/or a partic ipation in reckless acts. Hiding practices, lies, omissions of information, bouts of selfishness, and participation in reckless acts occu r most extremely when a person privately acknowledges a gay identity but publicly disconfirms this identity, the time of living the closet. However, a person who publicly confirms a gay identity most everywhere can still be held accountable for these practi ces, lies, omissions, bouts, and acts regardless of what she or he says or does. Furthermore, if coming out is a never-ending process as the research in this dissertation suggests, then a gay persons existence still is constituted by the presence of hiding practi ces, lies, omissions of information, bouts of selfishness, and/or participation in reckle ss acts, an existence where she or he must always prepare for being regarded as manipulative, self-hat ing, and/or immature. C onsider, for example, Daves recollection: I would lie when I would sit with my mom who asks about a girlfriend and say Im not seeing anyone right now. Well, I guess I wasnt lying but rather omitting a truth. (personal interview, 2007) And recall Tyler saying: My first name is Tyler and my middle name is James. When I meet people that may have a problem with my sexuality, I introduce myself as Tyler. But when I
213 meet people that I dont think will have a problem with my sexuality, I introduce myself as James. That way I can keep the world straight. If somebody says Hey James I know theyre friendly. If somebody says Tyler, Im not sure. (personal interview, 2007) E. Lynn Harris (2003) tells his friend that he is going to Jamaica with Maria and not Mario (p. 181). Harris also tells hi s aunt about being in a relationship with Andre, not mentioning, however, th at Andre is male (p. 142). I cant, to this day, imagine what childhood would have been like without the need for secrecy, and the constant vigilanc e secrecy requires, Bernard Cooper (1996) writes. The elaborate strategies, psychic acrobatic s . . Every day you await disgrace. You look for an ally and do not find one, because to find one would mean you had told. You pretend to be a person you are not, then worry that your pretense is obvious, as vulnerable to taunts as the secret itself. In a desperate attempt at selfprotection, you shrink yourself down to n early nothing, and still you are there, as closed as stone. (p. 70) Or consider Jeffreys comments, an inte rviewee in Downs (2005) project on selfhate: Ive been lying to everyone fo r most of my life. I lied to . my best friend in high school, when he asked me if I was queer. I lie d to every girlfriend . I lied to my parents about who I was dating, what my life was really like, or even when I would get married. Ive lied to my employers, my doctor, and even the priest at
214 my parents church by play ing like I was straight . . I guess I sound like some kind of monster, but Im really not. (p. 127) Life in the closet is a time of lies, ac ts of omission, and hiding practices, a time when a gay person may have less concern abou t her/his health and sexual practices, and a time when she or he may, without explanati on, avoid contact with significant others. While all of these acts may be used to a void or deflect overt c onflict, they make it possible for others to frame gay persons as deceptive, manipulative, and harmful if they do come out, and to suffer the trauma of guilt, self-hatred, and shame if they do not. A dilemma forms: tell another you are gay in order to be open and honest but, in so doing, put yourself in an uncom fortable and potentially dang erous situation if the other fears, hates, or is disgusted by people; or choose not to tell to rema in safe but in so doing know that you and others might hold you accountable for your lies, deceptions, and manipulations and that you risk even greater potential harm if your secret leaks out. While not explicitly writing about coming out, Bochner (1984) argues that the dilemma of what to reveal and what to conceal confronts each party with the contradictory impulses to seek protection and to be open in order to perceive oneself as an equal partner in a cooper ative venture for a presumably shared purpose. (Bochner, 1984, p. 589) Disclosures of gay identity are embedded in the history of past di sclosures (Bochner, 1984, p. 610), a past with a fixedness that allo ws reinterpretation only up to certain limits (Carr, 1986, p. 99). It is this first characteristic of coming out choosing to tell or not to tell that when coupled with the next two characteristics of coming out make a double-bind of gay identity possible.
215 **** I arrive at Evos, one of my favorite fast-food restaurants. I place my order and take a seat. Since shes not busy, the cashier come s and sits at my table. I tell her that Im moving to Chicago. She asks if Im moving with my girlfriend. I tell her No, Im single. She responds with Youll find a girl soon. Should I tell this cashier, an acquaintance, that Im gay? Do I say, No, Im not moving with my girlfriend or my boyfriend b ecause I am single? She did not ask if I was gay, bisexual, or straight, but assumed that I identified as straight and that I was in a relationship with a girl. I leave the restaurant filled with regret, guilt, and shame. Why couldnt, or didnt, I say that I liked me n? Even though I believe that I am comfortable with my gay identity, these mundane situations are what make me question myself; they make coming out difficult. How do I find the right time to disclose to a person I only know from visiting in a restaurant? Do I sa y I like men and wouldn t have a girlfriend the next time I visit? How awkw ard would that be? After all, she didnt ask if I was gay or straight, only if I was moving with my girlfriend. **** As a teacher, Im uncomfortable with stud ents knowing that I am gay in the first week of class, Michael says. But halfway through a semester, I dont care if they know. Theres always a certain amount of calculation, of prediction, every time you come out. Falconi (2006), a reporter for The Daily Mississippian, says
216 A critical component of coming out is all in the timing. While the Thanksgiving turkey is being carved, for example, may not be the best time to blurt out Mom, Dad, I'm gay! as you reach for the cra nberry sauce. Awkward! Rather, choosing just the right time and setting to discuss your sexual orientatio n with those most important to you is crucial in feeling secure in getting out of the closet. Tyler believes that Theres always a right time to come out and you have to feel the environment for when that right time is. You have to get a sixth sense about who is going to take it better than others. In some ways its al so about getting the right people on your side, which may seem manipulative. Bu t if you know others already support you then the process is a lot easie r. (personal interview, 2007) Coming out can be dangerous. It is a time when a gay person introduces a marginal and possibly-devalued identity as a topic of conversation and the related topics of sex and same-sex desire, topics of ten repressed and prohibited in mundane conversation. Backlash against coming out can thus take the form of Why must you tell everyone that youre gay? I don t tell everyone that I am stra ight! I dont care about your [homo] sexuality or what you are as l ong as you keep to yourself, and Its your life. You choose how to live. A gay person, in order to claim her/his gay identity, must contradict rampant heteronormative assumptions, prepare for r eactions against a marginal and devalued identity, and make sex and sexuality a topic of conversation. Coupled with my previous observation, she or he must also prepare to negotiate revealing a potential history of hiding practices, lies, omissions of informati on, bouts of selfishness, and participation in
217 reckless acts. To make matters worse, the longer one waits to disclose, the longer one lives in the closet, the longer one may build upon a history of deceptive practices, accumulating lies, omissions, bouts of selfishness, and reckless acts. Thus, the gay person may develop a need to try to predict the right time to disclose, the ideal relational conditions unde r which to come out. It is this second characteristic of coming out the attempt to try to predict and develop ideal relational conditions that further complicates and expands the double-bind of gay identity. **** I fucked your mom, faggot! someone sc reams at me from a passing car. Its 10 p.m., and Im walking on a residentia l street in Tampa, Florida. I check my location: Morrison Avenue. I take note of my surroundings: Any place to run? I grab my cell phone to call the cops, but then wonder if I should or if it would be too late. What happens if the car stops and people jump out and approach me? In those few seconds could I dial 911, hit send, and th en tell a dispatcher why Im calling and identify my precise location? I re-view my OGTs, my Obviously Ga y Traits, stereotypi cal ideas about how gay men act. Im casually dressed and have a fa irly masculine gait. I havent shaven in a few days nor am I walking with another man or in a designated gay space. I make sure to work against gay stereotypes so that I might appear straight. I fear harm. But then there is my sexuality: I identify as a faggot and, ironically, happen to be walking to a gay bar. I dont think the m an could have known either of these things,
218 but I decide I could lie for my safety. Im walking to the store, Id say, followed by Faggots are disgusting. Im no faggot. (Adams, in press) **** Every time you get into a ne w situation, Michael says, theres the issue of negotiati ng disclosure. For example, at the beginning of one of my classes, a person asked me if I was marri ed or if I had kids. I said Well, I live with my partner. She responded with Oh! Im sorry that I presumed and blah, blah, blah. It is awkward to point out to another pe rson that her or his basic categories dont work. Coming out is a proa ctive act that alwa ys puts you at risk. Basic assumptions, like marriage, that are normal discourse for some people, matter-of-fact bits about thei r life that they take for granted, become moments of risk, again and again, for the rest of a ga y persons life. Gay people live at risk. (personal interview, 2007) Tyler, another interviewee, does not believe he is completely, definitively out. My partner and I are not lovey-dovey ever ywhere we go, he says. Coming out is a process you do over and over again. Most people dont walk into rooms wearing Hi, Im gay t-shirts. In this dissertation, I have argued, after Urbach (1996, p. 69), that coming out cannot be accomplished once and for all. Ou tness is a matter of degree that changes with context (Chirrey, 2003, p. 28); new discl osure challenges always exist (Berzon, 2002, p. 171; Butler, 1991; Garrick, 1997; Plummer, 1995; Shakespeare, 1999). Halley (1989), a legal scholar, argues that
219 because the assumption of heterosexualit y applies in virtually every social interactionfrom the encounter of t eacher with student, salesperson with shopper, mother with daughter, Supreme C ourt Justice with clerkeven the most forthright and fearless gay man or lesbia n cannot come out once and for all in a single public disclosure; as she moves from one social setting to another, she will have to come out afresh or acquiesce in the assignment to her of a nonreferential public identity. (p. 947) Sedgwick (1990) agrees, noting that the deadly elasticity of heterosexist pr esumption means that . people find new walls springing up around them . ever y encounter with a new classful of students, to say nothing of a new boss, social worker, loan officer, landlord, doctor, erects new closets whose fraught and characteristic laws of optics and physics exact from at least gay people new surveys, new calculations, new . requisitions of secrecy or disclosure. (p. 68) It is this characteristic of coming out the absence of an ending to the coming out process, the unending burden of making identity claims that when coupled with the previous two characteristics makes the pr imary negative injuncti on of gay identity possible and problematic: If coming out is a process done over and over again, then a gay person must immediately tell of her/his identity or risk eventually being considered deceptive; if coming out is a never-ending pro cess then a gay person must perpetually try to predict ideal relati onal conditions to disclose while si multaneously prepare himself for ascriptions of being, or having been, manipula tive; if coming out does not end, then a gay person exists within an uncomfortable, pa radoxical, anxiety-ridden state in which new
220 situations perpetually arise that present new times to come out, new questions about whether the time is right, new worries about others responses, new possibilities to suffer trauma or self-hatred. I now introduce the seconda ry injunction that compli cates the primary negative injunction: you have to come out (completely) to be healthy If coming out is conceived as a developmental process with a begi nning stage and an end stage, connected to each other by a series of inte rmediate and sequential steps (Rust, 1993, p. 52; Gagn et al., 1997; Kus, 1985), if it is assumed that pe ople can complete the coming out process (McDonald, 1982), if it is beli eved that a gay person can escape the closet (Burgess, 2005, p. 139; Chee, 2006), then gay individua ls who never reach the end stage of coming out, those who never complete the process, those who never escape the closet may be considered immature, dishonest, se lf-hating, regressed, or less than healthy psychologically (Phellas, 2005, p. 79; see also Cole et. al., 1996). Indeed, gay persons who remain in the closet are often perceived to be living false, unhappy lives (Seidman et al., 1999, p. 11). The idealization of coming out, McLean (2007) observes, constructs a binary of disclosure that positions coming out as good, as it enables th e healthy development of sexual identity, and positions non-disclosure as bad (p. 154). Chee (2006) says that there is an attitude of contempt for pe ople who are closeted (p. 114), and Rasmussen (2004) agrees, noting that gay people who fail in their duty to come out may be ma rked as lacking . .When coming out discourses are privileged, th e act of not coming out may be read as an abdication
221 of responsibility, or, the act of somebody who is disempowered or somehow ashamed of their inherent gayness. (pp. 145-46) However, paradoxically, if coming out is a never-ending process, then a gay person will always be prone to ascriptions of immatur ity, dishonesty, self-hatre d, regression, or being unhealthy; they may always be moving to wards some end, but can never arrive. A constitutive, double-bind of gay identity forms: If a person isnt perpetually out, she or he may be perceived as deceptive manipulative, and/or harmful, immature, dishonest, and/or self-ha ting; if a person is perp etually out, if she or he does decide to, as Tyler (2007) says, walk into rooms wearing Hi, Im gay t-shirts, then she or he may be perceived as awkward, aggressive, and self -centered. Gay identity as situated within heteronormative contexts is constituted by and tangled in a circuit of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-dont expectations. In situations where either course of action a person takes may be considered problematic, it becomes difficult, if not impossi ble, to talk about wh ich course of action is more beneficial. Many people may say th at a person should be aggressively out, but there will be just as many others who w ill disagree. Saying that a person should be aggressively out may also be reckless insofar as such advice can plac e the person at risk. And even if (quite implausibly) a gay person has never engaged in lies, acts of omission, or hiding practices, bou ts of selfishness, and/or r eckless acts, I em phasize that she or he always has the potential to be accused of lying, hiding, omitting information, and/or not coming out soon enough. Individuals, once they identif y as gay, reside in what Laing (1969) calls an untenable position, a situation where her/his feelings are denuded of validity and acts are stripped of their motives, intentions, and
222 consequences regardless of what she or he sa ys or does (p. 124), and a situation in which compliance itself is not good enough and noncompliance is completely out of the question (Watzlawick, W eakland, & Fisch, 1974, p. 71). For instance, unless students in the cl asses I teach explicitly ask about my sexuality, I do not publicly self-identify as gay until a few weeks into the semester. However, in so doing, I often receive char ges of deception (You shouldve told us sooner.), charges of being manipulative (You planned this so that people might regret what they said earlier.), a nd/or charges of being immature and self-hating (Are you not comfortable identifying as ga y?). Like Michael, an interviewee, Im uncomfortable with students knowing that I am gay in the first week of class. But halfway through a semester, I dont care if they know (persona l interview, 2007). I risk being self-serving and awkward coming out too early, but decep tive, manipulative, immature and selfhating if I come out too late. And definitions of early and la te are ambiguous and relative; there is no metric to regulate coming out time. I mentioned that gay culture is ofte n defined in terms of two significant characteristics: same-sex desire and tr auma. The double-bind introduces a third: gay persons are constituted by and share the e xperience of being tangled in the knot of coming-out processes, ones that cr eate a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-dont existence. Coming out becomes synonymous with gay identity, and once a person identifies as gay, she is likely to held acc ountable for the workings of the metaphorical space in which she or he (always) lives. ****
223 A new tenant, a man, moves into my apartm ent building. When we first meet, he asks what I do in Tampa. Im in graduate school, I sa y. I read and write and teach. What do you write about? he asks. Hesitantly, I respond with I study how people talk about nature. Guilt subsumes me: I am scared to say t hat I study how gay people interact with others. I am not ready to come out to a person during our first meeting and, I assume that by saying that, some of the work that I do would fram e me as gay. I could say I study how sexuality can influence interacti on, but an intentional move to make my work vague seems dishonest. But now when do I disclose? Im sure Ill talk with him again. Do I tell him at a later time that I write about gay identity? W hy didnt you tell me that initially? he might ask. Even if he doesnt ask but only thinks such a sent iment, he may perceive me as hiding a shameful identity. The possibility always exists. And what I think he thinks is just as important as what he thinks . (Laing, 1969) **** Changing Conditions of the Closet In this dissertation, one of my goals ha s been to show lived experiences of the metaphorical closet in order to make these epiphanies and experien ces familiar for gay cultural insiders and outsiders. However, I do no t believe that the closet is a natural or inevitable fact of life, or that the existe nce of the closet, and life in the closet, is determined by the nature of things (H acking, 1999, p. 6). I believe that canonical stories of and reactions to coming out need to be radically transformed, and that the
224 double bind of gay identity need no t be as it is (p. 6). As a critical autoethnographer, I thus envision ways experiences of the clos et can and should change. In this section, I suggest how this can happen. The first way experiences of the closet can change is to work to change the conditions and characteristics of the clos et. This might include refuting anothers negative reaction to coming out, rebelling agai nst an institution that promotes anti-gay practices, or by addressing issues of self-d islike among gay individuals. As a gay man, I may recognize that a reaction to coming out is often an influen tial, scarring memory in a relationship, and may thus try to work to re -frame the weight I place on this reaction. I might realize that there are ot her significant, hopefully mo re compassionate experiences that constitute the relationsh ip, not just that of coming out. Or if, as a gay person, I recognize that I am more comfortable with hiding information about my past, isolating myself from others, or engaging in reckle ss acts, I may perpetually reconsider the necessities of hiding, isolating, and being re ckless. Or I might recognize that, as a gay person, I reside in a double-bind of disclosure and should thus focus less on the necessity to come out to others and more on how to negotiate the possibility of always being considered deceptive, manipulative, imma ture, dishonest, and/or self-hating. However, when a double-bind exists, it is difficult to change the characteristics and conditions that make the bind possible. A person must metacommunicate if she or he wants to escape an intera ctional paradox (Bateson, 1951, 2000). Metacommunication is communicate about communication (Bateson, 2000, p. 215; Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1967). Metacommunication happens when people discuss ways they interpret each others me ssages, discuss their re lationship, and discuss
225 how interpretation and relati onship inextricably influen ce meaning-making processes. Metacommunication is about reflecting on the conditions that ground the content and relational aspects of interacti on such as when my father and I reviewed and expanded on our conversation that occurred the day I came out. Metacommunication is difficult, however because persons often do not have the language or conceptual distan ce to reflect on the conditions of an experience (Bateson, 1951, 2000; Scott, 1991). This is why the conditions of closet, those I outlined in this project, are so important: They are th e communication, the language, the conceptual framework constitutive of gay identity and coming out. I previously highlighted seven conditions necessary for a the closet to exist: a person must (1) have the language of gay and know about this kind of person; recognize that gay identity a nd/or desire possesses a (2) marginal and a (3) devalued status; realize that ga y identity and/or desire (4) may encounter negative criticism from others when discussed ; know (5) she or he harbors a secret that gay identity and/or desire is not readily, easily accessible; realize that her/his gay identi ty and/or desire will (6) not go away on demand; and (7) self -identify as gay. When these conditions are met, then an individual discovers the existence of the cl oset, a space where a door can be closed or opened, a space where coming out becomes possible, sometimes necessary, but always problematic. Changing these conditions can ch ange the conceptual framework of the metaphorical space, specifically the experiences of living in the closet, the canonical coming out story, the double-bind of gay iden tity, and other patterns of interaction relevant to gay experience.
226 Some of these conditions are difficult to manipulate. For instance, it is not practical to quit using the langua ge affiliated with gay culture. Efforts could be made to discuss gay culture earlier in a variety of settings (educational systems, families, etc.), but the condition of having the langua ge to identify as gay and kn owledge of gay culture is not necessarily a condition conducive to cha nge. It is also difficult to change the culturally marginal status of gay identity: heterosexuals outnumber homosexuals in most contexts. And I do not believe that same-sex desire, a desire often constitutive of gay identity, can (or should) go away on demand. Other conditions are more conducive to change. Most obviously, a person can rebel against homosexualitys culturally devalued status. However, more subtle ways include making sexuality and attraction a freque nt topic of conversation, perpetually reidentifying sexuality in a variety of ways, and making gay identity and same-sex desire visible in mundane, unobtrusive ways. I will desc ribe these three possibilities in detail. In heteronormative contexts, heterosexuality is often never explicitly discussed; it is assumed (see Foster, 2008). I hear Do you think hes gay? far more often than Do you think hes straight? Thus, speaking about heterosexuality and opposite-sex desire in heteronormative contexts becomes an unnecessary form of discursive visibility (see Gator Gay-Straight Alliance, 2004; Jacobs, 2007; Skelton, 1997; Wilkinson & Kitzinger, 1994). Coming out as heterosexual makes heterosexua lity something talked about rather than disregarded, unstated, and/or a ssumed. It is an act of delib erate transgression (Foucault, 1978, p. 6), a form of metacommunication that t acitly disrupts heterosexualitys silence in a variety of mundane contexts like th e classroom, bank, or grocery store.
227 Coming out as straight can also expose the awkwardness in and preparation for disclosure. If coming out never ends, then the fe eling of never being able to fully disclose ones heterosexuality may become tedious a nd tiresome. And since heterosexuality is often not discussed, a person identifying as he terosexuality may come across as awkward in that she or he speaks, unnecessarily, of an already assumed characteristic. I am not suggesting that coming out as heterosexual pa rallels a gay persons coming out, but if the conditions of the closet, two of which keep se xuality silent and secret, then a perpetual negotiation of coming out can work to desensitize discussions of devalued sexualities as well as emphasize sexualitys invisible status as a cultural identity. I mentioned that the experience of the closet and the double bind of gay identity become possible when a person realizes that a gay identity is invisible and is selfclaimed. Coming out is not necessarily relevant for people who engage in same-sex acts or for people others identify as gay. I am not saying that others do not influence a persons outing process or that if a person is not out others will assume this person is straight. But coming out only makes sense when sexuality, specifically gay identity, is self-claimed, and only necessary when the sexuality is not heterosexual. Manipulating these conditions can thus make for new relational possibilities. For instance, I publicly identify as gay in most every course I teach. Once my coming out speech act happens, I sometimes have students, specifically Evangelical Christians, set up a time, outside of class, to meet. They of ten do so in order to save me from my abnormal, sinful lif estyle. In the last four year s, six Evangelicals have done this. I do not want to critique Evangelical Ch ristian dogma or these individuals attempts
228 to save me, but rather I emphasize one way that I try to counte r their saving act by creating dissonance by way of self-identification. The conversations often go something like this: Why did you want to meet? Ill ask. I want to talk with you about your gay lifestyle, theyll say. Im not gay, Ill respond. You said you were, theyll repl y. Im not right now, Ill answer. While refusing to identify as gay may s eem self-hating and not politically savvy, alternating sexuality via discourse can make some individuals question what sexuality is. Claiming and refusing a gay identity, an invisi ble and self-claimed identity, can facilitate dissonance; these acts become a kind of c onfusion technique (Wat zlawick et. al., 1974, p. 101), ones where an individual must create new frames to escape the uncertainty. Thus far, none of the Evangelical Christians have challenged my perceive d sexual fluidity. In terms of religion, I also find it difficu lt to confront religious dogma directly. Ive had conversations that go something like G ays are sinful with a retort of I dont think so. A debate begins without any definitive conclusion, and an interactional stalemate forms. This is another reason w hy confusion, specifical ly the ability to manipulate sexualitys self-claimed status can break and remake and thus change canonical conceptual frames. What does it say about sexuality if a pe rson identifies as gay one day, bisexual the next and straight the following week? Why not emphasize the fluidity of sexuality by naming yourself differently? Even if you dont feel straight, gay, and/or bisexual (to name a few possibilities), re-identifying can work as a social breach (Garfinkel, 1967), one that illustrates ways th at sexuality, and assumptions of sexuality, operate in interaction and dilute sexual identity assumptions.
229 The closet comes to exist when a person r ealizes that she or he harbors a secret, that gay identity and/or desire is not readil y, easily accessible; again, it is invisible. But when a person makes this secret perpetually known, then she or he may come across as socially awkward. Thus, another way to disrup t the secret condition of the closet is to make same-sex desire visible without seeming to do so using a variety of subtle, unobtrusive ways. Consider my experience in the checkout line of a grocery store. A male customer ahead of me pays, gr abs his bags, and walks away from the grocery bagger and the cashier Upon his departure but out of hearing range, I hear the cashier tell the bagger that the former custom er was a flaming faggot. Both begin to laugh as I move forward in the line. The cashier begins to scan my grocer ies while the bagger bags. Both still laugh about the cashiers flaming faggot remark and neither pay much attention to me. The casher soon says what I owe. While I usually pay for my groceries with a credit card, I decide, this time, to use a check, a check that has Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equal Rights pr inted above the signature line. My move to pay by check will, I hope, force the cashier to ask for my ID in order to verify the checks signature and therefore possibly see the printed text. May I see your ID? he asks. Sure, I respond as I innocen tly retrieve my wallet. I give him the ID. He looks at its signature and then compar es it to the check. It is here where he pauses. I know that hes reading the print above th e signature line, and I know that he begins to know that I know he laughed at the flaming faggot that passed through the checkout line before me.
230 Uh thank you, he says, followed by Im sorry for what I said about that man. No problem, I respond. Thanks for your help. Based on his remark, I assumed the cashi er was not a flaming faggot. I also assumed that the cashier didnt think I was one I dont think hed have made the remark if he did especially since he didnt say fl aming faggot in front of the man he called flaming. Unsure of how to approach the remar k, I tried to conceive of ways to subtly make my secret readily, easily accessible. I wa nted to unobtrusively come across as being a flaming faggot ally or a self-identified flam ing faggot. In the space of interaction, I used my assumptions of the cashiers identity, my assumptions of his assumptions about my identity, and my knowledge of desire being secret to make a point. The disclosure of gay identity and reac tions to this disclosure also occupy a significant presence in comi ng out situations. But why this moment and these reactions, especially when other moments and reactions exist? Why not discuss current feelings of a relationship ? Why is it that when I talk about my father and me, I talk about coming out to him and his reaction? Why dont I talk a bout the time my boyfrie nd and I ate at his restaurant? Why dont I talk abou t how he sought advice from another father of a gay son on ways to respond to my gay disclosure? Why dont I talk about his now frequent telephoning and visiting? Why dont I talk about us feeling better t ogether? Changing the conditions of the closet may also change the coming out situation, making it increasingly relational rather than strictly individualistic. ****
231 My ten year high school reunion approaches. It will be held in Danville, Illinois. At the time, Im living in Tampa, Florida. A frie nd I havent talked with since high school visits Tampa. He finds my phone number on the internet, calls, and asks me to dinner. You know Ive come out since hi gh school, I say during the meal. I heard you were gay from others, he re plies. I figured y oud tell me tonight. The meal continues with talk about sc hool, relationships, and all of the other significant happenings from the past te n years. He then asks about the reunion. Youre coming, right? No, I say with hesitation. Im too busy. Whats the real reason? he asks. Youre not that busy. Im scared. My graduating class was only 32 people. Everyone knew everyone. I tell my friend that, in high school, I in timately fooled around with on e of our male classmates. I tell him that after the inci dent, the man called me a cocksucker, a fucking queer, and slammed me into a locker. I do not tell him the mans name, as my friend mentioned earlier in the evening that he is friends w ith the man I was speaking about. The man is now married and a police officer in the rural town, has a bad temper, and has told others that hes not too fond of me. I fear what could happen, I say. Ill protect you, he responds. Thanks, but Id rather not put myself in the situation.
232 Im fearful. Yes, my incident with the man happened ten years ago, but Im still very leery. I am a man who o ften publicly identifies as gay The other man is married. Our affair is not a harmful secret for me. It is, however, potentially harmful for him. As a person who has identified as gay for almost a decade, I still find myself fearful of rural settings, especially those wh ere a possible foe has le gal authority. I find myself fearful of the place where I was raised, the place where all of my relatives still live. Id rather spare the possibility fo r injury than have a fun weekend with my graduating class. An embrace of gay identity no matter how comfort able I am with the embrace, still motivates me to avoid others. **** Making Coming Out Relational I remember uttering the phrase I am gay to my father. He responded by not speaking to me for six months. When I told my mom that I found men attractive, she supported my attraction as long as I promised never to tell relatives. She feared they would abandon her for having a gay son. Thus, at family gatherings I entertain being asked if I have a girlfriend and justif y why I am not married. In December 2005 my aunt did not want my partner and me in her house. She refused to have gays contaminating her space, and said she loved me but not my gay identity. Saying I am gay influenced my relationship with her too. It is easy to criticize my father, mother and aunt for their selfish, disheartening responses. It is easy to say that they oppress. It is easy to sa y that I am silenced in some familial contexts and should thus work to eliminate the silence by way of dialogue, debate, avoidance, or argument. However, i ndividuals-in-relationshi ps are not isolated
233 phenomena, and, while I may not like hearing an others response, I must work with and respect it. A person can have rational reasons (Shweder, 1986), from her/his perspective or worldview, to fear or dislike a gay person (Tillmann-Healy, 2001). As such, a gay person cannot necessarily expect or demand another to respond favorably to her/his coming out. In this section, I try to reframe the canonical coming out story, an individualistic narrative that places a significant amount of burden on a gay person, in terms of a relational perspective, one that makes all i ndividuals in a relati onship accountable for relational burdens. Reframing, Watzlawick et al. (1974) write, can change the meaning attributed to a situation and thereby change its consequences. Reframing operates on the level of meta reality (p. 97) in an attempt to alter the conceptual framework of an event (p. 104). Reframing offers a new definition of the same circumstance, but does not disregard the material circ umstances involved (p. 109) As I have illustrated, coming outa nd not coming outare acts of selfdisclosure that can create relational difficulties.23 However, reframing the canonical coming out narrativeand, by default, ga y identitymakes these difficulties shared difficulties, ones in which all persons i nvolved in a relationship must negotiate together A persons negative reaction to another pers ons gay disclosure is a reaction both individuals make possible. The gay person made the choice to disclose and may be perceived, by the other, to have made the choice to be a marginal, devalued kind of person. Thus, significant others privy to a gay disclosure may need support, especially if these others have a minimal amount of knowle dge about gay people (Elizur & Ziv, 2001). 23 Brown (2000) argues that not coming outkeeping silent about a gay identityis a speech act even though nothing is actually spoken.
234 For instance, parents can experience shame and guilt as a result of a childs disclosure that he or she is gay; they are often more c oncerned with mentally undoing some aspect of themselves (If I had done this differently, then . .) rather than with trying to understand their ch ilds experience and responding empathically (Armesto & Weisman, 2001, p. 148). Conversely, the others negative responsea nd a gay persons perception that the other might respond negativelymay motivate a gay person to engage in a variety of self-condemning acts (te lling secrets, lying, bei ng reckless, etc.). A relational perspective of comi ng out considers audiences (dis closees) and gay disclosers as equally important (Mosher, 2001), thus maki ng a negative response to a gay disclosure both justified and inexcusable. Furthermore, when a person comes out, sh e or he also implicates people in the addressees intimate sphere; a closet is constructed around the addressee (Aoki, 2005; Hom, 1995; Seidman et. al., 1999). When gay people in a homophobic society come out, perhaps especially to parents or spouses, Sedgwick (1990) says, it is with the consciousness of a potential for serious injury that is likely to go in both directions. The pathogenic secret itself can circulate contagiously as a secret: a mother says that her adult child s coming out of the closet with her has plunged her, in turn, into the closet in her conservative community. (p. 80) For instance, when Lim-Hing (1990/91) came out to her family, many of her significant others quit sending her event invitations. They wanted to keep her gay identity secret from others. This tolerance, she write s, curiously ambivalent, tells me that Im still part of the family, but that being gay or having a gay person in the family is shameful (p. 21).
235 Identity by associationthe idea that we are particular kinds of people because of our relationships with ot her kinds of peopleis anot her reason a persons gayness may pose difficulties with others (Boyd, 2006; Aoki, 2005; Garfinkel, 1967; Taylor, 2000; Walker, 1993). A person in a relationship with someone who others consider weird may worry about whether these same others consider her or himself weird, too. A person who says I have a gay friend ri sks being perceived as gay and/or being condemned for associating with someone who is gay. A parent who says I have a gay child may be thought of as a bad parent.24 Identity-by-association provides furthe r insight into coming out processes. A person does not necessarily come out when she or he discloses information about someone else. A person comes out when she or he is invested in the disclosure and is concerned about how another will respond. I ma y have a gay friend, but do not come out by saying I have a gay friend. I do, however come out if I am invested in this utterance, if I worry that others may th ink of me as gay, or may condemn me for associating with a gay person, or may conceive of me as a bad parent if the gay person is my child. When a person comes out, she or he reveals potentially harmful information. For instance, I lived the first twenty year s of my life in Danvi lle, Illinois, a rural town of 30,000 people. Generations of my family lived their liv es in this town, and, with the exception of two distant cousins, all still remain. I visit this town approximately seven days each year, and I havent lived in Danville for almost a decade. My father owns a restaurant in Danville, a business that has been in his family for more than 60 years. If my father believes th at my coming out to individuals in the town 24 I recognize that gay-as-a-negativetrait and gay-as-a-result-of-bad-par enting are also stories that need reframed, but for this project I am particularly interested in making gay identity relational.
236 will hurt his business, his livelihood, then how can I ethically invade his permanent space and make my sexuality visible, a sexuality that many individuals in Danville may still perceive as abnormal and disgusting? What a llows me to jeopardize his business when I do not live in the area? Concealment, here, may be an act of socia l obligation (Henry, 1965, p. 100). A relational perspective makes a gay pers on attentive to ways a disclosure of a gay identity can influence another. I dont necessarily think about how Im going to take a persons response to my coming out, Tyler, an interviewee, says. But I always think about how the other person is going to feel, how the other person is going to handle it, if the other person is going to be upset (p ersonal interviewee, 2007). A relational perspective of coming out must conceive of the process as an interpersonal rather than an individual endeavor, a process where a gay individual simultaneously tries to disrupt oppressive systems while expressing con cern for potentially-oppressive others. Expressing concern for those we consider oppressors may run count er to progressive politics and may seem a bit dangerous for newly-out gay individuals, but a relational perspective encourages gay individuals to try to understand another even if such understanding might make us uncomfortable. But can blame in a gay-straight relations hip exist? When should a person take a stand? Can a relational perspective accomm odate the double bind of gay identity? What happens if a gay man is empathic towards hi s loved ones, recognizi ng that they are in relationships together, but these significant ot hers do not feel such togetherness and find his gay identity disgusting time after time? Shoul d he continue to engage in an effort to accommodate their disgust while simultaneousl y try to make his feelings known? What
237 happens when a parent forces a gay child to undergo reparative therapy to change her/his gay identity because the childs gayness is a problem? What happens if the parents choose to no longer speak to this child if sh e or he doesnt work to change? Should the child still make an effort to respect them? A relational perspective fails with coming out when a persons gayness is conceived of as a problem. A gay person can take responsibility for knowing that another may conceive of her/his gayness as a problem, but to sugge st that gayness is a problem and must somehow be fixed is unethical. While gayness may initially be conceived of as a problem, I do not believe that it can be conceived of as a problem forever. This has been done too often, and is an ascription that motivates a variety of harmful acts. A relational perspective does allow for initial, negative reactions to a gay child, but these reactions must cease eventually. I also do not believe that a person shoul d change her/his gayn ess and/or refrain from discussing her/his same-sex affairs with another forever. Hyde (2004) argues that acknowledgement is a communicative behavior that grants atten tion to others and thereby makes room for them in our lives (p. 63). Offering positive acknowledgment, he says, is a moral thing to do (p. 63). Negative forms of acknowledgement like heterosexism, a valuing and privileging of he terosexuality, expose people to [a] fate of social death (p. 64). Embracing Hydes call suggests that ac knowledgement of a persons gayness, specially her/his relations hips with same-sex others, is necessary. Otherwise, positive acknowledgment does not exist, with silence serving as a negative (speech) act.
238 What I have described of the closet ha s been focused primarily on a gay persons burdens. What I seek to accomplish, however, is to emphasize the co-constitutive qualities of relationships. All individuals play a role in the relationshi p: No one gets off the hook for reacting in a particular way a nd everyones accountable to each other. Problems are shared problems, and all individua ls in a relationship, gay and straight, are simultaneously victims and oppressors. The pare nts of a gay or lesbian person must thus understand their own ethical obligations a nd burdens, one being the obligation, and possible burden, of acknowledgment. Simu ltaneously, a person must understand, and allow, significant others to respond to her/ his gay identity in a variety of ways. Embracing a relational viewpoint treats all individuals involved as responsible for a relationships conditions. A relational pers pective justifies and rationalizes a negative reaction to a gay disclosure; ideally, blame disappears.
239 Epilogue August, 2003. A trip to see a Cher concert in Indianapolis, Indiana. An excuse to spend an evening out. An early birthday gift fo r Brett. A last trip before the break up and separation, a last trip toge ther before his death. Dinner at Buca di Beppos. Motivated by bright dcor, a low ceiling, and a robust crowd, I feel an onslaught of anxiety midway through the meal. Having already ordered food, having already devoured most of the sp inach-artichoke dip, ha ving already watched him take his insulin shot, I decide to st and in the undecorated, less-peopled hallway. While I stand, I stare at him staring at me, each smiling at each other, silently gesturing to him not to rush and to enjoy the food and to put my eggplant parmesan in a to-go box. At the concert, I sit on the end of a row, Seat 1. Brett si ts next to me in Seat 2. Seats 3 and 4 are occupied by a heterosexua l couple and seats 5 and 6 contain two women, an assumed couple, too. At intermissi on, the man in Seat 3 leans to Brett. Hey, there are two pretty ladies sit ting next to the wife and me, he says. You two men should introduce yourselves. Theyre not our type, Brett responds bluntly, then looks at me and laughs. After the concert we begin the five-hour drive home. Talk of Cher occurs for the first 30 minutes but ceases when Brett, in the passenger seat, gets ti red. I put my hand on his bare leg not covered by inke d-stained shorts and I tell him to rest. He places his head on my shoulder and goes to sleep, a familiar and comfortable position we maintain for most of the trip.
240 **** December, 2003. The intimate relationship ends. We decide to live together until he moves to Oklahoma, until I move to Florida. **** June, 2004. Brett leaves before me. It is the last time well see each other for a few months. He enters my room wearing hi s usual plaid green pajama pants and worn grey t-shirt, and climbs on my tw in mattress. I turn on k.d. langs Drag CD, one of his/our favorites, and then join him on the be d. Despite months of turmoil we peer into each others eyes and begin to cry, a moment in which we intimately connect, again, and bond by holding, crying, talking, real izing we each could love and still love each other, something we both doubted. Im going to miss you, I say. I already miss you, he replies. We know well miss each other, know we love each other, know that well no longer be able to wheel Seymour, our potted tree, around to meet house guests, no longer be able to take comfort in pot-smoked-filled ro oms, no longer be able to mutually care for a fish. **** October, 2004. Tampa, Florida. Brett, a two-hour layover at the airport. Tony, a two-hour break between teaching cl asses. A lunch at Pizza Hut. **** January, 2005. Springboro, Ohio. A night together at a Knights Inn. Though we telephoned often, this is the la st time we see each other.
241 **** March, 2006. A call from a friend to share the news. Bretts dead, she says th rough tears. His sister just called me. You should call her. Our conversation ends, and I call the si ster, a person I have never met. Hi, Sarah? This is Tony Adams, I say when she answers the phone. I lived with Brett in Carbondale, I add, strategically phrasing my words. I do not call Brett my ex-boyfriend as I am uncertain if hes out to every member of his family. I retreat into the closet about our history, wanting to feel out the interaction before blurtin g we dated, wanting to find the right time to disclose, wanting to keep the sister on the phone and not encourage her to hang up. You sick fuck, I could hear he r say. My brother wasnt gay. It was a comment I feared and so I lived with Brett in Carbondale sufficed. I know, she says. Ive heard about you. I wonder what heard about you means, but Im too scared to ask. She continue s by describing how he died and what the doctors said, did, and tried to do. The details are a blur. I bought him a yellow pony, a plush pony no bigger than a hand, I say nervously. Ive seen it, she replies. I know the pony youre talking about. He used to call me My Little Tony, a play off My Little Pony. My Little Tony, thats what hed say. Could I have it? Of course, she says. Ill send it to you next week. ****
242 Brett slipped into a diabetic coma one ni ght . He had talked to some friends earlier that day and felt fine. (Joshua, 2006) **** The pony, the item that Brett took wherever he traveled, the only item I asked for when he died. I know the pony youre talking about, his sister sa ys. Ill send it to you next week. **** Im still waiting. **** Id like to attend Bretts funeral and s ee his body one last time, but before I book a flight, I hear the story of Brett coming out to his father from a mutual friend. And I think: What happens if family and friends re fuse to speak of Brett s same-sex desire and his past of intimately, passionately loving men? What happens if the family doesnt know of this past? What happens if I arrive to the funeral and someone asks who I am? I decide against attending. While funerals are typically for the survivors of death, I am concerned about becoming angry about choices made to celebrate Bretts life, choices about his likes and dislikes, c hoices about his lovers and friends. I also decide against atte nding out of concern for my safety. If Bretts father reacted negatively to Bretts co ming out as the alternate story suggests, then I am scared of being a gay man, an ex-boyfriend, in his fa thers presence. Furthe rmore, the funeral is in rural Oklahoma. Folk wisdom in some gay circles advises against visiting such settings. These places often cultivate ha rm; gay people move or live in them at heightened risk. I recall images of Matth ew Shepard. I think about the story of Brokeback
243 Mountain (Proulx, 1999). I get noxious remembering my experiences of living most of my life in a suffocating, re pressive rural area. **** I post an obituary on the Communica tion Research and Theory Network (CRTNET), a listserve of a community in which Brett played a significant part: One must live in New York once if one wants to be a good actor, Brett often said. Thus he decided to temporar ily leave university life and move. After receiving his M.A. from Southern Illi nois University (May 2004) and after participating in Light Opera Oklahoma in his home region of Tulsa, Brett Aldridge ventured to The Big Apple. There, he succe ssfully landed several acting opportunities and worked as a teacher with Kaplan. Brett had quite a diverse fan base. I remember a love letter he received from someone who watched him in The Mikado at the University of Miami. "Someone has a crush on you," I said as I handed him the letter. He cleverly reminded me that this fan, Anna, was only 10. Brett's home was on the stage, and he provided many of us with much needed pleasure and social critic ism. Brett enjoyed his roles in The Mikado most, and in the Kleinau Theatre at Southern Illinois University (O ctober 2-4, 2003) he performed his autobiographical solo show Best Face Forward, a show that dealt with his negotiations of gay identity, inte rpersonal relationships, and intrapersonal conflict. This past year, Brett taught acting and theatre at Tulsa Community College. At the start of 2006, Brett said that he was ready for a doctoral program and a return to university life.
244 Brett Aldridge passed away on February 28, 2006. He was 29. (Adams, 2006c) **** I write for you Brett, someone who, according to entries on his online obituary, loved without letting on that [he] loved (C ole), could take a stre ssful day, turn it 90 degrees, and help you to see the humor in it (Alley-Young), and would sing Cher songs when it got too quiet (Prell). **** Death of a lover, a wake-up call, an event where life before and after seems surreal and never quite the same, an epipha ny. Bretts death, a year -and-a-half after our year-and-a-half together, make s new behaviors possible: Obsessively, I watch squirrels play in the tree outside my window. I walk, by myself, for hours, enjoying the ability to walk. I thank something, an energy, a higher be ing, that I can feel, experience, be. I sit with friends joyously, talk with others regul arly, read emails gl adly. I feel good about being connected with others, feel good about watching facial expres sions, hearing voices, smelling familiar odors, touching soothing text ures even if these expressions, voices, smells, and textures may be deemed u npopular or disgusting. New behaviors made possible by embodied privileges, made possibl e by a person I once loved and still love. Bretts death: a motivation to being fun, to have fun being, a motivation to recognize that what you say may be the last thing you say, recognize that what you say matters. **** Just know you make me smile.
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About the Author Tony E. Adams is a first-generation college student. Having lived much of his life in Midwest Illinois, he received an Associate of Science from Danville Area Community College (May 1999), and a Bachelor of Ar ts (May 2001) and a Master of Science (December 2003) from Southern Illinois Univer sity, Carbondale. His primary research interests include sexual orientation and ge nder identity, personal narrative, troubled relationships, and (re)pre sentations of nature. He has publis hed articles on these interests in a variety of academic journals such as Qualitative Inquiry, Soundings, Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, and The Review of Communication He also has a chapter (coauthored with Stacy Holman Jones) in the Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (Sage, 2008). In August 2008, he w ill return to the Midwest as an Assistant Professor in th e Department of Communicat ion, Media & Theatre at Northeastern Illinois Un iversity in Chicago.