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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope


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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Life in the closet still a reality for many gay men

Kelvin Browne has an editorial in Wednesday's National Post about the sad fact that many gay men still find themselves unable to come to terms with their sexuality. I know myself that this is true - I didn't find the strength to come out until I was in my late forties. Here's Browne's article, The closet still isn't empty:
During Gay Pride celebrations in coming days, gay men will openly celebrate being themselves. Casual observers who attend such events may believe that the last, obsolete taboos against homosexuality have been lifted. Sadly, though, even in 2010, not every gay man is open about his sexuality.

The closet makes strange bedfellows. There's the 55-plus set, leftovers from the bad old days when homosexuality was illegal and classified as a psychiatric illness. Some are confirmed bachelors who have neutered themselves; they have no sexuality left after repressing their gay feelings for decades. Others are married with grown children, badges of their heterosexuality and camouflage at the country club. These guys may have furtive sex occasionally, and the Internet makes clandestine trysts readily available. Their wives may suspect nothing. If they're suspicious, or know, most choose to say nothing.

For many wives of closeted men, the angst derives from the fear of hubby's potential exposure. They hope he doesn't do anything to involve the police or public-health authorities. It's handy that wives in this generation traditionally lose interest in sex and become golfers. Their husbands are relieved they don't have to perform in the bedroom anymore. Ancient gay guys understand that coming out late in life may not be worth it: Your partner options are limited or expensive. (There are a few who claim to be "bi". I've never known a bisexual who hasn't morphed into gaydom as he's aged. I don't buy this spin.)

Some zoomer closet cases have active dual lives: married and proper by day, bad and gay by night. Few can sustain this charade. Typically, they become more and more flagrant, wanting to be outed, wanting wives to discover the truth so they can stop pretending. I knew one married gay fellow who finally came out at 50. It was odd to see him start his gay life where he left off, when he was 16. He'd been in sexual suspended animation, and it took him years to have partners close to his own age.

What about gay 20-and 30 year-olds who have grown up taking gay rights, and now even gay marriage, for granted? All out, prosperous and happy, we presume. Wrong.

There are lots of reasons to be in the closet today -- work, for instance. It's not only the construction site or other real-guy workplaces that are full of prejudice: Many white-collar corporations remain homophobic, too. They profess tolerance, hire consultants to inculcate it and PR professionals to advertise it, but they have a pink ceiling.

Religion still keeps a lot gay men in the closet. How can you be honest with yourself if coming out equals eternal damnation? Even gays in mainstream faiths -- Anglicans and Catholics for instance -- have a hard time dealing with their sexuality. Their guilt inhibits gay sex unless they're completely drunk or stoned.

Extreme right-wing politics is a kind of religion, too, and it forces men who subscribe to hide their proclivities. Gay men who do well in this environment suffer a different kind of damnation: Their gay friends consider them a variety of Uncle Tom. Better to be a closeted gay right winger, because that way, at least you know who you're lying to.

Family expectations twist gays in knots, particularly if you're unlucky to have a cultural background where gay means outcast. However, even the most accepting families send mixed messages. Lots of guys grow up hearing the real prejudices of their parents around the dinner table at a formative age: Parents talk about the embarrassment of the next door neighbours when they found out their son was gay, what a terrible life he was going to have, and so on. They remember this, and don't believe the "we'll love you anyway" 10 years later, when they announce they're out.

It's the most brilliant, ambitious gays who injure themselves the most. I know a fellow whose eyes involuntarily look you up and down. He claims not to be gay but remains unmarried in his 40s. His life is a perfect storm of reasons to be in the closet, combining a high-profile job, religious prohibitions and an uptight family that doesn't approve of fags. Friends make excuses that he's never found the right person, and then gossip about his ambiguous sexuality behind his back.

When you're deeply repressed like him, you may not be conscious that workaholism, constant business travel, compulsive athletics and lots of church time are all avoidance mechanisms. If some man ever got too close to his feelings, I suspect he'd find a girl to marry right away. In his social set, gay isn't a reason for women not to marry you (at least not one as compelling as being poor).

This problem will not go away anytime soon: As more people move to Canada from traditional societies, there will be even more men in the closet. All of which to say: Enjoy Gay Pride celebrations, by all means--but don't think that the fight for complete acceptance of gays is over.

7 comments:

Mutton Chops said...

Gay pride parades do more damage than good. They portray gays as sexually explicit and deprived individuals. If gays want greater acceptance by a broader swath of society they shouldn't prance up and down main street half naked and dressed up like goofs.

Fred from BC said...

I've often wondered about that myself (the parade thing). Are older, more stable gay men embarrassed by these types of displays?

Eric said...

Fred:

Yes, some of us are embarassed by the displays of nudity & hedonism at Pride parades - I wrote a post on that subject here

Alberta Girl said...

I agree with MC. I respect the gay man or woman who lives quietly with his/her partner, I do not see the need to dance naked down the street in front of little children demanding equality. It is not equal because any heterosexual who did that would be arrested.

It is the demands for equality and the hate that many outed gays have for the "establishment" that I find offensive. The HATE that I see from many gays towards Conservatives is appalling given their demands for open-mindedness and tolerance. I do not understand how they can think that holding a parade, performing lewd and bawdy actions in public will gain them acceptance.

Can anyone give me an answer.

And please don't anyone tell me that it is because I am "homophobic", because I am not.

Alberta Girl said...

Eric - excellent post you linked to. While I understand that many do feel as you do, my previous questions stand.

Or maybe it is just that section of the community who (like any cross section of the population) likes to push the envelope for those who gawk).

I can't help but think that while they are looking for acceptance, the vast majority of the veiwers seem to be there as voyeurs and for a good laugh. Somehow, the result of the parade seems counter productive to the intent.

Fred from BC said...

Alberta Girl said...

I agree with MC. I respect the gay man or woman who lives quietly with his/her partner, I do not see the need to dance naked down the street in front of little children demanding equality. It is not equal because any heterosexual who did that would be arrested.

Agreed. I've never supported gay 'marriage' as such, but always supported 'civil union' with all the same rights and responsibilities, just a different name. It's good enough for all the European countries and the more enlightened Western nations, so why wasn't it good enough for Canada?

It's the fact that the government abrogated their responsibilities and allowed the courts to impose this on us that really pisses me off. I know DB doesn't agree, but that's the beauty of a free country...

Anonymous said...

I've dated a guy that I suspectef gay for four months. I think if you're with a gay guy you'll know but they have such more good qualities that being gay is overlooked, well at least for as long as you can accept it. Anyways, the closet gay i was with was really the ideal guy and i wished i can give him the happiness that he deserve and vice versa. Reading and being aware of the real story of hiding in the closet, paved way for me to forgive without him telling or asking me for it. There was this one instance when I saw tremendous emotion on his face. A rather dark aura surrounding him. I wish i can help him or someone could actually be there for him.