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.
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: