Conventional wisdom would have us believe that the period before we came out, was a terrible place. The closet. Billeh, in the Daily Kos, quotes Paul Monette, who calls it a “hidden life,” and “half a life.” This is the way gay writers and politicians think about what went before coming out. I am sure that is true for some people, but it is not true for many others. I got married in 1965 and I had children in 1969 and 1970, and while that life was difficult, it was not impossible and it was emphatically not “half a life.” During that time—a period that began for us in 1965 and ended finally twenty years later in 1984—I earned a PhD, my wife and I bought and sold three houses. I wrote a book that was published by a major university press. We raised two children, and I got a promotion and tenure, we established ourselves in our community, and we did all of this even though the conventional wisdom in the gay community was that I was closeted, living half a life. That’s outrageous.
I have been gay my entire life, beginning when I was about ten. I have never been bisexual. I got married because I was looking for a way to live, and at that time the gay people that I knew seemed to be rebels and I wasn’t yet able to rebel against my culture. At that time, I thought I wanted to be a college professor and to live the life I did, in fact, live for almost twenty years. I met a woman, and she and I fell in love. We shared an amazingly rich world view. It is not true that if gay men fall in love with women and marry them, they are at least bisexual. These terms are dependent upon the subject’s self-perception. They are not dependent upon who or what gender he is having sex with. I never had any sexual responses to any woman even remotely comparable to the sexual response I have had to men. But the gender of the person I have fallen in love with was infinitely less important than the kinds of things she and I both found important—the paintings we liked, the furniture, the design of houses, our children at every stage of their growth, the books we liked—but I never lost my sense of myself as a gay man, and, during the almost twenty years of my marriage, I told many, many people, both men and women, that I was gay. I was gay, I was also monogamous, as I had promised at my marriage, and I was about as happy as most married men of 44.
But what astonishes me is that nobody is really happy with the way I was living my life. Certain people on the political spectrum didn’t like it that I had, in my mind, images of sex with other men while having sex with a woman. And after Stonewall in 1969, there were plenty of gay men who would have called me the dread word, closeted, and didn’t like it that I was living with a woman and fathering children while professing to be gay. And yet I didn’t think I was unique. To the contrary, I thought I was pretty typical of gay men of my generation, some large percentage of whom had gotten married and had fathered children. What was coming clear to me was that our sex lives were not nearly as clear as our language seemed to imply, with its short list of binaries: men and women, gay and straight. Things are messier than that, yet not less interesting, or valuable, or moral, or healthy.