Continuing our discussion about the closet we’ll be looking at closeted gay men. While much of what I’m talking about applies to all queer men, I’ll be focusing mainly on my own experiences as well as the experiences of men I’ve worked with.
If you’re a gay man you’ve probably felt different since around six or seven years old. Perhaps you didn’t realize you were attracted to the boys or men around you, but you knew something was up.
I always felt different. My “awakening” happened when I was around seven. I was watching Batman looking up at Robin tied down with a killer bee about to sting him. That’s the first time I can remember being turned on by a man. I was terrified of bees as a kid but all I could focus on was him.
Starting to Hide
I’m not sure that I understood sexual attraction but from then on I was much more aware that I liked men and boys. Whatever your experience was, the minute you figured out that you were different you started to look for people like you.
If you were lucky you found some form of support or acceptance. Most of us, myself included, didn’t. So, we began to hide. The hiding would have been subtle at that age. But, it wasn’t limited to your sexuality. Perhaps because you didn’t understand the source of your difference you hid anything you thought was abnormal or might make other people uncomfortable. It was basic survival for you at that young age.
Becoming a Closeted Gay Man
By the time you reached middle school or high school your hiding was probably full-blown. Mine certainly was. Even though I had been called fag since grade school I still made a show of being straight. I started coming out around fifteen but still had a girlfriend. I just wanted to be normal. I thought all the bullying would stop if I could just appear straight. It didn’t.
We create closets to hide in when we’re teens in order to keep ourselves safe. By then we know what makes us different and that who we are is not okay with other people. We do everything we can to make sure no one discovers what we’re hiding.
All that fear paralyzes us. The judgments of the people around us make us feel that there is something essentially wrong with who we are. Some of us begin to hate ourselves. But, even without overt self-hatred, we believe we’re rotten at our core. Sometimes we turn the hate in on ourselves. That is internalized homophobia.
This self-hatred can lead to very destructive behavior. It creates serious issues like addiction and can even lead to suicide. Some of us turn our self-loathing outwards. Much of the violence experienced by gay men, and youth, is at the hands of other self-hating queer men.
The Way Out
The path forward for gay men is clear. Coming out when it’s safe when we’re ready, is the only way. Even after we start being open, once we built lives outside the closet, we need to come to terms with our own internalized homophobia. Facing your inner demons as you move out into the world is the only way to be happy and whole. Your journey from a closeted gay man to an out and proud one will be tough. It requires a level of bravery and resilience you may not even know you have. But, in the end, you do, and it’s always worth it.