What does the label really mean?

There's always been a part of me troubled by the label 'Gay'. As a younger man I thought it a funny word for something so hated - not 'happy' at all, seemingly designed as torture. Nothing at all like what the word meant in the old movies from the 30s and 40s I enjoyed watching as a kid. I have struggled at times to figure out what that label essentially means, what it actually says about me personally, and as a member of this society. I have watched the acceptance of gay folk change dramatically over my lifetime as the society I was born into and raised within evolves and struggles to come to terms with its gay children growing into gay adults who demand equal rights.  From the time I was about twelve or thirteen years old -- in the first half of the 1970s -- all I knew was that such a label offered me nothing positive whatsoever. Back then I had, with equal measure, an overwhelming intense curiosity and desire to  explore my  physical and emotional attraction to other boys,  and a certainty that If I risked reaching out to someone honestly, being discovered as 'queer', that I was  going to be punished for that crime.

I was convinced I was a disgusting sinner in the eyes of  God for my thoughts and feelings, and that my desires were a curse and a punishment for something I had done. I knew somehow that if I was found out, I could expect only hatred in response. For me, at that time, there seemed no option but to repress those thoughts and desires and pray harder to God to save me and make me 'normal' (Note: He did not and I thank him greatly - if he exists).  I learned to be good at pretending to find girls sexually attractive, I learned to laugh at the queer jokes (and look like I meant it), and openly reject anything  remotely perceived as gay. There were no positive gay role models for me, no ‘out’ gays on television, and the few images that were available in the movies were very negative - the movie 'The Celluloid Closet" documents this very, very well.

Aside from some of the obvious social stigma of the time, I experienced intense institutional homophobia as a child, forced to endure participation in the Roman Catholic Church - and very sick parents - sick with the deep wounds of the trauma from the sudden death of my brother at 13. It's a miracle my sisters and I walked away intact to the degree we did, never mind that I should feel 'proud' to be me (on any level) - that just never played a part of my upbringing or thinking.

Growing up in the suburbs of New York I had a few opportunities to explore sex play with other boys, but I was always much too afraid and never felt free enough to risk seeking to experiment. I preferred the safety of taking care of my own needs and fantasize about what it might be like to have a lover, or a life-partner (I imagined a male-male relationship would be sort of like a marriage, like Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello) -- But much better looking, like Redford & Newman ;-). By the time I reached seventeen I was working on a good sized nervous-breakdown, with a substance abuse problem and some real serious emotional problems - what we call today PTSD, OCD, Anxiety and Panic disorders (p.s. the alcohol and drugs did NOT help).

As a means of getting out of the terrible environment I was in, I decided to join the US Navy, a good idea I thought, as my two grandfathers, an uncle and my father had all served in the Navy. I look back now and think WOW, no decision could have been more important at that time, and so wrongly decided - on so many levels. I left for boot-camp in Feb of 1979. (To put it in context this was three months after Harvey Milk and George Moscone's assassinations in San Francisco). Harvey's election to office was huge news and the Gay-Rights Movement was beginning to gain real momentum and some political power. I heard Harvey Milk's call for everyone to come out and destroy all the closet doors, forever, but I felt I was just not ready for that – I was too afraid still, and so what did I do? what any good self-loathing homo would do! Jumped out of the frying pan, and into the fire! Looking back I think I was so afraid to come out that I put myself in a place where I felt there was no chance whatsoever of that happening. Surely I could prove my manliness, that I wasn't anything like those other queers, those sissies - It was a self-imposed prison sentence, but something I learned a lot from and I am grateful now for what the experience taught me about self discipline and facing fear.

In Navy boot-camp I "cleaned up my act". I lost weight, firmed up and I don't think I had ever been in better shape physically. After boot camp I was ordered to go to school at the San Diego, California Naval training center. It was there that I had my first sexual encounter with a fellow male student - behind a building on the base one night after drinking together at a bar downtown. The experience was more about fulfilling needs, than having a really strong attraction to this particular person. A brief affair lasted a couple of months, before we each went our own way. I received orders to serve overseas and he went to a ship somewhere - we never kept in touch. I served another two and a half years in the Navy, always being concerned about being outed and being very careful. While I am considered relatively masculine, and not stereotypically ‘gay’, there were those whose 'gaydar' picked up on me, and I had a few more, but few and far between, experiences.

After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy, in the early 1980s I moved back in with my parents and went wild - I was so happy to be free - and wanted to find all the gay bars I could - wehoo - I was 21 and ready to explore everything that freedom offered. I had kept my desires under control for far too long in my view and it was time to let loose... I found no problem finding ‘friends’ at the clubs - the problem was fighting them off!  For the next few years I visited bars and clubs on the weekends, and had many  one-night stands with guys I met. I had several very brief relationships which never seemed to work out. I am very lucky I didn't contract HIV. Back then, many of us ignored the early ‘safe-sex’ warnings.

After being out of the military a few years I gained enough confidence and courage to come out to my family. First to my older sister, who has always accepted me unconditionally, (it was not a problem for her at all, as I expected, just a surprise). Next I came out to my parents - that I am sorry to say - did not go well at all. My father fell silent, and my mother released a tirade of abuse that would make a drunken sailor blush. For years I tolerated intense verbal abuse, while I struggled to get and stay clean and sober, accept myself for who I was, stay employed and regain my independence.

It took me a long time to clean up my act. At 31 years of age I finally put down the alcohol and drugs, and I have been clean and sober ever since. I have been in a (mostly positive) exclusive relationship with my partner for 13 years now. My parents eventually divorced and 15 years after I came out to them they each acknowledged me as someone they were proud of, and that my being gay ultimately did not matter- that I was, in fact, acceptable to them. While I wish they had come to that conclusion much earlier, I guess our parents, and the others who have caused us harm, can only do what they are capable of doing, given where they are, and the information and knowledge they have at that time. I suppose it is up to us to be forgiving and not hold on to anger and resentment - that's not weakness in my view, rather being kind, compassionate and forgiving.

What I've come to know is that labels are like masks that obscure the essential truth. Labels we put on ourselves and others don't really say much about who we are. So called ‘gay’ people can be very, very brave or cowardly, just as 'straight' people, and so-called 'straights' are not all narrow and rigid in their thinking. We all struggle through difficulties, it goes along with being human.  I think though that what makes one brave is the willingness to rise up after being knocked down, time and again, getting up and facing your demons and fears, each day and accepting them for what they offer and can teach you. I think Nietzsche was right when he said “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”.

As for coming out or being out - for me it's a process, not an event. "Coming out" happens over and over as new people come into your life. I understand the arguements for coming out to anyone and everyone and believe they are valid however given my life experience - and where I am now - I've decided upon the approach that my life is an open book, but I decide who reads which chapters. If you've made it this far I'm impressed! Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Slán agus beannacht leat! (Irish: Goodbye and blessings upon you!)

- obroin

obroin obroin
51-55, M
17 Responses Feb 14, 2010

Wow, So sad. Being gay is the best thing I could imagine and I have been so happy for so many years and enjoyed so very many people intimately after freeing myself from all the hetero hate and all the hetero mythology of only one person to love and horrendous hetero god stories and all their formulaic hetero romantic **** --which is really based on and totally to sugarcoat and to support two economic social concerns: paternity and property rights. Those are actually the basis for all of marriage and for most of the religious strictures and taboos that have been developed over thousands of years to support them. The male human wants to have lots of and naturally enjoys sex, lots of sex with lots of partners and really doesn't need too much of all the other garbage unless he's been brainwashed and made to feel inferior or bad or criminal or dirty or evil or whatever the haters and ignorant try to call us. All BS! Sex is great, ***** are fantastic and delicious and the more you do it without strings attached and the more guys you enjoy the greater life is! Don't use sex to try to control others or to "marry" them or to make them do what you want --No guilt trips or power plays!! Just enjoy sex for the hot, sensuous and great release and experience it is --especially with other men and their incredible *****! I have so many great and special friends and we are so sexy and intimate, sometimes several times in a single day and sometimes in groups of us all naked and sexing with each other, everybody trying to achieve ******* and give ******* to others. I love to enjoy several ***** all at once like bukkake (google it!) Wow, being in close, physical contact with men's bodies, serving and servicing each other, and being inside their bodies and having them inside me and sharing our really magical essence and juice is the most thrilling and hot and exciting and pleasurable times I have ever had, ever experienced and ever imagined. It is actually so fantastic that society, the church, women, all the "ruling" forces are afraid of just how consuming and thrilling it is! Way beyond anything they can offer to make you do what they want and better than any food, money, entertainment, anything! Give me a man and his **** and his juice or several and I am totally fulfilled (in the real way) and totally happy! And once you've been so intimate and had so much sex with guys you have a real special, incredible bond and can do all kinds of things together in the times between having sex if there is any! LOL

Your story made me cry :') metaphorically of course. But I love your life story. Why don't u publish a book about it? It'd be a best seller :)

Aww - thank you so much for your kind words. Welcome to EP (and my Circle of friends) ;-)

Awww thanx :) hope u have a REALLY happy life ahead of u :D :*

You were very brave,in your youth gay people faced a real struggle,as the church and its teachings still had a hold on many people.Thanksfully the church and its clergy are losing their hold now,mostly as the nefarious practices of some of its member and the covers up are coming to the light and by their reactions are showing to the world what a lot of hypocrites and in some cases evil people they are!

oh believe me i've read! i came out to some friends and my bro last year, but i still have the infamous to do list of people i would feel comfy coming out. i feel why better than when i was closeted all the way before. and, what makes it so hard to come out to me at least, is that i'm a very private person, like to keep things in control, so i feel like i would be revealing something so deep and personal about me. just that one word 'gay' can reveal alot of things about you, like in terms of your orientation, disires, needs, etc. which of course there's more to me than that but yeah!

I grew up on the Jersey side of New York during the same era. It was a different world then. I was told that all the gays lived in Jersey City and that bad things happen there. Well it ain't or wasn't so. Stereotypes, oh how we can destroy people!!!! The pen and oral word are just as dangerous as the sword and they cut deeper. I like you carried on through the years but inside I knew not all was on level. After many years of reading, soul searching and just the way I behaved and am, I am asexual. Does this mean I don't desire someone? I still want to love and be loved its just that the sexual thing is not in my lexicon so to speak. I could fall in love with anyone if the conditions were right. It is a difficult thing for many to understand and believe me I get tired of trying to explain--just accept me or reject me, no need to hold hearings on this. Life is a journey and we are all in this together, why be nasty to each other. Together we walk and together we share. Again many blessings unto you fellow traveler, we share the journey, bless you.

and blessings to you fellow traveler. I pray this finds you well :)

Hi i was born 1959 in the uk and feel sorry for you for ur early problems. In the uk homosexuality. was legal si.ce the 69's so when i cam out at 13 it was no big deal. Generally homosexualitg was ok. We had posative role models. The captain of the english rugby team was lut. One of our politkcal leaders was gay as was the prime minister. I feel so lucky to be from uk whsfd i have been able to be myself a man but a man who loves men.

Great for you! now I have to know - what British Prime was gay???

Ted heath was prime minister and leader of conservatives before mrs thatcher. What is even more unusal was that at the time the leader of the liberal party was bisexual and both his wife and male partner were mps

DAMN.. I like hearing about British politics, many (voting) Americans are slaves to their conservative religious roots - so good luck seeing someone gay/bi at the top!

Keep being who you are! You are very brave to endure all of that, my heart goes out to you.

Thank you so much for your kindness! Slán!

Enjoy your life ... and yes, it is YOUR Life.

So long after you wrote this, your story is still having an impact. I have been in a struggle of containment and even ridicule. Not because I am out, but because I do not fit the typical template of a hetero sexual male. I have been in a marriage for 31 years. She is the only women that I have ever had intimacy and intercourse with. For the past six years plus, the struggle is listening to her constant threats to leave. She criticizes my friendships, my inability to be like her brothers, my ability to make decisions that she feels are appropriate choices. <br />
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It has made me less that a complete dad to my kids. I take their loving y gay dad comments lightly. I know that they are kidding. These past years I have found that the only way I can have true sexual arousal is through fantocizing about life in a physical relationship with a man.<br />
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I have struggles between my questions of preference and the Christian values I was raised with as well as those standards we have held our now grown children to. I am to the point now that I am trying to discover in a private and safe manner, if I would be better served in a relationship that allows me to express and demonstrate my physical and emotional urges. At the same time I do not want to expose this to our failies and people that would then effect hurt or damage to those that I have loved or befriended through the years.<br />
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You remarks in this commentary, truly tell me that there may be a way to work with my desires and the likely duties that I owe myself in addition to my family.Thank you.

@jp5040 - thank you very much for your kind words. I am glad to hear how much better your situation is... and Yes- it does get better! XD...

like Tomboy wrote in his song "It's ok 2 b gay"

This sounds superficial and perverted but I like gay ****. I like it up the but so why can't a man. I know its more than that but thats a bigpart of it...right? I also feel cheated when I think of all the gorgeous men out there that are gay because I want there love too. I hope i'm not being offensive. I have never had a gay friend before. I'm struggling with addiction right now.

Thank you so much for your kind remarks. I'm not ashamed to say, where I am today - it brought a tear to my eye.. <br />
Slán - obroin

I read you entire story, I admire you for what you went through and stood by yourself. It was most difficult but you weathered more than many would have. Your adversities made you stronger. To that I respect you as a man. Whether being Gay or straight is not the issue here--and it shouldn't be anyway--it is that you faced it head on. Much blessings and.......<br />
May the road rise to meet you<br />
May the wind be always at your back<br />
May the sun warm upon you face<br />
May the rains fall soft upon your fields<br />
And, when we meet again,<br />
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Thanks so much for reading my story. I really appreciate your kindness!<br />
Sláinte - your friend - obroin.

Wow! I grew up in New York City and lived there until ! was 30--mainly in the West Village and the Upper West Side. I was born in 1946 and was acutely aware or my lesbian identity by the age of 4. However, in those days, it was absolutely NOT SAFE, even in the West Village, for a teenager to come out. So even though I lived in areas that are friendly and safe now, and I went to a high-school which was eventually friendly and safe (Music & Art), it still wasn't safe for me to come out then. It finally became safe because of the Stonewall riots (I was there) and things have been more or less easy since then. My wife and I are actually legally married (!!!) and can't believe how much easier things are now than they were then.<br />
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Thank you so much for your story--I can relate on all sorts of levels.

i couldnt imagine how much that must suck being permantly programmed to like your own gender and have the world around you say no, but at least your living in these times where you wouldnt be killed for being gay as they did before :/ i still dont think its fully accepted, as you put it about labels, and man i hate the catholic church lol