Gay Fresno - Life
My Coming Out Story: Coming Out & Going Under
(above, center, me in 1981 - above, far right, current picture)
I graduated high school in 1980, in Chugiak, Alaska. Early the next year, I moved back to California.
Soon afterwards, things changed dramatically for me. I met someone and began a relationship, moving in with him and his roommate in a house in the Tower District. While I had obviously come out to the new man in my life and our friends, I said nothing to my family, or to most of my other friends. I dodged questions about girlfriends and at work I kept my personal life to myself.
In the spring of 1981 my new partner and I had been given an opportunity to move to the east coast, stay with his relatives in New York, and start a life there. Seeing New York had always been a dream of mine so I wasn't about to pass it up. I'd be able to start fresh and not worry about coming out to my family and friends. I couldn't really leave without seeing my parents again, so I trekked back to Alaska for a couple of weeks.
I wanted to tell my mother I was gay. But running through the scenario in my head a million times, it didn't usually end well. I felt I should tell them since I'd be moving across the country and would, in some ways, be shielded from the repercussions. On the other hand, it was also a perfect excuse to not tell them, which is what I decided after about a day back in Alaska.
Later, only a couple of days before I was to get on the plane and head back to California, I started not feeling well. It began early one morning with some pain just below my stomach. I brushed it off most of the day, but it soon became apparent that something was very wrong. By late afternoon I was doubled up in agony, the kind of excruciating pain I'd never felt. Before I knew it, less than 12 hours after the pain started, I was being rushed to the hospital.
After an examination, the doctor came in to inform my mother and myself that it looked like appendicitis. My appendix would have to come out immediately. The doctor explained all signs pointed to the appendix, but it was impossible to tell for sure until they "went in". So I was faced with surgery in about an hour.
They prepped me and I ended up in a curtained cubicle, on a gurney in one of those embarrassing gowns, with my mother standing over me. Very quickly, all the fear and nervousness my mother fell victim to her entire life, came out in me. I'd never had surgery. What if I was allergic to the anesthetic? What if it wasn't the appendix, as the doctor hinted at? What if something else went wrong? Regardless of the fact that taking out an appendix is a fairly routine operation, everything that could go wrong was banging around in my head, and seeing the complete look of terror in my mother's eyes didn't help.
I have to tell her, I kept thinking. Not just because I didn't want to die without her knowing who I was, but because if something did go wrong, they'd be forced to deal with Chuck, my partner, and that was going to be quite a surprise.
A nurse stopped by and told us they'd be coming to get me any minute. My brain shouted out two things..."You're going to die on that table in there" and "You have to tell her about Chuck so she doesn't have a heart attack when he does".
She looked down at me with every bit of love she always did, mixed with a lot of fear. "Yes?"
"I need to tell you something." She didn't think anything of it. Her mind was focused on the surgery and that was it.
"What is it?"
That's the moment when 8 million ways to say it crashed into each other. I felt suddenly like I didn't even know the English language. "You know Chuck, my roommate?"
I chose a side track. "Maybe you should call him and let him know what's going on." This was long before cell phones, texting or email, so I'd had no opportunity in the rush of all that happened to get hold of him in any way.
"Okay. After they take you in I'll call him."
"Well, go slow when you tell him, because you know, we're close."
Last chance, Chris. They're coming for you any second now. "We're very close, mom."
"I know. He's your friend."
"Well," I took a deep breath, and with my eyes open wide and a confessional look on my face, I said, "he's more than a friend."
The first look of curiosity crossed her face. "I don't understand."
I spoke very slowly and deliberately. "Mom, Chuck and I are more than just friends." Regardless of the urgency I still couldn't find the courage to just say it right out.
There was a very obvious pause in her thoughts. She raised her head a bit and a look of confusion mixed with the leaking tears she'd been fighting for the past couple of hours. She seemed to be uncertain what to say and it appeared she was weighing options in her head. Which options, I have no idea, at least until she lowered her head again and almost whispered to me, as if afraid someone was listening.
"What are you trying to tell me?"
"That Chuck is not just my friend."
"Are you saying that..."
"Yes mom," I gave in, "in case anything happens, I want you to know that I'm gay and Chuck is my lover."
Then, in possibly the most movie like moment of my life, the curtains were thrown open and two nurses appeared. "Okay, we're all ready." The only thing that would have made it better is if the nurses were drag queens, or Karen Black or something like that.
As they got behind the gurney to take me away I focused on the look of utter shock on my mother's face. She didn't say a word, unable to process it all. I watched her as long as I could as they wheeled me into surgery.
When I woke again my mother was still there and she didn't waste any time. "I want you to see a psychiatrist," she said.
Not what I wanted to hear. I started to cry, imagining being expelled from my family, never talking to my mother again, but most of all, filled with shame that I know wasn't mine. But in true form, as the mother who'd loved me with everything in her my whole life, she instantly conceded. She came to me and told me that I was still her son, she still loved me, and whoever I was inside was okay with her.
My father was much less accepting, telling me he'd cut off any further financial assistance if I followed through with New York plans. I told him if he wouldn't help me with the move I'd do it on my own, which I did. My mom told my brothers and sisters, who called me individually afterward to say, for the most part, "We always suspected", which just makes you angry that you held in that fear and angst for so long. My father came around eventually.
In New York and then settling in New Jersey my coming out process continued. It was a while before I told the new friends we made on the East coast. Of course, many of them said they'd suspected as well. I don't know what tipped them off first, the glossy, bold, repainted apartment, the fresh flowers and the cockatiels, or the Bette Midler album playing in the background.