There were 2 reactions to my coming out to old friends and family:
- Complete shock
- A knowing nod of the head with a sarcastic “So tell me something less obvious.”
I’m often curious about those in the first category. I felt very gay my whole life and I fought hard to deny it but most people knew anyway. How did the bullies in 7th grade know to call me “faggot”?
What were the people in the first category missing that everyone in the second thought was clearly self-evident? In my life it seems those those closest to me were the least aware. Perhaps that’s because they were emotionally invested in the answer? My ex-wife and my father were the 2 who expressed the most shock when I revealed my homosexuality to them.
Gaydar seems to be an intuitive gift rather than a definable skill. Therefore, we’re left with well-meaning straight folks who offer tips on how to tell if your boyfriend or husband is gay. Sometimes they seem silly. Often they seem way off the mark…to me.
For the most part, I haven’t really seen myself in any of these descriptions because what they often list are indications that the husband is a liar or cheater. They describe a man on the down-low. The supposed tell-tell signs rarely hit at the core issue, the homosexuality. It’s true that living in the closet naturally entails some form of deceit, but for the man such as myself who never really admitted it to himself until much later in life, evidence of adultery isn’t necessarily the major indicator.
We all deal with our homosexuality in different ways. For example, one often repeated red flag is that the expression of homophobia is a sign of latent homosexuality. I don’t think I was ever verbally or physically homophobic towards others. If someone was waiting around for me to become violent or verbally abusive towards gay men they probably would have had to wait a long while. I was still gay. The fact that I was so rigidly closeted is itself an indication that I was drastically homophobic towards myself, but I really don’t think others witnessed much of it.
As a father of daughters I certainly wouldn’t want one of them to end up unwittingly marrying a closeted gay man like their poor mother did. So hopefully this list of mine helps someone see behind the mask. Even better, hopefully this list would help some poor boy or man already wearing a mask to realize that it’s futile and damaging.
I’m not going to pretend that the following description applies to many other people, but this is a considered look back inside the way I behaved when I was trying to change or hide my own homosexuality. The point in time I’m addressing is before I admitted it to myself, so it may not apply to boyfriends or husbands who know but just aren’t comfortable with it yet. I’m certainly not proud of the ways I behaved as described below. Hopefully someone else can benefit.
Perhaps you could have know I was gay because of …
This will look different depending on the individual, but for me here’s what my overcompensating looked like:
I dated a lot. I kissed most of my dates/girlfriends. We made out and petted, but my stopping before it went too far was easy and effortless. In other words I played the field but with very little follow-through. I dated attractive women who were like straight trophies for me. By that I mean that it didn’t really matter what we had in common. They were interesting to me because they made me appear more straight. Some of my girlfriends and I had very few interests in common other than our religion – including my ex-wife.
When I met my wife I lavished attention on her. She was about to leave the country and we only dated a few weeks before she left. I wrote EVERY DAY while she was gone with her only writing me once a week at best. I did that for 18 months. I was 28 by this time and I think I sensed that this was my last shot at a marriage. But looking back, my behavior was uncomfortably extreme. Of course every woman wants attention, but it was desperation trying to seem romantic. It obviously worked, but it shouldn’t have because it was too over the top…to the point of being too good to be true.
Another act of desperation for me to convince myself and God that I was straight was my intense interest in religiosity. I had all the right answers during Sunday School lessons and I showed up on time for volunteer activities. I’m one of the few who read the scriptures and did my homework and kept the rules. I initiated family and couple prayer when I was married. I did not cuss, drink and I fulfilled my church assignments with enthusiasm. While such acts were rewarded and praised in our religious system they are also indicative of internal shame.
It’s the people who feel that they have the most to be forgiven for who are the ultra religious but least spiritual ones like I was. It’s another manner of overcompensating.
My display of seemingly random anger or depressive episodes
Over time the effort embeds bitterness, cynicism and sadness into the soul. While I could be described as pleasant, cheerful, likable and easy to get along with most of the time there were a few episodes when the cork flew off the bottle with a force that certainly didn’t match the situation. Fortunately, I didn’t often take it out on my wife or kids, but I once remember coming unglued at a boy who started picking on my toddler in our condo courtyard. My behavior was over the top and uncalled for. I also became uncharacteristically reclusive as time wore on and it just became tiresome interacting with people who didn’t know the real me…the person I knew they wouldn’t accept if they really knew him.
Everyone has their own baseline of expected personality traits and happiness. It’s when there are uncharacteristic dramatic shifts and outbursts that something deep down is off-kilter.
Being caught with questionable pictures of men (soft or hard porn)
Straight men don’t accidentally stumble on shirtless pictures of men… and keep looking at more. Both my mother and my ex-wife at different times caught me with such pictures and should not have accepted the lame excuses and explanations I provided.
Actually I’m not even certain it was my Mom. As a teenager in the pre-Internet days I had gotten my hands on a Playgirl magazine and I kept it hidden in my room. One night I came home from my part-time job and the magazine was lying on my bed carefully placed so that I knew that someone knew that I liked men. It was so beautifully passive-aggressive that it could only have been my Mom. No word was ever spoken and no confrontation ever took place.
Later, as a married man my wife saw a picture of a shirtless man in some random e-mail I’d gotten. It wasn’t too hard to explain away as spam, but you don’t get spam like that without a reason.
Being caught checking out other men in public
I rarely got caught, but an observant friend or partner surely would have been able to catch me sneaking a look at boys or men if they knew what to look for. Seeing an attractive male was a constant “thorn in my side” my whole life. Being in a crowd was seriously torturous and thrilling at the same time. I soon learned I could only look twice if the male was with an opposite sex partner, so that it could appear as if I were looking at the female. My ex-wife, in fact, accused me several times of ogling another woman, when it had actually been her boyfriend or husband that had caught my eye.
Do you want to find out if your partner is gay? Take your suspect to a crowded place such as Disneyland and watch his line of sight all day. What catches his gaze?
Our sex life was … meh…
Almost every list of how to recognize a gay husband lists his lack of interest in sex. That didn’t apply to me. Since I was committed to living a straight life, married sex was the only sex I was going to get. So, to me OK sex was better than no sex. Even being gay I was far more interested in sex with my ex-wife than she ever was with me. But perhaps that’s because I just wasn’t all that good at it. Sex was mechanical…doing what I thought would please her but having little to no interest in her body and nothing about her body that instinctively pleased me. Does that make sense?
If I thought (or she told me) that kissing her stomach would turn her on, I’d do that. But I was completely lost when it just came to exploring her body to please me. I’m guessing that a straight man likes to touch, kiss and caress certain areas of a woman’s body for his own pleasure…not merely because he knows it will do the trick. I’ve since come to learn that the pleasure of sex is in the exchange of both giving and receiving pleasure simultaneously. Ours wasn’t usually that kind. It was gentle, pleasurable and better than nothing, but I think we both sensed something indescribable was missing.
OK, so I realize it appears that I’m backtracking from my statement in the introduction that not ALL closeted gay men are lying and cheating their way through a marriage. But whether a gay straight-married man is cheating or not, living on the outside in a way that is in-congruent with how he feels on the inside involves some form of lying … even if the lies are mostly being told to himself.
This is perhaps hardest for me to admit because I don’t believe myself to be a liar and I don’t want to say that I lied.
But I did.
I knew I was attracted to men and I knew deep down that the teachings of my religious leaders regarding the issue were clueless and off the mark. I willingly accepted their lie as my own.
The tricky part about lying to oneself about such a major internal part of one’s life is that that man then becomes a great skillful liar. If you find that your loved one is a good liar in seemingly harmless situations, then he’s probably had practice.
My gay mannerisms
Yes, the truth is that I really shouldn’t have been able to fool anyone. Complete strangers recognized the gay in me long before I ever came out to myself or anyone else. It’s those people closest to me, who had the most already invested in my sexual orientation, that claim to have been shocked. Whether it be facial features, gestures, speech patterns or ring finger length I probably fit the pattern.
Your most accurate assessment is going to be to ask someone who has a lot of gay friends and who has no relationship or previous emotional investment in the answer, “Does he seem gay to you?”
Let’s face it, there are signs. I played with my sister’s dolls as a boy. I loved playing with my Mom’s hair and begged her to put mine in curlers. As a teen I was an enthusiastic member of the Drama Club. My closest friends were girls. I was terrified of closeness with boys. I loved Broadway musicals. Additionally, while close male friendships were few and far between for me, many of the few close male friends I did have over the years were just as obviously closeted gay as I was.
NONE of these alone mean anything at all, but when you add them up together?