I’m gay. There, I said it, and it only took five decades.
When I told my son Caleb, who’s in college, 10 months ago, he asked, “It took you this long to figure it out?”
“No,” I said. “It took me this long to say it.”
“Oh,” he replied. “Where do you want to go for dinner?”
I was relieved and thrilled by his open acceptance. And I think that reflects his generation, one that doesn’t define sexuality as good or bad but as something that just is. Of course, it’s still not easy for all young LGBTQ youth to come out, but it’s better now than it was when I was growing up in Denver, when I thought being gay meant a lifetime of sadness, something to be dreadfully fearful of. Our band teacher was gay, and I remember feeling sorry for him, thinking that his life could only be one of dire loneliness and pain.
Those dark messages I picked up from the culture, from my friends, and from the media made me hate myself for many years. They made me fear that if anyone found out who I really was, I’d be doomed; I wouldn’t have a family; I wouldn’t have a job; I wouldn’t have friends. When I finally came out, because of stories like the ones I’ve recounted just now, I was relieved. No, it was more than relief: It was an ineluctable freedom and joy. I can say to you that I’m glad I’m gay, that I love being gay. I love being who I am.
But a year ago I never would have imagined that I’d be saying those words.
For me, being gay means being honest and — I know the word is almost cliché today — being authentic. You see, when you’re in the closet, your life is based on shame and lies. You tell tales about yourself that kill you a little bit every day.
Now, telling tales has been my forte, too. Maybe being gay made me a storyteller because I fantasized so much about being straight from a very early age. I loved romantic films and lost myself in them when I was young, because they represented what I longed for — to be loved — and what I wanted to be: straight. Then I started writing for television, and I didn’t realize it, but who I really was seeped into stories on ER and SVU. I wrote about the struggles and accomplishments of gay youth, destigmatizing HIV/AIDS, whether transgender youth should be allowed to take hormone blockers, bullying, the pain of being on the down low (I really know about that one), AIDS deniers. Those stories were preparing me to come out.
I was the gay-friendliest writer in television, a gay editor told me. But that’s because I had so much support. I’m so grateful to all the writers and directors and actors I’ve worked with who made these stories authentic. Thank you, Anthony Edwards, for the powerful, unforgettable work you did on ER dealing with the first HIV-positive character on primetime television. Thank you, BD Wong, for playing a gay psychiatrist on SVU with passion and integrity.
I know the power that stories can have in changing our hearts and minds. And I’m truly grateful for having had the chance to tell so many stories close to my own heart and soul. Being authentic isn’t easy, especially when you’ve tap-danced your way through life avoiding who you really are. Stories make the difference. Adam Chandler’s New York Times op-ed “The Best Little Boy in the World — That’s Me” is the story that “flipped the switch” for me. He writes, based on the work of Andrew Tobias, that closeted gay men who achieve at all costs do so to divert attention away from who they really are. “See what I do, not who I am.” But achingly, those achievements are never enough, because they can never fill the hole in one’s soul when one is not honest with oneself. So I thank Adam for his story, which changed my life. I read his op-ed on May 6, 2013, and said aloud for the first time in my life, “I am gay.” The roof didn’t cave in; the floor didn’t give way; the walls didn’t crash down. But my life changed momentously.
This is a wonderful and terrifying and exhilarating and challenging journey. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. And journeys are not possible without friends and family who are guiding stars or touchstones or way stations. My wife Gerrie has been tirelessly understanding and loving throughout this sometimes-stormy time, and my son Caleb a never-ending fount of support.
Everyone should have the right to live with dignity, respect and safety.