Howard, in his own words: “Being gay is about being different. It leads to a gradual process of accepting who you are, accepting that you are different, accepting that some people will hate you and even abandon you, and finally, for me, realizing that the process of self-acceptance gives me strength, opens my creativity and helps form the strength of my character. My coming-out story took 67 years.
Years of self-loathing and feeling less significant than others have only recently given way to feelings of pride and self-accomplishment. I do not want younger people to have to undergo this journey — today many younger people do not have to struggle as much — but there are still many who have to bear the weight of the burden culture and religion place on us.
Being gay has made me self-aware, and self-reliant, able to tap into my creative juices and only recently to feel okay about whom I am. Even 40 years ago, Philadelphia had wonderful resources for gay men and women. When I was first dealing with my sexual awareness I found a gay synagogue, gay support groups, the Advocate experience (a form of Zen popular in the 60’s,) gay counseling center, and simply being around other gay men to be of help, but the inner burden was always there, always heavy, despite several forms of self-help and therapy.
I didn’t want to be gay, didn’t want to be different and tried to hide it from myself and from others. I got married for the wrong reasons, had children whom I love but feel I let-down as a symbol of strength. I tried to follow the “normal” path until at 30 years of age decided to seek out who I really was. I found friends and dated many men while trying to find people who would make me feel whole, realizing on some level that the emptiness was inside me, but not knowing how to fill it. The life experiences that should have made me feel positive seemed to in vain — always wanting to “fit in” and yet feeling very much estranged by at people at work, neighbors and acquaintances who I coveted as friends.
My creativity felt like a burden, my interests seemed frivolous and uninteresting by my standards of what “real men” should be. Even as I met other gay men who shared some of these interests my self-esteem lacked true conviction. I looked, always, for self-acceptance through others. I searched for “love” that would make me complete, but I have never truly loved — myself, or someone else. Now, the need to find intimacy is no longer seen as a magic cure-all; I can find that strength inside.
Part of my recent level of comfort is the result of seeing the development my gay son’s now ten-year relationship and the adaptations they have made to accommodate each other. I am proud of his accomplishment. Yes, you can learn from your children. Those without children can learn from a younger generation that is more accepting.
I have semi-retired, live in the city, have developed a circle of supportive friends, and can say for the first time that I feel complete. I love my varied interests, love my time alone, and seek more friends, more experiences, and an even wider variety of interests. This is truly the first time in my life that I feel proud of myself, the first time in my life that I feel my differences are my strengths, the first time in my life I can say I truly feel inner-joy.
If I had it to do over again, and as advice for younger people – do not do as I did, find your inner voice. Live and work among other gay people, or in a community that is accepting. Fill your life with experiences, visit places you want to visit, do things you enjoy, indulge yourself without guilt, and do whatever it takes to love yourself first. Caution: this is easier said than done.”