Peter, in his own words: “As a youth I knew I was different from the other boys my age. I wasn’t exactly sure what the disparity was, but it seemed significant.
It wasn’t merely my lack of interest in sports or my quiet, calm personality compared to the aggressive drive I sensed in other boys. They knew I was different, too. Being taller than all my peers, I escaped the physical bullying many others endured.
In high school I thought that I must be homosexual. The friendships I enjoyed were mostly with girls and with some boys like me. At that time I became aware of my sexual attraction to other boys, and men in the media.
Surprisingly, I didn’t feel a sense of shame about who I must be. I accepted myself, yet I didn’t risk the disclosure of my difference. I wasn’t going to give that piece of me to just anyone. There were almost no gays or lesbians in the movies or on TV – no Ellen, or Elton or an Oprah to make it all seem ok. It seems keeping my true self hidden was how I interacted with the world. I gave little of myself and became the friend that always listened and supported others. It was not until the end of college that I was open with others about my sexuality.
Now at 55, I can look back at almost 30 years with Michael. He is a man with huge heart and a big, warm loving personality. His example taught me that to be truly intimate with others requires honesty. Through our relationship I have continued to evolve and grow as a person. I’ve come to have experiences I never expected to have – together we have traveled the world and enjoyed many warm, rich friendships. We enjoy a nephew and many godchildren. I have learned that even though being gay has afforded me a great perspective and wonderful experiences, it doesn’t shield us from life’s difficult times. We have buried our mothers and too many friends.
I realize that I have had the life that I was meant to lead, that being gay has not prevented me from having a rich, rewarding life. It is my hope that the increased normalizing of gay life in the public sphere will allow young people to be themselves at an earlier age than I was.”
Michael, in his own words: “I have conflicting ideas about what being gay means to me. When I look at it intellectually I understand the position of many people that being gay is just one aspect of our selves, and that we shouldn’t be judged solely on being gay. However, my immediate response is that being gay has and does influence most of what I think and feel in all aspects of life.
I came out over 40 years ago, at a time when there were no, or very few, openly gay people. I had never met any one who was gay. Every message I received about homosexuals and homosexuality was negative. I was bullied and taunted all through my school years, and was always fearful. This greatly influenced my behavior. I was very quiet and would not even answer questions in a class. And this was long before I even understood sexual attraction. I had few friends and was guarded about what I would say to people. These behaviors continued into college. By then I realized my sexual attraction to other males, yet still had crushes on girls.
Of course, I wasn’t ready to tell anyone my “secret” nor had I acted on my attraction to men. Yet, my life did change greatly. In my junior year of college, I lived away from home. I met in my dormitory/dining hall a group of students who seemed to accept me and want to befriend me just the way I was. It was a brand new feeling and gradually allowed me to gain some self-confidence. Those people are close friends to this day. The experience with these friends allowed me to become more comfortable in social situations and feel free to be who I am.
It wasn’t until graduate school that I had my first sexual experience and met other gay students with whom I became friendly. Making friends with other gay men and being accepted allowed me to come into my own. While it was always a little scary to come out to someone, my experiences were overwhelmingly positive. Meeting my partner (of 30 years) has allowed me to blossom even further and face challenges I would never have earlier in life when I feared anyone knowing I was gay.
To my younger self I would say that it’s important to trust in other people, to not assume that they will judge you negatively for being gay. And, to understand and accept that coming out and growing is a life-long process. Be open and be yourself. You will find other people who will accept and love you exactly the way you are!”