from Fashionably Late: Gay, Bi, and Trans Men Who Came Out Later in Life
Still damp from the shower, I stood silent before him wearing nothing but a towel. He faced me from across my tiny bathroom, a mere three feet away, also silent. His outfit matched my own. I scanned his hairy body as he scanned mine. When our eyes met, my heart beat faster. I had something I needed to say to him, but the words stayed locked in my throat. I took a deep breath to calm myself. Anticipation was written on his face. I knew what he was thinking: Say it! I want to hear you say you love me. He was well aware of my hang-ups about loving a man like him, an unapologetically gay man who didn’t give a fuck about who did or did not approve of him.
He was the kind of gay man who held an opinion about which drag queen should win on RuPaul’s Drag Race and who would light up at the mere suggestion of watching a Meryl Streep movie. I’d avoided men like him the entire thirty-fours years I spent living in the closet. I couldn’t risk being seen with them because I didn’t want anyone suspecting I was one of them. Even though I was now thirty-six and had been out for over two years, I still found it difficult to be around such men. Chalk it up to internalize homophobia, I guess. But the further I got from the closet, the less threatened I was by the stereotypes such men embodied. I even found myself enjoying their company more than I did the masc-for-masc-only guys I pursued when I first started seeking out gay friends. Men like the one standing before me directly challenged my need for acceptance among the most privileged members of society: normative straight white men.
White and male, I could do. Straight, I could not. Normative, I could fake. The more I got to know those who didn’t care less about attaining the acceptance I always sought (or who were well aware they could never attain it anyway), the more I questioned my own need for it. I was growing fond of these outsiders, but to admit my love for one was still a stretch for me. If I told this man I loved him, that meant fully embracing him. It meant I couldn’t expect him to rein in his gayness when we were in public. In fact, I would have to become as unapologetically gay as he was, standing up for him when others disdained him for simply being who he was. I wasn’t sure I could do that, but I wanted to. I wanted him to know I loved him just as he was, no matter what anyone else thought of him. So I opened my mouth to say those three little words, but they stayed put. He just stood there waiting. I broke the silence between us with an exasperated sigh and then exclaimed, “This is ridiculous!” Those were not the three words he wanted to hear. “I can’t do this,” I said. “What kind of man says ‘I love you’ to his own reflection?”
When my friend had suggested that I try this peculiar exercise of professing love to my reflection, I initially dismissed it as feel-good nonsense. It brought to mind those old Saturday Night Live sketches in which self-help TV show host Stuart Smalley would declare, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” To use a pejorative phrase I normally hate, it was the gayest thing I had ever heard of. But I trusted the friend who suggested the exercise. She had held my hand throughout my coming-out process, and I knew she had my best interests in mind. I was also eager to avoid another downward spiral of self-loathing like the one I had recently fallen into—a depressive state brought about by the bitter end to a messy relationship. So I decided to give it a try.
Having failed at my first attempt, I psyched myself up and again opened my mouth to speak.
The words refused to go any further.
I tried again.
It was useless. The words had anchored themselves inside of me. Not wanting to see the disappointment on my reflection’s face. I averted his gaze.
“Why can’t I do this?”
Was it really impossible for me to love him, this man—this me—I saw in the mirror?
My mind began to wander to a time just prior to my coming out, a time when I’d had nothing but harsh words for him.
* * *
I was thirty-thee years old and living on my own for the first time in my adult life. Throughout my twenties, I had taken up residence in what is best described as Christian communal living. Not quite a commune but pretty damn close. There would be no less than six people living in the house at any time—and every resident was a zealot for Jesus. Many weeknights were filled with Bible studies, in-home worship services, and prayer meetings. The owners of the house, a couple who’d met and married during the height of the Jesus movement of the sixties and seventies, were always eager to revisit the glory day of their early adult years, when born-again hippies gathered together to speak in tongues and prophesy over one another. They were deliverance ministers (the non-Catholic equivalent of exorcists) in the church we all attended. Coming home, I never knew when I’d be walking in on people having demons cast out of them. Weird as it was, the house had always been abuzz with activity, and it had suited me well. What better way to ignore my own issues than to busy myself with constant spiritual activity? There’s little time to entertain gay thoughts when you’re too busy hanging out with Jesus’s most dedicated followers.
After moving out of that house and finding myself living alone for the first time, I found the silence almost too much to bear. There was no one around to distract me from my thoughts. When the desire to be with other men overwhelmed me, I couldn’t just walk down the hall and join in on a prayer meeting. Personal time in prayer and Bible study helped a little, but I could only do so much of both. When spiritual distractions weren’t enough, I tried non-spiritual ones. TV was no help, as it just provided me with attractive men to feel guilty about lusting over. The internet, with its easily accessible guy-on-guy porn, was an even worse distraction. Hanging out with my male friends from church was a setup for frustration, as I would inevitably find myself fighting off the desire to be intimate with at least one of them and then later engaging in a guilt-ridden masturbation session once we parted ways.
I would occasionally find solace in the company of my female friends, but even that was troublesome. In the circles I ran in, if an unmarried woman was spending time alone with an unmarried man, questions would be raised as to whether or not they were romantically involved. Too much time together led to suspicions about them being sexually immoral. It felt like a catch-22. I could spend time with women without having to rein in my sexual desires, but spending time with them raised questions I didn’t want to answer. I felt damned no matter what I did.
No matter how hard I tried to distract myself from thoughts of being with other men, I would find myself losing the battle in some way, be it by giving in and watching gay porn or setting up (and then promptly deleting) profiles on gay dating sites. The only supposed victory I could claim was that I had never succumbed to the point of actually having sex with another man.
By this time in my life, I was beginning to seriously question why God was refusing to make me straight. I had tried it all: counseling with pastors, subjecting myself to exorcism to cast out the demon of homosexuality, fasting (once for forty days), endlessly studying the Bible, and dragging myself to every church service and conference I could attend. I became so good at being a Christian that I became a leader in my church, promising others the blessings of God I could not rightly guarantee and judging them as insincere in their faith when they wavered in their expectations. I even attempted to counsel other young men in my church struggling to rid themselves of same-sex attractions. I did this under the misguided belief that helping them might help me. But my fervent service couldn’t make my feelings go away. And eventually, after paying careful attention to the stories of men who had been held up by church leaders as being delivered of homosexuality, it became apparent that the claims made about them were exaggerated. When pressed, these men would all say the same thing, even those who had married women: their attraction to men never really went away—they just kept it at bay for the sake of their beliefs and their marriages. I saw this as nothing more than an elaborate sham—men being falsely exemplified as cured for the sake of covering up God’s inability or refusal to do what they asked of him. Pull back these claims of a cure far enough, and someone would shout, “Pay no attention to the gay man behind the curtain!”
One night, the deafening silence in my apartment got to be too much. The sum total of all my doubts and frustrations was greater than I could handle, and no distraction was strong enough to keep me from thinking about how much I had failed to be the man I wanted to be. So I decide to go out and get a drink.
In five minutes’ time, I found myself inside a dive bar across the street from my apartment complex. I had passed it countless times but had never gone in, mostly out of fear that someone from my church would spot me walking in and get me into trouble. I had no qualms about drinking (Jesus and all his followers drank wine, after all), but I had serious qualms about being seen drinking by people who believed consuming alcohol was a sin. The bar was dark and occupied by blue-collar men, the very type of men I found most attractive. I ordered a stout and took a seat on the nearest barstool, turning my back to the patrons who no doubt immediately pegged me as a non-regular. I didn’t care if I was invading their space. I wasn’t there for them. I was there to get away from my thoughts.
Halfway through my beer, the atmosphere shifted. Mellow music was replaced by dance music. The crowd behind me began to clamor with excitement. I remained focused on my stout, not caring about whatever event was being announced over the speaker system. It wasn’t until a pair of long legs in black heels and fishnet stockings stepped right behind my pint glass that I understood what was going on. I looked up to see a young woman in a black bra-and-panty combo dancing on top of the bar before me. I panicked. As a good Christian boy, I would never knowingly go to a strip club!
Feeling my insecurity, the woman moved on to dance before another man down the bar. I felt compelled to run, but I stopped myself. I should stay. This is what straight guys do. I should try to like it. I was grasping at straws, and I knew it. Nothing about her turned me on, but the sexual excitement emanating off the men in the room nearly short-circuited my emotions. All around me were men eager for sex. For one brief moment, I envied the young woman. I wanted these men to want me the way they wanted her. The truth of my thoughts sent me running out the door without finishing my drink. On my way out, I swore I felt the judgment of every man in the room follow behind me. Look at that fag run. Boy did he pick the wrong bar.
My distraction had only made things worse. Instead of getting away from the gay voices in my head, I had given them a microphone. I needed to silence them. I needed to get drunk.
After a trip quick trip the store and back, I was watching TV on my couch with a six-pack of porter in front of me. One episode of Glee later, the bottles were empty and I had to pee.
I stumbled into the bathroom, did my business, and then went to wash my hands. That’s when I saw him. The sight of his man-loving face filled me with rage. I decided to put him in his place.
“You!” I screamed as I pointed my finger at the mirror. “I hate you! I hate your fucking guts! Why can’t you get a grip on yourself? Why can’t you stop liking men? It’s like you want to be gay! Is that what you really want to be, a faggot? Faggot! You should just kill yourself! I. Hate. You!”
For most of my life, I had hated my reflection. I had hated him because he was the one person I could never fully deceive. Through all my years of working to appear straight, of doing everything I could to hide my true nature behind a religious façade, he was the only one I couldn’t fool. I would look at him and see nothing but a gay man who knew the truth about me. I hated him because I wanted to be him, but I couldn’t be him because he was everything I had been taught to despise. And I absolutely refused to accept that he was me.
* * *
Even after I came out, his presence was still bothersome to me. I stopped hating him once I accepted there was nothing wrong about being gay, but I had to unlearn my old thinking patterns before I could grow beyond a mere tolerance of him.
That first year after coming out brought many confrontations to my way of thinking. One thing that growing up among evangelical Christians had instilled in me was ideological certainty, even when that ideology was undermined by fact. So what if biology, chemistry, genetics, geology, physics, anthropology, archaeology, and numerous other fields of study had confirmed the evolution of all species? The evidence meant nothing to me then because it conflicted with the interpretation of Genesis I had been taught. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it” was the mantra I had heard growing up. Or put another way, “Don’t waste time challenging me with facts.”
Although the certainty of my religious beliefs had been waning for a few years prior to my coming out, it took accepting that I was gay for me to concede that all I knew to be true could be wrong. If I was wrong to believe I could change my orientation, what else was I wrong about? Like the seventeenth-century philosopher René Descartes, I felt like I couldn’t trust my own sense of reality. So, like him, I emptied out the full apple basket of my beliefs to examine them one by one and throw away any that were rotten. I took the stance of a skeptic, allowing contrary evidence to challenge my assumptions. It might sound like a purely intellectual pursuit, but it wasn’t. Beliefs are often emotionally charged. And when you challenge a charged one, it will put up a fight.
I recall the first time I set foot into an LGBTQ-affirming church. I had been raised to believe such churches weren’t true houses of worship, that they were heretical organization under the sway of the devil. Just walking in the door was an act of defiance for me. I went because I needed to know what it felt like to be around Christians who would fully embrace me. Carrying with me the disapproval I received after telling my church community I was gay, I entered into the service not knowing what to expect. I was surprised by how familiar it was, save the fact that there were obvious gay and trans people in the pews and at the pulpit. The songs they sang were the same ones I’d sung at other services. The verses they read were the same verses. Even the people spoke with the same Christianese I was fluent in. At first, this sameness comforted me. I wondered how anyone could say the members of this church weren’t true Christians. But in asking that question, I opened the door for many others. Who got to determine the true definition of Christian? How is it that so many churches that worship the same god, a god they claim to be unchanging, can hold such opposing beliefs about him? Someone had to be wrong about God. Or maybe everyone was wrong about him. Or her. Or, for that matter, them.
Having never really questioned my own beliefs so thoroughly before, I had to wonder where my sense of religious assurance had come from in the first place. The answer, of course, was the source of assurance for all evangelicals: the Bible. But if the Bible was a source of assurance, then what about the disconnect I saw in many churches between their beliefs about the role of scripture and the way they went about interpreting scripture? In particular, I wondered about the disconnect I saw between what the Bible said about women and how churches seemed to softball these passages or explain them away. Scriptures repeatedly make it clear that women and leadership don’t mix. Yet so many churches I knew of, even those most fundamental ones, were putting women into positions of leadership. They were often given titles likes director to avoid calling them pastors and upsetting those who took the anti-women-in-ministry verses seriously, but they always functioned as pastors. It made no sense to me that churches would say they believed our lives should always conform to the teachings of the Bible while they worked to reinterpret the verses they didn’t want to fully conform to.
All this questioning came to head on the day when I said my good-bye to one of the owners of the commune-like house I had lived in. The mother of the house felt the need to confront me about my coming out, warning me of the path of destruction I was headed down. In her eyes, she was attempting to rescue me from the clutches of hell. As misguided as her actions were, I knew she was as acting out of love. After all, if she truly believed my actions would lead me to hell, then the most loving thing she could do was try to stop me. Forget the fact that her doctrine of hell came more from interpretations of Dante’s Inferno than from the Bible itself.
“How can you disregard what is so clear in the Bible?” she asked. “It says homosexuality is an abomination. Abomination! That’s a strong word.”
In that moment, a list of other biblical abominations came to mind, including eating lobster and women wearing men’s clothing. I thought about all the many violations of scripture I saw at the church I had attended with her, yet they were ignored because they seemed silly or archaic. Her words were meant to convict me, but instead they repulsed me. What came out of my mouth next likely shocked her. It sure shocked me.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I have a hard time hearing that coming from a woman who holds leadership in the church, who teaches and counsels men despite the clear biblical opposition to that. There are far more scriptures prohibiting what you do that than the six verses that reference homosexual acts.”
“That’s not the same, and you know it!” she snapped back. “Those verses about women are from a different time and culture and have been grossly misinterpreted.”
“And you can’t say the same thing about the few verses about homosexuality?”
“No. I just can’t. It’s heresy.”
With that, the conversation reached a dead end.
After we parted ways, I finally understood the trap I had been in. By believing the Bible was always correct, I was forced to take up the never-ending task of explaining away its contradictions (both internally and with the historical record) to preserve my sense of assurance. Doing this meant there was no end to figuring out when the Bible was literal and when it was metaphorical. It would be easier and more logical to accept that the Bible was at least a mix of flawed writing and divinely inspired writing or, even scarier to my fundamentalist thinking, wasn’t divine at all. My belief in the certainty of the Bible was the first rotten apple I had to discard.
Other rotten apples soon followed, not all religious. Some were simply bad beliefs that arose from ignorance. One in particular was the belief that gender identity and sexual attraction were inherently connected.
Shortly after coming out, I was asked out for coffee by a man I had been chatting with online. I said yes, knowing little about this man other than the fact that he seemed nice and was interested in me for some reason. I arrived at the coffee shop early and found us a table. When he walked through the door, I noticed something different about him. He has really wide hips for such a slender man, I thought. They almost look like a woman’s hips. When he sat down and we began to talk, other things about him began to catch my attention. He has no Adam’s apple. How could a guy that slender have no visible Adam’s apple? And his voice seems just slightly feminine, but not in an effeminate way. It was then that I realized he was a transgender man.
I wanted to ask him a million questions, but I didn’t know if it would be appropriate to start asking. We parted that day with me never once acknowledging that he was trans, and mostly likely with him noticing how awkward I was around him. I feared he thought my awkwardness meant I had a problem with him. I didn’t. I was simply caught off guard by the fact that was both gay and trans. It was an intersection of identity I had never encountered before.
I had connections to a few trans people even before I came out, but they were professional connections, not social. Most were students I taught in my job as an adjunct instructor at a local university. The ones whose personal lives I knew anything about dated people of the opposite sex. Based on that small sample set, I had assumed all trans people dated people of the opposite sex. It made sense to me: you become a man, you date a woman; you become a woman, you date a man. My mind didn’t know how to process meeting someone outside of the sample set. If he was once a woman who dated men, that means he was straight before he transitioned, right? But now that he’s transitioned, he’s gay? Or was he always gay because he was always a man at heart? It finally clicked that his attraction to men wasn’t a part of his gender identity. This was an insightful realization for me. Not just in my understanding of trans people but also in my understanding of myself. As man who likes men, I often questioned what that said about my gender. Perhaps fueled by the misogynistic insults I’d heard lobbed against gay men growing up—sissy boy, girly man—I had internalized the idea that being a gay man somehow diminished my manhood. Although I did not subscribe to the belief that women were somehow inferior to men, I had for years buried any feminine qualities about myself for fear that letting them loose would only feed the gayness I was trying to overcome. Finally understanding that sexual attraction exists independent of gender, I was rid of another bad apple.
Being attracted to men made me no less of a man, and having feminine qualities made me no more gay. From that day forward, I would no longer worry about if my actions were perceived as either masculine or feminine. I would just be me. It was a corner that my reflection was happy to see me turn as it pushed me one step closer to fully accepting him.
* * *
Even with that corner turned, there were still things I saw in my reflection that led me to keep him at arm’s length. I didn’t like seeing the awakened desire in his eyes after I came out. I had spent years perfecting the image of being the good little church boy, and I wasn’t about to throw that away easily. For several months after I came out, sex wasn’t on the agenda. Although I had accepted that it wasn’t wrong for two men to have sex, I still clung to the idea that they should only be having sex if they were married. I had a long list of sexual action I would not do. Eventually, though, I did indulge my desires.
My first sexual encounter with another man was exhilarating. After dinner and drinks, we made out in his car underneath one of Portland’s numerous bridges. I felt like a teenager who had snuck out of his home to avoid getting caught by his parents. After a few minutes of kissing in the front seat, we moved to the backseat and started taking each other’s clothes off. Although we didn’t go “all the way,” as teenage me might have said, we went far enough for me to put to rest any lingering doubts about my sexuality. No woman had ever turned me on like he did.
But as exhilarating as that experience was, it paled in comparison to the first time I actually did go all the way with another man. I’ll call him Walt. Walt was a handsome bisexual pastor in an LGBTQ-affirming denomination, and we had met while I was on vacation. He had told me about his experience coming out, and we talked about how, in his denomination, premarital sex wasn’t blanketed as sin, that people were free to live by their own convictions on the matter. I found him to be quite sexy, and as an added bonus, he was a caring man. That night I discovered that empathy works as an aphrodisiac on me. Walt’s being a pastor made it easy for me to say yes to going to bed with him (if the pastor does it, it must be okay!). It was a beautiful experience—all I had ever fantasized about. I woke up beside him the next morning with a smile on my face.
After we parted ways—Walt going to church to preach a sermon, me leaving to go back home—my happiness was overtaken by an onslaught of guilt. The guilt was not because I had had sex with another man. Nor was it because I had had sex outside of marriage. No, I felt guiltily about my lack of guilt over what I had done. Two years prior, I would have shunned any man in my church who’d done the same. I spent days feeling bad about how bad I didn’t feel, though clearly the me in the mirror felt no remorse about it.
Those feelings quickly turned to self-deprecating thoughts. I bet that guy hated me. I was probably just an easy lay to him. No man could ever really want more than sex from someone like me. I’m such a mess. When the man texted me to reconnect, I broke into tears. You mean I’m not so fucked up that he wouldn’t want to spend time with me again?
Untangling the complex web of feelings after that encounter took weeks. Through the process, I began to see how the restrictive sexual mores of my upbringing turned something as beautiful and natural as two people expressing connection to one another through their bodies into something vile and shameful in my mind. As a result, I realized I had been handed a set of convictions about what is right and wrong, but I wasn’t really owning them as my own. To be honest, I never really had. I’d just accepted them as the price I needed to pay to secure my sense of belonging among a community of believers.
With that community fading deeper into my past, my religious beliefs were losing their value to me. This was scary at first. My whole closeted identity had been built around my beliefs. I didn’t know who I would be without them. But as I grew more comfortable with myself and the values that were truly mine, the less I needed the identity my old beliefs had given me. And the less need I had for that identity, the more repulsed I became by it. In particular, I was repulsed by the things I had done to maintain that identity.
Coming out of the closet is one thing. Overcoming the shame that kept you there is another. But different from both is dealing with the guilt of what being in the closet forced you to do. It’s easy to tell a man who just came out that he shouldn’t feel guilty because he hid who he was, to remind him that it was a necessary defense against bigotry. It’s easy to see him as a victim of a prejudicial culture, but it doesn’t erase the fact that he lived a lifestyle of lying and that his lies impacted others. For me, one of the biggest sources of guilt I had to face after coming out was the knowledge that I had done nothing when others in my church left or got kicked out after it came to light that they were gay. It happened several times over the years, and each time, I joined in on the judgment against them in order to keep my own secret hidden. I sided with the oppressor to avoid being oppressed. It still pains me to think that there are people out there, some I called friends, who assume I hate them for being gay.
Staring at the me in the mirror, I realized this was one of the reasons I couldn’t bring myself to say I loved him. After all, how could he love me back knowing I had played a part in hurting so many others?
* * *
Despite my hatred for the version of myself I kept behind the glass, I had admired him at times even when I was closeted. He always seemed freer, happier, more at ease with himself than I did. Although I did my best to keep him hidden away, I’d occasionally let him out for a little while just to see what he’d do (though I always kept him on a tight leash). One place where he enjoyed this freedom was in my classroom.
For almost eight years, for most of which I was closeted, I taught editing classes in the publishing program at Portland State University. For a sum total of fours hours a week (two classes at two hours each), I was away from the scrutinizing eyes of my church community. My students didn’t care if I was gay, straight, pansexual—whatever! They just cared that I taught them well. When I taught, I felt little need to act the part of a straight man. Who I found attractive was of no consequence in the classroom. It was in these few hours that the me I saw in the mirror would show up. He was funny. He was engaging. He was sometimes a little flamboyant. My students no doubt pegged me as gay, but I was always careful to never say anything that would outright confirm their suspicions.
For many people, going to work means putting on an uncomfortable and restrictive uniform. For me, it meant taking mine off. Driving home from class, I would often feel a sense of sadness when I had to put my straight uniform back on. After coming out, one of my greatest joys was the day I left my classroom and realized I would never have to put my uniform on again.
As I stood there in my towel, looking at the man I had once hated, had sometimes admired, and had now grown to enjoy, I felt resolve to push forward with the exercise I had agreed to do. I took a deep breath and began again.
I started to avert my eyes once more but quickly returned my focus.
“I love you.”
The words had finally broken free. I had done it!
Suddenly, my reflection burst into tears.
I was stunned.
I didn’t know how to respond, so I asked, “Why are you crying?”
He didn’t need to answer. I knew why.
* * *
Almost a full year after I came out, I thought I found my chance at true love when I earnestly began dating an attractive man. Attractive, but completely wrong for me. But I didn’t care. My desire to be in any relationship took precedence over my need to be in a healthy one. And the fact that he was so good-looking made up for a lot of his character flaws. From the very start, I knew the me in the mirror didn’t approve of our relationship. But I ignored him. I had denied myself a boyfriend for thirty-five years, and I wasn’t going to let anyone—not even myself—take the experience of having one away from me
Had I not ignored the warning signs I saw early on, I would have been spared much heartache. Throughout the time we dated, I never felt like I was the object of this man’s affection but rather a source from which he received affection. Mixed signals abounded, such as the time he asked me to be his date to a wedding and I asked if he planned to introduce me as his boyfriend. He had no response. It was clear he wanted me there to play the part of his boyfriend but didn’t want to actually cast me in the role permanently. He would often blame his lack of commitment on his financial instability, having been out of steady work for months before I’d even met him. Even when we downgraded our relationship to friendship, this song and dance continued. I should have just walked away from him, but in my desire to be loved, I found myself always snapping back to him, hoping he would commit to me fully once he found a good job. Eventually, though, he fell in love with another man two states away and decided to move in with him. His parting gift to me was to expose my deepest insecurity—the core of what had kept me in the closet for so long.
Just days before he moved away to be with his new boyfriend, he texted me several naked pictures of himself. I had no idea why he did it. He had already told me he had moved on from me. He had already publically declared his love for this other man. I stared at the pictures, stunned. He knew I wanted him, and he had told me he now belonged to another. So why was he sending me these pictures? He was probably just seeking attention, but to me, it was as if he was saying, “I still want you to love me, but I don’t want to have to love you back.”
I was so heartbroken over the experience that I slipped into one of the worst states of depression I had ever experienced. For weeks, all the negative events of my life played in my mind: my parents’ divorce when I was ten, being separated from my dad and older siblings for the decade that followed, watching helplessly as my mother destroyed her home through hoarding, losing almost all of my friends after I came out. In revisiting my history, I saw a pattern of what felt like abandonment by people who knew me best. The loss of my first boyfriend reinforced that pattern in my mind. He was just another person in a long line of people who’d proved to me that I wasn’t worth sticking around for, that at my core I was fundamentally unlovable. I even spoke those words out loud, “Why am I so fundamentally unlovable?”
There are times in life when we say things that illuminate the dark places inside us. This was such a time for me. I realized then that I had always seen my true self—my gay self—as unlovable. I believed that to such a degree that I had spent my whole life trying to be someone lovable in the eyes of others. I had never given anyone else the chance to love the true me—not even myself. It was upon sharing this realization with my friend that she challenged me to express my love to the me in the mirror.
* * *
As my reflection continued to cry, I felt his tears streaming down the flesh of my own face.
“I do! I do love you!” I said. “And I’m so sorry for all that I’ve done to hurt you. I’m sorry for all the times I hated you when I should have been kind to you. I’m sorry for all the times I ignored what you were feeling because it scared me. I’m sorry for all the shitty things I made you do to fit in with people who themselves would never truly love.”
“I forgive you,” he choked out. “And I love you too.”
As both our tears began to slow, I saw a smile break out on my refection’s face. I noticed in that moment how beautiful his smile was.
I noticed something else about the man before me. He was no longer different from me. Instead, he was me. And I was loved.
Vinnie Kinsella is a Portland–based writer, editor, book designer, publisher, and workshop presenter. He uses his broad knowledge of the publishing industry to assist and educate up-and-coming authors. After coming out as gay at thirty-four years old, he founded the PDX Late Bloomers Club, a social/support organization for men who came out later in life. Drawing from this experience, he has developed a passion for supporting those entering into the LGBTQ community at an older age. Vinnie can often be seen performing with the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus or reading a book in one of Portland’s numerous coffee shops.