Coming out is a personal process. Even when you decide to do so in front of a million+ television audience as Aussie gold medalist and prodigiously packed Speedo god Ian Thorpe did yesterday. Good for him. The Twitterverse responded favorably. And the gay media had a collective orgasm. I probably shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds my fantasies – if it were not for the gay media I wouldn’t have daily pictures of Tom Daley showing off his bod to drool over – but maybe it’s time the gay media stops emulating FOX news. Journalism and cheerleading are not supposed to be synonymous. That Thorpe came out was newsworthy and laudable enough in its own right. Glossing over the fact that doing so was a carefully thought-out part of a $550,000 deal with Channel Ten that will see him call swimming at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this month cheapens its impact. Or at least its journalistic coverage.
I’m all for any gay man who decides it’s time to be himself, openly and unabashedly. But when that gay man is famous, it would mean more if his coming out wasn’t a tie-in with an event that will line his pockets. Ricky Martin came out to promote his autobiography. Tom Daley’s timing suspiciously coincided with the debut of the new season of his television show which had been suffering poor ratings. And Thorpe’s interview was part of the package he signed with Channel Ten. It is ironic that those who claim they did not come out while actively involved in whatever it was that made them famous out of fear of losing endorsement deals or movie roles, finally do when there is payola on the table. Especially in an age when being a freshly minted gay man is so profitable.
I’ve always held that if, when, and how someone comes out is a personal decision. Although the if part of that equation is a bit iffy. Within reason. I think when you are a world famous athlete or celebrity you are playing on a different ball field. And then, when questions about your sexuality arise, you should do the right thing and admit which team you play for. Or just shut up. I have no problem with Kevin Spacey refusing to discuss his personal life; his response to questions about his sexuality, that that has nothing to do with his art and career, is a valid one. Spending years denying that you are gay, as Thorpe has, not so much. Now that he has, the gay media will refer to him as a hero and a role model. While ignoring that during the years when he was busy winning gold medals he was a role model for being closeted.
The same could be said of Tom Daley, Greg Louganis, George Takei, Ricky Martin, and a host of other famous gay men who went out of their way to announce they were not gay. When they finally do, the gay media embraces them and calls them brave. Takei is so beloved by the gay press he can’t fart these days without it making the news. And I’m glad he is happy now that he’s out. But as a little gay boy it would have meant a lot more to me if Lt. Sulu had announced he was gay back when he was a star. That he’s decided his second career is being an openly gay man, not so much. Thorpe, at least owned that. ”I’m ashamed I didn’t come out earlier,” he said in his interview. “That I didn’t’ have the strength to do it. I didn’t have the courage to break that lie.”
Granted, coming out to the world is a big step. But here’s a hint: if you are a celebrity and the press keeps questioning your sexuality, everyone already knows. And if you are not a celebrity, your mother already knows. Coming out is probably not quite as big of a step as you think it is. Living your life as who you are instead of hiding that truth, is. The media focused on Thorpe’s coming out this weekend. “I’m not straight” was the quote many news outlets went with. “I could have lived a very different life if I’d been out,” was a much more important message.
Out magazine just published its interview with Michael Sam, the man who just nailed the first openly gay professional NFL player title. It’s nice to see an athlete come out at the beginning of his professional career instead of years after the limelight has faded. It’s also interesting that as the NFL draft neared the media questioned which team would sign Sam because of the plus in having a gay athlete playing for their team instead of discussing how many would not out of fear of losing fan support. We’ve come a long way baby. And in his interview Sam describes just how far coming out has brought him.
Sam says he met his boyfriend – the cute little swimmer Vito Cammisano whom the rest of the world met when Sam planted a big wet one on him on live TV when he got the news the St. Louis Rams had selected him in the draft – while the two were still in college. Cammisano, a star of the University of Missouri swim team, was out. Sam was not. After a bit of a rocky start, the two got busy doing what two superbly conditioned penises do when they meet each other. But Sam was so scared of being seen in public with a known homosexual that the two spent their relationship’s formative years in hiding. In his interview Sam describes the lengths they went to in order to protect his secret, including late night trysts after which Sam would make his exit through a window to keep their budding romance a secret.
Sam credits the example of his boyfriend living life as an openly gay man as the main reason he decided to show his true self to the world too. Perhaps because he is younger than Thorpe and spent fewer years being closeted he has yet to realize what a different life he could have lived by being out. Instead, he mentions that when he and Cammisano did eventually hook-up, Sam got them both a bit tipsy first – not an unusual route for gay boys who have yet to come to terms with their sexuality, to be out, even to themselves. Nor was the extent the two went through to keep their relationship closeted unusual when at least one in a couple is still hiding from the world. Sam’s story probably resonates with many gay men. I know it did with me.
I’ve never really been closeted. I’ve always figured anyone close enough to me for my sexuality to matter should know. And have never cared much what anyone else thinks. I don’t wear gay pride t-shirts, but only because I’ve never seen one I liked. I don’t introduce myself as being gay because that is such a small part of who I am. And if in that instance it is the main part, that probably means I’m about to have sex. And whoever the lucky guys is probably already figured out I’m gay. Those who I’m not about to have sex with usually find out when I show up at some function or gathering with a guy as my date. Which works for me. When that date is firmly closeted, not so much for him.
I had a fuck buddy for an eight-year run in Hawaii who was deeply closeted as a lot of local boys in the islands are. He wasn’t ‘visibly gay’ but his friends and family often wondered (often wondered meaning suspected, kinda knew, but were patiently waiting to be told). And I say fuck buddy instead of some other relationship related word ‘cuz sex was pretty much all we had. There were deeper emotions involved. But we spent those years entirely in the bedroom. He refused to be seen in public with me. We were not even allowed to go out to dinner together. The closest we got to being spotted together in public was when I would pick him up in my car from the shopping center parking lot where he’d park his car rather than park it anywhere near my house. ‘Cuz he was afraid someone would otherwise notice his car and ask why he’d been parked in that neighborhood. Fear makes you do some strange things. Even when the strange things you are doing are those that make your heart sing.
Eventually he was forced to lighten up a bit. He ended up working for me; his finances, college-life, and career made for an offer of employment he couldn’t refuse. We couldn’t let on that we knew each other outside of work, of course. And even though having dinner with the boss was a normal occurrence for other employees, he still couldn’t manage to bring himself to a point where he might be seen dining alone with another guy even though he now had an excuse. He forced himself to come to a work-related party at my house one night, and then spent the evening acting like he’d never been there even though there wasn’t a single stick of furniture in the place on which we hadn’t had sex at least once. Everyone else had a great time. He spent the night frightened that someone would ask him where I kept the glasses and he’d be busted if he knew.
A few years ago he got in touch with me. He’d finally come out. It was like talking to an entirely different person. He was happy. His family had not disowned him. His friends had not abandoned him. Coming out does not usually involve a 12 step program, but part of his process was that phone call. He needed to tell me how madly in love he’d been with me all those years when the most we could share were multiple orgasms (there is an upside to dating closeted boys). Well, okay, that and he was in the need for a bit of phone sex. But after that matter was taken into hand, he went back to talking about those years and how much he’d missed by hiding what really never needed to be hid. Like Thorpe he’d came to realize he could have lived a very different life if he’d been out. As happy as he was with his life as an openly gay man, the years he’d spent denying who he was still cast a shadow over a long period of memories; those times were still closeted even if he no longer was.
So, of course, I immediately flew back to Hawaii to bang the hell out of him. Kidding. But I did see him last year during a visit. And met his boyfriend. We went out to dinner together. It felt like summiting Mt. Everest. In his interview Sunday night, Thorpe said that part of his reason for coming out was that he didn’t want young people to feel the same way that he did. He said that his message was that you can grow up, you can be comfortable, and you can be gay. “I was concerned about the reaction from my family, my friends and I’m pleased to say that in telling them, especially my parents, they told me that they love me, and they support me,” he shared, adding, “And for young people out there, know that that’s usually what the answer is.”
It’s nice that George Takei considers himself to be the spokesperson for the gay community now that he is out, and thinks boycotting Hobby Lobby is the issue of the day. And it’s a shame that Thorpe waited until his Olympic career was well over before he decided it was safe to come out. But whether a famous person comes out for financial gain or because it’s just the right time to do so, if their message is how much better their life is by not hiding who they are, and if that message resonates with a closeted gay man – of any age – and helps them to begin a more fulfilled life, even the gay media’s fly the rainbow flag reaction is worth it. Because even if you are not famous, living your life being true to yourself is always the better way to go. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait for thirty years for Kristian Ipsen to realize that. ‘Cuz those years spent closeted and living in fear can never be replaced.
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