“Can it be? Can he be flirting with me or, is he just a flirtatious person? Wow, it feels great … no, how can it? I am not gay, am I? What do I do? Shall I approach him? Oh no … I need to focus on this curriculum, don’t I? He is cute … can I actually think that?” (August 4, 2014)
As I sat in a classroom with other educators like myself, including a young female colleague from my school, to learn how to teach a new AP course, those personal questions raced through my mind about myself and a younger teacher – an attractive, vivacious, and interesting man in the room. While I was excited to be there and turned my attention quickly to the subject matter, I remember asking myself these personal questions. Here I was: an experienced educator eager to learn about a new course that I was to co-teach in a month and I was feeling like a teenager instead of a 58-year-old divorced man with myriad responsibilities and two adult children. Yes, I planned to work hard this week – I needed to be able to teach this new course after all – and yet suddenly I also wanted to learn something more personal.
Flash forward to Friday, August 8th: “Yes, I am gay … it is great to admit it!” I told this male colleague, whom I had initially thought was flirting with me. With those words, I began a wonderful journey. It was the culmination of a series of evening week-long conversations with him. Is it strange that once I said those words so spontaneously as I did on that Friday, they became a life affirming and wonderous statement about my sexual orientation and ultimately my sexual identity? Or perhaps it was apparently simply time to acknowledge what I long denied to myself and, of course, from others. It was so liberating!
Leaving this workshop, I then went to another conference and shared my new revelation with a gay man, whom I met there. Then armed with a new truth about myself I called a colleague – who was gay and happily married to his long-time partner – and set up a time to meet with them once I returned to Boston. What a great conversation, as they immediately brainstormed as to all the things that I should do to embrace this new essential part of my identity!
Where to start? During the next 6 months, I was rejuvenated, as my social life dramatically changed, as well as my perspective on life. No, I was not having a mid-life crisis. I still accepted most of pre-existing interests and yet they were now coupled by clarity about my gay identity so that the ways in which I thought about the world changed. This realization was interestingly quite seamless as that I found new opportunities for growth and enjoyed it thoroughly. It was great to embrace these possibilities and come to terms with being different than most men. Yes, of course, I made missteps, but that was part of life’s risks, wasn’t it?
To go back to the August conversation, these two men were a great support and resource as I navigated a new part of Boston – spending time in book stores (well, parts of them at least, since the only gay bookstore in Boston had few books that interested me), going to bars (although they were not quite my taste!), participating in groups that catered in gay men (more on the particular ones), meeting men online (how else?), traveling … It was a wonderful opportunity to discover more about myself that I had long buried. In August I went to my first Gay Professional Meetup and then to Provincetown; they were both exhilarating new adventures!
With the support of old friends, all of whom were incredibly supportive, and new friends, I maneuvered myself to regain my newly found equilibrium and my self-confidence. I needed to figure out who I was as I acknowledged this basic and long-buried side of me. In some ways – perhaps since this realization was ultimately tied to my true identity – the next few months were a whirlwind of activity, as I embraced wholeheartedly this journey with its different components – most of important of which was meeting other gay men – and coming to terms with what this part of my identity meant beyond acknowledging my attraction to men. Questions abounded: about my identity, about its relationship to my past, about tolerance and acceptance, about gay culture.
Various components were of importance to me in this journey. Meet up Groups became indispensable — The Gay Professional Group was by far the most important. Not only did I meet men whom I dated; more importantly, I met some men who became good friends as I embarked on my journey. There were also others – the Art and Architecture Group provided great opportunities to do activities with men who had similar interests as mine. After all what became obvious to me that the more time I could/would spend with different gay men, I would gain a better understanding of me, find interesting activities, and meet new men with whom to spend time.
As it turned out, it may not have been an accident that in April 2013 I had moved to Dorchester’s Polish Triangle with not only its wonderful bakeries and within a 30-minute walk to the South End (the gay area of Boston), but also a heterogenous tolerant and accepting place which had its local LGBTQ group – DotOUT – so that I did not have to go far to join and be a part of a wonderful supportive group of people to whom I also turned for advice. Within a year I also found a gay yoga class nearby.
As a reader and thinker it was perhaps not surprising that literature, resource books, films and theatre, and music were quite important parts for me in this journey. Living in Boston and being a subscriber to the Speakeasy was great! During that season there were two plays — Far from Heaven (by Todd Haynes) and Mothers and Sons (by Terrence McNally) – with themes about families’ coming to terms with homosexuality and the next year’s Bootcandy (by Robert O’Hara) all helped me to accept who I was. Dada Woof Papa Hot by Peter Parnell about marriage, parenting, and gay culture that I saw in New York at the Lincoln Center in 2015, when in New York with my then partner, was another puzzle piece of my education. Not surprisingly, the moving Brokeback Mountain (directed by Ang Lee) was also significant.
To name a few books: Alan Downs, The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World (Cambridge: Da Capo Books, 2005); Marc Segal, And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality (Open Lens, 2015). Articles in the Gay and Lesbian Review; novels by writers as diverse as Oscar Wilde, Christopher Isherwood, Thomas Mann, Armistead, Maupin, Alan Hollinghurst, Ethan Mordden, and Edmund White were eye opening. David M Halperin’s concluding sentence in “Normal as Folk,” in The New York Times (Opinion, June 12, 2012) resonated: “And we will never understand the most essential thing about it: how gay culture continues to perform a sly and profound critique of what passes for normal.” Opinion | Style and the Meaning of Gay Culture – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
Altogether is the idea that being gay brings with it a critique of “normal” masculinity and once I embraced it (which I had already, I suppose, unknown as to what it meant), all of this made incredible sense to me … which is not to mean that straight men cannot and/or are not critical of what is considered “normal”; rather for some gay men it is second nature. As I became more and more comfortable with being “gay”, this critique was becoming apparent in my personal life and influenced both my professional and political lives, which I will explore in other posts.
The next year and half were full of new experiences and re-affirming the continuation and importance of old ones. While my personal relationships and dating experiences were quite momentous parts of this period, I have chosen to write in this blog about those experiences that may resonate with others who like me, come out later in life, as well as those they led to my grounding in my new gay identity, acceptance of gay culture, and ways in which they embraced my new identity with parts of my pre-existing ones.
The winter and spring of 2016 was a busy time, as I planned different ways to honor my coming out: my 60th birthday, a coming out ceremony, traveling, and just enjoying myself! These diverse aspects were of importance, since I knew that traveling and new experiences – through a different lens – were also quite compelling for me.
In the midst of accepting and challenging myself, I also considered a reinterpretation of the mikveh, a Jewish ceremony that is traditionally associated with women, but increasingly accepted by reform congregations to honor other life celebrations, including coming out. Ultimately, I came to decide that I would do something on my own and a more personal ceremony alone and yet still with water, fire, and words, which was a perfect way to acknowledge the changes in my life and to look forward to what my 60s would hold!
My birthday party originated at the suggestion of two friends, whom I known since I was 20. Since I had a large roof deck, I could have 50+ guests at my home so that in the planning became an occasion for me to spend time with dearest friends from different stages of my life over a 40- year period, celebrate my current stage of life as a budding art collector, and a man who recently came out. Set that stage by letting my friends know that “A Celebration of Life, Coming Out, and New Beginnings & A Display of Two Recently Acquired Wendy Artin Watercolor Paintings” as I put on the invitation.
In planning the cake decorations – which I designed with the help of a dear friend, who is a sculptor, and the caterer, whom I knew from DotOUT — symbolized the various inspirations that led to my current stage in my life’s journey. It was an opportunity to reflect on political ideas and/or movements, that I had supported and still do in my life — environmentalism, the anti-nuclear movement, neighborhood politics, socialism, history education, urban politics, feminism, bicycle advocacy, LGBTQ movements, and unionism, as well as various inspirations – Hegelian philosophy, German literature, art, classical and jazz music, travel, nature, Judaism, novels, relationships, and theatre – all of which influenced my journey and on the top “An inspired journey … 60 … which keeps getting better!” As you can see below, the wire sculpture was interspersed with frosted letters; it was a masterpiece!
In the midst of these plans, I knew that I had to do something personal as ceremony to honor the new “me” and that led me to a number of great trips that summer – Key West on my own, Peru and Easter Island as a participant on two gay tours, and finally the capstone – a few days in a welcoming part of southern Vermont – Frogmeadow — where I spent my two-year anniversary and celebrated the changes in my life …
My Birthday Cake!!