10/15/2012 – By Gregory Franklyn
October 11th was National Coming Out Day and it got me to thinking about my own coming out story. That, and a friend sent me an article she had read about a new book coming out this month by a straight conservative bible-belt Christian fellow who went undercover as a gay man to try and get a view of what life is like for gay people in the United States.
I haven ‘t read the book, but based on the article, I would recommend it to every heterosexual, or person who thinks they might be. The book is called “A Cross in the Closet” and here ‘s a YouTube Trailer about it. www.youtube.com/watch?v=4R6qIIvYEqs
Every gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, trans-gender and/or questioning person who has ever made the journey, has a coming out story. I have one too. I came out in 1980 when I was 28 years old but the story begins in Detroit Michigan before I was old enough recognize what an “Age” was. A little background is in order.
I’m an orphan and was given up at birth. I ‘m told that for the first two years of life I was raised by whomever was on duty, at the time, at a Catholic Orphanage in Detroit. I was adopted at just over 2 years, by a family that was having marital trouble and believed that having Children might save the marriage. Evidently, it didn’t! By the time I was 6, my also adopted older brother Mike and I, sat outside a courtroom in St Clair County Michigan while both parents, now both re-married, decided that it was best for everyone to go their separate ways. Mike and I became wards of the State were separated on the spot. We didn’t see one another again until after I had graduated from High School. He’s pretty much a stranger to me, a childhood friend with closer than usual ties, I’d guess.
This chain of events, evidently affected me pretty deeply because I got tossed around from living situation to living situation until I was 14. Up until I was accepted to the famous Fr Flanagan’s BoysTown (immortalized in the movie “BoysTown” with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney), I had never completed 2 grades in the same school. I was in therapy through most of that period because I was an “Odd” little boy.
Here ‘s what one Doctor said in his psychological evaluation of me at 11:
“During the interview, Dr. Locket found Greg to have average or better intelligence; to be proper and distant but cooperative; he showed little anxiety. He uses extremely strong defenses of: denial, intellectualization and rationalization. Denial is mostly on the conscious level and may be a denial of being male on the subconscious level. This denial started early, thus forming a personality pattern of which his overt feminine character pattern is only a part.
Dr Locket suggested that initial rejection led to lack of involvement with others for which Greg developed a survival pattern. Greg has a basic personality problem in relating to others. Although it’s not definitely known, one could say that there’s a distortion in Greg’s relationship to his mother and a lack of involvement with his father. Greg relates on a superficial level and one wonders what he really feels.
Dr Locket diagnosed him as having a passive, receptive, feminine personality pattern. He further described Greg as being; narcissistic (involved more with self than with others); masochistic (as evidence in his passivity in the face of scapegoating); relatively un-relating, unmotivated and markedly defensive. He probably has overwhelming anger, but good defenses.
Greg ‘s future depends on how much anxiety can be aroused. As he becomes older he may become anxious and do something. Dr. Locket recommended long term placement in a total care environment for all his childhood.”
Now, I didn’t repeat all that to put my business in the street, so to speak, but to show how gay people were thought of by the psychological community at the time. Remember, that in the big picture, psychotherapy, at the time, was barely older then I was. Boys who were effeminate, were thought of in these terms, in general society, because of the profound and dramatic lack of understanding of homosexuality. So much so that in the last sentence in the evaluation, the good Dr. recommends that I be sent to a mental institution.
I was 35 when I came out to my brother Mike. It wasn’t like I was hiding it by that time, it ‘s just that I was out of contact with him until then. When I told him, he said, “Hell, I knew that the day you were brought home from the orphanage!” (he was a few years older than me so I tend not to doubt it).
When it comes to my sexuality, I really WAS the last one to figure it out. When I read that evaluation today, I see a little gay kid trying to make his way in a very rigidly straight world, on his own, mind you. They didn’t like gay kids at the time. I had been rejected by 4 sets of parents by that time, very likely BECAUSE I was gay. My original birth parents, my adopted parents and 2 foster families. I ‘m not surprised that there may have been a little trauma there. Of course, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about because I had always been like I was. I didn’t have anything to compare it to.
Along with the family dysfunction, there was also the Catholic Church. That’s were I grew up, most of the time. Catholic schools are pretty rigid to begin with, but when you actually LIVE there too, it ‘s even more intense. Your parent figures are nuns, brothers and priests. So, as any good boy might want to do, I clung to my religion to help me through it.
I didn’t know that a person could normally be gay because I was taught that “The Devil Made Me Do It” and that I was just morally weak. So I tried to become stronger in my resistance to myself believing that I was doing what I was supposed to do. I did pretty well too! I think it took me so long to settle with who I am, because of my intent to be Good.
Around the mid 70s, that would be in my mid 20s, I began to seriously question whether what I was being told about being gay, by people I looked up to for spiritual guidance and direction, may have been being less than honest with me about it. It turns out that, well intentioned as they may or may not have been, they didn’t know what they were talking about and I had to spend nearly half of my life figuring it out on my own. I had struggled with this “demon” for my entire life and I was getting pretty weary of the struggle, mainly because I, Like everyone else at that age, was raging with sexual urges and I finally couldn’t take it anymore.
I remember the day clearly, even 32 years later. I was sitting in a house I had bought, but couldn’t afford, (predatory Mortgage lending is nothing new), and I had my feet propped up on the window sill, casually kicked back in my lounger when I just “Gave Up”. It was clear that I couldn’t go on like this, always fighting myself over what I was feeling inside. Linda, a girl I almost married, had just left to return home to California, realizing what I couldn’t be what she wanted, needed and clearly deserved in a husband. We had both just dodged a bullet.
I had had a few girlfriends before her and I did enjoy their company, a lot. I just couldn’t figure out a way to enjoy having sex with them. That’s why we would always break up. I must have made them feel like they weren’t attractive or sexy, and no one deserves to feel like THAT! Least of all, those girls! So if any of you happen to be reading this can I just say I ‘m so sorry for how I made you feel. That was never my intent. I was with you because I dug you and I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. You got that far into my heart because you are THAT much of a woman.
Anyway, back to the story. I just gave up! It was that simple. I determined that if I was going to hell and would never be whole as a person anyway, then, Screw It, I ‘m going to go ahead and be what I am and let the chips fall where they may. Because being what I was taught I was supposed to be was just not working out for anyone anymore, including me.
I only reconsidered that decision once in my life.
A few days later, embarking on my new life for the first time, I went to a gay bar in Phoenix called “Hisco-Disco”. I had read about it in a gay magazine I had found at a porno bookstore. Back then that’s where you had to go to find information about your culture if you were gay. It was still being oppressed everywhere else. It’s kind of sad when I think about it today. In order to find the door to a peaceful inner life, you had to go to the one place in the world where furtive sexual frustration and repressed emotions are the most prominent energies.
My first exposure to Gay culture was a life changing experience for me, to say the least. I have never before, or since, felt as intense feelings of conflicting emotions as I did that night. I walked in, and ordered a drink and sat at a table as out of the way as I could and just watched for a while. One part of me was disgusted and repulsed at what I was seeing and the other part of me was instinctively jumping for joy at having found a place in the world, for the first time in my life, where I was seeing my own imagination displayed before me in real time!
These guys were kissing each other and holding one another like there was nothing wrong with it, right there in front of everybody in the place and no one was reacting in horror. What a beautiful world, I thought. I feel like that too! I didn’t talk to anyone that night, because I was too overwhelmed with these conflicting emotions. It took me a few days to digest what I had just experienced.
A few days later, I went to this porno theater called the “WhereHouse” because I thought that that’s what gay guys do. Remember, all I knew about gay people, up to that point, I learned from Priests, nuns and materials I had seen at a porno bookstore.
I parked my car in the back lot so no one could see it, pulled up my collar so I’d be less likely to be recognized and sheepishly walked in. I paid for my ticket and the helpful clerk pointed me to the door to the theater. In hindsight, he was probably so helpful because I’m sure he could tell I had never been to one before. I opened these ornate double doors and was about to walk in when I saw what was on this huge movie screen. I mean, the screen was much taller than me and I’m 6 Feet tall in bare feet. I saw a man in a bathroom with two other men on their knees facing away from us. The man had both of his hands, up to mid-forearm, INSIDE the other two men ‘s rectums and he was working them with a vengence.
I turned and ran in horror back to the sanctity of my own home, in another state of extreme, though this time NOT conflicting, emotions. I can only imagine the knowing smile on that clerk’s face as I went running out. I felt lost in the world again because if that’s what I have to do to be gay, I ‘m ready to reconsider my decision right now!
That stuff was WAY too adult for me! It still is, come to think of it. I never went back to the theater, but I did go back to Hisco-Disco. I went frequently until my conflicting emotions gave way to a kind of sanity that was pretty new to me. I met and dated a charming but much too aggressive black guy named Eric Revallion. We dated for a while, but it never went any further. But I will always be grateful to Eric for 2 things. One, he was my first date as a gay man, and two, he gave me a cat that I named “Disco”, both because that’s where I met Eric and so that I could say “Disco, get down!” when he jumped up on the counter. (True Story)
Hisco Disco was the place where I was when I first recognized that there really wasn’t anything wrong with me and that I wasn’t as alone as I had always felt like I was. The place where, for the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. I never saw Eric again, but Disco was a good friend for many years. He eventually stayed at a house that I had to move out of because he didn’t like the new place. Besides, the house I moved out of was a community garden. LOTS of mice and birds. It must have been heaven for him!
I have never looked back to the days when I was struggling with myself over who I am. Well, except that time in the porno theater. There has never been a reason to. Granted, I still had to endure the slurs about sexuality that I had always had to deal with since I could remember. My Nicknames on school playgrounds were things like, “Honey”, “Oddy” and, “Pussy Galore” (after the James Bond Character in Goldfinger) along with the standards, “Queer” (which I still find offensive today), “Fag & Faggot”, “Poofter”, “Light in the Loafers”, “Candy-Ass”, “Fudge-Packer”,,, There ‘s a whole dictionary of them and I ‘m pretty sure I’ve been called all of them at one time or another. But the fact is that it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it did back when I was completely alone.
But, now it’s possible to have a peaceful inner life. A life of knowing what this straight conservative Christian guy learned from his experience that I hope you read about. The gay community he refers to, interestingly enough, is the same gay community (Portland Oregon) that has embraced me and I, it, in way that has made it possible for me to have a sense of peace within myself and focus my energies on things that really matter.
Like Homelessness, for example. I work at a Men’s Homelessness to Housing Program here and it’s the hardest job I’ve ever loved. I’m gay, and most of the men at the shelter know it, but I almost universally get the respect I give and there has been barely a ripple of discomfort about it because of that! They let me be me because they see me letting everyone else be themselves too. It’s almost like I give them permission not to be judgmental by not being judgmental of them.
In any Gay Community you will find a lot of hugging and kissing and touching, a lot of emotional support, and a lot of acceptance. It is because every gay person you know has done his, or her, own “Vision Quest” to get where they are today. That takes a deep and fierce courage and determination to be REAL. It seems kind of ironic when you consider that the most visible elements of our culture are our Drag Queens and our Leather Folks. They are the real leaders of our community because they have traveled even further then most of us have into their Vision Quest. Expert enough to play with the illusions of masculinity and femininity without getting burned.
But what brings my culture together at our core is stories like the one I’m telling you here. We share the experience of rejection and we KNOW how much that hurts the human spirit. That’s why we are, MOSTLY, accepting of others. We have a ways to go in that department, but not NEARLY as far as Straight people do. And, it’s because we have had to challenge our entire existence in ways that straight people have rarely had to think about. Why WOULD they? Straight people are not strangers in a strange land. They live in their own house.
That’s why I ‘m so impressed with this Timothy Kurek fellow. He didn’t HAVE to do that, but he did it anyway because he wanted to really experience what it’s like. That says a lot about his character.
My culture is expert at illusion and superficiality because we all, at some point or another, before our personal Vision Quest, have had to LIVE a superficial illusion to survive. We have been pushed out to the edge of our survival and found a way to come back and live here anyway.
I have the cultural confidence to be able to recognize Window Dressing at 4 blocks! Any time you want to know what the next big hit song on the radio is going to be, all you have to do is go to a gay dance club tonight and listen for a few minutes. See? You didn’t know you were psychic, did you!
Homosexuality is a culture. So much so that when I ‘m filling out forms that ask what race I am, if there’s an option for “Other” that’s what I check, because of all the options listed on those forms, that one is the closest to what I am.
I’m glad that Timothy Kurek infiltrated my community and experienced what he experienced and I’m glad that he wants you to know about it. I wish more brave heterosexual souls would do that. After all, it’s only fair, we have experienced their world from birth. Been there, done that, moved on! It just wasn’t for me.
PS: As an aside to any GLBTQ person who has not seen it already, check out a movie called “Before Stonewall”. It changed my life and my understanding of myself. We have a long and rich cultural history that I didn’t even know existed until I saw it. Maybe it will help you figure some things out.