Can you come out when you never felt "in"? Are you in the closet just because you haven't made an announcement? Why is it that straight folks don't have to announce they are breeders?

I have been openly gay for years but felt I had to keep quiet about it because of my high-profile career. What does that mean? When questioned, or when the opportunity arose, I never lied about being gay, but otherwise I never discussed sexuality at all. I just made sure that everything associated with work was strictly that, purely professional, with little or no personal interaction of any kind. This was pretty easy to get away with because of my disability, and the stereotype that people with disabilities are asexual. I believed that the people I worked with were not really friends anyway; if they were they would have asked about my personal life.

Burned out professionally by my late thirties, I decided to leave that demanding career. During the year it took me to implement my decision I started "announcing" to those I wanted to establish real friendships with. What resulted was a comedy of errors, peppered with "I always knew," from people who had tried to set me up with women, and "no way" from people who never really knew me at all. Those whose opinions were colored by sexual repression or moral repugnance I lost entirely as potential friends. I'll admit to a twinge of fear that I wouldn't be accepted by some people I really liked, but I had come to realize, maybe belatedly, that friendships can work only when supported by honesty.

My own "don't ask, don't tell" policy had been inspired not by shame, but rather by my concern that open disclosure would detract from the cause I was working for, a distraction I wanted to avoid. Some of my associates were redneck types who would never take me seriously, I feared, if they knew all about me. My fears proved true enough when I came out with a fury in the last few months of my employment. A kind of witch hunt ensued that forced me to leave my job six weeks before I'd planned to do so.

In a manual wheelchair I am virtually helpless and need to travel with a physical care attendant. Since my career involved extensive travel I was forced to spend a lot of time with an attendant. Usually I was so busy with work there was no time left for much of a personal life. Besides, since my attendant was paid by the group that employed me I felt a need to maintain a professional demeanor and just stick to work involved activities, which included social obligations.

During hiring interviews I learned to place a great deal of emphasis on my prospective attendant's personality and a description of the skills I expected him to have. I was specific about my needs, but personal information was not on my agenda, and that included my sexual preferences. For some reason I always ended up hiring male attendants whose enthusiasm for women was boundless. It became a standing joke that proximity to me made them even randier. Do I exude some strange sort of pheromone? Anyway, every one of my attendants managed to score on our travels.

Once I had resolved to leave my job, I decided it was time I learned how to work to live rather than live to work. Rehiring a past attendant I knew I could rely on, I began to take advantage of my travels for enjoyment. Todd, my reliable attendant, earned himself the nickname "Hot Toddy" for his relentless skirt chasing, something I got a kick out of, since it never interfered with his work. Unbeknownst to me, however, he was also preoccupied with my love life. He worried that I lived alone; he was confused that most of my friends were women but that I had no steady relationship.

The whole question of how much to reveal when interviewing a prospective attendant perplexed me. If I was forthright about being gay might someone accuse me of sexual harassment? Was there a protocol I failed to understand? I ended up drawing the line very simply: I decided to hire people for their ability to properly manage my care on the road. Period. Since the help I needed really was limited to work and obligations arising from work, my social life never entered into the picture. I guess I pulled the classic, "deal with it when I have to" scenario.

On one particular trip practice vanquished theory.

After a day full of meetings followed by too many drinks during a networking party, Toddy and I headed back to the room. He was particularly chatty that night, but had no success hooking up at the party. I, by contrast, was on the verge of unconsciousness from an exhausting day. Once my bedtime routine was completed and I was safely tucked in, Todd started perusing the phone book for escorts, his frustration evident. I knew his fantasy that night was to enjoy the company of an Asian woman, but I fell asleep long before he had negotiated any deals by phone.

I was out like a log when all of a sudden I felt a pressure on my chest and a tongue in my ear. You can imagine my shock when I opened my eyes to find a blonde tanned woman straddling me. "It's okay," she whispered, "your friend told me all about you … just relax." Very matter-of-factly and very calmly, I pushed her off me. Turning to Todd I announced, "This must be yours. I'm gay!"

She apologised profusely, and the look on Todd's face was priceless. I rolled over and went back to sleep. I think he took care of business pretty quickly, because the next thing I knew he was waking me. It was about an hour later, probably around five in the morning by then. Since all good employer-attendant relationships involve give-and-take, I knew I was going to have to talk to him about what had happened. During my morning routine and for the next few hours we had one of the deepest conversations of my life.

Todd was the kind of attendant who anticipated my needs and made meeting them seem natural. He was so good at his job that my colleagues tried to hire him away from me repeatedly. What he never realized was just how professional I had kept things. For him, the line was blurred, because the intimacy of the care I needed led him to feel like a friend. Since I really did like the guy and did hope to develop a genuine friendship after my travels were over, I took this opportunity to fully come out to him.

At first he accused me of lying. When I called him on it, he couldn't come up with a single example of my lying to him. Then he confessed that he was hurt that I had never shared my personal life with him, while I knew all about his. I countered that since he had never asked about my life I assumed he didn't care, which was okay with me, since, after all, I was his job.

To be honest, I was flattered that he was hurt. When I realized how close to me he felt, I grew more comfortable revealing parts of my life to him, parts I shared with no one else. As a result, our working relationship strengthened and our personal connection deepened. Todd became the consummate attendant. During the last year I employed him he accompanied me to gay strip clubs, gay bars, and even to Gay Pride events, where my gay friends thought he was just precious.

He was hilarious when he clumsily tried to find me guys and just as hilarious when he tried to protect me from my attraction to bad boys. His naiveté was charming and at times disarming. He took seriously my confidence in him. It made him open up. It boosted his confidence. And for that last year, I lived a fuller life, enabled by a special attendant.

Even with hindsight I wouldn't have done anything differently. I still think that it would have been inappropriate for me to combine my personal life with my professional one, but I am not sure I am talking about my being "gay" specifically. I think personal revelations would have been equally inappropriate had I been a straight married woman. In my case, my job was my life, and since I worked so much with the media, the luxury of enjoying a personal side life that coerxited with my professional life seemed unrealistic.

Even though I had never felt in the closet I have come to realize that being totally up front about who I am sexually makes life easier. But still, I'm a little resentful. Why do gay men have to get so hung up about coming out anyway? Maybe I'll live to see the inauguration of National Hetero Coming-out Day, when our straight brothers and sisters step up to the microphone to tell us about their inner lives. Yeah, that's all I need, more breeder stories! Blech!

©2006 Randy Warren
Header design ©2006 Mark McBeth, IDEA | MONGER

 

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Randy Warren (randy@randolphwarren.com) lives in London, Ontario, Canada, and is a long-time advocate for people with disabilities. Born disabled as a consequence of the drug thalidomide, he runs his own Reality Speaking and Consulting Company (www.randolphwarren.com).

 

 

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/March 2006