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
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
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
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
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!
Header design ©2006 Mark McBeth, IDEA | MONGER
Let us know
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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