The Never-Ending Cycle

On Monday, I wrote about coming out to someone for the first time. As most of you know, it’s a never-ending cycle. You come out over and over again whether to co-workers, doctors, family, new friends, etc. As for family, I’ve only come out to my parents. My mother had suspicions I was gay for years. She found gay porn once in an overnight bag and confronted me about it. I told her it was just curiosity. It was an awful scene; she reacted negatively. I realized I would probably never be able to come out to her. Years later, when I was home from grad school, she checked my email or so she said. I do know she saw an email over my shoulder from gay.com, and she probably lied to me about checking my email. I had logged out after all. It was another ugly scene, but I did not deny it this time. I was living as an out gay man in Mississippi, and I decided I couldn’t deny who I was anymore. She told my father. He told me I had to tell my mother I was being celibate or something. She took the news badly. (Imagine my eyes rolling.) They both made me promise never to tell anyone else in the family. My dad told me especially not to tell my grandmother. I never knew if he meant his mother or my mother’s mother. It doesn’t matter anymore, as they have both passed never knowing I was gay. I think my aunt knows, but we don’t discuss it. One day I plan to tell my niece and nephew, but probably not until they are adults. I have no desire to tell my sister; as long as my niece and nephew are young, I firmly believe she, or her asshole husband, would no longer allow me to see them.

My Monday post recounted how I came out in grad school. I didn’t have to keep coming out when new students were admitted. It was just common knowledge. Very few people had a problem with it at least not openly. I don’t think the leadership of the department would have allowed it; we had at least two professors who were gay. The next time I came out was when I went to a doctor for a throat infection. That doctor point blank asked me if I was gay. I said yes. He then told me I had thrush which can be a sign of an HIV/AIDS infection. Because I was gay, he was immediately convinced I was HIV positive and had me take an HIV test even though I insisted I only had safe sex. I was scared to death waiting for the results. A friend of mine insisted I go see an ear, nose, and throat doctor for a second opinion. I’m glad I took her advice. It turned out I merely had a bad case of pharyngitis. When I asked about the possibility of it being thrush, he said there was absolutely no possibility of that. He had no idea why any doctor would have come to that conclusion. The HIV test came back negative, and I never saw that first doctor again. I should have reported him for the way I was treated, but I doubt it would have done any good in Mississippi in the early 2000s.

Because of that incident, I was wary of telling another doctor my sexuality. When I moved back to Alabama, I never told my doctor because my mother worked in the same clinic and had access to all the medical records. I should have gone to another doctor for more privacy, but I did not have health insurance, and this was an income-based clinic. I didn’t have to pay to see the doctor. Even when I moved to Vermont, it took a few years before I told my doctor I was gay. I did so because I was sexually active and needed to get tested for STIs. I did not suspect I had any, but if you are sexually active you should get tested regularly. My current doctor agreed with that. He is quite good-looking and genuinely nice. I am glad I have a good relationship with a doctor for the first time in my life. I can talk to him about any problems.

The first time I came out at a job was while I was working at an environmental lab in Mississippi. There were a couple of young guys who worked there, and one of them asked me out of the blue if I was gay. I said I was and went about my business. There are a few things I should tell you about this lab job. I had gotten it because my best friend’s sister was working there and recommended me even though she knew I had no experience with science. My only scientific training was two required undergraduate classes: biology and geology. Also, the owner of the lab and his son, who helped manage it, were Republicans. They once threatened to fire someone for wearing a t-shirt of a Democratic candidate. I had not wanted to come out there because of this, but I was determined not to lie. I told the friend who got me the job about the kid asking if I was gay. She was furious he would ask because it was none of his business.

After I told her what happened, she complained to our boss about the kid asking me and making me feel uncomfortable. Honestly, at the time, I didn’t much care. He was just a curious kid, and I knew he meant no harm. However, when our boss found out, he called him into his office and took him to task for being so rude. All this went on without my knowledge. The poor kid nearly lost his job for asking me if I was gay. My boss, who it turned out could have cared less about my sexuality (he really cared nothing about his employees), was actually afraid I might sue for harassment. I wouldn’t have because this was Mississippi, and it would have gone nowhere. The main issue probably was we had numerous contracts with environmentally-conscious companies and the EPA all of whom he feared were more liberal than he was. His contracts might be in jeopardy if anyone found out a gay person was harassed at his lab.

Fast forward to me teaching at the private school, where keeping my sexuality secret was imperative to me keeping my job. Eventually, I did become good friends with the art teacher. One night we were talking, and she confessed she smoked a lot of pot (something that would have gotten her fired). In turn, I told her I was gay. Her response was she’d been waiting for me to tell her that. Eventually, I also told the school lunch lady and her husband. For the longest time, they were the only ones who knew. My art teacher friend did tell her husband who was on the school’s board of directors, but that was mainly so he could protect me if it ever came to that. Later on, I found out he was not fully accepting of my sexuality. He didn’t care that I was gay, but one night we were all hanging out. I said something gay and very suggestive, mainly to get a laugh. He said, “I know you’re gay, but I’d rather not hear about it.” I never felt comfortable hanging around with him after that. One summer afternoon, we were having a pool party. The school’s bookkeeper was there. At one point the husband of the lunch lady mentioned something about me being gay in front of the bookkeeper. It turned out she was hurt because I’d never come out to her. Her brother was gay, and she had no problem with it. The thing is I knew her husband and sons had a problem with it. I’d heard them making rude remarks about gay people. 

While I had other good friends at the school, none of my other co-workers knew (officially) I was gay. One student knew; others suspected and often called me a fag behind my back. The kid I told was a distant cousin of mine. I’d always thought he was gay. We were in my classroom alone one day, and I came out to him. I don’t remember if he’d asked or how the subject came up. He never told anyone, and I knew he’d keep my confidence. For whatever reason, he kind of idolized me and would confide in me. He was a sweet kid but always in trouble. He didn’t take his ADHD medication regularly. He’s actually been to Vermont a few times, and we’ve been able to see each other. He still keeps in touch, but less so now that he has a girlfriend and is more serious about college. I still think he’s gay, though. I know he fooled around with a guy before, but it’s up to him whether he comes out or even come to terms with his sexuality. His parents would be absolutely accepting and have told him as much numerous times which may be why he won’t come out. People can be stubborn at times. I just hope he doesn’t have any major psychological troubles about his sexuality.

In my current job, they all knew I was gay when they hired me. Apparently, it was part of my first boss’ worry that my sexuality, mannerisms, and voice might be perceived as a negative by those I’d be interviewing. (Remember, when I was first hired, I was an oral historian not a curator.) The others convinced her she was wrong, that I was the best person for the job. And she was proved wrong. It has never once been an issue. However, no one said anything about my sexuality until I said something about it. The administrative assistant we had back then was bisexual, and she was the first person I told. That didn’t happen until my friend died shortly after I moved here. I was so distraught I could barely work. Through tears, I told her who he was to me, and confirmed I was gay. My university has a long-standing non-discrimination policy which includes sexual orientation. They have offered same-sex benefits since Vermont introduced civil unions in July 2000.

While most people know my sexuality, I still don’t tell everyone. Every situation is different. It is naturally easy to come out to some people; with others, it takes a bit of courage. I don’t hide my sexuality in Vermont, but I don’t scream it from the rooftops either. I know I will never have problems with my current boss. His best friends are a gay couple, and he was the best man at their wedding. The other curator doesn’t discriminate against anyone for race, sexuality, or any other reason. Like me, she was raised in the South and has seen enough discrimination to last a lifetime. The other Southerner, who works with us and is coincidentally my neighbor, is the same way. In fact, she is more liberal than I am and often votes for the very liberal Progressive Party of Vermont. Vermont may not be the perfect place to live, but I am blessed to be surrounded by loving and accepting friends.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

3 responses to “The Never-Ending Cycle

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