Recently I noted on Facebook that I came out as gay about 25 years ago and that I would have been better off staying in the closet but going to the gym. A couple of people told me privately that this was an offensive, and perhaps too private, statement, so I took it down—but I can’t say that I regret it.
“Ask your doctor if So-and-So is right for you” say the pharmaceutical ads, and I should make clear that my advice to myself is not necessarily right for gay men born in a different time or in different socioeconomic conditions. If I had been born 10 years later, or into a more privileged family, I probably would have come out in high school (certainly by college) and figured out things out with the support of peers my own age.
Instead, I came out in my late 20s, at first in a strange city, and already felt like a tired old queen. This was in Washington, D.C., where I joined a group for twentysomethings and was self-conscious that I was about to age out of it, and where I went to dance clubs (like Badlands) a few times by myself and was too intimidated to approach the mostly younger guys in T-shirts.
I made a lot of gay friends in the 1990s in Boston through volunteer organizations and some dabbling in the theater scene (doing some backstage stuff and writing reviews). I was attracted to several of them, but the rule seemed to be “once friends, never lovers,” so there were a few quick encounters but nothing more as I watched them pair up and move away. Already a journalist, I spent a few years at LGBT publications, but most of the colleagues and freelancers I worked with were younger (many from better schools), and I never seemed able to break into their social circles. Some of them said they liked working with me; I would have much preferred to be terrible at my job but someone they’d like hanging out with.
After that, I worked with few or no gay colleagues, which was both a disappointment and a relief, and spent a lot of time at the office. Occasionally I got up the nerve to answer an ad on craigslist, and I got as far as a third date with someone who liked how much I resembled the boyfriend he just broke up with. (Predictably, he had to break things off because I reminded him too much of the boyfriend he just broke up with.) I tried speed dating a few times, at events where I was only paired with people close to my age, but no one I was interested in was interested back. Then came Grindr and other “dating” apps, and if you think I did well in situations where people judged you on your photos…
I don’t have any good excuses for not hitting the gym this whole time. There were sporadic attempts, but I could never think of working out as something I should do for myself, and I could never approach a gym (or locker room) with the attitude that guys aren’t there to make friends, and I shouldn’t take it personally when no one wants to talk. I always felt that I spent enough time working, reading, and watching movies by myself. Why did I want to add to the solitude by spending a couple of hours a day on an exercise bike, listening to podcasts?
But I should have worked out and figured out a personal style and developed skills (sports, playing music) a long, long time ago. Instead I worried over my sexuality, and when I decided to come out, I thought it was a cure-all. It wasn’t. I took rejection and exclusion to heart, and what I saw as a failure to fit into the gay world discouraged me from trying to forge an identity independent of the gay world.
That’s what I meant by the “staying in the closet” wisecrack. Coming out is not a quick fix for an unfulfilled life, and it doesn’t wipe away self-esteem issues. For some people, it may be better to work on your self-image (and improving your appearance may be part of that) before trying to gain acceptance in the gay world.