Coming Out Through the Ages: Two Gay Stories, Two Decades Apart
Do you remember the day you came out?
In honor of October's National Coming Out Day, SFGN decided to get the coming out tales from two very different (or very similar) people.
One is Fred Fejes, a local historian, author, professor and all-around LGBT academic in South Florida. The other is Ryan Dixon, who had been nominated in the past for his porn stardom, became one of the few active HIV-positive porn stars, and who has since left that world behind and become a writer. Their two stories are below, as written by them and submitted to SFGN.
Fred Fejes, historian and author.
Came out in 1980
My wife was probably the person most responsible for my coming out. At the time (1980), I was a 28-year-old college professor with a newly -minted Ph.D. and was living in Ann Arbor Michigan. I met my wife in graduate school and after giving birth to two dissertations, we took jobs at universities in southeastern Michigan.
However, my dreams of a long pleasant life as a campus faculty couple was rudely upset. One day over Chinese dinner, my wife announced she wanted a divorce-she had fallen in love with one of her students (a young Finnish male from the Upper Peninsula).
I was shocked. But then I thought that after some time she would realize the errors of her ways. She would tearfully come back, and I would joyfully welcome her. We agreed to a separation. I moved out and her boyfriend moved in.
I looked at the separation as a kind of vacation, where I would try out new things, go to new places, meet new people. But in the end I would always come home to her. I started to date - women.
At that time I had no idea of being gay. Although I had hung out with gay friends in college, I always thought of myself as bisexual by nature, but predominantly heterosexual by socialization. (After all, Freud did say we are all bi-sexual)
The more-than-few-times that sex with a man was offered, I turned it down. Although I was attracted, being married made the decision easy. The dating now with women was fun, particularly the sex, but they wanted commitment and I was saving myself for my wife.
One day I was reading the University of Michigan campus newspaper and saw a small ad that said in effect, "If you think you are gay or want to explore your masculinity, you're invited to join an eight-week group exploring masculine identity."
I was always one for self- exploration and, not living with my wife, I had some free time. And I always wondered about my attraction to men. I decided to call. The voice on the phone said that I would have to come in for an interview.
I was interviewed by two young men, social work students. They told me that the group was being formed by the University of Michigan Lesbian-Gay Advocates office, at that time one of the few university LGBT support services in the country. The interviewers explained that whether I realized I was gay or not was okay, just as long as I used the group to learn something about myself.
I joined what, in effect for me, was an Eight Week Course in Being Gay. It even came with a mimeographed instruction manual. In this course I learned not only about gay identity, gay history, gay life, but also about gay sex, gay culture and the bar scene (we actually did a field trip to a big gay bar in Detroit. Our group leader would point to the men around us and explain, "That one is cruising that other man, that man is giving attitude, that man is keeping an eye on his lover" and so on.
While many men come out quietly, I crashed out.
After the course was over, I joined campus gay organizations, helped organize the gay pride parade, volunteered at the Advocate's office, spoke in college classes about being gay and sat at the gay booth at the city fair. And as for the sex, being a single, gay man in a large Midwest college town was bliss itself. I realized how much fun sex could really be and the course taught me to cruise with confidence. I really made up for lost time (Fortunately, I had no issues separating this life from the professorship I held at a nearby college).
When I met with my wife to discuss the separation, I told her I was not coming back. She was chagrined; her affair with her student was going sour and I was having too much fun. Still we remained friends, we shared an important part of our lives together.
After a hectic, six months of heady personal, sexual and social exploration, I met the man who would become my partner. After a couple of months of dating, breaking up and making up, we decided to move in together.
Ann Arbor was a very gay-tolerant town - I had a hot lover, a great circle of friends, a job I enjoyed, great parties and brunches and a growing sense of fashion. At one party I put my arm around my lover and said to the crowd, "Now I know why they write love songs."
In a few months this picture would become very, very dark. Some of my friends started getting sick. Some of the faces of the cute regulars at the bar began to disappear. You begin to notice very carefully any new moles, marks on your skin or a lingering cough.
But this is another story.
Ryan Dixon, award-nominated porn star turned writer.
Came out in 1999
I told my friend Corey I was gay halfway through eighth grade- he was the first person I told.
In 1999, I finally left private Christian schools and went to public school. It was the beginning of my seventh grade year. It was then that I finally understood that what I was being told in church didn't coincide with the thoughts and feelings in my head. My health teacher said I was completely normal, and my pastor said I was an abomination in the eyes of God.
Entering my freshman year in high school was exciting and scary all at once. I had only told one person I was gay and I had made the Varsity baseball team. The principal of the school was openly gay and encouraged students to come out, so I did. My teammates were okay with it. Only a few gave me heat for it, but were quickly put in their places by other players. I played well and that's all that mattered to them.
I come from very religious, very southern and very militant parents. I intended on taking my sexuality to the grave with me. I didn't want my parents (or anyone in my family, in fact) finding out I was gay. I was running around behind my parents' back, saying I was going to the batting cages or to study, when in reality I was going to a classmates' house to do what most hormonally-charged 14 year-olds do.
I called my father one day from school to tell him I needed lunch money because I couldn't find my wallet. He never responded so I ended up borrowing from a friend.
I realized why he didn't answer when I got home. My father, mother and pastor were gathered around the dining room table. My father had decided to go into my room to look for my wallet. The search apparently required him to open a notebook of mine and read the notes I had been sending back and forth with a (special) friend. There were no names on the notes, but there was a picture of us in each other's. My father did the math. I was outed by a snooping parent. I had no choice and no chance. There was no denying the picture or the letters.
You happy dad? I'm gay.
He told me I'd die of AIDS before going to hell. My mother just sat there, apparently shocked, her hands in her lap and her mouth shut. The pastor stood up and began praying.
Two weeks after I graduated high school, I left the house. I'd since been back for visits, here and there. But that tends to quickly fade.
I'm 25, and I haven't been home in six years. It's been three since I last spoke to my family.