LGBT suicide and the trauma of growing up gay

“I’m not afraid of being gay. What I fear is abandoning my family.”

Q is for “Quirk”

When I first accepted that I was fighting sexual attraction to other men, I thought of myself as being heterosexual.  I was married, two kids, finished my residency in psychiatry and ready to live the dream.  I just had this little quirk: I wondered what it would be like to have sex with another man.  

I had never had sex with another man until I was in my thirties.  Oh, sure, as boys, we explored our budding sexuality together, but it was barely even “sexual,” let alone homo-sexual.  Sometimes we even talked about it as just practicing for when we were ready to have sex with a female partner.  But at about age fourteen, it all suddenly stopped as my friends began to date girls.

Coming from a poor family, I had to work.  I worked after school and about twelve hours on Saturdays.  I didn’t have time to date.  Or, now as I look back on it, I had an excuse not to date.  And because I didn’t date much, I lacked confidence in myself in the dating game.  But was it a lack of confidence or a lack of interest?  I missed those early connections with other boys, both sexually and emotionally, but I always believed that when I had the opportunity, I would find a way to date girls.

Unlike today, in the 1970s you had to search hard to find porn, straight or gay.  I remember the first time I walked into a gay movie theater in New York City and saw men having sex on the big screen.  Until then, the only porn I’d seen had been 16 mm films projected onto the wall while I was in the Navy; none of it was ever man on man sex and none of the comments encouraged that option.

The first time I had sex with a man followed shortly after the big screen introduction.  I hooked up with a man in New York City. He was the archetype of the gay stereotype, and the sex wasn’t very satisfying, basically just a source of friction, and it reinforced the idea that all I had was a little quirk.

Q is for “Questioning”

But as the curiosity became stronger and I began to think more and more about sex with another man, I began to explore it further, but still primarily as what I thought of as intellectual curiosity or perhaps as just a voyeur.  Once while looking at some gay porn magazines in a book store in Times Square, I was approached by a young, teenage “rent boy.” I felt disgusted with myself for even being in the place, and I wondered, “Is this a world I want to become a part of?”

I began to question whether I might be bisexual.  I was enjoying an active and satisfying sex life with my wife, but I could no longer deny the power of the same sex attractions I felt.  I went to a lecture on homosexuality and the speaker said, “Being bisexual is just a way station on the way to accepting that you’re gay.”  Although most who identify as bisexual take strong exception to this statement, it continues to be made by those with limited understanding of bisexuality.  Having just begun to consider that I might be gay, I certainly wasn’t ready to hear that I had taken my first steps on the slippery slope to being gay.  What I could accept was that I was questioning my own sexuality and searching for a new definition of it.

I continued to ask more and more questions, but only to myself.  I didn’t dare to ask the question of anyone else. Even asking the question was threatening.

Q is for “Queer”

A lot has transpired since those days in the 1970s and 80s. That curiosity lead to what I thought would be a one-off encounter with a handsome young man.  We were both married to women. I thought, “What could possibly go wrong?” The answer, of course, is everything. As is typically the case in these kinds of affairs, I was in a state of virtual psychotic lust and all sense of reason had left me. At the same time, I could not ignore that I was experiencing a level of emotional and physical intimacy that I could only have imagined had existed.

The “Prospect Theory” tells us that in situations where the risks and outcomes are unknown, we focus only on the losses and not on the gains.  An optimal solution isn’t possible, so one must settle for simply a satisfactory solution.  The losses I worried about included losing my family, my career and my values. For me, that solution meant leaving my wife and family in the 1980s and beginning to explore  an unknown life as a gay man at a time when the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit the gay community full force.  When I discovered that so many other men were considering or had been through something similar, I decided to research it more, which led to my writing Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight.

Although some might have thought I was going through a midlife crisis that would be followed by “coming to my senses,” this experience was transformational.  A great deal of my earlier life began to make sense to me. I grew more and more comfortable with the label of being gay.

Once recently, after being interviewed on TV, the interviewer challenged my use of the word “queer.” Being close to my generation, she said, “To me, the word ‘queer’ seems as offensive as the N-word.” I have felt the same way in the past, but I have come to embrace it.  For me, the words, “gay,” “straight,” “bisexual,” and “transsexual” are far too limiting. They reflect a rather rigid sense of sexuality that has its roots in a binary definition of sex, one man, one woman.  Our sexuality is far more complex than those words would indicate.

Our sexuality includes erotic desires and fantasies, but also behavior, intimacy and identity.  I believe that each of us must be the one to define our sexual identity.  When others attempt to define it, their definition is usually based on stereotypes and prejudice.  I am what I am.  You are what you are.  If L, G, B, T or Q don’t work for you, pick your own letter and define yourself.