I graduated high school in 1980, in
Chugiak, Alaska. Early the next year, I moved back to California. Soon
afterwards, things changed dramatically for me. I met someone and began a
relationship, moving in with him and his roommate in a house in the Tower
District. While I had obviously come out to the new man in my life and our
friends, I said nothing to my family, or to most of my other friends. I dodged
questions about girlfriends and at work I kept my personal life to myself.
In the spring of 1981 my new partner
and I had been given an opportunity to move to the east coast, stay with his
relatives in New York, and start a life there. Seeing New York had always been
a dream of mine so I wasn’t about to pass it up. I’d be able to start fresh and
not worry about coming out to my family and friends. I couldn’t really leave
without seeing my parents again, so I trekked back to Alaska for a couple of
I wanted to tell my mother I was
gay. But running through the scenario in my head a million times, it didn’t
usually end well. I felt I should tell them since I’d be moving across the
country and would, in some ways, be shielded from the repercussions. On the
other hand, it was also a perfect excuse to not tell them, which is what I
decided after about a day back in Alaska.
Later, only a couple of days before
I was to get on the plane and head back to California, I started not feeling
well. It began early one morning with some pain just below my stomach. I
brushed it off most of the day, but it soon became apparent that something was
very wrong. By late afternoon I was doubled up in agony, the kind of
excruciating pain I’d never felt. Before I knew it, less than 12 hours after
the pain started, I was being rushed to the hospital.
After an examination, the doctor
came in to inform my mother and myself that it looked like appendicitis. My
appendix would have to come out immediately. The doctor explained all signs
pointed to the appendix, but it was impossible to tell for sure until they
"went in". So I was faced with surgery in about an hour.
They prepped me and I ended up in a
curtained cubicle, on a gurney in one of those embarrassing gowns, with my
mother standing over me. Very quickly, all the fear and nervousness my mother
fell victim to her entire life, came out in me. I’d never had surgery. What if
I was allergic to the anesthetic? What if it wasn’t the appendix, as the doctor
hinted at? What if something else went wrong? Regardless of the fact that
taking out an appendix is a fairly routine operation, everything that could go
wrong was banging around in my head, and seeing the complete look of terror in
my mother’s eyes didn’t help.
I have to tell her, I kept thinking.
Not just because I didn’t want to die without her knowing who I was, but
because if something did go wrong, they’d be forced to deal with Chuck, my
partner, and that was going to be quite a surprise.
A nurse stopped by and told us
they’d be coming to get me any minute. My brain shouted out two
things…"You’re going to die on that table in there" and "You
have to tell her about Chuck so she doesn’t have a heart attack when he
She looked down at me with every bit
of love she always did, mixed with a lot of fear. "Yes?"
"I need to tell you
something." She didn’t think anything of it. Her mind was focused on the
surgery and that was it.
"What is it?"
That’s the moment when 8 million
ways to say it crashed into each other. I felt suddenly like I didn’t even know
the English language. "You know Chuck, my roommate?"
I chose a side track. "Maybe
you should call him and let him know what’s going on." This was long
before cell phones, texting or email, so I’d had no opportunity in the rush of
all that happened to get hold of him in any way.
"Okay. After they take you in
I’ll call him."
"Well, go slow when you tell
him, because you know, we’re close."
Last chance, Chris. They’re coming
for you any second now. "We’re very close, mom."
"I know. He’s your
"Well," I took a deep
breath, and with my eyes open wide and a confessional look on my face, I said,
"he’s more than a friend."
The first look of curiosity crossed
her face. "I don’t understand."
I spoke very slowly and
deliberately. "Mom, Chuck and I are more than just friends."
Regardless of the urgency I still couldn’t find the courage to just say it
There was a very obvious pause in
her thoughts. She raised her head a bit and a look of confusion mixed with the
leaking tears she’d been fighting for the past couple of hours. She seemed to
be uncertain what to say and it appeared she was weighing options in her head.
Which options, I have no idea, at least until she lowered her head again and
almost whispered to me, as if afraid someone was listening.
"What are you trying to tell
"That Chuck is not just my
"Are you saying that…"
"Yes mom," I gave in,
"in case anything happens, I want you to know that I’m gay and Chuck is my
Then, in possibly the most movie
like moment of my life, the curtains were thrown open and two nurses appeared.
"Okay, we’re all ready." The only thing that would have made it
better is if the nurses were drag queens, or Karen Black or something like
As they got behind the gurney to
take me away I focused on the look of utter shock on my mother’s face. She
didn’t say a word, unable to process it all. I watched her as long as I could
as they wheeled me into surgery.
When I woke again my mother was
still there and she didn’t waste any time. "I want you to see a
psychiatrist," she said.
Not what I wanted to hear. I started
to cry, imagining being expelled from my family, never talking to my mother
again, but most of all, filled with shame that I know wasn’t mine. But in true
form, as the mother who’d loved me with everything in her my whole life, she instantly
conceded. She came to me and told me that I was still her son, she still loved
me, and whoever I was inside was okay with her.
My father was much less accepting,
telling me he’d cut off any further financial assistance if I followed through
with New York plans. I told him if he wouldn’t help me with the move I’d do it
on my own, which I did. My mom told my brothers and sisters, who called me
individually afterward to say, for the most part, "We always
suspected", which just makes you angry that you held in that fear and
angst for so long. My father came around eventually.
In New York and then settling in New
Jersey my coming out process continued. It was a while before I told the new
friends we made on the East coast. Of course, many of them said they’d
suspected as well. I don’t know what tipped them off first, the glossy, bold,
repainted apartment, the fresh flowers and the cockatiels, or the Bette Midler
album playing in the background.