Even when I was a young boy, I knew something “was wrong” with me. I knew I was not normal.
Something was wrong. Something about my sexual orientation.
I had the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church to instruct me: Having sex was solely for married people–one man with one woman–and was strictly for producing babies who would grow up to be Soldiers for Christ. You had to be holy. Like the angels up in Heaven.
And if you dared to “touch yourself in an impure manner,” as the priests in those days used to say you were committing a Mortal Sin for which Hell would be your just reward when you died.
As pathetic as this perspective on sexuality certainly proved to be, I did not question nor challenge it in my youth. I simply lived with a deep knowledge in my heart and soul that no matter what organized religion may have been saying, it just didn’t ring true for me.
Learning What “Be a Man” Means
Adding to the warping influence of Roman Catholic teachings through the 1960s, I was raised in the Portuguese-American culture in California, where there was rampant male Mediterranean macho and toughness for me to savor.
From my culture and my socialization, I discovered the grand reality of maleness was that the more tough you looked and acted, the more masculine you were perceived to be. Of course, this worship of testosterone runs hot and freely in many other ethnic groups, but it is particularly evident in the Portuguese heritage.
My maternal grandfather was a noteworthy example of what anti-male feminists in the 1970s started calling “testosterone poisoning.” He was born and raised in “the old country,” the Azores Islands in the Atlantic Ocean west of Portugal.
The men from the islands are typically hot-tempered, physically big males, who are also strong and powerful–a potentially dangerous combination of traits. At age 41, he blasted a double-barrel shotgun at pointblank range at my grandmother. Then he opened his mouth for the weapon and blew his brains out.
In their shame, my parents tried to keep the family’s murder-suicide scandal a dark secret by telling me and my siblings of an “automobile accident” that claimed the lives of my grandparents. At 19, however, I uncovered the truth after doing some research at my college library using microfilms of my hometown newspaper.
However, I harbored a more significant secret for decades. Until I came out late in life (at age 45), I could not admit that I find myself attracted to masculine males. During the 1960s, those black and white Warner Bros. TV westerns especially offered unparalleled opportunities for “touching myself in many impure ways.”
I could not face the truth, however. There were no positive gay male role models in those days, and we good Catholic boys, of course, were taught to despise fags and queers. And so I was programmed to deny who I really was, a deep-rooted condition that remained long after I became a “lapsed Catholic.”
My Unhealthiest Decades
Like other baby boomer men have discovered, the eventual acceptance that I am a gay man was a difficult journey. Like so many others, I wish I had learned earlier in life that no matter how high the pressure may be from the people and institutions in our lives, one day all us gay men need to honestly and without denial face who we really are.
What I did was “waste” decades in unhealthy lies that I kept telling myself. At age 28, I married a woman in a Roman Catholic ceremony in the same historic California Mission in my hometown where my parents had been married three decades earlier.
Despite what they saw as a deep religious significance in their vows, my parents got divorced after nearly 28 years of marriage. I, too, saw the same, or similar, significance in my marriage vows, but my marriage was at best, bogus. We retreated into separate bedrooms and grew steadily apart but remained married.
I did not want to get divorced like my parents, and it didn’t help that I kept insisting on believing that I was a straight man. Meanwhile, my sexual fantasies were always about masculine men.
For me, each passing year was more painful than the previous one. Investing successive new year upon new year in a sexless and angry marriage to her formed thick emotional scars on me. My fantasies kept insisting that I would be much more fulfilled emotionally and sexually if only I had the courage to find and fuck just one cowboy.
“In Sickness and in Health”
The turning point for me arrived in the late 1980s with Prozac. No, it was prescribed for her–not for me. While taking Prozac, she developed a strong wish to kill herself and one night almost did by abusing alcohol. I left her quickly and moved to the Southwest. Yes, the home of cowboys.
At this same time the Internet emerged as a private, yet instantaneous resource for information and recreation about sexuality. I began to surf the World Wide Web and found myself enjoying numerous web sites tailored specifically to gay men.
Yet, I kept telling myself that I was straight. I chose to believe that my Internet activities–such as downloading pictures of men having sex with other men–was nothing more significant than something I did with my desktop computer at night in the privacy of my own apartment.
What a liar I was! I did not realize the extent of my lies to myself. Thick, impenetrable emotional scars had grown on my psyche and held me prisoner. While I had gained freedom from a sick heterosexual marriage, I nonetheless remained unhealthy.
When my mother died suddenly, the shock jolted me into an in-your-face and non-theoretical understanding of how mortal we all are. Immediately after her passing, a 68 year-old colleague of mine needed emergency heart surgery. He did not survive the operation. I was confronted with the clear and unmistakable reality that life can end without warning. This shifted my priorities.
When you learn so suddenly by the loss of loved ones how life is powerfully precious and temporary, your life gets rearranged, whether you want it to be rearranged or not. Such a significant emotional experience teaches you very quickly that there is no room for lies in your life. If you lie, you are not really alive.
Consider Diana, Princess of Wales and John F. Kennedy, Jr., as other examples of what I am saying here. Their lives ended so abruptly when they were so young. Their sudden, unexpected deaths should teach all of us that life should never be wasted–especially if you spend your life living in lies and denial about who you really are.
After I came out, the entire universe looked different. In the 21st Century I vowed that I would continue working on healing the damage done by denial, but I felt grateful I had the opportunity to face reality even this late in my life.
I learned to accept the reality that some things in this life are not subject to conscious choice. If I am gay, I was born that way, or grew up that way. If others are straight, they were born that way, or grew up that way.
Sexual orientation all starts somewhere in our DNA. It all starts somewhere in our blood and in our cells. Our socialization has an impact on your sexual orientation, yes.
But I know now that what we have (or not) in our cells cannot be changed by our conscious choice or willpower or religion or psychiatrists. Our sexual orientation is never open to our own conscious choice, period.
I have learned that where choice does enter in to this is limited to a person’s choice to act upon their sexual orientation.
Even though you may be born gay, you can choose to deny it. I know how that works. You can choose to act as though you were born straight. This takes a lot of your time and energy that could be channeled into other endeavors in your life.
I call such a waste of a man’s life and energy battling biology. It’s important to understand that battling biology is nothing less than going against the natural flow of life. It takes work to go against any flow. But, battling biology will cause an imbalance in your life that cannot continue indefinitely. Such an imbalance will topple a man emotionally or sexually, or take its toll in his life in some other way.
This all boils down to more than just black and white cowboys. Or even cowboys in full color. It all comes down to the importance of discovering yourself while you still can. For 40 years of my life, I was convinced that somehow I was a freak–the only man in the whole world who had the sexual orientation that I have. Thanks in large part to the Internet, I learned I was not alone.
After accepting myself as a gay man, I gave myself permission to love. And after I relocated to gay-friendly Washington, DC, I soon thereafter met a special man who became my partner. He has shared my life ever since.
And no, he’s not a cowboy. He’s genuine—not some fantasy guy. The life we have today is far more real and far more meaningful to me than that so-called “married life” I had following that official Roman Catholic ceremony in the Old Mission in 1978.
So I feel a responsibility to share here online what I have experienced and what I have discovered. I only hope that this website might reach at least one other man out there whose battles with himself can be brought to end now that we are entering the new century. It’s a time of change. It’s a time to set aside all that belongs in the past and to come alive in the here and now.
My commentary entitled “Battling Biology” was originally posted on my Gay Men 40 Plus website in 1997. It generated such a tremendous response in email to me from several men. Here are some of the messages received during the late 1990s:
I’ve just read your piece on not fighting biology, and want to congratulate you on it. I was about 60 when I finally came out, to myself and to others, and the four years since then have been the happiest of my life. I think one of the problems my generation had with homosexuality was that we had no role models. I congratulate you for having become one for the next generation. Though the closet in which they live is perhaps larger and more airy than was ours, it is no less dangerous psychologically, and the world outside also is perilous. Those of us who are able to provide some evidence that gay men can also be literate, successful and happy are doing a real service, I think. God bless you, and thanks for writing as you did. — J.
Your site is TERRIFIC! It is extremely gratifying to find a place on the WWW that speaks to the issues of older gays. My finding this place was somewhere in the realm of serendipity as the question of aging in a society seemingly devoted to the exclusive ‘wants and needs’ of the young has been much on my mind lately. Again, thanks! Very much over 40. — L.
Thank you for helping me keep my sanity. I come from a small Island in Europe (British) and the only gay people I come into contact with seem 13 yers old, childish with every piece of their body pierced. I will fit into the age limit for this page next year but I hope you don’t mind me writing. It would be nice to get into communication with the mature male, who has more to offer than a young dartboard. — T.
I would like to thank you for your web page for the 40 and over men. I am a 47 year old black father of three and just last month came out to my children and also my mother. I wish to report that all is well and all still love me, in fact knew already, they all respected and loved me enough to wait until I was prepared in my own mind to let the truth out. I also told them of my boyfriend. All do not have a problem with that. Your site is the first I have seen which is for men my age. I wish you continued progress and support. You do have mine.–T.
Thank you for a real eye opener!! However I was left a lttle traumatized by the ‘hate’ section. I know it is out there. Don’t these people have anything better to do than spread their version of what God wants?? Don’t they realize the Bible was written by people just like them, and therefore certain passages were changed over the centuries to fit the “morally right”?? I could just vomit at all the hate….what a disgusting bunch of human trash…..considering most child molestations are perputrated by straight men…..what an irony . Is there anything one can do to stop this disgusting form of thinking…….these people are all morally corrupt , thinking that this is what God wants…..when I meet my maker I will let HIM judge me, not my fellow man (trash). –H.
I am a Christian man and am anti-homosexual. I firmly believe that homosexuality is a sin. There are many Biblical scriptures that confirm my beliefs. You seem to believe that any Christian preacher who preaches the truth that homosexuality is a sin to homosexuals is nothing but a hate-monger. How can a person who preaches the truth of God’s love, mercy, and salvation be a hate-monger? I firmly believe that the real hate-mongers are the people who preach lies, such as being a homosexual is o.k. Do not keep yourselves and others from discovering the truth of the scriptures by promoting your sins. God loves you. And yes God does love homosexuals, but does not love your sin. If you repent from your sin God can and will change your lives for the better. My prayers are with you. God Bless You. –K.
Your viewpoint touches me deeply. My biography is considerably different in some respects, but suffice it to say that I have come to some of the same conclusions. You are right about the religious establishment coming to its senses. It will take awhile, but it will happen. I am a member of the religious establishment. Try that on for size when it comes to making inner conflicts real! (I am not Roman Catholic, by the way.) Perhaps what is more difficult than coming to terms with being gay or bisexual is doing so within the framework of a marriage and family that you absolutely love and don’t want to leave. I don’t mean to say that my reality is harder than yours; for it isn’t. But in some ways, I envy those who can come to terms with their sexuality, as you have done, and not have to go through an added layer of termoil about dissolving a family. This is a too quickly written note, and I may be sounding cryptic. But the point is that I thank you deeply for your thoughts, and for saying them so well. — F.
Re: The battle with biology. Congratulations! I enjoyed your article. I had a couple of reactions that lead to questions. One is how you deal now with what seems to be a deep religious sensibility. Another is you seem to have done a lot of work on your feelings and self-awareness. Did you have a therapist or did you join a group? It seems to me that there is a need for building a body of thought around many of the issues that you touch on. Just a few thoughts. Good luck. — P.
I found your article on coming out very interesting as I have just recenly done the same in my life as well. I decided at 50 that it was time to take my life into my own hands and live the life that I always wanted. I found so many similarities in that article that it was as if I was reading all about myself. It was comforting to see that we are not alone in our struggles as former closeted gays. I’m still struggling with a lot of guilt of course since I came from a good marriage, but not the one I had always dreamed of. I’m presently seeing another married man at this time who’s going through the same process as I went through in ’97. He has progressed at a much faster rate than I did when I came out. I feel very encouraged by the fact that he is very determined to push this thing to the end. I will be there for him until he realizes that dream. Thank you for giving me the opportunity of expressing my opinions and to tell you how beneficial and needed this type of site is on the Internet. — C.
What a breath of fresh air! This is a totally awesome site and I’m definitely going to keep this one in my favorites. The site really kept my interest but when I got to the photos of mature men, I couldn’t pull myself away from the computer. Especially when I clicked on the link for the photos of your “poster boy”. He has always attracted my attention when I ran across his photos on other websites but this was great to have all of these photos of him at one setting. He is one heck of a fantastic looking guy. I just turned 40 this year and really appreciate the work that you have gone to, to put this site together. I’ve always been attracted to the more mature man and you have really done a great job in putting this all together. A great big Thank You from the bottom of my heart. I’m going to be sure to check back here often. — R.