GAMMA: The Gay
Married Men's Association
Providing peer counseling, support, and outreach to gay married men, their wives, partners, and friends.
I'm Tom. I've been married 31 years. I have two grown children, and I'm very proud of both of them.One is a lawyer in Virginia and the other is a computer science geek in Maryland.
I came out to my wife before I was married.I felt I had to be honest about who I was before she committed herself to marriage.She told me that I didn't have to go into details, and we didn't mention the subject again for 25 years.
I've been coming to GAMMA for about five years.This is my story:
I was born in the United States, but on matters relating to sex and sexual orientation, the country into which I was born was very different from the one in which I live today.
At the age of eight or nine, I began to feel a special attraction to a few of the boys who were my friends.In retrospect, I recognize that these were the first stirrings of sexuality, but at the time I was too young to know what sexual attraction was.In a religious family like mine, we didn't talk about such things.
I did nothing to cause or encourage those thoughts or attractions, nor did I regard them as either right or wrong. They simply appeared, unbidden, and became part of my mental landscape.
A few years later, I was sent off to a Catholic, military, boarding high school, where, at the age of 13, I promptly developed a crush on a fellow classmate.Nothing transpired between us, and as luck would have it, he failed to return to school the following year.Naïve as I was, I didn't realize that what I had experienced was puppy love, coupled with the first clear stirrings of homosexual attraction.
Meanwhile, I was being indoctrinated into the macho world of the military, in which anything sissy or effeminate is anathema.Homos (as they were called) were supposed to be sissy and effeminate, so I didn't want to be one of those!
At the same time, my religious teachers were busy telling me in no uncertain terms that any form of sex outside marriage, including masturbation, was "mortally sinful."That meant that you would go to hell and roast in fire eternally if you engaged in the commonest form of juvenile sexual expression. Even thinking about sex was mortally sinful.
So I struggled to "overcome my passions" and refrain from masturbating, and with some difficulty succeeded.This required me to suppress sexual thoughts and feelings.Having learned to anesthetize myself in this way, it became easier to suppress other feelings too, including feelings of loneliness and anger.
Staying busy helped too.To my surprise, I became a good student.And extracurricular activities drained whatever other free time I had.The foundations for lifelong workaholism were being put in place.
After graduating from high school, I went to college at Notre Dame in South Bend. It provided a slightly more liberating environment, like going from hell to purgatory.
During my second year in college, I fell in love with my roommate. I was old enough to have some sense of what this meant, but since nothing ever occurred between us, I was able to avoid facing the reality of what was going on inside me.
I also developed strong affections for another young man who eventually became a Catholic priest and a teacher in the seminary of the Boston Archdiocese.We never discussed our feelings for one another, although I am sure we understood one another at some level. Years later, he officiated at my wedding. He died of AIDS ten years ago.
At Notre Dame I was a faithful, devout Catholic.Furthermore, I had become expert at suppressing my feelings.Studies and extra-curricular activities filled all my time and helped me to cope with feelings that had no outlet.I helped to organize Notre Dame's first student government, and became student body president.
The Korean War was raging, and I joined the Army ROTC, attended summer camp, and was commissioned upon graduation.While at summer camp, one of the cadet officers in my unit was cashiered because (according to subsequent rumor) he had made sexual advances to fellow cadet.He was drilling with our unit in the morning, but by afternoon he was gone with no explanation and without a trace.That taught me something about the consequences of coming out.
I graduated from Notre Dame in 1954, and, as was customary in those days, immediately went on active duty with the Army.During most of my first tour of duty, I was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.My performance as a young officer led my superiors to encourage me to apply for a regular Army commission and make military service my career.
Toward the end of my tour of duty, I met a young officer to whom I was strongly attracted.He and I shared a love of music, and I spent a lot of time listening to records from his collection.One thing led to another, and, shortly before he was to leave the Army to return to graduate school, we drifted into one another's arms.
We had one night together, and although we did nothing more than share the warmth of our bodies, I was no longer able to avoid facing the reality that I was gay.I fled in panic, changed my daily work schedule, and did not again see my officer-friend for seven years.When I confessed to the priest at the post chapel, he grimaced in disgust and told me to resign my Army commission.
I rejected the priest's advice and continued to serve my country.Eight years ago, I retired as a full colonel after 32 years of service.My discharge certificate states that I served my country "faithfully and honorably."I believe that to be the case.
My officer-friend soon married, and over the years he and his wife had three daughters.He became the head of a distinguished music library.He remained my friend for more than 30 years, and throughout that time was almost my sole link to the gay world.He died of AIDS in the late 1980s.
After completing my Army service, I took a degree at Oxford University in England. These were the happiest two years of my life.I studied hard, took honours, and made lasting friends.I continued to be attracted to men, but had no sexual encounters or intimate relationships.
I went on to Harvard Law School, and again felt periodic attractions to men, but did not act on them.I had not yet really managed to become a sexual person.
After getting my law degree, I spent five years trying cases for the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and another five years as an attorney-advisor in the U.S. Treasury's Office of Tax Policy. My workaholic traits were serving me well.
Throughout this decade of work, I knew that I would be immediately fired if my supervisors ever suspected that I was gay.We "deviants" were supposed to be security risks, and we were therefore subject to immediate dismissal if suspicions arose about our sexual orientation.
This was the late 1960s, shortly before Stonewall.The Vietnam War was escalating.One night, the most senior aide to President Lyndon Johnson, Ray Jenkins, who had been with Johnson both in the Senate and at the White House, was arrested in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, for soliciting sex.
The story confused me, because the papers reported that Jenkins was married and had two children. I didn't know that homosexuals sometimes got married.
The papers soon downplayed the Jenkins story. Johnson demanded Jenkins' resignation; he disappeared and nothing more was said in the press.Thereafter, I reflected on these events each evening as I walked through Lafayette Park on my way home from work.
I continued, however, to be on the lookout for a man with whom I could establish a loving relationship.My courtship dance consisted of finding someone I liked, becoming a very good friend, and finally trusting him enough to reveal who I was and how I felt.
Three times in a row, over a period of four or five years, this approach resulted in painful rejection.My gaydar, as I would now call it, needed adjusting.But perhaps not: all three of these individuals remained friends, and I now sometimes wonder whether it was my gaydar or their social conditioning that really needed to be fixed.
As the 1960's drew to a close, more information about gay life began to be published. On March 23, 1969, just after the second of my three painful rejections, the Washington Post's Book World ran a front-page review of My Father and Myself, the autobiography of J. R. Ackerley, a gay man who grew up in Great Britain and who spent his life as an employee of the BBC.
For reasons that I now see as being quite unrelated to being gay, Ackerley was unable throughout his life to form a lasting relationship with anyone.He lived and died alone.The picture he painted of his gay life was not a happy one.But I also felt it was true. It certainly reflected my experience.
What the Washington Post reviewer had to say about Ackerley's book was even more important.He praised Ackerley's writing style and "quiet nobility."But he also said "No one has made it clearer, and in less space, why it is impossible to be both homosexual and happy."
That was my culture's message to me about being gay. With those words in mind I embarked on an effort to find a woman willing to marry me.
I was 39 years old. I started to date a woman who was a friend, and who I very much respected. We began to discuss marriage, and when she accepted my proposal, we made wedding plans.However, I had not told my fiancée about my attractions to men.Honesty compelled me to do so.I now know that what I had to say troubled her greatly.
We nevertheless married four months later.We both wanted children, and a son and a daughter arrived within a few years.Each of us had demanding jobs.Jobs and kids kept us busy.
But my feelings for men never disappeared.Contrary to what some churchmen wish to believe, marriage does not cure homosexuality.Fortunately, I had learned as a teenager in military school that hard work and mental discipline make it possible to suppress one's feelings.
So I have been reasonably happy for more than a quarter of a century as a married man.I ask those gay and straight readers who have difficulty understanding this to remember that sex is not the only glue that holds a marriage together.
However, feelings are a dangerous thing to suppress, and finally, a few years ago, at the urging of family members, I reluctantly entered a therapist's office, telling her that my family felt I had a lot of hidden anger.I went on to add that I didn't think this was so.
Therapy was not easy!The early sessions were like walking barefoot through broken glass.I persisted, however, in response to gentle but stern encouragement from my therapist.
"How does that make you feel," I was often asked. This question left me puzzled that anyone would care what I felt, and surprised to find I didn't really know what I felt, because I was so unused to paying attention to my feelings.
Gradually, I worked up enough courage to talk about the question of sexual orientation. Talking about that subject required me to take down strong, carefully constructed defenses.The process was like drilling through layer after layer of steel and concrete. My mental defenses were as strongly constructed as the concrete bunkers the Germans built in World War II to guard the coast of "Festung Europa" against the coming allied invasion!
Luckily, my therapist was not condemning. Unlike mental health professionals of an earlier generation, she had not been trained to believe I was suffering from a disease.Nor did she pressure me to come out and leave my wife and be my "true" self. She had a supportive interest in how I felt and in helping me to feel.
Friends helped too.So did my children, when they accepted me after I came out to them, and my wife when I told her that I wanted to begin attending meetings of the Gay Married Men's Association (GAMMA).
Like Rip van Winkle, I have awakened as an out gay man in a world that is very different from the one into which I was born. I did nothing to help create the world I now enjoy. I was not at the barricades during Stonewall, nor did I join in the effort to convince mental health professionals that we gays are not sick merely because we are gay.
However, I have lived long enough to tell my story, and I hope that doing so will encourage others to come forward and tell theirs.That is my contribution to my community. If enough of us tell the truth about ourselves, the world will have to listen. And if enough people listen, the cruel stereotypes and homophobia still rampant in our society will continue to abate.
Reproduced with permission from the Spring 2001 issue of In the Family magazine.
G A M M A