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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
I have been dating my girlfriend for three years, yet I know I am gay.
I am writing this after my girlfriend just came into the room. I was on my couch, surfing sites with hot men.
I like show tunes, I am not all that into sports, and most important, I am attracted to men. In my life, I have always strived to be “normal.” I was always the odd kid out at school who always tried to fit in with the popular crowd. I bought all the right clothes, got into the coolest frat in college and only hung out with people based on social class simply for acceptance and to know what it is like to live a “normal” life. I don’t know how to live my life any other way, especially at 27 years old when all major decisions in life should have been “figured out.” I don’t want an alternative lifestyle.
I just want to be married and have kids and make my parents happy. Right now, my girlfriend is head over heels in love with me and is waiting for a ring within the year. I know if I break up with her that is the last chance I will ever have at a “normal” lifestyle and the rest of my life, I will be lost in oblivion. I am great at fooling everyone now. I date an incredibly beautiful woman and I am on top of the world; everyone is envious of me and every conversation topic is how cute we are together. I could be getting this the rest of my life and never have to hurt anyone. I strongly consider leading an uncomfortable, dishonest life, so that everyone around me is happy and gets what they dreamed of.
I can never “come out” of the closet. I am not strong enough for that and am not the type of person who would be loud and proud. I would be weak and humiliated. I don’t want stares for the rest of my life. I don’t want to be labeled “the gay guy” to every person I meet. I don’t want to see the looks on all my friends’ and families’ faces as they now feel awkward and recall all the gay jokes and cracks they have told me. I don’t suddenly want to be the gossip on Facebook, my high school reunion. “Guess who’s gay!!!????”
I am stuck in a black hole right now. I obviously know the “right” thing to do and I am sure many people out there are rolling their eyes, telling me to man up, break up with the girlfriend and get out there. I want to know if anyone else has felt this way before and, more important, if there is anyone still in the same position as me. I would like to talk and befriend you. I know nobody else going through what I am going through and I feel alone, utterly alone. I need a hand to hold onto and somebody to talk to. I am lost.
First off, you are going to be fine.
The only person you need to be honest with right now is your girlfriend. And even with her, you don’t need to tell her right this second.
Wait until you are ready.
Are you ready yet? Oh, OK. I thought you were ready. OK, I’ll wait. But I’m not pushing you.
Like I said, there’s no pressure. You don’t have to rush into anything. And there is nothing to fear.
You are going to learn to live as a gay man and know happiness as a gay man. You don’t have to become some screaming stereotype of a gay man and you don’t have to be “out and proud.” You don’t have to come flying out of the closet like a gay superhero and savior. You can come out quietly as if you had just ducked into the closet for a moment to choose a shirt. You can dress and behave exactly as you do now.
The only thing you cannot do is pretend you are straight and get married to this beautiful woman and have kids with her and live 20 miserable years in secret while everyone talks about what a cute family you are until you can no longer stand it and she has spent many miserable years wondering what the hell is wrong that you don’t feel attracted to her and then choose some drunken and traumatic moment on a rainy night when the kids are heading home from college to finally announce you’re gay and you’re moving out and you’ll be at the hotel and here’s the number and please forward any bills.
That you just cannot do. That’s a 1950s thing.
So let’s go through this together.
Is now a good time? Is she there? Why don’t you take her for a drive somewhere quiet, on a long and winding road, and sit somewhere outdoors by a lake and tell her. Or sit in your house where you both feel comfortable and tell her. Just treat the situation with some dignity and care so that she understands that you have some consideration for her. Anywhere. Just not in a crowded theater and not at Christmas dinner with her folks.
I mean, it’s going to come as a surprise. So let her be surprised. Let her let it sink in. Let her be angry if she is angry, or sad if she is sad, or just dumbfounded if she is dumbfounded. Give her time to let it sink in and be there for her.
Like I say, there’s no rush. But now might be a good time. Is she home?
OK, maybe you are still a little nervous about telling her. I can understand that. This is one of the biggest things you are ever going to do for yourself. This is a huge step. But it is a positive and courageous step. And you aren’t doing it just for yourself. By taking this step you are helping to end hundreds of years of suffering and oppression. You are breaking a chain that stretches back hundreds of years in which men like you were put to death and exiled and shunned. You are doing your part for our society, and all of us, from queers to oddballs to transgender folks to eccentrics to nerds to just every person who has ever felt out of place or awkward or fearful or misunderstood, every one of us will applaud you for being honest and doing the right thing, and every one of us will take courage and strength from knowing you did it, and every one of us will be glad that we live in a world where you no longer have to pretend to be the perfect dad with the perfect wife while secretly living as though you were a criminal.
You’re not a criminal. You’re not even a remotely bad man. You haven’t done anything wrong. All you’ve done is wonder about who you really are and try to figure it out and do the right thing.
But. Now that you feel sure, one thing is clear. You owe it to your girlfriend to release her from the relationship and tell her the truth. And, like I say, no hurry.
Is she home?
And please, listen to me, these horror stories, these images you have in your head of suddenly being “the gay guy,” these are just distorted and catastrophic projections. That isn’t what’s going to happen. What’s going to happen is that you, with your wonderful capacity for blending in, are going to carefully manage this thing.
So look at it this way. Right now, you have the opportunity to get a great weight off your shoulders before any real harm is done. And here’s something else I predict: Just taking the lid off this one secret is going to do you so much good!
Believe me, my friend, you are only 27 and you have a great life ahead of you. This is a manageable situation. This is a gift.
You can tell her any time.
Is she home?
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)