I'm a lawyer in the closet and I can't come out!

If my old-world parents knew I was gay it would simply ruin their lives.

Published May 19, 2005 5:32PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a 25-year-old man who, on the surface, has lived a pretty successful life so far: I went to an Ivy League college, then graduated from a top-10 law school with good grades, and now work as a lawyer in a prestigious law firm. I have plenty of close friends (though they are starting to get married), and the rest of it.

The central problem in my life is that I'm a closeted homosexual. I've never acted on this, meaning that I've never had any kind of intimate experience with a man of any kind. I'm also out to absolutely no one.

I understand what anyone would say. "Come out! Get a boyfriend! Closets are for clothes!" It sounds so obvious. However, at the moment, I can't physically bring myself to do it.

1) This would ruin the lives of my parents. They are from an ethnic group where such a revelation would destroy their marriage -- trust me. I am their only child, and they live through me. They routinely envision what my wife would be like. They just bought a house with extra rooms for their daughter-in-law and grandchildren. Most disturbingly, even though I have never, ever had a girlfriend, they seem to have no clue or even the vaguest idea that I might be gay. That is something that happens to other people's children.

2) I myself cannot bring myself to accept homosexuality. First, after years of complete abstinence, two years ago I accepted the overtures of a girl who was interested in me. You know how denial can make you do stupid things. The sexual experience that resulted was pretty traumatizing. I won't describe it, except to say that I get goose bumps and start physically shaking and have to force myself to think of something else whenever that day comes to mind. Since then I have been completely scared out of any kind of intimacy whatsoever. I get deeply bothered by even watching movies about love, whereas I am totally cool watching "Platoon."

Also, having had exclusively macho, heterosexual friends, I have become so weirded out by the concept of homosexuality (despite being gay) that I just can't envision myself entering a gay bar, or whatever, and striking up a conversation with someone gay. I am the beer-drinking, Yankees-rooting, poor-dressing, straightest-acting guy you know, making me think I have zero in common with gay culture. I am not anti-gay; I participate openly (as a straight, single guy) in gay-rights and marriage-rights rallies and contribute to these political causes, while feeling uncomfortable around many of the gay people I meet.

Well, that's the deal. I go through life, having never been in an intimate relationship or having not even had an intimate experience of any kind (other than that traumatizing one), essentially having no idea where I am going or what I will end up doing. Being closeted is hard and unpleasant and takes up a lot of mental energy. It also has rippling effects on other aspects of my life. For instance, since my whole outward persona is a lie, I find myself lying a lot about other things with no pangs of conscience whatsoever. Since I have no specific life plan, I find myself taking risks with drugs and other matters without really feeling any risk aversion.

I was wondering if you had any advice on how to break out of this stalemate -- what to do first, what to do tomorrow.

Cloaked and Closeted

Dear Cloaked and Closeted,

Since you are a lawyer, you have presumably been trained to think in a logical way about rights, responsibilities and obligations, about truth and falsehood, about agreements and the consequences for breaking those agreements. So I would suggest that you use that training in thinking of your gayness.

First of all, truthfulness is fundamental to the practice of law, is it not? Are not lawyers cautioned in their professional training to maintain a high standard of truthful conduct in all their affairs? And is not the discovery of facts the bedrock upon which any legal proceeding rests?

So first, the facts: You are gay. You have withheld this information from employers, friends and family. You continue to withhold it.

Now the issue: Withholding this fact requires constant, ongoing deceit. Such deceit undermines your relationships, damages your credibility, hurts your performance, and is, in my opinion, unbecoming to your profession. Every time you actively lie to someone to protect this fact about you, you do them and yourself a disservice. Every time you pretend, for instance, that you intend one day to marry and have children, you ignite false hopes and expectations. Every time you feign interest in a woman in order to appear straight, you spread confusion. Every time you deceive someone about who you really are, you rob that person of the opportunity to know and understand another human being.

That is not to say that your private life should be an open book. Nor am I unsympathetic to your plight. I am simply attempting to marshal the facts. This is what you are doing: You are living a deceitful life.

Now, everybody has their reasons for doing what they do. But that doesn't make it right. The thief robs a store because he wants some money. Maybe the money is for his family; maybe his kid needs shoes, or an operation. He's got his reasons. The law doesn't distinguish all that much, does it? You break the law, you pay. I would say that in your behavior, you are breaking a kind of law as well, and that regardless of your reasons for breaking that law, you will end up paying.

So if at all possible you ought to find a way to stop breaking this law and apply for amnesty. Perhaps you might begin with an orderly exposition of the facts:

Whereas it is an inescapable fact that you are gay; and Whereas being gay is not a matter of choice for an individual but is a quality thrust upon one for sometimes mysterious and unknowable reasons; and Whereas it is the right of every man in a free society to express his true nature; and Whereas the law protects the private expression of one's true nature; and Whereas certain erroneous beliefs regarding the provenance and meaning of homosexuality still hold sway in parts of this society; and Whereas we as individuals are not responsible for the reaction others have to our essential nature, nor for their erroneous beliefs about homosexuality; and Whereas our nation was founded on the supposition that while social order must prevail, it is a far greater crime for a man to suppress his true nature for the sake of social order than to express it for the sake of his own free soul; and Whereas it is therefore your duty to express your true nature not only for the sake of your own soul but to give courage and dignity to others who are also gay; and Whereas the pressure to keep one's identity secret leads to dishonest and deceptive acts; Therefore, be it resolved that on this day of our Lord 2005 You, my closeted friend, do hereby declare openly in front of all that you are irredeemably, utterly, completely and eternally gay.

Think you could do that? Just make the proclamation. You don't need to show it to anybody right away. You can do it privately if you like. Proclaim yourself privately, but on paper. See how it feels. Keep it around for that moment when you just might want to say to somebody, here, look at this, this is who I am.

As regards your belief that coming out as gay will destroy your parents: I believe, very simply, that hiding the truth from people does them no favors. We are on this planet, I believe, to learn. Learning brings discomfort but only through learning does one progress; therefore to keep your parents in the dark is also to keep them from progressing. If they can't handle the truth, that is something over which you have no control. The truth should be available for them so they can learn. However difficult they may find it to accept and digest the truth, the truth is our gift and our duty to them. They gave you life, and you do owe them the conservation and care of that life. But your life, once given to you, is yours, not theirs. I say: Act out of love for the truth, not out of desire for comfort.

As to outward changes you will be making: You don't have to come out all at once. I'd suggest, rather, that you start at the greatest remove and work slowly toward intimacy. That would probably mean first corresponding with other gay men on the Internet. You would have the safety of anonymity. In that way you could slowly come to know yourself as a gay man. I would think for an intelligent and highly educated person such as yourself, that would be the best route; it might be very troubling to jump right into having sex. You might fall passionately in love with the first man you slept with. You might be completely out of your depth. You would be vulnerable to others with far more experience and far less patience. It would be better to take it slowly. After a suitable interval some friendships that develop on the Internet could turn into face-to-face encounters, sexual or not.

Approach this with the caution and intellectual curiosity with which you would approach anything else. But do not be afraid to declare yourself. As a gay man and an attorney it is your right to declare your true self and, moreover, I believe, it is your duty.

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