I have been thinking and I have been sharing about my coming out, being outed by someone else or just dealing with when one might come out. What I haven’t shared is what it is like to be in the closet.
Being in the closet, means hiding some part of yourself from others. For a gay person it is our sexual orientation, but others hide things all the time (problems at home, being an addict, and many more things we want hidden).
After the counselor asked me if I might be gay, I didn’t talk to anyone about all the things going on in my head. When I first realized that I was still single because I was gay, I didn’t want to share information with any family member or long-term friends about my new discovery, the real reason I had never married. I just couldn’t do it.
I found a few people that were openly gay at work and asked about how to meet people and find places I could go that I would not be discovered by any work acquaintances. Moving to Georgia helped me greatly to stay in the closet and learn more about my true self.
I have talked to others who came out later in life, and we all realized that there is a “tingle” with a woman we never got dating any guys; an attraction that all people get when they are seeking a partner in life. It is quite overwhelming, as I discovered for the first time with my first girlfriend. Wow!
My first year of “being gay” found me feeling like a stranger in a foreign land. It was easy to stay in the closet that year, since I had no idea how to meet other lesbians, let alone start dating.
I met a friend at work that showed me the Atlanta based gay newspaper – The Southern Voice. I was able to use this newspaper to find bookstores, bars, and activities for gays. This newspaper was not found in the county where I lived so I found myself traveling over 30 minutes from where I lived as often as I could to get the weekly newspaper.
I learned that there was something called Gay Pride Weekend. I learned about the history for and why Pride weekends existed in a lot of large cities.
Pride Weekends celebrate the Stonewall riots that started on June 28, 1969 – fifty years ago. The riots were about being tired of being raided for just being oneself in a bar.
I’ll never forget the first Atlanta Pride celebration I went to. I went with gay friends I had made.
Pride weekends led to my discovering that there were organizations that didn’t advertise in the Southern Voice. WOW, a whole world was unfolding before me.
The downside of being in the closet – when my first girlfriend broke off our relationship. I never felt so down or lonely, but being in the closet meant that I couldn’t share this loss with any of my family or long-term friends from whom I wanted support. I just wasn’t ready to come out to them yet. So, I moved on, and decided if I wanted to really enjoy being gay, I needed to move from my rented apartment that was close to work to a place further away from my job.
I bought a house that was 30 minutes from work and close enough to Atlanta where I knew I could be openly gay. Wow, just thinking back – that was over 20 years ago.
Being in the closet means you are very careful about where you go and who sees you. I tried to take lots of precautions to make sure no one would find out.
Yet there was the one time I could have been forcibly outed in 1997. I am sure you remember the Olympics bombing in 1996 in Atlanta. It was quite shocking to all.
There was a second bombing in Atlanta on Friday February 21, 1997 at a lesbian bar – the “Otherside Lounge”. I had been there several times and this particular night I had a date with a woman. We had dinner and were going to the lounge afterward. We ran late getting dinner and getting to the lounge.
By the time we were heading there, we couldn’t get there due to the police blocking our way. We asked a police person what was going on. They told us about the bombing.
This was one of the scariest things I remember happening. Why would anyone want to bomb a lesbian bar?
Of all the gay bars in town, this was the only lesbian bar. Did people really hate gays and lesbians so much that they would go to this extreme to kill some of us by using bombs?
This is when I experienced, that God was watching out for me. If we had been at the bar, I would have had to leave my car at the lounge. No cars were moved from there for days as the police investigated.
I realized that there would have been too many questions that I could not have answered at work, questions like: How would I have explained any damage to my car if it had been in the parking lot when the bomb went off? If I had gotten hurt, how could I have explained it? Luckily no one was killed in the bombing, but if I had been killed in the bombing, how would anyone explain it – they didn’t know I was gay.
It left me a bit shocked, so I dropped off my date at her home and drove back to my apartment. If we hadn’t been running late – I would have been outed! I wasn’t ready!
Even now thinking about it makes my heart race with fear of what might have happened. Thank God, we were running late!
Every person has secrets they keep. We all have things we don’t want to share with others, but a person’s orientation shouldn’t be a secret we keep.
We are all unique in our own way. I can only hope and pray that we all can embrace our uniqueness and allow others to embrace theirs.
May the world keep evolving and become accepting of everyone, right where they are!
I went off track a bit, but I know that you love me bro, and I am and have always been accepted by you as your “unique” sister. Thank you.
I love you,
A founding member and the current Vicar of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, Alyce Keener felt called from an early age in two direction: Teaching and God.
Her religious education started in earnest at her first vacation Bible school, which she attended at a very young age and which spurred the realization of how important God and Jesus were to her life. She began to pray daily and later started studying the Bible in earnest in college, where she became involved with the Navigators, later taking classes at Moody Bible Institute.
She has served in volunteer capacities at every church she has attended since her college days. In Urbana, Ill., she served on the missions committee and helped develop a church library. In Springfield, Ill., she helped direct the young adults program and offered several educational programs.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, she has lived in Georgia since 1995.