I love baseball, I think it appeals to me the same way Las Vegas does. There is just something about the randomness of both that gives me hope. A pull of the slot handle or bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with two men out, anything can happen – anything at all. But isn’t that what life is all about, hoping for that big payout or just the right pitch to make something happen. But all to often the right pitch doesn’t come out of the mitt and you strike out. I did and big time at age forty-five. Or at least, at the time, that’s what it felt like. I was a marked man, scarlet letter and all. I felt as though I had a giant “F” for “failure” across my chest, or perhaps a mammoth “H.” “H” for HOMO!
I’m Jimmy, actually James but my friends and family call me Jimmy so I guess you can too. I’m just your average Joe so to speak. I’m not famous (thank God), nor was I blessed with the looks of some hunk model or movie star (rats), and I haven’t won the Nobel Prize or cured cancer. (Although in my grandiose flights of thought I have imagined myself accepting the Pulitzer Prize in Literature.) But who I am is an American guy who has lived two very different lives. The first was a life lived running away from myself and cursing the world. But the life I now lead is one of hope because I have faced who I truly am and I’m learning to embrace the world – warts and all.
I’m a gay American man, (God it feels sooo damn good to say that!) and I always have been its just taken me a very long time to gather up the courage to live freely as God intended. It’s as if I awoke to all that had been missing from my life. Remember the beginning of the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy is still in Kansas and everything is in black and white that was my old life – safe dull, colorless but orderly. A pretty wife, nice home and wonderful friends, I had it all if only I’d never take off the mask. That was my bargain with the world at large. They’d let me survive in plastic-modified peace but only if I never let the mask slip. And forget about any thought of taking the damn thing off! But I had from time to time, in my youth, let some color into my life; a imaginary boyfriend here and a brief encounter there but the hues and brilliance of living that honest and free hurt my eyes hotly troubling my Catholic trained brain so I soon learned to pretend that black and white was just fine with me. It wasn’t and never could be. Would this Dorothy ever land in colorful Oz?
It’s been a long bumpy and difficult road to this place of peace and beauty that is now my life. I played the fool, a court jester pretending to be something, and someone, that I wasn’t. Well at age 45 after decades of lying, and living a false life I came clean. I outted myself! Goodbye world! I lost everything in my life that I had so very carefully crafted to keep me from this very moment of truth and heartache. At first my senses were overloaded, my heart in a tattered mess upon the cold ground. Initially I missed the black & white, wrong or right world of being a Republican right wing bigot attending a Fundamentalist “Christian” Church in the “Deep South.” Life in the piney woods of Central Louisiana, and still in much of rural America, is an existence of appearance rather than substance.
If something is labeled, and whether or not the labels right doesn’t matter, in a certain way then that is what it is. I wore the label of “Righteous Straight Married Man” and it didn’t matter much if I was or wasn’t as long as I wore the label, played the part with all my might – and I did. Having been raised a Catholic and schooled by the nuns of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and having spent the past twenty years immersed in the dogma of the “Christian” right I was determined not to be gay. In my understanding to be gay, to give power and voice to my true self, was to be dead. Dead to God. Dead to the church and dead to family and friends of a lifetime. So for all of my adult life I pleaded, bargained with and demanded of God that he would “cure” me, “cleanse me.” Countless tearful sobbing hours were spent in my prayer closet (a spiritual term of the right, not an actual closet – though it often can be). And the more I prayed the more I became convinced that I was truly “evil incarnate.”
After forty-plus years on this earth and from knowing from the age of eight that I was different I was left with only a few real choices of action – and none of them were looking too good. I could simply check out in the style befitting a true drama queen ending all the worry, lies and pain by overdosing on a fistful of sleeping pills. Or I could once more swallow all that straight America could dish out and continue to deny my true self. My third option, the one that scared me to death, was to tell the truth, something that I was sure would end in complete and utter disaster. A battle raged in my heart and mind for nearly a year before I made my decision. My heart, eager to be free, pulled at the ropes of deceit that my logical mind feverishly knotted demanding to be heard. In my heart I wanted to stand tall and like Gary Cooper in “High Noon” take on the enemies of truth and goodness.
On July 4th 2002 I boarded a westbound train in Lafayette, Louisiana to begin my new life in sunny California the land of endless optimism and West Hollywood hunks. I was little prepared for the complete collapse that would follow. Freed from the social constraints of a rigid community and living as myself for the first time in my life I was at a loss as to what to do with my life. I was in complete free-fall! My chaos, which at first was overwhelming, eased with the passing of time. I soon was experiencing a life that I had once only dared to enjoy in my most furtive dreams. I even boldly marched in the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade with my gay friendly church group! My life has become rich and full. Yes there have been the tears, but they weren’t the ones of bitter regret or anguished longing. The tears shed now are the tears of mourning; grieving a lifetime of lost family and friends. But time heals even the most mournful heart. The friends I have now are true and know the real me. They are accepting of me, flaws and all, as no one else has ever been. My future is bright and full of the promises that only living a genuine life can bring.
If you’re struggling with coming out know this; it will be painful and often heart wrenching. But as with most difficult tasks living an authentic life becomes easier with each passing day. It just takes practice, a bit of faith and the knowledge that eventually with God’s help and loving friends and family along with a lot of patience your new life will take hold and grow. The work and energy required to make it work are far more rewarding than the labor it takes to continue living a lie. Peace, true abiding peace, is yours if you trust your heart and follow where it is longing to lead.
Louisiana native James Clark Chappelle came out at 45 years old, moved to Los Angeles and has also lived in Oregon and Arizona.