I guess I've been lucky in my life. When I decided to come out of the closet, I never really had to look back. Most people accepted me as a gay man, and I never tried to shove it down their throats in return for their acceptance.
However, we all have to come out sometime, and there's a period ... and it can be very short or very long ... of time when one's sexual identity hasn't yet reached the state of being common knowledge. You're "in" to some people and "out" to others.
When I chose to start telling people I was gay, I told just one person to start. It was my best friend at the time, a lady who expressed romantic interest in me. I didn't want to lie to her, but neither did I want to hurt her, or in any way disrespect the feelings she had for me. So, I decided, over a nice dinner, to tell her the truth. And it was fine.
However, I also worked with this lady, and while I counted on a bit of office gossip, I guess I never really appreciated just how much tongues can wag at one's place of employment. She told a few people, people whom she'd told about her feelings for me, that I was gay. And they told two friends, and so on. By telling my friend the truth, I gave up a measure of control over which other people would know that one little fact about myself...
...but there was one person who I didn't want to find out. He was my boss, and I didn't want him to find out I was gay, not because I was ashamed of who I was, but, well, because I didn't want him to be disappointed.
Y'see, my boss was also my mentor. He taught me everything I needed to know about computers, starting with an ancient Burroughs B800 minicomputer, going on up to a 386 processor based PC.
He was also a first generation geek. I mean, we're talking pocket protectors and slide rules here. He knew all the ins and outs of hacking, phreaking, and general other bits of knowledge one probably shouldn't have, like how to make a water balloon explode just by ionizing the water.
He also, well, he had some strange social skills. He'd walk around the office muttering to himself, and if busted doing so, he'd just look at you, pointedly, and loudly proclaim "Pig's feet!", then wander off, still muttering. The Burroughs computer worked with dumb terminals, so one would have to hit a button labeled transmit in order to send information to the computer. Normally, a little message reading "transmit" would pop up in the lower right hand corner of the screen to verify that you had done the correct thing. But every once in a while, the message would say "QUACK LIKE A DUCK, YOU FOOL!". When a terminal would go unattended for awhile, the company's logo, done up in handsome ascii art would flash on the screen ... except every once in awhile, and almost subliminally, the words "I AM THE WALRUS" would appear.
When confronted with this information, my boss would just look blank and ask the person who had seen these messages to fill out a long bug report. Which he then promptly would throw in the trash, giggling madly.
These little quirks quite honestly endeared the man to everyone. Everyone thought he was a little strange, but mostly harmless. He kept the ancient computer system (we're talking huge 40 megabyte removable disks that weighed about fifteen pounds each) held together with little more than spit and prayers. He was good at what he did, and was thus forgiven his little in jokes he played on others.
When I began working for him, he and I instituted a little ritual between us ... and it was this ritual that was threatened the most when I decided to start living my life as an openly gay man.
Every day, at 10 AM and 2 PM, break time was declared. Most everyone in the office and the warehouse would go outside to smoke a cigarette or have a soda pop and socialize with their co-workers.
My boss and I, though, would do something different. As we were some of the only people to work on the second floor of the building (everyone else that worked on that floor was executive management), we were allowed to break whenever we liked. Thus, we got in the habit of rushing to the large picture window in my boss' office and look down upon the people in the break area at the appointed hours.
The purpose of this exercise was to stare at the women. My boss would begin the ritual by yelling, at the top of his lungs, "BOY! The women! The women!". We'd then make a mad dash to the window, and stare down, usually at several displays of cleavage, making Beavis and Butthead "huh huh huh" noises.
It was juvenile, it was silly, it was unprofessional and politically incorrect. It was also very difficult for me to do. It made me uncomfortable because it reminded me, painfully, that I was essentially lying to my boss. By not telling him I was gay, and by participating in this daily routine, I was in essence committing a lie of omission, giving my boss false information by which to form a relationship with me.
I could have, at any time, told my boss the truth. It wasn't like he wouldn't have accepted it. He ran around the office wearing Jesse Jackson for President t-shirts, after all. He was about as liberal as liberal could get.
But the ritual we shared, one of two guys sharing the varied and sundry beauty of women, would have died. And I just couldn't deprive him of that small moment of sharing. Those small moments bound us together as friends, and more than that, they bound us together as mentor and protege. Taking them away would have broken his heart. Telling him I was gay would have hurt him just as much as not telling my best friend at the time would have eventually hurt her.
So, I didn't tell him, and maintained a pleasant fiction with him. I stayed in the closet when in the office, for him. It was the least I could do, after all he'd given me and taught me. A small moment of happiness and companionship was not too high a price to pay. Even after the grapevine had pretty much penetrated the entire office, my sexual identity was never mentioned in the confines of the office we shared. Even though I soon became convinced he knew I was gay, we never talked about it, and thus we were able to continue the patterns of interaction we'd set from the beginning (when I was still in the closet).
I always told myself that if he asked me if I was gay, I'd tell him. He never did ask, and now, ten years later, I don't think I would have told him after all. That pleasant fiction we shared was worth more to me than the truth. As it obviously was to him. I'll never have that time, that gray area between in and out, again in my life. I'm glad I have the memory of the friendship we had built by staring out a window at pretty women to remind me of it.