"One doesn't choose to be gay any more than one would choose to be straight."
In 1978 I was thirteen years old, and experienced a feeling that, at the time, I described as "being impaled on the horns of destiny". This rather florid and melodramatic simile was, I'm sure, inspired by my love of comic books. Stan Lee was often given to such over the top sayings, and I often described life's events to myself in the same fashion.
Being thirteen was a heady time. The first rush of puberty had set in. Sexual impulses and desires become more physical in nature. I, of course, had begun to notice girls in a different way. However, I'd also started noticing boys in that same, different way. While I knew that some of the thoughts I was having about Farrah Fawcett-Majors and The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were being felt by my male peers, the thoughts I was having about Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of KISS or Tommy Shaw of Styx were not, to the best of my ability to discern. I figured that these feelings that I was having toward other boys, so similar in nature to those I was having about girls, were simply a result of all the chemicals being dumped into my body by my pituitary gland, and that they'd eventually go away once puberty had done its work upon my body.
Then I went to the bathroom at The Galleria in Houston.
I was there to visit the local B. Dalton bookstore, and had to answer the call of nature where one has to sit down. Being somewhat self-conscious, I chose the stall furthest from the entrance, locked myself in, and prepared to do my business whilst reading the new book I had just purchased.
I was, instead, exposed to something that made me realize that there was another world out there, one that had been completely hidden from me. One that contradicted everything society, family, school, and religion had told me was "right".
The walls of that upscale bathroom stall were covered with graffiti of a gay nature. And I mean covered. There were full-length homoerotic stories. Crude, and some not-so-crude, drawings of male genitalia and nude male bodies, homosexual acts, even a more-than-four-panel comic strip that described in detail how two (or even more) males could meet for the purposes of having sex together.
I sat in that stall for hours, reading and absorbing every single detail, committing every scribble, every detail, every drawing to memory. Impaled on the horns of destiny, indeed.
I saw in my mind's eye a fork in the road ahead of me. Down one path lay the life I had always figured would be for me, even resigned myself to having ... one of a wife, and children. Church. Eventually, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Down the other path lay my thoughts of Tommy, Gene, and Paul. Down the other path lay these drawings, so ... exciting, so much more enticing and real and right than any of the thoughts I had ever had about girls or women. Farrah was just a poster that every boy had hanging in his room. The representations I was viewing here on these walls were more than just right. Every cell in my body was screaming that they were RIGHT!!!!!
And I felt angry. I felt betrayed. I felt that everyone in my entire life that I trusted had lied to me, by not giving me the whole truth. I was utterly transfixed by this information overload presented to me on the walls of a public restroom. I couldn't believe that no one that I trusted had told me that, apparently, there was another way to live one's private life. A different world, a new culture. I was disgusted that I had to find out for myself, in a smelly restroom, about these people who obviously shared some of my thoughts and feelings.
That day in 1978 was the first step in a long chain of events that we call the coming out process. That chain of events began with a choice. I chose that day to start investigating the things that the bathroom graffiti represented. I chose that day to begin rejecting what society was telling me was the right, indeed, the only way to live one's life and be happy. I chose that day to accept these feelings that I was having as normal for me to have, even if I never acted on them.
I continued to make choices as I learned more about homosexuals and homosexuality. At first I chose not to tell anyone because my feelings, as I began to discover, were reviled by the majority, and that I was wrong and evil for having them. This particular choice was made out of self-preservation, but this choice also led to continued feelings of confusion, anger and betrayal. When my mother informed me of the facts of life later that year, she augmented her discussion with a book entitled Where Did I Come From?. This book presented only heterosexual information, as did her "talk" with me. The subject of homosexuality never came up, and I was too scared to bring the topic up myself, as I had read of the awful things that could happen to me if I did.
In 1981, I chose to fully admit to myself that I was gay. I had fallen in love with both a boy and girl that year, but the feelings I had for the boy were why I ran away from home. The feelings I had for the girl didn't inspire me to do anything like running away. Thus I chose to admit to myself that the feelings I had for males were more correct, more right, for myself.
In 1990, I chose to start telling people that mattered to my life that I was gay, instead of leading a double life. The first person I told was a woman and dear friend who had made it very clear to me that she wanted to pursue a relationship that would end in marriage with me.
I could have chosen to accept her offer, and continue to deny my true nature. I could have, and often did until that day, chosen to pass as straight. It was an easy choice to make until that day. Again, self-preservation was the motivating factor. AIDS and paranoia about it made it easy to make the choice to act straight. I also felt I was paying people back for lying to me by perpetrating my own lie upon them.
But I couldn't betray her. Her feelings for me were genuine and she wasn't lying to me by telling me about them. I couldn't find it in myself to lie to her, even if lying to her would have spared her feelings in the short term. So I told her, and while it hurt her feelings for a little while, she also appreciated my honesty with her.
So, yes, I chose to be gay. I chose honesty with myself, and eventually with people I cared about. I chose acceptance over denial. I chose truth over lies, happiness over sadness.
Straights, to the best of my knowledge, don't have to make choices like this. Society makes it easy for them not to have to. However, I'm puzzled when gays say they didn't choose to be the way they are. When one realizes they are gay ... and it happens to homosexuals at all points in life ... to me it's completely obvious that a choice must be made. It takes an effort of sentience, of will, of consciousness to stop the self-denial, to accept ones feelings as different from the status quo. It takes further and similar conscious effort to communicate that struggle and its end to others.
It takes a choice. You can call it acceptance, an embracing of the truth, a celebration of who you truly are. But it all starts, somewhere.
With a choice.