This week I participated in a story telling event at the university where I taught for more than three decades. It is the same place where
- I earned a bachelors degree, a masters degree, and a doctorate.
- I earned certificates in teaching and in school psychology.
- I earned a fellowship in rehabilitation counseling.
- I worked as kitchen helper, maintenance worker, and academic advisor.
- I learned to write.
- I experienced superior instruction and dedicated instructors.
- I was told in a classroom that I could not declare psychology as my major because I am gay.
- I was told I would need to get a chair each week to sit in class or to sit on the floor. There were only enough chairs in the room for “people who belonged” in the psychology program.
- I became a psychologist.
It was engaging and fun to listen to the spoken word artists who told their stories before me. One read an original poem. Another read a paper she had submitted in a theater class. Still another had us laughing and applauding how they related the stress of running into a grandmother who no longer recognized them after a period of gender transition.
But my story, though only briefly told at the event this week, was unique among the others for several reasons. First, I was the only one to repeatedly say, “Fuck.”
I also named names. The first was Dr. Houghton, the psychiatrist who saw me at age 16 and subsequently assured my parents that there was nothing wrong with me, I am just “homosexual.” The mantra that there is nothing wrong with me has been resonant, almost a background hum, when I come out as a gay man again and again. I also said aloud the name of the professor who scuttled my undergraduate psychology major in Engleman Hall. Another name I said was Ron’s, the boy on whom I had a crush at 16 and with whom I enjoyed spectacular sex. For some reason, the young adults sharing their stories about gender identity and sexual identity really de-emphasized sex. Not me.
But maybe this is the difference between me and my story-telling peers: I am 70 years old and came out 54 years ago, five years before Stonewall thrust queer people into the public eye as we demanded safety and human dignity. For me, coming out has been about sex, relationships, accommodation in public venues, respectful communications, access to health care, freedom from abuse and misuse, employment, housing, and more.
Still, on a daily basis, I introduce and re-introduce the topic of my sexual identity to erode the beliefs in others that there is something wrong with us. Sometimes, I just say the words, “My late husband…” But every time I prepare to leave my house, I ask, “Do I look gay enough today?” If not, I remind myself to come out again.