I fell in love.
It happened in just 3 days and lasted 8 months. At first, I was afraid to say it…and so was he. So, we just stared at each other. The third night we were together, he shook his head like he didn’t know what this was. And then, while staring straight into my eyes, I broke the silence.
“I know. Me too.”
And this was our beautiful declaration of love.
Last July, I officially entered the gay community, which is to say that I went to an establishment where I knew gay people would be. I needed to find people who knew what it meant to be gay. So, I attended my first gay alcoholics anonymous meeting; or as I like to call it, Gay-A.
I said a prayer while sitting in the parking lot. I was scared to death to get out of my car because up until this point, “no one knew I was gay”. Although, to be honest, no one seemed terribly surprised by the news when I came out.
I approached the front door of the church and a gaggle of gays were standing outside. Smoking. Laughing. Nodding hello. I ducked inside, quickly found a chair, and hoped no one would talk to me. I was afraid if someone made an introduction, I’d have to say, “Hi. I’m Gay Matt.”…something I wasn’t ready for at the time. So I averted my eyes and scrolled on my phone until the meeting began.
When the meeting chair piped in with the customary AA welcome, I immediately felt at home. The literature was familiar. The stories were familiar. The brokenness was familiar.
Over the next couple of months, I met several people from that meeting—good people who welcomed me and my story: Closeted Gay Man Since 1982. We also spent time together outside of the meetings, which is when I began to realize that I was a freshman. At forty six years old, this wasn’t easy to wrap my head around. It was the first time in a very long time that I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. I knew eventually I’d be okay, but for now…
I simply didn’t belong.
After several months of going to that particular meeting, one guy stood out to me. Had I been asked to describe what would’ve caught my eye in a man, I’m honestly not sure what I would’ve said. Though I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have said: “5’6”. Smoker. 31 years old. Bad boy haircut. Not particularly religious.”
Regardless, I was drawn to him, and before long, I saw that he was kind. Laid back. Cute. He laughed a lot. And he was respectful to every single employee at every single restaurant, gas station, and coffee shop we came across.
Truth is, I was in love with him too quickly to call it real love. On the Myers Briggs scale, I’m an ENFP, which means we get emotional fast and we love hard. As my fellow ENFP Kristin once said…“ENFP’s man. We’re a mess in love. For me it was always like, we’re holding hands…aaannd I’m naked.”
But truthfully, the problem wasn’t the love part. I knew how to love. It was the belonging part.
I struggled to belong in my straight life. And now I was struggling to belong in this new gay life.
This is what happens when you don’t live honestly, my friends. You get behind…and there’s a lot of makeup work.
It was time to solve this problem of belonging.
Because I’m not one to sit around waiting for things to happen on their own, I did what any gay American man would do. I joined a gay softball league. Batting for the other team, so to speak.
At first, I was pretty hesitant to dive in, but I was told there’d be snacks. I had already committed myself to an All-Things-Gay mindset in order to get my feet wet—make gay friends, watch Will & Grace, buy up a couple Judy Garland movies. Gay softball would now be added to the list.
I showed up for the first rehearsal. (You heard me). When I pulled in the parking lot, I could see my teammates playing catch in the field. First thing I noticed was that everyone looked like they were throwing left-handed. Was this a requirement? Turns out, they weren’t actually throwing left-handed. It was just a bit of sportsball awkwardness, which made me feel right at home. Don’t get me wrong, I can throw a ball. And I can catch a ball. I even know that you’re supposed to run the bases counter-clockwise. But I don’t know a thing about the rules, which stresses me out, because our first performance is next week!!!
There were other things that put me at ease as well. Like how one guy, upon hearing his name called for batting practice, clasped his hands together and let out a delightful, “Yaaaay!” Or another who swung his bat no less than twenty times before realizing he needed to switch hands. After that, he was a regular old Darryl Raspberry.
I was even called “Princess,” because apparently, I caught the ball with a bit of a flourish. (Damn pointed toe.) And then, after chasing down a pop-fly, another guy commented that my jumping came off as ballet. He meant this as a compliment, and so I took it that way.
This field of dreams (which one guy referred to as “the field of BAD dreams”) was a place for all the outcasts who had avoided gym class, the dreaded locker room of their youth, and had likely never lettered in high school sports. Even still, they all seemed comfortable here. Like they belonged. And while I was grateful to be a part of it, I didn’t feel the same. I didn’t feel at home. I didn’t have that sense of belonging that comes from living honestly.
Why? Because living your truth takes time.
Sometimes I lay in bed at night, stare into the dark, and wonder what the hell happened. This climb from dishonesty to the truth has been awkward, fumbly, and just plain unfamiliar. And yet, I’m so grateful for the courage I’m finding to live honestly, even as this sense of not belonging (for now) persists.
Last night, after the Gay-A meeting, we sat around tables, eating breakfast food and talking at the same restaurant we always go to. Out of the blue, that feeling hit me again…like a ton of bricks.
You’re different. You were closeted for too long. You’re not young anymore. You’re not a real gay. You’re only gay…ish.
I know this is all part of it—part of this hard but necessary life transition. But sometimes it feels as if I’m swimming in a 3-piece suit. My soul is sloggy and it’s just too damn hard to cut through the water.
Truth? I don’t really know how to be gay. But I suppose that’s ok. Because there’s one thing I do know how to do. I know how to love. That’s the good news.
And so…in honor of Gay Pride—in honor of all those who are learning to be honest, to be themselves, to belong—I want to tell you something.
That love story I mentioned earlier? It’s still going strong. His name is Jeff. He’s currently sitting on the couch, right here with me. He’s staring at his phone, completely unaware of how much I’m loving him in this moment. He’s a kind and precious man I’ve fallen in love with. He’s part of a very wonderful thing that is happening to me—something that has much less to do with being gay than it does with being in love.
I’ve fallen in love, my friends. And I believe that I belong in love. For it is in loving that we all belong.