My dear friend,
I tell you honestly, there is no greater purpose in my life than to embrace you as your brother; to calm your fears and anxieties, to light a spark of hope and encouragement, and to nurture your self-confidence and self-esteem. I reach out to you to support you in the power of your realization of who you are, and to recognize you as a precious member of our society who has the full right to enjoy the fullest share of fairness, respect, friendship and love.
It may seem forward for me to call you my friend since we have not yet met, but I don’t need to know you to care about you. Although you may feel that you are in an impossible situation right now, I have probably experienced many of the same doubts and hurts that you have. In my view of the world, we are all related. We are all brothers and sisters who share a similar and special difference from straight people.
Of all that I have written in my book, my articles, and my poems, this special message to you reflects my life’s dedication.
Hopefully, my writings and my works will encourage you to stand up and share in the pride of being a member of the LGBT community and to do so even though some people around you – even important people to you – may not understand or agree with our lifestyle. It is not for others, even our parents, to declare our value as a person, but for us to own and take pride in who we are. We all want to feel acceptance and love, especially from those who are close to us. The reality is that some of our family members and friends may not approve of us and will want to be more distant in our day-to-day lives. It’s unfortunate when those hurting circumstances develop, but I want to make two points about acceptance.
First, we tend to underestimate our family and friends. Because we may consider them to be politically conservative or religiously traditional, we assume they will not continue to love us or that they will not understand our okayness as equal and legitimate members of our family or of our society. When I came out in 1978, within three months everyone in my traditional, Roman Catholic, Italian family knew I was gay. First I told my best friend, then my parents, then my brothers and sisters-in-law, and then my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
Yes, a few of my relatives expressed rejecting sentiments. My mom struggled with it for a few years. She felt embarrassed because I did not keep it a secret. As much as I love my mom, that embarrassment belongs to her, not me. Oddly, my dad embraced me and said he’d always love me. One of my aunts thought I needed to see a psychiatrist, and one of my brothers barred me from ever visiting his home again, but everyone else seemed not to be overtly troubled by my coming out. Most of my family and friends treated me exactly the same, and a few relatives expressed deeper appreciation and respect for me because they saw my coming out as showing my integrity and character.
The purpose of this message is not to pull you forcibly out of the closet (if you are closeted), but, rather, to offer some emotional support and encouragement to you to think about venturing into the interactive, outside world and into the arena of life. The more comfortable you feel about being gay or lesbian, the more claustrophobic closet-living becomes. Therefore the question is not when will you leave the confines of that tiny dark cell, but when will you choose to believe that you are respectable and lovable exactly as you are?
Second, our own value of our self-worth is more important than what other people think of us. Even the opinions that our parents or our best friends have of us should not be allowed to overshadow our own sense of self-approval. Some gays and lesbians believe that they are immoral because that was one of the values they consistently heard as children and adolescents. People who are adults now, most likely grew up hearing only negative messages about gays and lesbians from parents, friends, coworkers, fellow students, priests, rabbis, and ministers, not to mention teachers, politicians, movie stars, talk show hosts, and comedians. The fact that these persistent anti-gay messages were experienced so continuously, directly and indirectly, during our childhood years, has caused them to be part of our basic belief system.
As young children, we learn to obey our elders and to behave in such a way that we sustain the all-important approval of our parents. As adolescence, we value what we hear from friends, teachers, police officers and members of the clergy. To some extent, we also learn from our peers. Through our growth experiences, we accumulate a set of moral and other borrowed values that seem to be assimilated in our own minds without questioning their appropriateness. Our childhood “education” is largely an unconscious acquisition of these values, with parental input usually the greatest influence. That’s all well and good for nurturing values that make sense for us as adults such as, don’t smoke, eat healthily, clean up when you make a mess, brush your teeth, enter a career that you enjoy, and treat others as you would like to be treated.
But what of the childhood values that stifle personal growth and inhibit our ability to be happy, self-loving, sociable individuals? What if we learned always to dress to meet our mother’s approval, or that we must stay in the career our father chose for us despite our personal desires to do something else, or that smoking and drinking help us to relax, or that we need to get married and have lots of children, or that women are not capable leaders in business or government, or that gays and lesbians are shameful and immoral?
What does one do with this warped “information?” My suggestion is simple and daring: re-examine all the childhood-learned values and simply toss out those that are harmful or in any way stifling to your happiness and positive growth. Toss out all those rules, concepts and ideas that suffocate you and restrain you from full participation in society. Cut the umbilical cord that tethers you to negative childhood messages and values. Retain only those values that you can integrate into your life as a free-thinking, individual, lovable adult.
I appreciate that this is not as easy to do as it sounds. In fact, it can be a rather scary thought. But because it is so vital to our personal growth, we must find a way to open that door. Perhaps we can find support among our friends or make new friends. It takes time to acquire a negative self-image, and it will take time and motivation, sometimes counseling, and sometimes a painfully jolting experience to bring us away from that to reality.
Our sexuality is innate, meaning we were born straight or born gay. We did not learn to be gay or lesbian, and we cannot change it. Many of us have been taught that homosexuals are despicable and have developed negative self-images. How sad to realize that many religious leaders would prefer that we “try” to live as heterosexuals (unhappy, frustrated, and phony), rather than be honest, happy, self-nurturing homosexuals.
But we don’t have to be what others want us to be. We can re-educate ourselves to understand and believe that our gayness is a positive aspect of our lives and that we can be proud of ourselves as gay and lesbian people. We can adopt this new, adult value, based on the finding that the American Psychological Association views homosexuality as a natural and equally positive sexual orientation.
There will always be those self-proclaimed “moralists” who reject us and want us to be forever in the closet of self-hating shamefulness. They wish they had the ability to lock the door from the outside while we are inside. But they cannot! That closet door locks only from the inside, and it can be opened only by those inside. Amid new-found support and friendship, hopefully, we can gather just a little bit of courage to open that door so that we may see the benefit of appreciating ourselves.
Accepting, respecting and loving ourselves is an essential nurturing factor in our lives. It allows us to be happy, sociable, content, fulfilled, life-nurturing members of society. It is easier to acquire this new value of self-love now than it was 20 even years ago. Today we hear and see many more positive images of gays and lesbians. Doctors, counselors, teachers and other professionals are helping to inform us and society that gays and lesbians are just fine as they are. Many modern-day religious leaders and theologians have concluded that various translations of the Bible were incorrectly interpreted in those early years when they condemn homosexuality. Now, more and more, these modern thinkers are calling for all forms of anti-gay behavior to cease.
Here’s a personal word about religion. With a few exceptions, churches do not support gay rights. Some Christian religions will try to use non-judgmental language, such as the Catholic Church does today. But that is not good enough. Saying hurtful things in a kinder tone is still awful and unacceptable to me. I was “born” into the Catholic faith, but I have since disowned it because it lacks integrity and true acceptance. But that’s what I concluded. I don’t want priestly people to tell me how to live when I don’t respect their institution. Here’s the crux of the issue. Do you want to hold on and try to respect a church that does not respect you – just as you are – and even continuously thwarts all social efforts to secure your equality? We are all different. It’s okay if you find comfort in a particular church, or if you don’t, leave it. You get to live your life, not the life of your parents.
And, there has been a lot of progress. Gay marriage is the law of the land! There are many protections against discrimination in housing, jobs, legal standing, and so on. And look at what we commonly see on the news! We see many positive images of members of the LGBT community.
I could mention the laws in the US (I can’t speak to other countries), but if you live in the US, or in most countries in Western Europe, you already know it is not illegal to be gay. The US and Western Europe generally accept the standard that two consenting adults, may have whatever sex they wish in private. That not an issue for most of us.
So the fabric of our legal structure is changing to become freer and more accepting of gays and lesbians, all people who are LGBT.
Today, there are many support groups and gay community service centers (at least in the larger cities) offering all types of activities to encourage our self-acceptance and personal growth. Most centers also offer activities and programs which include rap groups, counseling services, social events, religious services and various recreational trips. In addition, you may find opportunities for doing volunteer work, learning about community news, joining political action programs, and many other activities that you can share with other gays and lesbians in your area.
These centers are also good places to go to inform yourself about society’s major health concern of today — AIDS, and how to avoid its transmission. Many centers offer free, confidential HIV testing. We must all be responsible for stopping the spread of this disease which affects both the gay and the straight communities. If there is no local gay and lesbian center, your local health department should also have up-to-date information on AIDS and HIV testing.
Anti-gay people like to perpetuate the myth that we are only interested in sex and that we will do whatever is necessary to engage in as much sexual activity as possible with as many different partners as we can find. What an awful and unfounded image that presents. I know that that isn’t true, and you probably do, too. Almost all whom I talk with maintain a dream of a future love relationship. They envision setting up a household where they purchase furnishings together and share in the daily chores. They look forward to that relationship to have each other to come home to after a hectic day at work. How wonderful to be so loved and comforted, to be so at ease, to be able to count on that lover, your partner, to be there for you always, to be all the while caring for one another. And, don’t forget about the even more important circle of friends you will develop.
Happy, loving, stable, gay and lesbian relationships do exist and are possible for all of us. Just looking at my own circle of gay and lesbian friends, I am friends with many couples. Some of my close friends have been in relationships for many years. As of 2017, my partner and I just celebrated our 25th anniversary. And like straight people, there is nothing wrong with having responsible sexual experiences and dating, whether serious or not. There is also nothing wrong with choosing to be single. It’s called, doing life.
I hope you agree that it is time to acknowledge who you are. As suggested by Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true.” It is time to allow yourself to feel connected and supported by other gays and lesbians. Hopefully, you will maintain a loving relationship with all of the members of your family, but it is not always the case. Therefore it is important to realize that your close friends in the gay community will become your extended family.
One last point, it is okay to not come out publically or even to be secretive to your loved ones … AS LONG AS YOU COME OUT TO YOURSELF. Acknowledging and accepting who you are is a huge step, and for many gays and lesbians, it is actually as far as they will go. It’s okay not to become out publicly. I felt I had to be public because I wanted to help in the fight to attain full equality for all LGBT members. The important issue to understand is it’s not what others think about you, it’s what you think about yourself. And being public has nothing to do with that. Besides, even if you are not out to others, you can and will naturally seek out places and organizations where other gays or lesbians gather and you will develop friendships with others. These friendships, your own circle of friends, will become like a new family. This is where you draw your comfort and full acceptance. These are the people you will interact with regularly.
Take care, my friend. I will leave you with this parting thought: when we hide from who we are, we become mere observers of life, rather than participants in it. There is much life to live, and I wish you well in those new and exciting adventures that are ahead for you.