As a gay man, what does it mean to live OUT the best of who you are?
For me it's about recognizing if I've left any best parts of me in the closet, and which of those skills, desires, or talents I want to bring OUT to experience and enjoy.
When I was a teenager growing up in the lates 70s and early 80s, I fell in love with figure skating, gymnastics, and contemporary dance. I never got to practice any of those athletic activities, but I watched – in silence and in secret.
My memories are in black-and-white, simply because we had a black-and-white television when I was a teenager at home. All joking aside, I made sure that I didn't seem too interested if I was watching something like the Olympics with my parents. I didn't want to give away the attraction I had for the beautiful bodies of the men figure skating, dancing, or performing gymnastics on the rings and the bars.
I never felt the freedom to express my desire to my family or my friends. At my high school, all those athletic pursuits were considered gay and anyone who expressed interest was immediately called a faggot. I longed to try out for a dance or gymnastics program, to at least discover what it would be like to express myself through that form of movement.
Queer Leadership / Mentorship
What would it have been like at 16 to have had a queer mentor, someone who could've seen the struggles I was facing as a closeted adolescent? It wasn't until my very early 30s when I decided to study personal training that I realized I had rediscovered one of the best parts of myself that I had forgotten about in my closet.
One evening at the end of a yoga class the instructor said to me, "you are so flexible. Were you a gymnast when you were younger?" It was a bittersweet question, because it hurt a little but made me smile at the same time. I had unconsciously prided myself on taking care of how well my body moved and I was trying to find part of myself that I had otherwise locked away.
A story like this doesn't have to be true for every gay man, but I know for many of us, especially those closer to my age at 53, we grew up at a time when we didn't have resources like the Internet to find others like us. If we felt threatened and unsafe we kept our identity as closely guarded as possible.
As we grow up we may have faced our demons, talked things through, went to therapy, or used personal development to better understand ourselves. But it's amazing how great we can feel, how successful we can become, yet still feel empty. We can still wonder, is that all there is?
If you've ever had a feeling like that, think about my story, and ask yourself,
“Have I left the best parts of who I am in the closet? What I am not living OUT?”
This is a starting point of my Living OUT Leadership “incubator”. LOL (for short) is a space for gay men to work together, understand their uniqueness and difference as gifts of leadership, to dig deep and find out if they've left the best parts of themselves in the closet, and to bring OUT those gifts to make the world a better place.
As gay man we have unique and vital insights to teach others.
We have a different insight than straight people. Hence the word queer, meaning different or odd (as in not the status quo). If you grew up in the closet, you will have had more than one coming out experience. You came out to different people at different times. As you discovered more about yourself, you may have let out more of who you are. You may act one way around people and another way around others.
Because you can't simply point to someone and label them as gay (since there is no visible identifier) we learn to wear a mask. That mask is a social contract to keep us quiet to fit into the norm. But that's not good enough. That's not acceptable. And that might be one of the reasons why you're wondering, is that all there is. To be who you are you need to disrupt the norm!