On Saturday, August 21, 1982, I married Janet Ann Baylis at First Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, Fla. I was 24, Janet was 25, and a couple of days later we moved to Monroe, La., where I worked as a reporter for the daily newspaper, The News-Star-World, and where Janet, with bachelor's degrees in English and Elementary Education, had landed a job teaching in the Monroe City Schools.
On Wednesday, July 7, 1993, a little while after we put our two children, David, 6, and Emily, 4, to bed, I told Janet to wait on inviting one of David's schoolmates over to play, that we needed "to have the most important conversation of our lives."
"Richard, what is it?" she asked. "What's going on?" "Janet," I replied, "I don't know how to say this so I'll just say it simply. I need for you to know that I'm gay and I'm coming out."
How did we get from August 21, 1982 to July 7, 1993?
For one thing, it started well before 1982. Janet and I first met each other in the fall of 1973, when we were attending Washington High School in Pensacola, our mutual hometown. We were both advanced foreign language students (I was taking Latin, Janet was taking French) and we shared a classroom.
Janet was everything I ever wanted in a girlfriend--pretty and smart and sweet and very attentive. We never dated in high school, of course. I was much too shy to ask her out and she was much too traditional to think about doing the asking herself.
We reconnected several years later, when we were both interning for our hometown newspaper, the Pensacola News-Journal. We corresponded from our respective schools over the fall and winter, then began dating--and making out--that summer. Three years later we married.
Aside from a couple of one time dates, I had never had a girlfriend and I certainly had never made out with anyone--and by the time we started doing so I was already 21. It wasn't like I hadn't had exposure. My best friend, Greg, who went to another high school, had a girlfriend, Pam, and they had sex all the time. It was also the case that Greg was gay--and when he wasn't having sex with Pam he was having sex with guys.
Greg and Pam and I had a quirky little relationship. They were emotionally and physically and intellectually attracted to each other; I was emotionally and physically attracted to Greg, emotionally and intellectually attracted to Pam. And, at least as far the emotional/intellectual part was concerned, I think they were attracted back to me.
It didn't work out, of course. Pam went off to school, Greg and I stayed in Pensacola. Pam found a new boyfriend, as did Greg--a whole series of them, in fact, along with a girlfriend or two. And at some point along the way, probably after he had broken up with Pam and before I got together with Janet, I pointed out to Greg that although I didn't think I was "a homosexual" I was pretty sure that he was the only guy with whom I would ever want to have a physical relationship. When he said, "I can see that, but I think it would just be too incestuous," I said, "OK," and went home and cried for a long time, certain that no one would ever love me if Greg couldn't or wouldn't.
It really is the case that at the time I didn't know whether I was gay or straight. I thought I might be gay--certainly it was the case that from the time I was a little kid I had been fascinated with big, muscular men, and that they formed the core of my sexual fantasy life once I reached puberty and began the nightly masturbatory ritual of my adolescence. But I didn't know whether my fantasizing about big, muscular men meant that I was gay--or if it just meant I was really insecure about my own personal appearance and physical prowess. Likewise, if it didn't know whether it precluded my having a physical relationship with a woman. I'd never been with anyone, either male or female, and I really didn't know how I would respond.
I did raise these questions, at least in an abbreviated sense ("I think I have homosexual tendencies..."), with Janet when we first got serious with one another. She wanted to know whether it meant that I had had sex with men, or wanted to have sex with men, and how Greg fit into all of it. I answered, truthfully at the time, that I hadn't had sex with men, that I might have had sex with Greg for friendship's sake if he had been interested, but he hadn't been and even if he changed his mind it wouldn't matter becasue I was no longer willing to consider it, and that I really didn't think I wanted to have sex with men. Janet concluded that it was "probably just a body image thing" and I heaved a huge sigh of relief.
What she didn't ask was, "Do you get hard when you look at men?" The answer to that question, then and now: "Yes." And she didn't ask, "Do you get hard when you look at women?" The answer to that question, then and now: "No." If she'd asked those questions, or if I'd been willing to frame the discussion in those terms, the outcome might have been very different.
As it was, we spent a couple of years "dating steady," going to classes together at the University of West Florida, eating together, doing things together, hanging out at her parents house in Pensacola. It was a good time for both of us and we were quite pleased when I landed a job and we set a wedding date.
By the end of our first year of marriage, however, I finally came to the conclusion that I was realio, trulio gay. "Face it, Richard," I told myself one night after Janet had gone to bed, "if you weren't gay you wouldn't be fantasizing about men every time you have sex with your wife after a year of marriage."
It was the first time I ever admitted to myself that I really was gay. Even so, I wasn't done with denial. Even though I had admitted to myself that I was gay, I wasn't willing to deal with the implications. "What's the difference whether I'm straight or gay?" I asked myself. "It's like any other married man. We all look, whether it's at men or women. Whether to be monogamous is something I decide and I love Janet too much to mess up our relationship."
It took me 10 more years to figure out that I was kidding myself--that in pretending, at least to everyone else, to be something other than what I really was I was killing off my true self. And all the depression and mania and temper tantrums and despair that were characteristic of my adult life had less to do with my (quite thoroughly) traumatic childhood than they did with my denial of self.
It came to a head in the spring of 1993. A colleague at another library on the West Coast, a man who I'd admired from the time I entered librarianship in 1985, someone who was very much a role model for me, came out to me. He told me that he had left his wife and was getting divorced after more than 20 years of a marriage and being father to an 18 year old son. I realized that if my friend, one of the most dedicated, workaholic, committed people I know, couldn't as a gay man make his marriage work indefinitely, neither could I. And unlike him, I wasn't willing to wait until I was 49 to figure it out. Waiting, I thought, would be unfair to Janet, to the kids, and to me.
I spent a couple of weeks moping around, then found a support group of sorts on the Internet, namely the Bears Mailing List. I told my story, received supportive e-mail, started corresponding with people I found interesting, and, BOOM, I realized that I just had to come out--that a lot of the illusions I had maintained about myself (that no one else shared my interests, that no other man was likely to find me attractive) were false and there WAS another life to be had.
Shortly afterwards I took Janet and the kids to Pensacola to be with her parents, then went to New Orleans, for the American Library Association's Annual Conference, where I started coming out to friends and colleagues. I returned to Pensacola a few days later, spending a miserable week pretending nothing had changed. The day before we returned to Atlanta, I spent the afternoon with my mother--whom I told and who reacted badly. Even so, she put on her best "no, my dead husband really wasn't an alcoholic and no, my eldest son didn't just tell me he was gay" mask and I was able to defer telling Janet until a couple of days after we returned to Atlanta.
The week after I came out to Janet we took the Type A approach to dealing with our emotional upset:
And that was just the first week.
The rest of the summer was difficult, to say the least. Janet did not act in a hateful or spiteful fashion but she was quite upset that I was no longer willing to abide by the conventions of our marriage, which included my almost always deferring to her opinion regarding what needed to happen and when. I made it very clear that I no longer considered our marriage viable as a true partnership, even though I cared for her and for David and Emily and even though I definitely wanted to continue in a co-parenting relationship with her.
Within a week or so I had moved into the spare bedroom--and I never returned to her bed. A lot of other things occurred during those summer weeks, including having my first male/male sexual encounter, house-sitting for colleagues and in one case entertaining an out of town guest, and, finally, going to visit an e-mail acquaintance--and future boyfriend--a few hours away in South Carolina.
Eventually tensions reached the point that we knew things couldn't continue but we were not quite sure what to do about it. We went to see Janet's therapist again, who told us that we were--as is often the case with Janet and me--making things harder than they needed to be. Once he pointed this out, we both went into our "take charge" roles and in short order we had worked out an amicable, informal financial and separation agreement.
Labor Day weekend 1993 I moved out of the house that Janet and I had bought (our first) six months earlier and into an apartment with another gay man, Denis, who needed a roommate to help meet expenses. Despite very significant differences in personality, Denis and I quickly became very good friends. It was a case of "he has two big dogs, I have two little kids, surely this is meant to work," and it did, at least for several months.
During that time I was dating the fellow in South Carolina. It was a very up and down relationship. In many ways the relationship was very reassuring, providing an anchor that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Eventually, however, it foundered; he needed things I couldn't or wouldn't provide, I needed things that he couldn't or wouldn't provide. Ironically enough, Janet was going through exactly the same thing--she quickly found a boyfriend and a relationship developed rapidly before coming to an end over mutual differences, just about the same time my boyfriend and I broke up.
All of that occurred in May and June 1994. At the same time I moved out of the apartment I shared with Denis and into one of my own. Shortly thereafter I began seeing Jeremy, which culminated in his moving in with me several weeks later (end of July 1994).
On November 5, 1996, Janet and I finalized the divorce, more than three years after we had separated and more than two years after Jeremy and I had gotten together. It was a perfectly amicable and agreeable settlement; the judge, in whose chambers we met to get the divorce decree signed, surprised us by asking us why we were getting divorced. We looked at each other a minute, then I said, "well, I'm gay and I finally figured it out." He seemed to be cool with that, asking how Janet and I were with it, whether the kids knew and how they were. We told him everything was totally hunky-dory, and it is; he complimented us for dealing with the situation in a mature, civilized fashion.
I'll never regret having married Janet and having David and Emily with her.
Telling my story--and putting these pages together--is my way of trying to pay back all the gaydads who have helped me in my coming out process. If I've helped in yours, I've gone a little bit further toward paying off that debt.
Thanks for listening and feel free to e-mail me if you need to chat.
Questions? Comments? Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.orgLast Updated: November 22, 1996