I’ve been commuting to work by bicycle every day for the past few months. I love it–the freedom of movement, the fresh London air (well, as fresh as city air can get…it’s infinitely fresher than the stale air pushed through the tube system anyways). It’s also free and environmentally friendly, and I get the sense that I am in control of my own path and daily destiny.
But I was late to start cycling in London. In fact I only started last August, despite my five years in London and the two-plus years in my current flat. Granted, I spent the first three years of my life in London living close enough to the office that I walked every day to work (yes, a real luxury, I know). But the real reason why I didn’t start cycling earlier was that I was terrified to do so.
So many times, I’ve seen close calls between cyclists and buses, taxis, cars, pedestrians, and even other cyclists. This city wasn’t built for cyclists and what few bicycle paths exist are laughable. And as a result, the very thought of cycling in London filled me with dread. So I stuck with the tube and bus system, which was safe, familiar, and convenient. But that also meant that I knew nothing of the joys that cycling would eventually afford me, and so I lived my life by the set path of the London tube system’s map, stops, and schedules.
And so of course with this upcoming wedding I have been thinking about my past and my own path through life. There was once a time that I was similarly terrified of coming out of the closet. Like many others, I thought it was just a “phase” at first. And I convinced myself that once I scratched the itch and got “it” out of my system, I would go on to do what I had been brought up thinking I was supposed to do, which was to eventually get married (to a woman) and have kids and carry on the family name. I was 18 at the time.
That first itch I scratched, while I was still in university, turned into far more than a flight of fancy. It turned into a 14-year relationship that unfortunately did not end well, but which I do not regret one second of. I’m still friendly with my ex and his family, and without their love and support throughout those 14 years (and beyond), I would certainly not be where I am today, nor the person I am today.
But back to my terror…The closet was a safe place to be, and I was not at all comfortable with the thought of stepping foot outside of it for a really long time. What would people think? How would people judge me? So survival mechanisms kick in. You learn to create all sorts of lies to your friends and family about who you are with, how you spent your weekends and holidays, and even who your friends are. And with each lie you spin to keep yourself “safe” (and yes, sometimes these lies can get quite elaborate), you slowly start to forget who you are inside because of the competition with the facade you project to the outside world. And also with each lie you tell, you start to hate yourself slightly more, knowing full well that each lie is destroying a small bit of your soul.
And eventually the duality of life that you find yourself living becomes so unbearable, that you feel like you have no choice left but to burst out of the closet. Or at least take a big step out of it. And then, if all goes well, you can start mending the relationships with friends and family that have suffered because of the fences and walls that you have put up for “safety” reasons, and allow people to know the real you. And only then can you start living a full, open, and honest life that can close the chasms you have inadvertantly created, and which involves everyone that is important to you, and who deserve to know you in your entirety.
So this was pretty much my experience, especially with my family, who I didn’t allow to share in my personal life until my relationship with my ex was already 5 years old, and who, when I finally did come out, unfortunately, weren’t fully willing to share in my joys with that relationship for close to another 5 years. (see my cat story). But that did gradually change, to the point where they learned to share in the highs of my life and the eventual sorrows when they occurred.
Although the relationship that Chris and I have with my parents now is pretty much as good as it had been when I was with my ex, I can’t help but identify with the terror they must now be facing with the threat of our wedding thrusting me well out of the closet, and therefore dragging them out as well, if their friends and relatives were to find out about it. What would people think? How would people judge them? I’m sure these issues are going through their minds even though they refuse to talk about it or even bring up the subject.
And so I feel a great sadness that their self-exclusion from our wedding, and hence from an important milestone in my life, will mean that they will not be able to experience the full joys of life outside of their individual closets. They will never experience their family as a whole both inside and outside of their home and closet. And I will never just be their son, but will continue to be the duality of the gay son they hide inside their closet and the facade of the one they portray to everyone outside of the home. And they will continue to trick themselves into thinking they are perfectly happy while portraying me as the picky and busy son who just hasn’t found the right woman yet (or whatever other lies they are spinning).
However, unlike my parents, I am now done with that phase of my life spent spinning yarns. I will instead be happily spinning along on my bike, going places, and moving on with my life.