W.O.W.

W.O.W.

This past weekend was originally supposed to be called Long Overdue Weekend, where I’d take care of things I should’ve attended to long ago. But I’m not crazy about the acronym created by that name and, looking back now, I think a more appropriate name and acronym are provided by the moniker Wildly Overdue Weekend. I think when you finish reading this post, you’ll see why.

It started off with Drew and I renting “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”. We had originally gone to see the movie this summer with some friends, but completely uncharacteristally, I ended up drunk and proceeded to sleep through most of the movie. Since then, whenever I’ve been asked “Did you see Charlie’s Angels 2?”, I’ve been stuck for an answer. “Well, kind of,” I’ll say. And then I have to tell the whole embarrassing story.

Now that I’ve seen the entire film, I can answer like this: “Yes, and I wish I hadn’t.” I mean, really. In all the discussions about the poor box office performance of this film, I can’t believe no one suggested that maybe the reason for the lackluster showing was that the movie just plain sucked. That the stunts were so cartoonish and unrealistic that it drained the movie of all dramatic tension. That the computer-generated effects were a giant step backward from whatever technology they used to make the animals talk in “Babe”. I think five or ten years from now, when special effects have evolved a thousand degrees further, people will look back at “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” the way we now look back at the films of Ed Wood. You can see the strings on the flying saucer, and you can see the pixelation on Lucy Liu. This is not the kind of film you should watch sober. And I think I speak for all of gaykind when I say we’re over Drew Barrymore — a realization that was wildly overdue itself.

Then, on Saturday night, instead of seeing a brand-new film like “Elephant”, I saw “Runaway Jury”. Okay, it wasn’t like that was wildly overdue, but allow me a little dramatic license, please. “Runaway Jury” is the kind of movie where you know who the bad guys are because they operate out of a dark, evil lair and they’re good with computers. Dustin Hoffman adopted a Southern accent and delivered an overdue return to the characterization of Dorothy Michaels, the character-within-a-character he played in “Tootsie”. Several of his lines in “Runaway Jury” have the exact inflection of “Good day, Dr. Brewster! I said good day, sir!” All of which is to say that it’s the kind of movie that’s fun if you don’t take it too seriously. Come to think of it, maybe “Charlie’s Angels” would’ve been fun if I hadn’t taken it too seriously. But I seriously enjoyed hating it.

At “Runaway Jury”, we saw the guy who plays Mickey, Kramer’s dwarf friend on “Seinfeld”. People kept going up to him and saying hello, which I think people do more to minor celebrities than to real stars because they figure the little guys (pun intended) enjoy it. And this little guy seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. He was really friendly and chatty with his fans, which is always nice to see. I dared Drew to go up to him and tell him how good he was in “The Station Agent”. Yes, I’m a horrible person. Maybe that admission is wildly overdue.

Acknowledging that Drew Barrymore sucks and I’m a jerk? Seeing two movies a little late? Maybe you’re wondering if this should’ve been called “Stating the Obvious Weekend” or “Slightly Delayed Weekend”. But who wants their weekend to be called SOW? And SDW doesn’t spell anything at all. Where’s the wildness, Jerry, you ask? What if I throw in eating Indian food for the first time? Does that help? Okay, well, there’s still one way to justify Wildly Overdue Weekend.

On Sunday afternoon, I finally came out of the closet to a friend I’ve known since high school.

Overdue? Certainly. Wildly? Read on…

He and I met in 9th grade. In fact, he’s my oldest friend who I still keep in touch with. We’ve drifted further apart and closer together dozens of times over the years. We went to different colleges, I moved to LA, he moved to New York. But despite everything keeping us apart, we’ve always managed to stay in touch, and I think that says a lot about our relationship. I’ve probably known I was gay at least since he and I first met, but by the time I accepted it and started coming out to other people, we were living on different coasts.

The thought of coming out to this guy was difficult for a lot of reasons. Distance was only part of it. We saw each other whenever I went back to visit my family, and a couple times, he came to LA on business, and I got to show him around my turf. But each time I saw him, the circumstances seemed wrong for telling him my big secret. There was never enough time, or there was too much else going on. And what if some awkwardness followed? In my experience coming out to people I’m really close to, it always does. Whatever their feelings about homosexuality (and thankfully, I don’t come from a background of bigots or religious extremists), it takes time for people to adjust to the news. Sometimes they feel hurt that you didn’t tell them sooner, or that so-and-so found out first, or they feel like they never really knew you. Gradually, they realize that nothing about me or my relationship with them has changed and, with only one exception, I’ve ended up feeling closer to everyone I’ve come out to than I did before. But when you only see someone for a day at a time, you don’t have time to get past that awkwardness. Last year, this friend and I went to Europe together for a week. We went to Wimbledon, we spent a night in Paris, and we had a great time. There were plenty of opportunities to have my talk with him, but who wants to ruin a vacation?

But most of all, I guess I was scared. He and I were teenagers together. Being a gay teenager means being terrified of being outed, even more so in the 80s when I grew up. My memories of those years are mostly bad, mostly about being afraid and ashamed, of hoping against all evidence that a better life awaited me. Through no fault of his own, this guy has always been linked to that dark period, and even though he was my best friend at the time, he was guilty of saying one of the most brutal, soul-crushing things anyone’s ever said to me. I only remember one conversation we ever had about homosexuality, but it made his position on fags crystal clear. “I could never be friends with someone who was gay,” he told me. There it was: my greatest fear emphatically confirmed, underlined and bolded. If he knew I was gay, there’d be no more friendship.

Yes, he was 16 when he said that. It was safe to assume he’d become a little more open-minded in the intervening years. He’d probably met plenty of gay people in college. He’d probably worked with gay people. He’d definitely seen “Ellen” and “Will & Grace”. I figured if I came out to him, it wouldn’t be a big deal. It’d be a little awkward at first, then he’d be fine with it. But I couldn’t be sure.

Now that I’m going to be moving in with Drew, I don’t have much choice but to finally come out to those last few people. I’m just not interested in the deception staying closeted would involve. “I’m moving in with a friend,” I’d have to say, “just, er, to save money on rent”. Lie! Everyone knows what a great deal I have on my apartment. And what about when Drew came back with me at Christmas? Would I have to make some excuse for not being able to hang out with my friend? Or come up with some lie about who exactly Drew was? Some “my platonic roommate came home with me for the holidays” story? The more I thought about it, the more absurd it became. Awkward conversation or not, it was time he knew.

The buildup is always the worst part. Once I got him on the phone and we made our small talk, I announced, probably way too dramatically, “I have something I want to talk to you about.” I never know where to go between there and “I’m gay”, but I know you can’t go right to “I’m gay”, especially not after knowing someone for 17 years. “This conversation is long overdue,” I said, “and for that I want to apologize in advance”. It’s usually at that point in my coming-out conversations that the other person gets very quiet. They may or may not know where I’m headed, but they know I’m not just asking for a ride to the airport.

He was totally silent. Even after I dropped the bomb, he said nothing. Absolutely nothing. So I kept talking. I couldn’t bear the silence. I explained what a long process coming out has been for me and how I hoped he wouldn’t be hurt that it took me so long to tell him, that it was more a reflection on me than on him. Blah blah gay blah. I must’ve talked for two minutes straight, and still he said nothing at all. This was not good. This was not going to be smooth and easy. This was going to be complicated. What the hell was he thinking? And finally, he interrupted.

“It’s okay. You can stop.” He took a long pause. “It’s fine. I’m cool with it. I’ve… I’ve kind of been going through the same thing.”

And then, it was my turn to be silent. I wasn’t sure what to say. I had prepared myself for this talk for seventeen years. I had had the same talk with plenty of other people, and I thought I was ready for any outcome. I knew how to handle it if he was shocked (i.e., my sister), a little freaked out (i.e., my old roommate), surprisingly supportive (i.e., my mother). But this, I was not prepared for. Was this conversation headed where I thought it was headed? “What do you mean?” I finally asked.

“I’ve been… you know, questioning.”

Oh my God. He couldn’t even say it. Here I was apologizing for being so slow in coming out, and it turned out I was talking to a guy who was even further behind in the process. He hadn’t even accepted it himself yet. From the tone in his voice, I could tell he was scared.

I did most of the talking after that. It became clear that he had been questioning his sexuality for years – and that he was pretty much through questioning. His question had been answered. But he hadn’t told anyone. Anyone. He had tried, he told me, but he had chickened out. With his sister, he had chickened out “like five times now”. I told him not to feel bad about that. He was nowhere near my record.

I tried to be supportive, I tried to say all the right things. I told him about Drew and about how happy I was, hoping he’d see a light at the end of the tunnel. He let me do most of the talking. I reminded myself that when he picked up the phone a few minutes earlier and heard my voice, he had no idea that after hiding all his life, he was about to reveal his big secret for the first time. His silence was understandable. We talked for about half an hour, and it was a good talk, easily the most open talk we’ve ever had, and then we said goodbye. I didn’t want to overwhelm him, and besides, I was still a little overwhelmed myself. When I nervously picked up the phone to call him, it wasn’t quite the talk I was expecting to have.

I had certainly considered the possibility before that he might be gay. Though not what I’d consider effeminate, he does fit some of the stereotypes. He dresses well, is acutely gifted in the field of sarcasm, and he likes Bette Midler a lot more than most men do. Plus, all my life, if there was one person even more secretive about his love life than I was, it was him. He talked about girls sometimes, but never to say he was dating one. Girls and sex were subjects the two of us never discussed, though I guess I usually assumed he was doing me a favor. After years of occasionally considering the remote possibility that he might be gay, I dismissed my suspicions entirely. I mean, come on, the guy was 31 now. He had to be straight. The only other possibility was that he was gay and even more in the closet than I was. What were the odds of that?

I thought back on that cruel thing he’d said in high school. “I could never be friends with someone who was gay.” And then I remembered what came after it. “Could you?” he asked. Suddenly, I realized that his statement hadn’t been motivated by hatred, but by fear. It was a possibility I didn’t even consider at the time. Back then, I was crushed. And I had to respond. But how? I was caught off-guard. I was afraid. All I could say was, “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know.”

And what followed was seventeen years of “I don’t know”. It seems absurd now that all that time we were both struggling in private, we each had a huge untapped source of support right beside us. We could’ve been there for each other, had someone to talk to, someone to share with, someone to explore the gay world with, to make us feel normal, and most of all, someone to understand us. I wouldn’t have had to deal with my fear alone, and he wouldn’t be 31 years old and still afraid. Growing up gay was hell, and there’s nobody I would rather have gone through that experience with than him. If only we’d known. Maybe if, instead of “I don’t know”, I’d told him the truth, our lives would’ve turned out much different.

I’m still taking this all in. I’m still not sure what to make of it, or how exactly it’ll change things, for me and for him. But I know it’s a huge step forward for both of us. And I know the conversation was overdue.

Wildly. And woefully.

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