Published on February 26th, 2014 | by Healthy Gay Lifestyles
The Shift of Shame
by Jim Duke
I remember seeing the photos and grainy films from the 1950′s of men being lined up and directed into paddy wagons. Dragged out of gay bars, they were homosexuals whose only crime was that they dared to assemble, a right given to other members of society. With their heads down or covered and frightened eyes averted they were societies pariahs, exhibited to show their disgrace. Rarely – but sometimes – one walked out with head held high, looking directly into the camera in an audacious display of determined dignity. For most, however, to be recognized as a homosexual was just cause for humiliation and shame.
When I was coming into my own sexuality in the ’60′s and ’70′s, positive gay role models were few but slowly growing in numbers. Celebrity homosexuals – Paul Lynde and Liberace – were spoken about in whispers and with knowing nods, but never openly acknowledged as gay. Popular literature – Patricia Nell Warren’s “The Front Runner” and Mary Renault’s “The Persian Boy” focused on gay characters as their central themes and offered my first glimpse into the possibilities and potentials of gay relationships, while Gordon Merrick penned lushly romantic gay novels about men with enormous dicks. In 1977, David Kopay came out as openly gay in his self-titled autobiography – the first professional athlete to do so. Slowly, things were changing. Being identified as gay was no longer the automatic disgrace it once was.
I had been partnered for many years when I was called for jury duty, and was asked to identify whether I was “single, married, divorced or widowed.” My reply – since I was under oath – was “neither.” When the judge questioned my response, I replied, “I have been with my partner for many years, so I am not single; the state does not recognize gay marriage so I can’t be married; I’m still with him so I am not divorced; and to the best of my knowledge he ain’t dead yet.” When I mentioned this to a relative, she was appalled that I was put in the position of having to deny the nature of my relationship on most forms I had to fill out. I see it as a tiny victory each time I see “partnered” or “domestic partner” on a form, since it means at least my relationships could be acknowledged.
I’d like to think that maybe we are seeing a shift in where shame lies these days. With each celebrity that comes out – Anderson Cooper, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, Zachary Quinto – the “normalization” of being gay expands. Younger generations – yes, I used that term – seem far less nonplussed when someone announces their sexual preferences, as no more of a ripple in the societal stream than announcing one’s hair color. I work with men who are surprised when their agonizing decision to finally come out is met with a disappointing, “Yeah, we know” from family and friends. It almost seems that eyebrows are now raised at those celebrities, musicians and athletes who are “known” to be gay but refuse to acknowledge it. Slowly, being afraid or lacking the integrity to stand up for who you really are trumps the admission of being gay.
Jim Duke is the Founder and President of “Guide For Gay Men,” a service which provides personal life coaching and consultation primarily to older gay and bisexual men. Navigating the issues involved in coming out, dealing with relationships, love and sex and the transitions of careers, life decisions and aging can be daunting… unless you have someone experienced to help guide you. Contact Jim and read what he has to say on these and other topics at G4GM.com.