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Coming Out Stories Gallery - Howard

It's always difficult to know where to begin. Do I do it all chronologically and start by writing about how I used to get fucked by Billy, a high school kid, in a field near our apartment complex, hidden only by a refrigerator box, when I was 8? Or should I begin with a real pivotal moment of leaving the closet at the ripe old age of 24 when I came out to my folks? Or is it more important to describe how I came to a decision and actually devised a plan to burst out of the closet which wound up ultimately being the main reason I went away to graduate school? They all seem like decent places to start. The truly difficult part of the story is how to end it, because the coming out process never ends.

I guess it's easiest to start by saying that in retrospect, I've always been gay. The clues pop up throughout my life beginning with the Billy incident. And I have to tell you, that it's quite a blur. At the time, we were living in a 3 bedroom apartment in Eatontown, NJ about a mile from what is now the Monmouth Mall. The complex was situated at the corner of Route 36 and Stoney Hill Rd, next to Knollwood School which I didn't attend, because my father was a math teacher in a school district about 20 minutes away. 3-A Stoney Hill Rd. was our address -- make a quick right as soon as you enter the main drive and there was our apartment. The complex was a fairly barren place with a little shrubbery bordering each of the red brick buildings. In addition to this being the first place I ever got fucked, it is also the first place I smoked a cigarette, took a hit off a joint, and first learned the word "kike" after seeing it scrawled in the laundry room one day. Someone had written about our superintendent "Morris is a kike" and I went running home to ask my mother what it meant. Too bad I didn't ask her what the whole Billy thing was about. But I'm really digressing here. The “fucking” story is short. It was 1968 and he used to fuck me as we heard cars swooshing by. I remember a fall day with brown grass and leafless trees -- me with my pants pulled down, lying on my stomach and Billy on top of me. It felt good, I think, but I was horror-stricken with fear, thinking his penis might get stuck inside of me and then what would we do? I was scared to death to think we might have to run to my parents, dick in ass and me with my pants down, to get us unstuck. That's the last thing I wanted to happen. Even then, I knew I was bad. 8 years old, and I had never heard the word "homosexual" before, knew nothing about sex, didn't even know that what I was doing was sex, but I knew it was something I wasn't supposed to be doing, especially with a boy. And guess what? He never got stuck. And I can't remember how often it happened, how long each incident was, how it started, or how he must have talked me into it. All I remember is feeling scared and naughty. It would be 20 years before anyone had their dick up my ass again.

It's 1970, 2 after my escapades with Billy. We moved to Fair Haven to a 3 bedroom, 2 bath ranch house my parents bought for 29 thousand. It seemed so expensive for the time and I remember even at the age of 10 how they fretted while trying to gather money for the down payment. Later, I found out that the main reason we moved was they thought the apartment complex was a little unsavory for my brothers and me. Apparently, it was a good call. There was no Billy around to fuck me anymore, but there also weren't any friends around, either. This is when I started to chunk out and started on the road of heavy-duty weight fluctuations that continue to this day. A few "gay" experiences stand out for me in my memory.

The first was that I developed a fascination with the male human body. Shortly after we moved, I used to see advertisements for the "Powerbuilder" in National Lampoon. The "Powerbuilder" was a an exercise device that consisted of a long, narrow metal or aluminum tube with two bungee cords attached from one end to the other. You were supposed to pull on it to build strength and muscles and you could adjust the tension of the bar. The ads always showed some muscular hunk holding the device. I so wanted to see more of this guy, so I sent away for information using a pseudonym. Again, I knew I was "bad" for wanting to see more. Of course, at the time, I didn't have any idea *why* I wanted to see more, but the desire was strong. Again, I was scared. Scared that my parents would see it in the mail and know that I sent away for it. Every day for about 3 weeks, I tried to intercept the mail, waiting for the information. I felt so lucky to have picked up the mail the day it arrived. I still remember how hard my heart was pumping when I ran into my bedroom to open it up. And it was everything I expected. The brochure depicted the same muscleman from the ad in a little bikini bathing suit and using the apparatus in several different positions. I couldn't get enough of it and hid it under my mattress to look at it furtively after school. My parents never found out. Another deadbolt on my closet door, but I felt like I won the lottery. For the next few years, I was satisfied with my Powerbuilder ad and looking at ads in the Travel section of the Sunday NY Times, especially ads for Caribbean holidays. This was to become my jerkoff material years later when I would take the newspaper into the bathroom, searching for the latest cruise ads and pictures of hairy men on the beach. I still like looking at those ads.

The next indication I was gay takes place that same year we moved to Fair Haven. I was in 5th grade and each English class had to put on a series of skits for the entire grade. My group decided to do a parody of the Grammy Awards and guess who this 10-year-old boy wound up playing. Yup, Barbra Streisand. This was my only foray into the world of drag. I borrowed a blue and white houndstooth, wool, 2 piece from my mother (I still love houndstooth to this day) and holding a purse in hand, stepped out onto stage, belted out "Stoney End," and minced the whole way. Bizarre, isn't it? And nobody made fun of me. I was well-liked and got away with it. How could I have developed that sterotypical gay sensibility of loving Barbra? I had absolutely no gay role models, unless you can look at Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly in that vein. 2 years later, I was spending my allowance on Broadway cast albums. Nobody else in my family held these same interests. Where did it come from? Was it a learned behavior? Who the hell knows.

I can point to another event in 1972, when I was 12. Every Sunday night, we would watch "What's My Line." One evening the guest was the current Mr. Universe. He came out on stage wearing a 3-piece suit and you could easily see his sculptured physique straining through his clothing. His arms were positively bulging. I couldn't take my eyes off the TV set and at the same time, was feeling incredibly self-conscious about how my eyes were totally glued. Was I staring too hard? Was I concentrating too much? This is the first time I was aware of trying to monitor my behavior to appear as something different than I was. Of course, my parents didn't notice. After the panel guessed who he was, he stripped down and struck some poses. My stomach turned to mush and I got all red and warm. After the show, I excused myself and went to bed early. I couldn't understand the feelings churning inside and as soon as I undressed and plopped into bed, I started humping a little and came. My reaction, like all the previous reactions, was one of fear. My parents had never talked to me about sex. I never had any playground talk about it. Being the son of a major hypochondriac, my first thought was that I had an infection and the semen was actually puss. A week or so later, I was still upset about it and while in the car with my parents, asked them about it. My father gripped the steering wheel harder and stared straight ahead. My mother turned around and explained exactly what the "puss" was so I could stop worrying about it. I knew well enough not to tell them what activated the "puss" to shoot out of my penis, but I'm not sure I understood the correlation then.

From the ages of 12 to 16 I would consider myself "dickless." Others around me were beginning to date and I made out with a couple of girls in seventh and eighth grade, but knew it wasn't what I wanted. I was president of the Student Government Association and had to be everything to everyone. I think that's when I learned all my fucked up people pleasing skills. I have to say that I was a charming kid. I organized all the dances and felt so sorry for all the girls who stood against the walls of the gym in terror, knowing that nobody would ask them to dance. I kind of took it on as my duty as president of the SGA to ask these girls to dance, so for 2 years, that was my role. And how could I possibly have a girlfriend when I would dance with everybody? It was the perfect cover, don't you think? I won "Best Dancer" in our polls for the 8th grade yearbook, which is pretty funny if you know me, because now I'll only step out on a dance floor if I'm totally trashed.

Like I said, the years from 12 to 16 were totally "dickless." Most of my friends in high school were girls and I only had a couple of male friends. I spent almost every day in high school totally stoned out of my mind. It's a wonder I never got sent home. I would have huge laughing fits during class sometimes, but I never got anything more but a dirty look from a teacher. I lie, though, when I say I was totally "dickless," because I did lose my heterosexual virginity at 16 with a good friend up in the Adirondacks. We fucked once, never talked about it, and that was it until I had a girlfriend for 4 months when I was a sophomore in college. When I was a junior in high school, I started buying gay porn, so I guess this is the earliest instance of coming out to myself. It's a far way from acceptance, but it was the start. I still hadn't done anything with another boy, except for Billy when I was 8.

The summer before I went to college, my father brought home an Apple computer from school. It was one of the first Apples produced and one day when I knew nobody would be in the house for a while (where the hell was everyone, anyway?!) I wrote a little program that flashed "Howard is Gay" across the screen over and over and over and over and over. I don't remember if this was the same night or not, but shortly thereafter, I went to a party at a friend's place. She was a friend from high school, already an alcoholic, and had moved out of her parents house shortly after graduation to a place in Atlantic Highlands. I got pretty drunk at the party and hitchhiked home. It must have been the same day, because nobody was home, so I decided to hitchhike to Long Branch, a town on the shore about 10 miles south, to go to a bar I thought was gay. It was called "The Happy Pickle" and I have no idea what made me think it was gay. I walked into the bar and ordered a drink (the drinking age in NJ was 18 at the time) and looked around. There was a guy sitting alone, I was drunk, and I went up to him and asked him if I could buy him a drink. I must have been pretty drunk to screw up the courage to do that, but I was rejected straight away. "I can buy my own drinks, thank you." The bar was straight as a board. I ran out of the place to hitchhike back home and the most wonderful thing happened. I got a ride pretty early on and the guy said he would drive me directly home. As we were driving back to Fair Haven, he pulled out a bottle of amyl and gave it to me to sniff. It was wonderful. I didn't know what it was at the time, but I was willing to try any kind of drug. While I was getting off on the stuff, he placed his hand on my leg. We wound up driving to a park in Atlantic Highlands where I fucked him in the woods. He drove me home right after. And that was what I consider my first gay sexual encounter. He gave me his phone number and I tried calling him a couple of times the next week, but he never returned my calls.

A few weeks later, I left for college. During the first couple of weeks there, the school newspaper ran a letter to the editor complaining about the gay cruising areas on campus. It became my roadmap for the next several years. It was fate. It was a brilliant working of the universe to place this letter in the newspaper for my own use. I quickly started frequenting the different spots -- Seminary Place after dark, the bathroom in Records Hall, Alexander Library's basement bathroom, the bathroom on the 2nd basement floor of Freylinghuysen. I had a lot of sex, but never made a gay friend. I was scared to death of being found out and learned to make good excuses to cover my tracks. I once ran into a mutual acquaintance cruising in the Records Hall bathroom and became a grinning idiot, talking him up and ignoring him as best I could every other time I encountered him on campus. Once, while eating dinner at Commons with someone who lived in my dorm, he pointed to someone and whispered "faggot" to me. I recognized the guy from Seminary Place -- I had had sex with him -- how did he know he was a faggot? Could he tell I was gay? I hid even deeper in my shame. That's what college was for me -- 4 years of furtive sex in bathrooms, parks, on rare occasion in someone's room in an actual bed.

After graduation, I lived with my folks for a year, worked at a crummy job at a credit union, and applied to graduate school. I really didn't give a shit about going to graduate school, but saw it as the only opportunity to come out. I was desperate. I was also talking to my parents at the time about moving out to California and they supported the idea and said they would help me. I took the easier way out and went to grad school, instead. I don't know why I thought it was easier. Probably, because I knew I could get funding from whichever school I went to and I'd have the luxury of reaching into my parents pockets. Honestly, though, the sole reason for it was to come out of the closet in a place where nobody knew me. I wound up at Michigan in Ann Arbor and got a partial scholarship the first semester and full-scholarship and stipend for the 2nd. The first thing I did when I got to Ann Arbor was to call the gay hotline at the university. They immediately hooked me up with a fellow gay student in the Slavic Department. It was easy to get hooked into the gay community, especially being "fresh flesh."

I started going to a coming out support group, my main goal being to come out to my parents during Christmas break. I wanted to learn how to talk about being gay before telling my parents. I wanted the words to come out automatically in case things became highly emotional. The group consisted of about 8 men varying in age from 18 to 50. One guy particularly pissed me off, because his whole issue was still whether he was gay or not. I don't like to admit this, but he really angered me. It was all I could do to hold my tongue from screaming out at him, "make up your fucking mind," or "go find a 'I don't know if I'm gay' support group and stop wasting my time." I wasn't too tolerant, but I had years of experience at hiding my feelings, so it wasn't too difficult. I came out to one person during that semester -- a good friend from high school, Danny, was in the Social Work school there and I clued him in. It went fine. Wasn't too difficult once I did it and it was good practice for Christmas. About a week before I went home, I came out to both of my brothers on the phone with pretty decent support from them. I wanted to come out to them before I came out to my folks, so they would have someone to talk to if they needed to. In the back of my mind, I was also trying to garner some support in my arena, because I knew I had a difficult task ahead.

So, I went home and I did it! I came out to my folks. We were watching TV one evening and my mother gave me the greatest opening line I could have asked for. All of a sudden, she blurted out, "I can accept anything." And I had a real zinger waiting for her to prove it. They were shocked. My mother's response: "Well, there's nothing I can do about it. That's that." Or something to that effect. She then proceeded to go into her bedroom and cry her eyes out, leaving me with my father in the the living room. Over the course of the next few days, they would ask me the typical things like, "are you sure it isn't a phase, have you always felt like this," and they were mortified that I had told Danny. "We can accept this, but please don't tell anyone." They were trying to throw me back into the closet, but for the first time in my life, I had the strength to stand my ground. One evening, my mother kind of threw my Dad and me out of the house, forcing us to go to a movie. As we were driving along Navesink River Road, my Dad burst into tears. He pulled over and we talked. He kept saying how they felt they did something wrong and that they were to blame. It was really difficult at the time, but I guess it's a fairly typical parental response. The one thing they were concerned about was AIDS. It was 1984 and it was starting to become big news. The other thing my mother kept on saying was that I was a different person. I wasn't the Howard she knew. I guess the best response would have been to say, "Well, you've never actually *seen* me before," but I didn't have the presence of mind to figure that one out. The thing that strikes me today is that they never asked if my life as an adolescent was hard. They weren't concerned about what it was like to grow up hating myself, feeling ashamed, and not being able to have any acceptance about being gay.

And this is really just the beginning. I don't think I'll ever stop coming out. Most people still assume the world is totally heterosexual and I still have to think of whether I need to "officially" come out to someone or not. Usually, though, I just walk through life assuming that everyone sees me as gay. It's simpler that way.

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Drop a note to Deborah at gaylesissues@rslevinson.com

copyright 1986-2010 Deborah Levinson