by Jefferson Ellison. Published on February 22, 2021.
I know something. Something I shouldn’t say, but I will. It’s infuriatingly frustrating, and I must address it. There are three or four girlfriends in my life with a gay friend who is in the closet. Some I know, others I only know of. But the consistent factor is that each of them has chosen to come out to his female friend first. An understandable urge as I did it myself. Honestly, most gay men do. But let me tell you, this is a mistake.
In my case, my childhood best friend, who I confided in, used me as gossip and outed me to the entire school behind my back. She meant nothing by it and we got over it. But it was incredibly heartbreaking, ruined my first relationship, and tainted my junior year. In many ways, it wasn’t her fault. We were young, Southern, Christian, and naive. It was also high school - anyone will do anything to be the center of attention, if only for a second. The gossip was exciting and somewhat “obvious” and was rooted in passive homophobia rather than violence. More importantly, she didn’t know how to deal with it - how could she? She didn’t understand what it meant for me to ask her to see me. To have a secret so heavy that I felt if I didn’t share it, I’d fall over. She had no appreciation for the fact that I offered her my truth because the lie kept us from becoming more intimate friends. There, in the corner of a public school cafeteria, I asked for validation, and all she could offer me was acceptance. I get that now. In many cases, but especially when it relates to lifestyles, the two are not the same. A homophobic mother accepts her gay child the same way she accepts her alcoholic husband. She loves them, but she mourns for his soul. Validation embraces. Validation insists. Validation elevates. That’s not something she could do. As a friend and as a narrator in my story, she was ill-equipped, unreliable, and on some level, she was unwilling.
Things are different now, and the stories are not all the same. In the case of the women who are assisting their closeted friends with coming out, the ages and geographic locations range widely. And even with all those differentiators, the facts remain the same. Cis, hetero-women are not capable of helping their gay friends come out. It’s not from a lack of desire or a lack of trying - it’s just not their story to tell. If you’ve never felt both arousal and shame as one emotion during third-period gym, then you can’t navigate masculinity. If you’ve never felt rejected because your “best friends” don’t invite you to “girls night” and then experience the agony when the same women who say they love you tell you that you’re going to hell, then how can you prepare for that heartbreak? The world is full is harmed demographics, but the experience of the cis-homosexual man is incredibly complicated. It’s reductive and almost disrespectful to compare it to the plight of women. So, we have to stop trying.
I’m not writing this to make the GBFs of the world feel bad or to challenge the loyalty of a fag-hag. I’m merely saying, entrusting women with my path through homosexuality has been a mistake. I have found more safety, acceptance, and learned pathways towards happiness through Will & Grace and Giovanni’s Room than I have from my best friends.
Why? Because visibility is validating. To see my story and my narrative play out on the silver screen, in the pages of books, or even in a dimly lit bar in my hometown told me that I wasn’t alone and that there was something I was missing out on. The biggest lie we tell ourselves as gay men is that we aren’t missing out on anything by being in the closet. That we can find love, have love, and even make love in secret and it could be enough. And until you see what it means to live out loud, nothing is proving you wrong. You try to relate to your girlfriends and their husbands, but it’s not the same. The first time I saw Queer As Folk, and realized that there could be a world where I could be happy and out, sad and out, in love and out, and complicated, broken, single, together and out, it’s all I wanted. The women who helped me get there did more than they had to, but it was nothing compared to the queer guides I found both in media and my real life.
To Eric, the first man I ever loved and the one who always answered when the question was asked - who could love a faggot nigger? Thank you. To John, Shannon, and Xavier, the first gay friends I made in college who showed me the diversity of queerness and danced with me under disco lights in the cages of dark rooms, thank you. To New York and to the fashion industry, who showed me that queerness could be celebrated and directly linked to culture and success, thank you. And to the closet boy reading this, wondering what to do and how to say what needs to be said... we see you. Know that you are loved, know you are valid and know that you deserve the warmth that comes when you stand in the sun. Know that there is a world for you. Know that you are missing out as long as you hide who you are when you don’t have to. If you need me, call me. We may be strangers, but we’ll always be family.