Coming out: Part 1

August 2, 2014
San Francisco Gay Pride 2009

San Francisco Gay Pride 2009

The closet still exists.

So many of us in the San Francisco Bay area find it hard to believe that it does: we’ve lived with openly out colleagues, politicians and friends for so many decades. Gay marriage has become mainstream. Gay couples can adopt.

Sometimes we forget that there are places and circumstances in which gay people feel they must hide themselves. Maybe they fear families and friends would disapprove, reject them, disown them. It’s a real fear. It happens.  Truth is, they don’t know how to come out as a gay person. They don’t know how to handle the fear of coming out. So they hide in the closet.

yellow bud croppedI’ve known Gregory Ciurczak for 26 years. We met in a training I took to become an emotional support volunteer for people who had HIV and AIDS and became good friends. Gregory was one of my trainers and was out and proud when I met him. We have known each other very well for a long time and even knew each others’ parents when they were alive. The memories I have of my mother and Gregory in the kitchen together always make me smile. So do those of the Christmases we spent together in Key West.  I joke that he’s my gay husband (every woman should have one.)  He’s a smart guy and also a pretty darn good writer.

This is the first of a two-part piece I asked him to write on coming out as a gay man. Today’s post has to do with his own realization that he is  gay and his own fear of coming out.

This is a post I hope you will share with young people you know, whether you suspect they might be gay or not. At the very least it could help them be more compassionate toward friends.  At best, hearing Gregory’s story might give them the courage to be who they are, proudly. So here’s Part 1, by Gregory Ciurczak.

Rainbow_flag_breezeReflections on coming out

When I attend LGBT events I like to take a moment to admire the diversity of our community. Its depth is astounding and has permeated San Francisco Bay area arts, corporations, educational institutions and government. It is difficult to imagine the progress of our community without acknowledging our past and those who have led us to where we are today. It’s also crucial to recognize how important it has been in electing openly gay candidates to local government. Here in San Jose we have openly gay city council representatives and just recently voters in neighboring Campbell elected the youngest openly gay, Asian American Mayor in the nation.

From the variety of ages, teens to seniors, and the wide-ranging ethnic diversity, I often think, how did everyone arrive at this place to celebrate their gayness? What was their individual journey all about in acknowledging and reconciling their own sexuality?

Coming out is often discussed amongst LGBT friends; it’s a significant rite of passage and in most instances, a powerful one.

Every lesbian, gay man, bisexual and transgendered person travels a unique path in the coming out process. For some it’s an easy ride, as simple and as natural as an adolescent heterosexual coming of age. While for others it can be a heart-wrenching challenge fraught with fear of rejection complicated with issues of self-worth, peer pressure, family, culture and religion.

I‘m a baby boomer, born and raised in northern New Jersey in the shadow of NYC. My family is conservative Roman Catholic, my grandparents were from Poland, I attended Polish parochial school and then enrolled in an all boy’s high school. I completed higher education studies at a Catholic university.
In grammar school I knew there was something different stirring inside and although I wasn’t sure what it was all about, by seventh grade it was crystal clear: I was attracted to men. It was confusing and intimidating. I didn’t know what to do with these feelings. Based on my religion and culture, I identified them to be immoral, unhealthy & unacceptable. So I did what most LGBT people do when these feelings manifest themselves: I stuffed them deep down inside.

High school was an excruciating painful experience. I was short, not very masculine and bullied relentlessly.

Yes, there were thoughts of suicide.

The combination of not understanding my sexuality and the abuse at school pushed me in the direction of alcohol and drugs for escape.

But somehow I survived.

University life was more liberal and freeing but it was the early 70s and there were no gay resources or gay role models. I didn’t know any gay people. The fear of outing myself loomed; I wasn’t dating women and I was paranoid. Coming out of the closet and dealing with the crush of rejection from family and friends remained overwhelming.

By junior year the self-anguish about my homosexuality began to take an emotional toll and led me to psychotherapy. It got me my first Valium prescription — tantamount to taking aspirin for brain surgery. My early ‘70s shrink did not have the tools nor the skill set to help me. However, many years later and in my mid-twenties, it was the simple profound words of a new friendship that helped me make some progress with self-acceptance. This caring and extrasensory individual perceived I was battling internally. One day while having a conversation about life challenges she said to me very casually, “Before making up your mind with anything in life, be sure to taste all fruits”.

Gay_UnityIt didn’t happen spontaneously but these simple words, taste all fruits, threw a switch and put a spotlight on the internal turmoil that was wreaking havoc on my life. Emotionally it helped me test the waters and take small steps to quietly and confidentially come out to one friend. The experience of verbalizing the words, “I am gay”, was the most freeing experience in my life. It may sound clichéd but it did take a ton of weight off my shoulders, as well as, helped reduce some of the suffering and anguish. Plus, the friend I choose to tell had no issues with this new information and remained a close confidant.

This was a small start and I remained guilt- and fear-ridden. For years I continued to endure life in the closet to family and a majority of friends. I clandestinely befriended a gay guy for a short period of time but the risk of someone seeing us together in public was too risky and the friendship ended quickly. The agony lingered about outing myself to my business community, my family and friends.

The burden was too great to bear. In my late twenties, I decided to relocate out of the area in order to begin a new life. Today it seems unbelievable but back then, for me, it was the only way if I was ever to live as an openly gay man.

During this time a college friend relocated to San Jose, Calif. He knew I was also considering a move but not why, nor did he know I was gay. He wrote to suggest I come live with him in San Jose. These were his exact words, “Consider yourself running toward something and not running away from anything”.

These words resonated with me and five months later I arrived in San Jose. When I walked into his house and we toasted my arrival, I proclaimed the following, “I am really glad to be here and I plan to live openly as a gay man”.

Without missing a beat, he responded, “That’s terrific, I am glad you are here too”.

I sacrificed so many years hiding and being afraid of myself, the time was now to accept my gayness, join my community and make up for lost time hiding.

It was easier for me to start my new gay life here in San Jose, away from family, old friends and former business associates. When I met people, I was open and honest about myself and found I had the strength and resilience to deal with whatever came my way. This newfound courage sprang from embracing my new identity; it gave me determination and confidence. The process was slow but it instilled in me the confidence and strength to also come out to everyone on the East Coast; my parents, family members and friends.

What I learned along the way is that we sometimes live our lives so tightly bound up in our own problems that we do not realize how perceptive the world is around us. When I finally outed myself to my sister her response was, “Why did it take you so long to tell me? We all suspected it and were waiting for you to tell us.”

“Mom and dad too?” I asked. “Yes,” was her response.

She also went on to say that she was sorry I needed to move three thousand miles away to deal with my gayness. This was sad for both of us; we had been very close. And when I finally came out to my parents in a telephone conversation, I received the reply everyone hopes to get, “You are our son, we love you, no matter what you are.”

I was lucky. Not every gay person gets this response and it was a shock, a blessing and more of a relief than I ever could have expected.

The years of pressure I had put on myself began to fade away.

And I continued to be blessed with an accepting family. None of my East Coast friends have had issues with my sexuality; not one has closed the door to our friendship. Throughout my 29 years in northern California, I have been open to everyone; at my office and wherever I do business or socialize. Living my life openly as a gay man has been a healthy, freeing experience. I am an active, proud participant in my community and will always stand up to defend the fact that no one should live a life being ashamed of who they are based on their sexual orientation.

Looking back, would I have done it differently if given the opportunity & not relocate?

No. I am not advocating that all LGBT people need to move away from their hometowns to come out. For me and at that time, the cost of the journey has been repaid many times over throughout the course of living here. I have been blessed with outstanding endearing friendships, I have had amazing life-altering volunteer work experiences, I continue to give to my community and it gives back to me. I also continue to have a successful, satisfying career.

I love the Bay Area and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I fully understand how lucky I have been. Many of my friends faced a difficult, uphill battle in coming out. In Part 2, I discuss that: when friends and family aren’t so accepting.

Gregory Ciurczak
[Carol’s gay husband]

Please keep your eye out for Part 2–when coming out doesn’t go quite as well.


31 comments on “Coming out: Part 1
  1. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    My sister has a step- son who is very obviously gay-a lovely, handsome, smart guy. He is second in a line up of three siblings and two half sibs ages 32-11. My sister refuses to see his sexuality-occasionally I’ll say to her, “rick” needs to move from here and have a life-she’ll acknowledge that remark, but go no further. If I say” do you know what I mean?” she flies into a defensive rage. ” If you are hinting at something,” she says,”DON’T YOU DARE.”He just thinks sex is messy; he is very neat and tidy and that’s ALL.” I love my sister, but even my eighty year old plus parents are confused by her reactions. His father never so much as hints at his son’s orientation. For a while, “Rick” spent about a year away from home, relocating to Georgia, and returned to NJ very buff. He’d found the gym, and spent all his free time there. The collective family would love to see this sweet guy have a happy life and find love and companionship, but I know he isn’t ready to disappoint his step mother and father. It’s sad to watch.

    • That’s heartbreaking. Out here, the greater society is so embracing that we forget there are places and people so closed off from reality. I don’t know how many young gay people move to live openly, that was what G thought he had to do and he’s never looked back. He has a great life here. I hope your sister’s young step-son finds his way out.

  2. kim tackett says:

    Carol and Greg, thanks for sharing your story. My very best friend struggled, I can see it now, through college (we even went away together) and finally came out publically when it was too late… that is, when he was dying of AIDS. For years, we all knew, and we tried, in our awkward, weird ways, to get him to share. No one really had the experience, or the language, to help him understand how much we loved him. We lost Jeff in 1989. Since then, things have changed, for many, many people. My daughters have guncles (gay uncles), have been part of same sex weddings, and have friends with two moms (and two dads). They both have gay best friends, who are out. But even for the 20 and 26 year olds (their ages), coming out is difficult and painful and requires courage and trust. And it takes friends, as Carol is to Greg, as I hope I am for my friends, and for my daughters to be to theirs.

    • Greg has been a great friend to ME in my (straight) times of need as well. It’s like any other close friendship with ups, downs and intimate sharing. My mother went to a gay wedding in the 1970s before they were common. Like me, she was curious and in fact we are 99.9% certain that her favorite Brooklyn cousin who never married and lived with his mom was gay. Here in the Bay area being gay is not even remarkable, it’s just part of your demographic description. But I must say that the 10 days I spent in New Orleans with 6 gay men in 1990 was one of the most fun trips i have EVER had! And yes, Greg was one of them.

  3. Barbara says:

    Sometimes the biggest hurdle we face is our fear. When my sister’s sons both “came out,” her response was similar – one son she suspected was gay, the other she was totally shocked – but she loves them regardless of their sexual orientation, she wants, like any of us do for those we love, for them to live congruent lives and her only concern was that it would make their lives, in some ways, more difficult. It IS nice that stigmas and legislative hurdles are becoming fewer and fewer.

    • Life is far less difficult for gay people today, with marriage and adoption and all the other normal aspects of life being acceptable and embraced. The only thing that makes life difficult for gay people is the attitudes of those who don’t understand or don’t want to understand. There are fewer and fewer of those people today. Even parents who initially have a hard time with it often end up learning and growing. This is not a bad thing. I can’t even imagine having to go through life pretending. I can’t fathom it.

  4. Barbara says:

    Oh – and thank you Greg (and Carol) for sharing this very personal story.

  5. Kathy says:

    Carol and Greg thank you for sharing this. I have read so often where parents are unaccepting of their son or daughter’s sexual orientation. I find that so distasteful. I am so happy that Greg’s parents offered him acceptance and love as it should be.

  6. It is so sad when people can’t just be who they are. Why does anyone care who someone loves? Thank you for sharing this important post.

  7. Lana says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience. My heart breaks for anyone who has to experience hiding their true self. My younger son has a good friend who just came out, and my son and his peers are so accepting of this young man. It gives me hope that we are becoming more accepting as a society – I really hope this is the case.

    • I love the youth of today who were (mostly) raised in a more accepting culture. I have hope, too. When I think of how things have changed in just our generation it does give me hope. Blessings to your son’s friend. i hope his life rocks!

  8. pia says:

    I don’t know how many memorial services I went to between 1985 when one of my best friends Billy died and 1991 when another just as close friend, Larry, died.

    I think of NY as having lost its color and vibrance during those days. It became a place I could leave not a place that made me want to stay. And really it did lose its color—the flower district is no more–it was mostly Gay owned and/or operated. The card stores that seemed to be on every corner for awhile in the 1970’s and 80’s–gone.

    The gay men in my life were a bit too paternalistic toward me but I would ask men I was dating to meet one or two and if they recoiled–they were gone

    I’m sorry Gregory that you thought you had to leave the NY area to come out but I understand

  9. Carol,

    Thank you for inviting Greg to share part of his journey here. You know, speaking as someone who was raised in an evangelical Christian home, I can just say that religion (some religions anyway) can brainwash people, especially if they hear these messages when they are very young and don’t yet have critical thinking skills. My daughter came out at age 30, after having been in a heterosexual marriage.

    My memoir is about finally understanding who my beloved daughter is, about the journey we both took (because it is a journey for both child and parent) and, more importantly, how religion can cloud the way we see the world. I think you are right. Except for the few people who still have problems reconciling their faith with their ability to celebrate differences and practice what their religion truly preaches, we are at the dawn of a new day. It couldn’t come soon enough for me!

    • I didn’t realize you had this experience. You’re right that it’s a journey for everyone. But I can’t help but think it’s a blessed journey where the true meaning of Christ’s life and words can be practiced. That’s why it always astonishes me when evangelicals can act so terribly toward love ones. Then again, it’s an opportunity for growth and you never know. Blessings to your family.

  10. Yeah wow. How cool would it be if we all stopped judging who should be doing what as if we knew the only way. love is love is love is love and that’s all we need and want more of. Who’s loving who is not even in the mix.

  11. Liv says:

    I’ve been waiting for this one since you said it was coming out (pun intended). I applaud you Carol for tackling what some people think is a difficult topic on your blog – and Gregory even more so for using his story to help others!

  12. Kim Acedo says:

    Carol, thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve been through “coming out” and it’s funny how it’s never quite done once you proclaim it. It becomes something you do on a consistent basis. Once I cut my hair very short, I was forced to “come out” everytime I left the house. I have to face the fear of coming out every single day, but it has really transformed who I am as a person. It’s the hard things in life that allow for beautiful change from the inside out. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to Part II 🙂

  13. Ruth Curran says:

    I got stuck on a phrase and read it over and over again: “I sacrificed so many years hiding and being afraid of myself….” What kind of world is this that we judge people to the point that they must not only hide but be afraid to look in the mirror?

    It sounds like the world is a better place because your gay husband endured and got through the crap this world through at him long enough to find a place where he could “be” and the strength to help lift up others….

    • That phrase also struck me the first time I read it–and yet, it is the reality for some gay young people. But we need to make sure that changes. Anything we can do. Anything. Because how could it possibly be a sin to be the way God made you? It isn’t.

  14. Growing up in rural KY prejudice was rampant from sexual orientation, skin color anything. To many people with to much time on their hands. My father passed away in 1985 and the only thing in the world that I was ashamed of him for, was his prejudices. I like to think it was ignorance or taught anything to make it seem better. My mother is still this way no matter my attempts to change her way of thinking, she’s 78 and has Alzheimer’s. They were pentecostal and I believe this is what has turned me away from religion. Somehow from an early age I knew this was a horrible injustice. I was determined that my children would not be raised to think this way. What God would want us to judge another. Who’s business is it who we spend our time with. One of my best friends was a Lesbian and she died of breast cancer. Her own family would rather watch her die alone than overcome their ignorance. It was the saddest thing I’ve ever personally witnessed. She was so brave about it. I’m glad you’ve had a happy life everyone deserves that gay, straight, female it doesn’t matter. Diversity isn’t something to be scared of it is something to be celebrated. This should become a frequent series.

    • thank you, Rena. Blessings to your friend in the afterlife…that is such a sad story and so glad she had you. And yes, this will be a topic we cover more often now.

  15. As a mom of a 16 & 18 year old, I’m very happy to see how this generation (god how old that makes me sound) is so much more open and receptive to the LGBT lifestyle than older generations. I’m becoming more optimistic that it will continue in the future. It’s about time, if you ask me.

  16. I have been looking forward to this post too. I grew up in a family (Not to be cliche but it is what it is) full of artist, stylist, and designers so I never realized being gay was anything more than being different until I was an adult and moved from the Philadelphia area.
    I have a cousin that went through a very hard time as a young adult. Not because her family and friends didn’t love and support her, because we did, all of us. It was more she couldn’t accept herself. It was terribly painful to watch her suffer through all sorts of relationships trying to figure out who she was. She did move to California for a few years and we were thrilled when she came home. I cannot even imagine how painful it is for a young person to have that inner turmoil and not have a support system. We were all relieved and so happy for my cousin when she fell in love with herself first and then her partner.
    My BFF died a few months ago from HIV related cancer. An innocent few months of exploration as a teen…My heart is so broken.
    We need to be so much better about teaching young people to protect themselves the risks are still there.
    Thank you Carol and Greg for sharing your story.

  17. Hi Carol, I just saw this post on Google+ and had to chime in here. I live near Palm Springs and besides San FRancisco we are one of the most gay-friendly locations in the US. And yes, lots of our close friends are gay or lesbian and we have family members who are too. Like with most prejudice, I think once people actually are introduced to people they consider different them them, they usually find that people are just people no matter what. Unfortunately the gay/lesbian issue is clouded the most by religious baggage. Things are changing though and it’s all good. ~Kathy

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