“It gets rather lonely in the closet…”

I got a comment on my blog this morning that is really more of a letter, and it’s haunting me. I am going to post the entire letter (which is BEAUTIFULLY written, oh my God), and then I’m going to respond as best I can.


Hey Bill,

It’s 2:30 in the morning where I am. I just finished Openly Straight a few hours ago and can’t stop thinking about it. I bought it on my Kindle last week and began reading it in secret (you can probably figure out why), and have no one to talk to about it. I want to let you know I truly enjoyed it and related to it on so many levels I can’t begin to explain. I won’t mince words: As soon as reached the last page, I came here in search of hints for a sequel. I mean, there has to be a sequel. There just has to be more! The open ending Rafe left us with made me feeling a little… hollow. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rafe and his story and am touched by his journey to find his identity. But, personally, I don’t identify with him. I identify with Ben.

In another comment, a user named @Makaila offered the idea of exploring Ben’s point of view, and I really hope you consider it. His story truly struck an emotional chord with me that’s still ringing as I write this. When I reached the moment when Ben opened up about his parents, his future and what the whole world expects from him, I felt as though someone had pulled these thoughts out of my head and printed them, and I had to close the book a moment and look around the room to see if anyone else was around that might discover my secret. I share his fears, his confusion, and his pain. I’m a little older though, a freshman in college. But I’m so deep in the closet that I have a hard time admitting it to myself.

Rafe’s story, on the other hand, is rare: he has a wonderfully supportive family, a best friend he can share anything with, and support groups that don’t judge him. But many of us aren’t as lucky. Many of us are still floating around, putting on acts and trying on different layers of skin in hopes of hiding from who we really are. Like Ben, I’ve done a decent job so far in my life, but it hasn’t made me happy. It gets rather lonely in the closet, and sometimes I wish I at least had somebody to share it with. That’s why I related with Ben, and in some ways was leaning on him, hoping that he might eventually find his way out and stand up to the world. That he’d step out say, “Hey, everything gonna be alright.” And I would want so much to believe him.

But he never did. In fact, he’s still very much afraid and confused as ever, and now feels absolutely betrayed by the only person he was honest to. During their final conversation, Ben says he can’t say if he was glad to have met Rafe after everything they had been through. This worries me so much. As I lay in bed, wondering about future relationships, I asked myself: Is it even worth the risks? Would I end up regretting it, too? How will I know if I can trust them? When will I ever decide if it’s the right time or if it’s a mistake?

And then I had this scary thought that if someone like Ben can’t find the courage to come out and accept who he is, maybe I never will either.

And I am scared. But that isn’t your fault. I’ve been scared for a long time.

This is a sad note to end on, but I still have a lot of time to figure things out. And Ben does too. And I really hope he does.

Dear X,

First off, your letter made me cry. I am crying right now. I am crying for your pain and for the fact that it’s so unfair that as far as we’ve come, many gay people still find themselves feeling the way that you do now. You are not alone. You are surrounded by literally millions of people who share your story and your feelings.

Your letter does end on a sad note, but to me, it’s a lot like the ending of Openly Straight. For some reason, I see hope there. I see a great future for you beyond the current turmoil. It’s never, ever too late to come out. To come out is to finally decide that you paid as much for your ticket to this carnival called life as everyone else, and you’ll be damned if you’re not going to enjoy it just as much as everyone else.

You are a college freshman now. I can tell you that when I was a college freshman, I was severely depressed, so much so that in the spring of that year I withdrew from college and came home. That was my story. We all have our stories and our paths. The point is that at the time it consumed me and now I barely remember those feelings. We evolve and we keep going because we have absolutely no idea what our future holds, and we deserve to find out!

I tell you that not to tell you not to feel the feelings, but to give you perspective while you’re feeling them. That old adage “it gets better” is so apt. It just does. If we wish for our lives to get better, there are certain choices we can make to make that happen.

While my story was more Rafe than Ben (I came out a bit in high school, a bit more in college, I had some family support though not so much at first), I can relate to the loneliness you write about, and most of us can. Even for the Rafes of the world, that confusion and pain about being different than our families of origin is a part of the process. And it sucks, doesn’t it?

For me, the antidote was sharing who I was with other people. Some people come out in one broad stroke. I came out sporadically. I told some friends starting when I was 15 or 16; I told my family when I was 16-18; I joined the gay softball league when I was 20. I got my first real long-term boyfriend when I was 21. I didn’t come out professionally until I was at ESPN.com, and by then I was 30. I was scared my dream of being a sports writer would be taken away from me if I was honest about who I was.

That didn’t happen. I was able to continue in my field, and in fact coming out opened some doors for me. If I didn’t come out on the front page of ESPN.com in 2001, I may never have gotten to where I am now. It led to my first book, which led to my second, etc.

See the ripples? One act impacts my life completely, and that in turn impacts yours. Your act of coming out, when you are ready, may impact others.

You say you relate to Ben. Ben is based loosely on my husband, Chuck. He didn’t fully come out until he was 43. He came out when he was finally ready to have his first boyfriend (me). Then he decided that he could tell his family, co-workers, etc. His life is so different today than before I met him. I’m not taking credit for that; he gets the credit. He was honest about who he is, and now he’s enjoying the carnival more freely.

You say you want one person to share this with: good. That’s a beautiful instinct. Of course, that becomes easier when we let other people know who we are, so it’s a bit of a vicious circle. We want to share it with one person, but finding that one person is tough if we don’t identify ourselves as gay.

One practical thing about coming out, since I really don’t know your situation: make sure you surround yourself with a support system before you do anything that could endanger your safety. If you have parents paying for your schooling and you truly fear that they would stop paying if they knew you were gay, know that. Start by telling people you trust whom you think will support you. Gain strength that way. And I’m not saying your parents would do that; I’m just saying that our first responsibility is to ourselves. We take care of ourselves first, and that’s different than coming out when you’re older and financially independent.

There is a whole world out there who will love you for exactly who you are. You know how I know? From your writing. I felt your heart in your note and this is my heart, and my husband’s heart, opening up to yours. We are rooting for you.

I’m sorry that I’m not focusing more on the sequel, but I’ve dealt with that so much already. In short: I hope that someday, in some form, there is more of this story. Maybe that will be a TV show, or a film, or a web-series, or a written sequel. There is nothing to announce at this time, but I hope someday there will be!

With Love,