Patricia Nell Warren

Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner's Coming Out

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | October 12, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: coming out of the closet, LGBT athletes, Stonewall riots, The Front Runner

Like many of my generation, I spent many years in a heterosexual marriage, hoping that the lonely inner knowing of a different sexuality would somehow just go away. But it didn't. And the thought of coming out was scary even after reading about the Stonewall riots in the 7/28 New York Times in 1969, just a few weeks after my 33rd birthday. Hey, those Greenwich Village homos might have enough guts to throw rocks at the cops...but there was no way I'd do anything like that.

So the road to courage took a by-way through feminism...finding my guts as a woman. I had started long-distance running, when the sport became popular across America. Just two months before Stonewall, I was one of 12 women to crash the Boston Marathon and run the race without numbers, to protest AAU rules that prohibited women from racing farther than 2 1/2 miles. I came in 4th. Now that took guts, right?

Over the next few years, I continued to run and compete...and to agitate with the other women runners. Supported by the Road Runners Club of America and a growing number of race directors and officials, we finally made the AAU start changing its policies. But the terrifyingly lonely thing inside me hadn't gone away one bit -- I was still running away from it. And I was meeting a few other runners who seemed to be cases like me. By late 1972 I was at work on a novel about the gay people hidden in sports, to be titled The Front Runner. Writing about fictional people who had guts, I realized that I would have to live up to what my characters stood for.

In the spring of 1973, it all came together explosively. I finished the book, left my marriage, found a publisher. By summer, I was socially out in New York and on Fire Island. All that remained was the scary step of being professionally out at work. That happened over the winter of 1973-74, as my fellow editors at the Reader's Digest became aware that a gay novel forthcoming from William Morrow was written by their own Patricia Nell Warren.

The following spring, when The Front Runner hit the bestseller lists, the New York Post asked me "the question" and I answered it with a "yes." It made me the first person to come out on the staff of that redoubtable conservative magazine.

To my surprise, the Digest didn't fire me. I worked there for another six years, and published two more gay novels, before I finally left the magazine on my own. I realized that the years of loneliness and pain to which I'd subjected myself were largely something I had built up monstrously in my own mind. But I'd had to live through that loneliness in order to get the full measure of what it meant to end run towards freedom at last.


Patricia Nell Warren also writes at www.patricianellwarren and

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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 12, 2008 10:41 PM

When I heard about the "homosexual riot" in New York all that I could do at sixteen was stand in my rear yard in Michigan City and look at the distant sky and dream. No one today can realize the effect of that time on American Queer Consciousness. None of us would have been the same without it.

And the words you wrote in "The Front Runner" burned into our collective souls to sweeten them.

I've written before on how special The Frontrunner is to me and how it affected my coming out and self-acceptance.

Thanks for the backstory on how the book helped you too.