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Guest Blogger

Fatigue

Filed By Guest Blogger | August 02, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: Bill Konigsberg, coming out of the closet, in the closet, lying about sexuality, staying out of the closet

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Bill Konigsberg is the Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Out of the Pocket and a GLAAD Media Award-winning sports writer. Bill came out on the front page of ESPN.com in 2001 with his essay "Sports World Still a Struggle for Gays." The article won the GLAAD Media Award for digital journalism the following year.

Bill_Konigsberg.jpgI was going to call this blog posting "gay fatigue," and then I realized the French have already coined the perfect term for this phenomenon. Their word for tired: "Fatigué".

Recently, I have surprised myself twice in conversations with people I'd likely never see again. The first time, with a masseuse in Billings, Montana, I turned into a single, straight man. And just now, in a swimming pool at a condo where I am temporarily living in Scottsdale, Arizona, I morphed into a married guy with two children, aged five and seven.

I suppose there's nothing that new about the whole "gay guy lying about his sexuality" thing. Except for me, it's totally new.

I came out in high school. I won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism in 2002, for my essay, "Sports World Still a Struggle for Gays." That essay served as my public coming out at ESPN.com. In 2009, my novel "Out of the Pocket," about a gay high school football player, won the Lambda Literary Award.

So I'm not exactly a closet case. At 39, I've been openly gay for more than half my life, and in the public eye for nearly a decade as a gay sports writer. I was out at The Associated Press, and even when I was visiting the locker room at Shea Stadium, I wasn't about to go back in.

Why is this happening now? And am I totally alone in this phenomenon?

The massage happened in my final days living in Montana. I thought I was just playing, trying on a different life. And with about five minutes left in the massage, I remembered, to my horror, that I'm Bill Konigsberg. That it wouldn't be too hard for her to find out exactly who I am with a google search. I obsessed about it for a couple days, blogged about it, even. A friend asked "did she see you walk?" Which I admit made me laugh.

My final day in town, I went back for another massage (the first was so good). I didn't fess up, but I also didn't feed the lie by doing any more of it. And the upshot was, she must have figured it out anyway. I recommended her to my husband, and he went for one after I did. As he was leaving, she said, "Have a great life in Arizona." He had said nothing about going to Arizona, but I had.

So she knew. Whether it was my walk, I'll never know. In the end I was glad she knew. I hate being deceitful.

But just now, I did it again. The men in the pool, both in their fifties, were talking about golf and condo prices. They both had wedding rings on. So did I, actually. Then they were talking about kids. They brought me into the conversation, and we formed a triangle in the shallow end.

"Do you have a family?" the guy with white hair and a big gut asked.

"Yup," I answered, fingering my wedding ring. My husband and I are a family. No lie there.

"Are they here with you?"

"No. Still back in Montana." A lie. He's at work.

"You have kids?"

"Yup." An even bigger lie. I am 100 percent sure I have no kids.

Suddenly, I was a guy with a wife and two kids, aged five and seven, back home in Montana. How did I get here? And how could I change courses, now that I was there?

It's a case of life imitating art. I'm becoming the teenaged protagonist, Rafe, from my recently written novel, Openly Straight. In the as yet unpublished novel, Rafe is an openly gay kid from Boulder, Colorado, with ultra accepting parents. He's tired of always being labeled, of everything he does being brought back to one thing about him. He decides to go to a boarding school on the East Coast, and re-invent himself as NOT GAY. Not in the closet, per se, but just NOT GAY. He laments that there's no such thing as "openly straight," that straight people don't understand what it's like to have to continually come out, every day, every second. In the end, he learns that there's really no way around it that works. You can try to argue that "it's no one's business" who you have sex with, but sexuality is far more than that. And to be an authentic person, a gay person simply has to be openly gay.

So why have I forgotten this lesson, a lesson that I wrote an entire novel about? At age 39?

I am chagrined. I've spent my whole life being exactly who I am, in far more difficult circumstances than a condo pool, with two guys who, while masculine and large, posed little physical threat to me. So what would possess me to be anyone other than myself, at this point in my life?

I wonder if perhaps I am going through gay fatigue. The only corollary I can think of is "AIDS fatigue," the so-called phenomenon whereby educated gay men stop practicing safe sex because they are so tired of worrying about AIDS.

Am I tired of fighting the fight? Am I tired of my sexual identity always being front and center in my life?

I know I have to stop. Lying is never good, and at some point I'll be caught. I wonder, though, if I'm alone. Have other totally out people found themselves yearning to be something other than out? And how do I stop, before it becomes a real issue?


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Renee Thomas | August 2, 2010 4:00 PM

[sigh] What do you want Bill - absolution?

Perhaps some company . . .

Notwithstanding what anyone else would think of “you” (or your motives) what would "you" think of “you” after you’ve parsed out your integrity. Will there remain a sufficient supply when it matters most?

A tad harsh?

Not if you've already paid for the dance.

Bill, I do the same thing all the time (minus the invention of children, as I have one already). I don't see it as a question of whether it's anyone's 'business' or not, but as a question of 'social context.' If I out myself right now, will it further the social context, or will it make it impossible to continue the conversation (or somewhere in between)? I didn't tell the lady behind the counter that my spouse from whom I was purchasing the car is female; I left her in the assumption that she is a male. I do tell my students when I discuss LGBT subjects; I didn't tell the two female friends I made in town. I do tell people I date; I didn't tell my real estate lawyer. I'm by no means hiding; it's a simple Google search to my whole life. But I don't feel I need to tattoo a 'G' or a 'T' on my forehead. You wanted to get a massage and chat with some guys in a pool; not re-enact LA Confidential. I wouldn't call this fatigue. I would call it having a life with something else in it other than being gay.

There is a difference, though, between not filling in the details that someone might not need to know, and denial or just fabricating something different. I also don't think that would be at all fair to my partner, and would hate to be on the receiving end of that.

I'm not going to place judgment, though. Where I live, there is a certain acceptance (or resignation, in some ways) that lesbians exist and have a right to. I don't broadcast that my spouse is female, but if someone presses for information about my family, they'll just have to deal with whatever feelings they have when I tell them. I know that level of acceptance doesn't exist everywhere else, though.

I'm a little more reluctant to get into my trans history -- I don't lie about it, but there may come a day when I'd just rather that all be forgotten information. I do think that's fair.

I've done this at work. (I work at a grocery store.) Sometimes customers like to chat with me for a moment or two while I'm scanning or bagging their groceries. For some reason, a few of them will ask if I have a girlfriend (generally older women). This conversation always goes the same way. I'll honestly answer no. Then they'll be all, "But why?" and I'll make some self-deprecating joke like, "I wish I knew!" Then they'll assure me I'll find a nice girl soon, and I smile and say, "I hope so."

It's just easier than telling them I don't have a girlfriend because I don't want one. That leads to awkward pauses, and why should Random Customer #84317 know I'm gay?

I've been tempted to do it at school, but that's never a good idea because you're GOING to see those people again, and probably talk to them again, if only until the end of the semester.

Straight people don't have to come out because most people assume everyone is straight. Right? Right. We all know that.

So, act as if everyone assumes you are gay. Assume everyone knows you are gay from the moment they see you. That's what straight people do. This sort of lifts the burden off of you having to come out over and over again.

You can mention your husband without having to explain that you are gay and that you have a husband.

bill konigsberg | August 3, 2010 1:03 AM

Thanks for this comment! It sounds so simple, but I'd never thought about it that way, that the burden can be lifted by simply stopping seeing it as a burden. If we assume people already know, the burden (if there is one) falls on the listener.

Cheers!

dharmapupil | August 3, 2010 1:58 AM

Absolutely perfectly stated, GrrrlRomeo!

When I first came out (40 years ago) I worried about being 'obvious'. I asked a straight friend if it was easy to tell I was gay. Her reply, "No Philip, *beat* As long as you don't move or open your mouth!" After that I gave up worrying about it and just acted as if everybody knew already. I am so grateful for that woman's honesty, as she saved me from myself and freed a lot of energy for me.

Bill, you are fooling YOURSELF if you think that masseuse didn't know from the moment you walked in: You didn't hit on her!
The pool scene I suspect was you trying on a different reality so that you could re-affirm your path. We all should do that once in a while, I feel.

The MT massage episode I chalked up to a fun tryout for a part you were never going to play.

This seems more voyeuristic - that you're doing it for the thrill of it, to see if you can get away with it. I can't speak to the motivation, but using the word Fatigue as your theme indicates you're tired of being gay. Maybe because you've thought so deeply about it through your characters - but the question when we're tired of the present/reality is: what limits do we place on our behavior in those moments?

If you don't limit yourself - believing you "deserve" to get the perceived benefits of being straight - or that you're just being rebellious - without limits, you may keep going down this road. To what end? And since you are married - it's not just reflecting on you, nor should it just be your decision.

It is ballsy to blog it - but I'm not sure that will satisfy whatever the urge is. To add another french phrase, perhaps you just want to be an Agent Provocateur - which would only really be provocative if you came back and told them the truth.

I don't feel the need to explain my mere existence to total strangers. I just don't talk to them.

Renee Thomas | August 3, 2010 11:12 AM

I would imagine it’s a burden to the extent that being gay or trans (or both) defines your humanity.

Mercedes wrote:

"I'm a little more reluctant to get into my trans history -- I don't lie about it, but there may come a day when I'd just rather that all be forgotten information. I do think that's fair."

More than fair, it increasingly seems to me that "being out" requires that one lay hold of wholeness and completeness and then get on with being a multi-dimensional human being. As in, way down the list Bill happens to be gay in the same sense that I happen to be trans. Seems glaringly obvious but so few seem to consistently walk in the realization that it's not about "passing" its about balance . . . and being.


bill konigsberg | August 3, 2010 12:19 PM

Hi Renee, I think you're saying something really valuable here about the role being gay or trans plays in our lives.

I am not sure I understand what you mean when you say "so few seem to consistently walk in the realization that it's not about 'passing' its about balance."

It seems like an interesting point. Can you say more?

Thanks!

I decided long ago to just be honest about my sexuality no matter what. I'm queeny enough that most folks have a clue already. ;)

Renee Thomas | August 3, 2010 6:54 PM

Bill,

To your question:

Much of my rhetoric of "completeness" is informed by my experience of physically transitioning gender. In the wake of that rather large step I discovered that my lived experience ultimately had little to do with passing as "male" or "female." Nor, was it about continuing to honor a fragile and socially constructed binary system. Rather, it had everything to do with a profound sense of ontological wholeness. It is that sublime sense of feeing at home or at ease in one's body that I think both gay and transfolk can well appreciate. Yet, let me clarify, I’m not intent on tearing down the gender binary. Nor do I advocate adopting an assimilationist strategy. I’m advocating for us to discover and be who we each intrinsically are – wherever that happens to find us.

I think we individually fail to apprehend the “equilibrium” to which I allude because we allow ourselves to be kept off balance by an ingrained system of gender norming that seeks to ever cast us in the role of the "other." I think to a large degree we perpetuate it by defining ourselves as primarily gay or trans (or in my case both) thereby holding ourselves apart as a bulwark against that “othering.” Inevitably, I think the answer will be found in assigning a social weight to gay-ness or trans-ness as no more or less valued than any of the other diverse characteristics that we humans can and do embody. I think as social evolution goes, we are capable of it. Demographic trends are tending to validate that argument. But in the final analysis, I think adapting to diversity is not the challenge. Rather it’s recognizing that natural human diversity IS the default state. That, I think, is where we should direct our aspirations and our efforts.

Or, as I’ve long told my two children (ages 11 and 15):

“Being different is not disordered, being different is just . . . well, different. So far, it’s a lesson that seems to be serving them well as they’re turning out to be curious and compassionate young people.


Most of the people I know now are either through internet/queer media/activism, so they know I'm gay, or through the theater scene where I live, where they assume because I'm living with a man. So no such problems, except when I had my day job in education this past year, but fortunately I was anti-social enough with those folks to avoid most conversation.