Decades ago – my unwanted same-sex attraction saga!
– By Terry Howard
Should I, or should I not? …Will I hurt, or will I heal? ….Will I offend, or will I embolden?
If ever there existed an issue that caused me to lose sleep over in a maelstrom of indecision – to tackle or not – it’s this essay (maybe “confession” is a better word). What tipped the scales in favor of the former is all the recent news about the growing list of women accusing celebrity Bill Cosby of rape …decades ago. An added to that are two other facts; my experience decades ago and ones shared with me by some “straight” men who asked me – scratch that, urged me – to put a voice on their untold stories…those also decades ago.
Now in the spirit of absolute candor, I’ve only recently come to grips with an issue I had to deal with – being the target of unwanted same-sex attraction from “Chuck”. It was a stressful experience, especially since I’ve never harbored same sex attraction. Clearly this experience is very different from my numerous other associations with gay people, all professional and all positive.
But let me start by being abundantly clear about a few things, particularly my motivations for writing this.
First, and I say this as emphatically as I can, what I’m about to reveal are myexperiences and in no way are they indicative of the experiences of others, nor are they a confirmation of how others, gay or straight, behave. Second, gay people have always been present in my personal and professional lives and I’ve always valued, respected and treated them with the utmost of respect. In the workplace, the record of my commitment to the inclusion of gay people speaks for itself.
And last, since we’ve made tremendous progress along the journey of acceptance and inclusion of gay people in society, the logical next step, among others, is to give voice to the range of experiences along that journey, including those that may cause discomfort as this essay surely will.
Let me tell you more about my experiences with Chuck.
What made my relationship with him especially difficult was that he was one of the most talented, creative and unselfish people I’ve ever met. He’d give you his last dime without a thought. When I came up short on lunch money or bus fare, which was frequently the case during my college days, he was always there. Truth is I cared about him as a friend, but not in the way that he preferred.
And I loved his parents and sisters. They considered me their “other son,” “other brother“ and filled me with the finest of southern cuisine during my summer stays at their home where I primed tobacco under the blazing suns of summer. My most difficult moments were having to make excuses for not visiting them during the school year when I knew that Chuck would be there. My lying sustained my façade, a flimsy façade at that.
All this started when Chuck began coming on to me in subtle ways during my freshman year in college. At first I just avoided him as much as possible. And for a while that strategy worked. Further complicating matters was the fact that he held a powerful position in the fraternity I sought entry into and, thus, he carried a lot of weight as to whether or not I got accepted. I knew that and so did he based on his subtle reminders.
However, it did not end after we graduated and went separate ways; he to Washington DC and me to Boston.
You see, he followed – maybe, on reflection, “stalked” is a better word – me for years after that. Whenever I moved to a different city, he’d call my mom and ask how to contact me. I could not share with mom what was really going on especially since he characterized himself as my best friend and fraternity brother. Fear, anger, paranoia; they were my constant companions.
Now some will ask why I did not convey to him even stronger that I was not interested. Or why – like all the women coming out against Bill Cosby about something that allegedly happened decades ago – am I now sharing my experience.
But as I said, I wanted entry in his fraternity. That was one thing. And my love for his family kept eating away at me and, thus, I did not want to hurt or embarrass them. That was another thing. Remember, too, that the times were different back then and matters related to gays in society were rarely talked about positively; completely ignored or joked about, yes. So I kept it all inside.
And on top of all that, despite having no doubt about my sexual orientation, I went through this period wondering what was it about me that triggered his unwanted attention? Yes, I blamed myself.
In the end I’m sorry to report, Chuck was gunned down in his Washington DC condominium years ago by someone he met at a gay bar. Needless to say, I hurt to this day for his parents’ loss of their son, the son who “made it” out of the rural south, the one who made them proud by being the first in the family to go to college, let alone getting a Ph.D.
I hurt for Chuck for his living a life I couldn’t imagine living; straddling two worlds, the public daytime “girlfriend on arm” façade versus the private late night escapades into the arms of other men; having to deal with the specter of outright rejection or the fear of rejection, especially from his family and, yes, from yours truly.
I’m haunted by the fact that I felt a guilt-laden sense of relief upon hearing the news of Chuck’s death, that he could no longer show up when I least expected that he would. My days of peering through the tiny peephole on my apartment door to see who was on the other side, of not accepting phone calls from persons unknown, of being on the lookout for a Mercedes bearing Washington DC license plates in the parking lot, were finally behind me. I could now go on with my life.
So when they buried Chuck they buried a part of me where it remained until recently. And once again I had to go face-to-face with the headlines, my heterosexual privilege, a stark reminder of the destructive nature of living a life in the closet – not only for many gay people who do, but for people like me and, if any of it is true, for those women allegedly raped by Bill Cosby decades ago.
- As in any form of unwanted attraction, the key is to establish personal boundaries and articulate, firmly and respectfully that you are not interested. Avoid sending mixed signals.
- If you find yourself attracted to someone – of either the same or opposite sex – never assume that the attraction is mutual. Don’t ignore the “not interested” signs, especially the subtle ones.
- Understand that violent reactions to any form of unwanted attraction are never appropriate…ever!
- Don’t bottle up your emotions for fear of being socially ostracized. Get help from someone you trust.
- Be willing to step in as a third party observer-ally. Avail yourself to the target as a resource. Speak in confidence to the aggressor and suggest that he/she refrain for the behavior.
© Terry Howard is an inclusion specialist, trainer, writer and corporate story teller. Among his accomplishments in the LGBT space are his nomination for the LGBT Corporate Champion Award at the Out & Equal Conference and his landmark “When Sexual Orientation Meets Traditional Religion” session delivered during the Out & Equal Conference in Los Angeles. His book, “Tap Dancing & Tiptoeing, navigating the contemporary workplace,” is due out in 2015. He can be reached at (469) 396-5394 or email@example.com.