Saturday, January 24, 2015

How do you come out to someone you love?

I'm so in love with my best friend. He has become the most incredible part of my life. It has killed me that I am in love with someone who cannot love me - again.

Straight, married, an employee. It just could not be more complicated.

I have agonised over coming out to S. I worried that I would lose the closeness of a best friend. Someone who loved me unreservedly. Hugged me. Told me that he loved me. Worried about me.

And I also knew that not coming out was self-defeating. If S felt anything for me, it would require incredible bravery for him to do anything. If our friendship survived coming out - and he felt anything for me - at least he would ONLY have to overcome his own inhibitions. But I worried so much that a wall would go up. That he would put distance between us. That the closeness that I treasure would be lost. But I knew that regardless of the consequences, I had to be completely open with my best friend.

So I wrote S a letter which I kept on my phone. I showed it to him about a week ago.

He has been amazing. His response has emphasized why I love him so much. He hugged me for a very long time after reading my letter. We chatted for hours afterward. We had another chat about a week afterwards. We covered pretty much everything. He seemed to want to ask if I was in love with him but didn't. I didn't volunteer that. I think he can see it and has enough to deal with now.

I am still desperately worried things will deteriorate and I am depressed about not being able to be with him. But at least we can move forward honestly and openly.

Here's my letter.


You know that you are my best friend? That I love you?

I don't want to keep anything from you. I could just be your boss and not write this letter. But I can't be your close friend and not.

I've got something really difficult to tell you. It's important that I tell you as my best friend, but I'm scared it could cost us our friendship and more.

I need you to read this slowly and carefully. Read the whole thing, don't take anything out of context. It is the most important and difficult thing I've ever written. So I apologise it's long. I think I need to get as much as possible out here. You'll have other questions afterwards and over time. But this should remove the questions you might feel too awkward to ask.

I am gay. Bi, but more into guys than girls. It shouldn't be a big deal. I'm a normal guy - "our people" ☺ - I love sports, doing guy things, etc. I just happen to like other guys. Maybe in 100 years it will be like preferring blondes to brunettes.

For me, being gay just means I happen to like guys. I could marry, have kids, do all the things guy/girl couples do. In addition, I get to share guy interests such as sport, competition, etc with the person I love. Nothing about being gay defines me - it doesn't make me less of a man, less stable, less brave, less scared, less successful or more creative, more emotional, more loving, more effeminate - anything.

I think that straight / gayness is a spectrum. Maybe that just makes it easier for me. But I think we end up somewhere on that spectrum a result of DNA, chemical make-up, formative experiences, relationships with parents and family, our upbringing and the strong belief systems imbued in us about what is normal, right / wrong. I don't think you are just gay or straight. I don't think you choose - who would choose to be seen as abnormal, inferior, less? I think that most guys will just shut off any thoughts of being anything more than a friend with, "I'm not gay / I can't be gay / I don't want to be gay." I've given up trying to figure out what made me end up on my place on that spectrum. It became healthier just to get on with life and find the person I loved most.

I do think I'm worth a lot as a partner - to a guy or a girl. I have not been able to find the person I love, that sees that and loves / is able to love me.

I am attracted to very, very few people. Even models - male or female. Once in a blue moon, I will see someone in a mall and think they're hot.

I have been in love 4 times. 3 guys and one girl. The three guys are straight. Nobody has been able to love me as much as / in the same way I love them. Each time that has triggered deep depression and sadness.

There have been relationships and sex with some girls and some guys. I've  had a few relationships with girls. I have had one longer term relationship with a guy.

I was in love with N and could well have married her. I first met her when I was 21 and thought she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever met. I finally got the chance to go out with her when I was about 30. She had a cocaine problem and was in love with her ex. I wrote her a letter about giving up coke if she wanted to stay with me. Ultimately I never gave it to her as she went back to the ex who she is now married to. She kept some contact before marrying, almost as though testing whether she had made the right decision, and then cut me off.

My relationship with G was not healthy. We were very different in terms of interests. He has a lot of issues he struggled to deal with. I knew breaking up with him might trigger suicide. But I knew I had to - or I'd be staying in the relationship more for his sake than because he was the best person for me. He tried suicide twice as a result. I rescued him both times almost not making it the second time. Breaking up was still the right thing to do. I still love him, we are still friends but was never in love with him.

Beyond relationships, right now and for a long time to come, being gay is a very big deal.

Coming to terms with the stereotypes and labels that come with being gay is really hard. I hate the stereotypes. I have effeminate friends who are not gay. There are plenty of gay guys who people would never think are. And it shouldn't matter either way. Effeminate, being less of a man, being less accepted or different, not being normal are all the things that people think. It is difficult for straight friends of gay guys ("guilt" by association). Guys make posturing statements to demonstrate how ungay they are. It is difficult for gay guys too. Even gay guys have a whole system of naming categories of gay guys - fems, fats, bears, muscle marys, screaming queens, etc. I catch myself feeling awkward with overly effeminate types - "What if people associate me as one of them?"  I, like most guys, feel uncomfortable being checked out by a guy - it triggers that concern, "Do I come across as available / gay?". That insecurity belies the fact that we see it as a bad thing - OK for others, but as long as it is not us. Until we don't feel those insecurities, we all harbour some level of bigotry.

I am not out, and only recently told my parents. I excuse that by saying I don't want pressure on future girlfriends or a wife - of people second guessing whether it is real. That is a concern, but I will probably settle with a guy and so I will come out sooner or later. That will probably be to closer friends and when asked rather than as a general badge.

I want those close to me to be close and natural - not distance themselves because they, their girlfriends or their wives feel uncomfortable. Most guys would not put themselves in a situation where they could become close to a gay friend if they knew they were gay from the beginning. That is a big sadness related to being out one day.

And not being out means I get to hear the "normal" / posturing things that guys say, knowing they are indirectly saying that about me.

Ultimately I don't care losing bigoted "friends" or family. I don't think I have any of those, although I think unless we can all say "I have no problem being thought of as gay / being gay", be willing to experiment and be open to the result, then we all harbor some of degree of bigotry. I guess that is a radical view, but I am not a supporter of pride or any of the "in-your-face" movements.

Being gay is a big deal on a much more personal level.

I am terrified of losing you as a friend and even as an employee after coming out to you. Or merely being less close than we currently are. I don't ever want you to feel awkward or shy or limited around me as a result.

2014 was amazing. I found a new best friend. I had an opportunity to spend lots of time with you, the runs, the beer chats, music, your pre-wedding drinks, the Run weekend, etc. You told me you think I'm awesome and I shared so much about what I think with you. You have showed how much you care about me regularly. I am stunned by how quickly you have become so close and allowed me to be close. I am stunned at how quickly I have got close to you. While I have hundreds of friends, I am close to a few people and very close to you. As I said to you, you are one of the best people I have ever met.

You asked when I would party with you the way JY partied with me, you suggested crashing on my couch, etc. I was skeptical S would be comfortable with that. Later you pulled back - because you were worried about being fair to her. But I worried that perhaps you thought that perhaps I was gay and you were uncomfortable. You seemed nervous at my house. As I grew close to you, I knew coming out to you was inevitable, but I worried about that discomfort.

Many of my friends suspect that I am gay, but I have only told about 8 of my closest friends.

I lost one of my best friends R as a result of coming out and being close to him. Not because he disapproved (two of his other best friends are gay),  but because I think his wife was insecure about how close we were. He wanted to motor bike through Africa with me knowing I was gay. Later, I got cut out of his life completely. It has been over a year and a half and it hurts almost every day.

My friend C is one of my most open-minded friends - in theory.  I was his best friend.  We talked about everything. But he has said some hurtful things and put distance between us. When he is out from Dubai, he avoids time alone with me now.

I have been in love with my friend M for almost 20 years. It has been tough for him. Before he knew I was gay, I was already disliked by one of his girlfriends because of how close we were. We did not speak for two years after I came out to him. Not because he disapproved. But I guess mainly due to the pain and discomfort related to my feelings for him. After that I have seen that he has battled with wondering what my attraction says about him and if that might pose questions about perceptions of his sexuality / availability. He has often felt the need to subtly remind me he is unavailable. He has worried that my support and opinions of his success are influenced by my attraction to him. His concerns hurt every time.

Other than that M has been great. He and my friend J are the only ones who know about G's suicide attempts and what I went through. He has crashed on my couch on trips to Joburg, we have showered after golf, he hugs me, he makes an effort to see me, etc. His wife seems to be unbothered by things even knowing I have been in love with him. I remain in love with him but know he is unavailable.

My other friends have reacted supportively and remain close if not closer.

My friend R2 and his wife are the most amazing. His wife lets him go away to the bush with me. We have spent days by ourselves together, shared hotel beds, changed together. He hugs me and talks about absolutely anything with me. I am his best friend. He has known I am gay for a long time and always been unapologetic about being close and doing things with me. He and I often clubbed together. We were once (unknown to us) tailed by his jealous and suspicious girlfriend at the time.

My friend J is incredible. He talks about anything with me, we have boys times together drinking, partying, etc. We run together. He comes to my house for braais and drinks between the two of us. He admires me, I admire him, and we lean on one another. He was the first person I told. I think we're  much closer since then. He's the guy who listens when I talk about the kind of stuff in this letter. He is pretty much the only one I have talked to about the stuff in this letter. I love him so much.

Most recently I told J2. He and I have been friends since we were 6. I knew he had been through hell with a divorce, drugs, etc. I told him while sharing about the various hells I'd lived through. I found out about his attempted suicide and that he's dealt with sexuality issues too.

My friend N2 adores me and has been great. We have talked about what being gay is like, sex, etc. We shower and change after golf. His wife is less secure, especially since I told him I was gay. Where he previously came to Joburg to stay at my house and play golf with me, he has not been able to come for years. When he came to Joburg last year, his wife came with.

How much you tell S (or anyone else) about all of this and the subsequent conversations is your choice and beyond my control. I'd like you to consider that very carefully. I'd prefer it was between us, but I understand if you feel you have to tell S something about all this. While you and S might have talked about whether I am gay or not, there is a difference knowing. And knowing all the detail in this letter.

You're unavailable. In all the aspects of that word - straight, married, an employee. (You never need to tell or demonstrate to me how straight you are. Or how unavailable you are. Don't watch what you say in case I get the wrong idea. That stuff just hurts.) All I can be is the best friend you will allow me to be.

You know S and whether she would be uncomfortable with how close we are, whether you went out drinking late nights with me, worked a long series of late nights with me, travelled with me (work or otherwise), etc. You will know if she might be so uncomfortable that working with me at all is too much. That is no comment about how fantastic she is or not. It was no comment on R or N2 or their wives. It is just part of this. (I know you how much you love S and how good she has been and is for you. I meant what I said. You are amazing, she has been part of your life for 9 years and must have contributed to that in a big way.)

Besides S, this could be too uncomfortable for you and I could lose you because of that. You could move on and cut me off. You could avoid time alone with me.

I want to do the things we do and more, time and being fair to S allowing. You can run with me. You can play golf with me. You can watch sports with me. You can braai with me. You can get drunk with me. You can sleep on my couch. You can go away with me. You can watch concerts with me. You can hug me. You can talk to me about sex. You can ask me about me being gay. You can tell me that I'm awesome. You can tell me that you love me. You can change with me. You don't have to feel awkward about anything with me. You must have any subsequent conversations with me you need or want to. Don't wonder about anything. If we remain close, I don't think there is anything more difficult than sharing this with you given the risk of losing you.

I want you to know that I always try - and almost always do the right thing - even at immense disadvantage to myself. Anything I say to you, anything I have said to you, how I work with you, how I have worked with you, my friendship with you, etc is based on that. I have the highest standards and ethics and demand those from you. Everything you get from me as a friend and employee you have earned and then some.

But you are my best friend. I adore you. That's why I had to tell you. I am scared to death that I might lose you as a result.