Op-ed: To You There, in the Closet
BY Assi Azar
April 16 2013 11:33 AM ET
I have decided to write to you. I don’t know why; maybe because today I am “celebrating’’ 10 years out of my own private closet. Whatever the reason, I wrote this. I hope you will read it to the end.
Despite it being 10 years ago, I remember so clearly what life was like in the closet. You’re walking down the street. Good-looking guys go past, but you can’t look at them — in case you reveal your truth. And you go out with girls, and it’s not that bad at all. Some of them have their suspicions, but you do everything that you can to hide it. You even overplay your masculinity in order to convince her. It’s not hard to deceive a girl who is in love with you.
And you start to confuse yourself with your own lies. You think that because you actually managed to sleep with her, that maybe, perhaps, surely you are not really gay.
And if you marry her and have a baby with her, that’s it! You’re not really gay.
But at night your dreams betray you. Those dreams where you are kissing someone — a man, a guy in your class, a friend, a colleague, your boss — and it feels so good, so right, so full of passion and fire, and you wake up scared and agitated. This betrays you. And when you watch Brad Pitt on the screen and he takes off his shirt and looks you straight in the eye, your mouth goes dry and you are once again betrayed. Sometimes a tactless friend dares to ask if you are gay. You try to play it cool and deny it, carefully and swiftly trying to convince him otherwise, while also convincing yourself that you have convinced him.
And maybe even you have a secret profile on a gay dating site, without a photograph of your face. You just flirt because you don’t have the courage to meet up with any of them. And if you do meet up with someone, it is in darkness. And if it happens not to be that dark, you just pray that the guy you just had sex with won’t know any of your friends and give your secret away.
And you convince yourself that just because you slept with that guy, it doesn’t mean you are gay. And you convince yourself that just because you are in love with your best friend, it really doesn’t mean that you are gay. And if sometimes you watch gay porn, that doesn’t mean that you are actually gay. And you think that if you watch straight porn, then there is no way that you are gay. And you sleep with your girlfriend again to prove to yourself one last time that you are not gay. You even cheat on her with another girl just to show her and the whole world what a man you are.
And it works.
But behind your back, your closest friends — those who suspect you are gay but don’t have the guts to say anything to you — look at you with sadness.
I am also sad for you because I have been there. I’m so very sad for you that you are missing out on the most important years of your life because you are so wrapped up in this internal war between you and yourself. Not with your friends. Not with your parents. Not with your colleagues. Just with yourself.
Yes, when I was in the closet I was terrified to death of my parents finding out.
Frightened that they would throw me out of the house, that my friends would abandon me, that they would fire me from my job. It is a paralyzing fear. You don’t even know how to make those three little words leave your lips: "I am gay." It doesn’t even seem possible after so many years of lying.
And you are worried that you will be disappointing everyone; that they will look at you like an injured calf — with pity, that they didn’t understand you. Coming out of the closet is a process on two levels:
1.Coming out to yourself
2. Coming out to the rest of the world.
The moment that you stand there in front of the mirror and you say to your reflection, "I am gay."
From that very moment, everything starts to get easier and simpler. Because from here you start to become stronger and stop being the victim. The moment when you accept yourself is the moment when you realize it's less important that people like you and more important that they accept you.
You cannot come out of the closet in front of others until you have stood in front of that mirror, looked yourself deep in the eyes and said the real truth out loud.
For me, this moment came after I realized I was in love with a man. For six months he pursued me because he felt that there was something starting between us, but I wasn’t able to admit or allow it. I brushed him off. I tried to convince myself: We are just good friends. But I just couldn’t help it — I fell in love.
One day, I overheard that my man was going out on a date with another guy, and I remember that moment as though it was yesterday. I suddenly realized that I was about to miss out on the biggest love of my life, that there was a price for being in the closet and that price was too great.
So that was that.
The tears rolled down my cheeks, but I refused to give up as I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked deeply into my eyes and I said it: "I am gay."
And with my heartbeat bursting out of my chest, I called him and asked him to come over. And he came over and we sat together on my couch and we kissed. For the first time. Exactly 10 years ago, I kissed a man. And it was strange. And I felt his stubble. And my heart was thumping and that was that — no going back.
That first year wasn’t easy. It was full of confusion, regret, and self-hate. I didn’t understand anything about the sex and it even disgusted me a little, and again I thought that I was straight and I had just been confused, messed up. But I was happy because I was on the right path to harmony and self-fulfillment. I wasn’t stuck in the same place as I had been a moment before.
Six months after that first kiss, I dreamed that I was standing under the wedding canopy with my girlfriend. All my friends were there and the rabbi was making the blessings. Then I turned and ran away. I found myself in my old bedroom in my parents’ house, lying in my single bed, crying into my mother’s shoulder. She is soothing me and stroking my head and she whispers: “You really thought that you could do it, huh?”
The next day I drove over to my mother’s and I told her, and I was absolutely terrified.
And then I told my father.
And then everyone else.
It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t easy for them to understand. But to me it was a miracle. The thought that I could go through my life without being true to myself, without being me. The thought that I could have lived a lie until the day I died, just to fit into a role that society expected of me, just not to be different ... that thought chills me to my bone.
And I respect those people who decide to stay in the closet. Yes — I respect you, my friend. If you thought that living out of the closet was hard, then living in the closet is 10 times harder. Because maybe to the rest of the world you seem to be OK, but inside you are dying of sadness. I remember it well. And today my parents accept me completely (that includes my father, who used to be totally disgusted at the mere mention of the word “gay”) because we have gone through a long process together. A process in which I had to teach them about the “New Assi,” the real Assi. And they learned with patience and with unconditional love.
And hello? Don’t you want to be able to walk with your lover down the street hand in hand? Doesn’t it annoy you to have to kiss and cuddle just in private?
It wasn’t easy for me to write these words down and I am sure that it hasn’t been easy for you to read them, but I hope you realize that I want to help. Not to force you to come out, not to force you into anything. Just to give you something to think about, just to show you that you are not alone. And yes, I do honestly believe that everything happens in its own time and that everyone will come out of their closet in their own time, when they feel the time is right or that they have no other choice. I hope that I helped you, even if only a little.
Have a good week,
ASSI AZAR is a screenwriter and the co-host of Big Brother Israel. He is also one of the first openly gay men in the media in the Middle East and an advocate of LGBT rights. Follow him at facebook.com/assi.azar.