My way out

The author of a compelling new book for gay men, The Way Out, relates his own journey from the closet to the party scene to despair to enlightenment—and invites you to join him on his path to affirming the true self.

BY Christopher Lee Nutter

April 26 2006 12:00 AM ET

I have spent my
entire life looking for the way out of pain.

However, no
matter what form it took—fear, depression,
bitterness, anxiety, jealousy, loneliness, addiction,
anger, judgment, self-criticism, you name
it—and no matter how much it hurt, for most of
my life I didn’t think of it as pain. Rather I
qualified these feelings as symptoms of my
imperfection. In other words, I thought the pain was
me.

As an adolescent
growing up in the suburbs of Birmingham, Ala., in the
’70s and ’80s, I was in a lot of pain. But by
the time I was 16, I was sick enough of being listless
and depressed to do something about it. I decided that
I wanted to be happy. And I was certain that the way to do
this was to correct my imperfections.

The most serious
of these imperfections was my homosexuality—it was my
fatal flaw, my original sin that I had not chosen to commit.
Though by my midteens I had accepted that this
condition was never going to change, I could not
really accept that I was gay. To me that would have meant
accepting that I was a lonely, pitiful and defective human
being, that I was not loved by God, that I was less
than straight men, that the only others like me were
shadowy discards from society. Doing that would have
meant accepting that I was never going to be happy, so that
was out of the question.

My sexual
attraction to men, however, was by no means the only
imperfection I needed to cloak. Compared to the fabulous
Pretty in Pink teens I grew up with, I was
absolutely riddled with imperfections—I
wasn’t beautiful; I wasn’t rich; I
wasn’t masculine; I wasn’t confident; I
wasn’t athletic. As I became hyperaware of these
inadequacies, too, I slowly became both ashamed and
embarrassed to be me.

To remedy this I
became devoted to getting gorgeous and becoming
popular—in other words, to getting
“perfect.” And college became the set
where I was able to successfully act the role of a
privileged pretty boy. Playing this role felt like the
very first shot of morphine after a lifetime of
debilitating pain, and I often felt high. But whenever the
morphine wore off, I would find myself hurtling back into
the void, and it was as if I had never left.

Meanwhile, my
sexuality was literally in the closet—that’s
where I kept my gay porn, on a high shelf in a small
closet blocked off by a large chair. I even did such a
number on myself that, whenever I saw a guy I thought
was gay, I would find myself thinking, “Ugh, how
horrible that would be.” Then I would
momentarily move into a kind of twilight zone of
awareness of the fact that I was this person I pitied. I was
in a state of shock over my own being.

Then in 1993 I
made a monumental shift in how I experienced my life when
I rebelled against the depression that still tormented me
and looked inside myself for the first time for its
source in the form of my own thoughts. Not only did
learning how to fight my thoughts mark the beginning
of the end of depression for me, it awoke a nascent
awareness of my power to change the reality of my life
by looking inward rather than outward. As a result,
the way I lived my life began to change.

First I ditched
my plans to go to law school and decided instead to
follow my lifelong dream to become a writer. Even more
significant, for the first time in my life I began to
question my belief that I couldn’t come out of
the closet and be happy. There were few images of gay people
in the media then, so it was still a very lonely time to be
gay. And I couldn’t even say the word
“gay” out loud, so I was at a total loss as to
how to go about coming out.

Then opportunity
struck. One night I read in Details magazine that
they were starting a new section that readers could
submit stories for. And I had a revelation: I would
write an essay about life inside the closet and thereby come
out in the process. As much as going through with it
scared me, and as much as it seemed an impossible long
shot that it would be selected, I became aware of a
silent, certain knowledge about what to do next: write that
essay. And so I did.

Despite my sense
of certainty, I was shocked when I got a call from an
editor in New York saying they loved the piece and wanted to
run it with a picture. At the time I was getting ready
to move from Mississippi, where I’d gone to
college, to Boston for my first magazine internship.
Added to the mix of my new life “up North” and
working in publishing would be the fact that I would
be Out. Me. Out of the closet. Gay and for everyone
else to see. I couldn’t even imagine it.

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