In retrospect, there were signs much earlier in my life, but it wasn’t until I was in college, getting to know a much wider variety of people than I grew up with, that I even realized how many different ways of being there are.
I went off to college at the University of California at Davis in 1977 at the age of 18, and I lived in a close-knit dorm for my first year. In the fall of 1978, three things happened that opened me up to considering myself in a different light:
- my best friend came out (and many of our mutual friends were concerned that I would not take it well: a glimpse into where I came from and how it shaped me)
- the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools, was on the ballot, making gay and lesbian politics and sometimes identity very much part of the public discourse
- I had sex for the first time (with a woman, by the way)
By the winter of 1979 I had realized I was attracted to men, had told a number of my friends, and was becoming involved with the campus gay and lesbian group. I attended a showing of the documentary Word Is Out, and that night I went home, called my mother, and told her I was gay.
It’s worth noting that when I told my mother I was gay (which I mark as an inflection point), I had not yet been romantically or sexually involved with another man. Being gay is about identity and self-awareness as much as (or perhaps more than) behavior.
There are two implicit elements to the post title.
40 years is a *long* time. Not to mention 60. Experience may sometimes not be as important as courage, or creativity, or cleverness, but often it does still count for something. I’ve reached a point in my life where I both wish my experience were acknowledged and feel it is disregarded. I guess I can join the old man club.
And yet, those first 20 years of my life continue to shape or even define me. I wonder what it will be like for people who are growing up now, who are discovering who they are at a much earlier age.