At Your Age?
By Brad W. Andersen
Bobby Sherman. David Cassidy. Rock Hudson. Michael Landon. Glen Campbell.
I humorously muse now that it may have been the hair that gained my attention. Regardless of what it was, these men intrigued me at a young age. The reasons that I noticed these men are mostly unknown to me. Yet, decades later, I remember those thoughts and feelings.
As you can tell from the names listed above, I am of the late Baby Boomer generation. I actually remember when having a color television or an air-conditioned car were luxuries. (Yes, honey, there was electricity back then.) In fact, the year I graduated from high school there were only two American automakers that had standard air conditioning in all of their models. Despite my age, I might be called a “baby gay” when compared to Generation Xers, or even Millennials, as my experience in, and awareness of, the gay community are more in sync with younger gay men.
During my mid-forties I began to wonder more seriously about male intimacy, but the journey from this point forward wasn’t always as pretty as one of those faces (or the hair) of men from television. The “intrigue” from my childhood gave way to real life events, causing my life to dramatically change. Anonymous online chat rooms were like a drug to me. I had never discussed these feelings with anyone and doing so (with other married men across the country) was liberating, yet guilt-producing.
You see, I had a conservative, homogenous, midwestern upbringing, and an all-encompassing faith. Plus, by this time I had been heterosexually married, with children for 23 years. What does one do with same-sex attraction in that kind of life? For years, I ignored it, thinking it was just a weakness that I had to conquer. Even so, I was aware of my interest in men in high school. I remember going into a store where there were Playgirl magazines and standing there shakily for a long time, trying to decide whether I should buy one. I became self-conscious, thinking the clerk was watching me, and got out as fast as I could.
Eventually, at age 46, I left my home because this attraction to men wouldn’t go away. Leaving home was the culmination of months of secrecy. I had not been honest with anyone about all that I thought and did prior to this point. This was hurtful to my family, and I regret it because as a result, they no longer trusted me. Additionally, the stress of living a double standard was tearing me up emotionally. I would travel into the city, unbeknownst to anyone else, to meet up with men, leaving me physically satisfied, but mentally conflicted. Before moving out, my wife and I attended counseling and a weekend seminar taught by a man who left his gay life behind and was happily married to a woman. I was determined to conquer this same-sex attraction, one way or another, yet it felt like an impossible mountain to climb. Not because I didn’t have people to help; my wife had been supportive of my efforts to keep the marriage together, as were others. It felt impossible because Pandora’s box had been opened, and my desires and feelings wanted to come out. With much anxiety, I started out on my own, feeling truly alone for the first time since age 18. The majority of my existing faith-based friendships immediately ended; to this day, most have never said another word to me. My children were hurt and displayed that by keeping their distance from me for years. My faith-based employment was gone; I had been forced to resign after 20 years in church ministries and leadership. I stayed in a hotel the first night or two without any hope or even a plan and cried.
Slowly, though, my new life began to unfold. After a few weeks of boarding with a family that I knew, I found an apartment in a nearby small, Midwestern city. I frequented gay clubs as much as possible and I met a few guys who became good friends. I was like a kid in a toy store—everything was shiny and new.
It felt impossible because Pandora’s box had been opened, and my desires and feelings wanted to come out.
Eleven months after moving out and starting over, I met a man at a local gay bar who would become my partner and best friend for the next six-plus years, until his death. While I loved my wife, there was no comparison to this new kind of love I was now experiencing. I didn’t realize how much love, joy, and fun there could be in a relationship until then. It was like he was my first true love. Imagine that, finding love as a middle-aged man!
Joining the local gay men’s chorus and becoming involved in community theaters provided me with social interaction and friendships, some of which continue to this day. I feared failing to meet societal and religious standards of masculinity. While adjusting to the new normal, I began to realize that I was comfortable being myself around these people and didn’t have to worry about not being the “right kind” of man.
The world has changed greatly since the days of non-air-conditioned cars. But then, so have I. Coming out as a middle-aged man had its own set of issues, but life has greatly improved since that first night when I cried anxious tears about what might lay ahead. I have a courteous relationship with my children. My extended family is one with which I can be myself. I have a solid relationship with my parents, and a partner whom I love and who loves me, even with my baggage from the sixties and seventies.
I hope Bobby Sherman has that, too, and that he still has good hair. •
Art: Patric Stillman, Another Gay Sunshine Day (2017).
Photo Insert: Shortly after coming out, Brad Andersen was able to find community through his involvement in local theater. Credit: Courtesy of Brad Andersen.
Brad W. Andersen
Brad grew up in Iowa, while his “coming out” story mentioned here occurred in the Cleveland, Ohio area. He has four adult daughters, and enjoys learning, singing, history, hiking, and travel. He has a BS and BME in Music, and an MA in Intercultural Management. His work has included education, youth/music ministry, and he’s currently with Sprint Accessibility. He and his partner, Tim, moved to Boston in 2018. This is his first year as a volunteer for Boston Pride, as Accessibility Manager and Pride Guide contributor. Brad is also a member of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus.