This Valentine card is for the straight men in my life who loved me before I knew how to love myself, and who gently nudged, but never forced me to stand up and step out before I was ready. You were there in grade school and high school and college, too. You were there after I was married and started having children, and you were there so much longer than anyone would ever expect.
25 years after I finished college, I finally found the nerve to tell one of my best college buddies that I was gay.
Once in the seventh grade, I rather vaguely told my best friend Bruce McLeod that I didn't really feel any "special thing" for all the girls I seemed to be so flirtatious with. He knew exactly what I was saying, even though I was still too naive to have figured it out for myself. Yet, he only nodded, and then nothing changed that day or that month or that year. And though he moved away a few years later, we remain grown-up, childhood friends even now.
Another time, 25 years after I finished college, I finally found the nerve to tell one of my best college buddies that I was gay. We were at Logan airport where we met from time to time when he was home for a visit. When I told him, he laughed and slapped his hand on the table and said: "Me too."
In college, we had been together constantly -- enjoyed the same things, had a perfectly-matched, if slightly sarcastic, sense of humor, loved Diana Ross and the Supremes and considered each other close friends. But, apparently not quite close enough. He died a few years after our airport meeting, and to this day I miss him and also miss the fun and mutual support we could, but never did, have because we were just too scared.
This love note is also for all the straight classmates I secretly admired, envied and even had a crush on. At the time, I didn't wonder so much about why I got picked close to last for any sports activities, but I did wonder why you and I were so different. It was as if you had some mysterious "man gene" that I was missing that explained why you liked Phys Ed and cars and Playboy. It was the gene that caused guys to be rough and tough and to punched each other in the arm, and it explained why you spent most of your time thinking and talking about, (although, I've learned, not so much doing) things with girls.
And now together we are teaching each other that it's not really about straight men or gay men or all the men in between, it's simply about men being who they are: honest-to-God real men.
Looking back, I've also figured out that I made a few of you very uneasy because you were secretly wrestling with the very same things that confused and troubled me. But with most of you this was simply a time of missed opportunities for us both. It's true that you didn't give me much of a chance, but it's also true that I didn't give you much room either.
Well, that's water well over the dam and seems like a very long time ago. And lately, thanks to social media, we've begun to connect and talk to each other, really for the first time, and guess what, the years have been kind, and most of us make much better grownups then we did high school students.
And, finally, this letter is for all the new straight friends I've made since I came out. We met when the playing field was more level, and I was more real and more present. We became friends easily without a lot of effort and you have enriched my life; you make me laugh, and we keep each other focused on the things that really count, like family, friends, kindness and love. And for me what's the most fun about being your friend is that you never knew me as a make-believe, straight man -- you've only known me as an honest-to-God real man.
And that brings me to the real point of this open love letter. You guys have taught me more than you'll ever know. Even when I wasn't paying much attention, I was learning. And this is what I learned: When my overactive, analytical mind quiets down, I see that we have more in common than not. Who knew that all this time we actually were on the same team? And now, together, we are teaching each other that it's not really about straight men or gay men or all the men in between, it's simply about men being who they are: honest-to-God real men.
Author's Note: It's important to emphasize that I speak only for myself and not for other gay men who grew up in different times or under different circumstances -- many of whom do like football, were picked first and who still love to punch each other in the arm with an ease that, to this day, I envy and admire. And I am also sending a special love note to all the wonderful women in my life. You definitely know who you, are and even though you could tell a story or two, I am, for the moment, hopeful you won't. XO, Paul.