My First Time

It seems like you can't swing a cat these days without hitting a prominent person just out of the closet, and I think that's great! (The coming-out part, that is. For the record, I am firmly opposed to the swinging of cats.) A recurring theme in these recent stories is the sense of relief felt when one proclaims one's sexuality, the profound life-changer that simply uttering the words "I'm gay" can prove to be.

Although it's decades in the past, I remember my own pronouncement like it was a movie. It's not my coming-out story per se, but it's the first time I acknowledged to anyone other than myself that I'm gay.

It happened during a student/teacher conference when I was barely 18. Now, before you get your hopes up, I'm not about to divulge that the scene in Falcon Studios' Through the Woods where I sternly discipline a quartet of truant schoolboys is based on personal experience. This is about a different first time.

Because you brought it up, though, that first time had already occurred several weeks before that meeting, when some guy picked me up in the balcony of the Regency Theater on Broadway and 68th, during a double bill of The Ziegfeld Follies and Yolanda and the Thief. That night, two things stuck out (yes, I went there), namely the fellow's fab record collection and the pained expression he wore when he asked, "Do you always come that fast?"

But I digress.

As a freshman at NYU's film school (in the first of several abandoned attempts at attaining a BFA), I directed a Super 8 short film based on "Little Miss Muffet." After an in-class screening each student director met one-on-one with the instructor for further critique.

The professor of that course was named Tom... uh... what was it? "Mc"-something? Or "Mac," maybe? "O'"? Heck, I don't know. But I do recall him vividly as a person. He was probably in his late 30s, on the burly side, like an ex-wrestler, and straight, to be sure. He had a full beard with a fair amount of gray in it, and he always wore a cable-knit cardigan over a flannel shirt, along with army-green cargo pants and hiking boots. Usually resting between his first two fingers was the stub of a cigar, and on top of his head, as a jaunty surprise, sat a tam-o'-shanter. James Mason would've played him in the movie. Oh! And he walked with a pronounced limp. I want to say that there was a shillelagh leaning in the corner, but here I think I'm art directing my memory a bit too thoroughly. Regardless, he cut quite the romantic figure.

I don't recall the specifics of "Muffet," but somehow germane to my little epic, Tom said simply, "You're gay, right?"

It was the briefest pause on my part, like when the film misses the sprockets and jumps in the gate; you notice it, but just barely. I blinked hard and replied, "Uh-huh."

And then the Earth moved, or, to continue the cinematic analogy, it was as if my chair had been wired for Sensurround and I got a surprise jolt. My entire universe had been altered by a single word. Well, not even a word, really, just a couple of grunted syllables: "Uh-huh." And, bam! Sensurround! We continued our conversation, but I didn't hear a thing. The blood pounded in my ears as I sat there thinking, "There's no turning back now; the cat's out of the bag." (I don't approve of keeping cats in bags, either, by the way.)

I left Professor James Mason's sepia-hued office and emerged into Washington Square Park, which was newly resplendent in glorious Technicolor. Everything had changed, even me! Heading toward the fountain, I had a sort of dopey grin on my face, my eyes darting back and forth to catch the passersby as they pointed and whispered to each other, "That guy there? He's gay now." I briefly considered making a beeline back to the Regency but decided it could wait.

The actual coming out to my close circle followed soon thereafter. My utterance to Professor Tom was the raindrop that burst the dam, the last straw, Monty Python's wafer-thin mint. There was just no keeping it all in after saying the words aloud.

I imagine most of you reading this have your own first-time-saying-it story. But those who don't, those of you who are still in the closet and aching to come out, I want you to do something for me. I want you to get up. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and say:


And when you do? Sensurround, baby. Sensurround.


Photo by Tim Schapker