Dating Someone in the Closet

This article was previously published in the second issue of The ‘OUT’port, St. John’s first LGBT magazine. 

We get it: you’re loud, you’re proud, you’re political. And that’s wonderful; it is uplifting to see someone confident enough to declare themselves as queer in a world that is still fifty years backwards. But not everyone is at the same comfort level as you — a lot of gay men are discrete, are still living inside the closet, and, with the state of global homophobia, it’s not as if we can blame them.

In my many years of dating, I’ve had the tendency to attract a certain type of person, the young man at the verge of coming out. As such, I’ve had quite some experience with how to deal with them. Here are some tips:

(10) Don’t be upset if he hides you.

When you’re on a date at a coffee shop and he meets his old college frat brothers, don’t be offended if he introduces you as his buddy. Don’t be offended if he won’t accept your relationship request on Facebook. Don’t be offended if he is evasive about you meeting his parents.

Don’t take it personal; in this case, it really isn’t you, it’s him. Understand where he’s coming from; no matter who he’s dating, as long as it’s a guy, he will be shady about it. Realize that there is a reason he hasn’t come out yet and that introducing you as the loving boyfriend would blow that cover. Compassion is the key.

(9) Resist the urge to blurt it out.

I get it, you like being the center of attention. But he doesn’t. He would find it uncomfortable if people knew about the two of you. And he wouldn’t be upset because it’s about you and him, he’d be upset because he wouldn’t want his secret the topic of gossip over the water dispenser.

Tell your best friend if you must, blog anonymously if you must, but leave names out. In a world of interconnected media, it’s not just your secret you’re exposing to the world. It’s his too.

(8) Expose him little by little to queer culture.

There’s so many wonderful things about gay culture — a rich tradition of cinema, music, theatre, painting, sculpture, dance, etc. It’s a whole big culture which is even more varied if you factor in geographic, race, and class boundaries.

He probably has done some research of his own; nightly viewing of YouTube videos or discrete readings of LGBT articles. But you are at the best position to give him a first hand perspective of everything you have found out in your own personal journey. You can show him other facets he may not be aware of before. Break stereotypes, show him what it really means to be queer.

And just as a caveat, make it little by little. If he hasn’t fully come to terms with his sexuality, roleplaying gay BDSM may be a bit too much for a first date.

(7) Teach him when to fight and when to take flight.

Lead by example. Be aware of political issues, challenge norms, defy conventions, rebel. The crucial point here is you’re showing him that you are fighting the good fight, the fight for tomorrow, the case for romance. Show him that at the core of being LGBT is the spirit of an activist who stands up proud against a society that forces him down — that he is not alone, that he is not a problem, but that the world is.

Yet let him learn as well when it may be time to turn away every now and then. Choose which battles to take part in. Learn to tread the line between a politically incorrect gay joke and a full-on homophobic slur. Not all bigots are evil — they too are part of a system that has allowed bigotry to be rampant.

(6) Take away the pressure.

Don’t force stuff on him. Don’t go to his house, crying in the rain carrying a boom box, forcing him to commit to you. Assure him that you are ready to take things one day at a time. This is a relationship, not a pot, not a political statement, not a means to cater to your needs. He doesn’t have to change everything, he is still himself, only now more enlightened.

If he just wants to chill, then lay down on the coach, throw back some Lays and some peanuts, watch Sandra Bullock, crack a stupid joke, and just enjoy the evening.

(5) Never assume him to be ignorant.

While he may be new to the wonders and sorrows of queer life, this does not mean he’s stupid. You are his lover, not his teacher. He may have been straight before, but his past experiences have defined him as much as yours have. He has his own brand of wisdom; he may have an important perspective you have overlooked.

Be receptive to his ideas. Listen and learn. Just because you were gay “first” doesn’t mean you’re always going to be right. This is about your growth as much as his.

(4) Indulge in something conventionally masculine.

Being gay has a lot to do with being fabulous, but every now and then indulge in hockey, ride an ATV, or play a video game. It can’t always be about theatre, and fashion, and art. Remember that he may have grown up under a conventionally masculine upbringing, and his taste, whether you like it or not, is defined by that.

So put on a hockey jersey and watch the guys beat each other up. Who knows, might be fun for you later that night.

(3) Forego labels.

Gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, transexual, straight-acting, discrete, top, bottom, versatile, power bottom, pansexual, omnisexual, try-sexual, PnP, chub, twink, bear, stud, drag, boyfriend, boyfie, husband, partner, LGBTQVISPAPS — there is a whole lot of labels in a gay world. Forget all them.

Labels have a function, but they can be restricting. The more you seek to define your relationship, the more you take away from it. Just be two guys who love each other.

(2) Show him how a man loves.

It doesn’t matter if he’s the catcher or the pitcher, he’s still with a guy, an experience that would be quite new to him. He may not be a virgin, per se, but moving from women to men is more than a difference in genitalia. He will be terrified, thinking of prison rape stories, or something to that effect.

Be gentle. Be tender. Take him by the forearms and kiss him straight on the lips. Lean your forehead against his and smile. Hold his back and continue kissing him. Be slow, but be firm. Lay him down and make love. Soon enough, he’ll forget his own name.

(1) Realize that more often than not it’s not gonna last.

The sad truth is that this is a man you are opening to a world he may not have known of before. If you’re good, if you did your job right, he will start having questions. He will want to explore, and that’s natural. You’re throwing a kid in the middle of DisneyWorld, don’t expect him to stay on one ride.

Enjoy your moments together, that’s the best thing you can do. Love him, if you must. But let him go. You don’t want to, but, just like what you may have said countless times before, how can a baby bird grow wings and not learn to fly?