When I was in graduate school in Boston in the mid-1970s, my attraction to other guys was proving intractable and I feared it might never be eliminated. In those days, it was not acceptable to be openly gay. You’d risk the loss of family, church or temple, job, and friends if the word ever got out that you were “that way.”
I had been a multi-sport athlete in college. Because no one then had ever heard of a homosexual athlete and I didn’t identify with any of the few stereotypical people everyone presumed were gay, I clung to that self-image as proof that I couldn’t actually be gay. But, after grad school, when I moved to Washington, D.C., for my first professional job and no longer had my participation in organized athletics to shield me from my desires, I began to fear I really might be gay. Oh, and I was miserable in my depressing job, arch-conservative city (back then), and single, sexless existence.
On my way to work one day, I noticed a newspaper headline at a D.C. newsstand announcing that David Kopay, the former NFL player, had come out.
There was a gay jock? The news rocked my world! With my heart racing, I bought the newspaper, ran back to my office, and read the full article behind a locked door. Inspired by his story, I dashed off a letter to Dave, care of the journalist at the newspaper who had interviewed him. In it, I admitted I was also an athlete and I thought I might be gay, too. I asked for his advice if he ever had time to write back.
Two weeks later, I got a phone call out of the blue from Dave inviting me to drinks. Meeting him enabled me to realize one could be openly gay, naturally masculine (the opposite of the widely disseminated image of male homosexuals at that time), and relatively happy.
A month later, my best friend from grad school, John, came down to visit me in D.C. John was known for speaking very quickly, so he’d been given the nickname, Speedy. My high school nicknames, Bam Bam and Bammer, had been condensed by the time I got to grad school to Bam. As we hung out together a lot during our year in grad school, we naturally became known as “Speedy and Bam.”
While Speedy and I were catching up during his visit to D.C. late one night in January 1976, I hesitantly and nervously got up the courage to spit out that I thought I might be gay. His response was stilted, uncomfortable, yet accepting. He admitted he’d had an attraction to a male friend during his teens, but he’d worked things out. I didn’t focus too much on that and was just glad he hadn’t rejected me.
Speedy eventually married another of our classmates, Amy. I was in their wedding in NYC. Having joined the U.S. Foreign Service together, they both quickly ended up being assigned overseas. Over the next 25 years, I visited them in each of the foreign locations they were posted to: Rome (1977), Hong Kong (1984), Bangkok (1991), Paris (1995), Singapore (1999), and Hong Kong again (2002).
They had one child, a daughter, who Amy doted on. Over the years, Amy increasingly became asocial, having dinner with us on the first night whenever I stayed with them, but pulling back and being by herself or with their daughter during the rest of my visit. She was never cold to me, but something seemed amiss. I briefly wondered if it was the fact that I was gay. But we’d been friends for decades, I’d been out to them since 1976, and it had never before seemed an issue. I’d even introduced them to several of my partners.
As my area of business expertise was Asia, I often traveled there and stayed with them in their abodes in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore. By the early 2000s, they’d been assigned to different offices, Speedy in Hong Kong and Amy in Jakarta, while their daughter had returned to the U.S for prep school.
When Speedy retired from the Foreign Service in 2002, he lost his fabulous ex-pat apartment in Hong Kong and had to move into smaller rental quarters, apologetically explaining that was why he could no longer host me on my visits. As I had other friends in Hong Kong, it was no big deal.
Around 2005, while I was on another business trip to Hong Kong, we met for dinner.
“You’ve not mentioned Amy tonight. How are things going with your long-distance marriage?” I asked.
After a pause, Speedy replied “Bam, I have something to tell you: I’m gay. I was unable to share that with you until now because Amy and I had committed to letting no one know of our plans to divorce and the reason why until we shared this with our daughter in the U.S., which recently happened. Not only that, but I also have a local boyfriend, Chi Wa, with whom I live. That’s why I was unable to host you over the last couple of trips. And, he’s waiting around the corner. Would you like to meet him?”
I was speechless, but answered with an enthusiastic “Of course!”
So, I met Speedy’s boyfriend for the first time that night. Chi Wa was a good 15 years younger than Speedy. I remember thinking: “Boy, Speedy is fortunate to have come out in Asia, where age and experience are valued, even venerated in some instances. Coming out in one’s fifties is a hard enough adjustment by itself, but it would have been even more challenging if he’d had to contend with the ageism prevalent in American culture, especially within the gay male community.
Chi Wa was a good-natured and friendly guy. When I returned to Hong Kong several times following that evening, I often stayed with Speedy and him in their non-palatial (but more than adequate) Hong Kong flat.
Unfortunately, after initially accepting the news of Speedy’s gayness and his need to separate from her with some equanimity, Amy soon became bitter about the changes. They subsequently went through a difficult divorce and have no contact today, except through their daughter. And, even though I was Amy’s friend, too, since 1974, we no longer are in touch. It seems my being gay must have been a subconscious issue for her all along, for personal reasons I had no way of knowing.
In May of 2015, Speedy and Chi Wa decided to get married. To do so, they flew to New York City and wed in a civil ceremony at City Hall, with me as best man, sole witness, and wedding photographer.
Speedy and I took markedly different paths to accepting our sexuality. While his contentment may have been long delayed by his unreadiness to acknowledge his true desires, he finally managed to achieve it. And, throughout it all, our 45-year friendship has continued to prosper.