August 6, 2017
A late evening in December. I’m on the large, comfortable sofa in our living room. Stress hormones, as has often been the case lately, are giving me chills, constricting my throat and sharpening my senses. For the past few hours I’ve been exchanging text messages with Daniel, who’s on his way back to Warsaw, by bus, after an exhausting day of work. These aren’t the usual text messages we’ve been exchanging intensively for several weeks. They’re deeper. I have the impression that each message brings both of us closer to some kind of truth. We’re crossing an invisible boundary. Although Daniel is full of uncertainty, he’s the first to open up. He tells me about a brief romance with a young man a few months ago. This makes me feel as if he’s throwing a rope to me or reaching out his hand.
I’m 36 years old. My wife and two daughters are asleep in the next room. The chills keep getting more intense and my hands are shaking. I write: “I’m yearning for someone I met at a metro station one August morning.” I press ‘send’. Daniel knows I mean him. We’re both aware that this text message is unleashing something we’ll no longer be able to control, something we’ll be unable to deny, suppress, push aside, hide or forget.
It was the word “yearning” that helped me come out for the first time. Of all the people I’d met in my life, it was only with Daniel that I was able to be my real self. I was yearning for him and finally had the courage to admit it. But it wasn’t much easier later in my life. One coming out didn’t trigger an avalanche of others. They happened slowly. It was well over a year before I was able to say “I’m gay” with conviction and even joy. It happened while I was talking to Daniel. I was 37 then. I stopped at the side of the road while riding my bike home from work. I’d just changed out of my suit into a comfortable pair of shorts and a Dri-Fit T-shirt (I feel freer in these clothes). I stopped near the riverbank and sat cross-legged on the grass. The sun was shining, I remember it well, but it wasn’t too warm. I called Daniel through Skype. Then I said, loudly and decisively: “I’m gay”. I think I repeated it once or twice. It was only by saying these words that I felt for the first time in my life that I existed wholly, that I had truly become the person I was meant to be. I was finally and undeniably in harmony with nature.
For over thirty years I’d been denying the truth about myself. Since my childhood in a small Polish town on the border, I’d been deeply convinced that a fag was worse than the Devil. This is how my environment had programmed me. When my sex drive became active, I was already a lost cause. I did my best not to go beyond the limits that had been set for me. I wanted to be accepted at all costs. My mother held a wide, protective umbrella over my siblings and me — an umbrella that determined the limits of my experience and which was meant to protect me from all evil, danger and deviation. I trusted my loving mother to know what kind of world was the best for her son.
When I was a young boy, I liked to pick violets on the slope behind our house. There were so many of them it was like a huge, fragrant carpet. The petals were delicate, and the stems were even more delicate. I don’t remember what I thought about while I picked violets. Maybe about one of the boys in my class. I regret that my mother never joined me while I was on the slope, and never asked me about my feelings or impressions. We didn’t talk about the violets, and so later we were unable to talk about my fears and longings. Or about that desire, laced with fear, to see what was beyond the protective umbrella. There wasn’t any sensitivity, and so we were condemned to the same old stupid jokes from my grandfather and uncles at the table while we ate dumplings, or gossiped about other people – there was a lot of gossip, especially after the new, colourful magazines about the lives of famous people entered the market in Poland. It was as if a second, alternate reality was gradually becoming my foreground.
When I left my hometown, I managed to escape from beneath the umbrella physically, but unfortunately not mentally. Being gay was a taboo subject at my university. However, there were sudden moments when the longing for a man made itself known in me. Sometimes it was very painful, knocking me down on my bed and immobilizing me for hours on end. While I was taking a French course in Paris, I saw a gay sauna on Boulevard de Sébastopol and imagined fags nastier than Satan in it. I held my breath and walked faster. When, towards the end of my studies, my housemate, an amateur photographer, suggested one evening that we take some erotic photos of his penis in my mouth, I laughed it off as a joke and locked myself in my room. The next morning, like a prisoner with a life sentence, I was able to view my imprisonment as normalcy. When my other, female housemate said to me, “But you’re gay, Adam,” I immediately decided to back off from our friendship and limit contact as if I were building a solid wall between us. I placed all my handsome classmates behind the wall, and even billboards featuring men advertising deodorant and shower gel. A wall behind a wall. In order to pretend I couldn’t see or feel anything, I created an alternative world in which marriage to a woman could happen – I believed it would be happy and based on honesty. I built my relationship on friendship, kindness and responsibility. I thought it was love.
Topher McCulloch, Adam, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
One year after my wedding I watched the film Brokeback Mountainat a morning screening in a cinema that was nearly empty. The film kept me on the edge of my seat and once again filled me with longing for a man – a strange longing because never before had I experienced an intimate, sexual relationship with a man based on desire. Theoretically, I had nothing to yearn for. Nevertheless, I was filled with yearning… But a few moments of motionlessness and darkness after the film ended were enough for me to return to earth and suppress these disturbing feelings. I think that’s when I began to renounce myself once and for all. I gave up on my needs and instead focused on my work and home. This “unsettled matter” of mine was disappearing and becoming a thing of the past. It seemed to me that I was settling accounts with it forever. However, this didn’t bring me any peace of mind – only a return to a familiar feeling of unrest and chaos in which I was able to live and function efficiently, and to be a good husband. This is how denial, internalised homophobia and conformism work. My first daughter was born two years after I watched Brokeback Mountain. And five years later, my second daughter was born.
Nine years later, on a late December evening, I’m lying on the sofa with my legs curled under me, holding my phone. I’m texting. I’m yearning for someone I met at a metro station a few months ago. Daniel. I can clearly feel that we’re crossing a boundary, and that despite my entire past, I won’t be able to reject the feeling that has been germinating between us. There’s a breakthrough. I’ve mentally broken free from my hometown and escaped from beneath my mother’s protective umbrella. I’m terrified but happy at the same time, although, as it turned out, I still need a lot of time before I can accept that I’m gay. I spend entire days thinking only about what’s happening between Daniel and I and how to undo my marriage. I have to go to therapy, read many articles and books and watch many films about people in situations similar to mine in order to come to terms with myself and to feel fulfilled.
I write a letter to my parents and deliver it to them in person because I’m not yet able to tell them, while looking into their eyes, “Mom, Dad, I’m gay.” I write to my brother on WhatsApp. Then the conversations with friends begin. Now, finally, I’m able to say “I’m gay” without any shame and with increasing calmness and pride. But I still prefer to say, “His name is Daniel. We’ve been together for nearly three years.” Recently I attended my first Pride Parade, and I’ve put a rainbow sticker on my bike. I’d also like to buy a rainbow flag and to be able to wave it with pride.