I can honestly say that I don’t know how I could’ve ever made it through the first year after coming out without a strong community of friends. Here I was at the age of 45, a life completely turned upside down, trying to figure things out. I was married to a woman for nearly twenty years and I had two children, and now I’m gay. Well...I was always gay, I just denied it since the age of 13. Luckily for me, I had so much support from my family, but they had no clue about gay life. I lived in a community that was extremely inclusive and diverse; however, I was a fish out of water. I did the things that every self-help book says you’ll do as a newly out person, but there I was, empty and alone. I knew that I was not ready for a relationship, but having grown up in the church, I was used to community, I was used to doing life with like minded people. That was the piece that was missing. Dr. Alan Downs, in his book “The Velvet Rage” writes,
“When you confront your crisis of identity and face the truth of who you really are, life begins to take on an entirely new look. Old friends who aren’t comfortable with you being gay begin to fall away. A few might reject you immediately, and others slowly drift away. At the same time, you form a network of gay men and gay-friendly others. Often in short order, your relationships begin to reshape around those who are accepting of who you really are.”
Before I came out, I joined a Facebook group for men of mixed orientation marriages. This group was instrumental in allowing me to deal with my crisis of identity. I truly thought I was the only gay man who married a woman, but what I found in this group were hundreds of men in the very same boat. Some had already made the choice to leave their old lives behind, some made the decision to stay in the closet, and some like me were trying to figure out how to come out. I made some local gay friends, some of which I’m still friends with now, but they had never been married to a woman or had children. What I found in this Facebook group was a community of people that completely understood me, but the downside, none of them lived near me, or even in my state. Nonetheless, I became really great friends with a handful of guys from the Facebook group...one of which I married!
These friendships; albeit distant, became my support, became my accountability, became my family. We talked every day, we video chatted occasionally, we became an integral part of each other’s lives. While I longed to have in person interaction with friends, I accepted the fact that it was highly unlikely that these types of friendships I’d find near me...so I jumped in with both feet. Through that commitment I’ve been able to hang out in person with all of these guys. Some of us even vacationed together in Nashville...truly a life changing vacation. Here we all were, me from Virginia, Joey from Louisiana, Kevin from Delaware, and Randy from Iowa, all together in person. Although our friend Ed from Pennsylvania couldn’t make it, we had a blast. We ate, toured around the normal Nashville attractions, talked about our lives and really deep subjects, had fun in the hot tub, we drank (we drank a lot), had a beauty night with facials, went to drag shows, gay bars, and adult stores - all in good fun! We had memorable Uber and Lyft rides together where we laughed til we almost peed ourselves!
This trip was monumental in my journey. I realized the true meaning of friendship, the true meaning of authenticity, and the reality of a chosen family. Since then, we've gone on trips to visit friends in cities across the country, including our friend Ed in Philadelphia. I can honestly say from experience, choosing the right friends is important, especially as a gay man. And when I say the right friends, I mean friends that are not afraid to tell you when you’re wrong. Friends that will hold your hand, wipe away your tears, be there through the good and bad times.
Finding this support system, this chosen family, is so important that you really have to take your time and not compromise. Start by establishing what your core beliefs are, where you want to go on this journey, what you feel passionately about. Find people who align with these values and beliefs to surround yourself with. Understand that not everyone in your friend group has to share every belief of yours, as variety and different perspectives are valuable to growth, but if someone is misaligned with your beliefs or believes things that make you uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to respectfully let them go from your life. You’re the boss of this situation. Also, be sure to take your time and give yourself the space to let this grow naturally. You’ll be glad you did.