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I vividly recall the anguish of keeping my gay secret inside. Being closeted was all consuming. I kept silent as my friends talked of their boyfriends and girlfriends at school. I fabricated female love interests for my father, who openly expressed his homophobia. I'd hear his anti-gay comments then retreat in shame; afraid he would realize that his only son (at the time) was one of the gays he hated. The pressure of holding my 'gay secret' was like the constant squeeze of a vice grip. The more I tried to assimilate into the straight ideal, the tighter the grips pressed on my hopes and dreams. What about building a family? What about dreams of future kids? Was being gay a trade off for what I perceived as a happy life?

It wasn't until later that I realized coming out and living an open gay life was the key to my happiness. I had the power to release the grips and restrictions on my sexuality. I had no choice but to accept and use that power. I could no longer stand aside as my sexuality consumed my every thought, hope and dream. I had to come out. And once I did, my dreams remained intact. I regained control of my life.

Achieving a level of self-acceptance, where family approval becomes secondary to personal happiness, is a necessary step, but it isn't always easy. Gay Life reader HotArmyGuy is feeling the pressure of being gay in a homophobic and conservative family. He's trapped in the grips of a straight paradigm that says gays can't experience the joys of partnership and kids; yet the thought of living out of the closet is liberating. This is his story:
I come from a very ultra conservative family and we are very close. So, of course, they think homosexuality is one of the worst sins there are. But I even act gay, very gay, and some how I have convinced my family I am straight. So, I feel like to be truly happy I should continue this charade so I can keep my family in harmony. I do see so many happy families in my church and I want that happiness. I especially want children. I live for my nieces. Then I see gay people on TV like "Will & Grace" and "The Starter Wife" and I wish I could just let it all go. To actually be able to hold a man in my arms, kiss him, love him. To be able to talk to a kindred spirit and grow old together. I want to find true happiness.
Jerry, another Gay Life reader shows HotArmyGuy that he can be out and still be happy.
Your family has seen what they want to see... A str8 son. Listen very carefully to your heart so you do not make the same mistakes I have. I tried the route you suggested: marriage, kids, giving all those around me what they expected. After 35 years of marriage, I have finally thrown off my shackles and told my wife I'm gay. Living the str8 life is a lot easier on the outside, but inside, your secret will slowly consume you. It will be easy to deny your true self in the beginning, but as you age and mature you will find its increasingly more difficult to deny.
Jerry continues with the dangers of combining a straight life with a gay secret:
You think your lonely now? How do you think you will feel after living for decades as someone you're not? You will never have a true friend because you will always be hiding a major part of who you are from them. Am I scared? You betcha!!! At 52 it's going to be a lot harder to find that special someone that wants me as much as I want him. Then there's the separation, loss of benefits, pensions, child support, alimony, and a dozen other monetary considerations you'll have to make when you leave your wife. And trust me, someday that will have to happen if you're ever going to stand a chance at happiness.

Don't do that to yourself. Your family may have a problem with it and they may not. It is irrelevant. They are not the ones that have to live your life, you are. If they love you, they should do so unconditionally. If they can't, that is their problem.

Yes, it will hurt you to have people you love suddenly treat you differently, but it will hurt a lot worse if the people you have to tell are your wife and kids. Just be who you are. Besides, you don't have to tell everyone at once, and some not at all. I would only tell those that I feel the closest to and then only because you want them to love the real you. If they can only love the str8 you, then you never really had that love to lose.
When it comes to emotions, like water, we humans gravitate toward the path of least resistance. As Jerry warns, temporary comfort only delays the flow of personal happiness and conforming to a straight ideal can cause a flood of damage to yourself and those around you. Coming out takes courage, but the payoff is a life free of a torturous secret.

Here's how to come out step-by-step.

Image © Steve Woods.
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