In the tragedy of 9/11 I discovered I wasn't even close to being fully self-expressed as a gay man.
I was home looking for jobs on the Internet when the events of 9/11 began to unfold. Like most the rest of the country, I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV and was utterly speechless as I watched the World Trade Center Towers crumble. My daughters were in school, and the only person I could think to call was my ex-wife. We’d been separated a little over a year and our relationship had started to mend, even after I’d dealt a crushing blow by telling her, “I’m gay.” These moments made me miss having someone in my life to call my heart connection. While dialing her I saw the first tower crumble. As soon as she answered the phone I explained what was happening, and then said I had to go. Unbeknownst to anyone, as soon as I hung up the phone, I crumbled as well.
I’d felt like a scumbag, guilt oozing out of my mouth everyday for almost two years. At times forsaking my ex-wife and kids for my own pleasure, and screaming internally, “I hid who I was to make everyone else feel more comfortable, now it’s my turn to live,” even though that was so not who I was. Through all the turmoil, remorse, and sorrow of having screwed up a marriage, I’d never fully released all the emotions that were pent up within until I sat watching the towers crumbling.
Having spent a great deal of time in New York, I felt a deep connection to what was unfolding. No less than two years prior, my ex and I had taken our last trip to the city as a couple. I was out of the closet by that point and we were on the road to separating, yet I had already booked her a ticket to travel with me to the annual Hotel and Restaurant Show; me to work, her to play! A year prior to that, before I had come out, I spent my first evenings with co-workers jumping from gay bar to gay bar in the Village, me the “I’m not gay guy. I’m just with co-workers.”
I had no idea the impact those memories would have on me as I lay on the floor of my little condo, crying incessantly, watching chaos rip our country apart at the seams. Not only was I flashing back to numerous trips I had taken to NYC, but I was also realizing that I needed to get right with me, and a whole lot of other people before I could truly wrap my arms around myself as a gay man.
The remainder of that day I spent in quiet solitude, except to leave the house and pick up my daughters at school. After the nightly routine with them, I became mesmerized once again in front of the TV, finally turning it off, well after midnight, tired from the repeated media interpretations as to what had happened.
The next day I awoke feeling lighter yet dazed. I managed the morning routine and lovingly sent my sweeties off to school with some trepidation. What might happen to them if I’m not right there with them? I was on edge and definitely not in the mood to job-hunt, so decided to quickly read my emails and then go for a bike ride. In the midst of my emails was a notice from the online gay dating site, Planet Out, indicating I had a message. I had not be overly active on the site since my last dating experience soured me and helping me realize I needed a dating time-out. Still curious, I followed the trail to the message, noticed how handsome the guy was, and quickly responded back. Not flirty or overly-interested and left it at that.
In the next two days, not only did things begin to come clearer on the tragedy of 9/11, I also gained clarity on the tango dance I was starting with this new guy that was unlike any that I’d ever done before. In the silence of my days following 9/11 I spent a lot of time soul searching about how I’d been living my life, especially the last two years. Drunken nights, random sexual conquests, and throwing myself into the gay scene in ways that were so unfamiliar to me. No wonder I ended up in the fetal position sobbing the morning of 9/11. I had launched an internal assault on myself, tackling what it meant for me to be a gay man.
I began to examine my relationship with myself and how I perceived what being gay was to me. Through new lenses I deconstructed my perception of the gay community and began to appreciate the twinks, leather scene, and bear culture. What I thought I understood I didn’t. I was a judgmental, gay prima donna: the exact persona of what I despised most about the gay community. I was experiencing a post coming-out melt down, two years later, almost to the date. During this self-induced introspection, I began to accept who I was as a gay man, my way. I decided I was no longer meant to morph and mold myself to anyone’s expectations, not even my own gay community. I was me, and that was going to have to be good enough.
A month later almost to the date, I arrived in NYC, but not the NYC of my memories. I attended the same Hotel and Restaurant Tradeshow, which was virtually empty. Walked the familiar streets—Broadway, 7th Avenue, 5th Avenue, Columbus Street—all of which were muffled from the previous months tragedy. I ate at some of my favorite culinary haunts, at least the ones that were open. I even hit the theater district, taking in “The Full Monty” (no comment). It was surreal being in a city that’d had just had open-heart surgery with the wound left wide open. Of course memories of walking to Ground Zero still haunt the recesses of my mind. However, during those heart wrenching steps, I was also able to take breaths of gratitude that, amidst this tragedy, I had become humbled to my knees, and began the blessed journey back to me: the gay me, the man who’d lost himself along the way in the two years previous to 9/11.
And, as for the guy from Planet Out? He traveled with me that October to NYC; me to work, he to play. In just a few days, September 16th, will mark our twelve year anniversary: another blessing in disguise that helped me see that I can be gay, me, and find true love!
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