But the behavioral conditioning did work in one aspect: The hectoring from all the therapists who told me, over and over, that homosexuality was bad, that it was perverted, that I should do anything I could to be a straight man—that’s what rooted in me, and what I internalized as my own belief system for many years.
It was Tiger, the woman given the task of making me straight, who helped me undo all that conditioning. “You’re gay,” she finally said. “I think we know that now. It’s not that big a deal.”
I didn’t believe her—I’d spent too many years thinking it was.
“Just come out,” she insisted.
So I did, in 1986. I was 34 and living in L.A., where I had moved, or run away to, because I could never come out in New York, home to my family, my profession, and my make-believe life that was driving me back to thoughts of suicide. A friend threw me a coming-out party stocked with handsome young men. I picked one and had sex with him. We went out for a while, then we broke up, I found another boyfriend, and at last I was on my way.
I’ll never be a whole person. I don’t suppose most of us are. We start out life with the potential to be our 100 percent true self, but slowly percentages are whittled away from us by, say, a cruel parent, an unexpected death in the family, an accident, an illness, until pieces of us are missing, leaving us less than who we could truly be. Like most people, I lost part of my full self through my parents, I lost some to the natural disasters of life, I lost some through my own mistakes. But I believe it was my early therapy that took away much of my potential to be my best self—all those authority figures whom I so much wanted to please.
Tiger was the first authority figure who encouraged me to accept not just my sexuality but myself. She was also the one who taught me to disregard authority figures. We remained friends for many years afterward. When I had my first long-term relationship, I introduced her to my boyfriend, and the three of us went to a baseball game together. She and I stayed in touch for some years after that. But then, for no particular reason, because one of us forgot to return a phone call, because one summer I went away and lost contact with a lot of people, or because maybe she fell in love and had no time … we lost contact with each other. I think about her often. She had more of an effect on my life than she realized. She gave me back some of those lost percentages. I still have festering wounds that hurt, but I also have come to understand that I am gay, and that a battalion of therapists in gray cardigan sweaters armed with machines, ice picks, or prayers can do nothing to change that. Best of all, I don’t want them to.