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The Making of a Gay American

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The world of artifice I’d created for myself was tumbling down, and the oncoming trauma was already excruciating. “I can’t keep doing what I’m doing,” I told my close friend Curtis Bashaw, whom I admired both for his considerable knowledge of state politics and for his ability to live an open and integrated life with his partner, Will. What I meant was, I couldn’t go on posing as straight. “I suppose I could stay with Dina. I love and respect her, I really do. But I don’t want to fix it.”

“Do you think you might be gay?” he asked.

After spending a week admitting to my lawyers, to my wife, that I had had a gay affair, this was the first time I’d been asked about my sexual orientation.

“Yes,” I said without hesitation. And then I started to cry in a way I had never cried in my life. Not sobbing, not angry—free.

Curtis hugged me.

“That’s it!” he shouted. “The truth will set you free. Tell it to everybody. Hold a press conference. Suddenly the tawdry affair with your political appointee makes sense. You were a man in the closet, and now you’re free. This is huge, Jim. I think the voters will understand.”

I closed the blinds. We kissed. "I could leave all this behind," I told Golan. "The governor’s office, the career in politics. I would leave it all if you told me we’d be together forever." He seemed shocked. "Do you mean that?" he asked.

He dialed Jamie and handed me the phone.

“I’m coming out,” I told Jamie.

“I’m coming right over,” he said.

By the time my old friend State Senator Ray Lesniak arrived at Drumthwacket that afternoon, Jamie, Curtis, and I had become a kind of support group in the governor’s mansion.

“I’m coming out,” I told Ray. “I’m a gay American.”

He looked at the three of us, not knowing what to say. I doubt Ray had ever knowingly been alone in a room of gay men before. (Jamie, my chief of staff, was also openly gay.) When Michael DeCotiis pushed through the door, Ray flung his hands in the air. “Guess what, Michael,” he joked. “I’m gay, too!”

When we recovered from a long laugh, I saw my plan laid out before me. I wanted to hold a press conference in two days, on Friday, August 13, 2004, to confess my infidelity and tell my truth.

That night, I had to tell my parents. I knew it would crush my father that my political career was taking this unexpected blow. But what I dreaded most was my mother’s disappointment over my violation of my marriage vows.

It went better than it might have. My father’s first response was, “You make a choice, Jim—Coke or Pepsi. You were married twice, you have two wonderful daughters. Why don’t you try to make that work? Why don’t you make the regular choice?”

“Dad, I’ve known my whole life. This is who I am.”

“You will always be my son,” he said, shaking my hand stiffly.

My mother, whose love for me has proved tremendously resilient, mostly kept her thoughts to herself. But when we parted, she took me into her arms and gave me a long and tender hug. “We will always love you, no matter what you do,” she said.

Back in the car, I called Curtis with a report, but his news took precedence. “We have to push up the press conference from Friday to tomorrow,” he said. “Somebody in Golan’s camp leaked the news. ABC is getting a story ready. We’ve got to keep out in front of this thing.”

I was so tired the next morning, the day of the press conference, that I rolled downstairs in sweatpants and a T-shirt before taking a shower. I was surprised to find the place overrun with political operatives, some of whom I didn’t even know. They shouted over one another, rendering opinions, speculating about the press and the courts. Straw polls were being taken on whether I should resign.

“This is what I want to say,” I interrupted them. “I admit shamefully that I engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man, which violated my bonds of matrimony. It was wrong, it was foolish, it was inexcusable. And for this, I ask the forgiveness and grace of my wife.

“This individual now seeks to exploit me and my family and perhaps the state through financial and legal means which are unethical, wrong, and immoral. Let me be clear, no one is to blame for this situation but me. I must now do what is right to correct the consequences.”

Jamie wiped tears from his eyes. So did Ray.

But the other people in the library, the party stalwarts, had moved to the perimeter of the room, returning cell-phone calls and positioning themselves for their next assignments, which no doubt included handicapping who would take my seat in the next election. As Curtis later remarked, “The light drained out of the room immediately for them. You were dead.”


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