Sunday, June 29, 2008

THE FIVE STAGES OF GAY

Gay men are a funny bunch. Gay men have been pioneers in changing the way modern America looks at fashion, travel, self-care, self-grooming and community revival. The more involved and evolved gay men have also taken leadership roles in the fight for human rights, equal rights and an end to medical discrimination.

Still, the core of the gay man rarely changes. For all the forward thinking that happens on the outside, deep inside, nothing has changed in decades. The Neanderthal is still as alive and well in Chelsea and the Castro and Asbury Park as it is in Bloomington, Wichita and Hialeah.

Bitter? Not me.

With that in mind, I thought it only fitting to actually quantify the FIVE STAGES OF GAY. Even though there are actually six separate life categories, one is optional and does not apply universally. It also is a life plateau that temporarily removes the gay man from the rest of the gay continuum.

It should also be mentioned that the STAGES OF GAY are not absolute. This is not a one-or-the-other situation. There are multiple transitions, phases and subtle nuances. One usually does not make a hard left turn out of one and into another. One moves through them, the way one uses an exit ramp on an expressway or walks into and out of the surf.

It is also possible to skip a stage completely. But while a person can skip one stage, it is highly unlikely to skip two. For instance, a person can certainly skip STAGE 2 OR 3, but it is most unlikely that anyone could skip more than one. The only instance I could even imagine where a person could or would skip two stages would be a Catholic priest, who might skip 2 & 3. But in even those cases, I think there are any number of instances where a man of cloth has taken a quick stop on number 3.

That said, I give you the FIVE STAGES OF GAY. Definitions follow the list.

1. CLOSETED
2. OUT
3. SLUT
3A. (optional plateau) >>> SOBERLY SEARCHING
4. COMFORTABLE
5. INVISIBLE

OK. So, what do they mean? Here goes.

CLOSETED – Everybody starts here. This is the one stage nobody can avoid. Even those gay men who insist they burst out of the womb belting out show tunes still had those few years of their lives before awareness, and before their parents learned the true definition of denial. Some people choose to remain closeted for their entire lives. These people tend to be Catholic clergy, Republican politicians, evangelists, Hollywood actors, and small town grade school teachers.

OUT – People have to choose their own times and own terms for coming out. Not everybody comes out at the same time. Not everybody comes out, period. Some people inch out of the closet gradually, first to selected friends and families, and then eventually to the world at large. Some come bursting out of the closet like a 4th of July firecracker bursting into the sky. For many others, it’s just a transition that begins the same day the denial ends.

SLUT - Is any definition really necessary? This stage can begin in the late teens or college years and extend into the late 20’s and perhaps even into the 30’s. At some point, as maturity occurs, SLUT has less to do with the number of partners and frequency and more to do with chasing youth as it becomes more and more fleeting for one’s self.

SOBERLY SEARCHING – Discussed later.

COMFORTABLE – This stage is slightly more abstract and means many different things to many different people. In general, COMFORTABLE is the stage that occurs when Slut is a semi-fond memory, whose details are now crisply edited for story-telling, unlike earlier years when those conquests were badges of honor. COMFORTABLE is the stage where people vote their conscience for gay-friendly causes and candidates, but no longer feel the need to go to the Pride Parade, because who really needs to stand on Fifth Avenue in the sun for four hours? COMFORTABLE means having monthly payments instead of nightly adventures, a bed instead of a futon, 401K is more important than 69 and Therapy is what you do once a week, and not where you go every weekend.

INVISIBLE – Nobody likes talking about this one. You never see INVISIBLE coming. But one day you find yourself surrounded by people of all the other stages, and nobody sees you, recognizes you or acknowledges you. It can come with a 50th birthday, a shirt that you bought at Bloomy’s instead of Barney’s or strands of grey that have drifted past your temple to the middle of your head. INVISIBLE is what happens when everyone says hello to you as you walk in the door, but nobody sits next to you once you’re there. INVISIBLE is what happens when the person you’re talking to is more interested in returning the text he just got, than hearing what you have to say. INVISIBLE is what happens when people realize the “classic” movie they just saw on AMC was the big summer movie the year you graduated from high school. INVISIBLE is taking a book to the beach, and actually reading it. INVISIBLE is absolute. The only way of avoiding it is death. But to people of the earlier stages, INVISIBLE and death are the same things.

SOBERLY SEARCHING – This is the optional life stage that is a plateau somewhat separate, but also hopelessly intertwined with the others. It can occur anywhere along the path, but is probably more likely to come between Stages 3 & 4. So that’s why it’s there on the list. SOBERLY SEARCHING applies only to those people who are active participants in a 12-Step program. AA, NA, CA, CMA, OA, SAA and others are included. People who are SOBERLY SEARCHING are making new discoveries about themselves, their behaviors, their relationships and the course of their lives. Inevitably, people who are SOBERLY SEARCHING are transitioning through one or more of the other stages, and trying to find their footing. Sometimes it can take years to figure out where they stand and where they go next. And while the people who are SOBERLY SEARCHING might not have the clearest picture of where they are going next, they are absolutely precise about where they have been, where they are, and what they plan to avoid. The hardest part of the SOBERLY SEARCHING plateau is that it is absolutely counter-intuitive of so much that is identified as being gay. The person who is SOBERLY SEARCHING must find the balance between living life gaily and living life joyfully. For them, it takes a great deal of work for them to be synonymous. In any case, success is brutally difficult to achieve, and enormously challenging to hold on to. Surviving it defines strength.

So, what does this all mean? It means little in the grand scheme of life. Knowing what it is doesn’t change what it is. Awareness is not necessarily enlightenment. But in any journey, no matter how familiar the path might be, seeing, recognizing and understanding the signposts can help a traveler keep their bearings, make better use of the time he has where he is right now, and allow him the luxury of choosing a path he might not have considered before.

The tricky part is to allow the Stages to explain where we are, without allowing them to define who we are.

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