Monday, November 21, 2005

Being openly gay saves lives by facing down fear

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Here she is again, the columnist very quickly becoming one of my fav's... Deb Price from The Detroit News: Monday, November 21, 2005 Being openly gay saves lives by facing down fear By Deb Price / The Detroit News After painstakingly hiding his gay feelings since boyhood, radiologist Wayne Wolfson finally got the shove he needed to begin his journey out of the closet -- a heart attack. The none-too-subtle warning two years ago that life is short prompted Wolfson to tell his secret to close friends, a married couple who directed him to a gay-friendly psychologist. This time, it was the physician who got the doctor's order: Head directly to Affirmations, Metro Detroit's gay community center. There, after circling the building five times on a wintry Saturday morning, Wolfson, then 47, ducked into "Coming Out Over Coffee," an informal drop-in session in which people of all ages and backgrounds share the fears, hopes and joys that accompany the first scary steps toward being a self-respecting openly gay person. For 90 minutes, Wolfson sat with his coat hood still on. He didn't say a word. "I was trying to be inconspicuous but, of course, was the most conspicuous person there," he recalls. "Fortunately, the stories of other gay men and lesbians reached out to me, and they brought me back again and again. And each time became easier." Those of us who're gay have one choice: Live in fear or face down that fear and, by doing so, conquer it. Only by finding the courage to fling open our closet doors can we enjoy the life-affirming exhilaration that comes from being ourselves. As Wolfson advises, "Take back your own life and dignity, and then try to make up for lost time." The coming-out groups springing up at gay community centers all over the country are doing life-saving work by enabling people who've squandered years -- often decades -- running from themselves to laugh and cry together and, in the process, find their way into the healing sunshine. (Call Affirmations at 248-398-7105.) Often the fears manufactured inside closets turn out to be overblown. Wolfson worried that when he came out to his 75-year-old mother, she might need CPR. Instead, she asked if he'd met a special someone yet. Today, Wolfson is far different from the closeted gay man who, despite professional success, struggled with depression, loneliness and thoughts of suicide. He volunteers at a center for homeless gay youths, worked to try to defeat the anti-gay amendment added to Michigan's constitution last year and has indeed found someone special. "My significant other recently came out, so we are finding our way together," says Wolfson, who adds being openly gay is "like seeing the world in color for the first time." In an era filled with gay TV characters, the closet can seem so last century. Yet telling another person, face to face, that you're gay is rarely easy at first. Coming-out workshops can help smash closet doors. Todd Plank, who gives back by leading the group that helped him, continually hears about heartbreaking damage closeted people did before reaching the Gay Alliance in Rochester, N.Y. "One man literally came to our last workshop straight from signing divorce papers. It was his second marriage, and he'd struggled his whole life," says Plank, a former Jehovah's Witness who says the pain of being shunned by his family is outweighed by feeling self-respect. Life really is short. If you know you're gay, come out over coffee or come out over tea. Just don't wait another year or even another month. Risk discovering the joy of being true to yourself. You can reach Deb Price at (202) 662-8736 or Original source