Coming Out on Live TV

Last summer, I was pruning the boxwoods in our garden in Maine, when my neighbor Irene, a retired schoolteacher, and self-professed book maven walked by and said, “Hey, Edward Scissorhands, I saw your book in the New York Times.” 

I waved the shears at her and said, “Thanks!”

She dropped the hand she was using to shield her eyes from the sun, and scrunched up her face contemplating my reply, Thanks?

“I mean, so what did you think?” I corrected myself.

“You ready to be the poster child for all of this?” she asked.

“Um, sure, yeah,” I replied.

She raised one eyebrow and displayed a closed-lip smile. It’s a look I’ve seen before, typically, when my youngest daughter, Marisa, uses a phrase I don’t understand. Something like, “Ugh, Dad, you’re such a stan.” She’ll give me that look, and I can read the question in her face before she asks, Do you even know what that means?

“Um, sure, yeah.”

I published a book, a memoir about my personal experience. I wasn’t the first person to come out later in life, or as I like to say, Fashionably Late. That always gets an eye-roll from Marisa.  

Irene didn’t say anything, but I could read the question in her facial expression, But really, are you ready?  As she walked off, she shouted, “William Dameron tamps down the tall grass of untold experience,” echoing a sentence from the New York Times Review. That phrase has become somewhat of a joke in our household. We use it any time we try something new, like when I tell my husband, Paul, I tried a new pork chop recipe, and he’ll say, “Tamping down the tall grass, huh?”  

Since that summer day, I’ve received emails almost daily from people who’ve read my book. Most are kind, a few decidedly not, but almost all of them state the same thing: they feel heard. I reply to every single one. It is not something I take lightly. While I may have written one of the first literary memoirs about a person coming out later in life to his spouse and family, I am not the first one to do it. I can joke about many things, but I stand in awe of those who come out, often in environments much more hostile, sometimes life-threatening.

As queer people, we make a decision every day whether to come out or not, to co-workers, new neighbors, a manager, new clients, or even the taxi driver. It gets easier, but there is always that split second thought, is it safe?

Recently Philip Schofield, the host of This Morning, in the UK, came out on live TV. In light of those events, The Times published an excerpt from my book, and the BBC interviewed me on the Victoria Derbyshire program. Because I joined by skype, the studio didn’t want to consume the bandwidth by sending their video back to me. While I was being interviewed, I didn’t get a chance to see what the studio looked like. Maybe that’s a good thing because when they sent me a screen capture later, I certainly looked like the poster child for coming out and also? it reminded me of a scene from the movie Edward Scissorhands when he appears on a TV program.

In that scene, an audience member asks Edward if he has ever considered corrective surgery. “Yes,” he replies quietly. Then, another audience member stands up and says, “But if you had regular hands, you'd be like everyone else.”

That line slays me.

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