Tap, tap, tap is the gesture Shane Bitney Crone and Thomas Lee Bridegroom, a young gay couple, devised to show affection in public without revealing they were gay. As the day draws nearer to the premiere screening of Bridegroom: A Love Story, Unequaled, at the Tribeca Film Festival, April 23, 2013, more details, including this one, of their life together are coming to light. The more I learn about them, the more I recognize the similarities in my own life. The struggle for acceptance they experienced is all too familiar. Shane disclosed in an interview that both he and Tom “… tried to pray the gay away. We tried to ignore our feelings and our natural attractions, to fight biology and live by society’s “norms.” But it just isn’t possible.”(Huffpost) When I read these words, it struck a chord. I was astonished. This is exactly how I felt during my adolescence in the latter half of the 1970s when gay liberation was just getting underway. It was a very lonely time for me, as there were no gay youth groups and homosexuality was still largely condemned as unnatural, immoral, disgusting, etc. In spite of the negative attitudes against homosexuality prevalent at the time, feelings of same sex attraction were manifesting themselves in me and I was horrified. I tried to ignore them. At the time people said it was a phase, a symptom of adolescence, of raging hormones and the like and not to worry, it would pass.
After finishing high school in 1980 I enrolled at Queen’s University and the feelings became ever more pronounced. I remember listening to a radio drama one night while studying. It was about a gay man living anonymously, concealing the truth of his identity. As I listened the sickening realization took hold: I am a gay man. Still, I continued trying to ignore, suppress, will the feelings of same sex attraction away, insisting “I am not a homosexual!” There was a gay club on campus at the time, the Queen’s Homophile Association (QHA), but it was relegated to the fringes of university culture. In time I decided I could no longer ignore these feelings and made my first tentative foray from the closet in attending drop ins at the QHA. I had my first love affairs with men (fellow students) while I was as a student at Queen’s. It was not easy. We had to carry on our affairs in secret. As one of my boyfriends said to me after we had our first sexual encounter, “I feel as though we have committed a crime.” I had my first long-term relationship while a student at Queen’s. My boyfriend and I shared a two bedroom apartment together, during our final year as student’s at Queen’s, which let us keep up the appearance we were simply roommates. We concealed the truth from our families, friends and most importantly our landlord. Shane disclosed that he and Tom started their life as a couple this way, renting a two bedroom apartment in Burbank, California as they too felt the need to conceal the truth from their families and the wider world.
My relationship with my boyfriend continued following our departure from Queen’s, a long distance love affair. He became a flight attendant and I saw him when he had layovers in Ottawa where I settled following my graduation from Queen’s. Eventually our relationship ended when he left me for another man. The heartbreak I experienced when my relationship failed prompted me to try one more time to suppress the gay in me, to be straight. I befriended a man I met through work, like me he was in his 20s and single. We went to night clubs with his friends, spent time watching movies, listening to music, etc. only for me to end up falling in love with him. I had one fleeting moment of anticipation when one morning I met him for breakfast and he, grinning sheepishly said he had something to tell me. My heart leapt as I was so hoping he was going to come out and tell me he had feelings for me; however, what he had to tell me was the night before he had his first sex with a woman. Oh, the disappointment I felt as I mustered the strength to reply with due enthusiasm “that’s great news!” This experience convinced me once and for all I am gay.
Before I met Mika in 1998, I had another long term relationship that lasted 5 1/2 years, from the end of the 1980s into the mid-1990s. This time my boyfriend and I started out sharing a one bedroom apartment, we told my family I was staying with him temporarily because I was looking for a new apartment, that I was sleeping on his couch. Eventually we moved into a house together, but while we shared the one bedroom apartment, there were two telephone lines: one was the home telephone number he had given his family, the other for his friends and acquaintances in Ottawa. He took great care to conceal the truth from his family, that he was gay, but they were suspicious as he was well into his 20s, single and never had a girlfriend. I remember the afternoon his father called and laid a guilt trip on him, telling him he was bringing shame on the family, that family friends were laughing at them, how can you do this to us, etc. While this pales in comparison to the violent response Tom Bridegroom experienced when he revealed the truth to his family, it was horrible nonetheless. When my boyfriend and I parted company the breakup was amicable. We remain friends to this day.
Mika and I met and embarked on our relationship in 1998. I continued to conceal the truth about being gay and my relationship with Mika, finally coming out after viewing the video, It Could Happen To You, Shane published on Youtube in May 2012. In coming out Mika and I found our families, friends and acquaintances were not bothered at all by the news. They were happy for us and life goes on as normal. Still, it bothers me knowing that much younger people in the present day still feel as I did all those years ago. I like to think things have gotten better for gay people, and most assuredly they have, but as the story of what happened to Shane Bitney Crone and Thomas Lee Bridegroom to be told in the screening of Bridegroom: A Love Story, Unequaled shows, we still have far to go.
Posted by Geoffrey