A self-imposed prison

As I wrote about the other day, I have been having some interesting adventures with online dating. Out of about 20 . . . interesting situations, I did have a connection with one that seemed more promising. After days of chatting, we decided to meet.

Me: Where would you like to meet?

Him: Anywhere but the old city.

Me: Why not the old city?

Him: I have too many friends that work there.

And then I remembered what it was like to live that far back in the closet.


Sure, as we’ve traveled I’ve had moments where I had to step back into the closet a bit for perceived safety reasons (which were really only situations created in my own mind), but I’ve only had to stand in the doorway. Some people are living so far back in there they can’t see the light of day.

And that’s incredibly sad.

When I grew up, living in the closet was a necessity if you wanted to remain in good health. Some people were able to live more authentically, but they were always in some sort of danger. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone show up at a support group with the telltale signs of having been queerbashed earlier in the week.

Police would frequently drive by gay clubs, take note of license plate numbers, and contact employers to let them know what sort of person was working for them.

My first friend who was truly out was Stu. His parents would regularly leave pamphlets on his bed that explained he was going to hell for being gay. He would roll his eyes and toss them in the trash. He was completely unfazed regarding who knew about his homosexuality and refused to live in hiding.

How I envied him, but I lacked the same courage.


I remember those earlier days of sitting in a restaurant with someone, usually a Denny’s for some reason, and having to lower our voices when we wanted to talk about certain things because you couldn’t risk being overheard and thus identifying yourself as “one of them.”

Today, I relived those memories vividly as I sat with this handsome young man. I had so many questions, but I couldn’t ask them. We were sitting in one of Bucharest’s typical smoke-filled cafes, and there were people on each side of us. They were too close. Too easy for us to be overhead, even though we were speaking in English.

My head hurt from having to carefully think through everything I wanted to say or ask while doing the precarious dance over the eggshell floor of homophobia and the closeted life.

As he would nervously glance at me, smile, and quickly look away, I wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed watching his eyes light up when he smiled. I held back the temptation to even just lightly touch his foot with mine or to comment on the stubble that graced his chin.

But you can’t do that with someone who lives in fear of being “caught” for being who they are.


Like for myself in so many ways, his imprisonment is of his own creation, but it isn’t my place to open that door for him. We all have to come to that place of our own accord.

I found myself almost thankful when it was time to go our separate ways. Not because I didn’t enjoy being with him, but because it just took so much energy trying to be someone else. It bothered me that I felt like I couldn’t safely give him a hug goodbye, even though I also hug my straight male friends.

It once again reminded me of how much energy we sometimes waste on trying to be someone or something else, of how grateful I am that I have so much more freedom than many others. If I’m somewhere I don’t like, I can just up and move. I don’t have to worry about alienating my friends and family when they discover I’m queer. I don’t have time, energy, or the desire to be anything but me.

That is an amazing liberty and luxury.

I look back at my life just over a decade ago and wish that I had found my wings much earlier. Not only would I have avoided hurting someone else (the woman I married while hoping and believing God would really cure me of being gay), but I could have lived so much more deeply.

And it makes me take a harder look at my choices to identify if I’m building any other self-imposed prisons around myself. Life’s really too damn precious and short to waste time on being someone else. Time to continue tearing down the ugly walls like lack of self worth, poor body image, etc.

Do you ever wonder what self-imposed prisons you’ve put yourself in? I challenge you to take an honest, hard look at your life and see where you need to free yourself.

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  1. How do you think someone could “be him/her-self” in a place where they get physically and socially punished for it? How do you think they should go about it? What kind of effect do you think it has on their mental health?

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    • Hiding your self also poses harm to one’s mental health. When physical safety is at risk, that’s a different story, but often our fear is really misplaced.

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  2. Such a tragic shame that someone feels the need to wear a different mask to conceal who they really are and how they feel. When I consider the idea of holding back my thoughts on something makes me feel uneasy just for a few seconds. The idea of doing so for hours, days, weeks, months, or years upsets me.

    There are times when I see Western Europe and how more open people can be and the pride that communities are discovering inside of themselves for their LGBT communities, but then I know that just a few hundred KM in a different direction people are being persecuted in all matters of their lives because of how their feelings towards members of the same sex don’t match those of the bullies in our communities.

    It makes me sad. It makes me rage. But rage doesn’t help. What helps is to be open, and the first who are most open are the pioneers that we must support the most. It’s the pioneers of the LGBT community of the past 30 years in the US that have lifted LGBT rights so high into the public agenda, it’s now our turn to help today’s pioneers.

    I hope your new friend finds the courage to be someone we can all stand behind.

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    • It is incredibly sad. I so much appreciate all the great work being done by allies as well. It all helps tremendously!

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  3. I cannot imagine dating someone who was closeted – I would have absolutely zero patience for it, and I think it would actually make me really down. I’m a very open person, and make no attempt at hiding anything about myself (indeed this sometimes leads to oversharing) and I think I would find it exhausting trying to go into the closet with/for someone else. I admire you for your patience and respect in this regard, Talon! Good luck!

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    • I used to think I would be able to, but in reality I just can’t live that life. Well, I refuse to really.

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  4. Maybe this person has come into your life so you can be his guide to closetless living. It is really sad that we are not able to jump into someones skin and experience those things as they do/have. How interesting would it be to swap genders for a week or more, change skin color/tone, and on and on. It is one thing to hear about it but to actually experience it would give a whole new level of understanding.

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    • Getting a taste of someone else’s life is one of the things I love about travel. It really expands your world.

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  5. Well said! Life is too short and if anyone doesn’t accept you for who you are then that really is their loss!

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  6. Religious and political prisons can be just as confining because if you are not the religion or political flavor of the moment, then you will probably be hurt. Not so much physically as emotionally and even spiritually. Sometimes you don’t get an opportunity to branch out of the box to share what you DO have in common with that fellow person who believes so differently than you, but do they really? I have gotten to where I often don’t care to find out.

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    • Yep, there are so many kinds of prisons we often build and maintain for ourselves. Really quite sad.

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  7. WOW man. I think we tend to forget about the scares we still carry from social stigmas we grew up in. Growing up as a black man in the US tends to have certain “rules” that determine who you are and what you’re going to be. For me, the hardest thing I have to do is stop carrying about being “black” enough. What if “my people” don’t like the way I worded something? It’s difficult to get out of these self imposed prisons no matter how strong and confident we are.

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    • Great example. Some of my Native American friends deal with this, too. I know a few who have been called an apple (red on the outside, white on the inside) for similar reasons. Sometimes we aren’t even aware.

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