WHAT EVER HAPPENED to Limbo? Not the dance, the place. Linguistically, the expression “stuck in limbo” lives on as a metaphor for being caught in an undefined, undesired state; but that imagined post-life realm of Catholic theology dating back to the 5th century now no longer appears believable. Once, though, believing that such a Limbo actually did exist was not only spiritually relevant, but necessarily convenient. Limbo was where unbaptized infants went upon death—more specifically, infants who died before they had the chance to be baptized. Because a loving God could never commit innocents such as these to a purgatory or hell.
Though I grew up Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools for twelve years, I’m in no theological position to argue for or against the existence of a post-life limbo. But, as a gay man who came to that realization rather late in life, I believe I’m in a pretty credible position to bear witness to the existence of a gay limbo.
I first entered gay limbo over fifteen years ago when I came out to my wife and two adult sons at around the age of fifty-five…and I’ve been here ever since.
And where is “here,” exactly? I’d pinpoint it as living as straight part-time and gay part-time, in a kind of undefined in-between space. It’s not at all a bad place, but it’s not one that enables me to live the fully—day in and day out—gay life I can’t stop dreaming of. Sometimes I feel like those unbaptized infants who, while they exist in a good and wholesome place, are nevertheless denied the supreme joy of ever seeing God. You could say that while I’m also in a good and wholesome place since I’ve made it to semi-retirement in good health and continue to be self-sufficient, I remain outside that heavenly realm, denied the heart and soul joy of living gay every day.
I’m part of two families: one conventional family in Texas, the other unconventional in Thailand. As I say, I was in my early fifties when, after years of “couldn’t be, not possible” self-denial, I one day ended up staring at myself in the mirror and saying, “Admit it. You’re gay.” Even at that crucial coming-out-within point, I chose the pronoun “you,” not “I,” some last-ditch effort to blame someone other than “me.” A couple of years after telling the man in the mirror and my wife and sons I was sure I was gay, an unlikely thing happened: I met and fell in love with a stunningly handsome gay Thai man who was thirty years younger than me. Then the unlikeliest part happened: he fell in love with me.
That was over fifteen years ago. For familial reasons, my Thai partner-husband lives in Bangkok. For work reasons, as well as my own need to be around my former wife, sons, and grandkids some of the time, I live in Texas and “commute” to Bangkok, typically eight or nine times a year.
Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m amazingly lucky for being able to live in two cultures and travel so frequently from one side of the world to the next. Most of all, I’m very lucky to sustain an equally amazing relationship with my Thai partner, despite our never really living together, or for that matter, having more than ninety days per year together.
And yet, with all of this good fortune, I lament that I feel like I’m living in gay limbo. By the time I admitted I was gay, I was sure it was too late for me to ever be sexy or attractive enough to find the only kind of relationship I ever wanted. So, I rushed into everything, never bothering to disco or sauna hunt, let alone date. I went to gay bars in Bangkok, and purely by good luck, the first gay guy I fell for also fell for me. It all happened so fast—divorcing and leaving my conventional Western family and joining my new extended, unconventional family—that I found myself playing ongoing, lead roles simultaneously in both.
That’s the limbo part. On the one hand, it is wonderful to have two kind, understanding sons, their wives, and three cool grandkids, now at those perfect ages of eleven, ten, and nine. Even though I don’t see them every day or week, I can anytime. On the other hand, it is wonderful that my Thai partner waits for me and so passionately reconnects with me when he once again welcomes me home. My life here in Texas is so very straight; my life in Thailand is so very gay, a different kind of normal.
Unbaptized infants in Limbo never needed to ask if they were saved. They were taken care of, but never saved. That’s one of the ways we’re different: I do have to ask. When in Texas, I ask: “Am I really gay?” When in Thailand: “Was I ever really straight?” I need to know where I am to know who I am.
A good friend who so kindly and patiently listens to me when I speak of struggling to be a role-model ex-husband, father, and grandfather while also being a committed gay lover-partner, will tell me: “You are the only person I’ve ever met who’s been gifted with living two lives at once.” That’s one way of looking at it. Another way to look at it is that, like everyone else, I’m really just living one life … only mine’s in gay limbo.
Mike Maloney was born in 1949 and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. He served for seven years as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and spent over forty years with a career in marketing. His new book, Choosing To Be Gay, is available at amazon Kindle Direct.
Yes, I would say you are fortunate to have come to terms with your authentic self before you grew much older. You are blessed to have time in limbo, which may not be so satisfying, but is at least a less threatening environment than many gay people have to deal with because of cultural homophobia. Savor the blessings you have in enjoying two families. Many of us have none.
This piece speaks to me. I’m the same age as the author. I too came out late in life around the age of 55.
It was not a self-admission of my true nature, but rather a revelation and change that I embraced.
My wife and I remain together in every way and sense. Though I have no male partner, I have a community of gay and queer friends. I understand the notion of Limbo but I don’t experience it in my life.