WHEN I GO BACK to that morning, it is almost as emotional now as it was then. Though it took place 34 years ago, my memory remains clear and vivid: how cramped the living room looked, the coffee mug she passed me as tears streamed down her cheeks, our three-year-old son jumping on me and wanting to play, and how, with tears in my eyes, I took him outside to the back courtyard and told him to muck around alone while Mummy and I spoke inside.
We hadn’t been back in the city for long after a year living in a camper up North, where I mowed lawns and she cleaned campers in exchange for our camper site. When the waves were pumping, I was out surfing off the rocky point, and when there was free time, I was writing dark, secret poetry and quietly wondering how much longer I could keep up the charade, if it was a charade. It was a strange situation, because I loved my family life.
I think now that the end began even before our son was born, years before we would live in the camper together as a family. I remember a conversation we had one morning while lying together on a beach in Crete, where we were living after traveling around India and Europe. She had asked me if I still had feelings for men. I think that’s how she put it. I had raised it with her before briefly, maybe during a drunken night out.
It was so difficult to spell out an answer, for I was never entirely sure what I felt. Those feelings—not at all accepted by society in those days—were so puzzling, because everything about them was sneered at and hated by the world. So I stifled these feelings, and I was stifled too. But I answered her the best way I could, fumbling some muddled reply. Then I went for a swim; and later we made love in the shabby Crete room on a barren hillside overlooking the green sea, and six months later she was visibly pregnant.
Do I call it a mistake? Staying with her, the pregnancy, the baby, not facing up to the real me? I cannot, because there we were, and our son was what came from it. We had both ignored what we didn’t want to face, each in our own way, because there was genuine love. But a few years later, while living in the camper, the unspoken truth was bubbling to the surface in my poetry.
And so, that morning in our flat, while the boy played out back, I told her. I had to. It was eating away at me. I spilled out that I had met a guy one night a week before, in a club, drunk, late at night. I told her that I was scared about sexually transmitted diseases and needed to say that to her. I told her the reason why I’d avoided sex, and that life had become a living hell.
She was crushed. It was like a bomb that had been ticking away had finally exploded. Our son came in from the back courtyard, walking in on us both crying on the sofa. She said straight out that it was the end, that she didn’t want that kind of relationship, and I said that I agreed. I remember our wonderful boy climbing onto the lounge and forcing himself between us.
She said that she wanted me to leave, and I understood. We had the camper out front, so I packed up some of my things and loaded them inside. Then the three of us were crying, for he could see that something big had happened. I hugged her, and then picked him up and held him. I sat with him for half an hour alone and explained that I needed to go somewhere else, but I would see him in a few days and would always see him. I would never leave him. I hooked the camper up to the car and drove away.
She had said to me that I needed to tell my family what had happened, and that she would be contacting her family and our friends in the following days. And so my coming out was to be done in rush.
I was rejected, abandoned, and hated in the first months, and I accepted that, for I believed then that I was wrong and bad. But things got better over time. A few people stuck by me. My family came around slowly. And so, for 34 years since then, I’ve lived as a gay man. I’ve always been close to my son. I was there as a part-time dad throughout his childhood. I did the things that dads do, and we shared many incredible experiences.
I made a life as a professional playwright, poet, and actor, traveled, lived and worked all over the world, particularly when my son became a teenager. I’ve had lots of lovers and three great relationships. The current one has lasted for twenty years with a unique, special guy.
My ex-wife married, had another son, and divorced recently. We both turned sixty last year. Our son is 35. The three of us catch up together. She and I go out and party now and then.
I’m a fortunate man to have experienced the life and love I have and the amazing journey I’ve been on. Coming out is a part of that. It was the right thing to do for me and for her; of that I’m sure.
Stephen House has won many awards and nominations as a poet, playwright and actor. He’s received several international literature residencies from The Australia Council and an Asia-link residency. His chapbook real and unreal was published by ICOE Press. He’s published often and performs his acclaimed monologues widely.