Happy Birthday

by Charles Troob

On my twenty-third birthday, with a great deal of trepidation, I attended a meeting advertised on a Yale bulletin board as a “Homosexuality Discussion Group.”

I had been slowly cracking open the closet door. I was now “out” to my housemates and to one friend in New York. This would be another baby step.  

I walked in and looked around. Everyone there looked pretty much like me—nerdy grad student—but I had no feeling of fellowship or relief. These men, I supposed, had accepted their assignment to the category “gay”—but I hadn’t. Though haunted by my attraction to the male body, I wasn’t prepared to exile myself from the world I’d grown up in. I still hoped that I was really a latent heterosexual: I wanted a future with a wife and family, my gay urges either suppressed or somehow dealt with on the side.  

Why then was I here? To get over the secrecy that was poisoning my life. I was terrified to be known publicly as gay—or gay-ish: to have the world see me as I really was. 

I’d been with a dozen men, but those sexual encounters had taken place in a shadow world, as though a second person inhabiting my body was indulging in them—think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I wasn’t mentally disordered: I knew that the carnally curious Mr. Hyde was the real me. If anything, he felt more authentic than the pleasant bland young man I presented to family, friends, and fellow students. To move ahead in life I would have to end this strange double identity—but that required me to find the courage to reveal to others the truth about myself.       

So it was a milestone to say my full name loudly and clearly to this group. I then sat silently, my head swimming, barely hearing the discussion. Though grateful for the presence of these men, I told them little and gave them nothing. Just to be here was effort enough.

The habit of hiding in fear and shame would prove to be hard to break. It took many years and birthdays before I was as comfortable in my skin as I am today. 

It has been challenging and valuable to write about myself in study groups at IRP/LP2—and to hear the stories of others as well.