I’m a 35-year-old gay man and came out to my family and friends about six years ago. I’ve been seeing my boyfriend for about a year now and I’m hoping you can help me out here. I feel like we get along just fine and I love him quite dearly. A constant source of conflict, however, has to do with how we are with each other when we’re out in public. He consistently gets angry with me and tells me that I’m less affectionate with him than when we’re at home, and has accused me of being ashamed of him and my sexuality in general. It’s so bad that I avoid being out with him and that just makes him more upset. While I did wrestle with my sexuality for a long time, I feel I’ve moved past any lingering shame and simply prefer to be more private about my affections. Why does everyone need to know my personal business or who I love? Why can’t the love we share at home be enough… is there something I’m missing here?
In short… yes, there is something you are having difficulty grasping here. The good news is that I don’t blame you. The most pervasive coming out narrative that is shoved down our throats (see: any Glee episode) enforces a notion that coming out and self-acceptance are one and the same thing. The story typically goes something like this: repressed queer individual hides in the shadows, reaches a breaking point and ultimately in a single act of bravery conquers the closet door in one fell swoop.
The reality of being a queer person in this world is a lot more complex and somewhat less charmed than that fairy tale purports. Growing up in most parts of our world has meant being bombarded with shaming, heterosexist and oppressive messages about being gay.
While what you did six years ago in coming out to your friends and family was a truly brave act, there may very well still be a young boy in you that hasn’t quite caught up with the evolved person you are today. So when you walk down the street with your guy, you might be engaged in an internal tug of war with kid Pierre who’s desperate for approval and still carries a self-hatred from an earlier time.
From the sounds of it, your frigidity when stepping out with your BF could very well lead to a breakdown of the relationship you say you hold dearly. Yes, there is a chance that even if you were straight, you would still shy away from random public displays of affection. Either way, the reality is that you have a partner who feels like your show of affection stalls whenever someone else is around.
Ironically, you’re going to have to be adult enough to acknowledge that there is a younger part of you that’s still terrified of being judged and shunned by the world around you. This current conflict is giving you an opportunity to take your rainbow journey a few steps further—from identifying as a gay man to thriving as one.