College Columns December 2021 - Page 23

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terms with their own gay identities in that era , I had dated women throughout high school and college . In essence , the first part of my journey was to “ come out ” to myself , and to give myself the permission to explore what I knew longed for – a primary relationship with another man . Me ? A nice Jewish boy that was blessed with external and internal expectations of a wife , 2.5 kids , and an active life in synagogue and community ? How could I accept the reality of a life that was going to differ from my assumed future path ?
As I made my way through the maze of “ coming out ” ( reading , therapy , coming out support group , family drama , exploring a new world in the most secretive way I could – all fodder for another column ), I was cognizant of what I might face in my personal life with friends and family . Most looming , though , was what would happen with my professional life . I was then working at a large local firm . I had met other gay lawyers in the Arizona legal community that had experienced discrimination on account of coming out of the closet or simply exhibiting traits that stereotypically were assumed to exhibit the appearance of being gay . One friend lost his job when a client ’ s complaint about the firmness of his handshake led a partner at his firm to investigate his sexual orientation and cause his firing . Later , a young ( and more brash ) summer clerk placed a photo of his male partner in his private office on his desk . The photo was no less decent than any other lawyer ’ s spousal photo . He was instructed to remove the photo . Another friend lost a new client relationship when identified as a gay man – not self-identified mind you but assumed and questioned about it . Conversations at legal and business lunches , golf games , happy hours and pre-meeting chatter often included off-color jokes ,
insults , and malicious comments regarding gay sexual orientation . No one seemed to even consider whether anyone present was gay . Either they didn ’ t care , or they didn ’ t have any consciousness that they might be in “ mixed ” company .
Which leads to the next career related dilemma – when and to whom do I disclose ? What is the appropriate business situation to correct assumptions like : “ tell me about your wife ” or “ I happened to see two men kissing at the SF Airport last week – isn ’ t that nauseating ?” Sounds obvious today , but in 1980 ’ s Phoenix , the gay lawyers informal happy hour was still held in a remote location without any identifying sign , and the gay lawyers at my firm ( about 4-5 of us out of 80 ) were still having secret breakfasts . In the progression from in to out , reliance on discretion from friends or colleagues with whom I shared my orientation meant a hard to accept loss of control over the information – a growing up lesson that perhaps I might have learned earlier in life . Because of my personal nature and the natural progression of things , my secrecy slowly gave way to openness .
A lot was going on in the background . The AIDS crisis kept the subject of sexuality in the news . Many were confronted with illness of family members , friends and business colleagues whose gay identity was not previously known to them . The health crisis ripped off the closet doors in certain circumstances , and of course the reactions were as varied as the identities of those affected – spanning from complete rejection and alienation to acceptance and transformation .
My journey was interesting in that my colleagues at the first law firm I had worked at in college , as a law clerk , and then as an associate , knew me before I came out and after a while I realized I had no idea continued on page 24
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