Time makes everything okay. It seems impossible to believe when we are in the grips of a terrible break-up, when we feel so desperately alone that we can’t imagine ever laughing again or finding a new boyfriend to love, but all heartache slowly dissipates with time.
Sometimes it feels as though time just brings numbness and routine, but usually it restores us to mental balance and health.
It is sneaky and quiet and lifts our spirits like boats rising in the high tide; you don’t really notice it happening until suddenly one day you realise you no longer hurt. The angst, the emotional intensity, is simply not there anymore.
That is good news for anyone going through despair. And it could be no other way. If emotional distress sustained itself at the same pitch indefinitely I don’t think any of us would survive it. It would be, by definition, hell.
But the passing of time has an unfortunate side-effect on us too – while it releases us from trauma, it can make us incredibly insensitive. After a certain amount of time has passed, and the memory of the pain that it involved is both faded and repressed, it seems a lot of us lose any empathy for those who are still going through what we went through. The shared human experience that should enable us to reach across to someone in despair and connect with them often drives us apart instead.
I noticed this recently with a friend who is in the process of coming out. It is slow and tortuous, and he often takes many steps back after only a single step forward. It is frustrating to watch, I admit. I find myself fighting the urge to roll my eyes at the clichÃ©d drama of it all. It is just like every coming-out movie I have ever seen. They all have the same stages, the same questions, the same misguided beliefs. They follow the same plot – the same progression of straight-boy meets boy, drunkenly kisses him and throws himself into guilt and confusion. We’ve all been through it and we’ve all seen others go through it. It’s like we’re so familiar with the moves that we can’t take them seriously anymore. We know how it will pan out in the end, and we forget that every time it happens, every person who goes through it is a different individual. It is their life in the balance, and not some generic script.
I have been shocked by just how little some people seem to care that it is probably quite a difficult time for this friend. His tentative explorations are applauded with the fierce gusto that hints at mockery, and his bouts of denialism are treated with nothing but absolute contempt and disdain. No one seems to understand that there is an internal battle going on inside his head and his heart. Some seem more eager to spread the gossip of his first kiss than to help him accept himself or process what that first kiss with a boy could mean.
“Just because we have been through the open doorway of that closet and never looked back, we think we know better than the young…”
I am guilty of finding the process quite boring, too. Being in the closet is so tiresome, it’s so very 90s. Those of us who have the benefit of time between the event and our current lives all think of being in the closet as a little ridiculous, slightly embarrassing and, quite rightly, just a phase. We know that in the end it’s really straightforward to come out and that being a full time gay boy is completely ordinary and unworthy of stress. We forget that only retrospect is so clear. And we seem to also forget just how difficult coming out actually was. We were all nervous and got defensive and yet we laugh off those who are in that same distress as if it is childish and self-indulgent of them to wallow. “How can it take him so long to get there?” we think.
Just because we have been through the open doorway of that closet and never looked back, we think we know better than the young, one-foot-out-of-the-closet-and-scared. We’re impatient with them, disregard their caginess and discuss their business openly before they feel comfortable doing so. Perhaps some of us want to be the first to capitalise on the newfound gayness when it happens and that’s what drives the impatience. We want to date the young, pure and new. Perhaps we belittle the process because we do not want to relive the pain, or be reminded how vulnerable we once were. But it is a little heartless to let our attraction and our need for instant gratification get the better of us.
I didn’t really have any older gay men around who helped me come out, so I can’t reminisce about a more wholesome time when gay guys were supportive and helpful. But I know that it is unfair to assume that because we have moved on with our lives, people younger than us will have reached the same point at the same time. Imagine how stabilising it could be for young gay guys to have older gay friends help them to self-acceptance. Imagine they knew, for once, that someone had their back when they were feeling so incredibly insecure. How about we show one another some compassion? There is a whole movement taking place across the world to help gay teenagers accept themselves. There are “it gets better” videos all over YouTube, and yet we find it hard to respect or listen to the newly out in our own clubs.
But how do we do it? How do we remain supportive and kind when the repetitiveness of coming out is so tedious to observe? How do we treat younger gay guys like individuals and not statistics? Perhaps the only way to do it is to reverse a little time. It is to imagine, for a second or two, that we are sixteen again. And to remember how it felt to say “I’m gay” for the first time, or to kiss a boy, or to break the news to our parents. It is to feel the racing heart again, the butterflies, the nausea. It is to recognise what it is that time heals, and what it is that it numbs – and to try to reconnect with our humanity.
It might be difficult to do while we’re sipping on a gin in a club and wishing that the “straight boy” would finish his damn story, but it’s a worthy goal to set ourselves.