To Announce His Coming Out, Bob Bogard Mailed Letters to His Family and Friends
Like many members of the gay community, National Coming Out Day (traditionally observed on October 11) has a significant meaning for me. While I love that we now publicly celebrate and acknowledge this date, my personal coming out day is a few months before —August 12. That’s the day I took a leap and in one grand gesture informed all my family and close friends that I was gay.
Coming to that moment was not easy for me. I’d only had VERY few same-sex experiences in my life. I had led a very straight life and in fact at age 28 I was living in New York with my fiancé Peggy, and our wedding date was about a year away. One night I was watching television alone and stumbled across a film called “The Lost Language of Cranes,” based on a popular novel by author David Leavitt. It told the story of a 25-year-old man who realizes he must come out after falling in love for the first time with a man. When he discloses that he is gay to his parents, his mother accepts it, but his father has a very negative reaction. We learn later that the father was secretly gay his entire life and hid it from all he knew, and as a result led a very unhappy existence.
When I watched that film, I realized that I was that father – that although I loved my fiancé and I was eager to start a family, I knew that I also was hiding something. I suddenly knew sitting there in front of the television that I could not bear to lead the life of that sad man in the film. I didn’t have any gay friends and I wasn’t sure what to do, but I discovered a book that changed my life forever – “Coming Out, an Act of Love” by author Rob Eichberg. It is an incredibly positive and well-written practical guide to affirming your gay and lesbian identity. This frank and powerful book systematically walked me through the steps of how to personally embrace my new identity as a gay man and provided ideas for how to publicly present my newly adopted identity as a proud gay man. In many ways that that book (and the Lost Language of Cranes film) saved my life.
Eventually I had a long talk with my fiancé and told her how I was feeling. She was supportive, but, of course, sad and disappointed that this meant our relationship would end. She said she would support any decision I made, and if I decided to tell my family and friends that we had simply broken up, she would not add that it was because I was gay. But the “Coming Out” book had taught me that if I were going to start this new life, I had to do it right and not base it on deception. So, I followed the book’s excellent advice and wrote letters to all my family and close friends letting them know that Peggy and I had broken up because I had realized that I was gay. I stressed that nothing had changed, and I was still the person they knew — they just now knew me a little better. After I had written these letters, I bundled them together and walked to a post office box. It was pouring rain that day in Manhattan, and I stood in front of that mailbox for what seemed like an eternity, clutching those letters and trying not to get soaked in the rain. I knew that the second I would put them in the box, my life would change dramatically in ways I could not imagine. Eventually I mustered my courage, opened the mailbox door, and deposited the stack of letters. Immediately I felt a gigantic weight lifted from my shoulders, and I trudged home in the rain wondering what would happen next.
The letters were a wonderful way for allowing me to share my feelings with each person in a way that did not require an immediate reaction from them. Several days later I called every recipient and had long talks. To my amazement, everyone I knew was accepting and loving in their response. I was astonished that this secret I had carried for so long was now gone and in its place was a new self-confidence that allowed me to have much closer and meaningful relationships with those that I loved.
The only exception was the reaction I got from my born-again Christian father. He had left my mother and family when I was 16 to be with a woman whom he’d been seeing for 11 years prior to that. To assuage his guilt, he chose to mindlessly plunge into a born-again cult and when I came out to him, he essentially told me that my “decision to become gay” was wrong and guaranteed that I would now never get into heaven. I tried for years to have a relationship with him, but he chose his religion over his family, and died decades later with no close relationships with any of his children.
Now, 32 years later, I am fully out and proud of it. I have no shame in who I am and love the life I lead. I have a loving husband of 28 years and solid friends who fully know and love me. My relationship with all of my family members is based on love and acceptance.
Not a week goes by where I don’t think back on accidentally finding that film and then reading that book and knowing the path I was to lead. Without a doubt, the most defining moment of my life was that day on August 12, 1992, when I stood in front of that mailbox under my umbrella in the pouring rain, clutching those letters, and knowing that my life was about to dramatically and irrevocably change. For the better.
Feature Photo courtesy of Ezra Zonana.
- Postal box,: Ezra Zonana