Out of the Closet and Into Life
Bruce Joffe takes us with him as he recounts his journey to discovering and accepting his sexual identity. He is a college professor, advisor and public relations consultant who was born Jewish, was married and divorced twice and then became a Christian. He shares his story of redemption and acceptance. The story is personal and it is important to realize that when Joffe came out, it was difficult, dangerous and demeaning to do so.
I think that one of the questions that we often forget to ask ourselves is why do so many men choose anonymous sex is never tell anyone about it? Why, then, do so many us look at ourselves as sexual outlaws. It is probably because many men grew up during a time when repressed homosexuality was a way of life and condemned by society. Gay men and women were thought of as sick.
Joffe not only deluded his friends and family but he also deluded himself and his family. When he did finally accept himself for who he was, he had rejected his own sexuality. It hurts to read about gay men who had to lie about who they are. It also hurts that we have to find to reconcile faith with sexuality. Those of you who are over 40 know what I am talking about here. Most people do not know how high the dues are to be a member of our club. Being gay is not the same for everyone and it is certainly more than just sexual behavior (if you are not aware of this you might check out David Halperin”s “How to Be Gay” [Harvard, 2013]). Joffe shows us that being gay comes with rejection, confrontation and embrace and acceptance but none of these are easy. Joffe also speaks of the reconciliation between sexuality and faith/religion. He considers himself to be a Gay Jewish-Christian something I have a hard time understanding since I am so totally Jewish that I would joke about me having my scarlet letter but it was “J”. I have been lucky enough to find my place in Judaism and did not have to look elsewhere but I am certainly cognizant of those who are not quite that lucky. He had a rough time reconciling his religious beliefs with his sexuality and we all know how difficult that can be. This is perhaps the reason why we see gay people leave religion and then there are those that seek spirituality elsewhere.
As he taught gender studies academically (he has done so during over ten years), he came into contact with other men who were struggling with their sexuality and he understood the pressures that those of us from the generation of baby boomers were having. Some hoped to be able to unload the “onus of homosexuality”, others turned to drugs and whatever else they could find to help them live what they considered to be “normal” lives. Normal is one of those words beyond definition since it means different things to different people and I speak as a normal gay male. There was a time when gay men married hoping to find the way to live through that but it did not always add legitimacy to their lives and because of this, not only was the man himself hurt but others were hurt as well.
It is different today and people are coming out and leaving guilt and shame behind. Joffe asks the question as to how we can lead fruitful lives when we are plagued by guilt and shame that is forced on us by others. Is it possible to lead a hypocritical life when we are in the closet? For so long we have been denied respect, equal rights, and religion and yet we are expected to be legitimate. These are things straight society has not had to face and it happens all to often that gay men cannot deal with what they is wrong (having been born gay). Joffe tells us that we cannot control our sexual orientation and that is a natural expression of who we are. We do not deserve second-class status—we have always been here and when others did not know who we were we did fine. When we began to exercise our right to be, things changed and they are still changing for the best.
Joffe is a good writer but more than anything is the sincerity with which he tells us his story. I also hope that his telling his story will lead to others doing the same. There does not need to be conflict between sexuality and identity—we are who we are.