Toronto
3 min

Technology helps us in & out

A couple of monthsago I met a guy at the baths. Things went well and I gave him my phone number. As he was entering the number into his cell I noticed that he made a small notation beside it.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s just to show that you’re one of my gay friends,” he said.

Of course. Wouldn’t want to speed-dial the wrong part of your personality, now would we?

The guy lived at home in the 905 with what I’m guessing is a fairly traditional family so he may have had more reasons than most for his discretion but I’m sure he’s not alone in compartmentalizing his life.

The internet was supposed to have eliminated the closet. With so many gay guys and so many queer resources so easily available online how could anyone fail to come out? But in fact technology seems to have made the closet both narrower and more comfortable. If you’re a young gay guy living at home in, say, Mississauga it’s perfectly possible to lead a wildly gay life in the midst of a very straight world. All you need is a cell phone and a secure internet connection. Have phone, will travel _ and they do. Thanks to cell phones kids can live with their parents for as long as they like but lead a separate existence with no one the wiser or more shocked.

Not that Toronto twinks are the only ones leading closeted lives thanks to technology. Last August New York magazine ran a fascinating profile of a married, fortysomething New Yorker who spiced up his work day with gay assignations. At the time of the article he’d been married for 10 years and screwing with guys for around 20. Most of his current hookups were arranged via Craigslist. The article was subtitled, in part, “How the Internet Has Made It Easier than Ever to Lead a Detection-proof Double Life.”

Living in the heart of the nation’s biggest and gayest city I sometimes find it difficult to believe that anyone’s still left in the closet. I mean, there are gay couples in every second design magazine, gay characters on TV and gay cabinet ministers making highly publicized marriages.

The closet is so not my life that I find even its fictional version a difficult sell. Much as I enjoyed Breakfast With Scot, Laurie Lynd’s charming comedy about a semi-closeted sportscaster and the pint-size flamer who upsets his picture-perfect world, I had trouble believing the adult hero was actually in the closet. How could he be? To me, he and his partner looked too much like those yuppie queens who squire each other through the aisles of Home Depot and Restoration Hardware searching for the perfect faucet.

But then perhaps my disbelief is itself a product of our boundless and often unwarranted faith in technology. Technology teaches us to believe that progress is swift, certain and very black and white, whereas the kind of psychosexual transition labelled as “coming out” is anything but.

Which is merely to say that it’s never quite as easy as in the movies. On TV and other fantasy factories coming out is invariably a flashy, one-off experience that solves all your dilemmas in one fell swoop. In reality it’s an ongoing process that never really ends.

I’ve been out for decades and I still pick and choose the situations in which I’ll share the central theme of my adult life. In some weird way it still feels a bit private and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

I’ve been doing some writing for the Toronto Star lately and it attracts quite a different audience from Xtra including, recently, a small-town mother who wrote to tell me about herself and her teenage son. Her son had recently come out and she was fine with that. In fact the whole family was behind the kid. She was, however, having trouble dealing with some of the antigay bigots in her circle. Her daughter recommended the direct approach but the mother didn’t know what to say and the reason, as far as I could see, was that she herself was not, in some sense, quite out. Not that she was gay, just that she hadn’t had time to process the whole thing. She accepted her son’s gayness but couldn’t quite accept herself as the mother of a gay son.

Not to worry, I told her. “Your son has probably been thinking about this for years. Don’t be surprised if you spend a bit of time processing it too.”

But I also thought that people with similar concerns might be better able to help her than I could so I sent her to the website for Parents Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (Pflag.org). Despite my rampant lack of faith in technology I figured it was a good place to start.