Our writing topic this month is ‘the closet.’ The past few weeks, in the back of my mind, I’ve been pondering what the closet means to me, how having to be closeted has shaped me, and even what other people’s closets look like. Then, last Wednesday, I went to my first Elton John concert. It was A-mazing and a much welcomed ‘lift’ to the middle of my week. As I sat listening (and dancing) to Elton playing some of his greatest hits my mind wandered back to the closet. Elton is known for being a gay icon – in addition to being an iconic performer he also started a foundation that has contributed over $400 million to AIDS research. (He cited this at his concert last week.) Watching him on stage it’s hard to imagine Elton ever being anything but fabulous with his black sequin jacket, glittery gold shoes, and coordinating gold strip down his black pants.
A few people said to me that Elton enjoys Missoula because it is so gay friendly. Missoula is the gayest town in Montana, but it’s not New York, San Francisco, or London. I still find it challenging to think of any place in Montana as ‘gay’, although if there is one Missoula would be the place. The Montana I remember was very homophobic, more like the Wyoming that Matthew Shepherd lived and died in. Growing up I thought my dad’s singing and dancing was an obvious blow to his straight cover. I constantly worried that people would figure out he was gay because of the way he lit up performing onstage. Of course my dad didn’t wear glittery shoes or sparkly jackets, but he did dance and sing some Broadway show tunes.
After the concert my curiosity caused me to research more of Elton John’s past. Like I said, it’s really hard for me to imagine someone like Elton ever being closeted. Ever. He’s the guy I saw on TV and plastered all over magazines oozing with charm, charisma, and gayness. Back then, from my perspective, itseemed like he had no care in the world.
In an interview with The Rolling Stone in 1976, Elton John came out as bisexual. This is right around the time homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness and I can imagine that even for a sparkling performer bursting with flamboyancy being openly gay was still a huge risk. Would people come to your shows? Would people buy your records? Maybe it’s better to keep that side of yourself private so that it doesn’t interfere with your music. This thought train seems so crazy when I break it down now …
My parents married in 1982 and Elton John married his first partner – a wife – in 1984. In the late 80s, around the time my parents were welcoming their third and final kid together, Elton and his wife were divorcing. Our family was deep in the closet, while Elton was making his way out. My dad has said that if you were gay ‘back then’ and you wanted a family then you got married and had kids. In 1988, he is quoted as saying he felt comfortable ‘being gay’ but he didn’t remarry or have kids until the much later.Closets. Secrets. There are so many factors. Even if the very reason for being in ‘the closet’ is the same, no two people’s experiences are the same.
My personal closet doors didn’t come crashing down until way later. It’s a process and one that I don’t think really got started until after I left high school. Again, I also grew up in a rural setting which is not akin to flamboyant fabulousness the way an urban setting might be. Montana is much more accepting than I remember, butMontana is still proposing (and tabling) bills to protect LGBT citizens. And same-sex marriage has only been legal in the United States for a year and a half. (!) Every once in awhile I still noticethe reminders about ‘how’ and ‘why’ people need to hide certain parts of themselves.
Whether I like it or not, the closet is something that has completely shaped me. I am no longer paralyzed by the skeletons in there,but I do still have moments of worry. Today’s ‘closet’ is more subtle, less constant or completely consuming. If someone doesn’t like me because they ‘don’t agree with gayness’ then that’s their choice. (And quite frankly their loss.)
I now see that my experience with secrets and half truths in the closet taught me to look below the surface and not to simply accept everything at face value. However confusing that might of been as a child and adolescent, I am appreciative for the perspective now. I assume that everyone has a secret, their own closet of some sort. Aren’t we all looking for the people who allow us the space where we can simply be ourselves?
If I am lucky enough to live to nearly 70, like Sir Elton John, I hope that I am so unapologetically fabulous that it radiates from me. I won’t be banging out pop tunes on a big grand piano to a sold out crowd like him, but maybe I can be wearing something like a sequin jacket, glittery gold shoes, and a big genuine smile. I’ll have to see … if I am lucky enough to make it there.
Amie is the co-founder of The Gay Dad Project. When she’s not writing about her gay dad she likes to dance, make films, practice yoga, and travel. You can read all of Amie’s posts here.
Read what others have shared on ourMarch topic:The Closet.