Lenard Mace – Coming Out

“Hello, I’m a human being.”

Just because [being gay] was so taboo, we all became very proficient in our denial skills. When you do that for as long as I did, for 30 years of my life, it takes a long time to get out of that. Even now, [with my current job, I think], “Oh God. How much do I tell about myself?” I have on my resume my work with the [EMC] Church. I thought, “Well, if they do any checking at all they’ll know what kind of a church it is.” I was real reluctant about whether I should self-reveal. I actually didn’t until—it was just last week, to my boss. We were just having a conversation, and she asked. She said, “Tell me more about this church you were the pastor of.” And I’m going, “Okaaay.”

I had sensed from the day I met her that she was a very open and, as far as she was concerned, things would be fine. I’m still not sure about the company, but she’s wonderful. She was actually thrilled to hear that there is a church that ministers to this community. She [said that she] has several personal gay friends, that it’s not going to be an issue with my job. I said, “Well, I really didn’t think it would be, but we never know.” I think that is something that goes with us our entire lives—unless we’re just so far out there, with such visibility, that the whole world knows. In my own world everybody does know. But when I venture out of the familiar, into foreign territory, it’s like, “Okay. We go through this all over again.” I think [it] just sucks that we have to keep doing that. “Hello, I’m a human being.” There really doesn’t need to be anything more about it.

All of my family knows and [they] have known, basically since the time I’ve known, or came out about it. My parents, surprisingly, I had read each of them totally backwards. I had assumed that my father would be the one who would want to kill me. I assumed my mom would be okay with it. Not true! It was actually just the opposite. My mom quickly became okay with it. Her issue was that she went through that whole “mother guilt thing” about, “Oh, my God. What did I do wrong?”

I was the middle of three kids. I had an older brother—who was my dad’s number one—and a younger sister. So, [my sister] was the princess, although I was really the princess. We’ve had a few laughs about that. I was that proverbial “troubled child” in the middle. My mom, after the first few difficult months, joined PFLAG when it first started in Spokane. [She] was an active member for many years. My dad and I basically don’t have a relationship—even though he was very supportive of who I am. My sister was immediately accepting.

My brother, who was the person I always looked up to, was always afraid of, and always knew I couldn’t be . . . He was the “straight A” student and the sports person. You know, all those things that every father [wants]. That’s why you have boys, right? By the time I came out, [my brother] was married. It was actually my sister-in-law who, I think, brokered the whole situation. Twenty-five years later, their only son, on the night before he was to get married, came out. So, my poor brother has had quite the challenge. I always said, “If you looked up the word ‘redneck’ in the dictionary, there’s my brother. There’s a picture of him.” I learned over the years that I had not given my brother adequate credit. He’s been wonderful.

I’ve been very fortunate. At the time my family was coming to terms with it and learning to be accepting of me, I had many friends whose families disowned them and who—still to this day—don’t have good relationships with their families. So, I really feel very blessed.

I can only sum that up by saying that my whole “coming out” process was a very diligent process. I carefully chose when, and to whom, I would come out to. These people already either liked me, or didn’t like me, based on who I was as a human being—not because of my sexuality. Other than one instance, it was all very pleasant. I had one long-time childhood friend who, when I finally came out to him, just couldn’t deal with it. I think that was because he was struggling with his own acceptance still, and had chosen to stay in a horrible marriage. A lot of people do that.

Source: Interview with Maureen Nickerson and Katya M., 2007; held in the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.