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Millions Feel the Burn of Jason Collins' "Heat"

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When he came out of the closet this week, becoming the first openly gay player in one of the big four American professional sports, NBA center Jason Collins said he had "baked for 33 years" in the heat of his secret. "I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue," he writes in Sports Illustrated. "It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie."

Millions of gay Americans have sweated in that heat, have lived under the same red sky. But many of us can go Jason Collins one better. "I feel blessed that I recognized my own attractions," he writes. There is a stranger, more impenetrable place than the closet. Those who occupy this place don't just live the lie. We become the lie.

From a very young age, long before I understood I was gay or what "gay" or sex or sexuality might conceivably mean, I understood that I could not marry and have a family, the two things I wanted most. And so, in my teens, I set out on an ambitious course of denial. The more obvious and overwhelming my sexual attractions became, the harder I worked to to make the obvious seem impossible.

Not just for a year, not even even for a decade, but for 25 years, I lived in an inverted world where love was hate, attraction was envy, and childhood could never end. I thought I had been inexplicably stripped of the capability to love. And what is a soul without even the possibility of love? I felt soulless. In a way, I was soulless.

It all ended suddenly, seemingly miraculously, as if I had snapped awake from a dream, in April of 1985, 28 years ago. For a while afterward, I strived to forget the dream and make a right-side-up life for myself, but there came a time when I realized I was forgetting too well. So I wrote it down, every detail, an almost clinical record; the whole strange story of my implacable war on my own personality, and my unexpected escape into love.

To my surprise, when straight friends read the tale, they said that they, too, had traveled their own paths of denial. "This isn't just a gay story, you know," they said. They said I should publish it. I wasn't sure. It was so...personal. Anyway, in those days, short books were difficult to publish.

But now come ebooks. Short books are in demand. Huffington Post's Danielle Crittenden, an old friend and an inspired editor, saw the book and said the time was right. After all, the country is embracing gay Americans and gay marriage. The time of denial is ending!

I've never written and, I'm sure, never will write anything else like Denial: My 25 Years Without a Soul. I offer it with deep gratitude to a country that is choosing the path of love;a path which, as I spent 25 years learning, and as Jason Collins can attest even today, is not so easy to find.

Read excerpts from Jonathan Rauch's newly published Denial: My 25 Years Without a Soul (The Atlantic Books) exclusively on The Huffington Post today through Friday. Part one is here.