Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.
After my twenty year marriage ended I joined a support group with five other emotionally wrecked men, who met in an old Victorian house on a cool fall evening in a suburb of Boston. Three of us had been married and were now separated, two had never been married, one was still married and kept his attendance a secret. All of us were over forty years old and none of us could utter three simple words in public: I am gay.
We would meet every Tuesday night as our therapist Adam gently led us into a territory that was unfamiliar, terrifying and unthinkable, leaving everything that we knew behind us. At the beginning of each session, Adam would ask us who we came out to that week. For the first several weeks the only people we revealed ourselves to was each other, which was enough
It took a small amount of time to compose myself. Forty three years of worrying if people would stop loving me if I was honest were washing down my face. -- William Dameron
What I began to learn was that our closets were full of many things. They contained boxes that had been hidden and tucked away along with our sexual orientation. In those boxes were alcohol and drug abuse, depression, body image issues and steroid abuse. After one closet door was opened, there was another and another and another.
Eventually I worked up enough courage to come out to my older brother Chuck, who lived seven hundred miles away. I sat on the floor of my basement apartment bedroom and dialed his number, each time hanging up before the first ring. On the fourth try I let the call complete. When he answered, I briefly considered ignoring the whole thing, but the Tuesday evening check in with Adam lingered in the air.
"Chuck, I have to tell you something. I'm gay," I stammered.
"You know what? I don't care what you are. I love you and want you to be happy," he replied and then continued, "Hello?"
It took a small amount of time to compose myself. Forty three years of worrying if people would stop loving me if I was honest were washing down my face.
When I asked how he was doing an amazing thing happened. He opened up to me like he had never done so before. He told me that his marriage was in a shambles and he was seriously considering a divorce. He told me that he wanted to be in love and I told him I wanted to be in love as well. Like two school age boys, we talked about our ideal mate. It was the first time that two brothers were having an honest conversation.
Each time I came out, it became easier and each time conversations became more honest than they had ever been before. One friend shared his fears with me about his older sister. How she stopped talking after experiencing a traumatic incident during a vacation abroad and how he felt like it was his duty as the oldest son to care for her when his parents died, even if it meant moving out of the country. He could not tell anyone else how much he did not want to do this. Another friend told me that she was extremely overweight as a child and felt as if she had lived her life in the "Fat closet." Affairs were revealed. Secret dreams were shared. Tears, hugs and laughter were poured out like celebratory wine.
Every time I opened my closet door, it pulled someone else's door open too. Never once was a door slammed in my face. The only things left behind were secrets.
At the end of the twelve week "Coming out" support group we shared our successes. Coming out was no longer a heavy conversation, but simply a part of everyday conversation. In every single case each of us who came out to friends and family opened not only our doors, but the doors of all of the people in our lives. But, the man who kept his attendance a secret made the decision to not come out to anyone.
I made the first toast at my brother Chuck's wedding to his ideal mate and one year later he made the first toast at my wedding to Paul. Four of the men from the support group were there and clinked glasses. Often, I wonder what happened to the man from the support group who sat in the corner and decided to never reveal himself. What I want to tell him is that on the other side of that closet door is someone else's door and if he never opens it he is preventing them from opening their door too.
There is a saying, when one door is closed, another one opens, but I know the truth. The only door that opens is the one you push and it has the power to knock down hundreds more.
Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today's most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email tedweekends@hufﬁngtonpost.com to learn about future weekend's ideas to contribute as a writer.
Follow William Dameron on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wcdameron