Hate is a word you’ll rarely hear me use. Not even in relation to brussels sprouts, Trump or the Australian Christian Lobby. Intense dislike is about the strongest you’d get from me. However, one thing I do hate is the closet. I hate the closet because of what it did to me for over two decades and the destruction I see it reeking in others’ lives.

Harvey Milk also hated the closet. ‘If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country’ he said on a tape recording he’d made in 1978, (nine days before his assassination) to be played in the event of his assassination. Harvey hated the closet and what it was doing to gay and lesbian people and to the community but mostly, recognising it was the biggest obstructer to change.

One of the most popular pop stars of our time, George Michael has gone. Much of George’s life was spent in the closet. At least half of his career.  As I began to read and watch the various interviews (GQ, CNN, Oprah, Parkinson UK Independent etc) that he’d done since his coming out/outing it wasn’t hard to see the many common impacts of the closet.

Living in the closet impacts individuals more than they realise. It’s sad. From my experience of working with so many individuals trying to resolve their sexuality, I’ve definitely seen more of this than most. The longer one remains there the more damage is done.

The bisexual label?

Michael told GQ in a 2004 interview  that he’d come out to close friends when he was 19 but only as a ‘bisexual’.  He often said conflicting things about his sexuality but usually came back to the point, as he did in a 2009 interview with the Advocate, admitting he was gay. Speaking about his time with Wham! in the 1980s, Michael said: “I used to sleep with women quite a lot in the Wham! days but never felt it could develop into a relationship because I knew that, emotionally, I was a gay man.’

For some gay men bisexuality is a safe space on their journey to accepting their gay selves. I remember the advice I was given when I went for professional help after resigning from the ministry. The Christian therapist suggested I was bisexual but that I had a homosexual addiction. It fitted much more comfortably for me to accept that. Gay/homosexual were not labels I wanted.

Mental health

When a person is in the closet they are in conflict. Conflict with themselves. There is a war going on. The real self seeks expression, life, but we suppress, we deny, we cover, we monitor, doing all we can so that none can see who we really are. This creates a fragmentation of self and stress. Over a prolonged period of time this impacts us psychologically. In 2009 Michael said My depression at the end of Wham! was because I was beginning to realize I was gay, not bisexual.’

Unhealthy behaviours

Another outcome of fragmentation of self is that some gay men begin to develop unhealthy behaviours. The gay self is perceived as the dark side. This dark self can create unhealthy behaviours such as addictions and obsessions fed by guilt, secrecy and shame. For some, that is connecting with other gay men at parks or public toilets. In Australia they are known as beats and in the UK known as cottaging. Something I have written about here. This practice is a left over from decades of gay men living with fear of arrest and/or imprisonment. Today they are places frequently visited by closeted  or heterosexually married men who don’t want to identify with being gay or connecting with gay venues or the community.

This was one way George Michael engaged sexually with men which eventually led to his  ‘outing’, when he was entrapped by undercover policeman and arrested for ‘lewd conduct’at a public toilet in Beverley Hills in 1998.

Here’s the interesting thing though. For me, I lived with what I would call a sexual addiction to beats for over 20 years. I call it an addiction because it felt like that. I needed a fix. I have detailed these experiences in my autobiogrpahy A Life of Unlearning. They were always brief encounters that involved mutual masturbation with no meaningful connection with the other person. Within seconds it could be over and I could get on with my life until the next time. The moment I accepted my homosexuality that addiction died instantly never to return again. I’ve spoken with others who’ve shared the same experience. It was the closet that fed the behavioural pattern we didn’t really want in our lives.

In the GQ interview Michael said ‘cruising was something he used to do occasionally when he was feeling bad about himself but that he no longer has that compulsion. I don’t need that thrill anymore and my sex life has become more conventional in a way. In general, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.’

When it gets too much

Michael said many times that his eventual arrest and outing was subconsciously orchestrated.

In the 2007 interview with the UK Independent it said ‘He adds that hiding his sexuality made him feel “fraudulent”, and his eventual outing, when he was arrested for soliciting sex in a public toilet in Los Angeles in 1998, was a subconsciously deliberate act.’ This is something he repeated regularly when he did the talk show circuit after the scandal and on Desert Island Discs……   ‘I was absolutely tempting fate. I think I was sick of the secret.’

On the 1998 CNN interview he said ‘”I can try to fathom why I did what I did, but at the end of the day, I have to admit that maybe part of the kick was that I might get found out.’

This is also true. When one lives with fragmentation of self for so many years one becomes weary. You want it to end and you begin to take risks, subconsciously hoping you’ll get caught and won’t have to hide anymore. I did the same when I met Jason (A Life of Unlearning 3rd edition page 177). I knew the risks of seeing him a second time, something that was against my rules, but I was so tired of the battle.

Love changes everything

As with myself and Jason, so often I have found that a contributing factor to people finally coming out is that they fall in love and realise that their homosexuality is not actually about sexual behaviour but a deeper sense of self that involves emotions. When they fall in love everything changes. Once again something I have written about in more depth here.

George Michael found the same. In the 1999 Advocate interview he said ‘falling in love with a man that ended his conflict over bisexuality’ and  ‘I thought I had fallen in love with a woman a couple of times. Then I fell in love with a man, and realized that none of those things had been love.’

Life after the closet

In his own words.

‘I’d been out to a lot of people since 19. I wish to God it had happened then. I don’t think I would have the same career – my ego might not have been satisfied in some areas – but I think I would have been a happier man.’

‘I was too immature to know I was sacrificing as much as I was.’

‘In general, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.’

‘I don’t need approval from people who don’t approve of me.’

Asked if a burden had been lifted, he responded: ‘Oh god, yes.’

These words can only be spoken by a person on the right side of the closet. A person who has freed themselves from fear and shame, living a life of openness, freedom and authenticity.

This is why we work so hard to create spaces where people can find the courage to be honest with themselves and others; which is what coming out is essentially all about.

And every single courageous act of coming out chips away at the curse of homophobia. Most importantly it’s destroyed within yourself, and that act creates the potential for its destruction where it exists in friends, family and society.

And it’s never too late. As I said on the Channel 7 Sunrise interview ‘It’s better to live one day on the planet being true to yourself than an entire lifetime which is a lie.’