Rod, the gay puppet in Avenue Q, just wasn’t ready to be told he was gay. He struggled to face it within himself, being a Republican conservative puppet. When his straight roommate Nicky, also a puppet and one who Rod happened to be in love with, told Rod it would be okay to come out, that his friends would still love him, Rod still couldn’t face it. He swore he was straight.
A little later in the play, a group of Rod’s friends are talking about him being homosexual, and he throws a violent tantrum, promising them he isn’t gay and making up a girlfriend in Canada that he corresponds with that they just haven’t met. Because if he has a girlfriend, even a fictional one, it legitimizes him, and the others can’t question him anymore, at least in his own mind.
Finally, toward the end of the play, Rod comes out of the closet. He spreads his puppet arms and announces the news dramatically. And the rest of the puppets and people shrug and nod, not in the least surprised. They already knew it. They just needed him to know it.
The only difference between the beginning and the end? Rod’s readiness to face the truth about himself.
As I watched Avenue Q in a community theater production last night, I laughed and clapped and cheered, loving the production, but Rod’s story struck me poignantly as I realized how vastly my life has changed in such a short amount of time. I sat next to a date, with another gay couple to my side. Behind me directly were two middle-aged lesbian couples, laughing raucously at the content of the show. In front of me were two gay couples and a lesbian couple. There were people of all age and type in the theater, but the sheer presence of the gay community at this production filled me with joy. Years before, I would have felt both jealous and disturbed, convincing myself there was something morally wrong with so many gay people in the room.
Reflecting on Rod, I reflected on the years of loneliness prior to my coming out, and the worlds of lies I created to protect myself. I remember being head over heels in love with my straight best friend in high school and wanting to spend every moment with him possible, but convincing myself it was just because he was a cool person and that there were no feelings of romance there. I remember finally accepting the reality that I was attracted to other guys, but created facts to block the pain of that, like that I hadn’t met the right girl yet or that it was only because I hadn’t kissed a girl yet or that God was testing me with the opportunity to make right decisions. Yet even after I was married to a woman, my self-excuses continued, the ultimate being that God would make me straight in some post-mortal existence if I was strong and faithful enough.
In my early 20s, I took myself to a therapist in college and told him I needed help “overcoming my same sex attraction”. A few therapy sessions in, he gently stated that it might simply be that I’m gay, and that there was nothing wrong with that. I emotionally and angrily responded that other people were gay, but that wasn’t a reality for me. I had a gay sister, gay friends, and I loved them no matter what, but that God had different plans for me, I couldn’t be gay, I just couldn’t, and how dare he say that I was. The therapist backed off right away. But I wish he had pushed me farther. It could have saved me a lot of later pain.
In the years since I’ve come out, I’ve seen hundreds of others make that same journey, take that long slow reasoning climb through admitting attraction to the same gender to running down the list of excuses and coping mechanisms to avoid the reality of being gay to finally admitting that being gay is a reality. For many, that is simply the start. Then there can follow years of unpacking personal baggage and bias as they sort out what being gay means and how to incorporate that with their outside world of jobs and families, hobbies and travels.
I’m exhausted by the mental and emotional energy that Rod had to use to stay comfortably in the closet, and I’m exhausted by my own journey there. No wonder finally coming out felt like coming up for oxygen–it was such a waste of effort to convince the world around me, and the world within me, that I wasn’t what I was all along.
And so, to every young man or woman out there who finds themselves attracted to the same gender, and for every young man or woman out there who feels their inside gender doesn’t match their outside gender, I invite you not to waste the time and energy that it takes to keep yourself hidden. There is an entire world out there of love and joy and self-acceptance.
At the end of the play, Rod maintains his friendships; it turns out his friends loved him all along and just wanted to be happy. And Ricky, the roommate he liked, put out a personal ad for Rod, who then got a sexy puppet boyfriend. Although he was just a puppet, Rod’s smile seemed much more genuine in the end.
I know mine is.