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Coming Out: A Rite of Passage
Militant gays also pose dilemmas for other homosexuals because they urge them to "come out of the closet" in order to strengthen the movement. "Other minorities have everything to gain by demanding their rights," says one anonymous oil company executive. "We have everything to lose." Sometimes the most ardent anti-gays are actually closet homosexuals. They early learn the tricks of controlling facial reactions, feigning interest in the opposite sex, learning to laugh at "fag" jokes to keep their cover.
Many closet homosexuals watched with mixed emotions while young gays for the first time fought back during a violent police raid on a Manhattan gay bar in 1969. "I hoped they wouldn't get hurt, but I thought, if this succeeds I'll have to make choices. I didn't want my own covers pulled," admitted Producer-Activist David Rothenberg, 42. It was not till 1973, after he had joined the board of the National Gay Task Force, that Rothenberg pro claimed himself a homosexual on national television.
Dr. Howard Brown, a professor of medicine at New York University and onetime New York City health commissioner, was urged by gay activists to reveal his homosexuality three years ago. At one point before he did so, all Brown could think of was "What will my secretary say?" To Brown, who died last winter at 50, the final push to come out was the urge to help other homosexuals, "help free the generation that comes after us from the dreadful agony of secrecy, the constant need to hide."
For many, the first tentative step in coming out is going to a gay beach or a gay bar. Said a Princeton student who went to his first gay dance last spring: "I was amazed. I went not knowing what to expect. Nobody watched me, nobody made fun of me, nobody made me feel bad. It was all I needed."
Some teen-agers now simply announce that they are homosexuals while they are still in high school and wonder why the older generation is still in the closet. In Hollywood, a few homosexuals who are too young to drive are even dropped off at gay dances by their parents.
But it is more common for students to tell their high school or college friends without telling their parents. The first response from parents is apt to be "What did I do wrong?" often followed by hostility and bitterness. When Author Merle Miller revealed his homosexuality in the New York Times Magazine five years ago, he was disinherited by his mother, though she later relented.
In Laura Z. Hobson's new novel, Consenting Adult (Doubleday; $7.95), the mother of a gay teen-ager first sends him to a psychiatrist, who fails to "cure" him. After a cycle of deep shock, self-reproach, bitter arguments and forced reconciliations, she finally comes to accept her son's homosexuality and even sends him a congratulatory telegram when he comes out.
Drawn together by their problems, the parents of gays have formed organizations in a number of cities. Sarah Montgomery, 77,