Wade regretted lying to the women who helped him pass as straight over the years — until one of them asked for help in return.
A beard is any person who — with or without knowing it — poses as a romantic partner to help conceal someone’s sexual orientation. My first beard was a popular, pretty blonde (think Marcia Brady if you’re over 40 or Miley Cyrus if you’re under). I “dated” this girl off and on for years. She understood me: my humor, my fashion, my artistic side. And I got her: her sensitivity, her kindness, her love of the side ponytail.
I remember once, in grade school, I had bought a mood ring for a boy I had a crush on — his eyes were the color of the public swimming pool. My “Marcia” deftly intercepted it before I could give it to him. “Wade’s funny! He was just joking about giving it to him,” she explained to the kids in the cafeteria as she promptly took the ring and slipped it onto her finger instead. “Now, we’re going steady!” Beards can be crafty that way.
We depended on one another: Marcia came to me whenever she needed a fallback date for a dance or comfort in the wake of a breakup with another guy. I went to her when I needed to squelch rumors that I was gay.
I lost touch with her after she moved during high school, but I progressed through a series of beards — faux girlfriends who saw me through many a homecoming and formal dance. This continued into my adult life: Even once I’d met Gary, I kept another beard around, whom I often took along to corporate functions or weddings.
Eventually, though, it was time for my first memoir, America’s Boy, to be published and it would reveal to the world that I was (and always had been) gay. So it seemed only fair that I reveal the truth to my beards before they found out in print. I sat down and made a list of them in order to finally confess the truth and to apologize.
Topping that list was my Marcia. She did not take the news well, feeling as if I had used her at a time when she was most vulnerable, and she was right. I did not hear from her again for many years.
Then recently, out of the blue, she contacted me via Facebook asking if she could call me.
“My son is gay,” she sobbed into the phone. “He was being bullied in school. When I confronted him about it, he came out. I don’t know what to do.”
So much had changed for me since she had been in my life; yet the pain in Marcia’s voice reminded me that elsewhere, not that much had changed. High school was still hell to many kids, especially those who are identified as “different”; coming out still meant fearing the worst.
“My husband won’t understand,” Marcia cried. “I’ll have to choose between my child and my spouse.”
I understood her situation all too well. Both my mother and Gary’s had similar fears when we’d come out. “I’ve been following you on Facebook,” Marcia confessed. “I didn’t know where else to turn.”
Over the next few months, Gary and I did our best to counsel her. We suggested she locate a qualified therapist for her family. And, having personal knowledge of how traumatic it could be to grow up gay in rural America, we suggested they consider moving to a more progressive school district for the sake of her son.
Eventually, spring came and brought with it a call from a very different-sounding Marcia. “We decided to move to a bigger city,” she revealed. “My husband is all for it, and my son is thrilled.”
She kept saying that she wanted to find some way to thank Gary and me for all we’d done. She thanked us for caring. She thanked us for being an example of gay people who take pride in who we are. She thanked us for being an example of a loving relationship.
“We didn’t do anything,” I said. But what I really meant was: It was the least I could do to make up those years of stringing her along.
Suddenly Marcia remembered something: “You know, I still have that mood ring?” she said.
I laughed. “Think it still works?” I asked.
“Probably not — but it doesn’t matter,” she said. “The rest of my life, I will always see it as dark blue.”
Gary looked at me, confused. “Happy,” I explained. “Dark blue means very, very happy.”
Last modified: March 8, 2018