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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Coming Out Being Straight About Being Gay Can Be The Hardest Part

Virginia De Leon Staff writer

John Deen was 35 when he figured it out.

He’d been calling his cigarettes “fags;” the word “gay” to him meant “happy.”

He played football, joined the Army, married his high school sweetheart and had a daughter.

He enjoyed his advertising job. But still he was unhappy.

His attraction to men confused him, and he tried to push it from his mind.

“I thought I was going through a phase,” he said. “I didn’t want to be gay. I just wanted to be accepted.”

His coming out was gradual. Few in his generation knew much about gay people, he said.

Deen is 63 now, the grandfather of two and publisher of Spokane’s gay newspaper, Stonewall News. He’s more sure of himself, he said - now that he’s out of the closet.

October - which is Gay and Lesbian History Month - is significant to Deen and other gays and lesbians for many reasons. Last Saturday was National Coming Out Day, which was organized in 1988 by the late psychologist Robert H. Eichberg to encourage lesbians and gays to reveal their sexual orientation to themselves, their families and friends.

On Oct. 1, U.S. Catholic bishops wrote a pastoral letter asking parents of gay children to love and support their sons and daughters despite church doctrine that condemns homosexual activity.

“Acknowledging I’m gay has been a wonderful relief,” Deen said. “I don’t have to hide anything from anybody.”

Most gays and lesbians don’t come out to flaunt their homosexuality, said Robert Crumley of Spokane, a youth group director who works with gay, lesbian and bisexual youth. It’s an act of self-love, he said. It’s about being honest with yourself and the people you care about.

“People need to take the risk,” he said. “They need to say, ‘I’m diverse and I’m proud of who I am.”’

Some people may still be torn between heterosexual and homosexual feelings. And even those who are sure they are gay may not be ready to tell others.

They still have much to lose.

Jim McGuirk wanted to kill himself. He thought he was losing his mind.

Stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany, McGuirk was 30 and a counselor in the Air Force. He was also a Mormon and married with two kids.

But he liked men. He’d known that since puberty.

“I thought it was a character flaw,” he said. “I wasn’t worth the flesh I was wrapped in.”

“Are you gay?” his wife often asked. He responded by carrying her into the bedroom and making love to her.

“I knew but I never accepted it,” said McGuirk, who got a divorce after nine years. “I listened to the non-gay world that said you should be married with kids. I was born this way. It’s too bad I ended up hurting a good woman.”

Coming out to yourself is sometimes the hardest part of the process, said Hannah Dahlke of Spokane. People can spend years in denial. They marry, have children, then finally realize something’s wrong.

David of Post Falls thought he was possessed by a demon. “I prayed every day to be straight,” said David, who asked for anonymity because of his job. “I looked for books that would fix the problem.”

Dahlke always got along with men, but she couldn’t connect with them emotionally, said the 31-year-old.

She also grew up in a family that believed homosexuality was a sin and that “meeting the right guy” could fix a woman. She was 18 when she first admitted she was a lesbian. It took another two years to tell her friends and siblings.

Deen spent years hiding his sexual orientation from his daughter, but she had an inkling he was gay.

Marianne Pavlish was 15 at the time and wondered why Deen never remarried. He also was living with a man at the time, although they had separate bedrooms.

“Dad, are you gay?” she asked him during a summer visit.

“Oh my gosh! What a question to ask?” yelled Deen. “Why don’t you ask me something important?”

The subject was dropped until Pavlish was 21.

Their relationship became more open when Deen finally came out, she said.

“It made us able to talk more,” said Pavlish, now 32. “It didn’t change the fact that I love him.”

They call it “internal homophobia,” the fear of coming out because of what others may think or do.

McGuirk, 48, was scared for a while. His wife cried for two days after he told her. He felt ashamed and sorry.

His life also was threatened when he worked in Oregon.

It’s this fear that prevents some people from telling others, said Dahlke, especially the people close to them.

She didn’t tell her own mother until six years ago. Her mother once threatened to kill herself if any of her children were gay.

So Dahlke never talked about her sexual orientation.

She finally told her in 1991, when she was in the hospital for back surgery. Dahlke was in a lot of pain and her partner had just dumped her over the phone. She turned to her mother for support.

Dahlke’s mother couldn’t tolerate her daughter’s homosexuality at first. But she grew to accept it, Dahlke said. She also learned to accept the woman Dahlke loved. The couple had a ceremony last year where they exchanged rings. The reception was at Dahlke’s mother’s house.

“You don’t start kissing women in front of people,” she said. “But you do stop using the non-personalized pronouns. You don’t have to hide everything anymore.”

McGuirk became more at peace with his sexual orientation after becoming a member of the Emmanuel Metropolitan Community Church in Spokane, a congregation of mostly gay people.

He still gets teary-eyed when he recalls the first service he attended in 1983. He felt so lost at the time, so full of self-hatred. He walked through the door, he said, and a voice told him he was home. It was a regular church; the only difference was that everyone there was gay.

He cried through the entire service.

“I came there looking for good-looking guys,” McGuirk said. “I found the man I needed there. It was Jesus Christ.”

Plenty of people in Spokane still disapprove of homosexualty.

Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are confronted every day by people who haven’t been exposed to such diverse populations. They also have to contend with stereotypes that people place upon them.

“People think lesbians have short hair and wear leather,” said Dahlke. “But I’m the girl next door. … I have a sewing machine.”

“And I don’t have dresses in my closet,” McGuirk added, pointing instead to the Mariners cap on the table. “We’re normal people.”

Deen’s hardly the “fairy” or “queer” he and his friends feared in high school. He’s a distinguished man with silver mustache and hair. His voice is deep and loud and resonates throughout the room. His passions include gardening and college football, especially the Washington State Cougars.

Deen won’t mention he’s gay unless he’s asked. That’s only a part of who he is, he said. But he won’t change how he acts or what he thinks to make someone think otherwise. Recently, he put a rainbow bumper sticker on his car to show his commitment to diversity, he said, and his pride as a member of the gay community.

“I have all the same dreams that every other woman in society wants,” Dahlke said. “But instead of standing next to a man, I’m standing with another woman. That’s the only difference.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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