avatarJoe Guay - Dispatches From the Guay Life!


The author reflects on their first intimate relationship with an older, manipulative director, which led to confusion and a temporary return to the closet despite their readiness to come out as gay.


The narrative recounts the author's experience with their first same-sex relationship, which began during a community theater production. The author, who was 21 and inexperienced, was drawn into a manipulative and emotionally charged flirtation with the show's director, Sam, who was 31. This relationship, fraught with lies and rationalizations, caused the author to question their sexuality and


You Were My First… And Your Nonsense Kept Me In The Closet

Coming to terms with my part in it

Image by Clint Post from Pixabay

It’s late at night, rehearsal is over, and we’re the only ones left.

Oh my God, it’s going to happen, I’m going to kiss a man.

My teeth are chattering as you keep stepping closer. I’d heard of that. Seen it in cartoons. But who knew that extreme anxiousness could literally lead to teeth chattering?

I’m 21 and still a virgin, in more ways than one.

Never been with a woman, never been with a man. (I’d kissed a girl once or twice, but that’s it). Sexual repression and religious indoctrination were so strong, I’d deliberately participated in too many college extracurriculars so as to have a believable excuse for not having a girlfriend, not having time for dating.

But now my stomach is in knots, in deep anticipation as you stand before me, that look in your eye.

You’re older, more experienced, and we’ve been doing this scary-to-me flirtation dance for three months, and now, oh my God, it’s happening.

You lean in for my first kiss, my first night of intimacy with a man. And thus begins that oh-so-confusing handful of months of on-again, off-again fun, obsessive behavior, lies, rationalizations and maneuvers.

You were my first, but you scared me right back into the closet.

Your eyes lit up when I walked into that audition room for the first time. Connie had dragged me there, only a month ahead of my college graduation. You needed more guys for the show, and she brought me along as a token, a gift, so she could squirm out from your manipulative grasp herself and chase her own dreams.

I’m not sure if you were excited to see fresh meat as in another male actor/singer for your musical, or if I was the new meat sexually, but you sure knew how to play with emotions.

I was ready to graduate from college and go back to Pennsylvania for a job waiting for me. I had an “in” at the TV station — a victory. But somehow your phone call, your goading, the way you dangled a long-sought actor’s life before my eyes, the way you charmed and persuaded. Suddenly I was readjusting the course of my life.

My parents were stunned. “You’re staying in Cleveland… to do a community theater show?” my dad asked. “What about work? What about the job at KDKA?”

“I want to stay here,” I said, firmly. “I got the degree you asked for, now let me go do what I’ve always wanted to do, the theater.”

Maybe I wanted to be led by you, Sam.

Maybe your show was the ticket to finally facing myself, putting enough distance between my family back home, between good-boy and good-grades Joey, to face my lack of life experience, my hidden dreams and desires.

Photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash

It was glorious. I got a crappy, barely-pay-the-bills job at a radio station, but the evenings were rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal, a whole new family, and a growing flirtation. I loved that summer.

But what a mistake, what a misstep for a young actor, to respond to the flirtations of a director, a person of power. To be drawn into a web.

Oh, but how I wanted to please you. Your attention was so addictive — not just to me, but to everyone. I watched from the shadows how other cast members clawed and worked so hard to remain in your gaze, to please the captain of this little ship.

College friends noticed the change in me.

“What is the deal with this guy Sam? How hard is it to say no to him, to tell him you already have plans? You seem to really bend over backwards for him.”

I couldn’t explain it either. You had a tractor beam that pulled people in, captured and held them in your orbit, unable to break away without a major confrontation. A master at manipulation.

I wasn’t out of the closet yet, certainly not to the world, and barely to myself. But you were 31, and hopefully someone to help me navigate these new waters.

You had a “roommate,” another sweet cast-mate named Carl. When I visited your home — oh wow, two men living together!! — I learned of your separate bedrooms, that you were only friends. No sexuality was discussed, but there were vibes, wonderful vibes. I was seeing into an adult world.

But everyone knew, everyone could see that Carl was enamored, devoted and in love with you. Incapable of saying no to you too, he’d become your little worker bee, your reliable buddy, the one who gave hours and months of his life to your bidding, to keep your little theater floating.

The separate bedrooms were for show. I bought into the lie, or conveniently ignored the signs, sneaking into your home by the side door for overnights with you, tip-toeing around behind Carl’s back.

“Not because we’re boyfriends,” you said, “but it’s just, Carl can be so possessive of my friendship. I don’t want it to screw up the show.”

I probably knew, but I bought it. I bought it just like all the women who’ve bought “my wife just doesn’t understand me” over the millennia.

Why was I so taken in? Horniness? The joy of finally, finally discovering sexuality and flirtation and fun? The intoxication of shared looks during a busy rehearsal? Maybe this was how gay guys operated, I wondered.

But then, that night Carl came back early from a business trip — probably deliberately — to find us on the couch, thankfully clothed but in a pretty intimate discussion.

The look on his face. He knew. You covered well, but he knew.

And then I knew.

This hadn’t been a first. Carl was used to your lies, and I was just this summer’s flavor, the guy or girl hand-selected to ease your boredom.

Photo by Diego Lozano on Unsplash

But the worst came a few months later, in your office.

I’d been talked into joining another of your shows. Things had cooled slightly, but just no way to escape. I told you how I’d finally accepted myself as gay, that I was ready to make the big step, to come out, to maybe go to New York to pursue my musical theater dreams.

And you discouraged me.

“I did that — New York is a big waste of time,” you said from atop your mini-fiefdom. You took another puff of that ever-present cigarette. “Why limit yourself, why label yourself? I don’t believe in labels. I’m not gay, I’m not straight, I’m not bisexual, I’m just sexual,” you said, with conviction.

Damn, sir, you certainly were.

I’d acquired a mental list in my head of all the men and women within your little coterie of actors you’d slept with, played mind-games with, and now I was just another one of them.

Good lord, it was the mid-90’s and HIV/AIDS was just barely, barely no longer a promised death sentence and was starting to be “managed” with AZT. What in the world was I doing in this situation?

It took six or seven months after that conversation to fully wrestle free from your emotional grasp.

But the damage had been done.

Call it oversensitivity or fear, but that lame conversation halted my momentum in coming out, made me question myself.

“If this is what being out and being gay is all about — sneaking around, lying to yourself about your sexuality, cheating on devoted partners, then maybe this isn’t for me,” I thought. “Maybe I’m bisexual and kidding myself.”

This all had been our little secret. Now I could just stay in that closet. Now I could be more open to the women showing interest. Perhaps I could even marry one and not have to deal with this nonsense, if this is how gay life is.

Whew, nobody noticed, it was all just a little lost-my-head fling. I later acquired a loving girlfriend and remained there, closeted, hoping to make it work, until age 26.

Photo by Benjamin Ranger on Unsplash

You were my first, Sam.

It wasn’t all bad, but it sure wasn’t good.

You were affectionate, sometimes kind and genuinely liked me. You gave me a glimpse into an exciting world of theater and flirtations, and I thank you for that. There was no violence, no viciousness, no physical abuse or danger. And thankfully, miraculously I remained healthy.

But oh how I wish I’d seen through your “I’m just sexual” bullshit. You were 31 and totally kidding yourself, closeted, using sex to get your way and stay in power. I was ready to fly, to be free, and instead of being a mentor in the moment, you threw a cautionary wet blanket, advising me to be more like you, to keep my options open.

Oh please. Just… please.

I take responsibility, though. I didn’t have the backbone, didn’t have the dating experience to know I was allowed to have a voice, to have power in a relationship too… But then again, it wasn’t a relationship.

I wish it hadn’t taken until age 26, and oh, how I wish I hadn’t hurt her.

But I’m delighted to have now lived 23 years outside of that closet, out in the open — 16 of those years with a man who is my heart and soul, my life and my beloved.

It is possible.

I just had a hell of a lot of growing up to do first.

And so did you.

Other pieces by this author you might enjoy —

Coming Out
This Happened To Me
In The Closet
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