November 12, 2013

Coming out difficult at any age, Mainers say

The decision to reveal one’s sexual orientation can be wrenching, stir unpredictable reactions – and bring solace.

By Mary Pols
Staff Writer

Chris Saladino told his parents he was gay at 21, but even after that he dated women here and there for a few years, giving his mother hope that he’d somehow emerge straight, after all.

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Doug Kimmel, right, poses with his spouse, Ron Schwizer, left, in Hancock on Sunday. Kimmel says they feel accepted in Maine but notes that they are not public figures.

Michael C. York/Staff Photographer

“She would say, ‘I am just afraid for you,’” he said.

The AIDS epidemic stopped him from coming out to everyone. He joined a gay gym but waited until he was 30 to share his sexual orientation with friends. Then he shook up his environment, moving from Florida to Boston. He was 40 before he came out to colleagues.

“I had spent so many years alone in my own head,” said the Portland real estate agent, now 50. “I worked a lot. I was afraid of life in general.”

The slow roll-out of the news suited him. So did the solace of finally being completely truthful about his life. That’s why he empathizes with U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who came out to his 79-year-old mother and to the public last week at age 58. “I have empathy for anyone who is going through the process,” he said. “And I am saddened by a world that still finds this an issue.”

Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign said voters, supporters and members of the gay community have reached out to him in gratitude and to share their own coming-out stories. He’s been praised for delivering the news with what appeared to be an easy confidence and for settling a question that many, even those in Maine’s gay community with strong hunches, hadn’t wanted to ask.

What they say is that the decision to come out is complicated at any age. Leap early and run the risk of alienating the parents you still need. Leap late and risk angering or hurting the people who thought they knew you. Never leap and surprise everyone except the people who know you best, as did astronaut Sally Ride, whose obituary naming her longtime partner broke the “news” that she was gay.

“Whether you are 58 or 38 you just have to have the courage to step into yourself,” said Portland public relations executive Chris Kast, 53, who came out to his wife and children at 39 and is now married to a man. There was a tremendous sense of relief in ending his “internal agony,” but that didn’t make the decision any easier.

“Ease is not part of the equation from my experience,” he said. “It’s more of a need to actually be open and honest with yourself so that you can live an authentic life.” Which, he added, can be earthshaking for those who love you. “You haven’t changed, but you have made this statement, and sometimes that is hard for people to get.”

Lori Voornas, host of WJBQ-FM’s popular morning show in Portland, came out two years ago when she was 45. Her sister, though, had already outed her to her parents when she was a teenager. She wasn’t happy about it then, but on the other hand, she didn’t envy Michaud the task of telling his mother.

“God bless him, because I didn’t have to deal with that part,” Voornas said. “My parents were super cool. I was 18, dealing with this. What is he, 58?” But she noted that his age is a sign of how hard it had to have been for the 2nd District congressman and candidate. “I know he was freaked out or he would have done it years ago,” she said.

Her own decision was spurred by the fact that she was marrying her partner in the summer of 2011. If she couldn’t share such a basic piece of information about herself – the excitement of a wedding – how could she share anything about her life? She’d been pondering coming out for years.

(Continued on page 2)

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