“I’m scared,” he typed. Sitting in a Carrboro coffee shop behind his laptop computer he stared intensely at what he wrote before sending it to me. “I’m still not out like you are.”

This email came to me out of the blue as I sat in the coffee shop working on an article. I looked around to see what was going on. It was a weird conversation in that he is seated only a few feet from me, but won’t look or talk with me directly. He has set the rules and I will oblige Tim’s (not his real name) need for feeling in control. We would email directly, but not make physical contact.

“No one else knows but you. They can’t know. It would be the end of the world as I know it.” Pause. “But yet I am attracted to men.” He gets up and goes to get a condiment for his coffee, then sits down again. He still won’t look at me and ignores my furtive looks as well.

I had met Tim at one of my readings from my book “On Being a Gay Parent.” He stuttered when he talked to me after the read, scared to even be at the reading at Regulator Books in Durham for fear of being seen and identified as a gay parent. Yet, in reality he is a father of two young children…and he is gay. And, he is deep within his own closet of his own making. At the reading he asked for my contact information and gave me his. He said he just needed to talk, badly. A week later we met at one of the Duke Forest trailheads and walked, talking about what his fears were. He kept saying, “I’m not like you. I’m not courageous to live openly. My life would be ruined if people knew.”

I did not hear from Tim for almost two years until that day we serendipitously found ourselves in the coffee shop hovering over our computers, drinking our skinny lattes. While I was out of my closet, Tim was still hiding, shuddering, feeling clammy-skinned within his dark, dank enclosure.

As a now-out gay dad from my own self-constructed closet where I lived for decades, I see around me a vast land of an assemblage of closets. Some of us were forced into our closets by the cultural and social standards or norms of our day and age, while others of us built our own closets, out of fear that others would know us and thus not love us. While the metaphor of the closet has been central to many LGBTQ people for decades, with the pop psychology act of coming out of our closet as a way of declaring our freedom to be who we were created to be, others live in their own closets whose foundation is other than sexual orientation. In other words, the phenomenon of closets is omnipresent, universal in scope. While some of us have lived in the closet marked “gay,” others reside in closets that are marked “racist,” while others hide in closets with signage of “classism”; while yet a few create a closet out of their depression; and still many have boards that comprise their closets that are a blend of religious prejudice and ethnically-biased planks of wood, metal and other materials that entombs the very soul of one’s being. Closeted lives abhor the open air of faith, hope and love and do everything in their power to keep the security of the airless closet in place, no matter how insidious, vile, fearful and decrepit the closeted life might be. The closet has become familiar, has become home and has become a tomb.

My hope? That others will find the courage to burst out of their closet doors and take them apart, plank by crude plank, nail by rusty nail, corrugated metal strips by strips. As I found out, and Tim has yet to experience, there is life only outside of the closet, where the air is fresh and not stale, and one can be whoever one was created to be. : :