In 1986, I was as ready to leave the closet as I would ever be—but how would I do so? Though I was a third term Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, I had lived too long with the burden of “the gay thing” to treat coming out as a political matter alone. For many years, I was ashamed of myself for hiding my membership in a universally despised group. I’d been afraid of exposure, and angry at myself for my self-denial. I’d felt shame as I watched younger gay men and lesbians confront the bigots openly with a courage that I lacked. After all those years, lying to people was much easier emotionally than finally admitting my lie.
The circumstances of my disclosure were complicated by another factor: I talk too much. Specifically, I shared my decision with more friends and allies than was prudent, and word was starting to get around. This led to an unusual interaction with several members of the media. They remained committed to the “rule” that prominent people should not be outed unless they had been enmeshed in a gay-related scandal, but they were understandably eager to break the story. So various journalists asked me from time to time if they could do so. I consistently said no—I didn’t deny I was gay but invoked their own nondisclosure principle.