Emilio, who is now in his 40s, still has the letter that he sent to his parents in 1991, letting them know that he was gay and HIV-positive. Wilson, in his late 70s, recalls admitting to his mother that he was a homosexual after she asked him, “Are you a sissy?” Reid, in his late 20s, came out to his dad by text message after coming out to his mom and most of his friends years earlier and posting a coming out video on YouTube.
These are just a few of the stories that Perry N. Halkitis (Ph.D. ’95, Educational Psychology) shares in his new book, Out in Time: The Public Lives of Gay Men from Stonewall to the Queer Generation. To Halkitis, coming out is synonymous with gay pride and identity, and he uses it as the basis for comparing the lives of gay 15 gay men, ages 19 to 78, from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, six of whom identify as HIV-positive.
“Coming out is not a one-time experience,” Halkitis says. “For gay men, it’s a constant reality,” one that shapes their lives and their identities.
The book is full of excerpts of interviews with the men. They share poignant anecdotes about their varied experiences in relationships and finding their way in a world that doesn’t always accept them.
Halkitis, the first openly gay dean at Rutgers University, has spent much of his career studying and addressing gay men’s health issues. He is also open about his own health and the fact that he has been HIV-positive for about three decades.
One of the drivers for writing the book was to “give voice to a new generation of sexual minority men,” he says. “Gay men’s health has been defined by HIV for 30-something years, and it’s more than just that.”
Halkitis hopes to spur intergenerational dialogue among gay men and show that the generations have more in common than many acknowledge.
While homosexuality is no longer banned in the U.S., gay men are still harassed in myriad ways. These microaggressions, Halkitis argues, are “just as damaging as the macroaggressions” that the Stonewall generation faced.
One takeaway from this book and his other research, Halkitis says, is the need to normalize not just homosexuality but the full spectrum of LGBTQ in the U.S. and in countries — such as Chechnya, Abu Dhabi, and Greece — where people continue to be brutalized because of their sexual orientation.
“I think the only way we actually get to a place where LGBTQ people don’t feel other or don’t feel different is by normalizing LGBTQ,” he says.