Republishing a piece from my past that is just as relevant today as it was back when I originally wrote it... I am 43 years old and have been "out" for about seven years. I've always known that I am gay. I think back to when I was nine or 10 years old and having crushes on great-looking male characters on television. My attraction to men has never, been in doubt, but my ability to act upon it used to be something that I figured would not be in my future. In high school I developed huge crushes on some of the guys; the loneliness and frustration of not having anywhere to go with that feeling led me to compensate with alcohol and drugs.

For the next 18 years my secret remained intact, although at times friends would occasionally confront me about not ever having a girlfriend. My mother would suggest I find "some rich lady" to settle down with. I never knew what to say to this and would mumble some lame excuse about not being comfortable around girls or that I had a hard enough time taking care of myself, let alone a girlfriend.

When the drinking finally ended (that is another story), I confronted my homosexuality for the first time. I began to think to myself, "Why can't I be out in the world?" and to entertain the thought that maybe, just maybe, I could find a man to fall in love with.

Well I did find a wonderful, kind, handsome man and fell in love. Robert is someone who I can feel completely comfortable with — a soulmate. I shared my relationship with Robert with one of my brothers — and in the process came out to him. His reaction was fairly unemotional but accepting. The rest of my family heard about Robert, but as "just a friend." I had yearned to come out to my entire family for a long time; now that Robert was in my life, the urge to was becoming too great to suppress.

Along came my birthday in 1998. My parents came to visit and invited Robert and me out to dinner. I wasn't sure if they suspected that I was gay and Robert was more than a friend, and they were uncomfortable with that - then they would not have extended such an invitation. So we accepted and the evening went fine! There were no uncomfortable lapses in the dinner conversation, no unexpected or rude comments. My parents are older folks and live by an ethic of good manners (something I like I like to think got passed on to me).

The next day, as we said our good-byes, my mother invited us both to Thanksgiving dinner at my brother's house in Connecticut! I accepted the invitation and began to see this as the golden opportunity to come out to my entire family as a gay man with a loving partner. Robert and I made plans to drive to Connecticut and make our first Evans family appearance as a couple on Thanksgiving Day.

I thought I should explain or come out directly to my parents before we arrived on the big day. So I sent my mother a thank-you note, for the birthday dinner; explaining that Robert and I are partners and hope to share a _home together soon. Suddenly my "secret" was in writing and in my parents' hands.

We were both excited and a little nervous on the long drive to Connecticut. I'd gotten no reply to my note and wondered if this was a bad sign. On arrival at my, brother's house, we were greeted with the familiar smells of turkey. squash and pies all baking and simmering at once. Various family members bustled about in the kitchen but stopped to warmly welcome us. There was no hostility or coldness. For years, I feared telling my parents I am gay, terrified about how they'd react; then there I was with my entire family as a gay man in a relationship with another man! At different times my father and mother each sat next to Robert and talked with him; he and my mother had a wonderful discussion about making and stenciling curtains. When it came time to leave, we both got lots of hugs and comments such as "too bad you couldn't stay longer." I could not have imagined a more accepting scenario.

So what to gather from all of this? Perhaps the most important feeling I got was that so much time goes by and we often become frozen by our fears of the unknown. In my case I was living under the assumption that my family, and especially my parents, would not accept me as a gay man and would somehow show their disapproval. Whether that disapproval would be overt anger or, more likely, an intolerable silence, I was too afraid to risk finding out.

Although my family and I will probably never be as close as some, I now feel a sense of belonging and a "part of" that I don't think was ever there before. This is truly a moment I will cherish and grow upon. While I realize not all family coming-out experiences will produce the same results as mine, I believe the best way to go is to face that awful fear, take a chance, and find out before it is too late.