Four National Coming Out Day Profiles
by Terrance Griep
Daniel Boyer lived a life composed wholly of fear—or, more precisely, one wholly lacking in courage. Courage would come. All it would take is a death and a rebirth.
As Boyer, a Financial Adviser with Ameriprise Financial, recalls about what might be described as his former life, “I was closeted for a long time. I didn’t come out ’til I was in my early 30s. Having been raised Catholic, and the culture I grew up in—a relatively small town in Michigan—the environment was not supportive of anyone being gay or lesbian at all. In fact, it would have been dangerous to come out when I was in high school.”
External menaces abounded, true, but they were as nothing compared to the corrosive kaleidoscope of fears roiling within.
Boyer remembers, “I had a sense of being gay, but I feared so much the idea of being gay for a number of reasons. I feared rejection from friends, from family, from society. I feared the idea of not being in a marriage and having children. It was so unknown to me.”
Those caustic dreads dissolved Boyer’s very sense of self, so he spent the earliest years of adulthood seeking a society-approved identity, starting that search in perhaps the worst place possible.
“I was involved in a fundamentalist church for a number of years, just because I mistrusted my own judgment,” Boyer recounts. “If I had feelings about someone of the same gender, and everyone around me told me that that was not right, then what could I trust?”
When the church failed to protect him from his own fears, Boyer reached for a talisman of a different type: therapy.
“I went to a therapist to settle it once and for all,” Boyer explains. “[My therapist] was the one who helped me accept that I am gay, and to embrace it.”
As profound as that paradigm shift was, it was only the beginning of the improvements in Boyer’s soul.
“Therapy also helped me understand that my intuition is trustworthy,” Boyer adds. “That was as powerful as gift as the coming out process itself.”
But the most powerful gift still loomed in Boyer’s future. In the meantime, with the shadow of inevitable unmasking banished from his life, what remained looked positively effervescent—maybe even newly fledged.
“Coming out of the closet really was like a rebirth for me,” Boyer insists. “It was my renaissance. I was able to truly be who I was without fearing what I would say to other people—without that fear of being discovered. It gave me the freedom of truly being myself. It freed up so many things. It was amazing, truly amazing.”
The course of Boyer’s new life was incomplete, though, until he received affirmation that came from the oldest relationship of his old life.
“My Mom died this past March,” Boyer shares with a clenched throat. “My Mom had dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease for the last 10 years of her life. But previous to that, when she was first diagnosed, she took it upon herself to write a letter to each of her children to open after she died. In my letter, she talked about how she respected the courage I’ve had in my life, being an out gay man. I can’t even express, truly, how powerful a gift that is for me!”
by Terrance Griep
Coming out should have been simple for Jean Brandl—or, at least, as simple as it ever is.
“My parents were socially quite liberal during my youth,” Brandl declares, recalling a happy time living with three siblings. “They adopted all four of us, and my younger brother and sister are mixed-racial. They would have welcomed my having a boyfriend of another race, religion, or culture.”
By the time Brandl had decided to come out to her parents, she had been lugging about a very personal secret that was shrouded in four years of emotional dust.
Brandl says, “When I was 14 years old, I joined the field hockey team, and heard rumors that my coach was a lesbian. Simultaneously, I needed a topic for my sophomore English paper, and voilà—I came up with the stupendously brilliant idea to write about ‘Lesbianism in America.’ I started doing research—spare as it was, 30 years ago—and it all literally came together one day in math class like the proverbial bolt of lightning. It finally made sense why I had never been attracted to boys.”
So, at age 18, Brandl told the people who mattered most.
“[My parents] were open-minded about gay people in general, but they made it clear that they did not want me to be gay,” Brandl recalls. “I waited until my freshman year in college to come out to them. They had a very hard time accepting it for the first several years.”
What nudged them from the dark side?
During Brandl’s college years, when her parents realized she had walled off a large segment of her life because of the parameters they themselves set, they performed a perfect emotional 180.
“They went from people who were ashamed of my lesbianism to being bigger gay activists than I was,” Brandl recounts. “They headed their local PFLAG organization, they won awards for their gay activism, they lectured to schools about gay teens, they left the Catholic Church…and I could go on. For the last 20 or so years, I couldn’t imagine more supportive parents or family. Everyone from siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles to my 90-year-old grandmother are completely supportive of me.”
Brandl finished college and law school, beginning a career that brought her to Minneapolis, where she cofounded her own practice.
Does Brandl’s gender identity color the way she tends to her legal duties?
“I certainly feel I have a sensitivity to people who don’t belong,” Brandl asserts. “That’s why it is rewarding to represent people who have been discriminated against. I became a lawyer because I like creating solutions for people, and I have a soft spot for representing the underdog. I’d like to believe that my law firm is a safe haven for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or any other factor.”
Brandl believes that coming out is still relevant to society writ large: “I think everyone should come out, but I don’t judge those who choose to stay in the closet. Everyone has their reasons for how they live their life. I think there is a happiness that comes with being fully open about my identity.”
And that identity isn’t something shrinking in the rearview mirror of Brandl’s life. It’s something she lives every day.
According to Brandl, “For me, coming out is an ongoing process, because each circumstance is different.”
by Todd Park
Arlo Dissette’s story is reminiscent of the small-town boy who makes good in the big city.
The youngest of nine children, Dissette grew up in rural North Dakota, studying at Bismarck Community College, where he met his future wife. Together they struck out for the Twin Cities, where he worked his way up the sales ladder, eventually selling investment products as a financial planner. It was the good life, complete with a happy 17-year marriage, a well-paying job, and respect in his field.
But good did not make for perfect. As Dissette approached his 40th birthday, he felt the need to make his mark on the world around him. Without children, he didn’t want to live his life without leaving a legacy.
In addition, Dissette felt that he would have to confront, once and for all, the lifelong desire within himself for intimacy with other men. When his wife found a single piece of damning circumstantial evidence that left no question about those feelings, confrontation met him head-on. The door to his closet wasn’t merely opened, but blasted off the hinges and burned beyond recognition. His good life was about to turn into the worst year of his life with the words, “You better have a good attorney.”
Dissette recalls the need to head off rumors by sending a letter to friends and family, explaining the impending changes: “I was bawling like crazy, sealing the letters. I knew nothing would ever be the same.”
While the life he had spent years building crumbled, Dissette found a new one rising from the ruins around him. The responses to the letters came back with the messages of encouragement he so very much needed.
As Dissette’s shares, “I got love letters back.”
With the support of friends and a therapist whom he credits as having saved his life, Dissette was able to get through his crisis. He came to the realization that he wasn’t alone. He eventually learned that he could, in his words, “take a breath and be OK.”
Even though Dissette had made it through his darkest hour, the divorce brought a number of challenges with the inevitable end to this chapter in his life.
As a financial adviser, Dissette found himself progressively distracted in giving advice to others about their finances when he was in such emotional turmoil. He realized that he needed to take some time off. Thanks to putting into practice the very financial planning principles he had been advising, he was able to take a yearlong sabbatical, which allowed him to find out who he was “through the noise,” as he puts it.
Today, Dissette is living a much happier and much more authentic life, his countenance warm with contentedness and acceptance.
“There’s no better way to live than to be honest with yourself. It takes too much effort to live someone else’s life,” Dissette remarks with a smile redolent with only the shadows now of past angst.
Reflecting on the path his journey in life has taken him, Dissette offers counsel that only someone having been through his kind of struggle can: “You don’t have to end on a bad note.”
Clearly, Dissette’s tune is in a major key, and the life he leads harmonizes beautifully with the man he truly is.
by Terrance Griep
“SWM, as gay as a spring lamb, twice divorced (from women), seeks someone to partner in the restaurant business and in life. Must be ok with kid (one son) and bee stings. Un-serious inquiries only, please.”
Aaron Olson never wrote this personal ad, but at one time in his life, he could have. In fact, that hypothetical ad was answered by Bryan Maher, the man who would become his partner.
“I met my boyfriend in the most bizarre way possible,” Olson relates, remembering a time when an actual online solicitation had been answered. “It was totally, completely improbable. I’d gone on an incredible number of coffee dates. I didn’t have time to date seriously—I was a single father.”
The menu on this zillionth “coffee date” included two cups of steaming, caffeinated destiny.
Olson recalls, “I met him for coffee at a disgusting coffee shop in Uptown. It was so funny. He showed up on a motorcycle, and had just been stung by a bee in his helmet.”
That winged harbinger of fate set the tête-à-tête’s proper tone, as the stinging was merely beginning.
“We just sat, and picked apart the coffee shop,” Olson chortles. “They had terrible lighting, a terrible sound system—everyone was sitting around mortified, because they were afraid that if they talked to anybody, the other people would hear them. We were talking about the color scheme, what on Earth we’d do to it to make it better. We defined our future together in those first few minutes.”
That shared tomorrow culminated in the founding of Clicquot Club Café, the retro-hip hangout nestled easily within Minneapolis’s rejuvenated Seward Neighborhood. The planning of the establishment is where all the nightmarish aspects of that first date were addressed and answered.
There, the happy owners are paradigms of Gay-Role-Model-dom, but such a state was impossible to imagine when Olson first came out to his parents—two divorces and one son after he acknowledged his gender preference to himself.
“I realized that I didn’t need to be dishonest with myself anymore, and I accepted myself,” Olson explains. “I can remember the moment when I said, ‘I’m not attracted to women.’ It was, like—boop!—a light switch went on. And I’ve been so incredibly happy since then.”
Olson’s parents produced a something of a mixed reaction.
“My mother was wailing and crying when I came out,” Olson recounts. “She wondered if she’d raised me wrong, or nurtured me too much. And my father was, like, ‘Attaboy! I’m so proud. I hope you find a lovely man, and settle down and fall in love.’ He was so positive and so welcoming and so affirming. And he said to me, ‘You know, the two times you got married, I knew that it was a mistake. I knew you were gay since you were a child.’ And I was, like, ‘Well, then why didn’t you stop me?’”
These days, Olson has gone about the important business of realizing his father’s best wishes…but that involves no small amount of work, both inside and outside the café. Olson’s son has gone off to college, so Olson and Maher are engaged in the process of redefining their relationship, post-nest-emptying. And that process starts with bare semantics.
“We don’t really term each other ‘partners’ anymore,” Olson declaims. “We term each other ‘boyfriends,’ because it’s hotter that way! I looked a long time for him. Not settling for less has been the best thing!”