In reviewing my life at age 80, I realized that my personal identity – Who I Am – has been largely formed by realizing four themes during my life’s journey:
- At 5 years, I knew I was attracted to boys – I was gay – but sensed it was a bad idea to talk about it.
- Shortly after, I was introduced to being Jewish, with its rich knowledge and traditions – in fact, my great-grandfather was a rabbi in Krakow, Poland.
- In my school years (from high school to a PhD in Marketing) and for much of my career (at three universities), I was an intellectual – as a way to mask my ineptness at sports and insecurities in life.
- For the past 20 years, I’ve come to terms with aging into an older person – with the physical vulnerability, emotional maturity, and accumulated wisdom that has come with it.
With these four identity components, I felt varying levels of a culturally influenced stigma. But the one that proved to be the most troublesome was being gay – shaped by my DNA, family and the America of my formative years (1940s-1950s).
This article tells the story of my life’s gay struggle in detail, and weaves in my Jewish, intellectual and aging dimensions along the way.
My Young Years
“The girl that I marry will have to be, as soft and as pink as a nursery.
The girl I call my own will wear satins and laces, and smell of cologne.”
From “The Girl That I Marry,” the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun, 1946.
At age 5 (1948), I sang that song to a crowed club of my mother’s cousins in Philadelphia. The song’s lyrics were part of my early sexual confusion. She had taught me romantic songs so I would fall in love with a Princess. But from that age, I desired to be physically close to a Prince! I was the big brother in my family, but I longed to have a big brother to share affection, and protect me from a hostile world.
I was gay, although I didn’t know what to call it. I knew I was different than other boys, sensed my attraction was wrong, and felt ashamed to say anything to anyone.
By age 7, I was aware I was Jewish. Although my parents didn’t practice the religion, they sent me to Sunday school. I was active in my synagogue until 16. As a result of feeling gay, I imagined that my God judged me for having sinful thoughts, although I hadn’t done anything yet! It was like God was saying to me, “If you’re gay, you will pay! And the cost is suffering.” Also, it didn’t help that I sensed prejudice (nasty comments) and experienced discrimination (obvious exclusion) for being Jewish from some Christian children in my Philadelphia neighborhood.
In my teenage years (1950s), I was attracted to certain masculine-yet-gentle teen boys. But I didn’t know what to do about it. I hadn’t met any gay people or didn’t know where to find them; I didn’t know there were gay books and magazines; and, I didn’t see any gay guys who were happy on TV shows and in films. Besides frustration, I felt flawed.
My fear of people knowing I was gay kept me in the closet – for over 30 years. In my 20s, my sexual hormones were strong, but I was too traumatized to do anything about it. From high school to graduate school, I put most of my energy into getting top grades – which led to my intellectual orientation.
My Adult Years
As an evolving intellectual, I earned a PhD in Marketing to obtain a faculty position at a university’s business school. I believed the doctoral degree and Assistant Professor title endowed me with power, prestige and protection. I desperately hoped that nobody would look deeper than these two masks, and guess I was gay.
In the 1970s, I taught and did scholarly research at New York University, in New York City. Also, I lived there – with a good view of the World Trade Center. While I was curious to visit the city’s gay bars, I was afraid I might meet some of my students.
By my late 20s, keeping my gay secret was undermining my mental state. I was heading toward a nervous breakdown, even fantasizing suicide. I temporarily escaped all this by taking a trip around the world for the three summer months. In Israel, where being Jewish was the norm, I had my first gay sex – with a Turkish guy.
Upon returning home to New York, my sexual confusion obsessed me. So, I went into psychotherapy to regain sanity. First, I was told I was a recovering intellectual – needing to get out of my head, and more into my body and heart. Second, came the big question as to what should be my sexual strategy: Seek out a prince or a princess?
Months of therapy increased my confidence enough to scratch my gay itch. Finally, I entered gay bars, where I met desperate guys – just like me. Some of them I took home for a one-night friendship. But my mind never could handle the world seeing me in a committed gay relationship.
Finally, I chose to date women and learned to seduce them – determined to succeed as a real man. Soon, I married the second woman I was intimate with; of course, I didn’t reveal I was gay. Because I believed I loved her and she adored me, I thought it might work.
During our four years together, I pretended to be straight – to her and the world. But inside, I felt inauthentic and unsatisfied. After a cousin of mine outed me in front of my wife, my mixed signals about our intimacy made sense to her. She insisted on a divorce, to which I meekly agreed, as was losing my closest friend. Later, I asked her to forgive me for my dishonest deception, which she did; it took me longer to forgive myself. Although devastated by losing her, at the same time I was relieved to be free of the game playing.
Alas, I was still confused about being true to myself or looking normal to society. I bounced back and forth between affairs with women and men. I was bisexual in behavior, because I still feared admitting the truth to the world and myself: I am truly gay.
It wasn’t until my late 40s, when I joined the University of Maryland Global Campus ng in Tokyo, Japan that I got up the courage to get a relationship and live with a male partner. But even then, my long-simmering inner conflict disturbed me. And my track record with Japanese men was mixed – one lovely-but-fragile relationship with a Japanese guy, but many strikeouts.
My Wisdom Years
What finally healed my anxiety about my sexual identity? It was in my early 60s, now living in Maryland, that I realized the price was too high to live with my shame. Upon retiring from my academic career, I became ill in body, shaky in mind, and separated from feeling my soul. To be happy and at peace with myself, I’d have to undertake a holistic makeover.
My life began to improve significantly when I practiced yoga, received energy-healing sessions, and studied holistic wellness. I began finding out how to release the negative and conflict-causing beliefs installed in my childhood. I accepted myself, and even learned to love myself. And beyond doing emotional healing, I finally became serious about developing a spiritual connection.
By then I was living in Sedona, Arizona, where Nature’s awesome beauty and higher consciousness community nourished my soul and connection to Divinity. I sought out Eastern wisdom traditions that led to University Spirituality. In the process, I joyfullly returned to Judaism – with a renewed pride in its long sacred heritage, and a love for its exquisite chants and songs.
The happy result of this higher-consciousness perspective has been to live in the ways of God’s Will, Mind and Heart. All is One, Divinity is within me, and I AM the Creator of my life. With my new mindset, being gay became far less defining and troubling. Now I wanted to be of service to people grappling with self-identity and self-actualization issues – especially those in the LGBTQ+ community.
Also, greater spiritual awareness and emotional confidence enabled me to tune into my God-inspired gift. After three years of singing lessons, at age 71 I realized that I was an edutainer – one who fused education and entertainment – sharing practical wisdom acquired during my lifetime of dramatic highs and lows.
In all areas of my life, creativity surged – with my energy and results amazing everyone, including me. My inner child came out of another closet – after being inside for 50 years – which generated courage and joy in me. I launched a business, The Larry Show (www.TheLarryShow.com) – which included two one-person, musical-comedy shows, highlighting my gay-self-acceptance. I had made the stigma to spirit transformation! In performing my shows worldwide, I could show up off stage as open and genuine; this further strengthened me, emotionally and spiritually.
Between ages 60 and 78, I grew in sensitivity and wisdom because of my crises of advanced aging – cancer, anxiety, digestive problems, and loss of loved ones. I developed a holistic mindset and lifestyle that enabled me to have a healthy, passionate, purposeful, fulfilling and spiritual life.
To further reboot my life, I launched Adventurous Aging coaching and workshops for people 60+ – especially for the LGBTQ+ community. I offered to reset their life from retiring to refiring – by applying their own experience, wisdom and superpowers; thus, enabling them to heal, grow and share. Thus, potentially resulting in an amazing life of wellness, meaning, vibrancy and impact – in short, their best years yet!
A year ago, I moved from Arizona to South Florida to enrich my life with the latter’s unique blend of Ocean and tropical setting, multigenerational and multicultural diversity, business and educational opportunities, artistic and creative vitality, and the mythical Fountain of Youth (which I discovered within me).
On the verge of turning 80, I identified myself as an extraordinary elder – with a clear life mission of sharing my consciousness, creativity, connections and contributions.
“I am what I am, I am my own special creation,
So come take a look, give me the hook or the ovation.”
From “I Am What I Am,” the comedy film La Cage aux Folles, 1978.
At last, thanks to healing and embracing my gay, Jewish, intellectual and aging dimensions, I am living a life of authenticity, love, joy and peace.
For a fuller description of Adventurous Aging, see https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100082105301582; to discuss this method with him, contact email@example.com.
Larry Rosenberg’s life mission is to share consciousness, creativity, connection and contribution. Post-retirement, he founded The Larry Show, one-person musical and inspirational shows based on his life’s wisdom, and Adventurous Aging, holistic wellbeing coaching and workshops for people 60+ to reset their life from retiring to refiring. Prior to these enterprises, his 50-year career included higher education in marketing (New York University and University of Massachusetts Amherst), international management training (University of Maryland Global Campus, Tokyo), innovative business consulting and coaching, and holistic health corporate communication. He earned a BS from Drexel University, and an MBA and PhD (Marketing) from The Ohio State University. He lives in Pompano Beach, Florida, where he delights in the area’s tropical lifestyle, cultural diversity, and business vitality.
A real life journey, beautifully written and lived.
Sandy, very kind of you to say that. It is as real as my memory and unconscious will allow. To write it for others to read and hopefully benefit from it, I had to make it as vivid and honest as I know how. Again, thank you.
Dear Dr. Rosenberg,
What a wonderful and loving article! I was very touched by it. I am 58, have been “out” since I was 18, and too had a crush on a boy in kindergarten named J.H. I had a depthful Jewish upbringing, and was even the English-speaking valedictorian at Midrashah when I was 17. My brother is a Rabbi and he’s been a very important influence in my life. I’d be most grateful to have the opportunity to communicate with you should you have the time. Thank you again for a most inspiring essay! Kind regards.