On the podcast Family Secrets, hosted by author Dani Shapiro, people talk about the secrets they keep from themselves and others, sometimes for a lifetime. In this episode, Dani sits down with William Dameron, author of The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing & Coming Out. He knew he was gay from an early age, but couldn’t admit it to anyone, even himself. “Because I thought being gay was disgusting, and if I was gay, then I was disgusting.” Bill grew up in North Carolina in a staunchly Catholic family in the 1960s, and tried to deny who he truly was. He always felt too skinny, not strong enough. “I think when you have something you consider ugly on the inside, that’s all you can see on the outside,” Bill reflects. “When I looked in the mirror, I just saw all of the flaws.” He went to great lengths to conform during his lifetime, to tamp down that part of himself. “But as we all know,” Dani says, “secrets don't like to sit quietly in corners. They don't appreciate being stuffed down. In the silence, they grow, until they can be contained no longer.”
When Bill was 19, he got a summer job with his aunt in Denver, Colorado. Before he left, his mother took him aside and revealed that his aunt was a lesbian. "She said to me, ‘I want you to promise that you won’t let Sheila change you.’” While he was in Denver, he felt a sense of freedom; he went to his first gay bar, and kissed a man for the first time. “It was the most amazing feeling. It was right, and it was wrong, and I knew that could never happen again.” He began to feel good about his body and himself. But then he went home. “It's sort of like the humidity of southern summer, it's oppressive,” Bill tells us. “You start to feel it. There's your church again and there's all the people you know, and here was my mother saying, ‘This is wrong. This is disgusting. You're never going to be happy.’” Around the same time, the AIDS epidemic had become national news. “Men were wasting away. Here was my body dysmorphia coming again, okay, this is gay, people are getting skinny and wasting away. It was the combination of all that guilt and shame that drove me back into the closet.”
Then he met Katherine. “There was something I saw in her eyes...this look of vulnerability...that I connected with,” Bill recalls. “I remember...men sort of looking at her like, ‘Wow, she’s beautiful,’ and I felt proud...she always had an amazing sense of humor, and I think I loved that about her too.” They married after dating for a year, and had two daughters. Bill threw himself into the family life, climbing the corporate ladder at a banking company, completely shutting out this part of himself, until the family moved for his career. “Suddenly I was out of the conservative states of North Carolina and Virginia, and in the very liberal bastion of New England. Same-sex marriage had just been approved the year we moved...I met this guy who sort of affected me in a way I had never experienced before.” He was starting to lose control over himself, and he began obsessively working out and taking steroids. “I wanted to sort of shore up the outside to help shore up what was crumbling inside.”
Of course Katherine noticed his body change, and one day she and their two teenage daughters discovered his stash and confronted him together. Around two months later, Katherine asked him flat-out if he was gay. “Even though...everything was built on that lie, I owed her the truth,” Bill says. “When you love someone, you can’t lie to them. You’ve got to stand in the truth.” Eventually he came out to his daughters, as well, and the family decided to separate. Katherine and the girls moved back to Virginia, and for awhile, Bill traveled back and forth from New England to Virginia on weekends. But that had to end, too; one night, as she was preparing to give Bill a haircut, Katherine told him it was time for them to move on. “She had always cut my hair. Nobody else had cut my hair. I don't know why I was so particular about it,” Bill says, laughing a little. She had given him 264 haircuts over the course of their marriage, and they knew this would be the last one. Bill asked her to shave his head. “We did have this love and this intimacy, and it was expressed through 264 haircuts,” Bill says simply. “If she's cut my hair all these years, I'm going to shave it, and nobody else is going to cut it, as a way to start new.”
Listen to the episode to find out about that new start, and so many more deeply loving, painful, and revealing details in Bill’s story, on Family Secrets.
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