AUG 1995


Therapists Talk 
Shrink Rap 


    Michael E. Holtby, LCSW, BCD

The True Sissies

Originally published in Colorado's AIDS Newsletter, Resolute!, August, 1995

Do not published without the permission of the author

This column is dedicated to a certain activist editor who likes to wear pearls for most occasions!

I will call him John. He would be mortified to be revealed. In fact, he has spent a lifetime trying to avoid being exposed. Even now that he has AIDS, he is telling everyone its cancer. He is so isolated, so terrified, so unable to get the support that is out there, so emotionally dishonest with those he says he loves: his parents, his own kids, his wife of two decades. He has no friends, lots of acquaintances; but he doesn't get close to anyone. He still questions whether he is gay, although he has had guilt ridden binges at the baths for years.

John is in a prestigious, professional job. He lives in the suburbs where they voted in favor of Amendment 2. He has a neat lawn, a $200,000 house, and the appearance of propriety. But he is a liar. He is a deceiver. He is a predator. He is a manipulator. He is a violator of trust. His life is a fragile sham, hiding a double life.

I have met so many men like John. They come to my office, unsure just what they are looking for -- yet unhappy -- yet unwilling to get honest with themselves and those around them. They often don't stay in therapy. They often don't give me the real reasons they are terminating. They often don't even give me their real names. They are elusive shadows, lurking around dirty bookstores -- tearoom trolls.

Cash register honesty they may pride themselves in: they will pay their bills, they will let you know if you gave them too much change. They don't shoplift, they don't steal. But emotional honesty is a foreign currency. They are not open about their feelings, and when confronted will be slippery and slide out of their commitments and responsibilities.

These men don't perceive themselves in the light I just have -- preying upon others, violating those who trust them. They see themselves as victims. They are cursed with shame, and with what John called, "my inconvenience". They don't want to hurt those who are close to them by telling the truth, so see themselves as self-sacrificing. The sacrifice personal integrity for what they think is the well-being of others.

Their lives are so much about damage control, duplicity and hypocrisy that they are very unhappy people. Every accomplishment is erased by the truth lurking within. Every relationship is guarded, and treated with a careful monitoring of what is revealed.


AIDS did it to Rock Hudson, and Senator Joseph McCarthy's legal counsel, the infamous communist and homosexual witch hunter, Roy Cohn. And its about to do it to John: throw open their closet door!

Stephen Levine talks about how it isn't fair for us to leave skeletons in other people's closets. Many times these people don't come out until they are dead. They tried so hard not to hurt anyone, and in the end they leave everyone with hurts, questions, and a sense that they didn't really know their husband, son, father. And they didn't...

Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying, "You are as sick as your secrets." These men are sick to the core -- their secret is core to who they are, and influences their thoughts, feelings and behaviors throughout each day.

AIDS for these men is especially a disaster; not only is it a life-threatening illness, it is a diffucult disease to hide. Hiding has been their lifestyle. Suicide is an option, but to what end? After death by suicide there is an autopsy. Some men like John are really too selfish, too chicken-shit to care about what happens once they're gone. As long as they don't have to be around to face the music.


Men like John don't like drag queens, don't identify with them. The queens epitomize the effeminacy that they abhor. Yet drag queens are making a courageous political statement. It was a drag queen that threw the brick that started the Stonewall Riots. It is the queens who are on the front lines, flaunting stereotypes and prejudices. "Take that Jessie Helms!" All the while the "real" men are hiding behind the skirts of their out-front sisters, letting them fight for equal rights, while they politely laugh at faggot jokes with their work mates.

The great irony of this picture is that the drag queens may not have the manicured lawns in Littleton, but they are happier people. They can be themselves, -- and are willing to take the consequences. They take responsibility for who they are. The result is that they can not only have acquaintances but genuine, true confidants who love them and truly miss them when they are gone.

One of the greatest flamers I have known was Johnnie. I remember when he had a pick line in his arm and wore purple velvet gloves to hide it. Johnnie was a man who approached life with the attitude, "Here I am, take it or leave it!" There was no pretense there, no hidden dark side. I always knew how Johnnie felt -- even when he didn't think I'd like it.

When Johnnie was hospitalized there were more people in his hospital room than I have ever seen, and not just other gay men. His small town family rallied, and so did many, many straight friends. Johnnie was a popular, eccentric, outrageous queen who would always laugh at himself.

Johnnie didn't die alone, and he didn't leave any legacy of unpleasant surprises, only fond, happy memories for those of us who had the privilege of his presence. His friends displayed his best dress at his memorial service!

Who is the greater sissy, the drag queen or the closet queen?



Last messed with November 15, 2001

Copyright(c) 2001 Michael E. Holtby, LCSW. All rights reserved.