The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing & Coming Out
“‘We are not the first generation of queer people to have found ourselves trapped in a straight marriage,’ he writes, ‘but please God, let us be the last.’ Books like his will help that prayer be answered.”
In The Lie, William Dameron tells story of being a gay man who marries a woman in an attempt to live a conventional, socially acceptable life. Built on deception, his marriage was unsurprisingly unhappy. This was a once a common experience for gay men. It was perhaps, the dominant one.
Married in the nineteen eighties, Dameron was in his mid-forties and the father of two before he found the courage to come out 20 years later. Much of The Lie focuses on the various pressures that kept him in the closet, and many of these were external, such as a religiously zealous mother, and a small-town Southern upbringing that was far from accepting of LGBT people. In one key scene, after Dameron has come out of the closet, he recalls trying to explain himself to his young daughter.
“How long have you known you were gay?” she asked.
“Since I was a child.”
“Then why didn’t you come out then?”
“The world was a different place. Being gay wasn’t an option.”
His explanation is more convenient than complete. There were thousands of openly queer people in the 1980s. Dameron has even introduced us to some of them: Sheila, the lesbian aunt with whom he spends a summer during his undergraduate years; Don, the handsome man who gives Dameron his first same-sex kiss; Ryan, the beguiling music student who tries to seduce Dameron as they listen to Mahler; even a mysterious, off-stage uncle, who moved to California years earlier, and who Dameron’s Aunt Sheila tells him was, “like us.” They all enter his story before he meets and marries his wife.
Being gay was, in fact, an option; it was just not an option Dameron was willing to choose. As an adolescent and a young adult, Dameron could not emulate a core of honesty and courage that he saw in other people. In at least one case, he turned against the potential lover, Ryan, punishing him for expressing desire that Dameron himself felt.
Many portions of The Lie explain the multiple, self-imposed pressures to which Dameron succumbed, thereby locking himself in the closet for decades: internalized homophobia; fear of AIDS, a desire to be a better man than his philandering father, denial, self-deception. These are not things that can easily be explained by a man tucking his daughter into bed. Fortunately, he came out of the closet, and then wrote a book about the process.
Much of Dameron’s story is dominated by his mother and his wife. They are both beautiful, gifted, insecure women, each of whom has an investment in Dameron living a conventional, outwardly heterosexual life, and neither of whom is willing to acknowledge conflicting evidence until it has accumulated far beyond plausible deniability. It is a testament to Dameron’s many skills as a writer that these women emerge as complex and worthy of our interest—and empathy—even if they are not always likeable. Wanting desperately to please and appease both women, he instead finds that their relations with each other turn into cycles of mutual injury. Some of the most interesting sections of The Lie concern the collective efforts to heal.
In a scene that takes place shortly after Dameron’s marriage to his wife dissolves, he is sitting in the living room of a lesbian couple who have been together for a quarter century. He finds himself flushed and stammering as he tries to explain why it took him so long to come out. One of the women says, “Everyone has their internal clock. . . . You weren’t ready until you were ready.”
In The Lie, Dameron does an excellent job explaining how and why he was so late in becoming ready. Like his mother and his wife, he emerges as a figure who is not always likeable; we see him make too many poor choices, tell too many lies, displace responsibility too often. However, it is to his credit that he is ultimately able to be honest about his own failures, and that honesty goes a long way toward redeeming him. “We are not the first generation of queer people to have found ourselves trapped in a straight marriage,” he writes, “but please God, let us be the last.” Books like his will help that prayer be answered.