Hi, there. My name is Aaron Foley. I was born on October 4, 1984, in a U.S. Army Hospital in Nuremberg, Germany. I should have been an army brat; both my parents were in the service. They separated after I was born, and divorced when I was a toddler. I never got to experience Germany, so please don’t ask if I speak German. I don’t hold that against my parents, by the way.
I wanted to become a journalist because my mom worked at the Michigan Chronicle from 1988 to 1996 and I thought it was cool to type at a typewriter and have your name in the newspaper. I also considered becoming an architect, a car designer, a Hollywood scriptwriter (not screenwriter, mind you) and, on occasion, a firefighter.
I went to two high schools. I went to Renaissance High School for freshman, sophomore and junior year. For senior year, I transferred from Renaissance to Ypsilanti High School just after cross-country season ended. I did so because my mother and brother moved from our house in Detroit to my grandmother’s home in Ypsilanti after she died the summer prior to senior year. I was living with my grandfather in Detroit for awhile, but the emotional distress at the time called my mother and back together, as we healed together following that rough summer and continued to rely on each other as I finished high school. My picture is in RHS’ senior-year yearbook for 2002. I don’t have it and I don’t care to read it. Additionally, I went to both reunions this year, and they were both sufficiently awkward.
I ran track and cross-country in high school and was pretty OK at it. High points for the sports-watchers: I was once the fifth-fastest distance runner in the city of Detroit – the fastest on the westside, as a matter of fact — and I was the only DPS kid in the state cross-country finals in 2001. Don’t ask me where I placed.
I’m gay. I’ve known since around 6th grade. I tried to hide it. I had crushes on girls. I wanted a girlfriend. Badly. Up until, say, junior year of college, I pursued girls actively with no luck. I wanted this to go away. I didn’t feel it was right. But I’ve accepted that now, and have accepted it for a long time.
My coming out goes like this: I came out to close friends at first. I told select co-workers as I started new jobs. I reached a point where if anyone asked me, I’d answer truthfully. I didn’t start coming out to relatives until 2009. My grandfather’s wife, perhaps the most neutral in our family, was the first to know. Then my grandfather. Then my mother. I told my father on July 4, 2012. There was no big coming out party for me.
In 2008, I met Keith. We’ve been together since April of that year. The first thing I ever bought him was a bottle of Smirnoff Pomegranate Martini after he turned 21. We’ve lived together since 2009. We bought a house in Detroit (my hometown, he’s from Downriver suburbs) in 2010, and have been renovating it ever since. Together. Not just me. The both of us. That’s who you’ve seen me with at Walmart, who I’ve described as just a friend. That’s who you might have seen me on Facebook with that I said was just someone I took a picture with. That’s who I occasionally mention on Twitter with no indication of who he is. I could be talking about The Sweat Hotel for all you know, but now you know.
Many friends know Keith in person and the relationship is public on Facebook to some, but not all. But I’m tired of hiding him. I’m tired of hiding the fact that I’m gay. I’m tired of counting in my head who shall I tell next, so I’m just going to write this here.
I had no gay relatives in my family to look up to growing up. I have gay relatives now who are out. But I haven’t made any public declaration because I was afraid. I was afraid of what I’d lose.
Let me explain while going backward in my life story.
I grew up in the ‘90s wearing glasses and getting good grades. So did Urkel on “Family Matters.” I was made fun of for years. I was a crybaby in elementary school. Call me a name, and I’d break down in tears. I was never miserable at home, let’s be clear. But I hated elementary school. And middle school.
High school was the chance where we all get the chance to reinvent ourselves. I did, slightly. I stopped crying so much. I’d still get emotional. It was here I learned to start covering up my emotions with sarcasm and cynicism. Looking back, I was an awkward mess. I’d try to be popular when I was destined for a four-year reservation in the lower-middle portion of the social ladder. Maybe that’s being generous. But I still cruised through 3.2 years at RHS (I shut down to everyone at YHS) off my wit, my only saving grace.
I fine-tuned that wit in college. Always be quick with a joke. Never be taken seriously. I didn’t want to be taken seriously. I wanted to be easygoing. Therefore, no one would ever ask me too many questions.
I hate the fact that a social network plays so much into who I am, but I must acknowledge Facebook. Facebook allowed me to build the life I wanted you to see. Cool, confident, witty, smart, urbane, fashionable. College friends added me. High school friends added me. Co-workers added me. Readers from each of my jobs, from columnist at the LSJ to reporter extraordinaire at MLive, began adding me. Relatives began adding me. And with the help of Facebook’s privacy controls, I could easily hide my relationship.
I didn’t want certain high school classmates to know I was in a happy same-sex relationship because I’d regress to that time period when all I wanted was to be popular and accepted. I didn’t want co-workers to know because, in this industry dominated by straight white men, I didn’t want to be the token gay guy at work, since in most cases I’ve been the token black guy at work. I didn’t want relatives to know because I wanted to come to Sunday dinners without questions.
For the longest time, I didn’t want to fully acknowledge to myself that I’d been in a relationship for so long. Divorce (or dissolution of a marriage by unconventional means*) has a nasty pattern on both sides of my family. My mother’s parents have divorced. My own parents have divorced, and my father is married to his third wife. Several aunts, uncles and cousins have been to divorce court, and every day I honestly worry if I’ll suffer the same fate. (*My great-grandmother, still living, left a cheating husband in rural Alabama after she migrated to Detroit. Not sure if any papers were ever signed.)
But things started happening that made me more and more proud of being who I am, and being with Keith. I don’t like to brag at all, but things are going great for us. I’m doing well in my career, doing things at 27 most people don’t get to do until 47. Keith is doing his clinical rotation for a year in Texas, and when he returns to Detroit, I’m convinced he’ll become the best medical laboratory scientist in the city. I’ll miss him terribly while he’s gone.
As I mentioned earlier, we’ve got a house together. As a matter of fact – we live off Linwood. Or off Dexter. Some call it “the hood.” We’re a block from Boston-Edison without being in Boston-Edison proper. A few blocks from where the store owner was killed outside his own store, and a mile away from where Marvin Winans was carjacked. Our neighborhood is decent for what it is. There are some vacant houses; we live directly across from one. But we get by because of the love we put into it. We have three dogs – each of us had one coming into this thing, and we took in his mother’s dog soon after. Our house is not dirty, by the way. And our neighbors are great. They cook us food. We watch their kids.
But I’m just damn tired of not being able to say all this out loud.
I just want to say that I love him, I love where my life is going, I like the things that are happening. But I can’t. Because I still want to be accepted by everyone. And yes, that’s a lesson I should have learned years ago. But I’m ready for the consequences from whoever might not agree with what’s written here.
(As someone who spends a great deal of time avoiding cliches, this is probably the most cliche thing I’ve ever done.)
All of this is affecting me emotionally, and has me acting out in ways that aren’t healthy. It’s affecting Keith’s perception of me, and I know he deserves better. It affects my thought patterns – I can’t keep track of which PR guy I’ve told I was married to a wife, which PR guy I’ve told I was single, and which PR guy who knows the truth.
It sucks when I watch my cousins and siblings get married and/or have kids, and I have to keep giving the impression that I’m all alone. In reality, I want to marry Keith. I consider our dogs “our kids,” and I’d like a real human kid someday. I want to wear a ring like all the other guys in my family, and I want to be able to talk about having a budget because bills still have to be paid even though there’s a sale at Macy’s.
It sucked having to go to two high school reunions and seeing classmates bring their significant others when I had to leave mine at home. And it sucks having to have awkward conversation with colleagues in the workplace and making up lies about what I’m doing this weekend.
So here it is. In the grand tradition of social media oversharing, here it is. Unfriend me on Facebook if you wish. But I’m here. Ask me questions, please. I’m here. Feel free to bring it up at the next dinner. Or the next chapter meeting. The next party. The next ride and drive.The next whatever. Or on Twitter! Yes, subtweet me and toss shade – ‘cause Lord knows I’ve done my fair share.
Just don’t call this a coming out, please. This is not a Frank Ocean thing, or an Anderson Cooper thing. It’s an Aaron Foley thing. I’m not telling you this because I want you to know “what goes on in my bedroom.” I’m not rallying for marriage equality. I’m not drunk and in front of a laptop typing aimlessly. I wrote this because I know who I am. I just didn’t think you knew who I was, and I felt a need to clarify.