By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
Where do you go for support if you may consider coming out as gay but struggle with your male, “straight” identity, your circumstances, and cultural norms? Peach talked to Bill Lewis who is the organizer of GAMMA ATLANTA – a support group for men that identify as gay, bisexual, or questioning but who are typically currently or previously married or involved with a woman.
What is the purpose of GAMMA (Gay and Married Men’s Association)?
Men who come to GAMMA identify as gay, bisexual or questioning, or, in some cases, they prefer not to label themselves at all. What they have in common is an attraction to men. Most are currently married or involved with a woman—some for several decades, while others for a couple of years or less; and some men were previously married or involved with a woman. Men of all ages come to GAMMA meetings, and some attendees are fathers. Over the course of attending GAMMA meetings, some men may decide to stay married, while others to separate or divorce.
Tell us a little bit about the background of GAMMA Atlanta
After coming out to my wife several years ago, I turned to a small group of friends that helped me transition from living in the “straight” world to living as an openly gay man. Not having to live alone and isolated was a huge relief during a dark period of my life. During that period, I discovered the GAMMA DC chapter and attended a couple of meetings when I was in the area. While I wasn’t ready to start a group here in Atlanta at that time, I began to dream about a time when I could.
Why do you think there is a need for a group like GAMMA?
We live in a culture that often suppresses openness and transparency. Males are taught from an early age to put up facades. As a result, many gay males hide their true selves. In turn, many men follow the cultural norm of marrying in their 20’s. GAMMA is a place of support of refuge for men to be free of judgment and shame. It is critical that men know that they are not alone and there are thousands of men in metro Atlanta just like them.
Do you think the group helps men to come out as gay – or come to terms with their sexuality?
While the path that each of the members of GAMMA walks is similar, each one is also unique. Some of the members are divorced, and out to their family, others are out to their family and choose to remain married, and others are not out to anyone. A major goal of the group is to support each member wherever they are. When a member is ready to “come out,” members will be there to offer support and encouragement. However, it is never a requirement for membership in the group.
Describe a typical meeting?
All of our meetings are different, but they all follow the format of a) review of guidelines, b) brief summaries of guys situation, c) open discussion and closure.
What are the group’s guidelines?
We are committed to confidentiality; we will not judge the choices that anyone has made, and we will not give advice. GAMMA has no party line regarding divorce/separation or the choice to stay married; everyone ’s situation is unique.
Do you deal with deeper issues like self-hatred and homophobia?
Absolutely. These issues get discussed in many different ways in our meetings. Just the idea of coming to grips with our sexuality and coming out to our wives and kids can inevitably lead to a basic question of why we haven’t dealt with this issue in the past? The problems that can be faced when finally connecting with the LGBTQ+ world can present difficult challenges and are discussed at meetings.
What do you hope to change with a group like GAMMA?
GAMMA Atlanta strives to remove the stereotypical norms that exist in the culture in regards to sexuality and heterosexual marriage. By providing a safe place where men can share their experiences we will help them deal with family issues and be comfortable in the larger LGBTQ+ community.
Interested men can go to meetup.com/GAMMA-in-Atlanta or visit atlantagamma.weebly.com for more information.