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Letting Go

The road to saying, "I'm gay." Richmonders share the stories that changed their lives.

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Jeff Wells and Mac Pence. - SCOTT ELMQUIST

Jeff Wells, 49, Mac Pence, 50
Co-owners, Maury Place at Monument. Pence, Owner of Pence Auto

Wells: Mac and I have been together for 16 years. We were introduced initially by our hairdresser, who set us up on a blind date. And that was in 1995. We had a union ceremony in December 1999 here at our home in Richmond, which had no legal significance, but it had spiritual significance. Both of our families were there and our circle of friends. We've been married for going on two years; we were legally married in Boston.

For me, coming out was a series of steps. At the time I was an attorney, and I worked for both the state government and the federal government here in Richmond. I really started to come out while I was in law school. I was pretty much in the closet during college and high school, even though I knew I was gay. But in law school there was a lesbian-gay law student association — sort of the light bulb went off that I could come out and it might be OK. So I came out to my friends, my sister, who were all very accepting. Probably one of the biggest regrets of my life is that I did not come out to my father before he passed away. Because I know now he would have accepted me.

I officially came out to my mother — who I think really knew — but I said, "Mom, I'm gay," when Mac and I were planning to have the ceremony. But she had met Mac. She was fine, and she would have been fine if I had come out earlier.

Pence: I did not realize I was gay until I was 30, and at that point I did not come out to my parents. It basically was steps in terms of coming out to people who knew me, and over time I became more open in many ways. I think with my parents, though, it was after I met Jeff. So it would have been four years after I'd kind of figured myself out that I came out to my parents. I'm an introvert, so I just sat down and had dinner, and it was very concise, and I told them I was gay. And they heard me out and they were OK. I think they had processed it before then.

I never had any issue, or concerns — I didn't really care what anybody thought. But I also was really aware back then, there was a feeling that somehow it ought to matter, you didn't want to offend people — people were uncomfortable. And so you kind of thought about that. And now I look back and it's so silly.

Wells: When we had our ceremony, the clergy treated the occasion just as if we were a heterosexual couple getting married, and she asked that we sit down individually, with her present, with our parents. And so our clergy person and Mac and I were there with my mom, and the same with his parents, and they all were accepting. And I guess his dad might have been the biggest question mark, because they had run a business together, a family business, and his father was conservative. ...

Pence: Well my father's conservative in a religious way. And that's a good point, my father may have raised concerns about public image. But what he did was, he asked the minister the question, "Is this like a marriage?" And we didn't really know what he meant by that question and we didn't know what his reaction was going to be. And she essentially said, well, it's the same ritual. And he said, "OK." And it was almost like he wanted it to be that way rather than resisting it.

Wells: For me, the whole process, and what I feel like I've done, at least in regard to my sexual orientation, is letting go of fear. And I feel like I have no fear now. And I never would have thought, when I was in high school, say in the '80s, or college in the mid-'80s, that I would live to see a day where I could be publicly out as to my sexual orientation and married to the man who's my husband. To me, it's incredible.

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