One Man Comes Out to Be True to Himself

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dave Hoen, 41, a man with a good job, a nice house, two kids and an ex-wife who still loves him, is nervous as hell.

His hands are shaking a bit, his smile is just a little tight.

He knows this conversation will probably change his life.

Hoen is "coming out"--on the job at Emulex Corp. in Costa Mesa, to his neighbors in Santa Ana, to his friends and anybody else who reads about it here.

He is gay.

This is not a disease, nor is it a choice. But it is a social handicap still. It can be dangerous.

In 1991, it is still a big deal to say "I am gay" or "I am a lesbian" without whispering or worrying about who might overhear. Thanks to Gov. Pete Wilson's veto of AB 101, it may become harder still.

Hoen says he'd like to be honest, true to himself, a positive role model for young men and women struggling with lives that seem to be going against the grain. Hoen wishes that he had that when he was young.

This Friday is National Coming Out Day, one of those public-relations gimmicks that is supposed to make it easier to do something good for your neighbor and yourself. Ride-sharing days, or national smoke-outs, however, usually get more press.

It is no great secret as to why.

"Gays are the only minority that it's still OK to hate, that it's OK to discriminate against," Hoen says. "As soon as the words sexual orientation come up, people get upset. They think that we are going to recruit the kids to be gay, that we are perverts.

"I don't know a single gay person who wanted to be gay. In most cases, they tried very hard not to be gay. It never worked. I'm not a political person or a debater, but I do know that I want to be happy with who I am."

And for most of Hoen's life, that was simply an impossible wish.

He grew up in a suburb of Denver, the second youngest of seven kids. His mother stayed home to care for the children, fulfilling her role as a woman and member in good standing of the Mormon church. Out of all of them, only Hoen's father, a mechanical engineer, was not a member of the church.

"I did everything I was supposed to do," Hoen says.

He was a good student. His social life revolved around the Mormon church. Sometimes he wondered why he wasn't like his oldest brother, who seemed to attract women wherever he went, but he didn't worry about it too much.

Hoen majored in electrical engineering at Brigham Young University, which is run by the Mormon church. He left after a year to complete a mission, two years in Canada to teach others about Mormonism, then returned to school. His unease about his sexual preference began soon after that.

He realized that when a male roommate of his moved out to get married, he felt a strange sense of loss. He had loved this man, and it scared him to death.

"In the Mormon church, homosexuality is almost as bad as murder," Hoen says.

So, naturally, this young man, about as upright as they come, sought help. He visited counselors at BYU and the bishop of his church. The sessions lasted months and the advice was always the same: Date women and think pure thoughts. Do not let the evil of homosexuality take hold.

"The bishop would tell me to start thinking of church hymns when I would have unpure thoughts," Hoen says. "Some of those songs are still my favorite, like 'Abide With Me.' "

There is not a trace of sarcasm in his voice, as Hoen says this. He has many good things to say about the religion that was so much a part of his life. Those who advised him, and Hoen himself, believed that homosexuality was morally wrong, a sin against God.

He had been told that if he kept this evil from taking hold, he would be rewarded. And for a while that seemed to be coming true. He believed he had beaten it. Then he met Lynda Roper and he was sure.

"I met Lynda and immediately fell in love with her and thought this was the answer to my prayers," Hoen says. "To this day, I still love her."

It is love of a platonic kind.

The couple--he was 26 and she 21--met and married within five months. The wedding was held in the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City. The couple's son, Brent, was born a year after that. A daughter, Holly, came next. The plan going in was that they would try for four kids.

The family--he was working in the computer industry while she stayed at home--was very active in the church.

Hoen never told his wife about having had an attraction for men. Those feelings, as far as he was concerned, would stay in the past.

"I guess I knew that guys still attracted me, but I ignored it, essentially," he says.

After three years of marriage, things began to fall apart. Hoen met another gay man, a student at BYU, and began an on-again-off-again relationship that lasted six months. Roper had no idea and Hoen himself was not sure what it all meant.

His first homosexual experience left him feeling confused, dirty and upset.

"When he left, we made a pact that we would quit doing this," he says. "He was going to meet a woman and I was going to stay married."

Hoen began counseling with his church once again. He says he missed his gay lover, but was convinced that with him gone, he could once again get his unnatural urges under control.

Six months later, he would meet another man and this time, he told his wife. Roper, pregnant with the couple's daughter, urged him not to give up on their marriage. She was willing to do anything to help them find "a cure."

It didn't exist.

Hoen moved out six months later. He was excommunicated from his church. His siblings, for the most part, kept their distance. His mother told him she was so sad he wouldn't be joining her in heaven as she had planned. The reaction of his father, who was recently divorced from his mother after 45 years, came as a surprise.

"I called him and told him I was gay," Hoen says. "I said that Lynda and I were separating and that I wasn't sure what lay ahead. . . . My dad does not express his feelings well. I wasn't real close to him.

"But he said he was sorry that I had to go through this all by myself and then he told me that he loved me. Which was a real shock. He never said that. He said that if I needed anything to call."

The man whom Hoen had recently met would become his partner for seven years. They do not live together any more.

Hoen and his former wife have remained close friends--even as their worlds remain far apart.

"This has changed my idea about homosexuals," she says. "I always thought they were really weird people. But Hoen's nicer than a lot of the straight people I know. He's normal in every way except for his sexual preference. . . . I still really love him. He's the same guy I married."

Roper lives in Orem, Utah, with her second husband and four kids. Hoen's children, now 12 and 9, visit him twice a year, even though Roper's new husband can't stand that thought. Roper says he calls Hoen derogatory names in front of his kids.

Yet she says her children love their father, that he is good to them, and that he has never stopped sending them financial support. She says she told them both about why she and their father split up.

"I told them, 'He's your dad but he just made some bad choices.' "

They don't talk about this with their father. Roper says she'd really rather they not.

Says Hoen: "Just the fact that it is hard for me to do this tells me that I should do it. I know that there are a lot of people out there going through hell, who are gay but don't know it. For a lot of them, there are no positive role models. I would like to be a role model.

"And also, I have found that I can't really be myself by being in the closet. Unless you are gay, you don't know how much that affects your life, if you can't be open. Being gay affects every minute of your life."

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