Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Loving the Ways You’ve Changed

The ups and downs of 40+ years in a same-sex relationship

Author Mike Coleman, a former reporter for the Nashville Banner, knew he was gay when he was five years old: “I didn’t have a word for it, but I knew how it felt,” he writes in his memoir, The Way from Me to Us. “I knew I liked men. This book is the story of how, like many men born in the 1950s and many thereafter, I’ve fought and embraced, embraced and fought that desire throughout my life.” In The Way from Me to Us, Coleman recounts his challenges and personal growth as a gay man, both in his early life and through the 40+ years spent with his husband, Ted Brothers.

Photo courtesy of Mike Coleman

One snowy winter day, Coleman and his childhood best friend, Terry, decide to venture out onto the new ice covering a pond in the woods near their homes in Columbia, Tennessee. The friends survive the adventure, and it’s only later that Coleman realizes what a tremendous risk they took. The incident makes such an impression that he uses the metaphor of skating on thin ice throughout the book whenever he feels that his heart, health, or happiness is at risk. The first time he feels the ice crack under his feet is the day he suddenly kisses Terry, whose reaction of shock and disgust reverberates through the rest of Coleman’s life. He writes, “I’d fallen into dark, icy water with no one around to give me a hand up. Terry had run from me. I had to pull myself out on my own. Sometimes I wasn’t sure I had.”

Coleman wrestles with his sexual orientation for many years following that traumatic afternoon, eventually landing in a serious relationship with a woman, Maggie, which seems destined to lead to marriage, an idea that makes his family happy. “Why not?” he asks himself. “Maybe it’s time to put the gay stuff away.” Then one night in 1977 at a gay bar in Nashville called The Other Side, he meets Ted, and everything changes. It’s by no means a smooth transition, but almost immediately Coleman realizes, “Of course, I had feelings for Maggie, but not in the way I knew love was supposed to feel. There was always a shadow inside me when I was with her. Something dark and secret and sad. Ted lit me up so bright inside that all the shadows were gone.”

When they meet, Ted is much more comfortable with his sexuality, despite being the younger member of the couple. When Coleman confesses his uncertainty about identifying himself as gay, Ted simply says, “I like being gay. I’d like to find somebody who likes being gay with me.” Despite their instant attraction, for Coleman the ice beneath them is anything but solid. Over the years, the two men navigate currents of guilt, anger, blame, and regret, as well as family rejection, the desire for sex with other men, serious illness, addiction, sexually transmitted disease, deep grief, and depression.

Coleman is unflinchingly honest in his portrayal of his own instability. He writes, “Call it what you like – my shame for not being ‘all boy,’ my deep-seated suspicion, planted at an early age, that love between men wasn’t right, my growing up as an American male in a culture some describe as aggressively heterosexual — the beast of my own homophobia still lurked inside me. … What I didn’t know then, but know with certainty today, is that the beast does not go away overnight. It pops up when you least expect it.”

The Way from Me to Us is an endearing love story between two men whose relationship is beset by the roadblocks that society, their families, and their own complicated feelings impose on their lives during a turbulent period for the LGBTQ+ community in the United States. Ultimately though, their commitment withstands the test of time — the ice holds — and Mike and Ted are legally married in 2013. Theirs is a beautiful and brave journey to a wiser and more mature understanding of themselves and each other. As Coleman writes, “Marriage is loving the way you are. Loving the way you were. Loving the ways you’ve changed.”

Loving the Ways You’ve Changed

Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.