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'It's never too late': Muskegon man shares story of coming out at 49

Author Bob Switzer addressed crowds at Muskegon's inaugural Pride celebration June 4.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — One of the highlights of the inaugural Muskegon Pride celebration involved local author Bob Switzer, who shared a journey of self-discovery decades in the making.

“The day I decided to be all of me was terrifying,” Bob Switzer addressed the assembled crowd earlier this month. "Is there a stronger word than that for fear? If there is, I was that.”

Switzer might never have imagined he’d one day take this stage. 

Much less share the soul-wrenching secret he’d been keeping with a world Switzer never thought would accept him for who he was.

“I had a tough childhood,” Switzer recalled during an interview conducted several days prior to his appearance at Muskegon Pride. “I didn't want to deal with being gay when I realized that as a teenager, especially after everything that I had went through.”

And so, Switzer spent those first years in foster care grappling with the blank spots in his identity.

“I hid it. For a long time.”

Even under a full set of standard-issue military fatigues.

Switzer joined-up with the US Army in ’89.

“The army was one of those organizations that, through the modern era very much codified that discrimination with Don't Ask Don't Tell—did that weigh on you during your service?”

“There were so many more soldiers just like me,” Switzer said. “You couldn’t talk about it for sure.”

And he kept it under wraps until his tour ended in ’92.

Switzer got married, had two kids and lived the so-called ‘normal’ life he wanted for himself.

“I wasn't unhappy, in my marriage, my kids, wonderful,” he reflected. “The whole thing was exactly what I wanted for my life, I want it to be normal… from the outside, we looked like a perfect family.”

Yet, on the inside, 27 years of marriage had done nothing to heal the fault lines that had kept Switzer in the grips of an internal tug of war.

“There were times when I would see someone or see something that would make me have the feelings that I was trying so hard to hide,” he said. “I would go home that night and try to be the person that everybody thought I was.”

Now in his late 40s, Switzer could see only three choices.

“I realized it was either come out, run away, kill myself,” Switzer related. “I knew it was going to be hard. I had no idea that I would ever get the strength to do it. I assumed I could just hide it forever.”

Yet the strength to tell his wife of more than two decades did finally come.   

“I sat there that morning, muting the TV and not being able to say it,” he said. “I knew I was going to say it, I was getting strong enough to say it, but I couldn't bring the words out. And then you just do. And she held my hands.”

That was two years ago.

Now an advocate and an author, 51-year-old Switzer said his now ex-wife was still his best friend.

And the man with whom he’s now spending his life is just part of the family.  

“Don't let the world hide you. Don't hide yourself for anybody else,” he urged. “If I can save one person and stop one person from hurting themselves or hurting other people in order to be honest and be gay and say the words then I did it. That's all I want.”

Switzer's story is part of a collection entitled ‘Coming Out Together: A Collection of Memoirs on the LGBTQIA+ Experience.’

Credit: Open Air Press

The publisher has organized a GoFundMe campaign to bring the book to market.

For more information regarding the book and the opportunity to donate, click here.

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