Cover Guy: Dr. Paul Talbot
The results may be pretty, but plastic surgery sure ain’t.
With a strong stomach, sturdy hands and a very sharp scalpel, plastic surgeons sculpt living flesh. Theirs is a job of beauty, of blood, of new beginnings.
“Growing up, I realized early on that I had an attraction to guys, but I came from a very strict family,” says 48-year-old plastic surgeon Paul Talbot. “I grew up believing in the plan my mom and dad wanted: Go to school, get married, start the all-American family. That kept me in line for many years.”
It’s a story many of us can relate to: Despite the overwhelming evidence in our secret hearts, there’s no way we could really be gay. Looking back, it’s heartbreaking to see the lengths many of us have gone to so as not to shatter our self-delusions of being—or at least appearing—straight.
“As a teenager, I remember looking at pictures of guys many times but telling myself there was no way I could possibly be gay. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I was able to admit it to myself,” Paul says. “The way I dealt with it was complete isolation from the gay world: no gay bars, no gay friends. The really sad part is that it worked.”
Like millions of other gay men and women throughout history, Paul made great professional strides while submerging his own true nature, believing that success with one came at the expense of the other. After completing medical school and his residencies, Paul set up shop as a plastic surgeon in the small city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. What came next was not an easy decision, but it was a step that many other closeted people have made, with thousands of reasons and justifications, fears and hopes and, above all, the fervent desire—a prayer, almost—that everything will be okay, somehow.
At 35, Paul married a woman, Julie.
“I remember standing up there in front of everyone at our wedding, all our friends and family, and telling myself, You are getting married,” Paul remembers. “You are pulling someone else into this. You can’t come out now. Not ever.”
And for the first five years, things were okay. Mostly. While there may not have been the intense sexual and romantic connection he thought might come with being with a man, Paul instead found a sense of security, stability and affection with his wife. What may have seemed like enough to a man hiding from his true self, however, was not enough for Julie, who wanted—and deserved—more out of marriage, out of love, out of life.
The irony, of course, is that they both did.
“My wife always thought I might be attracted to men, but I never acted on it. One day she asked me, ‘Do you want to tell me something?’” he says. “I said no, and it ruined the marriage.”
With a thriving practice that employed them both, considerable financial assets and two daughters, Paul and Julie’s lives were thoroughly entangled. They had both invested so much time, so much effort, so much of themselves into their marriage that it was impossible to entertain the idea of a clean break. Neither one was able to imagine a reality in which it was fully over, at least not yet, despite how unhappy they had both grown.
“It was ugly. We started living two lives but with zero love,” Paul remembers. “I told her many times that I felt so unloved, and she would say the same thing.”
As an outsider, it’s easy to wonder why he stayed, why she stayed, and there are as many answers as there are questions: for the kids, for the safety, for the fact that the human heart is capable of simultaneously, infuriatingly, wanting everything it has and doesn’t have.
Beginnings, as we’ve established, are never easy, and neither are endings.
Anyone who has ever been enmeshed in a difficult situation knows that sometimes, to get yourself out, you do things you never thought you were capable of. What may later seem dishonorable was what saved your life at the time, and makes you confront the fact that you are a much better—and worse—person than you ever realized.
Paul’s ending and beginning came together, when he took a business trip to Miami and, courtesy of MySpace, met up with a sympathetic gay man who offered to show him around. While standing outside a gay bar at midnight, waiting to get in to meet his new friend, Paul began to hyperventilate, wondering how he would ever explain what he was doing to his colleagues, to his wife, to himself.
Read more about Dr. Paul in the August issue of Instinct—out now!