Friday, October 29, 2010

Journal – Day 7: Coming out to My Self

The Pilgrim is now on Facebook

Ned nudged me in to the Facebook world yesterday.  (Thanks, Ned.)  Wow!  I feel like I’ve entered an amazing new wonderful world! 

Thanks to all those who already friended me!  You can find me by searching under People for Invictus Pilgrim.

“Gay Adolescence”

In reading MoHoHawaii's blog archive, I came across a post he wrote about coming out, in which he described a phenomenon that he called “gay adolescence.”  He wrote:

“There is a phenomenon known as "gay adolescence" that is, in my experience, almost unavoidable. Basically, what this means is that regardless of your biological age, you tend to have emotions like a teenager when you first come out. For example, you can easily become infatuated. Your sense of "drama" and exhilaration increases. This lasts until you get it out of your system, in the same way that it works for teenagers. It's not all bad-- it makes you experience life with wonderful intensity and passion, but it also can make you irresponsible and kind of crazy. (Parents of actual teenagers will recognize this.) Be on the lookout for this. Your emotions may play tricks on you. When I hear you say "damn the consequences", I think this.”

I have also read about this in Beck’s blog, as well as other places.  I think it is fair to say that my recent posts have shown that I am, in some ways, in the full throws of “gay adolescence.”  As I've been preparing posts, I have started to apologize at times for some of the things I have written, because they sound almost silly.  I’m sure to some people, they are silly.  But I decided not to apologize.  I feel I earned this period of time in which to come out to myself, and I’m just grateful for the blogosphere which enables me to do this safely, with support, and with guidance.  So I don’t want to hear any “He’s so GAY!” comments, okay?  J

Coming Out to Myself

Speaking of silly, it occurred to me in the last day or so that everything I’ve been going through in the past few weeks really boils down to this:  I’m coming out to myself.  I don’t pretend to know a lot about “coming out.”  In fact, I don’t claim to know anything about it.  But I do know what I have been going through with myself, and that is allowing myself to speak truth to myself, to acknowledge as truth what I have known practically my whole life, but tried to deny. 

I have despised myself for most of my life.  That is over.  I am, from this point on, going to try to look myself in the mirror and love myself, to accept myself and to celebrate who I am – even if only in the chambers of my own heart and soul.  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Outing the writer in me

I have never blogged (about anything) before, but I have to say that I am finding the experience of creating this blog not only tremendously liberating, but also stimulating.  It is liberating in that I am describing events and giving voice to thoughts and emotions that, for the most part, I have never shared with anyone else, and  that have been repressed and a source of secret shame and self-loathing for most of my life. I have finally given myself permission to express these thoughts, to relive these emotions, to describe these experiences, and I find this process not only liberating, but also affirming.

It is also stimulating, in that I am writing about these things for the first time in my life.  I feel that to write something is to affirm and give form, shape and texture to a memory, a feeling, a thought, then hold these up to the light and analyze and perhaps even admire them.  This process stimulates the creative juices in me and makes me feel like I am getting in touch with an integral part of who I am – not just my gay identity, but also that part of me that is a writer.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a writer.  I remember writing my first book – a mystery inspired by The Hardy Boys – when I was in third grade.  A couple of years later, I wrote a collection of short stories for a “gifted” class I was in.  (Thrown away years ago.)  But it was when I was in high school that I did most of my writing and seriously considered majoring in creative writing once I went off to college.  (How I wish I still had the journals that I kept when I was 14-15-16 years old!  They would have offered such a window of understanding into the youth I was.)

But this passion for writing died within me as I advanced in my teenage years.  Like other aspects of what I assume to be my true self, this interest in self-expression was too closely intertwined with that other aspect of my real self that I wanted desperately to deny and repress – my gay self.  In repressing my homosexuality, I feel I also repressed other parts of my true self that might have affirmed or risked exposure of my sexual identity.

I guess this is what I have tried to express in other posts:  This journey for me right now is not just about my SSA.  It is also – particularly because of the added trauma of child abuse – an effort to recover my lost self that I believe retreated deep inside me when I was a small child in order to protect itself from abuse, then was further repressed during what is often a great awakening in a boy’s life:  puberty and its aftermath. 

So now, I am outing the writer in me.  He may not be a very good writer, but he is a part of me – the authentic, real me, and I welcome his coming.  I am also finding, parenthetically, that as I have begun to seriously engage in releasing and giving voice to repressed memories and feelings, that other doors to the chambers of my memory are opening, and I am remembering more from my childhood.  This is tremendously comforting to me.

So stay tuned everybody.  There are a LOT more posts to come!

We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end,
we become disguised to ourselves.
-- Francois, duc de La Rochefoucauld, (1613-1680)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Child Abuse, Identity and SSA

I have decided that before I write about anything else about me and my past and how I became the person I am today, I need to first of all write, at least a little, about what I went through as a child.  I feel this relates directly, for several reasons, to my SSA and what I am going through right now. 

I was physically, verbally and emotionally abused as a boy, principally by my mother.  She could be a very violent person, and was addicted to prescription “water pills” (to control weight, i.e., amphetamines) as well as sleeping pills (barbiturates).  This, combined with her disposition, which was distant and brooding at the best of times and downright violent at the worst of times, made for a pretty scary childhood. 

Nevertheless, ours was a “respectable” family (not LDS, by the way), and to most people, we probably appeared to be your normal middle-class family, active in our church and community.  As I was growing up, I now know that I accepted what happened inside the walls of our home as “normal.”  At least it was my “normal” in the sense that this is the way life was and there was nothing I could do to change it.  This was before the days of awareness about abuse.  Back then, it was never discussed:  I was heartbroken to learn only recently that one of my uncles knew about the abuse, but never did anything to stop it.  That was our family’s business.

Which brings me to my father.  He traveled a lot with his work and was rarely home.  When he was home, he was not a terribly involved father.  I have very few memories of him from when I was a child, and his being gone was just another part of my “normal.”  It was only when I became an adult that I realized that he had known about the abuse, but did nothing to stop it.  What’s worse, he later denied that he had known anything about it, even after being confronted with my testimony as well as that of my brothers and sisters.  I came to feel that, in a very real sense, he had abandoned me to my mother’s abuse.

Later, my parents divorced, and I was left with my mother (!) as I assumed the role of father in our household.  In later years, I came to see this as yet another abandonment by my father.

Let me interject at this point that this post is not about abuse and the feelings I should or should not have toward my parents or a number of other very complicated issues.  (It has driven me to distraction at times when well-meaning people who don’t have a clue what they are talking about have heard some of this story and have said that I need to “forgive” my parents and “apply the Atonement.”  The issues are simply far more complicated that these simplistic answers imply.)

Rather, this post is intended to be about what happened to me as a child, a pre-adolescent and a teen as a result of my mother’s abuse and my father’s abandonment.  It is also intended to explore (i) how these conditions of my childhood may have contributed to my SSA and my response to it as a teenager, and (ii) how those conditions impact what I am doing right now, writing entries in this blog and exploring my SSA more openly than I ever have in my entire life.

I have been spending a lot of my adulthood trying to understand what happened to me as a child.  I have blocked out most memory of my childhood and have to rely on other family members for memories.  But I remember enough and have come to understand that I adopted a lot of survival mechanisms as a very young child.  My brother described one of them:  to him, I had decided to be as good as I possibly could so that I could avoid further abuse.  My older siblings acted out.  I was the good little boy.

This has relevance for me today because I feel like I lost touch – because of dissociation, a desire to protect my true self, and other psychological phenomena - with who I really am while I was still a young child.  Then, when I went through puberty and it became pretty clear I was more attracted to boys than to girls, I had even more reason to repress, repress, REPRESS.

The result is that I feel like I have spent most of my life repressing who I *really* am.  It seemed far too dangerous to let people see the real me; instead, I gave them what I thought they wanted to see.  Thus, my current desire to explore my SSA more deeply than I ever have before is not just about sexuality; it really is about a desire to discover and affirm my true identity.  Of course, my whole life hasn’t been a lie; but it hasn’t exactly been the truth, either.  And it is the truth that makes us free, right?

On other level, it is entirely possible (this is being said with tongue in cheek) that the combined facts of (i) my mother beating the hell out of me throughout most of my childhood, and (ii) my father being distant and uninvolved in my childhood life and totally gone as I approached and went through puberty and its aftermath – that these conditions became factors in how I eventually reacted to the SSA that emerged as I went through puberty.  (I have never talked to a counselor / therapist about homosexuality.  The only person I have ever talked to about it prior to starting this blog was my wife.  Oh, just a minute, I did talk to a bishop once – but that is a subject for another post.)

            (May I just say, parenthetically, that it has really p**sed me off that there is virtually NO literature about the affects of physically abuse mothers on their sons.  It seems to be all about (i) abusive fathers, (ii) abused daughters, and (iii) alcoholic mothers.)

So, I guess what I think I am saying is that I think the abuse and abandonment I experienced as a child (i) caused me to adopt a false persona as a very young child that became hard as steel once I realized I was attracted to men, and (ii) affected very deeply - in ways I can only surmise – the manner in which I reacted to my emerging homosexuality.

My principal task now as I see it is to continue deconstruction of the false persona so that I can continue to discover and affirm who I really am – not just my sexuality, but my entire being.  That’s really what this blog is all about.

My Wife and President Packer

Mister Curie, in a comment to this post, asked me if I have informed my wife and my children about my same-sex attraction.  This is a question that has a very complicated answer, one that I intend to address more fully in future posts.  However, I’ll start by saying that I have not told my children, nor do I intend to for the foreseeable future.  I am, however, considering “coming out” to my two sisters. 

As to my wife, I told her before we got married that I had struggled with an attraction to men.  The subject never came up between us again until about 10 years later, when she asked me one day if I had ever looked at pornography on the internet.  I replied that I had – and that it was gay pornography (a topic for yet another post).  This resulted in a difficult period in our marriage, but we came through it, after I had sworn off repeating that mistake.

The past couple of years had been an extremely difficult period in our marriage for reasons having nothing to do with my same-sex attraction.  It was in this environment that we headed into General Conference weekend – you know, the one with the BKP talk.  In the ensuing days, I followed with intense interest the articles in the local newspaper and postings on various blogs like By Common Consent. I have already written in my inaugural post about my (internal) reaction to President Packer’s remarks. 

My wife didn’t say much about the matter until after the big demonstration around Temple Square.  To her, the protest seemed to be directed against Elder Packer’s comments about gay marriage, and she couldn’t understand why gays couldn’t just respect the Church’s position on this. 

I remember standing in the kitchen talking with her about it one evening a few days later.  I said that I thought that it went beyond this; that what people had found so hurtful were BKP’s comments about the orientation itself being unnatural and evil.  Suddenly, she set down the pot she had been holding and looked at me.  The expression on her face was one of sudden insight and compassion.  I wish I could remember her exact words to me at that point, but there were something like this:  “Is this painful for you, because of your attraction to men?” 

It was like a log jam burst inside of me.  I walked over to her, wrapped my arms around her and proceeded to cry like a baby.  “Yes,” I replied through tears.  “I am tired of feeling ashamed and dirty and useless because of this.  I didn’t choose this!  And President Packer was wrong!  His words did not echo the Church’s position.  But beyond all that, I have decided that I am accepting this about myself and not going to beat myself over the head about it anymore.”  “But,” I added, “I want you to know that I have made my choice, and I chose you.”

I meant what I said, both about accepting myself and about having made my choice.  I love my wife and recognize how incredibly blessed I am to be married to her.  This blog, however, is a big part of me accepting myself, which I view as a process that will take some time.  After all, I’ve been in the closet all my life, repressing, squelching, barely breathing at times.  Now, I am taking some big gulps of air, and boy does it feel good!

Hidden Away

I love the new Josh Groban song, Hidden Away. I am wondering whether anyone else out there can relate in a special way to these lyrics from the song:

You’re a wonder, how bright you shine
A flickering candle in a short lifetime
A secret dreamer that never shows
If no one sees you then nobody knows
And all these words you were meant to say
Held in silence day after day …
Please don't keep them
Hidden Away ...


Why "Jeune Homme nu assis"?

I chose to use the image of the painting, Jeune Homme nu assis au bord de la mer (Hippolyte Flandrin) on my blog because I have loved it ever since I became aware of it while on my mission in Europe, though I have not seen the original, which is in the Louvre in Paris. 

I had not been familiar with the painting, but it evoked strong feelings in me at the time that coincided with some of the feelings I describe in my inaugural post and upon which I will elaborate in subsequent posts ~ feelings of passion, freedom and of being myself on the one hand, and peace, purity and beauty on the other. 

While on my mission, I pasted a postcard of the painting in my journal. Years later, in a paroxysm of shame, self-loathing, and paranoia, I removed it, along with a dozen or so pages describing my most intimate feelings during those weeks that I flirted with embracing the “real me.” (After all, what would my children and/or my wife think if they ever read passages of my journal in which I came the closest to revealing my deepest, innermost thoughts concerning my same-sex attraction?) 

I deeply regret now that I don’t have those pages, that I tried to erase that period of my mission and my life.  I wish I had those pages from my journal to read and ponder over. But this painting evokes that period of my life when I think I came closest to accepting myself and affirming my same-sex attraction.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

His eyes ...

For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid to look another man – especially a good-looking one - in the eyes for fear of what he might see in mine.  There was always the worry about whether they might see through my mask, whether they could tell I am attracted to men.  Or if my gaze lingered too long, would they think I am coming on to them?

The result?  I have gone through my adult life not making any meaningful eye contact with men, lowering my eyes, avoiding eye contact, being ashamed, constantly on guard, feeling less of a man, less of a person.  I am tired of feeling ashamed!  I hate how this has made me feel for longer than I want to think about.

So, as part of my effort to embrace who I am, I have made a conscious effort to stop doing that. 

Now, for example, when I go into the dry cleaners, I make direct eye contact with the cute young guy at the register.  I am friendly.  He smiles.  I smile back.  I feel like a person – a person I can like.  Same with the good-looking guy at the grocery store check-out, etc.  And of course, I’m not talking lascivious looks or anything like that, but just making eye contact and not being afraid, not being ashamed, not being paranoid.  Affirming who I am.

Can anyone out there relate to this, or am I just weird?

Why "Invictus Pilgrim"?

I chose my online identifier and the title of my blog for several reasons. First, “Invictus” is one of my favorite poems, and its meaning has grown for me recently.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

The title of the poem means “Unconquered” in Latin.  It was written by 19th century poet William Ernest Henley as a demonstration of his resilience following the amputation of his foot due to tubercular infection when he was 25. 

Henley was a famous atheist, and Mormon apostle Orson F. Whitney wrote a retort to the poem which, President Gordon B. Hinckley commented, “[missed] the point of the original poem, that each individual gets to decide how to respond to the things he can't control in this life.”  In his 2000 First Presidency Christmas Devotional address, President Hinckley said of Invictus, “It is a great poem. It places upon the individual the responsibility for what he does with his life. Through these many years, when I have been faced with difficult choices I have repeated these stirring words.”

Now, I am at a point in my life when I finally have to take responsibility for affirming an essential part of who I am.  I am a son of God.  I have an “unconquerable soul” and I must now decide, in President Hinckley’s words, how to respond to this thing I can’t control:  the presence in my life of this orientation (the inception of which was beyond my control).  I have made that decision.  I have decided to embrace it because I have come to accept that to deny and repress this fundamental aspect of my identity any longer renders me a cipher.

In making this decision, in taking this responsibility, I am very much a pilgrim on a journey.  I don’t know what the destination is.  That’s not really important to me right now.  What is important is the journey, and that I have begun.

Friday, October 22, 2010

My inaugural post: I had a dream

Okay, here goes … I am taking a huge step.  This is my first post anywhere about my SGA.  But when I read this post on Beck's blog, I felt I had to.  I have weighed very carefully whether to share the experience described below, but in the end, I feel compelled to do so.

A bit of background.  I am Mormon, I am married, and I have struggled with an attraction to men all my life.  I told my wife about this before we got married, believing that I had to be honest with her.  “It” then went into deep background.  “It” was and has always been there, but pushed way, way back into the closet.

Fast-forwarding, something happened to me when I heard President Packer’s talk a few weeks ago.  Rather than pushing “it” even further away, however, I did just the opposite:  His comments made me want to reach way back in the closet and embrace my same gender attraction.   I felt that President Packer was wrong in what he said, and subsequent events bolstered that belief.  I decided that I was going to try to affirm who I was and am, even if to no one but myself. 

This began a process of trying to discover who the man is who has been hiding behind his extremely carefully maintained mask (false persona) all these years.  This exploratory process led me online to a new world of blogs, including Beck's, and prompted me to start my own blog.

More background:  I am a convert to the Church, joining shortly after I had graduated from college.  Among other things, I felt the Church offered me a “way out” of the struggles with SGA – a path.  I gained a solid testimony of the Church; I was old enough to pass on a mission, but wanted to go.  So I went to Europe.  The first four months were fine, but then I was transferred to the largest city in our mission, and temptations seemed to come at me from everywhere.  Gorgeous men who attended our English class.  Gorgeous men on the street.  Sensuality that was palpable.  An older male member of the Church who befriended me.  I knew he was probably gay, but I didn’t care.  Another older male member, also probably gay, who seemed to see right through my mask. For the first time since joining the Church, I allowed the genie to escape from the bottle and allowed myself to contemplate who I really was.  It was exhilarating, but it was also frightening – particularly since I was a missionary.

It was after struggling with these thoughts and emotions that swirled around me for a number of weeks that I had a dream that was unlike any dream I have ever had, then or since.  It was so palpable, so real, so revelatory.  Without going into all the details, I dreamt that I saw a person in a large room filled with people dressed in white.  His presence seemed to tower over the others.  As I made my way to the front of the room, my eyes became locked with His and He beckoned me to come to Him, to take His hand and embrace Him.  As soon as I did so, we were transported, just the two of us, to another place, where we sat and talked about my fears and joys, the deepest corners of my soul – and my ultimate secret.  My gaze never left His countenance, and in His beautiful eyes, I saw love such as I had never before felt.  In those eyes, I saw no judgment, no guile; only perfect, total understanding.  His very countenance radiated such intense purity that I felt as if I would faint from bathing in such exquisite peace and love.  In this setting, enveloped in love and light and truth, He told me that it was ok – my “attraction” – and that He loved me just the way I was.  And that was the message I woke up with.

Although I have shared bits of this dream with others, I had never confided the core of the experience – not even to my journal – that the Lord loved me for who I AM.  Shortly after this experience, I was transferred, and I continued to struggle, to one degree or another, for the rest of my mission, then beyond.  I ultimately made the decision to embrace marriage and family and have not regretted that choice ~ but the struggle continued in the quiet chambers of my inner soul, behind the fa├žade, encased in the false persona.

Which brings me back to President Packer’s talk.  I rejected what he said because it was so contrary to this experience I had had on my mission.  Acting on an attraction may be one thing; but I knew that being the way I was and am is ok with the Lord.  As I have contemplated many things these past few weeks, the thought has occurred to me:  Have you ever stopped to think that one of the most sublime spiritual experiences you have ever had centered on your attraction to men? What should this tell me?

Well, I’m not sure of all that this should tell me, but I know this:  I love my wife and my children dearly and cherish our family; but I feel I have reached a point in my life where I can no longer reject and repress one of the most defining elements of who and what I am as a human being. 

Thus, the journey has, ever so tentatively, frighteningly, exhilaratingly, begun …