Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Grateful for Years in the Closet?

I have forced myself to write this post as a companion piece to the one I posted the day before Thanksgiving:  Grateful to be Gay?.

I’m going to be honest.  There is a part of me that deeply regrets not coming out before I was married, or at least not too far into my marriage. 

But let’s face it.  It’s hard on the psyche to accuse oneself of a betrayal of a large swath of one’s adult life.

As I have been contemplating this recently, I have thought back over the years of my marriage and tried to see and feel where I was at various points along the journey that has brought me to where I am today.  As I have done so, various “lessons” have come into my mind.

First lesson:  I wasn’t prepared to live life as a gay man when I decided to get married. 

I was far too far into the closet and into my Mormon religion in order to take that step at that time.  In addition, then was then and now is now.  It was far safer to get married then.  I have written elsewhere that I made a deliberate choice to get married, even though I knew I was attracted to men.  I have also written that I told my wife about this attraction before we got married.  But I didn’t really think of myself as “gay” then, just someone who was very attracted to men.  Despite flirting with the idea of coming out of the closet while on my mission, I really had bought into the Church’s teaching that I could be happy living in a heterosexual marriage and that I could control my attraction and be a better person because of these choices.

Second Lesson:  Though in a sense I was living a lie, I couldn’t see it at the time.

As I have written elsewhere, most of my life had been spent trying to please other people and to hide the real me (which was not limited to just the gay me).  In a very real way, joining the Mormon Church facilitated this process (i.e., pleasing other people and hiding the real me) and gave me the ultimate reward for doing so:  eternal salvation.  So, psychologically, I had a vested interest in “toeing the line,” i.e., living the “priesthood path.”

I also didn’t really know who I was.  Again, I had spent so much of my life with my false persona, I actually thought my false persona was the real me.  Though I had some moments of connection on my mission, I had grown and continued to grow so out of touch with my real self that I could not possibly have allowed myself to come out at that period in my life.

As to my attraction to men, this turned inward (i.e., once I was married) as I fantasized about men and sought relief and “fulfillment” through masturbation.  It was tremendously emotionally unhealthful (in the sense that it was closeted, secretive, inward and ultimately unfulfilling), but it was, in a very real sense, a survival technique.  Just like I had learned survival techniques in my abusive childhood, I now channeled my secret sexual orientation into my private, hidden world, which helped me to cope in the “real” world of heterosexual marriage and the “priesthood path.”

Third Lesson:  Being married and having children forced out issues stemming back to childhood abuse and abandonment.

This statement perhaps sounds bad, but it isn’t.  As astonishing as it may sound, I did not come to grips with my mother’s abuse and father’s abandonment until almost 10 years into my marriage.  I had trained myself so well to absolve my parents of any guilt that it took an almost complete breakdown for me to finally see what for so long I had tried to hide from myself.

I never would have reached that point, I don’t think, but for the fact that my “buttons” were constantly being pushed, day in and day out, by the demands of marriage and parenthood.  The situations I found myself in as an adult started the playing of “tapes” from deep within me, ghostly situations from my own childhood that were buried so deeply in my subconscious that I could not recognize what was going on.

I finally saw that I had “excused” both of my parents for what they had done to me, that I had unwittingly taken on the blame for their abuse and abandonment (as is common in abused children) so that I could preserve the image of doting parents in my mind.  (It is too psychologically damaging for abused children to see their parents, the persons who are supposed to love, nurture and protect them, as they really are.)

I could write much more about this, but it would be off-topic.  The principal point is that my breakdown, recognition of the abuse and the subsequent counseling I went through helped me to crack – for the first time in my adult life – the false persona that had encased me for so many years.

Fourth Lesson:  Even though my false persona had finally been cracked, I continued to have low self-esteem and poor self-knowledge.

I’ll be honest.  For most of my marriage, I have been co-dependent with my wife.  I felt like I needed her, and the thought of separation and divorce scared the hell out of me.  I was willing to go to great lengths to preserve our marriage, and I did so.  I was not emotionally healthy enough to assert myself, to feel good about myself as a heterosexual, let along as a homosexual.

Fifth Lesson:  The serious marital problems that my wife and I have had during the past several years prepared me for where I am today.

The problems that my wife and I have had in our marriage during the past several years forced me to confront half-hidden legacies from my dysfunctional childhood, to face some unpleasant things about both myself and my wife, to go through the counseling I have received, and to break out of co-dependent behavior.  In the process, my knowledge of self greatly increased and my self-esteem was enhanced.  I can clearly see that these challenges prepared the way for me to finally embrace my sexuality.

A major turning point in this regard came this past summer when I had a sort of epiphany in which I suddenly realized that there could and would be life after divorce, if that is what it came to.  In fact, life might even be better.  This experience strengthened me and helped me to move past codependency.  As my more recent therapist told me, “You need to be a position where you can say to your wife, ‘I choose you – not because I need you, but because I want you.’”  My revelatory experience helped me to move past needing to choosing, thus preparing me for the possibility that my wife might not choose me or that, ultimately, I might not choose her.

Sixth Lesson:  My marriage has given me wonderful children.

I laughed out loud when I saw the painting below by Wes Hempel entitled Fatherhood because I recognized so well the look on the man’s face.  I love it!  Though there have been many challenges involved in being a father, I am grateful for my children.  I have wonderful children whom I love, and they love me.  Sometimes, they even like me.  J

I am grateful that recent events in my life have helped me, I think, to see and relate to my children in a healthier way.  I have written particularly about my oldest son in this regard.  And I know intuitively that my relationship with my children will continue to grow more authentic as I grow more authentic.  For too long, our relationships have been governed by external mandates rather than internal, authentic love and caring.  I have already worked to change that and will continue to do so.

Seventh Lesson:  Everything I have gone through in my life has prepared me for this season of my life.

Because I know that I am gay, I suppose it is inevitable that I wonder what my life would have been like had I come out years ago, rather than now.  I particularly regret the passage of my youth, masquerading as a heterosexual, hiding in fear behind a mask.

However, wishing something “don’t make it so”.  And if I were to be honest with myself, as I have tried to be in what I’ve written above, I would admit that I was not in a position – emotionally, psychologically and religiously – to come out before this point in my life.

So, even though a part of me mourns what might have been, an older, wiser part (not the emotional part, and definitely not the sexual part) of me tells me that I should be grateful for the years I spent in the closet.  They prepared me, brought me to a knowledge of myself and gave me my children.

For all of this, I am grateful.  And as part of an ongoing effort to learn to love and forgive and accept myself, I must let go of the regrets, and go forward. 

I’m not so naïve as to think that this will not happen overnight.  But I have begun the journey.


  1. What a great post! But for a small detail here or there, I could have written this. The emotion and motivation behind your choices is real. Some may look on this and wonder how you could have chosen the path you chose, while I look at it through the same time period and wonder, how could you have chosen differently?

    It was a different time and place. You were in a different circumstance. It was what it was. I love the quote that there should be no regrets, just appreciation for the experience.

  2. are you sure you aren't reading my mind or living my life....cuz you are writing me.....

    but i am not seeing nearly as well as you.

  3. Thanks, Beck. As a fellow pilgrim, I value your comments and insights.

  4. Sean, sight is such a funny and fickle thing, don't you think?

    Given the similarity of our experiences, if you ever want to "talk", please feel free to e-mail me at invictus_pilgrim@yahoo.com.

  5. Thanks for this wonderful, insightful, touching post. Like Beck and Sean, I can see some striking similarities between your life and mine.

    The word "authenticity" is thrown around carelessly sometimes. But one thing I gained from reading this post was that my life has been authentic because at each stage it has been a reflection of where I am emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. But as I've been more honest with myself and torn down the barriers between the different parts of myself, the feeling of being a whole, integrated person has been freeing and enlightening (although scary at times). I'm thankful for what I have from each phase of my life, although there are several things I'm glad to leave in the past. It will be interesting to see what's next, since I'm also at the point of a big leap forward.

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Pablo. I really appreciate your thoughts and comments.

    I am particularly intrigued by your thought-provoking comment about tearing down the barriers between the different parts of one's self. I'm going to have to go off and think about that ...

  7. I must say that being in the closet from even myself has spared me undue pain during my more vulnerable years (12-18).

  8. Wow, all I could think while reading this is: Aside from staying married, THIS IS MY STORY! I could have written this (of course, not anywhere as eloquently as you!). In the end, we all have our stories to tell and life has made us who we are today. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself!

  9. It is amazing to see the "progress" that you have made to be able to break down all the issues that you are dealing with now. At times, it may appear like one big blob, but by separating them as you are doing, it seems that you are able to better understand what needs to be addressed and why. Little by little, I am sure that "how" you will need to deal with all of this will come to to you, one by one...