This is one of the most important posts I have written since starting my blog. I have had another major realization this past week that I think will ultimately be life-changing.
About a week ago, I wrote that “coming out” (to the extent I have) had helped me to realize that my identity has been fragmented for a very long time. I have sensed that this fragmentation has been caused by several factors, among which were joining the church and getting married.
In that post, I included passages from e-mails that I had recently received from my sister, describing how she felt I changed when I joined the church. In a follow-up e-mail, my sister wrote even more poignantly and directly about her perception of what happened to me at that time:
Losing you [when you joined the church] was like a guillotine blade that beheaded the loving richness I had in my life. [After you joined the church] I saw you withdraw from life. The relationship between your withdrawal from life and your involvement in the church appeared to be proportionally related: the more you became fervent about the church, the more withdrawn and less talkative and sadder you became.
It was surely due to the instinct for survival that you beheaded your true self, or tucked him away under the folds of your memory and heart. In order to survive and achieve a happy life that the church promised to be yours after so much trauma, guilt, shame and lack of love [in my childhood and youth], you had to get rid of your Self. As you couldn't actually kill that self, you had to pretend that it never existed.
My sister’s very astute perceptions validated very strongly what I already knew. I sensed this even while on my mission. But this realization was locked away a long time ago and frankly took a back seat to what I want to write about today. For, the realization that came to me this past week concerned not what joining the church had done to my sense of self, but rather the consequences that flowed from my decision to reject my gayness and abandon much of my old self when I got married.
I use the term “reject” deliberately. It was – paradoxically enough – while on my mission that, for the first time in my life, I came the closest to truly accepting my gay identity and choosing to live life as a gay man. I also felt that, toward the end of my mission, I was starting to recover some of who I was before I joined the church.
Then I came home and embarked upon an extremely tumultuous “courtship” with the woman who became my wife. One of the reasons for the tumult was my struggle over what to do with my life: gay or straight; active Mormon or leave the church; married or not married?
Ultimately, I made my choice: heterosexual; married; Mormon. I knew I was gay; my wife knew (before our wedding) of my “struggles” involving same sex attraction. However, in getting married (and buying into everything that went along with that) I felt that I was making the “righteous” choice, i.e., the choice sanctioned by God and his church. I would get married because it was the “right thing to do”; and, similarly, I felt I could reject my gayness and repress any homosexual inclinations because that, too, was the “right” thing to do. I had decided that I wanted to, and could be able to, function as a righteous heterosexual priesthood holder should.
I did not then realize the toll that this choice would exact upon me and – ultimately – upon my wife as well as my children.
I use the word “toll” deliberately, in the sense of one of its definitions: “a grievous or ruinous price.” Only now, in hindsight and after finally accepting who I am, am I beginning to understand the nature and extent of this price – the price I paid to deny and betray my true sexual identity, and the price I paid upon abandoning many aspects of my identity.
In turning away from my true sexual identity, I think – subconsciously – that my gay self felt that it had been betrayed. It had emerged to some degree on my mission, but now it was to be repressed and discarded, not only temporarily, but forever. But one cannot deny the essence of who one is and remain healthy, mentally, emotionally and even physically. Perhaps for a time; but not, I have learned, in the long run ...
(To be continued …)