Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New Identity - Gay and ?: Recovering My Self

How does one go about recovering a sense of identity that was (i) hidden as a child because of child abuse, (ii) repressed further as an adolescent because of the discovery he is homosexual, (iii) largely (i.e., that which was left by this point) discarded and abandoned when he joined the church, and (iv) then further repressed and suppressed upon getting married?   

I feel this is the challenge before me.  Affirming my gay-ness is a huge step forward, and I am anxious to explore this new gay world that I never before had the courage to investigate. 

But closely connected to this “coming out of the closet” is an effort to reclaim all those bits of me that I have sensed are there, but are either lost to conscious knowledge or, because of shame and expedience, are so afraid to come out that I feel it will take a great deal of effort, affirmation and courage to reclaim them. 

This past week, I had an existential moment which clearly showed to me just how out of touch with my Self that I am.  Someone asked me to compile a list of my 10 favorite movies.  Simple, right?  However, as I started the process, I literally froze up as I realized that I had been in such pathological control of my false persona that I had not even allowed my real self to “like” anything (i.e., independent of the false persona’s needs).  Result:  not only was I not able to compile the list, but I was so overcome with fear and anxiety that I had to let go of this simple task, unable to complete it.

I can hear some of you out there saying I probably need a good therapist.  Who couldn’t use a good therapist?  But counseling costs money, and that is a commodity in short supply these days.  So, I resort to doing it on my own, with the help of, among other things, this blog and my online support community.

I have also turned to my sisters.  I still have not heard back from my older sister, and I am  prepared for the likelihood, because of her ghosts that haunt her from her own childhood, that she will not be willing to “go there,” even if it would help me.   

My younger sister, however, has proved to be immensely supportive.  As part of the effort to recover my identity, I have asked her to describe the young man I once was.  Her response somewhat surprised me but was – as hoped – revelatory.  I am sharing some of her thoughts as part of my effort to live “out loud”, to affirm the secret parts of me that feel either afraid or incapable of coming out of the closet with me.

I just read some parts of your blog and was so touched by the honesty behind the words and images that express who you are. 

I feel as if I am rediscovering you, yet at the same time as if I am getting reacquainted with a brother I had lost touch with years ago. You know, this person is the one I've always held in my heart: you whom you are revealing is not anyone new to me.

I've always known who you are: your delicate and refined elegance and passion, your profound intelligence and wisdom, your deep admiration and appreciation of beauty. 

This is the brother I have always loved. It is the one I feared losing all those years ago when you wrote me a letter, telling me you had joined the LDS church. I felt that I was going to lose you, but I never felt that I lost knowing who you truly were. You may have never known that deep sense of loss that I felt. I hope that this doesn't surprise or shock you.

After you joined the church, I felt as if I was watching you disappear, slowly ... with fragments of you disintegrating beyond my reach. You know the sensation of what you see in movies: when someone is falling and someone is reaching their hands to catch that person ... like off of a cliff and then the hands join, but the clutch weakens .... and the person above the great "vide" disappears. 

This is how I felt when I received your letter at school all those years ago.   I stood there shaking as I read your letter with tears running down my face ... it was if you had announced to me that you had died. I felt that I had lost you forever.  The letter was so serious and severe. You had gone from being so happy, smiling, understanding and LOVING to someone so cold, intolerant and always frowning ... At least that was what I perceived.

The memories I have of you from my childhood and youth are loving and fun ones:  walking with you in the snow with my hands in the muffler that you had bought for me. Looking up at you smiling and talking with me about I don't know what... but loving to be with you. I remember laughing, remember you smiling.

I remember riding in your chic car and singing, eating, talking and laughing.  Watching you laugh when I’d tell a joke.  Hanging out at your place when home from school, listening to music and dancing and you singing, or watching you read and just hanging out admiring your intelligence and zen-ness ... all so loving and peaceful

When I visited you in later years [i.e., after marriage and the arrival of children], I felt as if your life had been sucked out of you. You always looked unhappy. I remember saying something about this to my husband the last time we were there, which has now been some time.  

I felt that for someone supposedly so happy with church and family, you seemed so miserable.

In what had once been a joyous face full of laughter, I now saw Mom’s pout. Instead of the brother with whom I always was openly affectionate and loving, I now saw someone who couldn't sign letters or tell me that he loved me ... would simply give me a cold pat hug ... I was devastated. I hope you don't mind the sincerity in my words.

This is also healing for me because I honestly felt that you had died all those years ago when you joined the church.

So, this brother I am reconnecting with today, who loves his body and is accepting of affection, who doubts and questions, who expresses his love and feelings, who expresses his creativity with pictures and words ... who weaves in humor and jokes .... this is my brother I saw disappearing … The one I’ve always held in my heart.

I wasn't going to do a post today.  I know I need to slow down, and I'm going to.  I think starting today, I'll go every other day or so.  But I felt like I wanted to get this out there. 

Meanwhile, every day continues to be a journey.  I'm learning, feeling, growing ... And I'm working on that list of favorite movies.


  1. Wow! With a sister like that, you're going to be in good hands. I'm shocked at how touched I was when reading that. It echoed much of what I heard coming form my sisters and mom. (My sisters and mom were my therapists.)

    My mom had started to notice that I was deeply unhappy and depressed kid when I hit puberty. But at the time none of us knew what it was. And she didn't know what to do about it as she was struggling with her own severe depression as well. We were a deeply dysfunctional family with all of the severe, emotional, physical and spiritual abuse going on. Thank god it wasn't sexual abuse. But the other three types of abuse did accomplish a mild form of sexual abuse in covert way. Unfortunately, however, both my parents had been victims of sexual abuse.

    Fast forward 30 years and here we are. Piecing together the past, healing old wounds, discovering who we are and learning to love again.

    My youngest sister is publishing her memoirs of her journey out of self harm and depression. My other sister is a writer too and channels that past in some of the most amazingly creative story telling. My mom has helped thousands of people over the years as a life coach. I wouldn't have made it where I am today with out them.

    Although, we grew up in the church, we have all independently made our own paths out of it. I'm going to stop short of suggesting what you do about the church because that is 100% personal. I know what I would like to say but I really do waffle on it a lot. I do see many people who can make it work, but only if they step outside the LDS culture and remake that belief for themselves.

    I'm sobbing all over the place trying to write this. Despite how far along I think I am on my journey, or that I think I've completed it, there will be someone who comes along and pokes me and reminds me that I'm still not there yet. As long as I'm alive, the journey will continue.

  2. TGD - I'm sorry I poked you. But I want to tell you how much it means to me that you have felt to share the things you have. It sounds like we have a fair bit in common, especially in terms of a dysfunctional family background - something I will have to write more about later, because it is a key factor in the man I became - and the boy I lost.

    In terms of the church and it being 100% personal - isn't everything we share here 100% personal? :) My journey very much includes re-evaluating my relationship with the church. I am still so very new to all of this, but one thing I have sensed in the (comparatively) little reading I've been able to do out there in MoHo land is that there is a wide spectrum of approaches, attitudes and experiences, but yet a common thread running through all: I do not know all things, but I know that God loves his sons and daughters - even the gay ones; maybe even especially the gay ones. :)

    Have a great day!

  3. Oh, and yes, my sister is pretty amazing!

  4. Not being able to make a list of favorite movies is a real clue to personal fragmentation. Here's an idea: start by making five or ten such lists under different categories: "best gay movies," "comedies," "great universal themes," "guilty pleasures," "silly but fun," "movies I could say I like in front of Mormons," etc. Be sure to make enough categories to cover all the splintered areas of your personality. Then skim the top one or two off the top of the lists and come up with ten or so favorites. (I wouldn't rank these top picks because they will be so different from each other in terms of genre.) The lists you create will tell you a lot about yourself. You might need to watch a bunch more gay-themed movies in order to do this little exercise. :- )

    Just for fun, I'm going to throw a few of my favorite movies at you. Check them out. They are not all gay themed, but they have a sensibility that you may recognize. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Hair (1979), Beautiful Thing (1996), Were the World Mine (2008).

    I'm not a fan of Latter Days (2003) which, to my eye, is almost a burlesque. I'm not even sure why the movie annoyed me as much as it did. However, I could be in the minority on this one. I know lots of mohos who love it. Same goes for Brokeback Mountain (2005), which I see as a Harlequin romance with a sex change.

    I the gay category, I also recommend My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), but I'm guessing it might be a bit too gritty for your tastes. There's also The Wedding Banquet (1993) and The Sum of Us (1994), which are comedies. From kind of a historical point of view, there's Making Love (1982), a movie that seems very dated right now for everyone except Mormons. :- )

    I know this wasn't a movie post, so sorry from the diversion. Maybe you can do a post about movies in the future.

  5. MoHoHawaii - What can I say? "Thanks" seems kind of trite. But - THANK YOU - for your insights and your suggestions. I have been hoping that someone would make some suggestions of movies that are gay-themed, and I also appreciate the idea of making lists. Your comments were not a diversion, but hit the nail on the head. I actually am planning to do a post tomorrow about a movie. I know I said I was going to slow down, but its already written. What can I say? Life does that to a person.

  6. That's a beautiful letter, and I've had similar responses from just a few people in my life. It's nice to start rediscovering your lost self and integrating yourself back together. Keep at it.

  7. I'm impressed with your sister. She really has some unbelievable insight. I'd be afraid to ask my own sister if she has felt the same way.

    Did you have any perception of this change...the coldness, the "life" being sucked out of you?

    You seriously make me wonder if something like this has happened to many of us without us perceiving it. So interesting.

  8. Hey Joe - My sister is indeed an incredible person. I'm very fortunate.

    As to the perception of change, I suppose the answer to that is, in a way, yes. I sensed some of this even while on my mission, which I have written about (see Part 4). I sensed a great unhappiness in myself ... but, you know, the "path" is there and it is our calling to tread upon it. In other words, buck up and get on with it. Even though you're unhappy, this is what being a member of the church is all about. (That isn't intended to be funny, though I acknowledge the irony.)

    I also attributed my unhappiness to the legacy of child abuse, to not liking where we lived, to simply being an "adult child."

    It is only in hindsight that I see - clearly - how the repression of my sexual orientation, along with other elements of my identity, was perhaps at the core of this unhappiness. I remember going for counseling once some years ago concerning the legacy of child abuse, and I commented to the therapist that I couldn't go on the way I was. He, very astutely, replied, "No, you couldn't go on the way you weren't."

  9. Invictus, you have the support that is helping you to gain confidence and now you seem ready to begin the baby steps! It is so great to read about your relationship with your sister! You two are lucky to have each other!

    Have you thought about how far you've come over the past months? You are moving forward in the present and into the future with each acknowledgement and recognition of the past. They seem to go hand-in-hand: the more you accept about yourself and openly accept this and "release" it, the more you are free and confident to move ahead on your path.

    MoHoHawaii: I like your advice about movie lists and the recommendations that you gave. Yet, with the movie lists, what do you think about the compartmentalization: why is that?

    TGD: Thanks so much for all that you shared. I was really moved by what you talked about: your own experience and your sisters and mothers. Your candid honesty is profound! Thank you!

    And Invictus, I love what your counselor said and concur but would only change the verb tense: "You can't go on the way you are not".

    Loving hugs ( )

  10. That is really some interesting insight from your sister. I was born and raised Mormon, but my wife is a convert, and her family has said similar things about her personality changing when she converted. We have pretty much left the church now, not initially over things related to homosexuality, but we find the world to be a much more interesting and beautiful place than we saw it as believing Mormons.

  11. I think the best, most insightful thing I've read all week is "I had been in such pathological control of my false persona that I had not even allowed my real self to “like” anything (i.e., independent of the false persona’s needs)."

    I wish I'd had that sentence 5 years ago when I was just getting divorced, leaving the LDS faith, meeting new people and trying to develop "likes" that had long stood dormant... I can relate so well.

    I gather from your sister's letter that you have a personality to go back to or at least a vague memory of who you were before. Having been born and raised in the church I never had that really. Every decision point in my life was colored with the need to establish the proper and worthy persona.

    Still it has been both fun and frustrating discovering who that/this person is. Frankly, just like your sister appreciates the real you, I like the real me much better than the straight, Peter Priesthood, white shirt wearing bishop wanna-be.

    How fortunate you are to have that sister! I'd love to have a sibling write me a letter like that!

  12. Hi - I so appreciate your comment and can relate to what you have written, particularly re the Peter-Priesthood bishop wanna-be. :)

    Yes, I am extremely fortunate to have my baby sister. Right now, she is my touchstone, the person who is in the best position to help me back, at least to before I joined the church. I'll have to go the rest of the way on my own (through child abuse trauma, etc.), but I am so thankful she is there for me!sf

    I will be writing more about this stuff in the coming week ...

  13. Just a note regarding the Peter Priesthood thing... Early on in my coming out to my ex-wife and losing faith in the church we were trying to hold the family together so I focused on my time and quality of time with the kids. At one point my ex even admitted that I was a better husband and father than I had been before. So I asked her, "What would you rather have? A husband who is a good father and spends all his free time with them or a bishop for a husband who is a Peter Priesthood but never at home? With a pause she replied, "The bishop!" I knew it was over right then.

  14. Thank you for sharing that. It touched me deeply.