Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Hogmanay!

If everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, then I think there’s an argument that everyone’s at least a wee bit Scottish on New Year’s, which traditionally was a more important holiday in Scotland than Christmas. On this New Year's Eve, I want to take a break from the very serious topics of the last few days and share something a little more lighthearted.

The Scottish Kirk, which viewed Christmas as being a pagan/popish (same thing to them) holiday, caused the celebration of Christmas to be banned for hundreds of years.  Thus, New Year’s Day (similar to what happened in the Soviet Union) became the all-important winter holiday for Scots.  An integral part of the Hogmanay partying, which continues very much today, is to welcome friends and strangers (except for Campbells, who according to my wife’s aunt could never be trusted – Glen Coe and all that; but I have found there are noted exceptions to this rule) with warm hospitality and of course a kiss to wish everyone a Guid New Year. The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note. 

"First footing" (that is, the "first foot" in the house after midnight) is still common in Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house, the first foot should be male, dark (believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep meant trouble) and should bring symbolic coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and whiskey. These days, however, whiskey and perhaps shortbread are the only items still prevalent (and available). (Source: Rampant Scotland  (from which I have copiously copied).

My wife’s family is of relatively recent Scottish descent, and in the early years of our marriage, her extended (non-LDS) family always gathered on New Year’s Day to celebrate, usually with a bottle or two of Scotch in hand.  First-footing (as well as the Highland “Second Sight”) was a custom very much believed in by her family (as were fairies – but not the gay kind), and there was certainly no shortage of shortbread of various shapes, sizes and consistencies – all decadently fattening.  Fortunately, perhaps, there was no loud playing of bagpipe music, though I enjoy some pipers as much as the next person. 

In Scotland, the traditional New Year ceremony of yesteryear would involve people dressing up in the hides of cattle and running around the village being hit by sticks – a version of which my children played at in years past.  The festivities would also include the lighting of bonfires, rolling blazing tar barrels down the hill and tossing torches.  In the Scotland of today, huge fireworks displays are held in Edinburgh and Glasgow, while traditional fire ceremonies take place in the northeastern part of the country.

And, of course, that most traditional of all New Year’s songs, Auld Lang Syne, was written – or rather collected – by the Über-Scotsman, Robert Burns.  He himself said the song was ancient and was told to him by an old Scotsman.  Based on archaic Scots, the poem’s basic message is to remember times and friends gone by.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"A Situation That Defies Our Nature"

Following on yesterday’s post, I have had some private correspondence in the last couple of weeks with a couple of gay men who are each in a mixed-orientation marriage (MOM).  Though not the same age, both men have been married about the same length of time and each has several children ranging in age from about six to young teenager.

After reading these men’s stories, I felt they needed to be told in a forum such as this.  These are more real-life stories of good men who entered into a MOM in good faith, but who have reached the end of their respective ropes.  I have asked both of these men if I could post some of their words here, and each has given their permission.  I wanted them to be able to speak with their own voices.  Each faces monumental challenges, each has become, to one extent or another, disillusioned with the Church (but not, at least in one case, with the Gospel), and each could benefit from counsel offered by you guys (and gals) “out there.”

“The core identity we possess does not change”

The first man I’ll call James.  This is part of what he wrote to me following the series of posts on MOMs a couple of weeks ago:

All the discussion about Moho's in MOM's has left me in deep retrospection.  I do realize that we all have different situations, and one solution may not fit all circumstances.  There is a common undercurrent though, that runs through almost everything I have read.  Without any exception that I can think of, Moho's who have gotten married, and who are still married, find a part of them that wishes it had never happened. 

At its core, we are gay men living in a situation that defies our nature.  Yes we may have a loving and understanding spouse, but we are the other half of the equation that cannot make the whole no matter how hard we try.  We can sacrifice, compromise, work hard, and even have joy and happiness for ourselves and our spouse, but we cannot give all.  That part of us that is gay, that core identity we possess, does not change, and is not satisfied in a heterosexual relationship. 

That brings me to another point.  When I first went through a crisis last year [when I accepted the fact that I am and always will be gay], I emailed Carol Lynn Pearson for her perspective and asked specifically if it was possible or even desirable for a gay man to remain married to a straight spouse.  In her response she told me to "live with as much honesty and integrity as possible."  I thought about that statement as if it were a new found concept.  I felt I finally had the key to my happiness.  It was then I finally internalized, recognized and acknowledged that I was gay, and that it was normal and good and beautiful.  I am so thick-headed to have missed that concept years ago [before I married]. 

This knowledge presents me with a dilemma.  I do want to live with more integrity, or more authentically as I have heard it put more succinctly.  If I am authentic then as a gay man I should not be married, and reason would have it that I should also seek a relationship that will make me whole.  If I am authentic then as a father I cannot abandon my family to whom I am morally and emotionally committed.  This sucks. 

When this whole episode in my life burst open, I felt comfort, for lack of a better term, that I had experienced [as a young man living as a gay man] a somewhat authentic life and authentic love.  At least I knew and had experienced what some could only guess at.  Increasingly, that memory stings me.  I feel like a coward for running back to the Church [after several years of living as a gay man], and running back into the closet because I couldn't handle the truth.  I couldn't face my family … and turn my back on a pioneer heritage that included so much personal sacrifice for the Church.  If they could scratch out a living in desolate Utah, then [I figured] it must be a worthy cause and surely I could make my own sacrifice.  I felt that if I openly came out as gay, then I would negate all my ancestors’ efforts …

My wife did know about my same sex attraction before we married, but it wasn't until last year that I really understood that it was a part of me that was not going to go away, and that pushing it away was killing me.   

I responded to this e-mail (and others) with my own thoughts, but rather than present those here right now, I’d invite those who read this to offer their thoughts and support to this good brother.

“I would rather die.  And so I am dying.”

The second man, I’ll call Scott.  I received the following message from him this week.  (By way of background, he has been seeing a counselor, but is considering switching to someone else, as he finds his present counselor unhelpful.)

I am so fed up, it's unbelievable. There is no simple solution. No single right answer.  I have to answer to so many. A family who needs me, but I am dying emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Though I can pretend!  If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is how to pretend, to be what everyone else needs, to sublimate my own needs/desires/self so that others can have what they need.

I don’t care about the Church any more.  They offer me nothing, but expect me to deny everything about myself.  Yet, when I read the scriptures, they say something entirely different.  When I attend the temple, I get answers I need, not the lame half-answers the Church hands out.

God says one thing... while the Church says something else.

I am not happy in the life they said would bring me happiness. Yet to leave my children, to cause pain to both them and wife - that is something that is not me, not something I would deliberately do, let alone choose to do.  I would rather die. And so I am dying.

I am depressed most of the time. It sucks. I want to be happy. I want to be happy with my kids. I want to be a real person. But it doesn't look like it ever will be in my cards.

Guys (and ladies) out there – as with James, I have told Scott that I would solicit your counsel, support and advice on his behalf, so please comment if you feel so inclined, even if it is just to express your support for this good man.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

To Young Men Only - The Gay Version

A very interesting discussion about mixed-orientation marriages (MOMs) evolved in a series of posts on this blog two weeks ago.  (See here, here and subsequent posts.)  Since that time, I have received several comments and e-mails from young gay Mormons, expressing gratitude for those men who shared their experiences and requesting advice concerning their own situation.  I have thought a lot, over the course of the past two weeks, about these young men.  In so doing, I found my thoughts turning to (yet) an(other) infamous talk given by Boyd K. Packer entitled “To Young Men Only.” 

For many of us older gay Mormon guys, the attitude of the Church toward homosexuality was succinctly stated in this talk, given by Elder Packer in priesthood session of conference in October 1976. (Elder Packer subsequently gave another notorious address to a multi-stake fireside at BYU entitled, “To The One,” which will be the subject of a later post.) This address was subsequently printed in pamphlet form and became the standard reference for many years for bishops in dealing with “worthiness” issues among young men and contained the “party line” with respect to the issues of homosexuality and (among other things) masturbation, both of which were condemned in no uncertain terms. 

Any Mormon man who came of age in the late 70’s through the mid-90’s is probably familiar with this pamphlet, or at least with the principles set forth in the pamphlet.  These principles, along with other Church practices that were intended to “deal” with homosexuality (e.g., reparative therapy and encouraging gay men to marry with the assurance that same-sex attractions would be thereby “cured”) were the frame of reference for many of us when we made the decision to get married and start down the “path.”  As was expressed in the posts and comments a couple of weeks ago, there are many Mormon men who went down that path, only to realize later that it was impossible for them to continue.

Not only were the comments and experiences shared relevant to gay men who are currently in a MOM, but it also became apparent that these comments were relevant to young gay Mormons who are still single but are approaching “marriageable age.”  A couple of these men left comments on my blog concerning the subject of MOMs.  One wrote:  I too am young and single. I agree that these blogs are great resources to those of us who are trying to figure out what being a gay Mormon means for our future. I rarely go on dates for similar reasons (other than lack of interest), but I don't want to develop a serious relationship with a girl because I would feel dishonest about my intentions. I would be pretending to be in love with her while she would just be an experiment to see if I could eventually fall in love. I can see myself married in the future, not because I look forward to or imagine any real relationship with a future wife, but because I miss being in a family and see getting married as the only way to be back in one.  I may eventually marry if I find a girl that I can be completely open with, but for now I am choosing to stay single.”

Another man (who has given me permission to share this) e-mailed me and wrote:  I've only dated one girl in my life … I was hoping desperately that one day I'd wake up and *click* I'd be in love. But that never happened. I loved her, but wasn't "in love" with her. I guess the point in emailing you is to let you know how relevant the MOM discussion has been for me. In that relationship, I was determined to just make it work, because I'd never dated before, and didn't know what a relationship was like. I was disappointed because all I was ever told about how great relationships are, seemed to be false. I felt unauthentic, guilty, ashamed, broken. I wanted to be in love, but I wasn't. My willpower to resist and maintain my identity was slowly sapped away. When we finally broke up, I was broke up, because my identity as a straight guy was shattered. She was the foundation of that facade. (Of course, that wasn't her intention, she just was.)

“Every once in awhile, that little voice sneaks into my brain and tells me that I should give dating girls another try. I could make the relationship work, and eventually marry. It tells me I could be happy, and maybe I would for a short period of time. But I think what makes me gay is, not only am I attracted to men, but my long-term happiness can only be sustained by one. In short, I want to be happy, and I think God wants me to happy, too. So will I ever get married to a woman? I don't think so.”

I personally feel that these two young men have shown a great deal of maturity and integrity in dealing with the conflict between their sexual orientation and the teachings and expectations of the Church with respect to heterosexual marriage.  But the doctrine of eternal marriage (and everything it implies), central as it is to everything the Church is and stands for, represents a significant (and for some, insurmountable) barrier or challenge to young gay Mormon men who are attempting to deal with their sexuality and, by extension, their identity – eternal and otherwise. 

This concern is reflected in another private message I received from yet another young gay Mormon man who, after stating that he is gay and that he had been reading the posts about MOMs, wrote, “I am just thinking that I should get married and have kids. I really want to go to the celestial kingdom, but I am so worried about being married or having kids. I don't know [however] if I am strong enough to do it.”  He then asked for my advice.  Humbly, but believing that what I wrote may be of some relevance and use to other young gay Mormon men, and with the consent of the man to whom I was writing, I am including here most of my (slightly edited) response to this young gay brother. 

It sounds like you are obviously an active member of the Church and that you have a testimony of the reality of God and of the ability of the Holy Ghost to inspire and enlighten you. Because of this, my first bit of counsel for you would be - if you haven't already done so - to specifically pray to know whether Heavenly Father accepts you as you are - gay. However, in doing so, I would remind you of Moroni’s admonition in Moroni 10:  seek wisdom, be sincere, and ask with real intent (and I would suggest that asking with real intent requires that you push away from you everything that you have been taught about the nature of homosexuality and approach God as much as possible with an open mind and heart).  Then there is James’ admonition in James 1:5 (which, of course, prompted Joseph to go into the grove of trees):  “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” [New International Version, emphasis added].

I can and will give you my own personal testimony that God accepts you just the way you are, but it is obviously no substitute for your own witness (in whatever form that may come, e.g., whether as a flash of insight, an impression in your heart and mind, a feeling, or a settled conviction).  My own witness of this (as pertaining to myself) is described here and in my coming out letter here).  I know of others who have had comparable experiences. Based on these witnesses, I can testify that you were born the way you are and that God accepts and loves you the way you are. President Packer notwithstanding, you did not "choose" to be gay. You just are …

If God accepts you as you are, which I believe He does, then you next need to think and pray about the consequences and ramifications of this knowledge. Would God damn you for something that He has told you is "ok"? Would He expect you to do something totally contrary to your nature, failing which you would be damned? My answer to these questions is "no."

The truth is that God's ways are not our ways. In Isaiah 55:8-9, we read:  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  We - President Monson included - understand and have had revealed to us only a tiny fraction of what God knows and understands. Joseph Smith himself said that if he told the Saints everything he knew, the apostles would leave his side and the saints would "fly apart as glass."  (And remember – he went in to the Sacred Grove expecting one answer and came out with a mind-blowingly different answer, one that he could never have anticipated.)

My own deep personal conviction is that there is much we do not know and understand about homosexuality. But there is something each one of "us" can know and understand: God loves us just the way we are (i.e., gay) and He does not expect us to live a lie. Should we who are gay, alone among God's creations, deny ourselves and have denied to us the opportunity to fulfill the measure of our creation? Again, my answer to this question is no.

This is obviously a very personal issue. But I believe that if you open your heart and try to push away what you have been taught about homosexuality and ask God with sincerity and full purpose of heart, He will reveal to you the truth of who you are [i.e., in your heart and/or your mind in a way that is appropriate to you] … I wish you the very best, which I'm sure you deserve.

I realize I am opening myself up here to all sorts of comments about where I’m “at.”  Fire away.  But I would also encourage older men to share their comments for the benefit of our young gay brethren, regardless of where you fall on any of a number of “spectrums” of thought, church activity, attitude toward MOM’s, etc.  

Realistically, it is only on blogs such as this one (and others, obviously) that many of these young gay brethren will be able to find thoughts and advice concerning a subject which is of critical importance to them, but which is very likely hidden away deep inside them and which they are afraid to talk about.  We can all relate, can’t we? 

So I hope that many of you will offer your thoughts – for their benefit.  I also hope younger guys will join in this discussion, as their peers may benefit greatly from the sharing of experiences such as the ones described in this post.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Self-ish-ness: Learning to Love the Man in the Mirror

“Sometime last year, I remember the first time that I looked at myself in the mirror and was able to say to myself: 'You're a good man, you deserve to be happy and you'll be alright.’" This comment by Miguel to yesterday’s post struck a chord with me, both because I could personally relate to it and because I thought it also serves as a useful comment to frame the discussion on selfishness that evolved out of yesterday’s post.

There have been few times when I realized the depth and extent of my own self-loathing more than an afternoon this past August.  I don’t even remember now what triggered the incident, but I remember sitting on the bed, crying my eyes out and telling my wife that I hated myself.  For as long as I can remember, I had felt this way:  though I was able to function in life, I was basically, fundamentally flawed and I hated myself because of it, because I seemingly couldn’t do anything to change it, and because I knew that I could never overcome the effects of it.  I didn’t then even understand the exact cause of this self-hatred.  It was just a knowledge that, it seemed, I had always had; it was just the way of things.

I could not even bring myself to look at my reflection in the mirror.  If I looked too long, a strange feeling of revulsion and fear and existential panic would come over me, as if I was about to be sucked into a black hole of identity from which I would never escape.  I can recall having this feeling even as a young child of 7 or 8.  I remember asking my dad once if he was ever afraid to look at himself in the mirror.  We were in the car on our way to a nursery to pick out shrubbery for our house.  As best as I can recall, he looked over at me then back at the road and promptly changed the subject.

In recent months (prior to coming out), I had decided to try to conquer this fear and force myself to look at my reflection for longer periods of time; to look myself in the eye.  I may not have particularly liked what I saw, but at least I could try to conquer my bizarre fear. 

It was not until I came out (or rather, started to come out) that I began to dimly understand the root cause of my self-loathing, self-hatred and my inability to like, let alone love, myself.  It’s all so obvious now, now that I have eyes to see.   You guessed it: it was because I am a homosexual.  I like men.  I’m queer, gay, a homo, a faggot – all those nasty words that I’d heard my entire life and tried to dodge lest one of them strike and kill me.  I hated myself because I was gay, and beyond that, I think my subconscious self probably hated me, too, for betraying my Self and for abandoning him to all that self-loathing – as if there was this gay self inside of me that wanted to get out, but I kept burying him in piles of excrement, hoping to smother him.

BUT! – Upon hearing Boyd K. Packer’s talk at Conference and deciding right then and there that I was no longer going to hate myself and beat myself to death because of my homosexuality, I started to change.  For the first time in my life, as I reached out to other gay men and they reached out to me (and as I received support from my sister), I was told it was ok to be gay.  I was told that I am a person of worth.  I was told that I could not only like myself; I could love myself.  Really and truly.  That not only was it possible; it was desirable.  I could get to the point of not only being able to look at myself in the mirror and not turn away in disgust; I could do so and love the person looking back at me.  (I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.)

This was an entirely new concept for me.  Perhaps because it may prove useful to illustrate what I will later have to say about self-ish-ness, I think it is instructive to compare my attitude in this regard to that of my wife.  I think she had a difficult time believing or understanding me when I expressed paroxysms of self-hatred like I had that day in August.  She has never had a problem liking or even loving herself.  For as long as I’ve known her, she has always had this quality of being comfortable with who and what she is.  And for as long as I’ve known her, this quality has driven me crazy; not because I felt she was egotistical or self-centered (to the contrary, I think she was “healthy” and “normal” in this regard), but because no matter how hard I tried (and my inner voices told me not to bother even trying because it was hopeless), I could not bring myself to like the me who I am, let alone love that person.

Why the difference between us?  Well, setting aside individual circumstances and ancillary issues, I think the general answer to this question is that she grew up not doubting who she was, not feeling like she had to hide who she “really” was, not feeling shame at the very fact of her existence, not feeling fundamentally flawed.  She was free to like herself just the way she was because she was not gay.  I, on the other hand, was, and I grew up with all these things that she did not.

Which brings me to the subject of self-ish-ness.  It is precisely because of the way many of us grew up and evolved that we have to be “selfish” in order to allow ourselves to get to that point of “normalcy” that people like my wife take for granted.  But, as was pointed out by some of the commenters yesterday, “selfishness” often becomes a term that is used as a weapon by those who do not understand or do not want us to change.  As Mark pointed out, “calling this journey merely, ‘selfish’ is a cheap shot, reductionistic and simply puts a negative spin on what this journey is about … [Beyond this] I would say this is really an inaccurate description of what is actually transpiring. It's not selfish to exercise one's body, to enlarge one's soul by giving service, to read and educate yourself so you can have a better life …

Trey expressed similar thoughts when he wrote, “I propose that the concept of “selfish” is misunderstood and misused by those using it to indict gay men when coming to terms with their identities. As Mark pointed out, self-actualization is at the core of our daily humanity. If we were to extend the concept as used by our spouses (I am one of the accused), one could argue that it is selfish to: get advanced degrees, compete in sports or pursue any other recognition, exercise, get the scout Eagle rank or the Duty to God award, get your nails done or a face lift. At the core of Mormon doctrine is the idea of truth, honesty, progress, and expansion, all part of the quest for self-actualization. God is in it! … There is a force in life (nature, the cosmos, the gods) that compels us toward self-actualization. I submit that it is harder and takes more emotional and mental effort to hide ourselves than it does to be our true selves. And the price is much, much higher.

Lastly, I very much liked what Apronkid wrote about “selfishness”:  … there IS a certain amount of selfishness that comes with self-discovery. And personally, if that's what it takes to know myself a little better, I'm okay with being selfish! I think when others criticize "us" for taking time out to focus on the self, it's because they don't understand the long-term benefits of what is happening inside "us" … [T]his selfishness of self-discovery is a time where we fill our "vessels" with experience … When we live our lives unwilling to accept who we really are, we are empty, and have next to nothing of ourselves to contribute to the world. We ache with the desire to contribute, and become confused as we are filled with experience of others and have no substance of our own. This selfishness is a time to fill up! It is a time to realize and define and create our own experience. After accepting the self, one has more to give.  Perhaps, after all the introspection and self-discovery, such a seemingly selfish period in our lives isn't really selfish at all [emphasis added].”

Monday, December 27, 2010

Coming Out and Self-Discovery: The Life of the Living Dead

Ok. So I realize that the title of this post is provocative. It is intended to be. As a result of some comments I received to my post yesterday, I wanted to write a bit more about how the process of coming out affects one’s sense and knowledge of self. On the flip side, I also wanted to examine what living a life in the closet does to one’s sense of self.

I hadn’t planned to write this post; but once again, I was surprised at how certain elements of a post can unexpectedly find resonance with people.  Yesterday, I posted about “getting out there” and meeting gay guys and about some of my initial experiences in doing so.  In the process of describing experiences I was having and realizations I was coming to about myself, I commented that I experienced moments of awkwardness in social settings because I felt that I had kept the “real” me under wraps for so long, that I had deliberately dissociated myself from my real self out of a desperate need to conceal my gayness. 

Though I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised at this, I guess it only makes sense that, if suppressing my gay nature resulted in dissociation and fragmentation of identity, then embracing that identity (by coming out and actually entering the gay world) would result in discovery and integration of identity. 

And I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, either, to learn that other gay men have experienced the same sort of thing that I described in my post on Sunday.  For example, Trey compared his process of self-discovery after coming out to “unwinding the mummy-trappings - one layer at a time - in which I shrouded myself over many socio/culture-bound years of disguise and self-doubt.”

In response to what I wrote about being hyper-vigilant about my true identity, Clive wrote:  For most of my life, the fear of being discovered weighed heavily on everything I did, everything I said, the relationships I made, and the activities I engaged in. Coming out broke the bonds that bound me for the first time. When I realized that the fear that was my constant companion was of my making, I quickly cast it aside."

Then there was Philip, who described a similar process of self-discovery once he had come out. “I had always thought I was a person out of touch with what I wanted or needed,” he wrote, “so I was surprised to find myself discovering all sorts of very basic things about myself when I started to openly and honestly interact with others - things I later realized my peers had probably learned about themselves when they were the same age I was when I went into the closet.  In other words, going into the closet at 12 years old had greatly stunted my emotional growth. I was basically 28 going on 13.  So bottom line...there were basic things about myself I only seemed to be able to learn through open and honest interaction with others.

What I found particularly intriguing and enlightening (especially at my stage of coming out) about Philip’s comments is that he described a process in which he started out by meeting with a gay married men’s group once a month, which allowed him basically one hour a month to actually live his gay self “out loud.”  Then, upon separation from his wife, he started interacting much more frequently with other gay men, then adding to his circle “gay positive straight folks,”  then (as he wrote) “coworkers then friends then family then just about everybody.”

In other words, for Philip, integration and discovery of self required a conscious effort in a “controlled” environment in which he found acceptance and affirmation and freedom to explore.  In a subsequent comment, Philip said that, especially in the early stages of this process before and shortly after separating from his wife, he was accused by his wife of being selfish.  The truth is I was selfish,” he wrote, “but needed to be in order to process the rush of self-discovery I was going through.  I did try my best to strike a balance between my needs and my family needs but couldn't help her understand because I didn't really understand what was going on myself.  I knew I was going from a state of lots of confusion to a place of greater clarity but I had yet to glean that I was also going from a place of ignorance and self-hatred to greater self-awareness and self-acceptance.  

I smiled when I read Philip’s comment because I have already heard this “selfish” refrain.  Frankly, I think I’m being viewed as “selfish” merely by accepting my homosexuality.  I think that, to my wife, that act, in and of itself, has not only represented a betrayal, etc., but also the height of selfishness.   From the beginning of our marriage, I have felt that I have been “on trial,” i.e., that I had to behave a certain way to be accepted, not only by my wife but by everybody.  (Of course, I realize a lot of this was because of my own issues of low self-esteem, etc.  But to be treated as selfish and self-centered merely to affirm who I am – that has been very disappointing and frankly hurtful.)  

I don’t think I’ve yet realized the extent of the psychic damage that I have inflicted upon myself over the years due to thinking that merely accepting myself the way I fundamentally am represents the height of selfishness.  And living in a culture and belief system that teaches that focus on self is the antithesis of righteousness and a grave sin to be avoided at all costs – all of this has served to compound the extent of this psychic damage.

Philip went on to write of this “selfishness” by stating, “I owned and felt a lot of guilt about my selfishness yet, at the same time, felt driven to continue focusing on me.  I am trying to tell you that it is OK to be selfish. You need to be but the period of selfishness will not last very long.  Maybe a few months before it starts abating.

So I now come back to the title of this post.  I think the mummy metaphor is apt, and I think the title is appropriate, since for much of my life, I was alive, functioning, performing, going through the motions, trying to be all that I was “supposed” to be, yet was essentially dead to who I really was and am.  Coming out has started the process of “de-mummification.”  First, I have to take off the wrappings; then I must reverse the process whereby the lifeblood was drained out of me and replaced by the embalming fluid of conformity, shame and self-negation.  I fully expect this process to take some time, and I know that I cannot do it by myself:  the journey will require effort on my part, to be point of risking being called selfish, but will also require the assistance of others in a “controlled environment” who can affirm, mirror, and accept.  I am so grateful that this journey has begun.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Getting "Out There"

Well, these past few weeks have been very interesting.  As I had indicated was my goal a couple of weeks ago, I’ve now had lunch or breakfast with a dozen or so (gay) guys and have been to a couple of get-togethers at which I met a couple dozen or so more guys.  In addition, I’ve enlarged my network of “on-line” friends by both e-mail and telephone.  So what are my thoughts and impressions at this point?

I have to say (please don’t laugh) that something I’ve been struck by over and over is the sense of surprise to discover there are other guys out there like me.  I mean, I’ve always known that there are gay guys, but “they” were always “them” – people that were classified and shoved away, a result of my hyper-developed self-defense mechanism to disassociate myself from anything and everything homosexual (at least to the extent it was visible).  My association with the “gay world” was limited to secret thoughts and furtive forays into the realms of online eroticism.  None of my experience extended beyond myself.

Now, however, I’m one of “them,” and as I meet more guys, whether in person or on-line, perhaps because almost all of them are or have been Mormons and because I have kept my gayness so secret for so long, I continue to feel this sense of surprise that these guys are like me.  I guess I assumed that no one was like me; thus, the surprise.  I don’t know … it’s just kind of weird and takes a little getting used to. 

Another thing I’ve discovered is that I’ve kept the real me hidden for so long and am so accustomed to always being on guard, that I find it challenging to let my guard down and be more open.  This is easier in one-on-one situations; more difficult in group settings.  But I’m working on it. 

That being said, I’ve also had experiences while interacting with guys in which I feel a tremendous sense of freedom to be myself, to allow myself to be gay, to act the way I feel like acting instead of constantly worrying about whether or not the way I am acting could be perceived as gay.  I cannot really describe how good this makes me feel.  It’s like the real me is emerging after being kept under wraps since at least puberty.  While at a party the other night, a couple of the guys asked, jokingly, whether I wanted to “go back to being straight,” to which I responded with a firm and even exuberant, “NO!”  I cannot “go back,” nor do I want to go back. 

Along the way, I continue to have “existential moments” from time to time (like the one I wrote about here regarding my (in)ability to compose a list of my ten favorite movies). For example, while at one of the gatherings I attended last week, one of the guys very sincerely asked me what my interests and hobbies are.  Suddenly, everyone in the group was looking at me, and I’m sure I had that deer-in-the-headlights look.  That’s how I felt, anyway. 

Again, I’m so used to “non-defining” (or “un”-defining?) myself that when someone unexpectedly asks me a question like that, about who I really am, I freeze.  Literally.  It’s like my mind grinds to a halt.  Fortunately, one of the other fathers there came to my rescue by pointing out that, when one has children, one often has little time for anything else.  But of course, that wasn’t the real answer.  The real answer is that I have been so dissociated from my Self for so long, so accustomed to safe-guarding my private little world, so hyper-vigilant lest I express any interest that could be considered (not matter how remotely) “gay,” so accustomed to giving “the party line” that I literally implode when asked to reveal who I really am.  (Notice how I phrased that, i.e,. in terms of “revealing” rather than openly “sharing.”  Freud moment.)

I believe that this will improve with the passage of time and by virtue of getting “out there” and interacting with people – something I’ve not done for a very long time.  I also plan to take concrete steps to validate and give expression to my interests.  For example, while I don’t yet feel ready to join the Salt Lake Men’s Choir, I am planning to join another choir after the New Year, thus giving myself permission to express an interest that I have smothered for many years.

I guess what I’m trying to say boils down to this: I’m learning that “coming out” – at least for me – involves a lot more than just coming to terms with my sexual orientation and revealing that to people who have always seen me differently than I see myself.  “Coming out” also means stepping out of the shell that one has very carefully constructed for oneself and allowing one’s true identity to breathe and gain sustenance after years of being held bound and gagged in the basement, barely surviving.  The light of the noon-day sun can sometimes be blinding, but I am becoming accustomed to the brightness, along with the sweet fresh air and lovely sights and smells that exist “out there.”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's Not the Same

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring – except me.  I am downstairs in my room, writing this blog post.  I wasn’t going to post on Christmas Day.  I mean, get a life, right?  Who would post a blog post on Christmas Day unless he didn’t have a life?  Right?

Yet, here I am, typing away.  Real time.  Nothing is the same this year.  Is that bad?  Not necessarily.  Am I sad?  Not really.  Things are just different, and that is not necessarily bad. 

That shouldn’t be surprising, right, that things are different?  I mean, I came out to my wife almost two months ago, and a month later, she told me she wanted a divorce.  We continue to live in the same house, but we have been effectively separated for almost two months.  Living around each other has created strains, to be sure, but things have been a little better this past week or so.  More civility, less feelings of hatred emanating toward me.  Heck, yesterday I almost felt like giving her a hug at one point, but I resisted (fairly easily), not sure what would happen, but knowing that chances were pretty good that it wouldn’t be good or “productive.”

Like most families, we have always had certain traditions for Christmas Eve.  The same food every year.  The same activity – watching “White Christmas.”  The same schedule, the same procedures for setting out gifts.  Everything always the same, as if the sameness itself is was gives meaning to the event.  Which is not the way it should be.  Not really.  Traditions for the sake of traditions become a false reality, masking the meaning-less-ness of the actual reality, distracting us from this awful fact.

As I thought about this, I thought what an appropriate metaphor this is for my life, for my marriage.  We went through the motions for so many years, thinking that it was the procedures that gave meaning to our marriage, when in fact there was no underlying meaning there.  Activities distracted us from the cold, hard reality that lay there under the surface, until, of course, all that pretense was shattered when I acknowledged the basic reality about myself:  I am gay.

I decided to give up pretense and instead embrace reality, deciding that reality was more important than pretense.  Real life was more important than going through the motions. 

Which brings me back to Christmas.  Last night was not the same as it has always been.  Today will not be the same as it has always been.  Nothing will ever be the same as it has always been.  But I remind myself that traditions are not what give meaning to life.  Life is what gives meaning to traditions.  If there is no life, the traditions are dead.  If there is life, however, one can let go of old traditions that are no longer meaningful and embrace new ones that are reflective of that life, that reality. 

The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (2 Cor. 3:6).

Which makes me reflect on Christmas gifts.  This year, I am thankful for the wonderful gifts I have been given by so many of you who have reached out to me in different ways, each one appreciated.  I am grateful for life, for moments when my “face lights up like a boy,” (how wonderful is that!?) for genuine happiness, for delight and joy (and for friends who have helped precipitate these precious gifts). And I am grateful for the feelings of love and life and appreciation that fill my heart as I contemplate these gifts.  I am grateful to feel alive.

I am also of course grateful for my children and for the love they bring into my life.  As a dear friend pointed out recently to me, my relationship with them will also be changing – and has already started to change – as a result of coming out.  Substance is going to take the place of form.  Old forms will die.  New forms will be created, but will not take the place of substance.  Too much of life is made up of forms that mask the reality of little or no substance.

And so, I come back to my opening thoughts.  Get a life?  Well, I guess I am, i.e., getting a life.  And I guess, now that I think about it, that it is appropriate to have these thoughts and feelings on this day of all days, when we celebrate rebirth and redemption.

Cheers, everyone.  I hope you have a good day today.  Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas, Closet Royalists

Another Christmas tradition that I have acquired over the years is watching the Queen’s Christmas message.  I have a connection to the Commonwealth, and though American, later came to have great respect for Queen Elizabeth and the role she plays not only in the Commonwealth, but in the world generally.  For almost 60 years, she has stood steadfastly as a symbol of tolerance, dignity and shared humanity in a world that has experienced dramatic cultural and technological change as well as much trauma and suffering.

Every year on Christmas Day, a short message from the Queen is broadcast throughout the Commonwealth.  It is an occasion for people to reflect on the events of the past year, on the blessings of family and on the hope of a better future – and on the role each of us can play in creating that future.  Like the broadcast from King’s College that I blogged about yesterday, it is also an opportunity for people the world over to contemplate their shared citizenship on this globe, as well as their common humanity during the Christmas season.

Below is a video of last year’s Christmas message.  This year’s will be available on the Internet tomorrow from a variety of sources.

Happy Christmas! (as the Brits would say)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An English Christmas: King’s College

For a number of years, an important part of my personal celebration of Christmas has been listening to the live broadcast on Christmas Eve of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge. This program, which has been broadcast every year (save one) since 1928, is listened to around the world by millions of people.  When I tune in, I not only enjoy the beautiful music, but I also feel connected with people the world over, knowing that they are all listening to this lovely service at the same time I am.  For me, it gives new meaning to the phrase, “peace on [the whole] earth, goodwill toward men.”

Along the Wasatch Front, this program is always broadcast on KBYUFM at on Christmas Eve morning.  It is also carried on many public radio stations throughout the United States, and no doubt on CBC in Canada.  

This particular service became an annual tradition in December 1918, shortly after the close of the devastation of World War I, which had cut such a wide swath through young English manhood.  It was even broadcast during the Second World War, despite the fact that the precious stained glass windows of King’s College Chapel had been removed to preserve them from possible bomb damage and there was no heating in the building.

The service traditionally begins with the voice of a lone boy (always chosen shortly before the service) singing the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City.  The following video captures this.  I hope you might have an opportunity to listen to this beautiful service and that it might enrich your celebration of the season.

Merry Christmas!