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.”


  1. The phenomenon you describe of disbelief of meeting others like you + the realization of your "imperfections and nakedness" with regards to being able to socialize in groups or to define who you are reminds me of the jolts associated with a rocket's "exit/enter" shock as it exits or enters hemispheres. There's a jolt when passing from inside the shell into the "world".

    Your insight of this "exist/enter" shock being indicative of more than your gayness is going to lead to more healing and growth, I believe. I think that you are understanding the dynamics between:
    1. physical: your sexuality that is one major thread of your identity
    2. mental and physical: your human development as a unique person that involves several other threads: psychological make-up, intellectual interests and desires, creative interests and desires ...
    3. mental and spiritual: your spiritual interests and desires.

    I think you are right: "'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."

    Maybe looking at how to sort through this through these three "groups" might help you get started?

    I would like to share two poems with you that I wrote while on a mission: a time when I felt a HUGE disconnect between what I was doing and who I truly was. I felt that I was being a traitor to myself yet incapable of connecting to the outside world around me because of the "person" that I was obliged to "be" (pretend to be).


    to the many
    Faces who pass
    To examine the beautifully
    Painted shell.


    I sit with the shell
    Hidden from the
    Depths of their souls.
    Avoiding the meaning and
    Responding with fixed answers.

    The salt of their conversation
    Entices me and reminds me of my mind.
    My soul, Reflecting on the
    Beauty lying in the
    world of Risk." - libellule

  2. and poem 2

    "how can I?

    if there is
    An answer, will it be me?
    Or only
    for someone else...
    thoughts differing, philosophies
    ClAsHiNg. ideals
    where is me
    the things i see-
    the things i say?
    is it al so
    difficult to find
    truth inside of
    art, beauty
    or man?
    what is honesty?
    is IT true?
    compared to
    whom - compared with
    - far from
    origins we wander
    (who can tell for what is honesty?)" - libellule

  3. My experience was exactly the same as yours..and still is. At the company holiday party, a colleague asked me what I do in my spare time...hobbies and such. I suddenly was thrust back several years as I stuttered out a response. Was it masculine enough? Interesting enough? Then, I caught myself and I finished the mumbled reply with ... the truth. i think this has more to do with living outside the realm of Mormonism than with living inside my homosexuality. I guess it's both.

    It is so wonderful to not feel obliged to be anyone else other than what I am. But old habits die hard.

  4. I can relate to most of what you are talking about.

    I use to call it shifting gears but it was more like decompressing/recompressing.

    Years ago I found out there was a gay married men's group that meet once a month at a gay bar not too far from where I lived. I would park my car three blocks away so no one would see my car in a gay bar parking lot then I would start what I called back then shifting gears.

    First, it would take me about an hour of being with this group of men before I started feeling comfortable then after an hour or so I would realize I would be leaving shortly and would start getting back into the same mental state I had arrived with in order to re-enter the straight world.

    So bottom line, I felt "comfortable" for about an hour once a month.

    Note: I said "comfortable" not "normal". Feeling normal came years later.

    This contined for quite a few years then my wife and I separated.

    I decided to use the separation as a time to focus on dealing with my sexuality.

    The unintended consequence of our separation was that I started interacting openly and honestly with others over long periods of time. Read several hours even days. First just with other gay men but eventually I expanded that circle to "gay positive" straight folks then coworkers then friends then family then just about everybody.

    I had always thought I was a person out of touch with what I wanted or needed 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.

    It's all inter-related so I went from feeling "comfortable" once a month for about an hour or to feeling "comfortable" then "normal" only when I was around other gay men to feeling "comfortable" then "normal" only when I was around gay men and "gay positive" straight people to now feeling "comfortable" then "normal" regardless of who I am with and all the time.

    However, once in a while, I revert back to that 12 year old boy for a moment but those moments are becoming rarer and rarer and just show me what areas I still have to work on.


  5. @Dadsprimalscream and Philip – Thank you both for sharing your experiences! It is so nice to hear about what other men like me have gone through, which not only validates what I *think* I am experiencing, but also helps me to understand and process it.

    Philip, thanks especially for describing the process you went through. What you have described is exactly what I have sensed in myself, both in terms of what happened to me when I was 12 and the journey I have only just now embarked upon. It is partly because of comments such as yours that I blog. I am grateful to you for sharing your experience!

  6. (IP and friends-of-the-blog, I share your interest in art, beauty, and truth; but, make no mistake, I am your student!)

    I also experienced the relief/surprise at finding other’s like me. And I felt (and still feel) the exhilaration of freedom through the metamorphosis of wholeness and self-discovery. For me it is almost as if I am 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. I still have layers to go before I can stand in Lear-like nakedness before the gods. And I too have enjoyed associations with other’s like me when I can drop the disguise altogether – well, almost anyway.

    There is an archetype found in Greek, Christian, and Norse mythology and which is accepted in some modern cultures, ours included. It is the idea that our old self must die in order to be reborn to a new person, a new life. (Baptism is an example.) In David Leeming’s text The World of Myth the writer suggests that “the descent into death can also be seen as a metaphor for a psychological descent into the unconscious.” (I recommend a reading of Beowulf which contains all the archetypal elements.) DH Lawrence also explores this motif in his writings. For many of us, I believe these metaphors are applicable to our current life-changing experiences.

    I very much enjoyed your poems, Libellule. Poetry has long been a passion of mine: beauty and truth are there.


  7. If I may be so bold I would like to throw out a few thoughts...

    Especially the first few months after our separation, my wife thought I was extremely selfish and was ignoring my responsibilities to her and the family and instead focusing too much on myself.

    The truth is I was selfish 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.

    So 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.

    I also want to tell you that this was kind of a crazy time for me.

    And this initial coming out period seems to be kind of a crazy time for a lot of gay people.

    For instance, my best friend dyed his hair platinum blond.

    What I am trying to say is some experimentation is necessary to figure out who you are but some people forget the good judgment God gave them - so this a word of caution.

    While I am at it....

    When I first came out, the gay world was like an oasis in the desert.

    I thought it was wonderful. I idealized the gay community and didn't see the warts that were so apparent until I had been hurt enough times.

    I know believe the gay world is much more impacted by the straight world than it likes to admit and is more like a hospital with lots of walking wounded.

    So please be careful and again use the good judgment that God gave you to avoid those walking wounded.


  8. A very motivating post for me. I realize that I have not gotten out there - my boyfriend and I have no gay friends - and maybe I am missing a chance to find others like me. You point out that in seeing yourself in their reflection it helps you come to terms with the real you. I need to step out of my shell as well. Good luck as you continue to do so.

  9. Invictus: You were wonderful. All of us at the party enjoyed getting to know you. I think you felt more like the "deer" than you really were. You gained our love and concern fast. I guess I'd just say--I think you are one lucky guy. You found some incredible people pretty darn fast. Hang in there, and hope to see you again.

    Paul: Maybe you and the boyfriend should come to the next party.

  10. @Joe Conflict - I would agree with you that I am very fortunate, and I certainly felt and appreciated the love and concern. I'm sure we'll see each other again soon.

    @Philip - I am certainly glad you threw out of few more thoughts! Much of what you said resonated deeply with me. I was going to respond here, but soon realized that it would end up being a lengthy comment. So I will respond in a post, either tomorrow or Tuesday. Meantime, please know that I *very* much appreciate your comments. There are also some things I'd like to ask you about privately, so if you would care to e-mail me, I'd really appreciate it:

    @Trey - Your sagacity is exceeded only by your humility. :-) It's been a very long time since I read Beowulf, and I'm quite sure that the last time I read it, I didn't have a clue what it was all about.

    @Paul - Thanks for your feedback, both here and on my post from yesterday. I ditto what Joe Conflict said (sounds like he knows you, though). It'd be great to meet you and your boyfriend.

  11. I'm grateful for the pleasure of meeting you. I would very much like to have lunch again when we are in the area again.

  12. How I identify with your post! 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 and immediately felt like shouting from the rooftops, "Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last." (BTW, can't wait to see you Friday. :-) )

  13. Reading your latest post and this one again makes realize that what I have always concerned "emotional autism", or my lack of emotions, is perhaps because I'm "disassociated from my self" as you put it. It's ironic that although I've been living with my boyfriend so long I am no closer to discovering myself.

    JC and IF, I'd love to get together with you guys, but I get the feeling you aren't here in Europe. But maybe I'll start reaching out to some of the gay guys at work - I can't believe I haven't even done that yet. I must really be the ultimate closet case.

  14. @Good to be Free - Standing invitation to lunch anytime!

    @Clive - See Monday's post. :)

    @ Paul - Thanks for chiming in - too bad you're in Europe. I guess that might preclude you from coming to parties in the SLC area. Hope to hear from you again!