The day after Christmas, I wrote a post here about getting “out there,” describing some of my experiences and feelings as I made my first forays into the “gay community.” I wrote about being surprised at discovering men “just like me,” about experiencing freedom to be myself and about moments when I realized just what living in the closet most of my life had done to me.
I also wrote that I had thoughts about doing some things after the new year in order to get “out there” more and develop some of my interests and talents that have been long-buried. One of the “things” I wrote about was joining the Salt Lake Men’s Choir; but, I wrote, I felt that I wasn’t “ready” for that yet, and that I would probably join another choir as an “interim step.”
Well, I’m very pleased to say that, thanks to some encouragement from a reader of this blog and from some new friends, I decided to go ahead and join the SLMC, and I went to my very first practice this week. Of course, I was nervous as I sat out in my car in the parking lot beforehand, watching men go into the building, waiting until it wouldn’t be too early for me to go in.
Then, I forced myself to get out of the car and walk into the building, down the hall, into the room and up to the sign-up desk where I was greeted by smiles and a clip-board with a form to fill out. This was an important moment: the first time I would divulge all my personal information, the first time I would be in a “gay” situation in which I would be known simply (and completely) as me, not “Invictus Pilgrim,” not some nameless guy, but me – the full Monty, so to speak (but obviously fully-clothed; to divulge any more would not have been appropriate).
And so I filled out the form, hesitating at the point where I was to indicate what part I sang. Completing everything else, I handed the clipboard back to the smiling guy and said, “I don’t know whether I’m a bass or a baritone.” He simply smiled again, looked up at me and said, “What would you like to be?” “A bass,” I replied. “Then that’s what you’ll be,” he responded, checking the box next to “bass” on the form. Wow, I thought: this is a lot simpler than I thought it would be. (I had expected a brief “tryout” with the music director to determine where I’d be placed and just how far back I’d be buried.)
I was then taken in hand by another smiling guy and given a binder of music, then directed back to the bass section, where a half-dozen men or so immediately introduced themselves and made be feel totally welcome and at home. Then, it wasn’t long before the practice started and we launched right into warm-ups, followed by singing and sight-reading one piece of music after another.
I hadn’t really known what to expect of that first night, except that I had anticipated feeling uncomfortably nervous, as I typically am in new situations. As it turns out, I wasn’t: my initial nervousness quickly faded, and as the evening progress, I realized something was growing deep down within me, a feeling I eventually recognized as – happiness. For the first time in my adult life, I was singing non-religious songs, with a group of talented men who loved what they were doing, doing something that *I* loved doing.
But beyond this, there was a palpable feeling in the room that I gradually became increasingly aware of as the evening progressed. I eventually came to characterize this feeling as “authenticity.” These men were simply who they were: open, caring and (for the most part) gay, not hiding who they are. To my sensitive neophyte eyes, ears and heart, this feeling was more than palpable, it was interactive. I felt myself responding to it, feeling old barriers silently crumble, letting in the warmth and love and truth that flowed through that room, feeding that gay person inside of me of whom I wrote a couple of days ago. As I commented to a couple of friends in e-mails afterwards, it was almost like a spiritual experience; in fact, it was: a gay spiritual experience.
Of course, all of this passed completely unnoticed, I am sure, to the men sitting around me. (It’s not like I was raising my hands and chanting “Kumbaya” or anything.) But I left that place a different man and, not for the first time since I started this journey, I was grateful to be alive and – yes – grateful to be gay.