Contrary to what some may have thought after reading Monday’s blog post, I am not (a) going back into the closet, (b) reconciling with my wife, or (c) about to conclude that I’m really heterosexual. In deciding that I wanted my blog to be an honest reflection of my life as I come out and adjust to life as a gay man, I felt that I needed to describe what I had been feeling last weekend. Writing that post also helped me to sort out just exactly (well, maybe not exactly) what I was feeling and to attempt to articulate it.
I have continued to think about these feelings over the past few days, and I *think* I have come to some additional understanding of what’s been going on.
In this period of reflection, I was reminded of a question I posed a couple of months ago to a mentor who has been “out” for a long time. The question: “What does it mean to be gay?” I was sincere when I posed the question, and he gave me a sincere answer. His basic response wasn’t remarkable (sorry GPL); it was basically what one would have anticipated, speaking in terms of sexual, romantic and emotional attractions and attachments to persons of one’s own sex, rather than of the opposite sex.
To which, I would have responded (but had moved on to other questions by then), “Yeah, I know, but what does it mean to be gay?”
I have since realized, particularly within the last few days, that what I really meant by that question is this: “What does it mean for me to be gay?” And, of course, neither my mentor nor anyone else can answer that question for me; I must answer it myself.
As I have pondered this question – once I figured out that this was the question – some rather significant realizations have dawned upon me. First of all, I realized that my “gayness” – which I think can more correctly be referred to as “my gay identity” – has been submerged and hidden for decades. It has never, in point of fact, been allowed any kind of manifestation that remotely resembles open, adult and real expression. I have grown into adulthood and lived most of my life with an integral part of myself bound and gagged in the basement, so to speak. Some guy masquerading as a heterosexual with all kinds of hang-ups has been playing out my life – the life the guy in the basement was supposed to be living.
As I thought about this, I realized – duh – that I really have no idea what it means for me to be gay, because I’ve never lived that part of myself out loud. Nevertheless, there was a part of me that already sensed this and was looking for that identity. But rather than looking within, he was looking without. He was looking for examples, for role models, like a man looking for a ready-made off-the-rack suit of clothes. Try this one on; no, too big. Try that one on; no, too small; try that one on; no, wrong color. Try this one on; no, wrong fabric.
It was then that I realized that I – without even understanding what was going on – had been looking for my “gay identity” by this process, i.e., as if I was looking for an off-the-rack suit. Not only did it (finally) occur to me that this was entirely the wrong way to go about discovering my gay identity, it is entirely the wrong metaphor as well. The realization I ultimately came to is that – drumroll – my gay identity is not something I “put on”; rather, it is something that must grow organically out of me, like a new layer of skin. Somewhat like the “inner child” that is often spoken of in psychological therapy that is there in the psyche, hidden away, waiting to be released – in me is also the gay person that has always been there, but never allowed expression.
In the past few days, I have realized that a lot of the anxiety and angst that I was feeling last weekend was, I think, attributable to me looking “out there” for my gay identity and not finding it. I knew I was gay, but I didn’t know who I was supposed to be, how I was supposed to fit in, what my life would look like; and all of this was causing me to feel a tremendous amount of unease.
Now, I am taking a step back. Having realized that my gay identity is within me, not “out there,” I have refocused my attention on who and what I am. This process enabled me to come to yet another realization: that for 20+ years, I have pretty much defined myself as a husband, a father and a member of the Church (with all that this entails). Because of who I was when I got married, I totally bought into this and willingly donned this identity, wearing it to the exclusion of anything else – until I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. But the point is, I think, that this was a ready-made identity. I didn’t have to create an identity; I just wore the one I had.
Now, however, I must forge my own identity – organically. No off-the-rack job anymore. This is going to take time. It will sometimes be uncomfortable. It will sometimes be anxiety-provoking. But it will – hopefully – produce real and lasting results.
Which brings me to yesterday’s post. I focused on the following quote by Rainer Maria Rilke because I came to sense his words being directed at me as I contemplated what I have learned. My life and future as a gay man is “everything unresolved in my heart.” What I must do now is “live the questions”, i.e., go out there (and inwardly as well) and discover and develop my gay identity, grow it organically. That is what I must live. And if I do so, then someday, gradually, perhaps without even noticing it, I might live my way into the answer.
“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves,
as if they were locked rooms or books written
in a very foreign language.
Don't search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then someday …
you will gradually,
without even noticing it,
live your way into the answer.”