Friday, February 4, 2011

Voices: Wrestling with Angels

My name is Martin.* Some of you might even know of me. Only because being a college professor can be a high profile position. I certainly enjoyed the privilege of being faculty (first at the Y, then UV) in the late 90s and 00s – until I was mauled, discarded and left at the side of the road, near death. Primarily for daring to mention LGBTQ issues in a Multiculturalism class. All the while being in complete denial about my own life. Glad that all that is now 6 years in the rear view mirror. Glad my folks, even retired, were more than willing to give me a gigantic helping hand to heal and reboot. Glad I walked through the valley of the shadows of my life, through the deserts of my loneliness, and onto mountains powdered with renewed faith. And now living in the megalopolis by the Atlantic Ocean, the place where I was born. So symbolic. So perfect to come back to this place to be born yet again.

But, instead of speaking about my conversion story from secular Judaism through Protestant Christianity to Mormonism (which has gotten really old for me), I wish to write, for the first time, of my transformation from being the good kid into sexual confusion, from asexuality into married man, from repeated, misunderstood depressions into spring awakenings, from acting out to coming out to racing back in, and from hospitalizations to healing and, ultimately, to the emergence of the queer Saint that I am. The bad news: I know a lot about pain. The good news: I’m alive!

OK, so you’ll have to get used to my style of writing. Not that it’s a literary style. It’s that I have so much to say and it feels that I have so little time that I tend to explode my way through story and back story and even over into tangents. Call it a generous dose of ADD. Maybe a touch of Robin Williams’ Dead Poets in me. Or just the fact that genetically the Jew and culturally the New Yorker, I go really fast. And of course, sometimes I think I go really fast just to avoid being hurt. I mean, if I’m the moving target, then it’s the boy in me that whispers “catch me if you can!” (although I’d love to be caught, held, and shown what intimacy might really feel like). Wink.

So, here’s a story about a man who cannot believe it took this long to get to where he is today. But, the bottom line is: I made it. Out of the fear. Out of the terrifying fear. Far from the missteps. Beyond the terribly bitter nights of knowing that my marriage was over - my American dream, which slowly transformed into my personal nightmare. And of course, the hardest part of all, becoming the captain of my ship, the author of my story, my life. It turns out that that has been the hardest part of all.

But, not to discourage you. Walk with me. (have some of you noticed some Next to Normal lyrics? Good.) I really was a good kid. Here in New York Jewish suburbia. Kind of like Sandy/Draper Mormon suburbia. Left eye vs. right eye. Interesting similarities, but, hey, for another time. My mom took me to the doctor to find out why I never complained. About anything. Which I am now realizing (back in NYC after all these years) that I WAS really different. He just told my mom to count her blessings and go home. Fast forward to high school. Why was I checking out my prom dates’ best friend’s boyfriend?

There – yet. After all, being 18, most anything looks intriguing. Well, maybe not the seniors. And once life went from PG-13 to a hard R, I would need to try and keep up with the world which seemed to be spinning faster and faster. A girlfriend one summer. My roommate one late night. But, hey THAT didn’t count, right? Because we had few beers. OH, God, I have NO idea how to handle all this!

But the door was opening. Well, Pandora’s box. And after trying to shut it all during Sophomore and Junior years (ages 19-21 – oh, how I wish I were already LDS, cause then I could have been on a mission and then I wouldn’t have to think about all this, right?!), I found Jesus. To take away my sins. Which had been piling up. The only problem with taking on this Friend we have been given is that we then have to look at our shortcomings. So that the Atonement can fully kick in, right? I mean, we don’t want to minimize his efforts! His glorious victory! So, when a religious man (for me a pastor then, a bishop later on) calls you in and (with whatever level of “concern” he shows), calls you on the carpet, it’s now time to get right with the church. With Heavenly Father, he just pointed me to the Savior. With "the Man", he invited me to a Council of Love. Right.

So I fasted for 2 days and 2 nights. Felt sorry for my pillow – it was drenched with tears. After the meeting, I went asexual. For 11 frigging years. Cause I wanted to make SURE that I would come out straight. And be “good to go” for marriage. OK, stay with me on this. Fast forward through my joining the LDS church in Boston at 31. (And no, the missionaries were NOT cute, so don’t go there.) Powerful, spiritual experiences. Then, off to Utah to find a wife and make a life. And I did. And it was WONDERFUL.

I was blessed to find the woman of my dreams. She is a good woman. She gave her all to bring three fantastic daughters to this earth. I will be eternally grateful to her. Even if she does not want to go near my “issue”. I am also blessed beyond my wildest dreams with these adolescent girls. Believe it or not, they want me to live my life now, seven years after the separation. By the way, the years of procreation WERE nice. The joys of the births, of babies, of giving one’s all. But, after those years were over, the depressions began. Every summer. Perfectly timed when I was not teaching. And they got worse. I did NOT want to look. Until a Vietnam vet therapist in Orem helped me walk through the unviewable. Not my sins. No. Towards seeing that I was living without integrity. Catching a glimpse that I had a choice staring at me: finish out mortality in complete falsehood or allow the “posts holding up the tent to my three ring circus to come crashing down”.

Seeing Angels in America with Meryl Streep one late December 2003 night (with everyone asleep) – that was the catalyst. I left the family six months later. And promised myself that the kids HAD to know it wasn’t about them. (I was able to succeed with this by pouring out my emotional and financial efforts – they would miss my pancakes, to be sure.) Mania then set in. The freedom to explore my whole identity became the Hero’s Journey.

I went too fast in too short a time. At the same moment, work took a hideous turn, as I said above. High blood pressure sent me into a nearby hospital. And then, with bombshells going off at work on a weekly basis, my mind eventually snapped. I took a leave from work for 4 months. They gave me a year with full pay to heal and move on.

In these last six years, I have felt screaming loneliness, gigantic remorse for leaving, utter shock at my loss of faith. Only to find a new friend in me, only to realize that we’re all OK now, only to draw close to Heavenly Father once again. As a man, rather than a scared boy. To reason together. To be loved.

Bottom line? Yes, you can. And yes, it WILL BE the ride of a lifetime. No more relying on make believe. Or on her shoulders to carry you. You stand naked. And free. To write a script with your own pen. But isn’t that THE gift from the Author of Life?

 * This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts, from time to time, in which gay men share the story of their journey. 

Martin is currently an active member of the Church in New York City.  “I chose to go inactive for 3 years,” he writes, “then, after moving here, I chose to become active again. I even came out during fast and testimony meeting. The local ecclesiastical leader presiding that day told me I did wonderfully, and when I sat down, I simply wept. Once Sacrament meeting was over, about a dozen people came up to me and told me how utterly courageous I was. That talk may have been the most difficult 6 minutes of my life. Even harder than church discipline. Because it was pro-active, not reactive. It came from my very core.

“I feel quite sure,” he continues, “that there isn't a ‘one size fits all’ way to handle being a MoHo. We each have our particular personality types, birth order, desires to do things … or try out everything. What I see more than anything is … that we are now heading towards sprint speed to some type of historical breakthrough. Not in what the church will say. But, in how we perceive ourselves. And that we simply are ‘not going to remain silent anymore’ ...

“Being Jewish by birth has always meant that I am allowed to ask any question I want to ask. My ancestor "wrestled with God".  So, I can pretty much yell at Him if I want.  Being LDS means that I seek to take on the power of the Holy Ghost, to live a life of significance.  Together I am asked to make a difference in my small corner of the world. And stop fixating on my post-mortal reward.  Being gay is a privilege. For me, it is the flip side of the coin to being gifted. I hold it with great esteem and do my best to treat it with care.”

Thanks, Martin, for sharing your story. 

“The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched,
as surely they will be,
by the better angels of our nature."
- A. Lincoln


  1. An absolutely fascinating post. Martin, you have such tremendous courage and inner strength to have gone through these trials and to dare being so true to yourself.

    thank you for sharing this.

  2. Martin, I just have a couple of questions I would like to ask you since I'm going through similar situations right now. I hope they're not too intrusive; I just need some insight.

    How old were your children when you split from their mom? How often did you see them after that and how have those relationships progressed?

    I would appreciate anything else you have to say about your situation. Thank you.

  3. @Libellule - thank you so much for the vote of confidence. I will tell you that something powerful has happened within me these last 72 hours since writing this and now seeing it "out there".

    @ Utahhiker801: When I split, my kids were 11, 9 and 7. I almost left two years earlier, but I had this strong feeling that they were not old enough. So, I hung in there for two more years. Sometimes I wish I had waited just one more year. But, I was screaming inside.

    The great news is that each of them made it in their own way. The first one took a few months before realizing that maybe Daddy is OK because "even if he did run off with Satan, then how come he's right there for me?". The second one thought it was perfectly fine for a boy to "hold hands with another boy". And the third one, when I told her why mommy and daddy couldn't stay together, gasped "just please don't get beaten up in the locker room"! I was blown away by that!

    Settling into the pattern of alternating weekends (I lived 15 miles north) and Wednesday dinners was just OK. That was for 2.5 years. But, then when I lost work at UV and wound up moving to NYC, it became more interesting. I have poured my finances into 6x/year on Delta. And now, since they're teens, it's all about texting. And they are FINE. Although it took me until this year to really believe that. They are all straight A students which pretty much blows me away. They are now the experts for some of their friends whose parents are now splitting (ostensibly for other reasons!). I attribute their success to their fierce independence and probably their mother's superb discipline. Cause, as she warned me before I left, all I would probably become would be a Santa Claus.

    I'd love to be a strong help for you. Feel free to contact Pilgrim if you want to contact me. He will send you to an e-mail for me. And thanks for asking. Because the MOST important thing for all of us is to figure out how to be first class in all our dealings. Like we said we would in our temple recommend interviews. . .

  4. Thanks for sharing your story, Martin. I have been hoping to hear more about your story since we first met at Horizon's Christmas party. Hopefully we'll have a chance to meet and talk more in the future.

  5. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that seven months later, I would have met, dated and married Benjamin Clark, moved to Wyoming to be with him, found myself ready and willing to help others in similar circumstances and now believe that I have a lot more to write. Ah, the power of writing one's story!