I have chosen to write about coming out of a closet – the closet that hid part of who I really am, a part of me that I always knew was there but never wanted to acknowledge or accept.* I guess part of the reason I never came out is that I was afraid of the names I might be called: “liberal,” “left-wing wacko,” “commie,” “bleeding heart,” and, the worst of all – “Democrat.” It was just so much easier to go along with the crowd, pretending I was something I wasn’t, until the internal conflict became too great – and I snapped. I could no longer deny who I was, who I am.**
For those who are familiar with my blog and my story, I am gay and started my journey out of the closet last October after Boyd Packer’s infamous address at the LDS General Conference. This coming out was preceded, however, by another kind of coming out – a political one.
As was the case with my gay coming out, my political coming out was precipitated by an event which caused built-up internal conflict to finally erupt. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the controversy over the construction of the “Ground Zero Mosque.” Regardless of the merits of the project, I was incensed that a number of conservative politicians and talking heads were blatantly seeking to make “political hay” by fueling the racist, Muslim-phobic hysteria that was sweeping through seemingly large swaths of America. I was outraged by the assaults launched on (true) religious freedom by the very people who purport to fight for and cling to it – namely, conservatives who happened to be – you guessed it - Republicans (Orrin Hatch being a notable, and lonely, exception).
I guess it took something like this to finally jar myself loose from my inherited political moorings and for me to accept who I truly am. My father was a staunch Republican, as was his father before him. (I was not raised a Mormon, by the way, but am a convert.) I inherited a loathing of labor unions, left-wing pinkos (i.e., Democrats) and nutters like the Kennedys, George McGovern and Jimmy Carter. Because of the way I was raised, and because of a desire to please my father (it’s complicated), I embraced establishment Republicanism as my own and identified strongly with this party and its policies for most of my life.
While being raised in an environment of establishment Republicanism, however, my hidden truth was that I secretly admired the vision of such great Democratic leaders as Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy; I secretly pined to be part of a cause that was more exciting and inspiring than, say, reducing capital gains tax. I harbored largely hidden beliefs in the freedom and liberty of the individual, in the importance of community and the need for a just society.
I furtively admired Thomas Jefferson, and got goose bumps when I stood in his Memorial in Washington, D.C., and read these awesome words: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” And the goose bumps turned into an embarrassing level of excitement (tongue firmly in cheek here) when I contemplated these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I don’t know where these tendencies toward democratic ideals came from; I think I must have been - in the immortal words of Lady Gaga - born that way. They seemed to always be a part of me, to be preset; and try as I might, I could never overcome them. Part of me felt that being conservative was the sensible and responsible thing to do, but another part of me longed to campaign for Ted Kennedy and join Greenpeace; and sometimes the temptation to join the ACLU became almost overwhelming. I never acted on any of these secret impulses, however. I had occasional opportunities to hookup with liberal causes, but I was too afraid to take advantage of them, afraid of living openly who I really was inside.
Then, during the midst of the Reagan years, I moved abroad and lived, until halfway through the Clinton years, outside the United States. During this period, I lived in several countries that some would call “social democracies.” Here, I had my first really serious identity crisis: instead of seeing mass unemployment, complete subjugation of the individual and a hedonistic society – things I had been told would result from social democracy – I saw networks of community centers, affordable health care available to all, tolerance of other races, cultures and faiths, and a comparative absence of crimes committed with guns. I saw value attached to the concepts of communitarianism, equality and belonging to a world-wide community of nations. I saw secularism and religion existing side by side, each knowing their place, each content to fill it and stay in it.
I became very confused. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing and experiencing. I had feelings I couldn’t explain. I mean, I was experiencing strong attractions to social democracy – something I had been taught since infancy was “impure and unnatural”. Nevertheless, I couldn’t deny that something was stirring deep within me. I tried to turn away from these attractions, but they kept becoming stronger and stronger. For the first time in my life, I thought that – perhaps – I could overcome my upbringing, come out of my conservative Republican closet, embrace authenticity and live life as an openly liberal democratic man.
Then, we moved to Utah. For the first time since joining the LDS Church, my political affiliation (i.e., orthodox Republicanism) became an additional gauge of worthiness and orthodoxy. Suddenly, I knew I must abandon all thoughts of embracing my true identity and instead redouble my efforts to hide what by now I had admitted were latent Democratic tendencies. I knew this was something I could never confess to my bishop. I must maintain my Republican persona for my own sake as well as the sake of my family and do everything in my power to repress these tendencies.
At first, it wasn’t too difficult to blend in with the Republican crowd. But occasionally, comments would be made that would cause anger to swell within me; situations would arise where I felt forced to act totally contrary to my true nature.
Over time, these conflicts and tensions became almost unbearable – until I finally snapped, deciding I could no longer go on living who I wasn’t. And so, I came out: as a liberal Democrat.
There, I said it! I am a liberal Democrat. That is my truth. For years, I lived in denial of who I really am. But I finally came to a point where I knew I could no longer live a lie, and I have (in part) Sarah Palin to thank for that.
For the first time in my life, I put a yard sign in front of my home on behalf of a Democratic candidate. For the first time in my life, I gave voice to my true, innermost political feelings. It felt so liberating! So real! So authentic! I was told I couldn’t live as an openly Democratic man in Utah – that it was one thing to confine my politics to the privacy of a voting booth, but it was quite another to live my politics out loud; but I know others have done it, are doing it, and so can I.
I still haven’t worked up enough courage to actually join the Democratic Party or attend a convention or meeting; I don’t think I’ve been out long enough yet. But I know that day will come. Do you think they have a Democratic Pride day in Utah? Just asking.
* This post is being concurrently published at Main Street Plaza.
** I hope readers will realize that this post was written very much tongue-in-cheek. It isn’t intended to elicit a discussion of the virtues or vices of conservatism, liberalism, Republicanism or Democratic-ism. It is simply a personal statement which I have endeavored to express with humor and a degree of wit. If nothing else, I hope you will appreciate the tongue-in-cheek approach and get a chuckle out of it.
Meanwhile, I will continue tomorrow the series of letters addressed to Anonymous.