Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Where I’m At: Growing My New Gay Skin

A friend pointed out to me over the weekend that I haven’t been writing much about what’s been going on in my life lately.  As I reflected on this and recent events in my life, my thoughts turned to a post I wrote back in early January called “What Does It Mean to be Gay?”.  I have recently reread that post, and I was surprised by the insights and counsel that the man I was then has offered to man I am now.  I’d like to quote some parts of that post and relate it to what I’m learning and going through right now.

“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.

“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 … my gay identity is not something I can “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 ... 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.”

Almost three weeks have now passed since I moved out of the family home.  Over 2-1/2 months have passed since I wrote that post. During the period between writing it and moving out, I had a number of experiences that enabled me to begin to learn what it means for me to be gay. However, it has really only been since moving out that I feel that I have really begun making progress in growing my new gay skin.

True to my prediction back in early January, growing this skin has sometimes been anxiety-provoking and disorienting. I described this phenomenon in an e-mail to a friend late last week:  “I had been feeling a little weird [last night] … I think I was kind of missing my kids and feeling a bit of disorientation, which comes over me from time to time like a wave of nausea. It passes, but while I have it, I kind of feel sick at heart and in mind. I let things get to me … which normally wouldn't get to me.

Growing a new skin, forging a new identity, is not an easy task. That’s one reason why I am so grateful for the group of gay friends that I have. We had a party on Saturday night to celebrate me moving on with my life, and it was really great to be able to celebrate with these friends and to thank them for the tremendous difference they have made in my life in just a short three month-period.

Surprised by Joy

But, with the disorientation and anxiety also come periods of happiness and even joy. Yesterday evening, I went to the quarterly forum of The Family Fellowship (an LDS support group for families with LGBT members) and was privileged to hear a presentation by MaryBeth Raynes, a social worker and therapist who has almost 35 years of experience working with members of the LGBT community in the Salt Lake area. 

Among the many thought-provoking comments Ms. Raynes shared were some relating to the concept of shame.  She talked about how so many of the gay Mormon (particularly young) men who come to see her carry deep levels of shame, to the point where, instead of seeing problems in their lives, they see themselves as the problem. Such people, she said, are so deeply enveloped in shame that they find it impossible to experience happiness except perhaps in brief moments that are soon re-enveloped in shame.

I could relate to what she was saying, as this has been my experience for most of my life. But since starting the coming out process, and particularly since moving out, I have had experiences which have brought me happiness and even joy – a joy that I could not comprehend while living in the closet, a joy that I feel in my heart comes from fulfilling the measure of my creation. 

There have been occasions, during this last while, when I have felt like I can be myself and when I get in touch with myself. All the pretense has fallen away, and I'm often surprised at who “comes out” at such times, i.e., the gay man that I’m just getting to know - a part of me that's been carefully hidden for decades, who only now, at certain times and in certain situations, feels safe in coming out. Then, joy has come, and I have been surprised. 


Another important element in growing my new gay skin has been to (finally) take advantage of opportunities to both feed my spirit and get in touch with my inner self through culture. On Friday evening, a good friend and I went to see the spring concert of the Orchestra at Temple Square. That same friend and I went to a play the previous weekend, and we are planning to see a musical this coming weekend. 

On Sunday, another friend and I went to mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. I was trying to think as we were driving there if I had ever attended a mass since joining the Church over 25 years ago, and I came to the conclusion that I had not. It was therefore extremely interesting for me to go into that beautiful church and sit prior to the commencement of the mass, looking at the stained glass windows, at the paintings on the walls and ceilings, at the stations of the cross that lined the walls on either side of me, all the while listening to the magnificent prelude music coming from the organ.  Then came the main reason I had wanted to attend mass there – the entrance of the Cathedral choir. Listening to their beautiful music throughout the mass was nourishing for my spirit. 

But beyond all of this came the peculiar spiritual feelings as I was transported back to the faith of my childhood and youth. I was amazed at what came back to me, the remembrances of certain responses, the sung Lord’s Prayer, the feelings I had as a child when I felt close to God. All of these memories and feelings wafted in and out of the chambers of my heart and mind during the course of the mass.

Attending these concerts and mass has nourished that part of me that for so long craved experiences such as this. So many times, for example, I have wanted over the course of the past 15 years or so to attend Madeleine Festival concerts or the Eccles Organ Festival concerts, or various concerts on Temple Square, but did not do so because my wife wasn’t interested. Now, I can freely nourish all those bits of me that I repressed years ago because I thought they were too close to my gay center.

Post Script:  Picked Up

This blog has been a tremendous outlet for me since coming out, but has also opened up a wide variety of opportunities to meet people, share ideas and – perhaps, in a small way – make a difference. 

I was therefore very pleased this past week when I was contacted by an individual who maintains a website devoted to the arts in the Berkshire Mountain region of western Massachusetts. He had read my review of Trembling Before G-d, a documentary about the experience of gays and lesbians within Hasidic and ultra-orthodox Jewish communities, and was intrigued by my comments about the parallels between the experiences of queer Hasidics and those of gays and lesbians who come out of the Mormon experience. He asked for and received my permission to essentially re-post my review on his website in advance of the film being shown at Williams College in connection with a visit by the film’s director, Sandi DuBowski.  

It’s always flattering to be picked up like this and to see how my scribblings in the shadows of the everlasting hills reach wider audiences. It serves as an inspiration to me to keep moving forward into my new world, discovering, reading, watching, pondering.  


  1. What you say here is so rich and encouraging for anyone on the path of coming out or aligning their lives with what they believe is their true self.

    As said by my literary guru: "But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?" - Albert Camus

    - As he knew that he was condemned to death at 17 with tuberculosis,who knew that there was only one chance at living, he not only took the route of "be who you are at whatever the cost" but align your life, your daily actions, thoughts and words ... and there you will find harmony, and from harmony comes deep, rich, profound happiness.

    courage, mon cher....

  2. I, for one, am definitely glad you "came out." In the short time we have known each other, you have come to be a friend that I cherish in this journey we call life. I'm thankful to know you and to be able to walk along this road with you!

  3. I just read your post while sitting in a comfortable chair in my room on the 30th floor of the Bay Front Hilton in San Diego gazing out over the beautiful Harbor; me thinks the world holds many wonders and marvels.

    I believe that the true essence of art and beauty is to enliven, enrich, and bring meaning to our life experience; what a shame to not have freedom to feel and enjoy them.

    I am thinking how unfortunate it would have been for me and many in your readership had you not chosen to allow your true self to emerge and then share your insights with us. I believe the moments of doubt and disorientation are part of the process. Remember when you were a boy playing in the snow (did you play in the snow?) and your hands became so cold they were numb? Then when you went in to warm them at the stove, they stung as feeling returned.

    A corny analogy, I admit, but I think emerging from lifelessness is sort of like that – it has been for me anyway.

    Thank you!


  4. @Libellule - Thanks for the Camus-ian comments.:)

    @Kev - I appreciate your friendship.

    @Trey - I'm envious of where you're at, but don't begrudge you. :) Your analogy of the frozen hands is apt. Thanks for sharing it. Enjoy San Diego!