I continued to make huge strides this past weekend in my coming out process. It wasn’t that I told anyone else that I am gay. I didn’t make any announcements. But I came to a place in my heart, previously undiscovered, where I found acceptance, affirmation and love, which in turn allowed me to embrace who I am in a way I had not previously been capable of. It was as if I was discovering a home I never knew I had.
What led to these discoveries, to this acceptance, affirmation and love? Travelling to St. George to help prepare for and attend Equality Utah’s First Annual Equality Celebration in Southern Utah.
It was a last minute thing. When I was in St. George a month ago with the Salt Lake Men’s Choir, I was invited by new friends to come back for this event; but things didn’t work out, and I thought I would have to pass.
I was bummed about this, partly because I had fallen in love with what little I saw of St. George while there for the choir trip. Though I have lived in Utah for over 15 years, this was the first time I had been to southern Utah (as difficult as that may be for native Utahns to believe). I grew up in the East, the land of green trees and verdant fields, and I had never before felt any attraction to the American Southwest, land of adobe, rocks, cactus and sand. Thus, whenever I had heard anyone rave about St. George, I had simply dismissed it.
That was before the choir trip. As I wrote here, I was greatly affected by that trip, and I sensed a strange connection to that place. I was surprised and a little bewildered, because I hadn’t expected to like Saint George. Instead, I found myself falling in love with it.
Since I thought I wouldn’t be able to attend, I had put the Equality Utah event out of my mind. But then last week, another new friend who was also involved in planning the event invited me to come down for the weekend and stay at his place, and he also arranged for me to ride down with some friends of his.
In my “old” life, I wasn’t very good at handling “surprises” or sudden developments such as this, no doubt a manifestation of the rigid, controlled conformity I had imposed upon myself. But, for some strange reason, spontaneity has started to come much more easily to me since coming out. I fairly easily overcame the obstacles that my mind threw up, and I was ready to ride.
One of those obstacles was putting myself in a situation where I would be in a car for several hours with two strangers. This isn’t something I would have readily done prior to coming out. I was somewhat apprehensive as I waited at the designated meeting place for the straight couple I would be riding down with, but not nearly as much as I would have been a year ago.
As it turned out, “Doug” and “Karen” were a very personable couple, very outgoing and friendly. We were hardly on the road before I was asked if I had children, then how many, where I lived, etc. – all normal questions upon meeting someone new in the Mormon world.
I didn’t have a problem talking about these aspects of my life. I told them a bit about my children, and it wasn’t too terribly long before I reached a point where I brought up what I had mistakenly assumed they already knew, i.e., that I am gay. I had assumed that my friend “Dave” would have told them, but as soon as I said, “I assume that Dave told you that I am gay,” I realized that, of course, Dave wouldn’t have done this. He would have left it to me to say. And the looks on their faces told me that, indeed, Dave had not told them this.
After we all got over the initial shock and awkward moment after I had matter-of-factly said, “I assume Dave told you that I am gay,” I told them my story. They were very receptive and understanding: within the past year or so, several of the husband’s friends had come out to him, and they had discovered that others in their circle of family and acquaintances are gay. To their credit, they had spent the past year reviewing and revising long-held ideas and attitudes, opening themselves up to new understandings about homosexuality and what it means to be Mormon and gay.
This was an important exercise in openness and honesty for me. It was the first time that I had found myself in a social situation with straight people who didn’t previously know me, where my gayness was front and center. I didn’t try to hide it, and I have to say that I was rather proud of myself for putting “it” right out there.
I still struggle to get the “g[ay]” word out sometimes, but it is becoming increasingly easier with time and practice, and the weekend to come made a huge difference in my ability to not only admit that I am gay, but to state and affirm that I am gay; and beyond that – which is what really matters – to affirm that I am a person of worth, worthy of my own love and the love and affection of others.
Dave told me that it would be a working weekend, and he was right. I spent the entire day Saturday out at the venue site northwest of St. George. The dinner would be held outdoors, and there was a lot of work to be done, unloading and setting up tables and chairs for 275 guests.
As I worked, I met and had a chance to talk to and get to know several people. It was such a nice feeling to be outside on a beautiful sunny day, talking to other gays and lesbians (as well as straight people), hearing a bit of their stories and simply being – living in and enjoying the present. A couple of the people I met are truly extraordinary, and I had the feeling that I had known them somehow, somewhere; there was a connection I can’t explain or describe. (And no, I don’t believe we knew each other in the pre-existence.)
I experienced a feeling of lightness of spirit, a feeling that I had rarely experienced in my life: a feeling of happiness. At times, I looked up at the blue sky and the red rock cliffs and thought, “Man, this feels so good to just be here, to be helping with this event that celebrates who I am.” In those moments, and in others throughout the day and evening, I began to feel like I was truly coming to the home I never knew I had – the home where I can truly be who I am and live who I am. (For, despite all my efforts, I have to admit that I don’t think I ever really felt “at home” in the traditional Mormon home and family that I had worked so hard to create with my wife.)
Then, that evening, both before and after the dinner and program, I met several more people with whom I enjoyed talking. This doesn’t sound particularly extraordinary, does it? But it was – for me. In the past, I HATED cocktail parties and business receptions. I hated making small talk and wasn’t particularly interested in getting to know people.
On Saturday night, however, it was different. I actually enjoyed meeting people, talking to them, getting to know something about them and sharing things about me. I wasn’t hiding behind any walls or masks. I could totally be who I am, and that ability put me at ease and enabled me to enjoy others – just as they are. It sounds totally hokey, but it was an AWESOMELY COOL experience – literally a first for me, which is pretty exciting considering how many miles I’ve put on as I’ve traveled the roads of life.
These and other experiences over the weekend have taken me to a different place than I was a week ago. I have found a place in me I never knew existed, a home I never knew I had; and it feels … amazing, wonderful and exciting. As I said to my sister the other day, I haven’t started a new chapter in my life; I’ve started a new book.