Friday, May 6, 2011

Where I'm At: A Culture of Secrets

“Society has forced people who are gay to be secretive, to obsess with why they are ‘different’ when in reality, in a perfect world, none of that would matter.”

So wrote an online friend recently in an e-mail.   The context in which he was writing was different, but I couldn’t help but consider how relevant his statement is to what I’m currently thinking and feeling as I continue the process of coming out.

Of course, anyone who is gay – unless they were divinely favored with a superhuman dose of self-esteem, raised by celestially-enlightened parents and blessed with an extraordinary amount of self-knowledge – has had experience with being secretive, has developed to some degree the art of concealment, and has learned to be – even if only for a brief period - wary.

All of this goes with being in the closet and, fortunately for those young gay men now coming of age, society has become much more accepting of homosexuality.  The culture of secrets is slowly dying out among the younger generations, much as the old childhood diseases faded away into history.  Large segments of society now not only embrace but defend those who are “different,” and we are on a trajectory to a world where “none of that will matter.”

But I digress.

I have spent most of my life in the closet, and when I took my first tentative steps out, I was obsessed with secrecy.  I slowly (although some might say rapidly) told those close to me, including my older children, that I am gay.  For a long while, I couldn’t even bring myself to use that word (“gay”).  I still struggle with it, but I’m getting better.  (It’s kind of like saying “Voldemort” when one is accustomed to saying the equivalent of “I’m that which must not be named”).

I only recently realized, however, that what I was doing with my children was simply bringing them into an enlarged closet – at least as far as they are concerned.  This insight came to me from a fellow gay father at a meeting last weekend, and it hit me like a 2x4, right between the eyes.  I have been asking them not to tell anyone; to join the secret-keepers’ club. 

Initially, this was ostensibly out of concern for my younger children, lest they “find out.”  But it wasn’t until I heard my friend’s comment the other night that I realized what a burden I had placed upon my children by asking them to essentially come into the closet with me and share in my shame.

In the mean time, starting around the first of the year, I started getting “out there” more, making friends.  I joined the Salt Lake Men’s Choir as the real me.  This was reality; I couldn’t use a pseudonym.  It was a little scary, but I gradually got used to the idea of more people (albeit in the ‘community’) knowing who I am and knowing my real name.

This process has now been going on for several months, and I think I am approaching a crossroads.  I’m not out at work yet, but I’m thinking I’m going to at least tell my boss before the end of the month – not that I need to; but I think I want to.  Sort of like when I wrote my coming out letter to my sister back in October:  I didn’t really need to tell her, but I wanted her to know me for who I really am. 

Similarly, I’m getting to the point where I want certain people to know me for who I really am. Because of my relationship with them, I am beginning to feel increasingly that every day that goes by without them knowing the real me is another day that I, in a way, live a lie.

What I’m still having a problem with, what I fear, is people in my old ward finding out.  I tell myself that my concern is for my wife and children and what they might be subjected to.  But I know that that isn’t the real reason, or at least not the main one.  I’m not sure exactly – at least I cannot articulate it – what the real reason is.  I have been challenged by a friend to figure it out and then do something about it.

What am I afraid of?  What does this say about me?  Do I just need to give myself more time?


  1. Wow! What an important realization you made about asking your children to share in your shame by keeping the secret. That is so powerful!

    I agree with the green/black quote you have above> when living in shame, we see shadows and fear ghosts around every turn. What I realize, often is that when I see myself in a bad light, I believe that everyone else does too, which isn't the case outside of the warped lenses I sometimes wear.

    Your concern about the ward is valid, yet what will that do? I think that in a way, it would be the final thread that gives life to the life you had been leading in the church. It is normal to not want to sever that life thread because it would mean the death of that "you", the role of you that you played diligently for so long.

    My question would be> do you need to announce it to them? should you just tell your former bishop and leave it at that and let the cards fall as they may? In essence, letting the cards fall as they may is testifying your truth and letting go of the old roles. Who will remain standing to see the loving, beautiful person you are? Those who love YOU for who you are and are becoming.

  2. WoW! Libellule - what you have written is both beautiful and powerful. Thank you!!!!!!

  3. I am dealing with similar issues - avoiding communicating with relatives and people from church who I am sure would disapprove of my new lifestyle. So although I am kind of out at work, I am still in the closet for a lot of other people especially back in the US. Or maybe I am not since my wife could have told them. But I really don't want to know - I'd rather keep my head buried in the sand.

    You raise a good question: What am I afraid of? I'll take a stab - for me it is the fear of shattering the image of me as the dedicated Christian man, husband and father. That is an ideal in my mind that I somehow cannot let go of. And I assume my relatives and church friends have that view of me and I can't stand to think of their disappointment or disapproval.

    Now I am not sure time will help. I have been stuck in this stage for a year and a half since I separated from my wife. And I have really not wanted to grapple with it. But I move back to the US after 5 years abroad in 2 months with my partner, so I am looking for opportunities to work on it then.

    Thanks for raising this issue and making me do some self-analysis.

  4. I can see the struggle between wanting greater authenticity in relationships and possible harms. I think you're considering the relevant factors, and I'm confident you'll make a lot out of whichever choice you determine is the most promising.

  5. Thanks, Brad. Hope things are going well for you.