Monday, June 20, 2011

In the Gay World, But Not Of the Gay World

This expression came into my mind this past weekend, and I couldn’t help but smile, albeit wryly.  This play on what is a well-used scriptural expression in the Mormon world seemed to capture some of what I felt this past weekend as I bounced back and forth between my old “family” world and my new “gay” world and continued the process of acclimation to that new world.

It started Friday night as I went to my very first LGBT Film Festival, here in Salt Lake, and saw “Beginners.”  The film tells the story of a man and his father, the latter of whom comes out as a gay man after his wife of 45 years dies of cancer.  Primarily a story about relationships, the film also (lightly) touches on issues of what it meant to both the father and his wife, as well as to his son, to live in what we would today call a mixed-orientation marriage.

I have to admit that the movie caused me to be a bit reflective about my own marriage and current situation, and I started to feel that same old disoriented feeling that I have experienced so many times since beginning my journey out of the closet.  This feeling was somewhat dulled by the stiff rum and coke I was served at the after-party (which had been prepared using a Dixie cup as a shot glass), but then was exacerbated by a growing sense that I was a foreigner in this crowd of people, someone who had come late to the party and didn’t quite fit in.

The following morning, I re-entered my family world as I took my kids to see “Hop.”  As I sat there watching this movie about the Easter Bunny and contrasted it with the movie I had watched the previous evening, I have to say I was feeling more than a little bipolar, and the situation seemed somewhat surreal.  I had fun with my kids, but I also felt a sense of disconnectedness to them, like I was no longer part of their world, but only a visitor to it.

Later that day, I reentered the gay world as a friend took me on my maiden (not sure if that is the right word) visit to Mischievous – a store in Salt Lake that sells various “types” of underwear, sex toys, and a number of other, ummm, items.  It was obvious that my friend, who has been out for 20 years, felt totally comfortable in the place.  For my part, I wasn’t bothered by the merchandise.  But whereas he was totally at ease talking with the sales clerk (who appeared to be gay) about his purchases, I was very conscious of feeling apprehensive that I might be perceived as … gay.  Duh. 

That evening, my friend and I spent a delightful evening at the home of an older gay couple who had invited us for dinner.  Yesterday, I went over to the family home for a Father’s Day dinner, to which I had been invited by my wife.  Again, that feeling of bipolarity.  Again, that feeling of being a visitor to my kids’ world. Again that feeling of disorientation … and the fear that arises that I will never feel “oriented” again … or even worse, that my coming out is all one huge, terrible mistake.

I hope this doesn’t come across as whiny.  I’m just trying to figure out what the hell is going on in my life and what all of these feelings I have mean.  Writing about it helps me to make sense of what’s going on in my life.  The conclusion I’ve come to this past weekend is that – drumroll – I’m going through a lot of adjustments. 

I’m not fully acclimated into the “gay” world, but how could I be?  I’ve only been out 10 minutes.  In a purely intellectual sense, it’s natural for me to feel disoriented as I bounce back and forth between the “gay” world and the “family” world.  But this rationalization of the experience doesn’t lessen the whipsaw effect – the emotional ebbs and flows (not to mention the sudden jerks and pulls) that I feel as I engage in that bouncing activity.

The real lesson I think I’ve learned this past weekend is that I still have a long way to go in this process of coming out.  A friend of mine read my aura and my palm on Friday night while a group of us were sitting around a table at a local gay bar.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of what he said (due in part to the stiff rum and coke I previously mentioned), but I do remember him talking about how crazy my aura was:  stuff going off every which way, all mixed up, about me hiding things, about my life being fragmented.

When I first heard him say these things, I thought, “What?  But I’ve come out!  I’ve embraced who I am!  Why are you talking about, me being guarded and fragmented?”  Over the course of the weekend, however, I realized he was right:  I pass from one area of my life to another like a Berliner traveling through Checkpoint Charlie from the East to the West, and then visa versa. 

My life is not integrated.  It is fragmented.  This is something I need to work on.  To take the metaphor a bit further, I need to tear down the walls between and unify the various parts of who I am and what my life is.  No more checkpoints; no more sectors.  

Furthermore, I need to keep working at being more comfortable in my own gay skin, at not only (so to speak) living in the gay world, but being of the gay world.


  1. I got a real kick out of reading this. Takes me back to my time bouncing back and fourth trying to integrate the two worlds I found myself trying to navigate. The new found sense of who I was, made my old world unfamiliar and yet my isolation of the new world kept me feeling like an outsider a lot.

    Part of it for me was a strong awareness that I was coming to terms with an identity that I had repressed and yet much of what I liked about myself still came through. But it, in many ways, conflicted with the most visible aspects of the gay culture. That kept me at a distance.

    I witnessed many others trying to navigate the gay culture as they came out. Many, especially the younger kids seem to take that on as their new identity which is understandable. Many of these kids would jump into it thinking that if you're gay then you must be into all these stereotypical things that seem to be sold back to the gay community via the media. For instance, I don't understand the over the top, in my mind, popularity with 80's style dance music or Lady Gaga, fashion etc. or any of that edgy pop culture. The 80's? That was popular when I was a kid and dominated the gay culture back then, why does it still dominate it today? I wonder. Sure, it can be fun at times but it isn't what I'm about. But many seem to take to it which is ok, but many were doing it to fit in only.

    Remember, we used to do similar things when trying to live in the Church. You talked a lot about what you took on in yourself when you were navigating your marriage. Be aware of that pattern of behavior as you go out and discover what else is out there. Don't like it and do it just because the culture does. etc.

    Also, rethink a bit you're last sentence. And realize the wisdom that is "in the world but no of the world." I.e. to be in the gay world but not of the gay world. In other words, don't let the culture define who you are.

    And one last bit of unsolicited advice, reign in a bit on how stiff you make the rum and cokes. This period in your life, you need to stay sober as much as possible. :)

  2. I have felt this way for months.

  3. Yes we live in segmented ways for a while anyway. I've noticed that about my life/time with: 1. Kids, 2. Jeff, 3. Work, 4. Friends (depending on which group of friends I happen to be) but isn't that what we already do in life anyway? I do see that some of the lines are starting to blur and I hope that it only gets better but yes it is definitely an adjustment to be in a bar with friends one day and being a Disney dad within a few hours. Hang in there...I know we've say it often, but IT DOES GET BETTER!

  4. Check out the Cass Identity Model ( Right now, it may feel like you can sort of identify with both worlds, but eventually you'll be able to synthesize your interactions with both into a single identity. It takes a lot of time to do that, but a good first step is to realize that there is no singular "gay culture". You're experiencing a certain segment of gay people. If you like them, that's great. If you don't, you don't have to think you need to be like them. Eventually, the lines start to blur until you don't remember that there were ever lines there in the first place (it took me three years or so), but you have to stay true to your own personality for it to happen.

  5. The phrase, to be "in the world but not of it" is not really found in the scriptures, I don't believe. And it makes an assumption that is misleading--that the "world" is bad, somehow. Being "in the world" can be a beautiful thing, as there is so much that is beautiful and praiseworthy in the world.

    Do not think that there are two worlds through which you must move between. There is one world that encompasses all.

    With a rum and coke in one hand you must now journey out into that world and forge a morality that is right for you. Both "worlds" developed out of particular dysfunctions, be it superstitions and patriarchy, or be it the dysfunctions that developed from the hidden world of the closet.

    Suppose for a moment that you suddenly became an atheist and divorce yourself from all the "morality" that you once supposed was right and true based on your teachings from religion. Is it morally OK to drink a rum and coke? What about intimacy between other men as an expression of friendship? of deep love? What is moral and what is immoral?

    But in reality, you are not an atheist. Yet many of the assumptions that formed the sexual morality given to you from society and religion were developed over the centuries based on ideas surrounding patriarchy, pregnancy, and subjugation of women. The biblical worldview is more and more becoming untenable in modern society. A new worldview and ideas about what is morally right are changing and evolving in society. As they always have. And perhaps they are also for you.

    It may seem like you are moving between two "worlds" but in fact there is one. And you must find your place there.

    Take God with you as you journey forth.

  6. TGD - Thanks for your insights and observations. You're right: I need to find myself, to forge my own path, to integrate, to sift and sort and create a new integrity that is forged from the inside out, rather than from the outside in.

    Joe and Miguel - So grateful to have you as friends and mentors (and, if necessary, co-commiseraters). :)

    Evan - Thanks for the link and for your comments. I think you hit on a key word, which is "synthesize." I know I need to be realistic and realize that this process will take a while; but I allow myself the luxury of whining from time to time.

    Steven B - I hear what you are saying. For me, it's not really a matter of morals (most of the time). But I really like your last sentence. This, I think, is a huge hurdle for people like me: we too easily cede God to the gatekeepers, believing we have to leave Him behind. In doing so, they win and I lose. I'm working on that. :)

  7. Both "worlds" developed out of particular dysfunctions, be it superstitions and patriarchy, or be it the dysfunctions that developed from the hidden world of the closet.

    This is an extraordinary insight. Both of these worlds are ghettos.

    Integration will occur when you're in neither of these places exclusively. There's a big world out there. Maybe it's time to join a mostly straight, mostly non-Mormon hiking club and get some fresh air on a Saturday afternoon. There are more channels on TV than just KBYU and Logo. The awesome power your TV's remote control awaits.

    :- )