Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Where I'm At: Clearing Out the Back of the Closet

Several things have prompted me in the past week to metaphorically clean out the back of my closet – you know, the Closet.  By the back of the closet, I mean dealing with people and events from my distant past:  I decided to come out to my brother, the last of my siblings to find out, and to also start coming out to some of my friends from high school.

Why?  Well, it was initially prompted by some comments left by Aaron Andrus, Jon Hastings and others over on the Mormon Stories LGBTQ Support Community Page.   I was struck by the following comment by Aaron: 

“I've always felt disconnected from myself in a way, and disconnected from humanity. That sounds kind of lame, but as I distance myself from the church I discover greater and greater beauty in the human experience. All of it. Many of my relationships will suffer, I know, but they'll be replaced by real, rich, authentic relationships with people who accept all of me, and I'll have my first real shot at happiness--something we all deserve regardless of race, creed, gender, or orientation. We only get one shot at life, and I'm not willing to spurn one more minute of it.”

Aaron’s comments were followed by these from Jon: 

“I relate to the disconnectedness too. From self and others. Until I started to embrace my sexuality instead of fight it and lean into the uneasy tension created by being both gay and Mormon. The disconnectedness also started to dissipate as I became more open and transparent about my sexuality.  I was talking to someone at Sunstone last weekend (it might have been Emily Vandyke) about part of the disconnectedness coming from always having a part of me that was a secret. People could express their love for me, but it never sank in because no one knew the whole me and so I could just dismiss their expressions of love … I also think that when we shut down a part of us that needs to find expression, it affects other aspects of self. It creates a mistrust of self.”

How I could relate to Aaron’s and Jon’s comments!  I believe it is impossible to reject one’s sexuality, to attempt to asphyxiate it, without shutting down other parts of one’s self.  It is impossible to know or love oneself when one suffers from self-loathing and hatred.  Furthermore, as Jon pointed out, it is impossible to accept the love of others when one basically believes oneself to be unlovable.

As I was pondering over these things, an acquaintance from high school published a comment on Facebook about the old Carnegie library in our home town and about its librarian, a woman who had a marked impact on generations of kids in that town.  As I read his comment, I could picture that little library – an architectural gem – in minute detail.  I could picture hanging out there as a child, as an adolescent.  And that brought back, among other things, memories of me discovering, then suppressing, my sexuality. 

The guy who had written the original comment was known in high school for being a rebel against the iron-clad convention of my small hometown in Illinois.  I had communicated with him on and off in recent years, and I decided that he would be the first person I came out to from my home town.  Of course, I didn’t need to … but after pondering over Aaron’s and Jon’s comments, I decided that I needed and wanted to clean out the back of my Closet – to come out to people who had known me in my youth and adolescence.  I wanted to do this, I decided, to feel more whole, to exorcise the demons of secrecy and suppression that had haunted me all those years ago.

And so I did.  And he was tremendously supportive.  I am quoting here part of what he wrote because I consider it so eloquent in its denunciation of the mindset of the small town in which we grew up: "What folks went (and currently go) through growing up in [our hometown] is astounding to me, in retrospect; the petri-dish, rotoscoped, autopsy-level dissection of peoples' lives as an ongoing spectator sport ... It's criminal, it's the most hypocritical sort of amoral-moralizing I could imagine, but just try ramming such an unconventional notion through the inch-thick plate-glass skulls of such a self-referential and pious bunch of [people]. Not a chance ... Nothing is so frustrating to me as being powerless in the face of such unilateral, mindless, groundless and myopic idiocy. And there's a whole country out there chock-full of it. So I rant."

Wow!  Awesome!  Not only does his description say something about the environment in which I grew up, it also could aptly describe some members of the Church in our wards and branches.

His response was so empowering that I decided to go ahead and come out to my brother and to others I knew millennia ago.  My brother responded as positively as I could have hoped for.  But, again, I wasn’t seeking his approval; I was simply telling him who I am.  And it felt good.


  1. Been reading your blog. It is astonishing how many married gay men are out there. I have always been curious how gay men can indulge in physical relations with a woman? I can understand that they are not emotionally attracted to women, but are they also not physically attracted. And if they are not physically attracted, then how do they "get it up"? It had always seemed to me that a gay man married to a woman is a contradiction in itself, but your blog and many others have forced me to think about this again.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Anonymous.

    I guess I would offer the following as food for thought:

    (1) In general society 20+ years ago, being gay was not accepted nearly as well as it is today. Thus, many closeted gay men, such as I, did not feel it was possible to come out and therefore opted for marriage to a woman.

    (2) Furthermore, men raised in conservative religious traditions, such as Mormonism, felt a huge additional pressure to deny their homosexuality and marry. It is not unusual, within the Mormon world, for gay Mormon men to not even realize they are gay until years into a heterosexual marriage.

    (3) Because of the extremely strong taboo against pre-marital sex of any kind, most closeted gay Mormon men would never have experienced gay sex of any sort prior to getting married.

    (4) It is relatively unusual, for a Mormon man who is a Kinsey 6 to get married; I know of several men who just could not bring themselves to contemplate sex with a woman. Those who do get married, therefore, are typically lower on the scale.

    (5) Taking all these factors into account, young gay Mormon men who get married typically don't have a problem "getting it up" because they're young, they have hormones, and they don't know any better. That being said, it is not uncommon for sex in such marriages to dwindle. Furthermore, once the "forbidden fruit" is actually tasted, unless a man is truly bisexual, I would say - as a general statement - heterosexual sex becomes much more of a challenge, if not an impossibility.

    Just my two cents.

  3. So as you say, Kinsey 6 mormons dont usually get married to women, and people on a scale lower do. So wouldn't they be bisexual then? Excuse my ignorance if im wrong here. For instance, in your case, was there no-negligible sexual attraction to women, or was the sexual attraction to men simply more than women. And wouldnt then the term "gay" be more about a social identity, rather than a sexual identity?

  4. I'm not an expert on the Kinsey Scale, but I'm quite confident that men who aren't a 6 identify as gay. I'm not going to comment on "social identity" vs. "sexual identity" as I don't understand or appreciate the relevance of those terms and any distinction between the two.

    The crucial fact in understanding mixed-orientation marriages is that, historically (and even today, in most cases), such marriages were entered into not by choice but out of a sense of religious and moral duty. In an ideal world where being gay is considered a normality, such would not be the case.

  5. IPs explanation is well spoken. As one high on the Kinsey scale, it was indeed out of a very strong sense of moral and religious duty that I married. That duty came seriously close to cutting short my emotional and physical well-being.

    And as far as how we could "get it up", well, the mind is a powerful, creative system and can compensate when it has to - usually.

  6. Hmm anonymous. So what would my sexual identity be? Homosexual? I'm a 5 out of 6?
    Gay is, I think, a combination of social and sexual identity. I'm also no expert on Kinsey either, but let's say a man had a slight attraction to men and was a 2 on the scale. Is he suddenly a bisexual? He'd probably refer to himself as heterosexual or straight.
    Same thing with men that have a slight attraction to women. They'd probably prefer gay to bisexual.
    Technically speaking, all gay men who are married could call themselves bisexual since one of the elements of the scale is behavior. Because they have had sex with women they could be labeled bisexual. However when they have sex with women not out of preference but out of societal and religious rules and conditioning, is the scale a natural reflection of their orientation?

    People can identify however they wish. But I think what we're talking about with the word gay is the fact that gay men are more sexually and emotionally attracted to men than they are to women. That's sexual orientation.
    It's not clear cut or black and white. Some gay men can make marriage work better than others. Speaking of terms and identities, the oft used term "same-sex attraction" contributes to the confusion. Scientifically, the term is fine. It describes a phenomenon of being attracted to and aroused by men. But it makes no difference for a man who maybe occasionally has a sexual thought or fantasy for a guy, one that's truly bisexual, and one that's almost exclusively homosexual. It also precludes the fact that gay and bisexual men are emotionally attracted to men, or that they desire an emotional connection from a same-sex relationship and instead focuses only on the physical part of that relationship.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with talking in terms of same-sex attraction per se. In Mormondom though, it's come to connote some sort of condition or disease or struggle to be overcome rather than simply a genetic or physiological trait. The stigma attached with the term is what I dislike, as well as an attempt to force people to use it to as an identity as a way to keep them from identifying with other like minded and similarly wired people, i.e. gay.
    But I digress.....