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Saturday, April 15, 2017

I am a gay man

Lunch with my adult son, seated at a small corner table at the Blue Star Cafe in Seattle, discussing the complexities of the past.  It is a conversation that requires being frank and open so all of my usual guards and defenses are, by very intentional design, down. The conversation is, in turns, brutally honest and mundane. There is air to clear and also things to catch up on.  Somewhere in the twists and turns of this conversation, though, I lose my usual composure and hear myself admit something I have never acknowledged before. Never ever said out loud to anyone else, ever: I'm gay.
Maybe the poet is gay
But he'll be heard anyway
   - Bruce Cockburn, from Maybe The Poet
Why did I let that happen, after 55 years of carefully, painstakingly maintained self-suppression? Why then, when I had no plan or thought to suddenly be "outed" and was so good at making sure that could/would never happen? I suppose, on reflection, because in that moment and in the context of that very honest conversation, looking across the table and locking eyes with my son, I simply couldn't maintain the lie any longer.  My defenses were down and I couldn't pull them back up again quickly enough, or I just ran out of the energy to maintain them.
When I spoke the words I am gay
I had let them fester like blood on a prison cell wall.
I hadn’t known that they would free themselves.
   - Alex-Quan Pham, from When I Spoke
Did I mention that my son is also gay?  [I still can't believe I now have the freedom to use a phrase as clear and honest as, "is also gay."] He has been out for several years, is happily married to a wonderful man, and has always had our full support.  When he first told his mother and I that he was gay I was (secretly) delighted for him and we were both quick to let him know that he had our very sincere love and support.  We understood.

I certainly understood. Yet, even in that most-critical and vulnerable moment for him I couldn't bring myself to put my arms around him and tell him just how well and personally I understood.  I didn't tell him that I knew exactly what this was costing him to tell us.  I didn't let him (or his mother) see me later cry tears of joy for him that he lived in a place and time when it really was an option to come out as a gay man, because those tears were also a lament for my own well-hidden secret truth. I couldn't respond fully and authentically to my son when I, more than anyone else in the world, could have been there for him.
Knowing that being
fierce and proud and out and
loud was just a bright new way
to be needy. Please listen to me, oh
what a buzz! you're the only one
I can tell.
   - from Gay Pride Weekend, S.F., 1992 by Brenda Shaughnessy
For a closeted gay man (or anyone with any flavor of hidden self-truth, for that matter) there are hundreds of such moments of clarity and despair, and little bit of you dies each time you face those moments.  There is nobody you can share that pain with, so you internalize it and die a little bit and soldier on again, resolute in your fate.  There are also the thousands of times your well-practiced defenses cause you to constantly monitor your every word and gesture.  Did that sound gay?  OMG - that gesture I just made - did anyone see, did it give me away?  That look someone just made - they know! No, maybe not.  Whew!

A colleague and friend, when I came out to him, observed that gay men who come out later in life tend to have a well developed sense of emotional intelligence and are very in-tune to the emotions and actions of others because of years of constantly monitoring everyone around them at all times, monitoring to make sure they aren't showing signs of knowing.   He likened it to having eyes in the back of your head.
The process of through is ongoing.
The earth doesn’t seem to move, but sometimes we fall
down against it and seem to briefly alight on its turning.
We were just going. I was just leaving,
        which is to say, coming
elsewhere. Transient.
   - Miller Oberman, from On Trans
After I quietly admit (the guilt packed into the choice of that word!) my homosexuality to my son he is kind but doesn't seem particularly surprised. He takes the news in stride almost like I've just said I am going to mow the lawn later that day. He notes, though, that once you walk through that door (coming out) you can't really walk back. That observation will prove to be very prescient, though I don't yet know it.

He asks if I've told his mom - does she know?  No! I'm not looking to make any lifestyle changes, she is my soulmate, so why should I tell her?  Nothing can come from it, but maybe confusion and pain and anxiety.  It seems like a very selfish gesture on my part.  Hmmm. I can tell he's not happy I haven't told her, and I realize I've now placed him in a position of having to be complicit in my untruth.
Little by little, I have become
so careful, no talk
of politics, or orientation:
I let them say, he's “a homosexual,”
without an arch correction. 
  - Randall Mann, from Black Box
A few weeks go by and I'm haunted by the question left hanging from that lunch discussion.  Should I tell my wife?  Is it selfish to tell her or is it something I owe her?  I'm not afraid of her reaction (well, maybe a little, to be honest), knowing how supportive she is and how strong our love for each other is.

My wife and I are listening to an audiobook.  Rick Riordan's The Heroes of Olympus series (which follows the original Percy Jackson series) and suddenly (a little bit of a not-quite-spoiler alert!) one of the characters is brutally outed in front of his friends as being gay and having had a long-time crush on one of the other major male characters.  I feel myself tense up in my chair, feeling his horror and shame.  But this part of the story is handled so beautifully by the author, and it becomes a minor thread in the story moving forward, tenderly handled and comfortingly resolved by the end of the series.  I'm so powerfully moved and sit there wishing there had been any such characters in any story I had access to in my youth - someone like me I could have followed to a foreseeable, possible, happy conclusion.
His voice cracked, and Jason could tell the guy was about to get teary-eyed. Whether Nico had really given up on Percy or not, Jason couldn't imagine what it had been like for Nico all those years, keeping a secret that would've been unthinkable to share in the 1940s, denying who he was, feeling completely alone- even more isolated than other demigods.
   - Rick Riordan, from The House of Hades
But when and where I grew up there was no such option.  I certainly knew there were gay people in the world.  I also knew there were kids who ran away from home to join the circus.  But knowing that was the case didn't make running away to join a circus a real option for me (not that I wanted to!). Knowing there were gay people didn't make being gay an option either.  So I date girls and have crushes on boys and am confused.  I go to college, have even stronger crushes on guys and continue to date girls.  I meet and fall in love with my wife, we get married, and I know things will now be better.   But I don't change just because I've married a woman I am very much in love with. My secret truth remains, so I bury as deeply as I can and build the life I/we have today.

This is the part I don't expect many people to quite understand.  I am happily and contentedly in love with my wife.  We have over 35 years of marriage and are as in-love today as when we were first married. Maybe more so. She is my soul-mate.  I am gay (not, in my case, bi-sexual or anything else on the non-binary expanding sense of human sexuality and gender identity we are finally beginning to acknowledge as a society).  There is no confusion on my part about this fact, and there has never been: I am a gay man.  But I am also in love with my wife, very much a woman.  We have, I have recently learned, what is referred to as a mixed-orientation marriage.

A couple more weeks go by before I realize I really do need to tell my wife.  Two weekends in a row I try to find the courage to initiate that conversation, failing every time to get farther than heart palpitations and sweating palms.  God, this is hard!  Why is it so hard just to be myself?!?  I can't do it. I will do it. I can't do it. I'm going to do it this time. No, I just can't.
“Nico clenched his sword. Sharing his secret crush hadn’t been the worst of it. Eventually he might have done that, in his own time, in his own way. But being forced to talk about Percy, being bullied and harassed and strong-armed simply for Cupid’s amusement … Tendrils of darkness were now spreading out from his feet, killing all the weeds between the cobblestones. Nico tried to rein in his anger.”
   - Rick Riordon, from The Blood of Olympus
Finally, on a Sunday morning we are both sitting in our usual living room chairs.  It's a lazy morning, neither of us really wants to get up from our morning coffee/yerba mate to start tackling the chores of the day.  She makes motions of getting ready to do just that, though, so I know the moment has come. In that instant I also know that if I don't speak now I probably won't ever try again. I push myself to start the conversation knowing that once rolling I will have to finish.

No, don't get up just yet.  I have something I need to share with you.  I watch her eyes get wide with fear - she can sense in my voice that this is something significant and has no idea what it could be.  I pause, because I literally can't get my voice to work and the words are stuck in my throat like a lump of dry clay. My heart is pounding in my ears. She watches me struggling and I can feel her anxiety rising.  I know I need to get this out.  I need to say what I need to say and get quickly to the part about still loving her intensely and not wanting any change of relationship.

I feel like the State Patrol Officer who has to call up a parent and tell them their son or daughter has been involved in an automobile accident but that they are all right: how quickly can you get through the first necessary part of that sentence and get to the reassurance that parent will desperately need to hear?  How quickly can I say the relationship-rocking part and get to the bit about not wanting a different relationship or partner?  Not quickly enough.

I say it baldly - I need to tell you that I am a gay man. She repeats it back in shock - Are you telling me you're a gay man? You?  Yes, me.  This is who I am, who I have always been.  She is totally surprised.  She had no idea, I had hidden it very well.  She takes the news in and then, slowly, we start to talk it through.  She is an amazing woman, and I can sense we're going to be all right. The relief I feel is almost overwhelming.

Even then I figured I'd share this long-held last secret with my wife and then redraw the line there. Since I wasn't looking for any changes of any sort, nobody else had any need to know.  Nobody would know or be able to tell and life would move forward more or less the same.

What I wasn't prepared for, though, was just how cathartic coming out would be. In the discussion with my son it was more like answering a yes/no question. Telling my wife was the first time I allowed myself to say out loud the phrase, I am a gay man. In telling my wife and saying it out loud a huge crushing weight was instantly lifted from me, one I had no idea I had been carrying until that very moment.  It takes a tremendous amount of effort, at all times, to deny a significant part of yourself in every transaction, everywhere you go. I had walked out a door and, as my son had warned several weeks earlier, there really was no going back.  And suddenly I was ok with that, excited about it, even.  And scared, of course.

Since that Sunday I've been letting folks know, one at a time.  People I work closely with, close friends, family, select others. I've been misrepresenting myself for so long that I feel I owe some people an honest conversation.  If I want to participate in conversations with authenticity moving forward I need to give people the opportunity to understand this newly disclosed aspect of myself first.  Part of me resents feeling like I even need to have these conversations, but I also know I have been the one lying and I owe them the truth. I also know I have to give each of them the space to do with that truth what makes sense to and for them.

And now there is this very long and very personal blog post, too.  It is no longer a secret.  The toothpaste isn't going back into the tube.  I am a gay man, that is a part of what makes me, me.
"I'm living by example by continuing on with my career and having a full, rich life, and I am incidentally gay."
   - Portia DeRossi
I hope you are still ok with me, now that you know who I really am.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Open Season

Blue sky sunshine, sunglasses, swollen full moon hanging low in the sky, Sigur Rós cranked up, snow-flake warning icon showing on my car's instrument panel (warning me the temperature could mean ice on the road) but the roof panel is slid all the way back - full open - so my bald patch can fly in the cold morning air.

I never live with balance
I always wake up nervous
Light comes at me sideways
I hold my breath forever  
I never live with balance
Though I've always liked the notion
I feel that endless hunger
For energy and motion  
     - Bruce Cockburn, from Open

Spring is finally showing up here in the Pacific Northwest, even if we are still having to glimpse it between rain showers and wind storms.  Quick - see the pretty pink petals on the cherry trees before the wind rips them all off and the rain drives them down to the wet sidewalks and lawns below.  If you're slow - see the the pretty pink ground beneath the cherry trees!

I suspect there is nearly as much poetry about spring as there is about loss, both subjects being powerful muses for creative souls.  This morning I found a beautiful poem (with great alliteration throughout!) about spring in New Mexico.  I was drawn to the poem because of the many summers I spent in southern New Mexico as a boy, though spring was the one season I don't think I ever got to experience there:

Spring danced over the cactus plains,
Vaguely tender in timid green,
Veiled in the sudden, fleeting rain's
Silver sheen.
No mad riot of buds, and yet
Wild poppies and mignonette,
Flung from her floating garland gown,
Fluttered down. 
    - from Spring-New Mexico, by Rose Henderson
Spring is a season of openings and, after all, I think we're really ready for it this year.

Today's full playlist (all Sigur Rós):
  • Stormur
  • Kveikur
  • Rafstraumur
  • Bláþráður