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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Best friends

Tuesday the rains finally stopped and the storms began again, and this blog has (temporarily, I assure you) become a much more personal diary of journey than is its norm.
You'd think the sky would run out of water,
but it won't; it just keeps coming down. I need someone
to marvel at the breath escaping from me.
Do you have a natural resource you prefer to exploit?
Does someone think of you and turn the channel?
How would you ever know? 
   - Todd Colby, from You'd Think the Sky Would Run Out of Water
Yesterday the sun warmed our well-watered part of the world in full spring wattage. Yet while the sun glowed down from bright blue skies the storms gathered again and broke inside. And Facebook outed me all over again, despite its very clear assurances to the contrary; my change in relationship status ('it's complicated') was posted to my wall. Damn!, but fair, I suppose.

I didn't sleep much last night. I'm up at 4:00, making yerba mate, reading, and writing.

This is how you work through the painful process of converting a very happy and solid 35-year long marriage into not-a-marriage, while looking to preserve the best and deepest friendship you have ever known (or will likely ever know).
Tuesday when you opened your eyes your
Room was a cold disaster. Arranged
Around you, its own disorderly life 
Took stock of you like a crazy pendulum
Swung over your head like a demonstration
In a science museum, your hands were numb, 
   - V. R. Lang, From "Poems to Preserve the Years at Home"
So this is the hard part of coming out at age 55: collateral damage. I think I may have been the last person standing to realize that you cannot be both a gay man and also married to a wife. Not if either of you want a fulfilling life moving forward. Yesterday, both Melissa and I realized that together, after a series of very difficult and honest conversations. We had previously talked about various possible future configurations, but yesterday was a breakthrough day in terms of really understanding that our futures will necessarily lie in bifurcation. To use the word that is ever so much harder to acknowledge: divorce.

Its not a bad thing, in the end. We aren't coming apart because we don't love each other, we're coming apart because we do. Our futures will remain connected in friendship and mutual support, and we're very much committed to preserving that as a necessary part of both our lives moving forward.

We're not rushing our fences, as this isn't anything that has to happen quickly. There are no current partners-in-waiting, no second lives to take up at this point. Its just that we both now know where we are going in our suddenly much-changed personal world.

The what-if question I keep coming back to is whether, knowing all of this, I would have had the courage to "come out." I don't think I could have stopped my initial and accidental "stumbling out" over lunch with my son that day, but I could have chosen to stop there.  Rather than moving forward and telling Melissa I could have circled back to Tristan and asked him to just forget what I had said and let it go. I certainly stared into that possibility yesterday as Melissa and I talked. Is it too late to just stop this process and go back to denying who I am in order to preserve our relationship? I would, if we could.

As I contemplated what that would be like, having now tasted freedom from all those oppressive years of constantly denying who I am, though, I found myself staring back into an abyss of hopelessness that was so visceral it quite literally almost made my knees buckle. The notions of abyss and vertigo are often tied together, and for good reason. It must have shown in my eyes because Melissa felt it, too. It became our break-through moment of truth, painful as it was.

For all of this, we are now at peace with our future. We don't have it all figured out, we don't have any clear timeline, and there are going to be many complicated details yet to work through. What we do have is a clear vision of how we want to preserve our friendship, stay a significant part of each others lives, and hold hands through this process.
There is a joy in the journey,
There's a light we can love on the way.
There is a wonder and wildness to life,
And freedom for those who obey. 
   - Michael Card, Joy In The Journey
When I first started reading others' accounts of life after coming out (while married) I was frustrated that there were no success stories that didn't involve eventual separation and subsequent friendship (unless you count "open" marriages). OK, now I understand why and also see the value of setting each other free to experience fulfilling lives while still holding on to the deep friendship already forged by time together. I don't think I could possibly have understood that without having been through these last several weeks, nor could I have ever envisioned our journey leading to this.

It helps, of course, to have been married to one of the most amazing women I have ever known. My coming out process has been hers as well, and these out-of-the-ordinary blog entries represent a shared story. Melissa has been reviewing them before I post, since electing to share this mutually-experienced process with others has to be a mutual decision. A mutual decision by two very-best friends.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Assembly required

In a departure from my normal blog programming the previous post was my public "coming out" as a gay man announcement. I heard from many people after that post, offering words of support and love. I've heard from others that sharing my journey has helped them, too. I am very fortunate to know so many wonderful people and to live in a place and time where there is relatively high acceptance of the spectrum of LGBTQ people.

I have to say, a couple weeks past that declaration, that being "out" is an amazing experience. Now that I'm not spending so much energy hiding who I am, I find I have much more energy for others. I enjoy interacting with people more than before, now that those exchanges no longer bring the constant worry about accidentally giving too much away. I'm happier and much more relaxed. I feel whole and complete for the first time in my adult life. It is amazing gift.
I was given a cell with a window. There was a certain light at evening.
I was given nothing but the air, and the air dazzled.
    - Joy Katz, from All You Do Is Perceive
I find I have gone from navigating being gay to still navigating being gay, but now through a different user interface (UI). It's kind of like switching from Waze to Google Maps on my phone. Both apps do a really good job of helping me navigate, but one UI focuses on avoiding and/or re-routing around problems and the other UI focuses more on what I can do along the way or when I arrive. Where I used to have to constantly self-monitor to keep from letting my orientation be seen (avoiding problems), I now get to experience what it means to live a whole and honest life (what I can do along the way) while also navigating the wide variety of opinions and feelings people have about and toward LGBTQ people.
In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for
those who would climb through the hole in the sky.  
My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged
from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.  
For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.
   - Desiray Kierra Chee, from A Map to the Next World
I'm also already learning what microaggressions about LGBTQ people feel like when received first hand. That didn't take long!
"...microaggressions point out cultural difference in ways that put the recipient’s non-conformity into sharp relief, often causing anxiety and crises of belonging..."
   - from the article, Microaggressions Matter, Simba Runyowa, The Atlantic, 9/2015
Since coming out I've had a few well-meaning and supportive acquaintances make it subtly clear that while they support my personal journey, they would rather I kept it to myself.  To their credit, they really are trying to be nothing but supportive and I very much honor and appreciate their effort on my behalf.  It's just that they also have an implicit bias (we all do!) that creeps into their words, and that bias now includes me - specifically me as a gay man. Not unexpected but still, ouch.

The message (the microaggression) is: be gay if you must, but don't make me uncomfortable in the process. "Why do gay people feel like they have to announce their sexual orientation to the world? - I don't flaunt my heterosexual orientation everywhere." or "Your right to stretch your arms stops at the next person's nose." or "I hope you won't start telling gay jokes now." or "This doesn't have to impact the way you do your job or go about your business."

Oh, but it does if I'm honest.

When I came out I knowingly gave up one of the dominant-culture privileges under which I had been operating. Heterosexual orientation underpins almost every aspect of daily life in our culture/society. Roles, interactions, expectations, tone of voice, assumptions, vocabulary, laws, rights, and more, are all based around hetero-normative standards and assumptions. Being gay in a hetero-normative society means that just existing is disruptive. In other words, gay people don't have the option to be ourselves and also be politely invisible at the same time. That's what being in the closet is.

Which is why I made the decision to be publicly "out" in the first place, and why I believe it is important (if not unavoidable, as I am now finding) to be visibly so. So, to that end, I bought a new hoodie that also plays to my sense of humor:

Also, I'm discovering I was naive about the ease with which my wife and I would be able to continue on as if nothing much had changed. We've both come to see, as we continue to talk and process (and laugh and cry), that this is a much more complicated journey for us to sort through. We both now see that the future is going to look different than the past, but we cannot yet see what "different" looks like. That's very unsettling to a 35 year marriage and the stability we have both known. My wife remains the amazing person I have always known her to be, and she has determinedly supported my decision to come out and gamely engaged the challenges that come with that decision. This is asking a lot of any wife, and I know it.

I find myself unpacking memories at odd moments, too, as does my wife. Memories that now have explanations which were either not readily apparent at the time, or things which I couldn't honestly explain at the time. Small things take on new significance as we look backwards. "Oh, that's why you...." or "Do you remember that time I..., well that was really because...." Backwards is easier to examine than forwards. I frequently find myself saying, when asked how this aspect of the coming out journey is going, that, "it's complicated."

But mostly, coming out as a gay man has been very liberating, to an extent I could never have imagined. It is a precious gift, but some complicated assembly is clearly going to be required.