Thursday, November 17, 2005

The obvious child

Some say a lie is just a lie, but I say
Why deny the obvious child?

(Paul Simon)
Well, evidently I qualify, br'er Simon. Take, for example, the response of one friend of mine from Kansas to my coming-out email...
I'm sitting here with a little smile on my face having just read your letter. I wondered when a letter or phone call like this might arrive. And to think, I was concerned you were going to tell me something life shattering like you feel off the wagon or had AIDS! I've known for MANY years that this was a struggle within for you my friend. I'm very much looking forward to reading your blog on this one! And I'm sure this will make for some interesting discussions!!

Like the love of our Lord, my brother, I can love you no less for that love is not predicated on your sexual orientation but on your heart and very soul which is so beautiful to me!
Now if I could only find some gay men to love my heart and soul, life would be really good...

But I have to admit, in amidst all the relief and acceptance, I find this annoying and haunting pair of questions:
What the hell was so obvious, that more than half the people I've talked to have said, "Well, DUH..."? And if it was so clear-cut to them, why wasn't it so equally clear-cut to me?
Why the hell did I wait so &$%#ing long to do this?
There are lots and lots of promises spread through the 12-step recovery literature - and I've experienced a whole lot of them over the years. But the one that's been elusive (at least as far as my homosexuality is concerned) is the one that says We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it. God help me, but I'm just not there as I look back on my three damn decades hiding in the closet. Intellectually, I know that it took every minute it took to get ready to come out. But there are times - like today - when it seems like such a hideous waste of time and life.

On the journey from work to my regular Thursday-night AA meeting, I stopped at the Istria Cafe', a little joint tucked under the 57th Street Metra station. My original intent was simply to pick up a cup of pretty-good coffee for the chilly walk from the train to the meeting. But since I was significantly early, I decided to just sit there sipping coffee and people-watching. And one of the people I was watching was the fellow who served me - a particularly-attractive late-20-something man with golden curly hair. It seemed so strange to be looking at him, suddenly realizing, "He's really good looking," and finding such freedom in just allowing myself to look, and to enjoy.

Yeah, I's lame. But these are baby-steps from a person who thought he'd given up use of his legs.

By the by - if you haven't made the acquaintance of geek_boi, you definitely need to read this post of his. As Shakespeare wrote, so I say to you, brother: "All I can say is thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Why come out at all? Why now?

One of the hardest questions - one that I will wrestle with for a while - deals with "why even come out at all?" I wish this discussion could be a clean, sensible process - but for me, there have been multiple issues affecting my decision (or failure to decide), mostly based on irrational beliefs or fears.

(That's both humbling and aggravating to admit.)

Most of my struggles about accepting my sexuality came from my own poor physical self-image, and my own certainty that my physical appearance would be completely undesirable to another gay man. For so much of the last 15 years, what I would say to myself was, "Well, let's see - you can either be 'closeted' as an overweight, middle-aged, greying straight man, or you can be 'out' as an overweight, middle-aged, greying gay man. Either way, your chances of finding a partner are pretty well between nil and none."

So I believed my choice came down to being honestly-out, alone, and in line for prejudice and abuse, or dishonestly-closeted, just as alone, but abuse-and-prejudice-free. I told myself for years that absent the chance for a relationship, there just wasn't any percentage in coming out.

Of course, the fatal flaw in my logic was that so long as I was unwilling to be honest about who and what I was - so long as my own self-inflicted homophobia kept me closeted - there would never be even a chance of a relationship for which it would be worthwhile to come out.

It took a couple of loving and accepting men in AA (straight AND gay) who shared with me that it really came down to "out and honest and at least a chance for happiness" or "hiding and lying and no chance for honest joy whatsoever."

An unfortunate realization out of this process has been how much justification to stay closeted was the out of the desire to remain a welcomed part of a church community. The sad fact is that I believed it was more important to fit in with my church family than to be honest with myself (and everyone else) about who and what I was.

As much as I railed against the position of the Catholic and Methodist Churches (and so many other mainline denominations) I find I have bought into their party line for myself, even as I have campaigned actively against it for others. It's hard to admit, but I really did believe that my very existence as "intrinsically disordered," as inconsistent with Christian life and ministry.

Looking back, I can see that the wrestling I had with my acceptability to God came from this issue - it seemed I would be damned as abomination by God who was supposedly filled with lovingkindness, who knew the number of hairs on my head and yet somehow couldn't accept me as I've been made. Oh, sure, I could be acceptable to God as a celibate - and I did that for nearly 12 years - but don't act on any of those instincts of yours, Steve. That road leads to Hell, you know...

But even more than that - because I worked most of the way through that issue - I knew that the church communities of which I was a member would not have been welcoming to a gay man. Now, I know that most my close friends would have likely been willing to accept me (though several were particularly unsupportive of GLBT folks until they found out that I was one). But I also watched two different instances where a man was accepted, welcomed, and encouraged to participate in our church community - until they either came out, or were outed by others. And then things got decidely cool.

I've already admitted (at least to a degree) how much my own need for acceptance and inclusion by others made it impossible for me to be honest about my sexuality. It just was easier to lie when it felt like there was no consequence - that there was no downside to living falsely. It's just hard to also admit how much the church helped feed my self-imposed homophobia. They weren't responsible for it - but they certainly helped fuel it.

I also bought into the insanity (mentioned in my first posting) that (since I was convinced there would be no future relationship in the cards for me) that it would be more helpful to be an advocate for GLBT folks from in ordained ministry than to be excluded from both ministry and church by being out. I really felt quite noble in my celibate pursuit of service of God and church...

...that is, until the church told me that the issue that would keep me out of ministry would be my finances, and my indebtedness - and not my sexuality. Sadly, under the current rules of the ELCA, I could have been ordained gay - I just couldn't be ordained broke.

Ironic, ain't it....the only way I could be rigorously honest enough to face this, and really be self-honest and self-aware enough to be a minister was through the brokenness resulting from my spectacularly-failed run at ordained ministry...

Part of the first steps of dealing with all this was finding the Fourth Forum, the GLBT ministry of Fourth Presbyterian Church here in Chicago. The group did a weekly study on John McNeill's classic text Taking A Chance on God, which forced me to dig back into a bunch of my pastoral-care texts on sexuality.

Finally picking up Tex Sample and Amy DeLong's The Loyal Opposition: Struggling With the Church on Homosexuality (which sat on my shelf unread for five whole years...) helped a lot, too. But most beneficial of all was finding in the Fourth Forum members a group of gay and lesbian Christians who had come to believe themselves acceptable in God's sight - and taking lessons from them.

This has been a lot of writing - and frankly, it's not done, but I'm done - like dinner. There's probably more that could be said on every one of these topics. But the important thing for me to say is this: I am not where I once was. As I've quoted on so many other topics, the words of the old black spiritual come to mind:

We ain't where we wanna be;
We ain't where we're gonna be;
But thank you, Jesus - we ain't where we used'ta be.

Questions and more questions...

It was an eventful weekend, in some respects, and yet in others, not so much.

I decided to ditch the "pink tutu" Blogger template. I'm going to be playing with the design for a while (at least, as much as an HTML-impaired guy like me can...) but for now, this'll do. The other thing I did was ditch the pseudonym. I'm still pretty anonymous out here - but part of the question becomes, why would I still be hiding?

The "deafening silence" I wrote about in an earlier post has been broken - I really couldn't wait, and so I called my friend on Sunday. The conversation was a bit tenuous at first, but it seemed to thaw a bit over the course of the hour we talked. She doesn't realize it yet, but our conversation helped put shape around a series of questions that I know I'm going to be working on over the next days and weeks:

- Why are you coming out now? What's different now than 2, 3 or 5 years ago?
- If you don't have a boyfriend or partner, what does it matter? Why even bother?
- Why couldn't you tell me/us about this before now?
- What does it say about your conception of self, God and friendship that you couldn't be honest about this with yourself, with God, or the people who care about you?
- What does it say about your understanding of God to know that you desperately wanted to be "healed" of the way you apparently were made?
- You have at least one other friend who came out - years ago. What's the big deal? Couldn't you have talked about it with him?

This is certainly not an exhaustive list - but as Bob Barker would say, there are some big-ticket items on that list. And, I should note, I'm not looking for anyone else to provide answers to these questions. These are more like placeholders for some soul-searching and self-examination that's ahead of me.

The other thing that I'm probably not in any position to even address is a potentially uglier, more fundamental question. If I've been unable to be completely honest with myself or my closest friends about my sexuality, how can anyone trust anything I say about my motives with other male acquaintances? What are my motives - really?

I have a growing list of questions, but not many answers at this point. One answer I do know, however, concerning the "sex" part of my sexuality. I've been celibate for nearly three presidential terms - and I'm not going to change that until I'm much, much more solid in my understanding of myself and my relationships with others. That's absolutely bed-rock, at this stage of the game. I've waited this long...

However, that's also about the only thing I'm certain of - other than that for the first time in three decades, I'm headed in the right direction. For now, it's way the hell past time for bed. (I've got to start cutting off the caffeine earlier in the day...)

Friday, November 04, 2005

Beam me out, Scotty...

Seems that I'm not the only one waiting until later in life to come out. A CNN article reports that George Takei - Sulu in the various Star Trek adventures - told the LA Frontiers magazine that he's age sixty-eight.

On the one hand, I could say I'm 20 years ahead of Sulu...but then, he has had a committed partner for the last 18 years. So I can't get too terribly smug, can I?..

Deafening silence...

Thank you - all of you.

The comments and affirmations I've received in the short time I've renewed my journey out of the dark have been overwhelmingly positive - for which I thank God. But while this is gratifying, it is also not overly surprising. After all, the people to whom I've come out so far have been the folks I'm closest to, and the folks I've considered "safest." That was intentional.

After the guys in my AA sponsorship circle, the next group of "close" friends I decided to come out to were folks in my former church home in Kansas. Part of the weirdness of this process is trying to do this by email, since I have no plans (or funds) to travel to Kansas anytime soon.

A couple people have asked, "Why even bother telling those folks? They are 600 miles away - they're out of your life!" That statement, however, is only half true. Many of the folks back in Kansas were the ones whose prayers, phone calls, emails, and active financial support carried me in the months after my seminary career fell apart...and for months afterwards. They were a part of my life - at least, the 60-90% (depending on whose estimates you use) that I was willing to share, exclusive of my sexuality.

The first one of my Kansas contacts, my "adoptive grandma" and dear friend Sandy, was wonderful - I got a response back the same day basically saying, "Yeah, OK. So you're gay. You're still you - nothing's changed. I love you." Earlier this evening, the pastor of my former congregation responded, with virtually the same sentiment.

The third person, however, hasn't respond. Not that day. Not the next day. Not yet, in fact.

The silence has become somewhat deafening.

This whole process is proving to me how much I depend on the approval of others. At a basic level, I know I will be OK, regardless what this person (or any of the other people I get honest with) eventually decide. But at another level, I'm selfish enough that I want this person (and other people yet to be contacted) to be part of my life - to have them stay in touch with me, to wish me well, to pray for me. I have history with these people - after all, we laughed, cried, celebrated and mourned, prayed and worshipped together for almost 13 years.

Of course, a more rigorously-honest evaluation would be that I don't want all that life (and all that history) to become disposable or valueless because of my sexuality
- especially a sexuality that I haven't actually acted-out on in more than two decades.

Evidently I need an MP3 recording of "I Am What I Am" (one of the famous gay anthems from the Broadway version of La Cage Aux Folles) along with one of "The Way I Was Made" - preferably set to continuous looping. Wish I could justify the cost of an iPod - but unfortunately I have a whole list of expenses that way outrank that little expenditure.

"...and the beat goes on..."