21 March 2009

My Coming Out Story

I love coming out stories. But I realized today that I don't think I've ever shared mine. Not that I think many people would be interested. But if you are one of the few, here's how my adventure happened.

I am a little different from many of my blogger friends because I dated girls in school and even married one. That’s what the Church said I must do, that's what everyone expected me to do, and I did desperately want to be a dad. But around age 13 or 14 I also realized one day that even more than girls, guys were really interesting. Yeah, that way. Somehow even at that young age I sensed the dangerous implications, so I never breathed a word to anyone. I have no idea where these feelings came from, or any "cause." One day they were just there, bang, ton of bricks time.

I dated because it was fun to be social, but I never wanted to get close. I was a "good boy" because I never wanted to be bad, if you know what I mean. I thought "yuck, why would I possibly want to do that." Once during sophomore year a girl who had a crush on me reached over and held my hand during a movie in class while the lights were out. I knew her well and we were friends but I didn't like her holding my hand like that. I knew what she wanted and I recoiled. Though I couldn't articulate it yet, I think I knew even then what that recoil portended. But I was too scared to say anything.

Then one day as I read the Old Testament for Seminary, I came across the story of David and Jonathan and was nearly knocked over. Two important people, one a prince of Israel and the other a “man after the Lord's own heart” who later became king, had felt just as I did! This meant that feelings like mine had been around for a long time. If the Bible told this story in such glowing terms, with no criticism of their behavior at all—even when they kissed in public—then surely my own feelings couldn't be bad, since they were just the same as those of David and Jonathan. I was elated as I read of how deeply they cared for each other. I wanted to cry with them as I read that scene where they had to part, and especially as I read David's lament at Jonathan's death. I was amazed that he would describe Jonathan's love for him as “passing the love of women.” I understood that feeling. I wanted a relationship like that too, to be able to say to someone what David and Jonathan said to each other and mean it—and have him say it back and mean it too. But at the same time I also wanted to be a dad. I knew this meant I would have to marry a girl, and I was okay with that, I guess. I was hopelessly confused, wanting two things that seemed impossible to reconcile.

Eventually I gave up trying to make sense of all this. I felt like I had two hearts inside and I was scared to death because I think I always knew which one might end up being stronger. So I never breathed a word to anyone, and I became an expert at stifling my feelings and playing the totally straight guy. I prayed incessantly for God to take these other feelings away, but He never did. All the influences and people I trusted said they were wrong and sinful and thus by extension I was too, and most infuriatingly, treated these feelings as if they were a choice. But I knew they weren't. How could all these people I trusted and the Church be so wrong?
What sane person would choose to feel or want things that their society and their faith said were sinful and would condemn them to hell after a lifetime of shame and mistreatment?

Gradually I realized that it was about more than just the physical aspect, and ultimately it wasn't about sex. I craved closeness, intimacy, a connection, a bond with someone of my own gender in the most deep and fundamental ways, far more than any of the guys around me seemed to. I've since learned that this is a common and consistent theme: ultimately it's not about the sex, it's about who we really and most deeply feel the emotional and spiritual attractions to. And that does not go away or change. So I get upset when people talk about “the choice to be gay” or treat that orientation as if it's nothing but wanting the physical buzz. It's neither a choice nor just about sex, and people who think so just don't know the facts.

I learned to ignore the rampant ignorance and homophobia in the LDS Church because I became so good at bifurcating the "two hearts" inside of me. There was the one everyone saw, the stalwart faithful Orthodox Boy, Mr. Junior Spiritual Superhero who was president of all his Aaronic Priesthood quorums, an elder at age 18, ZL on my mission, temple worker at 22, youngest guy in the bishopric and then the high council, temple supervisor, married with cute little kids, with the classic overachiever's Church resume. Then there was the real Rob which nobody ever saw, the one who shared much of Orthodox Boy's faith but knew Orthodox Boy was going through the motions because the Church said he had to in order to "qualify" for exaltation, the Rob who knew that if he really could have followed his heart, he would have searched for and found a way to make a life with him, not her, and who always felt hollow and cowardly inside for not doing so. By this time I was so deeply closeted that it would have taken a major explosion to get me out.

And guess what, that's exactly what happened. I did eventually find a girl to marry, and things worked for a while, then she began to have mental health issues and she pulled the plug on the marriage. It was ugly. But the more time passes the happier I am that she did so. It's been a huge blessing. It's forced me to grow and be strong in ways I never could have imagined. It made all of what followed possible and I thank God every day for that.

Yet I still remained closeted. For a while I went through the charade of telling people that I wouldn't remarry until after the kids were grown up because they deserved all of my time and attention. It was a convenient pretext; in fact I always knew I would never marry again.

Then one day, something happened in Massachusetts. Orthodox Boy was startled and went along with the harrumphing at church about courts imposing their immoral will on helpless citizens. Inside, though, Rob was intrigued. Slowly he gave himself permission to start re-thinking that whole issue with more sympathy and less knee-jerk cultural dogmatism.

I have a friend who lives far away, we chat frequently online. He has shared some private things with me, and one day last September, after one particularly probing conversation, something inside said "You can come out to him safely." I instantly knew I had to do it. I'd never had the courage to even think of coming out before and I was incredibly nervous for days in advance, but was surprised to find I was excited too. I told him, and he said, basically, "Oh, okay." The sky didn't fall! Lightning didn't strike! The world didn't screech to a halt on its axis and throw me off into the pit of hell! I couldn't believe how liberated I felt. For the first time in my life, part of the weight was lifted because finally there was one other person I didn't have to hide from anymore. Such immense relief and excitement. I couldn't stop smiling. I had no idea how good it would feel to finally unburden myself even to just one other person. For years I'd heard of people coming out and how great they said it made them feel, but I never understood how that could be. I do now!

For days I was practically hyperventilating, spontaneously laughing out loud because it felt so good to finally have shared who I really was! Then I began to wonder if there were others like me out there. I got on line and began to search, and was astounded to discover the MoHoSphere. Finding A Mormon Enigma was like Christmas morning! I spent hours clicking every blog link and reading the incredibly poignant stories of so many other gay LDS men, the feelings in their hearts, their challenges and struggles, their highs and lows, their loves and hates, and was astonished to see how many I could have written myself. So many have experiences and thoughts and traits and tastes just like mine, even down to favorite books, activities, sports, movies. It was beyond amazing, these similarities (another reason I think being gay is genetic). I identified so closely with their experiences and challenges and it was so comforting to realize I really was not alone.

The one that struck me particularly was Troy's blog. I wanted to talk to him directly. So, hands shaking, I sent him an e-mail to say I liked what he wrote. I'll always be grateful for his kind reaction. It was brief, but welcoming. Though I was a total stranger to him, he graciously listened to me tell some of my story, and then suggested I start blogging myself.

What? Me? What could I possibly have to say to anyone? How could I possibly go public with any of this? Oh the irony. I thought about it for a few days, then decided why not. I've come out to two people, give blogging a go. My first post was maybe three lines of nothing. But it sure didn't take long to rev up the engines.

And thanks to that one first tiny little step, the last seven months have been among the happiest of my life. I have been blessed with so many new friends that I've come to care very deeply for, I can hardly believe my luck. I am finally courageous enough to actually be open about who I am with others, and even to laugh about it. I am part of a "family" with a unique bond, with whom I can freely socialize, and whom I actually miss a lot when I'm not with the rest of you. I have come out not only to all of my blogger friends, but to other friends too in other places, and last New Year's Eve I even came out to my own two kids who fortunately are still young enough to be untainted by prejudice. My disclosure made no difference to them; dad's gay, so what, they said, gay people are much nicer than straight people anyway. How lucky is that? So amazing to have their support, even just a few months ago I could hardly imagine this would happen.

I've also been forced to confront the difficulties of trying to reconcile my faith with my heart. I have begun thinking about things I never would have imagined just a year or two ago. I have no illusions about life as a gay LDS guy; it can be damn difficult sometimes. Like it's been some sort of picnic so far, right? But at least I will be honest with myself and those I trust. And I really don't have any choice anymore. I wasted a lot of years trying to pretend to be something I wasn't. I don't care what the repercussions are, they aren't worth any more of that torture of self-deception. Things will be difficult largely because I retain my faith in the gospel as taught by a church which remains profoundly anti-gay. That is the truth, I don't care what rhetoric I hear from Salt Lake claiming to the contrary. Actions speak louder. When I saw senior Church leaders spreading what I absolutely knew, objectively and based on proof, were distortions and falsehoods in the campaign against Proposition 8, my faith in them was shaken to the core. I no longer trust the Church as an institution like I did before. My faith in the gospel remains strong. The Church as an institution is a different matter. I will sustain the leadership as best I can, but I am much more careful now in choosing whom to trust.

Sure, I still want to be a faithful follower of the Savior, I always have. I don't see any inconsistency between that and being gay. For most of my life I pretended even in my prayers that I was only Orthodox Boy, that the real Rob didn't exist. How lame is that, trying to hide myself from God. But when I finally worked up the courage to go to Him in prayer and say "OK, this is really who I am, now what," the answer came crystal clear, just like it says in the Doc. & Cov.: "I know what you are, and I approve." As comforting and bright as any spiritual confirmation I have ever received. I will never forget those words. I cling to them like a lifeline.

I can also now acknowledge openly what I've always secretly wanted, that I would love to find a guy who thinks and feels as I do and with whom I could do all the sharing and bonding and loving and giving that I think everyone wants, in a committed relationship. In a marriage. I want what David and Jonathan had, right down to the covenant between them because each loved the other "as his own soul." I have no idea how that will happen. I'm just going to leave it to God to sort out. Nobody knows the future. I have no idea what direction I will be led. Every day I seek inspiration and guidance as I try to find my way forward. I have to trust that God knows the reasons He made me this way, that if I trust Him then He'll make sure all of this turns out for my good and someday all the desires of my heart will be fulfilled somehow.

What we know about the eternities is microscopic compared to what we don't, and when I remember Joseph Smith saying even the apostles would kill him in outrage if he told them what he knew about what lies ahead of this life, and when I feel nothing but good, pure, uplifting, loving, kind, charitable, ennobling things resulting from my coming out and the relationship I want with another of God's sons, I must conclude that somehow He'll provide for me and all of my brethren--and sisters--whom He made this way. As a dad myself, I always do everything I can to give my kids every happiness. Surely God, the best dad in the universe, is far better at that than me. I trust Him.

But meantime, I have not been treading water. I have crawled out of the shell. And what an amazing experience it's been. I have moved from the deepest of closets to being able to acknowledge openly and freely that not only am I gay, but I'm delighted about it and am happier than I have ever been. I wouldn't want my gayness to be taken away even if that were possible. I love being this way. Even friends who don't know I'm out tell me I seem different, happier, more genuine, and look years younger!

I have no patience with those who moan about "struggling" with a "burden" of "same gender attraction," because they seem to be "halting between two opinions"--having decided to come out but regretting it and still fighting who they are. Man up, wimp! The weepy Hamlet routine makes you look pitiful and weak. Cut the euphemistic crap. You're gay, face it and say so with a man's courage. It's not radioactive. Accept it. Stop moping about and trying to pray away the gay. Hold your head high and be proud of who you are. Attitude is everything. Find the good in the hand you've been dealt, because there's a lot of it. Sheesh. I was once where you are. It sucked. Don't stay there. Life is much better in the warm sunlight of self-acceptance and confidence in the presence of God and everyone else.

I know that coming out is no panacea. Given the homophobic history of our culture and the Church, it creates a whole new set of issues, especially for LDS guys. I am still learning about these issues and trying to figure out where I stand on some of them. But at least I am finally honest with myself, with God, and with others about myself. Even knowing what may lie ahead, I am so happy to be where I am and I would never want to go back. Big rib-crushing rugby scrum hugs to all of my friends who have read this far and are with me on this amazing journey. I love you all, I really do.

And that's my story.

15 comments:

Ezra said...

Thanks Alan.

Big hugs to you too!

As I said to you once, you're the "Gay Mormon Dad I Never Had" :)

Thanks for being there for all of us and sharing your stories.

Evan said...

Abelard seems to be a nice source for a lot of us :)

What a good story.

I do get frustrated with gay Mormons who pretty much give up all their morals and values when failing to resolve the conflict of religion and sexuality. It's awesome that you are able to reconcile the two and find a balance. That seems rare :)

Romulus said...

You are amazing :)

October Rising said...

I am so incredibly happy for you Alan!
"I no longer trust the Church as an institution like I did before. My faith in the gospel remains..." This is where I stand also.

Sarah (Serendipity) said...

Troy, I think a lot of us are feeling that same way about the church right now. What are we going to do?

Alan, thanks for sharing this. It has been neat to watch you grow through this journey. You have had an amazing impact on our lives. I really look up to you, to your experiences and feelings and advice. You, too, have the courage of a great warrior (or whatever you would call Joan of Arc, I just don't know enough history to name someone else to compare you to.) :)

Ok, so seriously, what are we all going to do about this church thing? Ezra's blog post the other day was perfect--we all love the gospel so much and what it has made us into as we have grown up with it, that this conflict with the church's activism on gay marriage and silence on the common ground initiative makes it freaking hard to deal with! Chednar's draft letter to his bishop is another perfect expression of how we all seem to feel. I have never wanted to stay home more from church than I wanted to today, and there was really no reason. The lessons, the teachers, the speakers were all nice, safe, and non-controversial. But something has broken within me, and I simply don't have a desire to be there anymore.

If we are all feeling the same way, can we put our heads together and figure out what to do? Do we start a new church of our own? :) Do we continue to grin and bear it until eventually we all sink into inactivity? I need God in my life, and I am afraid that going inactive will make me apathetic to all of the spiritual aspects that I need.

HELP! (sorry for rambling on!)

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan said...

Not sure what to say other than you really make me blush. I am nothing special, just a guy trying to figure things out and who can't seem to shut up about it. But you're kind to think otherwise.

As to the rest of your frustrations & questions, I share many of them. And I don't have any clear answers yet. But here's something that has helped me, might help you too:

http://www.affirmation.org/learning/
separating_the_church.shtml

Alan said...

P.S. That comment just above was for you, Sarah.

Bart said...

Thanks for sharing this and your other stories.

Bravone said...

Alan, I think I understand the reason you wrote "I have no patience with those who moan about "struggling" with a "burden" of "same gender attraction," but as you mentioned you were once there yourself, and I see the patience and love you show others. If I am not mistaking, you are just encouraging us to come to grips with who we are and be grateful for it.

I am grateful for you and the thoughtfulness you have always showed to me. You are a good man and I always enjoy reading your thoughts. Thanks for sharing your journey.

Alan said...

@Bravone:

Correct. I tried to make it clear that I was addressing those who had come out but seemed to be wishing they hadn't, who just couldn't seem to make up their minds or come to terms with themselves one way or the other and seemed to revel in the anguish of indecision.

And as a side note, while I too have certainly had my share of difficulties and "struggles" because of this issue, as my blog has shown, those have not been because of the simple fact of being gay. That, I am delighted with. Truly. The "struggle" and "burden" are because of the impossible choices forced on us by the Church and, with all due respect, leadership who often seem to be making things up as they go along. The Church's track record on other social issues--always at the back of the pack to finally accept what others long since beat them to--also frustrates me since I can't help wondering if it will eventually reach similar accommodation on this issue as well but long after it's too late for that to do ME any good. And that simply because the Church membership and leadership just weren't ready or willing to accept new knowledge or understanding.

Sorry for the soapbox, but this is kind of a sore point with me.

I will now revert to my normal happy self. :-)

GeckoMan said...

Alan,

Great to read your story. Wow, you have come a long way baby, in a very short timeframe. Take a deep breath!

I, on the otherhand, have 'struggled' for years, and it's been slow coming to the gay-is-okay realization we both agree on. I think I would have preferred your meteoric rise of consciousness, but my life of bobbing up and down has had its own blessings of understanding gained.

Last week I came out to my brother; we're the surviving remnants of our immediate family and we're both over 50. We've shared a deep love for each other, but have gone down different paths in our lives, especially since I joined the church at 18. It was a marvelous evening of learning as we shared insights about our family and life's circumstances. I felt affirmed in his love for me regardless of the big secret I've kept from him all these years.

I think this is what coming out is all about--liberation, honesty and acceptance from those who matter most. These ideals may not always happen in our relationships, but nonetheless we learn from all our significant interchanges. More important, as you mentioned in your story, 'coming out' to God is the biggest and best step of all, and learning of His continuing love is the grandest of all.

goodtobefree said...

Thanks Alan for sharing your story and for talking with me today. It really amazes me how much of that story I could have written myself( but certainly not quite as eloquent). I'm so glad that you weren't successful in your attempt to kill this part of you, because my selfish need for your words wouldn't have been met.

E, R and O's Papa said...

Rob - I never tire of coming out stories either, so I appreciate seeing yours as I lurk on the fringes of the MoHoSphere. Best wishes (and yes, dating can wait for the kids to get a bit older. Like everything else.)

Rob said...

@E, R & O's Papa:

Thanks for your comment! I notice we're in the same business. Would love to talk with you directly sometime if that's agreeable. My e-mail address is in my profile.