30 March 2011

To Anybody Still In The Closet, Listen Up

On a brief break this morning I skimmed a blog or two and ran across a friend's post that talked about his hours of chat with a 20 year old closeted gay Mormon guy from the Salt Lake area. Apparently the guy texted next morning and said please delete my number, I don't want to talk anymore, and "I need to do what I need to do not what I want to do."

I can't describe how sad that made me. Because I know what's ahead for this guy and I would save him from it if I could. I would at least try to persuade him to not be scared by learning from others' experiences, it could save him a lot of grief. But to put it bluntly as Will Rogers did, "some people just have to pee on the electric fence for themselves."

So I got to thinking. If I could talk to this young guy in Salt Lake, what would I say to him, knowing what I know and having experienced what I have? What would I say to any young gay Mormon guy in his position? And the thoughts came tumbling out. Here's what I'd say.

1. It's okay that you're gay. No, really. It's OKAY. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. God made you this way and countless others like you. You are a person of worth and value, just as you are.

2. The church and culture around you will try to define your life and your purpose for you, instead of letting you do it yourself. And their definitions won't allow you to be gay. They will set up this conflict within you and then expect you to comply with their definitions because, they'll tell you, God and your family will accept nothing else and if you don't agree, you'll be doomed for eternity. Recognize that this is extremely high-pressure, even if it's couched in the most apparently loving of terms. This will be very hard for you to deal with, because your whole life and family and identity and feelings of security and happiness may be wrapped up in your church and its culture. I know, I've been there myself. But remember also that even God Himself honors and respects freedom of choice.

3. As long as you yield the decisions for defining your life and your purpose to someone else, whether it be a church, or a parent, or societal pressures, you will feel conflict and unhappiness.

4. Shame and silence are deadly. They will kill your heart and hopes. The culture around you conspires to keep you silent and conforming and wracked with guilt just for being the way God made you. Don't give in to that! It's spiritual suicide. Please don't be afraid to reach out and talk to others. There is a huge new family out there waiting to welcome you with open arms, to support and comfort and teach and encourage you. I know what it's like to stay scared and silent in the closet for years. I was stupid. Don't do what I did. Check out the It Gets Better Project to learn about others' experiences, to learn that you're NOT alone, and to see what could be ahead for you. And check out Empty Closets too.

5. You're going to need courage. Things are a lot better than they used to be, but we still have a long way to go. As you reach out, talk with others, learn, grow, you'll get stronger. You'll be able to talk frankly with family and friends. You'll be able to stand up for what and who you are, without the shame and fear and guilt. You'll be able to define your own life and your own purpose instead of abdicating that privilege to somebody else or to an organization. And that, my friend, is when all that guilt and conflict inside you will finally stop. You will still have all of life's challenges, but you'll have them with a confident and peaceful heart.


Pablo said...

So many of us have been in that same frame of mind as this 20 year-old. I hope he reads what you've written here or finds something similar, and then really reflect on what these things mean for him.

When I was 20 years old, I would have dismissed just about everything you've written, or at least convinced myself that it didn't apply to me because I was a Mormon boy and things were expected of me. Ironically, the comment "I need to do what I need to do, not what I want to do" is precisely the opposite in reality. He is doing what he wants to do based on his devotion to what he has been taught he must be, and not be. That desire is an intellectualization of his emotional ties to Mormon culture and dogma. His authentic human needs are there. He just doesn't see them for what they are.

I'm not talking about the "a man has needs" kind of needs here. I'm talking about needs like fulfillment, joy and peace. In THIS life, not just whatever may come after.

In his own time, just as we all experience these things in our own time, this man will learn how to take the blinders off his eyes, clean the obscured mirror in which he sees himself now, and understand his soul. Then he will truly be able to do what he needs to do for himself. That process may include peeing on some electric fences, but he'll work through it, just as so many others have and will.


I shoulda said that to him.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Gadzooks, but I love reading your blog! Well done, as usual.

jim said...

I came out my wife at 40 after 17 years of marriage and 4 kids. When I was 18 I "chose" not be gay, but the truth is, I was gay and there was nothing I could do about except pretend.

I married my best friend and 17 years later, I am dealing with the pain of separation and finding my real place in the world.

If I could have one piece of advice to the this kid, is do not pretend to be someone you are not. It make make some people happy in the short term, but in the end you will not be able to run from who you really are.

Brad Carmack said...

Great points, and well-said