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“So now what?” my therapist asked me last week when I finished telling him about coming out to my parents. I know what his answer was… as a gay man and a practicing psychologist, he finds it unfathomable that I am still at a grad school where certain professors will waste 15 minutes of class time talking about how God hit them “with everything terrible at once” when they were afflicted with a lesbian witch for a client. I know that I wasn’t the only one in class who had difficulty discerning if he was taking about a lesbian client who also practiced Wicca, or if that was just his phrase of choice for women who like other women.

“Unacceptable!” my therapist rants, “it’s just not even a question in my mind that you shouldn’t be there!” But then he catches himself, remembers that therapists aren’t supposed to be quite as directive as that, and suggests that we should openly acknowledge that he is going to have a hard time staying neutral on the subject.

So when he asks me what comes next, I know what his answer is. I am just not certain what my own is. It seems that everything over the past six months has been building up to telling my parents… from my first tentative admission to A in a Peruvian coffee shop last summer that “I might not be straight,” to building up the courage to face everyone from my pastor to my best friend, everything was headed to this moment. And now I am here, and I am not quite sure what to do next. It feels a bit like taking a huge exam you studied and studied for, and then not quite knowing what to do with all your energy anymore, now that it’s not channeled in that one direction. Except, I actually don’t feel like I have much energy at all lately, so that can’t be the exactly right analogy.. but it’s definitely something like that.

“Are you really alright, honey?” my dad just asked me on the phone, his sweet, unexpected concern moving me to tears. “Yeah,” I said, “I think I am.” “Well keep on being alright, then, okay?” I agreed, and as I did I could not help but thinking of the girls I worked with at an adolescent residential care facility last year. No matter who got sent back to juvenille hall, or who collapsed in tears because their parents missed yet another visit, they would always remind each other to “keep on keeping on.”

And I think that’s what it is time for me to start remembering, because the past few months have been a sprint to purge my life of inauthenticity and muster the courage to tell my friends and family, pastors and professors, that at least in this one area, I, having spent a lifetime meeting other people’s expectations for me, will simply not be able to deliver.

So now the sprint is over, and it seems that having always wanted to run an actual marathon, I have unknowingly signed up for a metaphorical one. Because, as my roommate put it a while back, with plenty of passion and not nearly as much tact: “you’re so young… so young for a lifetime of pain.” And while that’s definitely more than a little dramatic, and not exactly how I would choose to look at it at all, she is right in the respect that I will have challenges to face in ways I could never begin to anticipate. Whether I choose to stay at the seminary, or to transfer a few miles down the street where respect for sexual diversity is explicitly included in their program description, there will always be people I have to explain myself to… there will always be expectations for who I am and who I will love that I will simply not be able to meet.

I think that’s alright, though. I think that, at least for now, I am alright too.

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I told my parents.

With the same forceful energy that I have been using over the past six months or so to resist telling them, suddenly and without any particular catalyst or tangible reason, around this time last week I decided that I would do it. And then I did it.

That makes it sound a lot easier than it actually was, of course. But the truth is, the panic is fading, the details are blurring, and the only thing I can solidly wrap my mind around is that it is done, and I will never have to do it again. And I am remembering how to breathe.. or rather, not having to remember to breathe nearly so much lately.

On one hand, it has been a long time coming. But on the other hand, it happened in the exact moment in which the time had finally come. A few months ago, a friend of mine who had been through the same process told me that she didn’t come out to her parents until the very moment in which she could no longer breathe until she had told them. And I am sure there are easier ways in which to undertake the process of coming out to one’s parents, but for her and for me, this is exactly what we did. And for me, that time was inconveniently on Valentine’s Day (thankfully, my girlfriend and I had already celebrated the day before).

I had every intention of driving home to tell my parents on Friday, because I was under the impression that one should tell their parents these sorts of things in person. But then my girlfriend gently reminded me that I have been working really hard at eliminating the should’s as a driving force behind my decisions lately, and that it’s more important to consider what might be right for your own family, rather than what might be right for a how-to-guide on coming out. And so, when I told my mom on the phone about how I had acquired a tiny diamond piercing in my nose since she’d last seen me, as a sort of trial run for what was coming next, and her reaction was an alternating pattern of silence/anger/silence, I decided it was time to get practical about the whole business. I didn’t want to be anywhere where I could see her face when I told her, and I sure as hell didn’t want to have to drive back three hours if they kicked me out. I am pretty decent at multi-tasking, but driving while crying has never been my strong suite. So, with my girlfriend on her way over to pick up the pieces when I was done, I called my mother back post-nose-piercing-disclosure, and I told her, in the indirect, round-about sort of way that marks my family’s favorite communication style, that “I am not one of those girls who likes boys.”

And she already knew, as mothers will, but that did not soften the blow even one little bit.

It seems that I have not come to a place within myself, and perhaps I never will, where I am quite prepared to cast her words out into the void of blogland with the good conscience that I have done justice to a moment that I suspect will for quite a while, at least to a certain degree, define both my mother’s life and my own. But suffice to say, by the end of the conversation, it was decided that she didn’t want to see me that weekend, but she did want to see me again… and that she would be the one to tell my father.

What I do, however, feel confident putting into words is the way my girlfriend literally carried me in her arms when I collapsed after I hung up the phone, and didn’t just watch me cry but actually cried with me in the aftermath of what I hope will be one of the most difficult conversations I ever have to endure. And also the way my old friend, the one behind the counter at the coffee shop, came over too, and they both sat with me in the way-without-answers that I believe is one of the truest things we can do for one another in our most broken of moments.

And even more grace came flowing my way the next morning when I called my father, and he reacted in a most unexpected manner… in the way that we might all hope our parents would react to this kind of thing: with unshattered love and with a grief moderated by hope and compassion, leaving the faintest of impressions that this might be less of an end and more of a beginning.

It has been a lasting impression; that not only in my relationship with my father, but also in the way that I am able to interact genuinely and resiliently with a world that has generally not contained much space for girls who don’t like boys… this will be less of an end, and more of a beginning.

I wrote before about the lament Psalms, and how we have been studying them in my Old Testament class, but I left out what comes after the lament Psalms (otherwise known as the Psalms of disorientation). What comes next, you see, is the Psalms of Reorientation. But the key thing about them is that they are not merely a return to your life the way it was before it got dumped on its face in the mud; they are a new orientation, in a new place. I can’t help but thinking how ironic it is that the word orientation is used here, when that in and of itself is exactly what i am trying to adjust to… a new sexual orientation, or at least a new realization of it. But it’s my personal opinion that this book about the Psalms oversimplifies things by breaking them down into three specific categories: orientation, disorientation, and reorientation…particularly when it defines them as songs of praise, songs of lament, and even more songs of praise. I personally, in my own period of reorientation, have been singing songs of praise, sure, but that’s certainly not all. There have also been songs of anger and panic and depression and hopelessness, and foot stomping, and surrender, and hope and… well, you get the idea.

So here is where my theology classes end and my psychology classes begin (my integration professor would not be pleased to hear me speaking like this): Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood, DSM IV code 309.28. That’s my current self-diagnosis, and I would venture to say that I am not alone in this. I have yet to meet a person who has gone through the coming out process without dealing with some form of depression or anxiety, or a combination of the two. And it is on these grounds that I would like to argue, at least in the case of gay and lesbian Christians, that a period of reorientation is not just marked by songs of praise. It is marked by a swirling, dizzying mixture of reactions, both predictable and utterly unexpected, to a world and to a self that we are just beginning to recognize, both again and for the very first time.

I have been trying, though, to make this a time of praise. Not just because that’s what my theology professor seems to think it should be, but because it is spring, and I have always had such a soft place in my heart for spring. It seems that each year around this time, I throw away whatever darkness has been accumulating in my soul over the winter, and throw myself into the celebration of new life. And so this year has been no exception. I even went so far as to go and buy arm loads full of potted daffodils and tulips, and scatter them around a room I had already decorated only the week before with a brightly flowered bedspread, and blown-up photos I had taken of spring-times past.

It was a noble effort, but a bit of a failed one… because the excitement I feel from seeing the red and yellow blooms that fill my tiny corner of our less than spacious apartment is tempered by the anxiety I experience every time a flower wilts and dies. Did I over water it? Underwater it? Is there too much light, or perhaps too little? Is that a plant eating insect right there on its leaf, that somehow made its way into our second story apartment? Will they ever recover from that time my girlfriend’s cat ate their leaves? Is my little dog peeing on them in my absence? The options for worry are limitless, and I begin to suspect that in this area, as in many others, there is still something standing between me and embracing the new dawn of spring…

My therapist suggests it is the fact that I am angry, and that I generally do a shitty job of expressing it, or even really recognizing. When he first said this, I agreed politely, seethed internally that he could make such an assumption about me, and then promptly sunk into despair that I had failed yet again, and anxiety that I would never improve. And then I cried. Because the equation goes something like this: anger, unexpressed and unrecognized = anger turned inward = depression + anxiety. Shit. Shit shit shit. This all starting to feel a little bit familiar.

And so for lent I am practicing anger. Well, that’s not the full story… I am also practicing solitude and meditation… but I am definately practicing anger. After all, Jesus himself never hesitated to express an angry righteous indignation whenever he saw religion used for people’s own selfish purposes instead of in a way that honors God and the entirety of God’s creation. And so, I am angry… I am angry about the in group/out group dynamics that keep a few overtly moral straight upper-middle class folks at the center of God’s will and toss a whole slew of minorities to the fringes where they are repeatedly thrown against a brick wall by the sheer centrifugal force of all this incessant spinning in circles that’s been going on lately. And I am angry about my inability to do anything about it. And I am angry that I don’t know how to come out to my parents. And I am angry that my best friend would rather invite the boyfriend of a coworker to her wedding than my own girlfriend, even though I am her bridesmaid. I am angry that I have so much to learn about being in a relationship, and that I have so few models to look to. And, well, you get the idea…

So as spring pokes up its hopeful head all around me, I committed this year not just to embracing the rebirth of new life, but the cycles of life in their entirely… because even today, as I was noticing all the wealthy gardens filled with newly purchased flowers… I was also noticing men and women who were living on the streets, pushing their entire lives around in shopping carts that held all their earthly belongings, headed towards homes they haven’t yet found. And even as we face presidential elections that speak the language of hope and change and a brighter future, most of the world (and myself included) looks on in a confusing combination of wanting so badly to hope, and also being paralyzed with fear that it is too soon to hope that the global winds might really be changing. And even as I settle into a rich network of support and healing, there are still days when I am afraid I will not remember how to breathe.

But today, just for today, I could breathe just fine.. and so I plucked a dandelion from the ground and blew with all my strength, making a wish that for all of us… for those of you I know, and those I have yet to meet, that it will all be just a little less painful this spring.

Injustice is a crushing force. I have heard people with experience in such things say that poverty isn’t defined by a lack of money, but hopelessness. A loss of hope in the way things can become. A loss of hope in every tomorrow. A loss of hope in the goodness of fellow women and men. After hearing and reading the stories of those who have come out on the “other side” of poverty, I think I’d agree. But, I’m going to extend this feature of hopelessness to all that feel the pressures of injustice. To everyone who knows what it means to be marginalized.

I’m not even just referring to myself. Do I feel hopelessness on occasion? Of course. Oddly enough (or not), hopelessness is also the key assessment factor in diagnosing depression. Any depression screening will include questions revolving around this striking deficit. Is it any wonder that psychology has identified “protective factors” that help people avoid depression and keep them on the “right path.” Well, I say bullshit. Protective factors are largely a feature of wealth. And, I believe, circumstances void of injustice.

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Token ^^

Spending 3 days locked in a condo with my staff (8 peers and 2 slightly older female bosses) is not my idea of paradise. In fact, I’d almost rather watch the superbowl with my testosterone-flooded, hunting-crazed, fundie relatives. First off, Palm Springs is a glorified retirement home, without nurses or CNAs to be there when they stroke or code. Not exactly “retreat” material. Secondly, my staff knows I’m gay and plays the “this-is-my-token-gay-friend-coworker” relentlessly. This was compounded by the fact that one of my bosses is recently engaged and reading a premarital sex book in preparation for the Big Night. That opened a lot of doors for blunt sex talk. I was conspicuously quiet during these discussions, and I would get the inevitable “what’s it like for you” questions. ::internal groan::

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