Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Who am I?

That was the question on my mind during therapy today. The answer? I don't know.

I know who I'm not. I'm not a straight man. I'm not a Mormon (anymore). I'm not really even a husband at this point in my life though my wife and I continue to care for and love each other.

I have some inkling of who I am becoming. I have it thanks in part to the pieces of my identity that have endured over the last year. I am a father. I am a faithful friend and partner. I am a Christian.

An occasional source of friction between my wife and me over the past few months has been her assertion that as we move into lives more independent of each other, I will have no trouble finding a man who will love me. She bases this assertion on her firm belief that I am lovable. I'm grateful for her confidence. But I have never been so sure as she. I have struggled to understand my doubt. I have always thought that it was rooted in my lack of experience with other gay men. I am just now learning how to interact with other men like me. But I think there's more to it than that. I can't imagine being with another man right now because I struggle to know who I am. How, I wonder, can I be with another man when I don't really even know how to be with myself?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Last week I was in my Monday evening yoga class and we were in the relaxation phase. I was lying on my back, looking up at the ceiling. The lights were turned low and soft music played. In the quiet of the moment, all I could see in my mind's eye was my seven-year-old daughter's face. Just a day earlier we had told her that we are getting divorced and that I'm gay. She took the news bravely. I was proud of her. But as I lay there in the yoga studio trying to clear my mind, all I could feel for what I had done was shame. Tears rolled down my face as I cried quietly. When the lights came up, I just got up and left rather than have to face anyone in the room.

I went to the locker room to shower. As I stood under the water, my crying turned to sobbing. I was so upset with where I found myself in that moment. A child of divorce myself, I never wanted to inflict the pain that I experienced in my childhood on my children. Yet here I was, a day removed from telling my daughter that her parents were ending their marriage. I felt crushed. I felt like a failure.

My mind kept rolling back to the night before. After we told our daughter of our impending divorce and then put her to bed, my wife and I got into a bit of an argument. She felt ambushed by a couple of the things I said about how we will proceed--specifically, when and how I will move out of the house. She was angry with me and felt as though I had been keeping things from her and used the occasion of coming out to our daughter to reveal my thought process. I understood her point, but it wasn't something I had done intentionally.

These two scenes kept playing in my mind--my daughter's reaction to the news of the divorce and my wife's anger at things I said. I walked from the gym after dressing from yoga class to get on the train home and as I did, I had a moment of epiphany. I realized that the guilt I was feeling about telling my daughter that I was leaving her mother and my (at times unconscious) reluctance to raise certain issues about separation with my wife in a direct way were rooted in the same ground: shame of being gay.

I'm sad about the end of my marriage, but I have accepted that it is something that I both need and want to do. I'm sad about the divorce experience that my children will now face, even though I believe it is the right course for us. So why was I feeling so devastated? Shame. Shame that I still feel about being gay. Shame not at getting divorced or telling that to my daughter, but shame for the reasons behind it. Shame for being gay.

I talked to my therapist about this a couple of days later and he was not surprised. He told me that I was fooling myself if I thought that I could undo 30+ years of conditioning in seven months. He told me it would take time to get past feelings of shame about being gay. He told me this wouldn't be the last time I would feel this way.

Most of the time, I feel like I've made remarkable strides toward accepting myself and being happy about being gay. For that, I'm thankful. And for the times when shame creeps back in, I'm just grateful that I've learned to recognize it for what it is.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A child's love

On Sunday night, my wife and I sat down with our older daughter (7) and told her that I am gay and that because of that we will be getting divorced.

She was devastated and cried passionately and loudly upon hearing the news of the divorce. We reassured her that this was not her fault ("Promise?"), that we loved her more than ever, and even that we continue to love each other, but that because I'm gay we think ending our marriage is the best way for us each to be happy. She asked a lot of questions, mostly looking for reassurance that she wasn't going to lose her family. It was an incredibly difficult experience for me. My parents divorced when I was very young and I've really only started to understand how much that experience impacted my childhood and adolescence and how it has influenced the choices I have made in adulthood. I understood my daughter's anguish as she heard this frightening news in a very real and personal way.

But as we talked, and as my wife and I reassured her both in word and in the way we interacted with each other as we talked with her, she seemed to find some comfort. She asked when I found out I was gay and why it had taken so long. I explained to her that I have always known that I like boys, but many people think it's wrong to be gay, so I tried very hard not to be for a very long time. It told her that it wasn't until I decided that being gay wasn't a bad thing that I began to be able to admit to myself that I really am gay.

We told her about all the people in her life that she already knows who are gay. We told her about the group of gay dads that I meet with every month ("You mean there are other kids who have gay dads, too?"). She said that she thought it was "stupid" and "silly" that some people think it's bad to be gay. And then, as it was time for us to get her in to bed, she said something that will stick with me forever: "Dad, I'm sad that you and Mommy are getting divorced, but I'm really happy that you get to be yourself. You shouldn't have to pretend anymore." Before this coversation, we had spoken about homosexuality in only the most general and vague terms with her ("Most boys fall in love with girls, and most girls fall in love with boys. But some boys fall in love with other boys and some girls fall in love with other girls--that's what gay is."). For her to confidently and sincerely affirm me like that was unexpected.

It has been clear to my wife, our daughter's therapist, her teacher and me that she has for some time sensed that something was amiss in her family. She has been acting out and has had trouble sleeping. Her anxiety was the primary reason we chose to tell her now what is going on in our family. She thanked us for telling her--for letting her "be a part of the team" that is working for a happy future for all of us. I felt so close to my little girl as she told me this, and I realized how much I wanted her to know that I am gay not just to lessen her anxiety, but also so that she could truly know her dad. Though sad, she seemed relieved to finally know what it was that was swirling around her and inside her. Sunday night she slept soundly through the night for the first time in three weeks.

Last night as I was kissing her good night she said to me, unprompted, "Daddy, I'm proud of you." My wife affirmed me in a similar way when I came out to her for the first time in September, and many times since. My little girl is her mother's daughter. I love her and am incredibly proud of her and feel certain that we are all going to be okay. More than okay--we are going to thrive.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

These things I believe

Over on Keep Changing, L recently did a series of blog posts about the things in which he believes. I recently had an e-mail exchange with my brother-in-law in which we shared with each other our beliefs. He is still a faithful and devout Mormon and he was wanting to understand how my beliefs have changed.

This is relevant to me today because this morning I took a definitive and concrete step away from the LDS Church. My family and I joined a new church, a well established congregation in our town that is affiliated with the United Church of Christ. Among other things, the UCC is open and affirming of gays and lesbians.

So on this day of the Christian sabbath, I share my beliefs.

I still consider myself a believing Christian, though I don't know if Jesus Christ is/was a real person. Nevertheless, the idea of Jesus is real and is something that I believe in--in fact, the idea of Christ and what the myth of Christ represents to me is more important than the question of whether or not he did/does exist. The story of Christ is empowering and comforting, which has more meaning to me in my life and struggles than whether or not a man named Jesus ever actually lived.

I also think the idea of atonement is real and powerful and I draw comfort from the idea that I can be reconciled in my imperfection--in my sins, for I do believe in sin--to a perfect God through the vehicle of atonement. I have felt the power of the atonement in my life and I have felt what I believe to be a small element of what Christ experienced in offering himself for us. I have experienced it as a way of healing myself, reconciling with those who I am close to, and in feeling God's love and acceptance. But these things exist in the realm of faith, and I have always struggled with faith, even when I was "strong" in the Church. I do not know any of these things for certain. All I can do is have faith in the power of the idea to transform my life and the world in which I live.

I take the scriptures seriously, but not literally. My faith does not rest on the historicity of the Old Testament (which I believe is mostly metaphorical) or the New Testament descriptions of Christ's ministry (which I believe to be historically unreliable) or of the Book of Mormon (the historicity of which I have doubted for many years). As historical documents, they fail. So I think it is important to place them in context and use them as one pillar that upholds my belief system. And so again, I come back to having faith in the ideas and principles of Christianity and Mormonism without having any real certainty of their basis in empirical fact.

On a more personal level, I believe God--whatever he and/or she is (for I am not certain)--loves us without condition; that nothing we can do will make God love--or bless--us any more or any less. Indeed, if there is anything I do believe literally these days, it is that God is love. God is the love I have for my children and my family--the love that has sustained my wife and me through the most challenging time of our lives.

I also believe in exercising faith in the idea/person of Christ, but my experiences--including the feelings of spiritual alienation I have felt over the years because of my homosexuality--tell me that the process is unique to each of as individuals. I do not believe that there is one true church--churches are creations of men. I do not believe that there is a universal formula for exercising faith; no universal formula for true happiness other than that which comes from integrity, honesty and faithful and compassionate commitment to others.

Sometimes--often?--our exercise of faith is tenuous and unsure even when it is profoundly sincere.