Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Ashamed

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.

12 comments:

Elbow said...

The story about telling your daughter that you are gay is one of the sweetest stories I've heard in a long time. She loves you so much, and knows that you deserve to be happy because you are good, and you are not only a great dad but you are an amazing person.

I have no advice to give, but I don't think you need it. You seem to be on a good path. Your moments of insight are working so well for you, and you know that there are still hard moments to pass through.

Thank you for sharing. Thank you for being so open. Thank you for being so willing to help me through my struggles. You have been so helpful, and I want you to know that I support you in every way.

When you start to feel guilty just think of the acceptance that your daughter has for you. Love yourself as your daughter loves you, unconditionally...and then some.

Chris said...

Thanks, Elbow.

Dave Walter said...

He told me that I was fooling myself if I thought that I could undo 30+ years of conditioning in seven months.

My therapist told me the same thing a few weeks ago, regarding a diferent form of conditioning. I had expressed frustration that I was still experiencing anxiety despite connecting intellectually with the cause of the anxiety.

Oh well, I guess the best thing we can do is try to make an adventure of it all.

Beck said...

Your willingness to share your insights has helped me to realize that I, too, am "ashamed of being gay" after a lifetime of training to feel that way.

I don't want to feel that way...

greenfrog said...

hurricane,

hard times. I feel for you.

stay present.

gf

-L- said...

In a very strange way, I don't feel ashamed to be gay. At all, at this moment. But I'm not out, so that says something about shame... I'll have to think about this. Thanks for the post.

Stenar said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nate said...

I just found your blog and am moved by your words.
In many of my posts I get back to the shame. In my most recent from two days ago I wrote:

One can blame it on the disappointment it would cause my parents; personally I think the fact they have been dead for a decade should somewhat alleviate this concern.

While it is black humour (I even shared that comment with my wife), it is strangely true.

Good luck, my thoughts will be with you.

Chris said...

thanks, nate -- good luck to you, too.

Anonymous said...

I would be suprised if the shame only stems from being gay. You are experiencing a massive loss of a supportive wife and the day to day experiences with your daughters, in hopes of finding happiness through fully realizing your identity.

I can tell you from experience,that you never know what you are going to find on the other side of that fence. You may find that having a male partner won't be the solution to your happiness. I know you severed your ties with hope for the future. We all need to have hope, but I am saddened that you will lose so much in the pursuit of that dream.

I wish you all the best, though. This probably wouldn't have happened if people were more open to homosexuality 10 years ago. My comments have little to do with you (I stumbled on your blog from another blog) and more to do with my frustration that families are so fragile, that the individual always trumps the group, and that I see people fumbling around for happiness, only to find themselves more miserable. I hope you find what you are looking for and that your family rises to the challenges ahead.

Chris said...

I know you severed your ties with hope for the future.

You're wrong, anonymous. I haven't severed my ties. My relationship with my former wife is still remarkably close and I am a daily presence in my children's lives.

Our lives together are not static. In time, new relationships will likely bring about new living arrangements. Nor am I under any illusions that living life as a gay man is the cure to all my troubles. I'm simply doing the best I can to take care of myself and those I love.

Underdog said...

i like that comment -- the individual always trumps the group. That has been my experience as well. My partner has some mental illnesses and that has definitely trumped the group (family). Why is it that one person's searching can ruin the lives of so many? Why does one person's search for identiy, fulfillment, and joy come at the expense of all others? Especially when those "others" are ones that the Seeker of Self brought into the world in the first place?