Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Bishop Made Me Do It

Those of you who read Elbow's blog may have already read this entry. He posted it as a guest entry on his blog today. Its my coming out to my parents story...

I sat in my empty house in Houston, TX shuffling through the white pages of the phone book. My dad was at work and my 6 siblings and my mom were all out of town on summer break. I was an 18 year-old pre-BYU student at the time; working at Dominos Pizza to save money for college. I was searching under the letter G for gay.

Gaylord, Gaynor.. wow. This is really ridiculous. Do I really think that I am going to find the words gay club………….713-come-out? Still I searched. What about H for homosexual.. hmm lets see. As I scanned the page something caught my eye. HATCH. That is all it said.

“You’ve reached the Houston Area Teen Coalition for Homosexuals. If you are interested in attending a meeting or speaking to someone please leave your name and phone number after the tone.”

The following day a man’s voice asked for Clark. “So, are you gay?” the man asked after some BRT’ing. A chaotic pause. “Yes,” I mustered. I had never met anyone who identified as gay before, and I was so stunned that a real actual gay person was talking to me on the phone.

My only other experience talking to a gay person on the phone was my version of phone sex. I was 16 years old and somehow had found a phone sex line that was not a 1-900 number but it was a long distance to somewhere in Indiana. I was like.. wow they must really have it going on in Indiana! Anyway, I just hoped my parents wouldn’t see the charges even though I was calling frequently asking men what it was like to be gay, and trying to figure out if I was gay. It was really hard to find someone who really wanted to talk, but occasionally I would find someone who was willing to talk to me. I remember feeling confused because I would ask these men if they were gay and many of them would say no. Eventually (of course) my parents found out, and that is a whole saga in itself. But I digress.

I attended my first HATCH meeting on a Sunday. I felt severely guilty about it. I remember attending church with my dad and then making some excuse as to where I was going that night. I felt at the time that going to a gay meeting on the Sabbath was far worse than gathering manna would have been for the Israelites, but on the other hand, my gay ox was definitely in the mire.

I still hadn’t officially told anyone in Houston that I was gay. Several months earlier I had had this moment where I stared into the mirror in my bathroom and looked deeply into my own eyes and said, “I’m gay.” I realized at the time that what I was doing was a little cheesy and overdramatic but I felt in that moment that it was warranted. I guess it could have always been more so.. I mean, I could have turned on “Close Every Door” from Joseph in the background, or worse yet, “I Will Survive.” So don’t judge.

I won’t share all the sordid details of my first gay “kiss” with someone from the group. (basically getting a tongue plunged into my adenoids after watching “Funny Girl” for the first time) But after a while I started hanging out with another guy in the group who was about my same age. We spent a lot of time together and our relationship was very sexually charged. One Sunday I attended a non-denominational church with him and his extremely homo-aware but homophobic mother. Later that day I took him to church with me. Over the sacrament hymn, the bishop eyed me in that “I totally have the gift of discernment right now” look. I stared back as if to say, “I’m ok with that.” After the meeting the ward clerk told me the bishop wanted to have a brief interview with me that evening. I obliged.

“Clark, how are you doing with masturbation?” the bishop asked. I had actually never really spoken to him about this issue, but ironically since I had started spending time with my new friend I had not really felt any need to masturbate. I told him that I was doing really well with it. He continued that he only asked because sometimes masturbation can lead to other sins: mutual masturbation and then even more serious acts, such as homosexuality. “Are you serious?” I dubiously inquired. “Do you really think that masturbation can actually cause homosexuality?” By this time I had already read SW Kimball’s Crime Against Nature chapter of The Miracle of Forgiveness, so I was well versed with this developmental theory. The bishop seemed a little thrown off balance by my response. He cautiously asked me if I disagreed with that idea. Hmm. Should I try to present a more truthful view of homosexuality to this kind man who has the best intentions for me (by telling him I know I am gay), or should I shrug off the topic and go my merry way? “Yes I disagree with that idea,” I finally blurted out. “I know masturbation doesn’t cause homosexuality because I realized I was gay long before I ever masturbated.” Now he seemed even more shocked. He clearly hadn’t expected me to be so forthright or so self-aware for that matter.

In short order I told him about my involvement in HATCH, my necking and petting with my new male friend, and everything else I had been hiding about my sexuality. I even told him about my first sexual experience a year earlier in a mall bathroom. It felt really good to share all these things with this good man, although he seemed very heavy as the details of my late adolescence poured out. His suggestions seemed normal to me: separate myself from my gay friend, don’t attend any more meetings, and prepare for my time at BYU. He told me that he had no wish to withdraw my ecclesiastical endorsement; he felt that I needed to attend BYU. But he did tell me that the things in which I was participating were serious and could keep me from attending BYU. His only other question was this: “When are you going to tell your parents?” I told him that I had no plan to break my parents’ hearts as I was sort of the golden boy in the family at that point. I told him I didn’t want to do that to them. He looked at me squarely. “As your priesthood leader I strongly council you to tell them as soon as you can.” He had said this so soberly that I felt very impressed that this was a really important piece of instruction. We ended the interview shortly after that.

Thirty minutes later I gathered my dad and my mom (now returned from family vacation). We sat down on their bed in the master bedroom and I told them I had something difficult to tell them. I have no idea what they expected. They were a lot more scared than I was in that moment. I was just riding on the strength of the bishop’s council. “I’m not sure if you already know this, but I have homosexual tendencies.” They both sat stunned. My mom spoke first: “I just don’t understand this. I have been with you every day of your life—I have raised you and I know every influence that you have ever been under. How could this have come into your life?” My dad just sat there looking sort of numb. I told them I didn’t want to tell them this, that the bishop had advised me, and that I was sorry if they felt disappointed. I felt really responsible to validate my parents in that moment. I didn’t want them to feel like bad parents, and I guess I innately knew that my mom especially might go there. I told them that this wasn’t their fault. “Well we can fly you to Utah tomorrow so you won’t see this boy anymore,” my mom suggested after I told them more of the details of my situation. I told her that I didn’t need to run away from anything and I would leave for BYU as we had planned. After a while my dad finally said, “Clark, we will always love you and I know that this is going to be ok.” He didn’t seem to be emotionally stirred, but just took it into stride. Thus we concluded our family council.

Later my dad explained to me that he felt a huge panic coming on after I told them about my “challenge”. He said he really started to feel lost and hopeless but then suddenly he felt the Spirit tell him that I would be alright. He calmed down. I had had terrible visions of my parents rejecting me, of my parents breaking down in tears, and many other night-marish things that could have occurred. I was extremely happy that it went as well as it did.

3 weeks later I was on a plane to Provo, Utah to start my first year of college.

Our shame-driven obligation to happiness

There is a subtle but sometimes conscious shame that often drives my behavior and my sense of value. I have been in a monogamous same-sex relationship for the last year and a half. Recently I ran into a woman who I used to be close to, but who I have not seen for about 5 years. When I knew her, I was still temple worthy and I had the intention to someday marry a woman. Back then she and I often talked about mixed-orientation marriages and authenticity, and whether a gay man could find the latter within the bounds of the former. She seemed to teeter-totter a bit from day to day, sometimes telling me that she wished she and I could marry and then other days telling that she felt like it might be frustrating and futile for me to marry a woman. At the time, I was totally unwilling to picture my life outside the church, and even more unwilling to picture my future without a wife and a family.

Over the course of the 5 years since I last saw my friend, she has married and had 2 children. Through the mormon grapevine I would occasionally hear news about her; always good and happy. 2 months ago I became aware that I could show up to an event and surprise her, so I made plans to do so.

"Hey there is someone here to see you..." "Oh! Is it _____?" (her husband). She came around the corner and freaked out at seeing me there. I pretty much freaked out too because one of my favorite things in the whole world is to get back in touch with people that I care about.. even if our paths only crossed very briefly. After our elated verbal ejaculations (sorry had to), she started asking me what I was up to. I told her what had been going on in my career and also where I had been over the past 5 years. "Yes, but Clark, HOW ARE YOU??" she asked. I paused quickly and considered whether my preformulated plan to share what was going on in my life was really a good choice. One wants to share, but one never really knows whether it is truly symbiotic. "Actually, I have been in a great relationship for almost a year and a half... with a guy." Already dubious of the decision to share, I felt even more weird when she took my face in her hands and brought her face within 3 inches of mine. "Clark-- ARE YOU HAPPY THOUGH?" Still holding my face in her hands, I wanted to say-- honestly I don't know if I'm happy because you are so close to me that I can smell your stomach lining. I of course told her I was happy-- not because I actually felt happy in that moment but because I felt a sweeping obligation to gays and apostates everywhere to be blissfully happy in spite of the fact that I have decided not to follow all the precepts of the restored gospel. But I am getting ahead of myself.

In the days following this experience, I spent a lot of time thinking about happiness. If I walked up to some random card carrying mormon and grabbed their face in my hands and said.. "I know you are living the gospel-- BUT ARE YOU HAPPY?" I don't really know how that person would feel. They would probably say yes I'm so happy because as LDS people we feel a need not only to be happy, but sometimes more importantly to appear happy. If we are happy we validate the gospel we live to any doubtful observer. An onlooker might say, "you know, I really don't buy into the whole mormon thing, but you have to admit that those people are really happy." Our happiness is a powerful testament to what we do. It truly empowers us in the sight of the world.

Ironically, men and women who are in same-sex unions today face a similar pressure. Particularly those people who have brought children into their families. There is a lot of pressure to prove that not only are the 2 adults happy and fulfilled, but also that the children are happy and well adjusted.

A few years ago I got onboard the R Families Cruise ship bound for a week of universal acceptance while hitting the hot spots of New England. One of the defining moments of my adult life occured as I was sitting out in the sun near the pool area shortly after boarding. There were about 100 children of all colors, sizes and shapes running around the pool and frolicking in the sun. Their one common bond was that they had same sex parents. There were over 600 children on the ship, and the experience was magnificent. Every child seemed so wanted and loved. There was a really powerful feeling on that ship. Later in the week I attended a "teen forum". It was a panel of about 10 teenagers who had been raised by same-sex parents. They spent about an hour answering questions to a room full of curious potential parents. One of the most articulate young women on the panel said something to this effect: "I have spent so much of my life in the spotlight. Everyone is always coming at me from different angles to either prove or disprove that I am well balanced and happy. I am just a normal girl with hopes and dreams like any other girl. I just have 2 dads."

Being different doesn't obligate you to justify your choices and behavior through the medium of excessive happiness. Every human being has the right to be happy, unhappy, emotional, tempermental, loving, graceful, or imperfect as the case may be, regardless of what they choose. I realized that my friend expected me to be blissfully happy because that would be the ONLY way she could justify me not following the gospel the way that she follows it. This is a trap that we can all fall into. For those of us who stand today within a mixed-orientation marriage, we have no need to proclaim how happy and amazing we feel simply because we got married to someone of the opposite gender. For those of us who stand today in a same sex relationship, we have no need to justify our present path through excessive happiness. In life we reap what we sow. We can all just be ourselves, and if we are not totally happy right now in our lives, we are the only ones who really know that anyway! We can instead focus on how we can get what we want and set really clear intentions to fulfill the measure of our creation.