Monday, January 28, 2013

Feeling Like a Faggot

I continue to learn from reading The Way Out, a book by Christopher Nutter that I wrote about last week.

We all learn to internalize messages that are conveyed to us about our self-worth, starting in our childhood. Some rare, fortunate children are taught – both through words and actions – that they are persons of infinite worth, goodness and light. Most of us, however, have varying degrees of negatives self-perceptions that are encoded into us from birth.

Most of the time, perhaps, these negative messages are conveyed unconsciously by parents, siblings, friends, teachers, etc. Sometimes, however – as in the case of child abuse – they are conveyed directly and dramatically. Some children literally have it beaten into them that they are not worth much just as they are. They learn that they have to be someone else in order to be accepted and loved, or in order to merely survive the trauma they endure.

These negative messages eventually become encoded, woven into the very fabric of our unconscious self. And we find that, as we grow older, we bring these messages with us from our childhood into the adult world, where they can create all kinds of havoc. 

Gay men and women typically have a whole other set of negative messages conveyed to them about who they are. As the truth about their sexuality begins to dawn on them, having already been recipients of vast amounts of societal disapprobation of homosexuality, their unconscious spews additional negative thoughts and fears, which control – to one degree or another – how such a person navigates his or her way through life.

Part of Nutter’s message is that the process of coming out should involve shining the light of consciousness on all these fears and negative self-perceptions; because until we do, these fears continue to control and shape us. As he comments, we end up carrying a closet around with us as we encounter situations where our sexuality “comes up" in case we need to temporarily duck back in.

As I try to become more conscious of such situations, I can more fully examine what is actually going on when I suddenly feel self-conscious or embarrassed about the fact that I am gay. Nutter points out that what I encounter in such circumstances are my own fears that I often unconsciously project onto others:
“You have no idea what people feel or think about you now or what they will feel and think later – it is only your own thoughts and feelings that you think and feel. It may seem as if someone else thinks you’re a faggot, but it can only be you who feels like a faggot. If you do not feel like a faggot, the term ‘faggot’ does not exist for you. End of story.  
“Realize this and you will realize the end of the reign of power your own internal, personal abuse system has over you that is trying to keep you down. Looking at the unconscious self in this way, it is just like an external abuse situation – as the abused you take it because you believe it’s true and you deserve it. Realize it isn’t true and that you don’t deserve it and the power the abuser has over you goes away.”
What we often don’t realize is that we are often our own worst abusers. We have internalized so many beliefs about homosexuality. Unconsciously, we tell ourselves that we are bad, we are immoral, we are corrupt, we are less than. We then punish ourselves because of these unconscious beliefs and live our lives controlled by the fears that these beliefs generate.

If, however, I can strive to become conscious of these beliefs and fears as I encounter situations in which they arise, then I can begin to dissolve their power. Nutter writes:
“If you come from a state of fear, that is what you will engender in others. Your whole point in coming out is to leave fear behind, so why in the world would you couch your freedom from fear in fear? Though being afraid will make sense to your internal abuser trying to keep you in the prison of fear and pain, it does not make sense to a conscious mind always working for liberation into sanity, opportunity and love.”
I have found these concepts tremendously enlightening as I myself continue my journey out, as I confront situations that challenge my sense of self as a gay man, as I strive to unravel negative thoughts, perceptions and fears. I also find these same concepts applicable to other areas of my life where I have too often let my unconscious fears control my destiny. In this respect, as I pointed out a week ago, being gay is a gift. I intend to embrace it and use it.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fears and Beliefs About Being Gay

Continuing my discussion of Christopher Nutter’s The Way Out, I found enlightening his discussion of the roles that fear and beliefs play in the average gay man’s struggle to accept his sexuality.

In his book, Nutter described how his conservative religious upbringing in the Deep South molded his conception of himself as a gay man. Of course, I as well as most gay men, could relate to his experience. Societal and religious beliefs are imbibed and, consciously or not, believed, and these beliefs in turn cause fears. These beliefs and fears are clothed with a powerful reality by our unconscious (or even consciously) that is illusory, but the effects of such fears and beliefs are, unfortunately, not. Among other things, these fears and beliefs cause us to cleave our selves in half, separating the “gay” part from the rest of us, and to reject what IS real.

Some of these fears are related to our anxiety over what may happen to us if we question beliefs that exist within us. And these are not the beliefs of an institution or a religion, but personal beliefs. As Nutter comments, “A ‘religion’ cannot have beliefs – only an individual can.” 

Nutter points out that the first step toward consciousness is to give ourselves permission to examine our fears and beliefs and to accept that they are not “real,” i.e., they have a life of their own:
“In addition to beliefs that have clouded your self-knowledge, you may be afraid of what’s there, and that’s where the struggle will also take place … I don’t suggest that you must eradicate your fear, but rather that you disengage your faith in your fears. After all, your fears do nothing for you but wall you off into a narrow, little prison cell … As long as you hold on to the idea that your fears about what being gay means cannot be questioned because they are real, you will not be able to regain even one ounce of power over yourself or your life. Walk through these fears with faith [that] you yourself can in no way be diminished by the questioning and release of a belief … ”
As an example of the effects and power of beliefs, Nutter cites the example of a young child:
“As a child, before you had beliefs, you were utterly present and accepted everything for how it was in that moment. In that state you would have thought nothing about two men holding hands or living together. It was the belief systems you were indoctrinated into later and that you chose to agree with that created the judgment you have against men who love and have sex with one another. It was later on that you wound up judging yourself … and the way out of this judgment against yourself is through the process of questioning.”
The main point here is that, when examined carefully and mindfully – i.e., when the light of consciousness is shined upon them – we can see clearly where and when we invest beliefs with a reality that does not reflect Reality. And we really can have no idea how our beliefs affect us until we explore them:
“… It may take a while [to discover what makes up your personal belief system] – unconscious thoughts are often like the house in your neighborhood you’ve walked by a million times but somehow never looked at. Becoming aware of what you’ve never looked at requires that you be on full wakeful alert on your daily walks up and down your street 
… The first step in [the] journey is to explore your beliefs. You may have entire walls of beliefs that are so immense and so real that they rise before you in every direction, all the way up to the sky so that they even block out all light. You must first see them as beliefs and as fears [in order for] these walls standing between you and the truth of your perfect self to come crashing down into the pile of nothing that they really are.”
I should point out here that Nutter is not talking about dogma. He’s talking about what we believe about ourselves and our world. He carries on his conversation in the context of beliefs we have about being gay, but the same principle applies to other aspects of our selves as well.
“Ask yourself what it is that you believe. Do you believe that you can’t be gay because you want to be straight? Because you didn’t choose it? Because if you pretend to be straight it will eventually come to pass? Because you are a real man, and real men are not gay? Because you have not met the right girl yet? Because you don’t WANT to be gay? Because there are no gay men in your ethnic group, religion, or from your region of the world? Because you are nothing like gay people you know or see on TV? Because it would mean that you are weak? Because you have a girlfriend or a wife or a child? Because accepting it would be against God’s will?  
“Does what anyone else says cause or change whom you are sexually attracted to? If the answer is no, then you must be willing to let go of that belief; otherwise, you are literally doing the insane, which is to reject what IS, not to mention squandering your life energy on a lie about yourself that hurts you.”
I think one of the most pernicious and tenacious beliefs that a gay man who was raised in the Mormon belief system (or any other conservative belief system) carries embedded deeply within him is that being gay is a choice. So much flows from this. If it is a choice, we can change. If it is a choice, we can choose not to be gay. If it is a choice, we can overcome “temptations,” just like we can overcome a temptation to drink or smoke or view pornography. If it is a choice, then there is something very debauched about us that makes us want to give into it. If it is a choice, then the consequence of choosing it is shame. And on and on.

But the primary casualty of this belief that gay is a choice is what it does to our basic sense of human dignity, of self, of our very connection to what IS. We live in a Matrix far more removed from Reality than the one I have been discussing for the past few days. 

And this is just ONE belief, which generates untold numbers and types of fears, that can and do reside in the neighborhood of one’s unconscious. 

Identifying and neutralizing such beliefs in the light of consciousness, in the light of what IS instead of what is BELIEVED, is a huge step toward self-acceptance, higher consciousness and happiness. Writes Nutter:
“Once you have disempowered enough of your belief systems … you can actually perceive what IS in a state of acceptance and sanity. The thing about the nature of what is actually real beneath your beliefs and fears, is that it doesn’t require any thinking and it doesn’t need you to believe it – you can believe all day that the world is flat but that doesn’t make it flat. And the world doesn’t need you to believe that it is round to be round. Similarly, you can believe all day that you are straight, and you don’t need to believe that you are straight or gay in order to be either one – you just ARE.”
Pondering and meditating on what I have been reading in The Way Out has helped me to say, “I just AM.” I am a gay man. I just AM.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Matrix and Intimacy: What Coming Out Has Taught Me

One of the reasons I like to blog is so that I can benefit from the wisdom and feedback and outlook of others who read my blog posts and occasionally provide comments.

I received one such comment regarding yesterday's post. Not for the first time, this commenter - who helped me steadfastly in the process of my initial coming out, for which I will always be grateful - plainly and simply articulated what I was grappling with expressing on my blog.  He wrote, in part, the following:
"Mormon families use the formal patterns of interaction (family prayer, church activity, "worthiness" in all its forms, etc.) substitute for intimacy. I think this is pervasive."
Bingo! This is what I was trying to express. This is the Matrix: formal patterns of interaction that are mistakenly and unconsciously substituted for emotional intimacy. I would never accuse Mormon parents of being unloving to their children. Quite the contrary. I loved and do love my children with all the capacity and capability I can bring to those relationships. But! I now realize that I relied on "formal patterns of interaction" as a substitute for intimacy.

I daresay, as well, that many in the Matrix do not think of their interactions with their children - or with their spouses for that matter - as "Relationships" (with a capital "R" - i.e., how those outside the Matrix conceive and perceive relationships). This is a systemic issue, a system which breeds, among other things, the belief that couples should get married young, then have children, even if they are not in a financial position to assume that responsibility; a system that propagates the belief that one or two children are not sufficient and that such a limitation is unrighteous at best, evil at worst; a system which fosters a mindset in which children are treated as members of a herd, rather than individuals; a system that substitutes form over substance in a myriad of ways.

It is also a system that often precludes true intimacy in relationships with spouses and children because, among other things, there are countless demands and expectations placed on these relationships from outside the relationship, i.e., from the Matrix. These "formal patterns of interaction (or "forms") lull those enmeshed in the Matrix into believing that their connections to their children and spouses are the way they are "supposed" to be and that there is and can be no "real" relationship outside the Matrix.

What I have discovered upon leaving the Matrix is that that Relationships require an emotional landscape, not "formal patterns of interaction." Relationships must be nurtured, not dictated. Relationships must be based on mutual love, honor and respect (whether with spouses/partners or with children), not on mutual expectations and demands. Relationships are strengthened from within, not buttressed from without.

All this being said, the Matrix allows those who are incapable of emotional intimacy - for whatever reason - to function in prescribed roles. I was in such a position, I now see, primarily with my wife but also with my older children. I relied on the forms to provide substance, instead of the other way around.  

Now, I am working on building true emotional intimacy, true Relationships, with my children. I repeat, I always loved them with all the capacity and capability I could bring to my relationships with them; what I am doing now is working on increasing that capacity and capability, to know - intimately - the substance of love, rather than relying on its form. My coming out started me on this journey, and my ongoing coming out gently pushes me on.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fatherhood and the Matrix

Blogging is therapeutic for me. I keep a journal, and some of what I write in my journal makes it into my blog posts. But blogging helps me to think more deeply about issues and, in the process, come to better understand myself and life.

I have been masticating on the subject of this post for well over a month, and I have finally decided to tackle it because of recent events in my life and because of additional insights that I have gained through reading Chris Nutter’s book, The Way Out.

As I have written before, some of my children (thankfully, a minority) have cut off contact with me as a result of my coming out and the divorce that followed. I have wanted to reach out to these children, one in particular, and had decided over the Christmas holidays that the time had come to do so. I wrote a lengthy letter to this child, but decided I’d better run it by my therapist before sending it. I’m glad I did.

Cynthia read the letter, then shared her frank opinion: I had written too much about the past – about my past and about our past, i.e., my past relationship with this child. Cynthia told me bluntly that this child and I didn’t have an “emotional landscape” that would support what I was offering in my letter.

I really latched on to this concept of “emotional landscape.” As Cynthia and I talked, we discussed how, in Mormonism, it is extremely common to not find real relationships between parents and children. Everything is defined by what I term the “Mormon Matrix” – that layer of “reality” that we (as Mormons) all pretend is reality, when in fact it is a manufactured reality that everyone buys into and pretends is real. Rarely does one delve below the Matrix; we do not know how to act there, and when the Matrix is destroyed or exposed, many of us also do not know how to act.

We unconsciously sustain this unreality by providing it our energy, believing in our righteousness in doing so, and many are those who really have lost all consciousness that the Matrix is not in fact real. And even when it is destroyed or exposed, some refuse to believe in its unreality, willingly clinging to it rather than face what is real.

I depended heavily on the Mormon Church to teach me how and give me the tools to be a good parent. I certainly didn’t have good role models in this respect. My therapist helped me to appreciate the significance of this fact, which helped me to understand why I so desperately signed on to the program when I joined the Church.

As a Mormon father, I felt my primary functions were to mold and “train up” my children – to help them do their best in school, to teach them how to work by doing chores around the house, to raise them up in the Gospel, to help them develop their talents, and beyond all this, to convey my own values of independent-mindedness, to teach them to think for themselves and to get as much education as they possibly could.

Of course, I “loved” them, but I felt constrained by the Matrix, as well as my own issues and personality, from establishing REAL relationships with them. Then there was the whole gay thing, which had a constant prophylactic effect upon all aspects of my life. This was part of the Reality from which the Matrix purported to protect me.

Coming out, for me, led to a shattering of the Mormon Matrix – at least in my own life. Confronting my homosexuality resulted in me also confronting other instances of inauthenticity in my life. Life in the Matrix had, in many ways, been ordered, controlled, sustainable, particularly when it came to my relationships with my children. I’m not saying that these relationships were not real, but I am saying that I realized after coming out that they were not self-sustaining outside of the Matrix.

I am pleased to say that my relationships with most of my children have blossomed and grown since I left the Matrix. The relationships are no longer framed by the gospel of duty, eternality, and distracting busyness. Nor are they framed by the toxic mix that was created by my desperate desire to live up to an idealized conception of fatherhood, which discountenanced the essence of who I am – a gay man. In the result, the emotional landscape of these relationships has become richer and more verdant.

A minority of these relationships, however, have withered, apparently unsustainable outside the Matrix. I have felt very sad about this. I have also (I recently realized) felt guilty – which of course is one of the things we are constantly warned will be a result of leaving the Matrix. If only I hadn’t come out, these relationships would be intact – as the voice inside my head says.

But this is where what I have been reading in The Way Out comes into play. Chris Nutter points out that fears come from unconscious living, from our ego, and that we have a choice of either buying into those fears (including guilt) or, instead, shining the light of consciousness on these feelings and recognizing them for what they are: a self-condemnation because we are gay.

The truth is that these relationships with some of my children that have withered were already severely damaged before I came out. As long as we all lived in the Matrix, there was some semblance of cohesiveness that hid the toxicity. All my coming out did was expose what was already there.

For the past several weeks, I have pondered how I looked outside myself for my idealized role as a father; it was “out there” (as opposed to being inside myself) and I had to conform to this role if I wanted to have good relationships with my children and to achieve redemption of my gay self within the confines of the Matrix.

I have pondered how internalized homophobia and guilt over being gay has colored my perception of what has happened. And I have pondered and searched for and nurtured my essence as a loving father that comes from within me, rather than from without. But to do this, I have had to overcome what I have told myself and allowed others to tell me from the time I was a child: that I am defective because I am gay and nothing good can come from within me, that anything good must come from without – which has resulted in a breeding ground for guilt, fears, self-loathing and insecurity.

In essence, I am applying what I have learned by reading The Way Out. I am trusting myself to believe that I have it within me to be a loving father, that I don’t have to search for it without; that I am capable of real, authentic love that springs from within, rather than applied from without. That it is by being true to, accepting and loving who I am, that this love can be allowed to flow. It will not come from feelings of fear, guilt and self-flagellation.

It saddens me that my relationships with some of my children are what they are. But I know that the basis for moving forward – if there is to be any moving forward with them – must be in the emotional landscape of reality, self-love and self-acceptance, rather than in the Matrix.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Homophobia, Consciousness and Coming Out of the Attic

My partner and I went out to eat last night, something we don’t do that often, but which we enjoy. The food was fairly good – not outstanding – but what we enjoyed most was the experience of being out, tasting something different from our normal at-home fare, and absorbing the ambiance of the restaurant.

We also enjoy being able to go out as a gay couple and not feel like we have horns growing out of our heads. 

There weren’t that many people in the restaurant, a place on the east side of Salt Lake, and our waiter was very attentive. I think he figured out fairly quickly that we are a couple, and, though our gaydar wasn’t going off, we deduced that he was either gay or wanted a nice tip. How? When he brought the check back after having run the credit card, he briefly rested his hand on my shoulder as he thanked us.

We gave him a nice tip.

This experience came to mind as I was reviewing passages which I had underlined in the book I wrote about yesterday, which I’ll refer to by its abbreviated title, The Way Out, by Chris Nutter. As I explained yesterday, a gay men’s book club I have joined is currently reading this book.

The particular passages I had underlined refer to “the closet.” Nutter described the process that the vast majority of gay men, even today, undergo, to one degree or another, when he wrote:  “Believing that [being gay was abnormal] didn’t change my sexual nature, and so I began to create a system of denial and separation from it, which was how and when I first stepped into the closet …

This short sentence is pregnant with meaning. First of all, most gay men are taught that being “queer” is abnormal and wrong. However, that doesn’t change the fact of whom such men are attracted to. 

Secondly, most people usually think of the closet as being merely a place of hiding, which it is of course; but the metaphor also implies to most people that once it’s ok to come out, everything will be fine – like a game of hide and go seek: we’ll just hide in the closet for a while, then come out when it’s safe and rejoin the game of life, only this time we’ll be fabulously and openly gay.

What most people who have never lived in the closet don’t realize, however, is that living in the closet creates, in Nutter’s words, “a system of denial and separation”: denial of and separation from who we are. Nutter then points out the obvious: “By hiding [in the closet], you do not change your nature [i.e., your sexual orientation], you only put it out of sight from yourself and from others.” 

In discussing his own experience, Nutter then made a statement that literally took my breath way when I read it for the first time:
“I became … an Anne Frank in the attic of my own being, only I had to hide from myself, too.”
The imagery was so powerful, of the Frank family sealing themselves off from the world, a world in which they were no longer welcome or tolerated. But Nutter takes the imagery further, to the point of sealing oneself off in the attic of one’s being, hiding not only from others but from one’s own self.

It is comparatively easy to come out of the closet, but it is much more difficult to come out of the attic and deal with the years, or even decades, of psychic and emotional separation and hiding. Nutter points out that the key to navigating this process is to shine the light of consciousness on the fears that are buried deep within us:
“The degree to which you do acknowledge [your sexuality] to others is based entirely on the degree to which you realize the deep truth underneath all the lies about yourself that you absorbed from the world around you – that there is nothing wrong with being gay, and, therefore, there is no reason to hide it … [Coming out is really a matter of having] transcended the closet altogether – you no longer have to be ‘out’ because no part of you is ‘in.’ You simply are.”
In his book, Chris Nutter talks about his own journey, about how he came out in a big way, of how he started living the life of the party boy, diving head first into the fabulousness of gay life. But he eventually came to see that life as shallow and misleading and devoted himself to some serious soul-searching that led him, metaphorically, back up into the attic:
“When it comes to coming out, there are two essential intents. On the one hand is the intent to do as little self-examination as possible in order to get what your ego – i.e., your identification with the part of you that lives in fears – wants from being out … without having to more substantially come out of unconscious living.  
"On the other hand is the intent to stay conscious about being out for the rest of your life in order to utilize the endless challenges to your authenticity as endless opportunities for healing … The point is to keep these intents in mind so that you are always aware of which one is guiding you … [However,] the point isn’t to make a political statement or convince homophobes that you’re just as good, but rather to help heal the part of you that is still judging yourself to be wrong because you are gay. 
"Of course, we all feel the pressure to recede into the background even once we’ve come out – to, in a sense, stay where we’re told to stay in our neighborhoods or in our bedrooms. This pressure to recede is exercised in the form of fears … which are instilled in us in adolescence and which so many of us accept as true. But fear only emanates from the unconscious mind, and like all unconscious thoughts, it is on an endless journey to prove itself true. So the problem here is that if you have fear in any form – and homophobia is itself a fear – then you will indeed see it everywhere because it is your own that you see” [bolding emphasis added].
Last night when we went out to eat, as well as other times we’ve done this in Salt Lake City, I didn’t and haven’t felt self-conscious at all, i.e., about being gay. If, however, we were to go to a restaurant in Bountiful – where my children live – it would be another story. (In fact, it has been another story. Mark and I took the younger kids out for dinner at Applebee’s in Bountiful then to the theatre in Centerville, and I could feel the eyes looking at our large table and at us as we sat in the theatre, trying to figure it out.)

What I realized about our experience last night, especially as I meditated upon what Nutter had written, is that I and other gay men project our fears, our own internalized homophobia, onto others. I decided that I am going to follow Nutter’s advice and, whenever I feel self-conscious about being gay, I will reflect on the “two intentions,” and try to be mindful of my internalized homophobia and to heal that part of me that is still judging myself to be wrong because I am gay.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The GIft of Being Gay

I have been ambivalent about gay organizations during the past 16 months or so. Up until rejoining the Salt Lake Men's Choir last October, I hadn't spent much time at all around other gay men. In part, this was due to a conscious decision to invest time in my relationship with my partner. Beyond that, however, I was finding my own gay way, and I felt I needed a break to strengthen my own perception of myself as gay.

This need to find one's gay self was alluded to in a book I am now reading by Chris Nutter, entitled The Way Out: The Gay Man's Guide to Freedom, No Matter if You're in Denial, Closeted, Half In, Half Out, Just Out, or Been Around the Block. (I think he could have gone with a shorter title, but whatever.) Too many gay men, Nutter writes, think that coming out of the closet "as the singular answer to the gay 'predicament.'" He continues:
"As transformative as it is, coming out is not enough, for there is now a gay world ready to take over your mind and fill your head with yet another 'reality' about who you are. All you have to do these days is become conscious enough to realize you aren't straight, move over into gay society, and then slip right back into unconsciousness by letting gay society tell you who you are and who you should be. It's like waking up for a coma in intensive care only long enough to shuffle over to another unit where the bed is a better fit and the pain medication is more intense and then going right back to sleep."
I was introduced to Nutter's book because I recently decided to try out a gay men's book club here in Salt Lake. I had heard about the club, but had put off attending - partly because they meet on Friday nights and I have my kids every other Friday evening, and partly for the reasons I've just referred to. I guess I was afraid of being/feeling like I was being sucked into someone else's view of what it means to be gay.

But I was very pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the evening very much, met a number of people and found the discussion of Nutter's book stimulating. I am sure that I will have a lot to say over time about The Way Out because it is very thought provoking, and I have found myself underlining nearly every sentence. What I have read so far has providing me with an entirely different way of looking at not only the fact that I am gay, but also at the entirety of my life.

Today, however, I want to just say a few words about the basic premise of the book, which can be summed up in one word: consciousness. Writes Nutter:
“Being gay is a special gift for men because by coming out we willfully trade in our great place of privilege in the world for a greater sense of our true selves … This is the essence of the gift of being gay, for while straight people have it ‘easier’ in the worldly sense – and it is truly a first-class world for straight people – they do not have it easier when it comes to waking up from unconsciousness because they are not challenged in the profound way that gay people are. And that’s where it counts ...  
"By being brave enough to cross [the] chasm between fear and freedom, we empower ourselves to rely on our own awareness to judge what is true and untrue about ourselves, freeing us from the judgments of the world forever, and in the process discovering the awesome power we have to create reality in accordance with our own will … That is the moment that the crisis of being gay in this world transmutes into opportunity for profound realization." 
I remember thinking and writing, shortly after I came out almost 2-1/2 years ago, about how anyone could possibly be grateful for being gay. I had read a statement on another blog that the author was not only grateful for experiencing same-sex attraction, but also considered it a gift from God. At that point in time, I still saw my homosexuality as a curse, a cross to bear, not a blessing. I had come out because I was sick of hating myself, living in a secret closet. But I was a long, long way from being on good terms with the fact that I was gay. My "condition" was to be merely accepted, not celebrated.

Since that time, I have gone through several "regret cycles" in which I have tried to make sense of my life, tried to "justify" coming out when I did (i.e., instead of earlier in my life), rationalizing that I wouldn't have had my kids (whom I love dearly and wouldn't trade for anything or anyone), wouldn't have met my partner, and perhaps have died of AIDS back in the 80's. In this cycle, I always came to the same place: acceptance of what is and moving on.

However, I have recently realized that, at the core of that regret cycle was that same sense that being gay is a sentence, not a gift. The roots of internalized homophobia run very deep.

Nutter's book has helped me and is helping me to finally view my being gay for what it is: a remarkable gift for achieving consciousness (or, if you prefer, self-knowledge). Accepting this gift enables me to transcend the regret cycle. I can see that all that has gone before in my life has prepared me for what I am now experiencing.  As Joseph Campbell has written: "The Hero gets the adventure he's ready for."

I can also see that accepting this gift, i.e., embracing my homosexuality wholeheartedly, will result not only in self-love, but also consciousness and enlightenment. This realization in turn has given me a whole new perspective on the quest for consciousness. In the past, I have sometimes been frustrated by Buddhist principles because I could never quite relate to them, and at times they have seemed just plain airy-fairy. 

I tried to and have accepted such principles - intellectually; but I now have a "hook" on Buddhism (or, if you prefer, principles of consciousness, living in the now, being present, mindfulness, etc.) that will allow me to make emotional contact with these principles and to forge my own path, removing the feeling that I have to follow someone else's path - whether with respect to being gay or being conscious. 

Following someone else's path never brings true fulfillment and happiness. Doing so may provide a temporary sense of direction and some degree of meaning, but it cannot provide lasting fulfillment. Sooner or later, the journey becomes tiresome because, once again, we are not being true to ourselves. As Nutter pointed out, we trade one form of unconsciousness for another. In order to achieve consciousness and, ultimately, enlightenment, one must find and travel one's own path, fulfilling one's own destiny, blessed by those whom we meet or join on that journey.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nurture vs. Nature

I have written before that I have done more reading in the past 15 months or so than in the previous 20 years. Part of the reason for that is that I was busy raising a family, adopting kids from Russia, practicing law, doing church work and dealing with the meltdown of a marriage. What spare time I had was taken up in running and with other hobbies and interests.

Now, however, in this season of my life, I have taken up reading again. And a couple of days ago, I had one of those realizations that are very meaningful to me, but probably leave other people scratching their heads, wondering what the big deal is. The realization: I *loved* to read as a child. I read voraciously as soon as I learned how. I loved the series, "Childhood of Famous Americans," as well as the Hardy Boy books. And as soon as I was old enough, I started ordering books through the Weekly Readers, most of which were fiction, particularly historical fiction. I also belonged to a summer reading club for several years grades 3-6 or so.

I also realized that I was pretty much alone in my intense interested in reading, not only among my siblings, but also my parents. I don't think my dad as an adult ever read a book for pleasure; all I recall him reading was the evening newspaper. Same with my mom. She started reading romance novels by the dozen a year or so after my parents' separated; but that was the extent of her reading as well.

The upshot of these realizations, among other things, is that I came to see, in a very clear and focused way, that a love of reading was part of my "nature," not a result of the environment in which I was raised (nurture). Such a simple, seemingly obvious realization, yet it opened doors to understanding. For one thing, it gave me a greater appreciation of my own unique personality as a child - that I wasn't just "there," that I was and am a unique person that was not just "acted upon."

I also thought of my own children and how I tried to create an atmosphere of reading in the home, wanting them to be readers. I'm not saying this was a bad thing, but I see now that I focused far too much on "nurture" to the detriment of "nature." For one thing, I took credit for the fact that my three older daughters and my oldest son became avid readers, rather than recognizing that this trait was part of who they *are*, not who I molded them to be. Secondly, I see now that I should have focused less on molding my children and more on nurturing their innate nature. I also see, embarrassed, that I believed that, unless I developed the desire to read in my children, it wouldn't emerge.

I'm not blaming myself totally for this, for it was an aspect of Mormon culture and doctrine. Children were to be "trained up in the way they should go." They were to be taught to work, taught the value of education, taught to develop their talents. Taught to go to church. Taught to read their scriptures. Taught. Taught. Taught. 

Some of these are worthy goals, of course, but it tends to leave little room for nature with too much emphasis on nurture - which really was training and not nurturing.

Beyond all of the foregoing, my realization about who I was as a child made me think/question when and why it was that I lost my zeal for reading ... a question that I haven't yet been able to fully answer. I'm just letting it lie there for now. 

I suppose many would wonder why I spend so much time in introspection like this. But I would imagine that most such people have likely not spent most of their lives in the closet, or perhaps in an oppressive marriage or some other soul-destroying experience that lasted for decades, during which one's identity, one's sense of self, is ground into dust. I think one of the reasons I am so driven to recover my historical self, my memories, is so that I feel less like a cipher, a shell of a person who doesn't feel connection to anything, but has been conditioned to merely function.

In this regard, I was reminded recently of something that a counselor - my family physician - once told me about 18 years ago as I was going through a difficult time, dealing with child abuse for the first time. He told me that I hadn't allowed myself to have desires, let alone act upon them (and I had not told him anything about my hidden sexual orientation). The remark took my breath away, and I wished I could have discussed it further with him.

What becomes of a man who doesn't allow himself to have desires (of any kind, not just sexual)? He has no real personality. He goes through life losing who he is, like sand silently slipping out of a hole in a bag until there is nothing left ...

But getting back to "nurture" and "nature," I have vowed - though I have less contact with them now that I'm divorced - with my younger children to make more efforts to nurture their nature, and in this regard I have a wonderful partner - Mark - who is equally committed, with no agendas, to seeing the children blossom into who they are. 

Without any prompting from me, for example, he decided to form a "Frequent Reader Miles Club" with Aaron, who has difficulty reading. Aaron, who understandably doesn't like to read, actually looks forward to reading with Mark. It is such a delight for me to witness this, in part because I know that Mark's sole ambition is to help Aaron be who he can be and to discover the world through reading. He has no other agenda. And I love him the more for it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Faith Is a Disability

"Faith is a disability insofar as it constrains you from self-interest."

I found this line from Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree to be sobering and tremendously thought-provoking. It caused me to reflect upon the many times in my life – and in the lives of those close to me – when faith in religion, faith in what I had been taught by parents or others, or faith in my own abilities, had prevented me from seeing and/or accepting reality – which was definitely not in my self-interest.

One of the supreme ironies of religion is that it teaches people that they must have faith in their creeds and in their gods in order for their adherents to ultimately achieve what is in their best interest, i.e., salvation; but all too often that same faith causes adherents to do what is not in their self-interest.

I am a poster child for such a proposition.  I could write a book about why I joined the LDS Church, what it meant to me, how it affected my life, etc. My life after joining the Church became a synthesis of the Church’s doctrine and how it mixed with and impacted my own trauma, dysfunctions and identity issues that I had brought along out of childhood with me into adulthood.  Then, when I got married, added to the mix was my former wife’s own brand of spirituality and faith.

So, I cannot blame the Church – entirely – for how I conducted the majority of my adult life, but it certainly was front and center stage in the drama that unfolded.  I remember writing in my journal, shortly after I joined the Church, that I never had to worry about making another mistake in my life because the Spirit would guide me.  Then there was that pithy statement by Joseph Smith that, “When the Lord commands, do it!” And that scripture in the Book of Mormon: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”

I (and my former wife) made many decisions in the decades that followed in the face of illogicality or even irrationality simply based on the “feeling” that this is what the Lord wanted me/us to do and that, in so doing, I and my family would be blessed in some way.  A lot of these decisions were just plain crazy, financially; and the belief – the faith – that I/we were recipients of “special” guidance and direction that called us out of the herd of “ordinary Mormons” resulted in a blindness to reality.

Then there is the faith that we put in the teachings of others, such as parents. Many is the child that has come to learn, usually when they enter adulthood or later, that what was taught to them as “gospel” by one or both of their parents ain’t necessarily so. When undue faith is placed in such teachings, it can and often does result in the child doing things that are not in his or her best interests, primarily because such faith prevents the child from seeing his own reality. 

Lastly, there is the faith we may have in ourselves or in our situation that causes us to refuse to see or accept reality. Whenever we are in such a state of denying reality or refusing to see reality, we cannot possibly act in our best interests. Decisions must be made on what IS, not on what we might HOPE it to be, no matter how desperately we might desire it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Beautiful Granddaughter

Hannah and Hazel

The Holiday Season

I am way, way, way behind on blogging, so this post is going to mainly be pictures that were taken from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

Me and my sister walking up Millcreek Canyon on Thanksgiving morning
Nathan and me at Tina and Ben's house

At Esther's Daddy-Daughter event

Before the Salt Lake Men's Choir Concert

Nathan's Choir Concert

At Appleby's the night we took the kids to see "A Christmas Carol"

Nathan and Levi at the theatre

Levi is sharing a secret with Mark


Esther and me (horrid lighting)

Annie at Crown Burger in Salt Lake

Christmas Eve

It snowed on Christmas Eve

My Christmas present from Mark

The Christmas Ornament I sent Hannah and Cary
We went sledding the Saturday after Christmas