- Debbie Novotny (Sharon Gless), Queer as Folk (Showtime, 2003)
I don't know whether this line, which I know from the Showtime series "Queer as Folk," is actually original to it, or quoted from elsewhere. But it is right on the money.
There are few occasions for celebrating anniversaries in our lives: marriage or relationship, sobriety, the opening of a successful business, and ordination are the ones that immediately come to my mind. As of today, I cannot celebrate any of those in my life. But there's one I can celebrate, which is coming up a week from today.
15 years ago, on May 6, 1996, I came out to another person as being gay for the first time in my life. I had come out to myself, actually admitted to myself that I was gay, only two years before. The homophobia that I had learned over my first 19 years, which came from many sources, was deeply a part of me when I wrote:
I have heretofore not revealed my most innermost thoughts and secrets, not to these pages, let alone anyone else. I'm afraid that the pages may fall into the hands of others, after I have written what I shall write and my secret will be revealed to all. For now, I will reveal it only to these pages--a large step indeed.
I have known since puberty that I am attracted to the male, and not the female, body....It is definitely not a choice that I have made--not as some homosexuals, I would choose not to be one. My attitude would bring me severe reprimands from most other homosexuals, and my inclinations would obviously bring me nothing but hardship from all of my friends and family.
...I am definitely not gay, in the strict sense of the word. I do not act faggishly.... I merely find the male body sexually attractive. ...I do not particularly want to form a true love relationship with another man. I do not want to marry another male, just as I do not want to become involved in the traditional gay causes--the psychotic activities of many of these politically active homosexuals sickens, surprises, and depresses me. --6.24.1994, 9:45pm.
To look back on these words, as I have from time to time over the years, both saddens me, that I ever felt that way, and gives me a feeling of empathy for so many who "struggle" with homosexuality, whether because they are gay or lesbian themselves, or because they oppose even the slightest positive mention of homosexuality. They also give me an imperfect empathy for others who struggle because others seek to marginalize them.
How I get from that day nearly 17 years ago, through the anniversary whose original day came some two years later, to today, is complicated, and yet it is part of the most important work I have done in my life: coming to terms with something in myself that up until 2003 in these United States, could be punishable under the law. I have come a long way personally, and attitudes across the nation have changed significantly, in these 15+ years.
Thankfully, as Dan Savage said, it gets better.
I write these following meditations over the next 2 weeks to recognize this journey of my own, which is the journey of so many, even those who are not gay or lesbian, for the closet, the suffocating privacy that we impose upon ourselves because we fear what will happen if we don't do that, is the reality for many who suffer through their lives in silence.
I don't mean these meditations to be a judgment on those who do live in the closet--they must do what they must do, as I must do what I must do. If anything, I would want any invective here to go towards those who enforce the closet on others, because my guess is that many who inhabit this liminal place between being secret and being known would choose to be who they are in public, if they felt, as I did not at the time I came out to myself, that they would not incur wide wrath, loss of key relationships, jobs, homes, personal injury, and even death. Death and significant harm still comes to people who are gay and lesbian for that very fact alone.
Over the next 15 days, from tonight until two Fridays for now, I will write one meditation each night on some aspect of this journey. In each case, I will not identify the others who are a part of my journey at this time by their real names.
My plan for the structure of these writings will occur as follows:
1. 15-4-15: 15 days of meditations for 15 years of being openly gay
2. Bully or It Gets Better
4. Gaining My Religion
5. Who I Am
6. The First Time
8. Why I Must Be Out
9. Coming Out Everyday
10. Stereotypes: Lonely & Sad
11. Stereotypes: Promiscuity: Fuck Them All
12. Stereotypes: The Homosexual Menace
15. Anti-Bully or Walk Hand-in-Hand
This exploration will be framed by the experience of bullying, and working against bullying, which is ongoing work for me and for many. The way we treat others does depend to a great degree on the way in which others treat us, and in the way we treat ourselves. The crisis of anti-gay bullying is something that has become much more public in the last 6 months, but is something that goes back millennia, and something that may take more than a lifespan to repair.
My ultimate aim, besides making this experience public and, hopefully, resonant with some others, is reconciliation: self-reconcilation, other-reconciliation, and communal reconciliation. I don't know how I will accomplish some of that at this point, and some is just part of a long-term process that cannot be completed in a couple of weeks.
It is my hope that any who choose to read this will find it in some way helpful and worth reading. Even if that is not the case, it will be a helpful exercise for me, and, I hope, might inspire one or another person to undertake a similar project with themselves.
Ultimately, love, of self, others, community, and God, takes leaps as must faith, and, in the words of one of my favorite spiritual figures, Father James Huntington, "Love must act as light must shine and fire must burn."
I appreciate your company, dear reader, along the way.