Saturday, May 7, 2011
15 for 15 VI: The First Time, or I'm Finally Out!
The day had to come.
Earlier that day, I was agonizing, as I did every day, over the guy I was in love with but didn't, or couldn't, tell. When he told me that he was in love with another guy, I told him how I felt about him, and there it was.
But the one to whom I am out and whom I love loves another. I want to laugh and cry and vomit.
--May 6, 1996
Those were the hardest years of my life, so far, both preceding and following that statement.
Since that time, I've come to think that emotional puberty, which happens around age 20, is harder than physical puberty. I went into a cocoon, psychologically, and to some degree physically as well.
Like many young men of that age, I grew out my hair, on my face as well as on my head. I actually had hair to grow out back then.
Along with this growth of hair around me, I continued growing barriers around myself psychologically to keep people out. I became so good at it, that by age 21, I could say that I hadn't kept any friends consistently since I was a kid, and although I made friends in college, it would be some time before I worked on those friendships at all. Mostly, I was insecure, overly-competitive, and didn't want anyone to know I was gay.
It all ended that night.
My view of the world has changed so drastically, I can't. This is the night I have been waiting for for so long...
I knew after that night that something more than my sexuality had come out. I had come out, started to destroy the cocoon of secrecy that I'd built around myself with hundreds or thousands of "saves," putting my mind to work several moves ahead of where a conversation might be going so that I would not have to answer certain questions or lie.
The piano had been my adolescent lover, and the eccentric pianist Glenn Gould had been my "virtual" lover, long before the idea of virtual had come to my mind. I was safely hidden behind an intellectual exterior in which I could be busy thinking about things, or practicing the piano. I became enveloped in the works of Ayn Rand, who, from her physical and emotional grave, egged me on to be different and alone. Being an individual was the most important thing to me, so much so that when I went to college, I wanted to do an "individualized major," which at the time was kooky, although has caught on since.
Through all of the nights that I had gone to sleep for 10 years wondering if I was hopelessly lost, or if I was "the only one," I knew in those moments, on that night 15 years ago, that I was never going to be the only one again.
The first time I came out was like returning from a long, lonely exile in a foreign land, whose customs I sort of knew, and whose language I spoke with great difficulty because I kept tripping over the words, but whose food I didn't enjoy, and whose oppressive culture I could not wait to escape.
This feeling of exile, of not being welcomed in your homeland, is perhaps common to a lot of people for a lot of reasons. People can challenge this feeling only in the company of those who are "like" them, or perhaps in books, movies, other media, or characters of their own making. But it's not the same as connecting in person, with real, live people whom you know are enough like you so that you don't have to mouth a barely familiar language that everyone else seems to know fluently.
My whole perspective on the world changed, because that night I no longer had to think in terms of dynamic equivalence, translating the lives of others, and particularly the loves of others, into something that made sense to me in my own mind and deeply felt experience. My world changed that night because it finally became my world.
I'm so confused and elated and nervous and sick and ecstatic. Sleep seems light years away.
A million feelings went through my mind and heart all at once, so powerful that I felt like I was going to go insane or literally explode, internally combust, go up in the flames of gay fabulosity before I knew what those even could be.
I felt, in that moment, that I had crossed over a threshold of experience that I thought I would never cross, and entered a world I could only sense existed, but had been there all the time. And what I wanted felt further out of reach than ever, because my feelings were not returned.
Feelings are a funny thing--substantial, but not quantifiable; ephemeral, but lasting; they are the ultimate paradox.
And feelings seem to give us permission to act in any way that we wish. I did that, and was not proud of how my feelings affected the object of those feelings. Objectifying another, especially one about whom we feel strongly, seems impossible to avoid, but in the cold light of long reflection, I would have acted quite differently. At that time, though, I simply could not. One learns not to repeat certain mistakes, even though some of those mistakes seem to fall into a pattern of action that, no matter how many times one tries to reason his or her way out of them, seems to keep coming back the same way. It is almost like an addiction, and the effects can perhaps be just as harmful.
Still, I came to value those feelings only by finally experiencing them, and putting them out there in the world. If they are returned, that is somehow a bonus, but there is no way in which one can or should force another person to feel what one does not feel.
Being forced into feeling what one does not feel is precisely the aim of the closet. It is not only a place of privacy and safety, but it is a place that often compels people to feel that that is the only place in which they can be safe. And that is not right.
Many first times have come since that one those many years ago: first lovers, first boyfriends, first poems, first culinary delights, first times being without a home, being on my own and unsure of what to do next, first trips to Europe and Africa, first times walking the streets of Paris and New York and San Francisco, dreamlike places that I never thought I'd be, but that have come to define my personality and my life in ways similar to this lived sexual orientation.
First times are indeed very special, even if they aren't anything special in and of themselves. I remember the first time I changed a headlight on a car, the feeling of accomplishment that I had, and the feeling of empowerment. First times can, but do not always, empower us to try for higher levels of experience, and make us realize that what never seemed possible actually is something we just haven't tried yet. Of course, that doesn't go for everything. Like eating liver.
Tonight, I celebrated these many years of being out, and all the gifts and challenges that have come with it, at the lovely Nicollet Island Inn restaurant in Minneapolis. Here was one of the fabulous courses with which my table was adorned:
For we are called to the great feast, to the Gospel feast, to the feast of honesty and integrity that adds all of the flavor to life. Facing one's areas of pain and struggle honestly, and for a long time, can yield much greater treasures that can be bought and paid for with money.
And you are always welcome at my feast.