Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jealousy and Related Thoughts

I want to say a few words about jealousy.   

I know jealousy destroys a good many relationships, gay and straight.  I also know people are very different when they become jealous–not at all the ones we fell in love with, chose to be in relationships with.    

Chris, my partner, is one of the most unique gay men I know, for a number of reasons.  One of them is his attitude toward jealousy, which came out at the beginning of our relationship nearly twenty-two years ago, and which hasn't wavered since.

Like a good many people when they enter relationships, I was insecure.  I wanted to know, to use a cliche, that Chris had eyes only for me, that he'd made the decision I was "the one" for him.  So, being the stinker I am sometimes, I tried to make him jealous.     

We'd be walking down the street, in downtown Vancouver, where we lived at the time, and where there are so many attractive men.  It didn't matter if the men were gay or straight; if they were attractive, that's all that mattered.   

I'd pick one out, and I'd comment to Chris something along the lines of, "Look at how gorgeous he is.  I wonder what it would be like to be with him.  Maybe I should find out."  And I'd go on about how beautiful I thought he was, how much fun I thought he'd be, how exciting life would be with him, etc.   

And Chris's response?  "Go.  If you want to be with him, I won't stop you.  I can't force you to stay with me, if you don't want to.  But, if you leave, don't bother coming back, because I don't want you anymore."   

End of discussion.  I knew where I stood.    

Chris was right, of course.  He was only in his early twenties at the time, and I think, perhaps because of the situation he'd grown up in at home some years earlier, he knew that if people wanted to be with someone else, there was nothing you could do.  

Over the years, I've teased Chris from time to time, drawing his attention to yet another attractive man, making some comment about wanting to be with him, and Chris's answer hasn't changed.  ("Go.  See you around sometime.") 

Of course, I've never put Chris in the situation of following through on what he says–of letting me go, because I've chosen to pursue someone else, someone I think would make me happier than he does.  In other words, I've never tested our relationship that way.

But I think what's refreshing about Chris's attitude toward jealousy is how realistic it is.  Essentially, he's saying, I can't stop you from doing what you want to do.  If it's that important to you to be with him, then go ahead.  You have my blessing.  Make yourself happy, if that's what happiness looks like to you.  I'm powerless to do anything about it.  End of story.

*

I don't know if this has anything to do with jealousy, but, a few years ago, I was going through a rough time.  And I knew I was in some ways putting Chris through it too, even though I didn't discuss it and tried to hide it.  How could he not be affected by something his life partner was struggling with?

And it got so bad that, for a period of time, I thought Chris would be better off without me.  I didn't know how or even if I could pull myself out of it, and the last thing I wanted to do was drag Chris down with me.  He deserved to be happy, I saw that.  He didn't deserve to be miserable because of me.  

I spoke to my mom about this.  I told her I was thinking of telling Chris that, if he wanted to leave, he should, because I was not the man he'd gotten into a relationship with.  I was in a dark place, and I saw no way out of it.  It wasn't fair to him to have to come home every day and be with someone who was depressed, who saw only the negative in everything, who wasn't interested in the basic, routine things anymore, who, at times, even had difficulty putting one foot in front of the other.   

Now, don't get me wrong.  I would have been destroyed if Chris had left.  I'm not saying it would have been easy to let him go.  After all, we'd been together for nearly twenty years at the time.  He was an enormous part of my life–hell, he was my life–and, as I think back on it now, I don't know how I would have gotten along without him.

But, at the time, my priority was Chris.  I was thinking only of him.  I was thinking only about what was best for him.  I didn't figure into this.  Above anything else, I wanted him to be happy.  And, if being with someone else would have made him happy, then I had to honor that.  I had to respect it.  As I saw it, I had no choice but to let him go.   

There's an element in this similar to Chris's attitude toward jealousy.  It's about putting the other person's happiness and fulfillment ahead of your own.  It's about letting people go, people who are important to you–people who mean the world to you, really–because their happiness is more important than anything you have to offer if you stay together, because their happiness is more important than yours.         

Relationships are not prisons.  They are places where people should want to be.  When they no longer want to be in them, if they would be happier, more fulfilled, higher expressions of themselves elsewhere, then it's time to let them go.  I'm not saying you shouldn't try to work on what you have first, to give it another chance, or as many chances as it takes.  But if you've done that, and it's failed, it's time for both parties to move on. 

Nothing is forever.  We get only one chance to go around this life, one chance to get it right.  If you're holding someone back because you're only thinking about yourself, putting your happiness ahead of his or hers, you need to realize what you're doing.  And you need to realize that person might be better off without you. 
 
Yes, it would have killed me to let Chris go.  But if, after I'd let him go, I'd met him on the street with someone else, and I'd seen he was clearly happier than he had been with me, it would have made me happy for him.  I would have known I'd made the right decision to set him free, to experience life beyond what I was able to offer him.   

And I would have been free to do the same–to pursue my own happiness, whatever that looked like. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Two Sides of the Same Coin


In a single day–that’s no coincidence–I received two very different comments, from two different readers, to a post I published here last Friday titled “I’ve Earned the Right.”  (To read the post first, please click here.) 

Rather than allow these comments to become lost in my blog, I thought I’d feature them in a dedicated post, for reasons that will become apparent below.  

First, the comments. 

The one directly below is from a very good friend, someone I’ve known since junior high school, who I lost touch with over the years, who’s since reconnected with me, and who is as kind and compassionate and loving as ever.  Her name is Loretta, and this is what she had to say:

I just had to comment on your latest entry. Most of the time I agree with virtually everything you write but in your latest writing you clearly returned evil for evil based on how a person looked at you and your immediate response to it.

I do not want to negate your feelings about what you observed but I would like to add a softer spin to it if you will.

As you know, I have been laughed at, judged and often times shunned because I am overweight. I am not immobile, I have a steady job, I have raised my family and I am not a burden to society in any way, shape or form. I do everything everybody else does and I'm overweight.

The way people may look at me, in judgement or not, no longer affects me the way it used to. I know the person I am and I refuse to waste my precious time here on earth letting the way people look at me or judge me become a part of my thought process.

I choose to return good for evil by accepting the fact that everyone has a right to be here and that everyone has a right to their own judgements and decisions based on what they believe to be true. To be truly authentic with myself I choose to accept and embrace the fact that although everyone does not believe the way I believe that does not give me the right to judge them.

You have obviously given this "nano-second" glance and "contemptuous smirk" a place in your heart and you have already "let the expression of a punk marginalize what Chris and I have" by giving it place in your world. I would hazard a bet that the "punk" hasn't even given the two of you another thought, let alone put it to print.

There are ignorant, judgmental people in the world and I believe it is our sacred responsibility to rise above their prejudices and to not allow their lack of understanding or compassion determine or affect in any way who we are. This can be difficult to do but we are the better person for it.

People have cynical attitudes because they know no different or because they refuse, by their own actions, to accept and love without condition.

Might I be so bold as to say that mid-embrace your complete focus would have been better served if it had been 100% on Chris. Why were you looking around? Did you perhaps think that someone might be watching you and that you wanted to see what their reaction was? Live in the moment, my dear friend, focus on what's important to you and to hell with anyone else. No one can "marginalize" what you and Chris have unless you let them.

Had you continued that hug into a loving kiss, I'm certain your eyes would have been closed and the people around you would have been of no significance. After the kiss, focusing on your partner and continuing on your way out of the airport without glancing around to see how others are reacting to you would have been a more pleasant experience for both of you. I guarantee that when I hug and kiss my husband in public I don't look around to see if anyone is watching. I know that a heterosexual hug and kiss is the "norm" and people accept it; I also believe that when you worry less about what others think and focus more on what is important to you that you will be all the more happier for it.

It makes me sad to think of this person's reaction to your embrace but it really breaks my heart that you saw it and that it has bothered you enough to write about it. I hope that in writing about it you have let it go and that by reading what I've had to say that you, and your audience, will choose not to judge others as they are judging you. I'm not certain this person deserved an f-you look on your face. You don't know him anymore than he knows you and by passing judgment on him you, in fact, become no better than he. Judgmental, narrow minded people exist, and they need to be shown by our good example that we exist too.

No matter his religious beliefs or what he was raised to believe is right or wrong, I'm betting that because your relationship with Chris is "older than he is" that he simply hasn't evolved into the kind of person who can easily accept people for who they are. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt. My bet is that he's not even comfortable and/or accepting of himself and that's where our own acceptance of others begins, when we truly accept who we are.

My friend, I love you to pieces and I'm so happy that you have the relationship that you and Chris deserve.

 
The next comment is from an anonymous reader and self-explanatory:

You made me feel brave enough to face any kind of discrimination with this. I'm a regular reader, but I never post any comments. I hope I'll be as proud and confident as you are one day. Thanks for creating this blog and for sharing your thoughts... They've been extremely helpful.

 
I find myself caught in the middle of these two comments.   

On the one hand, I totally understand what Loretta wrote.  I know her inspired comment comes from a place of love, and she has only my best interests at heart.  On the other hand, I identify with the anonymous reader, who’s obviously had difficulties dealing with the reactions of some people toward his or her sexual orientation, and who’s found in my words both support and strength. 

I have no intention of justifying my reaction toward the young man at the airport.  Yes, I could have chosen not to include it in the post.  Yes, at the very least, I could have chosen not to publish it here for everyone to see.  But I made the conscious decision to represent myself the way I really am, to share the way I really responded, whether it was right or not.  I did it, and I must own it.     

Let’s just say, as much as I’ve written here in the past that it’s critical to be in the moment and not allow some people to bring you down with the things they do or say, it’s difficult to do that sometimes, particularly when certain reactions in certain situations have become second nature, and when you almost tempt something bad to happen because you expect it to.  Old habits do indeed die hard. 

I believe a lot of responsibility goes with writing a blog, particularly when you hope your voice is a positive, encouraging, and helpful one.  It’s easy in our culture to contribute to the negative energy in the world, adding to the enormous amount already out there.  Much more challenging is to adopt a measured and restrained perspective, one that relies less on emotion (and, dare I say, fear), and more on common sense–even compassion.      

I'm worried to think my defiant, knee-jerk reactions, that I sometimes write about here, could become the inspiration for someone’s strength, and I sincerely hope that’s not the case with the reader whose comment I shared above.  In a perfect world, each of us would live consciously at all times, choosing in an instant to react in a constructive, gracious, and even loving way.  I believe that should always be our goal.  Whether it’s possible to achieve, given how flawed human beings are, is up for debate.   

But, as Loretta aptly points out, the answer is not to meet evil with evil.  It never has been, and it never will be.


And if I may take that thought one step further:  We have no control over how some people react toward us, but we sure have control over how we respond to it.  In the end, that's what sets us apart from them.

Friday, March 21, 2014

I've Earned the Right

On March 1, I took Chris to the airport.  He was flying out to Toronto for a big international conference and wasn't scheduled to return until Thursday, when I'd drive back to the airport to pick him up.   

There were we, early on a Saturday morning, on the domestic departures floor, hundreds of people all around, at various stages of getting ready for their flights.

After Chris got his boarding pass and baggage tags from the kiosk, he proceeded to the queue to drop off his checked-in luggage.  Already, there were dozens of people in the line.  It was time to say good-bye.

Over the past two-decades-plus, Chris and I have hugged literally thousands of times, as any couple, gay or straight, does.  It's very natural.  It feels good.  You want to keep doing it.  Usually, my arms go around his upper body (yes, like the female would do), and his arms go around my lower body (like the male would do).  They just go there, like second nature, from lots and lots of practice.

Do you think they went there when we said good-bye with all those people around?  I still can't remember what we did.  It was a combination of one arm this way, the other that way, for both of us–in other words, one of the most unsatisfying hugs I've had in a very long time.  Awkward.  

And you can bet there was no kiss.  Never mind that this is my life partner.  Never mind that I don't consider my life partner any different from the life partner of anyone at the airport that morning.  Never mind that, if the fates intervened, I could never see Chris again.  You have to think about these things–or, at least, I have to think about these things.  That's the way my brain works.

On the drive back home, I thought, what was that about?  What was that weird hug back at the airport?  What was that look in Chris's eyes when I pulled away from him?  How had we come up with such an uncomfortable way to say good-bye?  And all I could think was, unconsciously, both of us had been too aware of where we were, all the people around us, and had fallen into a habit we'd had back in the early '90s, when we said good-bye to each other then, and felt there was no way we could let on to anyone around us that we were a couple.  It was just easier for us that way, and, God knows, it was easier for everyone else. 

And then this question popped into my head:  Subconsciously, why is it more important to protect the sensibilities of other people than our own?  Why are we so aware of the possibility of offending other people, by doing nothing more than showing ourselves as the loving gay couple we are, saying good-bye to each other at the airport?  Or, simply put, why are someone else's feelings always more important than our own?

I think one of the answers is, it's just easier that way.  It's easier to let people think we're brothers, or friends, or colleagues, or whatever (but certainly not a gay couple–oh, no, not that).  It's easier not to cross the line, not to let on we're anything more.  Never mind that we dishonor our relationship, and the many years we've been together, and our love for each other, by not saying good-bye in the same way straight people do, a way that no one would pay any attention to, if straight people were doing it.     

How is it easier?  Because, then, if Chris ends up sitting beside someone on his flight, who saw us embrace like the life partners we are, he wouldn't have to put up with some attitude or uncomfortable questions or even contempt.  It's just easier to keep everything nice and even and normal.  Not upset the apple cart, so to speak.  Easier for us, maybe, than for everyone else.  And perhaps that's reason enough.

On Thursday, I drove back to the airport to get Chris.  What a relief–his flight arrived safely.  Life can get back to normal.   

As Chris approached me, we hugged, and, this time, we got it right.  The arms went to the usual places, we showed everyone there we're more than brothers or good friends, and it felt oh-so-good.  (Still no kiss, though, which I almost risked doing.  Almost.)

Mid-embrace, I looked up and saw a young fellow with messy, long blond hair, who'd been milling about the arrivals floor, waiting for someone.  I saw him look at us.  I saw that flash of acknowledgement cross his face.  And I saw that contemptuous smirk.  It was scarcely there, but it was.  Unmistakably.

There's a good chance that dude, who, in a nano-second, passed judgment on us, wasn't even born when Chris and I met.  That our relationship is older than he is.  And I'll be damned if I'm going to let the expression of a punk marginalize what Chris and I have, take anything away from our commitment toward, and love for, each other.  He doesn't have the right to do that.  Nobody does.  I don't care what his religious affiliations are, or what he was raised to believe is right and wrong, or whatever.

It all happened so fast, but I hope I had a fuck-you look on my face.  Because he deserved it.  His attitude deserved it.  His narrow-mindedness deserved it.  His readiness to judge something he knows nothing about deserved it.  

I will not allow someone's negative feelings about me change how I feel about myself.  And I will put my own feelings before anyone else's, when it comes to being the gay man I am, who couldn't be more proud of his partner and his relationship.  I've earned the right.  

I've earned the right. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Don't Worry

A couple weeks ago, I finished reading The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes to Their Younger Selves, edited by Sarah Moon, and it wasn't until I put together all the quotes I wanted to keep from the book that one of the consistent messages emerged.

Don't worry.

I could have used that advice over and over again, when I was the age of the young people these writers wrote to.  Although, if I'm honest, I doubt I would have listened to it.  I grew up an overly-sensitive kid, and everything that went on around me–never mind that I had no control over any of it–made me worry.

In particular, I worried about the possibility I might be exactly what my bullies at school told me I was.  And I worried about having any kind of a life, if I was something everyone said was wrong and unacceptable.  Yet I knew I could never be straight, seemingly like everyone else was at the time.  What was I supposed to do? 

Well, let me tell you, dear reader.  It turns out you really don't need to worry after all, about anything, and especially not about your sexual orientation.

The world is moving fast on this issue.  In some places, like Europe and North America, for example, being gay has never been easier.  (Unfortunately, in other places, like Russia, Jamaica, the Middle East, and many countries in Africa, being gay is worse than ever.  But there's still no reason to worry, because, as I suggested above, it's out of your control; there's nothing you can do about it.  Instead, bide your time, remain hopeful, be vigilant, and play your part, whatever that looks like, in bringing about a better day–whether that's in your country or elsewhere.)

How much time and energy did I waste worrying?  How miserable did I make myself throughout my important, and fleeting, youth, because I worried constantly?  How many regrets do I have that I didn't let it all go and allow myself to be more exuberant and joyful?     

If you don't believe me that you shouldn't worry, then maybe a few quotes from writers in The Letter Q will convince you.

Your time is precious here.  Don't squander it by worrying.  Everything will be all right.

Michael Cunningham writes:

I should tell you that I recently received a letter like this from myself at the age of eighty-five.  He told me essentially the same thing.  Worry less.  Love being exactly who and what you are….  Don't fret about aging, don't worry about your career, just do what you were meant to do.

As he tells me, I'm only fifty-eight.  Lap it up, he says.  When I'm eighty-five, I'll look back and wonder why I worried the way I did.

So lap it up, young-un.  Worry less.  Have faith in the fact that your sexual identity, which sometimes seems to you like an impediment, is one of your greatest gifts (p. 11).

Adam Haslett writes:

If anything, I do wish I could tell you to enjoy yourself.  Your worry doesn't help those you worry about, least of all yourself.  It's a toothless clock wheel.  You can let it stop and you'll be fine without it.  You won't do this, I realize.  After all, who's to say I've put it entirely aside myself?  I just wish you knew it can be put aside.  Worries will only multiple, but your attachment to them can loosen.  And that can make all the difference (p. 59).

Christopher Rice writes:

Don't worry so much.  Bad things will happen, but not the ones you've chosen to worry about in advance.

Your way in the world will be determined by how you respond to what happens to you, not by what happens to you, or your thoughts or feelings about it.  This is the measure of a human being, and this will build self-esteem, enough self-esteem to overcome all the moments when jocks coughed the word faggot into their fists as you walked past, just because you loved theater and you turned in English assignments on bright red printer paper (p. 142-143).    

And Bill Clegg writes:

I won't spoil anything–you'll have to go through it all, every last minute of it, because as a friend of yours will tell you gently one particularly difficult day–we can only learn at the speed of pain.  What I can say is that there will be some magnificent moments and there will also be some that don't seem survivable.  But don't spend so much time thinking about the future.  It's going to happen no matter how much you worry about it.  And it won't be anything like you imagine.  It will be harder, easier, more bewildering, and a million times more joyful than you expect.  And, eventually, beyond your wildest dreams (p. 148-149).

If these quotes have piqued your curiosity, I hope you'll check out The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes to Their Younger Selves.  I know you'll find something in it to help you get through whatever is going on in your life right now.

You have the experience, courage, and strength of all these great writers behind you.  Use it.            

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dump Him

Yesterday, I received an email from a young man in Australia.  He provided a lot of detail around a relationship he's in, where his partner, seven years his senior, had the exclusivity chat with him early on, then proceeded to play around.  The young man wanted to know what he should do.  

For any of you who find yourself in the same predicament, here's the advice I offered.  I hope you find it helpful.

*
This one is really easy for me.  Really easy, given how I feel about any form of cheating.

I’m going to be blunt here, so bear up for me, okay?

Dump him!

As cavalier as that sounds–especially given how emotionally attached you seem to be to him–I think it’s the best advice, by far.

I don’t know how much you’ve read of my blog, but, when my partner and I had the exclusivity talk (as you put it) within the first few days of meeting each other, we both agreed monogamy was paramount, and anything less was unacceptable. Twenty-two years later, both of us still feel the same way, and we’ve remained monogamous.  I’ve never had any reason to think he’s cheated on me, and I know I never will cheat on him. 

I think it’s interesting that your partner is the one who brought up the exclusivity subject with you, yet he's the one who did all the cheating (with the exception of your Grindr experience, which you more or less went through with on his recommendation).  If you can’t trust him at this stage of the game, you won’t be able to trust him AT ALL.  Once that trust is violated, my partner and I both agree it can’t be rebuilt–at least not to where it was before.  You’ll always have in the back of your mind that he could be cheating on you.  Do you want to find yourself there all the time with someone you love dearly?  I wouldn’t.

You don’t have to be young (like you) to look at life issues as black and white.  I turn fifty-five this year, and, on some matters, there is only black and white.  


One of those issues is cheating on a cherished partner.  If I had to identify one reason only why Chris and I are still together today, it’s because we feel the same way about the most important issues in life (trust, respect, honor, etc.), and we are unwavering where they’re concerned.  Believe it or not, these issues are the bedrock of any solid relationship.  When that foundation shifts, because one or the other person changes his mind about something significant (for example, cheating), then your relationship is on shaky ground.  I don’t see how it could be anything else.  And you have to decide if a shaky relationship is enough for you.  

Despite his age (actually, he’s only 30), your partner's clearly not ready to settle down yet.  If he were, he’d have honored that initial decision you made together to be exclusive.  I don’t know you, of course, but I’d say, in this respect anyway, you’re more mature than he is.  Or maybe the word is idealistic.  I’m not sure.  But there is nothing wrong with wanting to have a partner who shows, and proves, his love for you by remaining faithful.  Nothing whatsoever.

I believe there are plenty of wonderful men out there, who would love you the way you want to be loved, including being exclusive only to you.  Sure, you have this young man in your life now, and there may be compelling reasons to stay with him (you love him, he’s cute, the sex is great, you think you can change him, etc.).  But do you always want to be suspicious of him?  Do you always want to wonder where he is, and what he’s doing with whom?  You have more respect for yourself than that, don’t you?

My blog is about gay people, like you and me, learning to understand, accept, and love themselves.

Part of that, as I see it, is not accepting bullshit from people who clearly don’t love us in the way they say they do, in the way we need them to, in the way we deserve to be.  When you truly love yourself, when you honor and respect who you are, when you believe that what you hold to be true is right and good and decent, when you know in your heart there is someone better out there, someone who will really give you want you want, then you don’t put up with anyone’s crap.  Ever.

You know what to do.  He’s shown you who he really is, yet you still hang on.  I can’t imagine it will get any better for you with him.  And, yes, you are doing yourself a disservice by staying with him, thinking he’s going to see the light and change.  If you were really important to him in the first place, especially since you both made it clear you wanted to be exclusive, he would have respected that at the outset.  And, temptation or not, he would have remained that way.  The fact that he gave in so easy, and made excuses for doing it…well, that should tell you what you need to know.    

It’s a shame that, if you leave him (which is entirely your choice), you’ll get hurt in the process.  I regret that would happen to you.  But, sometimes, it’s inevitable.  In time, you will get over him.  In time, you will move on emotionally.  And, believe me, you’ve learned more about yourself being with this man than you realize right now.  Every experience we have like this makes us who we’re meant to be and prepares us for the one we're really meant to be with.    

I would only caution you on one thing:  Don’t close your heart to other young men you meet, after this is all over, just because you were hurt this time.  Approach each new young man with an open heart and treat each one as the distinctive human being he is.  They won’t all hurt you, and they won’t all use you, either.  You owe him, and you, that much.  (In other words, don’t become cynical and jaded, like so many gay men, young and old, do, after they’ve been hurt numerous times. Being hurt is just a part of life, isn’t it?  It's meant to teach us, not close us off.)

I believe I’m not telling you anything here you don’t already know.  You were just looking for confirmation that what you want to do is the right thing.  


It is the right thing.  You deserve better than what you have.  Don’t allow your feelings for him to compromise who you really are.  If you do, you will look back on yourself years from now and wonder why you were so stupid, why you played a role in allowing it to happen, and why you ended up wasting so much time.  You’re better than that.  Maybe you don’t see that now, but you are. You are stronger than you know you are, and you will go on to find the great love of your lifetime.  Believe it.  It's just not with the guy you’re with now.  He’ll never change.  And you shouldn’t hang around to find out if he does.     

Make sense?


Dump him.  You won't regret it.

I wish you well. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Choose Joy

Here's another email I received from a reader followed by my response:

Dear Rick,

First off, thanks for your excellent blog.  The values you present in your writing jibe with my own.

In many ways life is sweet: great partner, great job, few debts, nice home, healthy, out to family and friends.


BUT…


Throughout my adult life – from the age of seventeen or eighteen (I’m 46 now) – I’ve struggled to understand who I am.  I feel there’s a void at the centre of me, an unknown place I can’t quite connect to. The void has diminished over the years. Coming out reduced it considerably. Being honest with myself and with my personal history has helped, too.  But somehow a remnant of my closet remains within me, festering and nagging at me.


I’m sure this remnant, this void, is the home of my shame.  The shame I felt because I was a ‘different’ boy, a gay teen, a closeted young man. And however proud I tell myself to be, and however proud my partner makes me feel, it won’t go away.


And it never will.  It’s there, part of me.  I can’t change history.


I know all this.  And I know I have to live with its nagging malignancy.


But I don’t yet know how.


That’s my next challenge.


And I was wondering whether you had any tips.



*
Dear Reader,

Thank you for your email, your interest in my blog, and your kind words.  I really appreciate it.

All right.  Let’s get down to business.   

What you’ll find below are my thoughts as I read through your email several times. They follow the order of what you wrote.

It sounds like you’re in an enviable position–your life is going well, and you have every reason to feel happy and fulfilled.  You’re very lucky.  Not everyone is where you are.

I think the first step in the solution to your challenge, as you describe it, is gratitude, as is often the case in many challenges we face.  Practicing gratitude gives us a whole other perspective on our lives. It focuses us on the positive rather than the negative.  And, sometimes, that’s all the change that need take place.        

But back to your challenge.  You’re stuck.  Despite most of you moving on from the past, a little bit is still back there.  You need that extra push to get you up on top of the mountain, which is where you and I both know you should be.    

Let’s talk about your age for a minute.  Surely, you know you’re no longer that shameful seventeen or eighteen year old, only just beginning to come to terms with a sexual orientation you were led to believe was wrong, unacceptable, and evil. Acknowledge that.  In your mind, visualize how far you’ve come over the years, and pat yourself on the back for doing such a good job.  You deserve to be happy now. Let me repeat that.  You deserve to be happy now.  Totally happy.  Take that in and let it sit for a bit.

If it helps at all, I think a remnant of each of our individual closets remains inside every one of us for much of our lives.  I’m not sure any gay person can ever say he’s totally left his closet behind. Things happen to put us back there, at least to a degree, and some of the same feelings we experienced when we were completely inside it return.  So I think the most any of us can hope for is the ability to manage when that happens–that is, manage how far back we allow ourselves to be put into it, how we respond to it, and how we allow ourselves to feel about it.

All of this comes back to living consciously.  If, in the moment, we know what’s happening, we’re in a better position, as I wrote before, to manage it.  That is, we’re better able to stop ourselves from going all the way back in the closet, and from feeling as badly about ourselves as we did when we were there years earlier.  Make sense?

I think the only reason your shame still has a home inside you is because you give it one.  Can you think of a reason why you’d do that?  Is it possible there’s some sort of payoff?  Do you benefit in some way by giving your shame a home after all these years?  Think about that.  Usually, when one keeps repeating the same dysfunctional behavior over and over, there’s a reason.  What are you gaining?  How are you benefiting?  How does it serve you?  What do you get out of it?  This is the key to understanding why, some thirty years after you began to come to terms with being gay, you continue to hang on to your shame and give it a home.  

On the subject of being proud, I have a problem with that word as it relates to gay and lesbian people, especially in connection to Gay Pride, an event I don’t participate in because, for the most part, I don’t feel what goes on represents me, or how I want gay people, in general, to be represented.  But look at this definition of proud I found in the dictionary:  “having or showing a consciousness of one’s own dignity.”  Now that I can get behind.

But the source of my dignity is not being gay, it’s being a human being.  I’d much rather feel a sense of pride over what makes me a good person, over how I contribute, make someone else’s life a little easier, than over anything associated with my sexual orientation.  For me, being gay is just a part of me, nothing more.  So let’s put it into perspective.  Be proud of yourself for who you are, not what you are? Can you do that?

Check out your terminology.  Related to your challenge, you use hard words like festering, nagging, void, and malignancy.  Is it fair to say that, as long as you use these words, you’ll continue to give your challenge power over you?  Perhaps toning down the severity of how you refer to it will help tone down how you feel about it too, and the power you continue to give it.

Do you believe in creating your own reality?  I think you’re doing that by saying the shame you feel will never go away, will always be a part of you, forcing you to live with its nagging malignancy.  If you truly believe that, if you truly believe you will never be able to rid yourself of the final bit of shame that’s been holding you back all these years, then you’ve written your future.  And, I’m afraid, no one will be able to help you overcome it.  It will be there forever, until you change your mind about it, until you make the choice to let it go.

So how do you do that?

Part of it is, as I’ve been suggesting, nothing more than simply changing your mind about how you look at it.  There are plenty of negative things I could focus on that would totally change the way I look at my life, or how I feel, or how I experience what happens to me.  In fact, I have to remind myself of this all the time.  It’s so easy for me to become obsessive about something I don’t like, or that disturbs me, or that makes me nervous or scared.  But I’ve done that before, and it turns me into someone who’s miserable.  I know it doesn’t serve me at all, so I have to become conscious, aware in the moment, and push those thoughts and feelings aside. There’s no other way.

Part of it, perhaps, is better understanding the nature of your shame.  What does it look like?  And why is it there?

You might benefit from talking to a professional about this.  Perhaps he or she could help you sort out what’s going on, make some sense of it, determine if there are other factors coming into play.  I’ve had brief periods of counseling in the past and always found them helpful.

On the other hand, if you want to take a stab at it yourself, try the “5 Whys” technique.  I’ve supplied a link here to the Wikipedia definition of the “5 Whys” technique so you know what it is, and how it works (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys).  What you want to do is go beyond the usual easy, impulsive, surface answers and get at the root cause of why you feel the way you do.  I’ve used the “5 Whys” technique, and it works–but only when you dig deep (which can be painful, depending on the problem).  

How about keeping a journal?  I highly recommend it.  I’ve written a journal for over twenty years, one 8.5” x 11” page per day, and I can’t tell you how much it’s helped me with the stuff I’ve gone through.  It’s one thing to allow what you feel to keep swirling around in your head, but it’s something else to pin it down and take a good, hard look at it.  After all these years, I’m guessing that, if you took that hard look at it, you’d find there’s really nothing there.  That, in fact, you have no reason to feel shameful at all.  

And here’s my final bit of advice, which works in almost any circumstance, and which I know, from personal experience, makes a big difference–if you let it.  

CHOOSE JOY.

Any time you feel that residual shame come to the surface, don’t give in to it.  Be strong.  Recognize how you no longer need to feel shame, that feeling shame serves no purpose.  Shame was a part of your past, but this is your present.  It’s time to unstick yourself.  Make that switch in your head. Change your self-talk.  Write a different story for yourself.    

How you feel, to a large degree, is a matter of choice.  You can choose shame, or you can choose joy. I can’t imagine why you would consciously choose shame over joy. I deserve to feel joy, and you do too.  You know it, and I know it.  You’ve been through enough.  You’ve already lived forty-six years of being gay.  If that doesn’t entitle you to a whole lot of joy, I don’t know what does.  

So get out of your own way and make it happen.  You’ve already wasted too much time feeling shameful.  You deserve better.

CHOOSE JOY.

Sometimes, it really is that simple.

I know this has been very long, and I sincerely apologize for that.  But I’m hoping there’s something here that you’ll find helpful.  I really do.

You sound like a great guy.  Choose joy.  Let the rest go.  It’s time.

All the very best.