Strange Gate

I don’t like disagreeing with people. I tend to do it badly. Either I’m silent when I should be vocal, which makes people assume I agree with them when I don’t, or I rip somebody’s head off about something that doesn’t matter at all, like the other night when I badly hurt a dear friend’s feelings during what was supposed to be a lighthearted argument about the merits of Bob Dylan as a vocalist.

I’m also not, as they say, a joiner. Is that a personality trait or a personality flaw? People are supposed to be part of things. But being part of things makes me scared, because what if the thing doesn’t go the direction I want to go? Or what if it stays at a place longer than I want to stay and I am stuck? Or what if it drives badly? …I perceive that I am talking, suddenly, about carpooling in somebody else’s car, which I also hate. But it comes to the same thing.

I just got inked again, a big visible tat this time. Did I do that because I wanted it? Or was it one more way to say to the world, “Hah, I’m an orthodox Catholic but I’m all tatted up, too! Plus I’m gay! What do you think of THAT, eh!? YOU CAN’T PUT ME IN YOUR BOXES.”

Being a lone wolf seems really cool and independent and, like, brood-y, when you’re a teenager or, okay, a twenty-something, but eventually — I speak from the vast age of 30, at which point I have of course left childish things behind me, completely and forever — it turns out to have been a pose. Like how in seventh grade, Tim S. and I used to stand on the sidelines while other people played touch football, and talk about how we were superior to all those dumb jocks because we enjoyed intellectual pursuits and we weren’t like everybody else.

But actually I was just scared, and I bet Tim was too.

You would think that the one community I’d be okay with joining would be a community of outsiders like me: weird first because we’re Christian, weirder because we’re gay, and weirdest of all, maybe, because we’re those things and also celibate.

But as usual I’m hesitant and scared. As usual, there are some pretty good reasons; and as usual, those reasons aren’t a good excuse for standing on the outside.

I was 14 when I realized I was gay. I thank God that it didn’t take too long for me to find a mentor — my often-quoted Father T — who was kind, patient, sympathetic, and didn’t mind my ringing his doorbell at all hours to come sob on his couch. But before I even found him, I found and devoured Father Harvey’s The Homosexual Person.

I haven’t picked up the book in over a decade, but I remember what a relief it was to discover that maybe the unacceptable feelings inside me were based on something good and true and beautiful, even if that something had gone askew. In college, I read Alan Medinger’s Growth Into Manhood, and began to try to live my life more or less by its principles. A couple of years after graduation, I plucked up courage to attend the Journey Into Manhood weekend put on by People Can Change — if you haven’t heard of them, they’re an ex-gay organization that is mostly areligious.

I’m profoundly grateful both to Medinger and to People Can Change. I believe that they both blessed and damaged me. But I still think the former has been deeper and more permanent than the latter — which, it now strikes me, could be said about a great many of the things and people I have loved.

When the ex-gay movement imploded — which is, I guess, a Thing That Happened, whose apex can be more or less dated to the moment when Alan Chambers issued his apology — I felt like the metaphorical frog in boiling water. All around me the movement had been slowly getting discredited, and I knew it was happening, dimly, but in the back of my mind I still held on to most of its principles; and when more and more people spoke out about how badly they had been hurt by it, I didn’t ignore them, exactly, but I didn’t quite take them seriously, either. But suddenly the water around me was unmistakably boiling.

So I’m in an odd spot. I can’t give up the things I learned from People Can Change and their ilk, at any rate not yet. Their broad-stroke narrative about the genesis of homosexuality still seems true in my case, even though I no longer hold out hope for the kind of change they used to talk about. I still think my love for men has a sizeable chunk of misplaced desire for paternal affection, even if it’s not fashionable to talk that way anymore. And I still don’t have any problem with calling homosexuality fundamentally disordered, despite the panoply of blessings that have entered my life by that strange gate, and continue to do so.

I’m still working all this stuff out. I just hope the cool kids still like me.

8 Comments on “Strange Gate”

  1. Searcheress says:

    I think I can perfectly understand what you said. That outsider from outsider thing. Staying near playground most of the time.
    Being part of group means I have to take responsibility for bad things done in the name of the group as well as for good. I have enough my personal guilt for that.
    Being part of the gropu in many cases means being agianst somebody who is not with “us”. I don’t want to be against anybody. I have enough my own bitternes.
    I want to be with people. I yearn for connection and yet I stay near playground, only watching them. With leftwingers I appear right wing, with rightwingers I appear liberal and without attitude.
    Strange place to be, strange gate to enter:)

  2. Rhonda says:

    I’m not that cool. But I like you – or, at least, I like the image of you that I have from reading your writing. 🙂

  3. Gabriel says:

    “Wow, those fish are super dead. I still like you, though.”

  4. Aspie Girl says:

    Nothing that you have said, that you have stood for, has been discredited.

    But the thing that feels strange, is that you felt part of a virtual community, and that community has been partly discredited, partly dissolved.

  5. Becky Duncan says:

    I am not, never have been, a cool kid (I used to be a kid, but that was a long time ago), so I guess it doesn’t count if I like you. BUT I might, from my greater expanse of years (you are younger than some of my children), have some insights that might help.

    Not being a joiner is a personality trait, not a fault. Just as being a joiner can sometimes bring you happiness, and sometimes put you in a position to help others, it can also be the downfall of many. It does not take much imagination to think of times when being a joiner has led people astray. This is left as an exercise for the reader.

    I have no easily definable “differences”. I am not homosexual, or physically disfigured, or mentally retarded, or from another country, or the wrong color, (required disclaimer here that I am not equating these things in any way except that they are all ways that people are defined as “different”), yet all through school I was an outcast. It took me many years to understand why. The reason turned out to be fairly simple: I really don’t like people in the aggregate. I had a very few friends, usually other outcasts also, but put me in a group, such as a public school classroom, and all I saw was a faceless mass which did not like me. At the same time, I envied people the pleasure that they seemed to have in joining the group. I also went through seeing other people doing group things, and despising them because I was intellectual, and they weren’t, then growing up more and realizing that I was afraid of what they were doing. Now, in the many years that I have lived longer than you, I realized something else. I found something I love passionately, and am very afraid of. BUT I pursue it with all my energy, wit, intellect, physical effort and emotion. So while I was often afraid of people doing group things it was not the fear that actually stopped me. The fear was merely a side issue to the fact that I really did not want to be doing their group things. But at the same time I did want the enjoyment that they had in their group things. They never seemed to envy me my enjoyment of solitude. So I wanted my individuality, and their enjoyment of joining, without actually joining anything, and I wanted them to envy me as I envied them. Some of these things I had to give up. Laughing at my own inconsistencies has helped, but the main thing that has helped is to realize that it is all part of the fallen human condition, that this side of Heaven our desires are not going to be entirely consistent with our spiritual growth.

    I don’t know if this helps illustrate my point or not. I always intensely disliked the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer song, because the point of the song is that the other reindeer despised Rudolph as different, until the Alpha Male found a use for him. I would have preferred if he had said, “No, if you don’t like my red nose when it is time to play, you can’t have it when it might be useful to you.”

    And BTW, your sister with lots of kids AND a mastiff doesn’t write better than you. She writes amazingly well, and she writes a lot more than you do, but you are very insightful in totally different ways. (Don’t tell her I said that). I do wish you wrote more often, but not at the cost of your quality.

  6. JBT says:

    In a bygone age, when the Earth was young, I remarked to my best friend that a circle of peers is like a superhero team because each member brings a different power to the table, for all different crises and situations. And HE said, “Or like–the Mystical Body of Christ.” And I said something to the effect of, “Oh, er, yes, or that. Obviously.” But for whatever it’s now worth: the X-men may be cool, but Wolverine–i.e., the tortured, self-exiled loner on the fringes of the team–will always be far and away the coolest member. To make a more literary reference, there’s a bit in Pilgrim’s Progress where they come to the good keep of a virtuous master and are clad in Christian finery–but there are no mirrors, so each pilgrim can see his or her own magnificence only by the love in the eyes of the others. And considering our ongoing struggles with compensatory hubris, it’s a damned good thing. But speaking as one whom many sober authorities (ha! Kidding)–anyway, many authorities have found to be reasonably cool, I feel I can weigh in here and say that those who are in the keep with you think you’re cool enough for adamantium claws. As for the mean-souled “Christian” heathens on the outside who dissent: f@ck ’em.

  7. momo nordmark says:

    I also totally get what you mean about posing. I feel like any time I’m thinking about what I’m doing, instead of doing it joyfully for the sake of doing it, I’m only going through the motions and acting in such a way that I think would be approved of. and then when I think about it, I feel like the fox in the sour grapes story. because I was too worried about how something would affect me to live in the moment, I decided that being separated from the situation was best.

  8. Emma says:

    Its like that line from Juno the movie – I think you make cool look easy!

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