Friday, June 9, 2017

On a Trip

As I mentioned in a post on Facebook the other day, my kids and I have thought of Mark this past week as we have been vacationing at Disneyland and Universal Studies. Mind you, we/I think of Mark every day. But we've been especially reminded of him this past week and of the trip that he, I and three of my younger kids took to Disneyland in June 2013.

And being on this trip has brought to mind another trip - the one Mark is on. Time and time again, as I proceed down the road on my own journey of adjusting to life without the man who made me feel so special and my life so complete, I have had the feeling that Mark is on a trip. He has left on a long trip, I tell myself, and there are many times when I feel/expect him to someday walk through the front door of my house. Of course, I know he won't. But it's nice to feel that. It somehow makes him feel not so far away.

I also recently referred in a Facebook post to a picture of Mark that was taken with my daughter Esther and my granddaughter Hazel in June of 2013, a week or so before we left on our trip to Disneyland. "In what now seems like a long time ago," I wrote, "in a galaxy far, far away, Mark fell in love with being a father and grandfather." There are a couple of amplifications I'd like to make to that statement.

First, Mark never had children of his own, and though he welcomed my ten into his life, this was a process that evolved over time. Because of the train wreck of my divorce, some of my children had little or nothing to do with Mark (or me) for some time. Also, Mark had to adjust to his role as father - not being a father, per se, but being a father to so many while also, after we'd been together only 18 months, adjusting to the fact that he had a terminal illness. During the almost three years following his diagnosis, it was wonderful to watch him grow in love and tenderness and acceptance in every area of his life, including that of his role as a father to my children.

Secondly - I've often written that my time with Mark now almost seems like a dream. It was so intense, so full, so well-lived, that time almost seemed to stand still during those years following his diagnosis. When I wrote of "long ago" and a "galaxy far, far away," it is not because Mark now seems like a fading memory. Quite the opposite. It's because of that time warp that we lived in. That time, along with all of the emotions, love and memories that are associated with it, are sealed in amber; preserved; never to be forgotten ... but, alas, never again to be lived.

And so, as we prepare to head home today, I'm grateful for the new memories we created this week; but I'm also grateful for the memories we created four years ago and for the sweetness I/we have felt this past week as we have remembered Mark. We all love you, Babe ... and miss you.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

New York: Of Wine, Woman and Song

One of the reasons I used to blog as much as I did was because of Phyllis. She was residency secretary when Mark was doing his ER residency in Denver twenty-five years ago, and the two of them had maintained somewhat of a friendship and correspondence over the years - a relationship that was renewed more strongly shortly before Mark and I met.

I eventually met Phyllis (pictured above) as well, and she added me to her list of correspondents (she lived in Denver). A divorced woman with no children, her residency doctors and some of their significant others became her "children." I was one of those. A woman of keen wit and observation, her emails almost always elicited a laugh. (Example: I wrote her in late December that I was considering giving up gin for January. Her response: "Don't give up boozing until February; it's a shorter month.")

Phyllis immediately fell in love with my blog and regularly encouraged me to keep writing and sharing. She particularly loved it when I would write about and share pictures from the travels that Mark and I enjoyed over the time we were together. In fact, many of my posts would not have been published but for the knowledge that she would read and enjoy them.

I - as well as all the many who knew and loved her - recently lost Phyllis. She had been diagnosed with cancer about 18 months after Mark was. As their respective diseases progressed, they would share observations on life and on death, on happiness and sadness, on meaning and meaninglessness. Unlike Mark, Phyllis underwent chemotherapy and various other treatments. About six months ago, she took another turn for the worse. I would write to her and not hear from her for some time. Eventually, I would rattle her chain again and she would respond, apologizing but explaining that she wanted to spare me the gory details. "You've had enough sadness in your life of late, Dear," she would write. "You don't need any more."

I miss Phyllis. She was one of the few people who knew about and "got" Mark and I's relationship and about what we intimately experienced together during the post-diagnosis journey. She knew where we had come from and the landscape we were passing through. She was someone with whom I could share, and I keenly feel her absence.

I've thought about her these past few days as I've been in New York visiting friends. I've thought about taking certain pictures of things that I've found interesting because I knew she would also find them interesting and appreciate me sharing them. Then I don't take the pictures because she's no longer here to share them with.

I have taken some, however, and I'd like to share them in memory of Phyllis. She would have loved me being here and would have been sure to share all her suggestions for what to see and do while I've been here.

Having dinner on Friday night with Dan (center) and his husband, Russ

My main purpose for coming was in my capacity as an executive producer of a documentary currently being made by my friend, Daniel Karslake. Entitled "For They Know Not What They Do", the film will pick up where Dan's first film, "For The Bible Tells Me So," left off, examining issues relating to conservative Christianity and gay and transgender people. We held a fundraiser for the film on Thursday night in Manhattan, and Dan is doing a screening of "For The Bible" later today at Rutgers University.

Phyllis thought it was great that I've been taking wine courses. There was nothing she loved more than a glass of good Cabernet Sauvignon. Now, whenever I travel out of state, I usually always head to wine stores to find some goodies to take back home to Utah. Wine has become my souvenir of choice, and one of the first places I headed to on Friday was the wine store next to Eataly off Madison Square. I just started a course on Central and Southern Italian wines, and I wanted to find a bottle of wine from the province of Marche - unavailable back home - to share with my class. It will be very rewarding to taste on Wednesday what our text describes as one of Italy's "finest and most age-worthy wines": Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG.

From there, it was off to another wine store to purchase a couple of bottles of Pinot Noir to share at the next meeting of some of my wine friends (a shadowy organization dubbed "The European Bootleggers Club"). German Pinot is unavailable in Utah, and the selection of Burgundy is somewhat limited, so I'm looking forward to tasting these two gems later in May:

Another reason to come to New York was to hang out with my friend, Bob, whom I met last summer while on a gay cruise in Croatia and with whom I'll be going on a cycling trip in July. We had a great lunch on Friday in Greenwich Village, followed by ice cream, then spent much of the day together yesterday - walking through Central Park, going to the Guggenheim Museum, then enjoying dinner in the theatre district before seeing the new Broadway musical, "Groundhog Day."

One of my favorites at the Guggenheim. It's SO gay.

Bob and me in Central Park

It's been a great weekend so far on so many levels, and I would have enjoyed writing Phyllis about it.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Evermore - A Beauty and the Beast Moment

"He will still inspire me, be a part of everything I do ..."

I had observed them throughout the movie, the 50-something couple sitting in front of us at the theater. My four younger children and I went to see "Beauty and the Beast" late yesterday afternoon, and the auditorium was packed - even a week after the movie had been released. There were many younger couples around, I had noticed, and of course a lot of children. The age and childlessness of the couple in front of me had made them stand out.

It was near the end of the movie. Of course, I knew the plot. I had watched the video of the original animated version many times in the 90's with my four older children. But then there came a surprise. A new song sung by the Beast from the top of one of the towers of his castle as Belle rides away, he - out of love for her - having made the ultimate sacrifice of giving her her freedom.

As the import of the haunting song became clear, the man sitting in front of me leaned his head on the shoulder of his wife. I was struck by this tender moment, so simple yet so profound. Clearly, he had been touched by what was being conveyed by the scene on the screen, and I found it atypical, almost unusual, that it was the man who had leaned his head on the breast of his wife, rather than the other way around.

It was then that occurred within me one of those profound cathartic moments that art has the power to bring about in us humans. I was reminded of how so many times throughout the course of my first marriage I had reached out to seek solace, hope and tenderness - and intimacy - in the love I felt for my ex-wife. I don't want to say that I did not find it. But the catharsis yesterday in that theater came as I realized that I hadn't truly found what I was searching, longing, for until I met Mark; and following that realization came the flood of intense, soul-filling gratitude for what I had found with him, what I had experienced with him. Love. True love. It was a profoundly poignant moment for me, particularly after having experienced what I wrote about in my last post.

And it was with these thoughts of Mark and gratitude in my mind and heart that I listened to the chorus and remaining verses of the exquisitely beautiful ballad of the Beast (music video below). As I did so, another realization dawned on me: that, substituting the words "he" for "she" and "him" for "her," much of what the transformed Beast was expressing, I have thought and felt following Mark's departure. But, the ultimate beauty of the moment for me was revealed not as sadness, not as anger, not in wistfulness, not in tragedy, but as profound, healing gratitude. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Grief and Anger

“Joseph, the best thing that ever happened to you was ripped away from you after a cruelly short time. You of all people have a right to feel anger.”

I felt like I’d been sucker-punched. The bluntness of the statement, both in its frankness and stark truth, took my breath away. For a moment, it felt like I couldn’t breathe. No one had ever expressed to me in such powerfully direct and naked terms what had happened to me when my Mark – truly, truly, truly, the best thing that had ever happened to me – was taken from me.

It was Saturday night. I was at my friend Allen’s house for a potluck dinner. He was one of the first friends I had made after coming out. When my ex-wife and I separated, I rented a room from him. I was living there when I met Mark. Allen was there when I came home all starry-eyed from my first date, and he watched as our romance bloomed and as I eventually moved out to live with Mark.

On Saturday night, I had been telling Allen about my shoulder and back pain. It started last October in my shoulder, a dull ache that would not go away. It was disheartening. I had been working hard for a year at my weight training, building strength and muscle (which is easier said than done at my age). Now, I had this injury, the cause of which I couldn’t ascertain, that seemed to only get worse as the weeks went by. I had to cut back on my weight training. I wondered whether I was going to have to have rotator cuff surgery. It was utterly depressing. I felt old.

Then, things got worse. On New Year’s Eve, I had a searing spasm in my lower back, the first one I could remember having in years and years. I had to cut back even more on training and exercise. Then, just when I thought I had gotten over it, it happened again one day at the gym. I was devastated. 

It gradually got better, but the tension in my back only seemed to increase all over. I felt like there were pincers all over my back, squeezing and pinching muscles. I went for massages. I started going to yoga again. Meanwhile, I had started using a roller bar even more faithfully as well as digging into my shoulders, back and hips with a lacrosse ball. Still the pain persisted and then I had another back spasm, this time underneath my left shoulder blade.

Allen listened to my story, then told me about a time some years ago when he thought he was going to have to have rotator cuff surgery because of shoulder and back pain. Then someone had given him a book by Dr. John Sarno, the basic premise of which is that back pain is often caused by repressed emotion, often anger. Allen explained that after he had acknowledged and let out his own repressed anger, his pain had gone away.

That’s when Allen said, “It’s hardly surprising you’re experiencing this pain, Joseph.” He then continued with the opening statement to this post. As I’ve said, I felt a tremendous emotional impact as a result of what he had said. For just a moment, it was as if everything around me stood still, as if someone had issued a mannequin challenge. I knew instinctively that something deep inside me had shifted – or been awakened.

I’ve thought of little else since. It’s been on my mind constantly. I saw Allen and his husband the following day. I thanked him, again, and commented, “You know, it never occurred to me to be angry about Mark.” He looked at me in surprise and replied, “How can you not be angry? It makes me angry.”

Indeed. How could I not have been angry? The thing is, however, is that circumstances and my natural inclination prevented me from being angry. When Mark was diagnosed, we had been together only a year and a half. He was given three to five years to live. I could have been angry at Mark for not having his PSA tested more often given the fact that he was at very high risk of developing prostate cancer (since both his father and grandfather had it). His cancer could have been caught earlier, before it metastasized. But how could I be angry at him? He was the one with cancer. He was the one who was going to die. (And I was the one who was going to be left alone.)

As I thought about this, I’ve thought back on other circumstances in my life. I thought about being physically abused by my mother for years as a child, but how as a child I could never express anger toward her – to do so would have only resulted in more abuse. Nor did I express anger toward my father who abandoned me to the abuse and pretended he didn’t know about it and who abandoned me yet once again when he moved away after my parents’ divorce, leaving me, a teenager, to take care of my mother and younger sister.

As I grew into adulthood, I excused my mother’s behavior toward me because I knew that she herself had come from an abusive background. I was in my mid-30’s before I finally realized that her background may have explained her abusive behavior but it did not condone it. Meanwhile, I had started experiencing debilitating migraine headaches when I was eleven years old that continued for 30 years – headaches that I only later realized were likely caused by repressed anger.

Getting back to Mark’s situation, I couldn’t be angry at him. Nor did I allow myself to be angry at the situation, in part because Mark refused to express anger about it. How could I be angry if he wasn’t? Again, he was the one who was going to die. I also felt I couldn’t express anger simply because I thought it wasn’t productive. I tried to follow Mark’s example and simply be grateful for the time that we had together. I thought that this was the “enlightened” approach. I wanted to be “enlightened,” and so I refused to be angry – both before and after Mark’s death.

I now see, however, that I had refused to allow myself to be human. Regardless of whether or not repressed anger is the primary cause of my back and shoulder pain, I now realize I have deprived myself of a necessary and healthy step in grieving the loss of the best thing that ever happened to me. And I want to take some time now to express that anger.

Please allow me to review: My childhood, in a lot of ways, was shit. I didn’t even realize it at the time, because it was my normal. Then my parents split just as I was approaching puberty and went through an extremely messy and bitter divorce (involving, for example, threats of suicide, waking us kids up in the middle of the night and threatening to leave town, etc.). Then I discovered I was gay. Then I was handed responsibility for caring for a mentally unbalanced mother and younger sister while my dad moved away to build his business. 

College was a fun time for me, and I’m grateful for those years. But within a few years, I had joined the Mormon Church, then entered a marriage that was deeply unhappy but to which I was committed and which I believed was my lot in life. As I once wrote, both my ex-wife and I sacrificed ourselves to an ideal, and at the end of the day we discovered that … we had sacrificed ourselves.

Finally, in my early 50’s, I came out. Ten months later, I met Mark and we fell deeply in love with each other. Finally, finally, finally, I felt that all the unhappiness I had experienced in my life had brought me to something wonderful, to someone with whom I could happily spend the rest of my life. I was out, I was living my life authentically, I had finally discovered what love really felt like.

Then, a death sentence was pronounced, and less than three years later, it was all over.

So, for therapeutic purposes, let me just say that I am f*&cking LIVID with rage that Mark was taken away from me, that we had such a short time together. Yes, I am grateful for that time and for the love that we shared; but it doesn’t change the fact that it lasted for only 54 months compared to the almost 53 years of varying degrees of unhappiness I had experienced prior to meeting him.

I’m also angry that I spent 40 years in the closet, cropping my life, repressing my life, denying who I am, hating who I am, burying who I am – burying so deeply that coming out felt like an archeological dig. When I finally came out, there were times when I wish things had been different for me, that I had been able to come out when I was young; but then I would realize that things couldn’t have been different, that I couldn’t change things, that I had gained so much in my children, etc. I called that the “regret cycle” because no matter how many times I felt regrets about my life, the cycle always came back to the same point of beginning: that’s the way things were and the way things are and there’s nothing I could do about it now except move forward.

Then when I met Mark, I thought, “it was all worth it. Events in our lives brought each of us to this point where we met and fell in love.” Mark and I often discussed it, how no matter how difficult our respective paths had been in various ways, those paths had brought us to each other.

Then he got cancer and died. 

Mark’s life culminated in sweet fulfillment, for which I’m deeply grateful. But I was left holding a bitter cup.

So now, I feel anger all over again. Rage for all I missed as a young man. Of course I can’t change it, but that doesn’t mean I can’t allow myself to be angry about it.

I feel rage at the fact that not only was Mark taken from me, but my life WITH HIM was also snuffed out. My daily dose of love from him was taken away. The way I perceived myself because of him came to an end. My expectations of a long and happy life with him were dashed. I was alone.

A few weeks ago, my second-eldest daughter posted something to her Instagram account. She’s in school to become a licensed clinical social worker, and she had just gone a class about grief. It was around the time of the one-year anniversary of Mark’s death. “I’ve always been someone to intellectualize my feelings,” she wrote. “I can talk about them, write about them, but I rarely actually feel them.” I could relate.

But what Hannah wrote next took my breath away: “How many of us walk around every day holding in our grief, our anger, and the hardest to admit, our love? I don’t want to hold it in. I don’t want to hold my breath and swallow back the life, the truth that is in me.”

It is truly a humbling moment when one’s child teaches the parent, but also a moment of profound gratitude. 

I can’t hold in my anger any longer. I don’t want to. I refuse to be “a victim,” but I also refuse to direct my rage inward any longer so that it can eat away at me. I don’t want to hold my breath and swallow back the life that is in me. Not any more.

End of rant. I feel better. (Time will tell whether my back and shoulder will.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Someone Else's Music: A Missionary in Southwest France

When I first came out and started blogging (under a pseudonym) in the fall of 2010, one of the first things I did was write about my missionary experience in a way in which I had never been able to before.* I concluded a series of posts (since deleted) with these words: "It was important for me to write about my mission experiences because this period of my life was when I came the closest to accepting myself for who I truly was. It was in some ways a golden time, a time that has been validated through the process of accepting my sexuality and writing these memoirs."

I wrote the other day about how the French Wine Scholar course I am currently taking had brought up memories of the time I spent on my mission in the Loire Valley. Our next class covers Bordeaux and Southwest France, and it was to this area that I was transferred - to the city of Pau in sight of the Pyrenees Mountains - for the last few months of my mission. Once again, memories and thoughts have bubbled to the surface.

A square in Pau a few blocks from our apartment

Whereas Tours in the Loire Valley had been an area where, among other things, I came to some sort of terms with my feelings of attraction to men, the last area of my mission would be a time and place where I was confronted with larger issues of identity. 

When I had joined the LDS Church, I had, in scriptural terms, "become a new man;" or, in a metaphorical sense, I was "born again" - but in a sense not usually associated with that term. Upon my baptism, I had totally transformed myself with the goal of being a perfect Mormon. I left behind huge swaths of myself that I deemed no longer acceptable. There was of course the gay thing. Then there was the whole partying thing. But my transformation went far beyond these aspects of my personality and identity. 

With other missionaries in Bayonne, France in the fall of 1985

To provide a sense of what I'm talking about, I'm sharing below a passage, which I shall always treasure, from an email my younger sister sent to me after I came out in which she described what she saw happen to me after I joined the Church:
“I feel as if I am getting reacquainted with a brother I had lost touch with years ago. I've always known who you are: your delicate and refined elegance and passion, your profound intelligence and wisdom, your deep admiration and appreciation of beauty. This is the brother I have always loved. It is the one I feared losing all those years ago when you wrote me a letter, telling me you had converted to Mormonism … The memories I have of you are loving and fun ones. Driving with you from Mom’s house in Illinois to see Dad in Ohio in your chic red car and singing, eating, talking and laughing … Watching you laugh to the point of your sides hurting … Looking up at you smiling and talking with me about I don't know what... but loving to be with you. I remember laughing, remember you smiling … 
"When I saw you in later years, it was as if your life had been sucked out of you. You always looked unhappy. I felt that for someone supposedly so happy with church and family, you seemed so miserable. Instead of seeing what had once been a joyous face full of laughter, I saw instead Mom’s sour pout …”
My conversion was, in a sense, a replay (I now realize) of what had occurred when it suddenly dawned on me at age 13 that I was attracted to men, i.e., I consciously transformed my personality to fit my new reality. But during the course of my mission, I began a process of gradually reclaiming my sense of self that I had had before my conversion. This process reached its apogee during the final months of my mission in Pau.

Those months were difficult for me in many ways, but various experiences forced me to confront the question that had led me to the Mormon Church in the first place: 

"Who am I?" 

The Church had offered me a ready-made personality/identity and an off-the-rack moral code, and all I had to do was play the part, talk the talk and walk the walk, conveniently ignoring the key existential questions that had plagued me. But throughout the course of my mission, I became increasingly uncomfortable with and resentful of the decision I had made upon my conversion to so cavalierly cast my self aside.

In Biarritz, the Atlantic in the background 

It was while I was in Pau that I continued the process of coming as close as I would for the next 26 years to claiming my true identity - not just sexually but in every respect. It was while I was in southwest France, working in Pau and traveling to Bordeaux, Bergerac, Bayonne, Biarritz, Tarbes, Lourdes and the Pyrenees Mountains, that I started reading "extracurricular" (i.e., not missionary-approved) books and writing in my journal about what I was reading. 

Hanging out in our civvies. Man, I'd forgotten how hairy I was.

One of these books was, paradoxically (and interestingly) enough, Oscar Wilde's Portrait of Dorian Gray. It was recommended to me by my last companion, and I read it during the final month of my mission. I found it ... fascinating ... and copied numerous passages into my journal, including the following one which spoke so eloquently to what I had been going through in trying to recover a sense of identity:
"... because to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's own nature perfectly - that is what each of us are here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty one owes to one's self. Of course they are charitable. They feed the hungry, and clothe the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion -- these are the two things that govern us."

A few weeks after I copied this passage, I returned home. During the next seven months, I continued to wrestle with who I was and which direction to take my life. I ultimately decided to stay in the church and the closet and to marry the woman I had met before my mission and to whom I had written while I was in France, once again opting for what was in many respects a ready-made life. Once again, I backed away from the seemingly terrifying option of finding my own way and chose - a choice which in hindsight is revealed for what it was - to be an "echo of someone else's music, an actor of a part that ha[d] not been written for [me]." 

Some of these things I knew before I sat down to write this blog post, but other insights came - even after all this time - only upon exploring these things yet once again. As I look back on my life, I am reminded of another quotation I wrote in my journal while in France, which is as true today, after all that I have experienced, as it was 32 years ago:

"Vivre, c'est naître lentement ..."

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

[To live is to be born slowly]


* By way of quick review, I joined the Mormon Church in my early 20's and then went a year later on a mission to France.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Being Good With Being Gay

“It is only one thing to figure it out [that you’re gay], the other is to be good with it. 
The second thing is pretty hard, harder, very difficult, and a victory.”

Thus wrote one my University of Illinois fraternity brothers in a comment to my last post about wrestling with my homosexuality while a Mormon missionary in France years ago. I found his words, especially coming as they did from a straight man, very insightful and thought provoking. 

Since coming out 6-1/2 years ago, I have reflected numerous times on “what I knew and when did I know it,” particularly as I have approached writing a memoir of my life to this point. Some gay men I have talked to tell me that they knew they were gay at a very young age, years before they went through puberty. Others have said they didn’t figure it out until their late teen years or early twenties or, in the case of one friend, until his late 40’s.

My efforts to understand my own early journey have been clouded by the fact that my parents were going through a very bitter divorce at the same time that I approached and went through puberty.* The trauma associated with that obscured and skewed my memory for many years, but some things have become clearer over time.

For example, I used to think that my homosexuality didn’t emerge (shazam!) until after I went through puberty. But as I examined my childhood more carefully and thoughtfully in recent years, I realized that I was always gay, but this sexuality wasn’t actualized until I went through puberty. Once my attraction to boys became obvious to me, it scared me to death, and I realized that I had to (or rather, thought I had to) tone down my exuberant personality lest I be thought of as queer. It was a new experience, being in the closet, cropping one’s life, but something with which I became excruciatingly familiar in the decades to come.

As I advanced in my teenage years, I knew I was definitely attracted to boys not girls, and as I wrote in a recent post, I had at least one pretty serious crush. However, I assumed that this attraction was a passing thing, a phase, that I would eventually pass through. I certainly didn’t perceive myself as “gay,” a term that was just coming into common parlance. Situated as I was in my small town in southern Illinois 20+ years before the Internet became available, “gays” were people in San Francisco or south Florida who were as foreign to me as the aborigines of Australia.

The male bonding I experienced in my fraternity in college had the effect of submersing my attraction to men. This phenomenon tended to bolster a belief that my “homosexuality” was not innate but the result of external forces: my abusive mother, my historically distant and preoccupied father and their traumatic divorce. Nevertheless, I never dated except at fraternity dances, I occasionally looked at gay porn in my comings and goings to and from my father's house in Ohio and my mother's in southern Illinois, and my thoughts were always of gay sex, not straight sex.

As I graduated from college and went to work for my father’s oilfield equipment company in the wilds of Zanesville, Ohio, I continued to believe that I would eventually marry and settle down – when the right woman came along. That didn’t happen in Ohio. I think I had one date during the two-year period I lived there. The right woman would have to land in my lap, because I certainly wasn’t going to seek her out.

Then, I ran into the Mormon Church. My father’s business failed in the recession of the early 80’s (which resulted in a collapse of the domestic oil industry), and I ended up moving (long story) to New Orleans. There, my LDS employer introduced me to the Church. Coming as it did during a period in which I was particularly vulnerable and seeking direction for my life (I was, for example, seriously entertaining thoughts of entering the Catholic priesthood), this development seemed providential. 

Among other things, joining the Mormon Church seemed to offer a path away from feelings of same-sex attraction and a path toward what I wanted: a stable marriage and a family. It also offered certainty, community and direction. I was baptized, and less than a year later as I prepared to leave on a mission to France, I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. 

I’ve written about all of this before; the important point for the purpose of this post is that our meeting seemed to prove to me that God would provide if I did what was “right” and continued along the path upon which I had embarked. To me, it was though He knew that I couldn’t go out and find a woman; He would have to provide. And He did.

Then, I went on my mission, about which I wrote in my last post. It was on my mission that I realized that my feelings of attraction to men, despite my joining the “true Church,” would never go away and – this is important – they were innate, not simply caused by environmental factors in my childhood. I wrestled both during and after my mission as to what to do with this knowledge. Go ahead and get married to the woman I had met? Seek out another woman? Come out? 

I eventually decided on the first option, knowing that my feelings of attraction likely would never go away completely. At best, they would lie dormant, always present, but always requiring repressing, denying, and managing. And that’s what I did through almost twenty-five years of marriage – at great cost, I might add, to myself, my ex-wife and my children – finally coming out in the fall of 2010.

And so I return to my fraternity brother’s comment. It was one thing to figure out that I was attracted to men. It was quite another to admit that I’m gay. The first time I ever voiced that out loud to another person (and to myself) was in October 2010. I could never bring myself prior to that time to admit that I’m "gay," let alone “be good with it.”

I find it interesting that I am once again writing about these things. But I find that, after Mark’s leaving and a period of mourning following his departure, I kind of feel like I’m coming out all over again … or continuing a process that was in some respects paused when I met Mark. And thus the journey continues.

* The photo of me, above, was taken around the time I discovered my feelings of same-sex attraction.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Mormon Missionary in the Loire Valley

Being transferred to from Paris to Tours in the Loire Valley, I wrote my LDS mission president almost 32 years ago, was like moving from a crowded train station into a peaceful rural valley. These past few days, as I have been preparing for this week's French wine course class on the Loire Valley, my mind has been flooded with memories of my mission and the four months I spent in what has been called "the garden of France."

My months in Paris had been intense in many respects, especially with respect to the secret that I carried within me. Two years before, I had joined the Mormon Church in part because I thought doing so would enable me to move past what had been unwanted feelings of attraction to men -- feelings I had experienced ever since going through puberty. 

My hands-down favorite picture from my mission, when I was playing
the part of a "clochard" (drunk) in a missionary skit in Paris

But my time in Paris had convinced me that "pray the gay away" didn't work and that those feelings would never leave; I would simply have to somehow learn how to live with them. My first four months in a provincial Breton city had been easy, but going to Paris ... there were beautiful men everywhere. Eroticism was commonplace. I interacted with men, both in the Church and out, whom I knew or strongly suspected were gay; and some of those men seemed to suspect that I was as well. I'll never forget the panic I felt when one of these men, who was in a leadership position, challenged me with these words: "Elder Broom, what are you hiding behind that mask of yours?" Shortly thereafter, for the first time in my life, I was propositioned by a total stranger, an attractive American boy, in the heart of Paris. It scared the crap out of me.

For a deeply closeted Mormon missionary, these things were very disturbing. They weighed increasingly heavily upon me. I couldn't understand why men were coming on to me. It seemed to me like I was wearing a sign, "I am gay." But I didn't want to be gay. I didn't think I *could* be gay, i.e., live my sexuality. All of these pent-up emotions culminated, shortly before my time in Paris came to an end, in one of the most intense dreams of my life, which I described here.

It was a relief to be transferred to Tours. I loved my new companion, I loved the local Church members and I loved being able, on our days off, to be able to see some of the beautiful chateaux that adorn the surrounding countryside. For the first time on my mission, I had fun. Life felt beautiful and light, despite the drudgery that missionary work could sometimes be. 

My new companion and me at the Chateau de Blois

I also allowed myself, in the privacy of my thoughts and prayers, to examine my sexuality in a way that I had never before permitted. It was during those months in the Loire Valley that I felt more comfortable in that particular skin than at any other time in my life, a comfort I would not again feel until I finally came out 26 years later.

A group of us on the train in the Loire Valley



Another companion and I along the Vienne River in Chinon

A vineyard with the Chateau de Chinon in the background

Annie and Tony, newly-baptized members who enjoyed taking us to see chateaux.

Place de Plumereau in Tours.
Many fond memories here, including tasting Tarte Tatin for the first time.

At the Château d'Ussé near Tours


Waiting for our train in Le Mans

It was ...  a beautiful summer. An interlude. I've enjoyed revisiting it in my memory these past days, reflecting, grateful for where I now am.

"I see aspects of what I know is my true personality dancing around me 
as shadows from a candle flame. But I have yet to discover the key 
that will let the real Joe Broom out, that will permit me to see and become one 
with the person who is generating all the shadows I see dancing on the walls."

- Mission Journal, Fall 1985