Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Homophobia, Consciousness and Coming Out of the Attic

My partner and I went out to eat last night, something we don’t do that often, but which we enjoy. The food was fairly good – not outstanding – but what we enjoyed most was the experience of being out, tasting something different from our normal at-home fare, and absorbing the ambiance of the restaurant.

We also enjoy being able to go out as a gay couple and not feel like we have horns growing out of our heads. 

There weren’t that many people in the restaurant, a place on the east side of Salt Lake, and our waiter was very attentive. I think he figured out fairly quickly that we are a couple, and, though our gaydar wasn’t going off, we deduced that he was either gay or wanted a nice tip. How? When he brought the check back after having run the credit card, he briefly rested his hand on my shoulder as he thanked us.

We gave him a nice tip.

This experience came to mind as I was reviewing passages which I had underlined in the book I wrote about yesterday, which I’ll refer to by its abbreviated title, The Way Out, by Chris Nutter. As I explained yesterday, a gay men’s book club I have joined is currently reading this book.

The particular passages I had underlined refer to “the closet.” Nutter described the process that the vast majority of gay men, even today, undergo, to one degree or another, when he wrote:  “Believing that [being gay was abnormal] didn’t change my sexual nature, and so I began to create a system of denial and separation from it, which was how and when I first stepped into the closet …

This short sentence is pregnant with meaning. First of all, most gay men are taught that being “queer” is abnormal and wrong. However, that doesn’t change the fact of whom such men are attracted to. 

Secondly, most people usually think of the closet as being merely a place of hiding, which it is of course; but the metaphor also implies to most people that once it’s ok to come out, everything will be fine – like a game of hide and go seek: we’ll just hide in the closet for a while, then come out when it’s safe and rejoin the game of life, only this time we’ll be fabulously and openly gay.

What most people who have never lived in the closet don’t realize, however, is that living in the closet creates, in Nutter’s words, “a system of denial and separation”: denial of and separation from who we are. Nutter then points out the obvious: “By hiding [in the closet], you do not change your nature [i.e., your sexual orientation], you only put it out of sight from yourself and from others.” 

In discussing his own experience, Nutter then made a statement that literally took my breath way when I read it for the first time:
“I became … an Anne Frank in the attic of my own being, only I had to hide from myself, too.”
The imagery was so powerful, of the Frank family sealing themselves off from the world, a world in which they were no longer welcome or tolerated. But Nutter takes the imagery further, to the point of sealing oneself off in the attic of one’s being, hiding not only from others but from one’s own self.

It is comparatively easy to come out of the closet, but it is much more difficult to come out of the attic and deal with the years, or even decades, of psychic and emotional separation and hiding. Nutter points out that the key to navigating this process is to shine the light of consciousness on the fears that are buried deep within us:
“The degree to which you do acknowledge [your sexuality] to others is based entirely on the degree to which you realize the deep truth underneath all the lies about yourself that you absorbed from the world around you – that there is nothing wrong with being gay, and, therefore, there is no reason to hide it … [Coming out is really a matter of having] transcended the closet altogether – you no longer have to be ‘out’ because no part of you is ‘in.’ You simply are.”
In his book, Chris Nutter talks about his own journey, about how he came out in a big way, of how he started living the life of the party boy, diving head first into the fabulousness of gay life. But he eventually came to see that life as shallow and misleading and devoted himself to some serious soul-searching that led him, metaphorically, back up into the attic:
“When it comes to coming out, there are two essential intents. On the one hand is the intent to do as little self-examination as possible in order to get what your ego – i.e., your identification with the part of you that lives in fears – wants from being out … without having to more substantially come out of unconscious living.  
"On the other hand is the intent to stay conscious about being out for the rest of your life in order to utilize the endless challenges to your authenticity as endless opportunities for healing … The point is to keep these intents in mind so that you are always aware of which one is guiding you … [However,] the point isn’t to make a political statement or convince homophobes that you’re just as good, but rather to help heal the part of you that is still judging yourself to be wrong because you are gay. 
"Of course, we all feel the pressure to recede into the background even once we’ve come out – to, in a sense, stay where we’re told to stay in our neighborhoods or in our bedrooms. This pressure to recede is exercised in the form of fears … which are instilled in us in adolescence and which so many of us accept as true. But fear only emanates from the unconscious mind, and like all unconscious thoughts, it is on an endless journey to prove itself true. So the problem here is that if you have fear in any form – and homophobia is itself a fear – then you will indeed see it everywhere because it is your own that you see” [bolding emphasis added].
Last night when we went out to eat, as well as other times we’ve done this in Salt Lake City, I didn’t and haven’t felt self-conscious at all, i.e., about being gay. If, however, we were to go to a restaurant in Bountiful – where my children live – it would be another story. (In fact, it has been another story. Mark and I took the younger kids out for dinner at Applebee’s in Bountiful then to the theatre in Centerville, and I could feel the eyes looking at our large table and at us as we sat in the theatre, trying to figure it out.)

What I realized about our experience last night, especially as I meditated upon what Nutter had written, is that I and other gay men project our fears, our own internalized homophobia, onto others. I decided that I am going to follow Nutter’s advice and, whenever I feel self-conscious about being gay, I will reflect on the “two intentions,” and try to be mindful of my internalized homophobia and to heal that part of me that is still judging myself to be wrong because I am gay.

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