I have been ambivalent about gay organizations during the past 16 months or so. Up until rejoining the Salt Lake Men's Choir last October, I hadn't spent much time at all around other gay men. In part, this was due to a conscious decision to invest time in my relationship with my partner. Beyond that, however, I was finding my own gay way, and I felt I needed a break to strengthen my own perception of myself as gay.
This need to find one's gay self was alluded to in a book I am now reading by Chris Nutter, entitled The Way Out: The Gay Man's Guide to Freedom, No Matter if You're in Denial, Closeted, Half In, Half Out, Just Out, or Been Around the Block. (I think he could have gone with a shorter title, but whatever.) Too many gay men, Nutter writes, think that coming out of the closet "as the singular answer to the gay 'predicament.'" He continues:
"As transformative as it is, coming out is not enough, for there is now a gay world ready to take over your mind and fill your head with yet another 'reality' about who you are. All you have to do these days is become conscious enough to realize you aren't straight, move over into gay society, and then slip right back into unconsciousness by letting gay society tell you who you are and who you should be. It's like waking up for a coma in intensive care only long enough to shuffle over to another unit where the bed is a better fit and the pain medication is more intense and then going right back to sleep."
I was introduced to Nutter's book because I recently decided to try out a gay men's book club here in Salt Lake. I had heard about the club, but had put off attending - partly because they meet on Friday nights and I have my kids every other Friday evening, and partly for the reasons I've just referred to. I guess I was afraid of being/feeling like I was being sucked into someone else's view of what it means to be gay.
But I was very pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the evening very much, met a number of people and found the discussion of Nutter's book stimulating. I am sure that I will have a lot to say over time about The Way Out because it is very thought provoking, and I have found myself underlining nearly every sentence. What I have read so far has providing me with an entirely different way of looking at not only the fact that I am gay, but also at the entirety of my life.
Today, however, I want to just say a few words about the basic premise of the book, which can be summed up in one word: consciousness. Writes Nutter:
“Being gay is a special gift for men because by coming out we willfully trade in our great place of privilege in the world for a greater sense of our true selves … This is the essence of the gift of being gay, for while straight people have it ‘easier’ in the worldly sense – and it is truly a first-class world for straight people – they do not have it easier when it comes to waking up from unconsciousness because they are not challenged in the profound way that gay people are. And that’s where it counts ...
"By being brave enough to cross [the] chasm between fear and freedom, we empower ourselves to rely on our own awareness to judge what is true and untrue about ourselves, freeing us from the judgments of the world forever, and in the process discovering the awesome power we have to create reality in accordance with our own will … That is the moment that the crisis of being gay in this world transmutes into opportunity for profound realization."
I remember thinking and writing, shortly after I came out almost 2-1/2 years ago, about how anyone could possibly be grateful for being gay. I had read a statement on another blog that the author was not only grateful for experiencing same-sex attraction, but also considered it a gift from God. At that point in time, I still saw my homosexuality as a curse, a cross to bear, not a blessing. I had come out because I was sick of hating myself, living in a secret closet. But I was a long, long way from being on good terms with the fact that I was gay. My "condition" was to be merely accepted, not celebrated.
Since that time, I have gone through several "regret cycles" in which I have tried to make sense of my life, tried to "justify" coming out when I did (i.e., instead of earlier in my life), rationalizing that I wouldn't have had my kids (whom I love dearly and wouldn't trade for anything or anyone), wouldn't have met my partner, and perhaps have died of AIDS back in the 80's. In this cycle, I always came to the same place: acceptance of what is and moving on.
However, I have recently realized that, at the core of that regret cycle was that same sense that being gay is a sentence, not a gift. The roots of internalized homophobia run very deep.
Nutter's book has helped me and is helping me to finally view my being gay for what it is: a remarkable gift for achieving consciousness (or, if you prefer, self-knowledge). Accepting this gift enables me to transcend the regret cycle. I can see that all that has gone before in my life has prepared me for what I am now experiencing. As Joseph Campbell has written: "The Hero gets the adventure he's ready for."
I can also see that accepting this gift, i.e., embracing my homosexuality wholeheartedly, will result not only in self-love, but also consciousness and enlightenment. This realization in turn has given me a whole new perspective on the quest for consciousness. In the past, I have sometimes been frustrated by Buddhist principles because I could never quite relate to them, and at times they have seemed just plain airy-fairy.
I tried to and have accepted such principles - intellectually; but I now have a "hook" on Buddhism (or, if you prefer, principles of consciousness, living in the now, being present, mindfulness, etc.) that will allow me to make emotional contact with these principles and to forge my own path, removing the feeling that I have to follow someone else's path - whether with respect to being gay or being conscious.
Following someone else's path never brings true fulfillment and happiness. Doing so may provide a temporary sense of direction and some degree of meaning, but it cannot provide lasting fulfillment. Sooner or later, the journey becomes tiresome because, once again, we are not being true to ourselves. As Nutter pointed out, we trade one form of unconsciousness for another. In order to achieve consciousness and, ultimately, enlightenment, one must find and travel one's own path, fulfilling one's own destiny, blessed by those whom we meet or join on that journey.