Thursday, July 11, 2013

Snorkeling, Fear of Loss and Internalized Homophobia

Yesterday morning, the Koepke Klan chartered a 20-passenger snorkeling boat and headed to Molokini Crater (pictured above, obviously not my picture) to snorkel. Unfortunately, Mark - who has been suffering from a bad head cold since we arrived - didn't feel up to going. It felt a little weird being in the midst of his family without him, but I think that was because that was the first time this had happened. And they were very welcoming, and treated me like family, which has been the case all week.

Getting Ready to Head Out - Rebecca, Sarah, Elizabeth, Megan, Rick, John and Andrew

We had not originally planned for me to go on this trip to Maui. But when Mark's cancer diagnosis came down in early April, we decided it would be a good idea for me to come as well, primarily so that I could get to know his family better, and they me. And that has certainly happened. They have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome, as well as my son, Nathan. And, as I have previously written, I really appreciate that.

But not having Mark there with me, and with him being sick, brought up fears that I have largely suppressed, like bile rising in my throat. It was an unexpected reminder that, at some point in the future, life as Mark and I have known it is going to change. The cancer and what it means was no longer at army's length, but was suddenly there like a specter, challenging me, reminding me that it was there and would never, ever go away.

But the specter eventually faded away, only to be replaced with a bout of internalized homophobia. For those who may not be familiar with this term, it refers to a phenomenon that gay men may and often do experience that consists of varying degrees of self-hatred because of their homosexuality. This range can go from negative self-awareness in social situations to intense self-hatred that can lead to suicide.

Internalized homophobia is something I have dealt with most of my life. I have made a lot of progress, but it still rears its head from time to time. Yesterday was such a time. I suppose it was caused by me being there without Mark and by the story I created in my mind of explaining to the crew why I was there with the Koepke family and how I fit in, which necessitated mentioning the fact that I am gay. And I suppose because no one else there had to explain their connection, I felt the "other-ness" of being gay. And I felt, within myself, embarrassment that is - for gay men - a step or two away from shame.

My "sister-in-law" Marie and Me

And then I thought of the Koepke family and wondered if they had felt uncomfortableness or embarrassment when they are with Mark and I in a public place. A certain amount of this would be totally understandable. But, in contrast to the culture in Mormon Utah, I have never sensed this from any of them ... and I thank them for that.

Meanwhile, getting back to the snorkeling trip, once the specters of cancer and internalized homophobia faded away, I was able to thoroughly enjoy the outing with my son and my newly-adopted mom, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. The crew in the boat, which consisted of Captain Don and his two "mates," Dana and Pamela, really made the trip a lot more fun and interesting.

Don, Dana and Pamela

They were also very accommodating. At one point on our way out to the crater, the wind picked up and suddenly, Mark's sister Deb's favorite visor went flying through the air and out into the drink. Don circled the boat around, however, and Pamela was able to retrieve it, to the hearty applause of all.

We were one of the first boats to arrive at the crater, making for some great uncrowded snorkeling for a while.

When  we first got in, Nathan and I both saw a reef shark and another very large fish which never came back around. Thereafter, tons of different kinds of fish - and tons more people in a half-dozen boats arrived. Pamela referred to this mass of people, most using noodles to help stay afloat, as "noodle soup."

We then headed away from the crater to a drop-off where we did some more snorkeling, then back across the water to just outside the marina to check out sea turtles.

Megan, Joan, Deb and Neil

Marie, Rebecca and Andrew

Marina feeding birds at the launch

Our shoes, waiting for their owners

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