Saturday, August 10, 2013

Projected Homophobia, Esther and a Soccer Field

I had an experience the other day that made me realize that I am still dealing with internalized homophobia. I suppose that is to be expected; I have to accept that it's going to take a while to eradicate thought patterns that have existed within me for 40 years.

My daughter Esther is a very promising young soccer player. On Thursday morning, I went to the first of her team's games in a tournament being held out in West Jordan. She played well, and it was gratifying to hear her coach's comments and her playing ability as well as comments made by other parents. Of course, no one really knew who I was at first. But I suppose it became more apparent as the game progressed.

Esther (far right) and her coaches

As I sat there in the midst of all these parents from Bountiful and environs, I gradually (actually, fairly quickly) became aware that I was experiencing discomfort because of internalized homophobia. My mind revved up. I surmised that my ex-wife had probably talked to the coaches about me and that she had talked to other parents as well. I imagined that all of these people were thinking, "So, this is Esther's dad?" 

I knew all these people were from Bountiful or environs, and even though I know I "shouldn't" have felt awkward around these straight men and women, I did. I felt self-conscious. I felt like all the men were thinking, "This guy isn't a man's man; he's a sissy." Imagine! A 54-year-old man thinking that! But I did. Even after 30-40 years, that appellation of "sissy" still haunts me in a situation like this that involves team sports. And I knew that this was my problem, not that of the people around me.

First of all, I knew I was making up stories. Secondly, even if these people were thinking these thoughts or were otherwise judging me, what other people think of me is none of my business. I also thought very much of the book The Way Out, by Christopher Nutter. I wrote several blog posts back in January about this book and its powerful messages. (See The Gift of Being GayHomophobia, Consciousness and Coming Out of the AtticFears and Beliefs About Being Gay, and Feeling Like a Faggot.) One of the points he made that was the most enlightening for me is that gay men tend to project their internalized homophobia onto others:
“You have no idea what people feel or think about you now or what they will feel and think later – it is only your own thoughts and feelings that you think and feel. It may seem as if someone else thinks you’re a faggot, but it can only be you who feels like a faggot. If you do not feel like a faggot, the term ‘faggot’ does not exist for you. End of story.   
“Realize this and you will realize the end of the reign of power your own internal, personal abuse system has over you that is trying to keep you down. Looking at the unconscious self in this way, it is just like an external abuse situation – as the abused you take it because you believe it’s true and you deserve it. Realize it isn’t true and that you don’t deserve it and the power the abuser has over you goes away.”

This experience on the soccer field was a reminder that I still have a ways to go ...

Esther and her soccer coach

But it's not all about me, right? I was there to support Esther. And as I looked at her out on that field, admiring her skill, grace and beauty as well as her determination and grit ... I was once again amazed by this amazing child. 

Esther is not my biological child. She was adopted from Russia when she was seven months old. Her biological mother had signed away all her parental rights to her daughter at birth, and Yulia (as she was then known) was put in an orphanage when she was a only a few days old. This is where she spent the first seven months of her life.

The orphanage

Esther and me, the night we brought her out of the orphanage.
The picture was taken at 1:00 a.m. after a day that had
begun with a court hearing at 9:00 in the morning.

Esther's birth mother, Tatyana, now deceased

Esther's birth father, as a boy

Esther's birth father, Vitaly, as a young man

Living in an orphanage from birth leaves a lasting imprint in a child's mind and heart. This I have learned from experiences with the three children that we adopted from Russia. Rarely being held. Bottle-fed with a bottle that is propped up by a pillow, not in a caregiver's arms. Little flesh to flesh contact. 

But Esther is a remarkable child. She has managed to overcome a lot of what was encoded in her infant brain and heart to grow into an extremely intelligent, gifted, beautiful and loving child. And when I saw her out on the soccer field - beautiful, confident, talented - I was grateful that she is my daughter and I am her dad.

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad that you can see past the negative self talk that is so engrained, but will fade, and realize that Esther and YOU were what was important at that present time. Like you said, what other people think is their business.

    Esther is lucky to have you there, cheering her on: look at her proud smile!