Sunday, May 18, 2014

My North Carolina Closet

I first visited my sister Martha and her husband Koen at their Durham, North Carolina home in April 2011. I had started the process of coming out six months earlier, in which Martha had been a huge support. I was blogging as Invictus Pilgrim and could not for various reasons reveal my identity at that time. So I have decided to come out of my "North Carolina Closet" by posting some pictures that were taken during that visit.

Martha and me in front of Duke Chapel on the campus of Duke University

These other pictures were taken on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where Martha was at that time teaching French course. She had not yet started working on his dissertation at that point.

It was during this trip that I had the opportunity to meet Jimmy Creech, a (straight) former United Methodist minister from Raleigh who been active in LGBT issues within his church as well as others - locally as well as nationally - for over two decades. He had just published a memoir about his journey entitled Adam's Gift (which included being "defrocked" by the UMC for performing a same-sex commitment ceremony.) Martha and I happened to decide to visit a bookstore in Durham one morning while I was there, and Jimmy was doing signing books.

I loved reading Jimmy's book. When I had finished, I wrote a post about it on my Invictus Pilgrim blog, which I plan to republish here in the near future. When the first Circling the Wagons Conference was being planned for the fall of 2011, I invited Jimmy to come speak at and participate in the conference. He graciously agreed to do so (with no honorarium), and his presence and words of hope and love added much to that memorable weekend. He is a gracious, humble, loving man.

In December of 2011, I made another trip to visit Martha and Koen, only this time I was with Mark. We had a great weekend during which we visited various historical sites in the area.

"Yesterday was a an eventful day," I wrote in my journal on 14 December 2011. "We went to several historical sitesThe first was the Bennett House which was where General Johnston surrendered to General Sherman. I learned a lot - things I never knew about the Civil War. I found it interesting, too, to hear things presented from a southern perspective. We then went to the Duke homestead, followed by a visit to an old plantation [Stagville] which was one of the largest in in antebellum North Carolina."

"What was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the afternoon," I continued, "was how I felt while at these sites. Martha was trying to tell me that this - history - is my passion and that I should pursue it. Of course, I know this, but I have denied it and relegated it to the place of avocation rather than vocation my entire life. Now, I find myself approaching the end of middle age, wondering what I'm going to do the rest of my working life, wondering whether I've wasted my [profession] life."

Martha and Koen on the campus of Duke University, where Martha will be teaching this fall. Most of the pictures here were taken by Koen.

"Last night," I wrote, "I had a bit of a crying breakdown. I felt so very lost. I have felt this way from time to time since coming out - disoriented, unsure of myself. My relationship with my children is so different. In many ways, it's better. But it's different. My professional life is in upheaval. My one constant that I cling to is my relationship with Mark ... So at times like this, like last night, I open up the chambers of hidden sorrow and pain in the dark recesses of my soul and I let it out. I cry. Mark was so sweet ... I love him. That is my one constant."

This photograph was taken by Koen, my brother-in-law. At first, I just thought it was a really cool picture. But since Mark's diagnosis, the clairvoyance of the image has become increasingly haunting.

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