Saturday, June 14, 2008


It seems I'm never quite as stupid as when I think I'm being clever, or when I think I've got ahold of some corner of the mantle of Truth. In Created in Generations..., a little further down the page, I pontificated:

But we are definitely divided. The division... is real. There are those for whom declaring yourself an outlaw and sex the center of your self-understanding--and outlawry--was the defining "gay" moment--indeed, the word "gay" itself is a fruit of Stonewall; for others, and it may be the same people thirty years later for all I know, the hunger is to define gayness as "nearly normal." I think it is safe to say that "gay marriage" was not a topic of much discussion at the Stonewall Inn. There are plenty of people in the "community" who still consider it as much an oxymoron as the morons on the Religious Right. So here we have a clear divide. It only became clear to me the other day that for all his [real and welcome] efforts to accept and help me, the Goat defines himself by his having left home in the early '70's for a world centered on Stonewall and San Francisco. I defined myself by my refusal to take that step.

The core of that post, which I naturally forgot to include, is this:

By virtue of the fact that I turned away from "gay life" over thirty years ago, thinking [a] that I could just decide to be different because I didn't like the way "the likes of me" was living, and [b] that such a decision had a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding, I lost step with my "own people's" experience in my generation. The step I took is hard to describe exactly, because I did not go back into a closet. I never denied what I had done, never pretended I wasn't gay, though I worked overtime to avoid the clear implications of what flavor of gay I was. I was [except for a few central details I couldn't admit to myself] ready, willing, and able to make the bargain.

Now, it may just be that I am split 50/50 on every issue: good boy/bad boy, gay/straight, male/female, top/bottom, dom/sub, leather/drag, in/out, up/down, wine/water, devout/profane. I strongly suspect I am. [My complete inability to decide when faced with a restaurant menu might be an omen--I always want one of whatever there is.] So I was happy with the bargain, until the terms of the deal changed, and then my world fell apart. Some of it had to do with the children leaving home, first for school, and then at heart, and then for good. Some of it had to do with the end of my "brilliant career," which makes its current brief resurrection a very odd feeling. Some of it had to do with what I had to keep quiet about, not for my own sake, but for the sake of others. That part of the bargain became impossible once I really faced the facts of not only being gay, but... all l[e]athered up, and exactly what means, for me at least. There's a reason Oedipus blinds himself when he sees what he's done. But I've mentioned all of this before [click here].

Because I opted out of "us," turned my back on at least half of myself, I was not party to the defining events of my generation. Yes, Stonewall had happened a few years before I came out, and in the years after my decision, San Francisco became the gay mecca. I wasn't clueless: I read John Rechy and the Village Voice, including the personal ads. What I missed were the events that forged a community out of the pilgrims: the districting of San Francisco that gave gays political power as gays for the first time, and made Harvey Milk a target just as Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had become targets; the realization there that gays were in fact a minority like blacks who were excluded from the power structure and the "justice" part of the justice system. Dan White's trial for the murder of Harvey Milk and George Moscone made that quite clear.

In Rob Epstein's documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, one member of the candle-light march on City Hall after the Moscone/Milk murders, remembers a black man shouting from the sidelines: "Where is your anger?" It showed up when their murderer was found guilty only of voluntary manslaughter and sent to prison for only a few years. Coming on top of the suicides at Jonestown, which had meant such grievous loss to so many families in San Francisco, the murder, the verdict, and the riot at City Hall marked the end of an era just as clearly as Milk's election seemed to herald the beginning of one.

The people who lived through that from the inside were changed by it, and I was not. Others were changed by the AIDS crisis, and I was not. Some were changed by the agreement to push not just for the rights of marriage, but for the name, and I was not. In every case, some of "the community" were radicalized, some withdrew. I now enter a world changed forever by the claim of the Stonewallers to human rights, and the claim of the Castro to political power, and the claim of the marriage advocates to the moral high ground. While plenty of people still fear and hate gay people, my children take the lives of their gay friends for granted, and have grown up in a world where their schools had Gay-Straight Alliances; by the time my generation passes on, there will doubtless be a majority among our children for granting even the "M word" to us. I would gladly sacrifice the word to get my brothers and sisters their rights right now--I know many would not.

I am caught in limbo, belonging to neither generation, but coming to the world created by the first with many of the attitudes of the second: I can assume that I have rights, that my community has political power, and I do not have to live in fear. The Goat and I can "be seen together" even in Grovers' Corners and be pretty sure that we will be left alone. And because I was not "liberated" in the late '70's any more, I am neither dead nor diseased.

So this is the divide that the Goat and I meet across: he can never have the life I had, and I can never have the life he had. We are in this way if in no others as much polar opposites as men and women. Experience builds the soul, and our experiences, for all the fact that we have both been living in the woods for twenty-odd years, are miles apart. The miracle is that we found each other, and are able to meet in spite of everything. I am the first other parent he has ever been with, and he is the first leather man I have ever been with. We both have things to learn.

And the world goes 'round...

It dawned on me one day just what connects
The two of us—there’s more than might appear.

Of course, there’s kink, and nights of torrid sex,
But bear with me: there’s something deeper here.

I thought we’d both come out at the same time

But truth to tell, my “out” was mostly “in”—
I told my friends, declared my loves sublime,
Then “sobered up” and saw it all as sin—
Though not a sin for anyone but me.
I’d learned that much: my heart was not of stone.
Then, thirty years gone by, I woke up to see
That “road not taken” merging with my own.
Your road and mine then led us to one place:
That night, my heart stopped cold when you walked in.
My “might have been” had formed that handsome face;
My soul leapt up to see its “evil twin.”

Then there is the witness of Louise Monot. You don't have to be Einstein to figure out that the reason her character's declaration of love for her gay friend, her determination to marry him, her desire to give him children, all "hit me like a hammer": that was essentially the offer Isis made me. Not in so many words, but the offer was there, and I accepted it gladly. Unlike the hero of A Love to Hide, I did not have a boyfriend, indeed I had long since foresworn boyfriends. But the clear truth of his reply still haunts me: that she might think she knew what she wanted, but it would not make her happy; that he loved her, in fact felt for her what he felt for no other woman, but knew his heart lay elsewhere--those were words I should perhaps have spoken, and could have spoken, had I not been blinded by my pride, my certainty that I--of all people!--had made a choice, and that that made all the difference.

I do not regret my choices, only my blindness.

And I certainly do not regret my marriage--on the contrary, it was the better half of a very good life. I fell in love, and that love bore the most amazing fruit. And I am blessed not only with the lives of my children, but with their tangible witness of my love for their mother. Two really do become one flesh: they are the "one flesh," and they are the proof of love. It is not always so, but in our case it certainly was, and I am sure that in many other cases it is, as well. Much more than the vultures sitting on the sidelines of the GMM Blogworld would like to admit. I am grateful for the presence of friends that this blog given me, but I remember the dreadful delight of some of the on-lookers, those so sure, and so gleeful, that my dilemma had only one outcome.

So I come out of my former life loaded with blessings, but even I look back and see that Isis does not have, cannot have, the same perspective. I feel certain she feels betrayed, bereft, and shamed. In the moment when she set me free, she did so out of love [and oh, what love!]; now that love is met not even with the response I could give her in that moment --and how that response, that acceptance, wounded her!--but with absence. I do not feel guilty, so the armchair psychologists out there can swallow their cheap reminders not to accept "guilt"--but I do feel responsible. Taking responsibility for your actions is what growing up means. Until less than a year and a half ago, I had truly loved one other human being in my entire life. I left her "to be true to myself," which is exactly what I thought I was doing when I was "out" the first time, and my life then was not a pretty sight.

I did finally see that "being true to myself" meant that I was using other people to my own ends; love is desire and the readiness to sacrifice in balance, and it is the balance that is so rarely perfect. But then, what in this poor world of ours is perfect? The worst of it for me is that this is not the first time I have traded on other people's love, have sacrificed their happiness for my own. And not the first time that I have failed in life and love by failing to forgive. And not the first time that I have been sure that being true to myself is paramount. So: what do I now make of my certainty that this time, after so many years, "being true to myself" is the right thing to do?

I am still chewing on that one.

Perhaps the word I want to offer all those who accuse all others of responsibility for all their pain and suffering is: forgive. Those who wrong us rarely know what they are doing; I am quite sure that my mother and elder brother had no evil intent in doing the things they did that had such an effect on the way I became who I am. But what they did, what others did, what I did to others, all bear fruit in their time. Growing up has also been called "joining the great chain of human fault and calamity." Until we see that we, too, have caused suffering, I doubt that we can forgive. But until we do forgive, we live within the ivory tower of our own pride and self-love.

We may not be as black as we are painted, as I have rhymed elsewhere, but we are not as innocent as we would like to think. None of us is.

My story is no one else's. It is not Chris's, nor Drew's, nor Bigg's, nor Jay's. It is mine, and it is what I have been given to carry through the world. There was a terrible moment about two years ago when I realized exactly what "pick up your cross and follow me" would actually mean for me, and it was something few, if any, Church People would understand. Oh, there were plenty of well-meaning liberals who welcomed me to an "authentic life," as if the last twenty-five years of my life had somehow been "inauthentic." (Why is it so often the people with all the Good Intentions who wind up saying the most hurtful things?)

No, picking up the cross did not mean swallowing my homosexuality for the good of my marriage: it meant coming out, leaving home, and losing everything that had given my life meaning for a quarter of a century.

That's why it's called "the cross."

God help us all.
Bless you, "each and every one."


1 comment:

  1. I've learned two things:

    1) Lives are always authentic at the moment they are being lived. It is only when viewed in hindsight that they seem otherwise.

    2) For many of us, the sense being true to one's self takes a lot of time, courage and self-restraint.

    This post really spoke to me.