Wednesday, June 25, 2008


My loyal reader Paul wrote:

We are all defined by the events that shape our lives. And I honestly believe that most people have little control over what they face. I know that personally, I did what I did because I was on "auto-pilot." It was what was expected. But it was also what I wanted. I'm "risk adverse," a "rule follower." I have no regrets. But I also know that if I was 20 years younger, things would likely have been different.

This all sounds quite familiar. The terms are different, but I would make only a couple of small alterations, myself:

We are defined by events and our own responses to them; events provide the points at which we must decide who we are. In the moments where we face what we cannot control, we know what we have to do and so find out for the first time who we really are.

I was clearly not on auto-pilot in Paul's sense [unless the phrase can also mean blindly following your own inclination, which led me to play both sides of the street]. There was certainly a powerful longing to be like everyone else--I just knew I wasn't, and couldn't do it. What I could do was do what I thought was right; I have already talked far too much about the changes in my assumptions about right and wrong...

There is a phrase I used for years instead of "risk-averse" and "rule-follower," and that is the "good boy" syndrome: eager to please, eager to knuckle under, eager to submit [does any of this sound familiar? How can I not have read those tea-leaves?]. Once I started my journey out of the life I had chosen, I referred to myself as "The Slave of Duty"--the subtitle of The Pirates of Penzance. Read the libretto and you'll see what I mean; poor Frederick has only to be told what is his duty for him to immediately conform. But that was on the way out, not on the way in, and that, I think, is one way in which my experience differs from that of so many others.

My own second thoughts are even more peculiar. I was out to myself and some of my family, if not exactly living the lifestyle that gay liberation proclaimed [now there's an understatement], so it was not that I was following someone else's road-map. What I wonder now is what would have happened if I had had a lover like the Goat thirty years ago. I'll never know, of course, but I can't help thinking things would have been very different. As different as Paul's twenty-year change in age could have made his experience.

But things weren't different, any more than Paul can now change his birthdate. Much as I followed my desire, my experiences with men were far from fulfilling. Little as I desired women, my experiences with them were enormously rewarding. But I was still on the fence until I had a change of heart that changed my mind. I knew what I was--any night alone would have brought that home, even if I had tried to avoid the knowledge.

I did have a weird moment [weird particularly in retrospect, as my readers may imagine] where I said to myself: "No more looming Great Dark Men, be a man." No bottoms allowed, only tops; I didn't know then how fluid such boundaries are. But that kind of thinking was actually quite widespread, or personal ads would not have featured "no fats, no fems, or freaks" quite so prominently. How anyone was going to find anyone when everyone was looking for someone younger, butcher, and in better shape than themselves, is one of our world's little mysteries. Luckily for us, people do still have hearts and souls, and they still manage to connect.

I have encouraged some people who can't accept their homosexuality to read Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea. In it, the mage who brings an evil into the world is hunted by it. He only masters it by turning to face it, which causes it to flee. He only removes it from the world by recognizing it as a piece of himself, and calling it by name: his own. That seems a pretty good description of my story. About fifteen years ago, I unburdened myself of the horror of my renewed encounter with the depths of myself to a close friend. She listened very quietly and politely [stunned silence is probably the best description] and then replied calmly that she had never heard anyone speak with such self-loathing. The decision to make peace with the piece of myself that I had laid aside led me into the uncharted seas I now sail. Talk about Earthsea...

However, Ms. LeGuin wrote another tale which expresses the fluidity of boundaries in a powerful way. In Left Hand of Darkness, an Earthling arrives on a world where gender only comes into being when people come into heat; his decided, constant maleness is considered as much an obscenity as the antics of Folsom Fair are to many outside the "gay community" [and inside it, too, for that matter, whatever it may be...]. Eventually, he is isolated with someone who goes into heat, and his maleness causes his friend to assume what we would call female gender. While I have never been, much less been born on, an ice-bound planet where the rest of the population is gender-shifters, I certainly recognize what she is talking about. My own fantasies of power and equally fantastic need to submit find strong expression here.

I think it is remarkable that an author should so clearly capture the feelings and perceptions of someone she has never met; I can only assume that she had met people a lot like me [us?] and used metaphor to express an unpalatable truth to a general [reading] public. [What's to become of the human race when it no longer is trained to "read" metaphor is a constant worry to me. People seem to be growing deafer and blinder by the year.] Both books would make great movies, in case anybody in the film world is paying attention...

But I may be reading more into LeGuin's intent than she put there: I suppose she was really more interested in nailing our assumption that the Earthling's politically powerful, physically active friend is in fact male... Wizard was published in 1968, Darkness in 1969. Anyone else old enough to remember?

I'm a student of behavior (20+ years, formal training). Patterns of outcomes I'm quick to notice. I hope that it doesn't appear that I judge. Because I want to be accepting; as I--as well as my choices and my life--need to be accepted, too.

I am a student only of my own behavior, and of what meets the eye, which still leaves me statistically insignificant. I'm not sure what Paul means by the "patterns of outcomes" he is quick to notice. But we all need some level of acceptance, and long to have our choices respected rather than condemned. I often feel that I have landed between two stools, and meet with incomprehension at best from both sides of the street. The exceptions are the people who love me enough to want me to be happy, and the first on that list is Isis herself, who, however she may feel about me now, granted me my freedom as her final gift of love. That went way beyond comprehension, and incomprehension is probably the least of what the two of us now have to contend with. I know my children have been quite open with her about what is going on with me...

I have a closet full of suits and ties. But unfortunately, they're now only a reminder of a past life. Maybe again. Hopefully soon.

How nice to have met someone else who still longs for a former life. Being caught up in a temporary resuscitation of my so-called "career," I can say that you do need to be careful what you wish for. But as long as you know it's not forever, you can ride the waves that come your way and just enjoy the ride.

Let's all try that.
Hang in there, everybody.

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