Monday, January 02, 2012
I am now officially out at Meeting. It was a slow, deliberative process from start to finish. One of my first decisions was, early last year, to out myself to a number of fellow Quaker Young Adults. Most, if not all of these people are scattered throughout the country. I don't have to keep company with them on a regular basis, so I knew I wouldn't routinely be confronted with their reactions. As I often do, I introduced the topic by way of a written post. The essay had a relatively limited audience, so I stayed in selective out status.
It wasn't until the past two or three weeks that this changed. In therapy, it was brought up that I might want to consider taking a higher profile. Following this advice, I outed myself to someone else LGBT, a person active in Meeting. In an effort to ease the transition and to provide me with others who understood, she reached out on a wide scale. Contrary to my fears, no one seems to have taken any offense to the knowledge. Some aren't sure how to take it and this is confirmed by the look on their face. At least one has been deliberately flirtatious, though in such an awkward fashion that I wasn't sure of his intention.
I've managed most of the change without major problems. It still makes me uncomfortable if another man sees me as an object of desire. The reverse is also true. Maybe now that I've left myself no room for an another retreat, I'll begin to make progress. The theory in cognitive therapy is that of gradual immersion. If, for example, one should be afraid of standing next to someone else on public transportation, deliberately stand a little closer. Hold the position as long as one can, then re-establish old boundaries. Continue the process for slightly longer each time. Eventually, the anxious, irrational feelings will subside.
At least for the moment, I remind myself of one of my creative influences. I've written before about the gay British film and stage director Lindsay Anderson. Though speculation was omnipresent, his sexual orientation remained a closely-guarded secret until the auteur's death. Anderson notably never married, nor did he seek a partnered relationship. He stayed single for the whole of his life, though he constantly surrounded himself with his friends to keep away the loneliness. His diaries, published posthumously, show a man consumed by feelings of isolation, tormented by his desires.
In many ways, his class status factored into the decision to stay closeted. Anderson was of high birth, the son of an army officer. Those who entered life into such fortunate circumstances faced additional pressures and restrictions. Anderson believed that he never really could come out and as a result, he never did. Other decisions may have contributed as well, but these have likely gone with him to the grave.
We all seek coping mechanisms if our basic needs are not met. Some may not feel this way, but, in general, I do believe that humans are intended to seek and attain romantic relationships. Anderson's method was of quietly, silently, secretly falling in love with every single one of his leading men. They were heterosexual and thus not attainable, which made those feelings safe. These fantasies could never be consummated, nor followed to their logical extension. This is tragic self-delusion but it is not unusual.
The idea is not relegated to closeted gay men alone. Friends and acquaintances both now and in times past have used the same script for their own lives. Shy and uncertain, perhaps even with low self-image, they'll form romantic attachments to men who are already in relationships. These men are unattainable, which makes the feelings and the dreams involved safe. Another method is to project desires onto male platonic friends, believing that the possibility for more is simply impossible. I've wished many times before that through sympathy and wisdom alone I could facilitate confidence. Confidence seems to be something an individual alone must consciously choose.
If coming out means we can't go back into our safety zones, then I think it has application beyond one interpretation. Humans seem to be sensitive to criticism or to rejection. We wouldn't act so tough if we weren't afraid of being hurt. Life requires confrontation of adversity, not to give us the satisfaction of having achieved some difficult feat, but in finding the very things we need most. My New Year's wish for many is the ability to slowly, steadily, challenge yourself. Should you achieve love and acceptance, I would like to celebrate with you.