Friday, June 23, 2006

A Community Familiar With Rejection

Bea's last two posts over at Sh-out called "Pick ME! Pick ME!" and "Brutal Honesty" got me processing more about my parents. Last week, in "My Parents Before The Divorce", I was imagining what it must have been like for my parents during their marriage. My mom knew (or at least had her suspicions) about my dad being gay and so now that I know that he's gay it allows me the ability to empathize or sympathize with their experience so that I can sort out for myself how the divorce had affected me as I grew up.

Her post about wanting to be "picked" really resonated with me because it gave me insight into how my mom must have desperately wanted her husband to actually desire her. I can imagine that, as a woman, she wanted to feel sexy, appreciated, wanted - picked. As a man, that's what I want! But it helps me to understand more of the dynamic that was going on between them. Beneath the surface, under the arguing and fighting with each other that I hated seeing and under the bitterness that I felt against them, there was this frustration between us all because we were all feeling rejected by each other . . . .

Last night, I was with some friends and we were talking about why some gay men are afraid of being alone. I'm not necessarily "afraid" of being alone. It's just that I don't want to be alone because it's been such a lonely experience for me in the closet. For so many years, I intentionally denied myself the opportunity to be genuinely and authentically known and touched because I was afraid of being rejected if certain people knew. Going back further, it was a lonely experience for me after the divorce. Deep down, I felt rejected by my parents when they got divorced. I realize now that they both also felt rejected.

I can imagine the helpless feeling that my mom must have experienced during their marriage. My dad being gay was out of my mom's control. There was nothing she could do to change him. She must have felt so angry at my dad for not changing himself. What must have been going through my mom's mind for all those years? Why does he have to be gay? Why won't he just choose to be "normal"? Am I not a good enough woman for him to make him want to be straight? I wonder what kind of insecurities manifested out of the chaos that was going on in my mom's head. Honestly, I hate to admit this, but I used to look down on my mom everytime I saw her with a "guy friend". But how can I judge her when I know how desperate she must have been to want to be "picked"? My mom just wanted to be desired. Loved. How can I blame her for doing the best she could to maintain some kind of sanity, some kind of control - some kind of self-preservation? I love my mom and it breaks my heart to think that there were times that she wanted to be loved and didn't receive it.

I can imagine the confusion that my dad must have been experiencing during their marriage. He must have been so torn. I give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he wanted to be a good husband, a good father - but didn't know how. Isn't loving your wife supposed to be just natural? I'm sure he loved her but he probably recognized that he didn't desire her. So how do you force yourself to desire someone that you don't? He loved her. He wanted to be able to desire her but he couldn't. He must have imagined what my mom was feeling and hated himself for not being able to please her. If I were with a woman, I wouldn't know how to fully please her either. So what was he supposed to do? It's not like he could just choose not to be gay. It's not like he could just choose to desire her. My dad must have felt so out-of-control too. He probably knew that my mom knew that he was gay and felt that she rejected him for not being a "real" man. He probably rejected himself for not being a "real" man. I personally understand the tension of being in the closet. I love my dad and it breaks my heart knowing what he was going through in a marriage with a woman he cared for and four children that he loved. And so he must have felt rejected by me when I chose not to live with him after the divorce.

It was traumatic for me. I remember the day I found out. It was morning and my dad was driving me to elementary school in our family van. I was in 6th grade. He said, "Son, you mama and I are getting a divorce." I knew. We all knew that it was coming. My brother and sisters and I all knew that it was going to happen sooner or later. The truth is that I was actually relieved. I was glad to hear it. I hated seeing them argue. I hated it when they took it out on us.

I remember sitting in the front seat of the van looking out of the window watching the houses and trees whiz by while I listened to my father speak. He continued, "She's going to move to Long Beach with your aunt. I'm going to stay here in Hawaii. Who do you want to go with?" It was a no-brainer. I already knew that I would much rather live with my mom than with him. He was rigid and distant. I hated doing yard work, which is something he had my brother and I do all the time, and so I saw this as an opportunity for a prison break. I don't remember the actual words that I used. I chose my mom. I don't even remember if he said anything back to me. But I do remember how I felt. I didn't feel guilty for choosing to leave. But I felt like he was giving me a guilt trip for not choosing him. And so I guess I felt like I "should" be feeling guilty but as I grew up I ended up hating him for making me feel guilty. (Does that make sense?) So I was bitter with him for pretty much all my teenage and young adult years because I felt like he shouldn't have made me feel that way. I was 10 or 11 years old, I shouldn't have to choose between my parents - much less feel guilty for the choice that I ended up making. I felt rejected by him - which is weird because he was most likely feeling rejected by me.

This kind of craziness shaped my teenage years. I was confused after the divorce because I didn't know how I was supposed to feel. Am I supposed to feel guilty for choosing my mom? Does choosing my mom automatically mean that I was rejecting my dad? Is it okay that I wanted them to get a divorce? Should I feel guilty about that? I just wanted peace for a change. And by the way, on top of all this madness, why the hell was I gay?

No wonder I was all screwed up and tried to kill myself.

Rejection sucks. My mom felt it. My dad felt. I felt. We were all screwed up because we didn't know what to do with rejection and the feelings that come with it. But in hindsight, I suppose I can understand the person that I am now by the way the divorce - and even the closet experience - shaped me as I grew up.

In my last post about this theme, I had a minor side note (soapbox) about the whole gay marriage thing and I'm feeling another one coming now: I think the opponents of gay marriage don't realize why many people in "my" community" feel so outraged by their opposition. Aside from the justice issue or even the God issue, I think that every time that we hear people oppose gay marriage in conversation or in debate or in public speech or even in a wedding ceremony where someone talks about the "threatened institution", it's yet another example of how we experience society rejecting us. We are a community familiar with rejection and when people say that we shouldn't have the right to marry because it would threaten the "institution of marriage", it becomes not only insulting but personal. The debate will not die, for this reason.

Anyway, where was I?

I love my parents. I can understand their experience when they were married and it helps me to move on. It helps me to understand what I don't want in a marriage. It helps me to understand how important it is for us to want to be "picked". I am a gay man. It wouldn't be fair to anyone for me to marry someone I didn't completely desire. One day, I will marry a person that I love, appreciate and even desire. And it will be mutual. He will know that I pick him and I will know that he picks me.


Anonymous said...

I love how you are strong as a person and can have the courage to tell your story! Your such a desirable person and man! Your such a worthwhile friend and person I will never be able to forget! I'm so glad I met you!

Mark said...

my former wife to this day believes that the fault lies with me -- that I chose not give her my whole heart.

Would that I could have.

TransatlanticGirl said...

I should have commented on this before (I've been a loyal reader for a while now, albeit a quiet one) but I didn't see this until today.

First of all, I'd like to second everything dario said. (Although, as a lesbian, I'm not sure I'm qualified to voice an opinion on how desirable you are!) But from where I'm standing, you're a truly remarkable guy. Thank you so much for your honest, generous words on this blog.

And thank you for telling this story. It was touching--but it also makes me angry. Your family's story is such a common one. Why, knowing this, are ex-gay groups still trying to push confused gay (and straight) people into these situations? Why do otherwise intelligent and compassionate Christians support these efforts? Don't they see they are setting these poor people up for almost certain heartbreak?

Hopefully, stories like yours will get out, and save some people from making the same mistakes your parents did.