Sunday, September 27, 2009

“We Need to Talk”, Part 4

Coming out to Emily made life seem whole for a while. There was one group of people I could go to at any time who I could talk to this part of my life about. I didn't need to worry what they thought or who they would tell. We had a special bond. One that still holds strong to this day even if we don't see each other as regularly as we used to.

That sense of trust and freedom was challenged as we awaited the return of Jacqueline. She was part of the original gang from high school. The last of us to go on a mission and the last to come back. This was on everyone's mind—Matilde, Cole, Emily and I were constantly thinking about Jacqueline's reaction to the news that both I and Cole had to share with her if she was going to be as integral a part of our lives as before. "How are we going to bring it up?" "How long should we wait?" Etc.

Inevitably, each of these conversations ended with "She's not going to take this well." If Jacqueline were to hold to a stereotype in LDS culture, it would be the faithful, spiritually sensitive girl. Of course, Jacqueline has always been capable of making jokes, having fun, and forgiving faults; however, our concern was amplified by the fact that all of these spiritual sensitivities would be heightened by serving a mission. There was also one other huge concern hanging over our heads.

Unfortunately for Cole, he had a lot more at stake in this episode of "As the Closet Door Opens" thanks to history. It all started in high school. As a result of mutual interests and common senses of humor along with a great deal of time spent together, Jacqueline had developed a crush on Cole. Let's face it—this is not uncommon. If a boy dresses well, has good taste in music and theatre, etc., the girls are going to appreciate that. It's only natural—even if he is gay. In high school, Cole didn't try to make things work. Following his mission (and before Jacqueline's), however, the cultural pressure to make things finally trumped. They went on a few dates and things ended awkwardly. They still considered each other friends, but a sense of letdown pervaded because a relationship that never could have worked in fact did not.

Once Jacqueline returned, a certain distance remained between them. I ended up spending a lot of time with her and realized that she had come back way more normal than any of us had anticipated. I'd returned from my mission in the aftermath of things not working out with Cole and ended up spending a lot of time with her—going bowling with Brenda, watching movies, playing board games with her parents. It was pretty much the same thing when she got back. I realized that I need to key her in a little more on the goings on in my life before she developed feelings for me beyond friendship.

I told her everything about Mark—that I had fallen in love, that I felt special for once in my life and that we'd broken up before he went on his mission and left me not wanting to pursue a relationship for some time. I did leave out one detail, though. I left out the fact that he was a he by referring to him only as "the missionary" and avoiding all gender-based pronouns. It was all I was prepared for at the time. It did keep her from thinking we were anything more than friends.

Everything was clarified a few months after coming home from her mission. One night, I got a text "Jacqueline knows about me now. I thought you should know we had a talk. ~Cole"

Not surprisingly, the very next morning, I got a call at work. Knowing that she was probably in a mild form of shock, I answered. "Hey. What do you have planned for lunch today? You want to get something at the food court? We need to talk."

A couple of hours later, I met her on campus at the food court between my classes. She looked flustered to say the least. Her eyes were a little red either from crying or a lack of sleep and the conversation started out unusually awkward. She was searching out the right words to talk about something I obviously knew about, but was spiritually and emotionally sensitive for her.

"I think I know what you want to talk about. Cole texted me last night."

The shock became more apparent. Even though I'd broken the ice for her, she still had no idea what to say. Her expression just seemed to scream "Why?!"

As the scary conversation started, she voiced her concerns. "I just don't think that he's happy. He went through that bad engagement and I'm not sure he ever healed from that."

Everything seemed to have a little deeper meaning that went unstated. "I'm not sure he ever will heal now that he thinks he's gay" seemed to be what she meant in the moment.

"I worried so much about him while I was gone," she said as her empathy turned to self-incrimination. There is no way to know for sure, but she seemed like she wished in that moment that there was something she could have done to make things work when they had gone out. The truth of the matter is neither of them could have. No one was to blame for things not turning out the way any of us had hoped or wanted or been taught they would in Sunday school.

I reassured that Cole was doing much better than before. "He's been through a lot in life and he's healing for the first time in a long while. I've seen him at his worse and he is doing so much better."

This reassurance comforted her to a small degree. "I'm so glad we talked," Jacqueline said with teary eyes. "It's hard to think of Cole as gay." Then, immediately, a question popped out of her mouth that I wasn't expecting. You aren't gay too, are you?!"

It was so loud that the world seemed to stop for a moment while everyone on the food court started to listen to our conversation it seemed. Considering the shock she'd been through last night, the only thing I could come up with at the time was a whispered, reactionary "That's not important." And, after an initial shocked pause, I delivered an assertive yet reserved "Yes. Yes I am, Jacqueline."

The look on her face wasn't nearly as shocked as I had expected. There was clearly a sense of "What man in my life isn't gay?!" pseudo-resentment on her face, but she remained the same friend.

"I'm so happy you told me."

"Jacqueline, you must have noticed a difference from when you left. Right?"


I told her about Grey and figuring things out months ago and said directly and clearly, "I'm happier than I've ever been. Everything is going right. I understand myself and I found the confidence I'd always lacked in life. I can look people in the eye because I am happy about who I am, what I do, and what I've accomplished in my life."

"It's true and I'm happy for you," she said as genuinely as ever. We hugged and said goodbye, but clearly our little talk didn't leave her with much comfort.

Like our instincts had told us, not every coming out experience could go well. Jacqueline had a mini-breakdown. A bad week at work, tests, and some family drama that all hit at once along with our little coming out talks. It took a little help from our other girl friends, but she worked through things in her own time.

It's hard to see someone so affected by a little life detail that we really have no control over. If we're attracted to the same sex and tell someone, their life really shouldn't come crashing down. It's a matter of honesty, trust, and love. In the end, I do feel being honest brought us all a bit closer despite the initial and subsequent drama of coming out.

End, Part 4.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

“We Need to Talk”, Part 3

Emily presented me with a real problem. One of my best friends since high school, I knew that any form of secrecy would unnecessarily keep her from being a part of my life. She, along with Cole and Matilde, formed one of the most constant and satisfying aspects of my life.

Essentially, I had to tell her or cut her out of my life to a certain extent, which was clearly not a viable option. At this time I had to consider a possibility that terrified me. Would she give me a speech about how I was going to hell or how she'd support me, but not my decisions? Or even worse—abandon me completely? Emily was the first person I told who has an unwavering testimony in the Church. It was the first step towards telling everyone in my life active and faithful in the church (including my family) that what I'd been taught my whole life didn't make as much sense as it always had in my life.

Cole knew exactly what I was going through when the subject came up in a conversation. He wasn't sure what kind of a reaction to anticipate either: "Our dear Emily (as he referred to her and her feelings about tough subjects like this one) is a tender soul."

Rather than directly confronting her about the subject, Cole conceived a plan of his own and called me shortly after implementing it.

"We were on our way home and I brought it up."

"So, how did it go?" I asked.

"Pretty well. I started laughing to myself and told her that I'd had a really funny dream last night. I told her I'd had a dream that you and Grey were dating. Of course, she started giggling."

The truth of the matter was that Grey and I were dating, and Cole's crafty little plan (transparent as it might seem looking back) was alternative. We were able to test the water before diving from the high dive.

Cole continued, "I asked her what she would think if that really happened and she said 'I don't know. He'd still be the same person he's always been, so why would I treat him any differently?' "

The next night, we went out for ice cream. Making sure that the three of us ended up alone at the end of the night, we waited the others out and decided to sit in Cole's car listening to music for a bit. The conversation slowed and I started.

"Emily, I've got something to tell you." I paused and took a necessary breath showing my caution and concern. "What if I told you that I was dating Grey and that I really like him?"

She looked over at Cole realizing that he wasn't joking (…or talking about himself as she later admitted to considering a possibility). Continuing in the hypothetical, she declared, "That wouldn't change anything. You're still you."

To that statement, I probably shed a few tears. If any of you ever wonder what you would do if a son, brother, or friend were to come out to you, I assure you that there are no more comforting words that "You're still you." It made my night and reassured me that in the big picture, friendship conquers little differences in views over religion and sexuality. I am honored to this day to have her as a friend and to be able to share such an important part of my life with her.

End, Part 3

Friday, September 25, 2009

“We Need to Talk”, Part 2

As is the case with most things, coming out to girls became easier over time. I took precautions not to let them to become too interested by offering hints and saying that I wasn't interested in a relationship at that point in my life (of course omitting that little piece "with a woman").

After telling Cole, he helped plan my coming out episodes—testing the waters, assessing possible reactions, etc.

Matilde never really intimidated me as far as coming out. Inactive in the Church, she didn't really hold the same expectations for me that everyone else did. That made things relatively easy. The environment was more controlled in that one little variable didn't make up part of the equation. Of course, the experiment could fail, but I knew that there was no better time for me or for her.

We were just leaving a party at Cole's and I was about to drive her home. Getting in the car, I didn't hesitate nearly as much.

"I've got something, I need to tell you, Matilde."

"Okay. What is it?"

"You know how we all joked about moving in together and living in New York with a gay roommate?"


"Well, how would you feel if I were the gay roommate?"

Simple, quick, and to the point.

"You mean?"

"Yeah. And I'm pretty sure."

All I got for a bit after that were some pensive Hmmms. Then, finally, she said, "I really wasn't expecting this. I mean we all thought Cole would be the one."

I laughed and explained that the guy she'd met recently, Grey, was my current love interest.

Her response (one I've heard multiple times) amused me to no end:

"Dammit! What a perfect waste of two gorgeous men."

End, Part 2.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

“We need to talk”: Meditations on the Reactions of 5 Female Friends

We all know that coming out is generally a huge deal (…even though it shouldn't be). As one contemplates the idea of sitting down with someone and spelling out the fact that he or she is different somehow, a barrage of doubts and fears pass through one's mind. Some might worry that their parents will blame themselves. Others worry that their friends might want to 'fix' them. What it all comes down to is acceptance. When someone has arrived at a point at which they are comfortable sharing perhaps the most intimate part of their life with you, they have already thought long and hard and have likely arrived at a conclusion. The only legitimate responses to something so serious are acceptance and support.

That said, other reactions can be downright hilarious.

Stacia was the first person I ever told. She was a co-worker and my romantic life had never come up at that point in our relationship because, frankly, it was non-existent. It was a couple of days after I'd met Grey and been pondering over what I had felt. We only had an hour a so a week that we were scheduled to work with each other and she happened to come in at the end of the day while I was finishing up a project. The stars aligned as everyone else finished up and went home, leaving us alone. As the last person was getting ready to leave, I said to Stacia very timidly, "We need to talk." I told her all about the night that I'd met Grey and that he was a very nice guy. Apparently, I went on and on about him because she picked up on what was going on immediately.

Her infectious smile was a huge comfort. In retrospect, I know that she knew more than I knew at that point. She could perceive the confusion on my face and the terror in my voice. In the most sensitive and she was probably doing her best to sit me down and help me evaluate my emotions (without laughing or somehow letting me know that she knew more than I did about what I was feeling). She simply asked me a number of pointed questions about that night with Grey. "How did he make you feel?," "Was it any different than you'd felt before?," "Do you think that you might like him not just as a friend?"

My answer at the time was "I don't know" (which in fact meant "Yes, I'm gay"), but I wasn't prepared to say that in the moment. Stacia simply reassured me that I seemed happier and that she would always be available if I needed to talk. That was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment.

End, Part 1.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Vanished: A Stereotypical Gay Breakup Story

After our last date seeing Wall-E, Mark didn't respond to calls or texts or get on Facebook for a few days. He disappeared.

It was rough on me. The only thing someone can do in that kind of a situation is blame himself. And that's what I did. I thought of everything I possibly could have said, everything I could have done, and everything I could have neglected to say or do to make him upset.

Finally, he showed up online one day. He said that the power had been out and the internet had stopped working for a few days. Always giving people the benefit of the doubt, I took him for his word and asked how things had been. The conversation soon led to a topic that neither of us were prepared to discuss.

He let me know that it was about time for him to go to the temple and didn't feel comfortable dating me so close to that event in his life because our last night of cuddling was the first time in his life he'd considered not going on a mission. With an aire of understanding, I wished him the best and let him know how much I learned during our time together and how much I would miss him. He left me comfortable with myself.

Being the first breakup I'd ever gone through, it was pretty devastating. We had our episodes like everyone else—the unfriending on Facebook (apparently, I was too much of a temptation), and the panicked "Don't out me" conversation when he found out I'd be working with his best girl friend from high school the next semester.

Despite the drama of this breakup, I didn't immediately learn the lesson that disappearing is a cowardly form of breakup. It took me being on the other side of the breakup to learn that there's a better way.

“The Wall-E Principle”

One of my favorite things about Cole the way he offers up random bits of wisdom. A certain tenseness comes across his face in anticipation of sharing. He smiles, turns a bit red, and commands everyone's attention as he draws a breath to begin whatever story he is about to tell.

For being just 24 years-old, Cole commands a lot of attention. He's accomplished a lot and has had more than his fair share of life lessons. He's also kind of loud, so that helps too, I suppose.

Cole refers to one gem of wisdom that he tends to share somewhat infrequently as "The Wall-E Principle." I was sitting next to him as he made this discovery in the theater last year, so I can give you a full account of his experience gaining this wisdom (as well as share with you the personal ironies of my love life which accompanied it).

I was seeing Mark at the time and we decided to go to Wall-E with some of my other friends. It was a nice opportunity for them to meet him (even if I wasn't able to introduce him as my boyfriend at the time). It was a big step for me. Everyone treated him like they would any other friend of mine.

As the movie started, I sat there between my best friend and my boyfriend. There was no other place I would rather have been at that moment. (Well, that's not completely true. Being in my home town did prevent me from holding his hand). As the music and opening credits began to roll, I looked over at Cole. He'd had a rough week, and the film immediately drew out of him some worries and emotions that had been in his thoughts that week. Before the credits had even finished, he was in tears. It didn't take long before a concerned father (who had brought his four children to see the movie) sitting on the other side of Cole to ask, "Are you going to be okay?" I smiled, but knew that this formed part of Cole's process of healing and renewal.

To my left, I watched Cole's reaction to the story. I could sense that it would produce (at least in a minor sense) some sort epiphany in my friend, following an abusive and emotionally draining relationship with a bad breakup to boot. He would later go on to explain how the movie details the most essential part of love. As the two main characters WALL-E and EVE are robots, they are very easy to understand. They possess singular, programmed motivations: EVE's to find life on earth and then return to the ship, and Wall-E's to collect trash (and, presented with the opportunity, maybe hold EVE's hand). However, by the end of the film, their relationship has led them to take on each others purposes: WALL-E seeks the plant that was in EVE's custody, while EVE desires to hold WALL-E's hand. Yes, they possess pre-programmed motivations, but as their relationship develops, they take on each others purposes.

The movie shed some light on the process of love as the two robots came together. Love is forgetting yourself in someone else. In his interests, his purposes, and most importantly his well-being. With Mark, I came as closely to that ideal as I have ever come.

Ironically, that was the last night I ever saw Mark. While Cole's face emanated hope and renewal, Mark's subtly communicated a hollow and reserved sense of reluctance. I didn't realize it at the time, but he had something he needed to talk to me about. He drove me home, gave me a good night kiss and another because I asked for it, then he left.

The Big Question

When people come to me for relationship advice (something I don't endorse at all…) I have a pretty deep question at my disposition for a number of situations. It's one I've asked myself a few times including a quite recent episode:

"Are you falling in love or falling in love with the idea of being in love?"

Considering the last thing I wrote about was falling out of love, I suppose this topic might be a bit more hopeful.

When I was first figuring things out, I really puzzled over this question. I don't think it came from anywhere, but it was present just in my mind. I wanted to make sure (because pursuing a relationship with another man always seemed so unquestionably wrong a month earlier) that I wasn't motivated by a fear of being alone for the rest of my life or something equally desperate.

As it turns out, this question became somewhat of a scorecard as far as my relationships go. When I was seeing Grey, I considered my motivations a lot. "Why do I want to be with him?," "Why do I feel this way when he holds my hand?," and of course "Is what I'm feeling wrong?" Everything seemed to point to attraction and a desire to be a part of his life. As things soured and he decided he wasn't ready for a relationship with me (or anyone for that matter), all of those feelings came into question. Wanting to be a part of someone's life can be a selfish or a selfless motivation. Everything was left in gray for the moment.

When Mark came along, though, some light was shed on this issue. It seemed like we a lot more to offer each other in general. Aside from physical attraction, we had intellectual discussions, similar ambitions and interests, and we felt comfortable enough to open up about our most difficult life issues. By the end of our time together, Mark had taught me a very important lesson about understanding and loving myself the way that I am. It felt as if we had something to offer one another and had the potential to grow. I realized that I cared more for him than for the romanticized idea of being with him. Since then, that's made up a significant amount of the definition of a functional relationship.

It's also related to something my friend Cole calls "The Wall-E Principle."

Saturday, September 5, 2009

50 Days of Mark

I have a confession to make. For the first time in my life, I went to the movies alone this week. It wasn't really on purpose, but I wasn't about to let a great movie like "500 Days of Summer" leave my town without seeing it.

The movie begins expressly providing a disclaimer that it is "not a love story" but rather "a story about love." Although I genuinely appreciate fabulistic romance films such as "Penelope," "Enchanted," or "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," anti-fairy tales also provide essential messages to those of us living in reality. "500 Days of Summer" is a prime example offering an important lesson in perspective.

The movie's strength lies in the fact that it looks at the same story multiple times. It is a movie of contemplation ("Why do I feel this way?," "Why can't I get over her?," etc.) and reflection, providing viewers with a unique story arc. The movie begins at the relationships climax—Tom and Summer have just "broken up" (in quotes because relationships are painted in shades of gray)—and the director spends the rest of the time jumping between points in their relationship showing us Tom's journey of healing.

The movie reminded me that sometimes falling out of love is necessary and—considering the fact that I've only fallen in love once—I've been lucky enough to only need to fall out of love once. One particular set of montages comes to mind. Tom poetically lists the things he loves about Summer only to say how much these characteristics irritate him later in the film, demonstrating the perspectives of in and out of love. I found this to be the only way to recover from my first breakup.

Things ended abruptly with Mark, my first boyfriend. He was preparing to go on his mission and close to going to the temple. He said that he didn't feel comfortable seeing someone and going to the temple. We basically left it at that. It was hard for me to go from being in a relationship and talking to him on a daily basis to almost nothing overnight. It took all of my emotional energy to keep from saying what I felt deep down.

I didn't want him to leave. I didn't want things to end. BUT I wanted what he wanted because that makes up a great deal of what love is (think "Wall-E" or "The Gift of the Magi"). Only now do I recognize the fact that my understanding of "love" is unavoidably romanticized. On a research trip shortly after the breakup, I fell apart a few times when someone with the same curly strawberry-blonde hair passed by or just the wrong song played on the radio.

Months later, I came to the conclusion that I was not letting myself heal. I needed to revisit and rethink the time I'd spent with Mark. I needed to look for the negative and I wasn't used to that as a reformed cynic and romantic positivist. The good nature and mystery that attracted me to him in the first place ultimately tore us apart. He intrigued me because he was so much like me and helped me understand so much, yet whenever I came close to asking about certain things, he would change the subject.

In the end, all of the thought and energy that made me think that he was the one left me with an important lesson. After months of healing, I finally picked up the pieces and felt comfortable enough to date other guys and after a little more time think that I could feel the same for someone else. That guy has yet to come around, but—now—I am grateful for everything I learned from that process despite those tough times.

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