Tag Archives: coming out

Employment, Community, and Coming Out

Queer Pagan Flag

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Tonight while doing laundry and packing for my trip to Erie, I spent some time listening to Episode 22 of the Inciting A Riot podcast.  Fire Lyte is an intelligent, funny, and charming podcaster and I highly recommend you check out both his podcast and his blog.  For my own post, however, I want to focus on the segment of Episode 22 where Fire Lyte talks about work and the closet.

Fire Lyte makes the sound observation that different jobs allow for different levels of being open about one’s spirituality and sexuality.  I know that as  software engineer, I’m in a position of great comfort.  An old coworker once summed up the engineers’ situations when he commented that he once overheard a conversation between two managers discussing the engineering department on a previous job.  The older manager told his junior, “They’re a weird lot.  But they get the job done, so leave them alone.”  My own experience has verified the truth of that mentality, that most people in charge of engineers are willing to overlook just about any “personality quirk” as long as the person in question proves themselves an invaluable resource.  As such, I can be relatively open about both my sexuality and my spirituality without worrying about my job.  Someone who is in a teaching position or — to go back to Fire Lyte’s example — who is working for children in a governmental capacity may not be so lucky.  To them, an alternate spirituality or sexuality could be a liability to them.

Fire Lyte’s advice on the matter is to be conscious of this, both when making decisions about how out to be in their current job or in deciding what job opportunities to pursue.  This is certainly sound advice from an individual perspective, and I support the idea that an individual’s first concern should be his or her own well-being.  Principles don’t matter as much when you can’t afford to buy food.

However, the down-side to that advice is that it does tend to reinforce the status quo rather than challenge it.  And as an idealist, this is one area where I certainly would like to see the status quo challenged and eventually broken.  To accomplish that, someone somewhere — quite probably a lot of soemones in a lot of different somewheres — are going to have to push their luck and take risks.

Part of the problem, as Fire Lyte noted, is that people have all these strange ideas about Pagans (and gay people), and that if you happen to be the only person that your employer or others know that is Pagan (or gay), then you have an uphill battle to fight, and one that your employer or others in power may not be willing to let you fight.

The problem is, there’s ultimately only one permanent solution to that scenario:  Pagans (and gay people) need to become more visible.  As long as we stay hidden because it’s easier, then people will remain unconfronted with and uninformed about us.  As I said, we only reinforce the status quo.

This doesn’t mean that I think everyone should run out and tell their boss, their neighbors, or anyone else that they are Pagan (or gay).  I don’t think everyone should slap a pentacle or pride flag on their desk at work, their car, or their living room window (my landlord made me take mine down due to a lease violation).  I may be an idealist, but I’m not a moron.  But there are those of us who can take risks — and there are different levels of risk that different people can take — that would go a long way.

There are those of us in jobs where we are secure, either due to the nature of the job or the fact that we are invaluable to our employer.  And I’d encourage those who have been at their job for five years or more (yes, such loyal employees still do exist, though they’re rare) to think about how they might have the job security to push the boundaries a little.  Because the only way we can gain more visibility and more understanding is to be more visible.

I’ll also note that the advantage of having been at a job for a long time before coming out is that you’re an established person.  Rather than being an unknown individual who is a “weird Pagan,” you become a known hard worker who happens to be a “weird Pagan.”  And ultimately, I think that’s what we need.  We need to be seen as full individuals.

As I said, there are different levels of risk.  This most directly translates into different levels of being “out.”  “Coming out” at work can be something as simple as telling a couple of trusted coworkers (or even a trusted manager) in confidence.  The whole office doesn’t necessarily need to know, and even the increased awareness of one or two people can have positive and radical results in the long term.  I’m reminded of the job I had in Ithaca.  During the four years I was there, I kept a picture of my boyfriend on my desk.  The only two people who commented on it the entire time I was there originally assumed it was a picture of my brother.  I politely informed them each that the handsome man was my boyfriend.  The one said nothing more, while the other became a better friend.  I’m not sure what anyone else in the office made of the picture.  For all I know, the others still assumed he was my brother, and I was content to let them assume that.

In the end, each person must make their own choices when it comes to the closet(s) and how “out” they want to be at work, in their community, or in other aspect of their lives.  Each person must decide what level of risk he or she is willing to take, and I would not dream of dictating such important choices to others.  Bu I would encourage everyone to consider again what level of risk they might be willing to live with if it means a long-term improvement for all Pagans (and/or gay people).

Movie Review: Shelter

Shelter (2007 film)

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I’m a fan of movies that deal with a gay guy who is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality.  There’s just something touching and nostalgic about watching the main character discover his feelings for another man and begin to sort through the emotional obstacle course made up of love, desire, fear, doubt, and guilt.

One such movie that stands out in my mind is Shelter, the 2007 movie about a young man, Zach, living in California.  Where Shelter differs from other great coming out movies, like Latter Days and Rock Haven, is that Zach’s major conflict isn’t so much about his religion, but his family.

Zach lives with his older sister, her live-in boyfriend (at least I don’t get the impression their married) and his five year old nephew.  Zach works at odd jobs to help support his sister and little Cody, who sees his uncle as a major father figure.  Zach’s life begins to change when is best friend’s older brother, Shaun, comes to town for an extended stay.  Zach and Shaun fall in love, and quickly finds his desire to be with Shaun quickly coming into conflict with his family obligations.  His sister, Jeanne, is concerned about her son being around all that “gay stuff” and doesn’t think it’s healthy environment.  (Strangely, Jeanne isn’t all that concerned that her live-in boyfriend is asking her to go to Oregon for six months and leave Cody behind.) Despite Shaun’s undying adoration of Cody and his willingness to make Cody a part of any plans he and Zach might have, the family conflict leads to problems in the couple’s budding relationship.

In addition to the conflict between love and obligations to a family that doesn’t approve of gay relationships, this film weaves in the extra dimensions of different family backgrounds.  While Zach and his sister have lived a difficult life with plenty of hard luck and few breaks, Shaun comes from a well-to-do family.  This difference leads to differences in perspective and different approaches to their problems, adding to the conflict.

All of these elements are handled well, or at least as well as they can be in a 97 minute movie.  It makes for a touching and heartfelt story, and one that I could personally identify with on many levels.

Coming out confession

Logo designed by artist Keith Harring

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Originally posted to Multiply on 6 February 2008.

I’ve spent the last couple of days thinking about my story about coming out to my parents. I feel like there was so much that I left out. Of course, when I shared them during the panel discussion, I naturally had to keep my comments short, and this meant an extremely abbreviated story. So I shared what I felt were the most relevant points at the time.

However, now that I have more time to spend, I feel it’s important to share a bit more. After all, when I talked about how much time it’s taken my parents to work through everything, I felt like I was attributing it to them. That’s not entirely accurate. In retrospect, I made my own share of mistakes which has probably prolonged the reconciliation process.

The most immediate example is the fact that I came out to my parents well before I was ready. After all, I had only come to accept my sexuality a scant two months before I told my parents. So in reality, I was still emotionally processing everything myself.

Mind you, I don’t regret my choice to come out so quickly, mainly because it was the right choice at the time. The week before I had that fateful conversation with my mother, I had made another poor choice, the choice to tell another person about my sexual orientation. Telling that particular person was a horrible error in judgment on my part, and I can only say that I did so in a moment of emotional weakness.

The problem was, I knew that this particular person sometimes wasn’t the best at keeping secrets, and I was concerned that news of my revelation could get back to my parents. When I realized this, I decided that if my parents were going to find out, I wanted it to come from me. So I I made my decision to make sure that’s exactly what happened.

I made what I still believe was the moral choice. However, the moral choice meant trying to deal with my parents’ reactions to my sexuality while still trying to go through the emotional healing and self-acceptance process myself. That was a high price to pay, and I probably wasn’t always as understanding and patient with my parents as a result.

Another choice I made — and I’m not sure whether this one was ultimately a mistake or not — is that I backed off once I told my mother. Because of her reaction, I let the whole topic drop for a long time. I didn’t deny my sexuality, but I didn’t bring it up either. I didn’t correct my mother a year later when I moved back home and she told me that I wasn’t allowed to have “overnight guests of the female persuasion.” (Actually, I snickered to myself, thinking that wouldn’t be a difficult rule to keep.) In effect, I did allow my parents to linger in their denial and otherwise ignore the whole matter.

Was that a mistake? I don’t really know. In some ways, I wonder if I might have sped up the process if I had pushed the issue a bit more at crucial moments. But then, I also think that maybe they really did need that time.

Then there was an incident that I’m almost positive I made a mistake. It was back during the first few months when I was dating Mike. I had met him and taken a picture of him. One day, I printed out a picture of him because I was going to visit friends and wanted to show them what he looked like. My mother saw the picture and asked who he was. I told her he was a friend and left it a that.

I think she knew I wasn’t being completely honest with my answer. In fact, even back then, I had the impression she was looking for the real answer. But I chose not to tell her he was my boyfriend. I was afraid to admit it. I was afraid she’d once again go into a tense and brooding silence as a result. And I didn’t want to deal with that at the time.

In retrospect, I think she was trying to bridge that gulf of silence that had developed between us when she asked about Mike. Instead of responding with honesty, I chose to reward her efforts by maintaining the wall between us. I have to ask myself what percentage of responsibility for the time it’s taken us to be more open since then lies on my shoulders because of that choices. And I wonder what other ways I’ve shut my parents out without realizing it.

It’s something I’ve been working on recently. That’s partly due to my friend, Amy, who did a reading for me while we were at the Naturist Retreat this past August. She told me that I needed to share all of my life with my mother. And as Amy predicted, Mom’s been fairly open to it.

Happy NCOD!

Today is National Coming Out Day. As such, I felt it entirely appropriate to talk about the subject of coming out of the closet. Rather than focusing on the benefits of coming out of the closet (something Peterson Toscano and others has already covered quite well), I thought I’d offer some practical bits of advice and thoughts on the whole coming out process.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that it is a process rather than an all-or-nothing proposition. I don’t have to tell my best friend, my boss, and my mother all on the same day. (Though if my best friend is lousy at keeping secrets and knows my mother, I might want to take extra care in deciding what order to come out to them in.) Personally, I’m not very out at my current job and that works for me. But then, I’m not very close to any of my coworkers and we tend to travel in very different social circles outsides of work. So I don’t have to worry about leading a double life and keeping two worlds from colliding.

The Queermobile and IAlso, it’s been my experience that coming out to new acquaintances is much easier than coming out to long-time friends and family members. This is because I don’t have a lot of emotional energy invested in the relationship with new acquaintances. If a new person in my life is uncomfortable with the fact that I’m gay, it’s easier for both of us to walk away. It’s not nearly as painful, so the risk of rejection is easier to take. And coming out to new acquaintances gives me the opportunity to make sure that I get the whole issue out of the way before building the deep friendship I’d then be afraid of harming by coming out later.

When it comes to acquaintances, especially new ones, I’d also point out that there are many ways to come out without even saying, “I’m gay.” Coming out can be as simple as mentioning that my boyfriend and I went to see the new movie that came out last Friday and we both thought it was terrible. Or I can simply mention that I think the guy walking down the sidewalk across the street is kind of cute.

The nice thing about that kind of approach is that it replaces the idea of a scary declaration into a natural comment that can be offered as a simple aside. After all, heterosexual people are talking about going to the movies with their boyfriends and girlfriends all the time. And enough heterosexual guys voice their opinions about the women passing by. So it stands to reason that it’s perfectly natural and normal for us to act similarly. And if it shatters a few assumptions on the part of those around us, all the better.

I will admit that such an approach doesn’t feel natural at first. But I can say from personal experience that it does get easier. And I’ve noticed that in general, most people get over their initial shock fairly quickly. After all, they’d have a hard time justifying a complaint about such an off-handed comment without it becoming obvious that they’re the ones making an issue out of your sexuality. And a great many people simply take the whole thing in stride.

Note that I’m recommending this approach for people one has just met or have a fairly casual relationship with. The bonds between close, long-time friends and family members require a bit more sensitivity and a personal touch when it comes to coming out. With a close friend or family member, I would always choose to sit down and have a talk which involves expressing my sexual orientation in a personal manner that is appropriate to a relationship.

As I said, coming out to close friends and family members is much more frightening due to the emotional investments involved. Being rejected by a close friend or family member hurts deeply, and no one wants to face that. However, this is where coming out to people we have casual relationships with first shows its second benefit. By coming out to acquaintances and people I’ve just met, I’ve built up confidence. I now know that the world doesn’t end just because I tell someone I’m gay. And I know that people can still accept and love me despite knowing that I love and am attracted to other men. And if people who are just meeting me for the first time can still be accepting, I can be confident in most cases that the people who already know me and love me will continue to want to do so after coming out to them. After all, they know the kind of person I am, and nothing I tell them will change that.

It may take some time for some loved ones to come around. They will have to get over their initial shock (but then again, didn’t I go through some of that myself?), but in the vast majority of cases, love will win out. And my experiences have born this truth out and convinced me of its veracity.

Of course, I don’t recommend that anyone put themselves in danger by coming out. If there’s a very real danger of losing one’s job, coming out to one’s boss just isn’t worth it. If one is financially dependent on parents who would disown a gay child (and sadly, such parents still exist), then it’s best to wait. But part of the trick is learning to distinguish between real dangers and dangers that are a matter of fear and perception only. And that takes practice. So find a situation that involves a level of risk you’re comfortable with and start practicing. In the end, it’s well worth it.

The power of memories

Earlier tonight (before it became tomorrow), I took the time to write about the weekend I decided to come out and the emotional crisis that led up to it. It surprised me how easily much of the emotion I felt that weekend came back to me. In some ways, writing about it meant reliving it, and it was a strange experience.

Of course, this time around, the feelings weren’t nearly as strong. Instead, they were more a ghost of events and feelings long gone. Back then, I was afraid that all of the feelings were going to consume and destroy me. Tonight, the worst they will do is chase a smile from my face until I get some much needed sleep.

And in some way, I find the return of these emotions comforting. Not because I have any desire to return to the constant torment I felt back then, but because it means that I’m still connected to that person I was. I can still identify so completely with my past that I can draw on it for strength, insight, an even wisdom without becoming lost in it or controlled by it. And that is a wonderful feeling.

I’m beginning to realize that this writing project is meant to serve a dual purpose. So far, I’ve been focused on how it might help others who are going through many of the same things — or even just similar things — that I did. But now I also see that it’s also a chance for me to again connect to my past, understand how it led me to the presence, and discover just how I’ve grown from it all. And perhaps that’s something I need right now, too.

Finding a new book

While surfing the web tonight, I came across a book I’d never heard of before. The title is From Boys to Men: Gay Men Write About Growing Up. I find myself wondering how closely any of the stories contained in the book resemble the experiences I’m working on writing about. One of the reason I started writing about my own sexual self-discovery is because I feel like the topic is not well covered. So it would be interested to see if this book is a sign that there’s more out there than I realize. It would be a pleasant discovery if that is the case.

I’ve added the book to my wish list. I’d buy it outright, but I think I spent enough money today. I got a laptop in the price range I expected. But by the time I added all of the extras I decided to get with it (including a new wireless router for the house), the bill was a bit…shocking.