Saturday, November 27, 2010

Coming Out...As All That I Am

I first posted this piece two years ago on my previous New Earth Chronicles blog. Then, I titled it "Coming Out (Again) for Christmas." Reprinting it today, on the 32nd anniversary of Harvey Milk's assassination in San Francisco, feels an appropriate celebration of his life and legacy.

Harvey Milk insisted that we must be who we are out in the world, and it's a message that's as valid today as it was in 1978 -- whoever we are, whatever our orientation.


It's December 14, 2008 and I'm at the New Mexico Gay Men's Chorus's "Come Out for Christmas" concert with my friend Kathleen. It's our second year attending this event together and although this year's show is not nearly as good as last year's, there's something about being here this time that feels inexplicably right.

After the concert, Kathleen and I are chatting about this and that at a nearby Starbucks when I ask her, "Have I ever told you my 'gay story'?"

If you've been following this blog for a few years, you'll have read various versions of the story. What I told Kathleen was this:

For the first 20 years of my adult life, I lived as a gay man. Yet, as I awakened to my spirituality, I felt called to stop identifying myself as gay -- or straight. Rather, I began to see myself as a sexual being open to all possibilities. Still, I was somewhat surprised when, a few years later in Sedona, AZ, I fell in love with a woman.

When I told my gay friends that I was getting married (a sort of reverse coming-out), I explained that I had fallen in love with a wonderful spirit who just happened to occupy a female physique. From that place of love and passion, I said, gender and orientation were irrelevant and anything was possible. And it was.

Yet as profound, intimate and wonderful as our relationship was, it ended six and half years later, for reasons unrelated to sexuality.

In the four years since, I've often revisited the sexual orientation question. "Am I gay again?" I would ask in meditation. The answer was always, "Nothing has changed. Don't label yourself. Be open to all possibilities." Even though my primary physical attraction remained toward men, I honored that counsel and refused to categorize myself.

Something changed when I returned to Albuquerque in November after 40 days on the road. It was as though after 15 years of traveling in the spiritual realms, I had crash-landed back on earth and was reconnecting with the 38-year-old I had been before my spiritual awakening.

Suddenly, people from my past resurfaced, as did work opportunities disturbingly similar to those I hadn't pursued in 16 years. And at the very physical (read "earthly") job my financial situation pushed me into last month, I have been "Mark." Only friends and family from years back know me as Mark. To most everyone else I'm "Mark David."

I was starting to believe that I was living my own version of the infamous dream season of the 1980s Dallas TV series and that I would wake up and discover that nothing of the past decade and a half had really occurred.

Of course it all did, and I have a beautiful daughter (and all of you) as proof. What I have been experiencing, rather, is a giant turn of the spiral I wrote about in Everything Old Is New Again, a "full circle" far more comprehensive than any I remember having lived.

In spiritual terms, it's time to take all I have experienced on my spiritual journey and bring it down to earth -- into the practical, into the physical...to reconnect who I was with who I am now.

"Perhaps," as I wrote so presciently in The MoonQuest, "it is time...to allow the boy I was to touch the man I have become..."

When I leave Starbucks that Sunday evening, having shared my story with Kathleen, I feel the same kind of rush I felt 24 years earlier when I began coming out as a gay man to straight friends. I feel as though a tremendous burden has been lifted from me. I feel lighter.

Four days later, I go to see Milk, the film story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the US, who was assassinated in 1978 by a fellow San Francisco city supervisor.

The movie is brilliant, compelling and moving (as is Sean Penn's portrayal of the title role) and I find myself wiping away tears at frequent intervals.

It's compelling for another, more personal reason: the film's time frame covers the period of my coming out, and the gay activism it portrays is a bolder version of my activism in the Montreal of the mid- to late '70s. It's like watching my own life play out before me.

I leave the theater in an altered state and when I got into the car, I begin to sob uncontrollably. I sit there -- crying, heaving, releasing -- for 20 minutes. And when the tears stop I see that I have come full circle, that I have allowed the Mark I was to touch the Mark David I have become, that as open as I remain to the infinite realm of possibilities in life, I am a gay man. Again.

Even as I share this story with close friends in the days that follow, I'm not sure what to do with this realization. Is it appropriate to come out a third time? Is it necessary to be as openly gay at 54 as I was at 24 and 34? Does it even matter anymore to anyone but me?

This morning, in the midst of an interview with Joan Sotkin on her Prosperity Place radio show, I realize that it does matter. And I realize why.

During the show, Joan shares her spiritual coming out story and reveals how difficult it had been to let her spirituality have a place in her coaching work. And I note how vulnerable I felt putting out my most recent blog post, All That Matters Is That I'm Writing.

As we're talking, I remember how important it is to be vulnerable, how healing it is to share our truth and our stories out into the world. I remember, too, how much of my work is about helping give people permission to do those very things by doing them myself.

That's largely what this blog has been about. That's largely what Harvey Milk's message was about. He insisted that we must be who we are out in the world, and it's a message that's as valid today as it was 30 years ago -- whoever we are, whatever our orientation.

I realize, too, this morning that like Joan we all have many parts to ourselves and that each of these is more potent and transformational when operating as part of a oneness. When we fragment ourselves -- being spiritual only with our spiritual friends, gay only with our gay friends, Jewish only with our Jewish friends, vegetarian only with our vegetarian friends, Democrats only with our Democrat friends -- we cheat the world and ourselves of the strength, power and paradox of the human soul.

Each of us is a unit within which lives unparalleled diversity. Only when we can be at peace with that diversity within ourselves will we be at peace with that same diversity in others. And only then will we see peace in the world.

That peace begins in me. That peace begins in you. And it begins with me honoring all of who I am by integrating all of who I am into all that I do. One of the ways I achieve that integration is by being open and vulnerable with you, by letting you see more of me than I might always prefer you to see in the hopes that you will be inspired to share all of you with others.

Tikkun olam is a phrase in the Jewish tradition that translates from the Hebrew as "healing the world." That healing begins when I open my heart to myself so that I can see who I am. It grows when I open my heart to you and let you see who I am. It grows further when you do the same.

Won't you open your heart and share your light -- all of it -- with a world so desperate for healing? Won't you come out of hiding and be?


What parts of yourself are you hiding from yourself?

What parts of yourself have you hidden from the world?

Where can you integrate more of who you are into what you do?

Where can you be more open to others' diversity?

Where can you be more open to your own?

Won't you share some of who you are here?


Photos: Harvey Milk; Gay Santa from The Austin Chronicle; Me and my daughter; Book cover for The MoonQuest, designed by Angela Farley; Poster for the movie Milk, starring Sean Penn; Hebrew lettering for "tikkun olam"

9 comments:

Jennifer Willis said...

Thank you for this very personal and provocative post! Far too many of us do indeed compartmentalize ourselves -- whether it's sexual orientation, personal philosophy, faith, politics, personal interests, etc. -- and you are right on in your assertion that by shielding these parts of ourselves, we are not only doing ourselves a disservice, but we are denying the world the fullest and richest possible experience of itself.

I am grateful to you for sharing your own story so unflinchingly, and for posing such thoughtful questions to the rest of us to consider.

Pan Historia said...

Thanks for reposting this - it's a powerful piece, and contains wisdom this is compelling to all who have explored what it means to be fully one's self.

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks....to both of you.

Elizabeth Massie said...

Thank you. It's just what I needed to read this morning. Truly.

Randy West said...

Mark David,
Thank you for sharing so much of yourself in this blog.

Joie said...

As a chameleon, I mostly play what makes others comfortable. You display a bravery I do not, but you don't beat others senseless while doing so. Where did you locate that ability? ~ "Joie"

Mark David Gerson said...

Joie: I understand the chameloon stance. I was there for large chunks of my life. In the end, though, I found it profoundly dissatisfying, diminishing and disempowering.

As for "beating others senseless," that comes not from a genuine desire to be ourselves in the world but from a deep-seated insecurity about that self-same integral self. If we can be all of who we are without fear (or, at least, on a path to fearlessness) , then the need to beat others over the head vanishes of its own accord.

BTW, I suspect you're braver than you give yourself credit for, in ways you're not even noticing.

Little Kiwi said...

I LOVE THIS. and i love you, mark!

Mark David Gerson said...

@Raymond (Little Kiwi) - I thought you would....and I'm glad you do!