Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tell me, O Muse, of that Well-Traveled Man

Homer told best the quintessential human experience. All we really want is to go Home, and we exhaust our lives clinging to the delusion that we can. We work in factories or corner offices; we make money and we spend it; we travel the world or erect fences on our borders; we build monuments and tear down walls only to build them again somewhere else; we make war and pretend to seek peace; we fall out of love and into it and back out again; we have children and they have children and grandparents tell grandchildren how it used to be; we are born and we suffer and we die; we are ever running forward looking backward. And we never make it. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

It is the central tenet of Christian faith that we are sojourners in a strange land, wandering the mysterious tracks of a fallen world. And we do not hope to find Zion, not here, in Babylon. And yet it is hope that inculcates us against the absurdities of a listless existence. Hope in something beyond life, beyond the incessant and futile monotony of living and achieving nothing that time does not instantly sweep away. Hope for a time when our aching desires may be truly sated. Hope for a place where we can rest and think and let time stand still. We hope to go home. And it is that desperate hope that gives us faith that somewhere in that undiscovered country we may realize that hope. It gives us faith that there is, indeed, a home to go to. This is the Christian's teleology, the only shield against the whips and scorns of life.

But we have not hope of finding it here. Here is only to be endured. We must not hope that we will find that promised land here. Home is beyond the grave, not before it. Mortal life is only an imitation and a lie, to be suffered not lived. Only death requites the hope. But the Siren's Song is so powerfully seductive. And if we pause, if we allow ourselves to hear the faintest melody that reminds us of Home, if we turn to listen, if we turn to look backward, then we are caught and we waste our lives chasing a delusion. We believe it. We believe we can go Home.

I knew I could not go back home, but I didn't believe it, not in my gut. But I believe it now. Coming Home after coming out is the final, incontrovertible evidence that dispels the illusion: The past is barred and gated. My childhood Home is still familiar to me, but I find it very, very cold. Home is haunted by the one who left it, not the one who returns. In my Home lives the Ghost of who I was, not who I am. And the Ghost abhors me. The Ghost is still in the closet having tea with Tumnus. The Ghost still believes in a Narnian theology. The Ghost is still Mormon, devoutly Mormon. He is the suffering saint who swore he would ever be true, who swore he would never abandon the faith, who swore upon the holy sacraments that though the very jaws of hell should gape and all his friends betray him, yet even then he would hold to the oath made in the name of Christ Jesus.

And so he hates me. He boils with fury that I would dare even cross the threshold. I am not welcome in that Home; the very walls scream my infamy, my betrayal, and my failure. I am not a guest in my own Home; I am an enemy. I am an oath-breaker, a murderer, and a traitor. I am banished.

I have no Home. I know that now. I believe it. I do not hope. The delusion no longer deceives me. I have mourned the dream and left it buried in my past. I am numb to the Siren's Song. I don't look backward, but I don't look forward either. I suffer life as it comes and live the absurdity, knowing it is absurd. And that is my bitter victory, the victory of a well-traveled man.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Scarlet Letter and A Tale of Two Lives

At 16, I found The Scarlet Letter tediously melodramatic; at 22, I found it caustically autobiographical; at 25, I won’t even open the book. The private agony of Arthur Dimmesdale bears an aching resemblance to the feverous tension I endured as both a devout Mormon and a closeted Homosexual. Like Dimmesdale, my clerical collar—the omnipresent white shirt and tie—was the excruciating disguise that hid the flagellant’s searing emblem of sin and self-mortification. But my Scarlet Letter was a G.

To my congregation, I bore a profession of faith that became piercing and profound even as my internal conversations grew desperate and hopeless. As I testified of Christ, I craved the nails of the cross in my own flesh. As I demonized the horrors of sin, I cast my own perversity into hell. As I railed against the enemies of the kingdom, I knew I was a traitor in Zion’s Camp. I gave no theological exposition that was not a personal accusation. I held myself before the judgment and pronounced an abomination.

The fervency with which I preached this gospel of suffering and expiation was proof to my congregation of my own humility and godliness. But they mistook humility for hatred and didn’t realize that my God didn’t love me. Mine was a devotion of fear, a righteousness of guilt, and a holiness of self-loathing. They didn’t understand. I couldn’t make them understand. I practically begged them to see through the hypocrisy and lies to the real person beneath, the vile creature that was really me. The temptation to tear off that while shirt and confess my own unworthiness was nearly insuperable. But the public manifestations of that private agony only made them love me more, and the more they loved me, the more I hated myself.

There was a certain frenetic zeal I gained the more desperate the struggle grew, and the closer I came to inward self-annihilation, the more powerfully eloquent were my words. And so, when the gossamer thread that connected my two identities finally snapped, my last gasp was both a poignant affirmation of my faith and a quiet declaration that I had been offered the bitter cup and shrunk. With Arthur Dimmesdale, I mounted a scaffold, tore open my shirt, and let the world see the truth, the shocking, bloody emblem emblazoned there upon my breast, in my soul. And there a devout, valiant, witnessing, suffering, powerful Mormon man died. Perhaps he was crucified with Christ; I only know that he is no more.

And I passed from the devotion of a godly man to the dissolution of a worldly. In my second life, I became Sydney Carton. A Tale of Two Cities is another book that tells my story, but it’s a different story. It’s a post-story. When I was Mormon, I attacked the Gay lifestyle as a life without morals, a life characterized by debauchery and waste, a life without purpose or happiness. And it became a self-fulfilling prophesy, for the only kind of homosexual I knew how to be, was the kind I had constructed. My exit from the Closet was abrupt and furious, and I reacted to the oppression of the “straight” Mormon ethic, by creating a post-Mormon ethic, an anti-ethic.

I wanted to drown myself in excess. I wanted to deliberately sin myself into hell, to run as fast and as far away from the Mormon ethic as I could. And in that first week I tried to do everything I had ever been told I couldn’t do. Alcohol to vomiting; drugs to delirium; sex as often as I could get it. And tea. I drank tea as the pinnacle of my rebellion. I drank tea and cried. I cried because there was no victory. I cried because I was no happier outside the Closet than I had been inside it. I cried because no matter how fast, how far I ran, I could not escape that Mormon ethic. For I had saturated myself in it. And it continued to define my cosmology, to declare that if I could not find happiness within the kingdom, I would surely never find it beyond the royal gates. And though I still wore the shackles and fetters of that ethic, I was now also robbed of its salvific teleology. It was a damnation I had written with my own hand.

And so I say I became Sydney Carton, a man whose life might have amounted to something; a man with talent but without aspiration; a man with the power to succeed but not the will; a man whose love had been buried by cynicism and apathy. A dissolute man, who drowned himself in alcohol, not because he liked it, but because it was something to do. An indifferent man, who practiced law but cared nothing for justice. A man without a teleology. An unhappy man. A waste. And yet…

The revocation of my personal teleology was a profound act of goodness. For the first time in my life, I am living now, not in that future day when that teleology reaches its fruition. And I am loving now. I know nothing of, I care nothing for my own salvation, and so I give it to others. I live now, I love now, and I care not about the future. The moment has become my world, and my fellow man has become my purpose and my salvation. I have no soul to save, so I try to save the souls of others. I have no life to live, no self to love, so I give it selflessly to others. Only now that I have renounced that Christ do I become Him.

Sydney Carton was redeemed. Like Arthur Dimmesdale he died upon the scaffold, but he died, not to expiate his own sins, but to save another. And his last words were not a confession of sin, but the words of a savior: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” And there, on that scaffold, I may hope, a devout, valiant, witnessing, suffering, powerful Gay man shall die. Perhaps he will be crucified with Christ; I only know that he will be evermore.

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Of Fauns and a Post-Narnian Theology

I am intimate with the Closet. I do not say I know the closet intimately, but that I am, in fact, intimate with it. In the closet my mind is naked and my body is unrestrained. The Closet has ever been my truest, most loyal friend and somewhere along the way we became lovers. Our sex was always quiet, furtive, and urgent. Urgent because we feared we would get caught; furtive because we were filled with guilt; quiet because we hated ourselves and wanted to slip into mute darkness and disappear. We fucked quietly and wept.

The Closet is a fantasy. That was the revelation that nearly killed me. Death beckoned to me dressed as a glass of water on a table strewn with Oxycontin, when I discovered my best friend was a delusion. Oh, part of me always knew that the love affair couldn’t last forever, but I was very, very good at deluding myself, at buying into the fantasy simply to avoid the unthinkable alternative. And when the unthinkable came and I was forced to renounce half of my life in order to embrace the other, the Closet dissolved into a dream. Either alternative seemed a suicide, and real suicide seemed a far more seductive proposition.

I cannot say at what point, in my twenty-five years of existence, I first wandered into that fantasy, but I found it marvelously addictive and nearly impossible to quit. I had a joke with my friends (the very few to whom I was out) that I was so far in the Closet that I was having tea with Tumnus. It was brilliantly funny, and so accurate I wanted to cry. Of course, there was one obvious flaw to my marvelous metaphor—as a Mormon I couldn’t drink tea.

And that was the crux, the reason an endless sleep seemed preferable to choosing between my two, mutually hostile identities—Gay and Mormon. I constructed a theology in Narnia, over my tea with the faun. It was a theology of self-denial and suffering, to crucify my flesh that I might glorify my spirit. And I was devout, a fierce defender of the faith, and eloquent pontificator of this absolutist doctrine. But it was a lie. Narnia, for all of its magical beauty, isn’t real.

Coming out was an ultimate renunciation of the doctrine I had so carefully nurtured. And I came out into a theological vacuum—into an empty abyss void of ethic and teleology. It may as well have been void of air. I needed an ethic, a teleology, a religion if I was to make sense of my life. Mormonism had given them to me in abundance, but also required the impossible of me—heterosexuality. But when I renounced the religion that had been the core of my existence for better than two decades, I found myself bleeding out from a gaping wound in my soul, and I could find nothing to staunch the blood.

The acceptance of either identity, Gay or Mormon, constituted a life-threatening amputation. If I chose the former, I lost the belief structure that gave meaning and purpose to my life, that made sense of suffering and chaos. If I chose the latter, and followed my doctrine to its logical conclusion, I died upon the cross. Coming out, therefore, has been an exercise in survival. To live, to avoid that all too alluring possibility of suicide, has necessitated the construction of a new theology, a post-theology, a theology that doesn’t depend upon fantasies of fauns in a world that doesn’t exist. It is a theology that fuses who I am with what I must believe. A theology that is real, that is living, that I can live with.