Saturday, January 03, 2009

Coming Out (Again) for Christmas

Friday, January 2 ~ Albuquerque, New Mexico

It's December 14 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 nine-year-old 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: #1 Gay Santa from The Austin Chronicle; #2 me and my daughter, Guinevere; #3 Book cover for The MoonQuest, designed by Angela Farley; #3 Poster for the movie Milk, starring Sean Penn; #4 Hebrew lettering for "tikkun olam"

37 comments:

Joan said...

My friend, perhaps this is your best writing for it truly comes from your heart - the heart of a way-shower. Thank you for having the courage to be who you are for all the world to see.

Greg Halpen said...

Very moving, Mark. may I call you mark?there was one sentence that stood out above the rest and that was, "peace begins in me" I believe that.I also realized that even though there is a lot of value in not attaching to labels, I wonder myself what happens when we repeator attach to our "story." Thank you for sharing your experiences with the world!oh-BTW- I was hiding from the world and until recently, I made a choice to come out of hiding and BE with the world, BE with ME.

Greg
www.thegayguyslovecoach.com

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks, Joan and Greg. Appreciate the comments and support.

Despite everything, Greg, I (think?) I still prefer "Mark David!"

Julie Isaac said...

A few nights ago, the Kennedy Center Honors were on TV, and in their tribute to Barbra Streisand they quoted her, saying, “What comes from the heart, goes to the heart.”

Mark David, your post not only comes from the heart and goes to the heart, it opens the heart. And the mind. And the spirit.

Thank you for walking in the light of self-honesty so powerfully, as both a person and an author, that it rattles the parts of my heart that still hide, holding hesitancy and fear.

You are an inspiration.

All my love, Julie
www.WritingSpirit.com

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I believe that we are all on a journey and we can either be open to what we can learn on the way or close the door to possibilities.

I became ill with rheumatoid arthritis in my early 20's, and at first could not see my way through the 'cloud' so to speak, as my life had to change in many ways. I was afraid.

With not being able to keep 'up' with the worlds pace I saw many doors close, but gradually over the years I have become more content with myself. I have been blessed with seeing life in a new light,to enjoy the everyday things that a lot of people miss.

I now have my own small business doing the very thing I love, hoping that my products will encourage others and have written my first Children's book that I have decided to publish myself. Things I would never have believed could have happened.Maybe I wouldn't be doing this now if my life hadn't been altered so much.
That journey to be at peace with yourself is amazing as we go through many valleys and mountain top experiences to find wholeness.

Thank you for thoughtful writing.
I wish you all the best.

motherwort said...

I keep coming back to the comment portion, should I? Shouldn't I? I have been wrestling the past couple years with a big hurt, the kind that makes you question yourself, others, relationships, everything. Just this morning I was writing to someone whom I had closed myself off from. It doesn't matter why, really. I can find a dozen ways to justify it and, being a Libra, a dozen ways to argue those justifications. The bottom line seems to be there is the person we want and need to be, a unity, a complete and total being and there are the faces we show some but not others, revealing only so much.
As usual, your story is an inspiration, Mark David, reminding me of the gift of remaining open. Thank you as always for the beauty of your writing and the beauty of your life.

Anonymous said...

Mark David,

I think I like your "don't label me" philosophy better. In this world we all don't fit into neat catagories. I myself am a woman who loves men, and is attracted to men, but cannot stand anything about "femininity"--wearing dresses, make-up, giggling, trying to be attractive. What I feel inside is not vulnerability but strength, I want to wear hiking boots not high heels. I think when we start labeling ourselves we bring too much baggage with the label and it confines us to a stereotype instead of freeing us to discover and be who we truly are. You are still the same person you were, Mark David, an author, a father, a divorcee, who sometimes during his life has been attracted to men and sometimes women. You just can't say what the future will hold for you, don't try to mold it shape it or catagorize it. When start talking about the kind of person we are it limits the kind of person we may become!

Kimberlee Ferrell said...

Beautiful post Mark!

I do like your philosophy of a "sexual being open to all possibilities." I think that perspective could change the world, if more people adopted and embraced it.

Congrats on being true to yourself, and unafraid to declare it to the world. I could only imagine it being more scary to come out at 54 than 24. Yet, I'm sure it is liberating to be so free with who you are.

Very moving post Mark David!

Kimberlee

Mark David Gerson said...

Julie & Sue: I so value your words and your friendship. Thanks for being part of my life.

Anonymous #1: Congratulations on your vision and your courage...and your book! Abundant blessings in all your endeavors.

Anonymous #2: Thanks for your comment. In one respect, I agree with your unlabeled preference. At the deepest levels, none of us fits into slots or categories. At the same time, we are made up of myriad aspects, each of which is true, while not fully defining us. By once again calling myself gay (a call of the heart, not of the mind/ego), I am no more categorizing myself than by calling myself an author or parent. All are parts of me. None limit me unless I allow that limitation to take hold. And all must be acknowledged and integrated into the "whole" of me before I can be whole.

Kimberlee: Thanks. The world sure would be different if we all accepted ourselves as infinite beings open to all possibilities -- in all aspects of our lives.

L.J. Sellers said...

Thanks again for having the courage and generosity to share your insights.

Mark David Gerson said...

I can't seem to help myself (even when I'd prefer to hold back!).... Seriously, it's an honor and privilege to be able to share who I am with people like you.

Blessings,
Mark David

faryl said...

What a beautiful post! I agree about connecting w/people's spirits, regardless of gender.

There are so many levels of this post that I want to comment about here - yet I also feel like it's one that I'd like to let marinate a bit, something to absorb.

Being vulnerable is so hard, yet I think we all miss out on some many opportunities because we're afraid to put ourselves out there. It's something I'm working on in my own life (part of the reason I started my blog).

Thank you for putting yourself out there - it's beautiful.

I have a feeling you've inspired a blog post here - if/when I do, I'll be sure to link back!

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks, Faryl, for your comments. And be sure to let me know when that blog post of yours hatches!

Keli said...

What a wonderful gift you are! And, of course, have :)

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks, Keli, on both counts!

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks, Keli, on both counts!

ReluctantAquarian said...

This is an awesome post. Thanks for sharing your journey so openly. I believe we travel through life in spirals. We come full circle but we never return to the "same place." We can't because we aren't the same. We are always moving outward toward unity with others and inward towards a deeper understanding of our own path. Thank you for sharing your journey through the fractal of your life.

Bondiewrites said...

Great post. You have an incredible way with words. Your words should be an inspiration to others.

Mark David Gerson said...

ReluctantAquarian:

I agree absolutely. I have a short chapter in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write called "To Everything There Is a Season" that talks about the same notion of never returning to the "same place" but always coming "back" wiser and more knowing.

"If this were a circle, you would be back to the same place you began, as frustrated and uncertain as you were the first time, worried about your lack of ideas, for no ideas are immediately apparent.

"But this is a spiral. When you ... complete your writing project, you have the benefit of your experience to guide you into the next one. You return to the darkness stronger and more confident. ...

"A spiral returns us not to our starting point, but to a place above it -- to a new beginning at a heightened level of awareness and deeper level of trust
and commitment."


BTW, you've got a pretty awesome blog yourself!


Pamela (BondieWrites):

Thanks. I write for my own healing, of course, but I do try to frame my experiences in a way that they can -- at least potentially -- help and inspire others.

Eric Arvin said...

Elegant and touching :-)

Mike Doyle said...

Much like me, you think too much ;-)

How lucky to be able to fall in love without labels. Maybe you ought to be asking yourself, 'Am I still able to love without boundaries,' instead of, 'Am I gay again?'.

(Of course, to me it just sounds like you're bi--which I think is far more natural and spiritually centered than hewing to a sexual-orientation stereotype).

I also congratulate your ability to recognize the spiritual wheel having turned!

As for those unsubscribes? Meh. Sometimes people are ready to face tales of love and spirit and absence of bigotry. Sometimes not.
I don't wonder which camp the unsubscribes might fall into.

Mark David Gerson said...

I'm really glad you brought up the bisexuality issue, Mike.

For me, being bisexual would suggest a fairly even attraction to and interest in men and women. That has never been true for me.

My primary attraction has always been male-directed. You might say I've been attracted to men...and (so far) one woman.

I believe we all carry the capacity to love without boundaries. I'm grateful to have had that experience. And I'm open to it happening again.

I suppose I'm back where I was in my late 30s. During that time of my spiritual awakening, pretty much everything in my life came up for reevaluation, including sexual orientation. My conclusion then was that I would be open to all possibilities, while recognizing that my head was more likely to be turned by a guy than by a woman.

Ultimately, it's what's in our hearts (not our heads or our pants) that determines who and how we love.

And while I still do my best to live an unlabeled life, there's something in my heart and my soul that responded so powerfully to the gay imperative, if you will, that I couldn't ignore it -- any more than I could ignore my feelings toward the woman I married.

Nothing in life stands still. Everything evolves. This self-identification is where I need to be today. Tomorrow will take care of itself, bringing all the surprises, miracles and unexpected turns it always does.

Thanks again for the thoughtful remarks.

Joselito Laudencia said...

Mark, how wonderful to read your story! Thank you for sharing!

It seems that being who we are is always changing. There's nothing static in this universe, and each one of us is always growing and expanding in different ways. How could we not -- we're infinite beings! And so the journey is always about who we are becoming. The perpetual question of "Who am I?" always produces a wonderful answer that changes moment to moment.

The one thing I love about your story is your openness. How can I be more open to who I am that is unfolding, to the gifts that others are, to the love for another that wants to express itself?

Your writing is brilliant. Thank you for sharing your gift.

Abundant Blessings,

Thomas said...

Really wonderful reading of your journey and experiences! Mu partner Brad was affected by the film, MILK in a similar fashion, although his tears and sobbing happened in the theater. He couldn't speak for about 30 minutes afterwards, and all I could do was hold his hand as we drove home.

Labels are such peculiar things. On the one hard, we use them so much- we are oriented in most every way by how we have labeled or defined ourselves and the world around us. And yet, on the other hand, part of one's journey seems to be very much about letting go of labels and re-examining things. to find what is underneath instead of the label itself.

Thomas Waters
thomascwaters.com

Yvonne Perry said...

That is an absolutely beautiful story! Thank you for being who you are even when life takes you on a different path. Your courage is inspiring.

Debra Oakland said...

It is wonderful that you are sharing your story. There are many who need to hear such a message. It takes courage to encourage others to live from the heart.

Both of my brothers were gay. One found it effortless for the most part. My other brother found it very difficult, having been married to a wonderful woman he loved very much. In the end he was more attracted to men. I wish he could have embraced his choices without self-judgment, but he did not.

When we stay out of judging ourselves or others, quit labeling anything, and embrace love - life becomes magical. We are all spirit, using physical vehicles to maneuver through this life. To judge who we love because they are male or female is preposterous. Divine, true love does not judge and neither should we.

Debra Oakland
http://livingincourageonline.com/

Mark David Gerson said...

Joselito: Our openness is, truly, our greatest potential gift and the greatest agent of transformation. Thank you, Joselito, for sharing your gift as well.

Thomas: It's possible that had I been alone at the movie, my sobbing might not have waited until I got to the car! As for labels, it's hard in this culture to avoid them. What we can avoid, I think, is our attachment to them. Thanks for the note.

Yvonne: Thanks, Yvonne. I'm grateful for our connection.

Debra: As the name of your site suggests, you are a testament to a life of courage. Thanks for letting us be a part of it and thanks for your support as I do my best to live mine.

Alyce Barry said...

I really enjoyed reading this post for its authenticity and vulnerability, which are so rare in the blogosphere. A couple of thoughts. I've come to the conclusion that most people are actually bisexual but our society is uncomfortable with that so most of are conditioned to choose. If you watch a little boy, he would gladly throw his arms around the neck of anyone he met, children love everybody, and inside us as adults a little kid like that still lives. And I think sexuality is one of many ways we can express our love for people, so it's natural to feel attracted to people of both sexes. So I think I would invite you to remain open if you can to the possibilities of being with a man or with a woman.

That said, I have worked with people whose identities were so battered as children that fighting for identity, fighting to find out who they are, becomes one of their primary lifetime goals. If I can generalize, people fighting for identity are usually big-hearted people, for whom emotion, love, relationship, and beauty are hugely important. Many are creative people, artists, writers, singers, dancers, etc. If you are one of these people, it could be that it's too unsettling to let your sexual identity be undecided,
too uncomfortable to leave it an open question. And if that's the case, then deciding you're a gay man may be the best decision for you.

Your friend Stephanie said...

Holy smokes you really elicited a lot of responses! So I'll add my 2 cents. It is a crazy world we live in that we have to "come out" or "stay in" or whatever it is folks do when they aren't out. Doesn't this make you wonder about what is so darned F$&#!* up about society that we can't just be what we are and that "coming out" is even an issue? I'm disappointed that we seem to have made so much progress on equal treatment based on race/religion but it is still ok to discriminate based on sexual orientation. I think in an open minded society "coming out" would be mostly met with a yawn. You have courage to be so open in such a closed-minded society.

Mark David Gerson said...

Alyce: I would go one step further and say that everyone is at least functionally bisexual, if we're open and honest enough about our feelings and attractions. That doesn't mean we don't have preferences. It does mean that, as happened with me, other, more important values will sometimes trump those preferences.

As I wrote in the post, I remain fully open to life's infinite possibilities. How could I not, given my experiences with my marriage?

But as I wrote in my reply to Mike Doyle (above),

"Ultimately, it's what's in our hearts (not our heads or our pants) that determines who and how we love. And while I still do my best to live an unlabeled life, there's something in my heart and my soul that responded so powerfully to the gay imperative, if you will, that I couldn't ignore it -- any more than I could ignore my feelings toward the woman I married. Nothing in life stands still. Everything evolves. This self-identification is where I need to be today. Tomorrow will take care of itself, bringing all the surprises, miracles and unexpected turns it always does."

Thanks, Alyce, for your thoughtful and important comments.

Mark David Gerson said...

Stephanie: Thanks. You're absolutely right -- it is a crazy world that forces us to hide or declare ourselves. Yet, as I noted in the piece, the sooner we declare ourselves as who we are (whatever that is for each of us), the sooner it will no longer be necessary!

P.S. I wish I knew which of my Stephanie friends (I have several!) you are!!

Jeanne said...

Hi Mark David,
I commented on the repost at the Gay Writers and Readers Blog, but also wanted to post here.
I truly admire your honesty and the strength I see displayed in your post.
What I see is a real mentsh!

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks, Jeanne, for reading the repost and for returning here to comment. Much appreciated.

Lou Contro said...

Big warm brotherly hug to you, Mark ! :-) *Bravo* Love, Lou - your friend from Facebook & MySpace ~ Soul ~

Mark David Gerson said...

Lou: No warm brotherly hug is ever refused...and all warm brotherly hugs are equally warmly reciprocated. Thanks!

Lisa said...

Mark very heart felt your openess of who you and why you do what you do is so appreciated. The spiritual journey continues for all of us who are willing to embrace all aspects of ourselves and you have done this and continue to do so on a daily basis.
Authenticiy shines through in this post. Thanks for sharing
Smiles
Lisa

Wiley said...

Mark David, I love the double name as well! Thank you so much for this soul-bearing revelation. I laughed and cried. And, I agree with Stephanie.

I was married to a woman for 7 years in the early 70's. It was not a rich, spiritual experience. However, I must say that I love women and I think the female body is exquisite. And though there a couple of women in my life who think they would like to be partnered with me, it would not work even if we had a great soul connection. All the things that straight women love about men I would miss and would long for. I feel at home in company of a man with whom there is chemistry. I actually have deep, spirit-connected relationships with many of the women in my life which brings a great richness.

The gift of your beautiful daughter will always make that part of your life rich and full of meaning.

And, may I say, that I for one am glad you are where you are ;-}. Finding a gay man who is so full of light, love and beauty inside and out seems to be rare and quite challenging to manifest in ones life! (Visiting Maine any time in the near future?)

All the best in the days ahead. Wiley