Living Authentically: Part 1 of…more to come

I’m going to write a series of posts about living authentically but I don’t know how many parts it will be.  So, this is part 1 of 2, or 3, or 4, or where ever it ends up going.  Undetermined.  Authentic living has been a featured quest in my life and as each moment passes I get closer to figuring out what that actually means.  This week there is something quite historic happening.  It’s hard to ignore it.  It’s all over the news.  It’s about DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act).  However, this post is not about DOMA.  It’s about a guy I knew in high school.  I didn’t know him well. In fact, the part I remember of him most is dancing around a stage in red and white stripped pajamas(in fact I think they were onesie pajamas). He was part of group that I was not included in (unless you want to count drama.  I was into stagecraft.  He was into acting.  ACTING!!!).  This is about Fred.  More importantly, it’s about Fred’s journey of self acceptance and living true to his authentic self.  The lengthy text below is Fred’s story.  Like Fred, I was born into the Mormon religion.  I have since departed from that faith as it does not meet my view of the world or what comes after.  I totally relate to Fred because of this.  I had no idea Fred was in such turmoil as he hid it well.  Now, so many years later, this part of his story is an open book.  He reminds me what it means to stand up and live with authenticity, even in the face of so much contradiction.  I raise my glass and toast your courage to do so.  Here’s to you Fred.

I am posting this to my blog with his permission.  Please take a moment or two to read it.  Also a note to those who read this and are confused as to my sexual preference…I am a heterosexual man.  More importantly, this article has NOTHING to do with sexuality.  NOTHING.

PROP H8:
A PERSONAL TAKE ON THE U.S. SUPREME COURT
AND MARRIAGE EQUALITY

By Fred

Just wanted to throw this disclaimer out before I jump in: I’m about to get super personal here…on Facebook. I know, not always the smartest thing to do. And yet, because this is an incredibly historic and important week, I want to share with my friends and family exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday mean to me and why. So if you have a few minutes (this will read more like a blog entry than a status update), and if you’re up for it, please hang with me as I go into big-time serious mode.

We’ve all heard the rule: never discuss sex, religion or politics in public. So, fair warning to those who may take offense; I’m about to discuss all three. I’m going to talk gay stuff, Mormon stuff and political stuff. These are my own conclusions. I speak for no one else. If you are on my friend list, and think you may be offended, don’t read on. I am not looking to debate or dispute your personal views, and I’m not interested in you debating or disputing mine. That is not why I’m doing this. I respect your right to post your beliefs and views on your own page and expect you to do the same for me. We don’t have to agree. I simply want to share some incredibly important and personal stuff with people I care about. So here goes…

Growing up in a small town in Utah, I knew “it” when I was just seven years old, maybe even younger. From my earliest childhood memories I had always felt innately different, yet couldn’t explain exactly why. When I was ten, I remember looking up “homosexual” in the dictionary and quickly coming to the frightening realization that “it” had a name. This was me. It hit me with great force; and I knew it immediately. This was what made me so different from all my friends.

It was completely terrifying because I had already learned in church what would happen to people like me. At age twelve, amid nightmares and non-stop guilt, I went to my Mormon Bishop and told him what I knew to be true: I was gay. Then nearly every single Sunday, right on through my teen years and straight into college, I would continue to confess any and all thoughts and feelings associated with this truth to my bishop.

I was scared to death and sure that I was eternally damned. Everything I heard in church bore this out. There would be no “place” for someone like me. There would be no happy Mormon “forever family” to hope for. No “plan of happiness”, no companionship, no romantic love. Ever. Per Mormon theology, if I wanted to even have a shot at some “lower level” of heaven I had only one alternative: stay in the church and commit myself to a life of strict celibacy and loneliness until I died.

Why would God want this for me? Was this, as many believe, my “cross to bear”, an “illness” or a “special challenge”? Years later I would find that nothing could be further from the truth. The only illness was the self-hate and damning guilt I was feeling; that was the real cross I was bearing. I would one day find that far from being a special challenge, my sexual identity- or being gay- was, in fact, an awesome gift and an intrinsic part of who I am. Yet at that time, as an impressionable and scared kid, I deeply believed everything I had been taught; it was the only reality I knew.

I was carrying around the biggest and darkest of secrets and it was almost unbearable at times. There were thoughts of suicide and even some close calls on that front. Still, I was never bullied at school; and I always did my level best to keep it all inside. I had amazing friends and in spite of my inner turmoil, from the outside looking in, I had a great junior high and high school experience. I worked overtime to keep up appearances; outwardly happy but internally pretty messed up.

Throughout this time and on into my college years, at the behest of my bishop, and in a frantic attempt to “change”; I dated girls continually. I was lying to myself and to them about my true identity and doing everything I could to ignore the powerful inner feelings that constantly reminded me I was a complete fraud. I was desperate to convince myself God could “cure” this “dark and evil thing” that was so obviously turning out to be completely incurable.

Throughout my time as a Mormon missionary and on through my college years and into my professional career, literally all aspects of my life were over-shadowed by this private hell. I was doing anything and everything I could to change my orientation; to “pray away the gay”. My church put me through so-called “reparative therapy”, which included mandated prescription drugs and years of counseling—all in a futile and self-image destroying attempt to change something that was never meant to be changed. These years were incredibly dark and the internal struggle and damage was severe.

I didn’t completely leave the Mormon Church and permanently shut the closet door behind me until I was 35. It took me that long to finally break free. Obviously, it was not a decision I took lightly. Though it has been almost thirteen years since I resigned my church membership, I will always have a great love for my friends and family who are Mormon. I am grateful they continue to be a part of my life. There are many wonderful people in the church; amazing, kind and good individuals. The church has done, and continues to do, much good for many people.

But when it comes to this issue, the damage caused by the Mormon Church, and other religions with similar doctrines, is painfully real. The staggering number of gay Mormon suicides, broken families and severed relationships are clear evidence of this. Those years as a gay Mormon were very nearly my undoing. Thankfully, there were members of the church who quite literally saved me. Many of them never knew it, but they often pulled me through the darkest days and helped me toward a path of peace that eventually led me out of the church and into the best chapter of my life.

It is no exaggeration to state that leaving the church and finally “coming out” was unequivocally the best and single most important decision I have ever made. I have never had a single moment of regret about that choice. Quite to the contrary; the spiritual clarity, peace, joy and calm it has brought into my life cannot be measured. After so many years of private darkness I am humbled every single day for the gift of being alive; to live a life without fear or shame and to acknowledge the opportunity to simply be the man I am. Ever since 2000, when I finally made this decision, there have been so many amazing people in both Los Angeles and San Diego who have been incredible role models and examples to me. In addition to this, I have always been able to rely on lifelong close friends who have stood by me no matter what.

So, of course, this week’s historic U.S. Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8 (marriage equality in California) and DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) are a very big deal for me. Ever since I was that scared and confused seven year old kid, and throughout all those years of figuring out my path, there has always been a constant: my greatest single wish has been to have a family. Growing up, my home life was pretty messed up and I always hoped that one day I would be able to be the kind of father I never had. It was the main reason I had fought so hard to “change” myself. In addition to being convinced I would go to hell for being gay, I had also believed that a fraudulent straight marriage was the only way I would ever be a father and a husband.

And that is why this week matters so much to me. Though the ultimate decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on Prop 8 and DOMA won’t come until June, based on what they hear this week, their ruling could pave the way for me to be able to legally marry the person I love. It would mean I have the exact same rights as any other American. Domestic partnerships and civil unions don’t do this; the word “marriage” really does matter. A civil union or domestic partnership (only legal in eleven states) doesn’t include over 1200 federal rights and benefits that are protected only in a marriage.

A ruling in favor of marriage equality would be the latest in a series of hard fought historic victories for gay rights. It is a legacy that has been decades in the making; from the Mattachine Society of the 50’s to the Stonewall Uprising in the summer of 1969. It continued on through the 70’s with transformational civil rights heroes like Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978 while working to win rights for gay Americans. In the 80’s and 90’s there were courageous and brave activists who fought against the apathy surrounding AIDS, and over the past several years we have witnessed those who stood up to fight the battle against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell… All of it was vital groundwork for these landmark hearings this week in the U.S. Supreme Court. I feel so incredibly humbled and grateful to be alive at this time.

As for my own political activism, I’m relatively new to all of this. I started my involvement with Marriage Equality back in 2007 while working on the “Let California Ring” campaign and was heavily involved in the fight against Prop 8 throughout 2008 and beyond. There is no other subject I have been more emotionally invested in. To me, no single issue has mattered more. To watch gay friends legally marry in California in the summer of 2008 and then to see that right taken away at the ballot box just a few months later was a tremendous outrage. The very idea that people could actually “vote away” my civil rights was sickening. There were similar votes against the basic civil rights of blacks in the 60’s and it took the U.S. Supreme Court to finally overturn those propositions as well. History is repeating itself.

The fact that my former church –and other churches as well—donated millions of dollars to make the Prop 8 victory possible made it all the more painful, offensive and personal. Even though I had left the Mormon Church years before they were still exerting major control over my life. To them, there was clearly no separation of church and state. The Mormon Church, a tax-exempt religious organization, was using chapel pulpits to issue political directives in a concerted effort to take away the civil rights of fellow American citizens.

When Prop 8 was finally overturned and declared discriminatory in the California Supreme court, and as it continued to lose legal challenges time and again, it was incredibly satisfying and vindicating. Why? Because outside of “religious reasons”, and simple bigotry and fear, no one has ever been able to adequately explain exactly how marriage equality would harm America. There is simply no cogent legal case to be made. “My God said so” does not make for a powerful legal argument; neither does “tradition” or “child bearing”. The Prop 8 proponents found this out in court first hand—and lost, twice.

Prop 8 completely unraveled and died in the California courts. The transcripts show it clearly; and to read them is to see illuminating evidence of the prejudice and utter lack of reason hiding behind this discriminatory proposition. This week’s hearings before the U.S. Supreme Court on whether or not to let the California Appeals Court rulings stand could result in marriage equality once again becoming the law of the land in my state in June.

With California added to the map, there would be ten states plus D.C. where same-sex marriage is legal. Ten states out of fifty may not sound significant, but these ten states comprise over 76 million Americans or roughly 25% of the U.S. population! A U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down Prop 8 would be a powerful and exciting step toward the inevitable day when marriage equality is the law nationwide.

The gravity of it all is stunning; the fact that we have come so far so quickly makes me think how different it must be to grow up gay in 2013. Lately, when I consider my own journey, I feel much less frustration or sadness about the past. Those feelings are gradually being replaced with a healing sense of peace and optimism about the future. Undoubtedly, in some small town in Utah today there is a scared Mormon kid or teenager who will hear about the U.S. Supreme Court hearings this week and maybe not feel quite so alone. He will have something to hope for, something to believe in. He can know there is a life waiting for him out there; that he is fine just the way he is, and that things really do get better.

He is heavy but he’s still my brother.

1969.  Bobby Scott and Bob Russell penned and recorded the popular ballad “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” (I was always told “Ain’t”  ain’t a word and ya ain’t supposed to say it. I suppose song lyrics are exempt from this long standing law of grammar and so the grammar police have kept their distance).  For a long time I never understood this phrase.  What does that mean – He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother?  That just doesn’t make any sense.  So, I set about finding out what it meant.  I liked the explanation best found in Wikipedia:

“It was also reported through the media of the time that the song was written by a Vietnam veteran. He and his company were approaching a town after it had been bombed. A little boy was carrying the dead body of a younger boy away from the burning village. One of the soldiers asked the boy if the dead child was heavy. The child responded, ‘He’s not heavy, he’s my brother.'”

Since the above did not have a citation, its veracity is questionable.  I still like it.  The origin of the title is varied and interesting.  Check it out on Wikipedia if you want to know more (and for the record, I did donate to the Wikipedia foundation during the last fundraiser.  You should as well.  Seriously.  Shut up and do it.)

1969 was also the year my brother was born.  If fact, it was on the eave of the Summer of 69′.   Those who know the song that bears that title, know it was recorded by Brian Adams in 1984 (if not, you do now).  1984 was a very significant year for me in many ways and remains so today.  However, my point here is that 1969 was the year my bother was born. Summer of 69  (and some say it was the summer of love but technically it was not – that was 67) was recorded in 1984.  1984 is also a famous and brilliant novel by author George Orwell.  DO YOU SEE HOW THINGS ARE CONNECTED!  AMAZING!

amaaaazing

(Yes I am a fan of Archer.  Thank you FX, writers, actors, and animators for putting together some the most side splitting funny on TV.  If there was ever a time I was granted to sit in on a writing or reading session of Archer, my life would be complete)  Many decades later my brother decided he wanted to change his life.  He wanted to be a better person.  He wanted to gain a perspective on life he hadn’t before. (If my brother is reading this, please know this is the limited perspective I have on it.  I could be wrong and he may very well tell you different).  He enrolled himself in a program to this end.  It is called Great Life.  Many have gone before him and raved how “great” it was.  I’ve never taken it before but I understand it provides an “awakening” of sorts within you through some intense workshops that last all day long.  I had a friend tell me the other day this sounded like a “come to Jesus” meeting reminiscent of a tent revival.  I wouldn’t go that far and besides I don’t think religion had any part of the workshops.  Still, I understand his misgivings.  I didn’t know my brother was doing this until he showed up one morning proclaiming he was completing a phase of this workshop that evening.  He said it changed his life.  He learned things about himself he did not know were there.  He also asked me, “How did you figure all this out on your own?”  I have no answer to that other than “I just did”.  Perhaps I was forced to or secretly wanted an understanding more than I realized.  I also feel I did not do it on my own.  I had a lot of help, just not the help my brother had.  I asked him if he would like support that evening because…well…it sucks to be alone.  I was welcome to join and ended up bringing his son and daughter along as well.

That evening we entered the room when prompted to do so.  The “graduates” were dressed in formal attire and lined the walls.  Their eyes shut tight.  I will admit it was odd to be standing (staring) in front of my brother with his eyes closed.  It was like watching him sleep.  When he opened his eyes he proclaimed something about himself and expressed his love for each of us. The words are personal so I will not publish them.  The words though, were words I never expected my brother to say.  They nearly moved me to tears.  It felt genuine.  He was “awake”.  The rest of the program was filled with a few things the students wanted to share.  A song.  A poem.  Things that I’m sure took a hefty dose of courage for them to pull off in front of complete strangers.  I’ve sung a solo in front of several hundred people before.  It’s nervous business.  I applaud their efforts.

There was a lot of love in the room that night.  Genuine love.  It was beautiful.  My brother had changed and he felt awake.  He looked “awake”.  At its core, is love.  I believe it really is as simple as love.  I had an experience several years ago that changed my life as well.  At the core was love.  It really is as simple as that.  What is complex, however, is maintaining that love the rest of your life.  It takes work and a firm resolve to live in such a way that you have a surplus of love not only for yourself but for others.  I’m thrilled when people “Get it”.  I’m even more thrilled if they maintain it.  I have two brothers and I love them both.  They are so very different from each other as I am from them.

My brother.  He is heavy and I can’t carry him (He can’t carry me either – let’s be realistic folks).  He’s still my brother and that’s OK.  I love him (Disclaimer: I may still fight with my brothers and they with me.  It could happen.  We are, after all, brothers.  That’s what brothers do.)

He's my brother.

He’s my brother.

(I struggled whether this post really belonged here. This blog is about professional and personal pursuits.  This would be filed under a personal pursuit.  It falls under the quest of being a better person, living an authentic life and pursing what that really means.  I haven’t the slightest idea if my other brother reads this, but if he does he should know that I am planning one about him. Of course I’ll get his permission first.  BTW – he looks nothing like the brother you see in the picture to the left.  Should be fun.)