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Friday, September 16, 2011

Group Therapy and Good Friends

Last Friday I began meeting in a therapy group with eight other people. My therapist and I thought it would be a good place for me to work on owning my orientation in more public places. By doing so, I hope to defuse much of the shame that I have attached to my sexuality.

I walked in nervously, said a brief "hi" to the one girl that was already there, then sat down and busied myself with my phone. My nerves were mounting until I saw a familiar guy from the gay support club walk in. I could do this. I wasn't the only gay.

The room filled up and the two leaders came in. We began by going around the room introducing ourselves and talking a bit about why we were there. As the turn to speak came around the circle my heart began to beat into my ears. I wasn't sure if I was ready to come out. But I wanted to be able to. And what about the other guy? What if he didn't come out? If he did, I could. But what if he didn't?

As my turn crept closer I finally decided that if I didn't do it right then I would spend every session wondering if that would be the session I came out. I couldn't do that. I needed this group to help me, and it would only help if I had the courage to put myself out there.

The other guy got to speak first. He talked generally, not going into much detail, not coming out. But I needed to anyway.

"Hi. I'm Ty. A couple of years ago I began dealing with parts of my life that I had really ignored up until then, and that caused a lot of stress in my life. Basically, I'm not attracted to women. I'm more drawn to men. So I'm trying to figure out what that means for my life and where I'm going."

At that, the guy from the gay club said "Yeah, I think we met at the group on campus. I didn't want to say anything because I wasn't sure if you wanted to say that much to the group. I'm gay too," he said to the group. I smiled and breathed a sigh of relief.

Then to my surprise the guy on my left spoke up. "I'm gay too, actually." So there were three of us, and we'd sat all in a row.

A little later in the discussion another guy finally said "It may not be a surprise based on how I dress, but I'm gay too."

He brought the total up to four in the group. Half of the group was gay. We kind of chuckled at that.

Later in the session one of the group leaders mentioned that often this type of thing doesn't come out so early in group therapy. He asked me what prompted me to come out right at first.

"I've been realizing this week how much shame I still carry with this part of my life. I need to talk about it, to own it in front of others, so that I can defuse the shame and be healthier." He complimented me, and I felt a mini triumph inside. Even now, I week later, I am still only beginning to realize what a big step that was for me.

Today in our second group session we talked a bit about the large ratio in the group. We wanted to make sure that we don't take over the group time, dividing us and making it "gay time" every Friday. The rest of the group was very supportive and said they didn't feel we had, and that they would let us know if we did. One of the other gay guys who had been in previous therapy groups mentioned that at most he had ever had one other gay guy in a group, and suddenly we had four. I feel like it will give us all a chance to come to greater peace with this issue.

I am grateful this week for good friends. I have needed to talk with and rely on friends many times in the last week, and I am grateful for their love and support. There is a freedom and a strength that comes in baring your soul in front of others and feeling their love and approval. It strengthens me, builds me up, and has led me to more fulfillment.

In spite of all the unknowns in my future, it is going to be such a good life.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shame and Worthiness

Today I am absolutely exhausted. I don't think I've been in bed before 1:30am once in the last week and a half. My body is definitely trying to send me a message. I'll be lucky if I can stay awake through USGA today.

Anyway, I wanted to write a bit really quickly (no worries; it won't be as long or convoluted as yesterday's post) about some thoughts I had today.

As I have continued reading the "Gay Mormons?" book I have had many thoughts go through my head, including the concept of coming out. In addition to this book, my therapist has been talking about having me go to a group therapy session in addition to our individual sessions. That means that I would be in front of a group of fellow BYU students (not straight this time) claiming my attractions and orientation and divulging the life I've had to hide for so long. That's mildly frightening. But that doesn't mean it's necessarily a bad thing. The APA laws of confidentiality apply to that setting, so I wouldn't risk exposure at all. But still...

Anyway, as I thought about coming out, in small ways or in general, I felt the familiar tinge of fear that usually accompanies it.

These emotions were going about my head pretty chaotically until I read a bit in Brene Brown's "Gifts of Imperfection" later this afternoon. I randomly jumped to the middle of the book to a place where she is describing the concept of shame. She defines that as the "intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." It is the fear of rejection, of being hated or despised for who we are inside, and segregates us from those around us. As we feel that fear, the threat of shame, we distance ourselves from others, and effectively isolate ourselves emotionally. Dr. Brown makes the point that every addiction, regardless of what it is, has some root in shame.

As I read through these ideas, I realized that much of the reason I still feel isolated and uncomfortable at church, the reason I fear to be completely honest with my BYU peers, and the reason I still battle over this issue in my head is because I still have quite a bit of shame about this part of my life. Of course, my parents' reactions to all this hasn't helped. But I can't blame all my problems on them. Just because they played the shame game when they forced me out of the closet doesn't mean that everyone will.

Dr. Brown makes a point earlier in the book that the only difference between those people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and those who do not is this: those with a strong sense of love and belonging believe that they're worthy of it.

Shame destroys that belief of worthiness. Really, that term is not meant in the same way we abuse it in Mormon culture. It means believing that we as the individuals we are are worth love and belonging.

Having realized this, I hope to allow myself to love myself a little more, and get rid of the shame. Because as Ru Paul says, "if you can't love yourself how the hell  are you going to love somebody else? Can I get an amen in here?!"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ramblings, Truth, and truth

In an attempt to keep a regular blog schedule, here I am yet again, sitting down to write. The only problem is that I'm not quite sure what I want to talk about. I've had a number of different topics go through my mind in the last week, but at this point I feel tired enough that none of them seem worth pursuing. So, in classic Ty fashion, I will ramble until something coherent comes out. ;)

I've been reading the ebook "Gay Mormons?" which was edited by Brent Kirby. It's been an interesting read, and it has really opened up my mind to how diversely other gay men and women, LDS and not, have experienced and come to terms with their sexuality. Even though I had to break my stereotypical understandings to allow myself to accept my orientation, I have still gone about looking for commonalities in everyone's coming out process, as if I can validate my own experiences by matching them with others. That way my feelings will be real and legitimate, not just a bout of confusion over which sex I like more.

But I've been realizing that even among those who are "gay" there are so many people with different experiences, different ranges of emotions and attractions, and so perhaps even the label "gay" is a bit of a generalization. It leads me to wonder what kind of world it would be if instead of trying to fit everyone into a little box with a label on it, saying "This is Ty. He's gay." we were able to simply say to ourselves "This is Ty. He loves Steve."

Reading through these stories has led me to review my own past and really take a good look at it. It has surprised me how obvious my attraction to guys was, at least from this perspective. I can't believe I didn't see it earlier. There was one guy in junior high that I really liked, and now I can see that it was a total crush. Today I still share the same opinion of the guy: totally cute and a very sweet guy. But now I can see it for what it is.

People have written in this book that when they came out, many people knew and were simply waiting for them to do so. It makes me wonder how many people know about me. Do the cousins I grew up with have any idea? Or were they all just as blinded as my parents to see what they wanted to see?

Another thing that has really been sinking in these past few weeks is the understanding of what other guys truly feel for girls. Growing up, I really never questioned if I liked girls or not, because I had no idea how other guys felt. Sure, I liked them, but I never really got why we kept having to have talks in priesthood lessons about respecting women. What I assumed was my more natural self-control and spirituality was in fact simply a lack of attraction. It wasn't hard for me to respect women, because I had no desires pushing me to do otherwise. It has been an entirely new experience trying to learn to respect men the way my friends were taught to respect women.

But it has really been dawning on me how strongly other guys must feel for girls. Really, they must feel the same powerful urges that I feel for men, but toward girls. I examine them, sometimes, looking to see what it is what guys must really be drawn to. Certainly I can respect and appreciate their beauty, but I just don't feel the same draw that I feel toward the many gorgeous guys on campus.

Another thing that has been on my mind lately as I have read these experiences of others is the legitimacy, or supposed legitimacy, that nearly everyone seems to feel they have to their own views and claims. Let me elaborate. In one chapter of this book, a man tells about his journey through different religions, eventually arriving at the LDS church, before coming to terms with his attractions. He writes an official coming out letter to his mother, which is returned by an emotionless declaration against his life situation, and ultimately, against him if he doesn't change like she wants him to.

At one point, though, she talks about how he "walked away from God" when he left their baptist faith and eventually joined the LDS church. From a mormon view, we find this to be pure lack of understanding. She is in a degree of ignorance, we would say. But the terms she uses to describe it are exactly those that someone in the LDS faith would use to describe their own child leaving the path planned for him or her.

Ultimately, they both believe they are on the side of Truth, with a capital T. They have God's knowledge, and their child walked away from it. In the world of religion, politics, philosophy, science, psychology, and many other realms this battles of "Truths" can be found. The ironic part is that to each and every one of those people, their "Truth" is legitimate, and feels that way. So how can true Truth be found?

This is where my psychology class comes into play again. I wrote on the ideas from this class a bit last week, and it continues to be a real brain-tingling course. My professor introduced the idea of dualism to the class this week, explaining that it is the primary view of the world right now. Dualism as it pertains to this context is the idea that there are two distinct sides of the world that never merge: a subjective view, which is the personal opinionated (and thus "imperfect") view we each have of the world, and an objective view, which is truth as it really is. In our modern society, we tend to cling to objective truth, which we often think we have, or we swing the other way, believing that because we each view the world through our own personal lenses we can never find objective truth, and thus the only truth we have is the truth we see, and thus truth is completely relative.

My professor then described another view, stressing that both these are purely views, and neither is necessarily the way things actually are. This other view is an experiential view, which includes objectivity and subjectivity, but stresses that they can never be separated. They believe in a subjective objectivity. So perhaps there is an ultimate truth, but it cannot be separated from our subjective views on the world. Thus our subjectivity is based on objectivity. They are one. Never can we have pure objective truth. It won't happen. But ultimately, for those favoring experientialism, it doesn't matter. What matters is the union between the subjective and objective worlds.

I thought about this in reference to religion, faith, God, and sexuality. Ironically, my professor explained all this in the context of view of "time" (linear time is actually only a point of view of time, not reality), but the ideas translate across topics seamlessly.

Ultimately, there can be an ultimate truth. God's truth, if you will (but considering the similarities LDS doctrine places between man and God, even God's objectivity could be called into question. But once again, that's not necessarily a bad thing.). God gives this truth to man, but immediately upon reception by an individual, a people, or a prophet for the church, that truth is placed in a subjectively objective light. We see only a subjective (think personal interpretation or "lens") view of the objective truth. Complete and objectively true obedience to that truth then becomes impossible.

This led me to think that the only obedience God can expect is obedience to the truths we subjectively see. But that leads pretty quickly into a "truth is relative" realm that is purely dualism. So I tried to back out of that. When I approached my professor to discuss this with him, he really stressed that ultimately I kept falling into the trap of separating objectivity and subjectivity. But according to the experiential view, they are one.

As we discussed the implications for religious truth, he led my terminology toward the term interpretation, which is all we have to go off of here in this world. These interpretations can differ widely from person to person. But he cited Einstein and his theory of relativity, in which two people with two literal points of view (one in motion and one not) view the same event differently, but are actually both correct. Translating that across to our lives, two points of view can then actually be correct. But once again, we are leading ourselves toward relative truth.

His point was that, in the case of Einstein's theory, two people have differing points of view of an actual event that happens, but both views are actually legitimate. Both interpretations are actually legitimate. It's not that they have two subjective views of an objective occurance that can never actually be known. They have two different interpretations of an event, both of which are accurate descriptions of what happened. They are both truth, just different interpretations of it. But ultimately, for an experientialist, it's the meaning behind it that really matters.

I hope some of this is making sense. If not, I truly apologize. But this led me to a few conclusions. 1) No one can claim "God's Truth," as we defined it earlier, because they are not God, and have only personal interpretations.

2) Talking with my professor, we came to the conclusion that the best thing we can do is to gather as many different interpretations from different people as we can, sifting through them and trying to garnish what knowledge we can, and then making our decisions based on what we can find. Ultimately, we must search for truth where ever it may be found, examining many different interpretations, even those who disagree with us, to see what we can find.

3) This includes, as my professor noted and I readily agreed, that we maintain a healthy skepticism about our own churches and our own faiths. To get into a position of "I have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" is surely a set up for our own fall and hinders us from investigating all the interpretations that are out there in the world, actually keeping us from gaining the knowledge we need to make educated choices.

And 4) ultimately, none of us will ever grasp pure, objective truth. And even if we could, we would fail in living it. Thus enters the vital role of a Savior, one who knows us, our thoughts, our interpretations, and the choices that came from them. Judgment, then, will be done by One who knows us intimately, and can truly know where our hearts lie.

Perhaps I am mistaken, but this leads me to believe that it is severely wrong to say that I in my situation must abandon any truth (note the little t) that I have found through my examination of other's interpretations, and cling once again to the "Ultimate Truth" that someone claims they have. To stop questioning is to stop gaining truth, to stop learning, and to cease nearing the throne of God.

In my search I have found that the things I was taught about homosexuality were not reality, at least, they were not consistent with others' interpretations of the world, especially my own. The ideas set forth by the cultural mormonism on God, faith, and human sexuality appear to me to be rigid and unwilling to consider anything else that may shed greater light on the reality of things. I cannot claim ever again that I have Truth. I have none. No one has any. But I can get close to the truths that really matter.

I had a professor freshman year that said the human obsession with big-T Truth was a recent thing. In the past, humans have been more concerned with little-t truth, which deals with meaning, more than accurate fact. It seems to me, then, that when we talk of truth, we actually talk of the meanings that resonate with our souls. It is truth, rather than Truth, that has the power to change human beings, to heal broken hearts, and to bring one closer to God. What good is Ultimate Truth if it does not connect with the human soul? It has no purpose, being devoid of meaning. It is the little-t truths that rest next to our hearts that have true power, and that will bring us back to the throne of God.

It is with this understanding, then, that I endeavor to consider all the interpretations of as many people as I can find, both liberal and conservative, atheist and zealot, both gay and straight. By listening to these interpretations, gathering knowledge and finding consistencies, especially the ones that ring true to my soul, I hope to base my life on experiential truths that may be near to the truths that reside at the throne of God. It is my hope that if I do this sincerely enough, with an open heart and an open mind, I will be guided by a force greater than myself, and will eventually be led home.

And that is, I believe, what God was hoping for from the beginning.