Friday, March 23, 2007

Chris aka Hurricane

I just read a blog cover to cover (blogs don't have covers, I know). Be warned: I'm going to gush.

The blog in question is Hurricane, written by Chris Williams with contributions by his ex-wife Keri-Kathryn (KK in the blog).

It is an astonishing account of a loving, healthy transition out of the closet. An interesting thing about this blog is that it has a narrative structure-- a beginning, a middle and an end. There's climax and denouement. However, what makes it compelling is the overwhelming sense of moral courage that pervades it. This couple was extraordinary in many ways, and there were a number of factors that make their transition a successful one.

Reading this blog was wonderful, but I felt a little like I did after reading a biography of arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton (Lansing, Endurance)... I thought, "I'm a schmuck; I'll never have courage like that." Regardless of the profound moral inadequacy one may feel after reading Chris' and KK's story, it is still worth it, just as it's worth reading the accounts of any of the great explorers. You don't have to be a pioneer to read about them.

I think Hurricane should be required reading for any LDS person dealing with SSA, including family members, friends and spouses. It is articulate and expressive. It is true in that bosom-burning kind of way. The story has tremendous resonance.

It is also capable of causing some cognitive dissonance for faithful Mormons. Chris and KK were poster children of the Mormon ideal, widely admired and loved within their circle. They left the Church, not due to sin of any kind, but due to a moral awakening that arose in a time of personal and marital crisis. The wages of sin in this case turn out to be exuberant, wholesome and loving reengagement with life following a difficult but necessary period of transition. This isn't the way this tale is supposed to end in the Mormon storybook. Someone swapped the ending! There is no alcoholism, no infidelity or abandoned children. There's a lot of integrity, love, hard work and courage. Mormon orthodoxy is the piece that ends up being brittle. KK writes:
In the weeks after Chris came out to me, we spent hours and hours pouring over his experience as a gay child, adolescent and man. In Mormon terms, I received witnesses as powerful as I've ever had that his experience was "true," that his soul and spirit are gay and that has always been and will always be. When I lined that witness up against the church's doctrine, I knew which one was not true. After that realization, that something the church said came from God was in fact an invention of men (well-intentioned, caring men, but men nonetheless) I could no longer rely on the SYSTEM and many of my other beliefs in Mormon doctrine unraveled as a result.

This reminds me of a funny bumper sticker I once saw:

My karma ran over my dogma.

I will synopsize a bit and give links to the Hurricane blog itself. If you have time, I recommend reading the source in its entirety and letting the work speak for itself. There are approximately 100 posts and many comments. But for those with less time, I hope the following will help give you a sense of what the fuss is about.

The story of a hurricane sets the stage:

On September 17, just a couple of days after going to a therapist for the first time to discuss my homosexuality, I sat down with my wife and told her that I am gay. And with that, the city that was my former life was flooded and completely underwater.

Straight spouses tells us the situation that he and his wife are in.

Homosexuality and Mormonism is an excellent basic overview of the religious issues. It should be on a FAQ somewhere.

A child's love describes Chris' coming out to his 7-year-old daughter.

I am a gay man. Chris shows an emerging gay identity.

What I learned in Enniskerry describes KK's love and process of acceptance as the couple works to find "a third way." There's no sugar coating here, just an astonishing amount of integrity, hard work and devotion:

She told me that she wants me to find happiness with another man. She's done this before, but this time I let myself really feel what she was saying. Or, more accurately, I let myself feel the truth of her words.

Hurricane got quite a few anonymous comments. An example is the following:

Wow! How liberating it must be to abandon your faith, breach your covenants and vows, and pawn off the burden of your shame and weak character on your friends and family so you can go off galavanting with other men. Whoopee! Welcome to gaydom!

The meanness of spirit behind this kind of comment contrasts sharply with the tone of love and integrity that pervades Chris' and KK's posts. [Pet peeve: why is it that haters can never spell? It's gallivanting for Pete's sake.] Not all of the comments from LDS readers are mean; in fact, the remarkable thing is that many show deep compassion even when they can't understand the situation fully. Chris writes:

[S]ome of the most touching reactions have been from our Mormon friends and family who don't really understand, and have sadness for our divorce and our leaving the church, but are able to express an incredible amount of compassion anyway.

Coming out part IV is a riveting, critical letter from a Mormon friend. I put this in the must-read category because it shows in high relief the irreconcilable split between Chris' experience of the world as he found it and Mormon orthodoxy. You can read the letter for yourself; I found in it a recognizable sense of irritation or exasperation that the faithful sometimes express:

Something doesn’t become true simply because you or I choose to believe it.

...

Isn’t the conflict you describe between your “Mormon Identity” and your new “gay” one really the conflict between the “Natural man” and Christ?

The blog then has a number of posts and comments that arise when the blog becomes more widely known to Chris' and KK's friends and church members. Many of the comments are angry, presumptuous and personal, but Chris' (and KK's) responses are always calm, honest and respectful.

A wife by any other name and "Choices" are must-read posts by KK.

An Explanation and a Testimony describes Chris' process of leaving the church.

Chris replies to his critics in "Choices, Part II". This is the climax of the narrative:

I've been accused of constructing a new belief system to justify my new identity and (again, largely unspoken, but implied) my sinful behavior. Why then do I feel a sense of integrity I've never had before? Why do I feel fundamentally honest in a way that I never have before? Why do I feel God's love in a way that I never have before? How can what I feel now fit with what the Church teaches and expects of me?

Someone take up the challenge here, because I really want to know. If you think what I am doing is wrong and will lead only to sadness, offer me something better.

The comments attached this post are particularly interesting.

The blog winds down as Chris finds that a meeting of the minds between faithful LDS people and those who leave the church isn't really possible. The post Put Your Shoulder To Wheel and its comments are the turning point. You see here the first element of a "post-Mormon" identity forming in Chris. It's poignant because you get the sense that Chris sincerely wants to reach a point of respectful mutual understanding with believing members of the church. This doesn't seem possible. (Editorial disclosure: I have had similar disappointments in my own efforts to find common ground with active Mormons.)

In Joy and Sorrow and Wonderful Normalcy KK moves out of state with the children, and Chris finds a boyfriend. There are problems (how to do long-distance parenting) and opportunities. Chris runs a marathon, and this is a kind of symbol of his life's changes. There are subsequent posts, but the closure reached by the marathon really marks the end of the narrative. For example, we hear later that Chris awakens politically, but this is more in the spirit of an epilogue.

Chris and KK, I don't know you. I will likely never meet you, but admire you both greatly. If the world were filled with people like you, it would be an amazing place.

For a long time I've had a theory that the church derives its holiness from the holiness of its members. In other words, sanctity is not top down but bottom up-- it arises from the goodness and purity of very ordinary people and very ordinary lives. In this view, Hurricane is a sacred text.

8 comments:

-L- said...

Chris and I started blogging at about the same time and have had many conversations over the last several months, both in comments and e-mail. He is an honorable person and his story is an important one as representative of how one family came out and left Mormonism without all the betrayal and sin people seem to expect. Basically, as you said.

However, despite my high regard for Chris, I would stop short of calling his blog a sacred text. Your enthusiasm for an outcome that resonates (I assume) with what you believe to be ideal is understandable. But there are many stories with many outcomes that are just as compelling and worthy of respect.

The message I've taken from Chris' blog includes a balance of virtues and mistakes--things to emulate and avoid. And I think that's a healthier approach than adulation. (I'm not going to give specifics!)

MoHoHawaii said...

Thanks for the comment, -L-. I warned at the head of the post that I was going to gush. Haha.

I hear you. No one's real life is only praiseworthy. It's always a mix of the good and the bad, smart moves and big mistakes. I'm sure Chris and KK might even do some things differently given the chance.

Still, taken a whole, the text of Hurricane is a record of highly ethical, principled behavior. I moved me deeply. I cried through more than one post or comment. Yes, it resonates with me because of shared experiences, and not everyone might have the same reaction.

Theirs is one story. I agree with you that there are many stories and many outcomes, and I have respect for this diversity.

MoHoHawaii said...

P.S. Let me just say for any readers who might object to the phrase "sacred text," that this is a figure of speech. It indicates respect and reverence. This usage is similar to "My grandmother's childhood diary is sacred to me."

Beck said...

Chris's story is inspirational. I'm glad you took time to read it. Some of us "lived" his story as it unfolded. It is full of honesty and hope. There is strength, integrity and honor. There is also pain and eventual separation of former life to new life.

As 'L' points out, there are many stories. We each have our own story. I'm just glad Chris was willing to share his!

Chris said...

MoHoHawaii,

I'm really touched by your interest in and review of my blog. Thank you.

(And by the way, I completely agree that it essentially ends with the marathon...and rightly so, as that race ended that phase of my coming out experience.)

MoHoHawaii said...

Chris, You da man!

KK said...

MoHo--

I talked to Chris this morning (as I do just about every day) and he told me about your blog. Your comment posted on his blog urged him to turn his story into a book, a feeling I've echoed to him many many times (in fact, I often told him throughout the Hurricane journey that he shouldn't spill all his wisdom on the blog-- save some for the book so it will sell!). Chris has been my best friend for about 13 years and I'm glad the wider blogging audience is now appreciating what I've known all along-- that he is not only an extremely gifted writer, but has a compelling story to tell as well.

Thank you also for your comments about me. This life is not easy, not for me or Chris or anyone else for that matter. Many people have said to me, "Wow! I could NEVER do what you're doing." Many wives have told me with varying degrees of profanity exactly what they would say to a husband of ten years who suddenly lays this burden on her. Many have told me how I should burn bridges.

I say to them what I say to you now, and what I've said on the blog in the past: I don't know any other way to react to this situation other than the path I have followed. I've been applauded for my "choice" in being loving and open with Chris, but in some ways I don't feel like it was a choice I made-- it's just the way I am, thanks to my father in heaven who gave me this spirit of compassion, my mortal parents who taught me to be open-minded and caring, and my wonderful former husband who remains my best friend.

It breaks my heart to hear of people who find themselves in this situation, regardless of the choices they make. It is SO DIFFICULT. I believe that we will be viewed as pioneeers, if not now than in the future. The only message I hope people can really internalize from our story is that there is no ONE WAY to happiness-- that God is capable of helping every individual in a completely unique way and that faith and love can bring us through hurricanes and other disasters.

Thanks again,

Keri

Clark said...

MoHo-- Thank you so much for this compendium of Hurricane's blog. I hadn't read any of his story so it was really amazing that you took the time to make his story accessible to someone who is newer to the community. I love what you said about haters not knowing how to spell! Brilliant--

"you are simply justifing wanting to have sex with a man and hoping we will all beleive it.. well I don't. God can delivar you from this sin you live in and He has promised to cumplete us." HAHA