Clark Pingree's presentation at the 2007 Seattle Sunstone Symposium that reminded me of things I had experienced when coming out. And so for the last few weeks I've been musing about the nature of repression and its effects.
I'm not all that fond of the term "repression" because of its origin in (scientifically discredited) Freudian psychoanalysis, but I don't really have a better word to offer. When I use the word, I mean the cognitive suppression of desires that are perceived to be shameful or socially unacceptable. Sometimes these are sexual desires, sometimes they are aspects of personality like assertiveness or artistic expression.
In my experience repression always exacts a price. Clark Pingree put his finger this when he said "It's a dangerous game to defy one's own creation."
Clark mentioned some of the improvements in his life that occurred after he was able to step away from a life of sexual repression. To paraphrase, he said that he:
He concludes, "Best of all, my soul no longer aches."
I recall what a mess I was in a mixed-orientation marriage, before I came out. It's actually painful for me to recall this (bless me, Blogger, for I have sinned). In this period I was profoundly unhappy. Normally, I'm fairly outgoing, social and talkative, but in my mixed-orientation marriage I became very withdrawn. I almost quit talking. I recall having violent nightmares and waking up angry. My desire to look at pornography became utterly compelling, although I rarely had the opportunity to see it in those pre-Internet days. I would start shaking if I saw a handsome man. I felt despondent and trapped. Hopeless is a good way to describe it. Looking back on it, I wonder how I functioned at all. And I'm sorry about the effect of my repression had on the people around me.
Like Clark Pingree, I found that I treated people with a lot more kindness after I came out. My relationships with my family improved dramatically as everyone started talking about real issues (and not just mine) instead of keeping to safe topics of conversation. I became a better parent; certainly a better listener. The list goes on and on. I can't think of single area of my life that didn't improve after I quit suppressing my orientation. Even my work life got better.
Even my wife's life improved when I came out. After a few years she was able to remarry. The second time around heterosexuality was high on her list of desired qualities in a mate.
After I came out I did, like John, have a period of relative promiscuity. I think sexual promiscuity often comes in the wake of a lifetime of repression.[*] It's like a starving man gorging after a famine. It's not a good dietary strategy, but who's counting calories when you are starving? In my case I was able to get it out of my system and settle down to a reasonable, committed relationship.
You might counter that the satisfaction I have seen in my life is really the work of the Devil, that I am deceived by evil wrapped in a veneer of short-term happiness and pleasure. I would respectfully disagree while reaffirming your right to hold this or any other view. When I look at my life as a whole, over several decades of living openly as a gay man, I don't see the fruits of evil. Instead, I see the benefits that Clark mentioned in his Sunstone talk. I see two kids successfully raised; I see friends and family and a mature, loving relationship with a man I adore; I see professional success. I see sanity, peace, realistic self-knowledge and engagement in life. Where are the wages of sin? I guess you could argue that they are coming in the next life, but that contradicts the principle of judging behavior by its visible consequences in this life.
Note: There are many possible paths to follow, and your experience may well be different from mine. In particular, I am not saying that your choice of celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage is wrong for you even though those two options were disastrous for me and the woman I married.
[*]The sad examples of Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, and others come to mind.