Monday, November 26, 2007

Repression

Repression has been on my mind lately. It started when John Gustav-Wrathall wrote a memorable essay on promiscuity that got me thinking about my own experiences as a young adult. Then I saw a video of
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:

  • No longer fights grueling internal battles

  • Feels as if heavy burdens have been lifted

  • Has gone from hopeless to hopeful

  • Has a more positive attitude and better quality of life

  • Has a more resolute spirit

  • Experiences more abundant friendships with greater depth and understanding

  • Has more energy for work and focusing on his life's goals

  • Treats people with more kindness

  • Has more honest, stronger family relationships

  • Laughs a lot more

  • Lives the gospel more realistically

  • Has a clearer understanding of what it means to be a Christian, including a new love of the two great commandments, of loving God and loving one's neighbor, no exceptions.


  • He concludes, "Best of all, my soul no longer aches."

    Bingo.

    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 Normally, I'm fairly outgoing, social and talkative, but in my mixed-orientation marriage I became very withdrawn.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.

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    [*]The sad examples of Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, and others come to mind.

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Book review: Together Forever

    I just read a book that I think is worthwhile. It's Together Forever: The Gay Man's Guide to Lifelong Love by Martin Kantor, MD.

    Basically, Together Forever is a marriage manual for gay male couples. What makes it different is that the author has had a lot of experience in counseling gay male couples in his clinical practice and also has had a successful partnership with his own husband for 22 years. The advice is definitely not of the touchy-feely, self-help variety. Instead, Kantor gives practical tips that are often unsentimental.

    I read this book rather skeptically at first, but as I went along I warmed up to it. I'm not going to summarize the recommendations here; the book is easy enough to order from Amazon or check out from your local library. Mostly I wanted to bring it to your attention if you are in the market for such a title. I think it's worth reading whether you are considering a relationship, are starting one or have been partnered for a long time.

    (Tobi and I are using it as a springboard for discussing what our future might look like when we eventually move in together and form our own household. It's been helpful for this purpose.)

    Tuesday, November 6, 2007

    An article in the Los Angeles Times cites a study that says gay demographics are diversifying geographically.

    [The] study shows that the number of openly gay couples in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1990, and the biggest increases are in the country's more socially conservative areas.

    Utah is the poster state. Between 1990 and 2006, for example, it went from having the 38th-highest concentration of same-sex couples in the country to 14th highest. In that same time period, the percentage of gay couples who lived in large cities declined from 45% to 23%.

    Thirty-eighth to fourteenth. Impressive. Why is this this happening? It turns out that coming out makes things easier, which in turn makes it easier to come out.

    Growing acceptance of homosexuality means a decline in social stigma associated with same-sex relationships, and a consequent shift in the politics of coming out. The more people come out, the more accepting people are around them, and the more accepting the public becomes, the more people come out.

    So I guess I should pack my bags and head back to Zion. I still miss my 100-year-old house on the Avenues in SLC. I guess it's safe to move back (although to be fair, my neighbors in Salt Lake accepted me and my boyfriend moving into their neighborhood with nothing but warmth and friendliness, even 18 years ago).