Friday, September 07, 2012

When love beckons

Twenty-five years ago on a warm Labor Day night, I stopped midway through my run across campus and said--out loud, but to no one other than myself--"I'm gay."

It was an announcement that had been working its way to the surface for a long time... the final statement of something that in the beginning was not even expressed in words. I had known I was different from the other boys since at least the seventh grade. By the time I was eighteen, I was beginning to awkwardly reach out physically. But until I was able to break the silence, there was an unyielding wall between my inner universe and the one I shared with everyone else.

I had no idea that night of the changes that would come; I didn't sense how dramatically the trajectory of my life had shifted. But in that moment there was a perceptible change in my experience of the world. The lights had just been turned on in a darkened room.

Within a month I would be the secretary for GLAS, Stanford's student group for gays and lesbians. In two months, emboldened by my first relationship with another man, I wrote my parents a coming out letter. And a mere seven years later, though decades ahead of the societal curve, Tommy and I were married in San Francisco in front of friends and family including my parents, sister, grandmother, aunt, and cousins.

During my first decade of being out I created a new identity for myself: distinct from the adolescent who didn't quite fit in, different from the young man who'd been teased as "one of the girls" during his first year at Stanford. I was out at work, with friends both straight and gay, in my volunteer work, in my relationships, and with my family. While no one who's lived with a secret for twenty years suddenly becomes an open book, my life was finally integrated. I got to be the same person on the outside as I had always been on the inside.

There are things within each of us that we may or may not share with others; in that, at least, we have a choice. And every choice we make nudges us down certain paths while steepening others. Sometimes we confidently make our way down a long road and end up lost, as uncertain as when we'd begun. None of this is too say that I regret coming out; that was inevitable. It's more a recognition that the future, more likely than not, will not match what we've imagined. It hasn't done so for me. The new life I created in the years after coming out is now frayed and tattered; a lot of dreams remain unfulfilled. On the other hand, I never expected a sitting president to bring tears to my eyes by speaking out for gay rights at his party's national convention.

IN THE DAYS that followed my momentous run across campus, I began coming out to my closest friends. One of them, Robin, wrote me and included a quote from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, which I then included in my letter to my parents:
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest
branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them
in their clinging to the earth.
I don't think I've really understood the full meaning of that until today.

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