I wrote a post earlier in the week about coming out, but I was feeling too self-conscious about the whole thing to leave it up. This is a kind of re-mix of that post, with a bunch of new stuff thrown in for good measure.
One of my interests is narrative. Specifically, narratives of the self, and the ways in which we continually construct them. Postmodernists have rejected the notion of a unified and stable self, a self that is a static sort of “thing” that can be studied like an object. How, then, do we talk about the self? One way to approach this problem is to shift from the question “what am I?” to the question “who am I?” Significantly, the latter produces not a self-as-object, but a narrative. It is in telling stories about ourselves, in other words, that we establish identity.
An important point is that this is not an autonomous act. We do not write these stories in a vacuum, in isolation. We are immersed in narratives, local as well as broader social and cultural, and we inevitably draw on these in constructing the narratives we use to make sense of who we are.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this in terms of my recent decision to come out as gay. Using this language, of course, already reflects a particular choice. I’m not saying, for example, that I have the trial of same-sex attraction, because that simply doesn’t reflect my experience. I’m making use of the cultural notion of “coming out.” And I’m also drawing on the gay/straight dichotomy that is currently dominant in western culture.
And lest it appear that I’m simply hiding behind lots of academic jargon, let me admit here that there are ways in which I’m simply scared. Not just of rejection, it turns out—but also of the orthodoxies swirling around me. Homosexuality is such a fraught subject. I feel like anything I say can be seen as making A Statement. As feminists are famous for pointing out, the personal is political. I feel like that is especially true when it comes to this particular subject. I’m still very new at this being out thing, and I don’t want to be steamrolled by people’s various agendas, whatever they may be. (Being gay: you’re doing it wrong!) I feel very fragile.
The best thing that people have done for me, besides be supportive, has been to give me space to work through this on my own timetable, on my own terms. I need that. I desperately need that. I’ve found that one of the more challenging things in my life has been the ongoing project of finding my own voice and taking it seriously. My therapist told me for a long time that I really needed to read The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown. When I finally read it, one of the things I particularly liked is the way she talks about authenticity as something you cultivate, not something you have or don’t have. This makes sense, I think, in the context of identity as something dynamic.
I also think a lot about these lines from a poem by Mary Oliver, called “The Journey”:
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
“A new voice / which you slowly recognized as your own.” I love that.
I’m finding it vital, then, to have the space to tell my own story about this. Obviously this is going to be influenced by elements of the narratives around me, but I don’t want to be appropriated by other people’s narratives. Perhaps as much as I ever have in my life, I feel strongly that I need to hold on to my own experience.
But this can be tricky, too. I certainly believe in honoring everyone’s story. But stories aren’t morally neutral; they always convey particular values, particular norms. There is a reason why people telling their stories can cause an uproar. I’ve run into this dilemma time and time again as a Mormon feminist: the importance of validating everyone’s experience, but at the same time not necessarily accepting the moral underpinnings of their narratives. (For example, how do I respond to deeply personal stories which clearly convey the inevitable pitfalls of women wanting the priesthood?) I don’t know that anything is ever “only a story.” And to be fair, this applies to the stories I’m telling as well.
Okay, if all the above was tl;dnr (though I hope you made it through the Mary Oliver bit, which is probably the best part of this post), I’ll shift gears a little.
Q: How have people reacted to your coming out?
A: With lots and lots of love and support. Silence from my more conservative friends. But no calls to repentance. I’m pretty overwhelmed by just how kind people have been. My friends are just amazing.
Q: How does this affect your relationship with the LDS church?
A: Not a lot, at the moment. I’m very fortunate to live in a place where I have no worries at all about my priesthood leaders having any problems with this.
Q: How does this affect your faith in the church?
A: I’m used to being unorthodox, which is helpful. But I do have my TBM elements, which makes this more challenging. And when it comes to being asked to make the wrenching decision between having a relationship with a significant other, and being part of a religious community that is so deeply a part of who I am—the truth is that I still can’t quite process that people are being asked to make such an impossible choice.
Q: Are you the only gay permablogger on the Bloggernacle?
A: As far as I know, yes.
Q: What kinds of things worry you about being out?
I worry about credibility. I’m aware that there are people who will take me less seriously, or simply dismiss what I have to say, because of this. For example, though health issues have kept me out of the loop for a while, I love doing work in Mormon Studies, and I really hope this isn’t going to negatively impact my ability to participate in that world.
Q: How does your family treat you, with regards to this?
A: Like they always have, with a lot of teasing and smart-aleckiness.
Q: What’s next?
This is only the beginning of the adventure.
- 21 November 2013