Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Ties That Bind

We could hear the music blasting from beyond the trees at our rear, the lights and fire were left behind and the dark of the night wrapped about us. As we settled down in a circle on the ground Jeffrey sat down next to me, tears still running down his cheeks. Without any prompting we took one another by the hand, or wrapped our arms around each other, completing the circle of human contact, of love and support. Voices from the party floated out to us on currents of air, but their words were lost as we gave our attention fully to Rick as he began to speak...

I was still in high school when I told my family. I had known myself for as far back as I could remember but I knew that it was something that my family would never be able to accept, and at first I felt like something was wrong with me, or if I denied it long enough maybe it would go away. Until my senior year I had carried on okay, I had come to accept it about myself and believed that it was something that I would be able to open up with once I moved out on my own. But all that changed when I met Nate. Never before had I met someone who I connected to on such an intimate level. Being attracted to another man was nothing new for me but with Nate it was different, there wasn't anything about him that I didn't love.

To throw suspicions off and be able to lead a normal life Debbie and I had been 'dating' for the last year and a half. She knew the truth about me and she had come out to me as well. But as the school year went on Nate and I became inseparable and our love blossomed into something more beautiful than I had ever imagined. He made me happier than I had ever been in my life and having to hide it from everyone I knew was so smothering that at times I could barely breathe. Finally I decided that I needed to get my feelings out into the open and that I didn't really care what happened from there. I knew that my secret would break my mothers heart so I decided to start by talk to my dad, man to man.

Once my confession was out he just stood there, staring at me like I was a complete stranger. I tried to get him to talk to me but he was silent and still as a marble statue. I told him that I loved him and that I hoped he could understand before turning around and quietly leaving. I was almost back to my bedroom when he grabbed me from behind, the blow to the side of my face was so powerful and unexpected that it laid me out flat. He didn't say a word as I began to rise but just before I stood up straight he pushed me backwards. I remember my world spinning about like I was on the tea cups at Disneyland, only instead of being thrilling my body exploded with pain as I tumbled to the bottom of the stairs. Before I could even move to protect myself he was on top me, blows falling down on me like rain. Kicking me over and over with all of his strength, his silence was replaced by hoarse shouts that made it clear on no uncertain terms that I was no longer his son and that he never wanted to see or hear from me again. Just as abruptly as it had begun the assault was over and my father turned his back on me and walked out of the room.

Left to myself I crawled out of the house and collapsed on the sidewalk outside. I barely had enough strength to use my cell phone to call Nate to come take me to the hospital, where I was informed that I had suffered five broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and facial lacerations that would require extensive stitching. Since that day I have never spoken to those people again, they're no longer my family... I'm an orphan.

Strangely enough the sobs that broke the night air were not coming from Rick's throat but from my own. The circle was small enough that by leaning forward we were able to hold each other, and although it was he who was comforting me rather than the other way around I could feel his body shake as his detachment broke and he began to cry with me.

As a mother myself I have never been able to understand how a parent could love their child one moment and not the next. No matter how terrible the child's course of their life may be to them I cannot understand how someone could throw away the son who they had held as a baby, had watched their first steps, had kissed away their tears and comforted them when they were scared. I had known Rick for less than four hours and already I felt that I loved him more than his father had ever been able to. After a few moments, as our crying quieted, Amy went next...

Rick says that he is an orphan, and I think that a lot of us have been orphaned from our families by coming out, but it's especially true in my case. I was one of those 'crack babies' that you hear about, my mother took drugs throughout her pregnancy and when I was born I was as chemically dependent on cocaine as she had been. I was severely underweight and I spent three months in the newborn intensive care unit, my tiny body ravaged by such terrible withdrawals that they were unsure whether or not I would survive. The day after she gave birth to me the woman that had brought me into the world checked out of the hospital and out of my life.

The family I grew up in adopted me while I was still in the hospital and raised me as their own. Coming out to them was something that I had put off as long as I felt that I could, like most everyone in the state they were strict LDS and I knew that they would not take it well. Never in my worst nightmares did I think that they would take the news as terribly as they did, 'If we had known that you were going to be a queer we would have just let you die in the NICU' was the only response my mother gave. I felt so betrayed by the family that had raised me that I decided to attempt to find my biological parents. After a lot of digging I found out that the man who had fathered me had died of a drug overdose when I was eight years old. Eventually I was able to track down the woman who had given birth to me. When I explained who I was she embraced me warmly, told me that she had never stopped thinking of me and hoping that I was okay and happy... and then she asked if I had a couple hundered dollars that she could borrow to go buy drugs with. I walked away and never saw her again.

The warm night was a blanket that held us together, like childhood friends snuggled up in our tent at a slumber party. Each of us were sharing our stories and drawing strength and comfort from one another. In the silence that followed Amy's words Rick got up and walked around the ring of friends to sit beside her and wrap his arms around her. After a few long minutes of shared love and compassion it was Taylor who spoke next...

When I was little I always wondered why everyone called me a boy. It didn't make sense to me because I had always thought of myself as clearly being a girl like my sister, not a boy like my brothers. Even when I was old enough that my parents could explain the physical differences that decide who is a boy and who is a girl I was never able to consider myself a boy. I tried a number of times to explain this to my parents however they were adamant that Heavenly Father didn't make mistakes and that he had put me in a male body because I was a male spirit. I remember as I was growing up I would often take my sister's clothes and lock myself in the bathroom to dress up like her and put on makeup and perfume like my mother. I was careful never to be caught doing this because I knew instinctively that there would be hell to pay if I was ever found out.

Around the same time that I started to go through puberty I began to cut myself. I hated my body and felt ashamed of who and what I was, I even took to cutting my penis because I hated it and wished it weren't a part of me. The cutting didn't really concern my parents, it wasn't until I began to dress up like a girl in public that they checked me into the state mental hospital. After a couple days of testing and treatment the doctors called my parents in and explained that while I did suffer from depression and seemed to have issues with my identity there was nothing about me that constituted commitment... in short being gay did not a crazy person make.

Not one to listen to advice that conflicted with their worldview my parents checked me out and told me not to come back home until I was 'fixed'. To get back at my parents I borrowed my friends prettiest dress, curled my hair, did up my makeup and showed up at their church just as Sacrament Meeting was getting out. I strolled up to my parents and gave them each a big hug, then spent the next twenty minutes or so introducing myself to all of their friends and neighbors as their daughter. When I was done I walked back to my friends house with a broad smile on my face, out of their church house and out of their lives forever.
In the faint light from the stars I couldn't help staring at my new friend. I had talked to her earlier in the evening, telling her that she was probably the most beautiful girl at the party. She had almost started to cry as she thanked me, explaining that she had to fight testosterone for her femininity. She went on to tell me she had been on estrogen therapy for some time now and was looking forward to a gender reassignment surgery in the near future. In all of my life I don't know if I have met a more strong and brave young woman. Not having a coming out story of my own I decided to share the experience of my husband's uncle...

Growing up in Box Elder county Utah Paul was raised as a Mormon, just like everyone else he knew. He was one of four boys and always felt as though he was competing for his fathers approval. His eldest brother followed in their father's footsteps and went to work for the same military contractor their father had worked for all of his life. The next eldest was the only of the sons to serve an LDS mission and the third brother joined the army, much to his father's pride. Paul had a steady girlfriend all through high school, the two were virtually inseperable and talk of marraige followed them about like bees around flowers. During their senior year Paul's girlfriend died in a fatal car accident and his life came to a screaming hault. After graduation, in an effort to prove his masculinity to his father, Paul enlisted in the Marine Corps - considering them the toughest of the tough. After his time was up he left the military to pursue other avenues of life that held more interest for him.

The family was shocked one Sunday afternoon when Paul announced to his father that he was gay. His dad told him that no son of his could be a queer and Paul, who claimed to have been a closet
homosexual his entire life, told him that this wasn't a choice he was making but rather a part of who he truly was. In the years that followed Paul's mother allowed him to move on to some land she owned in West Jordan where he and the man that he loved and called his husband would spend the rest of their lives residing. Though Paul was able to maintain infrequent communication with his mother and several of his siblings he spent the rest of his life estranged from many members of his family and his father died without ever speaking to him again.

As my story ended and I fell silent we sat in each others arms, the sounds of the night surrounding us with the noise of the party raging in the distance. Thinking of Paul and my husbands family my mind drifted to consider the families of the makeshift band of friends I had made earlier this evening who were now circled about me. The common theme this summer night seemed to be less about coming out of the closet than it did about families.

So many of my new friends had been estranged from their families to one degree or another, many of them cut off entirely, thrown out like yesterdays garbage. It's little wonder, I realized, that they had come to form such tight intimate bonds with one another, they were not united in their homosexuality... in one another they had found the love and acceptance that their families of origin had lacked, they were more than friends, they were a family; one filled with more compassion and love for each individual based solely on who they were than any genetic family I had ever met.

We sat together for a few minutes more, drying our eyes and sharing our love and admiration for one another. Finally I picked myself up and invited my new friends to come 'hippie dance' with me, twirling about the fire and singing at the top of our lungs while the stars faded away and the sun broke out over the mountain tops.


Dawson said...

Arguably the best article that you have written to date. You have proven yourself a skillful, versatile writer but in my humble opinion it is your human interest articles that blow the rest of your posts out of the water! For what it is worth I know without a doubt that Paul would be profoundly happy that you shared his story, not only with your new friends, but with your readers as well.

The stories you relate here are vivid and haunting in their clarity and strength. I honestly believe that the more you get to know a person, to understand their story and their thoughts and feelings you cannot help but to love them. You prove this once again today, although I would like to think that I would help anyone in need out of pure Christian kindness your writing has transformed such an inclination from altruism into love. What I'm trying to say is that there is nothing I wouldn't do for Jeffrey, Rick, Debbie, Amy or Taylor... because I love them, and I love them because I know them, and I know them because of your writings... THAT is where your true talent lies, thank you for sharing it with me!