Any time I read an article about Facebook etiquette, it states never to write about politics. You hear the same thing about parties or dates. Never bring up politics. It only will divide people.
I hate that rationale. It only divides people because we allow it to divide us, and honestly, that is what our leaders prefer. It is easy to demonize an argument or a side you don’t agree with if you don’t have to interact with someone who believes it.
I spend a lot of time reading about politics, commenting about politics, and thinking about politics. I am sure many of you wish I would stop. I am sure many of you have decided not to pay attention to any more of my posts. And that is fine. You have that prerogative. But I never will.
Politics is about people. We all have different belief structures and have different images of how the world should work. We get these ideas from many places: our parents, our faith, our education process, our friends, our jobs, and a multitude of other sources. But they come together to create our belief structure. And the way that we shift our belief structures are by living and learning from other people.
For example, I will never own a gun. I will never hold a gun. I want nothing to do with a gun. I don’t believe that I should have anything in my hands that can be triggered to kill anything. I have no interest in hunting for sport or for food and if it came down to that, I would probably just die. But I understand that my opinion is not held by many people. I have read many articles about gun owners. People who have had a tradition of owning guns, hunting with their fathers, and it gives them an identity. I may never understand that – but that may not understand why I love comic books so much. When I read about people who have that emotional attachment to guns, I understand why they want one. When I read about someone who has a gun for protection, though I may not believe it is the best decision, I understand why they want it. But I also believe that a gun owner who does respect the weapon they hold should understand the need for regulation of something that they revere, because there are people who don’t have that same feeling about it. They are people who treat the gun as a toy. It is children who get a hold of it and pretend it is like something they saw in a movie or a television program. But the difference is if you shoot a zombie in a video game or if you shoot a friend in a video game, that friend can come back into the game. So, I do believe there is a discussion there that can be had if both sides take a respectful look at why the other side is concerned.
I have a similar attachment to the First Amendment as many have with the Second Amendment. The ability to say what you want and print it wherever you want is important. But I understand the limitations. You can’t slander someone. You can’t yell obscenities at three in the morning outside of your apartment building. But for example, I believe that someone should have the right to burn the American flag. I don’t want to do it myself and would never stoop to that behavior, but I don’t believe that people should not have that right if they so desire. I understand why it upsets so many people and why they might want to ban it, but just like banning guns doesn’t solve the crime problems in the United States, banning the burning of a flag does not solve the problems of discontent in a political structure.
But if two people can’t sit down and discuss this without resorting to names, then we don’t actually live in a democratic republic. We don’t have control over the issues or what matters to us. Instead, we allows groups of people dictate what we should think. We allow the parties to define themselves and we vote for them in a parliamentary-like system. We allow money handling organizations to put on commercials and force us to believe something that generally is only half true and not be concerned with it – but we love to quote them.
I recently got involved on a Daily Herald message board discussing the deficit. I put out arguments that both sides were at fault and dismissing the claims that President Obama owns all of the fiscal problems we are currently having. I was being honest with my beliefs, but most people believed I was defending the President and at one point called me a communist because I argued that we aren’t discussing the real problems with our budget: Social Security, Medicare, and the military. And I know I am not going to change minds on a message board, but I like the activity. I like having someone push back at my beliefs and I like to be challenged.
When I was a freshman in college, I worked for Illinois PIRG. I went door-to-door raising money to shut down the coal-fired power plants in Illinois. I would annoy people during dinner to tell them of the woes of plants that are still open today. I hated the job. But I didn’t hate it because people closed the door on me. The only people I hated in that regard were those that had Sierra Club stickers on their doors and told me to scram without giving me a second breath. I hated the people who pretended to care but wouldn’t even spend a second listening to my argument. I loved the people who disagreed with me. And I would argue with them why it was problematic. I would discuss the asthma levels and cancer epidemics near the plants. I would talk about other forms of energy that were better for the environment – even nuclear (even though that wasn’t in my pamphlet). I remember one man who I talked to for over ten minutes who didn’t want to hear a word I had to say when I first opened my mouth, but he saw a kid who was doing something he believed in and wanted to hear him out. He argued with me and I argued back. We didn’t raise our voices or call each other names like we were supposed to if we were on the set of a cable news program. And in the end, he looked at me and said, I’m gonna give you five dollars, but you can’t donate it to your cause. I don’t support that, but I’m impressed with you. I smiled and thanked him. And donated the money to my cause against his wishes – but I’m sure he knew I would.
I have many conservative friends. I love my conservative friends. I will listen to their arguments any day of the week. But I want to hear them. And I want to be able to discuss them.
Our political structure is only as good as we are. It is designed as a marketplace of ideas. But we are strapped for ideas because the people in charge don’t want us discussing them and figuring things out on our own. It is far easier to divide us into red and blue states and into liberals and conservatives. We are all Americans. We were given a voice by our Founding Fathers. Use it.
I am not writing this for pity or sympathy or for anything besides as a reaction to a book. I cannot express how important this short book was to me. It opened my eyes to the fact that I did not grow up wrong or as a monster like I have always assumed. My mindset was not unique. It is easy to say that I was and still am confused, but when you’re growing up different from everyone else and you can just feel the difference, you have no one to talk to. You just assume that you will get to the place where everyone else resides. I didn’t know how it felt to love someone or to have a crush on someone. I had crushes on lots of people over the years but they didn’t make any sense to me. I would hear guys talk about the girls that they liked and it wasn’t how I thought, so I assumed that I was just different. I have no idea if that is truth or what I could have done differently. And in truth, it doesn’t matter. All that I can do now is live the best life I can live.
I had to accept this fact: “What I was in the dark about was something which in fact much or most of the world still misunderstands: homosexuality is not about what you may or may not do for sex, it is about who you fall in love with.” My life does not have to be the sexualized version of homosexuality that Hollywood and the media like to portray. I have never been to a gay bar, I have never gone dancing, I have never gone to a parade, I have never walked around even with my shirt off. Ask my old teammates – I never ran without at least a t-shirt on. There is nothing wrong with any of those traits, but at my core, they aren’t me. But I thought, just like I thought that a heterosexual has to talk about girls the way I heard guys talk about them on runs or while riding a bus. I assumed if I was a homosexual, I needed to like those things that I am told to like and that those qualities define who I am. I hate parades. I hate crowds. I hate bars. I hate dance music. But I want to fall in love. And I want to be loved.
It is still incredibly difficult. I still cannot have all of those things I imagined I would have. Getting married is not a reality yet. I am sure it will be, but as of this writing, it is not. Finding someone to marry will still be difficult, just like it is for everyone else. Having a family – that may be where it gets harder than normal. It is expensive, time consuming, spirit crushing, but, in the end, rewarding. I suppose it is why I get upset when I hear parents complaining about their children or how hard raising kids are. I suppose it is why I get upset when I see people treating their children like crap. I suppose it is why I want to be a father. I listen to people talk about their children or grandchildren and I want to be kept up at night by a child. I want to bring a grandchild over to my parents’ house for them to enjoy. I want to see the joy in their eyes when they see something new and the hate in their eyes when I won’t buy it for them.
I end many nights thinking that if I wasn’t built this way, I would have those things. I think about how much simpler life would have been and would continue to be if I could just be like the majority of people. It isn’t a self-hatred or because I believe I can change who I am. I don’t hate who I am – I am sometimes not fond of myself or my behavior – but at the same time, I think it is easy to forget how difficult being different is. However, this sense of difference is not like being a comic book nerd or being a little smarter than the average kid. At the end of the day, love is central to life. Almost every song that is written is about love. Almost every book that is written is about love. Almost every day, you think about who you love and how you want to be loved. And on those nights when I wish I wasn’t built this way, I do what I did back in junior high when I couldn’t take the bullying anymore. I grab my stuffed dog puppet, Wrinkles, and question why I was dealt this hand and what I can do differently.
Yet each day, I wake up in the morning believing that life will come together. I have always been a goal-orientated person who does my best to achieve what I want to accomplished. I don’t need a 100% success rate, but I do have to feel like each day I’m moving a step forward towards my end goal. And I am going to be happy that day when it all comes together. I know it will be a hard road and there always will be bumps – there have been bumps already. But as Rauch ended the book: “I am the man who is grateful to fall down because he once believed he would never walk.”
In your mid-twenties, your friends and family start getting married. Your life is supposed to get started. Just like how I assumed that one day I would be as built as a professional wrestler without doing anything, I assumed that in my twenties, I would meet the girl of my dreams and we would get married like my parents and their parents and their parents before.
I was almost done with law school and ready to set out on a career path. All of the hard work that I put towards my goals instead of worrying about who I was going to date was going to come to a culmination. At the ripe age of 24 years old, I had graduated from law school.
Most of my family were there and I couldn’t have been happier. But it was really difficult. Most of my friends had wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, or at least a significant other who watched them cross the stage. Nothing against my family – my parents, my siblings, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins – but it was hard to not have someone like that at that event. Or any event.
I began to question myself. I began to wonder exactly who I was. The hardest part was that I began to understand who I was and I never had a feeling that my parents were going to hate me or that anyone in my family would treat me different. But I just kept thinking that same thing: that isn’t me. I’m not that person. And if nothing else, I feared being differing in another regard.
My therapist and I began talking about it. She would ask questions about work and my job hunt. But the stresses there lessened, especially after I found work. She began to ask about dating. She asked why I didn’t think I could do that. And I explained that it just didn’t seem for me. I explained that I wanted to just be happy on my own – that I never imagined someone else being in my life. I would discuss how content I was. I almost wrote off happiness seconds after saying I would be happy by saying that I would be content in my life by myself. But in reality, I knew I wouldn’t. I built up a circular logic that any first year philosophy student could poke a dozen holes into.
I wanted all those things that all my friends and family were having. I wanted to walk down the aisle. I wanted children. I wanted to have a good job. I wanted to be just like everyone else – for once. And I would go home pleading that I would be normal – that I would just fit in with everyone else.
It took one event for me to really sit down with myself and be honest. It was New Year’s Eve. My parents were with my grandmother but I didn’t want to go. And my sister and her boyfriend were in town. I sat at home watching Veronica Mars on DVD and they came home to announce their engagement. My younger sister was now on the same road that my friends were on. I was happy for her, but I was also jealous. I felt like I was doing something wrong and that I was cursed. “By now I had grown used to knowing that I was the strangest creature in the world, one whose wiring was seemingly random.” But it was time for me to determine if I was as strange as I assumed that I was.
I began talking to my therapist and she told me that I had to figure that out. She told me that it wasn’t going to be easy and that I would have to put myself out there to figure out exactly who I was and who I wanted to love. It took almost two years of prodding and discussion. For anyone who knows me, this is a short amount of time for me to commit to do anything. I have a difficult time putting myself out there , but I did. In 2009, I went on my first date.
About a month later, I told the first person. My brother and I were watching TV and we began the news on an issue I don’t remember, but it involved homosexuality. He said something along the lines of: I guess I don’t know for sure what I think about being around a gay person cause I really don’t know any. He wasn’t saying it to be biased because he isn’t. He was saying it because in our little suburban world, it was foreign. Not something to hate or dislike, but just foreign. In response, I said, you kinda do. He said, “I do?” And I said, yes, me. I told him that I was trying to figure things out and we didn’t talk much about it otherwise. A little while later, I told my sister when she was home for spring break, she was a bit more animated and cried because she assumed I was struggling with this for a long time and that it had hurt me.
It did hurt me, but not in a sense that deserves tears. Rauch put it perfectly: “I never did recover from the loss of my adolescence: from the vacuum where my awakening to love and sexuality and self ought to have been.” But I knew I would survive. I then told my parents and we were off to the races.
Surprisingly, all of this had an affect on my mental well-being. I was always a bit of a depressive. I was not a strong person who had a big social net to fall back on. I had me. But I cracked. First, in college. Then, before law school started.
One morning, I believe it was the fall, which was the hardest time of year for me because cross country season ended. I woke up early on a Sunday morning like I usually did. I would go for a walk outside and just enjoy the stillness as my roommate slept. When I opened the door, on our whiteboard, someone wrote FAGGOT and there was a rope that looked like a noose tied around my door handle. I flipped out and got very scared. I erased the board and pulled the rope off the door as fast as I could. At this point, I was wondering if that was what I was anyways since I didn’t seem to have any feelings for a member of the opposite sex during a time where everyone was trying to get into someone’s pants. I wondered who knew this about me or if it was true or what it was. But I went for my walk. When I returned, I sat at my computer and I didn’t move.
I remember being like a statue – with hands on the keyboard, readied to write whatever paper I was going to write that afternoon. But I could not move. My roommate eventually awoke and tried to get me to respond. Much of this is very foggy to me and is pieced together from what other people told me. He called our RA down, who was a mutual friend, because he didn’t know what to do. They tried to get me to respond and I wouldn’t. Eventually, they called my brother, who was a freshman at the time, and got me to the hospital. I had a panic attack. And they called my parents who took me home to take me to a doctor and try to get straightened out in the head. I was put on a lot of pills but none of them helped. I later found out that the rope on the door was not a noose. As a prank, someone tied our door handle to the door across the hall, which would make exiting impossible without cutting the rope. It was just a coincidence that it looks like a noose once someone else cut it. I’m also assuming the word on the white board was not directed at me. It was just the actions of a drunk idiot.
I had a lot of bad days between then and the end of college. I had another panic attack where I felt crippled in my basement a month before I started law school. Eventually, my dad carried me up the stairs after yelling and screaming to get me to move. FYI: if you have a family member who is having a panic attack, don’t yell at the person panicking because it doesn’t help. But again I went to the doctor and was given the name of a therapist. This guy ruined my first semester of law school by putting me on a lot of anti-depressants and social anxiety pills. When it didn’t seem like they were working, he told me to stop taking them, but didn’t wean me off of them correctly. Instead of studying for finals, I watched The OC on DVD. I couldn’t focus as my head was a mess.
Hulk Gets Help
But that December, I met my current therapist, who helped me get as prepared as I could for finals and how to deal with the stresses. She has been with me for almost 8.5 years. We dealt mainly with social anxiety and my fears. And then we got to relationships. Rauch wrote, “I saw that no one noticed me, no one desired me, that my position in life was always to be admiring and never admired.” I don’t remember getting hit on. I knew there were a few girls who liked me, but overall, I have never felt desired. But I admired so many people. Strangely, it was not in a sexual nature, which is why I was so confused by it. I admired the ability to love. I wanted to have someone to talk to on an intimate level, someone to hold their hand, tell them that things will be okay, share all the good and bad moments with. I admired everyone around me who had that.
“I could not love, I could not kiss, I had no passion, only resentment and a kind of childish longing and a fetishistic fascination, and I knew that other people did not suffer those disabilities.” I kissed two girls before I turned 27 years old. Once when I was 18 and once when I was 21. For the years that followed, again, while many are trying to kiss as many people as possible, I was untouched. It didn’t bother me one bit though.
I did not understand the process of growing up. I didn’t have older friends or an older brother to guide me through those tough years — not like I was much help to my little brother. But I never knew how to talk about any of the thoughts in my head. I would write them down or tell them to my stuffed dog and eventually my real dog. I didn’t get much of a response as you can imagine.
Yet, I remember when I had to change my word choice to seem less “gay,” even when I had no idea what that word meant. I would call friends on Saturdays to “play” but I remember being teased on the playground that play had a sexual connotation that was silly for a 9 year old boy to say to another 9 year old boy. It was around the same time that someone did the condo/condom joke that tripped up Grandpa Simpson. Instead, I would ask if they wanted to hang out. Over time, very few people did. I would imagine my hit rate was near 20%. Instead, I read and watched a lot of TV.
When I was in sixth grade, my dad made me join cross country to get out of the house and to stop watching cartoons. I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t like it and I didn’t make any friends doing it. Instead, I got bullied there, just like I got bullied everywhere else. One day, I remember running home. I was crying, which was not rare for me returning home from a day at Lincoln Middle School. My dad was doing something to the car in the garage and he saw me come up the driveway crying and he asked what was bothering me. I said that the kids on the teams were calling me names and I didn’t know what the words meant. My dad asked what the words were and I said I didn’t want to say. I considered them profane, even though I had no idea what they meant. He prodded me and prodded me and eventually I said the word: fag. He didn’t explain what it meant to me and I think it caught him as a surprise. I just remember him saying that I wasn’t one, so I shouldn’t let it bother me.
I don’t think that middle schoolers have some insight into someone or saw something in me that I did not see. If anything, it is just a word that people throw around without knowing what it means. Like serendipity. Nonetheless, it proved to me that I had to fall deeper into the shadows and just do my best to be normal. Or if nothing else, to not think about relationships or dating or girls or boys or really anything. I focused on something else – anything else.
Life is hard in high school if you don’t talk about girls. I have lots of memories of people (generally, teammates) trying to get inside my head to figure out who I liked. And honestly, there were girls I liked. A lot. I remember three in particular that I would have done anything for them to talk to me. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with one. But I didn’t want to kiss or touch or any of that. I just would imagine a sitcom like lifestyle where I would come home and she would be there and we would live a very Disney life. I imagined that a lot. I wanted that so much. I wanted to be a husband. I wanted to be a father. I wanted to be all of those things that a normal person is.
When the relationship I was in at the beginning of college ended, I knew why. I was not providing the care that she deserved and I regret ever putting her in a situation where she was not cared for. I have no idea if she suspected anything or was curious why I wasn’t that person for her. So, I convinced myself of something. Ironically, so did Rauch: “I had no sexual feelings, but instead was madly obsessive. I could not be a homosexual: I was not effeminate, I had no desire to be touched sexually by a man…But I was not behaving the way heterosexuals behaved.” Therefore, I was some sort of asexual creature – a monster, in all honesty, that was going to spend the rest of his life alone and in solitary confinement.
I thought that with time, I would transform into a normal person. This was not the first instance of such thoughts. I remember looking at pictures of models in magazines with huge pectoral muscles and looking my my concave body in the mirror and imagining when that would happen to me. I assumed like a girl, one day, I would just wake up and they would start growing. I had no idea that I needed to bench press my body weight or be able to do more than a handful of pushups. But for a 21 year old to assume that his body will activate and everything will work out is silly. That one day, a woman would walk by and I would have the feelings that everyone else I knew was having. Instead, I was back to imagining the long life I would have on my own. But I would be successful: law school and all of that, so who would question me? I had the best excuse: I’m too busy to think about a serious relationship. “I was childlike, responding with no response at all except to change the subject.”
It is a strange position to be in where you want to fit in completely and just hide in the shadows, but at the same time, you want to excel to take any glare off of another part of your life that you don’t understand. In a recent New York Times editorial, Adam D. Chandler wrote about this article as a coming out of sorts to millions of readers. He described how he wanted to fit in. “I copied how the boys at school sat in their desks, with their knees apart. I observed how they wore their backpacks, using only one of the shoulder straps.” But he was also an overachiever – a Harvard law graduate who grew up trying to distract with good report cards and success.
Rauch made a similar point that I believe was even more true for me regarding being normal: “[l]ittle boys and teenagers want many things, but most of all they want to be normal. The desire not to be strange is not, I think, the callous invention of a capitalist or racist or sexist or whateverist culture which seeks to repress human beings’ explosively variegated diversity. It is, for people, an indivisible part of the socializing instinct.” I didn’t want to be abnormal in another form. Everyone told me I was smarter than the average bear. I was far weaker, shorter, thinner than most boys my age. I did not have a large circle of friends and I never felt normal socially. I felt like an outcast in almost every fashion of my life.
Chandler wrote at the end of his piece, “The flip slide of discovering you’re not alone is the melting of your presumed snowflake uniqueness. Now I’m a statistic, another data point, just an ordinary overachieving closet case.” He is right – that feels bad. There are fears that my drive will reduce. There are fears that I will still end up alone. But instead of having excuses, it does feel nice to be a statistic for once, where my actions and reactions were more normal than not. A little normalcy can go a long way.
Yeah, I wasn’t unique at all in my reaction. And strangely enough, that doesn’t bother me one bit now. It feels good to know that I am not unique or strange or abnormal – at least in how an adolescent reacted to figuring out his differences. I just wish I could go back in time and tell 11 year old Dan just that.
In the beginning of Denial, Rauch explains that, at a young age, he was practicing the piano and realized out of the blue that he would not be getting married. He didn’t know why, but it was something that he just felt. He describes it as “otherworldly blandness of a realization which is as certain as it is apparently baseless.” Though I didn’t have a similar thought on marriage at ten (that thought came a bit later), I remember writing short stories and telling people that I would adopt children. It never crossed my mind that I would have children the old fashioned way. When I look back, I would link it to my love of superheroes, specifically Bruce Wayne, who got a new ward whenever the last Robin got tired of him and his controlling personality. I also would tell myself that it was better for the world if I took care of children that were already here without a home, instead of creating more. It seemed very noble. I knew at the time it was weird for me to think these thoughts, but I figured, like Rauch, it would go away. Eventually, I would have a switch that goes off that makes me understand fifth grade sex ed and the feelings I was being warned that would come my way.
It would be easy to say that my thoughts on my sexuality, at this age, were defined as right or wrong as defined by the Church.
I grew up a Catholic, I was an altar server, and for a long time, I wanted to be a priest. But it wasn’t a right or wrong dichotomy that was in my head. It was all about wanting to just feel the same way everyone else felt. I didn’t know how they felt before they decided to pursue a girl or boy. Did a switch turn on that told you what to feel? How did you feel the day before? What were you to do next? All that I knew that I wanted was the white picket fence and to be loved. I wanted to have a family and I wanted to grow up like everyone else. And I would pray that I would. I didn’t pray to change who I was – I had no idea who that was. I just prayed for the life that TV and movies define as a the good life.
These feelings never came. And I was ashamed that I didn’t have those feelings. I really didn’t have any feelings. I pretended that I did. I did whatever I could to be what I envisioned the person everyone else wanted me to be. At my core, I felt, like Rauch, “sexually retarded.” As other boys and girls began having feelings for each other, I would develop them at a time to be determined later. When they didn’t come, I just figured, I was incapable of loving someone like that and therefore was incapable of being loved. I became envious.
I remember listening to the lyrics of I’m A Believer and understanding one line (and not much else of the song): “I thought love was only true in fairy tales. Meant for someone else but not for me.” Instead of thinking that I was just like everyone else (just slightly different). I turned myself into the best kid I could be, so no one would see my differences. Or if they did, it didn’t bother them because I was such a good guy.
Jonathan Rauch has graced this blog before. Maybe, not in name, butinspirit. Ever since I read this article Caring for Your Introvert, I felt more confident in who I am as a person. I get more energy from being alone than I do from other people. A few weeks ago, he published a new book called Denial. For a second time, I have to thank Mr. Rauch for writing something that will shape the rest of my life (besides his many political pieces, which I find interesting and thoughtful). It will shape who I am today and who I will try to be in the future.
I have never written these words. They aren’t news to many people in my life. But here they are…I’m gay.
It’s a hard thing to write, even at thirty years of age. It isn’t shame or embarrassment that makes it difficult. My family and many other people have known for over three years now. But I’m a genuinely private person (even for someone who has a personal blog that he likes to write in). And I think I also still have a bit of shame about being different. And part of writing this is to stop with that shame, or at least slow it down.
When I first began to accept this part of me, I wasn’t liberated. I was a bit more scared than I was the day before. Rauch described it like this: “Imagine being born and raised in a dark dungeon cell, where you hear of an outside world but cannot conceive of a path to it; and then imagine the one day you put your fingers to the brick and push a bit, just the slightest bit of pressure, and all four walls of the cell simple collapse into the ground, and all traces of captivity are gone except the ones inscribed on yourself.” I have inscribed so much on myself that it is painful to think about. I put myself in captivity. I assumed that I could not be loved, that I was different, that I was a depressive who should be on his own, and that I don’t deserve to be happy. I felt safe in my surroundings. Like the Simon and Garfunkel song, I Am A Rock, I had my books and poetry to protect me.
It was easy to stay safe in the womb I built if I didn’t put myself out there. And eventually, I decided I needed to leave my safety net. And so I did. This is that story.