April 2008


So, my sweetie is working late tonight, which means I am passing time by taking “insightful” quizzes on Facebook. (i know, i know…)

Just now, in a quiz entitled “Which Jane Austen character are you?” I found out that I am like Elizabeth Bennett:

“You are memorable, lovely and clever, the life of the party… you always have the perfect thing to say in every situation. Your honesty, virtue, and lively wit enable you to rise above the nonsense and bad behavior that pervade your money-seeking and often spiteful society. Nevertheless, your sharp tongue and tendency to make hasty judgments often lead you astray… if not careful, you can display qualities that you despise – pride and prejudice. But if you can get past negative first impressions, your life and love story will be epic.”

It’s the kind of thing that’s fun to ascribe meaning to. It’s basically a pretty good assessment of my character, though at this point in the evening that could also be the vodka talking. 😉

I was talking to a co-worker recently about the ups and downs of living in Utah when you don’t fit into the mainstream culture here. He is not Mormon, but loves it here and doesn’t let the politics bother him. I said something about that being harder for me when every legislative session is another adventure in gay-bashing. He responded, “Oh you gay people always have a chip on your shoulder because you want everyone to like you.” And even though it bugged me at the time, I think he’s right, at least for me (I don’t claim to speak for all lesbians or gay men in the state).

I do want people to like me, but like Elizabeth Bennett, I find I am also quick to judge others. “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” (Okay, all you Austen purists out there, I know that’s a Darcy line, but you have to admit it applies to Elizabeth as well.) I feel so angry sometimes because it’s impossible to convince people that my own personal experience is valid. I want that validation, despite the fact that it won’t change anything. I know that. I have a happy life, and have survived a lot of bad times. And I don’t need anyone else’s approval to make that true. It just is.

But I do feel probably an unnecessary amount of angst wondering what family and close friends, who are still Mormon, think about me and my partner. I know they love me and I believe they have come to love her. But are they still secretly wishing we’ll repent? I haven’t told that many people about the process of getting here (and still haven’t decided if I will ask them to read this blog or not, to get the details) and so I’m not sure what they believe about how I got here. I really hate the idea of them thinking that I’m deceived by some evil spirit and that someday maybe I’ll come to my senses and be straight again. I’ve held back talking about a lot of it, because I don’t want to be that person that no one wants to talk to at family parties. You know the one, who’s always ranting about something. “Don’t talk to Sheri…you’ll just get her going.” But there are important parts of this journey that I haven’t shared, out of that worry of being too “in your face” about my gayness.

I think that’s part of why I wanted to write some of this down, here in cyberland where people might read it or not. I’ve read other blogs on similar topics, including some from close friends, and we are all saying essentially the same thing. Why not take us at our word? Why not acknowledge that there are spiritual experiences that might not fit into any one doctrinal interpretation? Why can there only be one right answer to any of this? Everyone has their own journey, and I think God is big enough to encompass all of us.

This is probably the hardest part to write about because so much of it is intensely personal. Not that this whole thing isn’t intensely personal, but somehow talking about God and religion makes a person very vulnerable, because it’s an individual thing that also becomes a collective thing and when your experience and beliefs start to differ from the collective, things can get dicey.

I wavered between a couple of opposing emotions when I was sorting through my beliefs. On the one hand, I really felt that I had been led to this point and that therefore God must have a hand in it. And I felt very normal, not the sinner or evildoer that gay people are often depicted as, and that too made me feel that there must be some good in it, somewhere. But on the other hand, I had so greatly internalized what I’d been taught about what God felt about anyone who “strayed from the path” in any way that I felt like I was cutting myself off from God by choosing to accept this part of myself. And there were times when I felt like, well if God is going to hate me for this then fine, who needs God?

It’s hard to put a timeline to these feelings, but I was in flux between these two points for much of what I’ve written in these last few posts. There were times when I felt very conflicted and times when I felt something close to peace, but I wasn’t quite ready to decide what any of it meant.

Unfortunately for me, timing-wise, I was at the far end of the pendulum, feeling very much like I would just go ahead and turn my back on God if he was going to make this a part of me and yet label me a sinner for it, when the person I’d fallen in love with cut me out of her life. It was a necessary thing at the time, and in hindsight I’m glad she did it because I would not have been strong enough to do it on my own. But at the time it felt like everything had ended. There wasn’t a point to anything. I was completely empty, emotionally and spiritually, and I didn’t know where to turn. I’d always turned to God in my dark times in the past, but I’d decided God didn’t want me if I was gay and I didn’t see any way of not being gay. I had only told one friend about the almost-relationship that had ended, and she had a job and family of her own so I couldn’t really monopolize much of her time with my own crisis. So I had almost no support system at all, no one I could really talk to, and I realized that despite having friends and family who I loved and who loved me, what I really wanted most of all was to have someone who was the most important person to me and who would feel the same way about me. Up to that point, despite the closeness of many friendships, in the end there is always someone else a friend needs to go home to. I wanted more than that. I wanted to be the most important person in someone’s life.

In these weeks of despair, I started very seriously considering suicide as an option. I was deep in debt from my accident, working at a job that I enjoyed but that would never pay me enough to get on my feet, and felt emotionally that I was not in a position to find a new job. Looking for a new job is hard enough when you feel strong emotionally, and I felt that adding any new facet of rejection to my life would be the final straw.

So I felt stuck, emotionally, spiritually, financially. And it started to feel more and more like suicide was an out. Luckily, I was living at my mom’s at the time, because of my financial situation, and I still had enough of my wits about me to know that I couldn’t do that to her. If I was going to do it, it had to be somewhere else because I didn’t want her to have to find me. So I had a plan in mind, but it was quite complicated and therefore easier to resist.

But every day was a struggle. Every day I had to just basically concentrate on surviving that one day. If anyone asked me about long term plans (I’d been considering grad school), I couldn’t even come up with a good fake answer, because the truth was I couldn’t see past each day. I felt like if I could make it from sunup to sunset, I’d succeeded.

I had a good friend at work who knew a bit of what was going on in my life who had been inviting me to attend her church for a while. She belonged to a United Church of Christ congregation and I didn’t know much about them but she told me that not only didn’t they mind gay people, the current pastor was gay. I’d politely declined a few times, still clinging to the idea that there was only one “truth” and we’d mutually rejected each other.

But one particular weekend when things were very bad and I was thinking a lot about my complicated suicide plan, I decided to go with her. I didn’t know what to expect, and I think on the surface I wasn’t expecting anything. But deep down I was hoping to feel something, anything, that would give me some hope. We attended an early informal meeting which was nice but nothing special, and then we stayed for the more formal part of the service. There were hymns and announcements, and then the pastor stood up to give the sermon.

“I’ve had a difficult week,” he began. “A close friend of mine committed suicide. Several of us knew he was struggling, but no one knew how dark the night had become for him.” He went on to talk about hope and caring for each other, finding ways to help people in need. But I really didn’t hear anything else. I had started to cry and I wept as quietly as I could through the rest of the meeting. My friend put her arm around me and I tried to listen to the rest, but I’d gotten what I came for. I felt in that moment as if God himself had sat down next to me and said “I know. You may think no one else knows, but I know.” This referred, of course, to my feelings of suicide, which I’d not told anyone about, including my therapist. I was exactly like the pastor’s friend – there were people who knew I was struggling, but no one that knew exactly how dark things had become. But I felt such a feeling of love and understanding in that moment. And the striking thing, which I noticed even at the time, was that there was no admonition, no call to repentance, no “don’t do this thing you’re thinking about” or “try not to be gay anymore, okay?” Just “No one else knows, but I know.”

It was the beginning of a new part of the journey for me. Things were still difficult, and there were many other things I learned, and continued to learn, but I no longer felt hopeless. I came to believe that God is much bigger than any of us realize and that there is peace available for those that seek it. Nothing is ever as black and white as it seems on the surface, and what is truth for one person may not apply to everyone. And for me, this meant distancing myself from the LDS church.

to be continued…

I always think I’m going to find a more clever title for these posts, but I guess now I’ve started this way, I’ll keep going, for anyone who might happen along and want to read this in chronological order.

So, when the story left off, I had just told my therapist. I left that day with an assignment to write out my “romantic history” for want of a better term. It was fairly short – I’ve included most of it here. It wasn’t extremely helpful in the moment, though as I mentioned before, I did have one or two insights into my own behavior. The main thing I remember from that week between appointments is the feeling of total panic that everyone would find out. I spent a really really long time trying to figure out how to password protect the word document I was writing for my assignment, even though the only person who would have access to my computer at the time was my mom, and I knew she never even turned it on, let alone looked at any files. But I felt so afraid that someone would find out before I was ready to talk about it or deal with it. When I went back the next week to see my therapist, we looked over the pages I’d written and discussed them, but she didn’t need to keep them, and I seriously considered driving to like Magna or Tooele and finding a Kinko’s where I could shred them, so no one I knew would accidently find them in the garbage. As though I knew a lot of people who were dumpster diving! It was insane, but it was so scary at the time.

Even though I was still talking about it in conditional terms (“it really might not be true”), in my heart I knew it was, and I felt very limited in my options. Basically it felt like there were two choices – one was to bury this part of myself and go on as I had been, resigned to being alone, and then second was to “be myself” with the hope of meeting someone, but in the process very likely losing everything and everyone that mattered to me. There didn’t seem to be a middle option, at the time. I felt sure that one or two of my friends would probably not shun me, but outside of that, I wasn’t at all certain of how anyone else would react.

A few months into discussing it with my therapist, I found out my friend’s aunt would be in Salt Lake for a few days for a family event. She was the only gay person I knew, at the time. She had lived outside of New York when I was there, and I’d actually stayed at her apartment for about a week when I was looking for a permanent place to live. I hadn’t been in touch with her for a while, but it seemed like a lifeline, so I emailed her. Even this was terrifying. I think I said something like “I’m kind of freaking out about the possibility that I might be gay. Do you think we could talk for a bit when you’re in town?” But I cried and cried, even just to write it down and send it to someone I knew, even though of all people I knew she wouldn’t judge me.

I decided that it was time to tell my friend, since I was going to be hijacking her aunt for a bit, and I didn’t want to put anyone in an awkward position, making up a story or something about why she was meeting me. My friend, with her social work background, was a lot like my therapist, waiting me out through a lot of ums and ahs and oblique references. I do think she finally let me off the hook though. I do remember feeling a bit of relief, along with the fear and despair, when I told her. Just the small act of setting down the burden slightly by telling someone you know will still love you is a pretty huge step, that early on.

So, my friend’s aunt and I went to lunch and talked for a long time, and it was the first time that I started to hope that there was a way this could end happily for me. Maybe it didn’t have to be so black and white. Maybe I could be happy and successful, have my family in my life, and STILL be gay.

See, the thing is, without really ever being explicity told by anyone that being gay was bad (I really don’t ever remember any overt references to this topic growing up), I still was carrying around this impression that being gay meant being completely occupied by sex, which was bad. And I think that was part of why I was still denying that I might be gay, because I knew I wasn’t obsessed by sex and never had been.

But talking to her that day, I think I felt for the first time that this might just be a normal part of life. That being gay might be the same as being straight, and that it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be promiscuous or have trouble holding down a job or get involved in drugs. You could be that kind of person and still be straight, and you could be a regular person with a job and a relationship and a family and be gay. It was quite a revolutionary thought in my mind at the time.

Over the following few months, I told a few other friends. No one reacted badly, everyone was very supportive and so I started to feel a bit better about things. I still hadn’t told anyone in my family, and wasn’t sure when I would do that. I felt I needed to figure out some of the church issues before I opened that door.

And during this time, I fell in love with someone, quite by accident. It happened so gradually that I didn’t realize it until I was in pretty deep, emotionally. It was someone who was not in a position to return my feelings, but I fooled myself into believing it might somehow work out for a long while. There were a few short weeks where I was happier than I’d been in years and years, and I guess the good thing that came out of it was that I wasn’t wondering anymore. I had never felt that way before, and I couldn’t pretend anymore that it might not be true.

But the happiness went away pretty quickly, and things ended badly. I think there’s a reason that most people have their first loves when they are very young, because to have it at 31 I think it took on an even larger meaning for me. I literally felt like if this didn’t work out, that was it for me. I wasn’t ever going to meet anyone else. The months after it ended were some of the darkest I’ve ever experienced. I was also struggling on a spiritual level, which I’ll talk about more in the next post, and I had some financial issues from my broken leg and the medical expenses involved, and there were many many days when I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

Despite the fact that this new SLC registry is almost entirely symbolic, in that most if not all companies that want to offer partner benefits already do, I still think it’s an important step in our state, and hopefully in the long term as more and more cities and states offer some protection under the law, there will be changes on a federal level as well.

This debate becomes so emotional, and I understand why. Even though the truth is not that marriage has always been a sacred union between one man and one woman, but in fact was for most of history a purely business transaction between families with interest in joining land and other property, I can still understand people’s gut reaction to the idea that two men or two women don’t constitute a marriage.

But I find in talking to people about specifics, most of them are shocked to find out what being denied the ability to marry really means, in practical terms. Here is what it means to me, and to my partnership:

* We can be denied the ability to see each other in the hospital or make decisions regarding each other’s care. For us, we are lucky that both sets of our parents are supportive of us and would not deny us this. And we can and should fill out paperwork to designate each other as having power of attorney and to designate any health care requirements (DNR, etc.), but in an emergency, if you don’t happen to have your paperwork on you, who wants to be hassled by a well-meaning but ignorant doctor or nurse about your right to be in the room with your loved one? Married couples do not have to worry about this. I’m willing to bet even unmarried straight couples rarely get questioned on their right to be in a hospital room.

* My partner’s business offers domestic partner health benefits, although because I am also employed we don’t take advantage of it. We each have separate health insurance policies. But if I were ever unemployed, and we signed up for partner benefits, we would have to pay income tax on the value of the insurance policy.

* We recently purchased our first home together. We are co-borrowers on the loan and we hold the title jointly, with right of survivorship, which means if one of us dies the other will automatically inherit the “other half” of the house. We can and should also make wills, spelling out that we are each others benefactors. But because we are not married, the surviving partner will have to pay inheritance taxes on the portion of the house they inherit. This means that many “widowed” partners still end up losing their homes after the death of their partner.

* We both have 401(k) policies with our employers, and we have designated each other as beneficiaries. However, because we aren’t married, if one of us dies the surviving partner would have to pay up to 70% of that policy in taxes and penalties. A married spouse would be able to inherit the policy without taxes or penalties.

* If one of us becomes ill or disabled, the other is not eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. We would have to continue working, and limit the care we could offer each other, or we would have to quit our jobs.

These very basic things that inhibit our ability to take care of each other, and the part I don’t understand is why giving us these rights would impart harm on anyone else’s marriage or bring about the end of western civilization as we know it. I wish the discussion could take a more practical approach more often, because I really believe that if more people knew what is actually involved, they would have less of a gut reaction that gay marriage is wrong, and realize that if we are committed to each other, we should be able to provide for each other. Period. End of sentence.

with the Deseret News’s coverage of this story.

Registry quietly launches

Just don’t read the reader comments, it’s too depressing.

Well, despite the lameness of its new name, I think it’s great that Mayor Becker followed through on this campaign promise. My hope is that when people see that the sky didn’t fall and that nothing happened that threatened their own straight relationships – they didn’t suddenly feel an urge to run out and become a gay themselves – that maybe eventually it will change their opinions about civil unions and/or gay marriage. We shall see.

okay…i had more to say but have run out of time to say it. maybe more later…

First couple signs up for SLC ‘mutual-commitment’ parnership registry

more on this later…

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