Making the best of it

Mrs. J was placed in a nursing home while we were on vacation in New York City a few months ago. Her mental state was very poor when we left, so we didn’t know if she would even fully realize what was happening. Her son made a seemingly rash decision to admit her because he said he couldn’t follow her around every minute of the day to prevent her from getting into things.

Because she kept describing her mental state as confused and disoriented, we had wondered aloud to her son if she might have been mixing up her medicine. Anyone would expect a 93-year-old to need some assistance with organizing numerous small pills from hard-to-read bottles, but he didn’t seem to care enough to help. He said he had decided to go ahead and put her in the nursing home, and if she improved he would bring her back home.

We were very surprised to find her memory perfectly fine when we visited her after returning from vacation. The nursing home is administering her pills as prescribed, so I believe our previous assumption about medicine being the root of the problem was accurate.

Mrs. J has now been in the nursing home for several weeks. She became quite depressed initially and lost her appetite (and forty pounds along with it), but as she adapted to her new living arrangements she began to see that things could be much worse. She now enjoys visits from various animals (including a skunk), playing bingo, and attending short services that various local churches hold in the lobby.

Although we were unhappy that she had to leave her home and move into a facility, we are comforted by the fact she is getting cared for properly. She is getting fed regularly, taking physical therapy, and even receiving better medical care. This nursing home is also a huge improvement over the one she was in while recuperating from hip surgery. The decor is welcoming, the nurses are very nice, and you don’t get slapped in the face by the smell of urine when you walk through the front door.

This evening we checked Mrs. J out of the nursing home for a few hours and took her to dinner. Three other friends joined us, then we all met up at another spot for dessert. After all she has been through over the past couple of months, it was great to see her smiling and enjoying herself again.

I guess if there’s a lesson to learn from this ordeal, it would be one about persistence. Mrs. J gets down and out sometimes, but she never ever gives up.

A new understanding of coming out

I am currently finishing up a book titled Boys Like Us: Gay Writers Tell Their Coming Out Stories by Patrick Merla. What struck me the most while reading is how coming out as a gay person means something different to everyone. The accounts written by older gentlemen explain that “coming out” simply denoted the time and place they had their first same-sex experience. Today we worry about acceptance by others after revealing our sexuality, but back then accepting yourself as homosexual was the ultimate goal in a world where being openly gay wasn’t an option. As the book progresses into newer stories, the definition of “coming out” begins to evolve into what we understand today – revealing an often taboo secret to those around you.

Even though I am homosexual and came out to my family and friends many years ago, I found the short stories in the book offering a new perspective on what it means to be openly gay. Some men took years to overcome their fear of being ridiculed and marginalized by admitting their sexual orientation. Some grew up confused about what was happening within themselves. Some knew right away.

Perhaps I am one of the lucky ones, because I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t gay. Being straight was just never an option. From around the age of five, I can only remember being drawn to the same sex. There were a few girls that I liked during elementary and middle school, but never in a physical way. I was more interested in emulating their penmanship or mannerisms than holding their hands or kissing them, yet I understood society expected me to have a girlfriend.

I constantly had crushes on boys. If a moderately attractive guy showed me the slightest amount of attention, I was a goner. Although I was technically a virgin until the age of 20, I had made love to many different men in my head by that time. There were several instances of fooling around with the same sex throughout my childhood and teen years, but never with someone I cared about in a romantic sense until twenty. Unlike the older gay men in the book, I never viewed my first same-sex encounter as “coming out.” That was something I did when I told my sister I was gay one night over dinner. A week or so later, after my parents left for church, I placed a handwritten note on the dining room table and went to my sister’s house for a few nights.

Even though that event marked the most important and gut-wrenching coming out experience I’ve had to date, I have found coming out to be a never-ending process. I constantly find myself in situations where I am revealing my sexuality to people – necessary or not. Maybe it’s while talking with my hairstylist about her lesbian stepdaughter. Maybe it’s when a healthcare provider asks if Honey is a family member or a friend. Even though it happens frequently, I still get a mixture of feelings; anxiety that it might not be received well, and pride because I get to present myself and my relationship with complete honesty.

So, while coming out might mean different things to different people, the one common vein running through it is the ability to accept yourself. Much like the saying “You must love yourself before you can love others,” we must accept and appreciate our own uniqueness before we can expect others to understand it. Knowing that, it is easy to see why so many still choose the security and anonymity of the closet.

The short stories in the book are chock-full of details and downright confessional at times, but they express the complexity and beauty of what makes each of us human. One day I hope to write my own story without censoring myself or worrying about what others will think; a brutally honest depiction of my experiences so far, a new “coming out” story from a guy who came out almost twenty years ago.

Out of order

I recently began watching Amish: Out of Order on the National Geographic Channel. The reality show features Mose Gingerich, an ex-Amish man who is struggling with issues pertaining to faith and family. Because Mose left the faith of his childhood, he is shunned by his family and considered damned for eternity. I can empathize with him on many levels and had a very visceral reaction to the show.

Like Mose, I was brought up in a strict religious home. My family worshiped at a small Pentecostal Holiness church that placed much emphasis on appearance and behavior. Our church leaders were able to pick verses out of the Bible to back up all of the strict rules we lived by. Women were required to have long hair (most wore it up in a bun), long dresses, and no makeup. Both sexes were expected to wear long sleeves and no jewelry… wedding bands included. Our pastor went as far as preaching against women shaving their underarms and legs.

Like the Amish, Holiness people didn’t fit in very well with the outside world. This “outsider” status wasn’t considered a negative attribute, but was actually taught as part of God’s plan for his people. Verses like the following were often used to explain why we were supposed to be different.

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” – John 15:19

As I grew older, I began to question many of the things I was being taught. On one hand I was being told the world was bad, while on the other I was hearing how God loved the world so much he sent his only son to die for it.

It didn’t help matters that my sister and I were attending a Baptist school where we were learning things that contradicted what we were hearing at our Pentecostal church four times each week. The differences weren’t huge but large enough to make me realize religion wasn’t so black and white. My Baptist teachers were reading the same verses but coming away with a different meaning. I began to understand reading the Bible and creating a belief system based off of it was completely subject to interpretation.

As I grew into a young man, I parted ways with organized religion – although it wasn’t so much a conscious decision as a slow weaning away. I didn’t feel like there was a place for me anymore in the little concrete block church where I spent countless hours as a child, so I simply quit attending services.

Although pulling away from the church community alienated me from most of my friends and family, I don’t think I was prepared for the rejection I was to experience after coming out as a gay man. While I may not have been shunned to the degree of Mose or other ex-Amish, I have had my share of rejection by members of the faith of my childhood.

I have now been living my life openly for almost 18 years. I have a wonderful partner, and I have been attending a loving and accepting church since 2006. Regardless of how stable and normal I might consider my life to be, I realize most of the people I grew up going to church with believe I am deceived and damned to hell.

Like the Amish, most of my family believes the only possible path to spiritual reparation for me would be returning to the Holiness community. Like Mose, I have no desire to participate in a denomination so encumbered by dogma and tradition and so separatist that they relish in their alienation from the rest of humanity.