Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Coming out - Part II

I had no one to talk to or in whom I could confide until a wonderfully understanding and intelligent woman I befriended at work finally began to reach out to me.

Debbie worked in my office during the day and went to graduate school several evenings a week. We sat near each other at work and became friends. We ate lunch together, went on breaks together, and spent so much time together that, despite the 15 or so years difference in our ages, our co-workers began to joke that we were married. In response to that Debbie said “If we were married I wouldn’t be here. I’d be at home, lying on the sofa, watching soap operas and eating bon-bons all day.” I began calling her Bon-Bon Baby. She recalled me returning from that beach weekend with no visible signs of sun, combined it with my reputation for loving breakfast biscuits, and called me Beach Biscuit. We were a couple: Beach Biscuit and Bon-Bon Baby!

She invited me over for dinner or a movie; I’d help her move some piece of furniture; we’d talk on the phone, or sometimes we’d go for walks in the park near where we both lived. She told me that she was in love with a man she couldn’t have, a priest, and I told her about Baron. With her knowledge of psychology and her insightful questions, she helped me begin to imagine what life might be like outside of the JW religion, where I could be the person I really was inside.

Though not many, I had seen gay people before. I remembered on the California trip with Baron we’d stopped at a retro diner and had seen a group of gay men having a good time over brunch. There were 8 of them, and they appeared to be 4 couples. I pictured each couple had a smartly decorated California ranch style house with a red Spanish tile roof; that they often hosted dinner parties where they served cocktails and played Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in the background. I pictured them going grocery shopping together, one of them searching for a coupon and the other rolling his eyes. I pictured them cuddled up on their sofa at night watching TV together. Those thoughts comforted me and made me feel sad at the same time.

When the six-month separation was over Baron and I resolved to “do better this time”. We sincerely thought we could be in love with each other and yet refrain from expressing that love in sexual intimacy. Debbie didn’t believe this would work but I insisted I had to try it. Even if I were willing to leave the JW religion, I had no indication he would. And I knew the excruciating pain of being without him.

So Baron and I thought it best not to spend every available minute together as we had done before, hoping this would help us to resist our attraction to one another. We tried being out in public more, rather than being alone together at each other’s homes. We included our friends in our activities, and these things helped… for a while. But a few months later in January of 1991, after having been together all day at Alice’s wedding, we had a relapse and fooled around again. We knew that this time we would have to confess our "sin" to the Elders in order to soothe our prickled consciences and 'make things right' with God.

I had always heard from people in the congregation that the Elders were so kind and comforting whenever they had sought their help or advise. This is likely true in most cases, but not in mine. It took a lot of courage to tell the Presiding Overseer that I needed to talk to a committee of Elders, and I expected to be able to talk with them right away. But I was put off by the Presiding Overseer 3 times because a “matter of greater urgency” needed to be handled. I had not even told them the nature of my need to meet so I was stunned to be informed that my need was less urgent, 3 times. So for 2 weeks I had to agonize over the possibility of being put off again, delaying the relief of finally getting this off my chest. It was exhausting, consuming, and frustrating.

When I finally did get to meet with the committee of Elders and began telling my story, one of the Elders fell asleep! And not just a little nodding off. No, this man was completely asleep and was snoring! He had to be woken several times by one of the other Elders. I knew he worked on a garbage truck and got up very early in the morning for work, but I expected everyone to be awake nonetheless.

I explained to them about the two incidents of “loose conduct” (JW term for fooling around), expressed deep remorse, and told them of my earnest desire to do what was right. They asked a lot of questions about what we did. Had alcohol been involved? Maybe if we’d been drunk it would have made some sort of difference. They wanted to know the details, and asked me again about alcohol. (They probably hoped we'd been drinking so they wouldn't have to face the fact that I was gay and not just drunk.) Then they shared some scriptures with me and asked me to leave the room while they discussed my situation. They decided I was to be ‘privately reproved’ so no one in the congregation would be aware of it except these Elders. But in exchange for this ‘light sentence’ I had to agree to completely cut off all association with Baron. I was relieved and devastated simultaneously.

I had not anticipated the Elders’ condition in order to have my “sin” kept secret from the congregation. But what choice did I have? If I did not agree with the condition, they would publicly reprove me and the entire congregation would be told what I’d done and I would be labeled an “inappropriate associate”. So, in a genuine state of shock, I agreed to cut off association with Baron, but I’d never forgive them for it.

Despite my having described to them my extreme loneliness, the Elders to whom I’d confessed never included me in any of their family’s social functions. In fact, they never once inquired as to how I might be coping with my loneliness, depression, or even if I’d actually forfeited my relationship with Baron. I began to wonder “Where is the kindness, love, and comfort I’d heard that the Elders displayed? Weren’t these the sign of the TRUE Christian congregation? Since getting my hands slapped, nobody’s paid any attention to me.” In fact, I noticed that they smiled at me in a different sort of way from that point on, whenever we passed in the Kingdom Hall. And still no one checked in with me.

So I decided to transfer to another congregation that met at different times in the same Kingdom Hall, which would mean different Elders. I didn’t realize until I made my transfer request that when one is on ‘private reproof’ and requests a transfer, the ‘private reproof’ transfers with them!

“Oh no…” I thought to myself. “My father is an Elder in the congregation I’m transferring to! He’s going to find out!”

I was suddenly shrouded by a sickening fear. Unless I wanted my father to find out about my private reproof from the other Elders, I’d have to tell him myself.

Crush du Jour: Adrian Mutu


Java said...

Gaaaaaah A cliff-hanger!!
I love that you had such a close friendship with Debbie. That can be so helpful. I have a few friendships like that with gay men, some guys just dealing with coming out.

cb said...

And this is why I dislike organized religion so very much.

Jeff said...

I'm with cb. I grew up Baptist (Canadian, United Baptist that is), and it was certainly homophobic, but not to the extent as the JWs or some other fundamentalists sects. I'm quite spiritual, but I haven't been to a church services in many, many years.

LOVE Mutu, btw!

Anonymous said...

I am amazed at the sacrifice that you had been prepared to make. And I thought Catholicism was making me feel bad. (((((Mark)))))