I opened up about my father in Friday’s counselling class because I couldn’t open up about my sexuality. It’s something that has played on my mind the past few weeks. While everyone has been crying and sharing deeply personal things about their lives, I’ve been considering whether to say it or keep censoring myself. The censoring has won out where my sexuality is concerned – I still can’t bring myself to put that out there, in case someone’s offended or sickened. I talked about my father on Friday, because I just knew that I had to share something real about my life. I rarely talk about my father these days, whether it’s in AA, counselling or elsewhere. I experienced vulnerability when I told my colleagues about the feelings of abandonment, the anger, the sense of loss when I realised we would never form a close relationship. But more than that, I imagined what it might have been like if I was talking about the experience of growing up gay in a straight world.
I didn’t do the wrong thing in talking just about my father. It encouraged others in the group to share about their parents, and I achieved a greater sense of closeness with the group than anything I expected in the beginning. I don’t think my sexuality is the most important thing in my life, nor should it be in anyone’s life. But as in so many situations before, I’m left wondering why I can’t just say out loud this one thing, why I have to shut it down. In refusing to tell people about it I’m not just passively carrying on with my life regardless, I increasingly feel like I am pushing a part of myself down. And my sexuality isn’t just about me being attracted to members the same sex – I’ve come to see it as much more than that. It is my feminine side, it is my experience of life as an outsider, it shapes my whole personality. It can’t just be ignored.
In the past couple of years I’ve come to realise that to be truly happy I need to make myself more vulnerable. I need to take risks with people – say “hello” to them before they’ve said hello to me, share things with them without any guarantee that they will appreciate it, be myself everywhere I go. I don’t do these things that much yet because I have a lifetime’s worth of practising invisibility to overcome. Being invisible is so engrained in my character I rarely recognise when I’m doing it, even now.
I can see that in all areas of my life – counselling class, work, AA – I’m not 100% being myself at all times. On a good day, I think I may only be 50% myself. Deep down, in private, I am a funny, creative individual – a man with a strong feminine side – I am things I hardly ever show to people. Since I started learning about counselling I feel a strong urge to be more authentic in my life, but when I really explore what that means I am terrified. Because it means I have to start showing myself to people. I can’t hide behind this shy, quiet exterior any more if I want to be authentic.
For years, decades I’ve been baffled by the concept of happiness and how to connect with others. It seems the answer was staring me in the face all along. I think I may have just made a breakthrough. To be happy – no, to survive as an intact person – I have to make myself vulnerable, push myself forward when I want to turn and run back. I have to ask the guy that I like out. I have to smile at someone and ask them how they are before they’ve said a word to me. I have to pick up the phone and call someone I haven’t spoken to in ages. I have to act as if I don’t care what anyone’s opinion of me is. God, what a terrifying thing to contemplate!