Facing Gay: Lesson from Avenue Q

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Rod, the gay puppet in Avenue Q, just wasn’t ready to be told he was gay. He struggled to face it within himself, being a Republican conservative puppet. When his straight roommate Nicky, also a puppet and one who Rod happened to be in love with, told Rod it would be okay to come out, that his friends would still love him, Rod still couldn’t face it. He swore he was straight.

A little later in the play, a group of Rod’s friends are talking about him being homosexual, and he throws a violent tantrum, promising them he isn’t gay and making up a girlfriend in Canada that he corresponds with that they just haven’t met. Because if he has a girlfriend, even a fictional one, it legitimizes him, and the others can’t question him anymore, at least in his own mind.

Finally, toward the end of the play, Rod comes out of the closet. He spreads his puppet arms and announces the news dramatically. And the rest of the puppets and people shrug and nod, not in the least surprised. They already knew it. They just needed him to know it.

The only difference between the beginning and the end? Rod’s readiness to face the truth about himself.

As I watched Avenue Q in a community theater production last night, I laughed and clapped and cheered, loving the production, but Rod’s story struck me poignantly as I realized how vastly my life has changed in such a short amount of time. I sat next to a date, with another gay couple to my side. Behind me directly were two middle-aged lesbian couples, laughing raucously at the content of the show. In front of me were two gay couples and a lesbian couple. There were people of all age and type in the theater, but the sheer presence of the gay community at this production filled me with joy. Years before, I would have felt both jealous and disturbed, convincing myself there was something morally wrong with so many gay people in the room.

Reflecting on Rod, I reflected on the years of loneliness prior to my coming out, and the worlds of lies I created to protect myself. I remember being head over heels in love with my straight best friend in high school and wanting to spend every moment with him possible, but convincing myself it was just because he was a cool person and that there were no feelings of romance there. I remember finally accepting the reality that I was attracted to other guys, but created facts to block the pain of that, like that I hadn’t met the right girl yet or that it was only because I hadn’t kissed a girl yet or that God was testing me with the opportunity to make right decisions. Yet even after I was married to a woman, my self-excuses continued, the ultimate being that God would make me straight in some post-mortal existence if I was strong and faithful enough.

In my early 20s, I took myself to a therapist in college and told him I needed help “overcoming my same sex attraction”. A few therapy sessions in, he gently stated that it might simply be that I’m gay, and that there was nothing wrong with that. I emotionally and angrily responded that other people were gay, but that wasn’t a reality for me. I had a gay sister, gay friends, and I loved them no matter what, but that God had different plans for me, I couldn’t be gay, I just couldn’t, and how dare he say that I was. The therapist backed off right away. But I wish he had pushed me farther. It could have saved me a lot of later pain.

In the years since I’ve come out, I’ve seen hundreds of others make that same journey, take that long slow reasoning climb through admitting attraction to the same gender to running down the list of excuses and coping mechanisms to avoid the reality of being gay to finally admitting that being gay is a reality. For many, that is simply the start. Then there can follow years of unpacking personal baggage and bias as they sort out what being gay means and how to incorporate that with their outside world of jobs and families, hobbies and travels.

I’m exhausted by the mental and emotional energy that Rod had to use to stay comfortably in the closet, and I’m exhausted by my own journey there. No wonder finally coming out felt like coming up for oxygen–it was such a waste of effort to convince the world around me, and the world within me, that I wasn’t what I was all along.

And so, to every young man or woman out there who finds themselves attracted to the same gender, and for every young man or woman out there who feels their inside gender doesn’t match their outside gender, I invite you not to waste the time and energy that it takes to keep yourself hidden. There is an entire world out there of love and joy and self-acceptance.

At the end of the play, Rod maintains his friendships; it turns out his friends loved him all along and just wanted to be happy. And Ricky, the roommate he liked, put out a personal ad for Rod, who then got a sexy puppet boyfriend. Although he was just a puppet, Rod’s smile seemed much more genuine in the end.

I know mine is.

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Green means Go

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“Well, it isn’t that confusing. I was married to Mom and we had you two little monkeys. And then mom and me got a divorce, so we live in two houses and we both love you both.”

I look at the rear view mirror, which reflects the face of my six year old son, J. His brow is furrowed in frustration. “But you like to marry boys, so why did you marry a girl, then?”

I smile and sigh. He has so many questions, that one. To him, the idea of ‘marrying’ someone is the expression of love. He’s really asking, ‘if you like boys, why did you marry mom?’ “Well, we’ve talked about this before, son. Do you remember why I married mom?”

He nods, looking down at his fingernails. The light turns green and I move the car forward. “You married mom because you loved her and you didn’t think it was okay to marry a boy, so you  married a girl.”

“Yes, that’s right. You have a very good memory.”

“Yeah, but why?”

I shift my eyes to my three year old, A, strapped in to his car seat. He has my furrow, the same way of scrunching his eyebrows down to give off an excellent look of consternation. Though two years and nine months younger, he weighs almost more than his petite older brother.

“Why what, A?”

“Why didn’t you marry a boy?”

I had thought it would be a few more years before they started asking questions like this. J had been only 3 when I came out of the closet, finally and officially, and A hadn’t even been born yet. They’ve basically always known I was gay. They have other gay family members, they know many of my gay friends, and having a gay dad will be a completely normal part of their upbringing. They would never recognize the man that I used to be.

A few memories flood back into my mind; the Priesthood blessing I had asked for as a missionary that I believed would finally cure me; the hours spent in therapy, asking for help with being attracted to men and being treated for “porn and masturbation addiction” even though I wasn’t addicted to porn or masturbation; the night that I told Megan that I was gay, after years of dating her, and her nodding that she understood–that was the night of our first kiss, my first kiss, at age 26; (I didn’t kiss a boy until I was 32).

Then I think of the first few weeks after I had come out, and how I had very briefly considered taking my own life, believing at the time that my sons would be better off with no father than a gay one. I look back at them now and think of all the confusion they would have have had without me in their world. All these questions they have now, they have me to ask; what kind of questions would they have if I wasn’t here.

I think of rocking them when they were infants, cuddling them when they were toddlers. I think of the stories, crayons, and toys; the trips to the zoo, the aquarium, and the aviary; the wrestling matches, puppet shows, dance parties, and dragon fights. I think of the early morning feedings, the diaper explosions, the projectile vomit, the emptied cupboards and crushed crackers and spilled juice cups. I think of Christmas mornings and Halloween nights and Easter eggs and Valentines and Independence Day fireworks.

“Dad, I said why didn’t you marry a boy!” A shouts, playfully yet sternly, impatient for an answer.

“Whoa, be patient!” I pull up to another red light. How do I answer such a complicated question to kids that are 3 and 6? “Well, I grew up in the Mormon church, and they said that marrying a boy was bad, and that boys should only marry girls.”

A wrinkles his nose. “Well, that’s dumb.”

I laugh. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

But J still looks very serious. “Wait, but Mommy wanted to marry a boy and you are a boy.”

“Well, yeah, but mommy is straight. That means she wants to marry a boy who wants to marry a girl. I’m gay, and that means I want to marry a boy who also wants to marry a boy.” I am tempted to change the word marry to love, but decide that isn’t necessary right now.

The light bulb of understanding comes on over J’s head as it all clicks together. “Oh, that makes sense.”

A nods. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

“Well, good.”

The car is quiet for a moment as we get closer to our destination. The radio plays softly. I look up to the mountains in the distance, covered in snow, the sky filled with clouds above them. It is an absolutely beautiful day.

“Well,” J starts, thinking for a minute. “When I grow up, I think I’ll marry a girl. Maybe Hannah in my class.”

“That’s a great plan, J.”

He continues. “We can get married when I’m 25. We can have a boy and a girl and name them Tad cause it rhymes with Chad and Dad. And the girl will be Aloy.” I feel tears come to my eyes unbidden. Aloy was the name of my grandmother, the name I had selected if J had been a girl. “And we will have a rabbit named Sunface, and we will live in north Idaho because it’s so pretty, but not in Provo cause it is too hot and gross. And I will be a Wendy’s chef.”

I laugh out loud at his little plan for the future. “That sounds like a great life, J.”

Never one to be one-upped by a story, A pipes in. “And I’m not gonna get married to a boy or a girl. I will just live in a hotel with nine million dollars and I will have a dog named Loki and I will be a mighty hunter. Or maybe I will marry one boy and four girls and have nine million kids instead.”

The last stop light turns green, and I pull into the parking lot at McDonalds and both boy gave out a whoop of joy at the thought of Chicken Nuggets and milkshakes, and I think, no matter the wayward path it took me to get here, this is a pretty good life to have.

I think of all the years wasted at red lights, and resolve, again, to seek out the greens. It’s time for forward motion.