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My Own Valentine

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For most of my life, I have had a tendency for being a little bit too tough on myself, in all the wrong ways. I learned a few years ago the human habit of mistaking GUILT for SHAME, and frankly, it changed my life.

GUILT is the experience of regret about something I want to rightfully change (in other words, I experienced something I didn’t like, so I want to make amends and not do it again). SHAME is the measure of worth in accordance to the guilt. Most humans have the tendency to take experience of GUILT, and turn it into the experience of SHAME. (Americans are amazing at this, and women are even more impressive, as are those who grew up in conservative religious households).

Examples: If my son makes a mess and I get angry and scream at him, I will later feel guilty. I don’t like screaming at my son and I should have handled it differently. I make amends and we clean up the mess together and I learn a lesson about myself. That is GUILT.

If my son makes a mess and I get angry and scream at him, and then suddenly I start beating myself up for being a terrible parent who makes huge mistakes, and I think I’m messing my children up, and I wonder why I ever decided to become a father… well, that is SHAME.

If I feel sad one evening and I eat an entire pizza to feed my feelings, and later I will feel bloated and gross. I decide that I don’t like how that feels and recommit to myself to eat better and exercise. That is GUILT.

If I feel sad one evening and I eat an entire pizza to pizza to feed my feelings, and later I will feel bloated and gross. I decide that I am a fat, lazy slob that no one will ever love and why do I even work out or try to look good because I’ll be single forever. This is SHAME.

And while we all have individual examples applicable to our lives, families, and internal doubts and struggles, these principles are universal. Simply put, GUILT is healthy, and SHAME is not.

I work with my clients in therapy on these principles constantly. When I first point out SHAME to them, many of them feel SHAME about having SHAME. Ironic, isn’t it?

One of my very favorite quotes is from a Jewel song. “No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.”

And so, over the years, I have learned to be forgiving and kind toward myself after I experienced GUILT, and I learned to begin separating out the SHAME. Any negative patterns within myself, I began sorting out because I realized they were bringing me pain. They were things I wished to be free from.

I’ve been single, almost exclusively, for nearly five years now. I have balanced out a single life with one where I have learned to be more and more true to myself as a professional, as a father, and as a friend. I am getting better and better at being a strong, compassionate, and authentic person who puts himself first in healthy ways, learning more from the GUILT experiences and reducing the amount that come from SHAME.

And that brings us to Valentine’s Day, a day when it is easy to sit and lament being alone, to dredge up sadness and bitterness about the times when I fell in love or tried too hard or had my heart broken. It’s easy to jump to a SHAME space about being single, as if the status of being in a relationship somehow automatically assigns me more worth as a human being.

I’ve given love a good shot a few times over the years, hoping there will be times when it pays off. And I’ve learned that while it hasn’t yet, I can offer myself the same love I hope to receive from other people. My life is slowly and surely transforming, turning ever more amazing as I proceed down positive paths, learning as I go.

And in my mind, firmly in the GUILT space, are the memories of painful times in dating in the past:

The time that man, after making out with me on a date, sent me a message the next morning that said ‘That was a mistake, I don’t find you that cute. We won’t be going out again.’

The time another man had sex with me after a date and told me, while still cuddling with me, that I had soft skin and a nice dick, but I needed to work harder on the rest of me.

That time another man kissed me and then immediately said, “I shouldn’t have done that. I respect you too much.”

That time I pined after a man for far too long who I loved, and who loved me, but the man lived far away and refused to be with me even when he could have been.

That time when I was told that I had all the qualities a man was looking for, but that my children were holding me back.

The times I have been told I’m too confident, or too smart, or not handsome enough, or that I don’t drink enough, or that I don’t have enough money.

All of those comments on dates that have reinforced SHAME, measuring my worth as a date-able commodity, I learned to instead push them into the GUILT category, and to begin learning about myself through the types of men I date, and how they treat me, and who I choose to give of my time and attention to, and how I treat myself after these experiences, and who I surround myself with, and how I pursue relationships.

And while I remain open to love and relationships with the right person, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to turn that love and attention toward myself and my children.

And thus it is that today, at age 37, I am thrilled to be my very own Valentine.

 

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Lesbians and grossed out gays

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“What are you reading?”

I looked over from my book to the man on the treadmill next to me. The gym was crowded and smelled like sweat and machines, a familiar smell in the winter months in Utah. Air pollution was particularly bad today, given the inversion, and I had come inside to shake my headache and get my blood flowing and heart pumping.

While doing a warm-up on the treadmill, stretching my joints out along with each muscle and tendon, I had set my current biography up on the stand, a book I was loving.

“Oh, it’s a book about Sally Ride.”

“Who the hell is Sally Ride?”

The man had his ball cap turned slightly to the side. I wondered if he was trying to flirt in some brash way.

“She was the first American woman in space, back in the 80s. She was pretty amazing. A real revolutionary.”

“Sounds boring as all hell.” He looked at me as if trying to challenge my enthusiasm for the book.

“She was also a lesbian, though that wasn’t revealed publicly until after her death. She was with her partner for 30 years.”

“So how is that supposed to make her special.” He said it like a statement not a question.

“Well, I’ve been researching a lot of LGBT history lately. It’s kind of hidden in our society. Like I had heard of Sally Ride, but never knew she was lesbian. I heard of Alan Turing, but never knew he was gay. I think Ride was pretty incredible.”

The guy finally looked away, pushing some button on his treadmill to slow his speed. “I think lesbians are pretty disgusting.”

I gave him a disconsolate look. “What, why? What makes lesbians disgusting?”

He lowered the incline on his treadmill as well as I kept going. “I like dudes. Masculine dudes. Lesbians are gross. Vaginas are gross.”

I sighed and gave a half-laugh. I pictured all of the gay dating profiles I had seen over the years that said things like Man seeking masculine men. Masc for masc, no fems. I thought about informing this man that he didn’t have to be sexually attracted to women in order to respect and understand them. The hyper-masculinity of male culture drives me nuts, whether in the straight world or in the gay one.

I thought about my sister Sheri and her wife Heather, and wondered how often they faced this kind of attitude from gay men, men who were supposed to be their allies in the fight for equality. I knew the shaming words against transgender people from gay men was even worse. Lesbians are hyper-sexualized by straight men and shunned by gay men. The whole thing just reeks of patriarchy.

“I love lesbians.” I looked away as he stared at me in shock.

“Bull. How could you possibly love lesbians? You’re gay.”

“I know a lot of lesbians, dozens and dozens of them. And I genuinely like every one of them that I know. They are good people, smart, dedicated, talented, genuinely nice people. I could say the same thing about every transgender person I know, literally every one. But I can name a whole lot of straight people and gay guys I don’t like. So I love lesbians.”

He stopped his treadmill. “Whatever, man. Enjoy your boring book.”

I turned back to Sally Ride, eager to learn more about this fascinating woman. Guess I wasn’t masculine enough for that guy.

 

 

 

My son, the Zookeeper

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Dad, remember how I wanted to be a hunter?

Yeah, buddy.

And I wanted to hunt all over the world and kill just the mean animals that hurt the nice animals?

Yeah, buddy.

And I would live in a hotel for nine million dollars and it would have a swimming pool and you could come and visit me but I’m probably gonna not ever get married cause I will be hunting all the time?

Mm-hmm.

Well, I changed my mind. I don’t want to be a hunter anymore.

Oh?

Yeah, instead I want to be a zookeeper.

Okay, that sounds great.

Cause a hunter has to hurt animals and I don’t want to hurt animals, instead I will give them a nice place to live.

Great.

But I have to figure out how to get the animals to the zoo. How do they do it?

Well, some animals are born in the zoo to their moms and dads who are already in the zoo. Others are captured and moved to the zoo.

Hmm. I like the ones born there the most. I don’t want to capture animals without their permission. Maybe I will travel all over the world and meet animals in the forests and jungles and oceans. And where else should I meet them?

Well, maybe the desert and the rain forest and the grasslands.

What’s a grasslands?

It’s like big green fields where animals like giraffes and zebras live.

Don’t they live in jungles?

No, it’s different.

Okay, well I will go to the grasslands too and I will meet the animals and talk to them and tell them to come and live in my zoo if they want to, and if they do then they can come and live there and we will be friends. I can build really nice cages for them and feed them and they will really like me but sometimes I will stay there all the time and other times I will have to go back to my hotel to sleep and the animals might get really mad and grumpy because I am gone but then I will come back the next day in the morning and cheer them up and they will know that I didn’t leave them and instead just went home to sleep and then we will be friends again.

That sounds great.

And it can be all the different kinds of animals, right?

Right.

Whatever kinds I want?

Right.

I think that sounds really cool.

Me too. Sounds like a lot of work.

I don’t like to work.

I know.

But maybe I will like to work when I’m a grown-up.

Mm-hmm.

And you could come and visit my zoo if you wanted. Even if there are some scary animals you wouldn’t have to be scared because they would still be nice ones or they couldn’t live in my zoo.

Yeah.

And I will have to feed them lots of different things. Like horses eat hay and lizards eat crickets. Or maybe they can eat meal worms. And I will feed the snakes mice. And I will have lots of tigers and mountain lions and I will feed them meat.

Yeah.

And the big fish like whales will have to eat little fish.

Yeah. Where will you get all that food?

I don’t know, at the store maybe.

That will cost a lot of money.

I will have probably nine million dollars at the hotel, remember?

Oh, right. And maybe you can charge people money to come and see your zoo.

Why?

So you can make more money to feed the animals.

But it could be free.

Well, when we go to the zoo, we pay money. Then they use that money to take care of the animals.

Well, I’ll think about it.

Okay.

Lunch was delicious. Can you read me my fortune cookie now?

Sure, hand it to me. It says ‘Maintain good health for that is your wealth.’

That’s dumb. That’s not what it is supposed to say.

Oh? What did you want it to say?

It was supposed to say, ‘hey, it’s okay to change your mind and be a zookeeper for nice animals instead of a hunter for mean ones.’

Oh.

I’m done with lunch. Draw me a dragon now.

Resolute

Resolute

Seven hours remain in 2015, and I sit, engaged in my favorite pass-time: writing. And I realize at this moment, I am resolute (defined as admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering).

I began 2015 in Seattle, Washington, where I had moved in a grand gesture to find myself. I had been there since September the year before, three months of intense personal growth where I dated, found new employment, and explored every corner of a new city. Now far away from my children, I found new ways to stay connected to them, through drawn comic strips, nightly webcam calls, monthly visits, and little mailed gifts and postcards.

In January and February, I found myself with new friends and new support systems, yet working in a difficult job with high stress and low satisfaction. I spread my exploration of Washington to varying corners, looking at rainforests, islands, mountains, and beaches, and I grew to love the climate, the people and the area, and to hate the traffic, the parking, and the cost of living.

As March approached, I came to a few powerful realizations. 1. That in Seattle, I was the same me that I had been in Utah, just a lot farther away from my children. That sounds like such a simple realization now, but it was a powerful one toward my journey. 2. That I was losing all interest in dating, and that I no longer wanted to put my energy toward it. I learned to spend time with myself, and had dinners, saw independent films, and went to plays and movies on my own. 3. That I had all the building blocks for a powerful life already in place: a love of history and books, a kind and strong heart, a curious and careful spirit, a great smile, talents for helping and understanding others, and a consistently developing skill of writing.

And once I knew all of those things about myself, I was able to return to Utah, stronger than before, and ready for the change. I left the difficult job behind, and seized a new life in an old place. I moved into a downtown apartment, renewed old friendships, and started brand new life initiatives.

In June, I opened up an Airbnb in my home, welcoming guests from around the world, and had some great and some not-so-great experiences. I began doing therapy part-time, and crisis work on the side, and I made the decision to work only for myself from now on, for as long as possible, so that I can love what I do and give it my all. I taught a few college classes again, and realized that I didn’t enjoy it like I used to, and I was peaceful with the change in myself.

I spent every waking moment with my sons. We drew, we played, we swam, we explored, we read and wrote, we laughed and screamed, we wrestled and snuggled and lived, and one night, one of my sons looked up at me and said “I’m so glad your back” and tears came to my eyes, and I knew that even though I had had to leave, I also had to return. I began volunteering in their school classrooms, and I learned how to be friends with their mom again.

I stayed in Utah for several months without leaving, and I tried my hand at dating a few times, though I didn’t really mean to. And against my better judgment, I fell just a little bit in love a few times, and I had my heart broken just a little bit a few times. And I learned that I was stronger than ever, better at taking care of myself, and independent, all qualities I had wanted for myself for so long.

In September, I made a surprise connection with someone from far away, forming a new and binding friendship, and it gave me foundation, hope, and strength, and I realized my own potential as a writer, a father, a counselor, and a man once loneliness was gone from my heart. I learned how wonderful it was to have someone care about my day-to-day life.

I went to my family reunion and found peace. I attended my sister’s wedding to her lovely wife in Massachusetts. I went on a wonderful weekend trip to New Orleans and awakened my wanderlust. I spent Thanksgiving with my mother and sister. And I ended the year with a surprise trip to Palm Springs. I realized again that my world is more full when I travel.

When gay marriage passed, I celebrated. When reparative therapy was shut down in courts, I rejoiced. And when the Mormon church put policies in place that called gay couples ‘apostates’ and turned children against their gay parents, I grieved.

I discovered more than ever my love of expressing myself through writing. I wrote about social justice, politics, zombies, dating, and my children. I wrote my observations on the world, on people around me, on ego, on courage, on the social work profession, on parenting, and on provocative and titillating professions and mindsets. I began a daily post on LGBT history that quickly became a personal quest with future potential.

I joined a Men’s Choir and began singing again.

More than ever, I began dreaming of the future, and realized that at 37, I am now just beginning to realize my potential.

In 2015, I danced, drank coffee, laughed until I cried, cried until I slept, and slept until I awoke with new hope. I set boundaries, made new friends, and grew closer than ever to some of the most important people in my life. I learned to say I’m sorry when I need it, and to ask for an apology when I need it. I learned to forgive. I learned how strong I am, and how things that I once perceived as weak are really just parts of my overall strength. I learned to relax, to work hard, to put myself first. I learned that the world has a long history, and I am only part of it for a brief time, and that I want to live that part as powerfully and authentically as I can.

And as I approach 2016, I vow to take care of myself in every category: physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I vow to feed and foster the important relationships in my life. I vow to get out of debt. I vow to push my limits professionally and to learn just what it is I’m capable of. I vow to travel. I vow to let myself believe that love is possible so long as I love myself. I vow to embrace every emotion in its entirety, in safe and healthy ways: gratitude, fear, anger, sadness, peace, security, guilt, happiness. I vow to live, more than I ever have before, with my life and the lives of my sons as my primary priority.

And thus I enter the New Year not with resolutions, instead I enter the New Year… Resolute.

Mormon wedding night

June 17, 2006

My cell phone alarm goes off at 5:30 am promptly, giving off a soft pleasant beep with a low vibration that rattles the phone against the nightstand. I sit up suddenly, stretch my arms wide, and feel my back pop. I twist this way and that, adjusting, yawning, moving my body from sleep to wake. I slept better than I thought I would, considering the significance of today.

Today I’m getting married.

It’s maybe the most significant day of my life thus far. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tend to mark spiritual milestones as the most life-altering and noteworthy events in life. Baby blessing, baptism, confirmation, ordination, patriarchal blessing, endowment, temple sealing. It is more than just a wedding. There is a commitment, a legal signing, and an exchange of rings still, but it is a special event that takes place in God’s holy temple. A holy man has the couple dress in white, kneel across the altar from each other, and, surrounded by family and friends who are worthy to be there, join hands to be married for all time and sealed together for all eternity. It is a beautiful ceremony, so sacred and enduring. Every religion has special rites, passages, and ceremonies, but this one is the big one if you are LDS.

As I make my way down to the continental breakfast in the time-share where I’ve been staying with my family for the past few days in Salt Lake City, I think about how different my life is going to be from here forward. That was my last night sleeping in a bed alone. And tonight means not only sharing a bed and starting a new marriage and no longer being single, it means… sex. When the word comes into my mind, I can hardly take another bite of my cereal. I’m so nervous!

Mormon kids aren’t taught about sex. They are only taught not to have it. There are long lists of Do Nots. Don’t date before you are 16. Don’t date other people who aren’t Mormon. Don’t kiss frequently and don’t make out, and it’s okay if you never kiss until you marry. Don’t dance too close. Don’t “heavy pet.” Don’t dress immodestly. Don’t touch any private parts, your own or others. Don’t engage in any form of sexual activity prior to marriage. And the biggest don’t of all: don’t be attracted to someone from your own gender and definitely don’t act on it if you are.

I can still remember when I was 15 and the group of boys in my ward were taken in for a talk about chastity. The man in his 60s looked at the group of us and, trying to level with us, said, “Boys, I know how good it can feel at times when you touch your pecker.” I’d been shocked and confused as he explained how our bodies are temples and need to be treated carefully and in accordance with God’s commandments. I’d had dozens of moments like this as a young man, as a missionary, and as an adult where parameters are taught and set up. Some indiscretions are excused while others are responded to very seriously. But I’m not worried about that because even though I haven’t been able to rid myself of same-sex attraction, I have saved myself for marriage, and Megan is the only girl I’ve kissed. Our physical relationship has stayed safe; small kisses, hand holds, and back massages, but always very tame.

But then suddenly, when you do get married, not only is sex permissible, it is expected. And with no education in a highly conservative religious culture that doesn’t talk about sex, newly married couples are supposed to know what to do, and when, and to what, and for how long, and are supposed to want to do it often. Birth control is somewhat frowned upon. Intercourse is allowed and other sexual stuff, like oral or other things, are never really taught about on the don’ts list so it seems to be up to the husband and wife to decide.

I’ve been nervous about the wedding night for weeks. I’m worried for a lot of reasons. I find Megan to be absolutely beautiful, inside and out. But even though I’m excited about sex in some ways—I mean it is my first time in 26 years!—I just don’t feel the same drive and passion and lust toward women that I hear my friends talk about with their wives. Where they feel aroused and excited, I feel scared and a strange sense of duty. It makes me feel like something is wrong with me. And I can’t shed my own attractions to men, but I know those aren’t natural or right. Once I’m married, I just know things will work themselves out. Things will finally be right in me, and I’ll be right in the sight of God.

A few weeks ago, in a panic, I’d called up my old friend and roommate Jesse, who’s been married a couple of years, to ask him about the expectations and details about sex. Does it hurt the girl the first time? Do I need any supplies or, like, sexy underwear or anything? I asked frightening questions about female anatomy and felt both confused and ill-at-ease as he’d explained the answers. He’d discussed male and female arousal, emotional connections, and foreplay. In another conversation, my brother-in-law had compared women to an electric stove that takes time to heat up and cool down, and men to a gas stove that heats up quickly and go out right away. I’d wondered how I was supposed to know all of these things, and if it was a sin to know now, and what other things I should know but didn’t.

After making a bit of small talk with various family members, I get dressed and head over to the temple by myself. Megan will be there in moments with her parents, who I adore, but I have just a few minutes to reflect on the beauty of this building and this place. So much sacrifice and symbolism went into its construction. So much heritage and love and pride mixed into this landmark, this Mormon Mecca. The grounds and the building itself are beautiful. The weather is perfect. It feels right that it is here that my life will change.

I turn and see Megan walk up. She’s radiant. She’s glowing in a way that can only come to a bride on her wedding day. Her parents look so proud and happy. We go through the next several hours in sacred temple ceremonies and we are soon married and sealed together in a simple and beautiful ceremony with our loved ones all around us. Mirrors on opposite walls reflect each other a thousand times, showing the eternal nature of our newly formed family. Then it is the reception, where we are greeted by all the eager well-wishers in long lines to congratulate us. Gifts, cakes, a string quartet, hours of photographs. And Megan looks so beautiful in her wedding dress, a red sash down the back adding flair to the sequined white. This all in conjunction with the festivities, events, and dinners of the past few days have made this a truly amazing week for us.

I don’t get nervous until we are in the horse-and-buggy ride on our way to the Romeo and Juliet honeymoon suite. Tomorrow we’ll leave for ten days in Canada, but this is where we’ll spend our first night together. I think about what this must mean to Megan: her first night with her new husband. She wants, needs, and deserves to be desired, loved, held, and cherished. Her first time should be gentle, full of love and heat and desire, free from physical and emotional pain and doubt. And I think about what this means for me: my first night with my new wife. A chance to show Megan that I love her, and how much. A chance to finally be a man, to work through all my doubts and fears and just do what is expected of me. A chance to finally prove to God that all my unholy desires can be taken away and I can be right in his sight.

The night goes well, I think. Even though I am really nervous, I do my best to try and keep my focus on her and I try to make it as special as possible. There are times when it feels really good and I am able to just be in the moment and focus on the emotional and physical connection and pleasure. There are times when I feel dirty, like what we are doing is wrong, all these things that are on the don’t lists. And there are times when I feel… unnatural. Like this just isn’t how it is supposed to be or how I am supposed to feel. Still, it’s fun and I do love Megan.

That night, I feel grateful for this amazing woman, I feel exhausted from the day’s lengthy festivities, and I feel confused about myself. We fall asleep to a movie and leave the lights on. It is so strange having someone else in my bed. Just like that, I’m no longer a virgin. I think about all the torture I’ve put myself through over my own sexuality and decide again, in that moment, that this is the right thing. I’m married now. I made the right choice. I did what God wanted, what I know is right, and I hope to be blessed for it.

And oh how I love this woman next to me.

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Another Broken Heart

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December, 2001

The show was a big success! As I walk my date, Erica, across the parking lot to her apartment, she tells me how much she enjoyed watching me in the production, and thanks me for inviting her. It felt great having a beautiful girl there watching me. It felt good to show off to the other cast members and to my roommates that I could date a beautiful girl. Before the play, we’d had a fun dinner at my house and played some games with my roommate and his date. And this is actually the fourth date I’ve been on with Erica. She’s an amazing girl. Talented, plays the violin, has a beautiful voice, and has a solid testimony. She even took me to meet her family over the Thanksgiving break, and they were wonderful people. I can tell she really likes me, and I like her back. I feel like we’ve really got something here.

Plays and productions are a really big deal in Rexburg, Idaho. BYU-I prides itself on talent and on stellar performances, and I’ve carved a niche for myself in it the last few years. Despite an extreme lack of self-confidence, I have become a talented actor, singer, and even comedian in a number of productions. I’ve made a lot of friends and have had some recognition, including my picture in the paper a few times. It feels great to be special. I’ve done a lot of story-telling to live audiences, both on and off campus, like I did tonight. I’ve performed with the choir in general conference, and got to participate in a beautiful cantata that we spent countless hours preparing for. I’ve been in plays and sung solos for live audiences, and I’ve had great feedback and reviews. I even formed an a capella group and we sang live and for groups of beautiful girls.

On top of all of that, I’ve worked hard at staying out of debt through college. Loans have taken care of tuition and books, but I have paid for all my food, housing, and insurance with paychecks. When money has gotten tight, I’ve donated plasma to get extra cash. I’ve been a stellar student, active and organized, and I’ve flown through school with a high GPA, enjoying each of my classes.

All that said, though, I’ve become an expert on walling off my emotions. Everyone feels that they know me, but I have this secret self that I keep hidden. My dear cousin recently said it best when, after a cast party, she told me “Chad, it’s like you are everyone’s friend, but nobody’s best friend.”

As we get closer to the apartment door, Erica grabs my hand. Four dates, and I haven’t held her hand yet. I told her on our last date, when I sensed she wanted that, that I move really slowly, and she’d told me that she was happy to take things slow. I feel anticipation from her tonight in greater waves, though. She’s expecting something. I feel that familiar pit in my stomach grow now.

I’m a great date. In high school, I pretty much always asked out girls I felt bad for. But lately, I’ve been asking out girls I’m intrigued by and interested in, girls that I could see making a good future wife. Even though I’m not physically attracted to them, I have found girls with attractive personalities, and girls I like emotionally. I’m always very attentive, funny, and fun. I plan out elaborate events and make meals and spoil my dates rotten.

We get closer to Erica’s door now and I feel my stomach pulse with anxiety. Erica, still holding my hand, turns to face me. She’s a bit shorter than me and has beautiful red hair. A few snow flakes rest lightly in her hair, and on the lashes above her beautiful blue eyes. She looks into my eyes and I can sense her heart racing, but it is for a completely different reason than mine is racing for.

“I had a wonderful time tonight.” I feel her clutch both of my hands now. She’s ready, and she’s telling me it is time now to kiss her.

I look away. I can’t meet her eyes. Can I do this? It’s just a kiss. I’m 23 years old now, and that is long enough to wait. A first kiss for me, but just a kiss. I like Erica, she likes me, it’s just a kiss. Any other guy would just lean in and kiss her right now. Do it,Chad! It’s just a kiss! A real man would maybe even make out with her. Then he’d tell all his friends about it.

“I had a nice time, too.” Did she sense the panic in my voice? Be careful, I tell myself, or she’ll know something is wrong.

Multiple times in acting roles I have hoped I can be cast as the leading man, not only so that I can prove that I’m a normal guy, but also because I want a chance to kiss the leading lady on stage, just to show I can do it. Then that bridge would be crossed and it would be easier for me to kiss a girl on a date, at least I hope.

I can’t do it, I can’t! I pull Erica in for a hug, releasing her hands and squeezing her shoulders briefly. “Thanks so much for coming out tonight.” I grab her hand in an awkward handshake, then, and begin to step back. My eyes catch hers again, and she looks shocked and saddened. She looks like I’ve rejected her. She must be feeling like she’s not desirable or something. Why can’t I desire her? I mutter another thanks and then begin walking quickly away.

I hear Erica’s door open as I move down the sidewalk. One of her roommates is waiting just inside, and I hear her excited chitter. “Did he do it, did he kiss you?” And then the door closes.

I reach my car. Erica’s response should have been, “Yes! He kissed me and it was magical!” Instead, I picture her running off to her room and crying out “No! What is wrong with me?”

I sit in the car for several minutes watching the snow fall. Rexburg is so cold in December. I hurt Erica tonight, and I didn’t mean to. I should run up to her door and tell her I’m sorry and then just kiss her. I’m going to have to do it some time if I ever want to get married, have a family, and do everything God expects of me. Why couldn’t I have just done it? I curse myself all the way home.

And I never call Erica again.

It’s months later when I get her wedding announcement.

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.

 

A Few of My Favorite Things

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I love tree branch picture frames, when the view from my back is a dusky sky surrounded by jagged leafy edges.

I love the empty space in my arms on nights with no kids, where I can almost feel them cuddling into me, invisible heads nestled into the spot between my chin and my shoulders, a pellucid invisible hand on my cheek.

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I love the one hundred different colors the leaves think to turn themselves as the heat of summer retires into shorter days and longer, colder nights.

I love words that arrest my brain with sound and rhyme, poetry and deeper meaning. Fervor. Cadence. Alacrity. Pulchritude. Profundity. Lackluster. Brouhaha. Cacophony. Conundrum. Detriment.

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I love the shining crystals that stand on freshly fallen snow, undisturbed by the ugliness of footprints and human destruction.

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I love the helpless peeping sounds ducklings make as they boldly forage across the pond.

I love the deeply textured and billowed skyscrapers, canyons, valleys, and cities of clouds I only see from airplane windows.

I love the all-encompassing warmth in my heart when I hear my children call out to me in the mornings, the feelings of genuineness, unworthiness, love, patience, dedication, strength, and fear they bring.

I love savory salty crunches.

I love that two people could have ten thousand children, and each one would be a new combination, a unique and unpredictable miracle of life.

I love sunlight on my skin through the window, and how it can warm my whole body.

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I love the bizarre combination of peanut butter spread on toast and dipped in orange juice, the sweet, soggy, earthy flavor that coats my tongue with each bite.

I love the deep muscle ache that sets in the day after a great workout.

I love taking the last product out of the box, the sense of finality and accomplishment in disposing of the container, and the fresh feeling of birth and newness of replacing it with a new package.

I love seeing a sight, be it a squirrel, a spoonful of soup, or a sad sequined stranger, and inherently injecting emotion, drama, motive, incentive, denouement, plot, and climax in a split second, my writer’s brain operating undisciplined and unrestrained in even the most mundane.

I love seeing a person recognize their potential, forgive themselves, and choose to step forward with strength.

I love in late September when the air coats my lungs with cold and feels like Halloween.

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I love using my strong thumbs to find the tense spot and feeling the pain intensify with pressure before it oozes out of the body like toothpaste from the tube, leaving only the impression of a bruise behind.

I love the rare occasions when the deep percussion of my heartbeat sets in my bones with rhythm, celebration, alcohol, and friendship taking over, and I dance without limits.

I love walking the streets of an unfamiliar place and, without agenda, awaiting the next experience.

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I love the thrill of a blank sheet of paper.

I love how each vertebra pops and expands and releases in the shift from downward dog to upward, and the newness each small stretch brings with it.

I love finding just the right angle in the mirror where I can think, “Damn, you look awesome”, for just a moment before I turn.

I love the unseen smile I get in my throat where no one can see when someone surprises me with just the right counterpoint in a bantering session, and the challenge I have to quip back.

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I love dark chocolate on my tongue, slowly melting.

I love the sound of woods, all rustling leaves and birdsong and pine.

I love the majesty, and the inevitability, of waterfalls.

I love the altering shades of blue in the eyes on my children, never quite the same, each containing their own universes.

I love the threat of the bathwater as it slowly rises around me, promising to cook me from outside in.

I love hot water down the spine.

I love the splashing colorful grandeur of fireworks.

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I love the smell of fresh apples.

I love earth, dirt, and grass beneath bare feet, knowing that billions of life forms exist below as they do here, and above.

I love thunderstorms, majestic, black, powerful, fill-the-entire-sky thunder and lightning extravaganzas.

I love choosing water by the cup, the glass, the gallon, and washing away all the unwanted with each sip, gulp, and drowning.

I love that there is no truth except my own, and that my truth is not your truth, and that your truth is not mine, and that my truth can change with age, and understanding, and experience.

I love shaking the boat, violently and willfully, or gently and rocking, so the water laps over and threatens the security of those who hold the oars, those who have forgotten other passengers are on board.

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I love the color coffee turns with just a touch of cream, and the soft bitter taste against my tongue with that first sip.

I love finding random knowledge, from a callously selected biography, an unexpected conversation, a dense nonfiction on an unfamiliar topic, a news article.

I love what I know to be challenged.

I love to have my awe inspired.

I love the pressure and anticipation I feel when finishing the last chapters of a book.

I love the slow painful realization that I’m not doing as well as I thought I was.

I love how many ways there are to make music.

I love my animal urges, and knowing that the animal is every bit as big a part of me as all the rest.

I love the feeling of a pair of eyes following me across the room.

I love losing myself in a role, in a character, in a line of lyric, in a song; becoming someone, something, somehow different from and more than myself, like all of us in one but still just me.

I love sticking it out, despite my most rational reasoning telling me I should go, and finding myself having a wonderful time.

I love learning that taking care of my own needs makes me better equipped as a father.

I love seeing myself on a long timeline, knowing each moment of my life was faced with all the authenticity I was equipped with at that moment.

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I love that everyone I have ever known leaves an impact on me, like a crashing meteor, or just a pebble, but enough to alter my lunar landscape for the rest of my days.

I love the other world I enter just before I fall asleep.

I love laying out small portions of my vulnerable self and finding out who will match me, pound for pound. I lay one down, then he does, I, then he, until trust and safety are there, or they aren’t. I love knowing that when I am not met in the middle, my sacredness, my self, will come back to me wiser and stronger through the pain and understanding.

I love that initial eye contact, then the gentle touch, then the kiss.

I love that line on the male form that extends over the stomach and into the hips on each side, the solidity and the core from which all else builds, and I love the strength when I feel place my hand there.

I love that no matter how far we fall as humans, physically or spiritually, we can always rise again in love and potential.

I love setting out to teach, and in turn learning more than I ever thought possible, over and over again.

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I love the assurance of the sunrise tomorrow, and the certainty of the moonrise tonight.

“Why don’t you like girls anymore?”

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“Daddy, why don’t you like girls anymore?”

I shifted the grocery bags onto one arm and knee while I fumbled for the apartment keys in my pocket. My six year old trained his big blue eyes up on me. Just behind him, his little brother, 3, made the jaws on his toy shark Chomp-Chomp open and close.

“What do you mean, J? I like lots of girls.” I fumbled the key into the lock.

“Yeah, but not like a wife likes a husband.”

I nodded as I pushed the door open and shifted the groceries back into two hands. “Well, that’s true. I like girls like friends, but not like a wife likes a husband.”

J followed me in as I dumped the groceries on the kitchen counter. “You used to like mommy like a wife likes a husband, but now you don’t, right?”

“A, you and Chomp-Chomp come in and close the door!” I yelled at my toddler out in the hallway. I looked down at my older son. “Yes, that’s right. Mommy likes boys and I like boys, too. You know that.”

A made his way in and somehow closed the door with his hindquarters while still manipulating the shark’s jaws. “Dad, Chomp-Chomp is a nice shark, he only eats mean fish!” He was yelling despite my being a few feet away.

“I know, buddy. Chomp-Chomp is your best friend, huh?”

“Yeah!” He and the shark went zooming into the room.

I started emptying the grocery bags on to the counter, J still standing there looking up at me. “But why?”

J’s been curious about his origins lately, asking all kinds of questions about his birth, what foods he liked as a baby, what his first words were. He asks about the house Megan and I lived in when we were married, the pet cockatiels we had, the trees that grew outside. His kindergarten teacher has him writing short stories and little plays, and they all seem to feature animal couples getting married and having babies, and he’s always wanting to look at photos of himself as an infant. His curiosity about the world and his place in it constantly brings a smile to my face. I love learning about the world through his eyes. Some answers just aren’t easy to provide to a 6 year old boy, though.

My brain flashed over to a commercial I had seen years before, an ad placed against gay marriage during the Proposition 8 trials in California. A cute little blonde girl being raised by two dads turns to them with poignant questions about marriage, looking hurt and baffled that she doesn’t have opposite sex Christian parents to raise her, the commercial ignoring completely the loving home she has.

I moved the eggs, apples, and spinach into their places in the fridge, my brain rehearsing all of the answers I could give to this beautiful little child who looks so much like me it is startling. I could talk about my Mormon upbringing and the religious counsel I’d had to cure my homosexuality through service. I could talk about how his mom knew I was gay before we’d married and how the marriage had lasted until I was going to break. I could talk about how happy I am now that I am out and all the puzzle pieces of my insides are put together. I could tell him how lucky I am to have he and his brother despite the crazy circumstances that brought them into the world. But he’s six, and all he needs to know is that I love him.

I turned around and drop down to my knees, getting on his level. “Well, Mommy and I used to be married, and now we aren’t, and we both like boys for marrying instead of girls, and we both love you. Mommy and I are still friends, it’s okay, and we both think you and your brother are the best things ever.”

J twisted his lips like he does when he’s thinking. “If you get married again, will you be a husband or a wife?”

“Well, I would get married to a boy, so we would both be husbands. Later this year, Aunt Sheri is marrying Heather. They love each other and they will both be wives.”

He nodded, still thinking. “I’ll probably get married when I grow up and have some kids, too.”

I gave an oh-so-serious look. “Yeah, I bet I know who you’ll marry, too.”

He gave me a look, recognizing that shift I get in my voice when I’m about to be silly. “Who will I marry?”

I looked innocent as I reach my hands up. “Oh, I don’t know. Probably a tickle monster.”

He screamed in mock protest as I grabbed at his knees, his shoulders, his tummy with tickling fingers. He fell against me in laughter, arms around my neck, and I squeezed him in tight.

“I love you, dad.”

“I love you, too, son.”

And suddenly there is a shark eating the back of my neck, and the next several minutes are spent wrestling and being monsters (nice ones, of course, who only eat mean things) and practicing standing on one foot. The afternoon is filled with a blanket fort and a cheese pizza and Dora the Explorer, who (I suddenly realize after my 1000th episode) yells everything instead of speaking.

It’s hours later as I watch my boys sleeping, J on the top bunk with his arms stretched out over his head, A on his stomach with his knees and arms folded underneath him (and his faithful shark at his side) when I realize, once again, how grateful I am for these incredible men in my lives, and how thankful I am that the world is changing, one generation at a time. These two well-adjusted happy little boys will grow up with a straight mom and a gay dad, and it will be normal to them because it is normal to us. A non-traditional family, yet a family still.

the woman on the plane

The older woman in the plane seat next to me let out a small, gentle, relaxed snore. She had slept through the drink and snack service and the collection of trash by the flight attendant. She was likely around 60, hair colored blonde and carefully styled, parted in the middle. She had on a stylish black sweater, white pants, and leather boots, with a gold necklace and brown belt. She was thin and fit with light makeup on. A true beauty.

Except perhaps for her open mouth, head tilted back, both sets of teeth showing as she breathed deeply, letting out another small snore.

I had to use the restroom and had been waiting patiently for over an hour for her to wake up, as she was in the aisle seat and I was in the window. We were on the front row of the small plane, and the restroom was all the way in the back. I estimated we had 30 minutes of flying time left and I wondered if I could somehow step over the sleeping woman.

I undid my seat belt, stood, and prepared to lift my right leg over the woman’s lap and step into the aisle. Just as I was reaching my leg over her, the woman woke up, laughed, patted my raised thigh with her hand, and said, “Now hold on, I can stand up.”

I returned from the restroom a few minutes later to find her smiling. “Boy, I really slept.” She had a lovely smile.

I buckled my seat belt once again. “Well, it’s just a few days after New Years. I don’t blame you for being tired.”

The woman rolled her eyes. “I was in bed by ten on New Year’s Eve, that’s hardly it. Just anticipating a few busy days of work.”

I extended a hand. “Hi, I’m Chad.”

She shook it gently. “Glory.”

I looked out the window at the snowy mountains below and knew we were getting nearer to air-polluted Salt Lake City (a terrible winter condition), leaving the chilly deserts of Palm Springs, California behind. “Do you live here in Utah?”

“Both places, actually. My husband and I own homes here and there and divide our time. We would probably leave Utah, but our daughter and grandson are here.”

“I live here as well. Been here about five years. I was in Palm Springs for the first time on vacation there.”

Glory nodded. “I grew up in Salt Lake. I like it well enough, but we adore Palm Springs. About 75 per cent of our neighbors there are older gay male couples. It’s such a nice change.”

I was surprised. I knew Palm Springs had a huge gay population, but was shocked to hear a Utah-based grandmother site this as a fact she liked to a stranger on the plane. We talked for the next several minutes, sharing stories. I told her that I was a gay father, co-raising my sons with their mother. We talked about her work in administration, and mine as a self-employed social worker. The pilot announced that we were beginning our descent into Salt Lake City as Glory showed me a photo of her adorable grandson, and I showed her a picture of my sons.

“So, Chad, tell me, what is it like being gay in Salt Lake City? I mean, really? I know there is a large gay population here, but it just seems so strange.”

I laughed out loud. “Strange is a good word for it. It’s unique here. The religion. The lack of diversity. And being a gay father compounds things. But I love it here.”

A few minutes later, the plane was landed and Glory gave me a small hug as we were still seated. “You’re on a good path, Chad. A good career, two beautiful kids that you clearly love. I have a feeling this year will hold good things for you.”

As I walked down the ramp, backpack on my shoulder, I waved at Glory one last time, and she smiled back. I remembered her last words, and found myself agreeing with her. ShittyCity

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