Friday, June 26, 2009

Coming Out in Homophobic Church Institutions: The Ongoing Struggle

From a journal entry dated November 1989:

Yesterday, I was leafing through the latest issue of Southern Reader. I saw that it contained an interview with Allan Gurganus. I’ve been reading his The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, so I skimmed the interview.

The interviewer asked him how he so marvelously places himself inside the head of a female character. He responded that, as a gay man, he finds it not difficult to imagine how women think.

I was electrified. I had picked up homoerotic overtones in the novel, but—even more—an underlying gay sensibility that finds it hard to rest easy with any easy answers to anything. Yet there’s a simultaneous tenderness in the book re: human foibles and our tragicomic past.

What impressed and liberated me in reading these remarks was to hear that a gay Southern novelist who has not written a “gay” novel would avow his gayness in a staid mainstream journal. After reading this, I went off to a campus meeting fired up to be more stalwart about owning myself. On the way, I thought that it would be good to re-read the gospels to see how they provide warrant for men-identifying-with-women to do so. That they do so was clear to me as a child. The marvel is that I’ve grown far from these insights—and from myself—as an adult.

At the meeting I was put to the test and failed miserably. The committee chair suggested that we show the movie “Maurice” to our gender and class students. As she talked, I began to blush. I caught the eye of the man across from me—a nasty homophobe who knifes gay men in his department in the back—and blushed all the more.

Why? Had it been an out-and-out standoff, I may well have held my own. And at another time I may not have blushed. But just when I wanted to stand up and be counted . . . .

Sometimes I think of just kicking off all the traces and being totally up-front and public. This would mean a radical reorienting and radical lifestyle changes. I think of this because it seems one cannot first claim one’s gay identity and then act on it. One claims identity by acting. Identify is forged and painfully achieved as a process, not merely by inner decisions or by coming-out statements. For all human beings, coming out is what we strive to do over a lifetime. It’s no accident that the same word—psyche—serves in Greek for both “butterfly” and “soul.”