Sunday, February 08, 2009

Coming Out

Part 4 of In the Footsteps of Spring, an exploration of the coming out process as a spiritual journey.

In the previous installment of this series, I shared my “intimate soliloquies” - in particular, a “letter to God” that I wrote as a closeted gay man in 1992.

Such conversations with the sacred within, or, in other words, with the deepest part of myself, nurtured self-awareness and brought to consciousness the desire and need to live an authentic life - a life of integrity. The call to embody such a life was and remains a sacred one - and I experienced it at that time in some rather unusual ways (as I document
here).

In retrospect, the process of coming out to myself first became conscious to me in 1984, when I was 19-years-old. By 1987, it was well underway. Not surprisingly, it was my attraction to two different male friends (straight male friends, as it turned out) during these years that spurred this journey of consciousness along. These experiences made me particularly aware that in order to meet other gay men who were secure and comfortable about who they were, I first needed to become, myself, that kind of secure and confident person. And I couldn’t become that person while ever I remained closeted.

By the early 1990s , however, I was teaching at a Catholic primary school in Goulburn, New South Wales. I loved teaching, and my years in Goulburn were a very creative and fulfilling time for me. Yet, clearly, it was not the most conducive environment within which to come out as gay. My teaching career, and in some ways my whole life in Australia, demanded the construction and maintenance of a heterosexual persona, one that over the years had become too powerful to confront and dismantle in the environment that fed it. And so I opted to remove myself to a totally new environment - to a place where that persona would not be needed and where nobody knew me, and where in many ways I could begin anew.

I’d long wanted to further my studies in theology, and so moved to the U.S. to pursue a Masters in Theology at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota. Even though this was a Catholic institution, I knew from my research that its theology department was open to asking and exploring the types of questions about sexuality and spirituality that I was living with. I was not disappointed. For my Master’s thesis I was able to explore the coming out process as a spiritual journey. This In the Footsteps of Spring series of posts (one that begins here) draws from that thesis of 1996.

After a year or so of study and of living as an out gay man, I realized that it was time to come out to my family back in Australia. For months I labored over my “coming out” letter. It was finally completed to my satisfaction in October 1995, but it wasn’t until the following February - St. Valentine’s Day, 1996 - that I sent it off. Why the feast day of the patron saint of love? Well, I thought, what greater gift of love could I give my parents than sharing with them who I really am?

Following is the text of this letter and their response to it. (You’ll notice that I begin my “coming out” letter with the words of the Kate Bush song that I highlighted and discussed in this previous Wild Reed post.)

__________________________________


It lay buried here,
It lay deep inside me.
It’s so deep
I don’t think that I can speak about it.
It could take me all my life,
Or it could take a moment
To tell you what I’m feeling . . .

“Love and Anger”
Kate Bush


18th October, 1995

Dear Mum and Dad,

I’ve been wanting to write to you with this news for quite some time now, but had always found it too difficult to do so. My life here [in the U.S.] has been so different to that in Australia and, up until now, I really haven’t been able to share much of it with you. I know that for many this would be no big deal, but I love you both too much to go on living a separate life from you.

Since my arrival in the States I’ve lived as an openly gay man. This basically means that to the many friends I’ve made here (both gay and straight) and to the majority of people I work with and go to school with, I’m honest about who I am. It’s been one of my biggest regrets and most painful burdens that I haven’t had the courage, to date, to share this honesty with those I love the most – namely you and my brothers. I’m really sorry for the hurt that my luck of trust must mean to you.

The course work here has provided both tremendous affirmation and opportunity for me. I’ve been able to express myself and define the journey that I’m on in a very supportive environment. I’ve made some wonderful friends – and am loved and respected by them for who I am.

Within weeks of arriving here I joined Dignity Twin Cities – a group of gay/lesbian/bisexual Catholics and their families and friends. Within months I was elected onto the Dignity Twin Cities board as editor of its monthly newsletter. I’m also a member of a very open and progressive Catholic parish – St. Frances Cabrini – and worked with a committee on drafting and implementing a Statement of Reconciliation between the parish and the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community – the first such statement ever issued by a Catholic parish.

I was also involved, as you know, in organizing the visit last year to the Twin Cities of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and, recently, I was a founding member of Open Ground – the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual Alliance of the College of St. Catherine – Minneapolis. I’m proud of my many achievements here, and I hope that you are too. Later, I’ll send some copies of the Dignity newsletter, as well as various papers I’ve written since arriving here.

As you’re well aware, there’s an element of the gay community that is characterized by promiscuity and shallowness. I’ve seen much of this “sub-culture” since living here. That I reject it is, to a large extent, due to the values you instilled in me. I’ve met many gay men my age who, lacking such values, lead pretty meaningless lives. I thank you for grounding me to the extent that you did, for it has enabled me to know clearly who I am and what it is I want out of life.

A part of me believes that the message of this letter isn’t really news to you. Yet increasingly it’s become important for me to be honest with those I love the most. I don’t want us to drift apart. I hope and pray that my writing to you doesn’t cause you great distress or worry. I am who I have always been. It’s just that now I’m willingly sharing more of myself with you. I am very happy here and feel strong and confident in who I am.

I’d like you to write back to me and share honestly your thoughts and feelings concerning my “coming out.” I’d also like you to share (when you’re ready) this letter with Chris and Cathie, and Tim and Ros.
Who else you share it with is up to you.

I love you both and am thinking and praying for us all.


Love,

Michael

The light
Begin to bleed
Begin to breathe
Begin to speak

Do you know what?
I love you better now

I’d love to hold you now
I’ll kiss the ground
I’ll tell my mother
I’ll tell my father
I’ll tell my brothers
I’ll tell my loved ones
How much I love them

“The Morning Fog”
Kate Bush


____________________________________


Dear Michael,

Thank you!

We really appreciate your honesty.

First and foremost, our love for you is unconditional and always will be.

One of the paragraphs in your letter, where you acknowledge your rejection of certain lifestyles, was very comforting. We pray you will continue to hold onto meaningful values.

I must admit, I was partly prepared for your admission. Even so, my tummy, just for a moment, had a decidedly “sinking feeling.” There were a few tears. I’ve had time to ponder and collect my thoughts and feel much calmer.

Thank God, Gordon was also prepared but had similar feelings to mine.

Strange, isn’t it? We were both waiting for your letter to eventually come but neither of us had voiced it to each other.

There are so many unanswered questions but, hopefully, in time, we will be able to communicate with you and so allay any fears we may have.

We will be talking to Chris, Cathie, Tim, and Ros, and will share your letter with them.

I guess we are like the majority of parents who have been confronted with the gay admission from their child. We are experiencing a mixture of feelings which in time will be easier to deal with.

We love you dearly, and we too are praying for us all.

God bless,

Mum and Dad

___________________________________


Coming out, of course, is not a one-off event. It’s a lifelong process of growing in consciousness and compassion. Since the above letters were written thirteen years ago, both my parents and I have continued to grow and “come out.”

I appreciate what theologian and poet David Weiss has to say about the ongoing nature of coming out:

[Coming out is] usually a life-long process, because the closet keeps chasing after you as societal assumptions try to erase you again and again. The moment of coming out will need to occur again and again. So to move beyond Coming Out is not to put it behind you; it’s simply to add another act to the repertoire of holiness in your life, what I’m calling the act of Keeping Faith.

Also, like many LGBT people, I can strongly attest to the myriad of ways my life has expanded and been enriched as a result of “coming out.” Energies that had been used to maintain and safeguard a secret, hidden life are now directed into much more creative and life-giving endeavors. Since coming out I have blossomed in many ways, and my relationships with self, God, and others continue to deepen and become more fulfilling.

Not surprisingly (and as I’ve noted previously) I strongly resonate with the words of British actor Ian McKellen who, when talking about his own experience of coming out, observes:

When I first came out – as anyone who has had to go through that journey will testify – life improved. You gain as a person your proper self-confidence. You’re being honest and you’re standing up as yourself and for yourself. . . . On top of that I freed up my emotions, or at least my ability to express emotions without being circumspect, without lying, without this disguise. Acting is about telling the truth rather than lying. I improved as an actor. Maybe that’s why my career went positively in every direction and flourished and continues to do so.

I’ve also learned that we’re all called to discover, define, and express our sexuality within the context of the totality of our lives. We shouldn’t tailor our lives to fit a narrow understanding of, for example, the word “gay” as defined by others – be they gay or straight, conservative or liberal.

I’ve sought to document and share via The Wild Reed many of the experiences I’ve had and the insights I’ve gained as a result of my ongoing coming out journey. And as I note in this site’s banner, this honest sharing serves as a “sign of solidarity with all who are dedicated to living lives of integration and wholeness – though, in particular, with gay people seeking to be true to both the gift of their sexuality and their Catholic faith.”

As parents of a gay son, Mum and Dad have also continued to “come out.” In 2006 they had, what in reality was their own “coming out” letter, published in the Namoi Valley Independent, the newspaper of our hometown of Gunnedah. Last September, both Catholica Australia and the Minnesota-based Progressive Catholic Voice (of which I serve as editor) published a reflection on World Youth Day written by my parents. I’ll conclude this post with excerpts from this particular reflection.

We have come to accept that homosexuality is not a “lifestyle” that people choose; it is an “orientation” you are born with. The terminology that the Vatican uses to describe homosexuality is so distressing for us. Examples include “intrinsically evil,” and “objectively disordered.” Unfortunately, such terms fuel homophobia. Yes, it does exist!

There are many gay Catholics who desire to be accepted for who they are. We love equally Michael and his two straight brothers. They fill us with pride and joy. Our family continues to embrace and support Michael. We have been questioned by some as to whether or not we should do this as it is contrary to Church teaching. Being “out” parents of a gay Catholic child is challenging and frustrating!

. . . We continue to pray that those in power within the Catholic Church will consider acceptance and understanding towards those who are considered not worthy to receive the Eucharist.

NEXT: No Stranger Am I


Previous installments of In the Footsteps of Spring:
Introduction
The Light Within
Shards of Summer
Intimate Soliloquies

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
The Bayly Family – January 2009
Coming Out: An Act of Holiness
The Triumph of Love - An Easter Reflection
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation


Artwork and photography: Michael Bayly.


8 comments:

kevin57 said...

Thank you, Michael!

This entire post was poignant and touching.

I only hope that many people, especially those struggling to emerge from the darkness of the closet, read it.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, Kevin.

Peace,

Michael

adcontrarium said...

Off topic, but the fires in Australia are horrible. I hope your family is safe. Every best wish all Australians!

crystal said...

Good post :)

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Adcontrarium,

Yes, the bushfires in Australia have been terrible and tragic. It's inconceivable to me that many of them may have been deliberately lit.

Thanks for your concern for my family. They're all safe. My older brother and his family live in Melbourne, Victoria - quite close to the fires. But being in the city, they'd be safe. The rest of my family are in New South Wales, the state north of Victoria.

Like so many, my thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones and/or their homes as result of these fires.

Peace,

Michael

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, Crystal.

Peace,

Michael

leo said...

Love this article, but my experience is slightly different, as an Asian living in Australia :p. Coming out to my beloved parent is never easy, but is worth it. And at the end of the day parent aren't as dumb. We are so much closer since I came out to them.

I recently need to make a decision of coming out to one of my best high school friend in HK as he is getting married soon. And I really felt the friend has drift apart as I have been hiding from him.

Anyway I am glade that I saw this today. It is inspiring.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, Leo. All the best to you.

Peace,

Michael