I saw “Beginners” a few weeks ago. It’s a movie about an elderly man who comes out to his son a few days after his wife died. They had been married for forty years and, according to him, she had married him knowing the truth. She thought she would be able to “fix it.”
For anyone who knows and loves a gay person (and I’m guessing that would be all of us, whether we realize it or not), the movie is profoundly sad.
I know many gay people and most of them aren’t sad at all. Most of them are out and open, happy and proud. It’s the ones who aren’t that I am talking about. The ones who are full of conflict and guilt, ashamed of who they are and unable to share the truth with their families and friends.
I won’t out the one I have in mind, though I love him so dearly and would give anything to free him from the prison he (and our Church) has constructed around him.
The thing is – only he can free himself.
And don’t think he hasn’t tried!
He tried being a priest, thinking, perhaps, he wouldn’t seem so odd (even to himself). He must have imagined finding men just like him. He must have visualized the kind of friendships he was longing for.
And he did find men like himself, and he did develop friendships as close and as satisfying as he had ever dreamed of. But then there was the sex. Because as much as he wanted it, as much as it was the natural expression of a man designed by God to love other men, it terrified him.
It was too defiant, too risky, there was too much at stake. So he left the priesthood, but he never did come to terms with the reason why.
And don’t think he hasn’t tried!
He tells the stories over and over again, skirting the edges of what really happened, each time getting a little close to the truth, each time skittering away in fear and shame.
So he married. A good woman who knows or doesn’t know – I can never figure it out. She doesn’t reveal anything and she is true and loyal to the core. They had children. Many children, because they are Catholic and because they love children and because each child (this is the unspoken part, I’m just guessing) proves, both to them and to the world, that the truth they live is different than the truth they keep secret.
The truth they live; the truth they keep secret. Not mutually exclusive. Complex, fracturing at times, but both truths are real. He loves his wife and his children. He is a gay man.
“Beginners” is a sad movie even though it ends happily with the main character embracing his true self and openly sharing who he is with his son. It’s sad because of the long years of having to hide who he was; sad because of the strange mixed messages he and his wife gave their boy – who, though a grown man, is still confused and uncertain about his own identity and how to relate to women; and sad because no one should ever have to settle for less than a full, happy life.
The man I am thinking of is old and tired now. He lived an amazing life in which he poured himself out for others. He is a legend in his community. Yet in his own eyes, he is a miserable sinner, tormented by guilt, conflicted and torn about his very identity.
I am a Catholic, but I reject that part of the Church which teaches gay people that they are “objectively disordered,” as if God is capable of creating such a person, as if genuine, faithful love can ever be wrong, as if anyone has the right to condemn another for what he is.
And while I’m at it, I reject the whole culture of gay-hatred and fear which lives on in pockets and ugly places the world over. There was a time when I also feared and condemned homosexuality. I had my own judgmental and ugly opinions.
But I woke up one day and started listening to what gay people were saying, started paying attention to the fact that the gay people I knew were exactly the same as me, started being open to the idea that I didn’t know everything. It’s not too late. We were all “beginners” once.
And no one should ever have to settle for less than a full, happy life.