In Jo's Blog

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.

Showing 6 comments
  • Shy

    Wow! That is so heartbreaking. Here we go again, fighting over love. On a side note, I recently discovered to my shock and horror that ‘gay’ is used as an insult among 2nd graders (!!!) up in Boychild’s school as in ‘that’s so gay’. When he repeated it at home I asked him if he even knew what he meant. Of course he didn’t so I told him (in a way I thought he’d understand). You should’ve seen his face. He couldn’t imagine what was up with his buddies. Needless to say he hasn’t used the phrase in that way (or any other) since.

  • Sidd

    I admire your courage on taking up a topic this sensitive.
    Funny, just this afternoon, I was watching a video on where this stands in the Word of God.
    Here is a link to it – , where a well known Christian apologist, is being asked this difficult question in the public square.

  • Nandita de Souza

    Eloquently and sensitively written – and courageously honest. It is fear and a sense of threat (of matters unknown or purposively hidden) that keep people apart and makes us look for ways to diminish and distance the “other”. Once upon a time I too was dismissive of gay people and used to talk in a derogatory manner till I discovered that a dear friend was gay and then I learned my lesson (shamefacedly). So I urge more gay people to come out and educate others (like me), whose lives they have touched – its not easy, society can be brutal, but its the only way to break through the fear and prejudice at a personal level. If we are changed from within, the world will change too. Thanks, dear Jo.

  • Mary McGowan

    Jo: You said exactly what I would have said. If only I could write like you.

  • Merry Barua

    Your writing never fails to move jo, as always.
    Hopefully we have started taking our first steps towards accepting people who have a different sexual orientation; as we must also for those who are created physiologically different. I remember how in the early 70s in Kolkata even speaking about homosexuality was frowned on.
    But the stigma still runs deep and I know friends who will never be able to disclose their sexual orientation.
    I cant help but often see many parallels with disability.
    A different way of being.

  • Subhash

    Jo, Thank you for touching this subject and your reflections are so very rights-based & creative!

    I see this as another aspect of human diversity and one can easily draw parallel with disability, casteism, age, gender, language, etc.

    The world is gradually changing.. the reflections can be seen in the laws being amended in several countries; however, much deeper, the change has to come from within. The age old beliefs, preachings and attitude of those whose shoe has not pinched them, however, continue to target and call names to the different.

    The guilt is often a result of social expectations and and non-acceptance of difference by both- the individual and the community. While acceptance by community may be a slow & long drawn process, awareness and acceptance within is what is required to live a life to the fullest.

    Perhaps an episode of Satyamev Jayte might do the trick! :-)

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