Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Belonging...

As a gay person, it was often hard to see myself as belonging to any group or part of society. That was due to a lot of factors, including my own personal issues of self-worth. From childhood, I always knew that I had to hold the secret that I was different from others in my community and different from others in my family. The subtle cues from society and from life that I was less than worthy were demeaning and cruel. Often, I could see others who fit in even less than I did who suffered more extremely. Even when I was able to pass as straight, by playing sports, for example, I felt like an imposter who constantly knew his true identity and could never relax.

I remember all the little boys and girls in my elementary school who were different. They were uniformly singled out for their differences and cruelly harassed and bullied by the larger group of so-called normal kids. It was soon apparent that if I wanted to pass and not be singled out myself, I had to join in and become one of the bullies. As early as second grade, or roughly at age 7, we could recognize tom-boys (girls seemed to fare better) and sissy-boys (poor guys, they were objects of physical and mental abuse) and we treated them with awful disregard. In another of my blog entries, I recalled a boy who was effeminate and who moved away from my school in second grade, never to be seen again. Not again, that is, until I had come out and had seen him at a gay bar. I went up and asked him if his name was Walt and learned that it was indeed the little boy who had been a sissy in my second grade class. Why he came back into my life for the two minutes of that conversation, I can not say, except that I learned three months later than he had died of AIDS. I don’t think that chance encounter was due to pure chance.

As I got older, the need to hide my true self from everyone became greater and greater. The bullying and gay-baiting around me became more extreme, and though I stopped participating in the violence, I still avoided those of my peers who were butch girls or effeminate boys. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was like them. High school was a particularly bad time and at University, it was even worse. When it became necessary not only to share a classroom but also living facilities with other guys, it was more and more difficult to hide my sexual orientation. I feigned heterosexuality and actually dated a number of women to hide my true self from the guys in my dorm. Eventually, my own needs to find my community overcame the fears of being found out and I came out to myself and to a small group of friends.

By the time I graduated and began seeking employment, I was comfortably in a gay relationship, but I still didn’t feel comfortable in general society. I moved thirty miles away from my place of employment so that I could use that as an excuse to avoid social activities at work. I kept my distance from most of my co-workers. This self-imposed exile grew more important when I learned that I was infected with HIV. I continued to work while hiding my deep secrets until my dad died and until I realized that I might soon die too. It became apparent that I had a choice of living genuinely or not living fully for the time that I had left. When I left work to die in 1994, I made a conscious decision to live genuinely and finally accepted myself fully. It was a relief to decide that if someone has a problem with the person I am, it is their problem, not mine.

Having finally accepted myself fully, I learned the value of self-love and how detrimental it had been for me to hide my life from nearly everyone around me. I also learned, on coming out to various people, that they already knew or at least suspected that I was gay. I heard that one of my former division heads had been on a hunt to find out if I were gay and had predicted the “end of [my] career if I turned out to be gay.” This proved to be empowering to me. If being myself could be the end of my career, then I needed a new career. Sadly, I was also dealing with impending death from AIDS by then and had to leave work on disability rather than pursue a new career.

Over the years, I prepared to die but managed to continue surviving. I lived with Lazarus Syndrome in which I was paralyzed by the inability to redefine my life once I had prepared to die and didn’t. In the midst of all of that, I was blessed by having found the acceptance of a group of people from the online forum for the movie 1 Giant Leap. In presenting myself genuinely and being open and honest about my sexuality and illness, I learned that people I admired accepted me. The filmmakers and musicians, Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Catto, invited me to be interviewed for their upcoming film (to be released in 2007) about my experience with Lazarus Syndrome. I spent a magical week with the film crew in New Orleans in January, 2005, and the love and acceptance of these wonderful people definitely improved my life. In the process, they taught me that it doesn’t matter how I came to be here, only that they liked me for who I am.

This proved to be very liberating for me. You see, this was not at all about sex but it was all to do with self-identity and self-worth. I started reading more and writing more and was invited to participate in other activities that gave my life meaning again. No one treated me differently for being gay or for living with illness. Rather, they treated me for how much I poured into my life and into theirs. I finally felt “in my own skin” to quote a French expression.

I owe much to the many friends and colleagues who have continued to stand by my side over the years. I feel that I owe more, though, to the young gay and lesbians around me who may be struggling to find their own place in life. Having a sense of belonging at a time when one is struggling with self-identity is essential. It is my hope that today’s youth can overcome any potential lack of self-confidence more quickly than I did. For what it is worth, I hope that they know that they have people out here who support them because we all deserve a place at the table. You belong as much as anyone else. Never forget it. Especially do not forget it when even the President of the United States supports discrimination against you. It just shows that everyone can be wrong at times, and that the true measure of a person is their ability to learn and change.

The most important aspect of this self-revelation for me is that I know that those who see GLBTQ people as deviant have a problem. If this were only about those with whom we have sex, then that would be one thing. Since this sense of belonging that we all seek is more about identity and not about how we have sex, I suspect it is universal. Perhaps the need to belittle the lives of others is one of the compensations that intolerant people have to give them a sense of belonging in their own right. It would be cool if they could come to a place where their belonging doesn’t come at the cost of someone else’s belonging.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Paul Decelles said...

Wow!

Wonderful post Ron. I am curious, when did you realise you were different and when did you come to understand the nature of that difference?

Paul

6/08/2006 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger Ron Hudson said...

recognized my differences very early on. I can recall playing with other little boys when I was as young as 5 or 6 and getting into heavy male-male eroticism. It wasn't until one of my playmates was caught by his parents and beaten in front of me that I realized it was something that society would see as wrong.

By 8 or 9, I was very much aware of my same-sex attractions. particularly toward older men. At 12, I was "molested" by a 35 yo man, which amounted to my first gay relationship and it lasted 6 months. Eventually, the guilt of knowing it was "wrong" and the knowledge that he had other boys made me break it off and I sat in my secret until I was 18 and had my first sexual relationship with a girl It was another 3 years till I came out to myself.

6/09/2006 06:42:00 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

I still haven't allowed myself to belong with my sexuality. No one on the outside of my computer really knows I'm bisexual (except my husband and one dear friend), mostly because I can't bear to face my mother - the religious fanatic. This is a beautiful post, so honest. Good onya!
*hug*
~E

6/11/2006 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Jude Nagurney Camwell said...

Wow, Ron, this is a poignant self revelation. The true measure of a person, indeed, is their ability to learn and to change. In my own short time on earth, I've seen what I thought could only be miracles accomplished as hearts and minds have changed with the trusting knowledge that time, good examples, and loving hearts bring. Hope is something that's always going to be with us, and I can't help but to believe that love will overcome, no matter how long it takes. My hope is that prolific people like you will continue to set the examples of love and reason that people will come to trust. *hugs*

Jude

6/11/2006 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger anonyMoses said...

While reading your wonderful post, I was reminded of something the philosopher, Schopenhauer, said regarding great minds, and their relation to the society in which they find themselves:

"He who wishes to experience gratitude from his contemporaries, must adjust his pace to theirs. But great things are never produced in this way. And he who wants to do great things must direct his gaze to posterity, and in firm confidence elaborate his work for coming generations. No doubt, the result may be that he will remain quite unknown to his contemporaries, and comparable to a man who, compelled to spend his life upon a lonely island, with great effort sets up a monument there, to transmit to future sea-farers the knowledge of his existence."

AND

"Great minds, of which there is scarcely one in a hundred millions, are thus the lighthouses of humanity; and without them mankind would lose itself in the boundless sea of monstrous error and bewilderment.
And so the simple man of learning, in the strict sense of the word—the ordinary professor, for instance—looks upon the genius much as we look upon a hare, which is good to eat after it has been killed and dressed up. So long as it is alive, it is only good to shoot at. "

By being "different" you were a good target to shoot at...by those of lesser originality.

Long live Lazarus!

Warm regards,
Dave

6/11/2006 12:23:00 PM  

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