Out Of The Shadows – My Summer Of Reading

I have been very introspective even for me the past few months. I would guess due to having started therapy and talking about myself more than usual. And of course, I’d been writing about things here on my blog even before that.

So last night I went to bed super early because I was just exhausted. That never works out well for my sleep cycles. But I was literally falling asleep sitting up so there wasn’t much choice. The result was I woke up about 3am and I decided to finish the last leg of The Velvet Rage, the book I mentioned in my last post. I’m not going to add a lot to my comments on it. It definitely helped me to understand more of my experience. I will say that the last bit of the book includes practical things to do to work on living authentically including a chart that can serve as a daily reminder. I plan to print that out.

The Velvet Rage ends on a positive note in my eyes. When I got through the first chapters about coming out, realizing I was only just exiting stage one at this point in my life felt a little grim. But the practical skills section left me feeling much more hopeful.

Of everything contained in this book, this chapter is the most important. Regardless of the stage you are in, the regular and consistent practice of these skills will bring you fully and consistently into stage three authenticity. I often say that the journey from the head to the heart is taken with your feet – meaning that the only way to really integrate insights into your life is by behaving differently. Consistent and continuous practices is the magic that makes the real difference in our lives.

The Velvet Rage – Chapter 14 – An Authentic Life

I looked at this section of the book as being a map. People find authenticity on their own through trial and error but this is like having someone show you the path that you need to walk. You need to do the work of course but just knowing the way out is a head start, right?

Starting A New Book

But back to my restless night. That was because I was still not sleepy and decided maybe it I started another of the books I had purchased I’d get tired and get a little more sleep before morning properly came. Well, that didn’t happen. I started Out of the Shadows
Reimagining Gay Men’s Lives
by Walt Odets. This was another book that was recommended to me. I haven’t even made it past chapter 1 and I have highlighted so much text it’s crazy.

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It’s also been an emotional roller coaster. I’m not going to give away any details other than to say that the author lived through the AIDS epidemic so you can imagine The stories are a mixture of stories from clients in his practice as a clinical psychologist as well as his own experiences. I had no idea what door I was opening when I started this morning. I had only read a high level review of the book. And I cried my eyes out this morning, a mixture of sadness and sometimes happy tears and sometimes sheer grief. The grief has a been a mix of grief for other people and grief at recognizing myself in some of the stories. But I just couldn’t put it down.

One part that really connected with me was one client’s story of not connecting with his father. I don’t think my experience was nearly as adversarial but I have mentioned to my therapist more than once that I did not feel like my father and I really connected. His life was sports. Not only did he coach for many years, it was what he filled his spare time with. I don’t know if I ever really considered it a “gay thing” as I’ve personally known gay men who enjoy watching and playing sports. But I unquestionably felt like my father and I lacked a common language. And I saw when he coached that he connected more with the players on the teams he coached than he did with me. And keep in mind he also coached my little league baseball and football teams so I experienced this up close and personal. To his credit he never forced me to play nor told me I was a disappointment. But I remember feeling a twinge of jealousy now and again when I saw the easy way he connected to others over the sport of the moment. I’m seriously wondering if maybe our lack of common ground was far more fundamental than just sports but that was the lens I saw it through?

I just sat there watching them. And I remember thinking “Well, that’s who my father wants me to be. And I will never be that. I can never be that.” That’s when I gave up on my father – on our relationship.

Out Of The Shadows – Chapter 1 – The Story of Felix – A Fishing Trip

I don’t remember a definitive moment like that. I just remember watching the pattern repeat that he connected with other boys and men in a way that I didn’t experience. Even at the very end when he was in physical therapy after his stroke, the young man working with him had been a high school athlete like my father. I was glad for my father’s benefit that they worked well together but I remember watching them share sports stories and feeling a little sadness that it had never been that way for us. He had long quit telling me about his sports stories or the latest game he watched. I guess we had both given up without having a moment like Felix.

For whatever reason I was never able to conjure an interest in the things that interested him. My mom often mentioned watching me sit in right field in little league baseball. I was digging holes in the dirt utterly oblivious to the actual game. My Dad never chastised me at least. I can easily imagine some frustrated fathers yelling. The fact he didn’t suggests to me that he just knew instinctively that it was pointless. Yelling definitely would have pushed me out of little league sports even sooner. As it was I quit when my closest friends quit. I don’t remember exactly what year that was but I think before 6th grade we had already thrown in the proverbial towel.

I had already witnessed unrealized lives in too many men, young and old, out and closeted. These lives had germinated in an early-life experience that left them with too much self-doubt or, at worst, self loathing.

Out Of The Shadows – Introduction

I’m jumping around a bit, but there was a sad story in the introduction of a 74 year old man who finally had the courage to want to come out (after his wife had died). Minus the marriage part it resonated too much. The above text from the conclusion of the introduction particularly clicked with me.

…the boy may develop doubt about his internal sensibilities because they are disapproved and cannot be safely expressed. Naturally seeking a sense of integrity and caught between a hostile world and his unexpressible internal life, he sacrifices his internal life through conscious denial and unconscious repression. Such a boy has created an injurious internal rift, and a life in the world that is substantially inauthentic.

Out Of The Shadows – Chapter 1 – Developmental Gender Split

That spoke to me not just about my experience but the language reminds me of my time studying sociology. I looked up the author Walt Odets because I’m curious about his educational background. When I was a sociology major, the school I attended was unusual in that the sociology and psychology department was one department. Often they are entirely separate schools but many of our classes were social psychology classes and fulfilled requirements for both the sociology students as well as the psychology ones. I didn’t discover what his background was beyond what schools he attended but I did notice the author is only two years younger than my mother. I guess I could have realized that based on his stories of living through AIDS that he was a good deal older than I am but I would not have guessed it from the forward-thinking content of his book.

One of the concepts introduced in the book that I’ve found intriguing surrounds the word cathexis.

For purposes of my discussion cathexis is the natural human channeling and attachment of emotion to other people. When someone likes or loves, he is cathected; when he “falls in love,” he is deeply cathected. “Being gay” is nothing more or less than relatively consistent same-gender cathexis.

Out Of The Shadows – Chapter 1 – A Study From Indiana

This connects to his contention that the term homosexual is essentially highly charged language that fixates on sex rather than emotions or the full experience of what being gay means.

Heterosexual society has a significant investment in keeping gay sex apparently promiscuous and emotionally empty. Gay men must learn to reject this influence, and to experience themselves not as homosexuals, but as naturally homocathected, entitled to that cathexis and entitled to its expression. When gay men deeply understand this distinction, they have a very different experience of themselves. There might also be another, secondary benefit in the triumph of homocathexis over homosexuality. Judging by the Indiana study on love, the larger society might experience gay men differently if it did not define gay men entirely in sexual terms. In the words of the study authors, “Perceptions of love are related to willingness to grant social recognition to romantic couples of all types.”

Out Of The Shadows – Chapter 1 – A Study From Indiana

Again, this resonates from my past life as a student of sociology. I chanced into attending a school where sociology and psychology went hand in hand but I remember at the time appreciating it because I didn’t feel like either science had the whole answer on its own. Sociology spoke to me a little louder but I appreciated psychology as well. And I deeply appreciate that language matters. Words frame how we look at our world. Look how we define gendered behavior that is essentially the same but the language reflects which is valued. For instance, men are assertive but women are aggressive. Or men are leaders and women are bossy.

I think school is pretty much in the past for me now. I can’t imagine re-starting at this point in my life but I will say if I had the courage and the opportunity 30 years ago I would have been all over this sort of subject. Even without the personal connection this got those long forgotten juices flowing – the part of school that I loved.

For now, one last section that spoke to me, not from an academic perspective but a lived experience.

I have been working for years to get over that bullshit, authoritarian radio announcer’s voice that I use, that voice that I learned to put on as a teenager so I wouldn’t get beaten up….

…it’s all fake. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

A guy I recently met at a party said to me, “I really like you,” and I had the same reaction I always have. My first thought was to run, because what he liked was the radio announcer. If I got to know him, he would discover me, and he’d be really disappointed.

Out Of The Shadows – Chapter 1 – Sexual Expression of the Gay Sensibility

I don’t know that I’ve developed a voice or mannerisms like the client quoted above. However I think feeling inauthentic is part of my situation right now. I definitely think the masks I’ve worn and still struggle with shedding are part of the picture for my social anxiety. I’ve dismantled some of my masks but figuring out what is left that’s real is a less-than-clear picture for me some days. Who am I really feels like a frequent theme.

I’m still in chapter one so assuming the book goes on like this, I suspect I’ll discuss more in posts to come but I think I can safely recommend this book already. And as the author mentions in the introduction I think this could be interesting to readers regardless of your personal orientation. If you’re curious about social constructs and psychology, I think you’d surely enjoy it, too.

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