Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Did You Ever See A Horse Go By? A Coming Out Memoir

I've made passing reference to the fact that I've been working on a memoir. 

I belong to a writers' group - a small group of fantastic people who have encouraged me and offered guidance, feedback and sane company. It has been a long project - I actually started thinking about it and did some writing back in 1987.

The manuscript is finally complete except for a final edit by "my publisher" who are actually members of the writers' group. So while the book is as yet unpublished and as I don't have a clue when it might be and as I don't have much else to say, I decided to post the Preface here. 




Did You Ever See A Horse Go By? 
A Coming Out Memoir
Copyright 2013 Frank DeFrancesco

PREFACE
 Peter, to whom the following letter is addressed, died, like too many others I’ve known, of complications of AIDS. I had never finished composing the letter to him in 1987 and so it was never sent. Here, many years later, I’ve added a few thoughts by way of a preface.
1987:   Dear Peter,
            We had talked about writing, about our need to capture in words the experiences and feelings, the joys and foibles of that mysterious process-event we call “coming out.” While I’m not sure the world really needs another “coming out story”, I feel deeply the need to tell it.            
            I write better knowing I am writing for an audience, so I hope you will be both my audience and my critic, as you are close to the experience yourself and of course you are intelligent, sophisticated and articulate. I will appreciate your feedback.
            We are, both of us, owning our true selves as adults rather than as teens or young men; it has brought us on a mid-life adventure to an exotic foreign land filled with marvelous sights and people and things to do and learn and discover. Learning to get around in this new country is at times exciting, joyful and deeply satisfying and at times dangerous, painful, sobering and even sad. I’ve shed more tears for love lost than I would have liked or even imagined.
            What we are experiencing is adolescence. It’s not particularly easy to be a responsible grown up and to be going through adolescence at the same time. But in some respect, I find that my grown-up life of work and service in the health field is less charged with importance than is the challenge of my adolescent life: experiencing reciprocal erotic love for the first time, along with the drama and jealousies and heartbreaks, not to mention the insecurities around being attractive or desirable. But being out is certainly better than the alternatives – remaining terrified of the dark but too afraid to open the closet door, or living a lonely desperate life or, godforbid, suicide.
             Peter, It is now 2013. I am nobody. I am old – or nearly old as life journeys go. My life, in the grand scheme of things, is irrelevant. So why should my story – my experiences beginning more than half a century ago – matter to anyone? Why should I bother to write down these snippets of my life?
            The answer to that last question is: I had to write this account, even if no one ever reads it, because I am compelled to do so in the same way as I was compelled to come out; it’s a matter of survival. Because, if am to live any semblance of an authentic life I must come out unreservedly and often; because coming out is never only an event – it is a continuous process and one that challenges me daily.
            The woman who cuts my hair insists on making small talk and asks about my wife. How do I respond?
            At the auto repair shop, I tell the service tech, “if there’s a problem, call Lee (who is not yet my spouse), my, uh, friend? partner? significant other?”
            Lee and I are holding hands on a deserted beach at sunset as someone approaches in the distance. Do I let go of his hand or not?
            A close relative introduces Lee as my “friend”; do I make some awkward correction and call him my husband even though we are not yet married?
            Am I afraid to offend the likes of all the Ann Bancrofts in the world with constant gay references, “You haven’t spoken one sentence since I got here,” Ma Beckoff indignantly scolded Harvey Fierstein’s Arnold in Torch Song Trilogy, “without the word gay in it.”
            I am challenged daily to come out, again and again and again, because there still exist subtle and pervasive societal and cultural norms that are intended to force us back into our closets; the veiled but insidious beliefs, behaviors, words, and hatred still go largely unchallenged, even as things appear to be changing.
             I am challenged to come out again and again and again, because of the hate and vitriol and rage that seem to have escalated in direct proportion to the numbers of courageous LGBT individuals who refuse to be silent and invisible and in response to our coming ever closer to achieving equal rights.
            I am challenged to come out again and again and again, because too many gay kids still choose suicide as their only option to escape bullying and familial rejection; because some lawmakers still introduce bills that would effectively deny rights and liberty to LGBT folk; because some religions still wave signs declaring that “God hates fags” while others, not so obvious, use more polite and educated language to condemn and vilify us.
            My “coming out” was not only a matter of self-preservation, it was and continues to be, a uniquely liberating, transformational, spiritual and healing life experience. I do believe that “coming out” is the only antidote to the poison of societal oppression that tries to deceive us into believing that the closet is the safest place to be, that the closet will ultimately protect us from the world, from ourselves and from eternal damnation.
            The closet’s false security is ultimately suffocating and fatal to one’s emotional and psychological integrity, if not to one’s physical existence. The closet is built on more or less equal parts fear, guilt and societal and ecclesial condemnation – a formula for what is called internalized homophobia. The closet derives power from that internalized homophobia, from our internal conflicts and fears: the phony conflict between good and evil; the fears of rejection, reprisals, and violence; a mythologized Last Judgment and ungodly wrath.
            Yet we persist in our coming out as if our lives depended on it. Because they do. Coming out is so vital to our integrity that the impulse to acknowledge and be true to ourselves is, in many respects, not unlike our innate survival instinct.
            The fact that there is such an event that we call “coming out” which is virtually universal to the contemporary homosexual experience suggests that this is not an inconsequential phenomenon. Think about that. Coming out has a reality beyond our individual experience. Our experience of “coming out” is both a unique and a shared experience – one that unites us in some fundamental way.           
            Now, although I am “out” I am still in the process of “coming out.” After all, our gayness is mostly invisible to others. Coming out and being out involves being visible – when we look in the mirror and when others see us. Sometimes, to be visible, we have to be “in their face.” Sometimes we need to tell our stories, each of us, story after story, after story, until they “get it.” Because “they” are still trying to define “us”, tell us who they think we are, tell us that we are “objectively disordered” or sinful, or worse.
            Just who are “they” and who do “they” think they are?
            “They” are not only the ignorant and bigoted, but are often otherwise intelligent and sometimes even well meaning individuals. It amazes and frustrates me that our stories – the actual lived experience of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals – are so summarily ignored, discounted and dismissed. It baffles me that many vocal and influential individuals persist in holding to and disseminating absurd, erroneous and irrelevant opinions about us. This is unacceptable and should no longer be tolerated; “they” can only make their own positions tenable by repeating questionable scriptures, fabricated “studies”, pseudo-science and outright lies, over and over – and by wholly disregarding us and our voices.
            I can only pose a few questions for others to try to answer: What is it about homosexuality and sexual and gender non-conformity that makes it such a lightening rod? What is it so unique about this issue that religious factions condemn it, regressive governments ban it, entire cultures punish it and ordinary people are moved to hatred and violence by it? Why are millions of dollars spent to fight us and to deny us equal protections under the law? Why do “they” think they know more about our sexuality, or us, than we do?
            More to the point, why do they care? Certainly “they” outnumber “us” and we’ve always been an easy target. Does their inability to save our souls or change us, or to limit our freedom somehow make them inadequate or fearful? What is in it for “them” that they so persist?
            I can’t answer these questions. But they underlie my need to tell my story.
            As for the first question at the beginning of this preface – whether my story or experiences matter to you, the reader, or not – is for you to decide. But I do know that the lives and the lived experience of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals are testaments to their truth and perhaps, that is Truth with a capital T; and that their truth will never be silenced. This is my voice, my truth, for what it’s worth.
            For me, the value in telling my story here, beyond being therapeutic, is to preserve a tiny slice of our collective history – to document what it was to be gay in a particular time and place. I want to remember others who were there along with me, creating our lives and defining our sexuality as we went along.
            I had thought of beginning my story like this:
            Perhaps the world does not need another coming out story. But, I suppose it can’t hurt. Coming out at thirty-six has got to be immeasurably better than not coming out at all . . .           
With fondness and love,
Frank      

4 comments:

Russ Manley said...

What a very perceptive, poignant preface, Frank - very good writing indeed. Kudos to you for having the determination to go through with your book project - I couldn't do something like that, it would be too hard to write about the sadnesses that are part of the story.

But I really hope to see yours in print one day soon. Are you aware of the self-publishing sites like Lulu.com, which not only publish on demand for a nominal charge but also let you display your stuff on amazon.com? A cousin of mine and her husband, neither of them professional writers, have done two books that way. Something to look into for you.

Now I want to read more - you will post some more excerpts here on RR, won't you?

Frank said...

Thanks, Russ.
I am aware of Lulu and Create Space and other self-publishing sites; right now I must be patient because a few members of my writing group, who have nurtured and guided me are starting their own self-publishing company; they have invested in software and have my book as #2 in the pipeline. I hate to go off on my own at this point, it would be rude, I think. So I shall try to be patient....thanks again.

Mitchell is Moving said...

This is so powerful. You're an incredible writer and express brilliantly your own feelings and experiences and I would assume some universal experiences (I know mine are expressed in this preface). I can't wait to read the book. We do need your story. Thanks for writing it.

Frank said...

Thanks, Mitchell, I can't wait too. My editor (did I really say that?) has the manuscript and it is in process...

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