by Dan Woodard
I have been so struck over the past few weeks of this concept that I wasn’t familiar with until grad school. It’s about the in-between spaces. Here’s what I mean.
I’m working on this blog outside on a gorgeous day at Greenlake. There are people out playing volleyball, running, sitting in the grass, napping. All kinds of beauty in daily activity. On both sides of me, there are people on their first dates. How do I know? Because they shook hands, introduced themselves, then sat down for coffee and went through the theater of first date questions. It was cute. So much life happening all around.
At the same time, I am aware of friends of mine who were recently told by doctors that there was no more medical help for their 12 year old daughter. She is fighting a horrible disease and has been waiting for a bone marrow transplant, but there are fungal infections in her body that won’t allow for the transplant. She/they have been fighting this for over a year and without a miracle, their daughter is probably going to die.
And the in-between.
It’s everywhere. There is beauty and there is awful and often those are contained within one person. But we do all sorts of things to get ourselves out of that in between place. We can’t stand the tension. We try to make it stop. Numb it. Medicate it. Distract ourselves. Eat. Shop. Study. Drink. Pour ourselves into anything that will keep our mind off it and numb our senses to it.
If we will allow even a bit of the tension, we might come to realize that a lot of life can be found here. As a kid, I remember feeling this deeply myself. I just didn’t know what to call it, but something inside was happening and I was being torn in two. A lot of times the emotional pain was unbearable. What was I caught in between? It was the “choice” of God or being gay. Inside it felt like war was taking place. And it was wreaking havoc. I could not possibly let myself choose to be gay because awful things would happen to me. I might be rejected by my family. I would surely be rejected by my church. And the shame of it all was intense.
Once I got into middle school, I tried so hard to cover it up, the gay part. But nothing changed. I kept hearing the names. They’d be hurled at me in the hallway, locker room, bus. You name it, I heard it. I was different and nothing I could do could change it or cover it up. I felt vulnerable and unprotected. It didn’t help that I was in band. And at my small school in rural Michigan, being in band wasn’t cool. There was no room for a boy to do anything besides play sports. And I wanted no part of it.
It wasn’t until 10th grade that I would find something that I felt was pretty special about myself. I started singing. My mom had signed me up for voice lessons that year and I went every week. The first time I sang in front of people, it was a surprise. My grandparents held large gospel concerts and I had been working on Amazing Grace for weeks. I had some solo verses and then my voice teacher sang a duet on parts of it. I was so nervous, I thought I’d crawl out of my skin. But if the response of the crowd and their standing ovation was any indication, then I have to think they loved it. After that, it seemed like I was singing all the time for stuff in church. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I wanted to feel accepted, so part of me liked the attention, but another part of me felt that it absolutely must remain hidden. I could cook. I was quite comfortable with it and good at it. I could sing and took part in a local Youth For Christ Choir for my 11th and 12th grade years in high school. So there were all these creative things I was involved in and found life in, but at the same time I felt ashamed. They weren’t masculine. These weren’t things that guys did, at least not in the small school I went to.
It wasn’t until much later that I came out as gay. I was in my early thirties. After years of ex-gay therapy, trying and trying and trying to win the fight over my sexuality, I realized I was fighting against myself. It came to the point that I just wasn’t willing to do that anymore. I came to the place where I felt like I did have a choice and I took it. I knew it would cause pain, but I was unwilling to continue bearing the burden and the shame. The hiding had to stop.
Has it gotten better since then? It has, but it’s been a long road. The longer I live, the more happy and satisfied I am to be me. I have recently found someone who wants to live this life with me and I have to say that is changing things even more than I ever imagined. The kindness, love, and understanding that comes from this beautiful man is tremendous. And it’s mutual. There are places that need loving inside me. Places that need his kindness and tenderness. To be held by his warmth and strength. But even with the love in this relationship, there is still the tension of the in-between. It’s life really. I feel it deeply. I live it deeply.
Dan Woodard, MA, LMHC is a Seattle based psychotherapist that has been working with people for over a decade.