Beloved and I have been watching Six Feet Under on DVD, on loan from a good friend. It is an extraordinary series. It is about a family in the grief-management business, who themselves are confronted with a shocking loss in the first episode. As I watch I find that I love each and every character (thus far, the end of season 1). They are all so real and fragile, authenticly rendered human beings struggling with ultimate questions.
The character who speaks loudest to me at present is David, the closeted younger son who has been the "good one," staying at home to run the funeral business, while older son Nate has been cast in the role of prodigal, living an unconsidered life working at a food coop, far below his potential. Events conspire to bring Nate home again, and throughout season one the brothers struggle to learn to be family and to work together, even as David is struggling with his identity as a gay man.
David is a churchgoer, and at a certain point is invited to be a deacon for his congregation (it is a confusing denomination... I initially thought it was Episcopal, but the nature of "deacon" in the show doesn't jive with what I know either of real life Episcopalians or Roman Catholics). David accepts the offer, both because he is truly devout and because he knows it will be good for business. He remains closeted in this context, however, even as he comes out to other friends and family members. In his closetedness he acts out in dangerous and self-destructive ways.
Eventually David is forced to confront his self-loathing: the body of a young gay man who died as a result of a hate crime is brought in, and David both works with the young man's family and does restorative work on the battered body. Throughout he carries on a conversation with the dead young man, who acts as devil's advocate, exposing David's fears that God does hate him and all "fags" (acolytes of the hateful groups who picket such funerals do show up), that he is destined for hell if he doesn't overcome his gay impulses, and that, in being closeted, he confirms his self-hatred.
One episode ends with David on his knees, at the side of his bed, weeping and praying to God to remove his terrible loneliness. Tears are coming to my eyes as I recall this moment. Tears are coming to my eyes because I remember such moments in my own life.
Several years before my marriage ended I went to seminary. That life change caused me to be in the company, for the first time, of a substantial number of GLBT folks, individuals who were, for the most part, out, and very comfortable with their sexuality. Not only that: these were individuals who were seeking ways to serve God faithfully, whether through ordination or through preparation for other kinds of ministries. Though I was married and committed to making my marriage work, I had already gone through several episodes of being drawn to other women. I had fallen in love with them, though I had never acted on those feelings. And now, I was once again in harm's way.
I should be clear: I did not then and do not now believe that such love and desires are sinful. I believed and believe that God created each of us, loves us, and desires us to live fully and abundantly as we were created. But I was married, and to me, that trumped my other desires. I had made a commitment and I longed to be faithful to that commitment.
There was a woman in my class with whom I became close. She was partnered (with another woman) and also desired to be faithful to that commitment. Eventually I shared with her the story of my life and struggles, shared with her ways I had sought to armor myself, barriers I had erected to either attracting others or being attracted to them. Mostly, I had adopted addictive behaviors to dull the feelings. We talked for a long time, sipping ginger tea into the night and knowing that we'd suffer in class the next day but not caring. Eventually she left, and we lingered at the door.
The next day she came to me between classes and said, I had a dream about you. Really? I said. Yes, she said. And... you need to know, it's not working. It's not working? No, she said, it's not working.
I understood then as I do now that she was referring to my clever strategies for keeping folks at arm's length. Years later I learned that she was referring to her own feelings for me, though that was never revealed at the time. Her words to me were simultaneously welcome and horrifying. Of course, I longed to be seen for who I was. I longed to be loved as the person I was. But I also dreaded that, and fled from it.
And so commenced months of driving back and forth to the seminary, weeping in my car, praying for God to remove these feelings from me, praying that I would find peace in my marriage. Like David in Six Feet Under, I prayed for the terrible loneliness to be removed, the isolation of being apart from myself, as well as from those with whom I experienced life's deepest connection. Like David, I continue to struggle to find a way to authentically be myself, to be the person God created me to be.