Saturday, April 23, 2011

Being Out. It Did Get Better.

Saying goodbye to family life as I had known it was, however painful, clearly necessary in order to move on emotionally: to fully commit to maintaining an independent parental relationship with the boys and hope that my former wife would continue to recognize the value of that relationship; to learn how to manage a world that presented a myriad of potential connections and rejections.  As it happened, my former wife asked me at one point that she be able to take the boys out of the country for one year in order to pursue a professional opportunity that was closely linked with the Catholic Church. We both discussed that request with the boys, they were excited about living in another city for a year and I felt that, although I would miss them, the experience could be good for them. We both realized that in the terms of our separation and divorce agreements I could have prevented the children being taken outside Quebec, but I agreed.

Arrangements were made that they would visit with me at regular intervals during the year. When the year neared its end, she decided that she wanted to stay away an additional year. I felt that decision violated the understanding we had and began to think that she might, in reality, want to take away the close relationship I had with the boys; I suspected she was being encouraged in that direction by  her colleagues and advisors in the Church. Although strongly objecting to that extension, I accepted a slightly shorter time for the boys to remain with her and away from Montreal in return for her promise to return at the end of that extended period. While she did return as promised, that experience led to a break in my trust that she respected the maintenance of a close relationship between me and my sons and set into motion the series of events that led to both of my sons living full time with me.

Meantime, my political activities related to gay liberation expanded;  my professional life as a professor of philosophy unravelled simultaneously. My friend and colleague at McGill, John Southin, had organized a programme of studies known as "Biology and Social Change". John suggested that we teach a seminar in gay liberation as part of that programme and it was offered in the autumn of the academic year 1971/72.  We were joined by Linda Page Hollander, a lesbian and teaching assistant in the Biology Department. The seminar, drew mainly on the book, Homosexual Liberation and Oppression, by Denis Altman, an Australian professor of philosophy. The book synthesized in a skillful manner the various theories that led me to change my own understanding of my sexual identity.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Being Out. It Got Worse.

I know that, in general, being out is better than being in the closet and it certainly has been for me; however, I am not alone in having experienced an initial period of emotional turmoil after coming out. It's very important in encouraging young people to come out to prepare them for that possibility: coming out is not a magic bullet that will take away isolation, unhappiness and oppression. In fact, bullying might increase; families and friends might react negatively, or more negatively, than anticipated; desired opportunities for sexual intimacy might not materialize. In talking with someone, especially a young, financially and family dependent person, about coming out, their resources for coping with such possible, negative consequences should be explored. Hopefully, coming out is easier now than it was when I came out, but that is far from universally the case.

I was fortunate in that John Southin was not only a professor at McGill, but also Director of Student Residences. When he heard that I was moving out of the collective he offered me the position of Resident Faculty Advisor, which provided a small, two room apartment in one of the student residences. Having a place into which I could move without moving "stuff" and where I could take my meals in the student cafeteria provided a smooth transition from one form of collective living to another. In addition, it was a space where the boys enjoyed visiting me; there were ping-pong and pool tables, a TV lounge, Parc Mont-Royal at the doorstep; often excitement. My wife and I decided to have shared custody of the boys, rare for that point in time, and they were to live with me every other weekend and for a month in the Summer. Within a year their time of living with me gradually began extending; in their early adolescence they both choose to live with me full time; however, not knowing what the future would bring, that initial period of separation was very difficult for all of us.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Coming Out. Part Two.

Writing from a theoretical perspective regarding the shift in my understanding of my sexual identity is one thing; living through that change was quite another. It was by far the most difficult period of my life: the only one during which I had to use medication in order to be able to cope. Even reflecting on that time decades later has made it difficult to sleep. The situation was made worse by its reverberations with what I had put my wife through in relation to my previous life-choice: monastic life or marriage. Once again, I was exposing her to uncertainty, loss, sadness and anger. Throughout our life together, I felt a particular sense of sadness and remorse when she sang the folk song, Water is Wide, which I always felt referenced myself.  It was one of our favourites from the time we had first met as students; one verse held incredible prescience :

                                         I leaned my back against an oak
                                        Thinking it was a trusty tree
                                        But first it bent and then it broke
                                        So did my love prove false to me

I was even more concerned about my sons; Raphael was five at the time and Julian three. My wife and I were both adults; we were both implicated in the course our life together had taken since marriage and, however difficult the situations facing us, both had adult resources to cope with them. The boys were much more vulnerable to potential long term consequences of what we were about to live through and decisions that might emerge. As is the case with all of us: they didn't get to choose the family into which they were born.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Coming Out. Part One.

While living in the student ghetto, my wife met Sheila, a woman active in the women's movement, who ran a day-care cooperative. Her husband, Peter, was a social worker and community organizer; founder of the Greater Montreal Anti-Poverty Movement; a group inspired by Saul Alinsky that employed direct action and guerilla tactics as a way of empowering the poor. In conversation with them we decided to form a collective that would involve our two families; both of which had two children of roughly the same age. We found a large house in Westmount, a wealthy enclave surrounded by Montreal, that we could afford because it was scheduled for demolition. It was large enough for both couples to have their own large bedroom and two separate bedrooms for each pair of children. Otherwise, all the space was common. There was a finished basement with a very large room that served as a play room for the children. Sexuality stayed within the couples; but, after several years of living together, there was a high level of emotional intimacy. Given that this was a collective of professionals, it was only appropriate that we had a woman come in each day of the week to look after the four children and a cleaning lady; rather ironic given our commitment to the equality of women: tasks in the household were shared with total gender equality. One of the aims of living together was to save money on childcare and living expenses and to save time through sharing household tasks such as cooking and cleaning up. It worked well and was, mainly, a happy way of living for all of us; at least speaking for the adults; I'm less sure what the children would say. My coming out was mainly responsible for its demise.