Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In the Beginning...

By no means do I consider myself a "blogger". I expect that this will be updated infrequently (at best) and will probably trail off in a few months when I get distracted by some other shiny thing.

There are two very basic reasons why I've decided to blog my thoughts on this particular subject (rather than writing them in, say, a journal) and they are a) I'm much faster at typing (not to mention more legible) than writing long-hand, and can therefore put more thoughts down more quickly and b) some vain part of me hopes that whoever might stumble across what I've written might find it useful (or, at the very least, thought provoking.)

I fully intend to dedicate this blog to the adventure known in gay circles as "Coming Out," (or, more loosely, what it means to be "gay" (ie. queer, lesbian, lgbt, light in the loafers, play for the other team, homosexual... you get the idea)) so, if that subject makes you uncomfortable, you might want to find some other light reading. If it's something you're curious about, or going through, or have been through, please know that it is not by any means my intention to offend (though I probably will) and this is certainly not meant to be...how shall I say...a gay bible. The thoughts contained herein are my own and come from my own (admittedly limited) experiences, and second hand from the experiences of those around me. By way of a disclaimer, I will do my best to maintain the anonymity of those whose stories or conversations I share, but should I include certain personal details I find pertinent to the story and someone "figures it out on their own" I hereby absolve myself of "outing" anyone.

I should also point out (if you haven't already noticed) that I tend to abuse parenthetical phrases. If you are on a crusade to prevent parenthesis abuse, I'm sure blogger.com allows some way to contact me (eg. is that my email address listed in my profile?) so please don't hesitate to let me have it. That also goes for if I write something you find abusive. However, please don't attack me for talking about sex. I find that this topic and the subject of sex are sometimes difficult to detach from one another. I'll do my best to not be too graphic. (There - you've been warned.)

And now, on to the "good" stuff. The whole thing (today) that got me going in the first place.

I recently (in the last hour) had a conversation with a friend that was clearly ended too quickly as I feel the need to blog about it to find closure. This story may require some background, so I take back what I said about getting to the good stuff and please allow me to interject a brief personal history:

My full name is Kathryn Emma Wecker Fischer. I was born in Southfield, MI on November 11, 1978. I'm not going to include my social security number, but I wanted to establish that I'm not trying to hide behind any pseudonym. I'm a real person. That's my real name. I was "born" into the LDS church. (That's the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for those of you who find "LDS" too brief, and Mormon, for those of you who find "LDS" too cryptic.) Both of my parents are members. All of my brothers went on prosceliting missions. I earned my Young Women's Medallion. I was on Seminary council and graduated from Seminary when I graduated from high school. I attended Institute when I got to college. (I realize that for some of you, I started speaking Greek for a moment, but this blog isn't exclusively about being Mormon or coming out as a Mormon, so for more info, go ask a Mormon.) To be concise, (I know, "too late!") I was very involved with my religion and considered myself very religous. I was born in Michigan, but I grew up in Pleasant View, Utah (as close to the heart of Mormon country as you could be without actually living in Provo.)

I didn't "come out" until I was well into my 20's. The exact date isn't burned into my memory. I came out to my mother over Christmas break (but I couldn't tell you which Christmas - though she might be able to). I married the most wonderful woman (and the second girl I ever really dated) on September 3, 2005 in Vancouver, BC, Canada in a Unitarian church (though I don't really consider myself Unitarian. I would consider myself "agnostic," but I digress...)

I grew up Mormon. I was surrounded by Mormons. I was raised with Mormon values. I understand explicitly what it is to be Mormon and what that entails. (Though, I never went through the temple, so I will admit that my Mormon experience does have what some would consider a gaping hole. On the other hand, I did do baptisms for the dead, so though I never took out my endowments, I did hold a temple recommend and I have been inside the temple.) I didn't know anyone who was openly gay until I went away to college (I was a theatre major, do with that information what you will) and at that point I had a very primitive "live and let live" philosophy, but I was pretty sure the gays were going to hell. Well, not "hell" per se, just not the "Celestial Kingdom." And not because they were gay, but because they were having pre-marital sex and not repenting. Also, I had been taught that the only way to achieve the highest level of heavenly glory was to be married in the temple, and gay marriage just wasn't allowed in the temple. Actually, in my mind at the time, aside from the fact that all gays were probably going to get AIDS and die a horrible death, as long as they weren't having sex, there wasn't actually anything wrong with being gay. (How's that for logic?)

What I didn't have were lesbian role models. I didn't have any lesbian friends. I didn't even know any lesbians. (I had suspicions about my second-cousin's aunt, but I never asked (as that would have been impolite) so I allowed myself to accept that my suspicions were unfounded.) I didn't even know anyone that had had a "lesbian experience". I mean, as far as I knew, my girlfriend and I were the only two lesbians in all of Cedar City, Utah and she and I weren't even admitting that we were lesbians. (It's possible for a girl to be sexually active with another girl and for them to not be lesbians, right? To me that somehow made sense at the time.)

I don't know what it was about saying I was a "lesbian" that was so terrifying. It doesn't scare me now. It just wasn't an idea that I allowed myself to entertain. My girlfriend (who I certainly didn't consider my "girlfriend." She was my best friend. My very best friend. My every-kind-of-friend-you-could-think-of-but-never-my-girlfriend best friend) and I were not out. Though, for anyone who thought in those terms, I'm sure we were blatantly obvious. There were rumors. They were not unfounded.

The thing was, "lesbian" was a foreign concept. I'm sure if I'd known someone who was openly gay before I got to college, my own coming out would have been less...I don't know how to describe it. Like walking into a dark room in a building you've never seen before. Scary and unknown. I felt like I had a pretty good handle on who I was. I was a singer and an actress. My friends were important to me. I was slowly growing out of my "rebellious teenager" phase, though I still hadn't figured out my relationship with my mother. I enjoyed performing in front of an audience. I was cute, but not gorgeous. I was slightly overweight. I liked to learn and I was loving college. I prefered blue jeans to dresses. But there was this girl where there "should" have been a guy, and I didn't know how to embrace that part of myself. I didn't even see it as a part of myself.

This has become almost ridiculously self-indulgent, (in my defense, what blog isn't at least a little self-indulgent?) but you now, hopefully, have enough background info to understand my reaction to the conversation I started to tell you about earlier.

It began with a text message with the infamous last words, "can I ask you a personal question?" at which point I called the sender. (For the record, my answer to that question is almost always, "yes, of course," but I prefer to answer personal questions personally - not via text or instant message.)

The question asker (who is female - I find being gender non-specific just exhausting), I feel it pertinent to tell you, is someone with whom I share some history. She's known me since before I came out, and is, at this time, slowly deciding if being "out" will ever be as safe and comfy as being "not out" or "in," as it were, (which doesn't have the same ring to it.) She prefaced her question by telling me that she'd been watching the L-Word and had also seen a documentary on the very topic of this young blog. One of the subjects in the documentary, a young gay man, told his mother that being gay, for him, was more than just being attracted to other men.

She wanted to know what that meant.

She wanted to know what "being gay" meant, if it was more than being attracted to the same sex.

And she wanted me to explain it to her.

At this point in the conversation, Me = Stumped.

Everything I know about what it means to "be gay" I've had to piece together primarily from my own experience. "Gay" is a term that has been assigned to me by those who are "straight" to indicate the way in which I'm different from them. "Gay" is not who I am. I am still a singer. I am a wife and a damn good friend and a woman who just hit 30 and doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up. I don't wake up in the morning and think, "yep, I'm still gay." (I usually think, "do I have time to hit snooze, or should I shower before I go to work?") Thinking about being gay doesn't consume my day.

And it wasn't me who said that liking the same sex wasn't all there was to it.

How am I supposed to answer for that guy what he meant when he said that to his mother?

So, I floundered. I explained that the "gay community" was large, and rather all-encompassing, as communities go, and included folks who were not only attracted to their same sex, but those who felt they were born the wrong sex, and those who liked all the sexes and pretty much everthing that didn't fit neatly into the category of "straight". We're a mish-mash, rag-tag band of left-overs. We're different. We're unique. I cannot possibly explain what being "gay" means to someone I've never seen, let alone met. I can only tell you what it means to me.

And what it means to me is that I, as a woman, am attracted sexually to women. I can't think of anything else that I am that could be considered "gay" (whatever that means).

However, I'm not the end-all be-all of gay experience. I understand that my experience accepting myself as gay is unique to me. For that guy, maybe it meant that, in addition to liking men, he wasn't comfortable with his pre-assigned gender roll. Maybe he meant that he liked to dress in drag. Maybe he meant that he wanted to be an interior decorator and he didn't want it to be a cliche. I just don't have any idea what he was talking about, because I'm not him.

I am not unsympathetic to my friend's current position, however. She is every bit as "Mormon" now as I ever was. Unlike me, she has been through the temple and taken out her endowments. She still attends church regularly. She lives in a community with a lot of other Mormons and the majority of her close friends are Mormon. To her, "Mormon" is what she is. She is trying to figure out if "gay" is also what she is and if those two pieces of her identity can live together happily ever after.

The problem is, as every elementary school child is taught, you can't compare apples to oranges.

From our discussions, I've gathered that she has determined that if she decides to "come out" (all the way out - not just to her parents and a few close friends - but to really come all the way out of the closet) that she will no longer be able to maintain her current standing in the Mormon community. I don't think she is wrong. The bit that doesn't make sense to me is that she has decided that if she loses that community, something else must be taking its place, and, by default, that must be the gay community. So she's trying to figure out how to get in.

Except, being gay doesn't mean becoming a full "card carrying" member of the nearest gay club. That's not what being gay is. There is no club. There is only a label. You can't replace your sense of community with a label. You can't replace your religion with who you are. They're not the same thing. They're apples and oranges.

I left the church (for more reasons than the "gay issue") and I found community in my friends. The majority of my friends aren't gay. Even fewer of them are lesbian. I can count on one hand the number of lesbian friends I have, and on one finger the number (not counting my wife) I've had contact with in the last six months. I didn't leave the LDS church to run off and join the gays. I suppose, on some level, being gay makes me one of "the gays," but in the way that being born white makes me caucasian - not because I went out and signed up.

That having been said, I understand the need to "belong". I joined the Human Rights Campaign. I volunteered at Utah Pride. I attend Gay Day at Disneyland religously. (First weekend in October. You're all invited. Wear a red shirt.) I once had a membership to one of the lesbian bars in Salt Lake City. But participating doesn't define me. It's nice to feel like you belong somewhere, and I get that. I also understand how all consuming being an active member of the LDS church can be. Most folks go to church on Sunday and try to be good for the rest of the week. The Mormons fill their week with church and pretend that Sunday is the day of rest. Being actively Mormon is at least a part-time job. And I understand that to suddenly have all that free time can be frightening.

So, this was longer than I intended. I hope it wasn't too preachy. I also hope that I didn't make a distracting number of grammar and spelling errors. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but the way I see it, figuring it out is half the fun. (Maybe I should have been a philosophy major......nah. I'm probably better suited to debate than philosophy anyway.)

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