My goal in writing here is simple – to share from my experience, my observations and my heart what I hope might have meaning for some readers, to offer the lessons I have learned or that my life demonstrates that, like yours, sometimes came at great cost. A cost in years of unfulfilled potential, and wandering, trying to reconcile what I had been taught to the calling I felt in my own heart. During some of those years, I was blessed that some came into my life to “walk alongside” and encourage me. Little did I realize that I would be asked to do the same, for someone I never met and will never know.
As I write in June of 2020, this would have been the month that many cities, mine included, were planning to host celebrate Pride; in SF’s case, the 50th annual. But in 2012, I was just starting my own coming out process, in my early 50’s – a “late bloomer” in every respect. I think my own first attendance at Pride was LA a year or two prior – so I was hardly in a place to share insights on “gay” life. It was a time of adjustment, discovery, mistakes and choices – not all of which turned out well. Still, for some reason, my counselor at the time asked me to consider writing a letter – to a stranger.
He had been approached by the parents of a 14-year-old boy who had recently come out to them as gay – something I could never had imagined when I was that age in 1972, 40 years earlier. His parents were more than supportive – so much so, that they felt and realized they could not offer their son all the guidance and insight he was seeking, and they had tuned to my counselor for help and support, for them as well as their son. For some reason, he thought that I should write this teenager a letter of encouragement. After all, my counselor was gay – what did I have to offer?
To me, this was confusing. I had spent years in “reparative therapy”, hiding from everyone in my life, exposing myself to danger through denial, and letting shame rule my heart; never knowing love, openness, true honesty – and missing out on acceptance from others as well as myself. I was trying to find my own way after a life of hiding. What could I say to a 14 year old two generations younger in a very different world? But I said yes – and ultimately, perhaps, the letter I wrote was the one I wish someone had sent me when I was alone and every voice around me was telling me that what I felt in my deepest heart had to be ignored.
Here is that letter, from 2012 – and following – a closing observation.
To my young friend, who has more questions than answers – for whatever it is worth, this is the best wisdom I have to offer you as you begin an uncertain journey.
- BELIEVE in yourself. Whatever flaws, whatever failures – you are an amazing and magnificent creation. You have potential that you cannot imagine. You must be on your own side – others will join you – but always, always know you have worth. Surround yourself only with those who affirm your unique worth, and in turn believe in them and their worth as well.
- EXPLORE life with an open mind. The world has more wonders than you can ever see, more perspectives on life than you can ever learn, and more ideas than you can imagine. Travel, whether it be across town or oceans, to see something new and be open to embracing that which others may not accept.
- RESPECT all individuals, whether they stand with you or are in your face – their lives are just as precious, unique and wondrous. There will be some that you will never agree with on any issue at all – but you must respect them, and their values, to learn from them and become all that you might be.
- CREATE something – anything – you have abilities and powers that are yours alone, and that means that there is something you have to offer the world, one person or millions, that can only come from you. Don’t shut doors that are open to you – try something new, the only failure is to say “I can’t”.
- GIVE freely … give from your heart, give often. Give forgiveness to those who don’t understand you, give support and encouragement to those in need whether through your abilities or through your wallet, give when no one asks but you see the chance to make a difference, and give without anyone even knowing it came from you. In return, in time, you will receive joy unlimited.
- ACCEPT that you cannot have everything the way you want it – not in your own life, not what you want from your family and loved ones, not from your school or your job or your friends. You cannot control what happens to you – but if you accept that you cannot make things happen the way you want, you have taken a step to freedom. This is a very hard lesson to learn, and live.
- If you can … have FAITH. Faith is different from belief, different from knowledge – it is understanding that there is something larger than you. You may not choose to have the same faith that those who love you want you to have; you may in time grow to have faith in something other than what you understand today. That is ok. But … if you can see that there is a power beyond you, beyond all that you know, and if you come to believe that power loves and cares for you, and each person you meet in life … you will experience life in a way that most never imagine, and you will find joy.
Life is not always kind, and rarely fair; the rules and stories we learn as children in time may seem to be something to throw away. There is truth in everything, and I hope you will, more than anything – SEEK – look for the truth, look for that which has value and meaning that lasts. If you do look, beyond what others tell you to do, or be, or pursue – if you look within, and look above – you will find. You will find the wonder of life, and you will celebrate, and you will become the miracle only you are.
Here we are, eight years later. I always loved happy endings, in fairy tales and myth, and later in movies – but I cannot offer you one, today. I can share that in the years since, I have found love, married, moved to San Francisco, made plans that didn’t happen, and like you am doing all I can to stay balanced through the present challenges – and more to come. But life has taught me there are no endings, only streams that converge and diverge, mingle and dance. I cannot tell you what happened in that young man’s life, or where he is today at age 22. But my counselor, Patrick, did tell me that the parents and their son were touched deeply by what I wrote. So why share it with you today?
By nature, most of us tend to congregate with others who share our viewpoint, history, goals or interests. Birds of a feather. But sometimes the connections we need to open our eyes to new possibilities must come from outside our bubble. We cannot learn from those who merely repeat what we already believe to be true. Although my life path might have similarities with your own, or someone you know, I believe we sometimes learn more from people who are different from us – that there are truths in all our experience that we can glean if we are open to listening to others, then looking within ourselves, and then realize there are options ahead we did not previously see. A secret door. An unfamiliar path.
You have the keys to someone’s door, and the light to their path that they perhaps need your help to step forward on. Today, we are surrounded by need – and opportunity – to change our world. Not probably in huge ways, on our own – but by listening, and caring, and accepting. And perhaps, by sharing. Perhaps your truths, that you paid a price for – are the hope that someone in your life needs to hear.
So, join me for Pride – and “come out”. Not in the sense that you might generally think of – unless, of course, that is something you might need to consider. But in the sense of looking at what perhaps lies buried in your own life, unshared, that could make a difference by opening up to someone in need. Perhaps that doesn’t seem likely to you, but I promise – you have pearls of great price that may offer hope to a stranger, as well. Isn’t it worth it to take that chance?
If there was ever a moment to listen first, and learn – to realize none of us has “all the answers” but only together can we BUILD the road to a better tomorrow – that moment is now. Listen to the hearts of those around you, perhaps strangers now, and your own – and you will know, somehow, when it is your time to “come out” and share your truths to those whose stream crosses through your path. You may never know what miracles may follow. Let’s move forward , together.