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A Little More

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A reading from the Gospel According to John:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

I built the closet at age six… I started after I told my dad not to paint over the wallpaper in my new bedroom… It had yellow flowers that matched my wicker lamp and wood cut butterflies my mom had made.  

The look in his eyes, a visceral sadness; a confirmation that describing his son as “sensitive” was not sufficient, that look gave me the material to build closet. Dad had taught lessons with words, hands and a belt, but it was his eyes that day that taught me to hide.

A year later, he died unexpectedly and I locked myself inside the closet and prayed to be “normal.”  I tried to avoid anything that might have earned that look. I hid the yellow wallpaper and the wicker lamp in my closet and painted my bedroom grey. That fall, when the kids named me “faggot”, I searched my behaviors for the most offending and tried to hide those too.

I found that as much as my love of opera and antique silverware might have appealed to my kindred Auntie Mame, those interests were less endearing to the Boy Scouts of Northwest Missouri.

Desperate for affirmation, I found the Church, where a little Midwestern boy can sing in a foreign language while wearing a costume without being afraid. Not having a father to come home to, I found solace in God the Father. Dogma and ritual provided cold, disimpassioned mercy counterbalancing my family’s disapproval. The confessional mirrored my closet, and the pretense of holiness masked the sins I imagined for myself.  

As I got older, the closet became less of a hiding place and more of a camouflage. I hid parts of myself in the closet I closed it and hung a crucifix outside as a diversion. By the time I got to college, the closet was mostly forgotten; the name-calling and judgment from my peers had quieted enough that through practice I was able to craft a new image. The “faggot” of yore was replaced by the image of a witty and faithful man. “Sure”, I could hear people say “he likes art, music, and design… perhaps his clothes match too well, but look at how well he sings and prays!” For the first time, I was able to pass as “normal.” It felt good and, to be honest when you have been pretending that long it can be hard to determine what is real.

I thought I would be a priest, devoted to service… Instead, my best friend, a beautiful and talented woman said she loved me.

I didn’t set about lying but I didn’t tell her about the closet, but, in my defense, I had distanced myself from the experiences that had pushed me inside that I had really forgotten that there had ever been a closet. As a matter of necessity, my life had been isolated; homosexuality was hypothetical and antithetical to the façade I had built.

I didn’t try to lie, I thought mutual care would be enough. We married, had three kids, and embarked on a largely happy life as newlyweds.

The turning point came three years into our marriage when in quick succession, my younger sister was murdered and my mother was diagnosed with cancer. The blunt force of these experiences was beyond my ability to cope and instead of opening to my wife, I closed myself. I retreated, finding the closet and hid what I felt instead of sharing my pain. I focused on my career to the exclusion of my family quietly maintaining 10 years of white-knuckled sanity before my marriage dissolved, as my wife and best friend couldn’t live with a husband so distant.

She left and in the moment I was shocked, devastated. I tried to establish a new sense of “normal” throwing myself into the practices that had given me purpose. But was confronted by the inauthenticity of these practices. One by one I stopped. Stopped church, stopped praying, stopped looking for my sister. I quit my job; I drank gin, and numbed what I could.

I wasn’t enough, there were too many pieces missing… I wasn’t man enough, I wasn’t holy enough, I wasn’t handsome enough, or smart enough… Unmoored from the Catholic doctrine that had stopped me earlier in life, I was presented with a previously unthinkable choice: acknowledge the things I had hidden from for virtually all of my life, confront all of the things I was hiding, or chase a bottle of pills with an expertly-mixed cocktail and pray for mercy from a God I didn’t trust or fully believe in.

In the end, it was my children that stopped me from destroying myself.

After 36 years locked away I told my friends and family what I had been hiding: – “I’m GAY!” True story: people aren’t surprised when a male, Catholic, interior designer/opera singer, who tap dances, and once considered becoming a priest, tells them he’s gay.  

Having informed the world and thinking the work was done, I quickly fell in love and ended up living with a charismatic artist, thinking that I had “come out.”

It took me nearly a year to realize that these were just actions. I said the words: “I’m gay” but had not acknowledged what those words meant or what that label had done to me.

I was still in the closet, but this time, I was pretending that all the missing pieces had magically reappeared! I imagined a beautiful life with the artist and my kids, ignoring a reality that was just as dysfunctional as my earlier life had been.

He loved my kids but when they weren’t there he belittled me. The career I had worked so hard to develop was largely supporting his career.

Honestly, I’m not sure that I would have acknowledged anything had the artist not tried to hit me.

It wasn’t even a one-time thing, or even remotely the worst thing that he had done, but for whatever reason it was the thing that made me recognize that I was letting him treat me like my dad had, like the kids in school had… The ridiculousness of the situation unbolted my closet.

Seeing his raised hand, my brain opened, I remembered all the things that had been done, that I had accepted from this man who said he loved me: being pushed, hit, drugged and worse. His actions, the broken glass and destruction of my things helped me see the closet and to remember what I had hidden inside.

As the closet fell apart, I remembered my dim adolescence and the chants of “faggot,” the pain of a fist in the eye, and being rolled around in a trashcan.

As the yellow rose wallpaper was exposed, I felt my stepdad picking me up, shaking me, and hitting me. I heard a litany of names that no 7-year old should know… Every slight, every bruise, the rocks thrown and each name not my own, became real again. The hours sitting and crying unable to fathom what was wrong with me became tangible. The hypocritical religious-indoctrination that I had clung to hoping to be good enough to see my dad and sister in heaven.

Finally I remembered my dad, his disapproval, synthesized by my 6-year old self and eternally misinterpreted. I started to recognize how his look, some 30 years earlier invited me to become something less than what I was created to be. I thought I had come out but instead I recreated the same disapproval.

I’m not sure why, but that last time he tried to hit me, the stupidity of my predicament became apparent… I wasn’t enough because of what I was lacking, I wasn’t enough because I couldn’t accept the substance of my own experiences.

I’m starting to grasp that admitting my sexuality wasn’t coming out. Maybe it was a step, but without introspection, it was just another distraction.

Now, instead of accepting that I am gay, I’m trying to learn who I really am which is so much more than “gay.”

A year after the artist tried to hit me I find shards of glass hiding in my living room. I still fight invalidation that helped me build the closet. I’m trying to acknowledge that it, like those pieces of glass; are just a ruined thing that no longer serves any purpose. On the occasions I’m able to do this, I walk away from it and take some of the power that I had given away.

Every day I come out a little more and in doing so, am confronted by the “me” I really don’t know. Each day I’m a little more gay, a little more artistic, a little more musical, and on the best days a little more dad to the children who saved my life. There is no finish line, but I’m not in the closet and that is a start.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Zakk Hoyt – November 6, 2017 © 2017, all rights reserved.

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