I missed out on something today that would have meant a lot to me. Not for what it was, but for what it represented: adulthood, pride, accomplishment, the part of the American dream I still get to have.
I've thought a lot about shame lately. I'm reading a book by Dr. Alan Downs called "The Velvet Rage." In it, Dr. Downs poses a thesis that, in reading, reminded me of that little boy I thought I left behind so many years ago: that gay men's childhoods and young adulthoods, long before we developed skills to cope with such things, were colored by the belief that there "was something about us that made us unlovable." That fundamental fear drives us to be handsome, fashionable, witty, hyper-masculine, rich, educated, or all of the above--all in an effort to win the validation we are unable to give ourselves.
It's hard to explain to somebody who has grown up with images of validation: your parents, for instance, are a validation of straight relationships; look at the tv, or magazines, or most books, and you find only straight characters and straight relationships. Am I there? we ask ourselves as little kids. No, I don't see anybody like me. There must be something wrong with me.
That isolation doesn't leave us. That fear doesn't leave us. That shame--that somehow we're not okay--never leaves us. No matter where we travel, or what we wear, or what we achieve, it doesn't leave. It lives inside, always looking for validation, unable to heal itself. It is the hardest burden to carry, like great stones on our shoulders.
Dr. Downs breaks our lives into three stages, divided into our relationship with shame. "Overwhelmed by Shame" (which includes the time where we hide our identity, and live "in the closet"), "Compensating for Shame" (where the gay man "attempts to neutralize his shame by being more successful, outrageous, fabulous, beautiful, or masculine"), and "Discovering Authenticity", where the gay man begins to "build a life that is based upon their own passions and values rather than proving to themselves that they are desirable and lovable."
Why are you telling me this? asks the Reader. To be honest, I'm not sure. I don't share it with my closest friends. In some ways, the shame keeps me from speaking. It's the fear that no one is listening. Where's your inner child? my friends have asked. Well, he's inside somewhere, hiding and afraid. He has no time to play. He's still back in that bedroom in Elk Grove, terrified that he failed in some fundamental way. Terrified that no one will love him, and he will die alone--no, worse, that he will LIVE alone.
I guess I'm telling you this because it's fundamental to my story. You can't know me until you know what makes me. You can't know what makes me until you've met the part of me that isn't fabulous, that isn't Armani runway shows and dinners next to Tom Ford. The part of me that isn't trips to Peru, or Italy, or Paris, or London, or New York. You can't see it in my blue eyes, or in my six-pack abs. You can't read it in my political or economic philosophy, or smell it in my cooking. It's not a pretty part of me, and it keeps me silent.
I'm sharing this because I can't carry this alone. And sometimes I think we all feel alone, quietly carrying our burdens, whatever they may be. Well, this one keeps me from writing.
Diabolina over the years has told me that she doesn't understand why I don't use my gift. Because, D. I don't see it. I only see the shame.
So when something big, that I was really invested in, doesn't work out, then I'm more than normally shaken. It's hard to recover, and it suddenly reminds me of how much I've failed, and how much is wrong with me.
[The rational part of Sable Crow is thinking quietly that he may not leave this post up.]
If I had one wish, I wish I could go back to that kid--that ME--in the darkness of his bedroom all those years ago, and tell him, It will be okay. People will love you. You'll learn, slowly, to love yourself. There's nothing wrong with you. You're beautiful and noble. You are extraordinary not for what you do, or earn, or say, but simply because you ARE. It will take a decade or two of lonely, hard work. Your heart will be broken. But you'll be okay. Do you hear me? I'd say, hugging that terrified kid. You'll be okay.
I wish I could say that, not because I can't go back in time (I can't), but because I wish I believed it now. Maybe I wish some future me could come to me now as I write this, and hug me and say those same things. Maybe I wish I could believe him.