“Is this good?” Learning my love is evil
Shared by mindmeetheart
“The stigmatized individual tends to hold the same beliefs about the identity that we do…the standards he has incorporated from the wider society equip him to be intimately alive to what others see as his failing, inevitably causing him, if only for moments, to agree that he does indeed fall short of what he really ought to be. Shame becomes a central possibility, arising from the individual’s perception of one of his own attributes as being a defiling thing to possess, and one he can readily see himself as not possessing.”
“Is this good?” This was a question that I constantly asked my mother growing up. Before I played with something: “Is this good?” Before I ate something: “Is this good?” I didn’t mean “good” in the pleasant sense of the word, but rather as in the opposite of evil. I attended Catholic school from the time I was three, and I had been terribly receptive to the idea of goodness and evil existing in the world—existing as separate and opposite forces—in nature, in objects, in people. “Is this good?” How much patience she must possess to have raised my brother and me with not only our inexhaustible energy, but with my fearful obsessions and compulsions.
“As early as 12 months of age, human beings appear to interpret objects in light of the emotional expressions of others.”
All my life, my Christian faith had been an integral part of my identity. It had been the rescuing hand that pulled me out of the fire when, during my teenage years, OCD had reduced my peace of mind to ash. Upon entering college, when I longed for home and sought a group to belong to, I joined Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical Christian organization whose statement of faith calls the bible “God’s infallible written Word”. One day months after, I called my mom for a second time. We had always been very close and had kept in good touch with our daily exchanges over her evening commute. This single call, however, was the only occasion in which I allowed myself to decompose, and my great concern that I may be gay shakily made its way through my lips. As the culmination of an existential crisis that had left me groping for an identity that needn’t self-destruct, I felt as though I were an anxious child once again, seeking assurance at the sleeve of my mother. “Is this good?” “Am I good?” With the sound of her crying and her request to keep this discreditable facet of my identity to myself, I had my answer.
“A third pattern of socialization is illustrated by one who becomes stigmatized late in life, or learns late in life that he has always been discreditable…Such an individual has thoroughly learned about the normal and the stigmatized long before he must see himself as deficient. Presumably he will have a special problem in re-identifying himself, and a special likelihood of developing disapproval of self.”
It’s ironic…I’ve made out with more guys since that phone call than I did in my entire life leading up to it. You can consider it my attempt at consciously proving wrong what I had already unconsciously known about myself. In Chapter Six, “Knowing How We Feel” of Strangers to Ourselves, Tim Wilson states, “the attribution process, whereby people observe their behavior and make inferences about its causes,” otherwise known as Daryl Bem’s Self-Perception Theory, “typically occurs in the adaptive unconscious”.
My behavior was not uncalculated, of course, but it was this instinctive emotional, physiological reaction that I went looking for in my male friendships, dates, and drunken hookups, which felt so out of character that I feared I was only getting farther from my true identity. Those feelings were, as time had continued to prove, not something that I needed to go looking for. The tingling in my hands, the rushing feeling in my chest, the embarrassing redness in my face by the mere nearness of girls who I’d been interested in… these were impossible to ignore. Similarly, Wilson describes emotions as “states that inundate consciousness”. Why I ever believed that I could find my emotions by searching every fiber of my being is beyond me, as now I realize just how entirely useless it is to attempt to ignore them when they’re there.
I’ve speculated painstakingly as to how these emotions and lack thereof, which are so clear to me now, were not even in my mind’s periphery throughout my adolescence, in which I was very content with my longtime boyfriend. I recall Wilson’s friend Susan, whose “conscious ‘feeling rules’ seemed to get in the way” of her true emotions. “The fact that he conformed to her image of the kind of man she ought to love,” he says of her ex, “made it difficult for her to realize that she did not”. My boyfriend throughout high school, a great guy, played a central role in my achieving the “ought self” that was expected of me by my family, friends, peers, and as a result, by me. It wasn’t until after we had broken-up upon parting ways for university that I admitted to myself the extent of my romantic disinterest in him. It was because we appeared to be so perfect for each other on paper (“Because everyone knows that ‘children love their pony…’”) that I hadn’t given adequate attention to my personal feelings towards him (“…it is difficult for them to realize that Topper is a nasty brute”).
As I became more aware of my feelings towards girls over the next several years, I listened to my family with whom I had always been exceptionally close express their deep-seated disapproval of homosexuality. The ever-present likelihood that their love was conditional upon a characteristic that I do not possess was an anchor chained around my heart. That their love was true, but that they would experience heartache, discrimination, and the severing of family bonds due to standing by me—a vision of an empty bottle of pills. And yet, the progressivity of our time during which I feel so blessed to be on this earth and the knowledge that humans are capable of change gave me hope that one day, love will be able to bring joy to my heart without also breaking it. To ease the cognitive dissonance that I was experiencing due to the contradiction of two fundamental aspects of my identity, I began warily “coming out” of my cluttered college closet and living the double-life of my warring Selves.
Though the friends of mine that I cared to tell accepted me with open arms, the thing about discreditization, as Goffman puts it, is that:
“in the stigmatized arises the sense of not knowing what the others present are ‘really’ thinking about him. Further, during mixed contacts, the stigmatized individual is likely to feel that he is ‘on’, having to be self-conscious and calculating about the impression he is making, to a degree and in areas of conduct which he assumes others are not.”
Because of this self-consciousness, what helped me even more than being accepted by others was observing those with the same stigma accepting themselves—those who wear their stigma with honor, as if it doesn’t affect them at all. I saw these individuals and felt empowered. During Fall Break of senior year, I went home in the mindset that I would be open with my brother, whom I’d naturally been feeling distant from. Instead, I sat beside him as he and his friends shouted homophobic slurs throughout the entirety of a collegiate football game and left his house reminding myself to be more careful of who I let know at school. That night as I lay in my childhood bed, I scrolled through social media to find an interview of Cardinal Raymond Burke, stating in response to whether children should be exposed to gay family members around the holidays:
“What would it mean to grandchildren to have present at a family gathering a family member who is living a disordered relationship with another person? We wouldn’t, if it were another kind of a relationship—something that was profoundly disordered and harmful—we wouldn’t expose our children to that relationship, to the direct experience of it, and neither should we do it in the context in the family member who not only suffers from same sex attraction, but has chosen to act upon it, committing acts that are always and everywhere wrong, evil.”
At this point in time and for reasons beyond that of my being gay, it had been years since I had been having irreconcilable differences with my former religious beliefs. That was not reflected, however, in the mirror hanging on my door, as I lay sobbing into my pillow so that my unknowing father wouldn’t wake from downstairs. I imagined myself, five, ten, fifteen years prior, kneeling every night to pray beside that same bed. How peacefully I would sleep, knowing that I was in God’s favor. I knew upon seeing this unwelcome stranger’s reflection that I was not one of the unaffected individuals that I had admired, if such individuals exist. That as much as we can deny certain aspects of our past Selves, they are often so deeply rooted in our psyches that they will always remain somewhere beneath the surface.
…”Is this good?”
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