Monday, October 5, 2009

Living Authentically

Authentic…Webster defines it as: worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact; not false or imitation: Real, Actual

October 4th – 12th is National Coming Out week. It is a very significant week in the life of those individuals that have had to live a in a less than authentic manner. The discomfort of talking to co-workers or family members and attempting to appear “normal” as society has defined can be crippling at best. Some are so good at it until we convince ourselves that it is perfectly fine with juggling pronouns and showing up at family functions alone or with your “best friend”. Society has pushed many of us into the closet to the extent that we even take on the language and characteristics of those that have chosen to oppress us. Many have even chosen to move to other states away from family in an effort to live an authentic life.

Over the past few years, it has become very “fashionable” in some circles of the same gender loving (SGL) community to consider onesself down-low. A down-low individual is one that has same gender sex but live his/her public life as a heterosexual individual. Society has fashioned this term to only men of color. However, many Caucasian men also live their lives in the same manner. Some of them have appeared more recently on the public stage (i.e Former NY Governor, Eliot Spitzer, evangelical preacher Ted Haggard, etc). While these men have lived the same types of lives as their African-American and Latin counterparts, they have never been referred to as down-low men simply based on their skin color. Some as those individuals look at the down-low persona with machismo dispelling their internalized issues of being consider less than a “MAN”; thereby making them very attractive by some individuals. This method of thinking can lead to all types of psychosis and adversely affect everyone that he meets.

Now for people of color the ability to live an authentic life has a different set of challenges than those of our Caucasian counterparts. Men and women of color already have a difficult time just living as people of color in a very racist society and to add another reason to be hated or disliked is a lot to ask of many individuals. Therefore the closet seems to be the only obvious choice. While I know that living authentically is a difficult process I do not think that it is a reason to allow the closet to consume you. For many people of color, living authentically, involves many cultural factors that make to process more challenging and really scary. It will make you weigh the options of being alienated by a strong family nucleus, condemned by a homophobic church and community as well as dealing with heterosexism. You also face the challenge of dating. Some people will not date you because they say you are “too out”. Therefore dating you would make their lives a little for obvious.

Speaking from personal experience, I have been living authentically for approximately 14 years now. While my sibling and father knew of my life in its authentic nature since 1980 others in my extended family gradually found out in years to come. It was not something I hid; however, I did not feel the need to make a major announcement. I chose not to be authentic to non-family members for some time. I got comfortable with never disclosing my personal life, however, it got very old for me one day. I had the script memorized without a problem and could spit it out without blinking. However, for some odd reason I got comfortable with who I was at the time and basically started using my partners name at the time in conversations with co-workers. Doing so probably just confirmed what some of them had already thought but never had the nerve to ask me directly. I will say to you that it has been the most liberating experience in my life. Now I work for a very large company and this information became common place throughout the company. I would say that 90% of the people I work with in the Chicago and DC offices are aware that I am a same-gender loving (SGL) man. Initially I may have had second thoughts about doing the “full disclosure” thing. Making this step allowed me to make additional steps outside of the work environment along the way. However, there has NEVER been any regret. I have taken some serious hits and lost some people in my life that were very comfortable with me being in that closet. While their decisions hurt at the time I can say I do not miss them at all. My "coming out" process years ago is still on going for I decide when to take a stand not hide behind what society has decided as the norm. The process is not a one time thing. For example when the Nordstrom’s salesperson states to you how good that suit looks and how your wife/girlfriend would love it this is your moment to say no my husband/partner.

The entire Living Authentically process takes much courage but the reward is indescribable. I know that many live a less than authentic life to shield themselves from hurt and disappointment that others throw at us. However, the closet is a dark and lonely place and once you step into the light and allow yourself to be loved for who you are totally you will begin to see the true beauty of life and people and humanity. The biggest benefit of living authentically is not being apologetic for which you are on this earth to anyone.

If you have not taken that step to live your life fully as an authentic person I ask you to give it serious consideration. You will be surprised at the support you will garner.

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