Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Göran

Göran and I met at the Gay Nineties, a popular gay bar in downtown Minneapolis. We had seen each other there on numerous occasions before. I always thought he was cute, but was too shy to ever introduce myself to him. He too had seen me there and had wanted to meet me, but he too had been afraid to talk to me. He was the one who finally broke the ice one night and asked me to dance.

Later that night, I asked him if he wanted to spend the night and he agreed. We left the bar and started walking. He thought I was leading him to my apartment, while I thought he was leading me to his. We ended up lost in the warehouse district before we realized what had happened...

Göran says he was sure from the first night we met that he wanted a relationship with me. I was not so sure. At the time, he was homeless, staying in a downtown Minneapolis shelter. If he could have, he would have spent every night of the week with me. That was too intense for me. We dated for about two months. Then I decided it was too much too fast, and broke up with him. Göran was devastated by the break-up. He had been so sure we were "meant" to be together, he couldn't believe I had ended it. He called me once or twice, hoping to rekindle the relationship, but I made it clear I didn't want to see him any more, and he stopped calling me.

That first night when I met Göran, I was still in pain from a recent break-up at the end of a six-month-long relationship. I was not the one who had initiated the break-up. That relationship had followed another six-month-long relationship which had also ended when my boyfriend broke up with me. In both of those relationships, I had felt certain at some point that I had met "the one." By the second break-up, I had become pretty disillusioned about the possibility of a lasting gay relationship. I began to buy into some of the rhetoric that was common in the gay community about marriage being a bourgeois, oppressive, heterosexual convention, and that gay folks shouldn't even try to emulate it.

For the year following my break-up with Göran, I led a pretty promiscuous lifestyle. At a certain point, I had convinced myself that I did not really "need" a relationship. My emotional needs would best be met through close, non-sexual but intimate friendships, and my physical needs would be met through one-night stands, cruising on the beach or at the gym, and so on. But after almost a year of that I began to realize how wrong I had been. I had plenty of friends, but still felt incredibly lonely.

Göran and I met by chance the following spring, at a meeting organized by the University's GLBT student association. Göran was there representing the gay fraternity, Delta Lambda Phi, and I was there representing the GLBT grad students group. As soon as he saw me, his eyes lit up. Something stirred in me too. Before the meeting ended, we exchanged phone numbers and had set up a date.

At that point I decided I had explored enough. One of the things I realized is that I had certain needs for intimacy that simply couldn't be met outside of a relationship in which two people commit to each other and try to forge a life together. And if I was going to make a go of forging such a common life, Göran was the one with whom I could do it. Göran had never given up hope on me. He claims that something deep inside had always told him we were meant to be together.

At the time, I was a member of the Northwoods Radical Faerie community, and on the board of stewards of Kawashaway Sanctuary. A number of faeries had decided they wanted to create a communal living arrangement in the Twin Cities. In August 1993 Göran and I became founding residents of the "Faerie House."

Creating a common life together was a challenge at first, because Göran was working evenings at a restaurant, and I was busy during the days teaching and finishing my Ph.D. We cherished what time we had, usually late at night, in between my classes during the day, and on weekends. Our favorite pastimes included snuggling on the couch together and eating ice cream while we watched Star Trek; walking and talking and riding bikes together; playing Dungeons and Dragons twice a month with some of our best friends; camping in the Northwoods with the Radical Faeries; singing together in the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir. It was Göran's idea to start going to Church. We found Lyndale United Church of Christ, a church community where we could worship and learn together, where we were welcomed and embraced for who we were, and where our relationship was celebrated and supported.

In the early years of our relationship, Göran was reigning queen at the Gay 90s (he actually held the title "Miss Gay Nineties"), and performed there regularly in the show lounge as Miss Tasha Marie Monet. Tasha sang a lot of Natalie Cole numbers. But occasionally, Tasha's alter ego "Tangie" came out on stage, a hot little number who wore platinum blond wigs, miniskirts, and an attitude. I was drafted as the drag bag carrier, so I got to go behind stage and meet the other drag queens as they got ready for their numbers. I think Göran liked showing me off to the "sisters"! I loved sitting in the audience having him sing love songs to me and me alone. Of course it was the man under the dress I was in love with! Every once in a while we still hear one of those old songs on the radio and remember that that was "our" song. At the time, Göran was also president of the gay fraternity Delta Lambda Phi, which just goes to show, you can be queen and president at the same time.

In August 1995 Göran and I had a wedding ceremony, to which we invited friends and family from all the various diverse communities Göran and I belonged to. University professors sat next to Radical Faeries. Drag queens sat next to gospel singers. Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Rastafarians were all part of the mix. My parents, my grandmother, and my little sister Anne were there, and were able to meet my partner's mother (who was still alive at the time), his step-father, his sisters and their families. The potluck reception was hosted by our best and oldest friends in the Twin Cities, Sam and Lee.

It had been Göran's idea to get married. Numbskull queer theorist that I was, I resisted the idea at first. I was still on this 'why-would-we-want-to-emulate-heterosexuals?' kick. Göran didn't have to work too hard to convince me though, as I was indeed head-over-heels in love with him, and I couldn't say no to anything he really wanted. But after the ceremony, I became a full-fledged convert to the institution of Gay Marriage. The ceremony definitely changed things for us for the better. There is something about getting up in front of 115 of your closest acquaintances, friends, and family, and vowing before God that you promise to love, nurture and protect one another, so long as you both are able. Something very important clicked into place for me that day.

Our financial and living arrangements gradually improved. After a string of awful jobs (including a couple of telemarketing gigs), Göran finally got a steady, good paying job as an administrative assistant at a law firm, with normal hours that allowed us to spend more time together. The summer of 1996 a friend of ours in the TCC Community Gospel Choir moved to Portland, Oregon and asked us if we might be interested in buying her house. I had at one point sworn that I would never buy a house. Just as I had once shied away from a commitment to Göran, just as I had resisted the notion of marriage, I resisted home-buying because it felt like too much of a commitment. But my friend asked me to come look at her house, and as I did, I realized that this was where Göran and I belonged. I called him at work and said, "I think we're buying a house." After getting over the initial shock, he expressed his ecstasy that I had finally come around to another of his life-long dreams. Within three days we had signed a purchase agreement. In August of 1996 we moved into the lovely home where we still live to this day.

Göran and I are about to take yet another step, make another commitment that I resisted for years, and that has been one of his life dreams. We have put in papers to become foster parents. We arrived at this decision after research, discussion and soul-searching. The Spirit has made it clear to me that this is the best commitment we've made yet. The kids we parent will likely be teens who have come from difficult homes, situations of abuse or neglect. The agency we are working with will be training us, and will provide ample support. But please still pray for us!

In the last fifteen years, Göran and I have passed through many tests of the nature of our commitment to each other. We've been physically assaulted (Göran had three teeth broken by gay bashers). His mother came back into his life -- into our lives -- and then as suddenly, she died; and we grieved together. We've been present at Mormon family reunions, with attendant discomforts and struggles and joy. We've argued (rarely). We've hurt each other (impossible to measure the depth of the hurt). We've asked and received forgiveness. We've cried together and then finally laughed together again.

After fifteen years, he's still the only person I never get tired of being with. He was there to celebrate the completion of my Ph.D. and the publication of my book with me. I have been his editor and number one supporter as he wrote the first draft of his very first novel. With the exception of work, his karate lessons, and my attendance at the LDS Church, we are as inseparable as Mormon missionary companions. People who know us say they can't imagine one of us without the other. We still send each other flowers. We email each other love notes. We meet every day for lunch. We can't make it through the work day without a call from the other, just to say "I love you." We talk to each other in cat language. Meow, meowmeow, meow. (Disgusting, I know.) We pine for each other when a conference or business trip separates us for more than a day. Neither of us find sleep possible in a bed where the other isn't curled up beside.

He's the one who tends the lovely garden in the small patch of lawn next to our house. He's been out there weeding and planting practically every day this summer. He's the one who has skillfully arranged and decorated every corner of the house we live in. (I'm hopelessly straight-acting when it comes to interior decorating.) He makes gorgeous jewelry to adorn me and remind me of him. He brings beauty into every aspect of our lives.

Once not too long ago we were at the home of our friends, Sam and Lee, and Göran was coming down the polished wood stairway from their second floor. His socks slipped on the bare wood, and he fell and landed on his tail bone. He landed in just the wrong spot, on the corner of a step. He was in extreme pain, so bad he could barely walk on his own. As my friends and I were trying to help him, I fainted. I saw the pain on his face, I heard his groans of agony, and I suddenly felt nauseous, lost my breath and went all pale and wobbly, and then blacked out. Göran and our friends later all thought it was tremendously funny and had a good laugh at my expense. Göran said, "Some good you'll be if I'm ever in trouble again!" But that experience made me realize, we are viscerally bonded in a very profound way. What hurts him, hurts me.

After all that we've lived through the greatest challenge to our relationship has been my return to the LDS Church. I have had to come to terms with what my testimony of the gospel means for our relationship; whether my path of reconciliation with the Church means that our relationship should end. That has been frightening and painful to both of us. But even now as I write this, the Spirit is there, whispering reassurance to me; promising me that all will be well; warning me that the worst sin for me would be to leave him; reminding me that the real temptation is to mistake grand gestures and the approval of others for righteousness. Despite the reassurances, it's painful when the Church and community I feel Spirit-led to align myself with seem so certain that yoking myself with him means our damnation. All I can do is offer my testimony, and ultimately seek refuge in the Spirit, who has led me this far.

Göran went with me to the LDS Church once while we were visiting my parents, who were living at the time in Massachusetts. This was back in the days when I was still very alienated from the Church, and we were going more or less to humor my parents. Apparently we caused some major ruckus because somebody saw the two of us very innocently holding hands during the Sacrament Meeting. (Actually, the wife of my parents' bishop at the time thought it was quite sweet!) Mom and Dad never invited us to go with them to Church again, at least until recently, when I have really wanted to go. But now Göran refuses to have anything to do with the Church. He didn't even come to see me sing my solo last February.

Göran saw me struggle for years with depression. He heard from me stories of rejection and insensitivity by Latter-day Saint leaders and friends. He heard the stories of how at one point in my life, my faith created such a huge conflict in my heart and soul that it literally almost led me to commit suicide. He knows the Church's history with blacks. He's seen the bad side, the dark side of the Mormon Church. So I understand the anger he feels about it. I understand his incredulity that I could ever want to have anything to do with such an institution. He hasn't experienced the good side, the bright side, as I have. He doesn't have a testimony like I do.

But it is the nature of love to take those things that are divergent and to harmonize them. Not homogenize them. Not wipe out the differences. Love blends the differences in such a way that something extraordinary, new, inimitable and beautiful is created. It is for this, I believe, that God created within each of us -- gay and straight -- the drive toward intimate love. It is so that deep within each of us there might be something to keep us struggling past all the differences that cut us off from each other, all the centrifugal forces that pull us apart.

12 comments:

playasinmar said...

Wow.

"But it is the nature of love to take those things that are divergent and to harmonize them."

Wow. Well said. (and your story is amazing)

MoHoHawaii said...

This is an extraordinary post. Thanks for writing it.

I can't say that I understand your return to a church that explicitly rejects you. (I'm on Goran's side of this one.) But I do find your approach to be *very* interesting and certainly courageous. I don't know if it's good for you or not, but I do know it's good for the holiness of the church to have you there.

Maybe you are the future of a movement: active gay excommunicants.

You have my admiration and best wishes. Give my greetings to Goran, too.

Abelard Enigma said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Perhaps you should ask your Bishop about the possibility of having home teachers assigned. I can't promise he'll agree; but, it's not entirely out of the question either. And, that might help Göran start to see the good side of Mormonism.

Maybe you are the future of a movement: active gay excommunicants.

Why not???

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - I will greet Göran for you, thanks!

Abelard - as a matter of fact, I did request home teachers and have been assigned them. Göran makes a point of being out of the house when they come for a visit. He assiduously avoids any contact with the Church if he can at all avoid it. So for the time being, I will just have to content myself with letting him see what fruits of the Spirit are produced in my life from going to the LDS Church and incoporating gospel principles into my life.

Both - I think the true "movement" is the movement of the Spirit in our lives. I would put it more in terms of encouraging people regardless of their individual circumstances to listen more for the promptings of the Spirit, and to follow them. That is true whether you are gay and married like Abelard, gay and celibate, like Ty Mansfield, or gay and same-sex partnered like myself.

GeckoMan said...

Your story is yet another example of the beauty and power of love, existing and flowering in the dynamic tension of the unresolved.

I liked the idea of harmonizing, not homogenizing the disparate elements of our lives, relying wholly on the Spirit of the Lord and his love to bring together that which we cannot do for ourselves.

And in your story I'm reminded of the scripture, "the course of the Lord is one eternal round." Truly your life is coming full circle, and still you will need to exercise great patience and ultimate faith, not only with the LDS Church, but with Goran, my brother.

Beck said...

I continue to be engaged and mesmerized by your astonishing story as you reveal new layers or richness.

I see the Spirit moving in and through your life. As we've noted, it is REAL - it just is - and following those real promptings can only lead to good things for you.

Thank you, my new friend, for sharing this story. I can only imagine what's next!

Knight of Nothing said...

I think I've been reading your blog too much, I had an alarming dream last night in which I was trapped in a Mormon Temple by some giant brute named Orlin or Ogden or something.

It was wonderful to revisit this history. I've seen it all, and lived a lot of it with you. Your retelling is both honest and poetic. I love you guys!

Sitting here pondering this post (which I've re-read several times) and recalling our conversation on Sunday has given me an idea for a new post of my own...

J G-W said...

Geckoman - I like your phrase "dynamic tension of the unresolved." I have on numerous occasions wanted resolution, finality and closure so badly it hurt. But when I've pushed for that, I've been gently guided by the Spirit away from that and toward something much simpler. There are milestones along the way, but most of the time it is just lots of humility and a willingness to take things one day at a time that will get us all safely home.

Beck - my new friendship with you means an awful lot, I can't tell you how much. Your story has been very much with me in recent weeks. I've been thinking of you every day. I am so grateful to be in a place now to appreciate your story and learn from it. The best is yet to come!

KoN - I think I know which brute you're talking about. His name is Ogden. ;-)

I think Lee once said she wanted us in your lives because she thought we'd be a good influence on the kids. But the good influence always flowed this way too! Göran and I love you so much. Friendships like yours are one in a million.

I can hardly wait to see what you're cooking up on your blog!

C. L. Hanson said...

But it is the nature of love to take those things that are divergent and to harmonize them. Not homogenize them. Not wipe out the differences. Love blends the differences in such a way that something extraordinary, new, inimitable and beautiful is created.

That's beautiful!!

Sorry to be commenting on an old post (and repeating another commenter), but you got a new incoming link. ;^)

I had no idea you were in Minneapolis! Are you still here? I wonder if you're in my mom's ward...

J G-W said...

C.L. - I love to get comments on old posts!! Fun!

Yes, we still live in Minneapolis. I go to the Lake Nokomis Ward. Which ward does your mom go to?

Julia said...

Somebody linked to your blog because of your Circling the Wagons remarks and I've been completely neglecting my studies and paper that's due reading your old posts.

Your blog has touched me so much, and I just wanted to thank you for that.

J G-W said...

Julia - thank you for your kind words!

Now get back to your homework!!

(Just kidding! Come back to my blog any time you want!)

Peace,

John