One of my mantras in the last 5 years has been my repetition of the words “authentic” and “genuine” to describe the benefits of leaving my religion and coming out. For some reason, we human beings like the real thing, while something nearly identical, yet fake, is often rendered worthless.
I’ve been pondering why that’s such a big deal to me. I mean, what was so wrong with a fake? Doesn’t the fake “do” the same thing the real thing can do? Sometimes fake is even better. I once installed laminate flooring in our family room that looked like hardwood and it was more durable and cheaper than wood. I liked it for what it was, but it wasn’t the wood it tried to be. So what’s the big deal?
- A cubic zirconia vs. a diamond?
- A knock-off watch vs. a Rolex?
- Counterfeit $100 vs. a genuine $100 bill?
- A Warhol imitation vs. the original Warhol painting?
- A Pier 1 “antiqued” desk vs. the antique desk passed down from your great-grandfather?
- A Mark Hoffman forgery vs. an actual historical document?
- Me, acting as a straight Mormon priesthood holder vs. Me, as an openly gay divorced father?
Back in my cubic zirconia life, I was the person everyone liked. I was cheerful. I was witty and pleasant to be around. As a married couple, my wife and I were the “example couple” in the ward, the ones called to lead the youth so that we could serve as examples to them. If the young people could learn to be as righteous and as spiritual and as dedicated as we were, then they would be just as happy. So what’s wrong with that?
There’s nothing really wrong with it; it just wasn’t real.
Right now, I’d say that if you are the person or the couple that everyone likes, then there’s probably something disingenuous about you. Completely authentic and whole individuals or couples rub some people the wrong way. Genuine people can be liked and admired by many, but they’ll probably earn some detractors because…well, it’s just human nature to have some quirks that some people find annoying. Real people annoy others and real people are often annoyed by certain people too.
Back when I was teaching LDS early morning seminary, I had a woman who substituted for me. She was the wife of one of the counselors in the Stake Presidency (An LDS stake is like a catholic diocese). I didn’t know her very well but she was a straight-talker. I remember chatting with her after she filled in for a week for me and she detailed for me one by one the kids in my class who she didn’t like. I remember being “LDS flabbergasted.” I mean, we were supposed to love these kids weren’t we? I’d never heard an LDS leader of her caliber talk so frankly about not liking certain youth. I certainly was more comfortable at the time with her husband, a virtual stranger, getting up and bearing his testimony that he loved each and every one of us in the congregation than with this woman speaking so candidly. I walked away shocked but inwardly pleased that the kids she didn’t like were the same ones I secretly couldn’t stand, which I would never have admitted at the time.
See, I was a people-pleaser. I would jump through hoops and modify my behavior and my seminary lessons in order to reach these bratty kids. But, my people-pleasing wasn’t for them to learn or to help them achieve any sort of peace in life. It was for me to be liked. It was for me – at the expense of me.
I am not saying we shouldn’t improve ourselves or recognize ways that we can be kinder or try to be socially pleasant and get along with others. I’ve just found that life works more effectively when I practice self acceptance and focus on my strengths. To be “real” is one of those elusive, “I know it when I see it” things.
So, what’s more real about my life since I came out and started living more authentically? Well for one I have a whole consortium of people who don’t like me anymore. The former golden child is now a black sheep. Some people actually find me disgusting. It’s a new experience that I’m still not completely comfortable with, but I can also now walk into a room full of strangers or past acquaintances and not have the urge to win them all over.
My ex-wife, it seems, has moved in the opposite direction since our divorce. She got a boob job (immediately after arguing in court that she needed to move my children out of state for financial reasons – yeah, I’m not bitter about that at all) while I accompanied a friend to a nude beach for the first time in my life and let it all hang out. Her testimony of “knowing” became stronger while I admitted I really just don’t know much at all…and I liked it. As a former yes-man I’ve said “No” more times in the last 5 years than the entire 40 years prior.
For me, it’s not about happiness or honesty or truth. It’s about clarity.
My head is clearer; my “soul,” whatever that is, is more at peace now than ever before. So much energy is wasted by people trying to be something they’re not because they’re under the delusion that that other thing is better.
For example, as much as I’d love to have my full head of curly dark hair back, it’s not worth the energy and white noise that undergoing hair restoration, dye or any other sort of treatment would require. Because the sort of discontent you encounter when you try to whitewash the truth follows you even after the change; it really doesn’t fool anyone. A person with a facelift looks like a person with a facelift. You never end up looking like the 25 year old you were aiming for. The person least fooled in fact is the person who was desperately seeking the inner change as a result of the outward refurbishing.
In fact, I now get a really creepy feeling around people who have undergone cosmetic surgery (except for health reasons like stomach staples or for emergency reasons of course). I just don’t trust someone whose drastic solution to their own discontent is cosmetic. If they were going for cat eyes, then they succeeded and I’d say it was a wonderful choice. But we all know that that’s not the look they were shooting for. And that’s why I think the knock-off fake products are never pleasant purchases.
I’m fine buying a cheap $7 pair of sunglasses that will last me a year until I accidentally sit on them or my kids lose them. I’m even fine if they’re modeled after the Ed Hardy design but I bought them BECAUSE they were cheap. It’s when the value I place on them is in the imitation design rather than in their actual innate characteristics that things begin to get twisted.
My life now isn’t cubic zerconia anymore, and I fully admit that it’s probably not a full diamond yet either. It’s still probably in some sort of transformational carbon stage, but it’s not trying to be anything that it isn’t. I am what I am.
I’m equally fine with the last 5 years of not hearing, “I love you” from a stranger over the pulpit or, “It’s so good to see you again” from in-laws who couldn’t burden themselves to come “see” me perform in a play. I traded all that imitation intimacy for hearing just once a sincerely rendered, “Dad, I’m proud of you for being yourself and not worrying about what anyone thinks. I love you.”