Buck, our Honda Element, wouldn’t start one day last week so I rolled up my sleeves, grabbed a few tools, and got my hands greasy. A few minutes later he was purring in the drive, so I came in, put things away, washed my hands, and touched up my eye liner.
See what I did there? Blurred those boundaries. I worked on the car, which was a brawny thing to do, and then fixed my face, which is a typically feminal thing to do. Which incidentally, I’ve been doing all my life, but I’m just now getting comfortable with the fact that I am all over the place when it comes to masculinity and femininity.
When I was a little kid playing with my older sister, we played mostly girly things like house and Barbies and made paper dolls, which all suited me just fine. My mom taught me to cook and sew. I enjoyed those things. I also had Hot Wheels and GI Joes and a big sand pile. I had the luxury of access to my dad’s work bench and tools, where I would build and deconstruct things to my heart’s content, and I eventually learned to maintain my own minibike. And I enjoyed those things. Read the rest of this entry →
No, not really, but it got your attention, didn’t it? So, a couple of my posts on the Facebook in which I criticize taking scriptural verses out of context prompted a friend to ask, “So what do you believe, Grey?” And the actor in me read this question multiple times, changing the emphasis and giving consideration to many possible queries, as I am wont to do. And I think what’s required is a matter of disseminating information about me to those who know me and wish to know me better. So here goes. Remember, you asked.
I was raised with a basically Protestant theology, although in our family there was a lot more inclination to believe in modern miracles, direct lines of communication with the divine, and faith healings and such. I guess it was fairly Pentecostal and we home churched. We didn’t belong to any specific sect, but we did a lot of study and exploration, and that contributed to a lot of familial interpretation under the leadership of my paternal grandmother. Under her guidance, I invoked the sinner’s prayer for redemption when I was 12 years old. She lived next door to us, and during my adolescence and early teens in particular, I was under her tutelage nearly daily, at least into my sophomore year of high school. About that time, I got a job, learned to drive, got involved with after-school activities, and my availability to my grandmother waned. Read the rest of this entry →
At the Gay Christian Network conference in Houston in 2016, the theme of most of the break out sessions that I attended was recovering from shame. Brené Brown’s name was big that year. She is an expert in studies on vulnerability and shame, and her statements were espoused by session leaders and struck deep chords in so many of the thousands of LGBTQ Christians who were present. Spending your life hiding who you are, believing you are a mistake and forsaken by God, being told endlessly that you are an abomination, a blight, the thing that makes Jesus puke, that the only way to live and be loved is by denying how you were made by that same God, being promised loving acceptance that will be snatched away and replaced by rejection and condemnation if what you strive so hard to bury ever sees the light of day, is a universal experience for those of us who were raised and lived in the evangelical Christian church.
It’s hell on earth. And long years of it teach you to never let your guard completely down, never be really vulnerable, never subject yourself to the possibility of losing everything. Bullying and abuse from other kids and adults is just the way it starts when we’re young. As we age, the church takes the childishness out of bullying and replaces the meanness with hatred disguised as loving concern. Read the rest of this entry →
My last post was celebrating another Spring, another year of Sheri surviving and seeing things turn green since her first serious medical trial 20 years ago. I highlighted the truly ridiculous list of physical challenges she had overcome in those 20 years, and 16 days after that post, she was gone, having finally succumbed to the infection she had fought for so long. It’s inconceivable that the warrior I know so well has fallen. But that word may not mean what I think it means.
People read that post of her amazing strength and spirit and were inspired, and I wish she had told her own story. The fullness of it, the unsanitized version, is even more amazing, because a story fraught with such triumph is not all pretty and clean and shiny. It’s bloody and broken and mucked with nasty bodily fluids, and washed in tears. I’ve never spoken much of those times except to a few confidantes, and as my sister avows, I never will, because it’s my job to keep the pedestal gleaming.
The venerated Mr. Rogers often told the story of when he was young and afraid, his mother advised him to look for the helpers: In time of crisis there are always helpers. And over the last 20 years, our helpers have abounded: foremost Sheri’s Mum, the formidable Arlajean. With incredible strength and devotion, she did all those things only a mother can do. Her life of service provided an anchor in every storm, and she was always my greatest ally in Sheri’s care, making sure our girls and I were looked after as well as Sheri. My mom, Bernie, of unmatched faith and charity, loved and prayed and gave without ceasing. My sister, Norlene, always managed to be there when we needed her and made sure I wasn’t too often alone. Glenda made herself available to chauffeur our girls so many times; Kitty made sure I was fed when I was holding vigil at Cleveland Clinic; all the family and friends and nurses and aides and doctors and therapists and clerical people, countless people with such good hearts, it’s impossible to name them or thank them.
But the chief helper through all of that crisis was… me. I dried tears, I bandaged tunneled wounds, I scrubbed unthinkable spills from carpets and couches, I signed papers and argued with doctors and threatened to raise truly ugly hell with incompetent nurses. I soothed fears, I researched medicines and hospitals and treatments, I built and hauled the portable ramp for the wheelchair, I picked up dead weight when knees gave out until my back was shot, and I sat attendant on the pavement in the parking lot waiting for assistance when I could no longer lift. I made sure our girls had birthdays and Christmases and Easters and feminine products and deodorant. And I don’t tell any of this because I want anyone to applaud the magic that is Doug. No, I tell it because, at this point in the story, there are people who think I’m despicable.
See, our marriage finally couldn’t withstand the stress and damage of the roller coaster of ceaseless crisis, the steps we took to try and succeed that others didn’t comprehend. Eventually, I realized I had stopped being a spouse and become solely a caregiver. And all the challenges created too many toxic situations in which we couldn’t agree on solutions or courses of action, and the need became overwhelming. All the details are unnecessary, but on my doctors’ advice I began over several years to pull away and create space. We finally officially separated in August last year. We agreed to wait to divorce until Sheri’s benefits were settled, but that was postponed and delayed time and again.
Well, some people feel I’m despicable for abandoning the crippled woman, even when I continued to spend most of my days taking care of her. Some people feel I’m despicable for finally meeting someone else after nearly 2 decades of faithful loneliness. A relative said to Sheri in November, “I knew you should never have taken him back when you left him in 1989.” Excuse me, I took her back. And that’s assuming someone else, then, would have kept vigil and scrubbed carpets and bandaged and encouraged and dried tears and prayed. Yes, this part rankles me a bit, and for the record, our marriage was over years ago except for the decree. But you know, without that decree I have the responsibility of tending to her remains and tying up her loose ends, and the term “husband” has been bandied about a lot. I got tired of trying to explain something that was nobody’s business anyway, and I’m honored to carry out these last tasks.
If there’s one thing I’m sure of, Sheri loved me. I have a gift from one of her therapists, who said in their last visit that Sheri spoke of wishing me well and wanting me to be happy, and our enduring friendship. I have a great gift from Sheri: When I offered to undergo pointless and ineffective conversion therapy 15 years ago her answer was, “No. If being gay is part of what makes you the man you are, then I don’t want to change that.” For whatever reason not even I understand, Sheri was the only woman I ever loved, and I was true to her for 35 years.
Matthew 7:16 speaks of how a good tree is known by the fruit it bears, and my love was shown by the years I spent faithfully taking care of my best friend in ways that most people can’t imagine, long after romance and marriage and even companionship faded. I’m still that person who demonstrated his love all those years. You think you know enough of the story, have the unblemished right to judge and call me despicable? Look at my fruit, and kiss my ass. And yes, Sheri did her share of bandaging and drying tears and praying, and learning to cook gluten free. She wasn’t perfect but the fruit her tree bore was golden. And mine was all about the colors, baby.
Her name was Sheri, and I loved her, and our story is extraordinary, and someday I may tell it more completely. But my inexplicable friend is gone. Moving on, life to live: Doug’s world, meet Khrysso LeFey, a man of incredible character, talent, integrity, and intelligence who has become a pillar in my life. Khrysso, my man, meet Doug’s world.
I know I’ve told this story to a number of people before, but here it is again for the uninitiated. In October of 1996, Sheri and I celebrated our 14th anniversary, and she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. It was an incredibly scary time for us. Just heading into Fall, with all the Ohio landscape turning brown and dying, Sheri prayed that she would see Spring again, with its warmth and colors, and most of all teeming with signs of green life bursting everywhere. With surgery and radiation, she did indeed see the world turn green again, and we celebrated. And so began a special ritual for us, every Spring, welcoming the Green.