Thursday, December 10, 2015

You Do Not Have To Be Good

02 January 2015 - Nebraska
life in the driver’s seat

When I hit the road and began my journey eastward, just days into 2015, I didn’t really grasp the significance of the shift I was making. I knew that I was going from partnered to single, west to east, urban to rural, from known to unknown- but I underestimated how much my well-established mental framework would be challenged.

Where I grew up, the sixth grade marked the start of middle school. At the beginning of each day, we would go to our “homeroom,” which was assigned according to last name. It was where announcements were made, attendance was taken, and where we did occasional activities. One morning, our homeroom teacher was upset about a pair of kid-scissors that were never turned in the previous day. You know the kind— the shitty ones with plastic casing in various colors that hurt your hand to use and would sometimes work better if you switched to your non-dominant hand— those scissors. She was sure one of us had stolen them.

I always did my best to be inconspicuous in middle school. I didn’t like attention. I didn’t really have friends and preferred to stay quiet and out of the way- focusing instead on being a good student whom teachers appreciated. So naturally, I did not anticipate that I would be suspected of stealing the missing scissors. But when our homeroom advisor threatened to punish the class indefinitely until the thief came forward, a boy I hardly knew pointed is finger right at me. And, within seconds, the whole class believed him.

The teacher watched as the boy took my backpack and emptied all its contents onto the table. Kids nearby went through my things while the whole class glared at me. Of course I wasn’t guilty— I was a good kid. But I was sure made to feel like I was bad. The teacher didn’t intervene or discredit the accusation. Instead, she asked that I turn them in to her if I didn’t want everyone to pay for my crime. I hated it. I felt like scum. It was humiliating.

From a young age, I remember feeling like I needed to prove that I wasn’t bad. The reality was I was the only one that needed to be convinced of this because, despite that sixth-grade incident, the people in my life would have never thought of me as “bad.” But then, they didn’t know the secret that I was trying desperately to repress and, the fact was, those same people spoke of homosexuals only in terms which clearly indicated that gay people were bad people.

In my young mind, the logic followed that if I wasn’t bad, I couldn’t possibly be gay. And so, my mental framework was built around this intense need to prove that I wasn’t bad. If I succeeded, not only would people never suspect me, I could also go on denying it to myself, indefinitely.

I ’ m   n o t   b a d.

I ’ m   n o t   b a d.

I ’ m   n o t   b a d.

As hard as I tried, however, I never could succeed in convincing myself of this. Instead, all I had managed to do was to give control of my life over to other people’s definition of good, and there are few things more awful than watching the world pass by from the passenger seat of your own life.

Coming out and embracing my humanity was extremely empowering, but it should surprise no one that it did not fix this misguided obsession with being good. Gay or not, most of us are obsessed with meeting other people’s expectations of the ideal. We buy into the same symbols of success, status and power. We accept images of the ideal body, the ideal home, the ideal family, the ideal life. I think, perhaps, that it is our attempt to mask whatever bit of bad we discern within ourselves. I don’t know why it took physically removing myself from the life I was living to see it, but as I took refuge in this small corner of rural Maryland, I realized this whole framework was flawed.

1 May 2015 - a goose in the pasture out back
It was spring and I had been watching and admiring two geese who decided to make the farm their home for a couple months. The pair of them would hang out in and around the pond during the day, and every evening around sunset, they’d take flight, squawking as they circled around the farm before tucking themselves in for the night in the pastures behind the house.  Naturally, the title of the poem caught my attention. I didn’t need to very far, however, before I experienced this epiphany. The period at the end of the first line instantly shattered my old framework in one profound moment.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

You do not have to be good. I felt those words sink deep into my being the moment they entered my consciousness. It was so simple. All that effort I put into trying to convince myself that I wasn’t bad was wasted energy, like trying to still water with my hands. I would certainly never believe it, not entirely, and even after doing all I could to be the picture-perfect walking definition of good, there would always be others who would paint me a thief.

4 May 2015 - The happy couple in the pond

I’ve realized that no matter how hard we try to achieve the ideal, we will always fall short. The abs on the cover of the magazine will always be tighter. The grass on the other side of the fence will always be greener. We will only find peace within ourselves when we are comfortable being the person we are, in this very moment- the good and the bad, the light and the dark, the sweet and the sour.

My drive east took me three days. Empowering as it is to take back the wheel that guides my life, I couldn’t have possibly made it safely to my destination without stopping and resting. Being the sole driver forced me to be okay with where I was on my journey— even if that place was Nebraska in the middle of winter. If we intend to be happy and at peace, we must learn to appreciate and find beauty in where we are today, even when our ultimate goal is further along the path toward improvement and growth.

Y o u   d o   n o t   h a v e   t o   b e   g o o d.

Y o u   d o   n o t   h a v e   t o   b e   g o o d.

Y o u   d o   n o t   h a v e   t o   b e   g o o d.


  1. Jonathan David: First, I am happy for the fruit you got in your sacrificing move. It's wonderful feeling that you are more lord of yourself. Second, when you expressed that "if I wasn’t bad, I couldn’t possibly be gay" gave me an insight why also during years, years and years I couldn't not only recognize nor even imagine that, really, I am gay. Thanks for your experience that explains to me why I was so blind during my Young years. Of course, when I accepted myself, the feeling of oneness and identity was totally satisfying. Third, I hope you will continue developing not only your work but also your loving self. A hug!!!

  2. Jonathan, two films I found on YouTube for free. You might of seen them, but shows struggles even five years later because of Mormonism upbringing. Had to explain items to my partner.

    The Falls a feature film about two missionaries that fall in love while on their mission. ..

    The testament of love.. Chris and RJ reunite five years after coming out to their families and their church as gay men, where the factors that led .