Men Talk Articles - February/March 2015
Dreaming and a Deeper Wisdom
© 2015 Bob Anderson
In my second year of coming out I reported a disturbing dream to a therapist. I was dating a man and though I cared for him deeply and felt attracted, I couldn't come to climax. That was the tip of the iceberg.
In the dream I am sitting cross-legged in the alley behind our house in Robbinsdale where I grew up, idly poking at cinders with a stick. Hearing derisive laughter, I look up to see a figure standing on the balcony of a nearby house. It's my ex-wife, or wait, it's my boyfriend - no, he's standing just behind her. The figures blur and separate and merge again. The mocking laughter is Judy's. She's throwing me something, tossing back something I've given to her, and as I track its arc high in the sky, I realize to my horror that it's my severed scrotum.
Doug sits opposite me, cool and unflappable as usual, smartly dressed, firmly toned, his dark moustache crisply trimmed, taking notes and saying nothing.
I watch the sac spin wildly through the air, flopping end over end, and feel frantic that my testicles will spill out. The laughter rises to a shriek and my face burns with shame. "What have I done, what have I done?" I think.
"I know why she's laughing," I tell Doug. "A couple of years before the marriage ended, I had a vasectomy. Judy and I were hardly having sex at all - I was in the worst depression of my life - but I did it so she wouldn't have to keep taking the pill. It was a grand, empty, self-sacrificial act. I can still hear the metallic snip of those scissors. What a fucking joke!"
"What's the joke?" Doug asks.
"My marriage, my whole life." More silence, more scribbling.
By the time the sac lands in my lap, I'm relieved to discover it's neatly sewn up like a coin purse, testicles intact. In the next scene of the dream I am on a quest, going from house to house, milling through crowds of strange men at one party after another. I am excited, bewildered and lost, trying to find someone or something. At the last house I get a call from my father: "Go home, your house is in ruins."
I hurry home to find our Fifties-style rambler apparently intact, but on entering I'm shocked to find the interior gutted, walls stripped to the studs, rafters gaping overhead. All that remains is a mirror in the entryway. I look and I'm sweating blood, oozing red from every pore. I shake my head and look again. I'm decomposing like a corpse, my flesh rotting and peeling off the bones.
"That's it, then I wake up." Doug is scribbling furiously now. I imagine him rushing into print as soon as the session is over.
"Wow, that's some dream," he says as he finishes. "What do you think it means, what did you feel afterwards?"
"Despair," I say. "The ridiculous, utter folly of it all, my grand hollow gesture, the whole marriage. I sacrificed my sexuality, and for what? I was striving year after year to make something work that was inherently impossible. How do I even begin to make up for what I've lost?" My eyes fill with tears.
"Well, Bob, look at it this way, you got your balls back, didn't you?" I laugh. Doug has a practical wisdom, a way of putting things into perspective. "I think it's a classic coming-out dream," he continues, and with his gentle coaching I begin to see in the shifting nuance of the dream's details, the hope that lies just the other side of despair. I see the man-boy playing in the alley, my boyfriend standing watch like a guardian angel, my home stripped for one helluva remodeling job and my bones spanking clean, ready for new life.
In our dozen or so sessions Doug and I do not solve the problem of my not climaxing - that's for later. What he gives me is an openness to the adventure, a flowing with what it has to teach me.
"Isn't it rich?" he says during one particularly fruitful session, looking up from his notes to comment on the sea of issues bubbling just below the surface. Rich indeed, this mix of grieving, shame, ingrained tricks of mind, mistrust of the body and sex itself, the fear of moving forward and embracing an unknown future - all the impediments to my being fully present in the moment, any moment.
In coming out, I am mapping new circuits of thinking and feeling, learning how to integrate fantasy and reality, tenderness and desire. I am learning to cope with the impetuosity of the male sex drive, the problem of getting sexual too quickly, then playing catch-up with my feelings afterwards. Having felt closer and more comfortable with women all my life, while desiring men from afar, now I am learning to like and trust them up close. All this I am confronting clumsily in a kind of delayed adolescence, without rules, rituals or role models to guide me... and everything, like the least shift of a lover's weight, registers in bed.
"No wonder you have trouble coming," he says. Doug gives me permission, and confidence, to trust myself. He is one of the first fully out, well-adjusted gay men I have met, and he tells me enough about himself that I have a sense of where this new life of mine might lead. I will take as my own this glorious adventure of discovery, uncharted, unauthorized, heady with risk and promise, with no guarantee of an outcome, no seal of approval other than my own. It's all of a piece, this life of mine. I will put on the new man, trusting to his growing wisdom to lead me through the deeper currents of my life.
Bob Anderson is a long-time member of the Men's Center and author of Out of Denial: Piecing Together a Fractured Life (Lulu.com, 2008), from which this article is adapted. A copy of the book is available in the TCMC library, along with a collection of his writings, Awake and Sing!