Two Degrees off Center: Course Correction
October 16, 2020
“Two Degrees off Center” is a monthly blog by Rich Keys about the personal struggles, issues, and topics that speak to the LDS/LGBT experience. Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes humorous, but will always approach things from a slightly different perspective.
by Rich Keys
(SPOILER ALERT! The following paragraph reveals key points of the plot from the 1968 movie Charly. If you haven’t seen it yet, please skip the next paragraph, read the rest of the blog, and then see the movie. It’s one of my all-time favorites and has valuable discussion points that apply anywhere from a blog to the dinner table to family night to Sunday school, even to the halls of Congress and the White House. It hasn’t aged a bit, and its message is as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago.)
One of my all-time favorite movies is Charly, a little gem from 1968 that earned Cliff Robertson a Best Actor Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Picture. He plays a man in his 30s with the intellectual development of a young child. He works doing simple jobs at the local bakery where the other workers tease and make fun of him, but he’s not hurt by it because he doesn’t know it’s wrong. One day at the research clinic, the scientists give him a promising but experimental drug. Within a month, Charly can comprehend high school textbooks, then college courses, then post-graduate issues, until geniuses from all fields throughout the world are coming to be taught and challenged by him. Then he accidentally discovers the results of the treatment are only temporary, that the scientists knew but kept it hidden from him, and that, eventually, he’ll stop learning and growing and discovering, and slowly revert back to the push broom at the bakery. The last third of the movie discusses what he does with that information and how he deals with it.
I thought a lot about that movie recently as I went through a mighty change in my own life. About a month ago, I finally achieved my long-term goal of getting to 195 pounds. That journey began 160 pounds ago—at a whopping 355. A gastric bypass helped with the first 100 pounds, but then it was gut work the rest of the way. Like the stock market, it would spike up, then slowly go down, then another spike, then down again. The last 20 were the hardest, but I finally reached 199. That was a big day in my life. My weight on my wedding day was 200, so that meant I had finally lost all my marriage pounds—a big curse was lifted—and I celebrated. Then another 5 pounds to 195 so I could have 5 pounds to play with and still keep it under 200.
Suddenly a lot more was lifted off my shoulders than the excess weight. I reached a 20-year-long goal that I had serious doubts of ever obtaining. The image in the mirror looked a lot different than 160 pounds ago, or even 50 pounds ago, and it felt good—it felt very good. I know I’ll never get swiped right on Grindr on looks alone, but it was a big accomplishment for me, and I found this sudden energy and vibe and excitement that came out of nowhere. I wanted to show it off to the world, like the little kid who can finally ride his bike without training wheels, and he wants the whole world to know about it. I thought this would burn out after only a day or two, but it kept going for three weeks, then a month. My thoughts and fantasies started getting more wild and crazy. I discovered even more things about my gayness than I knew before, and I was eager to adopt them as part of my authentic self. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and stop all the fun and celebrating, but it didn’t, and I began to wonder if I had found a totally new place in my journey to call home.
Throughout this time, I’d been sharing each step of the way with one of my drinking buddies* (it’s not what you think—see the footnote), an out-of-towner who substituted for the role of the world I wanted to share this with. One night he sent me another email, but this one hit me like a 5-gallon bucket of ice water. No judging, no putdowns, just a nugget of wisdom that was just what I needed to hear and when I needed to hear it.
I realized I had wandered a little too far from that intersection of LDS and LGBTQ. I could still see it, and I didn’t ignore it, but for me, the balance between my two tribes, LDS and LGBT, was off. That balance is my true authentic self, the personal journey that God and I have worked out together, that He approves of and that satisfies all my needs. When I read his email, the wind suddenly stopped blowing my sails, the roller coaster ride was over, and I returned to base camp. I did a personal debriefing and realized that the newly discovered part of me is still there, and I consider it a valid and important part of who I really am, but I’ll be a little more careful the next time I want to celebrate again.
When I was young, I saw God as an Old Testament God—judgmental, punitive, vindictive, looking for reasons to punish instead of reward. Now I believe in a New Testament God, who loves you unconditionally, who may not always trust you, but who will always love you, who looks for reasons to save you than to condemn you, and when you get off course and make stupid mistakes, or you decide you think you know better than He does, He still lets the little Child of God in me climb up on His sofa afterward and cuddle with Him with his arm around me, lets me feel that unconditional love from Him radiate from His body and spirit into mine, and He asks two simple questions: “What did you learn from that experience?” and “How will you handle it differently next time?”
Navigating this intersection of LDS and LGBTQ ain’t easy sometimes. Each of us makes their own journey through it or around it, trying to cope with the issues and controversies that cause the traffic jams at it, and even practice a little patience by not judging which drivers are causing it, or are the victims of it, when we’re all stuck in the middle of it
Course corrections come in all different shapes and sizes. A torpedo may look like it’s aiming directly for its target, but it’s actually a series of small course corrections back and forth to keep getting back on track until it hits the bullseye. I’m grateful for a God in my life who helps me make those course corrections and get back on track, and also for my drinking buddies* who are always there, especially when I need them the most and I don’t realize it.
After this experience, I realize more than ever that Dorothy was right: Oz may be a great place to visit—with new people and places to see and experience, and it’s all in Technicolor—but there’s no place like home.
*drinking buddy: A person who’s always there for you, who will be there at the end of a great day to celebrate with you, or at the end of a hard day when you need to dump it all on someone to take the load off, who looks out for you and has your best interests at heart, who will always listen, show genuine interest, and never judge, but at some strategic point, they share a nugget of wisdom that’s just what you needed to hear. Alcohol is never involved.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out all posts in the Two Degrees off Center blog series.