Letters

Readers weigh in on Cary Tennis' responses to the Buddhist with a God problem, the closeted lawyer, and the pathological liar.


Salon Staff
May 25, 2005 12:17AM (UTC)

[Read "I'm a Buddhist but My Therapist Is a Christian," by Cary Tennis.]

Cary Tennis doesn't have any knowledge of Buddhism. It's too bad the person asking for advice did not realize this ahead of time. If he had, he might not have bothered.

Tennis says: "Perhaps even your Buddhism is a symbol of difficulty: You may have chosen Buddhism so you can say to others that Christians can never understand you, so you can remain inscrutable to others as you felt inscrutable to your Christian mother."

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Tennis doesn't realize that of all religions, Buddhism is the least "inscrutable." The Buddha never asked anyone to accept anything on "faith," but instead invites anyone to investigate his teachings at whatever length and by whatever means desired. These sorts of comments will not engender disgust in Buddhists, but only because Buddhists realize that the banes of humanity are greed, anger and ignorance.

But beyond this, Tennis suffers from an inability to relate to non-theistic religions at all, and the comments, for the most part, were wholly inappropriate.

I'm sorry, but as a Buddhist myself, it is somewhat disheartening to realize the sheer extent to which people like Tennis really don't understand Buddhism.

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-- Bruce Maine

I hate to mention this, but the two comments specifically mentioned in the Buddhist With a Christian Therapist letter have nothing to do with Jesus, per se. The assumption that anyone who mentions God is a "Jesus Freak" is just plain ... well, bigoted comes to mind. Most Christians seem to talk a lot about God "as revealed through Jesus the Christ" (to differentiate Him from the God "as revealed in the Torah" -- a kinder, gentler God) and not (usually) so much about God his or her own self. Is it possible this Buddhist is so thin-skinned that he or she just "wigs" out at any mention of a God entity entirely? BTW, Cary, I think your advice on this one is splendid.

-- Susan the Christian Sunday School Teacher

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[Read "I'm a Lawyer in the Closet and I Can't Come Out!," by Cary Tennis.]

I find it sad that so many people still feel this way. I also find it amusing that so many gay men and women believe that nobody already questions their sexuality. My uncle recently used a similar excuse about coming out. When he finally did everyone told him they knew and his 85-year-old mother (highly religious, by the way) said it was no big deal. When I came out of the closet at 19 (fourteen years ago) my friends and family all told me they had suspected. Unfortunately we spend far too much time deceiving ourselves and believing our deceit rather than accepting our fate in life. Too bad Cloaked won't come out of the closet and realize that there are so many types of gay men out there. Some listen to club music and party at bars all night long. Some attend sporting events with their longtime partners. Some love to sit in the park and read books with their dogs. Some are feminine and some are masculine. The great thing about our personalities is they are all personal and individual. Celebrate your individuality, Cloaked. Celebrate your life!

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-- Joe Roybal

Reading Cloaked and Confused's letter I was struck by some things. Despite his insistence that he is gay, the author continually comments that he is weirded out by homosexuality, that he cannot accept homosexuality, etc. Further, his position that he had a sexual relationship with a woman and it was traumatic, his lack of sexual experience with a man and the simple fact of omission that he never says he's attracted to men (In fact, he drops subtle hints repeatedly that indicate he is not attracted to men), make this seem like a position of default: I had sex with a woman and I was traumatized by the experience and know that I am not attracted to women, ergo I must be gay.

He might want to explore the possibility that he's simply asexual. He seems to be running away from that realization because it's scary, but based on what he is saying, it just seems a lot more likely.

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-- Jamie

I just finished reading "I'm a Lawyer in the Closet and I Can't Come Out!" I appreciated the item, but I would like to offer some alternative advice. I consider Cary's advice to be well intentioned and very well crafted to "Cloaked & Closeted," but I have strong reasons to believe that the advice unintentionally leads C&C astray.

Cary confronts C&C with his responsibility -- his obligation to be honest to his friends, family and (to an extent) fellow professionals. Though I agree with this, this responsibility does not invite a closeted homosexual to come out. The fear that a gay man faces when he comes out can be tremendous. I can't stress that enough. You've been telling a lie of omission, in spite of yourself, for a long time and to everyone you've ever encountered. And the longer you wait, the worse it becomes. Only a person of truly awe-inspiring character could come out "because it was the right thing to do" in the face of that kind of imagined culpability and potential retribution. Many closeted men feel, as C&C feels, that their worlds will come crashing down. That fear may seem unfounded (especially these days), but it is built upon an avalanche of negative associations toward homosexuality that we accrue our whole lives. I think it would be more helpful for C&C to know this:

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First, the moment you come out, even to one person, your life gets better. Suddenly, you're able to be completely honest, implicitly and explicitly. You immediately gain access to comforting knowledge that you never knew about because you weren't in a position to ask about it. You see that not a whole helluva lot changes, and that what changes occur tend to be for the better. Second, the image in your head of gay men, gay bars and gay life is not the whole picture; the whole picture includes a lot of men just like you. (But don't forget that men like the men in the bars in your head have been fighting for your rights a lot longer than you have, and demonstrate bravery that you must respect.)

Cary goes on to suggest that C&C ease into gay life via the Internet. Yes, that would be easy access. The problem is, there's no less realistic way to begin to understand the gay community. In C&C's case, I would recommend attending something more professional, such as BALIF or NLGLA. Better yet -- if it's his thing -- a gay athletic group, be it a bunch of runners or a team sport.

Coming out is unquestionably the right choice, but it is not a duty or an obligation. I'd like to urge Cary to focus more, for C&C's sake, on the happiness that follows coming out, rather than any obligation involved.

-- John

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Being gay myself, I thought I would share a little secret of the gay world with you. Gay men love "straight-acting" men. It's one of the most coveted and hardest to find things in the gay world. You may well find, upon coming out, that you are cherished for your interest in baseball and beer, and not shunned at all. Many gay men on Web sites openly proclaim that they are looking for somebody straight-acting. So, don't fret at being who you are. It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

-- Name withheld

Please add mine to the avalanche of e-mails you'll receive regarding Cary Tennis's reply to Cloaked and Closeted. I hope it's still not too late to give him something actually useful. Allow me:

Dear Cloaked and Closeted,

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I believe you when you write that knowing your sexual orientation will ruin the lives of your parents. They are not only from a demographic that traditionally rejects gay children, they have also gone to extreme lengths to deny the obvious. Shattering that illusion may, indeed, be something from which they never recover.

I believe you have "exclusively macho, heterosexual friends" (who are, apparently, ignorant about gay men, as well) and that this has left you "weirded out" about any aspect of being gay. To begin to counteract this social programming, do not rush out to gay bars and start chatting up strangers. That's very far down the road for you, if it ever happens at all, and bars have not been the epicenter of gay life for a long, long time now.

I believe your only intimate experience has been horrifically traumatizing, and I'm very sorry that's true. As you have learned, this trauma is not something you can ever possibly process on your own. Until this trauma is resolved, it will be the one thing stopping you from having a rational, constructive life.

So what to do first? Get therapy. Immediately. If the first therapist doesn't work for you, keep shopping until you find one who does. A therapist is your perfect first step: You need a confidential ally and you're very good at keeping secrets. Nobody will ever have to know you're seeing one and you'll finally have someone on your side. You also need to immediately address your substance abuse problems and other destructive behaviors and a therapist can help with that. Being alone is the problem, support is your solution. You will come to regard therapy as the best thing you ever did for yourself.

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Do not cruise the Internet and chat with strangers. The Internet is full of socially maladjusted individuals and is a hotbed of lies and deception. Lies and deception are your problem and you need a solution.

Besides, being anonymous is also your problem. You already openly support gay causes in person. Good for you. Now support more of them and more often. Your married friends won't even notice you're gone. Find a worthwhile gay charity or two or three and talk to some of the straight women you meet there. Before you know it, you'll be talking to some of the gay men there, too. You're not going to like all of them or even be attracted to any of them, but you'll find out they're people, just like you. In addition, the charity work will make you feel better about yourself and give you a better perspective on life.

Stop thinking about coming out. Just live your life. You will have some explaining to do to some people, but that will be much, much later on. Don't even think about sex. Sex is a long way off for you and that's fine. You need to stop indulging in risky behaviors of any kind before you can trust yourself to engage in responsible sex. It may be that you only want to have sex with someone you love (imagine!) or even only with someone you marry. If so, you wouldn't be the first gay man to feel either way. But sex and love and romance are completely off the table for now. Focus only on meeting good people of all types in positive, inclusive, pressure-free environments.

Learn that gay doesn't mean "not masculine." Once you're comfortable around gay men, support your local gay rugby team, discover gay rodeo, search for the gay adventurers groups in your area, join a gay sports team, check out gay sports Web sites, or, if you like sports bars, find where the gay ones are. There are plenty of gay men just like you, you just haven't found them yet.

Regarding your parents, contact a local PFLAG chapter and find someone from your background who's been through the same thing. Perhaps you can meet other parents who are like yours and who can help you. Try an Internet search for chat rooms with other gay people in your same situation. It may be that there is simply no truthful outcome possible without doing more harm to them than good. It may be that your parents can simply never be told. Then again, you never really know. They may have the strength to overcome their cultural beliefs.

One last thing: I believe everything you wrote. I also believe you'll be surprised how many people have already figured out your big "secret." You're a good person. In fact, it sounds like you're better than most. Relax, stop punishing yourself, get a therapist, and start living life. When all of this falls away, you'll be amazed at how much easier it was to fix than it was to live a lie.

-- David Taylor

After reading Cary's response to the closeted lawyer, I have to say that is some of the most interesting advice I have heard in long time. I lived for two years with an Indian woman who was having a similar problem -- she couldn't bring herself to tell her mother she had a white boyfriend, for fear it would ruin her mother's life. Over the entire period we lived together we had thousands of conversations about how she could go about dealing with her parents, but I never really thought about it in terms of giving her parents an opportunity to learn and to evolve. In some sense I think the advice is overly simplistic, but in another sense, it's really a beautiful way to look at a tremendously charged situation. My friend couldn't make herself fall out of love, and neither she nor her mother benefited from the secrecy.

-- Name Withheld

[Read "I'm a Compulsive Liar," by Cary Tennis.]

Tired and Twisted is so much more than a pathological liar.

He is a user, a manipulator, a narcissist, an emotional vampire and a destructive person. He steals trust and self-confidence. He walks away while everyone else has to clean up the mess he's made in their lives.

I dated someone like this -- twice. The first time, he was cheating on me with a woman he was working with. I got lucky and got a job out of state before I realized his true nature. He then tracked me down six years later, spinning an amazing web to try and recapture me. Oh, how he longed for me all those years he was in Special Operations Group, fighting secret battles for the Red, White and Blue against drug-runners and despots! Now he was out and had to come be with me to fulfill our romantic destiny!

Can you say "laughable bullshit," boys and girls? I knew you could! Fortunately, I didn't knuckle under to his insistence that we rush back into a fully committed relationship right away. His scam collapsed because he wasn't content with trying to bleed me dry emotionally, he had to try and bleed me financially, too, by freeloading and later stealing from my bank account.

The reality was that in our first go-round, he got the girl with whom he was cheating on me pregnant and joined the Army to support his new family. He married the girl and they had two kids, one of whom is mentally retarded. He served six years in the Army as a medic. It was a perfectly honorable job, but not one that lets him dominate every conversation with Secret Agent Man yarns and know-it-all pontifications about everything from drugs to politics. He even considered peddling his "credentials" to the local paper to get a job as a political columnist! His lies also allowed him to sound like a cool "lone wolf," instead of the pushing-30, married, getting-paunchy, losing-his-hair, aimless, shiftless, deadbeat dad he really was. He'd abandoned his family to come out here because his wife had the nerve to demand that he support his children and participate in taking care of them.

He would tell any lie, step on anyone's feelings, to serve his selfish purposes. That is the nature of people like him, and maybe Tired and Twisted, too. It allows my ex to likely make me a coldhearted bitch in his mind for deciding not to have anything to do with him. The fact that I didn't turn him in to the police (for the sake of his children, whom I'd found out about less than a half-hour after seeing proof that he was helping himself to my bank account) when I should have doesn't matter. Boy, I wish I had a do-over.

I was lucky. I got out before my credit was ruined or had invested too much in this "second chance." In the years since, I've been able to develop real friendships and am in a happy, trusting, honest relationship.

It's all well and good to tell Tired and Twisted, "Don't be so damned dramatic. Don't go overboard." The problem is, drama is his drug. He craves it like any junkie craves their drug. Going overboard? Best rush ever. The drama is what makes him the center of attention. It lets him avoid the realities of his life.

There is little in the letter that indicates any deep regret for the damage Tired and Twisted has done to others. I wonder what sort of trust issues his ex-wife was left with after she got rid of Tired and Twisted. I wonder how he poisoned the hearts of the friends whose faith he smashed. I wonder what sort of shame and pain he has caused his family. Everything in his letter is about how his behavior has affected him.

Tired and Twisted's root pathology is his narcissism. It's the base from which everything else -- the lies, the manipulation -- springs. But while Tired and Twisted may have a pathological condition, he is a competent adult and needs to take responsibility for his condition, his life, and the damage he has done and may continue to be doing. He needs to get intense psychiatric help in order to grow up and think of someone other than himself for a change. Personally, I think he should avoid close relationships -- either romantic or friendship -- until he has a better grip on his condition. Otherwise, he's going to continue to leave a trail of wreckage in his wake as he goes on to snare fresh victims in his web of lies.

-- Name Withheld

To the compulsive liar: I can reassure you on one thing. If you are worried that you may be a sociopath, or worried about the effect of your lying on those around you, you are not, by definition, a sociopath. Sociopaths do not worry about such things, they simply do not have conscience, shame, remorse or true affection for anyone but themselves.

-- Name Withheld


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