Half asleep I roll over and reach out for her. My arm wraps around her waist and I feel her lean in to me, relaxing into my arms, our bodies tangled around each other. Sleep comes again instantly. In the morning I awaken and her head finds my shoulder, leaning into the curve of my neck. We stay like that for as long as we can before we have to get up and start the day. I carry her warmth with me as I make my morning coffee, as we kiss one another goodbye, as we face down the world.
When my marriage ended I was shattered. Heartbroken, but more than that, deeply wounded by words and actions inflicted. It took me years to feel like myself again. And once I did I was gun shy, unwilling to ever be put in that position again. Unwilling to ever again be made to feel badly about who I am by someone with whom I was intimate.
It was armor, but it was necessary armor, at least at first. I needed the walls around my heart and life to give me space to heal, to figure out what was next, to come to terms with what had happened and who I had become. I needed the space to find my way back to myself.
In this midst of this I thought that I was called to celibacy, not because I was afraid of intimacy or because I thought my sexuality or gender identity were sinful (I most certainly do not and I think celibacy chosen for those reasons is toxic both spiritually and physically), but because I wanted to put my work first. I wanted to focus on my writing and on my calling as a priest to those on the margins. I felt like being in a relationship would be a distraction; that I would have to constantly be choosing between my work and my partner and that I would be frustrated.
I was always clear with people that I wasn’t closed off to a relationship; that I wasn’t saying this was forever (even as I thought it was pretty much forever) but that I wasn’t going to seek someone out. I wasn’t going to date around or set up an online dating profile. Not because there is anything wrong with those things, but because I didn’t like what they did to me. I didn’t like the stress and anxiety of sending messages or going out with strangers. I didn’t like the way that I wanted to check my profile a bunch of times a day to see if anyone had viewed it (and if they did to wonder why they hadn’t messaged me). I didn’t want to worry about when or if I should come out as transgender and the fear that brought up. It was time consuming and time was the one thing I didn’t feel like I wanted to waste.
So I deleted my short-lived OKCupid account and I settled in to a solitary life. And I liked it. I learned a lot in those 7 years. I learned, again, how to be comfortable with myself. I remembered my need for silence and space and embraced that. I became more comfortable with my masculinity. I figured out a lot about the things that are non-negotiables for me.
But it wasn’t just learning about myself; I learned how to be a better friend. How to be present with people with no other reason than to be present with them. When dating or a relationship was off the table I was able to simply be. And because I didn’t have a partner I was more available to friends when they needed me. I learned how to rest in friendship, how to revel in it. I learned to accept love and help.
I am so thankful for my years of celibacy, for all that they taught me. They were vital years that deepened my life in ways I am still learning to articulate. And, oddly enough, those years are also teaching me how to be a better boyfriend.
A little over a year ago, in the process of doing a show, I met a woman who was first a co-artist, then a friend, then something more than a friend. Neither of us were looking for it. Neither of us were expecting it. And now, ten months into our relationship, both of us are still trying to make sense of it.
Here’s what I do know; the next stage of my learning as a man and as a human is happening here.
From letting down the armor I had built up around my heart and my body, to learning what it means to be with someone who shares emotional labor, to learning to communicate, to embracing vulnerability even when I am afraid. These are the lessons that I am a learning and I am becoming a better person because of it.
I feel nothing but gratitude for my years of celibacy and all they taught me. I don’t feel like I have abandoned anything by entering into a relationship. Instead I am following a path that is hopefully making me the fullest and truest version of myself.
So I lean into her embrace, I allow myself to be soft and often, and I practice the art of being present; right here, right now. Whatever comes next, in this moment I am grateful.