The fifth post in my “Countdown to 30″ series, looking forward to my 30th birthday and back to how I got here.
Finding Myself in Humanist Community
The Humanist Community at Harvard was a revelation. While I had attended Humanist discussion groups, read Humanist books, and frequented Humanist blogs for a while, I had never enjoyed a true Humanist community. Humanism, in contrast to the religious spaces I was used to singing in as a child, had seemed a primarily intellectual lifestance, with much to nourish the mind but little interest in social action or fellowship with others. At the Chaplaincy I found a community of Humanists, led by a professional leader, who wanted more than just a book club and discussion group. I found a home for my values.
My engagement with this community began small: I started attending Small Group meetings with other Harvard students, going to major events, and hanging out with other Humanist graduate students. But soon I was a regular attendee, on my way to becoming a chair of the Humanist Graduate Community (I am now President), taking more responsibility for organizing events and growing our numbers. As a chair of the group I lobbied strongly for a change in direction toward a more service-oriented model in which members would be encouraged to explore and deepen their Humanism through social action, rewriting the group’s mission and vision statement to make it more consistent with this goal, and soon we were engaging in regular service projects and field trips, such as a visit to the Boston’s Occupy encampment.
The biggest fruit of this reorganization was the annual Spring Break Service Trip, an effort to encourage a number of Humanist graduate students to spend a week in March giving back to a community in need, and learning about a critical social issue. Our first trip, a trip to New Orleans in March 2010, was extremely significant for my development as a Humanist and as a person, since it was on this trip that I was finally able to accept my sexuality and come out as gay. It wasn’t until I was surrounded by people who – because of their Humanist values – I knew would be accepting of me that I was able to finally accept myself, after ten years of struggle. I conquered the last of my inner demons during that service trip, so I can honestly say that being in a Humanist community changed my life – within a Humanist Community I found myself.
I can’t explore the full significance of this moment for my life in this short post: it meant reorganizing my understanding of myself, as if I’d been struggling to fit a piece into the jigsaw puzzle of my life for ten years, only to find when I finally slotted it into place the picture was different from what I imagined. It meant coming out as gay to my friends and family (not difficult), but also to my long-term girlfriend at the time (very difficult). It led to me essentially taking a break from Harvard for a year while I leaped into gay life and made up for some lost time. That, in turn, had an effect on my doctoral progress in many ways (yesm during all this I am still trying to write my doctoral dissertation =P).
Suffice to say here this experience means that Humanism is far more than an intellectual position or philosophy for me. It is a way of life, an ethical tradition and practice to which I am committed to my very core. It has become part of my identity, fused closely with my sexuality and all the experiences which come with being the member of a sexual minority. My passionate commitment to helping people find and express the best in themselves was supercharged by my struggle to accept this aspect of my self. And as I began to ramp-up my gay rights activism (I’m a board member of Join the Impact MA, a direct-action activist organization dedicated to full federal equality for all queer people, a speaker for SpeakOut Boston, and a singer with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus and Coro Allegro), it was only natural that I should also become more of an evangelist for Humanism. So I had to begin to speak…