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Bill Grimke-Drayton, Dumaguete, Philippines / Exeter, UK (English)

Me having my breakfast at a hotel we were staying at in Cebu.

First of all I come from what you might term as an upper middle class family with private education and predictable outlooks on life. I remember that during my last term at my “public school” (one of the top private schools in the UK!!!) we were told: “We send you out as leaders of society”. Merely by virtue of the fact that we had attended the school!

The need for approval (especially from my father) was overwhelming. I got married to please him. I was married for 29 years. As it has turned out, since my divorce I am on very good terms with my ex-wife. We have a special affection for each other. I have been through a complete overhaul in my outlook, which is much more positive now, having lived a lie for 50 years. I hid my sexuality because I was afraid of other people’s reactions. My immediate family still find it difficult to accept me as a gay man, but they have never disowned me, for which I respect them.

During the time I hid my sexuality I became an evangelical Christian. I went to a baptist church where often I felt isolated for reasons which I did not comprehend at the time, but which I now do understand. Looking back, I see that my faith in God was dependent on my agreeing to certain doctrines and my “fitting in”. When we talked about God’s love, it was always conditional. And the subliminal message was that we always thought of ourselves as superior to everyone else, including other sections of the church, which did not agree with our practices. At the time I remember the pastor often decrying a church down the road where gay couples were welcome. It was an MCC (Metropolitan Community Church) church where I later attended. The baptist church was very much built as a hierarchical structure with the pastor at the head. He was always saying he was the servant of the servants of Christ, but in reality the congregation saw him as someone to look up to, because he had after all been to bible college and should know what he is talking about.

Photo taken during a "Day of Peace" in the city of Bristol, UK, following a far right demonstration the day before - all denominations and faiths and those with none came together on the "Day of Peace" to show their solidarity for the city, which is known as a "City of Sanctuary" for refugees and others in need.

Before talking about my coming out process and how that has revolutionized my attitude to life and people, I would like to mention that my family came from Charleston, South Carolina. In fact I have an ancestor who was one of the first settlers. I was indirectly involved in a project called: Coming To The Table, hosted through the Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. (Indirectly because I was based in the UK.) The project concerned the gathering of descendants of slave-owners and descendants of slaves in order to deal with the trauma connected with the legacy of slavery – the dehumanization of human beings by other human beings. I am convinced that this has an effect generationally, and we see today this very much in evidence in the United States and elsewhere.

I believe that subliminally in my family it has been continued. If you step out of line from what is expected in terms of accepted norms of behaviour (even if those are unjust and immoral), then fractures in relationships inevitably develop. That has been my experience since coming out. Before that time I would allow others to bully me (I know that sounds weak-minded, but I just wanted peace and quiet as I coped with the effort of maintaining the deception in my life). Now I stand up for myself in a confident but not aggressive manner. I had to learn this.

During the last 6 months I spent in Exeter, Devon, in the UK, I went to Quaker meetings which I found very therapeutic. The “collective stillness” helped me to unwind and let go of any distracting thoughts. I really appreciated those times. The wisdom from any “words” spoken was often amazing. It is frankly refreshing that each person is treated with equal respect. There is absolutely no hierarchy and we can each affirm one another’s spiritual journey, wherever it leads us, without fear of “going against the grain”. I once asked someone: “What about atheists?”, “Oh, that’s OK,” came the reply. “We have nontheist Quakers”.

I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the Quakers for their stand on so many issues including peacebuilding, eradication of poverty, conflict resolution, reconciliation and sustainability. My experience is very low-key – in one-to-one conversations, occasional meet-ups, where we listen to each other’s life-stories. Often we gain by learning and through empathy. But it is important to be perceptive and know when it is the right time to have such in-depth conversations.

This is Kim during a visit to the UK last year when we spent the day at Stonehenge.

I have now reached the stage in my life as a retired person that I am constantly learning – which also means I am always moving forward, hopefully. I do not see myself as a leader but rather an encourager. Helping others find their way and eventually fulfil their dream. Again whenever it is appropriate to intervene and give advice or just be there as a listening ear.

Looking back I see my life in two halves – like a football match. The first half was pretty tough but now I am winning through. I believe I have found my spiritual home in the Quakers. Where all this leads, I do not know, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to know all the answers. Just relax, be still and available for what needs to be done for the cause of peace and love in the world, remembering that each person has the divine or God or whatever we perceive as God within them, and therefore should be given equal respect, no matter who they are – even fundamentalists!

Now what brings me to the Philippines? This is my third visit to the Dumaguete area. Kim and I first met in July 2014 and we have been in a relationship ever since. For part of that time I have lived here and at other times I have been back in the UK. Experiencing a different culture has been a steep learning curve for me. Life here could not be more different in many ways to that in the UK. Kim spent a short holiday in the UK and was able to understand the differences as well as similarities.

One of festivals which are an annual feature in the life of Dumaguete City just as anywhere in the Philippines.

Dumaguete has the reputation for being a happy city. It is known as the city of gentle people. Exeter where I live when I’m in the UK is also a welcoming city, and Kim likes it as well. Where he and I will be and how things will work out, we don’t know, but both of us have faith in the future.

Both of us feel strongly that God has brought us together. Kim with his deep Catholic faith, which has a particularly spiritual quality about it and has little to do with the need for observance, enabled me to begin to appreciate the unconditional nature of God’s love. The concept of God for me has grown beyond the confines of any dogma or doctrine. God is intimately engaged with mankind and the universe – in its continuing creation out of love, and it doesn’t matter if we describe this as God or not. It is to do with coming to a ever greater knowledge as you grow in understanding of who we are in relation to one another and the world.

All the best,

Bill.

P.S. I forgot to mention that I am a writer of short stories and poetry – just started! Here is an example of one of my poems, which possibly describes the journey we are all participating in.

OUR DREAM

We arise from the ground on angel-wings,
And, like the mighty eagle, soar high
Among the wispy clouds,
We whistle into the gale,
Laugh at the growling thunder,
And out of the driving storm,
Know we see
Beyond the rainbow’s arch
Into the panorama of crystal, blue sky,
And move through the breathless
Heat of the sun.

 

January 2017