220. tumultuary

PsychotherapyI started seeing a new therapist on Wednesday. It’s through the same agency as my last therapist, but it’s the woman I initially got connected to back in 2012 through the Secular Therapist Project. Apparently I was the first client to contact her through that site, but due to our schedules not quite aligning it didn’t work out the first time. She said she now has about a dozen clients who are recovering fundamentalists, which is really awesome.

She’s also a recovered, ex-Mormon, which in some ways is probably a harder thing to be than an Evangelical fundamentalist. From what I know of them, Mormon communities are much more tight-knit than most Christian communities. Your family is the core of your world. Leaving that behind can be truly catastrophic.

Our first meeting went well. There’s always a first-date quality to an initial session. What’s going on, what brings you to therapy, etc. Thankfully, I don’t have to explain why I am no longer a Christian. That part is always annoying.

One idea I’ve been exploring lately, that I brought up in the session, is that my childhood wasn’t nearly as awful as I remember it. That’s not to say that it wasn’t traumatizing in its own right, or that my parents didn’t have a hand in causing some of the damage. But I’ve been doing some revision.

So far, the narrative is that, as the first born of the three kids in my family, my parents were the hardest on me throughout my life and that this is why I’m currently so hard on myself. I’ve pictured my parents as slightly less psychotic versions of the iconic stage door mom or angry soccer dad.

The truth is more nuanced.

From what I can recall, and from some of the things my parents have admitted, this is partly true. As the first born, they were a little harder on me, at least at first. They freaked out more when things happened, and were probably harsher in scolding me when I did something wrong. Expectations had to be adjusted as my sisters were born and they learned from their experiences, and by the time I reached middle school age, they’d chilled out a lot - at least when it came to pushing us to achieve.

Something I hit upon while discussing this on Wednesday was the idea that, because my early childhood was much more intense, when my parents backed off I essentially became my own crazy soccer dad. When I made a mistake and they didn’t yell at me, I was screaming from the sidelines at myself, to pick myself up from the dirt, to quit being such a fucking loser, to stop being such a disappointment.

How this played itself out as I got older was that I drove myself to be the absolute best at everything. I was determined to be the youngest published author ever, so I worked like mad at becoming a great writer. I was determined to be the best at piano, so in addition to practicing long hours and refining my technique and musicality, I eliminated any possibility of sibling rivalry by dropping subtle hints to my younger sister (who was taking piano lessons with me at one point) that she wasn’t any good and should quit. Which she did.

When I got to college and majored in music composition, I would write late into the night, sacrificing sleep and often my health to become the best.

However, the truth is that no matter how hard I worked or what I achieved, I was never satisfied. No effort was ever good enough, no progress far enough. The more disappointed I became, the more I hated and loathed myself. Even my efforts to force myself to be straight failed, although i can’t say that I regret that one too much.

This is why I’m particularly unhappy about being single right now, because almost everyone else I know is coupled, and it feels as if I missed learning some life skill that came easily to everyone else. My housemates have been together twenty years, and married for the last sixteen. Another friend of mine is getting married next month and has been with his boyfriend for fourteen years.

My longest relationship is barely nine months, the last three of which I was waiting for the right moment to end it.

My current refrain is that no one wants a thirty-one-year-old gay man. Some have said that this is ageist; that thirty is the new twenty; that age only exists in the mind. In the past couple weeks, I’ve realized that this anxiety is less about being single and more about an acute awareness of how “behind” I am compared to most people I know. At thirty-one, it feels as if I’m truly starting over at a point when most of my friends are coming into their own.

Being raised a fundamentalist Christian did stunt my growth. Now that I’m out as both gay and as an atheist, I’m finally getting to a place where I can begin to grow. It’s just difficult to do that while my friends are so much further ahead in their personal lives and careers.

On the surface, just as I fear being looked down upon for not driving a nice (i.e., adult) car, I worry about being viewed as less-than by those around me. Intellectually, I know this isn’t true; that everyone struggles with the grass-is-greener mentality. However, I do seemingly lack an internal locus of reference for my identity and sense of self-worth that most people develop in their formative years. So if I perceive someone as doing “better” than me, it means that I have nothing, that I’m an abject failure. If I am rejected, it’s because I’m worthless. Are these thoughts rational? No. But it’s what I feel. And depression is an illness of the emotions.

So what to do? Well, getting a handle on my depression seems the first step…

219. balmy

b050_zagreusI’ve decided to work on achieving the next level of my Doctor Who nerd cred that I’ve been meaning to do for some time, especially after the Doctor Who convention in May: the Big Finish audio adventures.

This is an aspect of the series that not a lot of fans know about or get into – especially newer fans of the 2005 reboot who have debates over whether David Tennant or Matt Smith is the best Doctor evaaaah.

Personally, I’m a fan of the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. A lot of people aren’t crazy about him. They find him cold, condescending, and even callous. But he’s the scientist Doctor. There is no mystery he can’t solve by using calm logic and deductive reasoning. And when all else fails, there’s always Venusian aikido.

So back to Big Finish.

The British company was founded in 1996, and they started releasing Doctor Who stories in 1999. Basically, they’re audio plays that follow the first eight incarnations of the Doctor and his companions outside of the TV show.

I got into radio plays as a teenager with the Focus on the Family radio theater productions of The Chronicles of Narnia, which I still think are the best adaptations of those stories. Radio is a different medium than television or film. The action takes place in your imagination. It’s so much more engaging, in my opinion.

So yesterday, I downloaded my first Doctor Who story: Zagreus (2003). In short, the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and the TARDIS are exposed to anti-time after an explosion and he is taken over by Zagreus, a creature from an ancient Gallifreyan nursery rhyme. There are quite a few references to Alice in Wonderland, which in several places feels a bit silly. The Third, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors are pulled into the story and help Eight regain power over himself and defeat Rassilon. Rassilon is one of the founders of the Time Lords who turned out to be something of a psychopath and even a shadow of Josef Mengele after he experimented with Time Lord physiology to give the race its thirteen regenerations.

There was a moment at the very end of the story though that took me by surprise. Leela, the “savage” companion of the Fourth Doctor, made an appearance. I love Leela, partly because she’s one of the strongest female characters in the entire series, and is probably the most capable and independent of all the companions.

Her weapon of choice in her first episodes is the Janis thorn, a plant from Leela’s home world that causes paralysis and death in victims, something the Fourth Doctor finds so disturbing that he forbids her from using it anymore.

She doesn’t hesitate to fight or to kill, and shows no fear of death or dying. In one episode, The Horror of Fang Rock (1977), Leela is temporarily blinded by a flash and asks the Doctor to kill her. “It is the fate of the old and crippled!” she says. In The Image of the Fendahl (1977), she says to the Doctor, “There is a guard. I shall kill him.” He tells her not to, explaining that it’ll disturb K-9 (his robotic dog).

In The Sun Makers (1977), Leela is about to preemptively kill a guard. The Doctor stops her, saying that he hasn’t done her any harm. She replies, “Then I shall kill him before he does!”

At the end of Zagreus, the Doctor has told Charley (Charlotte Pollard) that she can’t come with him into another universe; that it’s too dangerous and that he doesn’t trust that he’s entirely free of Zagreus. She and Leela are sitting outside the TARDIS.

Leela: You are crying, Charlotte Pollard.
Charley: I am not.
Leela: Not on the outside. In my tribe, a witch-woman grieves on behalf of us all. Better that than for an enemy to witness a warrior’s tears.
Charley: I am not crying, all right!
Leela: Then let me cry for you.

It was a moment that really took me by surprise for how moving it was. Leela is a woman of action. She doesn’t hesitate to fight, to kill, to charge into battle. And here, we see that she is also a woman of deep feeling, that she can also allow herself to take on and feel the grief of another person.

That is notion of grieving with and for another person is something that, in the United States at least, is a very foreign idea. We don’t do very well with “negative” emotions as Americans. We try to get through them as quickly and privately as possible. We slap a smiley face on everything to pretend that it’s all okay.

It’s a practice that is also common in many other cultures and parts of the world. When someone is killed in, say, the Middle East, the entire community turns out to mourn. Men and women wail and weep loudly. To our emotionally repressed Western eyes, it’s something that’s distasteful, unseemly, immodest — savage, even.

Community is not something that we do well in the Western world. There’s more a sense of communal living in places like Europe. But we Americans like our space, independence, and freedom. We lock ourselves away in our houses, in cars as we drive to and from those houses. We have offices and cubicles at work that we stake out as “ours.”

“Let me cry for you.”

Grief is an intensely private thing. Rather than let others join with us in experiencing and mourning loss, we shut them out. We gather with close family and friends, but for the most part we cry alone. And we heal alone.

A friend of mine recently lost his grandmother. He got the news that she was dying during one of our recent band practices for Sunday Assembly, and a few days ago she died. We had a discussion that night about community, and how we deal with grief and death as atheists.

I wonder: how would it be if we could cry for each other?

218. flak

depression Lately I’ve really been into John Green’s Crash Course: World History, a series of 42 videos that basically covers everything you should have been taught in high school about world history (but probably weren’t) in about eight hours.

There are a number of different courses on the Crash Course YouTube channel, from Psychology to U.S. History. There is also a course on Literature, which I’m watching (or often listening) concurrent with World History. I was particularly struck by this excerpt from the video on Sylvia Plath:

Dear suicide, You are a permanent response to a temporary problem, and you are a solution to nothing. I just want to say at the outset that there is nothing good or romantic about you, suicide. You are a tragedy. You are also, in almost all cases, preventable… So it’s very important to me whenever we talk about a writer whose life ended with suicide that we note that people survive depression—and also that Sylvia Plath wasn’t a good writer because she eventually committed suicide. In fact, her career was cut short, and I mourn all of the many wonderful books we might have had.

I live in the shadow of suicide. My grandmother committed suicide in 1960. As a writer, I’m cognizant of the corpses that litter the landscape of our profession: Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Yukio Mishima, Hunter S. Thompson, David Foster Wallace, Sarah Kane. To most, these are words on a page, a collection of letters and dates. But each of these human beings endured what must’ve felt like an eternity of bleakness and torment before finally gasping out their last breaths, whether head-first in an oven or looking down the barrel of a shotgun.

Up until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t fathom the idea of suicide. For one, it was an appalling sin, the ultimate act of rebellion against God. For another… well, I couldn’t even stick my own finger in biology class when we were testing our blood types. Plus, it seemed like such a cowardly way out, an option for those who just didn’t try hard enough.

Somewhere in my adolescence, probably around the time I started becoming aware of my sexuality but possibly as early as eight or nine, I started experiencing periods of darkness. As an Evangelical, these slumps in mood had a spiritual cause. The cure was more Bible and more Jesus. Once I started going to public school and took a psychology class, I learned that those dark moods had a name: depression. And it was different from “the blues.”

What I’ve learned over the years of living with depression is that it isn’t just a condition. It’s the way we view the world. Even the happiest moments are colored with gloom. The flavor of victory or celebration comes across more like sand than sugar. Well-meaning friends try to cheer you up and be supportive, not understanding that the problem is within, not without. It’s like having glasses inside of our eyes that pre-filter the light before it hits our retinas.

It took me a while to understand this and how depression was shaping my perceptions and moods; why the smallest setbacks loomed large like megaliths of personal failure; why tiny inconveniences would set me off as if they were crimes against humanity. Most people just associate depression with sadness. It’s much more.

You feel worthless. Powerless. Hopeless. Disconnected from everything and everyone in your life. At worst, it feels as if I’m trapped in a glass box, able to see everything going on around me but utterly untouched by all of it. Things that bring me joy and happiness seem gray and drab. Not even sex interests me. Forget about concentrating.

And this is how it’s going to be for the rest of your life.

In June of 2008, just months away from my decision to stop hiding from the truth about my sexuality, I started having random and intense thoughts of suicide. Things like driving my car into oncoming traffic. Slitting my wrists while working in the kitchen. Overdosing on pills I was about to take. At first, these thoughts were disturbing, as they should be.

Over the past couple of months, however, as I’ve settled more into the reality that death is merely the cessation of brain activity, that consciousness just fades, as I’ve struggled more with loneliness and exhaustion from dealing with the emotional minefield that is my past, the more alluring those thoughts of suicide have become.

For example, a few weeks ago I met this guy on OkCupid who seemed decent. We went on a date, had dinner and wonderful talk, and a few days later had a second date that seemed to go equally well. Then on Sunday night, I get a text from him saying that his ex boyfriend had just got back in touch with him and he was pondering whether he wanted to get back together with him. When I asked if he missed him, he said yes. They were together for eighteen months before the guy broke up with him.

Here’s how a normal person might view that: We went on two dates. It was fun. If he decides to go back to his ex, it wasn’t meant to be. Move on.

This is how all that looks through depression: I was crushed. Not so much by the (potential) loss of a prospective boyfriend. Yes, there’s disappointment. But it was more the persistent and growing thought that this is how my entire dating life has gone so far. I meet a guy who I like, and things might seem to go well for a bit, and then something like this happens.

Rinse, repeat.

So on Sunday night I decided that, if when I’m 35 and am still single, I’m going to kill myself. Because if I haven’t met anyone by that point, it won’t ever happen. I don’t want to be one of those single, older gay men constantly getting passed over or used as a one-night stand.

Again—there’s the depression talking.

The frightening thought is how comforting the concept of simply not existing is after all the struggle. Not having to worry about anything, anymore.

Then my reason snaps into gear again, like a bucket of cold water to the face. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? And the day after. Maybe I’m about to meet my future husband, and if I die, I’ll never find out. It’ll be like an O. Henry short story, where an ironic twist of fate causes two people to just miss each other at a train station. I think about that sometimes, while waiting at, say, stoplights. So much of our life is just waiting for the inevitable to happen. Then the waiting is over, and you’re off again to the next waiting.

But the depression is always there, casting Edward Gorey-esque shadows over those hopeful thoughts. “Who are you kidding?” they say as they turn crepuscular. “You’re holding out for a dream that might not ever come true. Your future husband could always be just beyond the next hill. Or the next one. And pretty soon, you will be wrinkled and gray, and your whole life will have passed behind you, and you’ll have nothing but white-hot regret to warm you…”

It’s like having a dementor for a best friend.

217. indelible

Bell_Rock_Lighthouse_during_a_storm_cph_3b18344While driving to work this morning, I had a rare moment of lucidity. I was thinking about the day and everything ahead. On that list of things to worry about is whether or not I’m going to have to take my former landlord to court to get my security deposit back.

Then one thought came to the forefront: You don’t have to give him any more bandwidth in your headspace. I asked myself: Will worrying about this influence the situation one way or other?

Probably not.

I’ve also been thinking in general lately about expectations — what I expect from my family, friends, potential boyfriends, myself, my career, my future.

In fact, most of the disappointment I’ve experienced, and currently experiencing, seems to stem from the failure of reality to live up to what I consciously or unconsciously imagine it should be. Sometimes I don’t even have a clear idea of how it is that I thought things should turn out — I’m just dissatisfied with the result.

In a piece for The Guardian, Julia Sweeney writes that in the first few months of being a parent, she rewrote her entire childhood. “Turns out it was probably not nearly as bad as I once thought it was. In fact, my newly revised attitude about my mother is that she did the best she could.”

I don’t know why it’s so easy to resent our parents for committing this unforgivable sin. That’s not to say there aren’t some horrific parents out there who truly fuck up their kid , nor that there aren’t childhood wounds to deal with and heal from. But how much should we expect from flawed human beings who find themselves tasked with taking care of and raising a tiny, helpless, blank slate of a human being?

For the last couple years, and probably before, I’ve resented my parents for failing their young gay son. Of course, they didn’t know that this was the situation. Frankly, I’m not sure what the outcome might’ve been if I’d come out as a teenager; said that I didn’t want to be heterosexual, nor that I needed “therapy.”

So what should I really expect from them now, as an adult? A few months ago, my mom told me (again) that, should I ever get married, that the family would not attend my wedding. I’m not sure about my sisters. My youngest sister probably wouldn’t. The younger one might. She’s the only one who has seemed at least outwardly accepting.

It is hurtful, to say the least, to have the memory of how big a deal they made over my younger sister’s wedding in 2008. I even played piano and wrote a piece for the ceremony. I suppose my expectation is that family might trump their narrow religious views; that they would be happy just to celebrate with their only son over his finally having found love and commitment.

What I suppose that means is that I expect them to be different from who they are, which seems as unfair as their wishing that I were heterosexual — which is to say, cease to be me. Of course, their religious identity is not written into their DNA. They do have a choice in their belief system.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I feel judged by virtually everyone I come in contact with, especially people who I perceive to be better off than me. I recently had a realization about that: namely, that really the only person who’s judging me is me. I’m projecting my negative thoughts about myself and my perceived lack of worth on to everyone else.

Like Julia, I’ve been rewriting my childhood as of late. I wonder now if it wasn’t my parents who were super critical of me, but rather that it was me all along. That’s not to say that the religious views of my home and church didn’t influence me. In Christian fundamentalism, we’re taught to view ourselves as broken, flawed, perverted, dirty. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

We’re taught to search ourselves for wicked thoughts, and to assume that anything we think or do is sinful and evil: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) If you’ve seen documentaries like Jesus Camp, children are pressured into making confessions, even to point of manufacturing sins just to be forgiven and avoid hell.

My parents didn’t always do the best job of making my sisters and I feel loved and accepted, just as they likely didn’t always feel loved and accepted as children. They’ve asked forgiveness from us for past mistakes, so we’re all trying.

I’m not entirely sure how my sisters internalized our early upbringing. For me, it made me hyper self-critical. I’d get angry with myself before anyone else could, sometimes for things that even my parents weren’t angry or disappointed over. I wanted to prove to everyone that I expected nothing but perfection from myself. Consequently, I grew up hating and despising myself for failing to be all that I expected myself to be.

When I get angry over mistakes or losing a game, I’m really angry at myself for failing to be perfect — to catch on to the rules, to notice patterns, to develop strategies. In essence, in those moments I wish that I could be someone else. To cease to be me.

So why is it so hard to stop? I suspect it’s partly that I’m so used to this that I’m afraid of any positive change, unsure how to live without the negative voices and energy, even though it’s psychologically and emotionally draining. It’s the same reason why I’m struggling to let go of my feelings for Seth. I haven’t felt anything like since then. Feeling something is better than nothing.

One step at a time.

216. meta

boundNOTE: This post will contain a frank discussion of sex and sexuality. If you are bothered by such things, do not read. Oh, and NSFW, if you find yourself at such a place upon reading.

This week has felt aimless. Some of it has been the stress of moving and busyness at work, being around people, feeling overwhelmed by all of it, and consequently shutting down. Kind of like my computer shutting itself off when it overheats.

One of the areas I’ve been examining is sexuality—specifically, some of my own hangups about it. I’m always suspicious of latent fundamentalist Christian programming from my youth gumming up the works of my life and mental processes, so I’ve been trying to listen more to those voices and identify the negative ones. Mostly, this process is just frustrating rather than helpful, but I suspect that it will be helpful in the long term.

Lately, I found myself having a number of conversations about sex. Nothing explicit, exactly. More just thinking out loud with other people about it—why we feel the way we do about certain areas of sexuality, how we view ourselves, our bodies, what we look for, etc.

Because I haven’t been having much sex lately. Shortly after breaking up with Jason, I went through something of a slutty phase, trying to catch up on all the sex I hadn’t been having, though by that point I was becoming more aware that I’m really not interested in sex for its own sake. Rather, it’s more about the personal and emotional connection than getting off.

My “love style” is definitely more storge. (See the video below.)

However, I’ve been judging myself for feeling this way. Part of that, I suspect, is a reaction against my prudish, Puritanical roots; that I feel I ought not to care so much about emotional connection and throw myself into simply enjoying physical pleasure.

Another part of it is seeing other people do this and judging myself for not being more like them. For example, the other night, I had dinner with a friend of mine, and around 8:30pm I had to leave because he had to get ready for a “hookup date.” Frankly, I’m quite jealous of his prowess, of his ability to go after whomever he desires and be desired in return. Because I certainly don’t experience that myself. On the contrary, I more see myself as being invisible to most other gay guys—a TARDIS-like gay perception filter.

But if I’m being truly honest with myself (and you, dear reader), it’s more that I seem to be invisible to the guys I’m attracted to. I’m aware of being noticed (and, to a certain extent, desired), but it always seems to be by the men who I’m not interested in or attracted to. It never seems to be a mutual thing.

And I judge myself for this—yet another personal failing, something else that I hate about myself. And then I worry that this kind of self-hatred is partly to blame for this feeling of being invisible, that it’s holding me back from being truly free and uninhibited.

I’ve also discovered that yet another friend of mine is into bondage. A few weeks ago, I talked with a girl at a friend’s gathering about her involvement in the BDSM community, and her interest in being tied up, dominated, humiliated, etc. All things that truly perplex me. So it was curious when I learned that this recent acquaintance of mine is also into bondage, to an extent that even seeing watches on guys’ wrists is exciting to him.

This is also something that I don’t understand, and consequently judge myself for not understanding or being more open to—knowledge from experience, and so forth. As far as I know, I don’t have any fetishes. The thought of being tied up or dominated is truly disturbing to me, as is doing the tying or dominating someone else. I’ve no desire to do either.

The fact is, unless there’s an emotional connection with the guy I’m having sex with, it’s very difficult for me to stay present in the moment. It’s difficult to resist starting in on judging myself or thinking that my partner is having the same negative thoughts about me.

As you can imagine, this is a bit of a mood killer.

And the maddening thing is that I know the root of this is the toxic beliefs about sex (and homosexuality) that I got growing up. While I wasn’t consciously aware of the reality of my sexuality until around age 15, I knew prior to that I was attracted to guys.

I also knew it was something to hide and be ashamed of.

For we who grew up in predominately heteronormative environments, we become deeply self-conscious, ruthlessly critiquing our behaviors and mannerisms for anything that might out us to our communities as faggots.

Because, intentionally or not, that’s how we were taught to see ourselves: as dirty, sinful, depraved faggots.

When a kid grows up seeing only heterosexual marriages, hearing pastors quote passages like Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:26-27, and putting all that together when he then figures out that he’s gay—what other conclusion could there be?

So how could I not grow up to be self-judging, self-hating, self-critical? I never felt good enough to begin with. How could I believe that anyone else could think me good enough?

Basically, I’m still a thirty-one-year-old teenager when it comes to sex and relationships. I’ve only been out for five years, which means I’ll probably have gray hair when I actually find a guy to settle down with… if I find anyone.

This is why it’s said that many gay men go through a second adolescence, because at some point, we have to go back and do what everyone else does when they’re actually, physically teenagers.

Because we learn a different set of lessons about ourselves as teenagers, which we have to go back and unlearn as adults.

That’s all so unspeakably irritating.

215. mélange

5ESPADASBlërg. I hate moving. I hate the nuisance of packing up the contents of one’s life and transporting them to a new place. On the one hand, it’s a good exercise in taking stock of what one owns and how much one actually needs. On the other, it’s just annoying.

This past weekend was CONsole Room, the long-awaited (at least for some) return of a Doctor Who convention to Minneapolis. The last dedicated Doctor Who convention in Minnesota was over twenty years ago. There were over 500 attendees, which is a fantastic turnout for a first convention!

As an introvert, I struggle with large events like these. While I enjoy being around members of my Whovian tribe, it’s also exhausting. Three consecutive days of other human beings left me drained of energy. Last night, after a brief stop by my apartment to check mail and box up a few books, I headed home, crawled into bed, and promptly passed out.

Something I wasn’t expecting to deal with at the convention was the number of gay couples that I saw there. On Saturday night, a friend of mine pointed out the karaoke DJ, a cute guy in one of those checkered shirts often seen on gay boys and metrosexuals.

Naturally, he was there with his boyfriend.

Needless to say, this activated all of my insecurities about being thirty-one and single, so I spent most of the evening feeling like a crazy person.

Lately, I’ve been working on analyzing my emotional responses when in the presence of couples. As anyone who has read this blog in the past couple months will know this is a frequent subject. Being around couples makes me more keenly aware of my own singleness, my past relationship failures, and all of the qualities about myself that I consider lacking or downright undesirable.

On Saturday, my housemates had another couple, Mark and Nick, over for dinner in celebration of their recent marriage (seeing as it’s now legal in Minnesota). Before I left for the convention that morning, I was asked to proofread the menu for the evening. As expected, it was perfect. But in reading it over, I had to swallow feelings of jealousy and overwhelming otherness that rose up. I wondered—would they ever have occasion to throw such a celebration for me, at what feels like my late stage in life (at least, late for a gay man)?

I got home around midnight, my emotional energy already drained after a day of being around people, and being surrounded by couples at karaoke—or at least, being hyper aware of the presence of couples in the room… the DJ and his boyfriend, Jason and Chaz, and others whose names I didn’t know. The house was dark, and Mark and Nick’s shiny car was in the driveway, where I usually park, clearly crashing at the house for the night. In my mind, that became a metaphor for how invisible and peripheral I often view myself as being. I still joke that when my now brother-in-law started dating my sister, my parents found the son they never had.

Mark and Nick have a fairly new car. Mark is a doctor. I’m not totally sure what Nick does, but he also does well for himself. Pulling up behind their car, in my own car, with a side mirror held on with duck tape and non-functioning wipers, it felt like another metaphor for how shabby and barely-held-together my own life seems to be. Every area of my life looked like an abject failure.

Earlier this month, there was an entry posted to a blog that I follow that started me thinking about the negative (and toxic) way that I view my own life, and relate to others. He wrote:

Having grown up in a very patriarchal environment, I internalized the notion that being gay meant being other. In turn, “other” was translated to mean being “less than.” Oddly enough the effects were two-fold. I set off on a quest to mentally justify my being less than by using every situation I encountered to validate and reinforce those beliefs. Conversely, and this was my saving grace, I took the compensatory route in an effort to correct the (my own) perceived imbalance of worth. In practice, this meant I had an overwhelming (not to say borderline psycho) urge to compete and succeed.

The combination of the two meant intense turmoil, an inclination to depression every time something didn’t go to plan and emotional loss no matter what the result was. If I succeeded I was incapable of internally accepting credit (no matter how much I outwardly announced my credit). If I failed to achieve the standard I was aiming for, that simply reinforced my negative outlook. Lose, lose, lose.

These paragraphs really resonated with me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve compared myself to others, rating my own self-worth against my perception of theirs. I almost always come up short. Even in success, someone else is always just ahead of me. Consequently, I’ve always viewed myself as in direct competition with virtually everyone. It probably goes without saying how exhausting this is.

My rational brain knows how irrational this is, how silly and wasteful. I know my perceptions of others are fairly warped, that my assumptions about their social status are probably overblown. Yet my lizard brain is wrapped up in anxiety over someone having advantages over me, that people are looking down on me, finding me wanting. Everyone else has more financial success, more emotional stability, more sex, more intimacy, more happiness.

I have nothing.

The horrible thing is that part of me hates everyone who I perceive as having the things that I don’t. I’m driven by jealousy of the people around me, obsessed with my inadequacies. And this keeps me isolated from other people, holds me back from connecting, from being accepted.

What bothers me most is that I’m aware of all this, but feel unable to do anything about it…

214. coterie

800px-UssupremecourtinteriorGoodness, so much has been happening the last couple of weeks. It’s been hard enough keeping up with my own personal writing, so I haven’t had as much time to blog. I’ve started a new job in document control with a construction company, and the learning curve of both a new environment and a new industry has been challenging.

In case you missed it, yesterday morning the United States Supreme Court handed down its ruling on Town of Greece v. Galloway. Spoilers: it didn’t go very well for religious liberty.

Brief summary on the case: From time immemorial, city council meetings in the town of Greece, NY, have opened with prayer. Specifically, Christian prayer. Then Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens sued the town, arguing that the prayers violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against the town, so the issue that came before the Supreme Court last year, and that they ruled on yesterday, was whether the prayers were constitutional.

And yesterday, the Court decided that the Town of Greece may open each legislative session with a Christian prayer, so long as they make a reasonable effort to reach out to all religious groups within city limits and invite their leaders to open sessions as well.

Justice Elena Kagen wrote the dissenting opinion, beginning with an acknowledgment that our country has a tradition of opening legislative sessions with prayer, and that we also have a diverse religious landscape. “I believe that pluralism and inclusion in a town hall can satisfy the constitutional requirement of neutrality,” she wrote. “Such a forum need not become a religion-free zone… when a citizen stands before her government, whether to perform a service or request a benefit, her religious beliefs do not enter into the picture.”

However, she notes on page 57 that

Greece’s Board did nothing to recognize reli­gious diversity: In arranging for clergy members to open each meeting, the Town never sought (except briefly when this suit was filed) to involve, accommodate, or in any way reach out to adherents of non-Christian religions. So month in and month out for over a decade, prayers steeped in only one faith, addressed toward members of the public, commenced meetings to discuss local affairs and distribute government benefits. In my view, that practice does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.

By intentionally or unintentionally favoring one religion over all others and forcing a citizen to “make her dissent from the common religious view, and place herself apart from other citizens, as well as from the officials responsible for the invocations,” religion becomes a dividing rather than unifying element.

Kagen again: “When a person goes to court, a polling place, or an immigration proceeding… government officials do not engage in sectarian worship, nor do they ask her to do likewise. They all participate in the business of government not as Christians, Jews, Muslims (and more), but only as Americans.”

Justice Breyer also dissented from the ruling, noteing that “Greece is a predominantly Christian town, but it is not exclusively so,” and that a map of the town “shows a Buddhist temple… and several Jewish synagogues just outside its borders.”

He also noted on page 51 that “during the more than 120 monthly meetings at which prayers were delivered during the record period (from 1999 to 2010), only four prayers were delivered by non-Christians. And all of these occurred in 2008, shortly after the plaintiffs began complaining about the town’s Christian prayer practice and nearly a decade after that practice had commenced.”

Those actions and inactions included (1) a selection process that led to the selection of “clergy almost exclusively from places of worship located within the town’s borders,”  despite the likelihood that significant numbers of town residents were members of congregations that gather just outside those borders; (2) a failure to “infor[m] members of the general public that volunteers” would be acceptable prayer givers; and (3) a failure to “infor[m] prayer-givers that invocations were not to be exploited as an effort to convert others to the particular faith of the invocational speaker, nor to disparage any faith or belief different than that of the invocational speaker.”

The decision handed down yesterday by the Court seems to assume that the vast majority of Americans will treat each other with fairness and without prejudice. It assumes that, given a plurality of religious views in a given setting, leadership will take the high ground in making sure that all views are represented.

Which is why, I suppose, in 2007, when Rajan Zed, the first Hindu priest to open a session of the U.S. Senate, began his invocation, three protesters immediately interrupted him.

Lord Jesus, forgive us for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight. This is an abomination. We shall have no other gods before You. Lord Jesus, have mercy on our nation for allowing this abomination, this idolatry, for violating the First Commandment, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ God forgive our nation!

The first man was taken out, loudly quoting Bible verses as he was dragged from the chamber. Another shouted, “Father, forgive us for betraying your Son Jesus!” before she, too, was escorted out. As they left, they shouted directly at Zed, “No Lord but Jesus Christ!” and “There’s only one true God!”

According to the Wikipedia page on the incident, the protesters were there “to lobby against a hate-crimes bill that would extend certain protections to gay people.”

The fact is, religion isn’t going anywhere for a long time. I’m willing to work with religious people to find ways to live together peaceably. And a vast number of religious people are happy to do the same.

It’s a vocal minority (fundamentalist Christians, mostly), however, who refuses to come to the table and is resisting change and stirring things up. How are we supposed to work together when they won’t even budge?