233. happenstance

sängyssä

Quick disclaimer: this post will deal with my sex life in unsexy and entirely untitillating language. Because my relationship with sex these days is… well, complicated.

I haven’t had many relationships that could be described as healthy. Beginning with my family (our first relationship lab, as it were), through my tumultuous teenage years, up to present-day, my life has been a decades-long exercise in keeping people closest to me at a safe and comfortable distance.

Clearing my orbital neighborhood, so to speak.

There was also the culture of shame endemic in the evangelical Christian community. Religious fundamentalists in general are adept at wearing masks to hide their true faces from each other for fear of judgment, shaming, and reprisal. In my community, it was often done with a smile. under the guise of “prayerful” good intentions; and in my family, Bible verses were often used as reminders of how we weren’t living up to the Bible’s standard for Christian living.

Not only did our parents disapprove of us—God also disapproved.

Consequently, as I wrote about in a recent blog entry, virtually all of my relationships up until now have been based on fear. I learned to fear everyone, regardless of whether there was something there to actually be afraid of.

At the same time, I desperately longed for acceptance, for belonging, and safety. The cognitive dissonance was, and still is, deafening.

This has played itself out in my sexual relationships in a number of highly toxic ways.

For one, I’m ashamed to say that once I became sexually active, I began using sex to try to achieve intimacy. It’s not the sex part that shames me in hindsight as how embarrassingly stereotypical that was. And it never worked. After I broke things off with my first boyfriend (i.e., “Aaron 1.0”), I had quite a few hookups on the way to my second boyfriend (“Aaron 2.0”) as a way of “catching up” to where I figured most gay men my age were—that is, age 26.

Even in those hookups, I was still hoping against hope to find a partner, someone with whom to find mutual belonging. I must have been looking so intently that, even if I had found someone compatible at that point, my expectations for the relationship would’ve doomed it to fail from the start.

Of course, after Seth I went on a sex binge, trying to literally fuck him out of my system. That didn’t work either, and each time the disappointment and the dissatisfaction deepened.

It was a cycle of self-perpetuating and self-propagating shame.

It frustrated me how friends of mine could have so much sex with seemingly no emotional consequences. There’s that line from the chorus of a recent Daft Punk song:

We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky

“Good fun” was something I was not having.

After I broke up with my most recent boyfriend in March of 2013, every sexual encounter started to leave me more and more depressed. I was thirty years old, and the rest of my life looked to be a series of endless, unsatisfying hookups.

Plus, as I wrote recently, I had defined success for myself as finding a boyfriend and partner, because that was one thing I grew up believing I could never have. So with every disappointing hookup, my parents’ voices in my mind saying that gay men lead sad, lonely lives grew more terrifying.

So I probably put myself in situations where that prophesy was mostly likely to come true.

A foursome I had last fall (which ended with me being a third wheel after one guy went to bed and the other two guys were into each other but not me) left me feeling undesirable and even more out of phase with other gay men than ever.

Meeting the bisexual tree scientist this summer (who I was actually, finally into—until he told me that he’s still in love with his ex-boyfriend and that they were trying to get back together) left me feeling as if there’s a game of musical chairs going on, and everyone else is faster than me.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of impossible expectations and a ton of emotional trauma (yes, some of it self-inflicted) wrapped up in sex besides just getting off with another person.

So much that I can’t enjoy it properly anymore.

For example, a couple weeks ago, a friend introduced me to a guy at a gayming party, texting me before I arrived that he’d found my “future husband.” I shouldn’t have taken it seriously, but before I could stop myself, I started surreptitiously studying this guy, imagining our future together, in Technicolor. We did hook up later that evening, and while he clearly had fun, he also made it clear that he’d just got out of a five-year relationship and wasn’t interested in anything serious.

Just like all of the others, I thought.

So I’m taking a break from sex for now. It’s just too confusing and unhealthy. I’ve been saying that sex is like advanced graduate studies in relationships, and I’m still trying to just finish high school. Frankly, I need to get to the root of this need to base my self worth on external factors, like looks and performance, first.

The tough thing about that is that it’s hard not to resent everyone who is in a relationship, or who is able to enjoy sex without the resulting existential tsunami. Of course, we can’t know what’s really going on in other people’s relationships or in their minds. Maybe everyone else really is just as afraid and insecure, but can simply cope better. However, when your emotional vocabulary is based on fear, it’s difficult not to invent reasons why a relationship is already doomed, or turn an otherwise fun, pleasurable experience into an emotional minefield.

Fear fuels self-belief that I’m broken and damaged became a reason to preemptively sabotage potentially fruitful relationships.

This is why I’m in therapy, folks.

232. degust

Christmas_tree_farm_fireI hate Christmas music—but not the for reasons you might think.

Sure, I hate going into a store in December (sooner in some places) and hearing dodgy lyrics written about a mythological baby god-king.

  • “Worship Christ, the newborn King”
  • “Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.”
  • “Jesus Christ was born to save!”
  • “Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Unless you’re someone who left behind a religious community saturated with language like this, you’re probably not going to notice this very much. Most people don’t. To most, Christmas music is often infused with rich and fragrant memories of childhood, of time spent with family and friends, and of the beauty of winter (if you’re into that sort of thing).

And most people have likely never stopped to question the logic of the whole Christmas story. A teenage girl in Iron Age Palestine suddenly becomes pregnant with the son of the Hebrew God, who himself is the Hebrew God in human form? As David Hume (via Christopher Hitchens) once quipped, “Which is more likely, that the whole natural order is suspended or that a Jewish minx should tell a lie?”

And why did Jesus have to temporarily suspend his divinity and come down to Earth as a dirty, squalling, snot-nosed infant? Because four thousand years earlier, two presumably immortal humans who lived in a mythical garden ate a piece of fruit that they were warned not to after a talking snake (just think about that for a second—a talking snake) told them to go ahead and do it anyway.

Because of this, God got royally pissed off; threw them out of this garden and put an angel with a flaming sword to guard the entrance; cursed them both with mortality, with work (for the man), and with painful childbirth (for the woman). So now every human born since then was also cursed with this “original sin” and is doomed to burn in the eternal fires of Hell.

(Brief side note: Hell is actually a Greek invention and wasn’t included in Christian theology until a bit later as a means of capitalizing on fear of death to control behavior (especially sexual behavior). Just in case you hadn’t figured out yet what a ludicrous invention this story is.)

As if that wasn’t overreaction enough, now all of creation—every tree, rock, animal, star, planet, galaxy—is cursed and spoiled because of the presumed disobedience of two humans on an insignificant piece of rock orbiting a small unregarded yellow sun (as Douglas Adams once wrote) “far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy.”

Anyway, that’s the fundamentalist Christian take on the story.

And let’s not even get into the fact that early Christians didn’t observe the birth of the their Lord and Savior. According to the website Biblical Archaeology, “Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices.” It wasn’t until late in the 4th century CE that the date of Jesus’ birth was moved to December 25th and celebrated, mainly as a way of appropriating pagan holidays. December 25th has been the date of several Roman holidays, including Saturnalia and Sol Invictus.

Sorry, guys, Jesus was not a Capricorn.

And what are the chances that other gods like Krishna, Mithras, Horus, and Buddha were also born on December 25th? What a crazy coincidence!

For me, the atonement theology underpinnings of Christmas were impossible to miss growing up. It was drilled into us virtually every day that humans are sinful, and the reason that Jesus had to come to earth to be murdered was because of how sinful we are. The whole Advent calendar was essentially a daily theological lesson in how awful humans are, and how the only redeemable thing about us is Jesus dying for our sins to make up for the fact that God loves us so much that he wants to torture us forever to show us how much he loves us.

So you’ll excuse me if I don’t find Christmas carols particularly heartwarming. In those lyrics I hear the self-hatred and self-loathing buried deep in the heart of Christianity, that tells us that not only are we not good enough—we’re fundamentally flawed and broken.

You know, the language of an emotional abuser.

But that is not the reason why I hate Christmas music.

And it’s not necessarily that I hate Christmas music. Some of the melodies to the songs are quite nice. And I do have some warm and fragrant memories of Christmas from my childhood. It was a magical time of year. Everything was transformed, by the cold and snow, and by decorations around town and around the house. We used to put cloves in pomegranates and oranges and hang them around the house, so the house smelled like spices.

When I became an atheist, it was as if twenty-eight years of my life no longer belonged to me. All of those memories, all of the enjoyment that I’d found in singing songs at Christmas, in the celebrations, in the community, were all part of someone else’s life.

You must not seek to add
To what you have, what you once had;
You have no right to share
What you are with what you were.
– C. F. Ramuz, Histoire du Soldat, trans. by Michael Flanders

So that’s why it’s hard for me to listen to Christmas music. It’s not so much the lyrics that bother me anymore. I’ve developed enough coping strategies to walk into a store without asking to yell at a manager to “turn that shit off!”

Christmas music is a reminder of everything that I lost when I jettisoned my faith. Further, it speaks to the fear I have of what I may never have—a family of my own to make new memories with, to banish the sadness of the old ones.

But who knows. Anything’s possible.

231. nostomania

couple-holding-handsThis’ll be a quick download on Thanksgiving and how things ended up not going with my family.

In short, I told my mom that while I appreciated her invitation, it’s not a good idea for me to spend major holidays with them right now.

But first, a video.

Like many things YouTube, I discovered Sexplanations through the Green brothers’ creative and informative YouTube channel.

“Field of eligibles” was a new term for me, but it put a name to something I’ve been struggling to define for a while. Because while there are a good number of gay men in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area, eligible, as she notes, doesn’t aways translate to desirable.

And we’re not talking about a huge population to choose from here. If statistics are true and only 5% of the U.S. population is predominantly gay, of the 1.86 million males in Twin Cities metro area (the current estimate is that 49.7% of the population here is male), probably around only 93,000 of those are in my field of eligibles.

Then factor in my personal preferences—well-educated, cultured, geeky, secular-minded (ideally, atheist/agnostic), self-reliant, mentally and emotionally stable, physically attractive (to me), and reasonably hirsute (that’s more of a nice-to-have than a must-have), to name a few of the qualities that I look for in potential partners.

Even just using a couple of those filters rules out a huge percentage of the gay men around me.

The reason that I was thinking about this in these terms today is because yesterday found me single yet again at Thanksgiving. It’s been almost two years since I’ve been in a relationship. And I realized the other day while cooking for the Sunday Assembly Thanksgiving that the last time I really cooked for a holiday was when I was with Jay, and that brought up a whole lot of sad memories and feelings.

One of the things I’ve been exploring in therapy lately is why I’m obsessed with being in a relationship. From what I’ve been able to parse out, for most of my life I’ve had all of these external measures of self-worth. Even though I grew up hearing about unconditional love, the kind of love I actually experienced as a child was anything but that. The standards for being an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian were pretty steep. In short, we were expected to live up to the model of Jesus’ life on Earth, although that was only the minimum requirement (the rest I’ll get into another time).

Basically, I was unwittingly trained from a young age to compare myself to others and base my self-worth on how I was or wasn’t up to par. That paradigm transferred over into other areas, too, from basing my self-worth on how good a pianist, to how good a composer, to how good a writer I was, and so on. It was all performance centered.

I attended an evangelical Christian liberal arts college where the saying “ring by spring” was only partly a joke. The expectation was that by the time you’d graduated, you’d have a degree and your opposite-sex life partner. On the drive into campus, there’s a large rock that students would paint in the way of an engagement announcement. Usually it was just the couples’ initials or names, but often it was quite artistic. By the time I graduated, virtually everyone I knew was engaged or married.

Soon, I was often the only (or one of the few) single person at a gathering. In the years before I came out gay, the reason for my singleness was difficult to explain to anyone. Working all the time was a convenient excuse, but even that started to wear thin after a while.

After I came out, finding a long-term boyfriend became even more of a measure of success. Especially for someone like me, it would signal having overcome decades of oppression and religious abuse to deliver the ultimate “fuck you” to an institution that had told me for years that my limited choices were to change my sexual orientation, embrace a lifestyle of total celibacy and be alone for the rest of my life, or burn eternally in the fires of hell.

A real brain teaser.

So all that to say, holidays can be a real downer for me.

The only time I’ve been with a partner for Thanksgiving and Christmas was when I was with Jay. To be honest, I more enjoyed being with his family than I did with him, and they’re the only thing I miss about dating him. Because those times were the first I can really remember feeling welcome and accepted at a family gathering. While I know that my biological family loves me, there’s so much tiptoeing that I’ve had to do around them, always worrying about what not to say or do. That feeling intensified once I became an atheist.

And forget about bringing home a boyfriend or husband to meet them. While I’m sure they’d try to be tolerant and civil, I doubt they’ll ever be truly accepting and welcoming.

Yesterday, I spent Thanksgiving with my housemates’ family. And it was lovely. The only time religion or politics came up was when explaining to Matt’s mom why I wasn’t with my own family. The rest of the time we just enjoyed being with each other. I could be myself. And it was terrific!

While I was the only single person at the table, looking around, I could see myself bringing a boyfriend home to meet those people. Of course, there’s tons of work to ahead before I’ll be capable of dating anyone. Establishing stable friendships is difficult enough. I have to scrape away decades of internalize self-loathing and self-hate, and the fundamental beliefs that I’m not valuable, not worthy, not lovable, that I have to have achieved something or look a certain way for anyone to accept me, let alone think I’m worth dating.

But regardless of how long that takes, I’ve at least found a place to call home.

230. chiaroscuro

“My only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary.”
― Margaret Edson, Wit


ADRIFT_ON_BREAKINGFrom my experience over the last few months, the therapeutic journey is a lot like exploring a TARDIS—the further in, the bigger it seems to get. Each new revelation puts the past in a different light as pieces swim to the surface of my consciousness.

Last week, on recommendation of a friend of mine, I started reading a book by Laurence Heller and Aline Lapierre, Healing Developmental Trauma: How early trauma affects self-regulation, self-image, and the capacity for relationship. Because the more I unpack my childhood and young adult years with my therapist, the more I’m realizing how deeply scaring the experience was.

Everyone’s childhood fucks them up. Parents don’t know what they’re doing, and to a certain degree everyone re-enacts with their own children the very mistakes their parents made with them. Some of it is simple social learning. We are primates, after all. Most parents just do the best they can.

And there are people who have had legitimately horrific and brutally traumatizing experiences. I have never seen anyone murdered before my eyes. Ditto being raped or sexually assaulted. Or suffered a debilitating physical injury.

But spending the majority of my formative years trying to suppress my true identity ingrained unhealthy and pathological behavioral scripts in me. This is what I’m in therapy for.

In the first few pages of the book, there’s a table that describes the various responses to when our core human needs (i.e., connection, attunement, trust, autonomy, love-sexuality) are either not met or outright denied us:

Adaptive Survival Style Core Difficulties
The Connection Survival Style Disconnected from physical and emotional self
Difficulty relating to others
The Attunement Survival Style Difficulty knowing what we need
Feeling our needs do not deserve to be met
The Trust Survival Style Feeling we cannot depend on anyone but ourselves
Feeling we have to always be in control
The Autonomy Survival Style Feeling burdened and pressured
Difficulty setting limits and saying no directly
The Love-Sexuality Survival Style Difficulty integrating heart and sexuality
Self-esteem based on looks and performance

Read through that list a couple times and see how many of them describe how you relate to other people and to yourself.

This table describes virtually every friendship and romantic relationship I have ever had. I think the next couple of blog entries are going to be unpacking each of those lines and what they have meant for my life, one by one.

What I’ve realized over the past couple of weeks is that the vast majority of my relationships (romantic or otherwise, but especially sexual and romantic relationships) have been based on fear. Fear of rejection, failure, and even success.

Growing up, once I realized that my sexuality fell outside the bounds of what was considered “acceptable” to my community, I couldn’t afford to let anyone get close to me for fear of them finding out my deep, dark secret. So I became exceptionally good at blending in, at becoming who I thought someone expected me to be.

It’s surprising how easy it is to do. And still is.

In essence, my identity growing up was built around what I thought people didn’t want me to be. It was a negative self-image.

The thing is that this identity was bolstered by the Christian theology I was raised with. And one of the core beliefs we had was that pursuing our personal desires was sinful: the phrase often heard in my house was, “dying daily to self.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Romans 6:6)

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

I memorized these and many other similar Bible verses growing up. Combined with constant exposure to weekly church sermons, Bible study groups, and in general being surrounded by evangelical Christians every day, as I grew up, it gradually became clear what I should want: to be annihilated by Christ. My personality, my very identity, was so deeply warped and perverted by my sin nature that it needed to be wiped clean and rewritten with that of Jesus: the only truly perfect man who ever lived.

That did wonders for my self esteem, as you can imagine.

How this eventually played itself out was that I didn’t believe that I had permission to want anything for myself. I majored in music because, while I enjoyed music, that was what my father and music teachers wanted for me. It never occurred to me to ask what I wanted.

I pretended to be heterosexual for fifteen years because that was what good Christians were supposed to do, though it was suffocating and miserable. I even pretended to be a Christian long after I’d stopped believing because I thought that was how I’d win Seth over.

None of my romantic relationships lasted long as those guys weren’t dating a 100% real person. They were with the David that I thought they wanted to see. And it’s not inaccurate to say that I stayed with my last boyfriend as long as I did because I didn’t think that I deserved better.

So my current project is to learn to get comfortable in my own skin, to listen to my wants and desires, and learn how to communicate them to others when appropriate.

It’ll be by taking small steps and embracing those moments when it feels like I don’t know my lines that an authentic “me” will emerge.

Hopefully.

229. baleful

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

− Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”

Musee_de_la_bible_et_Terre_Sainte_001

This past April, I was delighted to reconnect with a friend from college, Noelle, who is currently documenting the rebuilding her life after leaving fundamentalist Christianity:

https://noellemarieblog.wordpress.com

She writes with such elegant frankness and vivid detail of her early experiences as a young Evangelical. In one of her recent blog entries, she recounts when her father sat her down to explain the facts of life: that is, that we are disgusting, perverted sinners who deserve an eternity in Hell for the heinous crime of being born (because Adam and Eve, y’all); whose only worth is the fact that Jesus loves us in spite of our hideous, evil selves.

Noelle’s Jesus is not the Jesus of recent evangelical Christianity, the deity that Richard Dawkins pointedly describes in his controversial 2006 book. She believes in a loving God that bears no resemblance to the hateful, spiteful, malevolent deity we were taught to believe in, love, and fear as children. Though we aren’t geographically close, it’s been an honor to renew our friendship and to be able to encourage her in whatever way I can in her journey towards rebuilding a life based on truth and authenticity.

It’s an interesting time to reconnect as I’m essentially doing the same work of rebuilding my own life after living adrift for so long. It’s daunting work, especially the further down the rabbit hole I get into therapy, as I realize how many unhealthy fundamentalist Christian scripts there are still rattling around in my mind.

In talking with other ex-Evangelicals, one experience we’ve all had in common is how ingrained mask-wearing was to our upbringing and daily lives as Christians. It’s a curious phenomenon, especially in a culture that supposedly holds honesty as a virtue. From an early age, we were inadvertently taught that there are certain faces you wear to church, our in public, at home, and with different social groups.

There’s a lot of pressure to appear spiritual, godly, and pure. Shame is employed as a means of policing behavior in the church under various guises, usually as concern for someone’s spiritual well-being. Prayers would be offered, sometimes publicly, for people who were known to be “struggling” with certain sins. “Helpful” advice would be proffered, with corresponding Bible verses to justify behavior that would otherwise be considered intrusive and even offensive.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:1-3)

As I grew up, I developed personas (even different personalities) for various situations and people. I knew which face to wear at church, at Bible study, at choir practice, at youth group, at church band rehearsal, and out at the bar with friends. When I came out gay, I was one person when out with friends and another just a few hours later when I’d go to church. I even went to service one day after having had phone sex with my first boyfriend the previous night.

It was schizophrenic.

And none of this would be were it not for the culture of externalized self worth and affirmation that’s central to the fundamentalist Christian worldview. Every desire and action for the evangelical Christian is subject to the approval of God via the Bible — that is, the approval of those “qualified” to interpret the Bible based on their personal beliefs and prejudices.

The result is that for many years, even after coming out gay and then atheist, was that I was constantly and unconsciously looking for the approval and affirmation of others who I looked up to and considered authority figures.

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

I didn’t trust myself or my own desires. After all: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). It took almost an entire decade to accept that my same-sex desires weren’t pathological, or evidence of my rebellion against God’s will.

To an extent, I still don’t trust myself. I struggle with the worry that I spent too many years ultimately pursuing the wrong career and educational path for me, having allowed other people’s ideas about what I should want for a career trump my own desires; that I lack the practical experience to make informed opinions about everything from dating to job searching; that, after everything, I’m just a poor imitation of a real human being.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV)

An insidious effect of these early formational lessons was coming to believe that what I wanted didn’t matter. To have personal desires was to be selfish. “Dying to self” was the chief ambition of the Christian. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

I’ve often said that fundamentalist Christianity relies heavily on Stockholm syndrome—of teaching people to be their own jailers and tormentors. And the system only works so long as you believe in it. The moment that you stop, it all falls apart, emotionally and psychologically.

Until a few months ago, my personal desires were virtually indistinguishable from the desires of people around me. Understandably, this had profound effects on friendships and romantic relationships.

More on this next time…

228. cloister

soup_kitchenSorry it’s been a bit between entries, folks. This fall hasn’t been doing much for my depression or my mood.

The short of it is that I got laid off again last Friday. Basically, my job got outsourced to the main corporate office of the company I was contracted with. I shouldn’t have been surprised after seeing half a dozen full-time employees depart in the last month I was there. It averaged about one a week. Most of them put in their two-week’s notice, and the next day were told not to return. In fact, my last day was also the last day for a project manager who had been with the company for 26 years. More than once I heard the phrase, “This place is hemorrhaging people all over the place.”

The staffing agency I work with has had me out on several short-term assignments, but the effect has been pretty demoralizing. Returning to Minneapolis after the brief trip to Seattle, to a job that I no longer enjoyed and to a state where my romantic prospects are negligible, was difficult enough. Then to be back to not having a full-time gig again was another burden.

Tim_Minchin_pianoI think what I wanted to write about today was family. So this shouldn’t be too long.

This afternoon I was practicing Tim Minchin’s song White Wine in the Sun. It’s a song about being a secular person at Christmastime and how the significance of the holiday (arguably, of any holiday) is spending time with loved ones. One lyric from the bridge goes:

And you won’t understand,
But you will learn someday
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people
Who’ll make you feel safe in this world.

What I’m finding with this whole Sunday Assembly song-leader gig is that, while I may not have been gifted with a voice for Classical music, I actually have a pretty decent voice for indie rock. I’ve been heavily influenced (vocally) by the likes of Fiona Apple, Annie Lennox, Colin Meloy, and Tim Minchin.

So as I was singing through this song, one line of the chorus (“I’ll be seeing my dad / My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum”) particularly struck me as sad, seeing as I’m feeling rather ambiguous still about my own family, and whether I even belong there anymore.

It’s not that I’m not wanted there. I hear occasionally from my sisters and from my parents about how they miss me and wish I came around more. My mom emailed last week to say that my 85-year-old grandmother has asked about me several times recently. I was kinda surprised to hear that seeing as she’s in the declining stages of dementia. The things that stick…

It’s more that I still don’t feel comfortable or safe among with my family. They’re conservative (political and theological) evangelical Christians who don’t accept my “lifestyle” or the fact that I’m an atheist. invisible-manThey acknowledge these things… except, not really. When I’m present, they do their best to ignore the reality that their son is not the heterosexual male they’d always hoped for, or that I don’t believe in their so-called god.

This past summer, my father looked stunned when I declined to hold hands with the family when they prayed at the dinner table. Instead, he and my sister bowed their heads and pretended as if I was participating, going so far as to mime holding hands with the imaginary son/brother they wish they had. It was a symbolic gesture that seemed to sum up our present relationship.

Which is to say, fractured and tenuous.

This evening, while reading through some different news items, I happened across a link to an article on the website Queerty titled “Five Tips For Surviving A Weekend At Home With Your Beau.” I had two competing reactions while reading it:

  1. Thank ‘flip that this probably won’t ever be my life.
  2. This won’t ever be my life.

I’ve only dated one guy who I was with long enough that he wanted to meet my family. About a month before we broke up, Jay did meet my younger sister, her husband and her now three children. Thanksgiving_DayAnd no, that meeting was not the cause of the breakup.

Frankly, I’m getting sort of resigned to the idea that maybe there will never be any kind of close relationship with my family. If I ever find a guy who becomes Mr. LTR, maybe he’ll want to meet them, if only to better understand why I’m as seriously fucked up as I am.

The article advises not withholding information. In my case, that has never been a problem, especially where my family is concerned. I probably disclose too much information.

It also advises giving him “pointers”—but how to advise one’s beau to avoid getting cornered by any member of my family lest they lay out the whole “Roman road” and try to convert him? My parents are definitely to be avoided, especially together. They’re like the Christian Bonnie and Clyde of Evangelism, working in tandem to drag someone’s entire life story out of them and then work all the angles to convince them that “Jesus is the only way to salvation.”

And “Be understanding”? That’s a little condescending. I mean, it’s possible that my perspective on my family is skewed towards the dysfunctional, but how exactly is a gay couple supposed to react when the family doesn’t acknowledge that the two of you are in a legitimate relationship at all—and rather, they believe that you’re “sexually disordered”? What are you supposed to say when people start ranting about President Obama, about liberals ruining the country, how climate change is a hoax, etc?

Of course, all of this is purely hypothetical. I haven’t even been on a date in almost six months, so to speculate about a boyfriend who’d even want to meet my family is a bit… hasty.

But it was certainly weird to sing about seeing my family at Christmas.

227. azoth

rock_gardenLeaving Seattle to return to Minnesota yesterday was surprisingly heartbreaking, even for the three short days I was there. One thing I know for sure at the end of it: I’m going back soon.

Overall, it was a good trip. It was the first time I’ve ever really gone somewhere on my own, for no other reason than to go. Other trips have had a purpose—a wedding… well, mainly weddings, I guess. There was also the western camping excursion a few weeks ago, and the gaming weekend in Wisconsin in April. But those were trips with people. There was a plan, an itinerary.

flight_rockiesThis trip to Seattle was good in that it pushed my boundaries, as well as affirmed to myself a couple of things. One realization was that, while I can be terribly absent-minded, I’m actually a pretty capable person when it comes down to it. There were some flustered moments trying to navigate the Seattle transit system, but I had some great encounters with helpful transit officers, one of whom even recommended a great hostel to stay at next time right near Pike Place Market, the Green Tortoise.

However, I think if I had a few more days to familiarize myself with the streets and neighborhoods, I could be a savvy bus/link rider in no time. The biggest challenge to navigating the city was bus fares, so next time I’ll just get an ORCA card for the sake of getting around by “bus, train & ferry—it’s the easy way to get there.”

As a traveler, I’m not really into touristy things. I had a list of things that would’ve been nice to see, like the EMP Museum (which was terrific), the Underground Tour (also fantastic), and Capitol Hill (Seattle’s gayborhood, which I got just a glimpse of on Saturday). I skipped the big attractions, like the Space Needle and the Big Wheel, or anything that typically attracts large numbers of swarming tourists.

waterfront_dayThe biggest disappointment of this trip was not getting to see more of the city, mainly because I wasn’t prepared to deal with bus fares (and while cheaper than a taxi or renting a car, Uber is still pretty expensive). I’m trying not to focus on that as I’m aware of my tendency to ruin experiences by allowing my high expectations of what they could’ve been to spoil them. So I’m trying to keep the good things in perspective.

overlooking_pugetHow I prefer to encounter a city is by walking its streets, watching the people, getting a feel for the rhythm and the energy. You can’t do that by mingling with only those who are there just to take what the city has to offer, like a souvenir shot glass.

My only moment of touristy indulgence was visiting the original Starbucks location on Pike Street. Even then I was a little disappointed. There were a few touches to indicate that this was the “flagship” location, but like any tourist attraction, it ultimately doesn’t deliver as an attraction. Coffee is coffee at Starbucks.

This brings to mind those passages from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which puts forth the idea that, whether they know it or not, the very act of people visiting these locations, as in a yearly pilgrimage, imbues them with power—the power of human belief. It is this concentrated belief that makes places like the House on the Rock, Spring Green, WI or Rock City, Lookout Mountain, GA (in the novel) places of power. I had this thought when visiting Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, or walking through Pike Place Market on Friday afternoon.

waterfront_nightPerhaps that’s why I intentionally avoid “tourist traps.” I don’t want to see what everyone else sees. I want to see the places that people love, that they go to every day, that are a part of their everyday community. I think what bothers me about tourist traps is that they smell too much of theater, of being façades.

What I was really hoping to gain from this trip to Seattle was space to breathe, to think, and to just “be.” On my last day there, in the afternoon, I was in a bit of a strop over having such limited time and having to get on a plane in a few hours and fly back to my life in Minnesota. I was particularly irritated that, because I hadn’t planned enough for transit, I wasn’t going to get to the Chihuly Garden and Glass in time, or the Olympic Sculpture Park, or Gas Works Park. I wouldn’t have time to get to Bainbridge Island (would’ve needed at least a half-day), and would’ve needed to stay a week (or longer) to do any real hiking. And then, I would’ve needed a car.

kells_irishbandBut as I was eating lunch in Westlake Park, I realized that I didn’t need to see those things to have had a fulfilling trip. Focusing on my inexperience as a traveler or on all the things I didn’t do was only going to ruin the good. Yes, I mainly stuck around the downtown area and saw mostly urban landscapes. But on the train I saw plenty of Seattle that I’d like to return to and explore.

And I met up with a guy I’ve been Facebook friends with for some time, who lives in Capitol Hill with his partner Andy. I had a terrific time visiting with them.

The main realization I left with, however, is that the Midwest is no longer home for me. Maybe I need to do some more traveling and experience different cities and cultures, but I felt at home in Seattle in a way that I don’t feel anymore in Minnesota.

Maybe I’ve just had enough of “Minnesota nice.” And there does seem to be a community of gay guys there who’re more on my level.

Of course, I’m not the type to pick up and go, but after this trip I’m giving serious thought to moving to Seattle, maybe in the next year or so.

waterfront_seattle