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

226. demesne

Well, it looks like it’s been about a month since I last updated. It’s certainly not for a lack of anything to write about. Quite the contrary. There’s almost been too much to write about!

To begin with, I’m currently in Seattle for a short vacation. It has been almost ten years since my last actual vacation, which was in London in 2005 with my friends Mark and Emily. That was my last plane ride as well. So I literally landed here about four hours ago, was very happy when my luggage turned up with me at my destination, and managed to get myself from the airport to the place where I’m staying. This is also my first solo excursion anywhere, so it’s a bit of an adventure!

zeitgeistSo I’m sitting in a coffee shop (the one pictured on the right, which is not Starbucks—still haven’t made up my mind just how touristy I’m willing to be… I’ve already made up my mind to skip the Space Needle), and this is the first time I’ve felt like there’s time to actually breathe and gather my thoughts.


 

As prelude to what I wanted to write about today, last Thursday, my housemates had an acquaintance of theirs, Jacob, over for drinks and conversation. He’s a 23-year-old recent college graduate who used to clean their house several years ago, and who they recently ran into at a local theater event (thus spurring the invitation).

For about a week leading up to his coming over, there were some jesting comments about the possibility of Jacob and me hooking up at some point during the evening. And not without cause.

Prior to moving into their house this summer, this was a fairly common thing in the months following the breakup with Jay (my last boyfriend) in March of 2013. Considering how little and poor the quality of sex I’d been having in the last few months we were together, I felt justified in having a slutty phase to make up for lost time.

In fact, the couple who’d later become my current housemates were incredibly supportive in the months following the breakup. And there were quite a few evenings when I’d be over at their house, and they’d have another single gay guy over, and we’d all have a little too much to drink and I’d end up spending the night with him in one of the bedrooms. Some evenings were more regret-inducing than others.

But shortly after I got laid off from the university job at the end of June in 2013, all of that changed. I’d just moved to the Uptown area of Minneapolis the month before and wasn’t sure when I’d find another job, or how I’d pay bills. It was around this time that I descended into one of the longest and most profoundly depressive periods in my life. I felt unattractive and undesirable in virtually every way possible.

And having nothing but time has a way of bringing to the surface long-buried thoughts.

It was during these months that I realized just how deeply my fundamentalist Christian upbringing had deeply scarred me. In the months that I was working with Sarah, my last therapist, some of this came to light, but it was when I was sitting alone in my apartment, looking through job description after job description, that it really sunk in.

In short, the depression killed my sex drive, or at least that’s how it felt. There were a number of disastrous experiences that also contributed to this, such as an ill-begotten four-way that left me feeling even more dysfunctional and undesirable than ever. Then there was the date from this past May with the bisexual guy who failed to mention before our second date that he’d been thinking about getting back together with his ex-boyfriend. Last I heard, that was what he decided to do.

So all of that is a prelude to last Thursday.

At some point in the evening, my friend Joe texted me this picture:

grace-church

We used to attend the same church, Grace Church, and it’s a picture of me singing in the worship band. I’m not sure when it was taken, but my guess is somewhere between 2005 and 2007—pre-atheist and definitely pre-coming out.

Maybe it was because I’d had quite a bit to drink at that point, but seeing that picture brought back a wave of painful emotions and memories from that period of my life. Those years were very angry for me, full of despair and hopelessness. I was struggling with my sexuality, still unable to resolve the dissonance between my feelings and my faith.

So perhaps that’s why after my housemate Matt left the steamshower where we retired that Jacob and I went at it. There was no actual sex, but this was the first actual sexual contact of any kind that I’d had in… well, months.

My therapist wasn’t surprised when I mentioned this incident on Monday. Seeing that image was, for lack of a better word, traumatic. That word gets thrown around a little too freely, I think, but given what I’ve been through, this was the revisiting of a traumatic event. And considering how deeply it was connected to my sexuality, it makes sense that I’d attempt to cope with these feelings by acting out sexually with someone with whom I had no history. As a way of trying to establish normality.

I hope that makes sense.

A big reason why I haven’t been interested in sex the last couple months is that, especially after the bisexual guy (who I was getting interested in when he ‘fessed up to not being available after all), it more that I’m not interested in anything that isn’t going to go anywhere. It takes enough energy as is to connect with anyone (sexually or otherwise), and having sex just isn’t as important right now as is building an intimate relationship with someone I care about.

Moral of story: No random hook-ups in Seattle this weekend.

225. osculate

anxietyFunny how I first learned the word “osculate.”

It was in men’s chorus at Northwestern, the conservative Christian college that I attended and graduated from.

And no, not how you think.

Unfortunately.

If the group was particularly well-behaved and productive in rehearsal (which, given a bunch of college-aged adolescent males, wasn’t very often), the director would promise to read from something referred to as (curiously) the “red book.” Essentially, it was a book of advice from the 1940s to young men on various topics… such as, how to woo girls.

As you might imagine, it was about as bad as advice from the same time period written to young brides. There was a chapter in this book on how to “go in” for the first kiss, and how to overcome any objections the young lady might have.

Because, you know, women are virginal and virtuous, and men are coarse animals who can’t help themselves.

There are two things I can recall about this book, the first being the stilted, unwittingly hilarious, horrific language the author used in basically recommending young men force themselves on women. It went something like: “If she backs away, don’t worry—women are naturally hesitant in these areas… If she tries to push you away, don’t worry… if she starts to claw at your face, start to worry.”

I’m paraphrasing, obviously. But not very much.

The second thing I’ll never forget about those days in men’s chorus, at Northwestern, and of all my growing up years was the intense attractions that I felt towards guys—and the equally intense anxiety of being found out and caught.

There’s enough anxiety around one’s affection being discovered and the fear of being exposed and scorned.

However, it’s a real brain teaser for a young gay man (or woman) to know that one’s romantic affection could get one expelled from school and from an entire community.

So, all this to say, I had a breakthrough a little while ago, thanks again to Hank Green’s Crash Course: Psychology.

“Say someone almost drowned as a kid and is now afraid of water. A family picnic at the river may cause that anxiety to bubble up, and to cope they may stay sequestered in the car, less anxious but probably still unhappy while the rest of the family is having fun.”

Earlier today, I went grocery shopping with my friend Matt. On the way in, I stopped to pick up some course-ground coffee for my French press for an upcoming trip (as I’m not a fan of drinking coffee that I can also chew).

One of the baristas was a young man who I’ve seen there before, and who I’m 99.99% sure bats for my team. (Not so sure, however, which position he plays.) I’m never sure if baristas (who I’m reasonably sure are homos) are actually flirting with me, if they’re being polite, or if they’re trying to get a bigger tip. But this guy was definitely laying on the charm in asking me if I’d done anything fun that day.

When guys flirt with me, especially seemingly out of the blue, it launches an internal monologue that goes like this:

  1. Shit, someone is talking to me!
  2. Wait, is he flirting with me?
  3. Is this guy even gay, or is he just one of those overly friendly straight guys? Because I can’t tell anymore!
  4. Quick, what can I deduce about his cultural and educational background? His hair is styled in one of those dumb faux-hawks. Is he a “club” gay? Will he even understand half of the words I use? Should I switch to one-syllable words? Wait, that’s so incredibly elitist and arrogant, making grand assumptions about someone based on their hair style…
  5. And wait, why would he be flirting with me? Guys don’t flirt with me. Yet, he seems to be flirting with me. Oh god, what do I do? Am I supposed to flirt back? What if he’s not flirting with me after all? Will that make me look desperate? Pathetic?
  6. Shit, he’s talking to me… oh, no, he’s still just waiting for me to respond to the thing he said two seconds ago.

Later, I recounted this experience to my friend Matt and he pointed out that there have been plenty of occasions where I’ve spontaneously come up with something witty or clever to say. So why is it so damned difficult for me to respond to flirts?

In other words, why am I basically Liz Lemon?

Enter Hank Green.

“Anxiety disorders are characterized not only by distressing, persistent anxiety but also often by the dysfunctional behaviors that reduce that anxiety.”

It doesn’t take a PsyD to recognize that my current anxiety about guys is directly caused by those closeted growing-up years. In every interaction with a cute guy, I feared that I might inadvertently say or do something to give away the fact that I was wildly attracted to him, i.e., gay.

If you’ve seen the video of the guy getting beaten up by his bigoted family after they learn he is gay, being outed in a predominantly religious community is a legitimate fear, whether of physical violence or being shunned.

For much of my teenage and adult life, I had to tell myself that acting on my attractions to other men, let alone having a boyfriend, was impossible. And though I’ve been out-gay for some time, there’s still that same unresolved anxiety running like a background app on my phone, draining the battery.

While it leaves me lonely, like the girl who survived drowning only to hide in the car when her family goes to the beach, I unconsciously shut down potential romantic or flirtatious interactions to reduce anxiety.

And, just as my depressed moods have a cause, it’s not that I can’t flirt. There’s just unresolved trauma. Phew!

What to do about it now?

That’s one reason why I’m back in therapy.

224. ethos

Malkovich

A few days ago I was watching a video in Hank Green’s psychology Crash Course on attachment style theories, parenting styles, the development of self-concept, and Kolhberg’s Stages of Morality:

The course has made me remember how much I enjoyed taking psychology classes, and how much I’ve forgotten in the intervening years.

This bit from about the 6:45 mark stirred up some recollections in my thinking space:

“… if one of infancy’s major social achievements is forming positive attachments then one of the biggest achievements in childhood would have to be achieving a positive sense of self. This self-concept (or, an understanding and evaluation of who we are) is usually pretty solid by the time we turn twelve.”

I’m not really sure what my very early years with my parents were like as an infant. I don’t recall my parents being overly distant or hovering. I can recall, as Hank describes in the video, that my parents were certainly authoritarian. There were sometimes reasons given for the rules we had to follow or why we were being punished, but those rules often seemed unfair and even a tad draconian at times.

“… by the time that tot is headed to kindergarten, their self-concept is rapidly expanding.”

Around the time that I turned twelve was around the time that I was figuring out that I was gay. So while my peers were getting settled in their “positive sense of self” as they moved from childhood into adulthood, mine was like to a field constantly being plowed and turned over so that nothing could take root. With every sermon preached on the sanctity of “traditional,” heterosexual marriage (although in those days there was no other kind), and with every winking or cruel remark someone in would unwittingly make about homos, it was gradually, painfully beaten into me that there was no place for me to be me in the world.

And, given the theology that I was raised with, a sense of self had virtually no currency towards a Christian’s future life in Heaven.

“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)

It wasn’t until I got to public high school that I learned about attachment theory, or self-actualization, or anything that didn’t involve “becoming more like Christ” (1 John 3:2). What I heard growing up was that the chief desire of the Christian should be to literally one day in Heaven have your “earthly” self annihilated so that only Christ remains.

Apotheosis via annihilation. Quelle charmante

It reminds me of one of the weirder sequences in Being John Malkovich where John Malkovich climbs into his own head and everyone looks and sounds like John Malkovich.

Looking back on all of those Sunday school lessons, that’s almost exactly what the process of becoming “Christlike” is.


All that to say, virtually every day that I open Facebook to see the growing children of my friends who have been married going on ten years, and literally every day at home with my housemates, I’m reminded of the reality that I am today where most of them were about 10-15 years ago.

My friends Adam and Jesse who got married earlier this month met around the time that I was finishing college (age 19-20). They’ve been together for fourteen years. At that age, the idea of even being in a relationship with another man was something utterly foreign to me because it wasn’t even possible. One couldn’t be a Christian and be a gay man.

My friends Matt and Jason have been together almost twenty years. My longest relationship is barely 1% as long as that (i.e., nine months). Twenty years ago, I was just starting to figure out my sexual orientation.

So I’m just now starting to do the work at age 31 (well, let’s face it, at this point virtually 32) that most people start doing around age 12—that is, building a “positive sense of self.” And facing this reality is depressing and daunting, and bewildering.

Of course, most people aren’t even aware of the (metaphorical) demons that prevent them from becoming the best versions of themselves. They don’t even know that this is what’s happening to them. They go through life doing what is expected of them… or what they believe is expected of them. They punch the clock. Buy the house. Marry the high school or college sweetheart. Have the kids. Buy the lake cabin. Put the kids through college.

Retire.

Expire.

But I also know some great people who know who they are, what they are capable of and what they want, and aren’t afraid to go after that.

All this is to say that it’s incredibly weird to be in this nether region of being the same age as people who seem to have their lives together (or at least going in a direction) and being nowhere close to having any of that figured out.

“Kids with positive self-images are more happy, confident, independent, and sociable.”

What’s most daunting is that I’m trying to launch this two-pronged attack of getting myself to a place in life where I’m the best possible version of me, while at the same time trying to get over the negative programming that was crammed into my head from practically the time I was born. Because I was given, frankly, a pretty shitty self-concept growing up.

So at the same time as I’m trying to build a healthy self-concept, I’m also trying to build a career and (ideally—not hopefully) find a boyfriend who could possibly become a husband.

Let’s not even go into all of the minefield anxieties that surround that idea…

The bottom line is that, yes, this is a mess, but it’s not an impossible mess to fix. I have a good therapist who works with people from my background on rebuilding their lives.

And I have good friends.

That’s as good a start as any.

223. cacography

Darcy“My good opinion once lost is lost forever.”

This past weekend my friends Adam and Jesse got married. They’ve been together fourteen years, which is a number I can barely grasp as an amount of time spent with one person. Aside from my family, very few of my relationships have lasted even remotely that long.

As expected, the weeks and days leading up to the wedding were difficult, partly because I was putting together all of the music for it, as is often my job. I wrote (and performed) a song for the occasion, something I haven’t done since college, a setting of an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road—”Camerado! I give you my hand.”

It’s tough participating or working on weddings when it seems like it will never happen for me. It’s like someone who works for minimum wage making products that they’ll never be able to afford. Now that I’m past my half birthday and virtually thirty-two years old, it seems even more unlikely that I’ll ever find a boyfriend, let alone one who might someday become a husband…

Weddings are also difficult right now, seeing as one friend after another has been getting into relationships, engaged, or married of late. Relationship statuses change, and friends post pictures of themselves with their partners, seemingly happy, doing things together, participants together in life. Which leads me to wonder if I’m truly living, and what that even looks like. Because it still feels as if I’m picking up the pieces of the remains of my pre-atheist, pre-Seth existence.

A few weeks ago my friend Sarah returned to the States after several months abroad in Europe. Sarah is a fellow graduate of Northwestern College (now the bizarrely re-named “University of Northwestern,” which led a friend of mine to comment: “That’s awfully specific”), and a fellow apostate and ex-fundamentalist.

To make a long story short, at the end of her sojourn abroad, she inadvertently found herself in a relationship with an Austrian fellow who she’d met at the beginning of the year and had been building a friendship with over the course of her travels. I got the whole story at the beginning of the month, and my initial reaction was like this: “How is it that this is so easy for everyone else?” Because it truly feels like my universe is shrinking.

Part of her story was Sarah coming to the realization that her lack of interest in guys was not so much that she wasn’t into guys (or girls) but rather that she hadn’t met anyone on the same level, with whom there was a mutual respect. She likened her relationship to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

This struck a note with me, as I’ve been feeling similarly adrift, dating-wise. And for a long time I’ve felt like the problem is me, that I’m the one who is broken. Now I’m starting to think that maybe I just shouldn’t be dating American men—at the very least, not Midwestern men.

For me, the “Darcy” comparison seems particularly accurate (aside from not being worth $14 million). If you’re familiar with the novel, our initial impression of him is one of aloofness, coldness, and haughty pride. It’s only later that we discover his depth of feeling, fierce loyalty to family and friends, and the deep insecurity that drives him to keep most everyone away.

Most of my character faults can be traced back to a fear of rejection and failure. At the wedding this weekend, I watched everyone else interacting with a seeming fluidity and natural ease. It always confounds me how most gay men seem to flirt with blithe nonchalance. Of course, that may just be my perception, and that I’m only seeing extroverts.

The reality is that I find it difficult to interact with most American gay men. The stereotypical enjoyment of popular culture and trivial conversation is mostly lost on me. As a friend of mine once observed, I don’t suffer fools. Does that come across as Darcy-like arrogance? Probably. But as an introvert who finds most human company exhausting, I don’t understand the need to fill every moment with noise. That seems to be a defining characteristic of American gay culture.

The sense of dissatisfaction in my dating life up until now seems to come from the lack of any potential romantic partners who I can respect as an equal. That probably doesn’t sound very flattering, which is where the Pride & Prejudice metaphor comes in handy.

Elizabeth is perfect for Darcy because she is a strong, independent-minded woman with her own opinions (contrasted with her sister Jane’s demure, more compliant personality). She stands up to and challenges the men in her life, even supposed authority figures. Like Darcy, she is fiercely loyal to those she loves, to the point of disregarding social proprieties when she walks to Netherfield Park after learning that Jane has fallen ill.

Towards the end of the novel, Elizabeth asks Darcy what attracted him to her when they started as rivals. She suggests: “The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you, because I was so unlike them.”

And that’s what I’ve failed to find in dating American men—a man who distinguishes himself and challenges me. (There’s also the stunting influence of Puritanism and internalized homophobia, a rant for another time.) American gays seem caught up in the rush of culture, fashion, hookups, and fetishes, and I’m not into any of those things. Whatever happened to the likes of Gore Vidal, Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Britten, or Christopher Isherwood? (They were seemingly replaced by the likes of Perez Hilton and Ru Paul.) That era was no cakewalk and they were all flawed people, but that’s the ilk of man I’d want for a partner.

Now, to find him…