267. eponym

forgiveness-and-reconciliationSuffice to say that, at least in American society, we have a pretty muddled notion of forgiveness. It’s often used in the sense of a pardon: to let someone off the hook; to pretend as if a wrong never took place.

The OED provides several useful definitions:

  • To remit (a debt); to give up resentment or claim to requital for, pardon (an offence).
  • To give up resentment against, pardon (an offender).
  • To make excuse or apology for, regard indulgently.

The concept of forgiveness is a strange one for me. For one, it was a bedrock of my community’s theology growing up, through Bible verses such as:

  • This is my blood, which ratifies the New Covenant, my blood shed on behalf of many, so that they may have their sins forgiven. (Matthew 26:28, CJB)
  • If you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14, ESV)

We were supposed to be “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32, NIV). If we’d been properly taught the theory of forgiveness as children, we might have had the tools to process hurt and loss, to work towards reconciliation and/or healing.

How different my life might’ve been.


For many evangelicals, what forgiveness meant in practice was that we were supposed to be doormats for each other, meekly turning the other cheek (no matter how egregious the offense) and forgetting about it, as if nothing had happened. Growing up, if one brought up a past wrong that had supposedly been forgiven, that would be met with an exclamation of, “See, you didn’t really forgive me!”

Is it any surprise that, in some churches, crimes like rape go unreported and unpunished?

We also learned some profoundly confusing lessons about forgiveness. On the one hand, you have New Testament Jesus who teaches us to roll over and let people do whatever they want to him.

Then there’s the Jesus of the Book of Revelation who makes the Bride from Kill Bill look like My Little Pony.

There’s also the god of the Tanakh (which Christians call their “Old Testament”) who Richard Dawkins describes in The God Delusion as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction,” who wipes out virtually the entire human race in the flood, kills people for all manner of reasons, etc.

Some disturbingly mixed signals.

There were also certain sins that were seemingly unforgivable, such as sex outside of marriage—well, women who had sex outside of marriage, that is, who were forever branded as sluts, unclean, polluted, unmarriageable. “Unrepentant” homosexuality, too. These were sins God could never forgive, and conveniently, neither could his followers.

So we were supposed to forgive, but only under certain circumstances; and if we truly forgave someone, we were never supposed to bring up the offense again, even if they continued to hurt us (Matthew 18:21-22)?

Needless to say, I came into adulthood with convoluted ideas about forgiveness.


Among the lessons I’ve since learned since then is that, to quote Lewis Smedes, “to forgive is to set a prisoner free and realize that prisoner was you.”

It’s not about forgetting. It’s not about the other person. It doesn’t even require reconciliation.

Forgiveness is ultimately about freeing yourself from bitterness, grieving a loss from hurt or suffering, accepting that the past won’t ever be different from what we want, and intentionally moving forward into a healthier future.

A couple of months ago, my current therapist asked if I’d forgiven my parents. I told her that I didn’t know, that I don’t know what forgiveness feels like. I explained what I’d been taught about forgiveness, and she responded with some of the above views and current teachings on the subject… that it’s not about the other person, it’s about you, etc.

Frankly, I don’t think I’m still angry at my parents. Rather, those feelings have morphed into sadness—sadness for a relationship that will probably never be there. My friend Tom has reiterated his hope that somehow we’ll find a way to reconcile, to reconnect. To which I usually respond that maybe we will, but it’s unlikely.


I’ve probably written about this before, but quite a lot has changed in the years since I came out (2008) and since I became an atheist (2011). In the nearly six years that have followed, my parents and I have gone on increasingly divergent paths. They have clung more staunchly to their evangelical Christian faith and their conservative values, whereas I am heading further to the left with every passing day. It’s not that there isn’t room for common ground.

There isn’t much commonality left, period.

Sure, there are shared memories, inside jokes—but these feel more like when you awkwardly run into an old work colleague and realize the spark of friendship is gone. Jokes that were once hilarious now seem a desperate attempt to make something relevant that long ago lost its currency.

Prior to my becoming an atheist in 2011, what my parents and I shared—despite our differences—was our faith. Even though I drank and swore, and (when I became sexually active) had sex with men, we could still agree on the basic tenets of our Christian faith.

So it wasn’t out of resentment that I disowned my parents. Rather, it’s merely that we don’t have anything in common beyond genetics. I don’t expect them to renounce their faith and join PFLAG any more than they (as much as I’m sure they pray daily for my soul) expect me to revert to the person they used to know.

It sucks to not have parents who accept me for who I am (as other LGBT friends do, whose parents eventually did a 180-degree turn), but it’s healthier than closing my eyes, pretending nothing is wrong.

Yet things are not all bad. While I don’t have a native home to go for the holidays, I do have chosen homes and families now. That’s not Pollyannaish gratitude.

That’s moving on.

266. vilipend

Viennese Grand Piano, built by Anton Martin Thym (1815), couurtesy the National Music Museum, University of South Dakota, http://goo.gl/87SCjNStory time.

My sophomore year in college, the choir went on one of its many tours around the Midwest, including Vermillion, South Dakota, which (among other things) is home to the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota.

No, that’s not true. The National Music Museum and the University of South Dakota are really the only things Vermillion has going for it, and I say that as one who spent a good chunk of his childhood in a small, Central Plains town that was also home to an institution of higher learning.

Sorry, people of Vermillion.

Anyway, at one point during the tour of the various collections we entered the keyboard room, and this is where our story begins.


First, some background.

As some readers may know, I play the piano. At one point I could’ve been called a pianist. I started lessons at age eight, and by age eleven was studying pretty seriously.

Like, hours of practice a day seriously.

Now, I just play the piano.

Unlike most kids who take piano lessons, I decided to specialize in what’s known as period (or historically informed) performance. I read books on 16th and 17th century keyboard and embellishment technique, checked out journals from the library, studied recordings to absorb stylistic mannerisms, mastered skills like finger pedaling and use of ornaments like mordants, appoggiaturas, and doppelt-cadences.

For birthdays, I asked for recordings of pieces by Mozart, Bach, Purcell, Tallis, Josquin, and Monteverdi.

(I did discover 20th century music around age sixteen, but that’s another story.)

Basically, if it was written before 1800, I wasn’t interested.

One of the instruments I always wanted to play was one with a Janissary pedal, a reference to Turkish military bands that Europeans went mad for in the mid 18th century. This is referenced in the film version of Amadeus when Katherina Cavalieri tells Salieri her hairdresser says that “everything this year is going to be Turkish!”

My hairdresser said everything this year's going to be Turkish.

These bands featured lots of percussion–including bells and drums. Piano builders catered to this craze with a pedal that activated a drum, bells, cymbal, and/or triangle built directly into the piano itself.

One of the pieces written for this device is the third movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11, better known as the Rondo alla Turca.

Fast-forward to 2003 during my sophomore year, on a tour of the National Music Museum. As we entered the keyboard room, our tour guide began to talk about some of the pianos featured there… including the one in the picture at the top of the page.

Which happens to include a Janissary pedal.

The tour guide played a few of the pianos to demonstrate the differences in sound quality and timbre between them. Then she got to our piano. Now, I’d only ever heard a recording of the Janissary pedal on the radio, but never in person.

So when our tour guide played through that movement of the Mozart rondo, when she got to the A major section and activated the pedal, I inadvertently let out a sound that was a combination of a shriek of elation and squeak of surprise. It wasn’t an effeminate sound, per se. It was too feral and wild for that. But it did catch everyone off guard. Every head in the room whipped around and I must’ve turned numerous shades of red.

I’ve often reflected on this moment, especially in the years since coming out. Much is made of the differences in mannerism and expression between gay and heterosexual men. One moment when I became acutely aware of such differences was when listening to an episode of This American Life when I was almost fourteen years old titled Sissies. In one segment, an excerpt from an advice book for young men written in 1942 was read aloud:

Here’s a list of gestures commonly associated with women and another list commonly associated with men… Feminine gesture: hand on hip. Masculine gesture: hands folded over chest or clasped in back… Feminine gesture: looking at people from the corner of eyes. Masculine gesture: direct look; entire head turned toward person… How do you laugh? Are your laughs pitched high like a woman’s? Lower the pitch. Develop a masculine laugh… Roar. Bellow. Do anything but giggle.

This was one of those landmark moments when I realized that to be effeminate (i.e., faggot) was something negative and shameful. It was when I began to scrutinize my own behavior, looking at myself how I imagined the world might be seeing me.


To this day, there is little about gay culture and lifestyle today that I identify with–and by “culture” and “lifestyle,” I mean perceived culture and lifestyle as defined and reinforced through shows like Will & GraceModern FamilyGlee, and in places like gayborhoods and gay urban meccas like Los Angeles and New York City where trends develop and are exported from. Things like speech and vocal patterns, clothing, mannerisms, preferences, and the like become community tokens of belonging, powerful totems of identity in a world that is often unkind to those who do not conform to heteronormative values.

But I’ve realized that for me, this goes much deeper. It’s not that I wasn’t socialized as a gay man.

It’s that I wasn’t really socialized, period.

That moment wasn’t an expression of my “queer” self. It was the unfiltered delight of someone who never learned what is a socially appropriate expression of delight.

Homeschooled until my junior year in high school, I grew up in an insular world within an insular world. In those years when most people learn what’s cool/uncool, how to read social signals and express yourself in acceptable ways, I was learning what it meant to be an outsider in a world dominated by Satan. While other kids were running to get to class before the bell, I was doing my own thing.

Sure, I missed out on the various traumas of middle and junior high school. I also missed out on the growth opportunities that time affords.

 

265. stultify

Demisexual_FlagEarlier this year I touched on realizing that, in addition to being gay, I’m also a demisexual.

After a great deal of reflection over recent experiences, I’ve made the decision to no longer identify as gay. For reasons I’ll get to in a few hundred words, I identify chiefly as a homoromantic (or androphilic) demisexual.

To explain, I’m going to respond to questions from an online “Are you a demisexual” test. It’s not scientific at all, but does hit on some of the key aspects of the demisexual identity.

Here we go. This will probably go over my 1,000-word limit, but to hell with it.


1. I fall in love with the inner character of a person after becoming close to them. Their outer qualities are unimportant to me.

This is a mixed bag. While there are physical characteristics about guys that I do and don’t find attractive, and am more likely to find attractive, there are things that become non-issues if I’ve fallen for a guy’s inner beauty.

2. When experiencing sexual pleasure with another person I haven’t bonded closely with, I focus more on the feelings in my body than on my attraction to the person.

This was definitely true during my slutty hookup years. Sex was something I pursued because I thought that’s what gay men were primarily interested in, so it was something I thought I should pursue. While the sex was sometimes good and there were things I enjoyed doing, it wasn’t much different from masturbating. It was only with guys who I felt a strong connection to, like Seth, where physical pleasure became more transcendent, where I could get out of my head and focus on my partner. That happened only a handful of times.

3. I’m aesthetically attracted to certain people’s faces and bodies, but I’m rarely interested in them sexually.

Case in point, Tom Daley. We’ve been watching a lot of the Olympics around the house, men’s diving in particular… for reasons. I recognize the attractiveness of the faces and bodies of certain guys, but don’t want to fuck them.

4. It’s extremely rare for me to take any sexual interest in the body of a stranger.

See previous.

5. I find relationships very daunting and difficult. Sometimes I’ve gone into them without having any true feelings of attraction.

While there were aspects of my previous boyfriend, Jay, that I liked and was attracted to, I wasn’t attracted to or in love with him. Fear of being single at age 30 overrode my better judgement.

6. I’ve never experienced “love at first sight”.

I experienced what may have been a version of this with Seth the first time we met, but it wasn’t love. It was the idea of him I found attractive.

7. I’ve been single a lot longer than most people I know.

Type “single” into the search box above and see how many entries return.

8. I’d much prefer to masturbate than be sexually involved with a person I have no feelings for.

See answer to question 3.

9. I have a libido, but I rarely sleep around. The thought of having a “one night stand” makes me feel a bit sick.

This is what complicates everything. I do miss sex. Namely, the good parts of it, fleeting moments where I felt a connection, where I got the faintest taste of what I’ve been looking for.

10. Sometimes I find myself developing sexual attraction in close platonic friendships.

This has been one of the biggest benefits of realizing I’m demisexual—understanding why I tend to fall for guys I get close to. It doesn’t necessarily help me not fall for anyone, but it does help contextualize what’s going on.

11. Watching lustful scenes in movies rarely makes me horny. I find them either boring or amusing.

I’ve definitely experienced this while watching movies with gay guys, especially scenes depicting sex between men. I only find myself getting turned on if there’s a suggestion of emotional connection and intimacy between the characters. Otherwise it’s just weird.

12. I notice that the culture I live in is very sexually-charged, so I tend to feel a bit alienated.

Definitely true of me when I’m around gay men. Everything is about sex in some way, whether it’s innuendo, an overt comment about the speculative size of a guy’s cock, or discussion about some fetish someone’s into.

13. I rarely cheat in relationships.

See question 15, below.

14. I’ve never understood the attraction to porn. I’m not at all aroused by it.

This is and isn’t true for me. As with question 11, the only porn I find at all arousing is depictions of actual couples in which there’s real affection and intimacy.

15. When I’m in a relationship with someone who I’ve bonded closely with, it’s almost impossible for me to feel sexual attraction to anyone else but them.

Jay and I had several three-ways when we were together. For me, it was a kind of dissociative experience where it was difficult to stay aroused with the other guy. The only good time for me was when I bottomed for him and a friend of ours, and <rant> I was reminded of what it was like to be with a partner who didn’t just lie there and expect me to do all the work.</rant>

16. Sometimes in close friendships or relationships I spontaneously develop sexual feelings of attraction. It confuses me.

See answer to question 10.

17. I often feel asexual. I’m just not that attracted to people.

See answers to questions 3 and 9.

18. I’ve been called “cold” or “frigid” before in relationships.

This is unfortunately true, and in hindsight it was a consequence of not actually being emotionally attracted. It was confusing for everyone.

19. I’ve only been attracted to a very small number of people in my life. I rarely have crushes.

Genuinely attracted, yes. There have been brief crushes and flings, but they never lasted. Seth was the closest thing I’ve had to a long-term attraction.

20. I’m extremely uncomfortable with sexual advances from other people.

Huge YES to this concerning gay guys. It’s not just that I’m not emotionally attracted to them. A major part of the discomfort is that I realize they, as gay males, think I’m similarly wired to them, and want the same things—fun, flirty, frivolous, no-strings-attached sexy times. This ends up making me feel even more broken, hopeless, and out of place than ever, and combined with the sense of missing what moments of physical and emotional intimacy I’ve had (along with the existential worry that I’m never going to find a guy with whom to build that sense of home I’ve been writing about) becomes intensely, emotionally upsetting.


So those were the questions. It wasn’t scientific by any means, but it really helps paint the picture of how I’ve been mislabeled all these years. Just because I’m attracted to other men doesn’t automatically make me gay. There was another prefix that was always a better fit.

264. mesmerism

old-mesmerismI promised you more details about my sex life in the last post, and here it is, in two parts.


Part I

Like many gay men, I hate my body. It’s not that I’m overweight or even ugly. On the contrary, I’m still relatively slim for my age and level of physical activity (if you call pacing exercise), and objectively speaking my visage is not unpleasing. Yet still I’m not sure if I meet the standard of what other gay men are going to find attractive and desirable.

This is a game I can’t figure out the rules to.

This issue with being uncomfortable with my body goes back to early childhood. As a boy, I didn’t like going around without a shirt—I didn’t want anyone looking at me, thinking I was skinny, pale, or funny-looking.

There was also a degree of cognitive dissonance because I was aware that other boys—other men—thought nothing of displaying their bodies.

So what was wrong with me that I was so inward-looking?

I recently finished watching the Netflix series Stranger Things. One of the things I came away with was reflecting on the friendship between the four main boys. As a homeschooler, I had no such close friendships at that age. The only other contact I had with boys my age was at church, and that was limited—maybe once or twice a week.

Aside from my father, who I had a pretty distant relationship with, my journey through puberty and adolescence was a lonely one. There was no one else to normalize the changes my body went through, from hair appearing on my face, legs, and chest, to my voice deepening, to the hurricane of male teenage hormones and emotions.

Although I read and studied about these changes, I resented my body for dragging me into this new and confusing experience, especially given the conservative Christian community this took place in. The gist of the advice I received was basically: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” For me, the only gay in the village (even though I didn’t know it), this was even more lonely once I figured out why I wasn’t interested in girls like the other guys were.

So I’m envious of guys who can go around shirtless or wearing just hot pants, seemingly without a care. They don’t seem to worry about what other people think, and I can’t help wondering how my life might’ve been different had I had close male friends growing up who could’ve helped me acclimate and integrate fully into my adult male body.

(To be absolutely clear, this isn’t gender dysphoria. It’s more that I feel like an outsider, a pariah, or out-of-phase within my own body.)

As it is, I can’t wear shorts without feeling anxious.

Even short-sleeve shirts are a challenge.


Part II

As I’ve written about in several other posts, sex is something of a psychological minefield for me these days. Again, I’m definitely not asexual.

Rather, to quote U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

In addition to Stranger Things, I’ve also been watching season 2 of Showtime’s series Penny Dreadful, and just got to the episode where a character is tormented by visions of her dead children clawing their way out of their graves, beckoning her to join them in death.

Curiously, this scene actually helped clarify what has been happening to me mentally in past sexual encounters for me over the past few years.

In the years following my breakup with my first boyfriend, I transformed myself into a bona fide slut. At one point I was using three different hookup apps to find guys around me to have sex with. In the back of my mind though, I was hoping that at least one of them might turn out to be boyfriend material.

If you kiss enough frogs.

Following the catastrophe with Seth, I literally tried to fuck him out of my system, and over the course of just a few months had actually grown tired of sex. Bouncing from one guy to the next was not only exhausting and degrading: it was depressing.

Once I’d called it quits with Jay, my last boyfriend, nearly nearly three-and-a-half years ago, dating became an exercise in futility. With a trail of failed relationships, the chances of anyone deciding a gay thirtysomething was worth it seemed remote when there were more cute, fun, flirty guys around.

Either during or following my last couple of sexual encounters, the ghosts of all the past guys who I was attracted to and who rejected me came crawling up out of the recesses of my subconscious to remind me of how undesirable I am, how unattractive I am compared to other guys, how once sex happens the guy bails, how much of a fucked up fixer-upper project I am, and how no one has the time or patience for that bullshit.

Remember that cute blonde, Chris, how you went out a couple times before you let him fuck you, and afterwards he couldn’t wait to get rid of you?

It’s not as if I haven’t had enough sex—some of it good, even fun. As I get older and know myself better, sex is just one dimension for me of knowing someone.

Unfortunately, as a demisexual, there needs to be a solid emotional foundation of trust first before adding any kind of sexual element.

Yet all gay guys these days seem to want to do is jump straight to having sex, because for most of them it’s just a fun romp. And me being the one who is different, I don’t know how to negotiate when I know someone well enough to trust that they aren’t just going to bail on me once they get what they want from me sexually.

Ironically, I’m actually as celibate now as I was prior to coming out.


So those are the gritty details of my sex life.

You are welcome.

263.blandishment

Ich fühle luft von anderem planeten.
Mir blassen durch das dunkel die gesichter
Die freundlich eben noch sich zu mir drehten.

I feel the air of another planet.
The friendly faces that were turned toward me
but lately, now are fading into darkness.

Stefan George, Entrückung [Transport] (trans. by Carl Engel)

SONY DSC

There are good days when things seem to be going okay. My spirits are relatively high, I feel optimistic and hopeful about the future, I halfway like myself and other people.

Then there are days, like today, when it’s an achievement just to get out of bed, go downstairs, or leave the house, to not be entirely ruled by the nightmares of my anxiety.

It’s compounded by the further anxiety of knowing that this is all in my head, that people aren’t really thinking that, as well as knowing that I’m literally wasting the remaining years of my life by fearing all of these mental phantasms.

From the video below:

We should use the thought of death not to make us despair of life but to shake us into more committedly pursuing the life we know we need to lead. We will act when the fear of death is finally allowed to trump the fear of failure or humiliation, compromise or shame.


A few weeks ago, about a week after the attack I wrote about in the last post, I had a meltdown during a gathering of friends.

There were four of us altogether, and we’d been playing games that evening. Things were actually going well. I wasn’t feeling anxious, defensive, or threatened. Then we moved outside to the hot tub, which is when things got… well, frisky.

Here I’ll mention that all four of us are gay men: two are a couple, one a “pup” (for those unfamiliar with kink culture, go here to learn what a “pup” is), and then me, a bristling combination of Bernard Black and Malcolm Tucker.

It was mostly groping, giggling, and making out to begin with amongst the three of them, but sex was clearly on the agenda. And I was feeling very uneasy with the situation, and increasingly morose—and here is where it all goes a bit wibbly-wobbly.

As I wrote about not too long ago, sex is an emotional minefield for me these days, a reality made more uncomfortable because I do still have a sex drive. I miss it, but this whole gay, casual sex culture is, frankly, incredibly unhealthy for me.

Because: I have had plenty of casual sex, and it ultimately left me feeling more lonely and disconnected.

So I was feeling left out, not because I was being ignored (if I’d been into it they would’ve included me), but because I’m in something of a sexual exile.

Et l’arc-en-ciel est exilé
Puisqu’on exile qui l’irise
Mais un drapeau s’est envolé
Prendre ta place au vent de bise.

And now the rainbow is in exile,
as one who changes his colors must be;
but a flag flew away
to take its place in the north wind.

Guillaume Apollinaire, “La grâce exilée”


I don’t entirely remember what I said after getting out of the water… something about how I’m broken, how I’m going to die alone, and how everyone (gay guys, that is) just seem to want sex and nothing else, and it’s all bullshit.

This is because my emotional brain is wired to work a lot faster than my rational brain can keep up with it, the prize for having grown up in an environment where being hyper aware meant survival. In a matter of seconds, my thought process went something like this:

Me: Why can’t I just be in the moment and enjoy sex like these guy? Why do I have to take things so seriously?
Greek chorus of my mind: Because you’re fucked up and broken by your past.
Me: All gay men are like this, aren’t they?
Greek chorus: Yes. Except you. Remember? You’re broken. You’re not normal.
Me: Oh my god, it’s not them, it’s me. I’m the aberration. That means there’s no one right for me out there, is there? No one who will get my crazy.
Greek chorus: If the past is an indicator of the future, no, you’re never going to find a boyfriend.
Me: I’m going to die alone!!
Greek chorus: Yup. You’ll never have sex again.

That’s the concise version. It was very Eyes Wide Shut in my head, a collaboration between Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick.

After things had calmed down, I realized that this wasn’t about sex necessarily. It was about my fear of never finding a home.

That’s what is behind the surging resentment I feel when seeing gay couples, whether in pictures, video, etc. Because I’m terrified that I’m never going to have that for myself.

A sense of home, something I’ve never felt once in my life.

As I’ve written about, my home life growing up felt like anything but home: safe, secure, welcoming. My mother could be unpredictable and volatile at times, and my father was distant and unresponsive. We talked unconditional love, yet our value and worth was based on how well we conformed to the teachings of our fundamentalist Christian faith.

Then, for most of my adult life I lived and worked amongst evangelical Christians, terrified they’d find out I was gay and shun me.

Add to this the reality that, at 33, I’m woefully unskilled in the art of flirting or responding to flirting due to having had to repress all of that for most of my adult life.

Basically, I’m a gay, male Liz Lemon.

With all of that going on, being in a hot tub with three flirty, sexed-up gay guys sent me over the edge.

I’d like to know what it’s like to be loved and accepted by a guy (here I’ll clarify: single and within my seemingly quantum field of eligibles) who doesn’t run screaming at the sight of my craziness.

Blërg.

262. conciliate

“Over the course of just a few years, as I would go home to Spokane to visit [my friends], instead of them asking me what TV show or movie I’d been in, they asked me if I’d met anyone. And I was sort of asking myself the same question—and with growing concern. I thought: “Wait a minute—when did I go from being the cool one that people envied to being the one the people were a little worried about?”

“And I watched my friends’ marriages become longer, more knowing marriages; and their kids getting big and bigger; and the walks after dinner with the dog; and all the talk about the lake cabins. And I began to wonder if maybe they hadn’t made all the right decisions.” – Julia Sweeney, In the Family Way


elegant wine glass broken on a dark background

It’s been an intense last couple of weeks since last we met.

Let’s work backwards from today.

Last Thursday my housemate’s dog was attacked by what we’re 99% sure was a coyote.

Around 11:30pm, I looked in the back room and there was one dog sleeping but not the other, which gave me a bad feeling. When I went outside to look for him, I found him about halfway out in the middle of the backyard, collapsed and bloody.

I quickly bundled him inside, unsure of how badly he was hurt. We called the nearest 24-hour vet clinic and drove him over. He was in rough shape, with more lacerations and bite marks than we initially saw, and ended up being there a few days until he was eating again and moving around.

He’s home now, on some pretty fantastic pain medication, and slowly recovering, but it was horrific to find him like that.


Going back further, a week prior to the coyote attack, I was physically assaulted at a friend’s house.

Yeah.

The short version is that me, my friend Ben, and Jason, a housemate of my friends, were talking. He and Ben were in a heated discussion about the causes of the ’91 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and at one point Jason (who is a veteran) held up his arm to display a scar from a bullet wound, as if definitive evidence for his position.

As politely as he could, Ben said something to the effect of, “Just because you were wounded doesn’t mean you’re right.”

(In hindsight, we should’ve realized we weren’t dealing with a rational person.)

This is when Jason stood up and yelled at Ben: “Get the fuck out of this house.”

When we both just stared at him in dismay, he screamed “You think I’m kidding?”, marched over, grabbed Ben and physically tried to throw him outside.

At this point, out of concern, I tried to intervene.

All of this happened in the span of about fifteen seconds, and at some point I should’ve realized how stupid that was. However, I have no experience with physical violence, preferring to leave physical altercations to the Cro Magnons among us.

So this is when Jason grabbed me by the throat, shoved me backwards into the kitchen, and slammed me against the wall several times. I don’t remember much about the attack, but it was horrific. I’m still emotionally shaken from the incident, haven’t been sleeping well, suffering from flashbacks, etc.

All symptoms of PTSD.

Yay. Because I need more emotionally damaged shit to deal with.

The next day I filed a police report, and the officers basically told me that since I wasn’t injured enough that there wasn’t any grounds to take any further action since the city is bogged down enough with violent crime and domestic abuse cases as it is.

To top it off, my friends that he lives with, who I’ve known for some time and whose wedding I was in last year, have no plans to evict him from their home, though he attacked me, unprovoked.

Basically, my relationship with my friends is now strained because, although they acknowledge he was squarely in the wrong, they’ve refused to take any punitive action against Jason, arguing that throwing him out would do more harm than good.

And turns out that, although I filed a police report, prosecutors are unlike to press charges because I wasn’t injured enough.

So no, I’m still not okay.


My therapist had a few observations to make about all this when we met on Monday.

Aside from my personal safety, she’s concerned about the ultimatum that I made a few days after the attack to the homeowners that so long as Jason continues to live with them that our friendship can’t continue.

Frankly, I’m concerned too, since it continues a pattern in my relationships that whenever I feel threatened or put in an impossible situation (such as with my parents, who saw nothing wrong with wanting me to be part of the family while they continuing to hold hateful and bigoted views about me).

Yes, I cut off my parents.

I cut off friends I’d known for years from college and church who opposed marriage equality in Minnesota in 2012.

I cut off friends who remained friends with Seth after he dumped me in 2011, interpreting that as their taking his side over mine… and turning against me.

Essentially, my therapist mused, growing up in a household where everything was closely scrutinized through a lens of Reformed, Atonement theology, and where I legitimately felt in peril for much of those formative years as a closeted gay man, it’s natural that I’d still be on high alert, fearful of people turning on me or attacking.

How is that past orientation limiting my present relationships, I wondered. Is it?

How is that narrative script of fear causing me to become intractable and stubborn, and how is it closing me off to future happiness?

How, like Uncle Andrew in C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, do I cleverly defend myself “against all that might do you good!”

But more on sex next time.

Because you really wanted to know, right?

 

261. puissant

cir_animacion_1Just came from an encouraging session with my therapist.

I’m often left a bit dubious or even suspicious whenever things go positively. Maybe I’m carrying around the notion that therapy must be fraught with powerful emotion, or the measure of work in therapy including profound revelations, breakthroughs into the nature of what brought one to therapy in the first place.

I’m trying to rid myself of those notions.

They’re not helpful.

The main takeaway from today was that over the past couple of months I’ve been becoming more conscious and intentional about how I manage reactions to various emotional stimuli. I’m slowly rewriting the old, broken narrative of victimhood to the cruel winds of life and of my religious upbringing, bringing personal choice and agency to the fore.

Something my therapist brought into the conversation today was a reflection on the root of responsibility, what it means to be responsible, and what it might mean to actively choose what we respond to—and how we respond.

One thing that immediately came to mind was this recent video from The School of Life:

When we carry a background excess of self-disgust around with us, operating just below the radar of conscious awareness, we’ll constantly seek confirmation from the wider world that we really are the worthless people we take ourselves to be. The expectation is almost always set in childhood where someone close to us is likely to have left us feeling dirty and culpable, and as a result we now travel through society assuming the worst—not because it’s necessarily true or pleasant to do so, but because it feels familiar, and because we’re the prisoners of past patterns we haven’t yet understood.

The second half of the video talks about approaching people with the same poise and graciousness we afford children. We usually don’t assume the worst about an infant or toddler—that they’re plotting against us, or deliberately acting out of spite or cruelty.

We reach for the most benevolent interpretations. We probably think that they’re just a bit tired, or their gums are sore, or they’re upset by the arrival of a younger sibling.

This struck a chord with me instantly, because it brought to mind how much I wasn’t raised in this way.


A few months after I left Christianity, I was having a post-Easter lunch with my family. My nephew had just turned ten months old, and was in the development stage of dropping things off his high chair to observe the results. Exasperated, my sister sighed, “There’s his sin nature showing.” Everyone else at the table nodded sadly, as if this child who wasn’t even a year old was showing signs of some fatal disease.

This assessment might seem innocuous or even silly, but to me hearing my sister utter those words is still a chilling reminder of how ungracious and meager my parents were towards us as children. The sum of the following verses and other like them formed the basis of my parents’ parenting philosophy:

  • For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of god. (Romans 3:23)
  • I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5)
  • The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9)
  • Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)

Basically, their three children were little engines of depravity and rebellion that needed stern, emergency correction to save us from toddling straight into Hell. Every misdeed was scrutinized, treated as a symptom of the rotten heart that surely lurks within all humanity.

The cure was swift and sometimes brutal punishment, from spankings to locking in the basement until we repented of our sins. Oh, and Bible quoting aplenty.

I realize this depiction makes my parents look crazy and abusive, and yes, there were times they lashed out in anger and frustration, reaching for the “parenting by fear” card rather than by compassion or understanding. There were happy times, too: reading books out loud, outings to the library or the zoo, helping my mom cook in the kitchen.

But they didn’t show much compassion when it came to normal unruly child behavior, and from that we learned that we were bad, broken creatures—loathsome insects that god holds over the pit of Hell, as Jonathan Edwards put it in his famous 1741 sermon.

We learn to engage with the world through the model of our parents’ engagement with us as children. We form our expectations of other people through the prime example of how our mother and father treated us.

I learned to fear other people, that everyone was secretly scrutinizing me in expectation of finding the worst, that I deserved their disfavor and disapproval. As my mom once sniped, “If people knew who you really were, they wouldn’t like you.”


That’s what the old, broken narrative for my life is built on. Fear, victimhood, self-hatred.

What I’ve been practicing over the past few months is an awareness of those voices from the past and actively choosing how I’m going to respond to them as a perceptive adult instead of as the hurt child.

It looks so easy written out, and it’s anything but. Emotions are messy. I revert to frightened child again.

My grim inner Protestant winces at the notion of self care, insisting that it’s selfish and wasteful. It’s extravagant—a day at the spa, taking a hot bath, meditation, making my favorite food.

For me, self care has become much simpler.

It’s turning off and tuning out the news—really, anything that unnecessarily upsets me, that I can’t do anything about, that I don’t actually need to listen to.

It’s stopping the kind of downward-spiraling mental rumination over, say, a troubling news story that leads to anger or emotional unrest.

It’s my declaration of independence, of emancipation.

It’s choosing to show myself the compassion that my parents weren’t capable of.

260. overslaugh

enhanced-buzz-29982-1409148846-23Two days ago, this past Saturday, marked the two-year anniversary of the last time I went on an actual, non-hookup date with a guy.

Or, as it’s known on my Google calendar: “Last Fuckable Day” (à la the Amy Schumer short from last year). Because June 25, 2014 felt like the universe telling me that I am undateable.

“Why would you observe such a date?” you might ask. “I mean, what the actual hell is wrong with you?”

Well, for one thing, it’s so that I can answer myself when asking: “So how long has it been since I went on a date?”

For another, I’m an archivist at heart so preserving history is something of my hobby and expertise. At first I wasn’t 100% sure of the timeline, but thanks to stalkerish Google location history I was able to narrow down the date we first met. Weather Underground confirmed when our second date was because there was a thunderstorm that evening, and there are also SMS messages from that date saved in my email.

I don’t remember exactly when Matt the bisexual guy and I started messaging on OkCupid. It was about a week or so before we met, and we seemed to have a good connection so we decided to set a date to actually meet in person, at the Seward Pizza Lucé in Minneapolis on June 11th, 2014. It was particularly rainy that week, and I recall driving through a storm and it being particularly nerve wracking getting over there because the wipers on my car had stopped working and were frozen at about a 45 degree angle on my windshield.

The date itself went well. I don’t remember many details from the conversation, other than that he had moved to Minneapolis from New York to work on his PhD, and that he had most recently been dating a guy for several years who’d broken up with him a few months prior.

Big red flag, I know.

We ended up going for a walk across the Lake Street-Marshall Bridge after dinner, and had a really good time discussing wildlife and ecosystems (that was part of his field of study), and more about our backgrounds. It had been a little over a year since I’d broken up with Jay, my last boyfriend, who apparently met his current partner about three months after we split up. He certainly wasted no time, eh.

The evening came to an end with another torrential downpour that began just as we got back to his car. We kissed briefly as we said goodbye, and after over a year of being single I was starting to feel cautiously hopeful. We seemed to have good chemistry, and he was a really nice and intelligent guy.

The next day we decided to meet again, this time at his place that following Saturday on June 14, 2014.

Yes, I know. I know. Terrible decisions. Hindsight and all that.

It was another rainy evening, and though I was white knuckling it the whole way there as I drove through the storm, I managed to arrive safely.

I remember us talking for a long time that evening. We talked about music, about science, about his copy of Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale on his bookshelf. Eventually, we started making out and… well, you can imagine the rest if you like. We actually didn’t have sex until the next morning, but the whole evening felt good. Hopeful. Cautiously hopeful.

As I left that morning, I got a random text from Jay saying that he’d passed me with his boyfriend on the way to pick up his boyfriend’s kids from somewhere. (Jay had talked about kids on more than one occasion, which had been one of many sources of tension between us, because I was not crazy about the idea of parenting. And, of course, with the guy after me he got exactly what he wanted.) I don’t remember what was said, but I recall writing back something about leaving “my boyfriend’s” place, not wanting to seem pathetic and single after over a year. He wrote back something about being happy for me, and that was it.

Haven’t heard from him since.

Matt and I exchanged a few more texts that day, but after that, I didn’t hear from him again for a while, which I didn’t take as a good sign. I didn’t want to seem desperate or clingy though, and waited until Thursday to try him again.

He didn’t respond until Wednesday.

Turns out he’d been avoiding having a conversation with me. A few days after we slept together he’d been contacted by his ex again, and he confessed that he was still in love with the guy but was feeling conflicted because he’d actually liked me.

But he was going to pursue getting back together with his ex.

And that was that. I didn’t hear from him again either. No idea if they got back together.

That triggered the beginning of a major depressive episode that lasted over six months. I felt utterly defeated by being turned down by yet another guy I’d been interested in. This had happened so many times before, but I’d gotten my hopes up only to see them dashed again, and it was hard to ignore signals the universe seemed to be proverbially sending me—that no guy who I was interested in was ever going to be interested in me.

It happened with Chris. With Seth. With Matt. With several others whose names and faces I can’t recall anymore, “unremembered lads that not again will turn to me at midnight with a cry” (Edna St. Vincent Millay).

Of course I’m writing this with the recent image of Miss Havisham in mind, knowing that I need to resist allowing regret and heartbreak to poison me.

My therapist asked me last week to envision what it might feel like to actually be loved and accepted by a partner, without fear or reservation.

I can’t even fathom what that would look like.

259. iatrogenic

3263327644_df0767f4f3-1It’s Pride month again in Minneapolis, and another year finds me not feeling very proud… or particularly fabulous. Some of this does have to do with the attack in Orlando on last Sunday, that another bigot turned their hate into bullets, and how I don’t really feel like celebrating when so many people died and we have a majority in Congress who don’t give a shit that a bunch of dirty fags were killed in a gay nightclub.

Sorry—was that too harsh a paraphrase of Republican views on LGBTQ people, views they’ve obstinately held fast to ever since gay people started demanding to be treated like human beings instead of criminals?

Honestly, I’ve never felt like I belonged at pride events. Yes, the movement is founded on values of tolerance and inclusion, supposedly, but where is the young curmudgeon’s tent underneath the glittery rainbow umbrella? Everyone else is laughing and flirting and having a good time, while my inner Carl wants to yell at these damn kids to turn down that fucking EDM and put some clothes on!

I had a longish discussion with my therapist this afternoon about my ambivalence towards the LGBTQ community and my overall reluctance to participate in mass group events.

By nature, I am not a “joiner.” I’ll support from a distance, but unbridled commitment to a cause or movement makes me jittery.

The U. S. presidential campaign, for example. What ultimately turned me off to Sanders’ campaign was the seeming groupthink and aggressive enthusiasm of his supporters. (Feel the Bern? I thought that cleared up!) What makes me extremely uneasy about the Trump campaign is how it seems to be stoking a resurgence of racist American nationalism that comes dangerously close to what the rise of Italian fascism looked like in the 1930s.

So okay, I understand the historic and cultural importance of gay pride events, how they have built solidarity since the first Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970. Though increasingly corporatized, with hetero executives—as usual—finding more ways to make money off us LGBTQ folks, as a friend of mine wrote today in the Star Tribune, pride events remind us that “despite our differences, we can only fight for our freedom together.”

I simply prefer to “fight for our freedom together” in the quiet of a library or coffee shop, not talking to anybody.

Yes, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes, so shut the f*** up.

My therapist observed that I’ve talked about two opposing desires—the desire to find belonging but also to withdraw and secure my individuality. A need for and a fear of connection and intimacy that creates a tension which both drives and paralyzes me. Super.

Part of my ambivalence about the gay community is rooted in unresolved trauma from having lived repressed and in the closet for over a decade and still not having integrated my sexuality into my personal identity. Just as many people are thrust, unprepared, into becoming sexually active adults, we gays are expected to burst from the closet as fully fabulous gay men the moment we come out. That’s a tall order after spending ten years violently pushing down your attractions to cute guys so you don’t out yourself.

This differs from internalized homophobia, I think, because I’m not ashamed of being gay. Rather, it feels like just another fact about me, like the color of my hair or my height. And unlike some of my peers, it isn’t something I ever had to fight to claim as my own, so it doesn’t feel that important to me… something I take for granted.

I think the fighting part is key because the fighting would’ve meant that I believed I was something valuable and worth fighting for. I exist, but that has nothing to do with loving or valuing myself.

That brought me to the image of Miss Havisham a few days ago.

For anyone who didn’t go through a Dickens obsession at some point, she is one of the strangest and most fascinating characters in Great Expectations—a wealthy spinster who shut herself away in her ruined mansion that is frozen in time at the exact moment she received the news her fiancé had abandoned her on her wedding day. When Pip meets her in chapter 8, she still wears her tattered wedding dress and one shoe (she was putting them on when she received the letter), and her wedding cake sits rotting in the dining room. Consumed with bitterness, she conditions her adopted daughter to hate all men and seeks vengeance on the world by making Estelle into a cruel, sadistic heartbreaker.

There are many aspects of this character I shudderingly relate to. There’s a deeply twisted part of me that enjoys holding on to past hurts—my parents, my college choir director, Seth, Matt the bisexual tree scientist. I recite my litany of their wrongs, like Orual in C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, because hating them gives me purpose; and like Miss Havisham, I’ve locked myself away in an inner mansion of emotional distance where I can’t be hurt.

There I can feel sorry for myself, and over many years that dark blanket of self pity has become familiar, safe, even comforting.

There’s a sinister element of Estelle, too. At times, I’ve been the deliberately cruel heartbreaker in order to get revenge for how Seth used and then discarded me.

If I was used and hurt, then you deserve to be, too.

This fixation on the past—resenting the family I grew up with for not being the family I needed, ruminating on feelings I had for the first man who broke my heart and believing I’ll never feel that way again—it’s clearly counterproductive and unhealthy. It’s a story I’ve been telling myself every day for five years.

If the Orlando murders teach us anything, it’s that life is too short for bullshit like that.

258. somaticize

Isolation, by http://jessica-art.deviantart.com/

It is June 7. How did it get to be June 7 already? This year is moving way too fast, although not fast enough for the American electoral season to be done. That nonsense seems to be inhabiting its own putrid timestream.

School is finally over. It wrapped up just eighteen days ago, though as a group of us agreed last night, it’s seemed longer than that.

Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to figure out why this semester felt so much more difficult than others. Objectively, this was actually one of the easier terms I’ve had as a master’s student. A final paper for one class was literally a 4-5 page narrative reflection on an internship, which felt almost obscenely light. In the other class, we spent the first month trying to overcome technical glitches to get the platform we were using for a digital library to work.

In retrospect, this was a difficult semester due to several things:

  1. It really didn’t feel like that much was actually demanded of me (as per the 5-page final paper in the one class).
  2. There was a marked lack of structure and clear expectations in both classes.

Now, to the latter, I get that this whole graduate experience is, in some ways, the antithesis of the undergraduate degree. There’s a lot less hand-holding, and especially in a career-focused program like mine, one is expected to start thinking and behaving like a professional. I like this about graduate study because it’s less about the grade and more about proving that you know what you’re doing.

Of course, professors still need to lay out clear expectations for their students and communicate things like due dates, and changes to due dates and course content. Still, a major aspect of graduate-level study is directing one’s self and becoming more of a stakeholder in your education and career. In essence, graduate study asks students to set their own schedules based on what is demanded of them.

As Millennials would say, this is “adulting.”


The day after classes ended, I submitted my final paper and hopped in a car with a friend of mine to embark on a five-day camping trip. This is something I’d been looking forward to for weeks leading up to it, and to finally get away from the city and my job and school, and just be in nature, was lovely.

I did encounter one brief meltdown on the trip, which was followed by a rare breakthrough moment—rare in that it occurred in close proximity to the emotional event, which is a new thing for me.

It happened over the course of one hike that involved several river and stream crossings. I’ll say in advance that I experience serious anxiety over cleanliness and hygiene issues, so just going into the hike knowing about the crossings was hackles-raising enough. My friend went first each time as he wasn’t as bothered by either getting wet or muddy, but even he was a bit surprised by some of the stream crossings.

In brief, after getting stuck briefly during the third stream crossing, I was in the grips of a full-blown anxiety attack. It might not have been so bad had the water been clear, but it was muddy and somewhat deep, and I got stuck in the muck several times.

Here are a few symptoms from AnxietyCentre.com that I experienced that afternoon:

  • A feeling of overwhelming fear
  • Feeling you are in grave danger
  • An urgency to escape
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pressure or pain
  • Inability to calm yourself down
  • Nausea
  • Pounding, racing heart

For the next forty minutes or so, as we continued the hike, I just focused on breathing and bringing my heart rate down. Eventually, the calmer parts of my mind were able to start deconstructing that reaction, and the realization I had is that that anxiety attack was a concentrated version of how I feel all the time.

20160521_175249
The view on one part of the hike.

Basically, I’m afraid all the time. Not consciously, in a phobic sense. More an undercurrent of constant anxiety and fear. I’m afraid I’m a complete failure, that I’m never going to amount to anything, that I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life, that I’m a mediocrity, that I’m fundamentally worthless and unlovable…

The usual.

What I was gradually able to unpack was that this feeling stems from early childhood, where my fundamentalist Christian parents over-reacted to what otherwise normal child behavior as if it were signs of moral depravity (which, in hindsight, is likely exactly what they thought).

A few months after I became an atheist, I was having lunch with my family, including my nephew who was less than a year old and kept dropping food from his high chair onto the floor. My sister (his mother), exasperated, commented: “There’s his sin nature showing.”

That was essentially how my sisters and I were raised.

Along with this was a reluctance on my parents’ part to allow me to fail. If I struggled or faltered in a pursuit, they generally stepped in to help. Since we were homeschooled, I never developed the coping mechanisms most children do for handling failure or dealing with normal challenges. So I panic, have an anxiety attack, feel like the world’s ending.

Being cognizant of this, however, I also feel stupid for feeling so out of control, for being so irrational. I also felt like a bad friend for ruining an otherwise pleasant hike.

I also realized that this fear and anxiety was holding me back—from my career, from dating, from achieving goals, etc.

About an hour into the hike, during all of this emotional unpacking, I had a moment of clarity. An inner voice said: You have a choice. You don’t have to let this fear control you.

And for a moment, I had a vision of myself crossing the river and actually enjoying the experience without freaking out.

That’s the direction I need to head.