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.

257. torschlusspanik

flo-WIT

“Torschlusspanik.”

This is one of those supposedly untranslatable German words. The definition from Wiktionary seems to capture the essence, though: “the feeling that medieval peasants had when the castle gates were closing for an upcoming onslaught by enemies.”

I like that there are concise words for complex concepts like this.

In way of advance warning, this post might be a tad ranty in a hopefully measured way. Also: this post is not about you or your relationship. It’s about the way in which religion and the way it influenced my upbringing has completely fucked over my life and the lives of so many other people. Trauma manifests itself in different ways for everyone, and with this recent foray into EMDR, I’m noticing more about the way my trauma expresses itself.

Okay. Deep breath, everyone.


First, an Alanis Morissette lyric:

And I’m here to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away.
It’s not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me.
You oughta know.

For a long time post 2011, I often listened to this song with Seth in mind. Someone at karaoke once opined that I wasn’t singing it “orgasmically” enough. After reminding myself that it’s not acceptable to rip people’s faces off, I explained that it’s not a song about sex.

It’s a song about being fucking pissed off while simultaneously a complete wreck.

This describes me from about 2011-2013, a time when I was dealing with both the loss of my faith and catastrophic heartbreak.

However, it hit me the other day that I can also contextualize that song about my parents.

A few weeks ago my EMDR therapist asked if I’d forgiven my parents. I wasn’t sure if I was still angry at them, because it feels like they died a long time ago.

I mostly just feel sad.

But I am still angry: outraged at how they lied to me, how the emotional and psychological abuse my sisters and I suffered at their hands was couched in such “loving” language. Of course, they believed (and still believe) that they were doing right by us. After all…

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)

They truly believed that a religious upbringing was the best possible thing for us. So long as you don’t think too hard about it and spend your entire life in the evangelical Christian bubble, it might be fine. But if you find yourself an outlier at all within that community (figuring out that you’re gay at age fifteen, for example), it takes an incredible amount of self-delusion to not question or doubt.


Yeah, it’s never gonna happen, is it? No, sir.
No, we’re never gonna get the prize—are we?
No, it doesn’t make a bit of difference—does it?
Didn’t.
Ever.
Fuck it!
– Sondheim, S. (1990). Another national anthem. On Assassins (2004 Broadway Revival Cast) [CD]. Bronxville, NY: P.S. Classics.

One of the things my EMDR therapist had me do last month was write out short- and long-term goals for myself. Where do I want to be next month, in six months, etc.

One of my near-future goals is to start dating again, which simply seems unfeasible right now because I appear to live in the land of Lost Boys gay men who are stuck in an eternal boyhood, while I’m a somewhat gruff (but amicable) misanthrope.

And what I keep running into is this fear that it’s never going to happen for me, and that I’ll end up like the character of Vivian from Margaret Edson’s Wit: highly respected but utterly alone and without a partner to support her in an extreme crisis. As it is, I have friends, but their allegiances are to their significant others. And how long can I sleep on their proverbial couch before overstaying my welcome on their time and attention?

The sense I’ve become more aware of lately is that of indignation. I’ve watched (and even helped) countless couples fall into relationships (sometimes serial relationships, one after another) with relative ease and nonchalance. I can’t help feeling they don’t deserve any of it, that they can’t truly appreciate their blithe happiness without having experienced the abject despair and loneliness that has been my existence for the past twenty years.

Of course, everyone’s story and struggle is there own. I’m not privy to volumes.

It’s not just dating. I recently received another rejection letter, this one for a scholarship. There was the internship this summer; before that the graduate assistant library job that someone else got. It seems that my life is this constant, uphill battle where I have to fight for every scrap and crumb while others seem to have things virtually handed to them.

When’s it going to be my turn?

So it’s really difficult not to feel that other people don’t deserve the relationships and the opportunities that they have when I feel that I’ve worked twice as hard with no results. Of course I don’t know their stories and struggles. But I’m tired of my life seeming marked and defined by failure and disappointment.

Sure, I could simply keep redefining “success” and adjust my expectations. But at what point does one say, “This just isn’t working”?

Because it’s infuriating watching silly, flirty, vapid gay boys find long-term boyfriends (who they’ll probably dump in a year), realizing that the guys I’m attracted to are never attracted to me, or recognizing that the reason most of my hetero friends are partnered is because their pool is that much bigger.

When I say “It’s probably never going to happen,” it’s out of fear of further dashed hopes.


Even though I don’t believe in the supernatural, there’s this feeling that all the rejection and disappointment is somehow part of my penance for 28 years as a fundie Christian. I didn’t know any better, but I’m still going to be punished.

Yes, I know.

It’s bonkers.

256. amaranthine

Apologies for the gap in posting. I’ve started so many drafts the last couple of weeks, and then a project or an emergency comes along, or I simply don’t have the energy to write, or I start something and then lose the train of thought.

A few months ago I started with a EMDR therapist, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

The goal of EMDR is to reduce the long-lasting effects of distressing memories by developing more adaptive coping mechanisms. The therapy uses an eight-phase approach that includes having the patient recall distressing images while receiving one of several types of bilateral sensory input, such as side to side eye movements. EMDR was originally developed to treat adults with PTSD; however, it is also used to treat other conditions and children.

It’s supposed to be helpful for individuals who have experienced a trauma of some kind, and growing up gay in a fundamentalist household probably counts as some kind of traumatic event. My regular therapist suggested a course of sessions (typically 8-12 in number) after events in December made it clear that triggers from early childhood are really preventing me from moving forward.

The challenge is doing all of this while in school and working full-time. Good thing I’m not dating anyone right now, eh?

Speaking of dating, I’ve been keeping an eye on the calendar, and this Thursday will be three years since I broke up with Jay, my last boyfriend. Singleness is one thing I seem to be obsessed with at present. Although I’m bracing myself for the worst case scenario of never meeting anyone, whenever I encounter a nice guy there’s a part of me that still thinks, “Maybe this guy, somehow, is the one.”

Then, in the span of several minutes, I go through the entire process of imagining our life together until the inevitable realization or discovery that he’s hetero, not available, not suitable, or (the more likely scenario) not into me.

At heart, I’m still a relentless optimist and romantic.


It’s the quiet, intimate moments with another person that I’m envious of. I’ve observed many such moments with other couples, moments that come after years of knowing a person, of learning about their foibles and faults and loving them in spite of and for it.

Thinking back over my nine-month relationship with Jay, and with every other guy I’ve dated, I tried to feel or find those moments, but it always felt forced and unnatural, like I was in rehearsal and just not getting the truth of a scene.

The underlying fear I’m beginning to unpack in EMDR is this feeling of being dead inside. I know, that’s cliche. But at last session a few days ago, I talked about the sense of there being a firm dividing line on my birthday in 2011 between my life prior to that moment and life afterwards. It’s like the moment when a star collapses and a black hole forms.

The fear is that I’m a emotional singularity.


Growing up in a household that was judgmentally religious forced me to create a fortress of walls, retreating to and hiding at the center in order to survive. If I’d been any other kind of person, or lacked resiliency, I probably would’ve caved long ago and become just another fundamentalist Christian drone, obediently following the marching orders of my pastors and the Bible, and being a good citizen of the church and of Heaven.

As it is, I fought to keep those secret, private parts of myself, doing whatever necessary to stay alive and safe. I kept my desire for men, along with rational doubts about the faith I’d been handed, hidden.

It did not leave me without deep wounds and scars.


Now that I’ve been out for five years, I’m worried that my lifestyle of privacy and seclusion became something of a habit, one that may take a long time to unlearn, if ever. There’s safety in being reticent and reclusive. I can observe everyone safely from the parapets and ramparts without the risk of having to leave.

Trouble with security is that it’s  also very lonely.

The sense of feeling old at 33 is not so much about age as it is about being 33 at this point in my life, when I’m effectively starting over and having to learn how to be “human.” It’s a sense that if my development hadn’t been artificially suspended for 28 years by my parents and upbringing, I could be so much further along right now.

Perhaps I could’ve learned how to flirt and properly date; had a number of relationships that taught me what it is, realistically, what I want in a partner; and probably been with a decent spouse for a couple of years by now.

… that is, if I hadn’t been fucked up by my parents and their hateful religion that teaches people to think of themselves as evil and worthless unless they say the proper magic words to an imaginary friend who is always watching and taking notes for your permanent record to determine whether you’ll burn forever in Hell when you die.

It’s all so cosmically unfair because I never asked to be born in the first place, let alone to neo-Puritans who fear sexuality, sensuality, and true intellectual freedom.


I’d like to be able to see couples (male couples, especially) without feeling a surge of hatred, jealousy, and resentment.

I’d like to be able to truly believe that I’m loveable, worthy of love, and that I’m capable of both giving and receiving it.

I’d like to think that the gay male community (with exceptions) isn’t comprised of mostly lost boys (the Neverland variety, not the Kiefer Sutherland) while any decent guys paired off years ago.

As much as the resiliency that kept me going and alive keeps me hopeful (albeit cautiously), I can’t blind myself to the reality that the situation doesn’t look good. I can keep myself busy and productive, but it won’t render me any less lonely.

255. vicissitude

One man he disappoint me
He give me the gouge and he take my glee
Now every other man I see
Remind me of the one man who disappointed me
— Apple, F. (2005). Get him back. On Extraordinary machine [CD]. New York City: Epic Records.


Blue_candles_on_birthday_cakeHappy a month and a half into 2016, everyone!

So far this year has been incredibly busy with school and a new (temp) job that still isn’t in my career field but isn’t entirely horrible in its own right. That seems to be the theme of things at present: not ideal, but also doesn’t make me long for the inevitable and final release of death.

As far as a school update goes, after about a month and a half break I feel as if I’m finally getting back into the swing of things. I’ve stopped eating regularly and my sleep schedule is wacked out, but that’s the essence of grad school, right?

The things I’m working on are things that seem to finally matter, mainly because they feel connected to innate passions and talents of mine—not things that any gibbon could pick up and do for $11/hour. I get energized and excited about cataloging and archives, and concepts like metadata standards and schema. Information access is important in our world right now, especially as we’re trying to sift through more data than ever in our history, and we need clever people who can make sense of it all.

At least, enough for most people to find the information they need.


Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. This fact did not escape me, nor did I forget. I simply chose not to acknowledge it. I did see an increasing number of memes on Facebook and Twitter that were trying to recontextualize it as a day to celebrate love of all kinds, including love for your friends and for yourself. That was nice.

Earlier this month I also turned 33, something I only reluctantly called attention to about five minutes after midnight on the day after my birthday, much to the consternation of friends who did remember and would like to observe it.

My decision for now is to stop calling it a birthday because my birth was something that merely happened, brought into a world that is no longer a part of who I am.

So this year I’ve decided to start calling it my Independence Day, because, as some of you may remember, it was five years ago that Seth dumped me on my 28th birthday… or whatever you call it when someone ends a one-sided friends-with-benefits relationship because they just met someone on a blind date and aren’t really sure where that’ll go, but they don’t see a future with you or a reason to continue giving you false hope anymore.

Happy birthday, indeed.

That was also the night I officially became an atheist. I won’t rehash the whole story, so if you’re new or need a refresher, go here. It’s a fun read, if you enjoy that sort of thing.

So the short of it is that I’d rather not observe that anymore. I need a different context, and reimagining that day as the anniversary of independence from my upbringing seems much more uplifting.

As Björk cries on Volta (2007): “Declare independence! Don’t let them do that to you!”


Since we’re on the subject of dates, it’s exactly one month and nine days to the three year anniversary of the end to my last (probably final) relationship with the narcissistic fibromyalgic. On March 24th, I’ll have been single three years, without crossing paths with any realistic romantic partners in that span.

And from today, it’ll be four months and ten days to the two-year anniversary of the last time I was actually on a date.

Probably the biggest fear right now is of being alone for the rest of my life, ending up one of those people who die alone in their apartments, their absence unmarked for months until their mummified remains are finally discovered one day.

Is that likely to happen to me? Probably not. But still.


What probably bothers me is that though I want a relationship, I still don’t what I’d do with one. The only concrete associations I can picture are having a (relatively) dependable plus-one for events, and a (relatively) reliable sexual partner. But I know there has to be more to it than that, because why else (besides social convention) would couples stay together for decades if it’s merely a glorified fuck buddy arrangement?

Frankly, I haven’t met anyone who I could conceive of spending virtually every day with for the next twenty years (well, at least anyone who could also feel that way about me) , and beyond. And I’m skeptical about the chances of meeting anyone in the Midwest.

Part of the difficulty is that, after almost seven-and-a-half years “out,” I’ve come to the realization that I’m a demisexual, as described here:

Demisexuals aren’t suppressing sexual desire; it’s simply not there until a bond is formed. They can’t look at a stranger and think, “Wow, I want to f*ck him”—while they might admire a person for his or her body, the urge to have sex isn’t there until an emotional attachment is formed. The deeper the bond, the hornier they are. It’s a simple matter of the heart leading the pelvis.

It isn’t that I don’t have sexual desire. It’s just not that important without an emotional connection present… which does not appear to be how most gay men around me are wired. They’re: A) sluts and proud of it; B) already coupled (with a 75% chance of being monogamish); or C) emotionally compatible but physically not my type.

The irony is that now I almost get reverse slut-shamed for not being promiscuous, as if that’s the default “gay” mode. And I did try it for a while, but it wasn’t me.

So I’m not sure where to go from here.

Ah well. Back to library homework, I guess.

254. probity

Jessica_Jones_NetflixA few weeks ago I decided to check out the Netflix show everyone in my social media circles had been talking about.

Jessica Jones.

The Wikipedia article on the show offers a good summary: “Following a tragic end to her brief superhero career, Jessica Jones tries to rebuild her life as a private investigator, dealing with cases involving people with remarkable abilities in New York City.”

It’s an adaptation of a Marvel comic character of the same name. Based on the reviews of social media posts, blogs, and reviews, I thought it worth checking out, especially with its themes of dealing with trauma, recovering personal agency, and rebuilding one’s identity.

Without giving away any spoilers, the show certainly lived up to the hype. The main villain, Kilgrave, played by David Tennant, was alarmingly creepy and sympathetic at the same time. In a Guardian interview, Tennant described Kilgrave as having the power to compel people “to do whatever he says.”

Of his character, he added, “How can you tell if people are doing things because they want to or because you’re asking them to? How can you have any sense of what the world is or how the world should be if your world is so particularly unique?”

The show affected me in ways that were unexpected, particularly in the relationship between Jessica Jones and Kilgrave. At one point early on, Jessica rescues a young college girl who’s been under Kilgrave’s thrall. Once they’re back at Jessica’s office, she makes the girl say, “None of it is my fault.”

As the series progresses, Kilgrave compels people to do darker and increasingly destructive things, things that suddenly seem to them perfectly reasonable and rational once he asks.

The show asks some fundamentally unsettling questions about human behavior: namely, is Kilgrave planting desires in people’s minds, or is he just accessing something that was already there?


Jessica Jones triggered some pretty powerful memories and feelings, having been a willing prisoner of sorts myself for twenty-eight years. That’s something one hears a lot in circles of survivors of Christian fundamentalism. You can’t know that you’ve been programmed virtually from birth to accept:

  • everything in the Bible as inerrant and immutable;
  • anything a pastor or divinely-appointed leader (essentially, every adult male studied in the Bible) says as absolute truth;
  • that any natural human desire not sanctioned by your church as part of God’s design (and let’s face it, your church always gets it right and everyone else is headed down the road to perdition) is sinful and an abomination;
  • that there’s only one way to heaven, and that’s the path your pastor and your church sets.

It’s not that fundamentalist Christians are mindless robots who can’t think for themselves. However, for those raised in sheltered communities where there were no other voices, no alternative perspectives to challenge the Bible-centric conservative Christian views, and especially in communities where insiders are taught to fear and mistrust outsiders, the question of agency becomes much fuzzier and difficult to unravel.

So when I see videos of children at Creationist seminars proclaiming that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, that humans rode dinosaurs, and that evolution is a lie from Satan; or homophobic Christians at rallys with signs declaring that gay people are an abomination, I don’t see much difference between them and the people Kilgrave turns into murderous maniacs with just the merest hint of suggestion.

As the Jesuit saying goes, “Give me a child until the age of seven, and I will give you the man.”


I found myself identifying most with Kilgrave’s victims, individuals who wound up on the other side of what essentially comes down to rape, and are now unsure of where the line between before and after is. They didn’t want to do whatever it was Kilgrave compelled them to do, and yet the desire to follow his command was stronger. To violate someone’s agency and compel them to act against themselves and their own values is a deeply perverse act.

Right now, the word counter at the bottom of the page reads 666. The rational part of my brain says that it’s just a number. No special significance. Yet there’s another part of my brain that still sees that as a sign of the Antichrist, a being that is very real and will appear soon. I know that the latter thought is irrational, yet it sometimes still springs to mind first.

For me, and many others, the words “None of it is my fault” are nearly impossible to say, because they don’t seem true. All of those times that my mind and body were telling me I was attracted to men, but the part that was under the thrall of evangelical Christian teachings told me that was sinful and disordered… that was still me that believed it.

True: it was the fault of having been raised in that environment my entire life, of being exposed daily to that ideology, and of the people who were supposed to be my guardians, but it was still me that performed the action.

… it’s a deeply unsettling constellation of emotions.

For victims of Kilgrave, they can’t return to the person they were before. But for survivors of fundamentalist Christianity, there is no “before” to go back to. Only a past of lies.


The question I raised most recently with my therapist is whether I can ever truly escape the influences of the brain I grew up with—if I’m building a new identity with old tools.

Of course, my perspective is different now. My beliefs are radically different. Yet I still view relationships through a lens of fear. I still see myself as unworthy, worthless, and broken.

It’s how to move forward that is the challenge. When you have nothing really to look back to as a frame of reference, it’s disorienting to try to find a workable path on your own. Others can help, but it’s usually just you, the ghosts, and the demons.

Happy New Year.

253. deference

gaymenA quick update before I head back to working on my final project for this semester.

It’s so odd to be saying that again after having been done with my undergrad nearly eleven years, but here we are, working on a master’s in library science.

At least this time it’s pursuing a career and field I’m suited for!


A few weeks ago, a friend asked what kind of guy I envision myself with. After thinking for a few moments, I responded, “It’s difficult to say. Honestly, I don’t trust myself or my taste in guys anymore because the ones I’m typically attracted to end up being unavailable—either they’re not interested in me, or they’re already taken, or they’re straight.”

It’s to the point where my reaction to seeing an attractive guy is to simply shut down because the act of processing the cyclone of negative and conflicting emotions has become too exhausting.

But it’s the third category—straight guys—that has proven to be the most frustrating because it historically makes up the majority of my unrequited crushes. We gay guys do it all the time. We fall for the straight guy, not necessarily because he’s a challenge or a worthy conquest (or at least not for me), but because he’s decent, kind, uncomplicated, and adorable.

And finding a guy like that in the gay community, especially one who’s smart and reasonably well-adjusted… well, that’s like finding a unicorn.

But I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to this question of why I tend to fall for so many straight guys when I know it’s a doomed enterprise from the beginning. Could it be that I’m that masochistic? That it’s an unconscious means of controlling the situation by choosing a path that I at least know the outcome to? That I simply enjoy being miserable?


To answer this question, I’m turning first to a subject that I’ve also been giving some thought to lately: porn. Specifically, how it shapes our tastes and expectations as gay men, and how it redefines what we consider “normal” or “acceptable” about real life.

In other words, has fiction and fantasy so radically altered our perceptions of physical beauty that we reject otherwise decent, eligible guys [read = guys who don’t spend every spare moment in the gym, who may not have washboard abs, a v-shape frame, biceps and calves that go for days, firm pecs, etc] because they don’t meet the impossible standard we’ve come to expect from men in porn?

While the notion of porn addiction is (although, like any addiction, real and destructive) largely exaggerated by Evangelical fundies and prudish conservatives terrified by the idea of sex without shame or fear, exposure to porn is not without its mind-altering effects.

Well… here.

It comes down to a design flaw in our brains owing to the fact that we’re dealing with hardware several hundred thousand years out of date. Our brains still think it’s the year 20,000 BCE out there on the African Pleistocene.

Particularly for the male brain, sex is hardwired to the reward center of the brain—the ventral tegmental area or VTA, which is most often linked with dopamine. When you point an organ built to procreate and survive in scarcity conditions at a virtually endless supply of sexy images… well, here’s a passage from a 2013 Guardian article:

Many abused substances directly trigger dopamine secretion – without us having to work to accomplish a goal. This can damage the dopamine reward system. In porn, we get “sex” without the work of courtship. Now, scans show that porn can alter the reward centre too.


Aside from the brain and expectation-altering effects, I’ve also been pondering why so many guys are attracted to certain genres of porn, or to certain body types, or certain subcultures (jocks, leather, circuit boys, etc).

One theory I have is that these attractions are largely about guys trying to fulfill some unfulfilled experience in their formative years. For example, guys into jock culture, who may have agonized as closeted teen boys over the fit physiques of their straight classmates in the locker room in high school, it makes sense their adult attractions would include that fantasy.

(Obviously it’s much more complex and dynamic than that, and there are a myriad of reasons people find certain qualities or activities arousing.)

Porn is more than just entertainment. It’s about fulfilling virtually every fantasy ever conceived of, which is why Rule 34 of the Internet is: If it exists, there is porn of it.

For me, porn has only deepened my growing frustration with the seeming recreational attitude of many gay men towards sex, to the point where I don’t even bother any more. It’s made me resentful and angry, which has caused me to pause and wonder if that is how porn has reshaped my expectations of sex and intimacy.


Which leads us full circle back to my response to my friend’s question a few weeks ago.

Why do I always fall for straight guys?

My theory is that, just as the jocks may be trying to exorcise the demons from their memories of the high school locker room, I may be re-enacting my initial experiences as a deeply closeted gay boy in an Evangelical Christian community. Being surrounded by (presumably) straight and painfully attractive guys who were completely off limits shaped my brain and sexual attractions in ways that I’m not entirely sure can be undone.

Do they need to be undone?

Perhaps, if I ever want a realistic long-term relationship with a real guy who isn’t merely as a catalyst for resolving past identity wounds.

There’s the realization, too, that I don’t actually know what I’d do with a boyfriend at this point, or if there’s even enough of me to sustain a relationship. One deep dark fear is that I’m an empty shell, and he’ll wake up one day, see that, and leave.

This is a lot to work on.

For now, however, a paper calls.

252. inconnu

out-there-starisborn-videoSixteenByNine1050Our universe is all about building new life from death.

Like the creation of the world from the body of Ymir the frost giant in Norse mythology, the elements that made life on this planet even possible originated in the violent deaths of massive stars billions of years ago.

We are born from death.

We even owe the birth of our own home star and the formation of our solar system to the deaths of the star (or stars) responsible for the nebula that birthed it, a process that took 50 million years, give or take.

Most stars in the observable universe are about as big as our own—average. They lead mundane lives for the most part, about 10 billion years, fusing hydrogen into helium.

When one of these stars can’t fuse its elements any further, it expands to twice its original size, into a red giant. The outer shell is cast off, most of its matter is blown out into space, and the remnant shrinks down into a white dwarf, which will continue to shine for 80 to 100 billion years.

However, when a star greater than about five times the stellar mass of our star dies, it goes out spectacularly in a supernova, a violent explosion that scatters the star’s guts (and heavier elements) into the cosmos.

If the star is large enough, though, even the resulting explosion isn’t enough to overcome the star’s own gravity. The stellar remnant collapses on itself, collapsing right out of existence until an impossibly dense singularity forms—a black hole.

Like anything with gravity, they attract matter. But unlike most objects, black holes are dense and powerful enough to pull in even light: thus, why they are called “black,” because not even light can escape.

We now know that supermassive black holes lurk at the centers of most galaxies. They may even be vital to galactic formation.

Out of death, life.

That’s all to say, I had a meltdown on Friday evening.


Black_Holes_-_Monsters_in_Space

It’s been a while since I had one, because all in all, my mental state has actually been pretty good lately. I’ve been able to focus on school and on developing as a librarian.

However, a few weeks ago I was invited to a dinner gathering hosted a gay couple who are friends of mine. The other guests were another gay couple, who did the cooking.

And it did not go well… for me.

Although my friends tried to include me in conversation, the other couple barely acknowledged my presence, bringing up topics like expensive vacations they’ve taken as a couple, discussions of couple’s issues, or challenges of gay parenthood as a couple.

The message was clear: as a single person, I was unworthy and invisible.

A normal, healthy person might say: “These people are pretentious, fucking assholes. Fuck them and their shallow snobbery.”

Instead, it felt like a validation of every insecurity I have about being single.


477f73c8c712858510310c472b0d982fThe meltdown in question happened at a small gathering at the house of the same friends who hosted the dinner party. They’re in their early forties and recently started up a sexual *whatever* with a local twentysomething guy.

Overall, it seems to be a good thing for them, with everyone getting what they need from the arrangement.

However, I am careful to remind these friends whenever they start to share details that I don’t want to hear about it.

For starters, it’s been ages since I had sex, and I arrived at the conclusion recently that I just can’t have sex with anyone I’m not in love with (and vice versa).

Meaning that, with most gay men as they are, and at my age and relatively nascent progress in rebuilding my life post-fundie Christianity, it seems unlikely I’ll ever find someone.

Or get laid.

So, as Miracle Max might say,

Miracle Max


So, Friday night.

Maybe someone posted a couple’s selfie or a chipper new relationship status earlier in the day, but I showed up feeling hateful towards the world. My friends’ new boy was there, and I couldn’t stop from hating the three of them and their playful, flirty familiarity.

In short, towards the end of evening and after several drinks, I went off. And when I go off in that state, I can be nasty and cruel.

Which I was.

Spectacularly.

Basically, it’s beyond aggravating to see everyone getting what they want when things appear so bleak for me. To see how fun, easy, and recreational sex appears to be for so many men in this community, and knowing that that’s not for me.

Plus, it’s galling that virtually every guy I’ve dated is in a long-term relationship now (including Jay and Seth), which summons images of facing the next however-many years alone, braced against the icy and lonely winds of other people’s happiness.

It’s like a prolonged shot of some craggy shoreline in a bleak Bergman film. (Aren’t they all bleak?)


7858786516_9cdd638ded_m

Right now, I feel rather like an emotional black hole at the center of my personal galaxy. I seem to attract good, quality people, and I’m reasonably attractive, but few can drift too close without getting hurt.

My formative years were about unknowingly internalizing the Christian belief that I’m a worthless, sinful piece of shit. Family and community life taught me that the basis of all relationships is fear.

Now I fear that love of any kind won’t be able to reach me without being mangled, or escape my gravitational pull to get out to someone.

How does one rewrite that script?


Today I watched a TED talk by Jean-Paul Mari about PTSD. He said: “You feel like you want to die or kill or hide or run away. You want to be loved, but you hate everyone.”

I may not have survived a war, but I did survive the trauma of fundamentalist Christianity. And I can’t banish the dreadful thought that I survived only to emerge dead on the vine.

That doesn’t ring intellectually true, but it certainly feels true…