285. variegated

paint-260701_640I finally scheduled an AD/HD assessment for myself. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it isn’t until the end of the month.

When I called to speak with the clinic about setting up an appointment, they asked what I felt were my three biggest area of impairment.

And I froze.

Just three?

For how much I’ve thought and written about this, the bottom dropped out from under my completely and my mind went blank.

It was humiliating but illustrative.


The DSM-5 criteria for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (annotated):

1. Inattention: Six (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with developmental level and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/occupational activities:

a. Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities.

My first semester in grad school in 2015, we had an assignment to review and analyze one year of professional journal issues related to our area of focus. I chose American Archivist. Or rather, I missed the “one year” part and ended up looking at all 77 volumes going back to 1938 and did a qualitative analysis of article titles and subjects covered. This is just one spectacular example of the types of “careless mistakes” I make on a daily basis. I can read through instructions multiple times and the last time I’ll focus on one intriguing detail that will blot out all the other steps.

b. Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.

During the time that it took to write the above paragraphs, I watched five YouTube videos, looked up diagnostic criteria for three other conditions in the DSM-5, read three blog entries, scrolled through my Facebook feed, went to pet the dogs, took photos of the sleeping dogs, refilled my water glass, checked email, looked through an ADHD resources website, refilled my water glass again, went upstairs to look for a book, forgot why I went upstairs and ended up wiping down the granite countertops in the kitchen…

c. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.

It’s not that I’m not listening. It’s that I’m trying to remember what you said ten seconds ago, because it was probably important, and I’m not taking notes. I should be taking notes. Where’s my notebook? Why don’t I have a notebook on my desk? Where are the notebooks in the building? Oh god, you just said something else that sounded important. What were you saying earlier again? Augh, why am I not taking notes? Oh, right, I was looking for my notebook. Where do they keep the notebooks again? I should really go get one. Oh gods, yes, you’re still talking!! I should really be taking notes…

d. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace.

See a., b., and c. Also e.

e. Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities.

It’s ironic that cataloging was the area of librarianship that most excites me, because I am not organized at all in my personal life. Things typically go where I’m going to find them. There’s always a moment at the outset of any task or activity where I feel utterly overwhelmed and overcome with anxiety about how to proceed. If I am working by myself, it’s usually not a problem—if I can sustain the mental energy and it’s something that interests, that is. Usually I start with the thing that seems most important, which may simply be the first thing that catches my attention and seems important. Because priorities are a tricky thing for me—either nothing is a priority, or everything is.

Yeah, I don’t understand priorities.

f. Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort.

This should not be interpreted as laziness. It’s more that a lengthy chapter in a book or an article looks like Mount Everest to me. I know that, to get through it, I’m going to have to take notes to keep track of all the details, and fend off all the other distractions that I know are going to crop up the minute I try to focus.

g. Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities.

Notebooks. Pens. Allergy medication. Sunglasses. Sunscreen. Books. Laptop. Flash drive. Car keys. Work keys. Canvas bags. Lists (oh god, lists). Food. Security badges. Etc.

h. Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (for older adolescents and adults, may include unrelated thoughts).

See below. Also, having a conversation with me that stays on topic is near impossible. In the span of about thirty seconds I could interrupt myself 2-3 times with a related thought that quickly turns unrelated, which will lead to various anecdotes and things that I am suddenly able to remember that I would never be able to recall if I tried. Last semester I interrupted myself in a final presentation to comment that a thing I’d just explained sounded like a really interesting research question, and I almost didn’t get back on topic, even with my notes. I got lost during a piano performance once when someone sneezed or moved in my peripheral vision, causing me to lose focus entirely.

i. Is often forgetful in daily activities.

A frequent occurrence for me is to walk into a room and have no idea why I’m there. For a while I worried that this was a symptom of early-onset Alzheimer’s. In reality, what happens between the time that I set out to go get something and the time that I arrive is that I’ve gone down numerous thought holes and daydream tunnels, and was really only half focused when I decided I needed to go get the thing that I’ve arrived in the room to fetch. This happens to me at least three times a day.


People talk about AD/HD as if it’s a license to be whimsical and carefree.

It’s exhausting and stressful.

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251. convive

TCGCMLast week I received an invitation to the annual Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus holiday concert. This year’s title/theme is “Under the mistletoe: a holiday romance.” As much of an institution as TCGMC certainly is for Minneapolis, for me, their programs have always been far too campy and saccharine.

It’s a personal preference thing, and there are plenty in the community who enjoy what they do. But it’s also emblematic of my feelings about the gay community here in the Twin Cities, and in the Midwest in general.

What struck me about the photo above is that I’ve long perceived (but couldn’t put my finger on for a while) that many gay men seem stuck in a state of prolonged teenage boyhood.

This makes sense from a psychological standpoint. The teenage years for many gay men were lost to the closet, and many spend the rest of their lives trying to get that back, or to somehow relive those years.

But it does mean that the silly, flirty, happy-go-lucky attitudes of many gay men, of gay culture, and groups like gay men’s choruses grate on my increasingly Scottish-like nerves, like fingernails on a chalkboard.

(Brief aside on that last bit: Over the past few weeks I’ve caught myself, as Clara Oswald might say of the Twelfth Doctor, “going Scottish.” It’s not quite cantankerous or curmudgeonly, but it is a whole lot of not censoring myself quite as often as usual.)

Because rather than spend my adult life trying to get those teenage years back, my response to that loss was to go in the opposite direction and distance myself entirely from that mode.

Some of it may be that as a child I couldn’t stand childlike or childish things. I couldn’t wait to be an adult. The world seemed such a grim and serious place, and I couldn’t understand how other people couldn’t see that.

Maybe that’s why I stopped smiling around age seven or eight.

Maybe depression was manifesting itself that early.

… regardless, I’ve never been a very playful or flirty guy. Even my sillier moments are colored by a serious approach. I’m not without humor, but there’s always a darker edge to what I do.

On Monday I discussed some of this with my therapist, and one of the things to come out of that session was the fact that I was also conditioned growing up to be suspicious of any fun pursuit or worldly pleasurable—even though, according to the Bible, “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”

In short, anything enjoyable might be one of several things. It might be:

  • demonic temptation from Satan;
  • something good that will distract us from taking pleasure in Jesus;
  • a test from God to see whether we’re willing to forgo momentary pleasure for the sake of the Jesus.

Because the evangelical Christianity I grew up in taught us to set our minds “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” warning us not to “love the world or the things in the world.”

If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

In short, nothing really mattered unless it was going to count in heaven. My mom would often say something to this effect if she thought we were making too big a deal about something that wasn’t spiritual enough.

(I feel the need here to point out that my mom really is a warm and friendly person. She’s also deeply inculcated with fundamentalist Christianity.)

The consequence of this is that at age 32, I still mistrust anything good that comes along, or feel the compulsion to find the negative in it. It’s a coping mechanism to guard against hurt and disappointment that came with being cut off from the ability to truly enjoy anything, and to guard against the disappointment that I inevitably expect is just around the corner.


This is no way to live, of course. I’m constantly aware of how relatively little time I actually have on this little planet and how stupid it is to not be taking advantage of every moment to celebrate being alive and experiencing everything possible.

However…

There are, frankly, a lot of things that I’m just not interested in or into.

Like silly, gay flirtiness. Hookup culture. Most of the things gay men around here talk about.

Not into it.

Not into camp. Not into queer. Not into theatrics. Not into fetish. Not into Peter Pan antics.

Honestly, it’s too tiring, and I don’t have enough energy these days to handle any of it, what with the barely sleeping and forgetting to eat because my head feels as if it’s been sellotaped to the back of a speeding bus being driven by a terrified monkey.

Hopefully life will slow down once I’m done with grad school.


A friend asked a few days ago what I am into given that I seem to know so specifically what I’m not into. “Curiosity,” was the eventual reply, “Intellectual, emotional, social. A Douglas Adams-esque knack of being able to laugh at all of it while still taking it somewhat seriously…

“A sturdy sense of self that comes from not giving fucks about what anyone else thinks, rather than from getting that from the surrounding culture. Kindness. Rationality. A sense of self-directed purpose. Someone who doesn’t need me but still wants me there…

“Is that specific enough?”

Of course, that’s what I would’ve said with a few days to ponder and then respond, which always seems to be the case.

And I don’t know if anyone like that even exists.

… not real hopeful on that point.

250. oneiric

open_doorThis post might get me in a spot of trouble. We’ll see. Bear with me.

Yesterday I saw an article in my Google News feed by Charles White on Breitbart.com with the provocative headline “Straight People Have Ruined Gay Rights.” The website is named after the late conservative scumbag Andrew Breitbart, and usually publishes right-wing trash.

But aforementioned headline did catch my attention.

In summary: Heteros have ruined gay rights and culture by co-opting our movement in order to feel good about themselves for helping us poor homos. And if I’m reading White correctly, he sees the price of equality as de-queering ourselves to take on the appearance and values of mainstream hetero culture—to be less offensive. Less gay. Furthermore, we’re expected to put up with hetero curiosity and even voyeurism as part of our “assimilation” into the mainstream. “Queer spaces are becoming zoos for straights to stare at us,” White declares.

While I don’t agree with much of what he had to say, the article did inspire an interesting conversation on my Facebook wall about the existential crisis the American LGBT community seems to be moving into in this post-Windsor/post-Obergefell era. That’s not to say there aren’t still miles to go for gay rights and equality. Because there are.

My friend Nick started off by pondering whether the “existential loneliness I perceive now [is] because I am gay or simply because being forced to re-evaluate my being gave me outer perspective?” He added,

Gay culture was a thing largely born out of necessity in light of the persecution we faced; it’s the only reason we had the four letters of GLBT to bind us at all.

Now that it’s not so required, fashionable even, you can’t honestly expect it to maintain the fabulous momentum it once had.

In a longer comment he wrote:

If you’ve ever watched the Celluloid Closet, you get a firm idea what the gay culture mentioned in the article above was based on, where our securities were built… Creating a code of behavior to repel the sadistic beat-down the rest of society enjoyed inflicting ended up paying off, and it was refined by the sacrifices we were forced to make…

In that time frame, the theatrics were guided by the resources available. I think gay men today capitalize on this the most effectively of the GLBT, but the legacy has run its course. If the community wants to re-radicalize so badly there needs to be a new image, a new alluring icon to draw us together. In my circles, the providers I’ve met with agree with me on principle, but we have yet to see something to reflect off of… I see the trans community working in this light, not so gracefully at the moment, but it IS working.

If gay men want their “richness” back they will have to work for it. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, but it can be done with some people of purpose guiding the helm. I just hope those people approach with empathy and kindness at the core of their purpose.

I thought Nick makes some excellent points, and I largely agree with him. I responded to him:

When I look at the various expressions of gay/queer culture, outrage, and/or activism, these seem rooted (but also stuck) in modes of the past.

Looking at the struggles of basically every immigrant group that came to this country in the 19th and 20th centuries, the problem was one of balancing integration with establishing a unique cultural identity. German, Irish, Chinese, Russian, Greek, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, Jewish, and other Middle Eastern groups immigrated here from 1850 to 1930, and almost all faced opposition from political conservatives at the time.

The LGBT community are sort of “immigrants from within.” We’re relative newcomers to the American landscape, with our strange customs and peculiar ways, but we’re rapidly gaining greater acceptance in ways that just a decade ago were unthinkable. This is why I somewhat question the notion of re-radicalization. Fight for our equal rights as citizens of this country, yes. Challenge toxic, outdated gender norms. Combat bigotry wherever it lurks. But if we want full inclusion and acceptance, we can’t continue to carry ourselves as outsiders.

Personally, I think the future of the LGBT community is in joining with other social justice movements to advocate for feminism and egalitarianism, and eliminate patriarchy, misogyny, and bigotry. Because I don’t think we need another icon or subculture to rally around like we used to. Post-Obergefell gay culture needs to be built around the core notion of authenticity.

I might be stepping on some toes in saying this, but there is a sort of monolithic “gay” ethos and style that is not exactly but also kinda rigidly enforced. And I question how much of that comes from authentic individual expression and how much is conformity borne from a need for belonging to and the protection of the gay tribe. Queer identity itself is direct action against the rigid hegemonic gender binarism of the patriarchy.

If that were no longer there and everyone was free to explore and express themselves in ways that were true to themselves, would the queer identity even be necessary?

My friend Steve chimed in that “the problem outlined in this article and the commentary is predicated on a false assumption: that gay people are all the same.” And he’s right. Each letter in the acronym represents its own unique community, with cultures and needs of their own.

So I guess I’m really talking about gay men here, because no other group on the LGBT spectrum has as recognizable or as well-defined a culture.

But I think the much larger question that we’re all getting at is: what does it actually mean to be openly gay and not oppressed? (Again, see my note above about how we still have miles to go to reach full equality.) What would it look like if “homo” weren’t in contrast to “hetero”?

What’s next for us?

249. obstreperous

BaR_twitterSorry about the gap in posting. Grad school started up again in September, and on top of working full-time, doing music for Sunday Assembly, and serving as secretary for the campus archivists group, I’m also taking two fairly demanding courses, both in cataloging.

So time is extremely limited.

Of course, because I’m apparently a masochist, they’re both in the same subject area—cataloging—except that one is a beginning-level organization of knowledge course, and the other in advanced cataloging. Because I’m ridiculous.

But I’ve also discovered that really enjoy cataloging, which I wasn’t expecting. Homework (which usually consists of actual cataloging activities, such as identifying Library of Congress subject headings, looking up RDA rules for classification, or consulting LC authority files) is thoroughly enjoyable.

I could seriously spend hours doing this. It’s so relaxing.

So there’s that.


Had a mini grieving moment on Saturday, following by a minor meltdown in the evening.

I came across some recordings that I did in 2007 of music written for a play and performed with friends of mine. It’s music that I’m actually quite proud of, some of my best work, and overall that was a nice time in my life. It was the year before I came out, so it was actually a pretty turbulent time emotionally and psychologically, but working and creating made for a refreshing oasis in the midst of what was otherwise dark chaos.

It hit me while putting the tracks together that I really don’t write music anymore, and currently have no inclination to do so. Maybe I will again, someday, but for now that seems to be done. Wrote about that a few months ago when the Source Song Festival came around again, but it finally sunk in, like the awful significance of the death of someone close to you hitting home all of a sudden, that that part of my identity, the composer and classical musician, is gone.

It’s a striking absence considering how many years and how much effort I put into becoming a musician and composer. Hours spent practicing and writing, working on projects with friends, struggling to get my work out there for it to be (hopefully) discovered, and then finally accepting the inevitable conclusion that this wasn’t

This came up in the most recent meeting with my therapist, on Monday. The past few months I’ve been gradually stripping away the final vestiges, exorcising the remaining ghosts, of that now-defunct period of my life. It was an identity designed to please my father, the people in my life who I looked up to and respected, who all said that music was my divine calling (or however they phrased it—not quite so dramatic as “divine calling,” for sure).

I started writing music around age fourteen or fifteen, began a bachelor’s in music composition at seventeen, tried for years to make a career as a composer, failed, and finally wrote my last “serious” composition last year for a wedding.

Music formed the core of my identity for over fifteen years, and now it’s gone.

So it just hit me how much much time and effort passed investing in that identity, and how much of both was wasted when I could’ve been putting that into pursuing authenticity instead.

And, of course, that thinking shifted over into my personal life and into looking at the wasteland my romantic prospects are at the moment, how everyone else seems to be settling down or moving forward to getting what they want while I’m looking more every day like a tiny rowboat that’s drifting out, alone, into open water.


I’ve also been more aware recently of a sense of discomfort around intimacy, of both the physical and emotional kind. There are times when I can fake it in social settings and am able to pretend for some reason or another.

Fundamentally, I believe that this discomfort is rooted in a fear of disappointment, of hurt, or both, and not wanting to get involved with a guy when it’s unclear where his intentions are. Because frankly, I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with bullshit of that kind.

And there’s the lack of trust that I have in my own judgment around the kind of guys I typically fall for. The last couple of guys I’ve been interested in or merely attracted to (and we’re talking about four or five over the last two and a half years) have either been emotionally unavailable, already taken, or hetero.

The conflict is in the reality that I seem to be surrounded by gay guys who have no qualms about having a fuck buddy, or just fucking someone who they’re into, seemingly without hangups or interest in where it goes. They just go after what they want.

It’s not guilt or anything that holds me back.

It’s fear of getting hurt.

So I can’t do fuck buddies.

Five years ago I was able to, in the months after breaking up with Aaron and then the debacle with Seth. And maybe that’s part of it—that I’ve done the sex-for-sex-sake thing and have no desire to revisit the emptiness that it became for me. Maybe it works fine for other people. For me, it was a lonely experience, especially when being with other guy’s boyfriends.

Yes, I was the “other guy” for a time.

Plus, there are new anxieties about getting older as a gay man, about the slowing-down of my body as I get into my thirties, how I’m no longer the supple young thing that guys were into. I don’t have time (or money) to spend at the gym, and I’m worried that not taking care of myself exercise-wise will eventually come back to bite me later, both in the sense of my health and in attracting romantic partners when I’m finally able and ready to pursue that.

Just a lot of anxieties overall.

I need to step back from this for now and pursue things that bring me joy and happiness.

246. auroral

Red_and_green_aurorasThe recent engagement with my last few posts has been encouraging. Not in a “look how many comments” kind of way, which would be a silly measure of one’s self-worth and I’m too reflexive for that shit. Rather, it’s because of the reason I started writing in the first place, to hopefully help someone maybe similar to me feel less alone, or understood, and I’ve felt that being accomplished recently.

Looking back, it’s hard to say if that would’ve made a difference to pre-2008, pre-coming out David, if reading about someone else’s struggle to find authenticity might’ve given me the strength and courage to come out earlier.

I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, I’d like to think that he was the same person I am now who (like Dorothy stuck in Oz) always had the power to break free.

… on the other, why didn’t he? We do have more gay people coming out now in 2015, whereas in 2008 it was still a relatively rare thing, something only those who lived in large urban centers with large (and insulated) queer populations, LGBTQ activists who were prepared for violence and bigotry, and the very privileged could do.

Now everyone and their mom is coming out, and it gives people like me who felt conflicted about their duty to God and family the courage to be themselves.

So maybe it simply wasn’t possible for the David of 2008 to come out any sooner.

This is why I don’t play the “what if” game.


On Monday afternoon I read to my therapist an excerpt of the email my dad sent me on July 13th:

… I/we (your family) don’t expect you to be static. We are not static either… It sounds like you think we don’t change, but in small ways we do, all the time. We just want to know who you are regardless of who that is. Sure, we wish things and you were different, but they’re not…

For me/us there does not have to be a shared future. We just want a future with you. From my vantage point, it looks like you’re the one who does not want to be part of our lives… We don’t understand why you feel so intense a need to erase the past or put it behind you. We are all made up, like trees, of who we were, who we are and who we’re becoming. Seems to me that gutting the tree leaves you less a tree and a weak one at that.

He still hasn’t responded to my reply, and at this point it seems unlikely that he will.

She immediately said: “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear the bit about the trees because that’s just so far out there, I don’t even know what to do with it.”

But she echoed my assessment of it being a tone deaf response to genuine concerns I’ve had about my relationship to the family—that he doesn’t see how radically different we are; that our being together is contingent on my self-censoring in ways that they would find persecutory were they asked to do the same; or that the religious upbringing they provided was deeply damaging.

Overall, she thought it was the latest in a series of positive steps forward.

  • Throwing myself a half-birthday party (something I’ve been violently opposed to for the last decade) a few weeks ago and actually having friends enthusiastically show up.
  • Actively rebuilding my community with wonderful, authentic people and getting involved with groups and Sunday Assembly and YogaQuest.
  • Finally going to grad school for something I’m passionate about rather than continue on in dead-end jobs.

Now I’m taking a more active role in setting boundaries with my parents, which at this stage means perhaps permanently distancing myself.

She also reiterated how much I’ve got going on right now, between work, school, and my efforts to rebuild my life and recover from religious trauma. So it’s doubly important to note and to celebrate these accomplishments; that I’m actually making forward-moving progress.

She also noted how many positive things I was saying about myself, compared to the usual mode of beating myself up and only pointing out the negative.

That’s not to say that I’m not experiencing negative thoughts. Maybe it’s depression that amplifies those views, and maybe I’m coming out of a cycle into a more positive mindset. These things tend to go that way. It’s something that’s easy to forget, particularly when things are going well.

The thoughts are still there that my parents and their hateful religion damaged me beyond repair; that if people could really see how broken and fucked up I am that they’d abandon me in an instant; that the repressive and performative environment I grew up in made me incapable of ever truly accepting love and of being in a relationship; that I came out and am effectively starting over too late in life to find someone.

So those ideas are still lurking in the dark corners of my mind, like the Vashta Nerada. Just stay out of the shadows…

Rather, I’m choosing to approach each step forward like a scientific experiment. A few weeks ago, I decided to test the theory that people genuinely like me and would want to celebrate my birthday with me. I sent out Facebook invites, and lo, over two days twenty-four (of forty-two invited) of my friends came to the event.

It’s not conclusive by any means, but the results from that experiment were quite promising.

Fact is, I’ve done plenty of exploration of the negative emotions connected to my past. Now it’s time to start exploring the positive ones—the ones that will allow me to experience and internalize acceptance, love, belonging, and joy. Fear, doubt, and suspicion had their chance and made a mess of it.

Fuck that.

So I’m taking it one experiment at a time, knowing that integration may be as easy to spot as the line between colors on the spectrum.

spectrum

245. polysemy

Rosalind-Russell-Mame-Dennis-Auntie-MameThe past two weeks I’ve been working on a graduate education scholarship application in the records and information management field, and consequently started saving my blog entries on this site to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine project.

I’ve been adding a few every day and am up to the entry where Seth comes into the picture.

Yay…

Going back over those early entries when I was just coming out and to terms with the challenge that was proving to my then conservative Christian morality and upbringing is fascinating. Not to mention extremely uncomfortable at times to read how different a person I was.

Ah, and yet…

The other evening I was saying to my housemate how I just don’t want to have sex these days because I’m single, and all I can seem to get is these meaningless flings that only serve to remind me of what I don’t currently have but want. And unfortunately, it’s not for lack of attention. There are probably plenty of guys who would date me if I were mutually attracted. But it usually goes that they’re interested and I’m not, and vice versa.

C’est la guerre

Furthermore, I said, I’m done hooking up with other people’s partners (both with their knowledge and sometimes participation), adding that I’m tired of “being someone else’s dessert when I haven’t had a solid meal in ages.” And how it all plays into my fear that no matter how successful or accomplished I may be in life, I’ll always be fundamentally alone.

As Sartre wrote: “Je suis condamné à être libre. I am condemned to be free.

So it was curious later that night when I ended up hooking up with a friend of our’s who came over for drinks and to play Cards Against Humanity… who is in a relationship. We’d been talking outside in the hot tub about families and hangups, and I think something in my mind snapped of no longer wanting to be defined and constrained by my past, my family, or my damage. Of my fears and anxieties determining where I can and can’t go.

Most of all tired of feeling paralyzed into inaction by my fucked up, over-analytical brain.

I’m reminded of what Rosalind Russell’s titular character says in the 1958 film Auntie Mame: “Life is a banquet, and most poor [sons-of-bitches] are starving to death!” And it bothers me that I’m aware of this, of everything that’s currently going for me right now, and yet I don’t really know if what I’m apparently missing is what I want.

For example:

There’s lots one could say about this. That’s it was 2010. That it’s reflective of extroverted, urban, nonreflexive New York City gay culture. Hell, that it’s Jake Shears.

On the one hand, my repressed, proper, conservative, wannabe-19th Century inner upper-middle-class Brit looks down on such extroversion, disapproves of the embrace of unrestrained sensuality, because (if I’m being perfectly honest with myself and with you, dear reader) I don’t feel comfortable or empowered to be that way myself.

But is that authentically me? Sure, I don’t often push my comfort zone and pursue new experiences… but am I the kind of guy who just wants sex, with or without intimacy or connection?

A friend of mine posted on Facebook today:

You know you’re one of those East Coast gays when for weeks at a time during summer, it seems like half the people in your news feed are either going to, currently visiting, or just returning from P-Town… and the other half are on Fire Island.

That kind of lifestyle, frankly, sounds like hell for an introvert of introverts. Being surrounded by (presumably) all manner and ilk of carefully groomed, stylishly dressed, cosmopolitan, pretentious, hyper flirtatious gay men… no, thank you.

But on some level, I wish that I were the kind of person who could fit in with and at least enjoy myself in that crowd, that I were truly self-assured enough to mix with any company and not give a damn what anyone else thinks, or whether or not I get laid.

Mostly, I’m weary of feeling as if I don’t belong—that I still haven’t found my gay tribe. Because I’ve found my librarian tribe. Those folks are cool. With Sunday Assembly, I’ve found my secular tribe. But 99.9% of those I’ve met in these circles are heterosexual, and while they’re wonderful folks, I don’t 100% belong. But there are so few gay men who I actually like, and that makes me very nervous that there’s no one out there with whom I’m actually compatible.

Because I’m not looking for “good enough.” That’s how I ended up with Jay. Again, no thanks.

The reality is that I’m not queer, “gay,” fabulous, femme, masc, jock, twink, etc. I’m me, whatever that means. I’m a recovering fundamentalist Christian who is finally (albeit glacially) coming into his own without the bullshit and baggage of high school and having conformity beaten into his shoes. I don’t have a label, or a modality.

These days, I’m committed to being uncompromisingly myself. That seems to intimidate guys who are accustomed to other guys who fit neatly into pre-fabricated boxes.


 <<Brief rant ahead>>

And this is my main issue with gay culture, with the Scissor Sisters video, and all of it.

I’m tired of feeling there’s something wrong with me because I don’t want to party, to get drunk and stupid, to jump into bed (or the bushes) with some guy I just met. I felt that way in San Francisco, I’ve felt that way with gays here in Minneapolis, with friends of various boyfriends…

It’s my gripe with gay porn—with picture-perfect guys selling us the idea that you have to have some perfect, unattainable, sculpted gym body to be accepted, that gay men primarily interact with each other sexually, and that this is “normal.”

No, it’s not normal. It’s bullshit, and it’s not realistic.

Am I alone in this, or do other people feel this way too?

240. cavort

knightofwandsLooking at the title for this entry (which, by the way, I typically pull from Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day), what immediately came to mind is some advice from my birth chart (that I did on Astrolabe):

Give yourself the freedom to look awkward or silly once in a while. The relief you feel will be quite therapeutic and the embarrassment (whether it is real or imagined) will pass quickly.

For the record, I’m an Aquarius, with both rising sign and moon in Libra. And something about being a triple air sign?

Do I believe the stars and planets align themselves in the heavens to provide little old me here on planet Earth with sage wisdom? Of course not. But I do enjoy the moments when general observations such as those in astrological charts or tarot readings happen to intersect with my personal reality.

And there is a perverse part of me that enjoys activities like tarot or astrology precisely because they were at one time forbidden and demonic. So getting my chart done or doing a tarot spread is a bit like giving the finger to that part of my past.

However, the truth from that reading is that I do tend to take myself too seriously. I think too much, analyze too deeply, and ultimately lock up and consequently look awkward and weird… which is precisely what I was hoping to avoid in the first place.

And it has the tendency to create problems for everyone else, too, in that it can create the impression of my being standoffish or rude, when in reality I’m just feeling insecure and uncertain about how I’m supposed to behave.


A few weeks, ago my friends Erin and Matt got married, and that got me thinking (yet again) about my own prospects for romance and partnership, and whether it’s something that’s even realistic for me. The day of the wedding I also left for a two-week hiking and camping trip to the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, and the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park in Texas. The trip gave me a lot of time to digest some of what I’ve learned over this past semester, and to deal with some of the issues that I just haven’t had the mental space to process because of grad school.

Something that I heard on Minnesota Public Radio the other day also caught my attention. They were talking about why millennials aren’t getting married, and one of the guests, Ann Meier, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, said something that resonated with me. They were talking about marriage as a status marker, and she said this:

“I think it’s marking an achievement that you’re able to achieve a certain level of education and an income where you feel like [marriage is] the culmination, the icing on the cake, instead of, as Brigid [Schulte] said, a step in the transition to adulthood. It’s the thing you do when your life is set. And people are taking longer to get their lives set these days.”

I think this part of the sense that I’ve been trying to articulate the past couple of months, that it’s difficult watching my friends getting married (especially my gay friends) because it feels like I’m getting left behind. Everyone else has their lives together and, as Ann said, “set” and I’m still trying to achieve a basic level of emotional and psychological subsistence. And it makes me feel incredibly old at 32, watching people younger than me who have been together for almost a decade and seemingly much further ahead than me.

So articulating this view of marriage, that it’s a marker of a certain status achievement, is helpful, because it still doesn’t feel like I’m there. I’m working, I’m working toward a graduate degree in a field I’m actually excited about working in, but I’m also aware of how much further there is to go. Especially when I’m surrounded by couples and married people.


 

But there’s something else that I recently became aware of.

I had a conversation with a co-worker yesterday who said that even though she’s been very successful at work, it’s not something that she’s excited about, and that what she really loves, the thing that gives her the most satisfaction in life, is being a mom to her three kids. She’d been asking about my library science degree and what I plan to do with it, and I shared that for the first time in my life it feels like I have a calling, something I was just born to do.

… not that I believe in destiny or anything, but rather that I’ve finally found a field that aligns almost perfectly with my personal values and what I’m naturally good at. I am absolutely in love with librarianship and science, and cannot wait to get into archiving and special collections.

She said (and another friend of mine recently said) that she doesn’t feel about her job the same way that I’m articulating it, that the work I am planning to do gives my life real purpose and (dare I say it) joy. Will there be days when I hate my job? Probably.

But it brought home for me the reality that I do have things going for me right now.

Another astrological birth chart I looked at for myself said that people with their moon in Libra (lunar Librans) “have a strong need for partnership. Without someone to share their lives with, they feel utterly incomplete.”

I do hope (against hope) that one of these days I’ll find someone about whom I feel the same way that I feel about librarianship… that it’ll be a fantastic match. The older I get, of course, the less confident I am that I’ll even find someone.

In the meantime, I’ll continue rebuilding my life post-Christianity and getting to know myself better so someone can also get to know that person.

238. caustic

cups08I’m now into the twelfth week of classes in my library science master’s program, and between working a full-time job and doing monthly music for Sunday Assembly there hasn’t been much time for writing. With seeing my therapist every two weeks, there’s been plenty of personal reflection, but not much time to actually meditate about it, which has been difficult. Writing is how I process those things, but when one’s life seems to be flying along at 600 miles-per-hour, some things take a back seat for the sake of steering.

So a few weeks ago I was finally on my friend Keith’s podcast, Vita Atheos. It’s terrific, and you should check it out. It’s devoted to “telling the stories of atheists, their journeys towards non-belief, and the struggles that they faced in the past, or still face today because of their lack of belief.”

We’ve been talking about my being on for a while now, partly because of how unique my dual coming out story (gay and then atheist) seems to be in the community. It was an interesting experience being interviewed, and the conversation actually ran about two hours and fifteen minutes. And I didn’t even get to talking about my family!

It had also been a while since I’d told my deconversion story in detail. Most people in my life know the details so we don’t have to rehash them. Although recently, there have been conversations about the weird, fucked up things that I was taught growing up. At times it feels as if I truly came from another culture, or even from another planet entirely.

Because there are few analogues in “normal,” mainstream life—that is, for those who didn’t grow up in a conservative, fundamentalist, religious community. The “real world.”

One of the themes that has come up with therapists over the past few years (including my current therapist) is a sense of being just broken and fucked up from all of the religious programming in my early childhood years, further compounded by internalizing the homophobia that surrounded me at home and in my community. One of the things that’s come up is my inability to truly forgive myself for not knowing better, for not being stronger, for not coming out sooner and standing up for myself.

But as Lalla Ward is quoted as saying to her parents in The God Delusion: “But I didn’t know I could.”

That sort of historical musing is easy to do. It feels good to put ourselves on the moral side of history—standing up to the Nazis in Germany, or standing with Martin Luther King, Jr. against racism. Fifty years from now, children will read with similar horror about homophobia and opposition to gay rights. Of course I wish things could’ve turned out differently, and that I wasn’t trying to rebuild my life and constantly struggling under the weight of depression, anxiety, and inherited self-hatred.

The past few months I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around why I’m currently so obsessed with my age right now and being gay and single at 32. I think I’ve written about this before, that part of it the need to validate myself against the messages I got growing up, that gays don’t have relationships. Part of it is the rampant ageism in the gay community, and the fixation on being young and fit, and I frankly don’t see myself as either of these things anymore. I don’t have time to work out, so I’m still rather scrawny; and now that I’m in my mid-30s my metabolism isn’t what it used to be. I’m not overweight, but I am “gay fat” by the standards of the community (i.e., not having a gym-perfect body, BMI is over 12%).

Maybe it’s just Midwestern gays. I’m starting to wonder if that isn’t what it is.

The reality is that I’m where most of them are when they were in their early twenties, leaving me feeling hopelessly behind and outpaced. It seems so easy for everyone else to find boyfriends and relationships, and I don’t even know how to date. Perhaps it would be easier if my standards weren’t so high, or if I could just have fun; but it’s difficult as it is for me to connect with other humans in general, and I’m really not one for casual dating or sex, which frankly doesn’t leave many options in the Twin Cities since that seems to do it for most guys around here. Everyone here seems to be on Manhunt, Grindr, or Scruff.

#notmyscene

But there’s a much darker reality that I’ve just recently become aware of. It’s so new that I haven’t had time to put it into words, so this may not make much sense, but here goes:

Basically, at this point, I don’t know if I could be with someone when I can’t even accept myself.

Central to Christian fundamentalist teaching and Calvinism is this notion that humans are basically shit because of Adam and Eve. An ongoing theme of my childhood was a virtual obsession with sin and confession, because God is always watching, and Satan is always trying to trip Christians up. Constant vigilance. What could go wrong with teaching a child to believe that they were born flawed, and that even the most minor of unconfessed sins could land them in Hell for eternity?

So even though I know intellectually that I’m likable, even desirable, I don’t feel it. It’s the emotional equivalent of an eating disorder, I guess. What I see in the mirror is not everyone else seems to see. I see trash, failure, ruin, someone whose prime years were stolen by religion.

It’s as if, because I deem myself unworthy, I reject anyone else’s approval of me as a matter of course. Is that arrogant? Probably. But when you grow up fearing the disapproval of everyone around you, it becomes the lens through which you view all relationships.

An examined life may be admirable, but can also be unlivable.

237. emblem

library12Last week was the sixth of my first semester as a graduate library school student, and it feels like I’ve been running a marathon since February. Yes, it’s a trope to gripe about the busyness of academic life, how much reading there always is, and how there’s never enough time to complete project work.

However, for the first time in a long while, I’ve actually felt good. A friend commented recently that it’s been weeks since he’s seen me depressed.

“I haven’t had time!” I said, which is true. Between school and Sunday Assembly, I haven’t had the bandwidth to think about much of anything else.

Another part is that I actually enjoy what I’m doing right now. Both of my classes are delightful, even in their moments of tedium and pell-mell insanity. My cohort is made up of people who are passionate about what they want to do and can’t wait to be librarians themselves. For the first time, I’m on an actual path towards a career that I can see myself in (and loving) long term. Turns out, librarianship is an ideal fit for my seemingly disparate skills and interests.

The downside of all this busyness is that I haven’t had much time to write or blog, as evidenced by the gaps between this and my last post. It’s certainly not for lack of things to write about. I mentioned this a few days ago to my therapist, that this has been frustrating because I process most effectively through writing. My headspace is often a hurricane of thoughts and emotions, too chaotic and busy a place for reflection or making breakthroughs.

In some of our recent sessions, I’ve brought up the fact that right now I hate my body. I’ll write more about this next time, but it’s something I remember feeling from an early age. I’ve always disliked being naked or unclothed in public as a child, even with my family, and even in warm weather. The curious thing is that (particularly in the summer) my dad would go shirtless, as would most of the guys I was around. But even as a child, I already had a sense of Otherness about myself. And when one is acutely aware of that, they are also often hyper aware of the boundaries between themselves and other people.

Some of it was the intense and pervasive fear of being judged, or people noticing imperfections with my body. I was pretty scrawny growing up, and being a late bloomer when other boys were filling out didn’t help matters. I hated everything about my body, because it didn’t meet the exacting standards I assumed were expected of me.

This is something I’ve theorized is at the root of my sense of dissociation, both from myself and from other people, and why I tend to be more of a loner. I’ve written here about my tendency to keep other people at a safe distance from me. Of course, this is in keeping with my upbringing in a religious fundamentalist community, where we were encouraged to “search our souls” and confess any and all sin that might be lurking in our hearts. In hindsight, it’s not that different from Scientology, except that instead of disembodied parasitic Thetans, we believed in sin.


A few months ago, I quoted Lawrence Heller: “When people experience trauma, they feel bad; children, in particular, think they are bad when they feel bad. Chronic bottom-up dysregulation and distress lead to negative identifications, beliefs, and judgments about ourselves.”

Virtually everything about fundamentalist Christianity teaches that, because of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, all human beings are broken, flawed, and sinful. This is why we need the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, to metaphysically purify us of those sins. For most people in that community, this belief fills them with a sense of awe and gratefulness. However, for many of us, an unintended consequence of growing up with that worldview was that we came to believe that we are broken, flawed, disgusting, unlovable, undesirable, etc. Many Bible verses even reinforce this notion:

“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:17)

This was a real brain teaser when I realized that I’m gay, but even beyond that, the predominant feeling I was left with from my theological upbringing was that anything I felt or wanted was fundamentally wrong—which meant that I was wrong. So I retreated to an inner world of books and writing, and developing characters and personas that I knew were “acceptable,” keeping everyone away lest they figured out what a horrible person I was.

As a teenager, my mom would sometimes say to me, “If people knew how you really are, they wouldn’t like you.” (In context, I was a pretty angry teenager, which makes sense in hindsight considering that Christianity had made me a self-loathing closet case.)

The hardest thing the last couple of years has been learning to be with people as myself. Realizations along the way have helped bring the “real me” into sharper focus, like figuring out that librarianship best describes my orientation to the world. But shaking the sense that I need to run away from people or pretend to be who I think will be accepted is quite difficult.

So it’s always a shock whenever people genuinely seem to like me. Last week, I walked into class and everyone exclaimed, “David’s here!” My housemates Matt and Jason have truly become the family I always wanted. Ditto the people at my yoga studio, and at Sunday Assembly. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, and an uncomfortable once because there’s still that voice in my head warning me that I could fuck up at any time and be cast out.

Not a terribly healthy/helpful voice.

But one fence at a time.

236. alight

6888978424_0fff3d0e1f_kI had something of a breakthrough yesterday and am trying today to hold on to this sense of clarity.

Yesterday, I started listening to an NPR podcast called Invisibilia.

“Launching in January 2015, Invisibilia (Latin for “all the invisible things”) explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.”

The premier episode is titled “The Secret History of Thoughts.” It focused on disturbing thoughts and how we deal with them via the stories of two individuals who’ve had profound experiences in this area.

I was recently told by a friend that he occasionally has thoughts of harming or murdering people, especially those who have behaved ruthlessly or selfishly. He said that most people have these flashes of violent intention, itself an artifact of our evolutionary past that follows us around like cans tied to the rear of a car with a “Just Married” sign in the window.


During adolescence, my sister’s therapist would describe me as a “toxic volcano.” For various reasons, around age 13 or 14, I went from being a quiet and bookish boy to an angry and turbulent young man. In hindsight, my emerging sexuality and how it brought me into direct conflict with my religion was at the root of much of that. In evangelical Christianity, however, we weren’t encouraged to think much about mental health.

In late spring of 2008, I began experiencing suicidal thoughts. I’d just moved from my first apartment and was driving all of my belongings in my SUV to my new place. I was feeling alone and more than a little sorry for myself. As I pulled up to an intersection of a busy highway, I had the thought of just pulling forward into the path of an oncoming truck. The thought came out of nowhere, and it was frightening how calm and rational the thought sounded.

In the years that followed, even up to today, I’d have these random suicidal thoughts pop up. I’ll be working in the kitchen with a knife and think about slitting my wrists. If I turn on the garbage disposal, I’m afraid I’ll somehow lose control and stick my hand in. (Frankly, I blame M. Night Shyamalan’s dreadful 2008 film The Happening for that deep dark fear.) If I’m up high, say in an office building, I’ll think about falling—not so much considering it, but more what if I did.

Thankfully, I don’t dwell on these thoughts much. Perhaps because I spend so much time in my head, and because of my early interest in psychology, I learned to interact with these thoughts and deconstruct them.

In her 2013 Ted Talk, Eleanor Longden describes her journey with schizophrenia, saying that eventually she learned “to separate out a metaphorical meaning from what I’d previously interpreted to be a literal truth.”

“What I would ultimately realize was that each voice was closely related to aspects of myself, and that each of them carried overwhelming emotions that I’d never had an opportunity to process or resolve, memories of sexual trauma and abuse, of anger, shame, guilt, low self-worth. The voices took the place of this pain and gave words to it, and possibly one of the greatest revelations was when I realized that the most hostile and aggressive voices actually represented the parts of me that had been hurt most profoundly, and as such, it was these voices that needed to be shown the greatest compassion and care.”

While I’ve never heard voices, many thoughts I’ve experienced have seemed to have a mind of their own. I’d obsess over wrongs, worry over finding a job, whether or not my music or writing was good enough, personal failures (real or imagined), how I don’t meet the subjective—and arguably fickle—physical standards established by a seemingly monolithic gay community in order to be “desirable.”


Which bring me to the breakthrough I had last night.

Part of the Invisibilia episode on thoughts focused on Martin Pistorius, who contracted Cryptococcal meningitis around age 12 and spent thirteen years literally trapped in his body.

To cope with the sense of isolation and powerlessness, he says he learned to detach from his thoughts, almost engaging with them as another person in his mind. Eventually, he did regain some motor control, and now communicates much like Stephen Hawking.

And, at age 33, he got married.

This led to reflecting on my darkest thought: that I’m going to be single and alone for the rest of my life. I broke up with my last boyfriend in March of 2013, and been on one date since—and not for lack of trying or looking. Frankly, I’ve found gay guys in Minnesota wholly uninteresting. And if they are interesting, they’re taken or uninterested in me.

(My current fantasy is that I’ll somehow land a British guy, leave the United States and find a job as a librarian in England or Ireland somewhere, like the Bodleian or Trinity.)

So being surrounded by people who are dating, married, building lives together, talking about kids and vacations and so on triggers the thoughts and fears of being alone, that I’m unlovable, that I’m incompatible with everyone, that there’s something fundamentally broken about me, that I’m always going to be alone.

Thing is, I know that being in a relationship won’t complete me or solve any problems. The current theory is that, because I was taught growing up that gay people don’t have relationships and that it’s a lonely “lifestyle,” my fixation on finding a boyfriend/husband is based in the fear that they were right.

But hearing Martin’s story and how he managed to detach himself from thoughts that would’ve dragged him down into despair highlighted for me that reality that I can do the same with mine, that I can detach and deconstruct my own.

I had the thought last night that, if Martin found a wife at age 33 while confined to a wheelchair and communicating via computer, maybe it’s not impossible for me.

I don’t really believe it yet, but it’s a step.