278. esoterica

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There hasn’t been much time to write recently, nor is there much time to write today, so this is going to be a bit scattered. We’ll see where this goes.

Eighteen days ago was the four-year anniversary of my breakup with Jay, the narcissist ex-boyfriend who nevertheless turned out to be—as I rightly feared—my likely last chance at a relationship before I turned 30.

I was hoping for some spark of insight about lessons learned about life choices, but instead I found little more than regret at having stayed with him for nine whole months.

Besides, there isn’t that much of my mind free to reflect on things like that these days.



One of the insights that I did have after things ended with my last therapist is that one of the reasons I feel so ambivalent about my parents is that there was a time when I was very young when I was happy with them.

This was before I was self-aware and able to internalize the bullshit theology that they were feeding me.

The world was simpler, brighter, happier, and there’s a part of my mind that still remembers what it felt like. A gulf of time and trauma now stands between me and that previous proto-self, and there is no way to get back.

You can’t go home.

I suppose that’s one of the things I most hate my parents for—robbing me of my childhood (and my future adult happiness) by teaching me to hate myself.

They also robbed me of the ability to truly enjoy things since I constantly view things that I like with suspicion or skepticism. There was always a fear growing up that one or both of my parents would disapprove of something I enjoyed or liked, for whatever reason, and would take that thing away.


I’ve also been thinking about my emerging asexual/demisexual identity as of late, where it came from, and whether I’ve always just been this way.

The present hypothesis is that, yes, I have always been this way. My hypothesis acknowledges that the relevant events happened between twelve and fifteen years ago, and that memory is an imperfect reconstruction of past events.

There’s also the reality that my sexuality formed under hostile, repressive circumstances, so it’s possible that my resultant sexual identity is a product of emotional trauma and abuse, isolation, and cult-like psychological programming.

That being said, while I definitely experienced the Saturn V rocket-like explosion of male sex drive during my teenage years, I do not recall ever being sexually attracted to specific guys. I had crushes, yes, to varying levels of intensity, but I don’t remember wanting to do anything sexual with any male peers.

Was that because I was unconsciously suppressing those desires on account of the then-impossibility of realizing them? Perhaps. I was intelligent enough then to have done that. Yet while my peers (even the Christian ones) seemed preoccupied by their sexual impulses (and, naturally, the struggle to resist and remain “pure”), I was more aware of the absence of such impulses in myself.

Piano, writing, research, or literally anything else held more interest for me than sex.

For my male friends especially, the struggle to tame their sexual needs and desires seemed ever-present, something that created a mountain of anxiety for them. I, on the other hand, struggled with just the reality of being same-sex attracted rather than any specific desires.

Being gay was largely an abstract concept for me.

What I experienced in terms of desire for other men wasn’t even necessarily sexual. Even today, I don’t have sexual fantasies about guys. What I do have are emotional fantasies—imagining going on vacations with a partner, buying our first house together, brushing our teeth, curling up on the couch together under a blanket while rain patters on the window.

It’s more the desire for intimacy than it is for sex.

That’s the homoromantic aspect of my orientation.


However, I’ve also been thinking back over my experiences as a sexually active gay man, because over the course of just a few years, I did have a lot of sex. I’ve been thinking about what that meant, especially considering how emotionally unfulfilling and empty it was.

To use a metaphor, I felt a lot like Dharma and Jane when they pretended to be German tourists and were confronted by an actual German speaker.

When I was sexually active, I largely went through the motions, doing what I grew up doing in most social situations—mirroring behavior, and generally faking emotions without understanding what was going on.

Fahrvergnügen?

At the time, I thought I was “discovering” my sexuality after years of repression. The discomfort I felt was internalized homophobia, I thought. Yet no matter how many guys I fucked, I didn’t feel any less confused or empty.

If anything, I actually felt resentful.


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Wolf, Tikva. “Kimchi Cuddles.” Comic strip. 2014. http://kimchicuddles.com.

Reactions to my demi or asexuality have been interesting. There’s been a lot of Oh, I’ve felt that way before. I must be demisexual too.

Or: Are you sure I can’t convince you to give me a try?

Or: Your view of sex is just too traditional.

The notion of the absence of sexual attraction is apparently stymieing to many people. It’s the air they breathe, familiar and comfortable. Gay men especially seem to have a difficult time imagining life without being aroused by any hot or cute guy.

That’s one of my worries about dating again—finding a guy who:

  1. I manage to establish an emotional connection with that’s strong enough to move into sexual attraction;
  2. I find physically attractive;
  3. Is fine with not rushing into sex, and even waiting for me to determine if I’m attracted or not;
  4. Isn’t scared off by my crazy.

So yeah… I don’t know how this is supposed to work. Ultimately, my goal is to build a family of my own to make up for the one I didn’t have, but that doesn’t seem likely.

264. mesmerism

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


Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even short-sleeve shirts are a challenge.


Part II

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

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

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

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

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

If you kiss enough frogs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


So those are the gritty details of my sex life.

You are welcome.

248. quiddity

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GoldRingIt’s the last rose of summer.

The autumnal equinox is three weeks away, the days are getting shorter, and grad school starts up again for me on Friday. I’ve read over the syllabi for my two cataloging courses this coming term and it’s perverse how excited I truly am to finally dig in to this subject.

And in keeping with all of the changes in my life over the past couple of months, I’ve now decided to stop wearing the gold ring my parents gave me as a birthday present around age fifteen or sixteen. I can’t quite remember which birthday it was, but fifteen sounds about right.

So eighteen years, I’ve been wearing it.

A simple gold band that has confused and intrigued countless numbers of people—many of whom assumed it meant I was married.

I’m not even going to think about how many guys assumed it meant that I was unavailable when in reality I’ve been quite available all this time.


The official story I’ve told people about its origin is that it commemorated the first time I made it through The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which isn’t entirely untrue.

I’d actually finished the series around age thirteen, so it was more a belated token, a symbol of my undying love for Tolkien’s world. By age fifteen, I’d read the entire trilogy about four times and had made the first of several aborted attempts at getting through The Silmarillion.

The nerdy birthday present story always makes for an easy out for having to explain a much more complicated picture. It engenders amused if not outright delighted reactions, from “That’s so cool!” to “That’s unbelievably nerdy!”

And, of course, I get asked about whether fiery Tengwar letters appear when the ring is heated, which it doesn’t, and if I’ve looked, which I haven’t. Frankly, I read the books long before the movies were made.

I’m not a connoisseur of cheap tricks!


Like the One Ring of Tolkien’s world, the truth about my gold ring is more layered than meets the eye, and requires some specialized knowledge of arcane cultures.

Specifically, purity culture.

Promise (or purity) rings came into fashion in evangelical Christian culture during the 1970s, around the time Christianity was finding its own version of Catholic kitsch. This was also in the wake of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, when fundamentalist Christians started pushing back against what they saw as insidious decadence and rampant immorality of secular culture.

(And yes, it was entirely demonic in origin.)

The ring was to be worn as a reminder of the vow to remain sexually chaste until marriage, when it would be replaced with an actual wedding band—divine permission to finally get it on.

By the time I was a teenager in the mid-1990s, “purity rings” and the public signing of purity pledges by adolescents were commonplace in churches. Undoubtedly horny teens, conditioned to fear their own sexual natures, took part in public church ceremonies where they signed pledges to “take the high road” to defy a culture that urged them to “just give in.” The pledge was a promise to abstain from all forms of sexual activity—including masturbation.

Once a year at my church, teens were invited at one point in the Sunday service to come to the front to sign a large poster and take that vow. It was partly inculcation and largely peer pressure, but it was mostly shaming.

So there are Christian men’s support groups for battling sexual temptation; software that actually notifies a designated and trusted friend if you look at “dirty” websites; and books like Every Man’s Battle, to shame young people for their otherwise normal sexual urges.

I’ve no idea if I signed one of those pledges or not. It would’ve made an excellent cover, seeing as I was realizing then that abstaining from sexual activity with women wouldn’t be a problem.


Thankfully, my ring had nothing to do with any of that, although it was obliquely related.

On the inside of the ring is engraved a reference to a Bible verse: 1 Timothy 4:12,

Don’t let anyone look down on you because of your youth; on the contrary, set the believers an example in your speech, behavior, love, trust and purity. (Complete Jewish Bible.)

Boys in Evangelical circles don’t get quite the heaping of shame about sex and their bodies that girls do. Rather, young people are taught that men are sexual beasts who’d run amok if not for the controlling influence of women—and the Holy Spirit, of course! God, in his infinite wisdom, gifted men with insatiable lust that’s supposed to be expressed only in the bedroom, between one man and one woman whom the Lord joins together for life, regardless of whether they’re even sexually compatible.

But why worry about whether you’ve made the wrong choice in a life mate, or wonder about what it might be like to have sex with other people? God took time out from creating the universe in six days to match-make for everyone thousands of years into the future, ensuring each of us a mate for life!

… except for the ones he “blessed” with singlehood.

Naturally.

DontMasturbate

For me, however, the ring had a more sober meaning.

The verse was a signal from my parents that I was transitioning into adulthood, into manhood, accountable directly to God for my life and the choices I’d make.

I was supposed to start taking on the mantle of a godly man and leader, the kind of man a godly wife needs to be the Christ-like head of our household.

Thankfully, things didn’t go according to plan.


Their message impacted me in a way they couldn’t have anticipated.

I wasn’t a kid anymore.

I could think for myself, take responsibility for my direction in life, and not merely abdicate that power to someone else.

It would take thirteen more years to figure that out though.

Now, my hand is a blank slate—rather like my future.

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110. scattering

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“The purpose of satire, it has been rightly said, is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cosy half-truth. And our job, as I see it, is to put it back again.”
— Michael Flanders

One of the most fascinating creatures in mythology is that of the golem, an animated anthropomorphic being in Jewish lore created out of inanimate matter (traditionally clay) and brought into being by a sorcerer or rabbi who inscribes the word emet (אמת, “truth”) on its forehead, or by a tablet with the word inserted in its mouth. The golem is described as being but a shadow of Man (who himself is but a shadow of Almighty God), without a soul and unintelligent but perfectly obedient to the will of the one who animated it. Usually in golem tales there is an element of hubris, with the creation turning on its creator who realizes the error of his ways in the end, or it begins to attack gentiles or other Jews, the point being that god alone has the wherewithal, wisdom and right to create life.

On a similar note, last week I finished watching the anime series Fullmetal Alchemist, which centers on two alchemist brothers who are trying to restore their bodies after a disastrous failed attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy. *Spoiler alert!* The main antagonists in the series are beings known as homunculi, human-like creatures created out of the failed attempt to bring someone back from the dead through alchemy. These beings resemble humans but do not possess souls and thus have human-like consciousness but cannot experience emotion.

One of the purposes of this blog is to attempt to synthesize the experience of becoming an atheist after over twenty years of living as an Evangelical, fundamentalist Christian. My earliest recollections involve church and my parents’ faith practice, of reading from the bible as a family or praying together. In some ways, leaving Christianity was like ending an incredibly dysfunctional marriage. However, beyond that, I haven’t talked too much about my parents, who I cut ties with on Christmas Day this year, or the effect our upbringing had on my two younger sisters and myself.

Some who read this blog know my family does not approve of or accept me as a gay man, insisting that gays are broken heterosexuals, and I think that had my parents known about me as a teenager that they would’ve attempted to get me into reparative therapy. However, I want to stress that my parents were never intentionally abusive or cruel, nor do I believe they are bad people; and I believe they genuinely love me, but their theology has shaped (and warped) their views on the world and humanity in a particular way.

My sisters and I grew up in a fairly strict home. We were homeschooled, and a significant portion of our education had a heavy Christian slant. A few weeks ago I cleaned out my old bedroom at my parents’ house and found notebooks, papers and books from those years. Reading it as an adult made me wince. It was such blatant inculcation. For a long time we weren’t allowed to watch television, and even then our watching was closely monitored, our viewing restricted to wholesome, educational programming. While I am thankful to have been exposed to as much classic black-and-white films as we were, we grew up in a cultural vacuum. We spent a lot of time at church volunteering or at different programs (yes, we did AWANAS, and both my parents were leaders).

A peculiar phenomenon of Protestant culture is the morbid fear of pride and self. My dad’s life verse comes from John 3:30, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I [John the Baptist] must decrease.” Consequently, my parents were always afraid of their children becoming conceited or prideful, and our upbringing reflected that. Again, I don’t want to paint my parents as monsters, but we were rarely praised or affirmed. We were punished, and punished often, sometimes for the smallest of infractions. There was one instance where my dad got carried away with a spanking when he thought I’d cursed god. I hadn’t, but he insisted that I had taken god’s name in vain. I still hate my father for that.

There were also a number of occasions where they threatened to send us away to work at the farm of a family friend in Nebraska for misbehaving—along the lines of, “maybe you’ll appreciate what you have here.” This threat was never acted on, but when we were little the thought of being shipped off was terrifying.

As adults, my sisters and I confronted our parents about the fact that we rarely felt loved, accepted or safe growing up. We’ve each manifested this in different ways. All three of us threw ourselves into various pursuits to work for the approval of our parents. My younger sister is a ballet dancer and in her teen years developed anorexia for which she has gone through years of therapy to overcome. While probably not related to our home life, my youngest sister has bi-polar disorder and has substituted a dog for having a boyfriend.

As for me, I pursued music performance, partly to fulfill an aptitude for it but also to win the approval/attention of my father who is a professional trumpeter and college professor, going so far as majoring in music composition for a career in music (which never went anywhere). Despite all of that, I’ve still never felt like any of it’s been good enough.

For a long time I’ve struggled with depression, and for a while wondered if I might have bi-polar disorder too. It’s much more likely though that I’m dealing with something known as borderline personality disorder, a veritable clusterfuck of a diagnosis, consistent with my home life growing up and a lot of the behavioral traits I’ve manifested over the years.

However, I’ll cover that next time since this Starbucks is closing.

G’night, everyone.