273. factitious

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That first night when we sat on the trunk of my car and looked at the lights above the Arby’s? When I got up to leave, I looked at you, and I tried to think of how to say everything I was feeling. But I’ve never really been good at describing feelings. I’m only good at describing facts, and love, love isn’t a fact. You know?

Love—it’s a hunch at first and then later it’s a series of decisions, a lifetime of decisions. That’s love. And I didn’t know how to express that and so I just said: “I’m glad I decided to call you.” And now, tonight, I say I’m glad again, for this decision and all the decisions that will come every day after.

Which is to say, scientifically speaking of course, speaking from the point of view of mere facts and logic and you know, what with the science and all… I just thought that it was time for us to make a life together.
Episode 100 – Toast, from Welcome to Night Vale¹


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A few days ago justmerveilleux commented on a previous post that it was “much too cheerful.” I’m endeavouring to bring the tone of this one back to my usual stark, grim, crepuscular realism. 😉

The last few weeks for me have been spent weathering feverish bouts of anxiety as we learn more about the Drumpf administration and what he, his cabinet, and the Rethuglican Congress have in store for the world over the next four years.

Basically, every time I scroll through New York Times or Guardian headlines, it’s a brand new something to haunt my dreams:

  • The planet is going to be trashed, sea levels will rise, and resulting droughts will bring about starvation and catastrophe.
  • We LGBTQ+ Americans are going to see all our civil rights gains taken away thanks to ultra conservative Supreme Court justice replacements.
  • With the almost certain repeal of Obamacare looming, the future of my health insurance is uncertain.

It’s been interesting to compare my reaction to this election to the one in 2008, and look at how much I’ve evolved since then. In short, where I once feared what Obama might have done as our first socialist President (which turns out not to be true—Hoover, Johnson, FDR, and even Nixon were just as Socialist, if not more so), we have a fairly clear idea what Drumpf is going to do. He has filled his cabinet with cronies, homophobes, and bigots who want to enact a theocratic, Objectivist agenda of revenge on this country, regardless of who suffers.

My nightmares don’t seem like a matter of “if.”

More like “when.”


I had a brief exchange with my youngest sister a few days after posting blog # 271. In short, we both feel similarly fragmented, made up of disparate parts, the result of decades of living in fear of our parents, their omnipotent and omniscient god, and a judgmental community of holier-than-thou Christians.

Okay, time for gross generalizations.

From what I’ve observed about most people, I gather that they function largely as a holistic whole, different modules and pieces of their psyches that work together in their functioning as a person.

For me, growing up in secret for nearly three decades feels like being a lump of coal trapped underground for thousands of years, under enormous heat and pressure, until suddenly ripped out of the Earth one day as a diamond.

I grew up managing a complex bureaucracy of desires and needs, making sure none of them drew the notice of anyone who could make my life unpleasant or difficult. I couldn’t be too ambitious, too needy, show too much self-efficacy, and certainly not any of my deviant sexual desires.

Now, nearly six years out as an atheist, I’m still living with disparate parts of myself that don’t talk to each other.

For most people (again, making gross assumptions here), when they want something, they think it and their cogs and wheels work out the specifics. Their child selves talk to their adult selves, sharing memories between them. And when a man is attracted to someone, he feels desire and the rest works itself out.

With me, none of those parts communicate. It is sometimes a daily inner civil war just to decide what I want for dinner—or to decide that I deserve to even want to eat.

I rather feel like No-Face from Hayao Miyazaki Spirited Away, an otherwise neutral being that absorbed the desires and intentions of those around him, a friendly mask disguising a dark and dangerous mess underneath.


When I fully, truly, came out in 2009, after breaking up with my first boyfriend and deciding I needed to “experience” everything I’d been missing, sexually speaking, I was still largely in the mindset of needing to be who I perceived everyone wanted me to be.

It’s how I survived evangelicalism as a gay teenager—by blending in, adapting, never being myself.

The hesitancy and emptiness I felt in hooking up—engaging in casual sex with guys who I knew weren’t going to be boyfriends or long-term partners—I chalked up to a puritanical upbringing; remnants of a lifetime of being told homosexual desires were evil, perverted, and sick.

I just needed to push through that to become the liberated gay man I knew was there, somewhere.

It never occurred to me that my reticence was the result of the reality that I experience sexual and romantic attraction through emotional intimacy rather than my pelvis.

The frustration in being a demisexual is feeling no control over who I’m attracted to. It happens suddenly, mysteriously, and very gradually.

I see couples at Target, holding hands and buying produce or a birthday card, and long for that kind of domestic intimacy. Granted, I have no real frame of reference. It’s academic, but still an abstract direction I’m aiming for in hopes I stumble onto something concrete.

I don’t want spectacular romance. I don’t need suffocating togetherness.

I’m not entirely sure what I want from a boyfriend/partner. Yes, I want companionship, the usual trimmings of a long-term relationship.

It’s more than that, though.

I want the significance of a look shared between two people experiencing something special and beautiful—a sunset, a moment in a Mozart opera, seeing something that reminds them of a moment five years ago before they knew any of it meant anything.

I’m suspicious of the fire, the passion, the Sturm und Drang of the early stages of a relationship. I want the quiet certainty of sitting on the hood of a car, staring up at the lights above the Arby’s, and am glad that I called someone.

These are the cares of a time traveler who lives in both the past and the future, knowing that everything that happens between is uncertain and surprising, but inevitable, unchanging.

Unchanged.

“The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”²

I’m not hopeful that I’ll ever get any of this, but a fellow can dream.


Works Cited

¹ Fink, J., & Cranor, J. (2016, December 15). Episode 100 – Toast [Audio blog post]. Retrieved from http://nightvale.libsyn.com/100-toast

² Nicholson, W. (1989). Shadowlands. New York: Samuel French.

263.blandishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the video below:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guillaume Apollinaire, “La grâce exilée”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basically, I’m a gay, male Liz Lemon.

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

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

Blërg.

258. somaticize

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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.

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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.

249. obstreperous

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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.

225. osculate

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anxietyFunny how I first learned the word “osculate.”

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

And no, not how you think.

Unfortunately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, why am I basically Liz Lemon?

Enter Hank Green.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do about it now?

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