277. affable

Standard

haircut-1007891_640The spring semester started up again last month and thus I haven’t had much time to write recently.

First, to my readers outside the United States, things are truly surreal here.

For the 74+ million citizens who did not (and will not) support the toupéd fucktrumpet our sketchy and antiquated electoral process installed as President, every day brings new, increasingly frightening portents that the government is run by truly incompetent, dangerous people.

So, in addition to school and work, the news has me constantly stressed out and anxious.

Yay.


Just over a year ago I started writing about identifying as demisexual. My views have evolved significantly since then, partly thanks to the work I did with my therapist last year to start pulling back the curtain on the machine of lies and bullshit my parents raised me with as fundamentalist evangelical Christians.

I did get some pushback from one reader who commented he didn’t understand my decision to stop identifying as gay. “I could acknowledge strong similarities with you on almost all of the points you made and I’m gay as a goose,” he wrote.

Another friend wrote to ask why I couldn’t identify as demisexual and gay, while another asked if “demisexual” wasn’t an adjective that could be applied to gay.

Still another wrote to express confusion at how I could discard a label he had fought for years to claim for himself.

In part, I want to address some of these comments and share some of the work I’ve been doing.


AVEN’s definition of demisexuality is “a person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong emotional connection with someone.”

While I knew demisexuality was on the “sexual” end of the asexual spectrum, I didn’t fully grasp how true it was for me.

As I’ve thought back over my teen years and sexual awakening, I realized that my sexual feelings have rarely been directed outward. They’re there, and I did (and still do) experience sexual arousal, but I don’t recall it being directed at anyone. I had crushes on guys, but the desire to do anything sexual was almost always absent.

My sexual fantasies were abstract—in hindsight, more about intimacy than sex.

I’ve been trying to determine if this was some kind of coping mechanism. That is to say, because I’d been taught those feelings were forbidden, my mind found a way to block them since they were inaccessible.

This might be the case. I’ve compartmentalized so many other feelings, so why not this too?

However, I’ve never been terribly interested in sex. I was always more focused on writing, practicing piano, or reading. Even today, I’d rather be cataloging than hooking up.

When I was having sex, whether with a boyfriend or some random from an app, I felt nothing. It was disorienting and alienating. The sensations were okay, but there was no connection.

As harsh as it sounds, frankly, I don’t think I was much attracted to any of the guys I dated.

I may as well have been masturbating.


This process of deconstructing my sexual upbringing has also resolved some issues with being externally defined.

When I was growing up, my sexuality was defined for me by my community and what the Bible supposedly said about it, which meant that I was defined as a heterosexual male.

Obviously that did not work.

When I finally came out in 2008, it took some years before I really started having sex, and when I did, I did what I thought I was supposed to do—seek out strangers and friends to bang.

I assumed the feelings of emptiness that resulted were from lingering internalized homophobia that I needed to fuck out of my system.

I was doing what I’d been raised to do: suppress my feelings (no matter how miserable it made me) and do what I perceived was expected of me.

It still felt forced though. I didn’t really understand what guys were doing when they checked each other out, or ogled some hunky god from afar. Some of that might have been posturing or trying to impress each other, but I didn’t get it.


This has also helped explain ambivalence I feel about things like kink, or gay identity markers like hairstyle, fashion, or speech mannerisms. That’s not to say there’s any universal identity marker. Each community has its own set.

However, I figured out where the disconnect is for me: namely, that those identity markers (hair, dress, etc) are ways gay men telegraph their availability to each other, whether for flirting, dating, or just sex. From an anthropological view, the majority of humans do this, whether deliberately or not. It’s how our brains work.

Life, uh, finds a way.

On a subconscious level, I have been telegraphing my lack of interest for years. If I were interested, I might have adopted a more “gay” haircut, tried to dress more like other gay men, or adopt their mode of speech.

I prefer to march to my own beat, and have always been happiest that way.


The third thing I’ve just recently been able to articulate is that demisexuality best describes the manner in which I experience sexual attraction, while “gay” describes its direction.

One blog post from The Asexual Agenda helped put this in perspective. It’s about overlapping circles.

From https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/visualizing-demisexuality/

Source: QueenieOfAces. “Visualizing demisexuality.” The Asexual Agenda. September 05, 2013. https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/visualizing-demisexuality/

The author writes, “‘Homosexual’ defines the ‘direction’ of the sexual attraction… while ‘demisexual’ defines the manner in which that sexual attraction is experienced–only after forming an emotional connection.”

The model also works for someone who is heterosexual but is capable of homosexual attraction after emotionally bonding with someone of the same gender.

In this sense I am both gay and demisexual. Putting my cataloging hat on, my pseudo-LC subject heading would be:

Homoromantic demisexual cisgender male androphile.


While my dating life is a lot more complicated, finding myself on the asexual spectrum just feels more aligned and true.

That’s what matters.

Advertisements

273. factitious

Standard

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


no-face-png

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.

268. deliquesce

Standard

birthday-cake-on-fire-fire-and-ice-the-birthday-hepivk-clipartThis past Sunday was my mother’s birthday.

Her 65th birthday, to be exact.

Unlike many gay men, I don’t have a particularly close relationship with my mother. Ironically, of all our immediate family members we’re probably the most alike (aside from my youngest sister), so naturally there was often a lot of conflict between us.

The last interaction I had with her was in May of 2014, just after I’d purchased a new pair of glasses thanks to the reforms of the ACA (a.k.a., “Obamacare”). She commented on them one evening, and when I told her how I’d managed to procure them, she made a snide, “joking” remark to the effect of: “You’re welcome since my hard-earned tax dollars paid for your socialist health insurance glasses.”

This is the same woman who once went on an extended rant about how Michelle Obama is conspiring with companies like FitBit and Nike to collect our private health data so that the government can dictate to us what we can and can’t eat, how we should exercise, etc.

I don’t think I’ve ever told my mother to fuck off, but I came close that evening.


Last night I was going through some PDFs in my Downloads folder and came across a document containing the email exchange that took place the night that I was outed to my family. Reading through those messages brought back some intense memories.

Because there are still days when I wonder whether or not I’m being the unreasonable one in deciding to cut my parents out entirely. They do love me, in their own way, and no doubt they miss me.

Then I re-read those emails and was reminded of exactly why they’re not in my life.

For new readers, I came out in August of 2008, and was outed to my parents on 16 November 2009 via an anonymous email, which turned out to be from a friend of my first boyfriend who was furious with me for having broken up with him in October.

What followed in the hours after their receiving it was a series of replies (that, I admit, grew increasingly hysterical on my part) concerning who sent the email, who they’ve told, who knows, etc.

This was a big deal at the time because I was actively involved in the music program at the church we attended, and I was also teaching piano lessons at a Christian music academy, so my employment could’ve been jeopardized.

In one email, my mother commented:

We are sad that you have chosen to go against God’s design, but we love YOU. This isn’t any different than your anger or any other sin—sin is just choosing your own way rather than God’s. Does He love you any less? No—you are His creation. Do we love you any less? No. … In fact, it kind of feels as if you’ve spent your life trying to do something to make us not love you. We’ll be here when you’re ready to talk.

This is what makes it difficult to parse the emotions here. On the one hand, they aren’t spewing hate speech, which is good. However, there are so many dog whistles in that one paragraph: homosexuality is a choice, it’s a sin (like murder or drug addiction), God intended you to be heterosexual.

Also, you’re to blame for feeling alienated from us.

I wrote in one reply:

… [One] of the biggest reasons why I’m [angry much of the time is] that I can’t be myself around you all and be accepted, and [I’ve always cared about that]… [it bothers me that you seem to be] assuming the worst about me… that [you’d automatically think] I’m living like the rest of the world…

I’m angry because I’ve had to hide all these years and keep walls up to keep you all from [finding out and] attacking me.

In another exchange of messages, my mother expressed dismay at my stating that I’d felt uncomfortable before talking to them about my sexuality, that online dating is “SO very dangerous, so we are concerned for your safety” (because gay men are sexual predators, riddled with AIDS/all STIs), and that I should be talking to a “godly counselor.”

Here’s another part of how she responded the next day:

I can understand why you wouldn’t like women—I don’t like the woman I was when you were younger either. But you can’t let the Enemy keep you in that place so that you see all women that way, you know? … Do you think that you’ve allowed your emotions to control your thinking, rather than letting the Word influence you thinking so your thinking could influence your emotions?

So the reason I’m homosexual is because she presented such a terrible model of femininity that it turned me off to women completely? That I was lured into this “sinful lifestyle” by secular, Satanic notions of, what, moral anarchy?

In another email she suggested that gay Christians who write about revised scriptural interpretations on homosexuality have fallen victim to “Satan’s counterfeit of God’s Truth”and that “it depends on whether you want to know what God thinks or to feel better about the path you’re on.”


There were a lot of words sent back and forth during those two days, and there’s also family history that complicates things further.

Bottom line is that, to this day, my parents refuse to revise their views on my sexuality. It’s easier to put that safely away in a box, pretending that my sexuality is somehow detachable, unlike theirs, which is integrated.

It’s not so much the blatant ignoring of my sexuality that is bothersome. It’s the stolid, willful exclusion of all my sexuality represents: finding a partner, introducing him to my family, our parents meeting, getting married, navigating the choppy waters of where we’ll spend holidays.

These parts of myself are not disjunct. They can’t pick and choose which ones they’ll interact with.

It’s sad but clear which path they’ve chosen.

One that doesn’t include me.

238. caustic

Standard

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.

221. gibbosity

Standard

parent-yellingAt our last session, my therapist said something interesting at the end: “We need to find your inner nurturing parent.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that the past couple of weeks. We’d been digging into the idea of me becoming my own inner, harsh parent as a child when my parents relaxed more after my youngest sister was born.

As I wrote last time, I’ve been doing some revising of my childhood narrative, getting away from this notion I’ve had over the years that my parents were awful, emotionally abusive people. To be sure, they made mistakes. All parents do, especially with the first born. The first born is the trial run kid, the baseline.

By the time my youngest sister was born, my parents pretty much figured out by then that, aside from some basic necessities, babies are low-maintenance. That, and making mistakes is a normal part of the growth and maturing process. I can recall the feeling of being a disappointment to my parents, of not living up to the expectations they had for me. They would get exasperated or impatient when I’d drop something or make a blunder.

After my youngest sister was born, as I wrote, they lightened up a bit. For me, that was a shock to the system that I grew accustomed to as a child. The expectations were almost like a structure upon which to pattern my life as I knew it. The more they backed off, the more the anxiety and negative self-talk ramped up, crying out for the familiar structure.

  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Your sister got it sooner than you did,”
  • “Why can’t you be more like ____?”

These strident voices were with me throughout my childhood and young adult years, and even now. Thinking about it now, my parents must have been mystified at my behavior. I’m not even sure where my models came from in building this parent persona. Television shows? Movies? I must’ve unconsciously sought out every angry father and spiteful mother represented, patterning the self-responses in my mind after their likeness rather than engage with the actual parents I had.

So much of what I’ve done has been in the service of placating these inner parental voices. I had to become the best at the piano. I had to become a great writer. I had to become a first-rate composer. And every time I didn’t meet those expectations, to be everything that my angry, hateful parent demanded that I be — to win, to annihilate the competition — then it meant that I was an abject failure, and a bad person.

Add to this the lessons we were being taught in church and at home:

  • “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)
  • “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” (Romans 5:12)
  • “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

To quote Christopher Hitchens, we’re born sick and commanded to be well. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, we’re fucked before we even have a chance to screw it up on our own. Before we can even wipe our own asses, already we have the weight of several millenia of sin and guilt on our tiny shoulders.

And, of course, the key to not being damned to Hell for all eternity is to confess all of your sins (1 John 1:9), even ones that you didn’t know were sins, because God sees everything. So on top of the neurosis of having an inner parent from hell, I was also being taught to be self-critical, to the point of obsession.

One of the things we talked about a lot, both in church and at home, was being a “fake Christian,” or “casual Christian” — or, more plainly, a hypocrite. I haven’t watched Jesus Camp, mainly because of the memories and emotions that it triggers for me. Thank humanity, then, for YouTube. This excerpt is something I heard a lot growing up:

“Name it out loud.”

Shame is an integral part of Christian fundamentalism. It was no stranger in my childhood or early adult years, especially once my sexuality became evident. It was something I never said out loud, not until 2008, when I attended a “prayer healing” seminar and was prayed for by a Christian husband and wife. I sobbed for nearly half an hour the first time I ever said, “I’m gay.”

This is the result of pathologizing otherwise innocuous, normal human nature on the so-called authority of a nearly two-thousand-year-old book and its Bronze Age morality.

Teaching children that they’re broken and sinful is sick. It’s wrong. It’s deplorable.

And it must stop.

But back to therapy.

One of the side effects of jettisoning my Christian identity in the way that I did was that I’ve developed emotional amnesia about everything prior to 2011. This is probably a defense mechanism, but memories from that period seem like dispassionately watching a movie of those events. I can see them happening, but can’t recall the feelings.

So, like a literary critic deconstructing a novel, I can see with almost sickening clarity what a monster I was during my early adult years, what an emotional terrorist I could be at times, and how devastatingly unhappy and hopeless I’ve been for most of my life.

I can’t recall the fact of ever feeling truly safe or secure with anyone, perpetually terrified that someone would find out my secret and punish me for being gay.

So “being kind to myself” seems a Herculean labor. It doesn’t make sense.

The angry parent in my mind has been the familiar voice for as long as I can remember. It’s been there to beat me up after a rejection letter. Tell me how I fucked up and sabotaged yet another failed relationship.

The sick thing is… I still believe that parent is telling the truth.

181. dilly

Standard

Sunday-Afternoon-on-the-Island-of-La-Grande-JatteThis afternoon a friend of mine posted an article from the Guardian about the top five regrets people have as they come to die. As an atheist who doesn’t believe in any kind of afterlife and that each of us only gets one shot at life, being intentional about avoiding regrets has been a major motif for me in the past few years. I don’t want to arrive at the inevitable end of my mortal coil with the taste of an unlived life in my mouth.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This is the principle reason why I finally came out gay almost five years ago, and as an atheist almost two and a half years ago. As a self-identified Christian, I wasn’t being honest with anyone (including myself) about the fact that I didn’t really believe in God, and that church was basically about socializing for me. And after coming to the realization that my sexual orientation wasn’t something that was ever likely to change, and that I didn’t even want it to change, I decided that living in fear of what my parents and community thought wasn’t worth wasting the opportunity to express who I truly am. Worse, it’s not worth the opportunity to experience life through the lens of marriage and intimate relationship, and to learn to love and be loved by another human being — in my case, another man.

I didn’t want to get to the end of my life with the knowledge that I’d missed the chance to find someone who I couldn’t live without.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

For me, this has less to do with working long hours and more to do with the nature of work that I do. For most of my working life I’ve taken the safer path and accepted jobs that paid the bills or didn’t provide much challenge. Even my degree I chose in college was something I knew wouldn’t carry much risk in terms of accomplishment. But ultimately, I’m most happy when creating, whether musically or with words. The best times in my life, when I felt most alive, were when I was working on a show, or writing an opera or novel, and so on. And life is too short to not be remarkable and do what brings you.

“It’s not so much do as you like as it is that you like what you do.”
– Dot, Sunday in the Park with George

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Heh, as anyone who reads this blog or follows my Facebook posts knows, this is not an area where I often hold back. Even my face frequently betrays what I’m thinking and feeling. I was a very outgoing and exuberant child, but there was a span of years during my childhood where I was shut-down and self-repressed. I’m not entirely sure why that happened. There were troubles with my parents, as many boys experience, but few photos from those years show me smiling. I’d become very self-critical, a trait that has survived well into adulthood, and remember being very dissatisfied with myself, particularly how I looked when smiling.

Thanks to one drama teacher in junior high, however, I rediscovered my ability to express myself, to smile and to laugh again. It wasn’t until after I came out as an atheist that I was really able to start expressing the pain and hurt that I experienced growing up. And once I’d given voice to the hurt, and truly grappled with the concept of the finality of existence, start expressing to people in my life how much they truly mean to me.

Words from the Bible that I grew up hearing and reading now take on a new, ironical meaning: “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Only that “me” ended up not being some religious figure.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I’m trying to do better about this, but as an introvert with some hard-to-shake social anxiety and hermit tendencies, it’s a daily struggle. To that end, and thanks to the influence of a friend of mine, I’ve started maintaining a spreadsheet to track who I spend time with, and how often. It was partly in response to wanting to be more intentional about my social life, but also getting tired of saying, “It’s been a while!”

Quite a few friendships were burned in the process of coming out twice, some on my part and some on the part of others. You do learn who your true friends are when you show them your true self, and they can either live with that identity or reject you because you’re not who they wanted you to be. And it made me realize the importance of choosing your friends wisely, and spending time with truly good people whose company I covet and value.

One of the bedroom decorating tips in feng shui is to “choose images that you want to see happening in your life.” That’s how I’m approaching friendships now. Quality over quantity.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is probably the hardest one of all. As Aslan says in C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew,

“… he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh, Adam’s son, how cleverly you defend yourself against all that might do you good!”

Part of the impetus in starting therapy last September was to find a trained, impartial third-party observer to help me identify the ways I’ve tied myself in knots over the years. As Bob Wiley realized, “If I don’t untie myself, inside the emotional knots, I’m going to explode.”

Baby step: untie your knots. Life’s too damned short not to let yourself be happy.

140. besot

Standard

I have an almost preternatural affinity for getting into situations that make my relationships fantastically and needlessly complicated, and in particular, falling for guy friends who turn out to be unavailable in one way or another. They’re either straight (and therefore not interested), gay and simply not interested in me, or gay and already partnered.

At Northwestern College, most of the guys I had a yen for were (presumably) heterosexual, and while there were apparently Talmudic discussions over whether I was or not, for all intensive purposes I was functionally heterosexual as far as anyone was concerned. I never made advances on any guys, flirted, or did anything besides do a lot of jerking off (admittedly to the mental pictures of some of my painfully gorgeous classmates). But who knows how many guys were jonesing for me from afar as well, stuck in the closet and unable to confess their feelings for me liked the horned up twentysomethings we were.

Most of the guys I’ve fallen for since entering the gay dating scene have fallen into the second category—gay and not interested for one reason or another. And there have been many, many disappointments. I was crushed when this incredibly hot, sweet guy named Chris turned me down, even though we were very attracted to each other. I don’t think he wasn’t out to his family and that might’ve been a mitigating factor. Or maybe he just wasn’t into me as a potential partner. Most infamously in this set is Seth, the only guy I’ve ever been in love with, who only saw me as a friend and whose rejection basically catapulted me into atheism, and has since led to the dissolving of a number of mutual friendships.

This past weekend I was helping a guy in the a capella group I’m in move out of his apartment in Uptown in Minneapolis to his new apartment in downtown Saint Paul. We weren’t 100% sure whether or not he was gay, and he wasn’t disclosing anything so we left it alone, but that didn’t stop me from developing a huge crush on this poor unsuspecting guy. There were a lot of things that I liked about him, many of which are things that I’m looking for in a potential boyfriend/husband.

Long, tortured, angst-ridden story short, I learned this weekend while moving him out of his apartment that not only is he gay but he was moving into his new apartment with his partner of two years. I’d seen the guy several times after practice, and he’d always been referred to as a “friend,” and I kind of suspected that they might be together, but wasn’t sure. Thus on Saturday when he introduced himself to me as “the partner” was my heart was broken for the umpteenth time.

There’s an aggravating, weird, awkward male social etiquette about asking a guy about his sexuality, the only analogy to which I can think of is asking a woman about her age or weight. You wait for a guy to drop a hint or proffer information, but as a rule you don’t ask. There are some guys who don’t fit into the rigid gender boxes our culture has constructed, but are 100%, vagina-loving heterosexuals. And there are burly lumberjack-esque guys who are totally gay and who you’d never guess were into guys. So it’s likely that there were manly über men at Northwestern who might’ve been in love with me who thought that I was just another one of those unattainable straight guys they’d never have a chance with.

It’s not so much the disappointment of finding out that he was single as it is the mounting frustration of feeling like I’m that hopelessly far behind everyone else, or missing something obvious that everyone else automatically gets. I feel like the kid who suddenly finds himself stuck by some fantastical clerical error in an advanced physics class when he was just starting to learn pre-algebra, with no clue what’s going on or how everyone just jumps on a problem regarding eigenmodes of a vibrating tetrahedron.

As Cecily quips in Oscar Wilde’s play, “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.”

The other day my friend Matt and I were discussing his coming out to his family as an atheist and how that went over. He and I come from very similar home circumstances, having been raised in the church and with people firmly committed to their religious beliefs. In Matt’s case, his family took the news well and it sounds like they’re so far respecting his non-belief and refraining from emotional blackmail or trying to re-convert him. Which is not how it went for me.

We’d talked about his coming out to his family, and to his dad in particular, who is a pastor. While I understand all too well how difficult it is to hand your parents’ religion back to them, at the same time, what kind of a relationship is it where you can’t share something so deeply personal without worrying about being attacked, threatened or disowned?

Part of what keeps many of us in the closet is that fear of being isolated from the herd, especially those of us that grew up in Christian fundamentalist communities. They have us believing that there is no community outside of the church. The only people who truly care about you are your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Harvey Milk said in 1978: “You must come out … Once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.”

I’m very “out” as both a gay man and as an atheist. I try not to be obnoxious about it, and it’s mainly to people I have relationships with. But if we stay in our closets and don’t share who we really are with people, things will stay as they are.

And gay boys like me will keep falling for guys who are already taken.