272. wabi-sabi

kintugi‘Tis the season for retrospection, I guess.

As we turn our faces towards the void of what lies ahead for 2017, I’ve been reminded while listening to the radio this week of some of the high points and low points of the past year. While there were definite low points, I still tend to balk at those who claim that 2016 was the “worst year ever.”

I’m pretty sure 65 million BCE was the worst year ever for the dinosaurs, and you could have your pick of years at the height of the Black Death’s rampage through Europe around 1351-1353.

Ditto during the years of the Great Depression.

1783 was a wretched year for the northern hemisphere when the volcano Laki in Iceland started a chain of natural disasters that led to the deaths of tens of thousands in Europe.

1968 was a pretty bleak year in the United States, with the Vietnam War still raging, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, deadly race riots across the country, and the election of Richard Nixon.

(There are more examples on this Reddit thread.)

Point is, 2016 may have been the worst year in the lifetimes of many under a certain age, but every generation has its go-to .


For me, this has been a year of transformation and growth:

That last one had been a huge source of anxiety for me over the past few years. I’d been growing increasingly less interested in sex, dating, and “dating” (i.e., casual sex), which definitely made me an outlier amongst gay men. Discovering that there were others like me, whose sexuality was defined firstly by emotional rather than sexual attraction, was an incredible relief.

However, this has also redefined my relationship to the broader LGBTQIA+ community. Even before demisexuality, I struggled to really find a place of belonging under the rainbow umbrella.

I am not queer in any sense of the word, am cisgendered, still have my natural hair color, have no piercings or tattoos, am comfortable in my masculine identity, and feel no need to “bend” how I present my gender.

Frankly, I have heterosexual friends who are queerer than me.

Likewise, I have struggled to find belonging amongst gay men. My personal experience is that it’s a community defined heavily by sexual activity and sexual attraction—flirting, hooking up, etc. Again, full disclosure, my experience with “gay culture” has been primarily limited to a subset in central Minnesota, which may not be representative necessarily of the majority.

However, many guys with whom I’ve had conversations, who could be considered “mainstream gay” (however you’d define that), do feel liberated in their more extroverted sexuality. Many came out of repressive homes and communities, and found belonging and community in the gay bars and fetish subcultures that make this super introvert very uncomfortable.


The massacre at the Pulse nightclub in June was a conflicting event for me in many ways. Fifty people were murdered because of their sexual orientation. On the one hand, it was a reminder that although we have marriage equality in all fifty states thanks to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, it is still not entirely safe to be openly LGBT or Q in the United States.

And it’s frightening to consider that the incoming presidential administration could overturn many, if not all, of the advances for LGBTQ rights with a pen stroke or judicial appointment.

Yet aside from a sense of shared oppression, I don’t feel drawn to “gay” spaces—bars, clubs, gyms, bathhouses, concerts, etc. Even “gaymer” events are off-putting for me, mainly because the sexual energy is almost emotionally deafening.

At the 2015 American Library Association conference in San Francisco, when I attended a GLBT Round Table social (and later an independently organized) event, even though we were all librarians, I observed how the gay (and, I presume, bi) men flirted about the room like bees, sizing each other up.

I just wanted to talk to someone about cataloging and archiving.


A few days ago this video came across my YouTube feed.

Dubious genetic explanations aside, I found O’Keefe’s assertion that LGBT people have unique qualities and perspectives for bringing communities together and facilitating healing to be very heartening. While I may not fit any stereotypes of how society envisions a gay man, I do believe that growing up as an outsider has made me a more compassionate, empathetic, and social justice-minded as a human being.

It’s one reason I decided to go into librarianship in the first place: I know what it is to be denied information that might broaden my mind and challenge my comfortable, preconceived notions about the world—and people.

And I can do something about that as a cataloger, an archivist, and as a librarian.


The reason I worry so much about sex, and the hypersexuality of gay men, is the knowledge that androphiles are my field of eligibles. As a demisexual, it takes a while to even recognize that I’m interested in a guy.

While I’m still trying to figure out if we have anything in common, he’s already decided that we should to go back to his place.

I worry that everyone else moves too fast for me, that no one is willing to wait for the intricate gears and dynamos of my psycho-sexual machine to determine if attraction will happen or not.

Will I ever find someone? (And where do I even look?) Will the attraction endure for me, or for him, or will he eventually get fed up with me and my cogitating?

As I consider the theme of loneliness in 2016, I recognize the need to resolve it somehow, to rethink my perspectives.

Good riddance to this year though.

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267. eponym

forgiveness-and-reconciliationSuffice to say that, at least in American society, we have a pretty muddled notion of forgiveness. It’s often used in the sense of a pardon: to let someone off the hook; to pretend as if a wrong never took place.

The OED provides several useful definitions:

  • To remit (a debt); to give up resentment or claim to requital for, pardon (an offence).
  • To give up resentment against, pardon (an offender).
  • To make excuse or apology for, regard indulgently.

The concept of forgiveness is a strange one for me. For one, it was a bedrock of my community’s theology growing up, through Bible verses such as:

  • This is my blood, which ratifies the New Covenant, my blood shed on behalf of many, so that they may have their sins forgiven. (Matthew 26:28, CJB)
  • If you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14, ESV)

We were supposed to be “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32, NIV). If we’d been properly taught the theory of forgiveness as children, we might have had the tools to process hurt and loss, to work towards reconciliation and/or healing.

How different my life might’ve been.


For many evangelicals, what forgiveness meant in practice was that we were supposed to be doormats for each other, meekly turning the other cheek (no matter how egregious the offense) and forgetting about it, as if nothing had happened. Growing up, if one brought up a past wrong that had supposedly been forgiven, that would be met with an exclamation of, “See, you didn’t really forgive me!”

Is it any surprise that, in some churches, crimes like rape go unreported and unpunished?

We also learned some profoundly confusing lessons about forgiveness. On the one hand, you have New Testament Jesus who teaches us to roll over and let people do whatever they want to him.

Then there’s the Jesus of the Book of Revelation who makes the Bride from Kill Bill look like My Little Pony.

There’s also the god of the Tanakh (which Christians call their “Old Testament”) who Richard Dawkins describes in The God Delusion as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction,” who wipes out virtually the entire human race in the flood, kills people for all manner of reasons, etc.

Some disturbingly mixed signals.

There were also certain sins that were seemingly unforgivable, such as sex outside of marriage—well, women who had sex outside of marriage, that is, who were forever branded as sluts, unclean, polluted, unmarriageable. “Unrepentant” homosexuality, too. These were sins God could never forgive, and conveniently, neither could his followers.

So we were supposed to forgive, but only under certain circumstances; and if we truly forgave someone, we were never supposed to bring up the offense again, even if they continued to hurt us (Matthew 18:21-22)?

Needless to say, I came into adulthood with convoluted ideas about forgiveness.


Among the lessons I’ve since learned since then is that, to quote Lewis Smedes, “to forgive is to set a prisoner free and realize that prisoner was you.”

It’s not about forgetting. It’s not about the other person. It doesn’t even require reconciliation.

Forgiveness is ultimately about freeing yourself from bitterness, grieving a loss from hurt or suffering, accepting that the past won’t ever be different from what we want, and intentionally moving forward into a healthier future.

A couple of months ago, my current therapist asked if I’d forgiven my parents. I told her that I didn’t know, that I don’t know what forgiveness feels like. I explained what I’d been taught about forgiveness, and she responded with some of the above views and current teachings on the subject… that it’s not about the other person, it’s about you, etc.

Frankly, I don’t think I’m still angry at my parents. Rather, those feelings have morphed into sadness—sadness for a relationship that will probably never be there. My friend Tom has reiterated his hope that somehow we’ll find a way to reconcile, to reconnect. To which I usually respond that maybe we will, but it’s unlikely.


I’ve probably written about this before, but quite a lot has changed in the years since I came out (2008) and since I became an atheist (2011). In the nearly six years that have followed, my parents and I have gone on increasingly divergent paths. They have clung more staunchly to their evangelical Christian faith and their conservative values, whereas I am heading further to the left with every passing day. It’s not that there isn’t room for common ground.

There isn’t much commonality left, period.

Sure, there are shared memories, inside jokes—but these feel more like when you awkwardly run into an old work colleague and realize the spark of friendship is gone. Jokes that were once hilarious now seem a desperate attempt to make something relevant that long ago lost its currency.

Prior to my becoming an atheist in 2011, what my parents and I shared—despite our differences—was our faith. Even though I drank and swore, and (when I became sexually active) had sex with men, we could still agree on the basic tenets of our Christian faith.

So it wasn’t out of resentment that I disowned my parents. Rather, it’s merely that we don’t have anything in common beyond genetics. I don’t expect them to renounce their faith and join PFLAG any more than they (as much as I’m sure they pray daily for my soul) expect me to revert to the person they used to know.

It sucks to not have parents who accept me for who I am (as other LGBT friends do, whose parents eventually did a 180-degree turn), but it’s healthier than closing my eyes, pretending nothing is wrong.

Yet things are not all bad. While I don’t have a native home to go for the holidays, I do have chosen homes and families now. That’s not Pollyannaish gratitude.

That’s moving on.

266. vilipend

Viennese Grand Piano, built by Anton Martin Thym (1815), couurtesy the National Music Museum, University of South Dakota, http://goo.gl/87SCjNStory time.

My sophomore year in college, the choir went on one of its many tours around the Midwest, including Vermillion, South Dakota, which (among other things) is home to the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota.

No, that’s not true. The National Music Museum and the University of South Dakota are really the only things Vermillion has going for it, and I say that as one who spent a good chunk of his childhood in a small, Central Plains town that was also home to an institution of higher learning.

Sorry, people of Vermillion.

Anyway, at one point during the tour of the various collections we entered the keyboard room, and this is where our story begins.


First, some background.

As some readers may know, I play the piano. At one point I could’ve been called a pianist. I started lessons at age eight, and by age eleven was studying pretty seriously.

Like, hours of practice a day seriously.

Now, I just play the piano.

Unlike most kids who take piano lessons, I decided to specialize in what’s known as period (or historically informed) performance. I read books on 16th and 17th century keyboard and embellishment technique, checked out journals from the library, studied recordings to absorb stylistic mannerisms, mastered skills like finger pedaling and use of ornaments like mordants, appoggiaturas, and doppelt-cadences.

For birthdays, I asked for recordings of pieces by Mozart, Bach, Purcell, Tallis, Josquin, and Monteverdi.

(I did discover 20th century music around age sixteen, but that’s another story.)

Basically, if it was written before 1800, I wasn’t interested.

One of the instruments I always wanted to play was one with a Janissary pedal, a reference to Turkish military bands that Europeans went mad for in the mid 18th century. This is referenced in the film version of Amadeus when Katherina Cavalieri tells Salieri her hairdresser says that “everything this year is going to be Turkish!”

My hairdresser said everything this year's going to be Turkish.

These bands featured lots of percussion–including bells and drums. Piano builders catered to this craze with a pedal that activated a drum, bells, cymbal, and/or triangle built directly into the piano itself.

One of the pieces written for this device is the third movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11, better known as the Rondo alla Turca.

Fast-forward to 2003 during my sophomore year, on a tour of the National Music Museum. As we entered the keyboard room, our tour guide began to talk about some of the pianos featured there… including the one in the picture at the top of the page.

Which happens to include a Janissary pedal.

The tour guide played a few of the pianos to demonstrate the differences in sound quality and timbre between them. Then she got to our piano. Now, I’d only ever heard a recording of the Janissary pedal on the radio, but never in person.

So when our tour guide played through that movement of the Mozart rondo, when she got to the A major section and activated the pedal, I inadvertently let out a sound that was a combination of a shriek of elation and squeak of surprise. It wasn’t an effeminate sound, per se. It was too feral and wild for that. But it did catch everyone off guard. Every head in the room whipped around and I must’ve turned numerous shades of red.

I’ve often reflected on this moment, especially in the years since coming out. Much is made of the differences in mannerism and expression between gay and heterosexual men. One moment when I became acutely aware of such differences was when listening to an episode of This American Life when I was almost fourteen years old titled Sissies. In one segment, an excerpt from an advice book for young men written in 1942 was read aloud:

Here’s a list of gestures commonly associated with women and another list commonly associated with men… Feminine gesture: hand on hip. Masculine gesture: hands folded over chest or clasped in back… Feminine gesture: looking at people from the corner of eyes. Masculine gesture: direct look; entire head turned toward person… How do you laugh? Are your laughs pitched high like a woman’s? Lower the pitch. Develop a masculine laugh… Roar. Bellow. Do anything but giggle.

This was one of those landmark moments when I realized that to be effeminate (i.e., faggot) was something negative and shameful. It was when I began to scrutinize my own behavior, looking at myself how I imagined the world might be seeing me.


To this day, there is little about gay culture and lifestyle today that I identify with–and by “culture” and “lifestyle,” I mean perceived culture and lifestyle as defined and reinforced through shows like Will & GraceModern FamilyGlee, and in places like gayborhoods and gay urban meccas like Los Angeles and New York City where trends develop and are exported from. Things like speech and vocal patterns, clothing, mannerisms, preferences, and the like become community tokens of belonging, powerful totems of identity in a world that is often unkind to those who do not conform to heteronormative values.

But I’ve realized that for me, this goes much deeper. It’s not that I wasn’t socialized as a gay man.

It’s that I wasn’t really socialized, period.

That moment wasn’t an expression of my “queer” self. It was the unfiltered delight of someone who never learned what is a socially appropriate expression of delight.

Homeschooled until my junior year in high school, I grew up in an insular world within an insular world. In those years when most people learn what’s cool/uncool, how to read social signals and express yourself in acceptable ways, I was learning what it meant to be an outsider in a world dominated by Satan. While other kids were running to get to class before the bell, I was doing my own thing.

Sure, I missed out on the various traumas of middle and junior high school. I also missed out on the growth opportunities that time affords.

 

257. torschlusspanik

flo-WIT

“Torschlusspanik.”

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

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

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

Okay. Deep breath, everyone.


First, an Alanis Morissette lyric:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mostly just feel sad.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When’s it going to be my turn?

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

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

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

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


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

Yes, I know.

It’s bonkers.

250. oneiric

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

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

But aforementioned headline did catch my attention.

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

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

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

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

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

In a longer comment he wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for us?

246. auroral

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

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

I have mixed feelings about this.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck that.

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

spectrum

245. polysemy

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

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

Yay…

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

Ah, and yet…

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

C’est la guerre

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

A friend of mine posted on Facebook today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 <<Brief rant ahead>>

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

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

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

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

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

243. risibility

Dungeons_and_Dragons_gameAt 32.5 years old, I’m getting around to correcting a deficiency in my nerd cred.

Up until very recently, I had never played Dungeons & Dragons or any tabletop role playing games.

Part of this was that until my mid-twenties, I believed games like this were a real gateway to the occult and to demonic powers.

A Hellmouth, if you will.

Oh, yes—that went for shows and movies like Buffy the Vampire SlayerCharmedBewitched, Ghostbusters, The Craft… even Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Simply watching a positive portrayal of witchcraft or the occult was an insidious threat to our Christian faith. We were like heavenly soldiers adrift behind enemy lines, like Frodo and Sam in Mordor. Unless we spent time every day reading the Bible and praying, and watched and read only Bible-based media, the constant inundation of worldly temptations would lead us astray into the grip of the Devil!

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:2-3 (ESV)

I’m not even kidding. That’s what we believed.

I had a good friend in high school, Jennie Purino, who was really into RPGs. (And vampires.) At age 15, having been brought up to believe that all that stuff was literally evil, this was a real brain teaser. From how she described and talked about it, it didn’t seem particularly dangerous or threatening. And as far as I knew, she didn’t worship Satan. (I think her family was nominally Catholic.) It actually sounded like fun… which, to my then Christianity-saturated brain, sounded exactly how Satan would lure people in.

So over the past few years I’ve been getting caught up on things that were previously verboten for me. Everything from music to games, to television shows, graphic novels, movies, card games… and now role playing games. My housemates are long-time D&D players, so they’ve been trying for a while to get me into it. And while I no longer think it’s evil, I was a little resistant. My understanding of games like D&D was that they attracted nerdy math freaks who could keep track of all the rules involved in game play. I pictured tons of calculations, and memorizing arcane amounts of information about races, monsters, spells, weapons, combat, and so on.

To be honest, I have a huge chip on my shoulder about anything math or science-related. I struggled to learn even basic math, like algebra and geometry, and science was equally daunting. Chemistry was fun though. But that meant that I chose to focus on the humanities, especially on literature and music, and wrote science and math off as being for people who were logical, and “smart,” and who probably fell somewhere on the autism spectrum. (Irony.)

Julia Sweeney says in Letting Go of God:

I had this prejudice that doing well at science was somehow an admission that you didn’t have the complexity of mind or subtlety of character to take on the humanities. Science was for people who couldn’t handle ambiguity and needed black and white answers, people who couldn’t get in touch with their feelings and had nothing left to think about.

Then a few weeks ago, I was invited to play Pathfinder, a game system similar to Dungeons and Dragons (and, as I recently learned, is backwards-compatible with D&D 3.5), but set in a different universe and setting. My friend Ben is running this game, which is the first chapter in a much longer campaign called Rise of the Runelords. Earlier this year I played a card-based version of this game, so the setting and the world itself was fairly familiar to me, but this was the first time I’d be building a character and rolling for stats.

Look at me, using phrases like “rolling for stats.”

The past few weeks have been spent researching and building this character—in this case, a half-elf bard named Casevar. I wrote out a fairly lengthy detailed biography for him, and this was the basis for a lot of the skills, abilities, and classes I chose to assign. It was actually a lot like the experiences I’ve had building a character in theater—you can do almost anything, within the confines of the play and the world the playwright has set, but you have to be able to justify those choices.

For example, one of the skills was Linguistics, which allowed me to choose an additional language that Casevar knows. For this instance, I chose Gnomish. When Ben asked me how on earth Casevar would know that language, I could point back to his biography where one of his close childhood friends was a Gnome named Mikkkaer. (Told you. Detailed.) It works in the context of his history.


What I’m learning is that the rules and the nuances of RPGs are almost secondary to what seems to be its more primary aim—collaborative storytelling. Mechanics are necessary, but are more the tools for storytelling than an end. It allows for people to experience a different reality through a collective imaginative effort, and maybe for a few hours to be someone else. It draws on narrative and mythic elements that have shaped human cultures and civilizations for thousands of years, and that still continue to speak to us today.

There are also an increasing number of studies suggesting that RPGs help in the development of critical thinking, creativity, and compassion, and can be useful in the treatment of conditions like bi-polar, depression, and even autism-spectrum disorder.

So I’m looking at this as an opportunity to not only broaden my horizons but to also step outside my comfort zone and try on different personalities and personas as I build and shape my own post-Christian identity. Perhaps in this way I can overcome some of the demons that have been keeping me locked up in my own head, and from moving ahead with my life.

Not to mention that it’s also fun.

238. caustic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#notmyscene

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

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

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

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

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

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

237. emblem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a terribly healthy/helpful voice.

But one fence at a time.