260. overslaugh

enhanced-buzz-29982-1409148846-23Two days ago, this past Saturday, marked the two-year anniversary of the last time I went on an actual, non-hookup date with a guy.

Or, as it’s known on my Google calendar: “Last Fuckable Day” (à la the Amy Schumer short from last year). Because June 25, 2014 felt like the universe telling me that I am undateable.

“Why would you observe such a date?” you might ask. “I mean, what the actual hell is wrong with you?”

Well, for one thing, it’s so that I can answer myself when asking: “So how long has it been since I went on a date?”

For another, I’m an archivist at heart so preserving history is something of my hobby and expertise. At first I wasn’t 100% sure of the timeline, but thanks to stalkerish Google location history I was able to narrow down the date we first met. Weather Underground confirmed when our second date was because there was a thunderstorm that evening, and there are also SMS messages from that date saved in my email.

I don’t remember exactly when Matt the bisexual guy and I started messaging on OkCupid. It was about a week or so before we met, and we seemed to have a good connection so we decided to set a date to actually meet in person, at the Seward Pizza Lucé in Minneapolis on June 11th, 2014. It was particularly rainy that week, and I recall driving through a storm and it being particularly nerve wracking getting over there because the wipers on my car had stopped working and were frozen at about a 45 degree angle on my windshield.

The date itself went well. I don’t remember many details from the conversation, other than that he had moved to Minneapolis from New York to work on his PhD, and that he had most recently been dating a guy for several years who’d broken up with him a few months prior.

Big red flag, I know.

We ended up going for a walk across the Lake Street-Marshall Bridge after dinner, and had a really good time discussing wildlife and ecosystems (that was part of his field of study), and more about our backgrounds. It had been a little over a year since I’d broken up with Jay, my last boyfriend, who apparently met his current partner about three months after we split up. He certainly wasted no time, eh.

The evening came to an end with another torrential downpour that began just as we got back to his car. We kissed briefly as we said goodbye, and after over a year of being single I was starting to feel cautiously hopeful. We seemed to have good chemistry, and he was a really nice and intelligent guy.

The next day we decided to meet again, this time at his place that following Saturday on June 14, 2014.

Yes, I know. I know. Terrible decisions. Hindsight and all that.

It was another rainy evening, and though I was white knuckling it the whole way there as I drove through the storm, I managed to arrive safely.

I remember us talking for a long time that evening. We talked about music, about science, about his copy of Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale on his bookshelf. Eventually, we started making out and… well, you can imagine the rest if you like. We actually didn’t have sex until the next morning, but the whole evening felt good. Hopeful. Cautiously hopeful.

As I left that morning, I got a random text from Jay saying that he’d passed me with his boyfriend on the way to pick up his boyfriend’s kids from somewhere. (Jay had talked about kids on more than one occasion, which had been one of many sources of tension between us, because I was not crazy about the idea of parenting. And, of course, with the guy after me he got exactly what he wanted.) I don’t remember what was said, but I recall writing back something about leaving “my boyfriend’s” place, not wanting to seem pathetic and single after over a year. He wrote back something about being happy for me, and that was it.

Haven’t heard from him since.

Matt and I exchanged a few more texts that day, but after that, I didn’t hear from him again for a while, which I didn’t take as a good sign. I didn’t want to seem desperate or clingy though, and waited until Thursday to try him again.

He didn’t respond until Wednesday.

Turns out he’d been avoiding having a conversation with me. A few days after we slept together he’d been contacted by his ex again, and he confessed that he was still in love with the guy but was feeling conflicted because he’d actually liked me.

But he was going to pursue getting back together with his ex.

And that was that. I didn’t hear from him again either. No idea if they got back together.

That triggered the beginning of a major depressive episode that lasted over six months. I felt utterly defeated by being turned down by yet another guy I’d been interested in. This had happened so many times before, but I’d gotten my hopes up only to see them dashed again, and it was hard to ignore signals the universe seemed to be proverbially sending me—that no guy who I was interested in was ever going to be interested in me.

It happened with Chris. With Seth. With Matt. With several others whose names and faces I can’t recall anymore, “unremembered lads that not again will turn to me at midnight with a cry” (Edna St. Vincent Millay).

Of course I’m writing this with the recent image of Miss Havisham in mind, knowing that I need to resist allowing regret and heartbreak to poison me.

My therapist asked me last week to envision what it might feel like to actually be loved and accepted by a partner, without fear or reservation.

I can’t even fathom what that would look like.

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252. inconnu

out-there-starisborn-videoSixteenByNine1050Our universe is all about building new life from death.

Like the creation of the world from the body of Ymir the frost giant in Norse mythology, the elements that made life on this planet even possible originated in the violent deaths of massive stars billions of years ago.

We are born from death.

We even owe the birth of our own home star and the formation of our solar system to the deaths of the star (or stars) responsible for the nebula that birthed it, a process that took 50 million years, give or take.

Most stars in the observable universe are about as big as our own—average. They lead mundane lives for the most part, about 10 billion years, fusing hydrogen into helium.

When one of these stars can’t fuse its elements any further, it expands to twice its original size, into a red giant. The outer shell is cast off, most of its matter is blown out into space, and the remnant shrinks down into a white dwarf, which will continue to shine for 80 to 100 billion years.

However, when a star greater than about five times the stellar mass of our star dies, it goes out spectacularly in a supernova, a violent explosion that scatters the star’s guts (and heavier elements) into the cosmos.

If the star is large enough, though, even the resulting explosion isn’t enough to overcome the star’s own gravity. The stellar remnant collapses on itself, collapsing right out of existence until an impossibly dense singularity forms—a black hole.

Like anything with gravity, they attract matter. But unlike most objects, black holes are dense and powerful enough to pull in even light: thus, why they are called “black,” because not even light can escape.

We now know that supermassive black holes lurk at the centers of most galaxies. They may even be vital to galactic formation.

Out of death, life.

That’s all to say, I had a meltdown on Friday evening.


Black_Holes_-_Monsters_in_Space

It’s been a while since I had one, because all in all, my mental state has actually been pretty good lately. I’ve been able to focus on school and on developing as a librarian.

However, a few weeks ago I was invited to a dinner gathering hosted a gay couple who are friends of mine. The other guests were another gay couple, who did the cooking.

And it did not go well… for me.

Although my friends tried to include me in conversation, the other couple barely acknowledged my presence, bringing up topics like expensive vacations they’ve taken as a couple, discussions of couple’s issues, or challenges of gay parenthood as a couple.

The message was clear: as a single person, I was unworthy and invisible.

A normal, healthy person might say: “These people are pretentious, fucking assholes. Fuck them and their shallow snobbery.”

Instead, it felt like a validation of every insecurity I have about being single.


477f73c8c712858510310c472b0d982fThe meltdown in question happened at a small gathering at the house of the same friends who hosted the dinner party. They’re in their early forties and recently started up a sexual *whatever* with a local twentysomething guy.

Overall, it seems to be a good thing for them, with everyone getting what they need from the arrangement.

However, I am careful to remind these friends whenever they start to share details that I don’t want to hear about it.

For starters, it’s been ages since I had sex, and I arrived at the conclusion recently that I just can’t have sex with anyone I’m not in love with (and vice versa).

Meaning that, with most gay men as they are, and at my age and relatively nascent progress in rebuilding my life post-fundie Christianity, it seems unlikely I’ll ever find someone.

Or get laid.

So, as Miracle Max might say,

Miracle Max


So, Friday night.

Maybe someone posted a couple’s selfie or a chipper new relationship status earlier in the day, but I showed up feeling hateful towards the world. My friends’ new boy was there, and I couldn’t stop from hating the three of them and their playful, flirty familiarity.

In short, towards the end of evening and after several drinks, I went off. And when I go off in that state, I can be nasty and cruel.

Which I was.

Spectacularly.

Basically, it’s beyond aggravating to see everyone getting what they want when things appear so bleak for me. To see how fun, easy, and recreational sex appears to be for so many men in this community, and knowing that that’s not for me.

Plus, it’s galling that virtually every guy I’ve dated is in a long-term relationship now (including Jay and Seth), which summons images of facing the next however-many years alone, braced against the icy and lonely winds of other people’s happiness.

It’s like a prolonged shot of some craggy shoreline in a bleak Bergman film. (Aren’t they all bleak?)


7858786516_9cdd638ded_m

Right now, I feel rather like an emotional black hole at the center of my personal galaxy. I seem to attract good, quality people, and I’m reasonably attractive, but few can drift too close without getting hurt.

My formative years were about unknowingly internalizing the Christian belief that I’m a worthless, sinful piece of shit. Family and community life taught me that the basis of all relationships is fear.

Now I fear that love of any kind won’t be able to reach me without being mangled, or escape my gravitational pull to get out to someone.

How does one rewrite that script?


Today I watched a TED talk by Jean-Paul Mari about PTSD. He said: “You feel like you want to die or kill or hide or run away. You want to be loved, but you hate everyone.”

I may not have survived a war, but I did survive the trauma of fundamentalist Christianity. And I can’t banish the dreadful thought that I survived only to emerge dead on the vine.

That doesn’t ring intellectually true, but it certainly feels true…

251. convive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe depression was manifesting itself that early.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

However…

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

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

Not into it.

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

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

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


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

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

“Is that specific enough?”

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

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

… not real hopeful on that point.

241. duffer

Chain_expressing_freedomWhat a month so far.

I finished the month of June in San Francisco at the American Library Association convention, which was my first time in that city, at a professional convention, and marching in a Pride parade other than in the Twin Cities. The latter is less important than the others, but suffice to say that going to ALA was a confirmation that librarianship is truly where I belong.

During the five days I was there, I heard from and met people passionate about keeping information free and accessible for all, and about getting that information into the hands of patrons where it can go out and change the world.

I got to hear the incredible Gloria Steinem speak on the transformative importance of feminism in librarianship.

Heard a (rather cute) guy from the South Carolina Lowcountry Digital History Initiative gloriously nerd out in a session on the technical nuances of making a software program do exactly what they needed it to do.

Was introduced to people in the #critlib movement who are actively taking a critical look at librarianship through the lens of feminism, queer/gender theory, multiculturalism, and so on.

It was truly inspiring.

However…


On Monday I finally got back with my therapist after a nearly three-and-a-half month break. She moved offices, and in the madness of finishing the semester, going on vacation for two weeks, and then going to San Francisco, I hadn’t made an appointment.

And I was also kinda wearing my victim hat. I wasn’t sure if she was going to get in touch with me to set up an appointment, and when I didn’t hear from her, I took it as a conformation that my issues are too fucked up for her to handle, and that she was abandoning me.

Ahh, depression.

As I got her caught up on the latest developments, I shared some of what happened in San Francisco, particularly about feeling alone in a literal sea of humanity. There were over 25,000 attendees at ALA, so for an introvert it was especially overwhelming.

There was the usual sense I have of not knowing how to interact with people, which is especially frustrating at an event where networking and connection-making could happen. Of course, that sort of activity is better suited to a smaller conference organized around a specific discipline or area.

However, that’s how I feel most of the time—trapped in my head with negative thoughts. Why even bother talking to anyone? The minute you open your mouth they’ll figure out what an idiot you are. You’re such a failure as an adult. How old are you? 32. You should be more competent by now.

That’s nothing new, but I shared all of that with my therapist, of having the sense of needing a personality overhaul, because how I’ve been going up until now is not working—for my career, for my personal life, or for my romantic life.

I also shared a major meltdown I had on vacation in Big Bend National Park in Texas last month. In short, the inciting event was having to cross a stream to enter a canyon, something I wasn’t expecting. My friend Matt just went with it and waded through, and I think seeing his seeming carefree attitude set off something in my mind.

Now, granted, I don’t know what’s going on in other people’s minds. Their stories are their own. But it seems to me that most people know how to have a good time. They aren’t caught up in their own thoughts, in insecurities, in a negative self-image from a toxic belief system.

So my meltdown in the canyon was really about my frustration over feeling rigid and stuck and not knowing what to do about that, while most everyone else seems to know how to flow.


Okay, brief diversion.

I’ve discovered a new YouTube channel, The School of Life. Came across it by accident when I saw a link to the video:

My own philosophy education was pretty abysmal. Along with psychology, we were discouraged from thinking too much about philosophy. After all, they were worldly. But I was really struck by some of his ideas here, such as Geworfenheit, or “throwness”—as Heidegger described it, the “attendant frustrations, sufferings, and demands [of life] that one does not choose, such as social conventions or ties of kinship and duty” (Wikipedia).

In Heideggerian terminology, since 2008 I’ve been moving way from a state of Uneigentlichkeit (inauthenticity) towards Eigentlichkeit (authenticity); of becoming more aware recently of the distracting das Gerede (chatter, or idle talk) and how intensely I dislike it; and of wanting to live in a greater state of freedom in keeping with the knowledge of my own mortality—das Nichts.

As Camus would say, I have enough freedom to know that I’m in a cage, but not quite enough freedom to escape it.


A friend observed that it’s not that I think about these things, but that most people don’t.

This is the trouble that comes with thinking too much, and as I watched some of these videos last night, it seems most philosophers are unhappy for that reason. It’s one reason why Camus sticks out. Even in the undeniable face of mortality, he found reasons to live.

And it’s this reason that drove me towards librarianship and grad school, of embracing my sexuality and atheism—my own Eigentlichkeit—and why it’s so troubling that I have difficulty connecting with even people I value most. Life is a brief candle, and even though I know it’s all ephemeral, like how we used to build theater sets only to tear them down, I want to spend mine adding whatever value to my communities.

The realization I’m coming to is that I need to dismantle the old paradigms of fear and self-loathing that keep me rigid and stuck so that I can live free of ideas that no longer serve me.

So that I can actually get down to the business of living.

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.

236. alight

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Which bring me to the breakthrough I had last night.

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

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

And, at age 33, he got married.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

233. happenstance

sängyssä

Quick disclaimer: this post will deal with my sex life in unsexy and entirely untitillating language. Because my relationship with sex these days is… well, complicated.

I haven’t had many relationships that could be described as healthy. Beginning with my family (our first relationship lab, as it were), through my tumultuous teenage years, up to present-day, my life has been a decades-long exercise in keeping people closest to me at a safe and comfortable distance.

Clearing my orbital neighborhood, so to speak.

There was also the culture of shame endemic in the evangelical Christian community. Religious fundamentalists in general are adept at wearing masks to hide their true faces from each other for fear of judgment, shaming, and reprisal. In my community, it was often done with a smile. under the guise of “prayerful” good intentions; and in my family, Bible verses were often used as reminders of how we weren’t living up to the Bible’s standard for Christian living.

Not only did our parents disapprove of us—God also disapproved.

Consequently, as I wrote about in a recent blog entry, virtually all of my relationships up until now have been based on fear. I learned to fear everyone, regardless of whether there was something there to actually be afraid of.

At the same time, I desperately longed for acceptance, for belonging, and safety. The cognitive dissonance was, and still is, deafening.

This has played itself out in my sexual relationships in a number of highly toxic ways.

For one, I’m ashamed to say that once I became sexually active, I began using sex to try to achieve intimacy. It’s not the sex part that shames me in hindsight as how embarrassingly stereotypical that was. And it never worked. After I broke things off with my first boyfriend (i.e., “Aaron 1.0”), I had quite a few hookups on the way to my second boyfriend (“Aaron 2.0”) as a way of “catching up” to where I figured most gay men my age were—that is, age 26.

Even in those hookups, I was still hoping against hope to find a partner, someone with whom to find mutual belonging. I must have been looking so intently that, even if I had found someone compatible at that point, my expectations for the relationship would’ve doomed it to fail from the start.

Of course, after Seth I went on a sex binge, trying to literally fuck him out of my system. That didn’t work either, and each time the disappointment and the dissatisfaction deepened.

It was a cycle of self-perpetuating and self-propagating shame.

It frustrated me how friends of mine could have so much sex with seemingly no emotional consequences. There’s that line from the chorus of a recent Daft Punk song:

We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky

“Good fun” was something I was not having.

After I broke up with my most recent boyfriend in March of 2013, every sexual encounter started to leave me more and more depressed. I was thirty years old, and the rest of my life looked to be a series of endless, unsatisfying hookups.

Plus, as I wrote recently, I had defined success for myself as finding a boyfriend and partner, because that was one thing I grew up believing I could never have. So with every disappointing hookup, my parents’ voices in my mind saying that gay men lead sad, lonely lives grew more terrifying.

So I probably put myself in situations where that prophesy was mostly likely to come true.

A foursome I had last fall (which ended with me being a third wheel after one guy went to bed and the other two guys were into each other but not me) left me feeling undesirable and even more out of phase with other gay men than ever.

Meeting the bisexual tree scientist this summer (who I was actually, finally into—until he told me that he’s still in love with his ex-boyfriend and that they were trying to get back together) left me feeling as if there’s a game of musical chairs going on, and everyone else is faster than me.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of impossible expectations and a ton of emotional trauma (yes, some of it self-inflicted) wrapped up in sex besides just getting off with another person.

So much that I can’t enjoy it properly anymore.

For example, a couple weeks ago, a friend introduced me to a guy at a gayming party, texting me before I arrived that he’d found my “future husband.” I shouldn’t have taken it seriously, but before I could stop myself, I started surreptitiously studying this guy, imagining our future together, in Technicolor. We did hook up later that evening, and while he clearly had fun, he also made it clear that he’d just got out of a five-year relationship and wasn’t interested in anything serious.

Just like all of the others, I thought.

So I’m taking a break from sex for now. It’s just too confusing and unhealthy. I’ve been saying that sex is like advanced graduate studies in relationships, and I’m still trying to just finish high school. Frankly, I need to get to the root of this need to base my self worth on external factors, like looks and performance, first.

The tough thing about that is that it’s hard not to resent everyone who is in a relationship, or who is able to enjoy sex without the resulting existential tsunami. Of course, we can’t know what’s really going on in other people’s relationships or in their minds. Maybe everyone else really is just as afraid and insecure, but can simply cope better. However, when your emotional vocabulary is based on fear, it’s difficult not to invent reasons why a relationship is already doomed, or turn an otherwise fun, pleasurable experience into an emotional minefield.

Fear fuels self-belief that I’m broken and damaged became a reason to preemptively sabotage potentially fruitful relationships.

This is why I’m in therapy, folks.

228. cloister

soup_kitchenSorry it’s been a bit between entries, folks. This fall hasn’t been doing much for my depression or my mood.

The short of it is that I got laid off again last Friday. Basically, my job got outsourced to the main corporate office of the company I was contracted with. I shouldn’t have been surprised after seeing half a dozen full-time employees depart in the last month I was there. It averaged about one a week. Most of them put in their two-week’s notice, and the next day were told not to return. In fact, my last day was also the last day for a project manager who had been with the company for 26 years. More than once I heard the phrase, “This place is hemorrhaging people all over the place.”

The staffing agency I work with has had me out on several short-term assignments, but the effect has been pretty demoralizing. Returning to Minneapolis after the brief trip to Seattle, to a job that I no longer enjoyed and to a state where my romantic prospects are negligible, was difficult enough. Then to be back to not having a full-time gig again was another burden.

Tim_Minchin_pianoI think what I wanted to write about today was family. So this shouldn’t be too long.

This afternoon I was practicing Tim Minchin’s song White Wine in the Sun. It’s a song about being a secular person at Christmastime and how the significance of the holiday (arguably, of any holiday) is spending time with loved ones. One lyric from the bridge goes:

And you won’t understand,
But you will learn someday
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people
Who’ll make you feel safe in this world.

What I’m finding with this whole Sunday Assembly song-leader gig is that, while I may not have been gifted with a voice for Classical music, I actually have a pretty decent voice for indie rock. I’ve been heavily influenced (vocally) by the likes of Fiona Apple, Annie Lennox, Colin Meloy, and Tim Minchin.

So as I was singing through this song, one line of the chorus (“I’ll be seeing my dad / My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum”) particularly struck me as sad, seeing as I’m feeling rather ambiguous still about my own family, and whether I even belong there anymore.

It’s not that I’m not wanted there. I hear occasionally from my sisters and from my parents about how they miss me and wish I came around more. My mom emailed last week to say that my 85-year-old grandmother has asked about me several times recently. I was kinda surprised to hear that seeing as she’s in the declining stages of dementia. The things that stick…

It’s more that I still don’t feel comfortable or safe among with my family. They’re conservative (political and theological) evangelical Christians who don’t accept my “lifestyle” or the fact that I’m an atheist. invisible-manThey acknowledge these things… except, not really. When I’m present, they do their best to ignore the reality that their son is not the heterosexual male they’d always hoped for, or that I don’t believe in their so-called god.

This past summer, my father looked stunned when I declined to hold hands with the family when they prayed at the dinner table. Instead, he and my sister bowed their heads and pretended as if I was participating, going so far as to mime holding hands with the imaginary son/brother they wish they had. It was a symbolic gesture that seemed to sum up our present relationship.

Which is to say, fractured and tenuous.

This evening, while reading through some different news items, I happened across a link to an article on the website Queerty titled “Five Tips For Surviving A Weekend At Home With Your Beau.” I had two competing reactions while reading it:

  1. Thank ‘flip that this probably won’t ever be my life.
  2. This won’t ever be my life.

I’ve only dated one guy who I was with long enough that he wanted to meet my family. About a month before we broke up, Jay did meet my younger sister, her husband and her now three children. Thanksgiving_DayAnd no, that meeting was not the cause of the breakup.

Frankly, I’m getting sort of resigned to the idea that maybe there will never be any kind of close relationship with my family. If I ever find a guy who becomes Mr. LTR, maybe he’ll want to meet them, if only to better understand why I’m as seriously fucked up as I am.

The article advises not withholding information. In my case, that has never been a problem, especially where my family is concerned. I probably disclose too much information.

It also advises giving him “pointers”—but how to advise one’s beau to avoid getting cornered by any member of my family lest they lay out the whole “Roman road” and try to convert him? My parents are definitely to be avoided, especially together. They’re like the Christian Bonnie and Clyde of Evangelism, working in tandem to drag someone’s entire life story out of them and then work all the angles to convince them that “Jesus is the only way to salvation.”

And “Be understanding”? That’s a little condescending. I mean, it’s possible that my perspective on my family is skewed towards the dysfunctional, but how exactly is a gay couple supposed to react when the family doesn’t acknowledge that the two of you are in a legitimate relationship at all—and rather, they believe that you’re “sexually disordered”? What are you supposed to say when people start ranting about President Obama, about liberals ruining the country, how climate change is a hoax, etc?

Of course, all of this is purely hypothetical. I haven’t even been on a date in almost six months, so to speculate about a boyfriend who’d even want to meet my family is a bit… hasty.

But it was certainly weird to sing about seeing my family at Christmas.

226. demesne

Well, it looks like it’s been about a month since I last updated. It’s certainly not for a lack of anything to write about. Quite the contrary. There’s almost been too much to write about!

To begin with, I’m currently in Seattle for a short vacation. It has been almost ten years since my last actual vacation, which was in London in 2005 with my friends Mark and Emily. That was my last plane ride as well. So I literally landed here about four hours ago, was very happy when my luggage turned up with me at my destination, and managed to get myself from the airport to the place where I’m staying. This is also my first solo excursion anywhere, so it’s a bit of an adventure!

zeitgeistSo I’m sitting in a coffee shop (the one pictured on the right, which is not Starbucks—still haven’t made up my mind just how touristy I’m willing to be… I’ve already made up my mind to skip the Space Needle), and this is the first time I’ve felt like there’s time to actually breathe and gather my thoughts.


 

As prelude to what I wanted to write about today, last Thursday, my housemates had an acquaintance of theirs, Jacob, over for drinks and conversation. He’s a 23-year-old recent college graduate who used to clean their house several years ago, and who they recently ran into at a local theater event (thus spurring the invitation).

For about a week leading up to his coming over, there were some jesting comments about the possibility of Jacob and me hooking up at some point during the evening. And not without cause.

Prior to moving into their house this summer, this was a fairly common thing in the months following the breakup with Jay (my last boyfriend) in March of 2013. Considering how little and poor the quality of sex I’d been having in the last few months we were together, I felt justified in having a slutty phase to make up for lost time.

In fact, the couple who’d later become my current housemates were incredibly supportive in the months following the breakup. And there were quite a few evenings when I’d be over at their house, and they’d have another single gay guy over, and we’d all have a little too much to drink and I’d end up spending the night with him in one of the bedrooms. Some evenings were more regret-inducing than others.

But shortly after I got laid off from the university job at the end of June in 2013, all of that changed. I’d just moved to the Uptown area of Minneapolis the month before and wasn’t sure when I’d find another job, or how I’d pay bills. It was around this time that I descended into one of the longest and most profoundly depressive periods in my life. I felt unattractive and undesirable in virtually every way possible.

And having nothing but time has a way of bringing to the surface long-buried thoughts.

It was during these months that I realized just how deeply my fundamentalist Christian upbringing had deeply scarred me. In the months that I was working with Sarah, my last therapist, some of this came to light, but it was when I was sitting alone in my apartment, looking through job description after job description, that it really sunk in.

In short, the depression killed my sex drive, or at least that’s how it felt. There were a number of disastrous experiences that also contributed to this, such as an ill-begotten four-way that left me feeling even more dysfunctional and undesirable than ever. Then there was the date from this past May with the bisexual guy who failed to mention before our second date that he’d been thinking about getting back together with his ex-boyfriend. Last I heard, that was what he decided to do.

So all of that is a prelude to last Thursday.

At some point in the evening, my friend Joe texted me this picture:

grace-church

We used to attend the same church, Grace Church, and it’s a picture of me singing in the worship band. I’m not sure when it was taken, but my guess is somewhere between 2005 and 2007—pre-atheist and definitely pre-coming out.

Maybe it was because I’d had quite a bit to drink at that point, but seeing that picture brought back a wave of painful emotions and memories from that period of my life. Those years were very angry for me, full of despair and hopelessness. I was struggling with my sexuality, still unable to resolve the dissonance between my feelings and my faith.

So perhaps that’s why after my housemate Matt left the steamshower where we retired that Jacob and I went at it. There was no actual sex, but this was the first actual sexual contact of any kind that I’d had in… well, months.

My therapist wasn’t surprised when I mentioned this incident on Monday. Seeing that image was, for lack of a better word, traumatic. That word gets thrown around a little too freely, I think, but given what I’ve been through, this was the revisiting of a traumatic event. And considering how deeply it was connected to my sexuality, it makes sense that I’d attempt to cope with these feelings by acting out sexually with someone with whom I had no history. As a way of trying to establish normality.

I hope that makes sense.

A big reason why I haven’t been interested in sex the last couple months is that, especially after the bisexual guy (who I was getting interested in when he ‘fessed up to not being available after all), it more that I’m not interested in anything that isn’t going to go anywhere. It takes enough energy as is to connect with anyone (sexually or otherwise), and having sex just isn’t as important right now as is building an intimate relationship with someone I care about.

Moral of story: No random hook-ups in Seattle this weekend.

223. cacography

Darcy“My good opinion once lost is lost forever.”

This past weekend my friends Adam and Jesse got married. They’ve been together fourteen years, which is a number I can barely grasp as an amount of time spent with one person. Aside from my family, very few of my relationships have lasted even remotely that long.

As expected, the weeks and days leading up to the wedding were difficult, partly because I was putting together all of the music for it, as is often my job. I wrote (and performed) a song for the occasion, something I haven’t done since college, a setting of an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road—”Camerado! I give you my hand.”

It’s tough participating or working on weddings when it seems like it will never happen for me. It’s like someone who works for minimum wage making products that they’ll never be able to afford. Now that I’m past my half birthday and virtually thirty-two years old, it seems even more unlikely that I’ll ever find a boyfriend, let alone one who might someday become a husband…

Weddings are also difficult right now, seeing as one friend after another has been getting into relationships, engaged, or married of late. Relationship statuses change, and friends post pictures of themselves with their partners, seemingly happy, doing things together, participants together in life. Which leads me to wonder if I’m truly living, and what that even looks like. Because it still feels as if I’m picking up the pieces of the remains of my pre-atheist, pre-Seth existence.

A few weeks ago my friend Sarah returned to the States after several months abroad in Europe. Sarah is a fellow graduate of Northwestern College (now the bizarrely re-named “University of Northwestern,” which led a friend of mine to comment: “That’s awfully specific”), and a fellow apostate and ex-fundamentalist.

To make a long story short, at the end of her sojourn abroad, she inadvertently found herself in a relationship with an Austrian fellow who she’d met at the beginning of the year and had been building a friendship with over the course of her travels. I got the whole story at the beginning of the month, and my initial reaction was like this: “How is it that this is so easy for everyone else?” Because it truly feels like my universe is shrinking.

Part of her story was Sarah coming to the realization that her lack of interest in guys was not so much that she wasn’t into guys (or girls) but rather that she hadn’t met anyone on the same level, with whom there was a mutual respect. She likened her relationship to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

This struck a note with me, as I’ve been feeling similarly adrift, dating-wise. And for a long time I’ve felt like the problem is me, that I’m the one who is broken. Now I’m starting to think that maybe I just shouldn’t be dating American men—at the very least, not Midwestern men.

For me, the “Darcy” comparison seems particularly accurate (aside from not being worth $14 million). If you’re familiar with the novel, our initial impression of him is one of aloofness, coldness, and haughty pride. It’s only later that we discover his depth of feeling, fierce loyalty to family and friends, and the deep insecurity that drives him to keep most everyone away.

Most of my character faults can be traced back to a fear of rejection and failure. At the wedding this weekend, I watched everyone else interacting with a seeming fluidity and natural ease. It always confounds me how most gay men seem to flirt with blithe nonchalance. Of course, that may just be my perception, and that I’m only seeing extroverts.

The reality is that I find it difficult to interact with most American gay men. The stereotypical enjoyment of popular culture and trivial conversation is mostly lost on me. As a friend of mine once observed, I don’t suffer fools. Does that come across as Darcy-like arrogance? Probably. But as an introvert who finds most human company exhausting, I don’t understand the need to fill every moment with noise. That seems to be a defining characteristic of American gay culture.

The sense of dissatisfaction in my dating life up until now seems to come from the lack of any potential romantic partners who I can respect as an equal. That probably doesn’t sound very flattering, which is where the Pride & Prejudice metaphor comes in handy.

Elizabeth is perfect for Darcy because she is a strong, independent-minded woman with her own opinions (contrasted with her sister Jane’s demure, more compliant personality). She stands up to and challenges the men in her life, even supposed authority figures. Like Darcy, she is fiercely loyal to those she loves, to the point of disregarding social proprieties when she walks to Netherfield Park after learning that Jane has fallen ill.

Towards the end of the novel, Elizabeth asks Darcy what attracted him to her when they started as rivals. She suggests: “The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you, because I was so unlike them.”

And that’s what I’ve failed to find in dating American men—a man who distinguishes himself and challenges me. (There’s also the stunting influence of Puritanism and internalized homophobia, a rant for another time.) American gays seem caught up in the rush of culture, fashion, hookups, and fetishes, and I’m not into any of those things. Whatever happened to the likes of Gore Vidal, Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Britten, or Christopher Isherwood? (They were seemingly replaced by the likes of Perez Hilton and Ru Paul.) That era was no cakewalk and they were all flawed people, but that’s the ilk of man I’d want for a partner.

Now, to find him…