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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255. vicissitude

One man he disappoint me
He give me the gouge and he take my glee
Now every other man I see
Remind me of the one man who disappointed me
— Apple, F. (2005). Get him back. On Extraordinary machine [CD]. New York City: Epic Records.


Blue_candles_on_birthday_cakeHappy a month and a half into 2016, everyone!

So far this year has been incredibly busy with school and a new (temp) job that still isn’t in my career field but isn’t entirely horrible in its own right. That seems to be the theme of things at present: not ideal, but also doesn’t make me long for the inevitable and final release of death.

As far as a school update goes, after about a month and a half break I feel as if I’m finally getting back into the swing of things. I’ve stopped eating regularly and my sleep schedule is wacked out, but that’s the essence of grad school, right?

The things I’m working on are things that seem to finally matter, mainly because they feel connected to innate passions and talents of mine—not things that any gibbon could pick up and do for $11/hour. I get energized and excited about cataloging and archives, and concepts like metadata standards and schema. Information access is important in our world right now, especially as we’re trying to sift through more data than ever in our history, and we need clever people who can make sense of it all.

At least, enough for most people to find the information they need.


Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. This fact did not escape me, nor did I forget. I simply chose not to acknowledge it. I did see an increasing number of memes on Facebook and Twitter that were trying to recontextualize it as a day to celebrate love of all kinds, including love for your friends and for yourself. That was nice.

Earlier this month I also turned 33, something I only reluctantly called attention to about five minutes after midnight on the day after my birthday, much to the consternation of friends who did remember and would like to observe it.

My decision for now is to stop calling it a birthday because my birth was something that merely happened, brought into a world that is no longer a part of who I am.

So this year I’ve decided to start calling it my Independence Day, because, as some of you may remember, it was five years ago that Seth dumped me on my 28th birthday… or whatever you call it when someone ends a one-sided friends-with-benefits relationship because they just met someone on a blind date and aren’t really sure where that’ll go, but they don’t see a future with you or a reason to continue giving you false hope anymore.

Happy birthday, indeed.

That was also the night I officially became an atheist. I won’t rehash the whole story, so if you’re new or need a refresher, go here. It’s a fun read, if you enjoy that sort of thing.

So the short of it is that I’d rather not observe that anymore. I need a different context, and reimagining that day as the anniversary of independence from my upbringing seems much more uplifting.

As Björk cries on Volta (2007): “Declare independence! Don’t let them do that to you!”


Since we’re on the subject of dates, it’s exactly one month and nine days to the three year anniversary of the end to my last (probably final) relationship with the narcissistic fibromyalgic. On March 24th, I’ll have been single three years, without crossing paths with any realistic romantic partners in that span.

And from today, it’ll be four months and ten days to the two-year anniversary of the last time I was actually on a date.

Probably the biggest fear right now is of being alone for the rest of my life, ending up one of those people who die alone in their apartments, their absence unmarked for months until their mummified remains are finally discovered one day.

Is that likely to happen to me? Probably not. But still.


What probably bothers me is that though I want a relationship, I still don’t what I’d do with one. The only concrete associations I can picture are having a (relatively) dependable plus-one for events, and a (relatively) reliable sexual partner. But I know there has to be more to it than that, because why else (besides social convention) would couples stay together for decades if it’s merely a glorified fuck buddy arrangement?

Frankly, I haven’t met anyone who I could conceive of spending virtually every day with for the next twenty years (well, at least anyone who could also feel that way about me) , and beyond. And I’m skeptical about the chances of meeting anyone in the Midwest.

Part of the difficulty is that, after almost seven-and-a-half years “out,” I’ve come to the realization that I’m a demisexual, as described here:

Demisexuals aren’t suppressing sexual desire; it’s simply not there until a bond is formed. They can’t look at a stranger and think, “Wow, I want to f*ck him”—while they might admire a person for his or her body, the urge to have sex isn’t there until an emotional attachment is formed. The deeper the bond, the hornier they are. It’s a simple matter of the heart leading the pelvis.

It isn’t that I don’t have sexual desire. It’s just not that important without an emotional connection present… which does not appear to be how most gay men around me are wired. They’re: A) sluts and proud of it; B) already coupled (with a 75% chance of being monogamish); or C) emotionally compatible but physically not my type.

The irony is that now I almost get reverse slut-shamed for not being promiscuous, as if that’s the default “gay” mode. And I did try it for a while, but it wasn’t me.

So I’m not sure where to go from here.

Ah well. Back to library homework, I guess.

247. beatific

The-art-of-courtly-love-2A few years ago, my friend Sarah Howell moved to New York City to start a career in stage management. She’d been working in Minneapolis for a while and building a solid reputation for herself, and when the opportunity to move east presented itself, she sold everything and jumped at the chance. And unlike some of my friends who have tried their hand at Broadway, she is doing quite well! It helps that, unlike the denizens of aspiring actors in NYC, competent stage managers are hard to come by.

So I’m incredibly proud of her and her work, and wish her continued success!

When I googled her most recent show (called Love In the Middle Ages), another page appeared in the search results that caught my notice, a University of Oxford Arts blog article by Clemency Pleming titled Did love begin in the Middle Ages? I’ve come across papers and books in the past suggesting that our modern notion of romantic love is actually a relatively recent development in human history.

Well, recent compared to 20,000 years ago.

Pleming quotes professor Laura Ashe, who says that before the Norman conquest of England,

Anglo-Saxon literature had a very different focus… The world of the Anglo-Saxon warrior, at least in poetry, was based on the bond of loyalty between fighting men. Love in this world means love for your fellow warriors, and the idea of sacrificing yourself for the group.

In the Middle Ages, however:

There was a transformation in culture, a series of church reforms in the 12th century took Christianity from a rather austere view of God the Father to a new focus on Christ’s humanity.

The spiritual lives of ordinary people were recognised, and people were encouraged to have a more emotional and personal relationship with God as individuals. And romantic love – giving yourself to another person – provides a justification, in the medieval moral compass, for the pursuit of self-fulfilment as an individual.

Even tragic love stories are based on the idea that the living individual is to be celebrated and that it might be better to stay alive after all.

Ashe identifies this as something of a turning point in how we view the importance of marriage in society. Where once it was approached more like a contract or a business transaction for the sake of convenience or practicality, people now began to view it as something to aspire to.


I’ve been thinking about that recently in relation to myself—specifically, examining why I’ve been so obsessed the past few years with finding a boyfriend and potential future husband.

It’s impossible to ignore daily reminders that I’m single. Coworkers pepper their conversations with references to spouses and kids, vacations and trips “up north” to the cabin. Adverts not-so-subtly tell me that I’m incomplete, that there’s no one to share in meaningful experiences with, to share the picture frame in tagged social media posts.

I’m a “me.” Not a “we.”

As I’ve written about in other posts, there is also the element of needing to prove wrong the voices from my past that claimed gay people don’t have relationships. I was taught that gay people were promiscuous, hedonistic, riddled with diseases contracted from hundreds of sexual partners and their deviant sexual practices, and would eventually succumb to HIV/AIDS.

But there’s another latent evangelical Christian element at play in my subconscious—the primacy of marriage and commitment in that culture.

From my earliest recollection, marriage was the holiest sacrament after communion. While sacraments aren’t really a Protestant thing, we held it in the same high regard. After becoming a missionary, marriage was the ultimate calling for Christians. It was a living parable, the means by which God shaped Christian men and women into more godly people.

And there were so many analogies that, in hindsight, are just plain fuckin’ weird. Marriage is a mirror of Christ and the Church… of the Trinity… of God’s love for us… of how we’re supposed to give of ourselves for Jesus.

But of course the real reason evangelical Christians are obsessed with getting married is so that they can finally have sex, which is likely a contributing factor to why the Christian divorce rate is comparable to that of non-Christians.

So while I don’t buy into any of that anymore, there’s still this core notion buried deep in my subconscious that marriage is somehow a benchmark of success in a person’s life. It won’t be perfect, by any means, but it’s an indicator that a person is stable, attractive, and self-actualized enough to find a partner and build a life together.

Now, I know intellectually that that’s a crock. Unstable people get married, as do aimless and irresponsible people, and those who are unattractive by conventional standards (which also doesn’t mean much).

And there’s no such thing as security. Partners sometimes cheat on or abandon you, and eventually everyone dies.


I guess what’s frustrating is that I’m not so desperate to be in a relationship that I’ll date anyone. That’s how I ended up with Jay (my ex of 2½ years) for nine months. And I’ve seen friends and acquaintances languish in unhappy marriages because they’re afraid to end it and be alone.

It’s why it goads me to see ex-boyfriends and lovers just fall so seemingly effortlessly into new relationships. The other night I foolishly looked up Seth on Facebook and found out that he has a hot boyfriend named Martin and two adorable dogs.

Big mistake.

It renewed the mental loop of thinking that what appears to be a smörgåsbord for him and others in the Midwest is a veritable dating wasteland for me. That it appears so easy for them.

Everyone says good guys are out there.

So where are they hiding?

I need to get over this belief that I’m somehow less-than for being single, and determine if finding a partner is at the root of the anxiety, or if this is more old programming wreaking havoc on my current happiness.

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

240. cavort

knightofwandsLooking at the title for this entry (which, by the way, I typically pull from Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day), what immediately came to mind is some advice from my birth chart (that I did on Astrolabe):

Give yourself the freedom to look awkward or silly once in a while. The relief you feel will be quite therapeutic and the embarrassment (whether it is real or imagined) will pass quickly.

For the record, I’m an Aquarius, with both rising sign and moon in Libra. And something about being a triple air sign?

Do I believe the stars and planets align themselves in the heavens to provide little old me here on planet Earth with sage wisdom? Of course not. But I do enjoy the moments when general observations such as those in astrological charts or tarot readings happen to intersect with my personal reality.

And there is a perverse part of me that enjoys activities like tarot or astrology precisely because they were at one time forbidden and demonic. So getting my chart done or doing a tarot spread is a bit like giving the finger to that part of my past.

However, the truth from that reading is that I do tend to take myself too seriously. I think too much, analyze too deeply, and ultimately lock up and consequently look awkward and weird… which is precisely what I was hoping to avoid in the first place.

And it has the tendency to create problems for everyone else, too, in that it can create the impression of my being standoffish or rude, when in reality I’m just feeling insecure and uncertain about how I’m supposed to behave.


A few weeks, ago my friends Erin and Matt got married, and that got me thinking (yet again) about my own prospects for romance and partnership, and whether it’s something that’s even realistic for me. The day of the wedding I also left for a two-week hiking and camping trip to the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, and the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park in Texas. The trip gave me a lot of time to digest some of what I’ve learned over this past semester, and to deal with some of the issues that I just haven’t had the mental space to process because of grad school.

Something that I heard on Minnesota Public Radio the other day also caught my attention. They were talking about why millennials aren’t getting married, and one of the guests, Ann Meier, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, said something that resonated with me. They were talking about marriage as a status marker, and she said this:

“I think it’s marking an achievement that you’re able to achieve a certain level of education and an income where you feel like [marriage is] the culmination, the icing on the cake, instead of, as Brigid [Schulte] said, a step in the transition to adulthood. It’s the thing you do when your life is set. And people are taking longer to get their lives set these days.”

I think this part of the sense that I’ve been trying to articulate the past couple of months, that it’s difficult watching my friends getting married (especially my gay friends) because it feels like I’m getting left behind. Everyone else has their lives together and, as Ann said, “set” and I’m still trying to achieve a basic level of emotional and psychological subsistence. And it makes me feel incredibly old at 32, watching people younger than me who have been together for almost a decade and seemingly much further ahead than me.

So articulating this view of marriage, that it’s a marker of a certain status achievement, is helpful, because it still doesn’t feel like I’m there. I’m working, I’m working toward a graduate degree in a field I’m actually excited about working in, but I’m also aware of how much further there is to go. Especially when I’m surrounded by couples and married people.


 

But there’s something else that I recently became aware of.

I had a conversation with a co-worker yesterday who said that even though she’s been very successful at work, it’s not something that she’s excited about, and that what she really loves, the thing that gives her the most satisfaction in life, is being a mom to her three kids. She’d been asking about my library science degree and what I plan to do with it, and I shared that for the first time in my life it feels like I have a calling, something I was just born to do.

… not that I believe in destiny or anything, but rather that I’ve finally found a field that aligns almost perfectly with my personal values and what I’m naturally good at. I am absolutely in love with librarianship and science, and cannot wait to get into archiving and special collections.

She said (and another friend of mine recently said) that she doesn’t feel about her job the same way that I’m articulating it, that the work I am planning to do gives my life real purpose and (dare I say it) joy. Will there be days when I hate my job? Probably.

But it brought home for me the reality that I do have things going for me right now.

Another astrological birth chart I looked at for myself said that people with their moon in Libra (lunar Librans) “have a strong need for partnership. Without someone to share their lives with, they feel utterly incomplete.”

I do hope (against hope) that one of these days I’ll find someone about whom I feel the same way that I feel about librarianship… that it’ll be a fantastic match. The older I get, of course, the less confident I am that I’ll even find someone.

In the meantime, I’ll continue rebuilding my life post-Christianity and getting to know myself better so someone can also get to know that person.

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.

235. astir

tombstoneI found out about a week and a half ago that my uncle died.

Out of respect for my family, let’s call him Nick.

Nick is my mom’s younger (and only) brother. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that his death was a surprise to any of us, including my mom. When my parents were last out in California, he’d gone missing. Again. This wasn’t the first time he’d disappeared or dropped off the radar for a while. Unfortunately, my uncle led something of a troubled life. That’s not how I’d like to remember him, but it’s how I do remember him.

Growing up, Uncle Nick was something of a byword in my family’s home. That may not be how my parents intended for us to hear it, but the ongoing saga of his life was basically presented to my sisters and me as a cautionary tale.

There but for the grace of God go any of us…

And that’s not to say that my parents weren’t constantly worried about him. Uncle Nick was an alcoholic, a drug user, and a host of other things, so he was in our prayers a lot. The main story that I remember was when he ended up going through the window of the Porsche that hit him after he got out of a taxi on the wrong side of the street while drunk and/or high one night. That trip landed him in the hospital, and also in a heap of trouble.

There was a time when he was going to church and seemed to be turning his life around, but apparently that didn’t last very long. The last my parents heard when they were in California last year was that he was living with some woman, and probably using drugs and alcohol again. It got to the point where they were calling county jails and even morgues to see if he’d turned up.

So when my mom got a call from a number she didn’t recognize about a week and a half ago, she called back and was asked by the woman who answered the phone who the name of the deceased was after identifying herself as calling from the coroner’s office.

This is the story from my mom, as we know it:

Apparently he had been drinking on January 1st, fell and broke his hand. Someone found him on January 2nd, face down (not sure if it was in the street or on the sidewalk), and sleeping. It had been below freezing, and he was just in street clothes—no blanket or sleeping bag. He was able to squeeze the paramedic’s hand when they asked him if he could hear them, but he couldn’t speak. When they moved him he became unresponsive, and died about an hour after he got to the hospital—10:12 am, January 2nd.

It was weird talking to my mom about this, mainly because it felt like talking to someone else about their family member dying. I mentioned this to my therapist in my last session: that as I get further along in identity building and more secure in a sense of authentic self, the less connected I feel to my biological family. And I feel bad about not feeling bad about this. While we share memories, and even a warped sense of humor, since reconnecting with them in the spring of 2013, I’ve struggled to find a sense of belonging with them.

Sadly, it probably comes down to my lack of religious belief. Some may think that a minor thing, but evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity is at the core of my parents’ and sisters’ identities. It’s not for me, and it probably never was.

This discussion led to something else in my last therapy session.

For a while, I’ve been trying to put a finger on why my being single bothers me so much. And as my therapist and I hashed out my feelings about my uncle dying, I hit on this:

I don’t really have any long-term relationships of any kind.

I’m still in touch with a handful of people from college and even from the church I grew up in, but these are largely online friendships. I don’t actually see most of these people anymore.

What bothers me is that for the last 10-15 years, I’ve been watching the people around my put down roots and grow in their relationships and marriages. I know very few people now who are single. But it’s not really just that that bothers me.

It’s the fact that I’m less than a month away from turning 32, and I don’t have any kind of long-term or enduring relationships in my life—including friendships. Some of that can be attributed to changing priorities and life circumstances. Some friends moved away. Others got married and had kids. Neither parties made much effort to keep up the friendship, though it’s probably more accurate to say that many friends gave up trying to make a friendship work with me.

It doesn’t feel great to admit that, but I’ve a sense that it’s true.

So the business of me griping about feeling old, and how now that I’m over 30 no guys are going to want me is less about age. It’s about realizing how old I am and how little I have in the way of relationships compared to others around me.

My housemate Matt is in almost constant contact with his parents and sister who have become like a second family to me. So many friends of mine spend holidays with their families. Their families love their significant others, and vice versa. Et al.

The image that came to mind the other day was of being on a raft, sailing down a river, and passing friends who’ve made homes along the shore.

My fear is that I’ll keep on drifting, sailing on and on without making real connections; that I’ll end up like my uncle, alone, having burned his bridges behind him.

Let’s sponge away the writing on that possible future.

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.

230. chiaroscuro

“My only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary.”
― Margaret Edson, Wit


ADRIFT_ON_BREAKINGFrom my experience over the last few months, the therapeutic journey is a lot like exploring a TARDIS—the further in, the bigger it seems to get. Each new revelation puts the past in a different light as pieces swim to the surface of my consciousness.

Last week, on recommendation of a friend of mine, I started reading a book by Laurence Heller and Aline Lapierre, Healing Developmental Trauma: How early trauma affects self-regulation, self-image, and the capacity for relationship. Because the more I unpack my childhood and young adult years with my therapist, the more I’m realizing how deeply scaring the experience was.

Everyone’s childhood fucks them up. Parents don’t know what they’re doing, and to a certain degree everyone re-enacts with their own children the very mistakes their parents made with them. Some of it is simple social learning. We are primates, after all. Most parents just do the best they can.

And there are people who have had legitimately horrific and brutally traumatizing experiences. I have never seen anyone murdered before my eyes. Ditto being raped or sexually assaulted. Or suffered a debilitating physical injury.

But spending the majority of my formative years trying to suppress my true identity ingrained unhealthy and pathological behavioral scripts in me. This is what I’m in therapy for.

In the first few pages of the book, there’s a table that describes the various responses to when our core human needs (i.e., connection, attunement, trust, autonomy, love-sexuality) are either not met or outright denied us:

Adaptive Survival Style Core Difficulties
The Connection Survival Style Disconnected from physical and emotional self
Difficulty relating to others
The Attunement Survival Style Difficulty knowing what we need
Feeling our needs do not deserve to be met
The Trust Survival Style Feeling we cannot depend on anyone but ourselves
Feeling we have to always be in control
The Autonomy Survival Style Feeling burdened and pressured
Difficulty setting limits and saying no directly
The Love-Sexuality Survival Style Difficulty integrating heart and sexuality
Self-esteem based on looks and performance

Read through that list a couple times and see how many of them describe how you relate to other people and to yourself.

This table describes virtually every friendship and romantic relationship I have ever had. I think the next couple of blog entries are going to be unpacking each of those lines and what they have meant for my life, one by one.

What I’ve realized over the past couple of weeks is that the vast majority of my relationships (romantic or otherwise, but especially sexual and romantic relationships) have been based on fear. Fear of rejection, failure, and even success.

Growing up, once I realized that my sexuality fell outside the bounds of what was considered “acceptable” to my community, I couldn’t afford to let anyone get close to me for fear of them finding out my deep, dark secret. So I became exceptionally good at blending in, at becoming who I thought someone expected me to be.

It’s surprising how easy it is to do. And still is.

In essence, my identity growing up was built around what I thought people didn’t want me to be. It was a negative self-image.

The thing is that this identity was bolstered by the Christian theology I was raised with. And one of the core beliefs we had was that pursuing our personal desires was sinful: the phrase often heard in my house was, “dying daily to self.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Romans 6:6)

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

I memorized these and many other similar Bible verses growing up. Combined with constant exposure to weekly church sermons, Bible study groups, and in general being surrounded by evangelical Christians every day, as I grew up, it gradually became clear what I should want: to be annihilated by Christ. My personality, my very identity, was so deeply warped and perverted by my sin nature that it needed to be wiped clean and rewritten with that of Jesus: the only truly perfect man who ever lived.

That did wonders for my self esteem, as you can imagine.

How this eventually played itself out was that I didn’t believe that I had permission to want anything for myself. I majored in music because, while I enjoyed music, that was what my father and music teachers wanted for me. It never occurred to me to ask what I wanted.

I pretended to be heterosexual for fifteen years because that was what good Christians were supposed to do, though it was suffocating and miserable. I even pretended to be a Christian long after I’d stopped believing because I thought that was how I’d win Seth over.

None of my romantic relationships lasted long as those guys weren’t dating a 100% real person. They were with the David that I thought they wanted to see. And it’s not inaccurate to say that I stayed with my last boyfriend as long as I did because I didn’t think that I deserved better.

So my current project is to learn to get comfortable in my own skin, to listen to my wants and desires, and learn how to communicate them to others when appropriate.

It’ll be by taking small steps and embracing those moments when it feels like I don’t know my lines that an authentic “me” will emerge.

Hopefully.

227. azoth

rock_gardenLeaving Seattle to return to Minnesota yesterday was surprisingly heartbreaking, even for the three short days I was there. One thing I know for sure at the end of it: I’m going back soon.

Overall, it was a good trip. It was the first time I’ve ever really gone somewhere on my own, for no other reason than to go. Other trips have had a purpose—a wedding… well, mainly weddings, I guess. There was also the western camping excursion a few weeks ago, and the gaming weekend in Wisconsin in April. But those were trips with people. There was a plan, an itinerary.

flight_rockiesThis trip to Seattle was good in that it pushed my boundaries, as well as affirmed to myself a couple of things. One realization was that, while I can be terribly absent-minded, I’m actually a pretty capable person when it comes down to it. There were some flustered moments trying to navigate the Seattle transit system, but I had some great encounters with helpful transit officers, one of whom even recommended a great hostel to stay at next time right near Pike Place Market, the Green Tortoise.

However, I think if I had a few more days to familiarize myself with the streets and neighborhoods, I could be a savvy bus/link rider in no time. The biggest challenge to navigating the city was bus fares, so next time I’ll just get an ORCA card for the sake of getting around by “bus, train & ferry—it’s the easy way to get there.”

As a traveler, I’m not really into touristy things. I had a list of things that would’ve been nice to see, like the EMP Museum (which was terrific), the Underground Tour (also fantastic), and Capitol Hill (Seattle’s gayborhood, which I got just a glimpse of on Saturday). I skipped the big attractions, like the Space Needle and the Big Wheel, or anything that typically attracts large numbers of swarming tourists.

waterfront_dayThe biggest disappointment of this trip was not getting to see more of the city, mainly because I wasn’t prepared to deal with bus fares (and while cheaper than a taxi or renting a car, Uber is still pretty expensive). I’m trying not to focus on that as I’m aware of my tendency to ruin experiences by allowing my high expectations of what they could’ve been to spoil them. So I’m trying to keep the good things in perspective.

overlooking_pugetHow I prefer to encounter a city is by walking its streets, watching the people, getting a feel for the rhythm and the energy. You can’t do that by mingling with only those who are there just to take what the city has to offer, like a souvenir shot glass.

My only moment of touristy indulgence was visiting the original Starbucks location on Pike Street. Even then I was a little disappointed. There were a few touches to indicate that this was the “flagship” location, but like any tourist attraction, it ultimately doesn’t deliver as an attraction. Coffee is coffee at Starbucks.

This brings to mind those passages from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which puts forth the idea that, whether they know it or not, the very act of people visiting these locations, as in a yearly pilgrimage, imbues them with power—the power of human belief. It is this concentrated belief that makes places like the House on the Rock, Spring Green, WI or Rock City, Lookout Mountain, GA (in the novel) places of power. I had this thought when visiting Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, or walking through Pike Place Market on Friday afternoon.

waterfront_nightPerhaps that’s why I intentionally avoid “tourist traps.” I don’t want to see what everyone else sees. I want to see the places that people love, that they go to every day, that are a part of their everyday community. I think what bothers me about tourist traps is that they smell too much of theater, of being façades.

What I was really hoping to gain from this trip to Seattle was space to breathe, to think, and to just “be.” On my last day there, in the afternoon, I was in a bit of a strop over having such limited time and having to get on a plane in a few hours and fly back to my life in Minnesota. I was particularly irritated that, because I hadn’t planned enough for transit, I wasn’t going to get to the Chihuly Garden and Glass in time, or the Olympic Sculpture Park, or Gas Works Park. I wouldn’t have time to get to Bainbridge Island (would’ve needed at least a half-day), and would’ve needed to stay a week (or longer) to do any real hiking. And then, I would’ve needed a car.

kells_irishbandBut as I was eating lunch in Westlake Park, I realized that I didn’t need to see those things to have had a fulfilling trip. Focusing on my inexperience as a traveler or on all the things I didn’t do was only going to ruin the good. Yes, I mainly stuck around the downtown area and saw mostly urban landscapes. But on the train I saw plenty of Seattle that I’d like to return to and explore.

And I met up with a guy I’ve been Facebook friends with for some time, who lives in Capitol Hill with his partner Andy. I had a terrific time visiting with them.

The main realization I left with, however, is that the Midwest is no longer home for me. Maybe I need to do some more traveling and experience different cities and cultures, but I felt at home in Seattle in a way that I don’t feel anymore in Minnesota.

Maybe I’ve just had enough of “Minnesota nice.” And there does seem to be a community of gay guys there who’re more on my level.

Of course, I’m not the type to pick up and go, but after this trip I’m giving serious thought to moving to Seattle, maybe in the next year or so.

waterfront_seattle