280. saudade

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Ökologix. About a month ago, in a fit of curiosity and productivity, I sent off my sample of spit to the 23andMe labs.

And a couple weeks ago, I got the results back.

A few years ago I did some digging into my genealogy and discovered some fascinating information about my family, as far back as the Normans in 990 AD.

Still, I was curious to see what my genes actually had to say.

What my genealogical research suggested was that my ancestors came mainly from England and Germany, though there are peripheral relatives to whom I don’t have access.

So it was no surprise to learn that the majority of my ancestry is European.

The intriguing piece is where the sub-Saharan African DNA came from!

My ancestry timeline in the report posits that it was introduced by someone who was 100% West African sometime in the mid 18th or early 19th century, so I am truly fascinated by whatever story there is there.

The breakdown of my European ancestry was more nuanced.

The blurb with this chart adds: “Genetically and geographically the French and Germans are at the heart of Europe.” The results don’t break down for French and German, but I do know that there’s quite a bit of German on my father’s side.

It’s important to observe that national identity and ethnic heritage are two different things, just as family identity and genetic match might not overlap.

Seeing this breakdown of my ancestry adds more data points to my story than it does shake any sense of identity that I’d built. My ancestors came from northwestern Europe. My paternal grandfather is Hungarian, and my genome suggests I have other ancestors from that part of the world.

My family is apparently well traveled!

I liked this bit from the explanation of “Broadly European.”

To me, this illustrates how interconnected we are, and how our planet and its climate over time have shaped our history.


The report also goes into some genetic traits I have, such as the variant rs4481887, which allows me to detect the asparagus metabolite in my urine!

I am also apparently less likely to taste certain bitter compounds, and more likely to prefer salty over savory. Both are true of me.

The report also correctly predicted that I do not have a cleft chin, cheek dimples, no unibrow, and no widow’s peak; and that I do have darker-colored eyes and detached ear lobes.

Interestingly, it predicted that I am likely to have darker colored hair, which I do now—although I used to have copper red hair when I was younger.

I also do not appear to have the gene for hair loss, which correlates with the fact that my maternal grandfather still has a full head of hair.

Yay!

There are other random things confirmed in the report:

  • My ring finger is indeed longer than my index finger
  • I don’t have many freckles
  • I have no back hair
  • Very fair skin
  • Straight hair (not curly or wavy)
  • I don’t sneeze when exposed to direct sunlight (the photic sneeze response)

There were also some wellness traits, such as my likelihood to an average weight and be lactose tolerant. I’m also less likely to be a deep sleeper (thanks to my ADA gene producing an enzyme called adenosine deaminase, which at higher levels can cause a person to stay awake longer) or move much in my sleep, both of which are very true.

I also do not have a gene for the alcohol flush reaction, meaning that my face does not turn red when I drink alcohol, and I do not experience unpleasant symptoms after drinking and can break down alcohol into a harmless substance.

Apparently I have my East Asian ancestors to thank for that.

I also carry a gene (CYP1A2) that contains instructions for an enzyme that allows me to break down 95% of the caffeine I consume, meaning it doesn’t affect me as strongly as it does other people.

So my heavy coffee-drinking habit is genetic after all!


One of the things I was slightly worried about was whether I carried a gene for late-onset Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and thankfully I do not have either.

There were a ton of other conditions such as Gaucher Disease, hereditary fructose intolerance, and something called Maple Syrup Urine Disease for which I also do not have markers—at least for the variants they tested.

Overall, I appear to come from pretty good genetic stock, health wise. Sure, mental health issues appear to run in my family, but I seem to be made of pretty strong stuff.

My genetic muscle composition is also apparently common in elite power athletes. My particular variant is associated with fast-twitch muscle fibers, meaning I’m more likely to be a sprinter than a long-distance runner.


The most intriguing finding was that I have 327 Neanderthal variants in my genome.

We don’t know much about the Neanderthals. They went extinct c. 40,000 years ago, but archaeological evidence suggests they buried their dead, cared for their sick and elderly, crafted tools, built shelters, lived in close family groups, and (based on hyoid bones found in their remains) may have even had a language that incorporated singing¹.

Their physiology was hardy and adapted for life in northern Europe during the last Ice Age, their shorter, stockier stature being likely efficient at consolidating heat. There is evidence from our DNA that there was a period of ≈10,000 years when they interbred with modern humans.

What I am taking from this is that my genome is rich with history, that I may have inherited the hardiness of my Neanderthal forebears, and that at least some of my ancestors were not afraid of those who were different from them.

My Christian upbringing discouraged mingling with (or dating/marrying) anyone who didn’t believe what we did, yet here I am—a gay, liberal atheist.

Plus, it appears I’m made of strong stuff. What I’ve been through so far hasn’t broken me.

I’m heartier than I think.


References:

¹ Steven J. Mithen, The singing Neanderthals: the origins of music, language, mind, and body (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

271. mythopoeic

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babadook

Story time.

Once upon a time in a land not so far away there lived a little boy with his parents and two younger sisters in a house on the edge of a corn field.

Although the parents loved the boy and his sisters very much, and made sure that they had food to eat and clothes to wear, their religion taught them that anyone who did not believe exactly as they did would burn forever in Hell.

This made the boy’s parents very sad, but also very afraid for their children.

From the moment that the boy was born, like Thetis burning away Achilles’ mortality, his parents studied and scrutinized every word and every action for signs of worldly corruption—any signs that Satan and his demons were masters of their child instead of god.

If he dropped food off his high chair as a one-year-old, they would shake their heads and sigh, saying, “There’s his sin nature.” Then they would spank him until he finally stopped dropping food from his high chair, because they read in their holy book: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”

Ditto if he didn’t go to sleep right away at night, or didn’t finish his oatmeal, or once when his father whipped him because he mistakenly thought he’d heard the boy curse god.


Unlike most children, the parents kept their children at home instead of sending them to public school, because public schools belonged to Satan. At home, there was no lesson that did not have a Christian moral—math, history, biology, etc—and the parents read the Bible and prayed with their children each day.

Yet while their intent was to teach them about the unconditional love of their god, the boy and his sisters learned little about it from their parents.

They read in the Bible that “man looks on the outward appearance, but god looks on the heart” while learning through punishment and rewards that conformity and knowing how to play the right part in public was what truly mattered.

Though lessons about sin were intended to teach them about the grace and the love of their god, what they internalized from being told every day that there was nothing good about them, that they couldn’t do anything good (unless imprisoned, enthralled, and ravished by Jesus) was that they were bad, broken, and hateful. No one would ever love or accept them.

For the boy, being the oldest, with the weight of expectation that the parents put on him to be the model sibling for his sisters, all he could do was retreat into his imagination, into books and fantasy, hiding from the weight of the guilt and shame he felt all the time.

By age eight, had stopped smiling.

It was then that the Dark Man first appeared.


Although the boy couldn’t actually see the Man (except in dreams), he could feel him creeping, always, at the edges of his mind.

The Man would whisper that feelings like love or happiness were poor, inferior emotions for the simple or the weak—only the strong could look at life head on and not flinch. Though he could not hear the words, their chill froze his heart.

So the boy locked those feelings in a vault buried deep in his mind. He tried not to listen as they cried out in the dark, and after a time he couldn’t hear them anymore.

When the Dark Man told him it was stupid to be childlike, piece by piece the boy threw his toys and games into the black vault, sneering at innocence and youth. Inside, he began to feel more like the Dark Man every day, cold, lifeless, scowling at the world and everyone in it from behind the mask he learned to wear.

When the boy made a mistake and his parents didn’t show the disappointment he expected, the Dark Man would scream and rail at him instead about how worthless he was, how no one would ever love him, that he would never be good enough for anyone.

And when the boy became aware of the feelings he had for other boys, a thing he had been taught was forbidden, he took those desires and locked them away in the vault too.

There, in the darkness, all the things he shut away from the prying eyes of parents, teachers, pastors, and friends grew twisted and pallid, like tiny homunculi in his mind, primeval gods of the elements of himself he had buried.

The love and happiness he had abandoned became a hurt and angry child–the boy who hadn’t understood why his parents couldn’t just love and accept him.

The desires and ambitions he was supposed to surrender to god curled and twisted into a cruel, cunning schemer that would do anything to get what he wanted.

And when the boy grew older, his buried sexual feelings became a monster of desire, a dragon who, when unleashed, sought to consume and devour all things before it.


With the Dark Man, these four stood behind the mask of self the boy curated to show to the world—a face that others expected to see. With the boy’s assent, they built a wall of suspicion, cool looks, and cynicism around him to keep everyone from getting too close. They stepped forward to take over in moments when he felt uncomfortable, fearful, threatened, or inadequate. The boy thought this part of his protean, kaleidoscopic personality.

When he finally left home, they went with him, silent guardians watching and waiting who cared little for distinctions between friend and foe. The Dark Man whispered that no one was safe, that everyone would hurt and disappoint him.

Yet a piece of the boy still remained, deep within the fortress of his mind who remained redeemable and hopeful, who longed to live free in the sunlight.

Free of his prison.


Please note: though based on real experience, this story is intended only as a metaphor and should not be interpreted as describing dissociative identity (formerly “multiple personality”) disorder.

270. incipient

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denethorIt’s about time for this monthly check-in with the blog. It has been over a month since the last one, after all.

The combination of working full-time plus the wind-up to the end of this semester has been kicking my ass recently. Perhaps it’s the research methods class I’m taking, or enduring a contentious and divisive election for almost two years, but I’m feeling pretty run-down.


What I have been planning to write about is the increasingly clearer picture of one of the dominant psychological constructs in my mind.

Let’s call him “Talos.”

He started out as a sort of mental protector figure—an internal proxy father in place of the one I didn’t entirely trust or feel safe around. He was a distant man (who himself had had a distant and sometimes physically abusive father) who tended to work a lot. He tried to do things with us: take us to parks, teach us to ride bikes. But it was clear he didn’t really know how to do any of the “traditional” things one expects from a father.

As we got older, the desire to connect with my sisters and me manifested in various ways (such as going to baseball games with my younger sister, or going to concerts with me), but so did his critical voice. While his intent was probably to help us by pointing out our mistakes, he had a way of turning compliments or feedback into backhanded insults.

Following one of my piano recitals as a teenager (which I thought went pretty well), we were driving home afterwards and after a moment of silence between us, he mentioned how some of my ornamentation had been slightly off.

In college, following the performance of one of my songs in a colleague’s recital, he said later that he thought a song I’d written previously had sounded more “true” to my style.

This was the state of things growing up. Some of that came from their theology, such as where Paul writes in Romans that “everyone among you [is] not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (12:3).

Praising or encouraging us would’ve given us big heads, I guess.


A few weeks ago I was catching up on the WTF with Marc Maron Podcast, and Julia Sweeney was on. At one point they talked about growing up with an alcoholic parent:

MARC MARON: See, I’m projecting because what I was gonna say is that the children of alcoholics either become alcoholics and drug addicts, or control freaks.
JULIA SWEENEY: Oh, really.
MM: Well, yeah.
JS: I wonder if I’m a control freak.
MM: You don’t feel like one… Usually it’s because you’re in this position with a grown person that’s completely out of control all the time, and you’re constantly—you can’t do anything about this primary situation in your life, so when you get out of that you’re like, “I’m gonna keep it tight.” You know what I mean? There’s a reaction.

And that got me thinking about growing up in a rigidly-controlled religious household where one never felt entirely secure. Some flip out once they leave home and become totally debauched.

Others become control freaks.

Guess which direction I went.


For me, the gradual appearance and rise of Talos began as an internalization of those parental admonishments. After all, to a child, the sun rises and sets with their parents. It’s biologically wired into us to unconditionally accept what our parents tell us. Skepticism carried no survival benefits.

It started as anticipation of disapproval—of observing, learning to predict what behavior would result in a spanking, or a lecture, or a threat of burning eternally in hell.

As I got older though, Talos grew in size and scale. He was the internal eye, standing over my shoulder to criticize everything I did. And nothing was ever good enough. I’d practice piano for 3-4 hours a day to get one section of a piece just-right. I’d edit and rewrite papers until they felt perfect.

He also commented on the world around me, evaluating passing glances or turns of phrase.

“They know what a horrible person you are.”

“Nobody here likes you.”

“What a miserable disappointment.”

“You’ll never be good enough.”

This goes beyond stunted self-esteem.

It was crippled self-worth.

I was trying to come up with a face this week to put with Talos, and John Noble’s Denethor from The Lord of the Rings films came to mind. There’s this scene in particular:

It was a self-protective impulse turned inwards on itself, like a black hole. And once I became aware of my sexuality, that mechanism went into overdrive, controlling every thought and mannerism lest anything give me away to my parents, who were big fans of James Dobson and Focus on the Family.


I’ve also been considering how this has impacted my romantic life, and my attitude towards myself and my demisexuality.

Specifically, is this sexuality an inborn trait, or is it the result of this darkly controlling inner force that looms over everything?

Regarding my orientation, of only being sexually attracted to men I have a close connection with, that has always been there. The more I got to know someone, the more attractive he got.

But would I feel more comfortable being more sexually and romantically open if Talos’ shadow wasn’t everywhere? Would I feel less pressure to find romance?

Who knows. But no wonder I stopped smiling around age eight.

But even non-sexually/romantically, would I feel less anxious in social settings if Talos weren’t threatening me not to fail, to say the wrong thing, to not let everyone know how stupid I am?

Though I’m now an atheist, the pressure to be perfect is no less overwhelming. I’m constantly analyzing social situations, draining my mental CPU.

The curious thing is that I became my own jailer.

So how then to unlock my own cell?

269. titivate

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shadowTime for a monthly check-in, which is about all I can manage right now between school, work, and attempting to manage my ever-growing stress level.

All that to say, this might be a little scattered.

It’s Halloween and my social media feeds have been filled with photos of people’s costumes—or, in the case of many of my gay friends, technically just enough clothing to constitute a costume.

Halloween and its importance to gay men is one of many things that perplex this young-ish curmudgeon’s heart. I understand the historical underpinnings of the holiday and the appeal, but as someone who doesn’t even wear shorts in the summer, is currently wearing three layers, and finds unfocused sexual energy uncomfortable, it’s a weird festival.

Here’s what comes up when one Googles “halloween gay.”

gayhalloweensearch

A Pride.com article calls Halloween “every LGBT person’s fave holiday,” opining that “Gay people just love Halloween now, don’t we?”.

Search the hashtag #gayhalloween on Twitter or Instagram and decide whether or not to temporarily enable SafeSearch.

Samantha Allen at The Daily Dot wrote a great piece on how Halloween became the gay Christmas which is highly recommended. Basically, like Pride, it was a post-Stonewall response to living in a highly repressive time in the States for LGBTQ people. Allen writes:

On October 31, the curse of being queer in a straight world is temporarily lifted. All bets are called off, along with all the shame and fear we have been made to feel. For 364 days every year, many of us try to blend in but, on Halloween, we can proudly stick out…

It’s still the only night when acting gay is not only OK—it’s downright de rigeur.

So… I get that. I understand that for many LGBTQ people, reappropriating “queer” for themselves was empowering and liberating. However, for myself, I find conflating “queer” and “homosexual” problematic.

In my day-to-day life, I don’t try to blend in. I don’t play a role 364 days a year. I’m not effeminate, flamboyant, or gender atypical. To paraphrase David S. Pumpkins slightly, I’m “[my] own thing.”

I’m one bushy moustache, woodworking shop, and XL polo shirt removed from being Ron Swanson… if Ron were a liberal Democrat, vegetarian, and weighed 150 pounds, that is.

And frankly, twenty-eight years of my life was spent pretending to be someone else and I’d rather work at getting comfortable in this skin, doing any exploring of gender or sexuality on paper and in writing.


My therapist has observed on several occasions how much of my identity is based around being an outsider, an outlier, an “other.” It makes sense that this would be unconsciously incorporated into my identity as a out gay male, although it’s cultural institutions like Halloween and Pride that make it difficult for me to identify as a gay male. I don’t really fit in with the hypersexual boy culture that seems characteristic of many of my peers.

I’m more comfortable with the descriptor “homoromantic demisexual androphile” because at least that tells you something about my orientation(s). Physical attraction really only occurs when I deeply connect with someone. I’m a male who is sexually and romantically interested in other males with whom a strong emotional bond is shared. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that hookup apps like Grindr or Scruff are conspicuously missing from my phone.

In fact, two weeks ago on October 18 marked the one-year mark of the last time I actually had sex. I simply haven’t been attracted to any guys who would be attracted to me.

It’s all very confounding.

There is so much pressure in the gay community to hookup with anyone who is available, to be slutty, to radically eschew heteronormativity. That doesn’t leave much room for people like me who are primarily emotionally rather than sexually oriented.


I’ve known for a while that there are a number of well-defined psychological personas within me. These are at least four aspects of my personality that emerged and solidified over the years in response to different perceived threats or challenges.

There’s the tall, dark, quasi-menacing father/protector figure who becomes furious when I make mistakes or fail to achieve to his expectations.

There’s a morally ambiguous figure who is highly driven and a little bit sociopathic who pushes me to be ruthless with myself and others.

There’s an emotional hurricane figure who is an embodiment of my more animal instincts, who gets upset easily and easily flies into panic and/or rage.

There’s also the hurt, confused, and wounded child.

All four of these constructs interact with each other in different ways and would rise to the top of my consciousness to take control depending on what the situation called for. In this way, by separating and compartmentalizing these different aspects of myself, I could take control and protect myself.

Trouble is, after nearly 30 years of this I’m essentially walled into a mental fortress with four potentially volatile people.


While thinking through some of my motivations for wanting a boyfriend/partner, it finally occurred to me last week that the thing I really desire most is a sense of warmth that has historically been lacking from my most intimate relationships. Growing up, I don’t recall ever feeling that way about my home life or my parents. Mostly, home was associated with anxiety, fear, and suspicion.

So there are the usual things I’d want from a relationship: a sense of belonging, home, acceptance, and yes, a primary sexual partner.

But it was this desire for sense of warmth that expressed itself recently which took me by surprise, because I realized that so much of my life has indeed felt chilled, as if I’ve spent most of it wandering alone on a windswept moor or something similarly Brontë-esque. For once it would be nice to find someone with whom to share a hearth.

However, in observing interactions and pairings, it appears to be so easy for everyone else. And frankly, one doesn’t find a relationship at my age and station in life.

268. deliquesce

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

Her 65th birthday, to be exact.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

In one email, my mother commented:

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

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

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

I wrote in one reply:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

One that doesn’t include me.

267. eponym

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

The OED provides several useful definitions:

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

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

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

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

How different my life might’ve been.


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

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

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

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

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

Some disturbingly mixed signals.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

There isn’t much commonality left, period.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s moving on.

261. puissant

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cir_animacion_1Just came from an encouraging session with my therapist.

I’m often left a bit dubious or even suspicious whenever things go positively. Maybe I’m carrying around the notion that therapy must be fraught with powerful emotion, or the measure of work in therapy including profound revelations, breakthroughs into the nature of what brought one to therapy in the first place.

I’m trying to rid myself of those notions.

They’re not helpful.

The main takeaway from today was that over the past couple of months I’ve been becoming more conscious and intentional about how I manage reactions to various emotional stimuli. I’m slowly rewriting the old, broken narrative of victimhood to the cruel winds of life and of my religious upbringing, bringing personal choice and agency to the fore.

Something my therapist brought into the conversation today was a reflection on the root of responsibility, what it means to be responsible, and what it might mean to actively choose what we respond to—and how we respond.

One thing that immediately came to mind was this recent video from The School of Life:

When we carry a background excess of self-disgust around with us, operating just below the radar of conscious awareness, we’ll constantly seek confirmation from the wider world that we really are the worthless people we take ourselves to be. The expectation is almost always set in childhood where someone close to us is likely to have left us feeling dirty and culpable, and as a result we now travel through society assuming the worst—not because it’s necessarily true or pleasant to do so, but because it feels familiar, and because we’re the prisoners of past patterns we haven’t yet understood.

The second half of the video talks about approaching people with the same poise and graciousness we afford children. We usually don’t assume the worst about an infant or toddler—that they’re plotting against us, or deliberately acting out of spite or cruelty.

We reach for the most benevolent interpretations. We probably think that they’re just a bit tired, or their gums are sore, or they’re upset by the arrival of a younger sibling.

This struck a chord with me instantly, because it brought to mind how much I wasn’t raised in this way.


A few months after I left Christianity, I was having a post-Easter lunch with my family. My nephew had just turned ten months old, and was in the development stage of dropping things off his high chair to observe the results. Exasperated, my sister sighed, “There’s his sin nature showing.” Everyone else at the table nodded sadly, as if this child who wasn’t even a year old was showing signs of some fatal disease.

This assessment might seem innocuous or even silly, but to me hearing my sister utter those words is still a chilling reminder of how ungracious and meager my parents were towards us as children. The sum of the following verses and other like them formed the basis of my parents’ parenting philosophy:

  • For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of god. (Romans 3:23)
  • I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5)
  • The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9)
  • Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)

Basically, their three children were little engines of depravity and rebellion that needed stern, emergency correction to save us from toddling straight into Hell. Every misdeed was scrutinized, treated as a symptom of the rotten heart that surely lurks within all humanity.

The cure was swift and sometimes brutal punishment, from spankings to locking in the basement until we repented of our sins. Oh, and Bible quoting aplenty.

I realize this depiction makes my parents look crazy and abusive, and yes, there were times they lashed out in anger and frustration, reaching for the “parenting by fear” card rather than by compassion or understanding. There were happy times, too: reading books out loud, outings to the library or the zoo, helping my mom cook in the kitchen.

But they didn’t show much compassion when it came to normal unruly child behavior, and from that we learned that we were bad, broken creatures—loathsome insects that god holds over the pit of Hell, as Jonathan Edwards put it in his famous 1741 sermon.

We learn to engage with the world through the model of our parents’ engagement with us as children. We form our expectations of other people through the prime example of how our mother and father treated us.

I learned to fear other people, that everyone was secretly scrutinizing me in expectation of finding the worst, that I deserved their disfavor and disapproval. As my mom once sniped, “If people knew who you really were, they wouldn’t like you.”


That’s what the old, broken narrative for my life is built on. Fear, victimhood, self-hatred.

What I’ve been practicing over the past few months is an awareness of those voices from the past and actively choosing how I’m going to respond to them as a perceptive adult instead of as the hurt child.

It looks so easy written out, and it’s anything but. Emotions are messy. I revert to frightened child again.

My grim inner Protestant winces at the notion of self care, insisting that it’s selfish and wasteful. It’s extravagant—a day at the spa, taking a hot bath, meditation, making my favorite food.

For me, self care has become much simpler.

It’s turning off and tuning out the news—really, anything that unnecessarily upsets me, that I can’t do anything about, that I don’t actually need to listen to.

It’s stopping the kind of downward-spiraling mental rumination over, say, a troubling news story that leads to anger or emotional unrest.

It’s my declaration of independence, of emancipation.

It’s choosing to show myself the compassion that my parents weren’t capable of.