277. affable

Standard

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

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

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

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

Yay.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I may as well have been masturbating.


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

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

Obviously that did not work.

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

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

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

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


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

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

Life, uh, finds a way.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homoromantic demisexual cisgender male androphile.


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

That’s what matters.

275. vergangenheitsbewältigung

Standard

broken-mirror
According to a Buzzfeed video, vergangenheitsbewältigung roughly translates to in English: “to deal with the past and eventually overcome it.”

Thanks to X years of coaching German lied and picking up bits and pieces of the language, I can correctly pronounce this word without much prompting.

Even the umlaut.

Unfortunately, the concept itself seems to be one I have particular difficulty with.


Let’s start with an excerpt from an episode of This American Life:

Linda Perlstein: This is the time of biggest growth for a human being, aside from infancy… what happens in your early stages of puberty is this fast overproduction of brain cells and connections, far more than you actually need. And only some of them are going to survive puberty. This growth in your frontal cortex, it peaks at 11 for girls and 12 for boys. And then what happens is the cells just fight it out for survival. And the ones that last are the ones you exercise more.

Ira Glass: In other words, during those years, your brain turns you into you, the adult you.

This got me to thinking about my own adolescence and what was happening during the formative years Perlstein is talking about.

Puberty started around age 12 for me. For most boys, it happens in community with other young males. There’s competition, and cruelty, but also camaraderie. I experienced it in a vacuum as a homeschooled youth, with two younger sisters and parents who preferred to pretend nothing was happening.

I had to educate myself about puberty and adolescence by reading medical guidebooks that we had on hand at home, and at our local public library.

This was also where I first (inadvertently) learned about homosexuality.

Puberty was frightening, and deeply uncomfortable. I had no frame of reference to compare my own bodily experience against, and nothing with which to normalize it. Rather than evolving with my body and celebrating its masculinity, it became a symbol of shame and revulsion, something to be ashamed of rather than expressed.

It didn’t help that I was also learning in church that the body was a corrupting influence and a potential tool for Satan, right around the time that I was becoming aware of my own homosexuality.

Couple that with our community’s obsession with spiritual warfare and you’ve got a recipe for anxiety and hyper awareness that would destabilize the sturdiest of people.


Just over a year ago I wrote about watching Jessica Jones, how it deals with living with life-changing trauma, and encountering one’s past to find strength in overcoming it.

The character of Kilgrave was a frightening reminder of how much voices of the past are still taking up residence in my head, whispering, distorting and shaping perceptions, essentially pulling the reins of my behavior and choices for the last few decades.

Around the same time, I also got into another Netflix series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I found surprisingly emblematic for my own experience of having been trapped in my own proverbial bunker for fifteen years.

This second season seems to deal more with the ramifications of dealing with the trauma of having had your personal agency stolen from you in those formative middle school years, when you’re supposed to begin dealing and coping with all those complicated adult feelings and emotions.


I had a pretty good session with my therapist today in which I finally came out to her about the four personas taking up residence in my head. Writing about them over the last few weeks was good groundwork in preparing to talk about it, because I was able to hit on a few insights while describing what is going on.

One of the things my therapist said today was that people raised in extreme religious environments often fragment their personalities in the way that I described. To make sense of what we’re told every day, we mentally the bury parts of ourselves that are problematic, sinful, and “wrong” in order to be accepted, or acceptable, and to survive.

While my forward-facing social, public self has developed and grown, the four parts that I described a few posts ago—the Dark Man, the Enforcer, the Rake, and the Child—all represent parts of me that did not. In order to stay safe, they went into a sort of mental cryogenic stasis, coming out only when needed, so they didn’t mature along with the rest of me. My child self is still eight years old, the age when I took literally the Bible verse that says to “put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

The Dark Man is still the critical, judgmental, severe parent that fed my perfectionist nature when my flesh-and-blood parents failed to do so. He’s largely responsible for the sense I have of being overly rigid and inflexible.

Forbidden sexual feelings that I vehemently repressed for years, never being explored, realized, or integrated healthily into my personality remain detached and largely inaccessible to this day.

The Enforcer represents the desires and ambitions that I had to squelch and suppress every day, which then inverted into a dark, malevolent, amoral force that provided the energy to kill dreams that God/my parents didn’t approve of and bury my sexual self, but which has also allowed me to kill friendships and reject my family. This is where my black-and-white thinking largely stems from.

In short, these are survival mechanisms that took on a limited life of their own, but are holding me back from true growth and flourishing.

My therapist did have one piece of advice: to not make these personas out to be bigger or more than what they are, and to not grant them too much power or agency.

She also pointed out the fact that I’m actually aware of these parts of myself that are “stuck” is a sign of significant progress.

But all of this is a huge reason why I’m still single.

I’m not prepared to unleash the Four Horsemen of my Psyche onto some unsuspecting bastard.

273. factitious

Standard

That first night when we sat on the trunk of my car and looked at the lights above the Arby’s? When I got up to leave, I looked at you, and I tried to think of how to say everything I was feeling. But I’ve never really been good at describing feelings. I’m only good at describing facts, and love, love isn’t a fact. You know?

Love—it’s a hunch at first and then later it’s a series of decisions, a lifetime of decisions. That’s love. And I didn’t know how to express that and so I just said: “I’m glad I decided to call you.” And now, tonight, I say I’m glad again, for this decision and all the decisions that will come every day after.

Which is to say, scientifically speaking of course, speaking from the point of view of mere facts and logic and you know, what with the science and all… I just thought that it was time for us to make a life together.
Episode 100 – Toast, from Welcome to Night Vale¹


no-face-png

A few days ago justmerveilleux commented on a previous post that it was “much too cheerful.” I’m endeavouring to bring the tone of this one back to my usual stark, grim, crepuscular realism. 😉

The last few weeks for me have been spent weathering feverish bouts of anxiety as we learn more about the Drumpf administration and what he, his cabinet, and the Rethuglican Congress have in store for the world over the next four years.

Basically, every time I scroll through New York Times or Guardian headlines, it’s a brand new something to haunt my dreams:

  • The planet is going to be trashed, sea levels will rise, and resulting droughts will bring about starvation and catastrophe.
  • We LGBTQ+ Americans are going to see all our civil rights gains taken away thanks to ultra conservative Supreme Court justice replacements.
  • With the almost certain repeal of Obamacare looming, the future of my health insurance is uncertain.

It’s been interesting to compare my reaction to this election to the one in 2008, and look at how much I’ve evolved since then. In short, where I once feared what Obama might have done as our first socialist President (which turns out not to be true—Hoover, Johnson, FDR, and even Nixon were just as Socialist, if not more so), we have a fairly clear idea what Drumpf is going to do. He has filled his cabinet with cronies, homophobes, and bigots who want to enact a theocratic, Objectivist agenda of revenge on this country, regardless of who suffers.

My nightmares don’t seem like a matter of “if.”

More like “when.”


I had a brief exchange with my youngest sister a few days after posting blog # 271. In short, we both feel similarly fragmented, made up of disparate parts, the result of decades of living in fear of our parents, their omnipotent and omniscient god, and a judgmental community of holier-than-thou Christians.

Okay, time for gross generalizations.

From what I’ve observed about most people, I gather that they function largely as a holistic whole, different modules and pieces of their psyches that work together in their functioning as a person.

For me, growing up in secret for nearly three decades feels like being a lump of coal trapped underground for thousands of years, under enormous heat and pressure, until suddenly ripped out of the Earth one day as a diamond.

I grew up managing a complex bureaucracy of desires and needs, making sure none of them drew the notice of anyone who could make my life unpleasant or difficult. I couldn’t be too ambitious, too needy, show too much self-efficacy, and certainly not any of my deviant sexual desires.

Now, nearly six years out as an atheist, I’m still living with disparate parts of myself that don’t talk to each other.

For most people (again, making gross assumptions here), when they want something, they think it and their cogs and wheels work out the specifics. Their child selves talk to their adult selves, sharing memories between them. And when a man is attracted to someone, he feels desire and the rest works itself out.

With me, none of those parts communicate. It is sometimes a daily inner civil war just to decide what I want for dinner—or to decide that I deserve to even want to eat.

I rather feel like No-Face from Hayao Miyazaki Spirited Away, an otherwise neutral being that absorbed the desires and intentions of those around him, a friendly mask disguising a dark and dangerous mess underneath.


When I fully, truly, came out in 2009, after breaking up with my first boyfriend and deciding I needed to “experience” everything I’d been missing, sexually speaking, I was still largely in the mindset of needing to be who I perceived everyone wanted me to be.

It’s how I survived evangelicalism as a gay teenager—by blending in, adapting, never being myself.

The hesitancy and emptiness I felt in hooking up—engaging in casual sex with guys who I knew weren’t going to be boyfriends or long-term partners—I chalked up to a puritanical upbringing; remnants of a lifetime of being told homosexual desires were evil, perverted, and sick.

I just needed to push through that to become the liberated gay man I knew was there, somewhere.

It never occurred to me that my reticence was the result of the reality that I experience sexual and romantic attraction through emotional intimacy rather than my pelvis.

The frustration in being a demisexual is feeling no control over who I’m attracted to. It happens suddenly, mysteriously, and very gradually.

I see couples at Target, holding hands and buying produce or a birthday card, and long for that kind of domestic intimacy. Granted, I have no real frame of reference. It’s academic, but still an abstract direction I’m aiming for in hopes I stumble onto something concrete.

I don’t want spectacular romance. I don’t need suffocating togetherness.

I’m not entirely sure what I want from a boyfriend/partner. Yes, I want companionship, the usual trimmings of a long-term relationship.

It’s more than that, though.

I want the significance of a look shared between two people experiencing something special and beautiful—a sunset, a moment in a Mozart opera, seeing something that reminds them of a moment five years ago before they knew any of it meant anything.

I’m suspicious of the fire, the passion, the Sturm und Drang of the early stages of a relationship. I want the quiet certainty of sitting on the hood of a car, staring up at the lights above the Arby’s, and am glad that I called someone.

These are the cares of a time traveler who lives in both the past and the future, knowing that everything that happens between is uncertain and surprising, but inevitable, unchanging.

Unchanged.

“The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”²

I’m not hopeful that I’ll ever get any of this, but a fellow can dream.


Works Cited

¹ Fink, J., & Cranor, J. (2016, December 15). Episode 100 – Toast [Audio blog post]. Retrieved from http://nightvale.libsyn.com/100-toast

² Nicholson, W. (1989). Shadowlands. New York: Samuel French.