272. wabi-sabi

kintugi‘Tis the season for retrospection, I guess.

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

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

Ditto during the years of the Great Depression.

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

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

(There are more examples on this Reddit thread.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good riddance to this year though.


250. oneiric

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

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

But aforementioned headline did catch my attention.

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

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

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

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

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

In a longer comment he wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for us?

223. cacography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, to find him…

221. gibbosity

parent-yellingAt our last session, my therapist said something interesting at the end: “We need to find your inner nurturing parent.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that the past couple of weeks. We’d been digging into the idea of me becoming my own inner, harsh parent as a child when my parents relaxed more after my youngest sister was born.

As I wrote last time, I’ve been doing some revising of my childhood narrative, getting away from this notion I’ve had over the years that my parents were awful, emotionally abusive people. To be sure, they made mistakes. All parents do, especially with the first born. The first born is the trial run kid, the baseline.

By the time my youngest sister was born, my parents pretty much figured out by then that, aside from some basic necessities, babies are low-maintenance. That, and making mistakes is a normal part of the growth and maturing process. I can recall the feeling of being a disappointment to my parents, of not living up to the expectations they had for me. They would get exasperated or impatient when I’d drop something or make a blunder.

After my youngest sister was born, as I wrote, they lightened up a bit. For me, that was a shock to the system that I grew accustomed to as a child. The expectations were almost like a structure upon which to pattern my life as I knew it. The more they backed off, the more the anxiety and negative self-talk ramped up, crying out for the familiar structure.

  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Your sister got it sooner than you did,”
  • “Why can’t you be more like ____?”

These strident voices were with me throughout my childhood and young adult years, and even now. Thinking about it now, my parents must have been mystified at my behavior. I’m not even sure where my models came from in building this parent persona. Television shows? Movies? I must’ve unconsciously sought out every angry father and spiteful mother represented, patterning the self-responses in my mind after their likeness rather than engage with the actual parents I had.

So much of what I’ve done has been in the service of placating these inner parental voices. I had to become the best at the piano. I had to become a great writer. I had to become a first-rate composer. And every time I didn’t meet those expectations, to be everything that my angry, hateful parent demanded that I be — to win, to annihilate the competition — then it meant that I was an abject failure, and a bad person.

Add to this the lessons we were being taught in church and at home:

  • “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)
  • “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” (Romans 5:12)
  • “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

To quote Christopher Hitchens, we’re born sick and commanded to be well. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, we’re fucked before we even have a chance to screw it up on our own. Before we can even wipe our own asses, already we have the weight of several millenia of sin and guilt on our tiny shoulders.

And, of course, the key to not being damned to Hell for all eternity is to confess all of your sins (1 John 1:9), even ones that you didn’t know were sins, because God sees everything. So on top of the neurosis of having an inner parent from hell, I was also being taught to be self-critical, to the point of obsession.

One of the things we talked about a lot, both in church and at home, was being a “fake Christian,” or “casual Christian” — or, more plainly, a hypocrite. I haven’t watched Jesus Camp, mainly because of the memories and emotions that it triggers for me. Thank humanity, then, for YouTube. This excerpt is something I heard a lot growing up:

“Name it out loud.”

Shame is an integral part of Christian fundamentalism. It was no stranger in my childhood or early adult years, especially once my sexuality became evident. It was something I never said out loud, not until 2008, when I attended a “prayer healing” seminar and was prayed for by a Christian husband and wife. I sobbed for nearly half an hour the first time I ever said, “I’m gay.”

This is the result of pathologizing otherwise innocuous, normal human nature on the so-called authority of a nearly two-thousand-year-old book and its Bronze Age morality.

Teaching children that they’re broken and sinful is sick. It’s wrong. It’s deplorable.

And it must stop.

But back to therapy.

One of the side effects of jettisoning my Christian identity in the way that I did was that I’ve developed emotional amnesia about everything prior to 2011. This is probably a defense mechanism, but memories from that period seem like dispassionately watching a movie of those events. I can see them happening, but can’t recall the feelings.

So, like a literary critic deconstructing a novel, I can see with almost sickening clarity what a monster I was during my early adult years, what an emotional terrorist I could be at times, and how devastatingly unhappy and hopeless I’ve been for most of my life.

I can’t recall the fact of ever feeling truly safe or secure with anyone, perpetually terrified that someone would find out my secret and punish me for being gay.

So “being kind to myself” seems a Herculean labor. It doesn’t make sense.

The angry parent in my mind has been the familiar voice for as long as I can remember. It’s been there to beat me up after a rejection letter. Tell me how I fucked up and sabotaged yet another failed relationship.

The sick thing is… I still believe that parent is telling the truth.

187. extol

Last SummerQuick-ish thought for this afternoon.

I was reading an article in the New York Times this afternoon about the 25th annual NewFest (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender film festival) in New York City this weekend. The article’s author, Stephen Holden, had this to say about it:

The face of gay liberation in 2013 is a sanitized image of polite, smiling gay and lesbian couples parading hand in hand and exchanging chaste kisses at city halls in states where gay marriage has been legalized.

But if there’s a theme to the 25th annual NewFest … it is that gay liberation is fundamentally about sex.

At first, I inwardly cringed at these sentences, and then immediately did a mental self-check for any signs of lingering, internalized homophobia. There may be some of that left over from my Protestant days, but the main thought was one of dread. I thought:

Oh shit, now some conservative Christian bigot will get up and point to this as “conclusive” proof that gay and lesbian relationships are just about promiscuity and sex…

Then I stopped myself. Turn on the television or go to any movie these days, and you’ll see some hot, hunky guy getting it on with some voluptuous, burgeoning girl. There’s no talk of fidelity, or marriage, or children. They want to fuck. Like the animals they are.

The prudish Christians who object to sensuality in film and media today do so under the notion that humans are these exalted, divine beings who should rise above their physical needs and desires to something purer. (Never mind that this is a tenet of Gnosticism.)

Biology, however, tells a different story.

Taxonomically, we are animals. Primates, technically. But we share the same primal desire to mate and reproduce as any other life form on this planet. In fact, the only thing that seems to set us aside from our closest relatives on Earth is (1) our ability to use tools with a frightening efficacy, and (2) the awareness of our physical instincts and desires, and the ability to choose to not be dominated by them. This doesn’t make us better than other beings. Just different.

When humans experience romantic attraction, we desire to express that attractive (i.e., love) via physical means. Our genes have programmed us to respond with our genitals at the moment of sexual arousal. This is completely natural. It’s only because of the teachings of the church that we’ve come to think of this as dirty or sinful. Our ancient ancestors would have considered such a view bizarre, and unhealthy.

So why shouldn’t we have a film festival that celebrates sexual attraction between two men, or two women? Well, because it’s icky, many people (who shall remain Brian Brown) might say.

It’s true that we’ve sanitized the gay liberation movement in order to appeal to our heterosexual neighbors who would otherwise support marriage equality and LGBT rights, but find the actual reality of two men or two women expressing physical love (let alone — gaspbeing sexual) towards each other (in the same way that heterosexuals express physical love) off-putting.

In doing that, however, we’ve conveniently allowed them to put away the reality that we are sexual beings, just like heterosexual couples. Yes, when we’re horny, we want to fuck. We also want to just hold each other and bask in the oxytocin-induced glow of mammalian physical intimacy. Because that’s how we’re wired.

So does that mean that we should ignore the fact that in the early days of gay liberation there was a lot of indulging in kink and promiscuity? Only if we ignore the fact of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s; of key parties, wife-swapping, and “free love.” Like a dam bursting, we threw off the moral bonds that had kept us in a perpetual state of sexual tension for centuries. However, the pendulum seems to be swinging back towards the center, as it usually does.

As Holden writes in his Times article, the early days of the gay movement “were gripped by a kind of erotic delirium in which men pursued a hypermasculine ideal and promiscuity was rampant.” We were creating new boundaries, new norms, and new paradigms to make sense of the sexual chaos that had been unleashed. Now, as we’re seeing increasing acceptance of LGBT people in mainstream American society, and coming closer to full equality, that iconoclastic boundary-pushing is being replaced by a more mature desire for emotional belonging and intimacy.

One of the final boundaries we have to overcome in achieving full acceptance for LGBT people is the depiction of physical intimacy in media — where nobody bats an eye when two men kiss (or bloody just hold hands) in a movie (and it isn’t a joke), or where there can be a sex scene on TV between two women and they aren’t trying to get male attention.

It created a stir in the 1950s when Lucy and Ricky were shown sharing a bed on I Love Lucy. We’ve been pushing those limits ever since; to moving from some whitewashed notion of a “moral ideal” to depicting reality as it is lived by actual, living-and-breathing human beings. Because it’s ridiculous that we same-sex couples have to keep pretending that we aren’t sleeping together or having sex; that our expression of physical love for each other never moves beyond meaningful eye contact, holding hands, or a quick peck on the lips.

That’s not real life.

Reality is that we do have hot, sweaty, messy sex. We also make dinner together. Go on trips. Have fights. Tolerate in-laws. Argue about money. And if any of that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s what all human couples do. And as soon as everyone else gets on board with accepting that, we’ll be that much closer to having a more sane country.

And a saner world.

186. serotinal

Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/37010090@N04/8559696948/">Sprengben [why not get a friend]</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a> How did it get to be September already? It seems just yesterday that it was snowing and twenty-below-zero. Now August is spent and gone and we’re running pell-mell into autumn. Soon the leaves will be changing color and falling off trees, and we’ll be digging our way out of snowdrifts and cursing the fact that Minnesotans forget how to park in the winter.

Incidentally, I learned the word “pell-mell” around age seven or eight from the Hardy Boys book The House on the Cliff: “The other boys followed, running pell-mell through the hallway and clattering down the stairway” (p. 15). These were some of my favorite books growing up, and they opened a door in my mind to literature and to writing.

One of the things that most sticks in my mind about those books was the fact that the boys seemed to always be getting naked—or at least mostly naked:

  • “Tony began to peel off his clothes.” (p. 91, House on the Cliff)
  • “Frank and Joe took off their slacks, T shirts, sweaters, and sneakers.” (p. 97, House on the Cliff)
  • “Let’s take off our socks, shirts, belts, and sweaters.” (p. , The Clue of the Screeching Owl)
  • “He stripped down to his shorts and Joe did the same.” (p. 161, Secret of the Caves)

Of course, there’s no reason to think that any of this was meant to be homoerotic. These books were first written in the 1920s. It was a different time. If anything, it’s a sad commentary on our own age that we now interpret instances of male intimacy as indicative of homosexuality. Boys and men used to get naked all the time, and enjoy being naked together, without it being erotic, or analyzed and pathologized. To be sure, there were certainly gay men forced to find each other in dark, secret places to avoid detection and punishment. We see some of this in books like E. M. Forster’s Maurice, Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar, and Christopher Isherwood’s I Am a Camera, which provided the basis for the musical Cabaret.

To my young homosexual mind, however, these instances in the Hardy Boys books were teeming with sexual tension, and they provided me with the material for my earliest fantasies of male-on-male intimacy. In fact, one of the first times I can remember being sexually aroused was in chapter five of The Secret of the Caves:

From "The Secret of the Caves," p. 41.[Joe] kicked off his shoes and flung himself on top of the bedspread.

Too exhausted to undress, Frank did the same. The boys slept soundly for several hours.

Frank awakened first and thought he was having a nightmare. A pillow was pressed hard over his face and a powerful hand pinned his shoulder to the mattress.

Trying to cry out, Frank kicked wildly and flung the intruder away from the bed. Someone hit the opposite wall with a thud and crashed to the floor. The noise aroused Joe who sprang up, wild-eyed, and looked around the room. [p. 39]

No worries, it’s just their friend, Biff Hooper (described as “tall and lanky,” blonde, and an “amateur boxer”), playfully holding Frank down on the bed as a joke. I didn’t yet have the emotional vocabulary for why this scene excited me so much, or why it looped on virtual continuous playback in my mind. I would later discover firsthand the palpable thrill of male sexual play and wrestling, and the masculine roughness and uninhibitedness that was already such a turnon to me when I first read the above passage.

Almost all of the boys in these books are athletically inclined. Both Frank and Joe play football and baseball (Frank is a pitcher—heh), but Joe is the smarter of the two, playing with transistor radios or tinkering with motorbikes, so I always had more of a crush on Joe. It’s funny now to think that my parents were unwittingly aiding my development as a young gay man by giving me these books to read. I’m not even ashamed to admit that, as a teenager, some of the focus of my *aheh* “alone time” was Joe Hardy. At least, the Joe Hardy of my imagination.

Autumn is a time of transition and reflection. The leaves change color as the youth and vigor of spring and summer fade and shift with the tilt of the Earth away from the sun. Farmers bring in crops sowed in early spring and tended to all through the summer.

I too have been doing reaping of my own, thinking about my growing up years as a closeted teenager and trying to make sense of the time lost, both as a Christian and as a gay man. As my circle of gay friends increases, I’m coming more into contact with couples who met in their early twenties and have been together for years, their relationships deepening and becoming more knowing and intimate. They’re buying houses, adopting children, going on trips, and in general making lives together.

Many of my friends met each other around the same time that I was graduating college and just beginning to come to terms with the fact that I would never be a heterosexual man as my family and friends assumed that I was.

These relationships aren’t perfect by any means, but with every day that passes I’m reminded of the fact that I’m not getting any younger and that time is slipping by. Like the leaves, my own hair has started to change color. I’ve recently started noticing grey hair at my temples.

I don’t want to waste any more of the years that are left to me. I spent too many years trying to be someone else, and am finally getting to know who I really am. Life is short enough as it is, and I would rather spend my life getting to know a beautiful and fascinating man, and investing time and love in each other.

185. dither

fringelogo_webA few weeks ago I met up with my friend Sarah to go see a show at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. It was Four Humors Theater’s adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 screenplay based on Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel “Lolita” about a twelve-year-old girl’s sexual relationships with two adult men.

As performed by three adult men, the actor playing the title character looking absolutely nothing like a twelve-year-old girl. It was predictably awkward and hilarious, especially at the end when the actor playing Lolita reveals that he had no idea that the story is about a “sexually precocious girl,” at one point crying out in horror to the other guys: “My grandmother was going to be here tonight! Gran! I’m sorry!”

This was the company that did the brilliant adaptation of Voltaire’s Candide at Fringe last year.

Afterwards, Sarah and I grabbed dinner in lieu of not making it to the following show that she was hoping to see. During dinner, she told me about a book she’d been reading called Attachment by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. In it, they discuss three different relationship “orientations”: anxious, stable, and avoidant.

Attachment theory has been around since the 1960s and 70s. According to the Wikipedia page, the styles break down in the following ways:

  • secure: “It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me.”
  • anxious (preoccupied): “I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.”
  • dismissive (avoidant): “I am comfortable without close emotional relationships.”, “It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient”, and “I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.”
  • fearful (avoidant): “I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.”

Anyone who has followed my blog for some time will probably recognize the second category, anxious/preoccupied, as describing my relationship style spot on. I usually feel uneasy around the people in my life, and I worry almost constantly about whether or not they’ll reject me. If we have a disagreement or fight, or I do something to offend or that oversteps boundaries, I assume that the person hates me and wants nothing more to do with me. In reality, they have no idea that I feel that way and often assume that everything is perfectly find.

The fact is that I’m an affection junkie. I didn’t grow up with much praise at home, and in my early years affection was often conditional. I had to behave a certain way or meet some benchmark that my parents set before it was granted. The lesson I learned as a child was that I’m not worth loving unless I perform well enough or do enough to earn that love. I unconsciously do things for the people in my life, trying to earn my keep in their good graces, all the while a script is running in my mind: “If they really knew you and how much of a fuck up you are, they’d drop you faster than a half-way decent show on Fox.”

This causes me to see any of my accomplishments or personal victories as just a drop in the bucket that I need to fill just to begin washing away the stain of my failure as a human being. I’m constantly trying to prove to everyone that I am special, yet nothing is ever good enough to silence the critical voices in my mind that are leaping to tear me down before anyone else can get there first. The hope is that if I do a good enough job beating myself up, everyone else will leave me alone.

With lovers, I tend to bend over backwards to keep them and obsess over relationship status. Each rejection a black mark on my worthiness report, in the same way that missing a credit card payment goes on your record forever. It leads to me sticking around longer than I should, and putting up with behavior that would make anyone with an ounce of self-respect walk out at the first sign of trouble. These are things that friends will attempt to comment on out of concern, that I will dismiss like a stereotypical battered spouse, saying: “But you don’t really know him.”

My fears about turning 30 were mostly about having another reason for guys to reject me, my terror at being alone with myself, and not knowing who I am without someone to validate my worthiness, even though I don’t really believe affirmations. At the back of my mind lurks that dark voice whispering: “If they ever saw behind the mask, they wouldn’t say nice things about you.”

And the pathetic thing is that I believe that inner voice. It’s easier than believing that someone could love a flawed and insecure person like me, or that I could ever learn to rest easy in some guy’s arms and not worry that he’s going to leave me at the minute things get unpleasant. The thought of ever being happy terrifies me because I’m always waiting for the next disaster.

The cute, sexy, nerdy, intriguing guy I’m talking to inevitably ends up being partnered, or isn’t interested in a relationship.

I’m not cute, interesting, muscular, or (curiously) vapid enough to catch anyone’s attention.

In short, I’m struggling to find evidence to support the claim that friends make that I really am a terrific catch, and that everyone else is stupid for turning down such a great guy like me…

183. bilge

Another Exodus International alum is on the mea culpa circuit: Randy Thomas, former Executive Vice President of Exodus, who issued a public apology today.

Why does anyone think this matters? Do they think this will lead to some sort of hippy-dippy Kumbaya moment where bygones are bygones, and we hold hands and sing around a campfire? Lest we forget that this is an organization that emotionally manipulated thousands of gay people into betraying themselves in the name of religious bigotry and homophobia…

The fact is, this apology doesn’t matter. Like his former boss, Alan Chambers, at no point in this “apology” does Thomas ever outright apologize for his actions. Instead, he blames others for his part the psychological terrorism of LGBT persons:

  • “My understanding of public policy at that time was limited to the talking points I was given to tailor my testimony around.”
  • “I participated in the hurtful echo chamber of condemnation.”
  • “I was, in a sense, attracted to this kind of power and allowed my conscience to be numbed so I could have a seat at their table. In the name of trying to positively affect Christian leaders, I willingly became one of their pawns. Again, I was selfish and prideful. Please forgive me.”

According to his biography on the Exodus website (now taken down), Randy Thomas grew up in an abusive home, which he attributes to having caused his feelings of same-sex attraction:

“Growing up I internalized the abuse and the pain grew. My need for love was desperate. I knew at a very young age that I preferred the company of males even though I wasn’t like them. When a male would smile my heart would leap. This became erotic at the age of ten.”

After being thrown out of his home by his religiously radicalized mother, he basically went on a sex, alcohol and drugs bender that eventually led to a “come to Jesus” moment and internalizing the lie that homosexuality is both a disorder and a sin. He “left his homosexual identity at the cross,” “learned to relate to men and women the way Father intended,” and “received love from men and women in the body of Christ that displaces homosexuality.”

Essentially, he became frightened of the abusive way he was treating his body, and was seduced by the alluring message of (conditional) love and acceptance of God and the Church. Not only that, but he joined an organization devoted to seducing others into exactly the same lifestyle (irony strongly intended).

Rather than see that he needed psychological help and counseling after an abusive childhood and then rejection and abandonment by his own mother, like so many of these ex-gay faggots (as Dan Savage likes to call them, because not a single one of those pathetic individuals are heterosexual), Randy Thomas made the fatal leap of seeing correlation where there was no causation. He associated the emptiness that he felt with homosexuality, not the emotionally empty sexual encounters he was having with other men.

I’ve felt that same emptiness too after a hookup that comes from the deep longing I have within me for a partner and kindred spirit, and not finding it in those encounters. We’re complex social primates, and that’s how millions of years of natural selection have groomed us for survival. For most of us, the desire for emotional companionship is embedded in our genes.

Instead of seeking real help, Randy cut himself off from his friends and support network, and joined up with bigots of the ex-gay movement who told him what he wanted to hear.

Nowhere in his public apology does Thomas take full responsibility for his part in the abuse of LGBT people, or that these beliefs were wrong and scientifically ungrounded to begin with. He apologizes for the hurt he caused, but he doesn’t actually say that the actions that caused that hurt were actually wrong. This is one of the first lessons I learned about making apologies: if you were in the wrong, you admit it. Instead we have this masquerading as an apology:

“I apologize to the gay community for idealizing and reinforcing the institutional groupthink of Exodus. I apologize for remaining publicly silent about the hurt caused by some of Exodus’ leaders and actions. I also apologize for my inexperienced participation in public policy, placing my personal ambition over truly serving the gay community as a Christian friend.”

This is virtually no different from saying: “I apologize for shooting you. But it was for your own good, and to keep you from going down an even worse path. I regret hurting you though! Friends?” That’s not an apology. That’s excuse making, designed to let the offender off the hook from feeling guilty about his/her past actions.

The fact is that Randy Thomas and everyone in the ex-gay movement knows that their ship is sinking, and fast. Their claim of evidence of change in sexual orientation evaporated into thin air, because it was never there to begin with. Every mainstream medical body in the world has affirmed that there is nothing aberrant or pathological about homosexuality. The much touted Mark Regnerus study that was supposed to prove that same-sex parents ultimately harm their children turned out to be fraudulent.

And they’re likely trying to make friends amongst enemies before the anti-ex-gay animus really heats up.

If Randy Thomas wants to “make amends,” he could start by inventing a time machine, going back and smacking some sense into his young adult self. Or spending his time volunteering in shelters for gay teens who have been disowned by their bigoted Christian parents, and helping them reject the lies that he helped perpetrate, come to accept themselves as the beautiful human beings they are, and find healthy and emotionally mature ways of expressing their sexuality.

Hell, just a decent sex ed course would be a start.

But this so-called apology is a joke. It’s self-pitying, self-congratulatory, and blame-shifting. Whatever his motivations here, an apology without action is worthless.

182. muster

Pride FlagSaw a caption a few weekends ago on one of the blogs I follow that read: “Don’t go to bed alone this #PRIDE weekend.” It accompanied the picture of an adorable, lightly bearded guy in briefs laying in bed with a sexy “come hither” look.

I certainly wouldn’t have kicked him out of bed, but that’s not exactly the kind of thing I go for these days.

Minneapolis Pride (or “Gay Pride,” as my mom refers to it) was a few weeks ago at the end of June. And I decided to skip it entirely this year. My friends (gay and straight) who found out I didn’t go reacted with surprise to horror.

“But, it’s Pride!” they all seemed to be saying. “Isn’t that, like, gay Christmas?”

I didn’t go the first couple years after I came out, partly because I wasn’t interested, but mostly because I didn’t know anyone to go with. My first few years as an openly gay man were lonely, truth be told. Aside from the handful of hookups I had in the months after I broke up with my first boyfriend, I didn’t know many other gays. It really isn’t until late last year that my circle of friends became much more gay-weighted.

My first Pride event was about two years ago, when I went with Kristian, a guy I dated for a few months. Last year I manned booths for Minnesota Atheists and the HRC, the latter at which I got badly sunburned and a mild case of sunstroke. There were plenty of hot, virtually naked guys to look at; plenty to drink (if you don’t mind cheap beer that’s overly priced and that one has to get cash for); and plenty to do, but that was about it.

This year… I dunno. It feels as though I haven’t stopped moving since relocating to Uptown at the beginning of June. There’s been a lot to do with cleaning and making my new apartment liveable (there were three straight guys living here before me, and the managers didn’t do much to clean up after them when they moved out), and also simply socializing with people now that I’m so close to everything in this area.

Another factor was the passage of both the marriage bill in Minnesota and the overturning of section 3 of DOMA, and knowing that there were going to be a ton of couples there, many of which were likely planning weddings. And there I’d be, by myself (even if it was with friends), and feeling like that there’s this special, exclusive club that I’m not a member of.

Mostly it came down to my frustration with just not feeling like I belong in the “gay community.” I realize that there are a lot of people who also feel this way, and also that there’s no monolithic way to be “gay.” Hell, the whole premise of the LGBT movement is diversity, right?

So why didn’t I feel that I really belonged at Pride?

Part of it is the party atmosphere that seems to pervade both Pride events and gay male culture in general. It’s one orgiastic celebration of… something. From the pounding shitty house music to the drag queens to the raucous laughter… it’s not really my cup of tea. I don’t do well with forced merriment. It’s the garlic to my vampire — a sure-fire method to keep me away.

I just don’t feel very “gay.” All I share in common with most gay men is our mutual attraction to other men. That’s about it.

  • I could care less about Perez Hilton, Ru Paul, fashion, gossip, or pop culture. I’ve managed to remain relatively Glee-free, and intend to keep it that way.
  • Gay bars? Too loud, crowded, and mostly full of obnoxious twinks. Or older men who still think they’re twinks.
  • Calling other men “her” or “miz”? *Gag.*
  • Obsession with show tunes? Only if they were penned by Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Jason Robert Brown, Noël Coward, or Kurt Weill. Aside from Sondheim, most gay men I know haven’t a clue who the other three I listed are.
  • “Opera queens” sobbing over Romantic operas (e.g., Puccini, Verdi, Donizetti)? Not me. Edward Rothstein penned a New York Times essay in 1993 about the intimate relationship between gay men and opera. In it, Wayne Koestenbaum is quoted as saying: “We [gay men] turn to opera because we need to breathe.” Spare me that bullshit. I will say that, thanks to my friend Matthew, I have a growing appreciation for Wagner, but it feels more akin to collegiate admiration than the growings of a deep, abiding passion.

There have been times in the years that I’ve come out when I’ve felt pressure to “act” more “gay,” as if people (especially my women friends) expect me to be more like the stereotype of a gay man — i.e., queeny, witty, frivolous, overly dramatic, etc. And that’s not me. What I said when I came out holds true today: I’m the same person I’ve always been, albeit more honest.

Basically, there is virtually nothing “campy” or feminine about me, not because I’m self-loathing but because it doesn’t interest me. This is a primary reason I feel alienated from the gay community. I don’t feel that I “fit in.” I feel no need for luxury, as epitomized by “old guard” gays like Liberace. In terms of decorating and clothes, I prefer a sparser, more “masculine” style. The music I like tends to be angular, rhythmically and harmonically complex and muscular and characteristically unromantic, a fact that scandalizes most of the gay men I share that fact with.

Also—I don’t want to have sex with every guy I see, nor am I capable of doing so. (Thus, why gay clubs don’t really appeal to me.) Honestly, I don’t see guys as meat, or as conquests. I have to really connect with someone to get to that level of intimacy.

In short: I’m me. An iconoclast. And always will be.

179. balk

ruined city“Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change… You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours.”

Dear Alan Chambers,

I read your funny little note today. Or it would be funny if it weren’t so deeply offensive to me and to every gay person you’ve helped murder, maim, mangle, dehumanize and abuse over the many years of your “ministry” as president of Exodus International.

Fortunately, I am not one of those “ex-gay” survivors (i.e., victims). I was never desperate enough to fully buy into the lie that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, or that my sexual orientation needed “curing.” Frankly, I’m not sure why this is when so many of my friends willingly subjected themselves to the brand of psychological terrorism your organization helped promote. They did this out of a desperate, last-ditch hope that it would make them acceptable enough for your so-called God, and for their families who ultimately failed in the duty to show them unconditional love.

Perhaps it was my parents’ instilling of critical thinking skills in me at an early age that never allowed me to fully accept their and my church’s teaching about homosexuality. There was a small but present voice in my mind (that, thanks to teachings about demons and “spiritual warfare,” I attributed to the Devil tempting me) that said, “This doesn’t make sense.”

And why should it? Why would we willingly choose a “lifestyle” that for too many of us results in the hostile rejection of our friends and family, being taunted, called names, beaten up (and too often brutally murdered), demonized and hated — all for simply loving a person of the same sex?

That’s right — straight people have relationships; faggots just want sex.

“… If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

I was never desperate or foolish enough to pursue so-called “reparative” therapy. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t spend the majority of my teen years in pained anguish over what I believed were filthy and repulsive sexual feelings, pleading with God almost every single night growing up to take those feelings away.

It doesn’t mean that there aren’t 25 years of my life that I’ll never get back because I believed the bullshit that God’s “design” for human beings was heterosexuality.

It doesn’t mean that my young adult life were desperately lonely and miserable as I watched my straight friends date, fall in love, and get married, something I thought wasn’t an option for me because our holy book said that marriage was between a man and a woman.

So forgive me if I find it infuriatingly laughable when you say that you’re not my enemy. You’re worse than my enemy. You’re a disgusting quisling, a self-loathing, self-hating collaborator against your own kind. You’ve ruined lives with your teachings. You’ve all but put the gun in the hand or kicked the chair out from under who knows how many innocent LGBT people who couldn’t live with the life you and others told them they had to live in order to get to Heaven — all because they were unfortunate enough to have been born different than 95% of the human population.

And for that you’re sorry? Like Steve Urkel lamenting, “Did I do that?”

The only good thing to came out of this nightmare for me is that I was well prepared for the realizations that (1) religion is nonsense, and (2) there is no God. For me, these conclusions were inevitable. I was never the kind of person who can blindly accept given propositions as fact. It would’ve been nice if these realizations could’ve come earlier, and with less grief and pain, but they are hard-won, and they are mine. And I’m building a new, happier, freer life for myself, without the lies and self-hatred that I was fed growing up.

It would’ve also been nice if I could have accepted my sexuality earlier, and in a family where I could’ve been accepted for who I am rather than who they believe I should be. But then, I wouldn’t be the unique, strong, dynamic and caring individual that I am today. It has been a long, difficult road to accepting myself, but I doubt that I’d appreciate the joy of love and relationships in the same way had I not known the despair and broken loneliness first.

However, I hold you personally responsible for the grief, loss and pain I suffered, in the full knowledge that you’re merely a part of the system that oppressed and subjugated you too. Yet you willingly participated in that oppression and subjugation by becoming an oppressor yourself. You taught millions of gay men and women to hate and loathe themselves, and to bury themselves alive in unfulfilling relationships with members of the opposite sex because the leaders of your church taught that this is “God’s will.”

So until you figure out a way to go back in time and prevent every person from going through the life of pain and misery you inflicted on them, there is no forgiveness for you, or your kind. All I hope is that you devote the rest of your sad life to dismantling the lies about LGBT people that you’ve promoted and fostered over the years.

But there is no forgiveness for you. There may be others who can find it in their hearts to do so, and good for them. But you will be my enemy until the day you die and leave this planet to those of us who want to build a more kind, peaceful and tolerant world.