277. affable

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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.

259. iatrogenic

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3263327644_df0767f4f3-1It’s Pride month again in Minneapolis, and another year finds me not feeling very proud… or particularly fabulous. Some of this does have to do with the attack in Orlando on last Sunday, that another bigot turned their hate into bullets, and how I don’t really feel like celebrating when so many people died and we have a majority in Congress who don’t give a shit that a bunch of dirty fags were killed in a gay nightclub.

Sorry—was that too harsh a paraphrase of Republican views on LGBTQ people, views they’ve obstinately held fast to ever since gay people started demanding to be treated like human beings instead of criminals?

Honestly, I’ve never felt like I belonged at pride events. Yes, the movement is founded on values of tolerance and inclusion, supposedly, but where is the young curmudgeon’s tent underneath the glittery rainbow umbrella? Everyone else is laughing and flirting and having a good time, while my inner Carl wants to yell at these damn kids to turn down that fucking EDM and put some clothes on!

I had a longish discussion with my therapist this afternoon about my ambivalence towards the LGBTQ community and my overall reluctance to participate in mass group events.

By nature, I am not a “joiner.” I’ll support from a distance, but unbridled commitment to a cause or movement makes me jittery.

The U. S. presidential campaign, for example. What ultimately turned me off to Sanders’ campaign was the seeming groupthink and aggressive enthusiasm of his supporters. (Feel the Bern? I thought that cleared up!) What makes me extremely uneasy about the Trump campaign is how it seems to be stoking a resurgence of racist American nationalism that comes dangerously close to what the rise of Italian fascism looked like in the 1930s.

So okay, I understand the historic and cultural importance of gay pride events, how they have built solidarity since the first Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970. Though increasingly corporatized, with hetero executives—as usual—finding more ways to make money off us LGBTQ folks, as a friend of mine wrote today in the Star Tribune, pride events remind us that “despite our differences, we can only fight for our freedom together.”

I simply prefer to “fight for our freedom together” in the quiet of a library or coffee shop, not talking to anybody.

Yes, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes, so shut the f*** up.

My therapist observed that I’ve talked about two opposing desires—the desire to find belonging but also to withdraw and secure my individuality. A need for and a fear of connection and intimacy that creates a tension which both drives and paralyzes me. Super.

Part of my ambivalence about the gay community is rooted in unresolved trauma from having lived repressed and in the closet for over a decade and still not having integrated my sexuality into my personal identity. Just as many people are thrust, unprepared, into becoming sexually active adults, we gays are expected to burst from the closet as fully fabulous gay men the moment we come out. That’s a tall order after spending ten years violently pushing down your attractions to cute guys so you don’t out yourself.

This differs from internalized homophobia, I think, because I’m not ashamed of being gay. Rather, it feels like just another fact about me, like the color of my hair or my height. And unlike some of my peers, it isn’t something I ever had to fight to claim as my own, so it doesn’t feel that important to me… something I take for granted.

I think the fighting part is key because the fighting would’ve meant that I believed I was something valuable and worth fighting for. I exist, but that has nothing to do with loving or valuing myself.

That brought me to the image of Miss Havisham a few days ago.

For anyone who didn’t go through a Dickens obsession at some point, she is one of the strangest and most fascinating characters in Great Expectations—a wealthy spinster who shut herself away in her ruined mansion that is frozen in time at the exact moment she received the news her fiancé had abandoned her on her wedding day. When Pip meets her in chapter 8, she still wears her tattered wedding dress and one shoe (she was putting them on when she received the letter), and her wedding cake sits rotting in the dining room. Consumed with bitterness, she conditions her adopted daughter to hate all men and seeks vengeance on the world by making Estelle into a cruel, sadistic heartbreaker.

There are many aspects of this character I shudderingly relate to. There’s a deeply twisted part of me that enjoys holding on to past hurts—my parents, my college choir director, Seth, Matt the bisexual tree scientist. I recite my litany of their wrongs, like Orual in C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, because hating them gives me purpose; and like Miss Havisham, I’ve locked myself away in an inner mansion of emotional distance where I can’t be hurt.

There I can feel sorry for myself, and over many years that dark blanket of self pity has become familiar, safe, even comforting.

There’s a sinister element of Estelle, too. At times, I’ve been the deliberately cruel heartbreaker in order to get revenge for how Seth used and then discarded me.

If I was used and hurt, then you deserve to be, too.

This fixation on the past—resenting the family I grew up with for not being the family I needed, ruminating on feelings I had for the first man who broke my heart and believing I’ll never feel that way again—it’s clearly counterproductive and unhealthy. It’s a story I’ve been telling myself every day for five years.

If the Orlando murders teach us anything, it’s that life is too short for bullshit like that.

254. probity

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Jessica_Jones_NetflixA few weeks ago I decided to check out the Netflix show everyone in my social media circles had been talking about.

Jessica Jones.

The Wikipedia article on the show offers a good summary: “Following a tragic end to her brief superhero career, Jessica Jones tries to rebuild her life as a private investigator, dealing with cases involving people with remarkable abilities in New York City.”

It’s an adaptation of a Marvel comic character of the same name. Based on the reviews of social media posts, blogs, and reviews, I thought it worth checking out, especially with its themes of dealing with trauma, recovering personal agency, and rebuilding one’s identity.

Without giving away any spoilers, the show certainly lived up to the hype. The main villain, Kilgrave, played by David Tennant, was alarmingly creepy and sympathetic at the same time. In a Guardian interview, Tennant described Kilgrave as having the power to compel people “to do whatever he says.”

Of his character, he added, “How can you tell if people are doing things because they want to or because you’re asking them to? How can you have any sense of what the world is or how the world should be if your world is so particularly unique?”

The show affected me in ways that were unexpected, particularly in the relationship between Jessica Jones and Kilgrave. At one point early on, Jessica rescues a young college girl who’s been under Kilgrave’s thrall. Once they’re back at Jessica’s office, she makes the girl say, “None of it is my fault.”

As the series progresses, Kilgrave compels people to do darker and increasingly destructive things, things that suddenly seem to them perfectly reasonable and rational once he asks.

The show asks some fundamentally unsettling questions about human behavior: namely, is Kilgrave planting desires in people’s minds, or is he just accessing something that was already there?


Jessica Jones triggered some pretty powerful memories and feelings, having been a willing prisoner of sorts myself for twenty-eight years. That’s something one hears a lot in circles of survivors of Christian fundamentalism. You can’t know that you’ve been programmed virtually from birth to accept:

  • everything in the Bible as inerrant and immutable;
  • anything a pastor or divinely-appointed leader (essentially, every adult male studied in the Bible) says as absolute truth;
  • that any natural human desire not sanctioned by your church as part of God’s design (and let’s face it, your church always gets it right and everyone else is headed down the road to perdition) is sinful and an abomination;
  • that there’s only one way to heaven, and that’s the path your pastor and your church sets.

It’s not that fundamentalist Christians are mindless robots who can’t think for themselves. However, for those raised in sheltered communities where there were no other voices, no alternative perspectives to challenge the Bible-centric conservative Christian views, and especially in communities where insiders are taught to fear and mistrust outsiders, the question of agency becomes much fuzzier and difficult to unravel.

So when I see videos of children at Creationist seminars proclaiming that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, that humans rode dinosaurs, and that evolution is a lie from Satan; or homophobic Christians at rallys with signs declaring that gay people are an abomination, I don’t see much difference between them and the people Kilgrave turns into murderous maniacs with just the merest hint of suggestion.

As the Jesuit saying goes, “Give me a child until the age of seven, and I will give you the man.”


I found myself identifying most with Kilgrave’s victims, individuals who wound up on the other side of what essentially comes down to rape, and are now unsure of where the line between before and after is. They didn’t want to do whatever it was Kilgrave compelled them to do, and yet the desire to follow his command was stronger. To violate someone’s agency and compel them to act against themselves and their own values is a deeply perverse act.

Right now, the word counter at the bottom of the page reads 666. The rational part of my brain says that it’s just a number. No special significance. Yet there’s another part of my brain that still sees that as a sign of the Antichrist, a being that is very real and will appear soon. I know that the latter thought is irrational, yet it sometimes still springs to mind first.

For me, and many others, the words “None of it is my fault” are nearly impossible to say, because they don’t seem true. All of those times that my mind and body were telling me I was attracted to men, but the part that was under the thrall of evangelical Christian teachings told me that was sinful and disordered… that was still me that believed it.

True: it was the fault of having been raised in that environment my entire life, of being exposed daily to that ideology, and of the people who were supposed to be my guardians, but it was still me that performed the action.

… it’s a deeply unsettling constellation of emotions.

For victims of Kilgrave, they can’t return to the person they were before. But for survivors of fundamentalist Christianity, there is no “before” to go back to. Only a past of lies.


The question I raised most recently with my therapist is whether I can ever truly escape the influences of the brain I grew up with—if I’m building a new identity with old tools.

Of course, my perspective is different now. My beliefs are radically different. Yet I still view relationships through a lens of fear. I still see myself as unworthy, worthless, and broken.

It’s how to move forward that is the challenge. When you have nothing really to look back to as a frame of reference, it’s disorienting to try to find a workable path on your own. Others can help, but it’s usually just you, the ghosts, and the demons.

Happy New Year.

247. beatific

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

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

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

Well, recent compared to 20,000 years ago.

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

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

In the Middle Ages, however:

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

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

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

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


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

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

I’m a “me.” Not a “we.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Big mistake.

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

Everyone says good guys are out there.

So where are they hiding?

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

220. tumultuary

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PsychotherapyI started seeing a new therapist on Wednesday. It’s through the same agency as my last therapist, but it’s the woman I initially got connected to back in 2012 through the Secular Therapist Project. Apparently I was the first client to contact her through that site, but due to our schedules not quite aligning it didn’t work out the first time. She said she now has about a dozen clients who are recovering fundamentalists, which is really awesome.

She’s also a recovered, ex-Mormon, which in some ways is probably a harder thing to be than an Evangelical fundamentalist. From what I know of them, Mormon communities are much more tight-knit than most Christian communities. Your family is the core of your world. Leaving that behind can be truly catastrophic.

Our first meeting went well. There’s always a first-date quality to an initial session. What’s going on, what brings you to therapy, etc. Thankfully, I don’t have to explain why I am no longer a Christian. That part is always annoying.

One idea I’ve been exploring lately, that I brought up in the session, is that my childhood wasn’t nearly as awful as I remember it. That’s not to say that it wasn’t traumatizing in its own right, or that my parents didn’t have a hand in causing some of the damage. But I’ve been doing some revision.

So far, the narrative is that, as the first born of the three kids in my family, my parents were the hardest on me throughout my life and that this is why I’m currently so hard on myself. I’ve pictured my parents as slightly less psychotic versions of the iconic stage door mom or angry soccer dad.

The truth is more nuanced.

From what I can recall, and from some of the things my parents have admitted, this is partly true. As the first born, they were a little harder on me, at least at first. They freaked out more when things happened, and were probably harsher in scolding me when I did something wrong. Expectations had to be adjusted as my sisters were born and they learned from their experiences, and by the time I reached middle school age, they’d chilled out a lot – at least when it came to pushing us to achieve.

Something I hit upon while discussing this on Wednesday was the idea that, because my early childhood was much more intense, when my parents backed off I essentially became my own crazy soccer dad. When I made a mistake and they didn’t yell at me, I was screaming from the sidelines at myself, to pick myself up from the dirt, to quit being such a fucking loser, to stop being such a disappointment.

How this played itself out as I got older was that I drove myself to be the absolute best at everything. I was determined to be the youngest published author ever, so I worked like mad at becoming a great writer. I was determined to be the best at piano, so in addition to practicing long hours and refining my technique and musicality, I eliminated any possibility of sibling rivalry by dropping subtle hints to my younger sister (who was taking piano lessons with me at one point) that she wasn’t any good and should quit. Which she did.

When I got to college and majored in music composition, I would write late into the night, sacrificing sleep and often my health to become the best.

However, the truth is that no matter how hard I worked or what I achieved, I was never satisfied. No effort was ever good enough, no progress far enough. The more disappointed I became, the more I hated and loathed myself. Even my efforts to force myself to be straight failed, although i can’t say that I regret that one too much.

This is why I’m particularly unhappy about being single right now, because almost everyone else I know is coupled, and it feels as if I missed learning some life skill that came easily to everyone else. My housemates have been together twenty years, and married for the last sixteen. Another friend of mine is getting married next month and has been with his boyfriend for fourteen years.

My longest relationship is barely nine months, the last three of which I was waiting for the right moment to end it.

My current refrain is that no one wants a thirty-one-year-old gay man. Some have said that this is ageist; that thirty is the new twenty; that age only exists in the mind. In the past couple weeks, I’ve realized that this anxiety is less about being single and more about an acute awareness of how “behind” I am compared to most people I know. At thirty-one, it feels as if I’m truly starting over at a point when most of my friends are coming into their own.

Being raised a fundamentalist Christian did stunt my growth. Now that I’m out as both gay and as an atheist, I’m finally getting to a place where I can begin to grow. It’s just difficult to do that while my friends are so much further ahead in their personal lives and careers.

On the surface, just as I fear being looked down upon for not driving a nice (i.e., adult) car, I worry about being viewed as less-than by those around me. Intellectually, I know this isn’t true; that everyone struggles with the grass-is-greener mentality. However, I do seemingly lack an internal locus of reference for my identity and sense of self-worth that most people develop in their formative years. So if I perceive someone as doing “better” than me, it means that I have nothing, that I’m an abject failure. If I am rejected, it’s because I’m worthless. Are these thoughts rational? No. But it’s what I feel. And depression is an illness of the emotions.

So what to do? Well, getting a handle on my depression seems the first step…