278. esoterica

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There hasn’t been much time to write recently, nor is there much time to write today, so this is going to be a bit scattered. We’ll see where this goes.

Eighteen days ago was the four-year anniversary of my breakup with Jay, the narcissist ex-boyfriend who nevertheless turned out to be—as I rightly feared—my likely last chance at a relationship before I turned 30.

I was hoping for some spark of insight about lessons learned about life choices, but instead I found little more than regret at having stayed with him for nine whole months.

Besides, there isn’t that much of my mind free to reflect on things like that these days.



One of the insights that I did have after things ended with my last therapist is that one of the reasons I feel so ambivalent about my parents is that there was a time when I was very young when I was happy with them.

This was before I was self-aware and able to internalize the bullshit theology that they were feeding me.

The world was simpler, brighter, happier, and there’s a part of my mind that still remembers what it felt like. A gulf of time and trauma now stands between me and that previous proto-self, and there is no way to get back.

You can’t go home.

I suppose that’s one of the things I most hate my parents for—robbing me of my childhood (and my future adult happiness) by teaching me to hate myself.

They also robbed me of the ability to truly enjoy things since I constantly view things that I like with suspicion or skepticism. There was always a fear growing up that one or both of my parents would disapprove of something I enjoyed or liked, for whatever reason, and would take that thing away.


I’ve also been thinking about my emerging asexual/demisexual identity as of late, where it came from, and whether I’ve always just been this way.

The present hypothesis is that, yes, I have always been this way. My hypothesis acknowledges that the relevant events happened between twelve and fifteen years ago, and that memory is an imperfect reconstruction of past events.

There’s also the reality that my sexuality formed under hostile, repressive circumstances, so it’s possible that my resultant sexual identity is a product of emotional trauma and abuse, isolation, and cult-like psychological programming.

That being said, while I definitely experienced the Saturn V rocket-like explosion of male sex drive during my teenage years, I do not recall ever being sexually attracted to specific guys. I had crushes, yes, to varying levels of intensity, but I don’t remember wanting to do anything sexual with any male peers.

Was that because I was unconsciously suppressing those desires on account of the then-impossibility of realizing them? Perhaps. I was intelligent enough then to have done that. Yet while my peers (even the Christian ones) seemed preoccupied by their sexual impulses (and, naturally, the struggle to resist and remain “pure”), I was more aware of the absence of such impulses in myself.

Piano, writing, research, or literally anything else held more interest for me than sex.

For my male friends especially, the struggle to tame their sexual needs and desires seemed ever-present, something that created a mountain of anxiety for them. I, on the other hand, struggled with just the reality of being same-sex attracted rather than any specific desires.

Being gay was largely an abstract concept for me.

What I experienced in terms of desire for other men wasn’t even necessarily sexual. Even today, I don’t have sexual fantasies about guys. What I do have are emotional fantasies—imagining going on vacations with a partner, buying our first house together, brushing our teeth, curling up on the couch together under a blanket while rain patters on the window.

It’s more the desire for intimacy than it is for sex.

That’s the homoromantic aspect of my orientation.


However, I’ve also been thinking back over my experiences as a sexually active gay man, because over the course of just a few years, I did have a lot of sex. I’ve been thinking about what that meant, especially considering how emotionally unfulfilling and empty it was.

To use a metaphor, I felt a lot like Dharma and Jane when they pretended to be German tourists and were confronted by an actual German speaker.

When I was sexually active, I largely went through the motions, doing what I grew up doing in most social situations—mirroring behavior, and generally faking emotions without understanding what was going on.

Fahrvergnügen?

At the time, I thought I was “discovering” my sexuality after years of repression. The discomfort I felt was internalized homophobia, I thought. Yet no matter how many guys I fucked, I didn’t feel any less confused or empty.

If anything, I actually felt resentful.


No automatic alt text available.

Wolf, Tikva. “Kimchi Cuddles.” Comic strip. 2014. http://kimchicuddles.com.

Reactions to my demi or asexuality have been interesting. There’s been a lot of Oh, I’ve felt that way before. I must be demisexual too.

Or: Are you sure I can’t convince you to give me a try?

Or: Your view of sex is just too traditional.

The notion of the absence of sexual attraction is apparently stymieing to many people. It’s the air they breathe, familiar and comfortable. Gay men especially seem to have a difficult time imagining life without being aroused by any hot or cute guy.

That’s one of my worries about dating again—finding a guy who:

  1. I manage to establish an emotional connection with that’s strong enough to move into sexual attraction;
  2. I find physically attractive;
  3. Is fine with not rushing into sex, and even waiting for me to determine if I’m attracted or not;
  4. Isn’t scared off by my crazy.

So yeah… I don’t know how this is supposed to work. Ultimately, my goal is to build a family of my own to make up for the one I didn’t have, but that doesn’t seem likely.

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274. draconian

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https://twitter.com/noahmichelson/status/813177921875677184


black_forest_gateauA few months ago, I experienced something that hadn’t happened in a while.

Now, I’m not reticent about my sexuality.

True, I don’t talk about it non-stop, and (contrary to how much I write about the subject) it isn’t the sole thing that defines me. But if asked or if I am in company where gender and sexuality are discussed, I am not shy about opening up about my experiences.

So it takes me aback when I have to come out to someone.

This episode happened following a gathering of friends in November as we were discussing a post-Thanksgiving get-together at my house. One of our newer attendees asked whether the decor would be Thanksgiving-themed.

“Decorating really isn’t my thing,” I said, and then joked, “I tend towards more of a sparse Scandinavian style, myself.”

She gave a look of mock surprise. “What kind of gay man are you?” she exclaimed. She was mostly joking (I think), but there was a hint of true incredulity in her tone.

I got this a lot in the first few years after coming out. Women would assume that I wanted to check out hot guys with them and provide brilliant, witty insights on the male psyche in between shopping breaks or redecorating their living room.

Sorry, heterosexuals. Your token queer I am not.

However, the episode got me contemplating the assumptions people might make about me as a gay man (specifically, what I’m interested in and who I have sex with), the various tropes and trappings of gay culture, and whether or not it was helpful to continue identifying that way.


Since the end of this past semester, I haven’t had much to occupy/distract my mind, so I’ve been mulling over what it means to be demisexual.

The common usage is to treat it as an adjective: you might only fuck people you have a close emotional bond with, but you’re still gay.

“You’re still one of us,” seems to be the subtext.

However, the fact that I experience sexual attraction but rarely, and then only with men with whom there is a strong emotional connection, indicates that I seem to fall more on the asexual spectrum rather than the homosexual.

It’s not that I’m seeking a label to define myself by, or a tribe to identify with, but rather to better understand myself (short-term goal) and hopefully develop strategies for managing friendships and finding a partner (long-term goal).

The challenge of dating is summed up in an article by Emma Lord:

… while you can generally tell on a first date whether or not you’d want to be friends with someone, it’s nearly impossible for a demisexual person to decide whether or not [they’d] be sexually attracted to [you] without the element of friendship and trust already in place… And you can’t exactly explain your feelings to someone you just met, particularly in an age when not engaging in romantic or affectionate activity on dates is considered a rejection.


While I have expressed frustration with the hypersexuality of large parts of the gay community, I am still cognizant of the history and significance that underlies its various communities and institutions.

Pride parades, for example, emerged shortly after the Stonewall Riots in 1969, and was a radical and political act of defiance in an age when being out was illegal. Although derided by many now as commercial and mainstream, they encouraged unity and solidarity in the face of oppression and later as friends and lovers were dying during the AIDS epidemic.

Gay clubs, too, served as safe spaces for self-expression, identity building, and community networking. Same for institutions such as white parties, drag shows, and leather bars.

Writers and activists encouraged LGBT people to reject the heteronormativity they had been raised with, to throw off the shackles of “traditional” models of sexuality and relationships, and express their liberation via total sexual freedom.

Kiyoshi Kuromiya wrote in the Philadelphia Free Press in 1970,

“Homosexuals have burst their chains and abandoned their closets… We come to challenge the incredible hypocrisy of your sexual monogamy, your oppressive sexual role-playing, your nuclear family, your Protestant ethic, apple pie and Mother.”

So, I get that all that silently informs, shapes, modern gay life.

Yet it doesn’t feel like my history, my institutions, ones that feel true to who I am.

Thus, when someone assumes I am mad for decorating, dress shopping, strapping on a leather harness, or running upstairs for a quick romp in the sheets, it feels like a denigration of my needs, values, and identity.

That the only way to be is to be a gay clone.


There’s another variable at play, however.

Yesterday, I learned that a friend of mine is randomly connected to Seth. (Yes, that Seth, of the 2011 birthday.) I noticed my friend had commented on a post of Seth’s, and asked how they knew each other. Turns out they’re in a gayming group.

My friend wrote: “There’s an inkling at the back of my head that I should be wary of him, though.”

Even though it’s been nearly six years, the shockwave of that night still ripples, supernova-like, through my life today.

Seeing that name again, catching a glimpse of his thumbnail profile picture, brought a sea of unwanted emotions and memories back.

That incident, and a handful of others (where I’ve experienced attraction, decided to open myself to the possibility, and been rejected), left me distrustful of my taste in men and ability to make healthy romantic decisions for myself.

I seem only to find myself attracted to impossible guys, or to guys who will end up using me for sex or to stroke their fragile male egos until they got what they came for.


I don’t know if other guys, the George Michaels etc, are simply satisfied with surface-level intimacy, if that’s all they want, or if they simply experience it in different ways.

Can any of us know?

Am I this way because of genes… Seth… my parents?

Who knows.

It is what it is.

273. factitious

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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


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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.

269. titivate

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

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

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

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

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

gayhalloweensearch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

It’s all very confounding.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

252. inconnu

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out-there-starisborn-videoSixteenByNine1050Our universe is all about building new life from death.

Like the creation of the world from the body of Ymir the frost giant in Norse mythology, the elements that made life on this planet even possible originated in the violent deaths of massive stars billions of years ago.

We are born from death.

We even owe the birth of our own home star and the formation of our solar system to the deaths of the star (or stars) responsible for the nebula that birthed it, a process that took 50 million years, give or take.

Most stars in the observable universe are about as big as our own—average. They lead mundane lives for the most part, about 10 billion years, fusing hydrogen into helium.

When one of these stars can’t fuse its elements any further, it expands to twice its original size, into a red giant. The outer shell is cast off, most of its matter is blown out into space, and the remnant shrinks down into a white dwarf, which will continue to shine for 80 to 100 billion years.

However, when a star greater than about five times the stellar mass of our star dies, it goes out spectacularly in a supernova, a violent explosion that scatters the star’s guts (and heavier elements) into the cosmos.

If the star is large enough, though, even the resulting explosion isn’t enough to overcome the star’s own gravity. The stellar remnant collapses on itself, collapsing right out of existence until an impossibly dense singularity forms—a black hole.

Like anything with gravity, they attract matter. But unlike most objects, black holes are dense and powerful enough to pull in even light: thus, why they are called “black,” because not even light can escape.

We now know that supermassive black holes lurk at the centers of most galaxies. They may even be vital to galactic formation.

Out of death, life.

That’s all to say, I had a meltdown on Friday evening.


Black_Holes_-_Monsters_in_Space

It’s been a while since I had one, because all in all, my mental state has actually been pretty good lately. I’ve been able to focus on school and on developing as a librarian.

However, a few weeks ago I was invited to a dinner gathering hosted a gay couple who are friends of mine. The other guests were another gay couple, who did the cooking.

And it did not go well… for me.

Although my friends tried to include me in conversation, the other couple barely acknowledged my presence, bringing up topics like expensive vacations they’ve taken as a couple, discussions of couple’s issues, or challenges of gay parenthood as a couple.

The message was clear: as a single person, I was unworthy and invisible.

A normal, healthy person might say: “These people are pretentious, fucking assholes. Fuck them and their shallow snobbery.”

Instead, it felt like a validation of every insecurity I have about being single.


477f73c8c712858510310c472b0d982fThe meltdown in question happened at a small gathering at the house of the same friends who hosted the dinner party. They’re in their early forties and recently started up a sexual *whatever* with a local twentysomething guy.

Overall, it seems to be a good thing for them, with everyone getting what they need from the arrangement.

However, I am careful to remind these friends whenever they start to share details that I don’t want to hear about it.

For starters, it’s been ages since I had sex, and I arrived at the conclusion recently that I just can’t have sex with anyone I’m not in love with (and vice versa).

Meaning that, with most gay men as they are, and at my age and relatively nascent progress in rebuilding my life post-fundie Christianity, it seems unlikely I’ll ever find someone.

Or get laid.

So, as Miracle Max might say,

Miracle Max


So, Friday night.

Maybe someone posted a couple’s selfie or a chipper new relationship status earlier in the day, but I showed up feeling hateful towards the world. My friends’ new boy was there, and I couldn’t stop from hating the three of them and their playful, flirty familiarity.

In short, towards the end of evening and after several drinks, I went off. And when I go off in that state, I can be nasty and cruel.

Which I was.

Spectacularly.

Basically, it’s beyond aggravating to see everyone getting what they want when things appear so bleak for me. To see how fun, easy, and recreational sex appears to be for so many men in this community, and knowing that that’s not for me.

Plus, it’s galling that virtually every guy I’ve dated is in a long-term relationship now (including Jay and Seth), which summons images of facing the next however-many years alone, braced against the icy and lonely winds of other people’s happiness.

It’s like a prolonged shot of some craggy shoreline in a bleak Bergman film. (Aren’t they all bleak?)


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Right now, I feel rather like an emotional black hole at the center of my personal galaxy. I seem to attract good, quality people, and I’m reasonably attractive, but few can drift too close without getting hurt.

My formative years were about unknowingly internalizing the Christian belief that I’m a worthless, sinful piece of shit. Family and community life taught me that the basis of all relationships is fear.

Now I fear that love of any kind won’t be able to reach me without being mangled, or escape my gravitational pull to get out to someone.

How does one rewrite that script?


Today I watched a TED talk by Jean-Paul Mari about PTSD. He said: “You feel like you want to die or kill or hide or run away. You want to be loved, but you hate everyone.”

I may not have survived a war, but I did survive the trauma of fundamentalist Christianity. And I can’t banish the dreadful thought that I survived only to emerge dead on the vine.

That doesn’t ring intellectually true, but it certainly feels true…

248. quiddity

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GoldRingIt’s the last rose of summer.

The autumnal equinox is three weeks away, the days are getting shorter, and grad school starts up again for me on Friday. I’ve read over the syllabi for my two cataloging courses this coming term and it’s perverse how excited I truly am to finally dig in to this subject.

And in keeping with all of the changes in my life over the past couple of months, I’ve now decided to stop wearing the gold ring my parents gave me as a birthday present around age fifteen or sixteen. I can’t quite remember which birthday it was, but fifteen sounds about right.

So eighteen years, I’ve been wearing it.

A simple gold band that has confused and intrigued countless numbers of people—many of whom assumed it meant I was married.

I’m not even going to think about how many guys assumed it meant that I was unavailable when in reality I’ve been quite available all this time.


The official story I’ve told people about its origin is that it commemorated the first time I made it through The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which isn’t entirely untrue.

I’d actually finished the series around age thirteen, so it was more a belated token, a symbol of my undying love for Tolkien’s world. By age fifteen, I’d read the entire trilogy about four times and had made the first of several aborted attempts at getting through The Silmarillion.

The nerdy birthday present story always makes for an easy out for having to explain a much more complicated picture. It engenders amused if not outright delighted reactions, from “That’s so cool!” to “That’s unbelievably nerdy!”

And, of course, I get asked about whether fiery Tengwar letters appear when the ring is heated, which it doesn’t, and if I’ve looked, which I haven’t. Frankly, I read the books long before the movies were made.

I’m not a connoisseur of cheap tricks!


Like the One Ring of Tolkien’s world, the truth about my gold ring is more layered than meets the eye, and requires some specialized knowledge of arcane cultures.

Specifically, purity culture.

Promise (or purity) rings came into fashion in evangelical Christian culture during the 1970s, around the time Christianity was finding its own version of Catholic kitsch. This was also in the wake of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, when fundamentalist Christians started pushing back against what they saw as insidious decadence and rampant immorality of secular culture.

(And yes, it was entirely demonic in origin.)

The ring was to be worn as a reminder of the vow to remain sexually chaste until marriage, when it would be replaced with an actual wedding band—divine permission to finally get it on.

By the time I was a teenager in the mid-1990s, “purity rings” and the public signing of purity pledges by adolescents were commonplace in churches. Undoubtedly horny teens, conditioned to fear their own sexual natures, took part in public church ceremonies where they signed pledges to “take the high road” to defy a culture that urged them to “just give in.” The pledge was a promise to abstain from all forms of sexual activity—including masturbation.

Once a year at my church, teens were invited at one point in the Sunday service to come to the front to sign a large poster and take that vow. It was partly inculcation and largely peer pressure, but it was mostly shaming.

So there are Christian men’s support groups for battling sexual temptation; software that actually notifies a designated and trusted friend if you look at “dirty” websites; and books like Every Man’s Battle, to shame young people for their otherwise normal sexual urges.

I’ve no idea if I signed one of those pledges or not. It would’ve made an excellent cover, seeing as I was realizing then that abstaining from sexual activity with women wouldn’t be a problem.


Thankfully, my ring had nothing to do with any of that, although it was obliquely related.

On the inside of the ring is engraved a reference to a Bible verse: 1 Timothy 4:12,

Don’t let anyone look down on you because of your youth; on the contrary, set the believers an example in your speech, behavior, love, trust and purity. (Complete Jewish Bible.)

Boys in Evangelical circles don’t get quite the heaping of shame about sex and their bodies that girls do. Rather, young people are taught that men are sexual beasts who’d run amok if not for the controlling influence of women—and the Holy Spirit, of course! God, in his infinite wisdom, gifted men with insatiable lust that’s supposed to be expressed only in the bedroom, between one man and one woman whom the Lord joins together for life, regardless of whether they’re even sexually compatible.

But why worry about whether you’ve made the wrong choice in a life mate, or wonder about what it might be like to have sex with other people? God took time out from creating the universe in six days to match-make for everyone thousands of years into the future, ensuring each of us a mate for life!

… except for the ones he “blessed” with singlehood.

Naturally.

DontMasturbate

For me, however, the ring had a more sober meaning.

The verse was a signal from my parents that I was transitioning into adulthood, into manhood, accountable directly to God for my life and the choices I’d make.

I was supposed to start taking on the mantle of a godly man and leader, the kind of man a godly wife needs to be the Christ-like head of our household.

Thankfully, things didn’t go according to plan.


Their message impacted me in a way they couldn’t have anticipated.

I wasn’t a kid anymore.

I could think for myself, take responsibility for my direction in life, and not merely abdicate that power to someone else.

It would take thirteen more years to figure that out though.

Now, my hand is a blank slate—rather like my future.

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245. polysemy

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Rosalind-Russell-Mame-Dennis-Auntie-MameThe past two weeks I’ve been working on a graduate education scholarship application in the records and information management field, and consequently started saving my blog entries on this site to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine project.

I’ve been adding a few every day and am up to the entry where Seth comes into the picture.

Yay…

Going back over those early entries when I was just coming out and to terms with the challenge that was proving to my then conservative Christian morality and upbringing is fascinating. Not to mention extremely uncomfortable at times to read how different a person I was.

Ah, and yet…

The other evening I was saying to my housemate how I just don’t want to have sex these days because I’m single, and all I can seem to get is these meaningless flings that only serve to remind me of what I don’t currently have but want. And unfortunately, it’s not for lack of attention. There are probably plenty of guys who would date me if I were mutually attracted. But it usually goes that they’re interested and I’m not, and vice versa.

C’est la guerre

Furthermore, I said, I’m done hooking up with other people’s partners (both with their knowledge and sometimes participation), adding that I’m tired of “being someone else’s dessert when I haven’t had a solid meal in ages.” And how it all plays into my fear that no matter how successful or accomplished I may be in life, I’ll always be fundamentally alone.

As Sartre wrote: “Je suis condamné à être libre. I am condemned to be free.

So it was curious later that night when I ended up hooking up with a friend of our’s who came over for drinks and to play Cards Against Humanity… who is in a relationship. We’d been talking outside in the hot tub about families and hangups, and I think something in my mind snapped of no longer wanting to be defined and constrained by my past, my family, or my damage. Of my fears and anxieties determining where I can and can’t go.

Most of all tired of feeling paralyzed into inaction by my fucked up, over-analytical brain.

I’m reminded of what Rosalind Russell’s titular character says in the 1958 film Auntie Mame: “Life is a banquet, and most poor [sons-of-bitches] are starving to death!” And it bothers me that I’m aware of this, of everything that’s currently going for me right now, and yet I don’t really know if what I’m apparently missing is what I want.

For example:

There’s lots one could say about this. That’s it was 2010. That it’s reflective of extroverted, urban, nonreflexive New York City gay culture. Hell, that it’s Jake Shears.

On the one hand, my repressed, proper, conservative, wannabe-19th Century inner upper-middle-class Brit looks down on such extroversion, disapproves of the embrace of unrestrained sensuality, because (if I’m being perfectly honest with myself and with you, dear reader) I don’t feel comfortable or empowered to be that way myself.

But is that authentically me? Sure, I don’t often push my comfort zone and pursue new experiences… but am I the kind of guy who just wants sex, with or without intimacy or connection?

A friend of mine posted on Facebook today:

You know you’re one of those East Coast gays when for weeks at a time during summer, it seems like half the people in your news feed are either going to, currently visiting, or just returning from P-Town… and the other half are on Fire Island.

That kind of lifestyle, frankly, sounds like hell for an introvert of introverts. Being surrounded by (presumably) all manner and ilk of carefully groomed, stylishly dressed, cosmopolitan, pretentious, hyper flirtatious gay men… no, thank you.

But on some level, I wish that I were the kind of person who could fit in with and at least enjoy myself in that crowd, that I were truly self-assured enough to mix with any company and not give a damn what anyone else thinks, or whether or not I get laid.

Mostly, I’m weary of feeling as if I don’t belong—that I still haven’t found my gay tribe. Because I’ve found my librarian tribe. Those folks are cool. With Sunday Assembly, I’ve found my secular tribe. But 99.9% of those I’ve met in these circles are heterosexual, and while they’re wonderful folks, I don’t 100% belong. But there are so few gay men who I actually like, and that makes me very nervous that there’s no one out there with whom I’m actually compatible.

Because I’m not looking for “good enough.” That’s how I ended up with Jay. Again, no thanks.

The reality is that I’m not queer, “gay,” fabulous, femme, masc, jock, twink, etc. I’m me, whatever that means. I’m a recovering fundamentalist Christian who is finally (albeit glacially) coming into his own without the bullshit and baggage of high school and having conformity beaten into his shoes. I don’t have a label, or a modality.

These days, I’m committed to being uncompromisingly myself. That seems to intimidate guys who are accustomed to other guys who fit neatly into pre-fabricated boxes.


 <<Brief rant ahead>>

And this is my main issue with gay culture, with the Scissor Sisters video, and all of it.

I’m tired of feeling there’s something wrong with me because I don’t want to party, to get drunk and stupid, to jump into bed (or the bushes) with some guy I just met. I felt that way in San Francisco, I’ve felt that way with gays here in Minneapolis, with friends of various boyfriends…

It’s my gripe with gay porn—with picture-perfect guys selling us the idea that you have to have some perfect, unattainable, sculpted gym body to be accepted, that gay men primarily interact with each other sexually, and that this is “normal.”

No, it’s not normal. It’s bullshit, and it’s not realistic.

Am I alone in this, or do other people feel this way too?