285. variegated

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paint-260701_640I finally scheduled an AD/HD assessment for myself. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it isn’t until the end of the month.

When I called to speak with the clinic about setting up an appointment, they asked what I felt were my three biggest area of impairment.

And I froze.

Just three?

For how much I’ve thought and written about this, the bottom dropped out from under my completely and my mind went blank.

It was humiliating but illustrative.


The DSM-5 criteria for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (annotated):

1. Inattention: Six (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with developmental level and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/occupational activities:

a. Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities.

My first semester in grad school in 2015, we had an assignment to review and analyze one year of professional journal issues related to our area of focus. I chose American Archivist. Or rather, I missed the “one year” part and ended up looking at all 77 volumes going back to 1938 and did a qualitative analysis of article titles and subjects covered. This is just one spectacular example of the types of “careless mistakes” I make on a daily basis. I can read through instructions multiple times and the last time I’ll focus on one intriguing detail that will blot out all the other steps.

b. Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.

During the time that it took to write the above paragraphs, I watched five YouTube videos, looked up diagnostic criteria for three other conditions in the DSM-5, read three blog entries, scrolled through my Facebook feed, went to pet the dogs, took photos of the sleeping dogs, refilled my water glass, checked email, looked through an ADHD resources website, refilled my water glass again, went upstairs to look for a book, forgot why I went upstairs and ended up wiping down the granite countertops in the kitchen…

c. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.

It’s not that I’m not listening. It’s that I’m trying to remember what you said ten seconds ago, because it was probably important, and I’m not taking notes. I should be taking notes. Where’s my notebook? Why don’t I have a notebook on my desk? Where are the notebooks in the building? Oh god, you just said something else that sounded important. What were you saying earlier again? Augh, why am I not taking notes? Oh, right, I was looking for my notebook. Where do they keep the notebooks again? I should really go get one. Oh gods, yes, you’re still talking!! I should really be taking notes…

d. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace.

See a., b., and c. Also e.

e. Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities.

It’s ironic that cataloging was the area of librarianship that most excites me, because I am not organized at all in my personal life. Things typically go where I’m going to find them. There’s always a moment at the outset of any task or activity where I feel utterly overwhelmed and overcome with anxiety about how to proceed. If I am working by myself, it’s usually not a problem—if I can sustain the mental energy and it’s something that interests, that is. Usually I start with the thing that seems most important, which may simply be the first thing that catches my attention and seems important. Because priorities are a tricky thing for me—either nothing is a priority, or everything is.

Yeah, I don’t understand priorities.

f. Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort.

This should not be interpreted as laziness. It’s more that a lengthy chapter in a book or an article looks like Mount Everest to me. I know that, to get through it, I’m going to have to take notes to keep track of all the details, and fend off all the other distractions that I know are going to crop up the minute I try to focus.

g. Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities.

Notebooks. Pens. Allergy medication. Sunglasses. Sunscreen. Books. Laptop. Flash drive. Car keys. Work keys. Canvas bags. Lists (oh god, lists). Food. Security badges. Etc.

h. Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (for older adolescents and adults, may include unrelated thoughts).

See below. Also, having a conversation with me that stays on topic is near impossible. In the span of about thirty seconds I could interrupt myself 2-3 times with a related thought that quickly turns unrelated, which will lead to various anecdotes and things that I am suddenly able to remember that I would never be able to recall if I tried. Last semester I interrupted myself in a final presentation to comment that a thing I’d just explained sounded like a really interesting research question, and I almost didn’t get back on topic, even with my notes. I got lost during a piano performance once when someone sneezed or moved in my peripheral vision, causing me to lose focus entirely.

i. Is often forgetful in daily activities.

A frequent occurrence for me is to walk into a room and have no idea why I’m there. For a while I worried that this was a symptom of early-onset Alzheimer’s. In reality, what happens between the time that I set out to go get something and the time that I arrive is that I’ve gone down numerous thought holes and daydream tunnels, and was really only half focused when I decided I needed to go get the thing that I’ve arrived in the room to fetch. This happens to me at least three times a day.


People talk about AD/HD as if it’s a license to be whimsical and carefree.

It’s exhausting and stressful.

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276. talisman

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4w-druid-cropA few weeks ago I decided to do a tarot reading for myself.

It’s been a while, and I’m always curious about what’ll come out of a spread, what different patterns and combinations of cards will resonate with my mind in its current state, and so on.

Interacting with tarot is always entertaining, mainly because of how terrified I was conditioned to be of it growing up. They were the Devil’s Cards, tools of Satan, gateways to the demonic, right up there with Ouija boards and troll dolls.

Of course, I don’t believe in any of that anymore—the Occult, the supernatural, angels, demons, God/god/gods/goddesses, etc. Still, it’s amusing to be aware of the vestigial parts of my child mind that retain that primal fear of tarot cards.

I actually got into tarot by way of the wonderful 2004 novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, wherein John Childermass carries a deck of tarot de Marseille cards.

Anywho, my view on tarot is that it functions much like an inkblot, or Rorschach, test. The cards and the patterns they form are random and arbitrary, but the meaning you find or the story you see is an indication of what might be going on in your subconscious, just beyond the edges of the conscious mind. The randomness that the tarot introduces can bring awareness to underlying and inarticulate thoughts or influences that often end up speaking to us through the images in the cards.

In fact, the purpose of tarot is largely misunderstood. The popular trope is of it being a divination or fortune telling tool, when really it’s just a means of exploring possibilities. Sure, most people who use the cards believe in some higher power that speaks through the cards, but that lends itself more to the theory that you get out of it what you put in.

Anywho, the reading I did a few weeks ago.

It was interesting because just a few days earlier I’d written about my compartmentalized personality, that there are these fundamental parts of myself that I was taught weren’t acceptable. In order to survive, I buried and cut those parts off from the forward-facing Self that is me, and that grew and developed.

And yes, I’m a Jungian.

huit_depeeThe card that I ended up drawing for the “Hopes and Fears” position (9) was the Nine of Swords, or the “nightmare” card. The deck I was using (the gay-themed “Son Tarot“) appears as a broken mirror, with swords aimed at the center.

A friend of mine who has studied tarot thought this card was about anxieties about my future library job prospects, which is true. That has been causing some anxiety, especially as graduation (and graduate loan repayment) looms closer.

wands04But it was the Four of Wands  card in the “Below” position that was the most thought-provoking. In most readings of this spread, this position signifies the underlying feelings and subconscious movement associated with the querent.

The Four of Wands is the “hearth” card. It signifies harmony, contentment, a happy home, celebration, good times/news.

My friend thought it described my current living situation and job search.

I had a different theory. My sense from looking at that card was that the root of the winter of my discontent may be the memory of the happiness and harmony in early childhood (before I was aware that anything was wrong with the world), and that the unhappiness and discontent I experience now stem from wanting to return to that state.

Yes, there was a time before I stopped smiling in photographs, before I was keenly aware of being observed by others, before I’d fully learned to hate myself, and before being alive was a painful experience. It’s what we might call Paradise, a state of blissful unawareness.

Between that and now is a gulf full of unresolved pain and regret.


A few days ago, on Tuesday, the therapist I’ve been working with since the beginning of the year suggested that it was time we end therapy. She thought we’d done good work towards building better habits and skills around managing anxiety and stress, and practicing mindfulness and identifying when negative scripts are playing themselves out in my head and my behavior.

Her theory of practice is that therapy is short-term and goal-focused, and that we’d accomplished the ones we’d set at the beginning.

On the one hand, I agree. The last couple sessions have felt positive, overall. I have been more emotionally stable over the last few months. Disappointments and minor setbacks have less of an emotionally destabilizing effect than they used to.

There has been significant progress, and perhaps this is a sign than I’m ready to handle things on my own for a bit.

On the other hand…

I worry that in telling her about my fractured persona last session that she decided she was way in over her head, and ended things on as positive a note as possible.

… that my health insurance no longer covers mental health visits, and this was the subtlest way of ending things.

… that while I’ve got my forward-facing self relatively well-managed, the leviathans swimming beneath have simply learned to be more clever.

… that I’m never going to achieve full integration of those aspects of my psyche that are compartmentalized and currently inaccessible.

… that I’m never going to fully reconnect with my sexual self, which will cause future boyfriends to lose patience and dump me, and that I’m never going to find a partner.

Of course, these are irrational fears to varying degrees. Do I really know what I’m doing in healing from religious trauma? No. But did my therapist show me how to turn on the flashlight I already had to illuminate the path in front of me? Sure.

Yes, it was nice to unburden myself with someone who could restate and rephrase my words and remind me that things aren’t as bad as I make them out to be.

Maybe it’s time to do that for myself.

275. vergangenheitsbewältigung

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

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

Even the umlaut.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

262. conciliate

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“Over the course of just a few years, as I would go home to Spokane to visit [my friends], instead of them asking me what TV show or movie I’d been in, they asked me if I’d met anyone. And I was sort of asking myself the same question—and with growing concern. I thought: “Wait a minute—when did I go from being the cool one that people envied to being the one the people were a little worried about?”

“And I watched my friends’ marriages become longer, more knowing marriages; and their kids getting big and bigger; and the walks after dinner with the dog; and all the talk about the lake cabins. And I began to wonder if maybe they hadn’t made all the right decisions.” – Julia Sweeney, In the Family Way


elegant wine glass broken on a dark background

It’s been an intense last couple of weeks since last we met.

Let’s work backwards from today.

Last Thursday my housemate’s dog was attacked by what we’re 99% sure was a coyote.

Around 11:30pm, I looked in the back room and there was one dog sleeping but not the other, which gave me a bad feeling. When I went outside to look for him, I found him about halfway out in the middle of the backyard, collapsed and bloody.

I quickly bundled him inside, unsure of how badly he was hurt. We called the nearest 24-hour vet clinic and drove him over. He was in rough shape, with more lacerations and bite marks than we initially saw, and ended up being there a few days until he was eating again and moving around.

He’s home now, on some pretty fantastic pain medication, and slowly recovering, but it was horrific to find him like that.


Going back further, a week prior to the coyote attack, I was physically assaulted at a friend’s house.

Yeah.

The short version is that me, my friend Ben, and Jason, a housemate of my friends, were talking. He and Ben were in a heated discussion about the causes of the ’91 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and at one point Jason (who is a veteran) held up his arm to display a scar from a bullet wound, as if definitive evidence for his position.

As politely as he could, Ben said something to the effect of, “Just because you were wounded doesn’t mean you’re right.”

(In hindsight, we should’ve realized we weren’t dealing with a rational person.)

This is when Jason stood up and yelled at Ben: “Get the fuck out of this house.”

When we both just stared at him in dismay, he screamed “You think I’m kidding?”, marched over, grabbed Ben and physically tried to throw him outside.

At this point, out of concern, I tried to intervene.

All of this happened in the span of about fifteen seconds, and at some point I should’ve realized how stupid that was. However, I have no experience with physical violence, preferring to leave physical altercations to the Cro Magnons among us.

So this is when Jason grabbed me by the throat, shoved me backwards into the kitchen, and slammed me against the wall several times. I don’t remember much about the attack, but it was horrific. I’m still emotionally shaken from the incident, haven’t been sleeping well, suffering from flashbacks, etc.

All symptoms of PTSD.

Yay. Because I need more emotionally damaged shit to deal with.

The next day I filed a police report, and the officers basically told me that since I wasn’t injured enough that there wasn’t any grounds to take any further action since the city is bogged down enough with violent crime and domestic abuse cases as it is.

To top it off, my friends that he lives with, who I’ve known for some time and whose wedding I was in last year, have no plans to evict him from their home, though he attacked me, unprovoked.

Basically, my relationship with my friends is now strained because, although they acknowledge he was squarely in the wrong, they’ve refused to take any punitive action against Jason, arguing that throwing him out would do more harm than good.

And turns out that, although I filed a police report, prosecutors are unlike to press charges because I wasn’t injured enough.

So no, I’m still not okay.


My therapist had a few observations to make about all this when we met on Monday.

Aside from my personal safety, she’s concerned about the ultimatum that I made a few days after the attack to the homeowners that so long as Jason continues to live with them that our friendship can’t continue.

Frankly, I’m concerned too, since it continues a pattern in my relationships that whenever I feel threatened or put in an impossible situation (such as with my parents, who saw nothing wrong with wanting me to be part of the family while they continuing to hold hateful and bigoted views about me).

Yes, I cut off my parents.

I cut off friends I’d known for years from college and church who opposed marriage equality in Minnesota in 2012.

I cut off friends who remained friends with Seth after he dumped me in 2011, interpreting that as their taking his side over mine… and turning against me.

Essentially, my therapist mused, growing up in a household where everything was closely scrutinized through a lens of Reformed, Atonement theology, and where I legitimately felt in peril for much of those formative years as a closeted gay man, it’s natural that I’d still be on high alert, fearful of people turning on me or attacking.

How is that past orientation limiting my present relationships, I wondered. Is it?

How is that narrative script of fear causing me to become intractable and stubborn, and how is it closing me off to future happiness?

How, like Uncle Andrew in C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, do I cleverly defend myself “against all that might do you good!”

But more on sex next time.

Because you really wanted to know, right?

 

261. puissant

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cir_animacion_1Just came from an encouraging session with my therapist.

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

I’m trying to rid myself of those notions.

They’re not helpful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

For me, self care has become much simpler.

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

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

It’s my declaration of independence, of emancipation.

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

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.

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Red_and_green_aurorasThe recent engagement with my last few posts has been encouraging. Not in a “look how many comments” kind of way, which would be a silly measure of one’s self-worth and I’m too reflexive for that shit. Rather, it’s because of the reason I started writing in the first place, to hopefully help someone maybe similar to me feel less alone, or understood, and I’ve felt that being accomplished recently.

Looking back, it’s hard to say if that would’ve made a difference to pre-2008, pre-coming out David, if reading about someone else’s struggle to find authenticity might’ve given me the strength and courage to come out earlier.

I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, I’d like to think that he was the same person I am now who (like Dorothy stuck in Oz) always had the power to break free.

… on the other, why didn’t he? We do have more gay people coming out now in 2015, whereas in 2008 it was still a relatively rare thing, something only those who lived in large urban centers with large (and insulated) queer populations, LGBTQ activists who were prepared for violence and bigotry, and the very privileged could do.

Now everyone and their mom is coming out, and it gives people like me who felt conflicted about their duty to God and family the courage to be themselves.

So maybe it simply wasn’t possible for the David of 2008 to come out any sooner.

This is why I don’t play the “what if” game.


On Monday afternoon I read to my therapist an excerpt of the email my dad sent me on July 13th:

… I/we (your family) don’t expect you to be static. We are not static either… It sounds like you think we don’t change, but in small ways we do, all the time. We just want to know who you are regardless of who that is. Sure, we wish things and you were different, but they’re not…

For me/us there does not have to be a shared future. We just want a future with you. From my vantage point, it looks like you’re the one who does not want to be part of our lives… We don’t understand why you feel so intense a need to erase the past or put it behind you. We are all made up, like trees, of who we were, who we are and who we’re becoming. Seems to me that gutting the tree leaves you less a tree and a weak one at that.

He still hasn’t responded to my reply, and at this point it seems unlikely that he will.

She immediately said: “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear the bit about the trees because that’s just so far out there, I don’t even know what to do with it.”

But she echoed my assessment of it being a tone deaf response to genuine concerns I’ve had about my relationship to the family—that he doesn’t see how radically different we are; that our being together is contingent on my self-censoring in ways that they would find persecutory were they asked to do the same; or that the religious upbringing they provided was deeply damaging.

Overall, she thought it was the latest in a series of positive steps forward.

  • Throwing myself a half-birthday party (something I’ve been violently opposed to for the last decade) a few weeks ago and actually having friends enthusiastically show up.
  • Actively rebuilding my community with wonderful, authentic people and getting involved with groups and Sunday Assembly and YogaQuest.
  • Finally going to grad school for something I’m passionate about rather than continue on in dead-end jobs.

Now I’m taking a more active role in setting boundaries with my parents, which at this stage means perhaps permanently distancing myself.

She also reiterated how much I’ve got going on right now, between work, school, and my efforts to rebuild my life and recover from religious trauma. So it’s doubly important to note and to celebrate these accomplishments; that I’m actually making forward-moving progress.

She also noted how many positive things I was saying about myself, compared to the usual mode of beating myself up and only pointing out the negative.

That’s not to say that I’m not experiencing negative thoughts. Maybe it’s depression that amplifies those views, and maybe I’m coming out of a cycle into a more positive mindset. These things tend to go that way. It’s something that’s easy to forget, particularly when things are going well.

The thoughts are still there that my parents and their hateful religion damaged me beyond repair; that if people could really see how broken and fucked up I am that they’d abandon me in an instant; that the repressive and performative environment I grew up in made me incapable of ever truly accepting love and of being in a relationship; that I came out and am effectively starting over too late in life to find someone.

So those ideas are still lurking in the dark corners of my mind, like the Vashta Nerada. Just stay out of the shadows…

Rather, I’m choosing to approach each step forward like a scientific experiment. A few weeks ago, I decided to test the theory that people genuinely like me and would want to celebrate my birthday with me. I sent out Facebook invites, and lo, over two days twenty-four (of forty-two invited) of my friends came to the event.

It’s not conclusive by any means, but the results from that experiment were quite promising.

Fact is, I’ve done plenty of exploration of the negative emotions connected to my past. Now it’s time to start exploring the positive ones—the ones that will allow me to experience and internalize acceptance, love, belonging, and joy. Fear, doubt, and suspicion had their chance and made a mess of it.

Fuck that.

So I’m taking it one experiment at a time, knowing that integration may be as easy to spot as the line between colors on the spectrum.

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