31 May 2008

Whom To Trust?

A friend's younger brother recently came to terms with the fact that he's attracted to guys, and it's kind of heart-warming and exciting to see him being honest with himself and starting the journey to greater personal understanding.

At the same time, it's a little disheartening to think about the fact that...I don't know who I'd refer him to, or who I'd trust with him. I can think of only a small handful of guys who I believe would keep his best interest in mind.

It makes me think of a kid a friend told me about who was preparing to go on a mission, and he connected the kid with a few mohos in his area whom he trusted to help him with his goals and support him. Before long, many of them had fooled around with him.

Granted, the kid was a "big boy" who could make his own decisions, but the fact that so many of these trusted friends were so willing to contribute to derailing his decision to serve a mission and diverting his attention to less meaningful pleasures for their own enjoyment is unsettling, to say the least.

This is not unique to mohos, of course. It's a classic tale: the new kid just coming to terms with his homosexuality is often fresh meat and fair game for the more predatory types in most gay circles. And there will be hoards of people telling you to "be yourself" and then defining for you what that is, telling you "who you are".

There are also people who will insist that unless you thoroughly repress your desires and sweep them under the psychological rug, you are not normal, and you are not faithful. Some will insist that you speak of the subject only in hushed and reverent tones and never laugh lightheartedly at your situation. For some people, that may be best or may be what they need at that time, but that's not my approach, others will just have to deal with that.

I guess I just want to throw out a warning to those who are just beginning to explore the nuance and ramifications of their homosexuality. I don't want to create an unnecessary sense of distrust. But do be healthily skeptical. Do be smart about who you trust, and about those to whom you become vulnerable. Carefully choose people who will respect your desires, goals, beliefs, and free agency. Exploring various perspectives can be helpful to define your own, but while doing so, be aware of motives, your own and others', and whether they are in everyone's best interest.

There are many people who will seem to be looking out for you but who ultimately don't understand what selflessness really entails. I'm not sure I always do, either, but I try. The point is, we're all human, and we're all mistaken, and we're all right, so just be wise and recognize that nice or flattering words are no substitute for consistent action, attitude, and respect.

With a bit of wisdom and moderation, you should be able to find plenty of help and support without looking back feeling like you've mindlessly joined one herd or another or given someone excessive access to your emotions or your body but have examined and forged your path with care and integrity. I think that's important.

29 May 2008

Reasons to Stay, or Why I Didn't Kill Myself

Revelation: I've thought about killing myself a time or two. It was in high school and junior high. Definitely not at all recently. I never tried it. I wanted to. There were times I just didn't know what joy life held for me. I didn't want to deal with life anymore. I didn't see any good way out of what I saw as entrapment between a rock and a hard place.

Mind you, this wasn't just because I was a gay kid. I didn't see my attraction and burning desires as anything other than an odd, perhaps freakish, abnormally intense curiosity. And that seemed like just one thing. I knew I had a relatively easy life in many ways, and my childhood was genuinely a good one, as far as I could remember. But now I had all these emotions I couldn't figure out. I didn't know how to deal with them. Sadness I didn't know how to cope with. Dilemmas I had no answers for. Anger I couldn't explain. Passions I thought were dark and abhorrent. A body I hated and was intensely ashamed of. I think it's what they call "adolescence".

I'm glad I didn't off myself. I've had some good years since then. Very good years. I hope there are a few to come as well. I'd like to think there are. I've gained a lot of social skills and coping skills. I've made and strengthened some lasting relationships. I've had some beautiful, memorable, and educational experiences. I've learned to savor some of what life has to offer and to bridle what must be bridled without feeling like the passions I'm bridling are terrible monsters. In short, it would have been terribly short-sighted to end things when they were hard, since out of the difficulty has come so much growth that has brought a life richer and more fulfilling and interesting than I foresaw at that time.

So why didn't I do it at the time? I remember thinking about the ways I could do it. Overdose on some over-the-counter drug. Gun in the mouth. Slit wrists. Noose. Tenth story leap. Carbon monoxide poisoning (the most likely candidate). Purposely catch a fatal disease. I thought of what might be most effective, most fool-proof, least painful, hardest to botch, least messy. I wasn't interested in a half-hearted attempt to gain sympathy and attention. If I was going to do it, I wanted it done right, no embarrassing aftermath, explanation, and psychiatric evaluation.

I pictured, in my mind, what my funeral might be like, who might attend, what might be said. I didn't picture many people going. I couldn't figure out what they'd say in eulogy.

Now, I want to clarify that I never actually came close to attempting suicide. I never bought the needed implements or thought about it more than briefly. I was never so "serious" about doing it that I started planning it out. I never really talked about it with anyone. I don't intend to belittle the grief of those who have attempted it or feel it's their only option. I don't want to make it sound like I was on that same ledge or set myself up as having been more distraught than I was in order to prove a point. I'm only saying I know a little of what it feels like to not see any way out of misery other than to leave the circumstances the only way I knew how.

What kept me from looking more seriously for ways to end my misery by falling into what I perceived as a sweet, peaceful darkness?

1) I believed in life after death, and I believed that I would carry my unresolved baggage with me there and would still have to deal with it anyway, making any "relief" only temporary in the grand scheme.

2) I knew that at least one person in my life would likely fall apart if I left her in that way. I simply couldn't serve my own desire to escape at the expense of my mother's happiness. I didn't know if she would ever recover from the trauma.

3) I'm a stubborn cuss, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this, that I didn't have to run away like a scared little boy and that I could take life on and prove that other people and situations weren't going to get the best of me. I believed, deep down, that suicide was a false and cowardly "way out" and that somehow, I was going to prove to myself that nobody, not even life itself, could take away my freedom to control myself now and in the future.

4) It seemed terribly selfish, beyond vindictive, to take the "easy way out" and consequently leave a mess and/or trauma and/or void in others' lives that they would then have to deal with the rest of their lives.

5) I certainly didn't want to be remembered primarily by this one dramatic act. I wanted people to think of me as a person when they remembered me, not always think first of how I killed myself.

6) I was afraid of not doing it right and being left living with scars, brain damage, or social stigmas the rest of my life.

7) Somewhere, deep down, I knew things might get better. Maybe it would take years, and the thought of carrying on like I was for that long disgusted me, but I figured if it was 5 or 15 years of misery followed by 60 years of happiness, maybe it was worth the wait.

8) I realized that if any of my friends committed suicide, I'd be devastated by the loss, hurt by the fact that they wouldn't stick around for me, and worried about their eternal welfare. I didn't want to put them through that on my account, in case they did care.

9) I knew, deep down, there were people, even if only a few, who truly loved me. And though they may be able to recover and move on with their lives, I would possibly be causing each of them more sorrow than I was feeling.

10) I believed suicide to be murder of the self. I saw it as a rejection of God's plan for us, the opportunity to learn from the experiences we have here. I saw it as a defilement of the gift of life we were given. Even if that "gift" seemed like a cruel joke at the time, something inside of me told me something which is reflected in the Doctrine and Covenants of the church, section 121: "thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes." I leaned on the promise that somehow, if I stuck with it, as much as I hated the prospect of doing so, the eternal rewards, the experience and perspective gained and the joy given afterwards, would all be more than worth it in the bigger picture.

11) Maybe, just maybe, even though life sucks right now, I need to be here to help someone else in some way someday, and I would be robbing them of that help if I don't stay.

12) I knew that "I'll show them" didn't make sense. If I intended to make "them" miserable, the approach was flawed because if they were made miserable, that meant they truly did love me, and I would probably realize it one day if I stuck around, and if they didn't love me, then they would be only mildly affected by my passing anyway.

Incidentally, I don't judge those who have already passed on by their own hand as being hellbound. I don't know if their minds were their own at the time they did so. I don't know what stresses and pressure they felt in their life that I have never even begun to deal with. I simply don't know. I don't have to. What's done is done, and they've made their choice, and it's not mine to know what they've done or where they've gone since then.

But for those of us still here, still trying to work it out, let's do what we can to help each other find a reason to love life a little more and to see the bigger picture. Let's foster decisions which will bring happiness and integrity. Let's do what we reasonably can to make sure none among us feels completely abandoned and hopeless. Let's provide an ear and a shoulder without reprimands. Let's intervene and correct when necessary but remember that to do so successfully and personally, we must build a solid foundation of trust and love steadily over time.

Not all of my reasons will apply to all people. My thoughts were fairly rational. As hormonal and moody and depressed as I was at times, my mental faculties were intact. As far as I know, my judgement was not affected by addictions, chemical imbalances, extreme/acute duress, or drugs. I shudder to imagine how much harder my situation might have been, how much more clouded my judgement, had those things been part of my life.

There are myriads of reasons people commit suicide. I haven't even begun to touch on all of them here and probably have not even made a convincing argument, based on my own reasons for scrapping the idea, against suicide, for some readers.

But to those who do feel out of options, who long for the release of endless sleep, and who do have yield over their own minds, I earnestly and passionately hope each finds his or her own reasons to stick around, to push through a little longer and refuse to let circumstance remove their determination to choose life for themselves. There is someone who would feel your loss terribly and traumatically. There is someone you may someday help if you stay. There may be a family or other wonderful experiences in your future you haven't foreseen. There is so much more to life than what you currently see, and with help, patience, and perhaps after a lot of tears, you'll most likely eventually find it and be ultimately glad and grateful you stayed.

12 May 2008

Testing the "Coming Out" Waters at Work

So my female coworker was talking today about how her old boyfriend is getting married. Her first boyfriend, in fact. She paused with this inquisitively introspective expression and said, "My first boyfriend is getting married. And...I'm still unmarried." Her comparisons and reasons for finding this mildly galling and/or obfuscating are irrelevant. We're talking about me, here.

I saw this as an opportunity for a little fun. I quickly looked at her, shrugged and replied, "My first boyfriend's still unmarried." I nodded as I said so, being sure to appear candid and frank.

This frank proclamation, not secretly whispered, was quite audible to other coworkers busily clacking away at their keyboards. Not one flinched. They made every effort to be "minding their own business". Straight-faced (no pun intended), I grinned inside as I perceived their right-wing brains shifting gears wildly to process this bit of information into their slightly jolted conservative paradigms. I also found amusement in the imagined exchange of wagers upon my departure from the room.

She didn't miss a beat. She just nodded and said, "Right, but there's that whole geographical issue of having to move to another state for that. But for me..." I smiled wryly and said, "OK, so I've never had a boyfriend." She laughed (with that perfectly balanced expression that safely expressed both "I knew you were just joking" and "it's OK if you weren't joking") and went on with her story, and our other coworkers showed no sign of relief or skepticism. They were still minding their own business.

So I'm guessing she'd take the news in stride. Sometimes, it's just fun to test the waters to see how people might react. And sometimes, the funnest is when they hardly react at all.

Additional note: during a quarterly evaluation interview with my supervisor, she told me my teammates really seem to like me, and one of the girls thought I was just adorable. Then she said, "I know it's a personal question, but why aren't you married?" Scenarios blazed through my mind about how this could go. "What the @#$%, just tell her." "No, wait, you're in a cubicle, not an office. At least 3 other people will overhear, two of whom may not react well." "Oh, who cares? Just say it quietly." "And get into a conversation here and now? No, this is not the time or place. Besides, even though I'm not 'afraid' to tell her, it's really not her business." "Oh, but you could tell her now, and since she asked you in an interview, and you came out, they would certainly be hesitant to fire you over anything for fear of accusations of discrimination. Talk about job security!" "No, no, like I'd ever actually manipulate people that way. Besides, I don't need to." "OK, maybe a little bit." "No."

I didn't tell her. But I thought about sending her a link to North Star's web site afterwards. Just for kicks. Maybe one of these days.

11 May 2008

Different Kind of Writer's Block

It's strange. I have no shortage of ideas to write about. In fact, I have probably 15 recent drafts I haven't finished or polished enough to publish yet. I have one I wrote late at night just a couple of nights ago when my mind wouldn't rest until I'd written my thoughts out. I have several older posts I never finished. I don't know how many in all, but a few dozen, probably. Yet I just don't seem to have the drive to finish them and post them.

Part of it is I have been focusing my energy on other areas of life and have been less interested in writing about my dilemmas and questions and theoretical explorations regarding homosexuality. I still have plenty going on in my mind regarding interpersonal relationships and their dynamics and trials. Dealing with the lingering wound from perceived betrayal, trying to reach forgiveness, wondering what that even entails, realizing the importance of friendships I've neglected on and off over the years depending on how excited I've been by new associations, retreating into my auto-pilot hermit mode, except for a very select few chosen friends...

I think the biggest block to my writing at this point is that most of what I am thinking or writing deals directly with other people. It's personal. My blog was never meant to be a word vomit bucket to show to the world. What I'm inclined to write will have to be carefully worded to avoid revealing the parties involved or carefully masked, leaving only the abstract thoughts and principles without the direct, personal, concrete applications. Maybe that's best. But it requires a bit of time, a bit of effort.

And I want to make sure what I'm posting will be of some use or benefit to those who read it. As inclined as I am, sometimes, to just lay it all out and "open up" to my readers in a raw, unfiltered way, I am also uninterested in false intimacy or misdirected cries for help and input.

I have enough people who are wise and care about me to receive input from them. It's good to have more objective input, too, but how objective can counsel or feedback get before it's fairly useless? And is it worth the risk of incriminating other people in the process? No, probably not.

So for now, just for now, I am sitting on my many posts a little while longer while I consider these questions. I do a lot of sitting in life. I'm trying to make decisions more freely, but maybe this is not an appropriate arena in which to risk hastiness.

09 May 2008

I'd Be a Good Partner...I Think

Sometimes, when I've had a glimpse at what it might be like to have a romantic relationship, I feel a bit silly that I'm...well...my age and have never had a "real" relationship. I'd probably be a dang fine companion in a lot of ways:

  • I'm a one-person guy. I really don't think I can imagine myself looking seriously elsewhere while I have someone at my side. I can't really imagine myself as codependent, but I am, in a word, "loyal"...as far as I can tell.
  • I'm interested in the other person and in what makes them tick and what they are interested in and enjoy, and I try to explore those things while sharing my own interests.
  • I appreciate communication. I'm not the world's best communicator, perhaps, but I'm open to trying and won't run away from an uncomfortable or important discussion. I prefer to talk things through when possible rather than ignore them, yet I still can let go of most little things. If you just talk to me openly rather than clam up or try to sweep it under the rug, I'll pretty much take you at your word.
  • I appreciate complementary (read "opposite in a good way") traits in others and enjoy learning and growing as a result of those. Certain differences, then, become opportunities to share and grow from each other, not just annoyances.
  • I enjoy doing things with the people I care about. Cooking, hiking, talking, laughing, road-tripping, gardening, biking, movie-watching, doing things neither of us has done before...I'm not a "watch the game and drink beer" guy. How boring is that?
  • I'm patient. I can wait things out without being a doormat. I like to hope for the best in people. Sure, if I lose faith in you, it's hard to get it back, but I generally try my best not to totally lose faith in people. I may be realistic, but I usually try to hold on, even if casually, to that last shred of hope.
  • I am surprisingly affectionate, I think, in the right circumstances/relationship. I'm normally a bit of a cold fish, but I have another side, a warmer, more affectionate one.

Well, I could go on forever touting my own virtues, as there are many. Of course, there are many traits that would probably make it hard to be my partner. At least two or three of them, anyway.

But seriously, how can I know what I'm really like in a "real" relationship? I've never had a real relationship to bring these strengths and weaknesses out for any length of time to test their durability. I may never. And I'm not sure how I feel about that. But I'll take it day by day and try to stay open to the possibility that one way or another, I might actually have such a relationship someday. Until then, I guess my friends and family will have to do. *wink*

01 May 2008

Yay For Gymnasts

So I came home after work and turned on the TV, and it was set to G4, the channel that has those Japanese shows where they have people doing all kinds of obstacle courses. Those can be entertaining and are tolerable when the announcers aren't being raunchy like junior high boys, so I watched for a bit.

Tonight, they had a "Hand Walk" obstacle course on the show "Unbeatable Banzuke" where the contestants were all gymnasts who had to go through the obstacle course entirely standing/walking on their hands. It was really quite impressive, the balance and endurance required to get through inclines, declines, wobbling platforms, and water. Only one contestant made it through all the way. To see a clip, go to Duty Free TV and click "Unbeatable Banzuke", then click the channel knob once.

I was enjoying watching it mostly because I've always loved gymnastics and envy the ability to do stuff like that, and it was pretty amusing. But I won't deny that part of my enjoyment of said show was seeing ripped young guys in singlets flexing their muscles under the exertion and doing strangely attractive--albeit awkward and sometimes absurdly comical--things with their bodies. Dang, gymnasts are hot! Maybe it's a good thing there are so many FTPs* among them--helps keep my lust under control.

I was watching one of the straightest channels on TV but still finding a way to make it anything but straight. I laughed at myself.

*OK, fine, for those of you who don't know, I'll tell you: FTP = Face To Protect, as in "he has a million-dollar body and a face to protect it". But don't expect me to reveal the meanings of my other acronyms. They must be kept discreet to maintain their usability in public situations. *grin*

Be The Change

I've struggled a lot lately with moho culture and gay culture in general. There's a whole lot about it which really disgusts me. I've wanted to vent in all kinds of ways on my blog. I've wanted to "expose" the more negative aspects which probably get glossed over by many people in their efforts to be tolerant and understanding or completely unnoticed by people whose paradigms simply don't allow them to see it.

But almost every time I've started writing about these behaviors and attitudes I see so prevalent around me, my writing is stayed by an inexplicable sense of restraint, and I've just saved a draft, taken the post in a slightly different direction, or canceled writing it altogether.

Just last night, I was feeling particularly disgusted by it all and a bit bitter. I was feeling embarrassed I'd allowed myself to become as connected as I am to such an ill subculture. I wanted to enumerate a list of prevalent problems I see in the culture but maybe follow it up with some token virtues I see in it as well. Of course, I could make other lists about Mormon culture, Utah culture, American culture, indie culture, small town culture, academia's culture, or any other culture close enough to home to have been disgusted or embarrassed by it at some time or another. Every culture has its virtues and ills.

But tonight, as I was driving home from work, I remembered an attitude I've often forgotten lately. I found a lot of peace in this practice in the past: when I see evils or flaws or ills around me, rather than complaining about them or proclaiming them and expounding on their wrongness, I can simply try to be the opposite, myself. With that attitude, they cease to be embittering stains everywhere I look and instead become motivators to improving myself and perhaps others around me who feel motivated by any positive changes they may notice in me. By freeing up the time I would otherwise spend declaring the ills around me, I am more able to focus on finding their antitheses in the world around me and drawing those out to emulate them and appreciate them. If the antitheses aren't to be found in my circles, then I have the opportunity to explore the possibilities myself, forging new paths, which is exciting and motivating. For the first time, I associated this attitude with the famous quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world," and I think that's the essence of it.

A caveat: I won't pretend the problems don't exist. I'll resist being lulled into unhealthy circles and relationships. In seeking to focus on the positives in people, it's foolish to completley ignore the pitfalls of investing in unhealthy or entirely frivolous relationships. In attempting to see the best in others, I think it quite foolish to embrace all relationships out of a desire to be "loving" or, as I believe is more often the case, a need to feel "loved".

Nevertheless, rather than list the problems which are currently bothering me most, I will strive to be more considerate, to show more sensitivity to others' needs, to look for what's beyond outward appearances, to truly love beyond basic affection, to maintain principles more consistently, to be more constructive in my speech, to generally speak of people as if they were in the room, to be more honest, up-front, and sincere, to make my life more integral, to forgive more completely, to offer service more freely, to make my motivations more selfless, to dedicate my time to more meaningful learning and pursuits, to take more ownership of my decisions.

I want to spend less energy calling out the wrongs and stupidity of others and more energy magnifying the principles and habits that will vanquish those same wrongs from myself. The best way to prove I really consider them wrong is to strive to eliminate them from my own life or, more on par with the revised attitude, build the virtues which replace them. I'm inclined to think it's just a happier, better way to live.

"If they're so happy, why do they need support groups?"

*** Post begun 1 May 2008, finished 28 Oct 2010 ***

In a discussion forum I don't frequent but dropped in on recently, gay LDS and former LDS people were discussing ex-gay ministries or organizations, and someone mentioned a new organization called North Star. They said it seemed to be different from others because they focused less on change and carried a more positive message with less shame.

Someone piped in, mentioning that the pictures of people on the web site were all happy, smiling faces, and the person asked, "So why do they need North Star and its support groups if they're all so happy and confident about their lives?"

I had never thought of people looking at it that way. After getting over my initial surprise, I balked a bit and thought, "You might as well ask why Affirmation exists, or Pride Festivals." Even if you're happy in your path and confident you're following truth, there's benefit in being among others who believe similarly and will walk that path with you. And sometimes, doing the right thing isn't easy and requires some love and support and friendship to see you through. On top of that, when the thing you believe is not necessarily popular in some ways, it's nice to find others who are similarly different and can walk with and reinforce you in doing something you fully believe in but which isn't necessarily easy.