29 April 2010

Show Me Your...Guiltiest Pleasure Ever

I hung out with a couple of friends tonight, and somehow I was reminded of a certain "unofficial" music video made to a dentistry-dedicated song by a fame-crazed, formerly jazzy, low-key singer-songwriter turned psycho-fashion pop idol. I mentioned it, but they hadn't seen it, and was going to show them the video, but I decided against it. It's just too much, too provocative, too in-your-face sinfulicious... I'm not one to deny I have passion, but I'm also trying to keep conversations constructive and the media I absorb more enriching and enlightening than base and vulgar. But sometimes, I am such a "natural man".

For those of you not familiar with this video, we're talking in-your-face, over-the-top gayness between two really hot guys. If you described the video to me, I'd scoff and say it sounded ridiculous. It's a trashy, cheesy display of vampire debauchery. ...A trashy, cheesy display of vampire debauchery that gets me all hot and bothered, biting either my lip or my knuckle uncontrollably until it's over and I'm released from it's hypnotic, heart-pounding grasp, and I wipe the trickle of sweat from my forehead. OK, so maybe it's not that intense, but I mean, get me a whip right now if that's what's tied up on the other end. No, wait, that's not my style. ...is it? *tense whimper* *wicked grin* *shrug*

Guiltiest pleasure ever. Shameful. Putting aside my hot vampire would be a true test of my resolve to focus on things which are uplifting and meaningful...maybe I'll just watch it one more time before deciding...oh, those eyes...nope, I'm not ready to put it aside quite yet. Maybe tomorrow.

26 April 2010

"Hey dude"

Dang it! I don't necessarily get a ton of messages on this site that's basically a gay Facebook, but I get enough that I'd rather focus on the ones from those who actually mention something specific from my profile or a common interest because that shows they at least looked beyond some picture or the fact that I'm a living, breathing male in deciding whether to message me and because that offers something to start a conversation from, which is in line with why I have a profile in the first place, not just flirtation and random dating.

So a request to those hotties on there who would, for whatever reason, message me: Please say something substantive or intelligent, or at least something you couldn't say to any and every bloke on the site. Please?

Incidentally, on an only loosely related note, I gotta be honest: I have a theory that there's a correlation between someone's ability to converse with people on a personalized, adaptive level and their ability to be physically intimate with people on a personalized, adaptive level. Unfortunately, this is not a theory I'm willing to test in a proper scientific way.

Anyway, I really would rather not want to ignore you because all you could muster was "hey dude", because you look like a nice guy, not to mention way cute. I mean, I've replied to those when I knew we had a connection of some sort worth bringing up, but I don't think I can bring myself to make an exception just because I think you're totally tappable (upon initial, shallow inspection) or because you have a pic with one of my celebrity crushes. ...but I might be able to because you're closer to my age and your tastes aren't uber campy and crappy pop-culture like so many other guys on the site. Shoot, I'm going to make an exception for you, aren't I? Dammit! So much for principles...

...don't even ask about the physically attractive guy I thought seemed full of himself and therefore tested his ability to take things in stride, which he really failed on a couple of levels and only confirmed my suspicions, which were admittedly strong, and I probably wasn't completely fair to him, but come on: all he can say in his "About Me" is "Probably not interested!"? Self-flattering much? Seriously, folks. Take your diva somewhere else; homey don't play that. I almost feel bad for not giving him much of a chance, especially since I admit my impressions could be totally off and he might be a really good, non-self-absorbed guy...but not enough to lose sleep over it.

I sound like a total biotch, don't I? I promise I'm not "picky" because I think I'm better than others but because I'm not there for a hot date or fooling around and because there are some games I just won't play, some scenes and immature levels of social interaction I'm just not interested in. Honestly, the guys I've most enjoyed my conversations with are often guys I don't find particularly attractive or who aren't "my type", so it's not that I'm not giving people a chance, here. It's just that I'm kind of over the whole, "Oh my gosh he's so cute and just talked to me I'm so flattered and want to flirt to see if he'll flirt with me so I can stroke my own ego and engage in lots of shallow interactions to prove how young and attractive I am and how well I can wield my sexuality to get some hot action to satisfy my need for physical intimacy as if it's worth the risks to use it to fill in for a lack of emotional intimacy within a quality relationship..." OK, so I do still relapse into that sometimes before catching and stopping myself. What can I say? I'm genetically flawed, AKA a human male.

...but seriously, guys, you gotta show more personal interest than "what's up?"

19 April 2010

"Nothing Will Change Between Us"

Another in my series of people's responses to my coming out agnostic.

Many people say, "Nothing has changed." Not true. Never true. They may also say, "I'm still your friend and care about you." That I believe. ...For the most part.

What "friend" means, exactly, shifts and adjusts. There are a few who become rather distant and put on happy, shiny faces when we happen to meet, but they have stopped calling, texting, inviting, or radiating warmth when we hug. They've gone distant. Whether it's because they have to detach for my path to hell not to bother them or be painful, or they think less of me, or they are afraid of their own demons, or whatever, I don't know. But I've gone distant toward people in my past. Probably in my present, too. We all do it. It's sad, and it's sometimes necessary, sometimes wrong, but it's understandable.

For the most part, my friends are still my friends. But there's still a common complication. When we're together, just the two of us, it does feel as if nothing has changed, or at least very little, even if we don't relate on the religious level on which we used to. But the change becomes painfully clear in groups. Even in small get-togethers of friends and/or family, something as simple as a prayer over dinner is a brief reminder that I, who used to be a "worthy priesthood holder" who would offer heartfelt prayers, am now the lone heathen who no longer prays, at least not in the way I used to, to a literal deity I was certain would listen and answer. If asked to pray by someone who either doesn't know or has forgotten my change in beliefs, I cannot do so in good conscience, feeling like it would be a mockery for me to pretend, so I decline, hopefully politely, and try to ignore the awkward response or reassure them I'm not bothered.

In those notably rarer occasions when I'm still invited to a group get-together consisting primarily of "believers", I am constantly reminded of my own change. It's nothing they do. They don't mean to make me feel like an outsider. I just necessarily feel so. I no longer share their enthusiasm for a conference talk, despite often sharing their enthusiasm for the underlying principles of it. If I try to share my enthusiasm for the principles, I find myself dicing the talk into universal and LDS bits, setting the LDS bits aside to find our points of agreement, an effort which unfortunately only emphasizes my "lack" of faith (or, more accurately, my faith in things different from those in which it used to be placed). If I remain silent, I am the voiceless boy in the corner, too misfit to offer his thoughts.

But I haven't decided which is more painful: being welcomed with open arms into a room full of people with whom I used to identify and with whom I no longer share what I know is probably the single most important system of beliefs in their lives but now among whom I'm an outsider, or knowing that I am now welcome tentatively in many groups only as "a less active," a taxing presence they must tiptoe around, not someone they are truly at ease with as they are among the active or believers. I'm sometimes not invited to outings of the faithful because my existence is troublesome. It used to be for me. I loved that I could spend time with a large group of friends and feel totally at ease knowing they shared my beliefs and my values and standards of behavior. I didn't understand the meaning of it when friends whose beliefs or standards were different insisted they were fine respecting my beliefs and keeping my standards and being around me and my friends: I was uncomfortable with it, and I assumed they must be more comfortable with their own kind as well. I didn't get it. I know the other side now. I know they were sincere. I know they saw past that difference. I know I wanted to, in a way, but didn't. I somewhat sadly accept that some of my friends don't understand that. They don't see that my values and standards of behavior may match theirs more closely than many LDS people's would if those individuals were removed from the accountability and monitoring eyes and ears of the LDS community.

But not all changes are negative. Some friendships actually become closer. Some LDS or otherwise religious friends admit their own questions, doubts, or outright disbelief. We talk, and we seek positive solutions, outlooks, and principles. We identify values we do believe in, and we freely admit possibilities and cluelessness. Insecurity or defensiveness gives way to raw uncertainty, and we come away reassured that others are truly honest seekers of truth and not just clinging to theism, atheism, religion, or philosophy out of some emotional defense or need for certainty, fabricated or otherwise. We grow closer and know we've found, in each other, someone who will admit when they just "don't know" but is trying to do the best with what they do have and believe.

Sometimes, I come back together with friends I'd grown apart from years ago because I was so deeply convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel as taught in the church but unintentionally defensive of people who believed differently. I find they are really quality people who are committed to principles I really believe in but whom I'd overlooked because they engaged in behaviors I just couldn't support. Now, we find that we have now grown towards each other in some ways, and I see what great people they've become and what a shame it is that I let religious differences and behavioral standards blind me, even a little, to that. In my effort to form eternal friendships based on eternal truths, I ignored friendships based on eternal truths but disagreeing on where those truths came from or how to apply them to one's life.

Then there is a whole other class of friendships: people who, now that I'm maybe less judgmental or more familiar with more liberal (less fundamental) perspectives, reveal a (sometimes surprisingly large) aspect of themselves that they don't reveal to those who are more "conservative" in their outlook. I find out that people I thought were goody-goodies (as people have perceived me) do or believe things I never expected. Or they behave in ways I still don't understand even though I'm supposed to be a heathen, or they believe things I don't see room for in LDS doctrinal framework but which do make some sense if you scrap LDS doctrine, and I wonder if it's only a matter of time before they see the contradiction and give up on one or the other, or whether I'm just too limited in my perspective and have misunderstood or made too many assumptions about what I thought were eternal truths. Sometimes, this is an expanding, rewarding exchange, and I find people are more complex or interesting than I knew. Sometimes, it's just fun and silly. And sometimes, it's mildly insulting that they thought I'd be excited or supportive of such cynical outlooks or destructive behavior, or it's unsettling, like finding your sweet old grandpa's freaky porn stash and hoping not everyone has such secrets...

And of course, some friendships really are mostly the same. We go out to lunch, watch movies, chat online, play Wii, talk about life and philosophy, laugh together about life's foibles, cook together, whatever. Often, we don't talk much about church or doctrine, and when we do, I just talk objectively, showing understanding without affirming my own belief in some doctrine or another. I may temporarily don the hat I wore so often of spiritual advisor, but operating on backup data rather than current conviction, or I may play the devil's advocate to help them think something through, and they may arrive at their own conclusion, whether or not I agree, and we move on. But mostly, we tend to set aside matters of religion. We have plenty of other things to talk about, including many common goals, values, principles, people, and interests. There is more to our friendship than even overarching and deeply held religious or philosophical belief, so we shift gears and maintain bonds based on other aspects and facets of life. We may each hope the other one day sees things more our way, but if not, we both figure we're all either going to find out someday whether anyone was right, and who, or we're going to fade out of consciousness entirely anyway, so what's the use in bringing strife into our relationship over something we both believe or hope will eventually work itself out one way or another?

The changes and adjustments aren't easy, but forutnately, the negatives are generally balanced or outweighed by positives, and though it's requiring a non-negligible amount of emotional and mental energy to adjust to the changes in my relationships, I hope it's worth the effort to maintain the relationships I need in my life and develop the friendships which will help me move forward and continue striving to be a better me the best I know how.

13 April 2010

Is That All?

I read the article about Journey Into Manhood. It was interesting, but to be honest, I'd kind of pieced most of that together from overhearing bits and pieces of conversations (usually among people who, for some reason, assumed I'd been through JIM, which has been often) and reading a couple of previous articles. Sure, some of it sounds outlandish from outside or a bit "out there" when you're looking in from a regular, daily-life context. It's much weirder if you look at it super literally, which is not how it's meant to be processed. Honestly, I came away from that article thinking pretty much the same thing as when I first went through the temple: "That's what everyone was making such a fuss over being so out-there and 'weird'? It was symbolic and meant to instruct in an impacting way...but it wasn't shocking..." Some of the JIM stuff described was, I'll admit, over the top. I could see how it'd be illustrative and cathartic, especially in the context of needing to just pound through the emotional garbage, but it seems like there must be more constructive ways to achieve some of the same ends. But hey, these aren't professional therapists: just guys trying to help each other out the best they know how in a controlled environment. ...And no, I still have no interest in going. :-)

Writer Declaring War on the JIM-Dandies

Oh boy, here we go. Sacramento writer, Ted Cox, a self-proclaimed straight, LDS-turned-atheist man, has written an article entitled My Journey Into Manhood: Undercover at a Gay Conversion Camp about his undercover involvement in what he calls the ex-gay movement, primarily an expose of the Journey Into Manhood weekend he attended in Phoenix last year in February.

A few things he says reflect a bit of bias in his approach: for example, he claims the weekends are designed to make gay men straight, which wording I'm pretty sure Rich Wyler would take issue with, since he said so in an Evergreen Conference workshop I attended a couple of years ago. But to be fair to Cox, Wyler's whole presentation centered around leaving homosexuality and offering examples of men who had gone on to marry women, a mixed message when he just said it's not necessarily about changing to straight. As always, one must read with awareness of the author's bias, and the ideas in the "ex-gay movement" are sometimes so complex (some would say convoluted?) that I'm not sure even a year is enough for someone to really have a firm grasp on it, especially if they're staunchly opposed and not really "open" to the ideas, but it's certainly enough to be dangerous. In one example, according to my understanding, he oversimplifies the theory behind holding therapy by saying it's making up for one's father not holding them enough, but I think it's as much an emotional as physical deficit, and the holding is meant to represent that deficit and affirm one's connection with and sense of masculinity, rather than make up for a lack of holding in childhood. That said, I've never participated in holding therapy and don't buy the theory behind it as I've heard it, and a lot of what he says in the introductory material I've read (I have yet to read the whole article) addresses concerns I have with the whole phenomenon of these weekends.

Again, as I've said before, most of my "SSA" friends have been to JIM weekends, and despite just a few who privately say it wasn't worth the investment or they felt compelled to join groupthink or be ostracized, they've definitely mostly come away with predominantly really positive experiences. I have yet to meet a single JIM-dandy who no longer experiences significant same-sex attraction (at least none whose income and reputation doesn't depend on saying so), and only a very, very few have experienced any lasting increase in attraction to women (and even then, it's usually their wife or a girl they're dating, not women in general, but as they say, it only takes one!), but I do know guys who have learned to leave behind unhealthy or destructive behaviors and habits and gained self-confidence, comfort with themselves, coping skills, tools for healthier relationships, paradigm shifts, etc. I don't doubt the weekends do a lot of good for a lot of people, and I'm happy so many friends have learned valuable lessons and gained self acceptance at the weekends.

I'm sure I'd learn a thing or two about myself, as well, much as I have in other workshops or self-discovery activities of a less intense variety. I won't be shelling out the cash anytime soon, however, as I have other priorities and don't trust such an intense, reprogramming experience at the hands of men who are making money from them and whose reputations and careers depend on defending what goes on there. Some friends have condescendingly stated that it's true: I probably shouldn't go if I don't trust the experience because I wouldn't get out of it what I could if I weren't willing to "give it my all" and "trust the process". I understand that's true with just about anything--you get from it what you're willing to invest--but the slightly cultish sound of it just makes me shudder a little. Then I shrug it off and laugh and move on, letting others believe I'm just all walled up and too closed for the process to do me any good anyway. What we can agree on is that it could be a great experience, whether or not it affects homosexuality at all, but that you have to want it enough to invest in it for it to be worth it. I'm OK with that.

When I've addressed the secrecy around the weekends, my JIM-dandy friends usually become wide-eyed to show their enthusiasm and confidence as they say, "It really is important to not know exactly what's going to happen. You need to go into it not knowing what to expect for the process to have the greatest impact." I think the idea is that part of the weekend is a cathartic emotional release and vulnerability that is achieved partially by blindsiding participants with challenging activities or experiences they need to respond to in a raw, unrehearsed way. But I'm not convinced hearing about the activities really would dampen the necessary reactions...but what do I know? I've never been.

Which leads to just a bit of conflict around reading Cox's article: I usually think things learned or witnessed in confidence should be held in confidence. To publish details about something you swore not to talk about outside of the experience is obviously deceptive, righteous cause or not. He says he didn't even know about the confidentiality clause until after he'd made a deposit and bought airfare, which I think he is using to imply that the deception began with entrapment on the JIM organizers' part. I suppose he, understandably, has to find a way to justify his breach of contract. But I also suppose I give some exemptions for things of a non-sacred or non-religious nature, particularly where people sincerely believe the welfare of others is truly at stake, and there seems to be no other way of getting "inside", at least none which don't involve pressuring others to breach their contracts. It almost seems better for the reporter to be deceitful than to interview others who would breach their contracts and somehow washing their hands of any wrong-doing. I can't help but question the journalistic ethics around it, but I must admit I'm probably going to read the article regardless.

In a video interview with Ted Cox, he reminds me of people I've known who have an air of objective intelligence but who really are rather egomaniacal and closed to ideas opposing their own views. To be honest, I think most crusaders are that way. But I can't know what he's like, and he seems, at least, to be trying to treat the story fairly (errors such as misstating the name of NARTH do bring into question his attention to detail, but I'm a stickler for that sort of thing, and I make the same mistakes at times, but I'd hope people wouldn't entirely disregard my thoughts because of such an oversight). I'll just digest his story as I try to digest most: openly with skepticism.

Were any of you at the weekend he attended? I actually think a couple of friends may have been. Any firsthand experience with him? I'm interested in the reactions of people who were there and knew him with the understanding that he was a fellow "journeyer" and how it feels to know he was just an investigative writer infiltrating something so emotionally sensitive and raw for most participants.

I couldn't help but grin and chuckle a bit when I read this article by Warren Throckmorton about an article published in Salt Lake's City Weekly independent (typically very liberal-slanted) newspaper. And he links to a story from the Daily Show that TOTALLY cracked me up.

Might As Well...

I'm beginning to think the guys I'm sexually/physically attracted to are mostly terrible prospects for relationships, while the guys I see who are probable matches for a quality relationship are rarely initially physically attractive to me. I can't help but wonder at times: if I'm not going to "marry" for sexual attraction anyway, why not just find a woman with whom I can procreate and have a great, communicative relationship? Then I remember that the guy I probably most fell for was also the least initially attractive to me but with whom I still had chemistry of the kind I've never experienced with a girl, even the ones I thought were really good matches, and the "might as well" thoughts head backstage again into the "possible, but as-of-yet theoretical" corner as I say, "Oh yeah, that."