30 November 2010

A feeling washed over me

It'd been a very long time since I'd felt such a familiar, bright warmth wash over me from head to toe. I didn't expect it to come while waiting for a friend to pick out running clothes at The North Face store.

There are a few times in my life I remember having experiences or feelings of a similar kind and magnitude. These were all quite unexpected experiences in otherwise mundane moments. I would be thinking or reflecting almost inadvertently, and the feeling caught me off guard, washing over and through me, picking up my heart and even making it race a little as if to say, "Hey, that thought you just had is not just a casual thought or passing notion: it's something to really pay attention to! It's truth." This came with a feeling so replete with hope and peace, accompanied by what I can only describe as a compelling and surreal clarity towards the future which only time could really confirm or explain but which felt significant. I ascribed religious meaning to them, or at least 'spiritual' meaning: I believed them to be 'of the Spirit', bringing the fruits described in Galatians and carrying a powerfully revelatory, inspirational vibe. They were those moments I couldn't help but make note of and allow to be imprinted on my heart, lest I should forget them completely. I've typically journaled them in some way.

So it was this weekend. Saturday, and I was standing in The North Face store at a local shopping complex, waiting for a friend to try on some running clothes. Not being particularly engaged by the shop's selection, I propped myself up against a rack as my mind wandered to matters other than what was right in front of me, as it often does. I had just bought a copy of one of my all-time favorite movies, Wit, and I was thinking about the movie and some incidental thoughts related to it of a personal nature. Again, it wasn't anything profound or earth-shattering, just some ideas and reflections floating around, and suddenly, that animating warmth washed through me from head to toe, bringing peace, light, and clarity of feeling just as it had the last time I remember experiencing it to that degree, some time ago.

It was as clear to me as anything that this was just what I'd felt before, when I believed such was of God, confirming truth to me through the Spirit. I was a bit taken aback by the onset of this familiar, illuminating, accentuating, serenely confident feeling I had previously thought of as a 'spiritual' thing. I couldn't help but smile softly, quietly to myself, close my eyes, and take it in. I thought, "Well, isn't that interesting? I don't even necessarily believe in a literal God, and what I was thinking about didn't really have anything to do with things religious or spiritual, but I was thinking of something very meaningful to me and close to my heart, and here's this feeling, in the middle of a clothing store." As I thought, another wave washed over me. I didn't try to interpret it, assign meaning to it, deconstruct it, dismiss it, or make it into a prophecy, as much as I have to admit, in full candor, I would have loved for it to be a confirmation of what I was thinking about. I just let it fill me and make me smile. I took the warmth in. I allowed the peace. I set aside muddying it with speculative meaning and explanation in the moment, but I still tried to "listen" to what it might be telling me, whether from within or from without.

I know many would think me a fool not to readily and unquestioningly accept this as a divine manifestation and clear evidence of spiritual learning, that is, if they didn't know what I was thinking about. If they did know, they'd probably either say it was emotion rather than the Spirit, or they might come up with a way of making it fit into their doctrinal understanding. But I have my own ideas about it, even while acknowledging that I can't necessarily fully explain it. I can't, couldn't, deny I felt it. But it's mine, and it's not anyone else's to "explain" or beat me over the head with. What I was thinking about is something I'll keep to myself. Some things are still sacred. And that's nice to know.

29 November 2010

Tragically Canadian sensibilities

I think I have them, and I think it's not so tragic. Just sayin'.

28 November 2010

Learning from transcribing

I've resumed transcribing my mission journal, now that I'm done with my post-mission journal. I suppose there's plenty left after that: letters, tapes, etc. I'll probably have to draw the line somewhere. In order to get it all done, I'd probably have to get rich and hire someone or wait for scanning-to-transcription or audio analysis transcribing software to improve, or be written, or become cheap, or...something. But for now, it's really interesting to learn and remember from the process of doing it myself and remember my old thoughts, to recall my interpretations and feelings and see how they fit into a different or broader perspective now or to know what was going on in the back of my mind but which I dared not write down at the time.

If I posted some of the stuff I've written, I'm sure some people would scoff at my current agnosticism or re-evaluation of my past "testimony," or some might marvel at how I could possibly have "lost faith" or "forgotten" some things, but it fits, even though it might take a while to describe exactly how. And then, who knows, maybe I'll eventually reach some synthesis of old and new or reform my views again. So it goes. In any case, I'm enjoying the journey.

26 November 2010

What I can't offer...

I used to think it was sadly limiting and confining that some people thought human relationships were the pinnacle of existence when they had no idea how much better it was to have a relationship with God first and foremost (I hadn't considered "God" actually might literally be love, and one's own conviction of principles of happiness and personal morality, etc), so now I am sometimes afraid to express my personal experience with same-sex romantic love or my own hope in future partnership within LDS circles because it may only confirm that I have forgotten that there's better out there, that I'd be trading eternity for temporal contentment. The times I've fallen in love would, I fear, be automatically diminished by belief that eternal joy is not found in such love, or (more nuanced believers might distinguish) such relationships.

Thinking about it conjures the gut-wrenching feelings which knotted my stomach when someone told me he didn't want to pursue dating me anymore, that he wanted to find happiness in fighting the struggle, that he couldn't face a lifetime of questioning and wanted conviction. I could tell by the way he said it that I'd already lost him, and I wanted to respect his decision, so I didn't bother trying to argue. I didn't insist that I have as much or more conviction now as ever, that it's in different things that I had overlooked for so long, that it's in principles I'd masked with doctrines and rules...and...and... I was sure it wouldn't matter anyway. Knowing him and the dynamics of his situation, the grandiosity of eternal vision and righteous conviction offered by the religion he had been questioning and the organization he had just been introduced to were too great a temptation to withstand at the expense of harmonious family relationships and appealing community I knew and had left behind. Surely, it was more seductive or, if you prefer, promising, than any mere companionship, love, or personal investment I could offer for this life only. The lifelong love of a mere man versus the eternal joy and glory of godhood. Great. No contest.

I understood that to those who believe in LDS doctrine, he made a valiant choice to sacrifice something he wanted for something he wanted more and that his choice would be rewarded in eternity. 'To be completely honest,' the fact that he made that choice was a reflection of exactly one of the things I loved so much about him. Ah, the irony. I also understood that, from a popular LDS perspective, no human relationship is worth trading one's relationship with God or one's eternal potential. That operates, of course, under the assumption/belief not only that God exists but that to choose same-sex companionship in this life is, in fact, forfeiting one's relationship with God or one's eternal potential.

But to me, having doubted the existence and/or nature of God or at the very least whether God's sanctioning and condemning of relationships is as cut and dry as 'the church' has believed, the promise of eternal glory for living a celibate life or finding a wife doesn't hold quite so much seductive power. So it felt a little like giving up a potentially wonderful relationship in favor of the promise of living with the elves in the Grey Havens: losing a glorious reality for a beautiful myth. The reality is that our relationship was yet to be seen, maybe no more a guarantee than the possibility that he might find happiness by himself or with a wife and live happily ever after. I understood that, but it was clear from my emotional reaction to the experience that I had insecurities or fears around it beyond the relationship. It was hard to accept the reality and painful to feel like he was choosing an illusory fantasy over the real and present me, and wondering if that's how it would always be with the kind of person I fall for.

I also understood that from the perspective of his faithful LDS parents, for example, he would have been making exactly that kind of trade if he were to have chosen to be with me: trading the reality of eternal life for the illusory fantasy of happiness through same-sex companionship. As much as I loved him, they loved him a lot longer, and surely far more deeply, than I had the chance to, and even if I believed their views to be distorted, I certainly didn't want our relationship to bring such pain upon others who dearly love him, or to strain the relationships which matter most. That was part of why there were some things I held back. I do believe a relationship shouldn't be bound or determined by the expectations and beliefs of others, but family is important to me, and I would just much rather not be the devil who led someone's son astray from salvation. That was a constant concern of mine in that relationship, and I'm very reluctant to knowingly take on that particular challenge again.

Though I've wondered whether it'd be hard to deal with a companion believing things I think are likely myths, there's also something I like about being with someone who just has a simple faith and believes things I may not fully agree with but which I can respect. I don't want someone who's just jaded and believes "life's a bitch and then you die", which seems to be the most common alternative. And I'm not attracted to people who are cavalier about principles or morality. I'm turned off by "whatever, I am what I am and everyone else can take a flying leap." I tend to be attracted to the types who seem to have the tendency to believe in "something more", which most often manifests as religious beliefs. Maybe it's because I am attracted to sensitive dreamers, or those who are a bit simpler in their outlook and prefer to just accept rather than question ideas they like, or...something. But my worry, after a couple of recent experiences, is that I will continually fall for those who can't handle my outlook, who want more religion in their lives.

I've tended to let the generalization of relationships like this focus my attention on what I cannot offer someone, and I think I shoot myself in the foot with that focus, confirming it in a self-fulfilling way. I worry that it could become a pattern: in the back of my mind, I figure I can't offer what the church offers, so I don't even bother 'competing', and I wait for them to realize that and go back to the soul-saving safety of church activity, which necessarily leaves me alone again. I briefly wondered, in the situation above, if things might have been different if I'd had my own coordinated effort to show the nourishment of positive philosophy, engagement in worthy causes, and connection with a community of supportive and truth-seeking people to offer some of those things the church offers. I realize how foolish that may sound when you believe it's man against God, that such efforts are empty without the power of the Spirit which can only be found within the gospel. It might seem diminutive to assert his decision was based on social psychology rather than on divine guidance. I respect that. And I concede that I probably don't fully know his reasons. Whatever the motives or reasons, he made the decision. I quickly decided it probably wouldn't have made a difference if I'd done certain things differently, that a relationship with me simply didn't offer what he decided he wanted, and it was pointless to speculate. But it did spur something in me.

I'm trying to remember what I do have to offer and to be ready to share that better the next time around. I'm trying to learn to better articulate what I do believe and voicing common ground and insights I've gained rather than highlighting primarily what I have stopped believing. I'm trying to identify traits, principles, and skills I think are really valuable to a relationship and some which are fairly unique, even if they do come with challenges. *wink* As I re-enter employment and work on sorting out what to do with myself professionally to become financially stable again, I think I'll be a pretty solid candidate for a "real" relationship in time.

But I'm also finding it to be a fairly difficult exercise because no matter how much I come up with, I can't quite shake the notion that I'll always fall for a certain kind of person who needs or wants what I can't offer, and the voices persist: "but you can't offer exaltation, or harmony with his family, or firm belief in God (which is still a huge deal in the U.S.), or an entire community of people assuring him he's righteous and going to a good place in heaven, or the rewarding feeling of being usefully engaged in service in a community which recognizes it, or 'conviction' of a dogmatic or institutional kind, or, or, or..."

For this reason and others, I'm not interested in dating right now. Not yet. I obviously have some things to sort out, myself. I wonder if I'll ever have enough sorted out to feel worthy of and ready for the kind of relationship I want? I certainly won't if I sit around wondering if I ever will. I suppose I need to tune out the nay-saying voices for now and focus on becoming better and building a life worth sharing.



...OK fine, I'll not leave this on a purely rhetorical note like I tend to do in my journal without acting on it. I have plenty of challenging personality traits a future companion would have to deal with, most of which come out in very unintentional ways, and I'm honestly not sure how many people could handle those. But as "they" say, I can't promise the sun, the moon, and the stars (especially not the [Celestial] sun), but I can promise such things as:
  • abiding love,
  • affection,
  • laughter,
  • communication,
  • loyalty to the relationship,
  • honesty,
  • fiscal responsibility (...with exceptions...keep me in line *wink*),
  • sincerity,
  • conviction of principles,
  • strong values,
  • adaptability to change and others' needs,
  • striving to stay physically fit and healthy,
  • a thirst for truth,
  • travel,
  • appreciation of arts,
  • fresh-baked goodies,
  • trying new foods, movies, events, techniques...,
  • love of the simple things,
  • music,
  • games,
  • willingness to put partner's needs before my own comfort,
  • always something to looking forward to,
  • appreciation of the mysteries,
  • respect for others' beliefs,
  • family focus,
  • love of children,
  • strong friendships, and of course,
  • quality spooning.
Hey, there's more, but I only have so much space here. *wink* Maybe I do have a lot to offer, at least to the person who's looking for the things I offer. For now, I'm gonna enjoy my bachelorhood and just keep working on adding significant and small items to that list...

25 November 2010

*Le Sigh*

I was thinking I'd have to buy Whatever Works and watch it over and over again not just because I really liked it (I did) but primarily because of Henry Cavill. Now I've discovered he's in The Tudors, so I may have to keep watching...if it's not saturated with gratuitous sex scenes and bloody gore. Ah, *sigh*.

Wait, on second thought, while looking for images, I've realized certain angles remind me way too much of a completely not-attractive-to-me guy I knew in college. ...and he doesn't smile much in his candid photos, which is a shame because his smile is completely disarming, and he seems like a sourpuss boringhead. Sad story. I am a fickle, fickle man. It was lovely while it lasted, Henry. It's probably for the best, though. I shall always remember the chap who smiles and doesn't remind me of that college acquaintance.


23 November 2010

Gay sex less morally wrong?

One day, I was talking with an acquaintance I'll call W who was struggling with questions around the church and reconciling W's own behaviors with church standards. W had never been a floozy. W, a straighty, had apparently always reserved physical expressions of affection for relationships in which there was genuine affection, appreciation, respect, personal relationship, and exclusivity. Even kissing was not taken lightly. But W was now wrestling with the fact that sexual intercourse seemed an option which felt right and natural to pursue even without marriage, and was wrestling with what that meant for church membership were it to be pursued, etc. When I heard this, perceiving my expression, W asked me if I was bothered by it, if I had a moral opposition even in my agnosticism.

I admitted I did, in fact, feel a repulsion to the idea, a moral opposition, if you will. I said I didn't quite know why, whether I still had residual feelings about sex from my religious background (probably true), whether I was jealous (probably not), whether I had legitimate concerns (felt like I did). I said I did have a lot of trouble with people risking bringing a child into the world without a stable home in which to be raised and that it seemed selfish to knowingly take that risk. I said I think birth control is fine, but what about the exceptions where it doesn't work? I have strong feelings against abortion, particularly when it basically amounts to killing an accidental life because it's not as important as a night of fun was.

W insisted that sex would still only be for a relationship which could become a stable home if necessary, and abortion would never be an option, but W would take every precaution to make sure pregnancy was nothing but a remote possibility, like using both birth control pills and a condom. I retorted, "Then why not wait until the decision to make it a stable home has been made consciously, and the home established, rather than forced and rushed by an accident?" We explored these ideas.

I realized most of my feelings around the appropriateness of sex have to do with a couple of things, not necessarily in any order: 1) the possibility of making a baby, 2) the health risks, and 3) the emotional consequences of each party involved (which is directly connected to the actual intimacy, honesty, and commitment in the relationship, what other relationships each party is involved in, the chemical/hormonal physiology and emotional/mental responses during sex which lead to bonding, and the risks thereof, each person's perceptions of what sex is and what it "means" in their relationship, etc). I also realized that (2) and (3) apply to same-sex relationships as much as mixed-sex, though they may have different factors involved, and (1) is completely irrelevant in gay sex. I also realized that (1) is a really big factor in my views on sex.

I felt somewhat hypocritical for telling W to refrain when I felt less obligated to do so, all else being equal, given certain conditions such as intimacy, commitment, and clean test results. Then I realized a man and woman can pretty much do anything a man and a man could do, although they're somewhat limited in the roles they can take, but two guys or two girls can't really do that one thing a guy and a girl can do. So I felt less hypocritical and thought, "Hey, I may never do that, so you can certainly wait until marriage to do it and find other things to keep busy with in the meantime..." Then I chuckled to myself, shrugged, and carried on talking with W.

The lingering thought remained, "So wait...if a huge part of the morality of having sex is knowingly risking creating a child without having first built a stable parenthood for that child because two people wanted to get off more than they thought or cared about the possible life they might create...wouldn't that make gay sex actually less abominable than hetero sex? Or are there other reasons other than disgust for homosex being seen as so terribly awful by so many religious adherents? And you gotta admit, seeing gay sex as less morally wrong than hetero sex does seem a little convenient for a gay dude." With a smirk, I thought that yes, that was pretty convenient, but yes, I'm still a prude, so I'm tragically not enjoying the benefits of this convenience. And no, that's not an invitation. I like my prudity, thankyouverymuch.

Don't think about homosexuality!

From a book I'm currently reading titled The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt (someone I think I'd like to have a good sit-down conversation with in consideration of pursuing a similar career):
"In [Dan] Wegner's studies, participants are asked to try hard not to think about something, such as a white bear, or food, or a stereotype.  This is hard to do.  More important, the moment one stops trying to suppress a thought, the thought comes flooding in and becomes even harder to banish. In other words, Wegner creates minor obsessions in his lab by instructing people not to obsess. Wegner explains this effect as an “ironic process” of mental control.
When controlled processing tries to influence thought (“Don’t think about a white bear!”), it sets up an explicit goal. And whenever one pursues a goal, a part of the mind automatically monitors progress, so that it can order corrections or know when success has been achieved. When that goal is an action in the world (such as arriving at the airport on time), this feedback system works well. But when the goal is mental, it backfires. Automatic processes continually check: “Am I not thinking about a white bear?” As the act of monitoring for the absence of the thought introduces the thought, the person must try even harder to divert consciousness. Automatic and controlled processes end up working at cross purposes, firing each other up to ever greater exertions. But because controlled processes tire quickly, eventually the inexhaustible automatic processes run unopposed, conjuring up herds of white bears. Thus, the attempt to remove an unpleasant thought can guarantee it a place on your frequent-play list of mental ruminations.

Now, back to me at that dinner party. My simple thought “don’t make a fool of yourself” triggers automatic processes looking for signs of foolishness. I know that it would be stupid to comment on that mole on his forehead, or to say “I love you,” or to scream obscenities. And up in consciousness, I become aware of three thoughts: comment on the mole, say “I love you,” or scream obscenities. These are not commands, just ideas that pop into my head. Freud based much of his theory of psychoanalysis on such mental intrusions and free associations, and he found they often have sexual or aggressive content. But Wegner’s research offers a simpler and more innocent explanation: Automatic processes generate thousands of thoughts and images every day, often through random association. The ones that get stuck are the ones that particularly shock us, the ones we try to suppress or deny. The reason we suppress them is not that we know, deep down, that they’re true (although some may be), but that they are scary or shameful. Yet once we have tried and failed to suppress them, they can become the sorts of obsessive thoughts that make us believe in Freudian notions of a dark and evil unconscious mind.

Now, I'm pretty certain there's much more to this than I'm grasping, and I've questioned a couple of assertions in the book so far, and I totally understand that half-a...nkled knowledge is dangerous because it opens one up to all kinds of misapplication and willy nilly interpretation.  That conceded, this concept from the book highlights much of why I think it's a fairly naive notion to "deal with" homosexuality by ignoring it or trying to minimize it.  I also have my thoughts about how this relates to the popular LDS idea that Satan spends most of his effort trying to trip up the most righteous (I've long thought of that notion as a story to explain a quite natural phenomenon), or how I think there's a balance between accepting what is while working towards worthy goals rather than settling for mediocrity just because to reach for higher is 'hard', but those are side-notes.  I'm even interested in whether the same or a similar phenomenon applies to atheists who are repulsed but fascinated by religion and end up converting to one because they just couldn't deny that "something" was pulling them towards it, which of course is very faith-confirming to already-believers.  I know, I know, so devilish of me to even consider such a notion.

But in my experience and observation, as well as my conceptualization, I think it's not about whether we think about homosexuality, as I don't believe that's even an option on the table: you're going to think about it whether you admit it or not.  I think those who believe they never think about it have essentially, unnecessarily lobotomized themselves.  You know the kind, the ones whose personality you swear is in there somewhere but which you can't seem to access.   What I think it is about is how we think about "it", and how we respond to it.

For you fundamentalists who might call me evil for proposing you not spend all of your effort trying not to think about homosexuality, or you activists who might think this is the sort of thing Evergreeners will never hear, I can attest that you'll hear from certain Evergreen presenters, even some whose overall philosophies I disagree with, that it's not about suppressing and forgetting about your homosexuality but accepting and working through it, processing it rather than sweeping it under the rug.  It's a well-recognized concept, and it's not foreign to or rejected by therapists of homosexuality.

Of course, I can also envision some people reading the above passage and seeing it as a quaint attempt to explain gospel truths we already know in science-speak to puff up man's pride (rather than believing it's a universal truth which people in all walks of life have noted, and which religious people explain with mythology and mysticism, and for which psychologists or other scientists are finding quantifiable explanations), or believing their homosexual feelings aren't "real" but are just scary thoughts they've magnified by obsessing on them.  And let's be honest, some people's "processing" ends up feeling an awful lot like sweeping under the rug.  But I think the principle many can agree on is: something you think is shameful is not going away magically by sheer will of "not thinking about it".

So...you, the same-sex attracted person: quick, don't think about homosexuality!




Anecdote: When I was in an Evergreen Conference presentation in which the speaker told us not to think about a white bear (come to think of it, I think that might be exactly the example he used...hey...is Jonathan Haidt, self-proclaimed progressive atheist, really a reparative sheep in wolf's clothing?...), a white bear immediately came to mind, of course, but I also immediately (split-second) made it go away by thinking about something else very specific (I forget what) and tuning out the speaker, until I decided I'd proven enough to myself and should probably listen to the speaker, at which point I'm pretty sure the white bear came prancing onto the stage of mind in a tutu.

17 November 2010

They can't leave it alone!

Non-edited-down rambling warning


"Strange, how often defectors leave the Church, but they cannot leave it alone!"

- Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1979)


This, and many variations of it, are ingrained in LDS traditional thought. I used to repeat it. I marveled that people would not just quietly go about their business as they left the church but seemed to be filled with anger towards the church, resentment for its teachings, bitterness towards the membership, or at the very least an insistence on constantly shoving down everyone's throats their reasons for believing it wasn't true. Surely, I thought, this was a testament to their loss of the Spirit and the emptiness of life without the gospel once you've known the truth.


INSTITUTE TEACHER'S APOSTASY

In my early-to-mid twenties, a very popular Institute teacher where I lived left the church in a bit of a fury. There were conflicts and butted heads with local leadership, huge friction with Church Education System leadership, and personal questions and doubts which became too much for him to ignore. He wrote a lengthy essay about his departure from the church. I identified to an extent, maybe more than I was willing to admit to anyone, including myself, but I shrugged and insisted to myself that his choice needn't be mine, and surely there may be answers waiting in the next life to some of the things we don't know and aren't meant to understand fully in our infantile spiritual state here on Earth. Even so, I cringed to hear people I loved and respected and who I knew enjoyed his instruction sum up his whole experience with the trite-feeling phrase, "Well, it's sad that he wasn't able to separate the people from the gospel." Yet I nodded in condescending pity for his descent into offense-induced deception. He became an outspoken anti-Mormon crusader. When I ran into him at the gym years later, I thought, "He seems upbeat but feels so worldly, and his eyes seem dimmer."

But I extrapolated something from his essay: one probable reason he couldn't seem to just leave it alone was because even though he still considered himself Christian, he believed he had wasted many, many years of his life believing, teaching, conforming to, and dedicating so much of his energy to a belief system (the LDS Church and many of its specific doctrines) which he now believed was an elaborate myth. I remember thinking, "Well gosh, even if he accepts responsibility for having believed it, that feeling could be enough to make even the best of us fight some serious resentment." I remember resolving that if I were ever to leave the church, which I hoped I would never decide was necessary and would work to guard myself against, I would accept responsibility for my own departure and "leave it alone". Then I'd quickly remind myself not to even think along those lines because to do so was to entertain a possibility of something too spiritually costly to even consider in passing, and I'd focus on the positive things I could do and think to stay or become better aligned with God.

Now, I understand much of why it can be so hard.


LEAVING IT ALONE

I do try to leave it alone, and I mostly succeed, exploring on my own and not bombarding my faithful friends or blog readers with my findings on one side of an argument or another. For a long time, I avoided having "the discussion" with friends because I didn't want to get into it. How am I supposed to summarize years of questions, doubts, and paradigm shifts in one conversation? How am I supposed to convey epiphanies, realizations, and perspectives I've experienced to someone who hasn't gone through the same? How am I supposed to explain cognitive dissonance, apparent logical fallacies or paradoxes, or historical conundrums without sounding like I'm 'justifying myself,' 'trying to tear down other people's faith,' 'looking for holes,' or 'overthinking' rather than 'focusing on the good' and 'letting the Spirit guide'? I wasn't trying to hide my agnosticism, but I didn't want to go around challenging the faith of others or seeking validation.


PUSHED TO RESPOND

But my hand has been forced several times when I would otherwise have remained silent on the issue. "Why haven't you been to church lately?" "Why the 'spiritual walkabout'?" "You know you know it's true, right?" "Aren't you just afraid to change?" "Aren't you just justifying what you want by choosing to doubt?" "Why did you break your temple covenant by not wearing your garments?" "You're choosing to lose Celestial glory, you know that, right?" "Can't you see that the church is not the people?" "Don't you think there will be some answers withheld until the next life?" "Why aren't your past spiritual experiences enough for you?" "How can you deny that you knew it was true? I heard you say it yourself on many occasions."

Those are all valid questions, especially if one assumes LDS doctrine is true. But to really, fully respond to them requires a conversation that may not end well and has been emotionally taxing on me when I've been in the throes of strong insecurities about how well my relationships will weather this life-altering change in beliefs. But when pressed, I've tried to be honest and forthright. For the most part, it's ended well, but in most cases, it's still very draining and trying to take the inevitable corrective blows with patience, dignity, and strength.


THE TEMPTATION

And it gets hard, at times, to "turn the other cheek" or to refrain from attacking a belief system which is so aggressively pushing itself into political issues which directly affect my relationships, or which so fully permeates local culture, or which intrudes into my own personal life through the beliefs and traditions of those all around me who I'd rather not alienate but who I wish understood and respected the fact that I am not interested in returning to the flock I very deliberately walked away from.

For example, I'm reminded outside the store that a random person who is swearing at the car ahead while blasting music and smoking with an infant in a car seat is somehow not only allowed but encouraged to marry and start a family and learn and grow along the way despite their apparently glaring imperfections, even if they're only married for life. But the church which I believed so firmly in and to whose message I dedicated so much of my energy for so many years is actively fighting to keep me from destroying society by marrying someone of the same sex like the person I fell for this summer and having children. In that moment, it's hard to shrug that off and whistle a merry tune and "leave it alone", even if the culture and political policy can be separated from the doctrine. But I try to shake it off, and I try to remind myself that it's not productive to find faults in others and make assumptions about their parenting or the welfare of their children based on incidental observations or appearance-based judgements. I also remind myself that almost nobody is actually saying the child abusing straight couple are better parents than a male partner and I would be, or that the white supremacist parents hold society together better than my partner and I would, that it's not so personal to them as it sometimes feels to me. I remind myself that there are active, faithful members of the church who support rights of same-sex marriage and adoption, even if they're a minority. And it helps focus my energy or temper my defensiveness.

For another example, when a friend is feeling like a defeated shell of a human being over a bad habit or his struggle to comply with a church standard, I want to slap him upside the head and tell him he's a great guy and that even if he behaves in ways which would be best removed from his life, there is absolutely no sense in thinking so poorly of himself when so much of his personality, life, and decisions are good and right. I can concede that if LDS doctrine is true, then he may lose some access to the Spirit or priesthood power when behaving in certain ways. But even if that's true, I can't buy that his effectiveness as a leader, father, husband, or whatever else he may be or become is completely negated or made 'unworthy' because of it, especially when contrasted with Plastic McPlasticson serving as the world's most self-righteous tyrant of a stake president who drains the life out of the gospel with his damned checklists. Dude, you're trying, and it's going to be a process. Yes, only those who aim for farther-reaching goals know what it's like to feel like a 'failure' for being 'normal'--it's totally understandable--but while there's no excellence in never striving to be better, there's also no energizing motivation or pure love in this kind of self-punishment. It's hard, when seeing someone you care about reduced to one habit or proclivity, not to resent the belief system behind the culture which promoted such unnecessary shame and self-loathing. But I remind myself that it's his personal issue as much as the church's, and that pure doctrine doesn't necessarily promote that perspective.

One more example: when someone who's been a significant presence in my family whose opinion I've cared about responds to my statement that I grew more in Utah than I did in Washington by reducing it to a simple, "But you went inactive there," it's hard to accept that, in her eyes, my four years of experiences, lessons learned, endeavors undertaken, personal growth, dreams realized, love felt, and relationships developed pale in comparison to whether or not I attend the LDS church. It's hard to reconcile that with, "We still love you no matter what your relationship with the church" because it feels like adding a caveat, "But we're still going to remind you at least once or twice a week that you need to come back, that we aren't going to let this go, and nothing in your life really matters next to that." It's difficult to simply reply, as patiently as I could muster, "We'll probably have to agree to disagree on whether that was a good direction." I remind myself that just because she didn't ask in that moment about the ways I believe I grew, it doesn't mean she doesn't care or that she only cares about my church life. Maybe I could do more to welcome them into the rest of my life. Maybe this is as much about me and my approach to my relationships as it is about her or her interpretations of doctrine, or about LDS teachings that church attendance is the one true indicator of a person's goodness. Relationships have necessarily changed, and we all have to adjust to that on a daily basis. It's an ever-present reminder of how things used to be, in contrast with how they are, but it's a two-way street.


IT WON'T LEAVE ME ALONE

So I'm normally able to consciously, deliberately quell emotional reactions or insecurities when reminded of the church's persistent, insistent presence or incidental unwelcome intrusion into my life. I recognize my own responsibility for bringing the church into my own life in some ways. I read news related to the church sometimes. I've cracked the LDS scriptures at times for various reasons. I've used the church's web site to research talks. I've voluntarily listened to a few conference sessions. I went to part of a Sunstone Symposium. I almost exclusively hang out with church members, active or less-so, believing or less-so, and fully understand the church will be part of conversations or prayers offered over food or before a road trip. I can leave the church, but unless I also entirely dismiss my past and leave my friends and family, the church won't leave me alone. And it's totally understandable because even when I am trying to just let the church be and not remind friends that I've left it, some casual comment I make might remind them, so in that sense, I'm not the only one being reminded when I didn't bring it up.


IMAGINE THE TABLES TURNED

The church and I are going to butt heads, and I just have to deal with that. But understand that for someone who's going through some major life changes, some of which are very stressful, it's not always easy to absorb the perceived blows without striking back at times. You may puzzle at why your loved one is being so defensive or hurt about their relationships with family and friends in the church, but remember that you are dealing with one person while that person is dealing with the majority of people in their life. Imagine if 75% of your friends and family decided, in the same year, that the church was false, and you believed in an elaborate hoax, and they made sure to remind you subtly of that in case you might come around and see it their way. You'd probably be a bit sensitive and tempted to strike back, too.


LEAVING IT BEHIND

I'm not going to pretend I haven't fought bitterness and wished religion would just dissolve entirely and stop polluting minds and relationships with its divisive constructs of classification and strait and narrow gateways used as loving clubs over the heads of the lost and fallen. But I remember what it was like to believe certain things, and how I truly, genuinely thought I didn't think less of others for disbelieving them, and I sincerely believed I meant well in "reminding" others of what I knew they knew. So I take a deep breath, I remember the good which comes of communities based on positive values and principles of healthy living, and I try to let go of what I don't agree with or forgive whatever wrongs I might perceive. And I feel better. Turns out forgiveness is good for the soul even if God has nothing to do with it.

So onward I go, trying to forge my own path, trying to nod to the friendly protesters lining my path and pointing insistently to theirs, acknowledging their concern while maintaining focus on what I believe are the most universal principles and are my own personal values.

I'm grateful for relationships with people who know I know what they believe and don't give in to the temptation to constantly remind me of it. I greatly appreciate those who seem to have firm "testimonies" of the restoration of the gospel, and the principles and ordinances thereof, but who also have listened to still, small voices which have told them not to worry, that it will be OK. I appreciate the belief of a few that they can't see all things any more than I can, and that though they firmly believe they are on 'the right path', and they may quietly believe I must rejoin it eventually, at least they seem to acknowledge that my journey may be customized, and I may be learning things I need to learn, and somehow, those of us who seek truth will all find the happiness we desire even if we do it in different orders, on different timelines, or even on different paths in ways none of us fully grasps with our feeble minds.

To the others, who can't seem to accept it, I don't need you to. Just understand that I may not submissively acknowledge your superior spirituality indefinitely. You can keep reminding me that you disapprove, or keep pressing, and we may have it out at some point. But hey, conflict can lead to growth, so even that can be positive in the end.

If I don't leave the church alone, it's probably because it won't leave me alone. But y'know, maybe completely leaving each other alone isn't required, as long as mutual respect for individual free agency and a right to disagree and voice disagreement is maintained. Besides, if the church did completely leave me alone, I might, in some way, actually feel less loved by the lack of people wishing I were walking with them, or trying to share their happiness, or being concerned for my welfare. How's that for sick and twisted? :-)

...But hold off on sicking the missionaries and home teachers on me just because I said that. More nagging doesn't equal more love and concern, mmK? MmK.

16 November 2010

Elusive me

There is a possibly retreating part of me, readily tender, affectionate, and sensitive. Buried. Vulnerable. But very much present and alive when romantically involved with someone or 'in love'. I love that me, and it's that me that I probably mourn nearly as much as the relationship itself when a relationship ends, and he retreats again. I think that me should be accessible at other times, that I should be less of a curmudgeon more of the time, warm and cuddly with my nieces, for example, or truly vulnerable to a long-time friend. But there's something, some guard, that seems to only--or at least most fully--come down when romantically invested. I'm not sure I want it to come down with everyone. I'm not sure it should. Maybe it should more so with certain people. I just feel like there's something I have yet to figure out about this, like there's an elusive me yet to be more fully integrated, but I may not be willing or desirous to expose him, so I keep him locked away for my future spouse and children, where he will be free to express himself fully and justified in his affection, saved for special relationships to come. Maybe his retreat only bothers me when I wonder if I will be single my whole life and therefore keep him locked away to wither in neglect. He's sweet, and he's loving, but he might also be delicate, and I can't allow that fragility to disrupt my life and make my relationships messier. Or maybe I'm just imagining it all...

Carol Lynn Pearson's Mormon Stories Interview

I've been watching this over the last few days and really enjoying it. Carol Lynn Pearson definitely is one of the most prominent voices on the subject of homosexuality and the church between her books and her play and other efforts. In this several-part, several-hours-long interview on Mormon Stories with John Dehlin, she discusses her 'mixed-orientation marriage' with her gay husband and other personal views and experiences related to homosexuality and the church. She doesn't toe the church policy line on the subject, and she definitely has been more embraced by organizations like Sunstone than by organizations like Evergreen (I'm pretty sure many or most Evergreeners consider her to be subversive), but she definitely has her finger on the pulse of the issue. Her voice is more that of practical observation, personal experience, and philosophy than of a scientific researcher or future General Relief Society President, which I think many find refreshing. I guess I won't say much more than to recommend watching it for those who are interested in such perspectives.

15 November 2010

I could've married a girl

No, really. I mean it. Stop laughing.

Before I continue, I'll just say that I am not, in any way, about to say any gay/SSA guy who marries a woman does so for the same reasons as mine or with the same factors. This is only my story, as I remember it.

I had opportunities. A couple of girls were basically ready to go if I were on board. We would have dated a while, and I'm pretty sure we could've married.

I did have this vague sense that somehow, it wasn't right. I wanted it to be. I wanted to have a family more than anything, and I wanted it to be with a righteous, faithful woman who would be a great mother and who loved God first and foremost, as I did, because we would both build our relationship on that love, that spirituality, that singular focus on the glory of God as we raised up a righteous posterity together. And I found such a girl. And another later. And I loved spending time with them. I loved being with them. I even enjoyed physical rough-housing with them as an excuse to be close without all the awkwardness of "making a move" or whatever. As far as I knew, what I felt was what people were supposed to feel when they fell for someone, and I was just hung up on commitment issues, or I might be asexual, or...something. I knew we'd make a great team, and I believed two righteous people could build a life and happy marriage together. I had faith that the Lord would bless us if we were doing everything for the right reasons. I tried to figure out what was missing, but since I couldn't quite figure it out, I held on to what was good and hoped something would come of my prayers and scripture study and talking with other guy friends and parents and that I would just be able to take a leap of faith and start officially dating exclusively. But I wondered why I didn't want to be closer, physically, when my friends were having so much trouble keeping their hands off of each other. I figured my love for these girls was more holy because it clearly had nothing to do with lust. I believed it when I was told how healthy and stable I was because I was so clear-headed about my relationships. I believed I was maybe just 'picky' to a fault.

I could've done it. Looking back, I believe we could have had a very happy life together. We would have had struggles, like all couples, and we both had plenty of growing to do, but we would have done it together. I had never fully faced, let alone vocalized, my attractions at those points in my life. But I know a lot of couples who went into marriages with more baggage than that and worked it out. I still wouldn't recommend starting a marriage that way. At this point, I couldn't fathom marrying someone I haven't been totally open with, someone whose personal questions I couldn't answer completely honestly. But not everyone feels that way, and back in the days I'm thinking of, including before and just after my mission, I didn't realize there was anything to hide anyway, just a nagging curiosity I needn't bother anyone with and which would surely be inconsequential once I was happily married and preparing to have a family.

I'm so glad I listened to my hesitations. I wasn't ready, even though I thought I was. And I would much rather begin a relationship on the kind of open, honest note I now feel ready for. In fact, its hard to say if my relationships with past girls may have been different if I'd been this self-aware back then. Who knows? But I know that, given my circumstances, I'm glad things have worked out as they have. Surprised? Yeah, me too: I forget this sometimes. Even if I wish circumstances had been different, I can't think of any chunk of my life I'd just as soon erase. I learned so much from each and have friendships and experiences from each which instructed and enlarged and challenged me.

Anyway, even though I sometimes wonder how my life might be different, even better, had I married a girl, I'm glad I didn't at the time. I'm glad I didn't start a relationship with a large part of myself in the shadows. I'm glad I've been able to explore my questions and path without the worries of how it might affect a family, even though I know that's just part of being a family and might not consider it a burden if I had one. I'm glad I've learned what I have about myself which I'm not sure I would have allowed myself to learn had I been married. Even though I'll never be perfect enough to be a perfect husband or partner, I'm glad I listened to that quiet inner voice which said, "You have some things to figure out that are essential to the kind of relationship you want and need." I'm glad I listened to the concern I felt when I realized I couldn't look back at her quite the way she looked at me and couldn't imagine putting her through decades of wondering why she wasn't good enough for me to return that gaze. Sometimes, I think I've been afraid to say these things because I don't want to induce someone to unnecessarily regret their own decision to marry or anything like it. But I have to be honest that I'm glad I didn't marry a girl when I thought I could have. And yet, that doesn't mean I would diminish the goodness of these girls by acting like I somehow dodged a bullet or that I think I'd be miserable with them. It just means I think things worked out as was best, with them happily married with children now and me figuring things out. And again, I haven't closed the door on the possibility that a marriage with a woman could (theoretically) potentially not only work but best meet my desires and needs, doable now that I have been through what I've been through and have more perspective. But hashing all of that out in words is still another post...




BIG BUT (a sort of epilogue to not end this post on an unintended note):

In talking with a friend or two (or reading blog entries by some) who did marry before coming to terms with their own homosexuality, they've admitted to times when they've wondered what life might be like had they not married. For example, one might think of his family and realize he wouldn't trade them for anything, and part of him is glad he got married when he did because he's not sure he ever would've consciously chosen to had he come to terms with his own homosexuality more honestly beforehand. One friend said he considers himself blessed to have his wife (and believes his wife when she says she's blessed to have him), even if he does sometimes wonder what it would've been like to have a relationship with a man.

I've replied that even though I'm glad to have my options before me, and even though I firmly believe gay/SSA people should absolutely be up front about their homosexuality before marrying someone, I completely affirm the attitude of being grateful for what one does have and not focusing unnecessarily on what "might have been". What's done is done, and anyone can play that game, but with what purpose? He can't go back and tell her ahead of time. That's over. And he's married with children. Some people believe their only option is to pursue a same-sex relationship or to be a husband and father legally only and to live an otherwise independent life or open the marriage. And I know that you can't always simplify a situation down to "you made a commitment, and it would be selfish to go back on the promises you made." But I still insist that, if at all possible, the best option is to maintain the agreement made at the inception of the relationship, to keep the contract and conditions understood at the beginning, and to stay together for the good of the children if a happy home can be built or restored. Even though I have good friends with children who have divorced, and I understand their situations as well as a never-married gay friend can *smirk* and don't look down on them at all for their decision and see how it's sometimes even better that way, I am always happy when a couple can keep their family together and become a stronger couple through whatever trial they face.

I wonder how many gay folks married to members of the opposite sex who say they wouldn't trade their spouse and family for anything, if they were sent back to before they met their spouse and forgot they ever had a family, and same-sex partnership wasn't proscribed by beliefs and was considered no different from mixed-sex partnership (procreative methods aside), would never have chosen to marry their spouse or even have considered marrying someone of the opposite sex. I wonder how many of them would have instead pursued a relationship with someone of the same sex, without the challenges of a mixed-orientation marriage, and married for life, maybe adopting children. And if they were then to remember their past life in a mixed-orientation marriage, what they would feel, how they would compare their experiences, etc. I think you have to acknowledge that maybe, if society were different, and personal beliefs about truth were different, some would've chosen differently, at least for a while. But the choice they have before them is now.

I've said to such a friend something like, "I believe you wouldn't trade your family for anything, and that's beautiful. And even if you would have been with a guy if you had it to do over again, I don't think you should let that bother you. It's natural to wonder what might have been. If you have to mourn it, mourn it, but I'd say you're right to let it go because you have a really great wife who's a great companion, and you have great kids, and you clearly love all of your family. I'm not one to believe you're just accepting a consolation prize because you weren't able to have the real deal. I believe you are choosing what matters most to you and what you most value, as we all are. What you have has possibly already proven better than what most people have, and better than you might otherwise have had. How can you possibly know? I can tell your family is your greatest joy. The 'what ifs' might always be there to some extent, but if you can let go of them, knowing yourself and your situation, you have a great 'what is' right in front of you. I have to say that as I face the prospect of maybe finding a partner and building a life with him (or possibly her), or possibly never finding anyone after all, or who knows what, what you have now is enviable and beautiful to me in such a meaningful way, even if challenging in ways I may never fully understand. From my vantage point, it could be a shame to trade what you have for what you might have theoretically missed out on and which may or may not prove to be everything your imagination makes it out to be. What you have seems well worth the struggle to keep it, and though I have no illusions about you being perfect, I really respect your perspective and commitment to the most important people in your life and have faith in your ability to continue finding even more joy with them as you have been doing. I know you don't need my support or approval, but I just wanted you to know that this particular skeptical agnostic fully supports you." And I still mean it. But what do you think? For those of you in that place, what is your reaction/response to such thoughts? Are they lacking? Comforting? Meh?

If the Church's position changed...

...and a revelation was announced in which those in same-sex relationships were offered full membership in the church, short of temple sealings and endowment for not-already-endowed members, and were to be given all the same callings anyone else in a non-temple marriage could have, I don't think it would have any bearing on whether I 'went back to the church'. I mention that scenario because I think it's the most likely eventual (WAY down the road) change in acceptance of same-sex couples, if any. But even if they started sealing same-sex couples and calling men and women in such pairings to apostleship (since surely women would be given the priesthood by that point, too, which incidentally I consider possibly more likely than my first scenario), I can't imagine that changing anything where the church is concerned. I've always believed that, but it's become increasingly clear to me.

I know this doesn't help any 'cause' of trying to pressure the church into changing its position or policy so gay people will come back to it in droves or so that current gay members who don't want to leave will have a cozier home in the church. What it would do is make it easier for me to just go and enjoy the community and positive principles, free to date guys and marry one if I met someone who was right for me, and play along for the sake of family and friends who might feel more comfortable if I were going. But I'm just saying...these are two separate--though obviously interconnected or related in certain ways--issues, and my views of the veracity of the church's collective and individual historical or doctrinal claims, let alone those of the Bible, don't hinge on it. *shrug*

Ted Cox presentation on JIM and ex-gay movement

I've found this presentation by Ted Cox, a straight, ex-LDS writer who went to a JIM weekend undercover and shares his experience and interpretations, pretty interesting, although he does tend to fall into the tendency to dismiss ideas based on personal choices of certain of those who espouse and promulgate them, and he clearly has a bias. But so do the creators of JIM, so...y'know. One thing I find interesting is that I've found myself nodding at many points but saying, "Eh, now wait a minute, that's not entirely on-point," at others.

If you're uncomfortable with some crude language and humor, you might want to skip over the first 2 1/2 minutes. In fact, up until about 4:45 of part 1 is just intro stuff that's not necessarily relevant. There's incidental language throughout the rest, but nothing too in-your-face, from what I've seen in the first 6 parts so far. To get to the rest of the parts, either watch this until the end and follow the links in the video, or click on the video to bring up a YouTube page with some of them listed on the right.

14 November 2010

Breakfast With Scot

The other night, after watching weekly TV shows with some buddies, we decided to see what was on Netflix and agreed on Breakfast With Scot. It deals with a gay couple who don't show any glaringly obvious stereotypical gay traits who end up caring for a young boy whose mother died and who is waiting for her ex-boyfriend, into whose custody she willed her son, who is also the brother of one of them. They quickly learn this boy stands out like a sore thumb among his peers for his love of things that are decidedly not traditionally masculine, let's say, and most of the movie deals with them learning to adapt to having a child in their lives and the latent insecurities his lack of 'fitting in' brings out in them, particularly the former hockey player who's been playing it straight in public for most of his life. It's no Oscar-winner, but I really enjoyed it and would recommend it for a fun, somewhat thoughtful, and heart-warming watch. I think I'll add it to my regular holiday season list. :-)

Moho self-absorption

Many of my straight/hetero friends have met many of my gay/SSA friends. They most often really like each other or at least get along fine. But if there's one thing my straight friends have most noted about the mohos, as opposed to other gay or straight friends they have, it's that they seem unusually self-absorbed. And they're not just talking about the self-denying ones or the newbies who are in their early stages of gay adolescence. I want to make it clear that these same friends have made it clear they genuinely like many of my moho friends and think they're nice, or fun, or accomplished, or whatever. But there's just a sort of lack of outward-reaching interest beyond occasional token gestures. And some of that can come from things like shyness of mohos around certain of my friends, or being new to hanging out with people they can be open around, or whatever. But I've heard it enough that it's given me pause on a few occasions.

I can't deny it. That's not to say we don't care about anyone but ourselves. Usually quite the contrary, I think, though there are clearly exceptions. It's not to say we're self-centered in the sense that we only think of ourselves in making decisions, harming others with behaviors in selfish abandon. There are as many of those as in any other crowd, but I'm not sure there are any more so, and where there are, they shouldn't get a free pass. And let's be honest, we're still (mostly) guys, and guys often aren't as great at showing interest as girls in general. And yes, sometimes the collective voices of blogs or discussion groups take on an overpoweringly "woe is me" tone, which is probably not productive and can be annoying. But what I think they mean is that many individuals tend to be very caught up, in our heads and in conversation in groups, in figuring ourselves out, resolving our internal conflicts, deciding what path to follow, and doing what it takes to follow the path we've chosen which, either way, is often a non-negligible effort to shift certain paradigms and deal with severe social and internal consequences and stress, and it comes across as disinterest in anything outside of our immediate sphere of mohodom.

Unfortunately, I think it's that conflict or ongoing effort to maintain a perspective and help others to do so (an indicator that it really is no casual effort and requires more than praying and fasting away the gay or more than fooling around with your first crush and calling it a relationship), combined with 'fighting' and 'striving' to be a certain kind of man or woman, combined with possible years of feeling inadequate, incomplete, assaulted (by one side or another) broken, or sinful which often overshadows what would otherwise be a very sensitive, perceptive, affirming personality. In a way, it seems tragic to me. But in a way, it can be a growing process which may eventually lead to a more whole, confident, re-integrated person in the long run...hopefully...and hopefully without losing the unique parts of one's personality which have set him or her apart from others.

So to those who seem bent on harping on mohos for self-absorption, I say fine: you may be right. But you don't get to do that and harp on them to comply with what you think they should be doing with their lives. You don't get to add to the chorus of voices telling them how to live and then harp on them for being caught up or nearly obsessive in trying to take your commandments seriously and finding it far more difficult than maybe you've ever known it to be. If you're doing both, go find a carbon copy of yourself to abuse. You're a tyrannical ass, and it shows in your eyes. You probably know your hypocrisy and dishonesty, somewhere deep inside of you, which is what makes you so cold.

To the rest of you, please forgive your moho if he or she seems a bit self-absorbed at times. Help them come outside of their 'struggle' or efforts sometimes, constructively reminding them that you want and need their interest and attention sometimes, too, appealing to what may be their actual natural tendency to care about others rather than scolding them for being something bad and uncaring. But allow them some time to ruminate and to process as well. This is tough stuff for many, whether or not you think it 'should be' and they should just buck up or just follow the prophet or just embrace their gayness. Unfortunately, they're often in a conflict between their most prominent or even cherished beliefs and one of the most powerful human emotional drives--that of (emotionally and physically) intimate companionship--and it's causing them a great deal of dissonance and necessary personal adjustment, even after heading down one path or another. Many of them eventually figure out a satisfactory balance which allows them to carry on. Some take a long time, others less so.

There are some who completely eschew all gay influences in their lives and try to just live on their own, forging a life of heteronormativity the best they know how, and they may succeed, at least for a time. Others may have left the church when they're young and have developed relatively normally within social circles which unquestioningly accept their homosexuality and don't constantly remind them that they've chosen to forfeit Celestial Glory. Either of these are probably less self-absorbed in the way most mohos are, but they've distanced themselves from conflicting voices, an option which may not be available, desirable, or right to many mohos, especially those who come to terms with things later in life.

Some are actively involved with the church and have a supportive community of friends who share their challenge and want to similarly live the standards of the church. Some will marry, others won't. Either way, their friends will have ups and downs and will need each other for support and simply can't go back to the notion that you're better off shoving it all under the rug and isolating yourself from those who personally understand what you're going through...they've seen that as a path which worked for a while but which stifled their true potential and emotional connection with their spouses or others in their life. As such, even among those who are firm and unyielding in their path, there will be exposure to doubts from friends questioning whether it's all worth it, whether the Lord would understand if they just found a same-sex partner for this life and left the rest to be resolved in the next, repenting for slipping up again, or simply needing an emotional recharge from trusted male friends who know what they've been through.

I do have moho friends I would consider not self-absorbed at all, at least no more than anyone else in or out of the church. It's not everyone.

But it may be me. At least sometimes. And when I realize it, I try to focus more outwardly, let go of the conflict or needing to decide where I'm headed and what, exactly, it entails, and see where I can respond to the needs of or learn about the interests of others, getting outside of myself. There's a balance. And maybe at times I will have to quiet the voices on one side or another...or both, in order to sort out my own way.

My friends have often followed up their observations of self-absorption with something like, "I just wish they showed more personal interest in things other than their own struggle and social circles, but despite my own challenges in life, I can't imagine what mohos go through, trying to reconcile all of that, so it's hard to fault them too much." I've appreciated that. And it makes me want to make sure I'm that much less self-absorbed, or more outward-reaching, so I don't take that kind of friendship for granted.

10 November 2010

Pioneering paths and pitfalls

Note: this post began as a comment on my previous post and became a monster.



JIM SKEPTICISM

As is reflected in many of my posts, I'm quite skeptical of aspects of JIM, which skepticism is partially why I don't know if I'd ever be welcome even if I did have the money for it...that and my non-theist bent...and refusal to unquestioningly accept, even if I'd listen to and consider, a "life coach's" insistence about the causes and sources of my deepest emotional needs in a moment of cathartic vulnerability.


JIM BENEFITS?

But I've always said I don't doubt I could learn a lot about myself from one of those weekends, even if I am comfortable being my own man whether or not I fit anyone else's idea of "masculinity" and whether or not I think the weekend has anything to do with changing my attractions. ...And whether or not I think some valuable tools and true principles are attached to potentially completely wrong paradigms and assumptions, something I admit I may not be able to know unless I actually went and experienced it for myself...kind of like being in a healthy same-sex relationship, eh? But hey, reservations aside, I've been learning to 'follow my heart' and be willing to experience and listen to different things and take the good from them that I find and leave the stuff I consider superfluous or invalid.

I could imagine going to a JIM weekend under no false pretense if allowed, learning some cool stuff about myself and gaining clarity on a thing or two, quietly acknowledging the exercises or ideas I think are overwrought or contrived without imposing my skepticism on someone else's experience, maybe being surprised by the intensity of my own experience, giving consideration to the explanations given, and using what's useful and disagreeing with what I think is wrong, being open to the possibility that much less is wrong than I suspected.


ODDS AGAINST MOMS?

As for the statistical odds for 'mixed-orientation marriages', I don't know that I've seen reliable studies about it, but my observations seem to confirm that they aren't great. After all, I personally know several people who couldn't hold their marriages together, say they are happier in a long-term same-sex relationship than they ever were in their marriage with someone of the opposite sex, or who have held their marriages together but who (whether the SSA person or the spouse or both) confide to a few that they're quite unhappy and don't know if happiness is ahead but will probably never end the marriage out of obligation to their children and covenants, making it look to most people like a 'successful' marriage just because they're still together. I know many gay people who say they've never known a gay person in a mixed-orientation marriage who didn't eventually get divorced, didn't cheat on their spouse (usually often), and didn't confide in them that they weren't happy. But most of these cases, when pressed, admit their homosexuality either was not discussed before marrying, still hasn't been discussed or addressed openly, or was only discussed after being caught cheating or viewing pornography and therefore 'didn't go so well' and was off to a rough start.


HUNTING FOR HAPPY MOMS

I believe there are happy MOMs, but in order to know the couples who are happily married, you probably have to be in the right 'circles'. You often don't find them at Pride, or otherwise hanging out in 'out and proud' circles, or frequenting comments on The Advocate. They're most often quietly living their lives, often relying on a support network of other similar couples. Maybe they'll 'go public' more as society learns to accept and tolerate them, rather than pigeonholing them as doomed to failure and a threat to gay self-acceptance, and they're free to 'come out'. I personally also know several mixed-orientation couples who have been happily married for years, some for well over 15 years, a couple for decades. And because I personally know some of them fairly well, and a couple of them very well, I don't find it hard to believe they are, in fact, as happily married as any other married couple. Many or most of these were communicating openly about the issue from the beginning, and almost all of the rest weren't but have become so, with support systems in place for both spouses to help them through. Some observers say they'd rather not 'have to' have such a support system to stay married, myself included, but that's every individual's choice to make. Many of these have had rough spots, maybe more so than your average couple or maybe not--I can't know for sure. But they also usually confidently say they wouldn't trade what they have for the world and are glad they married and/or are glad they stayed together. And I typically believe them. But yes, many of them have been married fewer than 10 years. We'll see, but how disgusting might it feel to know the vultures are just waiting for your relationship to fail? I believe in optimism tempered with realism, but when it comes to hoping for friends' happiness, I try to let faith win out.


WHAT ABOUT SUBSETS?

Probable statistical odds conceded, we don't know the statistical odds for the subset of couples who married having communicated openly about the issue before marrying and throughout the marriage, having done therapy and support group work to explore their emotional needs and fill desires and needs for friendship and non-sexual intimacy in certain ways, developing their sex life, etc. Whether it's about "changing orientation" or about coping mechanisms or emotional fulfillment, I'd guess the success rates of that particular subset are much higher--though even if so there will still be ended/failed marriages, yes, and I wouldn't know what consolation to offer those in that group--than those who "had the right intentions" and tried to "make it work" in a diffuse sort of way or maybe even went to couple's counseling. It's possible that of the however many percent of mixed-orientation marriages which ARE successful and happy, many of those share common threads which, if identified and applied on a larger scale, could greatly improve similar marriages. Who knows? Some try seemingly weird things in the process of learning what makes the best relationships tick, and unless there's demonstrable evidence that particular practices are harmful for all people, why not focus on cautioning those who want to try them rather than simply squashing the whole thing? As for JIM in general, my personal conversations and reading tell me claims that the weekend was traumatizing or harmful overall are the very small minority. But these are the kinds of questions some are willing (and yes, sometimes desperate) to explore and experiment on because it matters so much to them to try, both the gay/SSA people and the ones who love them and want to be with them, challenges and all.


"I NEED A HERO!"

I am concerned about guys who see examples like Preston's and think, "He's my hero! I'm going to be just like him!" First of all, Preston's journey and those of others who have done similarly are unique to each person in their challenges and timelines, and their journeys aren't as perfect as many guys wishing for the same seem to think when they see stuff like this Nightline condensation of the last several years of his life in a snapshot now. When do you think people agree to be interviewed for shows like that? When they're struggling and down, or when they're on a high and have been doing pretty darn well for a while? Do you think they're never going to have some down times again in their long, gradual personal progress, at least like anyone else in the world dealing with a long-term challenge? There have been times I'm pretty sure they'd describe as 'difficult', not just an 'adventure', especially when they don't feel pressured to represent an organization or program which has helped them approach those difficulties better equipped and with more courage but are speaking on a purely personal level. But though I may wish they'd be more up front about it, many of them will admit to honest questioners and newcomers privately, where it can be discussed in a trusting environment, that it's not always easy, and they'll discuss the challenges and realities, and they'll reassert their belief that it's been worth it and is getting better all the time with the things they've been learning. Many of those I know try to help others learn from, rather than repeat, whatever mistakes they may have made and prepare them for the inevitable ups and downs by sharing what has brought them greater peace and happiness each step of the way. Such is the pattern of pioneering, mentorship, building on the knowledge and experience of those who dared to go before, whether or not the idea or practice being pioneered proves 'true' in the long run or right for everyone.


TO EACH HIS OWN

I've never let anyone showing me statistics about the success rates or longevity of gay relationships or 'explaining' to me the realities/superficiality of homosexual love make my decision for me as to whether I dare to try to defy the odds or find out for myself what that love can be. I've processed the information I've found and referred back to my own perceptions, experience, beliefs, and 'moral compass'. I've asserted there were other confounding factors involved, and my experience needn't be that of the majority, particularly if I wasn't going about it in the way the majority seems to. I wonder if I'd have a harder time forging my own path if I lived in a time when the majority of the scientific community did think homosexuality was a mental disorder, and you'd have been hard-pressed to find a gay man who believed in monogamy and long-term commitment between two men, much less had lived it.

I've also seen guys (and gals) try to do all the 'right' things, go to the 'right' groups, and keep the 'right' perspectives, and end up bleak and unhappy, a few even attempting to take their own lives when they can't understand why they're not so 'successful' and happy in that path as their testifying counterparts seem to be. I want to make sure folks like that know that there are options, that they haven't lost their only hope if they can't seem to bring themselves to marry a woman (or a woman to marry a man) in whatever timeline they'd imagined. I want them to know how to find others who won't insist they abandon their personal beliefs, values, or principles in order to conform to a prepackaged path.

I cannot make the decision for anyone else or predict who will thrive in a certain path and who will despair...nor presume to know exactly why. The best I can do is raise a voice of caution when I'm genuinely concerned, show others what has worked for me, listen to and learn from the experiences of others, encourage others to seek truth and happiness the best they know how and to live by their proven values and principles rather than letting anyone else prescribe their decisions, offer my ear and voice as they explore, and offer my hand if they want to walk with me.


PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

If a mixed-sex couple in which one spouse experiences predominant same-sex attraction grow old together, having a rich and fulfilling life together with their children and grandchildren, I suspect hearing "well, you were the exception to the rule" or "your example led to suicides of those who never knew you, never bothered to ask you about the realities of your situation or whether you believed all people should do it the way you did it, bought into a version of your story promulgated by those who thought you would fail, and consequently despaired when they didn't become straight within a year or two like they presumptuously thought you had" is highly unlikely to quell their gratitude for their decision to determine their own path to truth and happiness.

And I will determine mine.

09 November 2010

Nightline's Journey Into Manhood

Note: For a more complete picture of my views on Journey Into Manhood and related efforts, see my blog entries marked with the labels Journey Into Manhood or Therapy of Homosexuality.



I was going to title this "JIM-Dandies on Nightline", but a friend who has been quite heavily involved with JIM for quite some time seemed genuinely offended when I said "JIM-dandies" a few weeks ago, and though I've wondered how he couldn't see that it's not meant to be "pejorative" as he said but good-natured ribbing, cheekiness isn't what this post is about, so I refrained...except for this paragraph. *smirk*

Nightline finally aired a story about Journey Into Manhood they filmed this summer, and it's a bit shorter than I expected, and less a personal narrative than I had the impression it would be, but it seems like a pretty fair approach to the issue of certain efforts of guys to deal with "unwanted same-sex attraction", probably as balanced as I've seen on any major news media.

The weekend portrayed was a reunion of sorts, not an actual, regular JIM weekend. The report included some exercises, but not nearly all of them. There are more intense and personalized exercises throughout the weekend, I understand. The ones portrayed in the report reminded me of some in which I participated at an Evergreen Conference in 2006 or 2007, when Rich Wyler presented about the experiential weekend in a workshop. For example, I was to stand face-to-face with another workshop attendee, just inside our comfort bubble, look into each other's eyes, and think of the "story" I was telling myself about who he is, why he's here, where he came from, what his traits are, etc. And hold the stare despite discomfort, paying attention to the feelings arising in that discomfort, letting them surface. Were we feeling vulnerable? Were we laughing nervously? Did we want to look away? Why? Etc. Not life-changing, but interesting and instructive. He told us this and a couple of others we did were just a small sample of the more intensive, deeper exercises we could expect from the weekend if we were to go.

But regardless of whether we got any real feel for the weekend from the story, I think I'm glad the story has been told. And to be honest, what stood out to me more than anything about the Journey Into Manhood weekend was just the personal perspective and story of a gay guy who married a woman and is choosing his path forward. I won't comment in much detail about the subjects, Preston and Megan specifically, since I do know them personally. I'll just say I believe them when they say they're doing well now, they're happy, and they're looking forward to their new addition to the family!

I have to admit that when the reporter talked about Preston achieving his dream of becoming a father, my heart swelled a little at the thought, and despite fighting some resentment towards him in connection with feeling like he contributed personally to my pain this summer, I couldn't help but feel warmly happy for him and Megan because I, too, have always hoped to one day have a family. I know that dream. I believe in its joy. And while I'm busy trying to sort out whether I'm prepared for the challenges of building a family with another man or the challenges of building a family with a woman, he is actually living that dream.

I couldn't help but feel a glimmer of a wish that I could have that, the picture I had in my head when I was young, before I realized my own attractions weren't geared towards women. I couldn't help but acknowledge my recurring notion over the past month that maybe I'm not cut out for this whole gay crusader thing, or not interested in the struggles accompanying same-sex companionship, and would be better off finding a woman who's willing to take on the challenge if I am, or at least being open and available should such a woman come along. In that state of mind, I've considered doing whatever it takes, whatever others have experienced as working for them to work towards being prepared for that step--marriage with a woman--even if I don't necessarily have the same motivations for doing it or ascribe all of the same explanations to the exercises.

Maybe I want to "drink the Kool-Aid" if the end result is the kind of happiness I have always most wanted and if the alternatives just don't work for me. Maybe I can't "have it all", and I have to choose what I most want and value, and what I most want and value can be found with a woman as well as with a man. Maybe I'll find that if/when a woman comes along for whom I genuinely fall, as I'd need to in order to marry in good conscience, it won't feel like a compromise after all, like being with a guy hasn't felt like the compromise I once thought it would be.

In that light, making this admission (which admission I suppose may anger, frustrate, or elate some of you), and at the risk of validating what they're saying by questioning rather than "confidently" decrying their dastardly self-deception, how can I blame the guy I dated for choosing to end whatever we had to try to find happiness similar to what such a good guy as Preston testifies has worked for him? And if I can experience what I'm thinking and feeling without even bringing God into the equation, how can I possibly demean anyone for wanting to try efforts to reject a "gay identity" in favor of hope for heterosexual marriage which will bring less friction socially and will allow them to procreate with their spouse, especially when they believe such marriage is key to celestial glory and that same-sex companionship is not only strictly temporal but also completely opposed to a most fundamental 'purpose' of our existence?

Whether or not I would do it exactly like Preston or think it's "right" to do it exactly like he has, how can I not feel love for his happiness and respect for his and Megan's right to pursue what they want according to their beliefs and desires? As much as I worry their story may seduce many young men into years of unnecessary conflict before realizing it didn't have to be that way and there is growth, joy, and love in value- and principle-based living outside of the JIM or reparative paradigm, I can't possibly fault Preston and Megan for wanting to share their experience, to make their story known to those who would like a similar life for themselves. And as much as I believe their past hasn't always been so sunny, I can't help but set aside childishly defensive cynicism in order to take them at face value and just be genuinely happy that they're happy.


On that vein, I enjoyed the end of this clip (from 4:10 on):



NOTE: For some reason, the video isn't working lately on ABC's web site, but you can see it on Hulu, and the clip I refer to at the end begins at 19:54. I'll embed it below:

08 November 2010

Is mortal love ruined?

As I was driving tonight, I forget what train of thought brought me there, but I had a bit of a realization.

I spent twenty-some years firmly believing that family relationships, beginning with the sealing covenant of temple marriage, are not only meant to be eternally binding and unifying but are the central apex of the entire purpose of our existence now and into eternal immortality. I spent twenty-some years pitying those whose marriages were for time only and hoping they'd eventually choose to be sealed by (LDS) priesthood authority and keep their families together forever. I spent several years believing same-sex couples won't even have that option, to make their unions eternal. That they are definitely and finally separated at death, which makes their lifetime together a mere bandaid of temporal comfort which will sting that much more when removed. I believed that the truest, most beautiful, most godlike, most loving, eternal, glorious, celestial relationships were unions solemnified in holy houses of the Lord, built on love of God first, and the pure love Christ for each other, forged by the priesthood (power of God through men), all else being secondary and maybe primarily mortal...lower.

Now, I'm afraid that next to that, no relationship other than a temple marriage will ever seem quite as wonderful and glorious as it otherwise should. No worlds without end, no celestial king and queen, no bond forged eternally by God and unbreakable by any man, no love supposedly gifted/borrowed from deity. I'm afraid of what might happen if I never shake those notions, that I might marry or partner with a beautiful, wonderful man (or even woman) and always, in the back of my mind, even if I no longer believe we continue living after death, vaguely or diffusely regard our relationship as inferior to those of my temple-married family and friends.

I actually teared up at the thought that "regular" love, even if it's the storybook love most people are jealous of and which lasts a lifetime and builds a family, might be ruined in my mind, inferior by its mortality, that some part of me might never let go of what I thought it was supposed to be.

I'm not sure this fear is something I'm willing to just hope goes away when I find someone. Since I've never gotten as far as "committed", but the love I've felt for a guy or two I've fallen for has felt as 'divine' as any I've known, I suppose I don't know whether this would've come up or whether it's a non-issue. Just seems like something I should at least be aware of and not sweep under the rug to resurface in a relationship. For now, though, it's just a thought...back burner...I've got bigger fish to fry.

06 November 2010

Longing for home

I have dozens of posts started, many delving into sociological, physiological, existential, religious, interpersonal, or other questions, analyses, and musings. I have audio entry after audio entry I've been meaning to transcribe or post. I've been typing out old journal entries and musing on some of my observations and surprises from ten years ago. I have experiences to share, a story to put together. But most of it seems unimportant tonight because tonight...I just have a feeling, and it's one that threads back to simpler times of childhood.

It's a chilly, damp night here, and I can hear the rain pattering outside. Classic autumn weather for this region. I was going to meet some friends, but after a night "in" with my nieces, I was dragging my feet. I fell asleep on the floor next to my cat...well, now my brother's family's cat since about 4 years ago. He'd rather stalk you than cuddle you most of the time, so I just laid down a foot or so away from him where he could be aloof and disinterested. I woke up after a nap and decided I wasn't going anywhere. The kids were getting ready for bed, so I made a hot cup of hibiscus pomegranate herbal tea, went downstairs to my "lair" (basement of my brother's house), changed into red plaid flannel PJ bottoms and a comfy brown sweater, and wondered what book I might read. No career planning, no budgeting, no IMing, no photo editing, blogging (oops), or stressing about what else I might be doing or whether my friends are having fun I'm missing out on. Just nestling in and getting all snuggied up for the night.

What struck me, as I got all comfy, was that I am yearning for "home". When I was a child, my family's house was home. It was what I knew, what I grew up with. It was familiar, comfortable, secure...it was me. I was it. Everything was attached to a memory, everything was "ours". Now, I want my own home. I want my own little block of the world, filled with my stuff and my memories. I want my fireplace, and I want my blanket to wrap up in on my couch, not one I'm mooching. I want my choices of artwork, my reflections, my photos, my books, my tools. Or ours. I have to admit that when I felt this yearning for "home", what most readily stood out was the idea of me getting all cozy along with someone special who is my home. Settling in for the night after a day's work, household chores, and family duties to read in our chairs in the evening after the kids (if any) have gone to sleep, or to bundle up together as a couple or as a family in our flannel jammies for a movie and hot chocolate and sourdough toast fingers or to sip herbal tea with my partner/spouse and talk about nothing important, or our goals for the week, or plans, or the kids' activities. But even if there's not a family or a special someone, I want a real, tangible "home" of my own, someplace I toil to make comfortable, clean, and secure.

Maybe this is a passing feeling. Maybe I'll be back to my nomadic ways and abstract notions of home tomorrow morning. Maybe the grass is greener. Maybe it's the autumn triggering treasured childhood memories. Maybe it's the juxtaposition of simpler perspectives and current complexities. Maybe it's living with my brother's family again. Maybe it's job-hunting and budgeting and planning for the future. Maybe it's recent reminders of the ways I felt so "at home" with [him]. Maybe it's a little of all of the above. But tonight, I'm remembering, and longing for, and planning towards, and looking forward to...home.

For now, back to that carefree nestling on a mooched couch...