05 December 2011

...But do keep dreaming.

"There is no fullness of joy in the next life without a family unit, including a husband, a wife, and posterity. Further, men are that they might have joy. In the eternal perspective, same-gender activity will only bring sorrow and grief and the loss of eternal opportunities." - Elder Oaks

The otherwise righteous who must wait until after death to find out if they're set up for a fullness of joy: the childless, all never-married people, people who married outside of the temple, people who married in the temple but whose spouses have not been true to the covenants made.

On one hand, that's a lot of people who have to trust that "it'll all work out somehow". On the other hand, that's some pretty good company. Not that I think homo single folks in the church actually are asked the same as hetero single folks in the church. That's probably another post for another time, but the short version is implied in the quote above: "same-gender activity" quite clearly does not refer exclusively to sexual activity, promiscuity, or lifetime partnership.

Options for gay people (or "those who experience primarily or exclusively same-sex attraction") in the Church, according to Oaks:
  1. marry someone of the opposite sex if you have your behavior under control and same-sex attractions in the background and find someone of the opposite sex to whom you're attracted enough to raise a family with him or her,
  2. stay single your whole life, never dating or experiencing even romantic, non-sexual intimacy, and hope to be married after this life in order to experience "fullness of joy",
  3. choose "sorrow and grief and the loss of eternal opportunities" by having any kind of romantic partnership with another member of the same sex.

This does not jibe, as I see it, with insistence on the part of some that the LDS Church is warming up to committed same-sex partnership at least as a "for time only" (as opposed to "for time and all eternity") option. Honestly, while not everyone is quite so explicitly proscriptive as Oaks, I know of no member of the quorum of the twelve, nor any seventy, making statements otherwise. Some members may be, but I just don't see any acceptance of even non-sexual same-sex dating anywhere in any statements, official, informal, or otherwise, from any of the church's leadership at any level above an occasional stake presidency.

I don't want to go so far as to say, to those who believe the church is on the brink of a 1978-style declaration, that you're fooling yourselves, but...I think there's a lot of wishful thinking among segments of the church's membership in this regard.

02 November 2011

Bygone love letter

I still feel a flicker. It's dim and very occasionally offers brief waves of warmth. Sometimes, an echo of what I felt for you glances off of another memory shrinking in the distance behind me. I can't help but compare what I feel with others today and what I felt with you back then, though that comparison becomes more hazy with distance, which is sometimes frustrating, other times relieving. Sometimes, a place, a person, or a song reminds me of something about you, and for a crystal clear instant, I remember what it felt like. I smile at the joy I felt and fondly embrace the scene...to give it a hug goodbye. I think of you still, but I feel at peace with moving forward. It feels right. We've grown apart, and there is no starting where we left off, if there is ever any kind of relationship at all in store.

Goodness knows I see things, including you, differently now than I did when I hoped so fully that you were the one. Call it irreconcilable differences. But that doesn't change the fact that you--the version of you I perceived--are woven into my psyche, and I see no need to defensively extract you from my fabric. I may always be a little in love. I don't know how much time must pass before my eyes stop occasionally moistening at the wish that you had been the one, the thought of how at home I used to feel with you. I try not to ask myself "what if," a mostly successful effort. I felt what I felt, which seemed right at the time. I don't need to justify those feelings or explain them away. And I'm distant enough now that I can look back without defensively leaning away or longing for what was.

I could try to prove my old feelings right by clinging to what I hoped they meant, against evidence or reason. I accept that what I felt filled a need in my life and gave me something to invest in, belong to, hope for, serve, and be lifted by. It made sense with what I knew at the time. It animated me with a feeling that whatever else happened, what mattered most was being with you. Now that I've lost what I once thought I most wanted, I'm re-learning what I want and need and how to find it. I'm determining whether I can expect to feel that again or whether it's a beautiful but illusory memory which I should not even want to repeat. Is it foolish to hope for the same feelings but with something which proves itself? Is it a loss of faith to move forward more soberly without expecting the same emotional experience?

I'll just move forward and cope without pretending I can completely shut you out. My friendships remind me of you. My journal reminds me of you. Who I am today reminds me of you and how you imprinted my life, for better and for worse. Sometimes I'll almost instinctively say something I picked up from you, and I'll smirk that you're still in my head that little bit. But I wasn't one to leave when staying was hard, and I'm not one to go back when nostalgia pricks a tear duct. I accept the feelings, but I choose not to fight for you because you do not want to be fought for, and you are not, on paper, what I need or want.

I will not be a doormat and pretend you did nothing wrong, but I also believe you were doing your best. We grew apart. Maybe I'm wrong and should have changed. Maybe you're wrong and should have changed. But we came together under a certain agreement, knowing what each other was, and in time, it became clear that it wasn't a fit. I could try to stay and change you, but I saw that was not your goal, so I said my piece and forced myself away on reluctant, trudging feet. I have since gained clarity and insight to what I believe and want, so even though I loved what I felt with you, and would love to feel that again and be satisfied with what we had, there could be no going back even if you did somehow change. I'm afraid if you tried to bend as far as I'd need, you'd break entirely.

The you I thought existed might not ever have been quite real, but the you I believed in was good, and our relationship was good for me in many ways. It gave me opportunities to serve and grow and love and learn, and I felt like I was part of something special. I believe that even though we ended up disagreeing and parted on somewhat cold, detached terms, you generally mean well and are good-hearted, and I appreciate our relationship for the good it brought and the lessons I learned.

So let's acknowledge the experiences, the memories, the ways we impacted each other and what we learned from it, and move on towards our separate horizons. I don't agree with everything you do or believe, as you don't agree with me, but I will probably always have a bit of a tender spot for you, what I once felt for you, and what I still do feel for you. If I feel anger or resentment towards you at times, it probably comes from a pain which can only be inflicted by those I've cared about. You were once my home, and though I don't want us to disrespect each other by "holding on" to what is bygone, that's not something I can bring myself to fully disregard as part of the whole of myself and yourself. I wish you well on your quest for truth and joy. I'll see you when I see you.

12 October 2011

Conversion therapy's elusive unicorn

From Facebook:
In response to comments in a previous post, this describes my experience and perspective well.

Former Love in Action Director: I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual
John Smid was once the director of Love in Action a longtime Exodus International affiliate based in Memphis, TN. I have always found John’s candor refreshing. My first contact with John was at an Exodus meeting where he questioned the slogan, “change is possible.”

O-Mo Whatever the cause of homosexuality/same-sex attractions, whatever the life choices, and whatever the malleability or future possibilities of change through therapy techniques and neuroscience yet to be discovered, the reality of _today_, as I see it, is that people do not change from mostly same-sex attracted/gay to mostly opposite-sex attracted/straight. Some claim to have changed but later recant, and a few have staked their income and reputation in the claim and persist in it. But when pressed, I have found more wordsmithing and perspective reframing for functional/behavioral change or cognitive adjustment than actual change in attractions. Still, I don't believe this should be used as ammunition to shoot down someone's personal, honest, carefully considered direction for their life in congruence with their beliefs, values, desires, and goals.

Guy1 People make this so damn complicated.... :-P for me it all boils down to what gets you off. ;) I've never had a conflict of faith and sexuality, of course, so I don't really understand the intricacies involved...to me, it seems like a simple no-brainer.

O-Mo Afterthought: While my observation matches his, I would not say, as he does, that "none of this can occur with homosexuality" with a more accurate, "I have never seen it occur."

Gal1 I agree... This brings up some very intruguing differences between attraction and behavior. Attraction - well, there's no need to "repent" of that, since it's something you can't change. Behavior, however, is something you are always accountable for. People will try to reason their way out of a lot of things, but ultimately you are the one in control of your actions.
I also like the point made toward the end of the article, that it is possible to be in love with someone you are not sexually attracted to. It's an interesting thought, in a culture that overexaggerates the importance of sexuality. When it really comes down to it, there is SO much more to love, true love anyway. If it's just sexuality involved, that is lust. Big difference.

O-Mo Yeah, Guy1, I've run into that same confusion with others who either were not raised in a homosexuality-shunning church or left at an early age. I don't know how to convey it. But even without religious conflicts, I've known some to struggle with what they really want.

Guy2 This is some good stuff O-Mo. I've actually had a lot of these thoughts on my mind the past few days. I have found so much peace and happiness finally in my life doing exactly what I have always been taught was wrong. Letting go of that "battle" between good and evil and just following what I feel is right in my heart has been such a blessing for me.

Guy1 I grew up in small-town mid-america. I never knew what gay was until I got online at the age of 15... I always knew what I found attractive, though. Perhaps it was because I grew up with such a streak of individuality that being gay never really bothered me, even though family and friends spoke ill of it once it started hitting popular culture. My mom tried to get me to go to church and her side of the family is pretty religious, but it never stuck with me. I only went for the grape juice and crackers. I was never able to think of any of the stories as literal...they just seemed like good stories and I enjoyed reading all sorts of books back then.

I was certainly a prude throughout my teen years and the first couple of college, but that wasn't because I thought I should be with girls! :) They never did anything for me...

O-Mo ‎Gal1, I want my spouse to be passionate with me, and even...dare I say...lusty. ;-) I don't care to downplay sexuality as part of a whole relationship because I really do value it, particularly as an intimate and bonding (not to mention certainly fun!) experience between partners built on trust, familiarity, and mutual investment. But I also know that if I _had_ to choose between sexual passion and, say, open communication or tender affection, sexual passion does not win out as a highest priority. I just hope I don't have to choose. ;-) Incidentally, I do know some guys who, despite still being primarily attracted to men, quite enjoy sexual intimacy with their wives, even if it's often not to the same level as it had been with men. Beliefs, choices, priorities...

O-Mo More on this: http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2011/10/10/37766

Guy1 It's certainly not unheard of to have an open relationship wherein there is emotional intimacy with your primary partner and then the allowance of both parties to have physical intimacy with others outside of the partnership. This happens in many relationship regardless of whether the couple is same orientation or mixed orientation.... Sometimes people love each other deeply and want to build a life together but don't click physically. Certainly isn't a reason to give up the relationship if both parties want to stay together.

I think if more people accepted the idea of "nontraditional" relationships, there would be less of a problem with divorce and you'd see more families sticking together (and being stronger). Just my opinion, of course. :)

O-Mo Ha, true. But again: religious or personal conflicts can prevent that from being considered an option. But that's why I have always found strength in remembering that I am imposing some of my own restrictions and therefore am not merely a victim.

Guy1 Sometimes we must work through conflicts for the betterment of ourselves and our relationships. ;) Flexibility in life is a good thing! Flexibility and conflict...always makes for a good story.

O-Mo It does, indeed. But can you stretch too much too fast and end up spraining something? ;-) Or bend something not meant to be bent and break something you shouldn't have broken? Heh.

Guy1 TIme and lube. Everything's possible with time and lube. (per Dan Savage) :-P

O-Mo NARTH has responded to this notion without actually mentioning it at all: http://narth.com/2011/10/2061/. I see problems in such follow-up studies, mainly that I have known guys who would have put themselves in the "Success: conversion" category who, when I pressed, conceded that their new attraction to women was more a curiosity and 'openness to the possibility' than an actual drive, but since that was more than they'd ever known, they considered it an 'increase in heterosexual attraction'. And...let's just say you needed only watch their eyes at a party to see which sex caught their inadvertent gaze more often. ;-) I also wonder how many respondents are married and therefore are not only self-limited in their life choices and self-identification but are measuring their progress not by generalized attraction but by attraction to their wife, specifically. Increased heterosexual function and intimacy with their spouse is wonderful and should be acknowledged rather than dismissed for political agenda, but I just don't see it as the same thing as 'becoming heterosexual'.

NARTH » Change in Sexual Orientation is Possible
Change in Sexual Orientation is Possible, Harm Unlikely, according to New Eviden...See More

O-Mo Let me clarify one point in my last paragraph: "appropriately and understandably self-limited". :-)

Gal1 You can be just as much a victim of your own "self-limiting" choices as you can from others'... just sayin' :P

28 September 2011

Hello eternal perspective, I'm John Wayne

A friend of mine just posted a link on Facebook to an article at The Mormon Women Project about a woman whose husband left her after coming out, titled An Eternal Perspective.

Since I haven't finished any of the myriad of drafts I've begun about various topics, I'll throw this up here as a filler for now. My comment on the link this friend posted is as follows:

I just ranted about this, but I deleted my comments and will rant in my own space. I of course can't speak on her ex-husband's perspective. But I agree that it should be considered in light of the nature of her comments, which sound, to me, less like "eternal perspective" and more oversimplified and stripped of opportunity to really grapple with truth.

Of course, I understand that just because the interviewee doesn't seem to agree with my view doesn't mean she is less intelligent or hasn't struggled with the topic long enough. And just because she doesn't detail her study and research doesn't mean she hasn't done any. But she describes very little effort to really understand the issue beyond what church leaders and scriptures have said, and the way she discusses it indicates a lack of...*sigh*...OK, seems to reflect a view that, when I held it, was simplistic and did not include any effort to understand except from sources which confirmed and consoled my existing beliefs.

Clearly, I no longer share the beliefs my old self had, so I have a bias and am likely to be dismissed by some as merely an example of one who has been led away by Satan precisely because I sought knowledge outside of official church materials. I think that very accusation is what keeps some people in the church, just to prove that not only godless heathens believe such things but that you can believe "liberal" doctrines without abandoning the gospel.

Anyway, that's enough digression. This being my own space, here is the rant:

Troubling on a few levels: she says she deals with it by praying, getting blessings, and reading official church materials. That sounds nice and spiritually safe, but years of personal experience and talking with others have strongly indicated that that approach alone pushes the real conundrums away or polishes conflict with veneer that wears off. I finally decided the scriptures are for matters of salvation, but we're given light and knowledge in professional fields to really sort out some things for ourselves. Only then, when I started seeing the issue from a more human, real-life perspective rather than a merely abstract ideological one did I start healing and really understanding.

Second, she rejected counseling because the counselor didn't agree with her beliefs about "the family", as traditionalists like to refer to the notion of the modern nuclear family as the only acceptable definition of family. That's understandable, but to disregard someone's wisdom about human relationships just because they don't share your view of gender roles and religious beliefs about family seems rash after a month or less of counseling and potentially a bit of a copout or escape.

Third, kids don't need to be 12 to understand man and woman, husband and wife, and I've discovered they don't need to understand sexuality and "gender roles" to grasp husband and husband either. As I see it, such limitations are projected and imposed on children by adults who want to be able to explain in their chosen framework why it's wrong, not just what it is.

Sorry to seem harsh, but I think this woman still has some emotional growing up to do. Even the way she speaks almost dismissively of her husband's experience as if he suddenly decided to "go gay" and escape the marriage at all costs attests that she is likely pushing some issues away rather than really grappling with them. That's not strength and eternal perspective. That's a low-level, short-term coping mechanism.

Opinions? No, not me. Why do you ask?

Some days, I step back and try to tell myself things like, "She's probably still in a lot of pain and maybe shouldn't be talking publicly about this yet but clearly seems intent on helping, and she could be a lot harsher, so let's go easy on her." Today, that didn't work so well, maybe.

24 August 2011

Premature Joculation

Mohodom is abuzz over an openly gay member, Mitch Mayne, being called to serve with the bishopric (as executive secretary) in a bay area ward. My understanding is that Mitch was in a long-term relationship with a man until about a year ago, during at least part of which he was active in his ward and held a calling, and...well, read it yourself in his open letter. He's currently single and celibate, open to a future relationship (though exactly what kind of relationship is [possibly deliberately] vague), and committed to the "same standard of behavior that we require of any heterosexual member in a Priesthood leadership position." Enter my skeptical brow.

Don't get me wrong: an openly, unapologetically gay man was called to work closely with the bishopric, which may not be new but is certainly getting more attention than most and is another testament against the notions of some members that anyone who doesn't renounce and deny their very attractions is unworthy of any leadership, and that's very cool. But I think people are jumping the gun in declaring this to be a revolutionary move. For example, does he mean he will have a romantic but nonsexual relationship with a man? Does he mean he intends to have a sexual relationship with a man when they're married or in a civil union? Is the latter a completely different scenario than the first, and would it be a dealbreaker if he were asked point blank and answered with the latter? Is the former even acceptable to church headquarters? Or is the whole thing being taken a day at a time, focusing on his current compliance and worthiness, without projecting unnecessarily into the completely unknown future? I want to correct those who oversimplify: "Of course he has a calling: he's committed to chastity like everyone else." Yet when people sound victory charges for "openly gay" members to serve in church leadership, my "let's wait and see what this means before declaring social revolution" gear kicks in.

Yes, if Mitch marries a woman someday, he's golden. His open letter doesn't seem to preclude that option, and you never know what life might bring. But his views on homosexuality being inextricably part of him (not that I believe heterosexuality is a prerequisite to marrying a woman, but that's a can of worms for another post) combined with his insistence that he will be forthcoming with his leadership about his relationship status (which wouldn't be necessary for non-gay folk) lead me to believe the future relationship he's open to is most likely same-sex. If you combine that with his statement that he does not plan to intentionally spend the rest of his life celibate or single, I see a dilemma.

I know many individuals who believe the church's stance on same-sex relationships will change with time, but cleverly wordsmithing or reinterpreting temple ceremonies or the Proclamation on the Family still amounts to speculation. The church officially prohibits sexual relationships outside of man-woman marriage (long-term romantic, non-orgasmic relationships between members of the same sex are not as clearly addressed but are also slightly more common than unicorns). I'm not saying that could never change: perhaps, before I die, the church will welcome time-only same-sex partners (whether God-disapproved-married or civilly unified) into some form of meaningful fellowship, but I'm speaking in terms of today.

I just don't believe that when general authorities say members who experience "same-gender attraction" are to adhere to the same standards of sexual conduct as everyone else, what they mean is, "sure, they can date and make out like everyone else and then make each other ejaculate to their homo hearts' content once they obtain the kind of civil contract we have explicitly and vehemently opposed as being not marriage at all." I think those who believe church leaders are saying gay members should just save sex until they're married to members of the same sex should not mask or mince their words and should say so clearly and publicly...and see how church leadership responds.

So the concern I have is that despite Mitch's effort to be open and honest, there are many unanswered questions, the answers to which may likely conflict with assumptions or extrapolations many are making, e.g.:
  • he intends to be either celibate or with a woman for the rest of his life,
  • the local leadership called him knowing he intends to be with a man again someday,
  • he was officially called as a counselor in the bishopric, or
  • he was in full fellowship while in a romantic and sexual relationship with another man and church headquarters was OK with that.

I believe those assumptions to be common and understandable, given Mitch's open letter and subsequent coverage. Some of them may even be correct. But nobody has done the aggressive journalism to answer them. So they're still unanswered. And I don't think their implications are incidental or irrelevant when the calling is being framed as a bold representation of progress in the role of gay members in church leadership.

I do think the _discussion_, far disproportionate to the situation itself, is going to make waves and change paradigms. That's how activism works, so from that standpoint, I get it. I actually appreciate JonJon's response to the issue.

I say let Mitch serve quietly (although let's be honest, Mitch, you threw "quietly" aside with your open letter...actually, I think you kind of threw it up in the air and demolished it with rockets *wink*), wait and see, and get the details before portraying it as if the Catholic Church just handpicked a bishop from a pride parade's leather daddies contingent.

19 August 2011

Connexion Confessions

Confession: I've been relatively uninterested in Connexion (gay Facebook) lately. But I still log in to check messages or chat with a friend, and sometimes, when that happens to be around midnight, I end up among the "most viewed members" of the day for a short time because the numbers reset and those who recently logged on jump to the top. I may or may not secretly enjoy this brief moment of glory.

Confession: When I keep logging back in to check each new message, the site's "recently logged in" and "online now" categories boost profile views further, and I enjoy the experimentation of seeing how long I can stay among the "most viewed," even though due more to trickery than to the typical (non-existent, in my case) chiseled torso in a bathroom mirror.

Confession: I'm a snob. I get way more messages than I care to respond to. Not that I get a ton of messages. Maybe 1 or 2 each time I log in. Sometimes more. Sometimes none. But I don't have a lot of social energy for new connections (I'm very introverted, remember?), so I end up ignoring almost everyone who says nothing more than, "Hey whats up?" I mean, give me something to go on! Then I think about the HR people who dismiss my resume outright because I'm not great on paper and never give me the chance to plead my case in person. I think if they'd only stop being resume snobs and let me interview, I might have a fighting chance, but they just can't afford the time among hundreds of applicants. But somehow that little exercise in empathy doesn't spur me to be less stingy than them in responding.

Confession: I'm getting more messages from guys I suppose are more the age range I should be looking for. But I'm left pouting ever-so-slightly (with a smirk, of course) over apparently falling out of favor with hot 23-year-olds. Have I crossed some threshold into withered-old-faghood? Ah well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, and there are worse things in life than trying to figure out how to tell the adorable 19-year-old that it's just never going to happen. I just...might still want the narcissistic opportunity once in a while, that's all. Growing up is, like, so hard.

Confession: I'd rather be with a mature and growing guy younger than me (but not younger than 25, and even that's typically too young these days) than an immature or stagnant guy my age or older. Wait...am I stagnant? Crusty? Crap, here comes that unmanly self-doubt that supposedly helped make me gay in the first place.

Confession: I bookmarked pretty much all the local guys I figured I'd like to actually get to know in the area if I get serious about dating (and yes, they're almost all older than 25...no, seriously, they are...shut it). So now I mainly just bookmark hotties in the short stints when I browse briefly. Yep, shallowness. I own it.

Confession: Speaking of shallowness, I totally judge people by their pics. Backwards baseball cap is a strike. Shirtless bathroom mirror is another. But neither of those is so bad that someone can't recover from it: they just raise a lot of skepticism from me as to what potential there is. Multiple shots of flexing in various ways is a big strike. Posing next to a mustang wearing Ed Hardy is a huge, huge strike. "Peace" sign with puckered tough-lips in every pic just screams "I'm a tool". I'm genuinely open to someone proving me wrong or surprising me: it's just that...I don't think anyone has yet.

Confession: I know some people think it's rude not to at least reply with SOMETHING, but when I've replied with as little as possible just to not ignore, I still get a response, typically no more substantive than the first but clearly expecting continuation. And at some point, I don't have the energy to sustain all the conversations people start, much less meet everyone. So it's easier to ignore from the beginning unless they say something substantive or ask a question. I'm not at all complaining about getting too many messages. And I'm not trying to tout myself as popular (trust me, I have no illusion that I'm the hottest of items on the site). I'm just saying sue me for not responding to "nice pics," "what're you doing tonight?" or, "Where can I flick my tongue to make you moan the loudest?" Call me a snob.

Confession: I do feel a little bad sometimes about not replying, but I figure that's the way the cookie crumbles. I've been ignored, too.

Confession: I may or may not have checked my rank while writing this to see if I'm still higher than that one really hot guy and that girl: beat by a girl on Connexion's most viewed?! Oh, hay-ul no, it's on...

18 July 2011

Wide-eyed wonder

I remember a night my world changed forever. I was tucked cozily into bed, and Mom was saying goodnight when I mustered the question I'd been mulling over in my youthful brain: "Is Santa Claus really real?"

I may have held on longer than many children to belief in the jolly old elf who chutes down the chimney to leave presents and fill stockings. Some kids had tried to tell me he wasn't real, but only a mean-spirited person would bother to say such a thing, so they were clearly not people I should listen to. One kid said it's all a story, another said she saw her mom and dad putting the presents under the tree and eating the cookies and milk. I thought they might be lying, or they might have been mistaken, or maybe they were naughty, and their mom and dad had to fill in for Santa because he wasn't about to hop down their chimney. There was surely an explanation because he'd been to my house and eaten the cookies I left for him. My parents had clearly indicated it must have been Santa, and good parents don't lie, and my parents were good. I'd seen unhappy, grumpy people in movies who didn't believe in Santa, and when they let the Christmas spirit in, they could finally see him, and he'd been there all along. That's how it worked. I saw their eyes light up as they let the magic in. I would believe.

As I grew older, some question arose. How could he get to every house in the world? Wasn't that a lot of houses? Movies and stories showed me ideas of how time might slow down for him. I thought the explanations were fair enough for a magical guy, and I pushed away the doubts. Why doubt what was such a happy thing?

What about Santa at the mall? He couldn't be in every mall at once, could he? I mean, even for a magical person, it seemed a stretch. I asked my parents about this and was told Santa had helpers, and I had taken pictures with what were probably his helpers who passed children's messages on to the real Santa. I wondered if I had ever met the real Santa or if they had all been helpers, and I felt a little disappointed, but it did make sense. After all, I had seen people in Santa costumes and knew some of the beards seemed fake, but I had refused to let that register before I had a satisfactory explanation other than the sad and unappealing, "Santa's not real". Besides, why wouldn't you just believe? Disbelieving could not only result in Santa not visiting but would also be insulting to Santa if he were real.

But the questions had added up. I wasn't one to go with the crowd in most ways, but I was surrounded by peers who had apparently stopped believing, and I couldn't help but notice that Santa's handwriting seemed somewhat familiar... The biggest tip-off came not from those who loudly said he was fake but from those who had quietly stopped defending him.

So on this night, I had finally asked the question those who believe in the magic of Christmas don't ask. As my mom's expression told me she was arranging the words in her head to make the answer as easy as possible on me, I already knew the answer was not simply "yes". I felt a knot in my stomach.

She handled it in expert parental fashion. She told me about a kind man with a generous spirit who gave to others and of a spirit of goodwill and sharing that became the legend of Santa. The magical Santa Claus who left me presents was not real after all, at least not in the literal sense. I felt a little silly for having stood up for Santa after many of my friends already knew. I felt mournful over the loss of the most magical part of every year. It did help to hear that he had been a real person, and it helped to focus not on what wasn't real but rather on what was real: the magical spirit of Christmas I felt and saw in people's eyes every winter. With a tender kiss, I was left in the dark with teary eyes to come to terms with a new loss of innocence as I tried to hold on to the spirit of Santa in my heart while mourning his death centuries after he was said to be laid to rest.

"What will next Christmas be like?" I wondered. It seemed so sad and empty without the magic of Santa. Maybe she's well-intended but wrong? Maybe we'll experience a Christmas miracle, and we'll all see him flying away in his sleigh...? No. Something told me to let go, that this was right. I knew Christmas was about celebrating Jesus' birth, so it would still have its main meaning, even if it would be years before that inspired me more than Santa ever again could. And the Muppets and The Grinch had taught me Christmas was also about love, kindness, hope, purification of hearts, generosity, and friends and family. I let these ideas fill in the void where Santa used to be. But it took time and deliberate self-reminders to focus on what Christmas was and not what it now wasn't.

I wanted to let everyone know I knew better, and I even felt a desire to tell others so they could avoid feeling more silly when they finally found out. I did let friends know I was finally in on the secret, sometimes when asked delicately, "Do you still believe in Santa?" I no longer needed to prove I had the Christmas spirit by saying yes, though I still tried to vocalize the positive. I didn't become the newest anti-Santa crusader. What for? I had seen the truth when I was ready for it, and others would, too. Besides, what's the harm in holding on to the magical feeling of Christmas and that glimmering "what if"? How would it feel to go around making sure everyone knows Santa isn't "real"? Is that something I could do with bright-eyed excitement, even to someone who was angry at others for not believing in Santa? Wouldn't it feel kind of sinister to go around saying it, even if it was the truth? Wouldn't it feel better to focus on the meaning of Christmas and the spirit of Santa even if I no longer believed in the literal story?

Rather than resenting the cruel trick or becoming bitter about the holiday because I'd been duped, I recognized that, Santa or no Santa, it was still an undeniably magical time of year...for me, at the very least. I could either become Scrooge, or I could be inspired and buoyed by the seasonal change in my own heart and in others as we shared magical stories, gave and helped a little more, remembered what was most important in our lives, ate some great food, and remembered the birth of a Savior, whom I understood to be central to the entire purpose of our existence.

Yes, the magic I had loved so much as a child was lost, and that took some getting used to. But as I chose to hold on to the spirit of that magic, something present and persisting remained. Once I was past the sadness and defensiveness towards the stories about Santa which I had previously believed quite literally, I was able to see them with a resurrected twinkle in my eye as if to say, "Wouldn't it be wonderful?"

03 July 2011

How not to become the next boy-renting NARTH officer

Hey, listen, it's time to stop fooling yourself. When you're cuddling compulsively (e.g. you can't seem to get enough or are fighting a persistent urge to rip off clothing), that cuddling is most likely a substitute for sex. Sorry to break it to you, but when cuddling is about natural affection and trust in a secure friendship, it's not something you do in lieu of prohibited naked fun. And if you have a perma-stiffy, you might consider either going ahead and just making out (call a spade a spade) or stopping that particular cuddle session before it catches up with you. Blueballing is only one small probable negative consequence. Warping a relationship is another, especially when boundaries and meaning ascribed to the cuddling aren't clearly agreed upon between both parties. But what's most concerning me is learning to justify behavior in a way that masks underlying motives with idealized but inaccurate motives, a skill not smiled upon in politicians or ex-gay therapists caught in sex scandals.

"Well, who's to say one motive is stronger than another? You don't know me."

Come on. Be honest with yourself. You know the difference between cuddling with a child, for example, or a pet, or a friend of the opposite sex, or a friend of the same sex with whom the idea of sex is either comical or extremely awkward, and cuddling with someone you're physically attracted to.

"Well of course it's going to be different, especially if I have unmet emotional needs related to men and can find intimacy and connection in male friendships. Stop trying to sexualize everything. Besides, just because I might get aroused for a moment doesn't mean I actually wanna go at it."

Fair enough. Like I said, only you really know the difference. Just ask yourself: if you're so sure you're just sharing healthy affection with other men, do you have as strong a desire to share that healthy affection with men who are not your type whom you trust and feel close to?

"But what if that's part of my healing? What if I need affirmation from men I find attractive?"

Do you really believe that's what it's about?

"...I'd like to...maybe...OK, probably not."

Thought so.

"But it's really nice, and it's not just a substitute for sex."

No, it's not just a substitute for sex. But look, if you thought it was OK to make out, would you rather be doing that than only cuddling and caressing?

"...No, because I'd have to have a relationship with someone to do that. I've never even kissed someone."

Oh, that's right. Speaking of your incredible ability to not kiss someone even though you've cuddled with someone in nothing but your garment bottoms...

"Hey, how do you know...?"

Oh, honey, let's just say I know very well. It's maybe a little embarrassing, but it's OK. Mohos are amazing at pushing the envelope in creatively chaste ways. Anyway, that caressing business you do: I get that it's sometimes completely benign and purely affectionate (e.g. arms, hands, scalp massage, back tickling). But when you're caressing each other's inner thigh or bare chest and teasing the underwear waistband by slipping your fingers barely under the edge...well, let me just put it this way: would you do that to your female friend?

"Well, you can't honestly expect me to draw a direct comparison. There are things guys just 'get', and we know each other, and they don't have anything I don't. I mean, I wouldn't shower with my female friends, but that doesn't mean showering with my male friends is sexual."

OK, then maybe consider whether you'd be at all disturbed if you saw two brothers doing it? Anyway, here, let me show you what I know now with another four years of physical intimacy experience under my belt...eh, you know what I mean. OK, now you've kissed someone and all that jazz. What's your answer about whether you'd rather be making out if you thought it were OK?

"Hm...yeah, OK, when I'm honest with myself, I probably would want to make out with at least these two cuddle buddies..."

I'm not saying that any time you get briefly aroused, it means you're just after sex. And I'm not saying you should merely obey your body's lusts. I believe it's good and right to learn to rein your appetites. I believe that particular member sometimes briefly responds to stimuli in its own way. And I certainly don't believe every attraction or affection has a raging undercurrent of sexual desire. I'm just saying the next time you're being physically affectionate with someone you find attractive, consider thinking, "Hey, do we have a close enough friendship for this cuddling to be genuinely trust- and affection-based? If we thought it was OK, would we go for it? If you were absolutely not my type, would I still want to cuddle? Am I mostly kinda hot to trot, and your body feels nice against mine?" There's nothing wrong with admitting it's mostly a physical thing, but I think your cuddle partner should be on the same page to avoid probable messes...pardon the wording.

I'm just concerned that the longer you keep basically using cuddling as a substitute for 'more', the less likely you'll be to really, honestly identify your motives in potentially conflicting situations. I'm worried that some or much of your caressing and holding is an expression of your desire for romantic and sexual intimacy, but you're refusing to recognize that and masking it with an effort to revolutionize male intimacy. That's probably very true for certain of your friendships, but by projecting the innocence of some cases onto all, you may make abnormal behavior or behavior inconsistent with a relationship into something normal in your head, and that's troublesome territory.

I'm also afraid you run the risk of using cuddling and caressing in a way which isn't 'breaking any commandments' but mostly just puts off actually making a decision about what you're going to do with all of this homosexuality and religion conflict you have. It's like you're keeping the religion part and following the rules but in a way that is partially lust behind a mask of affection and intimacy, the exact opposite of what you actually think you're accomplishing.

Short version: I think you're becoming a cuddle slut.

"OK, OK, I see what you're getting at. I do generally want to cuddle the hottest guys the most, and if we both believed differently, I'd probably just wanna go at it sometimes, so I'll try to be more aware of that. But...I have some friends who are totally physically attractive, but I'm not at all attracted to them in 'that' way. Can I still cuddle them?"

Of course. I remember what it's like to believe you're never going to be allowed sexual 'fun' with another guy and how much that can affect your desire to have what physical affection you can, no matter how sexually repressed the motives. Besides...y'know...none of us is perfect.

"Wait...have you cuddled with someone you mainly wanted to get freaky with or didn't necessarily have reason to trust intimately?"

...Yeah, cuddle...um...we're not talking about me. We're talking about you.

10 June 2011

Why I've chosen to test, not abandon, friendships

When I realized I no longer believed in the tenets and doctrines of the LDS Church as I used to (the stories and explanations, not the values, which I still mostly share), or that I wasn't sure I believed in them at all anymore, many crises presented themselves, not least of which was a complete shift in my social interactions and change in my relationships among those closest to me.

I was going from, "I have so much respect for the fact that even if it's not always comfortable, you continue in the church and take each day on faith. I don't know if I'd get through what you're going through with such faith, and it's so inspiring that you do," to, "I'm so sad and disappointed that you've given up. You're forfeiting celestial glory and eternal life by overthinking your way out of the church. It's just hard to see you throwing it all away instead of hanging in there." I also went from sharing this part of my life which had been most important to me to not relating on this new level with most people I was close to and not knowing who to talk with about it. I wondered if I was necessarily going to eventually be pretty sure most people in my life believed a fantasy. How would our relationships adapt to this new dissonance?

Since late high school, my social life and friendship circles were developed within the church and its many programs and organizations. I worked at various places, and I volunteered with other organizations, but I had so many friends within the church that I never felt much need to seek friendships elsewhere, and I didn't. Over 90% of my Facebook friends are or have been LDS. My closest friends were active in the church, and not just the active-by-default kind or the "you can't take it all too seriously" kind but the deliberately active and consciously engaged kind. As much as I wanted to make sure I wouldn't leave the church as the result of social issues or interpersonal conflict ("the people are imperfect, not the doctrine," I always said), I realized that I was at a turning point where if I were to stay in the church, the reasons would be primarily social. I had a very difficult decision to make, but I had put off the doubts and tried to quell them for many years, and the reality of that hit hard.

I resigned any leadership in church-affirming or church-affiliated organizations as soon as I realized this. I was not about to cling to the feeling that I was useful and contributing while quietly disagreeing with mission and values statements and wondering if I even believed in God anything like the way I always had, or at all. I was not going to try to change any organization into what I thought it should be when my beliefs were increasingly in conflict with those the organizations had espoused all along. And I didn't want to cause some scandal by being an apostate in leadership and thereby unduly discredit those organizations in any way. I'd rather leave some distance between the time I stopped serving and the time I really walked away, if that's where I was headed. I believed I needed to diminish for a time while wrestling with these questions and determining my way forward without unnecessary political and social expectations and external pressures. I'd moved along with those quite long enough to satisfy myself that they were not going to keep me afloat, that I had internal conflicts to resolve now with or without those attachments. In my case, I believe integrity demanded I step down and step back.

Similarly, a temptation was to isolate completely from those who still subscribed to church doctrine. I no longer belonged among them or shared what we'd always shared, and my presence would be regarded as a "negative influence" by some. Additionally, I knew what my 8-years-ago self would tell my today-self, and I didn't care to hear it from everyone else trying to talk some spiritual sense into me. I also didn't want to unnecessarily affect anyone else. What if, a year or four from now, I decided I was wrong and went back to the church? What if, during that time, I had "led many astray" by my example and doubts and might later regret it? No, better to keep it mostly internal except when pressed. After all, I felt like the kind of clarity and epiphanies I was having were sparked by others who sincerely shared with me what they'd been going through. I had been a missionary and tried to help people gain a conviction of LDS doctrine. Did I regret that? Maybe in a way, but it's what I honestly believed, so it's hard to really regret something I did in full sincerity. "OK, then," I thought, "as long as I'm being honest and sincere about it, I'll share when asked." But I didn't want to have the conversation constantly, so I was careful how I talked about it to avoid eliciting probing questions unnecessarily.

It really was a "spiritual walkabout" of sorts, and I found most people respected that and didn't try to interfere. Some did, probably out of a desire to save me from withering as a coal removed from the fire, but it fell flat. Their language and demeanor reflected a lack of real understanding of what I was going through. Those who seemed to "get it", even if they'd become faithful again, understood that I knew the arguments against what I was doing and had made them effectively, myself, and this was my journey alone to navigate. Typically, their preaching amounted to, "Don't shut out the Spirit. Stay open." I could handle that.

It was challenging, at first, to maintain contact with my LDS friends. When you're going through a transition in life or trying to make changes you believe are positive and necessary, and the people you've surrounded yourself with are not on board, they can hold you back from that process, especially if they've never been through it quite the way you have. The easy answer is to push them all away, freeing yourself up to pursue your new direction without the baggage and weight of opposition and emotional pleas to "come back to the fold" and be saved. But I saw a problem in that notion.

If I was truly making the right choice, then I should not be threatened by opposing views. And if I alienated all of them, I'd be left quite alone and therefore either artificially lonely and sad (which would be a product of the social isolation but would conveniently be explained by some as 'spiritual decay') or needing social interaction so badly that I might fill the void with shallower, shinier friendships with people who may or may not actually care about my personal welfare. At my age, starting all friendships from scratch seems a really unpleasant endeavor and one I'd rather not undertake. Besides, if I was going in a good direction, and my relationships were built on more than certain common beliefs but were actually personal, intimate connections, they should be able to weather these changes. If I was going in a bad direction, I wouldn't have alienated everyone who would be there to help me get back up and dust myself off. And maybe there's value in letting them see more of the journey rather than fleeing and making it easy for those left behind to assume the wicked cannot abide the company of the righteous, or my conscience couldn't withstand the reminders. Maybe there's value in acknowledging that if this is right, they might benefit from seeing that I'm still me and still happy, and if it's wrong, I might benefit from knowing they'll be able to call my B.S. if I try to put on a happy mask. Besides, I cared about my friends, still, and believed they cared about me. So though I did withdraw from a few social circles where the group bonding was stronger than my individual relationships within the group, I chose to test my closer friendships rather than abandon them, even if I did distance myself in some ways for at least a time. I'm happy to say my close friendships have persisted.

That's not to say it's been easy. Hay-ul no, not nearly. Even though it was painful for me to see people hurt over my decisions and beliefs, and they were clearly struggling to adjust to a new way of viewing me, I was happy to find that most of the people I considered true friends walked with me when possible, and still allowed me to walk with them, and we've made the adjustments together, sometimes smoothly, sometimes roughly. Many are still adjusting. A few not-as-close friendships haven't weathered the change. I harbor relatively few hard feelings for those: I knew what those friendships were all along, and they weren't the kind of relationship to weather this, so I couldn't expect anything different.

The pleasant surprise has been that some have quietly come to me confessing that they've been through similar, and we've rekindled old bonds. Some have come to me confessing that they've never told anyone this, but they've not believed for years but carry on playing the role because that's what they contracted to do when they married, and they don't want to upset their children's lives unnecessarily by risking divorce or rocking the boat. Some friends of other belief systems have come back, and I've been able to see more completely beyond the "non-LDS" barricade I didn't realize I had put up. Many, more than I expected, have admitted to being somewhat or very "agnostic" in their faith, admitting they don't "know" it's true but hope it is, or that they firmly believe in the core of the gospel and very much see an evolving doctrine around that core, and many of these have "come out agnostic".

It's been stressful, which is another topic I intend to post about. But it's been good. And I feel more stable and "at peace" than maybe ever, despite obvious stresses in my life. That may be because I've stubbornly eliminated a doctrinal framework that conflicts with my natural man, and it may be because the world and universe make more sense to me now than ever or that I'm not trying to cling to false beliefs, and new or conflicting ideas don't cause the tension in me that they used to. Come what may, I hope to find and embrace truth. I'm no fount of bubbly happiness, but I feel as happy as ever. Perhaps it's not an "eternal joy" of the kind I used to experience and have, over the years, forgotten as a distant memory. Or perhaps it's a more sustainable joy from within and not based on what may be myth. Maybe I've learned a kind of happiness that I needed to, and one day I'll bring the LDS "gospel" back into the picture, and the combination will be greater joy than I've ever known. Or maybe I'll find a wonderful man and adopt children and have more joy than I thought possible. Who knows? Not me, and not you. But we can probably still be friends.

12 April 2011

"Would you take him back?"

A few people have asked me this. I met up with someone recently for lunch, and as part of the get-to-know-you, I mentioned the brief dating relationship I was in last summer and the breakup due to his sudden decision to "fight it". The fellow I was speaking with shook his head and said he knows so many cases like that, and almost all of them have eventually realized the futility of the effort, so surely he'll regret having broken up with me. Most gay guys I talk to about it say this. I said I understand that's what happens with many, but it's not always so simple, and he may have needed this effort of "fighting it" regardless of his eventual decision, and I have at least a friend or two who have probably dumped people similarly to how I was dumped and who are now happily married to women. I said even if he does eventually drop whatever effort he may be engaged in, I can't wait around to find out, nor do I think it's likely to happen soon if at all for a few reasons, and I can't place my hope in it, for my sake and for his. I can't tease my heart, and I can't disrespect his decision. Then he asked a question others have also asked and which always gives me pause, "Would you take him back if he ever did change his mind?"

My reply has been a simple one in most cases, "I would want to. If it happened now, I would definitely want to." I've been afraid to vocalize the second part of that, though, lest it should ever get back to him, that I don't think I could. Why did I not want him to know I'd said that? Part of it is that I wouldn't want him thinking I was vindictive or didn't truly, deeply highly regard him (as much as I knew him when we were together) and what I felt for him. But did I actually want him to ask to try again? Was I only saying I couldn't out of defensiveness to keep myself deluded into believing I wouldn't take him back to avoid the pain of knowing I still do want him back? Was I afraid I actually would take him back despite objectively believing I "shouldn't", that I'd lack the strength to stick to some resolve? Was I just keeping my options open? Screw it, I decided, I'll say it: "I don't think I could. Not without at least some changes and maturity in him, things which weren't there before." And as I said it, it seemed to solidify my resolve, and I thought, "No...no, I wouldn't." Testimony is found in the bearing of it, after all.

I was trying to "hold on to my heart" while we were together because I knew the risks, the likelihood that it was going to end in pain if I let go. I didn't realize how deeply I wanted to see if "we" would go somewhere until he suddenly went cold, and there was no longer a need for me to keep the brakes on, no need to keep things moving at a measured pace when there was nothing to move.

But looking back, I know there were things about him that concerned me, and while I hoped we could grow through those together, and they weren't dealbreakers (with the possible exception of one main thing), I don't know how I could trust his stability or self awareness at this point, having already had my concerns confirmed once, and right after I'd begun to...stop holding on to my heart. But regardless--and this may seem harsh--judging from his one, short response to a heartfelt (even if seemingly overindulgent) e-mail I sent, I don't respect or like some big parts of the person he has chosen to become, or the traits he has nurtured, and while I still would love to believe I knew him as he truly was, I've admitted to myself that even if I did, I just don't know who he is anymore, and there is no picking up where we left off. If we were to "try again," it would be from scratch, and facing that reality, trying again is not appealing to me right now. Looking back, and from what little I know of his current life, I'm actually quite turned off by some significant things, and though I felt so readily connected with him, so naturally "fitted" with him, I can't help but wonder if someone like him is totally wrong for me, if I wouldn't lose patience with and respect for such a person over time as the blinding influence of the initial affection wore down.

And yet...I love him still, in some way. I care about him as a friend. I love the memory of him. I love 'us' as we were. I love the person I saw in his eyes, heard in his voice, and felt in his touch. I love how I felt towards and with him. I still respect the traits which drew me to him. But he's a mere memory to me now. In the worst case scenario, he was intentionally using me as an experiment to satisfy his curiosity and intentionally deceiving me to try a beta relationship on for size before choosing social security and family approval and tossing me aside as the plaything I was, someone he never really cared about except to flatter his own ego or satisfy his curiosity. In the best case scenario, if others are right to speculate that he surely has had trouble getting over feelings and can only move on by completely disconnecting, then he has chosen defensiveness, detachment, and callousness over vulnerability, openness, and sensitivity, which is the opposite of what I thought I saw and valued so much in him and which, though understandable and expected from someone of his age and situation, reflects a type of emotional functioning I don't care to deal with in a potential partner. Either way, he's gone, if he ever was as I imagined, a fact I accepted pretty quickly after his last message to me.

I expect I'll never know familiarity with him again. Most of the time, that's just a fact I acknowledge and shrug at since I can't change it. But a couple of weeks ago, as I was not far north of his hometown and not too far from where he lives now, I found myself dozing off at the wheel and was startled to realize I had just fallen asleep for an instant, and I was grateful it was on a straight stretch, and I hadn't flown off the road. In my melodramatic drowsiness, I wondered which hospital I might have been taken to, who would get news of my critical condition, and who would come visit me when they heard. And if my condition were critical, would he visit me before the chance was gone? Would he even care? Amid these thoughts, I wept a little, which I knew was a sign that I will probably always love him in some way, whether or not I 'like' what he's chosen or what traits he has magnified or stifled. I didn't know if he would ever again care about me, but I knew without a doubt that if he were ever in critical condition, unless I was explicitly forbidden, I would be at his side in a heartbeat, as an old friend who never stopped caring even though I had to move on from the romantic attachment or feelings for my own well-being.

Knowing I care and may always care and not knowing whether he has convinced himself to hate me, the temptation is to decide to convince myself I don't care. That's the pop culture cry: be strong and stop caring! No, I think there's better: to fully acknowledge I care, and let it hurt a little now and then, but to let go of the desire to know whether he cares, to let go of my own desire for affirmation. I definitely believe pining away for what was is not an option, nor is hanging on to some hope that he and I will change in all the ways we need to and will magically be together someday to justify my feelings of fondness for the time we were together, but I think to convince myself defensively that I don't care or that I shouldn't remember whatever we had fondly would be the weaker choice, and dishonest.

So why write all of this? I've recently had a couple of conversations with people regarding exes and found that my questions and pain are not exactly unique. I've also found that many people do downplay past feelings or relationships either to quell pain or to validate current relationships as if you have to demean the old to value the new. What a tragedy. Parents don't have to love dead children less to love their living ones, though they do have to "let go" of them. I don't have to invalidate an entire friendship just because we grew apart, as if feeling affection for what we had demeans my current friendship with a "best friend". I don't have to poo-poo what I felt to be open to someone else.

And yet...I've been trying to figure out whether I'm ready to trust someone again, whether I'm emotionally available. The fact that I've been trying to figure it out tells me I'm not but am trying to convince myself I am. Talking about it still induces tender emotions sometimes. Just this morning, a train of thought had me on the verge of tears and simultaneously frustrated that I could possibly still be so affected. But there's no sense in denying it. I just have to figure out what to do with it, and how to keep moving on and letting go.

I may even still be in love with the version of [him] in my memory even though I believe I'm not in love with the [him] who now exists. But he has made his choice, and I have accepted it, and though I would gladly be loyal if there were a relationship to be loyal to, I can't healthily hold myself emotionally hostage to a pipe dream. What has concerned me is that I can't honestly promise any of my current potential interests that I could never conceivably love [him] again if he came back changed and more ready for the kind of relationship I thought we could have, even if I could tell him that I just am not willing to do it again. As I consider some other present potential interests, I at least want to be able to tell them, with confidence, that if he came back now, wanting to try again, I'd tell him, "No, I have someone now, and what we have is worth more to me than trying to pick up where you and I left off." I suppose it would be poetic justice, in a way, but that would certainly not be my aim because, as I said, I care about him and always have, and emotional revenge isn't strength.

Right now, I intellectually am firm in my resolve to move on, to find fulfillment and happiness elsewhere, and to put away whatever we had. But emotionally, when I'm really honest with myself, I haven't yet found someone or something in front of me which is clearly a better option than the fantasy possibility of him coming back and proving undeniably that he has changed in all the ways I'd need him to have changed, and he has matured intellectually and emotionally, and he wants a relationship with me, and me believing it's actually possible. What am I supposed to do with that? Even believing that will almost certainly not happen, what am I supposed to do with the knowledge that even though a new prospect is growing more interested in me, and I in them, if that fantasy scenario occurred, my choice would likely be to 'take him back' in a heartbeat? I don't want anyone to be a consolation prize, but I don't want to stifle what could become better than that fantasy option if pursued. I know that the scenario is only a fantasy. He couldn't prove to me that he has changed enough to make me trust him again right away. And the probability that he'd want round two with me even in the off-chance that he did decide to be open to a relationship with a guy is anything but high. I guess my answer is that I let go of that scenario, too. "What ifs" are pretty useless in that sense.

So I choose to recognize that I still care about him and have feelings for him beyond a casual acquaintance, and I probably always will, even though he has clearly stated he wants to retain no form of friendship whatsoever. And I learn from the experience what I can and focus on what's present and what's to come. I explore other options without comparing them to my time with the guy I thought I knew but increasingly understand I know very little, which is difficult at times but surprisingly natural most of the time. I accept that I wish things had worked out differently but remind myself that they probably had to work out this way, and he and I are both the type to try to make it work out for the best. I remember the things I loved about us so that I can help myself not settle for less but remind myself that if whatever we did have were perfect, we would still be together, and other people will have traits and strengths and values he didn't and will complement mine in ways he couldn't, as is always the case. And in a turn towards the extraordinarily sappy, when I think of him, I send a little love and light, and I let go a little more and look ahead.

21 March 2011

Confessions of a Nurtured Homo, Part 3

<< Part 2

Sometimes, guys at school had traits I was attracted to, like confidence, being outgoing, and being really comfortable with themselves in a way I wasn't sure I understood but wanted to because I felt really inhibited and reserved and didn't always like that. I found myself drawn to them in a way I couldn't put my finger on but figured I wanted to observe and learn from them, and I accordingly made efforts to emulate the positive traits I observed however I could. I thought if I could incorporate admirable traits into my life, it would resolve the fascination, and I found it to work pretty well. I never thought of that as wanting to be with them. I remember catching myself watching one such guy in a high school class a little too intently, wondering what made him so confident and at ease, and figuring if anyone caught me looking, they'd think I had a crush on him or something. So I stopped looking and thought, "That's not gay or anything: he's not even the physical type I'm most...*ahem*...jealous of. I just want to emulate some of his traits." Only later did the possibility of being "attracted" on more than an admiration level come into my paradigm, and I still wouldn't be wholly attracted to this guy I'm thinking of even if I had been open to that possibility at the time. I've always believed you're drawn to some people because of who they are, not because you want to "be with" them. But because I'm looking for trends, here, and because I do know that it got confusing, for a while after I started acknowledging my homosexuality, to discern which guys I was attracted to for their traits and which I was actually _attracted_ to on a romantic/sexual/personal level, I'll go ahead and add this to the list. Sexualization of admiration: check.

I always had high standards for myself and wanted to do something perfectly or not at all, in the things I cared about, that is. I would stay inside during recess to get my math homework painstakingly finished and triple-checked. I would draw every individual blade of grass on my scenic drawings in first grade. I buttoned my shirt all the way up and tucked it in neatly and combed every last hair perfectly flat to my head. Every stuffed animal had a name and personality. Music in grade school and primary had to be sung precisely, the motions memorized and performed perfectly, or I'd be embarrassed. While playing piano, if I messed up, I would go back to the beginning of the piece to play it from the beginning because I knew I could do it perfectly, and I would settle for nothing less. Perfectionism: check.

As a kid, I would sometimes skip cracks in the pavement. No biggy, right? We all did that sometimes. But I would sometimes actually get frustrated if I had to alter my pace to compensate and miss a crack. I wanted to find a pattern of steps which would work, and it stressed me out to be trying to do that and keep having to adjust, even though I knew it was a game. Or when I was really little, I'd think, "Well, I don't see how stepping on a crack would actually break my mother's back, but if I step on the crack, it's almost like I don't care if it actually did..." I'd also adjust volume in round numbers. I liked round and even numbers and didn't like leaving volume or timers on odd numbers. Of course, I didn't feel like anything bad would happen if I didn't, but I would feel somewhat uneasy if I had to leave it somewhere I didn't want it. In addition, I would occasionally daydream about not being able to stop bouncing. I'd try to absorb the bounce or grab something anchored to stay put on the ground, but I couldn't stop bouncing. I wouldn't just distract myself and go do something else to get my mind off of it: I had to learn to force myself to stop the thought and gain control of it, but I couldn't. Obsessive/compulsive thoughts: check.

Gosh, is that all? On the surface, my life does seem to fit the pattern of a classic homo, and if I bought into reparative theory and similar theories of developmental causes of homosexuality, I suppose I'd believe these things all contributed to the unnatural development of homosexual inclinations. If I felt emotionally vulnerable or driven to eradicate homosexuality from my life, and I were looking for someone who seems to "understand it" and who was offering solutions, I dare say I would feel a strong pull to plop these puzzle pieces into place and not question them further since they clearly fit on at least a superficial level. But the theories, and the stories of those who think they fit into their lives, never rang true with me, even when I thought it would be nice if they did, and I think there's more to the story than the theories focus on, not least of which is the conundrum: even if there is a correlation (and in many of these points, research shows there is), how is causation determined, and what causes what? Maybe I'll get to that in another post...

20 March 2011

Ye of little faith

In some moments, I want to say to theists, especially the fundamentalist religious types, "You have so little faith in the unseen. You're so impatient and think you need all of the answers now..." Of course, I recognize that it's possibly precisely because it's been "used" against me in the past that I am inclined to use it in return. But I was reading a discussion about "miracles," and comments like, "Well, there's no better explanation, so it's clearly an [unnatural or supernatural or otherwise mystically-timed] act of God" had me a bit bewildered at how impatient some people are when it comes to not knowing the answers and having to explain it now however they can to make the world make sense again. And it clicked: I was thinking they lacked faith in truth itself. Bear with me while I explain in more long-winded manner (who, me?!):

The laws of nature are not fully understood. The relationships between particles, forces, or energies are not fully understood. We try to relate to the world and the universe through theoretical, measurable chunks. We create theoretical vacuums in which to understand principles of physics. We create simplified components of systems to understand the principles at work. We love stories with simplified characters because they make artificially clear the traits of heroism or evil. But reality--the real-world operations and interactions of things and people--rarely if ever operates in such stark simplicity but is instead a possibly infinitely complex conglomerate, series, or interaction of each of these simplified ideas. Our systems of scientific experimentation are often completely adequate in their estimates, but it is all still estimation, and the most minute anomaly can introduce unexpected influence and cause variation.

If I could precisely measure exactly the physical, atomic, and subatomic interplay between molecules and particles making up what we call "air", and I knew exactly the gravitational influences from the earth and nearby celestial bodies such as the moon, and I knew exactly every other action in the world which was to occur instantaneously at a given point in time which would, in turn, cause a reaction or interaction with incidental particles and people, and I knew exactly what decisions people were going to make to affect the world around them, and I knew what particles and debris would enter our atmosphere as the Earth sped through space, and could incorporate all of the abstractly simple and straightforward laws of physics into this complex understanding, then I could probably predict exactly where on the ground or on a person's shoulder a feather dropped from the Eiffel Tower would land or predict what the weather was going to be in Provo, UT next year at this time. But that dropped feather will behave in a seemingly unpredictable and chaotic way, changing direction with the slightest shift in the air, and hey, even what the weather will be tomorrow is a bit of a crap shoot for Utah's meteorologists.

The feather landing on someone's head might seem a miracle, especially if that person also happened to have asked God for a sign of peace in the last year, more so if they asked an hour prior. An unexpected downpour right onto one person's house might seem a sign of gloom and doom or might confirm to passersby that this person is, indeed, a bad neighbor as they had suspected. These are the cases where people say, "Well, you can't tell me it's a coincidence..." But how many people are just looking for anything to confirm what they hope or suspect? And of those, how many have these events occur? Many assume that, absent of a scientific explanation, their belief in the supernatural has been confirmed. Others persist, after increased knowledge and understanding explain how the incident occurred, in believing that the timing itself testifies of its miraculous nature. But when a "miracle" occurs which seems to defy their beliefs, it is quickly scoffed at or otherwise shrugged off as an "unknown", or a Satanic imitation, or someone trying too hard to look for signs.

Is it any wonder that on occasion, events may take place which meteorologists couldn't predict given their current understanding and measurements? Is it any wonder, with how little we yet know of the incredibly complex systems and interactions within the human body, not to mention the inability, logistically or financially, to measure every single function occurring in every single medical patient at all times, that people experience phenomena--from healing, to revitalization after clinical death (cells don't all cease functioning for quite a while), to utterly unexpected death--which medical knowledge "can't explain"?

And yet, despite this perspective, when I see what religious adherents might refer to as a "miracle", I'm not sure I'm any less in awe of it or grateful for it than they are, or than I was of similar events when I was religious. It's beautiful. I love that the universe still attests that there is a vastness of truth beyond anything I can comprehend, yet to be discovered and understood, and that we are players in an incredibly expansive reality. I'm in awe at the fortune of some to have their wishes fulfilled, to have a loved one brought back as they may have teetered on the point of despair or resignation or to stumble upon great fortune at a time of desperate need. I acknowledge it's impressive when a priesthood blessing seems to be fulfilled in miraculous manner. But I also know how many are not, and I know another family just lost their loved one unexpectedly despite the strongest of faith, and I know it sometimes rains on temple dedications, and I know children praying for families or health may never find them. That doesn't mean there's no God or that God isn't personified and willful and allowing each person to learn in different ways and on different timelines. But...there comes a point where you have to acknowledge that religious explanations typically seem awfully 'convenient' to the adherents' paradigms and context. But hey, I know what it's like to think, "Well, I know it might seem convenient, but if it's true, then of course it's going to make sense within the doctrine. Of course it's going to seem convenient: because it's the truth." That might seem circular, but as long as it's not being used to "prove" that the miracles are true, it's not circular, and you have to acknowledge...it's logical, assuming...

I used to reconcile things like seemingly unjust pain and death with the idea that because there's another life beyond this, even death isn't tragic if it's merely a passage into another, better stage of existence, and even those kids who grow up without families may have been given opportunities, through their coping, to learn and grow stronger which they might not have had if they had been placed. I used to figure some people were healed because someone needed the miracle or because the healed person had more to do on earth, while others weren't because someone needed the humility, or the deceased person was needed on the other side for some purpose.

Having thought that way, I may have a different take than most nontheists on the idea that scientific explanation necessarily negates the need for belief in or existence of deity. The mere notion that we may, one eon, if we last long enough as a species, discover all of the mechanisms and interactions in the universe--like where emotions come from and why some people have "near-death" or "out-of-body" experiences--does not guarantee that there aren't mechanisms by which more advanced beings couldn't be pulling some strings or manipulating events here and there. As I understand it, the LDS notion of God is compatible with this nearly sci-fi kind of outlook in which natural laws are completely preserved but operate on more planes of energy or perception than those of which we are now aware or which we're able to prove with current technology and measurement.

All of this comes back to my point that when I hear people say, "I believe God performed a miracle because there is no other explanation," I see a very weak reason to believe. Even though I'm skeptical, I think there are other reasons to believe than this sort of 'default', mostly deeply personal and mostly impossible to insert into someone else's psyche. When someone says, "I believe in God because the universe just doesn't make sense without him," I hear impatience and...a lack of faith, not to mention a sad lack of intellectual curiosity and engagement with the universe they're a part of. I see a lack of faith in what is yet to be seen, what is yet to be understood. How many times have I been taught and in turn taught others that we simply cannot and will not have all of the answers here and now, or in this life at all, and that a little faith is required to trust that it all makes sense somehow? You may not understand a trial or struggle now, but you can still trust that a reason exists and that it will be for your good somehow. You may not understand an unexplained phenomenon now, but you can still trust that an elegantly reasonable explanation exists for what it was or how it happened. Be not afraid.

Of course, when I ceased to need a "why" for everything because I no longer necessarily believed a conscious, willful being was in control of everything or "allowed" everything to happen, or chose to intervene in some cases (implicitly not in others), and I realized I believed it's never been about "why" but more about "how" and about what I'll make of it, many ideas started to click in a way they never had before.

Sometimes, the principle of faith--of not needing all the answers now--is used to browbeat those who do not believe in a God or in a religiously theistic outlook. But my paradigm shifted. I'm not sure when, and I might come up with any of a number of explanations for how or why, but it shifted. I still understand the principle, even from an LDS perspective. I still know that even if God is very real and present, I'm simply not going to understand the will and mind of an infinitely powerful and omniscient being for whom time may be irrelevant in order to make sense of things which don't make sense to my limited, mortal brain and perspective.

But atheists and nontheists have a faith, too, though maybe not the mystical kind the religious value more: a belief in or hope for truth which is as-of-yet not discovered or not proven, which may or may not have evidence. They trust that there's an explanation, even if we don't know it now, even when they are being told to stop looking for it and "have faith" that God is the explanation. They may even regard theists as being impatient and lacking trust or faith in ultimate truth, instead supplanting that quiet patience with notions of the unnatural or supernatural manipulation by invisible beings, sacrificing the search for truth and expansion or adjustment of perspective for a hasty embrace of a story which demotes truth by fitting the universe into one's already-existing perspective. This is probably similar to the way the religious view the non-, as "denying" religious truth to fit their limited, sensory, quantifiable perception and mere physical universe at the expense of the vast spiritual dimension of existence. I'm not sure how you bridge that gap of understanding.

But in my view, the intellectually, emotionally honest among us--theist and nontheist alike--are patiently waiting to find and receive the answers to the mysteries without jumping to conclusions, despite our respective hunches and personal experiences. That is, I think, largely the essence of my agnosticism: not only patience with but even a sort of reverence for the complexity and ambiguity of truth and the search for understanding.

I was told by someone in conflict, "I can't question everything my whole life. I need conviction." I was in no position to debate, but I wanted to say, "Show me conviction without questions. No, your view and mine are incompatible. I hope to never stop questioning. To do so would be a lack of faith."

18 March 2011

Undressing you with my eyes

I was talking with a friend the other day, and something he said about having inappropriate thoughts got me thinking: do I see an attractive guy and undress him and get all naughty in my head? I realized...I don't think I do. Or if I do, it's rare. I don't, it seems, undress people with my eyes. I see a hot bod in fitted clothing, and I might think it'd be nice if that clothing weren't hiding their physique, or that they'd be fun to make out with if we had a connection and they were attentive and creative enough to be good at it, but I don't really go off into fantasy land, frolicking all nekkid and frisky or having them give me a saucy striptease. Nope. I mostly just think of them in aesthetic terms, in a way.

Admittedly, I occasionally see someone I just want to keep admiring. Every once in a while, I might get a bit "in the mood" when a hottie's using the exercise equipment right in front of me, and oh, too bad, I just can't help but enjoy the tight butt and well-defined lats in front of me. But do I envision him all nekkid? No. I'm pretty darn sure I did as a teenager, though. A lot. Yeah, I remember doing it, now that I think about it. I'd see an attractive guy and immediately start envisioning what he looks like shirtless, imagining the definition and smooth skin hidden under his shirt, flexing and...heh, silly, horny teenage years.

I'm not sure what's changed, or exactly when (probably by my early twenties, I think), except I now have a more complete, satisfying view of what attraction's about and...hm...I wonder if part of it is that I allow myself that emotional/complete attraction now, rather than just separating and sexualizing the physical attraction component. I mean, maybe I was just plain hornier back then (let's be honest, I just was because...teenage guys: 'nuff said), but I think there's more to it. Before, in my mind, it was about body curiosity and physical appeal or jealousy because I never allowed myself to even begin to think it could ever be about more with a guy. There was therefore no hope of finding an attractive guy I could actually be with because that just wasn't an option I believed in, and there was no chance I was ever going to actually touch a male body in the way I longed to, so it was therefore easier to ignore personality traits in favor of focusing solely on the physical and sort of obsessing over what I believed I could never, ever have, even if by choice.

By now, I've had some really attractive guys kinda put it on the table, so I figure if I really wanted to just touch and be freaky with a hot bod, I probably could. And I've made out with someone who had a kind of body I always was really turned on by but who was not a match for me, personalitywise. So maybe it has to do with the fact that while I would love to find someone with an amazing physique, an adorable and hot face, and a sweet, intelligent, loving, warm, kind, and otherwise "good" personality, who shares my values and principles, if I have to sacrifice some of the muscle tone and perfect skin, that's a totally fair trade for being with a good person, and it kinda puts it all in perspective for me. There's something about having been with someone with whom I felt so at home and secure and satisfied that no amazing physique could possibly make me want to express sexual intimacy outside of that relationship, and I recognized a hot bod when I saw one but had no desire to play with it. Now, I'm not with anyone, and I still raise my brows in approval at a hot physique or wonder if they're as ripped as their clothing makes them look and wryly wish to find out, but undressing them in my mind...? I don't think I do...at least not consciously or more than very rarely...

So am I weird? Do most of you readers out there actually "undress" hotties in your minds? Is it any different from when you were a horny teenager (for the males)? Hey, now, stop snickering. I'm so curious to know what other people's experience is, not to "trigger" anyone but to identify whether I'm weird, or others have experienced similar shifts, or whether such shifts are connected with experience and views of sexuality, etc. Thoughts? Experiences? Saucy stories? ...OK, that last one isn't really...um...well, OK yeah if you have one. No, no, keep it clean for the benefit of my more white-knuckled readers...if there are any left at this point. *wink*

Confessions of a Nurtured Homo, Part 2

<< Part 1

I have no recollection of ever having been sexually abused, and nobody has ever reported seeing signs of sexual abuse in me. But in early grade school, I had a nearly traumatic, shame-filled encounter with a little female friend my age who wanted to get naked in her bedroom and asked me to lie down on my back. She then got on top of me, naked, and sort of laid there. I wasn't aroused or anything and had no idea what her aim was. I just felt like this was something we weren't supposed to do, and I was more awkwardly curious and ashamed than anything. I don't remember if it was that time or another, but I lost my shirt, and her mom had to help us find it. I was so mortified that her mom would realize that we'd been doing things we weren't supposed to, and I was sad to be moving away from that friend but glad I wouldn't have to deal with that again. Even when I saw her a few years later during a visit, I felt uncomfortable about the emotions seeing her brought back despite wanting us to just be friends without the awkwardness. As I remember, she didn't seem to give it a second thought. My number one wish for my baptism at 8 years of age was to have that incident wiped clean and never, ever do anything that shameful again. I felt dirty, unclean, and unworthy until my baptism, when I was able to finish the process of "repenting" for that sin and have it washed away. I haven't given that incident much thought since adolescence, but I remember feeling scarred and sinful as a young child. Traumatic sexual experience: check.

I just didn't relate to guys my age and thought they were neanderthals, boring, interested in things I wasn't interested in, kind of stupid, immature, crude, rough, unkind, mean to girls (since I generally heard the girls' perspectives of situations), etc. I had mostly female friends. I didn't think of myself as girly, but I was mocked for not being one of the boys. I didn't want to be. I didn't want to be a woman, but I didn't want to be a man if it meant being a prick. I decided I just was going to be me, but I couldn't deny I was affected by being so 'different' and sometimes wished there were more people like me (I'm not sure I ever really wished I were more like others...perhaps narcissism should be added to my list of things that have made me gay). I always had one main male friend at a time, three or four growing up. When I was really young, I played a sort of intellectually dominating role in the friendship and was bossy and probably not the best for his self-image. Late grade school, I made another friend I could relate to who also seemed to relate better to girls but again was a bit of a jerk to him. I made fun of traits I called girly and gave him a hard time for his weight. When I found out, in college, that he'd come out as gay, I feared that my bullying might have contributed to making him that way. Now I think...birds of a feather...and I love this guy and hope I'm forgiven for having been a jerk so many years ago. And he's not girly or overweight. *wink* General masculine detachment: check.

Throughout adolescence, I had a strong aversion to playing team sports. I enjoyed games involving basketballs but not the sport itself, individual games as long as super-competitive (trash-talking) people weren't playing. I enjoyed volleyball with friends. I liked baseball in my yard with friends. I was never into football or soccer and avoided playing them, if I could, in P.E. in secondary school. Boys were absurdly aggressive and mean about sports, and I wanted no part of the childish trash talk and mean-spirited criticism of those who were trying but just didn't have the athletic ability of the boys who seemed to think life was about sports. It wasn't worth it. I didn't enjoy it much in the first place, so to put up with that and be around it didn't make sense to me. I did, however, really enjoy lacrosse, gymnastics, archery, random made-up team games using hockey sticks... Team sports aversion: check.

In junior high, the boys and girls were separated, and boys would play "shirts and skins" football or soccer, and I never once played skins, and if I was going to have to, I opted to run laps instead. I didn't have the physique the other boys had, and I had acne problems, and I was ashamed of my body in general. Body shame: check.

I would see guys with cut, trim, or lean physiques and find myself trying very hard not to look at them, or not to get caught looking at them. I felt jealous of their good looks. I wanted to be more like that. I didn't want their personality traits, too, if they were jerks, but I wished I looked like they did. I told myself this was why I was so interested. It only made sense. I was skinny, without muscle, a weakling, and I wanted to be like them. When I found myself aroused by them, I scorned myself for perverting what was surely a natural jealousy and admiration and making it sexual. I found myself wanting to look at pictures, so I wouldn't get caught gawking, so I'd look in fitness magazines or underwear catalogs. Surely it was a curiosity which would just pass. But then I'd hit myself upside the head for having looked at pictures of attractive men and getting aroused because I must only be making the "problem" worse. Body envy: check.


16 March 2011

Confessions of a Nurtured Homo, Part 1

As I read literature on what supposedly causes young boys to head down a heterosexually retarded developmental path, I see threads of my own life. I know this is how they seduce many guys into their philosophy, guys desperate to believe this "isn't who they are" or "isn't what they were meant to be", so they can then offer them "a way out". Many need to believe they turn out straight if they become the men they were meant to be, and this whole dilemma will be resolved. I think most of that philosophy is bunk, as many of you know, and that it comes down to coping with one's differences and past or approaching relationships in a healthy way that works best for maximum satisfaction and congruence with beliefs. But I know that someone who knows me well enough will see, beyond my skepticism, the ways my life's pieces supposedly fit into that puzzle. In the interest of full disclosure, here are some of the things I might confess to a reparative or other gender identity therapist:

My father worked a lot when I was younger and wasn't always home in the evenings. I looked at my friend down the street whose dad taught him to throw and catch, and even though I was never especially interested in team sports, I felt a little jealous that his dad taught him that. My mom taught me to catch and throw. My brother did sometimes, too, at my mom's request. But Dad didn't "get" me. In the Myers Briggs personality typing, we're conflicting types. I figured he loved me, but I didn't "feel" it from him like I did from my mom. I just had to accept it on an intellectual level. I have happy memories with him from my childhood, like watching The Muppet Show together and him reading the newspaper by the fire with my draped on his side, probably as a toddler. Vacations were always fun, when we weren't car shopping (BORING). But no, we didn't really connect in the cozy, emotional level I did with my mom, and I felt slightly awkward about going anywhere with _just_ him. Even though the tension around that is something I've worked to resolve over the years, and I relate to him better now and am not the least bit uncomfortable admitting I very much show traits from both him and my mom despite some significant differences in personality, I've always remembered that it wasn't always as it is now. Distant father: check.

My older brother who still lived at home while I was growing up was possibly my most prominent male role model as far as attachment goes. He played violin and played football. He really dug girls. Personalitywise, he and I are about as different as siblings can be. He didn't "get" me and often was frustrated by my sensitivity and lack of interest in typical 'male' things. But he was a great older brother in the most important ways, and he cared about me, and I knew he wanted to help balance out my eccentricities with his natural ability to 'fit in', and part of me knew he was right that I was too weird for most people to handle, so I reluctantly tried some suggestions here and there because I didn't like being made fun of so much at school. And I cared what he thought to an extent, even though I denied that I cared what anyone thought, so when he swore at me once for crying, it hurt a lot. Feelings of rejection from male attachment figure: check.

My mother is a bit of a mama bear. She's no demure, mousy housewife, and she has always had a fiercely protective streak. Fortunately, I didn't see much of that growing up except for putting a shady car salesman or two in his place with his tail between his legs. She tried to rein it in and keep any involvement or interference--such as calling the school regarding bullying issues or any such thing--behind the scenes. I had the illusion of mostly fighting my own battles. But she also has always been very involved--even nosy--in her kids' lives, and I was the youngest and was naturally very cuddly as a baby and therefore probably got the bulk of the affection and squeezing and clinging from her. She told me she knew I wasn't perfect, but I was never sure if she could handle knowing, rather than vaguely suspecting, my imperfections, tendencies, and decisions she wouldn't approve of, let alone the ones I didn't approve of, myself. She has had trouble stepping back and relinquishing the mama role. She's been doing much better over the last several years as I told her I needed to cut the umbilical more thoroughly, but the damage may have been done. Overbearing mother: check.

I was given soy formula for years. Soy estrogens: check.

Speaking of bullying issues, I was never bullied much in a physical way, but I was called names in school. I don't know that it was inordinate compared to most people, but I know it was stressful at times. I learned early on that I choose how to react to situations. I learned to try to be selective about whose input I cared about. I learned to respond to threatening situations with disarming mental tactics because I was skinny and weak. Bullying: check.

>> Part 2