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

11 March 2011

"Masculine" Rites of Passage

I never did see much point in arbitrary rites of passage. Even as a kid, I'd watch a documentary TV show about a tribe in Africa and see the boys all lined up for their group circumcision or their war games or whatever it was, waiting to pass through an ordeal or test of strength in order to become "men" in the eyes of their tribe, and I thought, "They are no different after the ritual than they were before. Just because they won a fight or got their penis snipped, it does not mean they're more 'men' now than they were before. They're still 15 years old and probably quite emotionally immature but will now think they have some authority or wisdom they didn't have before: I've seen it in American culture, too, and it's laughable when it's not dangerous. To me, being a man means being a mature, well-adjusted, well-rounded person who recognizes his strengths and weaknesses and is working on becoming better and who takes care of his family and treats people with kindness and is emotionally strong whether or not his body is physiologically strong or muscular and emulates Jesus the best he knows how...not someone who went through some ordeal to prove some arbitrary notions about what men are supposed to be like, or who wins a test of muscular strength, or who has had sex with a woman, or who has proven himself to be more aggressive than other men, or who has said the right words in conjunction with some ceremony...how silly."

When I received awards at scouting ceremonies, my first impulse was to roll my eyes at the formalities and hand shakes and token signs and scripts. But I thought, "There must be a good reason for it, and it's kind of fun, in a way, to be part of something official and formal: I just wish people didn't take it so very seriously because--aside from looking kind of silly to me when they're so serious about something that really didn't require any heroic effort on my part--what matters isn't the ceremony but the stuff I learned and accomplished, which isn't changed by whether I do the right salute or say the right phrase. I guess they just want to make sure we remember certain things by memorizing them, so that's OK."

Arrow of Light
And I think that's the point of ritual to me. I guess I appreciate the probability that most people are more responsive to things like fraternal orders and ceremonial formalities than I am. They just never made a lot of sense to me except as arbitrary ways of helping us remember and recognize principles and, for those who look forward to the recognition or formality, motivation to progress within certain systems of advancement usually tied to particular ideological and cultural ideals and templates. I just wasn't motivated by looking forward to another painfully formalized and pompous ceremony, so I found rites of passage to be almost a deterrent. But I appreciated the symbolism and reminders they offered. I appreciated rewards and awards but didn't want the ceremonial recognition. I was very shy, so that definitely came into play, but there was more to it on an intellectual level. Oddly, I still remember aspects of my arrow of light ceremony, which I remember thinking was overwrought, but I was still proud that I'd 'earned' it. The funny thing: I don't remember what I did to earn it or what it meant. So much for being a reminder. It probably worked at the time, for the time.

On the other hand, I remember the temple ceremony quite well and can probably recite the memorized parts but, of course, choose not to out of respect for what it is believed to mean by those who still participate in it. Somehow, the temple ceremony was different for me. I still saw it as somewhat arbitrary rites and phrases chosen to represent a deeper meaning and symbolic representation of gospel principles. I knew the ceremony had been changed over the years and that it may or may not be 100% dictated directly by God. But though most people are really weirded out by the ritual of it when they first go through, I wasn't. It seemed fine to me, not outlandish or odd. I'd been to a Catholic mass, I'd casually studied ancient religious traditions, I'd taken the stake temple prep class one-on-one, and I knew ritual was a way of engaging the adherent in a whole-body representation of the beliefs and principles taught, an interactive experience which went beyond mere spoken instruction to a more proactive kind of internalization of the ideas taught. I felt like the temple ceremony made me really think in an impacting way about what living the gospel was all about and why we make the commitments we do, and I felt like I was stepping up a bit more, manning up a bit more to a higher level of commitment than I had previously done if only by virtue of the fact that someone was now bothering to say, "Do you actively promise to dedicate yourself to X and Y?" and I was given the opportunity to explicitly state my intent and to follow through. Again, it wasn't the ritual or ceremony which mattered but what it represented, and I found personal motivation and meaning in it. Maybe part of what I appreciated about the temple as opposed to other ceremonies I'd been involved in or witnessed was that everything was very personal, not done with fanfare and individual recognition but sort of privately, one-on-one, as part of many who were doing the same rather than having any individual "recognition" beyond very private interactions I believed were meant to represent my direct relationship and connection with God.

In addition, when I 'received' the Aaronic priesthood when 12, I didn't consider myself to somehow be more of a man, but I did consider it an opportunity to learn a new level of service and to begin to learn to exercise the authority and power of God through my worthiness and dedication to the principles of the priesthood, an effort to become more like God in an eternal, steady process. It wasn't that I was becoming more of a man: it was that I was accepting the opportunity to grow personally and step up. It's a subtle difference, maybe, but a paradigm I think is tragically overlooked and ignored by many or most young men in the church who seem more fixated on the idea that they're being given some kind of badge or stripes each time they 'advance' in the priesthood or are called to serve a mission.

It's understandable, I guess, from an emotional standpoint: men are supposed to want and deserve validation as 'men' (in the social belonging sense of identifying with those who generally share similar traits as distinct from other groups, even if there are amazing, good men whose qualities are not the same as the socially traditionally ideal template), rites of passage into manhood (social recognition that they are maturing and reaching socially or culturally defined milestones which traditionally entitle them to rights and privileges not previously offered, arbitrary though they may be), affirmation and recognition for their accomplishments and learned strengths (both to motivate future progress in him being recognized, assuming he's motivated by social recognition, and to motivate others to want to work to earn the same recognition through their own personal progress), etc.

This all came up because I was reading some material on Evergreen's web site, an article by a somewhat popular author within EG circles about masculine identity (one day, maybe I'll dig into my disagreement with such people's conclusions despite my agreement with many aspects of what they say). Within various sexual orientation change circles, there's a strong trend towards masculine identification exercises and what I think is regarded as a return to a sort of primal, tribal brotherhood notion. I find it all a bit overwrought still, as if those pushing it believe it's the only or best way to motivate and bring accountability into men's lives. I may not feel a drive to be involved with ritualistic or fraternal order groups, but I recognize that we all have formal and informal social systems and that, generally speaking, most people are happiest when they have social order and structure in their lives and tend to progress more steadily with accountability and incentive in place, including social recognition and reinforcement through formal ceremony. I also recognize that a key way values and principles have been maintained and preserved throughout history is through established ritual and symbolic ceremony, regardless of whether I think there are or should be better ways. So I don't have a problem with formalized or fraternal "orders" which engage in more or less formal "ritual" as long as they're recognized for what they are--a social mechanism and symbolic representation of underlying principles--and not given magical importance in and of themselves, used to emotionally manipulate those who aren't cognitively aware of why they feel so "affirmed" and "strengthened" but just assume that everything being taught to them is right because of how good it feels to them to be a part of some grand brotherhood of men, or given free license to commit grave errors of action and thought because their members fear to lose the camaraderie should they challenge the status quo.

Unfortunately, I think fraternal orders almost always have more of that influence than I'm comfortable with, and I don't believe the benefits typically outweigh that effect. But then, I'm not the kind of man they draw to begin with...

10 March 2011

You make me feel like a natural man

Listen, churchy chumps, stop using the "natural man" argument to conveniently bolster your hobby topics such as homosexuality. A natural heterosexual man falls in love with and wants to be with women. If your logic is that everything which feels "natural" is evil, or that I am supposed to overcome any arbitrarily selected "natural" inclination in order to prove my dedication and gain glory, then let's see straight people live single and celibate their whole lives to prove their willingness to overcome the "natural man".

And I'm not just talking about those people who, despite their desire and effort, "just don't find the right person," but everyone. I'm talking about everyone choosing to be single and rejecting opportunities which seem to be real shots at happy companionship with someone who'd want to build a family with them--someone with whom they're personally, ideologically, financially, and otherwise compatible, whose values they share, whom they respect, to whom they're attracted, for whom they have more than a "Christlike" lovin' feeling--only because the potential partner is the wrong gender. Because hey, their 'natural' appetites and lusts are not sufficient to build an eternal relationship. And showing your love for and obedience to God requires the willing sacrifice of all things. Then I'll start believing they understand what they're preaching.

While we're at it, let's have mothers refrain from ever holding their babies. That's a natural impulse, and one's faithfulness is proven by showing their willingness to subdue all earthly comforts and attachments, all natural appetites, to show their dedication to eternal growth rather than earthly comforts.

That's different, you say? Good, I agree it is. Because holding your baby is a divinely appointed good? Because God hasn't spoken, through what are believed to be divinely appointed mouthpieces, against holding your babies? Because research has shown that touch deprivation is psychologically and physically harmful for babies? Well OK, then, stick to the real issue and stop browbeating with accusations of not understanding that God requires difficult things of the faithful or asserting that only the proud reject an involved, personal God. Focus on the real issue of what you believe God's will to be, and get your misguided, arbitrarily applied "natural man is an enemy to God" and "doing what's harder brings rewards" motive-demeaning fluff out of my face. It's old and stinky.

09 March 2011

The homely truth about O-Mo

There are a few things I think people sometimes misperceive about me and a few tidbits which seem to surprise people when they find them out. I've probably thought of some of these because of the new people I've been meeting and spending time with and the questions they come up with along the way. It makes me wonder what perceptions people have of me and when they'll see past their self-told stories about me based on initial impressions. So by way of clarification:
  • I'm interesting and fun to certain people, but I'm often terribly boring to people who "like to have fun" in the dancing, partying sense or frustrating to those who are especially action-oriented or hardcore.
  • I know a few people genuinely and deeply care about me and say they're glad to have me around, but I occasionally still feel completely useless to everyone, like my total absence wouldn't make any notable difference.
  • While I sometimes let the previous feeling motivate me to want to live in a way that would be more impacting, I sometimes instead wish I could just vanish away to stop using up resources and people's energy for my piddly life and concerns.
  • I am often confident about many things, but I'm also insecure sometimes about others. Being confident or having conviction about some things does not eliminate insecurities or uncertainty about others.
  • I have an abundance of love and affection to offer, but I nevertheless often think that the strongest and most animating affection and love I have felt will be homeless, and I'll be better off alone or am unfit to really match up with anyone in a meaningful, lasting way unless I shut down significant parts of my personality and cognition which most people find difficult to deal with or share...
  • I have a lot of beliefs and conviction, but those have been gained through or proven by questions and doubts.
  • I want to make the most of my life and really contribute something but often move on to another idea or lose practical interest before the follow-through. It's not that I don't have ambition or don't care, it's that I may need external help to channel and invest and don't easily identify that help.
  • I fall into intellectual laziness sometimes, failing to exercise my mental muscles or remember why I've incorporated certain principles, and emotional attachments or desires sneak in to draw me in directions I don't believe are ultimately best but which "feel good" at the time. Fortunately, I'm also slow to act, so I typically have time to realize my potential direction and remember the reasons before I've done anything "rash" (like going to church in a moment of wishing for the sense of community or simplicity of just playing along but without believing it, or fooling around with someone who's hot and seems willing but with whom I don't want a romantic relationship and whom I don't trust enough to know that they're disease-free or know for sure where they're coming from emotionally). This lends an air of stability which is pretty accurate but is not necessarily the whole story: there's still messiness behind the stability--it just typically gets processed internally.
  • I'm intelligent but easily distracted from learning about things by shiny, newer things or old hobby interests.
  • I like good books but rarely read because I'm a very slow reader and don't feel satisfied by skimming.
  • I am once again without a job and am, in fact, looking for employment but not nearly to the degree I probably "should" be because I hate job-hunting and let myself get very easily distracted by...blogging, for example. Or dates. Or movie nights with the boys. Or a long, hot bath. Or working out. Or cleaning my room. Or manscaping. Or cooking. Or editing wedding photos I have to get done. ...and then I procrastinate the photo editing because once it's done, I know I'll be out of good excuses to put off job-hunting...crap...
  • I chew the skin around my fingernails. A lot. Especially when I'm reading blogs and formulating my own entries. Then once I've done it a little, I have to keep going until there are no rough edges. This often means I've made a meal of my own skin after a couple of hours before I force myself to stop. It's pretty disgusting when I think about it. I don't consider it a "nervous habit", just a lost-in-thought one, but one I should probably kick nonetheless.
  • I care about people's feelings, but I have a threshold to how much I can hear complaints about the same thing repeatedly, and I can become insensitive when I get especially pragmatic with other people's trials. This is 'ironical' because my journals and blogs show a pattern of talking about the same things many different ways...and sometimes the same ways...
  • Even though I wish more people were more direct with me about what they perceive as my shortcomings (whether or not I'll agree), I'm also sometimes afraid to ask direct questions or realize I just don't care about someone's opinion on something.
  • I feel a desire to be more, to do more, to contribute more, but I also value just enjoying the company of those I care about and making happy memories together from what we have, even if it's not much. Of course, I can't help but wonder if I am a slothful, apathetic person because I'm not so goal- and accomplishment-oriented as some of my friends. Part of me thinks there's more to it than that, that there's a fundamental personality difference that I have yet to tap into to find my place, but another part of me wonders if I really am just lazy, or if my priorities are not lined up for my happiness, even if I don't think they should be lined up the way others around me line theirs up...which I don't. *shrug*

Hey, the first step is admitting the problem, right? On the other hand, I didn't write these for y'all to confirm or deny them. Almost every time I write or say something like this, someone says something they think I meant, and I didn't, and I disagree, and then they think I'm just stubborn and rebellious for not agreeing with their own interpretation of or spin on what I said. Ha, whatev.

On a related note, there are those things which are, I believe, not so problematic (at least not anymore) but "just are":
  • I rarely remember references or quotations, and I rarely repeat information or pretend to know something about something until it's been confirmed in some reliable way, or else I'll repeat it but make clear that I don't know its validity. I used to worry this made me sound less intelligent. I no longer worry about it, even if it's true.
  • I'm a fairly good-looking guy, but I'm heavily acne-scarred on my face and shoulders and upper back, and it took me years to first get over the shame and then come to terms with it pretty thoroughly. I used to hate the thought of disgusting people with my ugly back and zit-covered face and couldn't keep from worrying about it in many situations. Now it rarely occurs to me, not because I'm naive to the fact that some people will be disgusted but because I no longer am. One step in that process was having someone I cared about and was attracted to look right at my acne-scarred shoulders, touch them, and even kiss them without apparent reservation years ago. I sometimes forget how meaningful that was to me at the time.
  • I've been accused of being a bit of an exhibitionist in certain circles (only among trusted gay friends, really), but I was painfully modest for over a decade and was really uncomfortable about being seen shirtless, so it's possibly an overcompensation...though I'm really not a nekkidness freak or anything.
  • I have what some might regard as a few refined tastes, but I also unabashedly like some things which seem to invite the response, "Really? I think I just lost a little respect for you." Like watching The Bachelor. *wink* I pay little attention to such juvenile judgments.
  • I'm a jack of a few trades, master of none. I thought of myself as talentless for years. I now think of myself as having a talent or two, albeit very underdeveloped because I can't seem to maintain interest in one long enough to really excel. I'm no renaissance man compared to some I know, and I may be OK with that.
  • I fart. A lot. No, seriously. Like, more than is probably healthy for any normal human. But I'm OK with it. It's everyone else who seems bent out of shape by it. Weird.

Somehow, I felt like this post was going to feel more...exposing than it does. But I guess it's nothing huge, just those things I've noticed people seem to overlook or be surprised by. I suppose my blog readership has a very different view of me than a person I met on a dating web site, so I'm probably misdirecting this energy, but ah, well. It's been an interesting exploration for me, at least. :-)

08 March 2011

Bitchelorettes and my mission dynamics

Remember how I said, in the comments on my post, that I've known women who remind me of Michelle on The Bachelor, and I think she was intense and manipulative and got caught up in playing up the drama when interviewing but probably was hiding some insecurities and might actually be pretty lovable? Yeah...OK, so I didn't spell it all out, but that's what I've thought.

Part of me actually thought I might really like her and wanted to get past the exterior shell and defense mechanisms to see what was past those. I don't think her breakdown on this week's "The women tell all" episode was an act. And I think Jackie and Stacey (and maybe that blonde girl whose name I don't care to look up) are far more bitchy than Michelle ever was, and they always have been unapologetically so. I also think more people forgive their brand of bitchy because it's more socially standard. More people are like them than are like Michelle, so they get a free ride on the guilt of the masses. I can't stand their self-protective, superiority-grasping snarls and scoffs. Jackie wears a perma-sneer I've always wanted to slap right off of her face. I had a strongly negative impression of these girls from the first episode: yes, girls, not women. I had quick impressions of Michelle, too: high-maintenance, overbearing, but potentially very interesting because she immediately reminded me of a person or two I really like... As I see it, if anyone was putting on airs and being two-faced in classic mean-girl fashion, it was the girls attacking Michelle. The way they looked at each other to affirm each other in their attacks was obvious. The way they clearly criticized her in roundabout ways and tried to deny it was deceptive and hypocritical. Michelle was over-the-top aggressive and made biting comments, but she's not pointing the finger and kicking someone while she's down: they are.

But then...if I'm going to be fair in the way they refuse to be with Michelle, I have to acknowledge that they're probably operating from within their own limited paradigms, they don't understand what Michelle means when she says she's "easily misunderstood". They don't understand her particular brand of self-defense or coping mechanisms, so her tears don't make sense to them except as a ploy, and I saw in their faces a look that seemed sincerely flabbergasted that anyone was buying into her "sob story" or showing sympathy, maybe because they figured that's exactly her design. But I am open to the possibility, or probability, that she was very much genuine in that moment. Even if, mind you, it doesn't "make sense" rationally when you put everything externally observable together, it's the unseen, internal factors that may incite sincere and very real emotion in her and make sense of what she's trying to say. So even if she will look back five years from now and think, "Wow, I was kind of a mess and had some things to figure out, and I probably shouldn't have been so bent out of shape and shouldn't have said some of the things I said on the show," (incidentally, she already has admitted that much) that doesn't mean she was being fake. But I don't expect everyone to have known the people I've known and understand the same people I understand, so I have to acknowledge that these women's hard faces and defensive glares might be no more indicators of their badness than Michelle's comments on the show were of hers. Jackie's perma-sneer notwithstanding, she might be a very good person in many ways I don't readily perceive because I struggle to get past her prickly demeanor. And I must admit, she saved some face towards the end, when she backed off a bit...but she still had that blasted expression of false superiority...

Here's the thing: I identify with Michelle. That's probably no real shocker. Of course, I'm not aggressive in the way she is, but I just...I guess I'm just one of those who saw past her words to her, as she put it, dry, sarcastic sense of humor. I got a good laugh when others were gasping at some of the things she said. I imagined her smirking a bit inside as she said some of the things she said because she knew how intense they were but was hamming it up during the camera interviews. I got a kick out of the editing to ramp up the "stalker" factor with brief shots and creepy music. I figured, "OK, she might be a bit of a creeper, but I suspect she's just...a bit intense and coping in her own quirky way." When she didn't take the other women's bait to engage in a cat fight but briefly defended herself and apologized and broke down, I saw the side of her I suspected had always been there, not shocked as the host said.

On my mission, just a couple of missionaries seemed to "get me" in the sense that they saw past what I was only in the process of realizing were prickly personality traits and barriers I had up. In some ways, I was an a-hole to most companions and unnecessarily rigid, but I sincerely didn't mean to be unkind or dismissive of anyone as a person, and I didn't know how to be any different while upholding my standards and defending my values, and I wasn't acting out of spite for anyone but out of desire to maintain my own beliefs and principles above all else. I've never been just like everyone else, personality-wise, and learning to adapt and put people at ease or engage in certain arbitrary social tokens has always been a bit challenging or tiring for me, to be honest. I find directness so refreshing, but most people find it uncomfortable. I most often challenge my own ideas internally before vocalizing them, but when I challenge someone else's, even in what I think is a benign way in order to understand how they arrived at something, all they often hear is, "I disagree and think your ideas aren't worth accepting and would rather do it my way."

I suspect many missionaries believed that they "saw through" my poise and "quiet dignity" to a selfish a-hole who didn't give a rip about anyone else, believing my "righteousness" to be an act to save face or appear respectable and gain approval from authority. But some saw what I believe was my intent and seemed to love me despite my thorns, and even then, I had an inkling that there were things I'd need to learn if I was going to keep from alienating people my whole life, and I wanted to learn them but couldn't as long as people just pushed back against what they perceived as me being an a-hole rather than loving me and showing me by example or kindly offering constructive criticism in the right moments.

See? This is an example of the stuff that goes through my head while I'm watching The Bachelor. I know: kinda intense and analytical, hm? But that's me, baby. Of course, I also simply enjoy the train wreck factor and the melodrama sometimes. :-)

02 March 2011

Bachelor Twist

I have the next twist on the oddly conservative show, The Bachelor: a gay bachelor marrying a woman. But the women can't know he's gay. In proposing this, I mean absolutely no disrespect to anyone who's been through it, just like I don't watch this season in order to belittle the challenges of those on the show now. I just love an engaging social experiment.
The bachelor's reasons may be religious, social, personal, whatever, but I want to watch as he visits with a therapist, navigates the challenges of approaching marriage with a woman, etc. And during the testimonials, the women can express how impressed they are by his "respectfulness" or how confused they are by his lack of affection. Of course, it'd be refreshing to not have all the eye-rolling hot tub makeout... *cough*

Or maybe he'd be great with the physical stuff, just like a straight dude, though I'm thinking if it's gonna be that way, the producers need to impose at least a two-year makeout fast on the bachelor to make sure he's good and pent-up by the time the show shoots.

Or maybe it wouldn't be that different after all...until he tells the final 6 women about his secret, and we get to watch them deal with it. Oh man, I'd be glued.

Of course, the show's season would be about two or three times as long as usual.

Whom do I contact to get this done?

Yes, please

Speaking of crushes on Henry Cavill, he's slated to be Superman in the next iteration. I think I approve.

01 March 2011

Not just about 'marriage'

I often hear church members say they support civil unions and giving same-sex couples the same rights as mixed-sex couples (many stop short of adoption rights), just not allowing same-sex couples to use the word 'marriage', and some even say the church has said as much.

It hasn't.

It has come out in support of certain rights for same-sex couples:
The Church does not object to rights (already established in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference. - The Divine Institution of Marriage

That's great, but it comes with the "so long as" qualifier (part of which [infringement of constitutional rights of churches and adherents] is totally understandable and probably necessary, the other part of which [infringing on the 'integrity of the family'] is completely subjective and allows for plenty of wiggle room should the church need it) and says nothing of civil unions, adoption rights, taxation, insurance, guardianship...

It has also clearly and officially implied it does not support giving same-sex couples all of the same rights and responsibilities as mixed-sex couples:
Legalizing same-sex marriage will affect a wide spectrum of government activities and policies. Once a state government declares that same-sex unions are a civil right, those governments almost certainly will enforce a wide variety of other policies intended to ensure that there is no discrimination against same-sex couples. This may well place "church and state on a collision course." - The Divine Institution of Marriage (emphasis added)

Classic "us or them". Of course, they expound on other reasons to bolster their opposition to same-sex marriage, reasons I believe are completely debatable if not debunkable. But my point here is that, to the church, this apparently isn't just about the word 'marriage', folks. So at the risk of spurring some of you to change your minds in a direction I disagree with, I say to my LDS-faithful friends and family: be careful about where you draw your lines, or you may find yourself unexpectedly at odds with 'the brethren' in your attempts to be 'tolerant'.