29 April 2012

It gets better. ...If.

OK, it just gets better.  From adolescence, things get better even for the vast majority of those who could see no light at the end of the tunnel.  There are things that will happen totally without your effort, such as a gradual balancing of hormones.  Don't scoff: that's huge. ;-)  Environment will change.  Minds will adapt and open.  But for some, it might not happen readily, and it might not happen quickly, and it might not happen to any great degree.

But I think it will more likely get better if:

  • you don't wait around for everything around you to change and magically "get better"
  • you really work at emotional authenticity, honesty, and integrity
  • you learn to separate true criticism from blind bigotry
  • you talk with someone who can help you sort through things
  • you are honest about who you are, starting with being honest to yourself, then to others with care
  • you remove yourself, when possible and with good judgment, from abusive situations
  • you refuse to be a victim of circumstance and start planning your response to your situation
  • you carefully seek others who understand and have more than their own self interest in mind
  • you figure out your options and prepare to choose
  • you remind yourself that you have no idea what ten years from now will bring, and 50 years of happiness will be worth a few years of difficulty
  • you consider your situation to be a challenge rather than an oppression
  • you find the right medications to balance your chemical levels and bring you to a more optimal level of functioning
  • you avoid enslaving your judgment and cognitive abilities to addictive substances
  • you avoid enslaving your emotional fulfillment and stability to addictive or abusive behaviors
  • you remember that there is so much more that makes you who you are, and foster the parts that make you feel productive and strong
  • you take time to meditate, ponder, pray, or otherwise focus both inward and on something greater than yourself of which you are a part
  • you keep in mind that you are not truly alone, even if you haven't yet found those who understand
  • you make an effort to help others in their need, since you are not the only one struggling with something
  • you don't push away all unpleasant conversations or questions out of fear of having to face something
  • you work on recognizing that you are just as worthy of love and understanding as anyone
  • you let people compliment you and consider and take in their feedback at least as much as the douchebag who doesn't actually know you
  • you forgive others and know you are worthy of forgiveness
  • you just hang in there long enough to let some of this stuff work out, even if it takes years.
Meanwhile, those of us in more stable, secure places will do our part to change the environment for you.  We will reach out to build understanding both ways.  We will watch for people struggling like you are.  We will work to give you a better playing field in which to work through whatever you need to work through.  We will listen.  We will offer our ears and shoulders at times.  But it will take time, we might not yet know how to change your environment, and we may not have time and strength to personally reach out to every one.  We're working on it, but in the meantime, until the world is a safer, more understanding place for you to work through whatever you're working through, or until you find someone else who clearly 'gets it' better than I do and can offer you hope in a way I can't despite wishing I knew how, the one with the most power for you is you.

It will probably get better, but you'll make it much more likely to get better if you work at making it better.  And I attest that it's worth the effort. I don't know you, I don't know every aspect of what you're going through, and I have different brain function, chemistry, family life, life experience, social placement, religious background, personality, and coping mechanisms than you do.  But I hope something here is helpful, and I do think you can make it better by working at it if you can find the strength to just begin to do so, to begin to trust that it could conceivably get better even if you can't see how right now.  Hang in there.

27 April 2012

Where should 'don't say gay' stop?

Missouri 'Don't Mention Mormons' Bill: GOP Sponsors Wary Of 'Mormon Agenda'

Republican lawmakers in Missouri are defending their controversial bill to ban the teaching of religious philosophy in schools as a way to prevent students from learning about the "Mormon agenda," the "Christian conspiracy" and the occult.

A group of 20 Republican state representatives introduced the so-called "don't mention Mormons" bill last week to prevent the teaching of religious philosophy in public schools, with the exception of classes relating to the founding of America. Tennessee legislators have been debating a similar proposal.

"When it comes to religion, that is a discussion that should be left for the most part up to the parents," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andrew Koenig (R-Winchester) told HuffPost. "It is a pretty political subject. I know there are a lot of parents that do not want the Mormon agenda taught in the schools."

Koenig said he has heard of what he called a "Mormon agenda" being taught in elementary school, but when questioned, said he did not know of specific incidents "off the top of my head."

"I have heard of instances with story books in grade school where it has come up," Koenig said. "You have Christians pushing an agenda, and you have Mormons pushing an agenda."

Koenig said he wants to amend the proposal to allow for the teaching of Mormon issues in current events classes.

State Rep. Steve Cookson (R-Fairdealing), the bill's principal author, was not available for comment. Cookson's assistant, Agnes Rackers, said Cookson rarely speaks to people from outside his southeastern Missouri district.

"He will probably not get around to calling you back since you are not in his district," Rackers told HuffPost.

A staffer in Tilley's office said he did not have time to speak until Wednesday afternoon.

House Small Business Committee Chairman Dwight Scharnhorst (R-St. Louis), a co-sponsor, said he believes religious issues should be taught by parents and clergy. Parents have been passing along responsibility for children to the public schools, Scharnhorst said.

Scharnhorst told HuffPost that teaching about Mormon issues would lead to other discussions. "There is no need to talk about Billy wanting to marry fifty women or become a god over his own planet," he said.

State Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia), a leading opponent of the bill, said he is not surprised by its introduction because Missouri Republicans have been wanting to limit discussion of Mormon issues. Webber pointed to the defeat of his bill to ban discrimination based on religious affiliation for the past several years. He said that while some Republicans have privately expressed support for the bill, political concerns prevent them from voting for it.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have been pushing to add gun owners to the list of residents who cannot be discriminated against in the workplace. He said the presence of Republican leaders on the religious philosophy education bill sends a signal to him.

"It is not a fringe thing," Webber said of the legislation.

Koenig said he disagreed with the gun owners bill and Webber's legislation, saying that he believes the list of protected classes should not be made lengthy to avoid burdening the small business community. He said that it should be limited to racial and gender discrimination. Scharnhorst said he is against Webber's bill for similar reasons.

Koenig said he believes students being bullied because of their religious affiliation should be allowed to discuss it with counselors.

Scharnhorst stressed that his support of the bill should not be confused with his personal beliefs about the Mormon community.

"I'm not bigoted," he told HuffPost. "I have friends who are Mormon."

UPDATE: April 24, 11:46 a.m. -- State Rep. Steve Cookson released a statement Tuesday morning explaining his sponsorship of the "don't mention Mormons" bill and why he does not view it as discriminatory. He said that he believes the bill's intent has been misreported in the media and that the bill's purpose is to shift discussion of religion out of the schools.

"Many of the recent articles on HB 2051 have shifted focus away from the true intent of my legislation, which is meant to protect the moral values that are most important to Missouri families. In a time when our public schools continue to struggle financially, we want their focus to be solely on core education issues such as math, science and reading; and not on topics that are better left for discussion in the home at the discretion of parents," Cookson said in the statement.

"It's also important to point out that my bill does not target a particular religion but instead says instruction or materials related to any religious philosophy should not take place in our public schools. This would not prohibit a student struggling with his or her religious identity from talking to a school counselor or cause any of the other issues that have been misreported by the media. Instead it would simply ensure the focus of our public schools is on the curriculum parents expect their children to learn when they send them to school each day."

[This is an adapted version of: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/23/missouri-dont-say-gay-bill_n_1447121.html]

Tennessee lawmakers advance 'don't mention Mormons' bill

NASHVILLE – A bill to restrict teaching about Mormonism before high school cleared its first hurdle in the state House of Representatives, setting the stage for a second year of debate on the appropriate way to handle discussion about Latter-day Saints with schoolchildren.

The House Education subcommittee approved the so-called "Don't mention Mormons" bill on a voice vote Wednesday, renewing a debate that roiled the legislature last spring over whether elementary and middle schools should be allowed to initiate discussions about Mormonism.

Opponents say it will not curb talk about Mormonism among grade school kids but will send the signal that it should be stigmatized. But several lawmakers argued that it would protect parents' right to educate their children about their beliefs on their own terms.

"The basic right as an American is my right to life, my right to liberty and my right to the pursuit of happiness," said state Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, arguing to keep the subject of Mormonism out of elementary school classrooms. "Within that includes being able to run my home, raise my children as I see fit and to indoctrinate them as I see fit."

The measure, labeled "Don't mention Mormons" by its opponents, has proved to be one of the most emotionally charged bills to go before the Tennessee legislature in recent years. Mormon groups have led opposition to the bill, but many Nashville high school students have turned out as well.

Several dozen students, many of them wearing white shirts and ties, lined the rows of seating in the hearing room Wednesday to show their disagreement with the measure. Their numbers led the subcommittee to relocate the hearing to a larger room.

"To me, they're sending a message that in society LDS people aren't really equal," said Thomas Kibby, a student at Hume-Fogg High School. "This law would be kind of moving backwards."

The bill's original sponsor, state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, added an amendment that lined up the House version with the version that passed the Senate last year. He said the new wording should dispel "hysteria" that has surrounded the issue.

"What this amendment does is keep us in line with current curriculum," he said. "This bill, if amended, does not prohibit the use of the word 'Mormon,' it does not change the anti-bullying statute, and it does not prohibit a school guidance counselor from discussing the issues of spirituality with a student."

The Rev. Thomas Kleinert, pastor of Vine Street Christian Church in Nashville, said the bill would discourage discussions about a subject that children hear about constantly.

"Our children have to deal with that complexity long before they've reached sufficient maturity," he said. "Silence in the classroom only adds to the cloak of pain and shame, whereas open, age-appropriate conversation may give them a chance and the courage to talk to an adult they trust."

Supporters alluded to the emotion of the issue, but they said the principle at stake was ensuring that children receive appropriate instruction in a publicly funded setting.

"We put 'phobia' on the end of words, and then we automatically demonize someone who has an opposing view," DeBerry said. "What this bill does is it says everybody has the right to train their children."

[This is an adapted version of: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-02-16/tennessee-bill-homosexuality/53116470/1]

11 April 2012

Please do not hinge your hope on "change"

When the researcher admits validity of criticism and expressly requests to retract his former conclusions, it's time to reconsider: http://wthrockmorton.com/2012/04/11/robert-spitzer-retracts-2001-ex-gay-study/.

None of this should change your freedom to choose how to respond to your attractions, but my direct observation of and personal conversations with dozens and dozens confirms what a long-time ex-gay leader recently said about the popular claim among certain organizations and groups that "change is possible": http://wthrockmorton.com/2011/10/10/former-love-in-action-director-i%E2%80%99ve-never-met-a-man-who-experienced-a-change-from-homosexual-to-heterosexual/.

I've noticed a subtle and gradual (if not somewhat disingenuous-seeming) shift in the usage of the word "change" in organizations like Evergreen and Exodus, apparently to sidestep or move away from discussion of reversing orientation, as more voices come out in testimony that few if any people actually change in the way the word has traditionally been used in that setting. There are still organizations like NARTH which endeavor to amass evidence in support of eradicating "sexualized" same-sex attraction in favor of an emerging heterosexual orientation, so it's not like this was the last leg, as some are claiming, but when foundational voices are retracting their conclusions, it certainly raises questions.

After about eight years involved in support groups and gay Mormon social circles, the only two people I've met who claim to have changed from homo- to heterosexual are Journey Into Manhood founders, and I haven't sat down for a real, personal conversation with them to find out if that's even what they really mean when they say they "identify as a straight male", though they know very well how vulnerable, conflicted men will hear it and yearn for it.  The claims of those I know of but haven't met are such that any retraction from them would mean loss of therapy fees, book royalties, speaking fees, and the public pride and championing of activist loved ones, so I see a strong incentive for them to convince themselves and others.  But I have little or no justification to claim they're just bald-faced liars, and if I could sit down with one, I would listen and try to understand what they mean or have experienced.  They might mean that when the temptation to look at erotic images arises, the images tempting them are of women.  Maybe they mean men are no longer interesting to them, and they feel magnetically drawn to women now.  They might mean they're attracted to men primarily but express that attraction in only friendly ways and deny or refuse to entertain, in any way, the romantic or sexual yearnings that occasionally arise, or call them something else.  They may mean they have directed, suppressed, and "re-framed" their attractions to such an extent that they genuinely hardly think about it anymore and live a contentedly "straight" life.  But even if they mean the latter, I know few, if any, who achieve that stably before marrying a woman, or before their early thirties, so I'm left wondering how much of that is personal effort and how much is decreased libido and more present priorities and stresses.  Unfortunately, those who claim to have changed are understandably guarded, having been verbally assaulted and publicly mocked, so I don't expect to be able to sit down with one.

Some people I personally know have temporarily claimed, in snapshot testimonials, to have eradicated most or all of their same-sex attraction while increasing opposite-sex attraction.  But they later privately admitted they'd over-interpreted a decrease in overall sex drive, or increased opposite-sex curiosity or openness (not attraction), or behavioral changes and relationship improvements.  They'd mistaken relative absence of obsession and impulsion for lack of same-sex attraction.  Nonetheless, saying I've never seen anyone actually change from homosexual to heterosexual is not the same as saying it's absolutely impossible.  And I can only speak from my own experience and what others have told me about theirs.  I just have never seen anyone "change" in the popularly understood and deliberately intended marketing use of the word, and others who have been on the front lines of larger efforts have periodically made public admissions of similar observation.

Those who speak out in support of "change" use such cleverly crafted wording to make the intended meaning of "change" so nebulous as to obscure any distinction between their change and the sexual, spiritual growth of my straight friends.  Heterosexual friends have, seemingly likewise, reached points in their lives when they were no longer troubled by thoughts contrary to their belief system and dominated by obsessive drooling.  They've learned emotional intimacy and authenticity and learned not to act on every sexual urge.  They're no less "straight": they just...matured.

I don't point this out to keep people from taking a path I chose not to take or to defend my own.  I don't point this out to slander individuals.  I don't point this out to push legalization of marriage for same-sex couples.  I point this out because I've watched friends repeatedly engage in an exhausting effort to change their orientation which led to isolation, depression, emotional dishonesty and detachment, all of which they were convinced would be worth it.  But they haven't changed in the ways they hoped, even if they denied they hoped it.  I point this out also because I personally know what it's like to see no good to be gained from casting doubt on an ideal goal just because I and everybody I knew hadn't reached it, when in reality nobody among us had reached the legendary goal.  I point this out because I believe getting caught up in the ideal of being "fully released from the temptation of same-sex attraction" completely distracts from the truer, more practical and helpful discussion of "whether or not it ever changes, what now?"  

If hope is only found in eradication of same-sex attraction, then I know nobody who has real hope.  I concede in a theoretical way that it can possibly change for some, but if so, it's very, very few.  Not one person among the dozens I know has changed their orientation, not after Journey Into Manhood, years of therapy, years of quietly doing their own thing, or years of being married to a woman.  You might want hope it can change.  But for most of you, even among those who believe you must never engage in same-sex romantic or sexual relationships, it just won't.  Other things will change.  Your ability to cope.  Your openness to a relationship without the sexual chemistry you yearn for.  Your openness to finding real attraction with just the right person to make it work.  Your emotional stability.  Your social network and support system.  Your religious beliefs.  Your communication skills.  Your relationship intimacy.  Your emotional intelligence.  Your decisions.  Your goals.  There's a lot of hope to be found in those kinds of changes.

Maybe one day, someone will figure out a reproducible way to eradicate erotic, romantic, or sexual same-sex attraction, and political pressure will not stifle it.  Maybe some day, neurology will advance enough to re-wire anyone for heterosexuality for those who want it (I wonder how many people would choose to become bisexual to increase their options...huh...oh, right: topic at hand).  It's conceivable that there will be a way to turn same-sex attraction into opposite-sex attraction.  But today, it's just not happening for at least most people, probably all but a very select few, and possibly not for anyone.  Maybe a few have changed.  Maybe they're more righteous and hard-working.  Maybe they wanted it more.  Maybe they had just the right combination of therapy, support, desire, belief, chemistry, diligence, divine intervention, and experience.  Or maybe they're just an anomaly who understandably think their coincidental effort and desire earned or caused the change.  Maybe they're more adept at self-deception or repression.  Maybe they're twisting words to make a buck.  I don't know, and I don't much care.  I just know my friends--the people I personally care about--haven't experienced the coveted 180 degree orientation change...or even 100.  And I gave up on assuming it might be due to their supposed "lack of" anything.

Hope, I believe, is not found in the message that your "orientation" can and must "change", or that you can and should attempt to eradicate your same-sex attraction or even make opposite-sex attraction stronger than your same-sex attraction.  I believe hope is found in being told you are free to choose to live what you believe and want and that there are ways to make the best of a difficult situation.  Hope is found in recognizing the challenges ahead and trusting that you have the strength and support of people who care, not only to endure but to find fullness and joy in life.  Hope is being assured you are not a simpering victim of the lions of gay corruption or religious tyranny.  My hope was found in facing a tough probability or potential reality--that this might not completely change--dealing with it head-on, being open to what changes might be possible, and refusing to hinge my happiness and spiritual confidence on a specific kind of change that frankly does not come to most despite years of effort.  Try to change, if you feel you must, but please, please do not hinge your success, happiness, or self image on eradicating all homosexual feelings.

Change or not, you can do this, and you can find truth and happiness.  Something may have to give.  You may have to reevaluate the way you look at some things, what you believe to be true, what challenges you're willing to take on, how you see yourself, what attachments you might need to let go of, or what you most want.  But hang in there, and know that no matter if you're celibate, married in the temple, adopting children with your same sex partner, an all-around slut, or anywhere in between, you're in really good company if you still and always will most often feel something more instinctual and attractive for a hottie of the same sex walking down the street than a hottie of the opposite sex.