29 December 2013

OK, but what if you were REALLY wrong...?

As I described in a previous post, I have often gone back to the question of whether I could possibly "go back" or re-integrate LDS belief into my perspective if I thought and felt it were correct to do so. When I've heard other "post-Mormons" swear they couldn't go back, I have patted myself on the back for thinking, "I could go back in a heartbeat if I thought it was right." Covenants, callings, garments, and all. I don't feel any draw to go back, despite missing certain aspects of involvement (community, service opportunities, evaluating and remembering principles and paradigms in a somewhat formalized setting, singing and playing hymns, primary songs, feeling like part of something unique with the grandest mission possible...aside, maybe, from the universe of The Lord of the Rings: that place is sweet!). But if I believed it was right, of course I could go back. Even if a spirit came to me and started to teach me something unexpected, I hope I would listen critically with full intent to seek and understand any truth being presented.

One day, in one of those moments, something occurred to me.  What if I died, found that life continued, and was not met by Jesus but by Fred Phelps. Well, crap. This gave me pause...as in, completely halted my self congratulatory humility. I was disgusted by some of the prospects. What if this spirit tried to teach me that slavery was OK in some circumstances, that Mosaic Law regarding virgins was actually God-given and correct, that thirteen-year-old girls should be assigned to fifty-year-old men, that people should be eaten alive as sacrifices, or that child abuse is, in fact, not as bad as consensual sex between unmarried individuals? I could hear out the Buddha, Muhammad, or Vishnu, I think, but there's no deity or prophet other than Jesus (as I understand him) before whom I'd readily kneel, and I'd rather roast in hell or cease to exist than receive instruction from Osama Bin Laden or Warren Jeffs. I think the vast majority of the world would find no fault in this, but it's an extreme illustration of the possible limits of my openness to truth or reliance on human understanding. Even if Muhammad was the figure waiting for me on the other side, there'd be no immediate kneeling and no humble familiarity.

Maybe I could console my sense of intellectual honesty with the idea that irrational or violent fundamentalism is hugely unlikely to be the true explanation of the universe and existence compared to a religion like moderate Mormonism or Islam. But is that objectively rational? Is it possible for me to be truly objective? Does openness to all possibilities make me scarily susceptible to false ideas, or is it the empowering key to finding truth? Both?

I don't know that humbly and readily kneeling before Jesus as I understood LDS doctrine to describe him would make me remarkably humble. I think it defies the dismissive stereotypes of the "lost" being rebellious and stiff-necked, but what if the truth were something completely obliterating any range of expectation I might have had? If I wouldn't readily bow and submit to an unexpected master, how much intellectual honesty and humility is actually reflected? How much of my ready response, "I would kneel," is actual openness to truth, how much is residual conviction or latent belief, how much is self delusion about my openness and teachability, and how much is nostalgia for the familiar? When I believed in LDS doctrine, I prided myself on my conviction, faith, and loyalty to the truth when I firmly knew that even a spirit could not deceive me, that if an angel came with a message other than "the gospel" I knew, I would not be deceived. And I called it humility before the Lord that I would not be so proud as to put more stock in the words of an angel than in the inspiration I had been quietly given through feelings of testimony and fruits of the Spirit. And many Muslims have that same conviction and loyalty to the truth as they understand it. And Westboro Baptists. And Jews. Are we to praise the Jewish person for having the "humility" to accept a spiritual impression that Christianity is true while deriding the supposed "lack of conviction" of a Christian who accepts a spiritual impression that Islam is true? Am I supposed to pat myself on the back for being willing to accept Mormonism if taught it in another life and simultaneously pat myself on the back for being unwilling to "be deceived" by false spirits preaching things that contradict Mormon doctrinal understanding but which bring "the fruits of the Spirit"? Where does conviction end and arrogance begin?

Would I be so nobly submissive to the truth if I were really, really wrong?

22 December 2013

Who owns "religion" and "marriage"?

I'm honestly perplexed as to why the use of the term "marriage" continues to be a sticking point even among some who support full civil union rights. Does the Westboro Bigot Central being called a "religion" in legal or cultural terminology make you feel like your religion or conception of religion is slighted or demeaned, or do you just qualify and classify different religions differently and shrug it off when loonies call themselves a "religion"?

Is the Westboro circus kind of the drunken Vegas marriage of religions? You're not a fan, you think they're completely misguided and idiotic, and you think it's a mere parody of what you believe marriage to be about, but it regrettably slips through the basic requirements or guidelines meant to define and protect relationships like yours?  And same-sex marriage might be...like a nonprofit that does good things and which you even could donate to but which just doesn't have the elements to make it a "religion"?

There may be some among you who actually believe legally recognized religions _should_ have to meet stricter requirements before receiving specialized tax statuses or exemptions or being able to operate in certain ways.

Do you just "tolerate" religions you believe are false being able to use the term "religion" because they meet some minimum requirement, but draw the line at other groups or churches you think don't have the traits that make up a "religion"? Do you think the population should just vote to determine who can be called a religion, or set the guidelines for what constitutes a religion? Would you maintain that view if your religion was eventually marginalized to the point of being very poorly regarded by most of society and unlikely to court much sympathy if under fire?

Is it actually, subjectively different since it's also objectively a different thing? Government doesn't create or set up religions: it just recognizes certain organizations as religions for tax, prisoners' rights, or other practical reasons. In that way, it's different from marriage because government both creates its own marriages and recognizes or incorporates marriages created by religious entities. But I'm not sure how much that distinction actually comes into play for people who are discomforted by the thought of having the same-sex unions called "marriages".

Anyone have some insights from a personal perspective?

25 October 2013

What if you were wrong about...?

A friend asked me over brunch one day some time ago, "What if, just imagining, what if after you die, you find that life continues--you continue--and you're led to someone who explains that he's the Savior? How would you react?" It was a question I already had asked and answered myself, checking in with myself periodically to see if the answer was still the same.  It was then, and it is now.

I explained that despite the guilt-inducing stories of my Mormon social upbringing in which some rebellious character gets to the other side and is too ashamed to look Christ in the face, I don't have the sense that that would be my experience. I acknowledge that could change, depending on what perspective might open up to me at some point, but actually living it has given me a different conception.  I've lived as honestly and sincerely as I know how, and I fought for years to hold on to what beliefs or "testimony" I could and give myself ample time to come back around before heading off in any direction other than the one that had, for years in the past, seemed so trustworthy.  I've acted and prayed carefully for years.  I don't feel "rebellion" in my path.

I will not always get it right, and I don't want to mislead anyone or miss opportunities to help someone in the best way when I could have done so. But when it comes right down to it, I hope I will always find a way to let go of my own pride about how right I've been or egocentric pride about what kind of "example" I'm being and will instead humbly, deliberately, and actively seek to embrace truth in front of me.

And for that reason, the short answer to that ultimate question is really just three words: I would kneel. I still get choked up saying that, but I don't see any other way. My friend said he somehow knew that would be my response. I took that as a compliment. Sure, I don't expect that is what will happen, but I don't think I have it in me to be totally dismissive about the possibility, it having meant so much to me for so long. And sure, if it does happen, I might wonder how I had lost sight of it or how many souls I could have brought to the greater truth during my time wandering.  And I might have questions to ask and critical thinking to incorporate into or balance with faith, but in the end, I believe what ultimately matters is that when truth presents itself, no matter how scary or unexpected, I embrace it and try to do the best I can with it.  After all, that's how I've found the peace and perspective I have today, and I'm not so proud as to assume I've got it all figured out now. For that reason, I believe I would kneel, and I would ask, "What now?"

20 June 2013

A True Man's Apology

This apology is a really big deal.

Thank you, Mr. Chambers, for having the integrity to _not_ play the oppressive, manipulative "we've always believed this way" card popular among accountability-avoidant PR departments. Thank you for making efforts over the last year to shed or distance yourself from the disingenuous and serpentine wordcrafting popular among certain of your peers.

I don't have any illusion that Chambers is moving towards embracing same-sex relationships as a spiritually ideal, Biblically approved option, and I still disagree with some fundamentals of his views, but I very much respect his persistent efforts to build his organization's integrity despite some very harsh criticism from those who have been his associates and fellows.

I heard him speak at a conference in Salt Lake almost 7 years ago now, and his rhetoric and tone seem to have shifted towards greater authenticity and frankness since then. He recently had the courage to admit, after years of evasive wording about "change", that few if any people actually change their orientation, at least not to the point of eradicating same-sex attractions. I believe many stick with the "change" angle with the intent to offer possibly life-saving hope for another way a few seeking souls may not have considered, downplaying or omitting the phenomenon of persisting same-sex attraction as irrelevant to their success in living according to their religious paths. But it's not irrelevant when heroes and careers are made or broken by a standard that was more slick marketing than human reality, or when an intensely conflicted young gay man can't understand why he hasn't had enough faith or put in enough effort to achieve what so many supposedly have, and he feels like a failure or loses all hope for happiness as he perceives it. Chambers' admission was not a hair-splitting, nit-picking quibble that cowed to some "gay agenda": it's a paradigm-shifting, potentially life-saving truth. He also announced Exodus would be dropping sexual orientation change efforts as a focus of their ministry, either de facto or explicit.

He isn't changing his personal, religious beliefs, as far as I can tell, and he may well intend for all of this to better position him and others to coach those desiring paths they believe to be Biblically congruent.  Nonetheless, he offers many vulnerable apologies to a wounded and potentially unforgiving audience, such as the following: 

"I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly 'on my side' who called you names like sodomite—or worse...

"I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine...

"And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions..."

Those, I believe, are the words of someone who knows what it means to be a true man.

04 June 2013

Worthless Gumshoe Cupcake

I just listened to this interesting LDS-centric discussion on how to teach youth about chastity without objectification or shaming implications: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/teaching-chastity.

It's great that there seems to be at least a clear consensus that Elizabeth Smart is not "guilty of consensual sex" (implication that "consensual sex" is something to "be guilty of" being another conversation). Yay for that. It wasn't long ago that she _would_ have been considered by many to be "guilty" for not fighting to her death, if necessary, to prevent rape. Not resisting until death would have meant she dishonorably valued her life more than her "virtue" (apparently, when talking about chastity, there's only one "virtue", the definition of which presumably means either "virginity" or "absolute abstinence enforced to the death except with one's legally married, binary-opposite-sex spouse" or some such thing).

Only absolute physical force was construed as rape, with little or no consideration for non-physical power dynamics or psychological duress. If she stopped resisting psychologically or even became "consensual" at some point after the initial trauma, then being kidnapped into mountains and thrown into a tent alone with an old, crazy a-hole in the middle of screaming-is-futile-nowhere might not have excused her from resisting with all her might every day of every month she was held captive, and she might likely have been shamed and called to repentance for giving in and becoming a willing participant in sin. Thank goodness that has seemingly changed.

It's also great that so many people seem to be listening to Elizabeth Smart when she talks about the reality and psychology of sexual abuse. I appreciate how freely so many offer consolation and empathy for her traumatic experiences and express full confidence in her value and wholeness as a person. But I do think it should be made clear that women have been saying exactly what she is saying for decades upon decades, and I wish it didn't take someone who fits a certain, specific mold of "purity" or "righteousness" to get so many to listen for the first time. Maybe that's not what has happened, or maybe not on a large scale, but it seems like women like Smart often receive unlimited sympathy and forgiveness while women who said the same thing but didn't fit that mold have been scorned, dismissed, and belittled, in addition to the trauma they had already experienced. It's hugely unjust. But I believe people tend to listen more to those with whom they identify, so I try to keep that in check in myself. I try to listen more openly and support more personally without surrendering critical thought or prematurely abandoning what I have already experienced or learned. Sometimes it's a tough balance, to me, between being truly compassionate and open to truth and avoiding being duped by a sob story or crafty spin. But it's a bit hard to look back and realize the people I disrespected because I was more concerned with being right about my ideas of how things are and should be than with seeing and understanding someone as a living, breathing human with real, personal, complex experiences.

It also seems to me that Ms. Ruzicka is either so singularly defensive of an ideology as to become extremely disingenuous about the reality of the influence of lessons taught or messages conveyed by some leaders and teachers, or she is quite ignorant of what has actually been taught and of the power of a few not-directly-challenged, even if relatively isolated, lessons by respected authority figures and loved ones.

I heard several of those object lessons growing up, and the more active, faithful LDS young women I talked to throughout the years, through college and after, the more I realized how pervasive those messages had been, and the more I tried to balance them in my own teaching. Even when I still lacked conviction of their error and would not directly criticize those messages, I defended what I thought people "meant by that" while trying to heal damage caused by the implications, intentional or unintentional.

I have different ideas about "chastity" and "virtue" than I used to, and I'm now just another godless heathen "outside" of the Church. But I'm passionate about this because I regret saying so little back when I still knew of the problem but didn't want to make anyone or the Church "look bad". I don't expect the Church to refrain from teaching youth that sex outside of marriage is absolutely a transgression or sin. I do expect the young women I care about to be taught those ideas in ways that don't degrade, objectify, and shame them with false analogies and powerful but deeply inaccurate object lessons. I don't speak up to attack the Church as an institution, a set of doctrines, or a culture (though I have plenty of beefs with all of the above). I speak up because it's just not enough to say, "That message is ridiculous and is not taught, so there's no reason to address it," or, "Mormons are medieval," or, "Everyone knows those object lessons are stupid and the official doctrines of the church teach something different." Not everyone knows that. Not every kid tells his or her parents every lesson they learn, especially by the age when they're learning this kind of lesson. Many kids quietly question and process and imprint without a word. Some errors are worth examination and correction without defensive over-protection of institutions.

To the young ladies and young men I personally care about: no matter who says it, you are NOT a chewed up piece of gum, even if you have made decisions or had experiences that don't fit your or my ideals. You are your passions, your beliefs, your decisions, your affinities, your integrity, your experience, your  learning, your opinions, your uniqueness, your talents, your strengths and weaknesses, your humor, and a whole lot more things that make you you.  I beleive a truly good, whole person doesn't think of his or her potential spouse as a brand new shoe to wear in to fit his or her own foot. Instead, see if this approach rings true for you:

13 May 2013

Denying a Child a Mother

I think one of the greatest spoken oppositions to same-sex adoption revolves around the "need" for children to be raised by both a mother and a father.  Some studies seem to indicate that children raised by a mother and father fair better, overall and generally, than children raised any other way.  I'm not sure if polygamous households are included in those studies (are children raised by 4 mothers and 1 father even better off?), but the claim seems to be that a male and female parent, whether biological parents or not, make the ideal parenting pair.  Some studies seem to indicate that children raised by two parents fair better, overall and generally, than children raised by one, and additionally that parental sex/gender is almost if not completely irrelevant.  But despite the touting of studies, I don't think research or statistics are the reasons most people determine their position on same-sex adoption.  And I think most opponents, including many gay dudes I've spoken with, oppose it partially because of supposed future teasing and discomfort of children (you know, like Mormons adopting in Mormon-unfriendly areas or inter-ethnic adoption) but even more because they know how much they loved their mothers and the softness and warmth they brought to their lives, and they hate the idea of denying that to a child.  And I won't lie: it tugs at my heartstrings, too.

The softness of a mother.  The way she smells so nice and looks so pretty.  The quiet lullabies in soothing, motherly tones.  The soft, gentle touch on the cheek.  The building and management of a clean and organized home, a comforting shelter, a cooperative micro-community.  The tenderness, the emotional expression, the mother bear protectiveness, the singing, the click clack of the heels, the hugs when you get a boo-boo, the gentle way she cleans up scrapes...

I don't know that I can say anything or any figure can fully replace a mother, or--maybe more accurately--nothing and no one could replace mine.  I wouldn't trade her for any.

Dads are awesome, too.  The providence, the strength, the discipline, the example, the humor, the slightly awkward but meaningful arms around you, the musky smell of cologne, the shoe shining, the ability to objectively assess a situation and help you work through it without getting overly emotionally involved or blinded.  Mom could teach aspects of manhood to me, but she couldn't personally model it like he could and did.  How could you deny that to a child, either?

But then I pause and can't keep certain thoughts and memories at bay.  I can't quite get away with overlaying them with popularly favored binary gender roles without something inside of me resonating with a "wait just a moment".

I have memories of tender moments with my father.  Sometimes, I was sure if we had an intruder, my mother would be the one to beat the crap out of them.  Sometimes, my father was the one more concerned with fashion sense.  My dad was rough getting splinters out, but he also taught peaceful resolution through quiet strength rather than combative conflict born of insecurity masquerading as fierceness.  My mom got overly emotional sometimes, but she also taught us to play sports and speak up for ourselves.  Dad sang to us, even if in occasionally grating tones, and cooked and cleaned.  Mom fixed stuff and worked and handled the finances.  I wasn't raised by completely stereotypical, binary gender roles.  I was raised by a mother and father who taught me different, same, and overlapping or complementary things.  Neither is replaceable because they are my parents, and they are what I know, not because one is a woman and the other is a man.

Don't get me wrong: I don't deny having a male and female role model and caretaker was beneficial and even integral for certain aspects of development of my identity.  I believe it was and is for most children.  In fact, I still suspect that, all else being equal, having a mother and father may be _generally_ ideal, the easiest solution to gender identity development for most children.  And gender is a pretty undeniably core aspect of identity and psychological and social development and adaptation.  Ethnicity is another aspect of identity that some adoptive parents simply cannot model for their children, and some dismiss the value or impact of ethnic background while others try to connect their adopted children with strong role models or family who can be a resource to them.  If I ever have a daughter, I really do hope she has a close female role model, someone who can not only explain the realities of becoming an adult woman, physiologically, psychologically, socially, etc, which I could probably do pretty well at, but who actually understands it firsthand and can  identify with her about it on a firsthand, "I get it" level.  I won't be able to do that.  If I have a son, I will teach him about becoming a man, but I would like him to have a meaningful female role model in his life who shows him, rather than just abstractly telling him, what qualities to look for in a potential future spouse, assuming he's heterosexual, which he most likely would be.  And there might come a time when talking with his dads about his dating life starts to feel a bit off, like there's a disconnect.  Because there very well may be: dating guys as a guy is not the same as dating girls as a guy.  But building a good, stable relationship with communication and respect and healthy choices...that carries over pretty well, in my experience, and I hope to know a thing or two about that to pass on to my children.

I had to figure out the whole gay thing on my own. I had to seek out my own role models, people to identify with, people to sort it all out with.  I didn't have role models at all for same-sex partnership.  But I did have role models for partnership.  It would be easier in many ways if I continued to just live within the bounds set before me: I know what "husband and wife" is supposed to look like and have had excellent role models for it.  But this whole boyfriend and boyfriend thing has aspects about it that I'm not sure translate directly from my parental role models.  So I recognize that if I raise heterosexual children, which is the highest likelihood, they may be in a somewhat similar position.  I would hope that their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and our married friends will be all around them as models and will hopefully be people they can talk to.  I plan to not raise my children in a gay vacuum, or a white vacuum, or a Mormon vacuum, or an agnostic vacuum, or a male vacuum, or a Utah vacuum, or a middle class vacuum.

I guess that's where it really started to break down for me.  I cherish the softness of a mother and benefited from the discipline of a father, but let's be honest, there's enough fierceness, tenderness, protectiveness, singing, emotional expression, cool objectivity, and other traits to go around in my current relationship, and they're not contrived or unnatural: they're just us.  Neither of us has soft shoulders to snuggle into, it's true.  Neither of us has long, silky hair or wears perfume and heels.  If we had children, our children would miss out on that from their parents.  Some kids don't have physically active parents, or parents who communicate well, or educated parents, or emotionally stable parents, or funny parents, or socially connected parents, or principled parents, or culturally aware parents, or parents who respect individuality as well as social integration, or good-looking parents, or healthy parents, or rich parents, or politically powerful parents, or parents who care about cultural heritage, or parents who can take them all over the world, or parents of their ethnicity...  We probably couldn't give a child all of those things, and we couldn't give a child a mother, but we could give a child many of the positive traits, attention, behaviors, and lessons a typical mother offers as well as a good number of things an orphan might hope for, and we could give love from parents who went to great lengths and expense to bring that child into our family to be our son or daughter.

For me, the single biggest hesitation in feeling comfortable with going ahead with adoption has been the realization that though my child would definitely have a father, I would be, in a way, deliberately denying a child the exact kinds of motherly memories I treasured.  And that's not something to be casually shrugged off.  My mom is certainly irreplaceable, and there are memories of her I just couldn't duplicate with my children.  I would just try to make sure they have them as similarly as we can, or in a different but significant form, or with trusted and present, if not parental, loved ones.  Ultimately, I can only hope that if I ever did have children with a male partner that they would grow up as happy, productive, and fulfilled as any, that they would one day reflect back and find that though another parent or a mother might have offered something we couldn't, they can't imagine having to choose one of their irreplaceable dads to deny their children of.

07 April 2013

Yeah, yeah, more Packerpucky

We all get it, Facebookers. He's stepped in it again, must be decried, etc etc etc. Regarding a new talk by a consistently controversial LDS leader: I do worry some people in my life will selectively take certain counsel with staunch, militant compliance and focus on certain principles in what I believe is distorted priority while diminishing the wider variety of teachings and reminders from equally endowed and truth-tapped teachers.  Maybe that's what he's worried about, too.  So be it. My refusal to "let it go" when he speaks out might be a touch of hypocrisy if I were to demand that he "let it go" when it comes to his favorite hobby topics, I admit.  Besides, it's probably a good thing if he's dropping speculative legal and sociological arguments in favor of more faith-based or religious counsel on spiritual harm.  And he does say tolerance is a virtue, even if he goes on to say it can be exaggerated into a vice, as he asserts all virtues can (an inclusion I fear may be lost on those who seek first to justify their judgment).  I don't know what Boyd K. Packer is like in person, as a father, as a grandfather, a neighbor, a son, a friend, or a brother.  He may be a bitter, cantankerous old man full of thinly veiled spite, or he may be a kindly old man trying to correct tendencies he sees the best he knows how and sincerely hoping to help humanity with his message.  I do not know.

What I do know is that this particular message carries little weight with me.  I don't mean I dismiss everything he says or think it's all poo. I just mean I place no special authority or weight on his perspective and often find his manner of expression as well as the messages he presents quite obviously erroneous in significant aspects.  I don't mean he's not a wise man in many ways, but I what he says just doesn't directly or internally impact me much, no matter how many people in my life believe he speaks for God when he is behind one particular pulpit.  I'm also so brash and disrespectful as to quite frankly state that the Pope's counsel means no more to me than Glenn Beck's.  OK, maybe a little more.  And I know how lost I must seem for not replacing the Pope with another equally authoritative, God-speaking individual, but it's not rebellion as far as I experience it: it's just how I see it.

I'm used to hearing similar stories from all sides, including Packer's own arch nemeses.  The slippery slope.  The same chatter that "tolerating" (which seems to mean either not constantly, directly, aggressively battling or completely embracing and adopting, depending on whom you ask) false views, beliefs, or behaviors may ensnare me into complicity, that my hands will have blood on them when the tyrants I "tolerated" oppress, destroy, and reign with blood and horror.  The claim that I, though well-intended and meaning to build harmony, enabled and ignored a growing threat from enemies who would reduce my humanity and rob me of my pursuit of happiness.  The sometimes completely accurate and useful but more often exaggerated and sensationalized suggestion that if we fail to alienate or criticize "them" enough, pretend to "be OK with" their choices and beliefs by not taking every opportunity to decry them, or focus excessively on common ground, that "their" divergent views will fester and take hold on society until utter destruction is inevitable.  The tired claim that my moral compass or ability to discern truth is so flawed or weak that defending even an errant group against spurious criticism and false prejudice might lull me into embracing their very falsehood.  I don't believe I'm a moral child pursuing the latest strange car offering sweet things.  I don't believe I'm a moral zombie chasing the loudest noise in futile pursuit of satiation.  I don't buy the extremism of the way such messages are often used, and I pity those who do when it seems to reflect fear of self and subversion of honest seeking of truth in favor of a contrived humility.

In other news, my friends and family who are actively LDS may not be actively decrying Packer's talk (or the likely use of it by some) but generally seem much more interested in Uchtdorf's remarks, so that's hopeful.  And no, President Packer people, no matter what you think you know, it's not hopeful in a "yay, I'm going to get away with sin because they're complacent!" way but in a "hopefully, we can continue building understanding and coexist in peaceful disagreement" way.  I still, to this day, believe relationships with people who won't work to survive rifts in belief and lifestyle necessarily take a back seat to truth, not the other way around.  That's one of many things from nearly thirty years of being active LDS that I still believe.

28 March 2013

The Erotic Supremacy Lie

One of the greatest damages to relationships and people's self image and security I've seen is what I believe to be a lie that romantic and erotic attraction and affection so far surpass attraction, affection, or bonding on a level some would describe as friendship, "true love", or "philia" that life is empty and full of loneliness with "only" non-sexual, non-romantic, or non-partnership intimacy.  My experience tells me that, mindfully pursued in principled ways, friendships can reach depths of intimacy and love that can surpass other bonds, passing enthrallments, or temporary investments.  A life lived in restraint or denial of romance and eros is not a life devoid of richness and meaning.

Another of the greatest damages to relationships and people's self image and security I've seen is what I believe to be a lie that friendship or non-romantic love so far surpasses attraction, affection, or bonding on a level some would dismiss as sexual appetite, "lust", or "eros" that life is empty and animalistic when sexual or romantic intimacy are pursued or yearned for.  My experience tells me that, mindfully pursued in principled ways, romantic partnership with sexual expression can reach depths of intimacy and love that can surpass other bonds, passing enthrallments, or temporary investments. A life lived in partial pursuit and development of romance and eros is not a life devoid of richness and meaning and need not detract from the pursuit and development of intimate friendship.  Romantic and sexual intimacy can expand and enrich selected relationships, especially those which also have or develop a basis in intimate friendship or "philia".

A life full of sex without friendship seems completely empty and kind of ugly to me, to be honest.  And if I have to choose between having sex and having friendships, I'll choose friendship every time, even if the choice is between great sex and great friendships.  Likewise, I'd choose having great lifelong friends over having great passing romances, if I have to entertain a false dichotomy.  And I highly recommend the same choice to everyone, so maybe I'm a bit of a hypocrite for wishing people would stop devaluing the choices of others by insisting theirs is right for everyone.  But I also don't see them as mutually exclusive.  And if I had to choose between spending the rest of my life with a truly intimate, loving, platonic friend, and spending the rest of my life  with a truly intimate, loving friend I also am romantically bonded with and have sexual intimacy with, better yet!  See, I believe in a generic, general sense that "friendship" is better than "sex", if they can be so simplified.  I also believe that, in my experience, living without sex or romance but with interpersonal intimacy is so much better and fuller a life than living without intimacy but with sex and romantic excitement.  But I also believe living with intimate, mindful friendships and with romantic/sexual expression--especially the intimate, mutually respectful kind--and especially especially the intimate, mutually respectful kind that comes with some pretty great internal chemical fireworks--is better and fuller yet!  Call me animalistic.

I'm fine with you choosing to pursue exclusively philic love, experiencing or investing in a different kind or degree of romantic love or erotic attraction, or however it works out for you within your value system and chosen priorities.  But I firmly reject the notion I've often heard implied or stated by those who so choose that love between intimate friends and companions where affection is not expressed sexually or even romantically is somehow inherently "superior", more selfless, or more noble than love which is those things _plus_ romantic/erotic attraction, affection, and expression.  I believe restraint is noble when exercised out of deference to personal or moral considerations, and I can certainly relate to the feeling that having both in the measure that most people exoerience them is not an option for such reasons and choosing accordingly.  And I very much have experienced the exquisite saturation of relationships or service with intense connection and meaning where I've believed and reminded myself I was sacrificing and subduing natural urges or distracting thoughts for a greater, focused purpose, and what I was giving up seemed a small price to pay in that light. I think everyone should know that sense of rewarding discipline in at least some aspect of life. That decision on how to respond to the feelings, however, doesn't make the feelings any more or less pure, nor does it mean relationships where romantic affection is checked or restrained are inherently more meaningful or rewarding than those in which it is expressed. That is a leap some try to make, but it's an erroneous and unnecessary leap, as I see it.

For example, when you feel intense appreciation, affection, selflessness, and physical attraction to someone, but you rein it in because that person is in a committed relationship which would be violated by expressing it or acting on your attraction, then yes, the _restraint_ based on deference to what you believe to be best can be quite noble.  You might find meaning or pride in overcoming your inclinations or in demeaning the restrained feelings by viewing them as inferior to the feelings compelling you to do what was "right" (in this case, for example, avoiding causing someone to emotionally or sexually cheat on their partner).  But that makes neither your actions nor your feelings for that person any more pure or noble than the feelings their partner has for them or the choice they made to pursue them.

If you choose a vow of celibacy, and you find greater meaning and richness in non-sexual relationships than you ever found in sexual ones, then I'm sincerely happy for you!  Yes, I question whether your sexual or romantic relationships were pursued in healthy, constructive ways, whether you ever experienced romantic partnership as I have, whether you inherently view sexual or romantic expression as so mutually exclusive with "philia" or "charity, the pure love of Christ" that you've blocked them from both occupying any one relationship, whether your reasons for choosing celibacy are based on truth or convincing but half-true-at-best stories or beliefs, whether you have wiring that causes you to experience romantic or sexual attraction and bonding in a patently different way than most humans do, etc.  But your choices are yours, and I cannot fully inhabit your mind and soul, so I try to balance analysis or skepticism with a healthy dose of "what the @#$% more do I know about the vastness and profundity of the universe than the next guy anyway, let alone the next guy's own internal workings?"  I try, even though failing at times, to step back from demeaning or dismissing lifestyles and choices other than my own (assuming they're not demonstrably harming people) or injecting so much "meaning" into my own choices as to portray other choices as meaningless out of some sense of justification.

Yes, some gay/SSA people do not want same-sex relationships, not romantically or sexually overt ones at least, due to reasons they regard as superseding their feelings, inclinations, or urges.  I believe they should be allowed that choice.  But I will not sit by quietly while they explain or frame my feelings and decisions in their own terms, and I have my limits on allowing them to speak unchallenged when they imply that they somehow have the market cornered on "true love".  Yet I sometimes invest a puzzling amount of energy trying to help people understand their decisions, while they actively urge people to limit my legal options and keep my relationship marginalized as patently inferior to heterosexual love and pairing generally.  Maybe I just don't understand true, selfless, godly love like they do, but I think we'll have to agree to disagree on that.

The spark for this post: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/9432/, about which I have many more thoughts and responses but chose, for now, to focus on this one point.

22 January 2013

Cougar Bait?

Me from behind the Egyptian Theater beverages/concessions counter in Park City for Sundance Film Festival: "How's it going?"

Thin, good-looking blonde lady in her maybe forties or fifties with a somewhat wry grin: "Better now."

Me not asking what makes "now" better because I'm afraid I'll be caught off-guard and unable to follow up if the answer is as flirtatious as it seems it might be: "Good!  What can I get for you?"

Lady alternately exploring the snacks and looking me intensely in the eye: "Hm...oh M&Ms, but none with peanuts?"

Me, confused that she seems to saying this as if it's some kind of innuendo but enjoying the ambiguity of her enthusiasm and intrigued by her demeanor: "Ha, none with peanuts, unfortunately.  Just plain."

Lady making a swift choice: "I think I'll have this chocolate bar with almonds."

Me, relieved that she didn't follow it up with something like "I like nuts" but kind of grinning to myself at the possibility of forwardness I am not accustomed to responding to, *cough* at least not from women: "Very nice.  That'll be just $2."

Lady, like she's playing the sassy corrective teacher in some kind of role play: "'Just' $2, you say?  You mean 'Two dollars only'?"

Me, amused and confused as to what the heck is going on: "Ha, sure, only $2, $2 is all, whatever works."

At this point, I choose to exchange my usual obliviously friendly smile for a semi-flirtatious smile for the heck of it as I hand her her change, she drops a couple of dollars in the tip bowl and smiles as she double-takes while walking away...at which point I have two thoughts: (1) does she always tip for candy bars?, and (2) even if she was making advances, my age means she was less cougar and more...just horny.

In any case, she may have just meant it was better now because she'd come in from the cold, and I got all weird, and she's now telling her friends about the concessions dude inexplicably flirting with her.  But I prefer to think of it as me getting hunted by a cougar 'cause that's just fun.