Sunday was Mother’s Day. On Facebook, my friends traded out their userpics with photos of their mothers, and wrote glowing tributes. Well, most of my friends did. For other friends, Mother’s Day is not a happy. Their mothers have passed on and they miss them terribly. In other instances, my friends have strained relationships with their mothers, and for still others, my friends wish that their relationships with their mothers were good enough to call them “strained.” A couple of my friends shared their pain and grief on their walls, and in at least one instance, got chastised for it, which only added to the pain.
I had an idea for a Mother’s Day post for this blog, and I probably still will write it soon, since the idea is far more encompassing than Mother’s Day. But my gut told me to not write it Sunday, if for no other reason to acknowledge and honor my friends’ grief by abstaining.
If there is any consolation that at least some of my friends can take (I won’t presume all of them since I don’t know how everyone’s mind works), it is that they can see Mother’s Day coming. There it is, the second Sunday of May every year. They can brace themselves. But even then, they can’t really know what is going to trigger them, when, or how. There are 364 other days on the calendar when they can get walloped out of nowhere with pain and despair.
I have generalized anxiety disorder. I am always tightly wound. But sometimes, the smallest thing will send me for a loop and I’ll be in even worse shape. I freeze up. I feel like I’m going to throw up, except I don’t, and sometimes I’d rather throw up because I’d at least feel better after. My heart pounds. I get a weird fluttering sensation all through my body. My mind either bounces around all over the place, or fixates on one idea and spins through it over and over. I take anxiety medications, but they’re no magic bullet. Sometimes I am able to soldier through the day, and sometimes, my absolute best efforts to overcome the anxiety leave me either huddled in bed, terrified to even move, or stuck in front of my computer, endlessly zooming through the same cycle of a half-dozen .
Yesterday was “one of those days.” It began as I awoke from a nightmare. Now, I almost always have nightmares, and in fact, they are the same half-dozen or so nightmares that I’ve had for the past five or ten years. It is important to note that every single one of these nightmares is based around past regrets. Because I am so familiar with the dreams, most mornings I can just bounce out of bed and start my day. But sometimes, the pain of the past leaves me huddled in bed for hours on end, convinced that whatever I can accomplish can’t possibly make amends for my failures. That’s how I spent the first two hours of yesterday morning.
At 5:00 pm yesterday, Governor Mark Dayton signed same-sex marriage into law in the state of Minnesota. This improves the lives of so many of my friends who are in same-sex relationships, some of them for decades. They’ve had some real issues when it comes to things like hospital visitation and inheritance rights that are now no more. I am ecstatic for them.
Yet the dread with which I awoke compounded itself over the course of the day. As happy as I was for my friends, I was sad for myself. A decade after coming out, I still have very limited and mostly disastrous experience with dating. I have had a couple of tepid relationships that had no chance of developing into something long-term. My friends have gradually settled into their grown-up lives with partners and families, and I see them far less. I am very alone and, unlike an Emily Dickinson-style introvert-writer, very much do not want to be. And that makes me even more anxious.
Yesterday, I was supposed to go t0 the first-tenor sectional rehearsal. I was then supposed to go to an abbreviated chorus rehearsal, after which we were to go to St. Paul to perform for Governor Dayton and several thousand other celebrants. I was to join my brothers in song in Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus to perform “Marry Us”, “Walk Hand in Hand”, and finally, “Love Is the Law” with none other than its writer, Chan Poling.
Instead, I failed. In the grips of an anxiety attack, the last thing I can think of is going out in public and face the derisive stares my erratic behavior inevitably draws. But I failed the chorus–I had a job to do, and I let my medical difficulties get in the way, when I know there are choristers who are dealing with more difficult medical issues who attended and performed. I failed to support my many friends on one of the happiest days of their lives. And I failed myself, because I will forever be haunted by the fact that I could not get myself to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I don’t feel any better today. I feel like I have the entire global population of monarch butterflies in my stomach. The only thing that is getting me going is the fact that tonight is the first night of my summer classes, and there is no way I can miss. School seems to be the one commitment I have been able to master even in the midst of my medical issues. In this, I am most fortunate. It bodes well for me if and when I attend graduate school. In one arena of life, I have wrangled this beast. I only wish I could do so in more. Perhaps I will yet.
I have issues with my appetite. It’s not apparent from my waistline, but that comes from my lack of exercise. I get hungry but don’t feel like eating. It’s difficult to manage. When I do get the urge to eat, I do whatever I can to make sure I eat something.
So I’m out running errands this morning when I need to eat. Having just checked my bank account, I know there’s only one option for me close by: Taco Bell. I know, I know–they use bits and parts and call it ground beef, but it’s cheap, and that’s often my number-one measure of the desirability of food.
So I go to the Taco Bell in Minneapolis’s downtown skyway system. I come in at the very beginning of the lunch rush. The cashier, a friendly African American woman, takes my order. I get my cup for water, since I try to avoid soda–the cashier said she wished she could have some water–and await my order. The manager, a middle-aged white man, barks out the names of the line staff. I’ve been to this Taco Bell enough to know that I only know of one other white person to work on the line. As I await my meal, the manager hands me a soda cup. He says I get a free soda because his staff is “annoying” him.
I was in shock. I’ve worked enough in the public sector to know that his behavior was thoroughly unacceptable. When I worked at Minnesota Children’s Museum, we talked about “on-stage” and “off-stage” behavior–when working in clear sight of the public, you are “on stage.” What this manager did was abysmal on-stage behavior, and pretty lousy for off-stage behavior, as well. Finally, one of the line staff–a young African American man–calls out my order number.
I am not a confrontational person. When I am put into the position to speak up, my right leg shakes, my heart pounds, and I struggle to get my voice above a whisper. But I told the manager, “I’m not taking my meal, you don’t treat your employees very well,” and rushed out before he could say a word to me and I turned into a quivering mass of passivity on the floor. He made me lose my appetite, anyway.
All of this came on the heels of my catching a story in today’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune (front-page in the print edition, buried in the online): Minnesota has the widest racial gap in home ownership in the United States.
This divide in housing does not surprise me at all. I’ve lived in a number of neighborhoods across the Twin Cities. Most of our neighborhoods are divided by race. I don’t have my picture posted on my blog, so you don’t necessarily know until I tell you that I’m white. (Technically, I’m white-skinned–my racial background takes more explaining than I wish to do here. But society treats me as white, and that’s what matters as far as the line of reasoning I’m developing here is concerned.) And I’ve felt far more comfortable in neighborhoods where people who look like me are a minority. I often say that I blame it all on Sesame Street, that the show taught me that living in a racially diverse community is an inherently good thing. And I think that’s part of it. But I also think that I’m not often comfortable in large groups of white people because I associate being white with having money, which I can’t relate to.
Earlier this week, a most remarkable thing happened. A man named Charles Ramsey rescued three women who had been kidnapped a decade ago. (I’m not going to link the great many reports of the incident here. If you don’t know about this, Google it.) It was simple as noticing something wasn’t right and calling the police, but it’s the sort of thing a lot of people don’t do. When there’s drama in our neighborhoods, many of us tend to look the other way, not wanting to get involved. As the product of an abusive household, I am well aware of the phenomenon. Mr. Ramsey’s quick thinking saved these women’s lives.
Rightfully, the press hailed him as a hero. Unfortunately, the attention didn’t stop there. People were quick to mock Mr. Ramsey’s working-class values and African American vernacular. Out rolled the stills from the TV interviews, with sophomoric jokes dutifully typed out in Impact font.
Not everyone was in on the joke. Some have pointed out the layers of privilege and racism that have been uncovered this week, most notably in this spectacular blog post. Mr. Ramsey’s statement that a white woman rushing into the arms of a black man can only mean trouble is an ugly truth we in America ignore. Or, rather, we whites in America ignore. Because perhaps the ugliest thing about privilege is that if you have it, you never have to think about it in order to successfully navigate life. Mr. Ramsey pointed out that America really hasn’t progressed since the days of Emmett Till, as much as we whites would like to pat ourselves on the back and convince ourselves otherwise.
Mr. Ramsey has revealed the tiniest bit of his Story in interviews, only to have it mocked by people who weren’t raised to have empathy. It is only by earnestly listening to each other that we have any hope as a species.
Edited to add (I meant to say this originally and forgot): I think it so funny that, from what we know, Charles Ramsey could probably be the best neighbor someone could have: hardworking, amiable, watchful. And yet how many of my fellow white Minneapolites would avoid living next to him.
No, it doesn’t always “get better.” Coming out is no guarantee of improvement in your relationships or other areas in your life. But at least you can live with integrity, and that is vital. And it can encourage you to work for a world that will “get better” for future generations, even if it doesn’t get better for yourself.
I just posted this essay to Facebook. It is largely addressed to certain individuals on my friends list. However, I thought it might be useful to post here as well.
This is going to take me a long time to write. I’m writing it as a Word document first because I want to get it just perfect before I post it to Facebook. The things that I have to say need to be careful and measured and precise. But in the process, I cannot remove the fire and emotion that is motivating this post in the first place.
I was an evangelical Christian for a long time. I was at church three to four times a week, not counting special events. I studied the Bible and prayed every day. And I talked with everyone I could about becoming a Christian. I had been convinced that the only way they could avoid eternal pain and torment was to become a Christian. I didn’t want anyone to endure that agony; therefore, I wanted everyone to become Christians.
But then two life-changing events happened to me, at about the same time. First was the growing realisation that I was not turning into a heterosexual. I had only been attracted to males all my life, clear back to when I was a preschooler. Never mind that I had a hang-up on Greg Brady when I was three years old—all of this was certainly and undeniably a choice, my church told me, and the only way God would *really* love me (as opposed to just “loving” me the way he “loves” the people he sends to hell) was if I worked my absolute hardest to be attracted to women and not to men at all. But I wasn’t even most concerned about my going to hell. Instead, I was worried about being a “stumbling block.” If you’re not familiar with the term, it basically means that your words and actions can cause someone else not to consider God and God’s true character so they will not choose God and they will end up going to hell. And, remember, I didn’t want anyone to go there.
And so I went to “therapy” to turn into a heterosexual. I put it in quotes because no professional medical organization considers this to be genuine therapy. In fact, they consider it to be dangerous to those who pursue it. Given that, for the entire ten years I was involved in this “therapy,” I was either suicidal because my trying my absolute hardest to please God wasn’t working, or I was in a dead fog with no aspirations in life, since I had to put all other dreams on the backburner until I turned into a heterosexual, I concur with these experts. But after a full decade of figuratively (and sometimes literally) beating my head against the wall, after working my absolute hardest and seeing absolutely no change whatsoever, I realised that maybe this didn’t actually work. More audaciously, I thought that maybe I didn’t need this therapy for God to love me.
I came to this radical conclusion—that God might actually love me without my going to therapy anymore. I assumed I would never date a man, let alone have sex—I still assumed God wasn’t okay with this. I was simply saying that I wasn’t going to turn into a heterosexual, and that God was okay with that. But the church I was going to was not okay with this, and they of course knew exactly what was okay with God. When I asked them if I was welcome to continue with the church, they said that I was always welcome, but, because they loved me, it was their obligation to constantly tell me what a horrible mistake I was making and that I was sending myself and others to hell. I replied that I could not be expected to maintain that kind of unequal relationship. Never mind the fact that there were members of the church who were known to engage in premarital *heterosexual* sex and who were also budding young alcoholics who were in the same positions of leadership in the church I had been barred from for not turning into a heterosexual fast enough or perfectly enough.
The second event wasn’t so much an event as a person. I have always had a difficult time making friends. I grew up in a household with severe abuse and neglect issues which have left me with some social impairment. I’ve fought mightily to overcome these obstacles, but more often my fighting has backfired, my best efforts thwarted as I’ve struggled to fit in. The same was true in college—the school in which I was enrolled when I was attending the aforementioned church. I was always reaching out to make friends with my fellow students, in spite of the fact that, as a nontraditional student in classrooms full of folks fresh from high school, I didn’t fit. It only occurred to me later that I was so desperate to reach out to my classmates because my only other relationships, the ones at my church, were far more strained and abnormal than I could admit at the time.
So when I clicked with a classmate, I rejoiced. I befriended a classmate who was kind and funny and smart—pretty much anything you’d want in a friend. He was also planning on becoming a rabbi.
My church had taught me that I had to reach out to absolutely everyone, and do my absolute best to convert absolutely everyone to Christ so they wouldn’t go to hell. But here was this friend who would never, ever become a Christian. It seemed absurd to try. But it also seemed absurd to abandon our friendship over this one issue. After all, I was taught that the greatest commandment was to love, *not* to convert.
All of these things happened over a decade ago. I have changed so much. I am an out and proud and (sometimes) confident as a gay man. Not only am I no longer a Christian, but I am now an atheist. Yet the echoes of those experiences hit me full force on a regular basis—particularly because I am now on the other side of the equation. I have friends who tell me that I need to turn back to Christ, that they’re not going to give up on me. I have friends who tell me that I can’t possibly be an atheist for no other reason than they can’t understand how it’s possible.
To those friends, I say this: which is the greatest commandment, to love me or to convert me? Will you love me as I want so much to love you, even if I reject your religion out of hand? Or will you consider this a case of “pearls before swine” and move on? I’m always going to be here. But if you can’t respect my request that you not proselytise me, then I’m asking you to leave. You will only be dragged down further in your guilt over your not converting me (trust me, I get it, I was drowning—unnecessarily—in that guilt for the longest time), and we both will only ever be exasperated.
Now I wish to address those who believe we need to ensure that the laws of the land dictate that marriage—a legal contract, I don’t care how you slice it, since the government can recognise a marriage not carried out in a church, and a church can choose not to recognise a marriage the government deems valid—must only be between one man and one woman. The only arguments I have ever seen that even pretend to hold water are Biblical in nature.
Let me explain why a Biblical standard for law in the United States doesn’t work. I will keep coming back again and again to the Golden Rule—to do to others as you would have them do to you—and the Great Commandment that we are to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. This is, as I was taught, the cornerstone of the Christian faith—all the Law “hangs” on the commandment.
First, I get the desire to want to follow God, and to have that desire to inform every decision. But the way you live your life does not of itself form the standard to rule a country. There’s this idea that we are a “Christian nation” and that the laws must conform to Christianity. (More on this later.) I ask, whose Christianity? Methodist? Pentecostal? Lutheran? (And, of course, this gets into the eternal argument of who is “really” a Christian, which I’m not going to engage.) This country was started by folks who wanted the freedom to practise their own understanding of Christianity rather than conform to the Church of England. If you decide that your version of Christianity is the one to form the laws of the United States, then you are doing the exact same thing the Church of England was doing. Never mind the fact that there are a number of Christian denominations (and other religions) who support same-sex marriage rights. You’re denying them the same freedom of religion the Church of England denied the Puritans. Do unto others…
And none of this even touches the subject of other religions. I get the idea that you think that your worldview alone is correct and all other religions are wrong on every level. I used to live deep within that understanding. I get it. But here’s the thing—that standard can’t be used for the governance of an entire country, particularly a country as diverse as the United States. The standards of law must apply to all citizens—even those who do not conform to a particular religion, or any religion. That’s why the law must transcend the tenets of any particular religion. There have been any number of Islamophobes stirring up the false notion that Christians in the United States are somehow being forced to abide by Islamic law. In terms of manufacturing fear, it’s a smart move. Folks don’t want to be forced to conform to a religion they don’t belong to. Bear that in mind when I say: Do unto others…
Speaking of stirring up trouble, there have been a number of organisations and personalities over the past 35 years who have been spreading lies to Christians and threatening them with accusations of being unpatriotic or un-Christian if they dissent. When I was in high school, a gentleman came to my church to teach us our “rights as American Christians.” What he had to say was pretty familiar to us now: that the United States is a Christian nation, that the Founding Fathers were Christians who wrote the Constitution to conform to Christian law, etc. But one particular statement stuck in my mind. The gentleman declared that Thomas Jefferson had intended his doctrine of separation of church and state to be a “one-directional wall,” by which the state keeps out of the church but not vice versa. And he gave a *quote* from Thomas Jefferson in this regard. But here’s the thing: You can track down this quote as much as you want in vain. Jefferson never said any such thing. The man in my church *lied*. People are lying about a lot of things. They are lying about the intent of the Founding Fathers. They are lying about the intent of same-sex couples. Do your research. Challenge every notion. Learn the truth. The truth will set you free.
And now I want to pull this discussion back to more personal concerns. I have people who say they are my friends, but who say that they cannot abide by the law allowing me to marry someone on the same basis they would choose to marry someone. I’ve already made all the arguments as to why your religious opinions shouldn’t inform our nation’s laws, and why this actually benefits you. Still, this means nothing to some of you.
This is how I hear it: that this issue exists only in the vacuum of your own theories, and that we must conform to the laws in this vacuum of your theories. But guess what? This is affecting real, flesh-and-blood people. I don’t live in a vacuum. I have a long, complicated story that’s led me to where I am—a story some of you haven’t bothered to ask about or wanted to listen to, telling me that my story is impossible. And I am one of millions of flesh-and-blood people not living in your vacuum.
Now, my mother always taught me to put myself in someone else’s shoes, so I’m going to ask you to do that now. I want you to go back to when you were in junior high, high school, to the first time you fell in love. Now I want you to imagine your parents finding out and kicking you out when you’re 13, 14. I want you to imagine yourself tiny and afraid on the brutal streets.
I want you to imagine going to school and managing to get to class and do homework in spite of constant harassment and threats. (This is *me*, by the way.) I want you to imagine worrying you’ll get beat up or worse on the way out of school every day.
I want you to imagine getting fired from your job because someone saw you out on a date the other night.
I want you to imagine you and your spouse. I want you to imagine going to a restaurant and getting kicked out when you hold hands. I want you to imagine the two of you going on your dream vacation, only to have your reservation rejected because you want to share a room. I want to imagine you having kids, and the school only allowing one of you to pick them up from school. I want you to imagine your kid sick in the hospital, and only one of you allowed to visit. I want you to imagine *yourself* in the hospital, and your spouse not being allowed to visit. I want you to imagine that you die in that hospital, and your relatives swooping in and leaving the spouse you leave behind utterly penniless.
Because of current laws and social norms, everything I’ve said is real life—not theory—for millions of Americans. I’m talking about baseline empathy, the minimum standards I’d hold someone to in terms of basic morality. And if you can sit there and tell me that you’re okay with the fact that millions of human beings equal to yourself go through such ordeals and more, then you have no empathy. Moreover, it means you’re okay for *me* to go through these things, even though you’d say you’re my “friend”. I don’t need you dragging me down in my life. I don’t need to feel like one of my slave ancestors, who has found his freedom, only to have his former master chasing him down at every turn trying to drag him back to the plantation. You say that I do not deserve the same rights and protections under the law as you. You—who say that you’re my friend—thus see me as inferior, whether you care to admit it or not. I can’t see how that can be called a friendship.
If you have the guts to maintain this stance, then you have the guts to defriend me. I want you to. I want my Facebook friends list to be shorter in the next week, because people have read this and can’t assent to the idea that human beings ought to be treated like human beings. The only way I want to see this number stay the same is that you’ve actually bothered to read what I’ve said and have taken it to heart. I left a relationship with a church because it was built on inequality. I’ll leave a relationship with an individual for the same reason. But I have some slight glimmer of hope that folks will take what I’ve said to heart. It’s up to you.
And if you can’t assent to any of this, if you do drop me from your friends list, then my parting words to you are to please raise your children to be loving and kind. If I can’t have hope for you, I can at least have hope for them.
Read the follow-up to this essay here
I’m enjoying my break from school–more than I expected. I haven’t got done quite as much as I had planned, have goofed off more, but in the mix, I’ve also got to spend time with friends more than I had planned, which is a definite bonus.
I finally worked out some longstanding technical issues I’d been having with The Sims 3, and played some in earnest yesterday. I currently have a massive project going on with the game, to create a utopian Victorian/Edwardian-ish village, with the Miss Marple stories as my inspiration (minus the mayhem). I’m still just building the houses, but I’m making duplicates of houses to make the process easier, which will later be customized.
I have been a fan of the Sims franchise for a long time. I confess that one of the first things I do when I obtain the latest edition is to learn the cheat codes for giving my Sims a ridiculous amount of money. By doing so, I not only provide them with every luxury they could want (and ask for, in the case of Sims 3,) but it permits them to not have a job, so they can invest all their time in their hobbies and relationships. This was one of my first discoveries in the original edition–that jobs made it a lot harder for Sims to make friends and fall in love.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should all just quit our jobs and become slackers. But I do think that we have a collective propensity to confuse our priorities. A little less investment in chasing the golden ring, a little more time with our loved ones and doing what fulfills us–this would go a long way.
I know that there is nothing revolutionary in what I’m saying. It’s just sad that one of the few places I find it in this life is within a computer game.
Yesterday, when I turned in my last assignments for an eight-week class, my spring break began. I really need it. This has been a rough semester. The isolation of all my classes being online has taken its toll, and the workload has been heavy. If I’m going to succeed this semester, I need to rest and regenerate as much as I can this week. Today has been TV shows: Go On (which you must see, since it’s a great show, which of course means it will be cancelled after one season), Enterprise, and Lost, which I’ve been watching on DVD. I also got in some gaming (Star Trek Online, if you play).
This week I will also be visiting area art museums and galleries. This is actually for an assignment connected to my gallery internship, but it will be fun homework, you know?
I realize I didn’t do some things right to this point in the semester. I need some balance. Get back into hobbies, definitely get more exercise, and be more proactive in my socializing. I kind of want to see next week as New Year’s and the beginning of the semester all rolled in one.
Resting is important, and is highly undervalued in American culture. We are not machines.