Another one of the debates that I forgot to post yesterday regards age:
“The top programs are only interested in students who are younger, in their twenties, because they’re seen as more malleable.”
“But I started my MFA at a top school when I was well into my forties.”
So it’s another thing that I have to go with my gut on.
Some think I’m on a fool’s errand going into writing degrees at my age. They think I should go into STEM fields, since that is what is needed and therefore have better chances at earning a good living. But I think that it would be a fool’s errand going into fields in which I have proved that I have zero aptitude no matter how hard I work in them. I think it’s a fool’s errand to assume I am going to be able to amass considerable wealth in what years I have left–that is best left to those who have a twenty-year head start. Plus, I think that the recession proved how reliable conventional wisdom is–look at all the people who bought houses because they were an “investment.”
I lost nearly two decades of my life. I spent the first decade in ex-gay “therapy.” When you are given an impossible goal, and are told that that goal is the most important thing in life, everything else–education, career, relationships–ends up on the back burner, and because you’re investing all your effort into doing the impossible, you get nowhere. You are frozen. Everyone else around you is moving forward with their lives–finishing school, getting married, starting families–whilst you remain a teenager.
The past decade has been spent undoing the damage of the first decade. It meant working with real, actual, licensed, trained therapists, rather than just going to anyone with an ichthus on their shingle. It meant years thinking hard on who I am, what the world is, what is necessary, and what I want. It meant playing catchup with my peers, some of whom are at the leading edge of grandparenthood, whilst I am still seeking a BA and am still extremely single.
They call this phenomenon of being out of synch with your peers “developmental dyssynchrony,” and it’s where I live my life. I think I’ve made great strides in the past years to approach where my peers are, but I’m not there yet.
At the conference this weekend, I ended up spending more time talking with the authors and presenters than with the students who dominated the audiences, because we discovered that we are all almost exactly the same age. Spending time with them gave me a glimpse into my life five or ten years from now. Hopefully five. I want to keep closing that gap.
I realised a couple of days ago that, for the first time, I am blogging and have at least a small handful of people reading my writing who do not actually know me face-to-face. This is of course a good problem to have. But it does leave me feeling like I should impart a bit of my autobiography to aid those who are coming into my my blog and the life it revolves around in media res.
I was born and grew up in Southern Indiana. I have three siblings younger than me who all came in quick succession. I was a bright but awkward child, the latter aided by the fact that my father was an abuser, and abusers use social isolation to hide abuse. Thus, I did not really grow up around any children my own age.
When I turned eight, my mother escaped with us and filed for divorce. After a fiasco of my father having temporary custody during the divorce, my mother won custody. However, owing to the abuse, my mother suffered permanent disabilities. Added to the fact that my father did not payand my mother could not get the courts to get him to do so, I grew up quite poor, in a community with a very sharp class divide. This experience made me very aware of class-consciousness.
Once we escaped my father, I took an interest in going to church, in part because it was one of the things he forbade. I ended up in a congregation in the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, and then attended one of their Bible colleges in St. Louis.
During this entire process, I was slowly coming to the realisation that I was “not like other boys”–because I liked other boys. Not knowing what to do, I turned to the authorities in my life–the college authorities–and the short version of the story is that I was required to attend ex-gay “therapy” in order to remain in school. I remained in the “therapy” much longer than I remained in the school, which I had to leave for financial and health reasons.
I relocated to my hometown of, Indiana, and transferred to Indiana University, where I majored in philosophy. This was a misguided choice of major for a few reasons, chief of them being was that I wanted to go into creative writing for at least a chunk of my career. It took me awhile to realise that the Jean-Paul Sartres and Ursula LeGuins are by far the exception in the world of philosophy.
But you don’t make every decision in life. Some decisions get made for you, quite unexpectedly. In May 2004 I received two letters from the. One informed me that I would lose my medical insurance, which I needed for the treatment of disabilities, and the second stated that there would be major cuts to my school funding.
One month later, I boarded a Greyhound for, sight unseen. I only knew two people here, both online–one remains a dear friend. But I had heard great recommendations for the city, and as I researched it, it had everything I was looking for: progressive and gay-friendly (offering me my first realistic chance of coming out), with a large arts community, a stable economy, and good health-care and transit services. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I got a job in customer service at Minnesota Children’s Museum, which I held for four years until the museum was hit in the first wave of recession cuts in November 2008, when I was laid off.
I was adrift for a while after the layoff, and I got really depressed. Changes in student-loan laws opened up the opportunity for me to return to college, which I did in January 2012 at Metropolitan State University, this time majoring in Creative Writing where I belonged.
In the midst of all this was a sea change spiritually. After having to leave the evangelical Church for entertaining the idea of living a celibate but openly gay life (which takes more explaining than this format allows), I ended up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, where I found a safe space to ask the questions innate to my sceptical nature. And those questions led me right out of Christianity. And it was okay. I spent a while with a small Quaker group, and more recently have sporadically attended a Unitarian-Universalist church. I mostly see myself as a pilgrim, always journeying, as one friend put it, “always an emigrant, never an immigrant.” I pick up something valuable wherever I go that I keep.
My day-to-day life now is focussed on school, which I attend year-round. In my free time, I sing with Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus and serve on Metropolitan State’s arts-and-literature editorial staff. I half-joke that I am terminally single. I do, however, live with a bicycle named Wilbur.
ETA: I have been challenged by a friend to expound and improve upon what I wrote. I’m learning….
I had said in my post earlier today that I wanted to speak briefly about how Matthew Shepard’s murder affected me personally. I was going to wait until tomorrow to write this, but I didn’t want to give myself the opportunity to forget to do so, and I didn’t want the palpability of the anniversary to escape me before I could write of it.
It is funny how the memory can play tricks on you, because, for the longest time, I had misremembered his death as having occurred whilst I was still living in St Louis, but this is impossible, as I moved from St Louis to Bloomington, Indiana in May 1998. So, I had been living in Bloomington, but not for long.
I understand why I had got confused about the timing, as the year 1998 was a confusing year for me. I began the year living in St Louis, my residence since 1992, when I began Bible college. I had had to leave school the September previous for financial reasons, but was bound and determined to remain in St Louis, believing that to return to my hometown would indicate I had failed at life. I set up my life in a little apartment in the suburb of Florissant, and thought I was living life well, but I was not. I could not hold a job as I drowned in depression. Then, waves of peripatetic paranoia left me unable to take care of myself at all. By April, I had decided–as best as one can decide when one’s mind is racing a mile a second–that, if to be gay and Christian was a contradiction, and that contradictions ought not to exist, I should therefore cease to exist. One call to suicide prevention led to a hospital stay, which led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and in May 1998, about to lose my apartment for lack of rent–though I had convinced myself I could make the money somehow, I most reluctuantly returned to Indiana to live with my mother.
For most of the time that I had been in Bible college, I had participated in what is commonly called “ex-gay therapy”, but which the counsellors themselves call “reparative therapy.” [Tomorrow I will repost the story of how that came about.] Upon flipping through the Yellow Pages randomly, I came across an essentially one-man organisation called Freedom Through Christ Ministries. Their sole purpose was to convert gay* people into heterosexuals, unlike my previous counselling experiences, which carried out their work under the more generic umbrella of “Christian counselling”.
So, I moved back to my hometown, which for some reason thinks of itself as gay-friendly. (Sorry, but if I’m frequently harassed for just walking down the sidewalk by myself, I’m not going to presume I won’t be harassed walking hand-in-hand with my boyfriend). I began almost immediately thereafter a “therapy” designed specifically to make one not be gay (or, as I like to call it, to turn into a giraffe, because it’s just as likely and just as necessary). And then, right after that, I read of the murder of a gay man in the national headlines. You can understand that these three factors, simultaneously, were in and of themselves enough to keep me in the closet for several years thereafter.
*They do not use the word “gay” because they do not believe that there is a such thing as a gay person, or a homosexual person. All people are heterosexual, some just have “homosexual temptations”