Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

It's that time of year again [retrospectively, I think all of my posts about holidays include this phrase. Lexophile FTL].

Thanksgiving is upon us today and what a great holiday it is.  I've been doing the lame Facebook trend of picking something different each day to be grateful for and posting a status update about it.  Only, I ran into a nasty problem early on because I used generalities for about the first week (grateful for food, grateful for health, grateful for temporal blessings, etc.) so I rapidly had to start reusing and refining those blessings for new statuses (stati?).  This wouldn't be a problem if you weren't as anal as I am, but the lack of continuity/pattern drives me nuts haha.  So I'm not grateful for that.

Since I'm not out publicly (although I may as well be since everyone and their dog already knows), I can't really post a lot of gay stuff on my Facebook. And that's where my blog comes in. Here we go.

November 1: I'm grateful that blogging exists. I can't write in a journal because I'm more motivated to write if I feel loyalty to an audience, even if that audience hates my writing, haha.

November 2: I'm grateful for [specific friend #1] for wanting to come with me to Circling the Wagons and for trying to understand his gay brothers and sisters better (as if he needed the help. He's already one of the most loving, least judgmental people I know).

November 3: I'm grateful for Circling the Wagons and the encouragement it gave me to not only be more faithful but more compassionate, loving and tolerant as well.

November 4: I'm grateful for the pacesetters who have shown me several different happy life paths, all of which include the Gospel and could be good choices for me as well.

November 5: I'm grateful for a bishop who really gets how to help me through and fellow ward members who love me even though I'm on the fringe most of the time (even if not all of them know how fringe I am).

November 6: I'm grateful to be back to work and that my job helps me learn how to be just a bit more manly, fixing things and lifting pallets and getting dirty and bein' manly!

November 7: I'm grateful that I am learning, day by day, to be a little more secure in myself and comfortable in my skin and genuinely proud of who I am becoming, homosexuality and all.

November 8: I'm grateful for the occasional glimpses of eternal perspective I get, where I see how my tendencies, temptations and proclivities have helped me and will probably continue to help me love, support and encourage others, regardless of their problems.

November 9: I'm grateful for my parents, both of whom try so hard to understand what makes me tick and who have really developed a firm grasp of how everything fits together.

November 10: I'm grateful for [specific friend #2] because he has to fight really hard to stay sober from pornography, and therefore has learned a lot of great tactics that he teaches to others.

November 11: I'm grateful for the gift of beautiful music that soothes the savage beast inside me. No matter how horny or freaked out I can get, a few specific songs can calm me down and remind me who I am and what I'm capable of.

November 12: I'm grateful for my sister. She's the first person I ever told I was gay and she's been my champion since that day (and in fact for a long time before that). No matter what I do, she loves me and that is a huge comfort.

November 13: I am also grateful for my brothers. Their unique perspective as straight men helps me see how lots of the feelings I have aren't really unique and that everyone feels the same way sometimes.  Their differing approaches to life have also shown me two very different examples of things done wrong and things done right, and if I'm wise, I can pick and choose from each of their experiences the things that I want for my life.

November 14: As if it needed to be said, I'm grateful for cars. That has been the greatest beard in my life, although I'm excited for the day when I'm brave enough to show the world that gay and car-guy are not mutually exclusive terms.

November 15: I'm grateful for the other bloggers out there who write such different perspectives and lead such different, but genuinely good lives. More positive examples of life done right.

November 16: I'm grateful for those of you who have ever sent a supportive e-mail, left a kind comment or shared an enlightening experience with me.  I love hearing from readers and it always leaves me feeling uplifted and encouraged.

November 17: I'm grateful for the (now very young) missionaries who are setting a good example for me. I hope to join them soon (and I'm grateful the maximum age didn't lower with the minimum).

November 18: I'm grateful for the somewhat weird passion for style that being gay may or may not have ingrained me with. I don't dress very well, but there are times when I get it just right and think, "Man, that's really not fair to all the straight men out there."

November 19: I'm grateful for pop music, also a gay stereotype. But really, is there anything better than "Call Me Maybe" or "Party in the USA" when you're just in the mood to rock out to some bubblegum?

November 20: I'm grateful for [specific friend #3]. Even in his borderline homophobia, he loves and accepts me for who I am and asks thoughtful, genuine questions so he can understand me better. Beyond that, he still invites me over for non-serious bro-night video game marathons where we spend 8 hours killing alien zombies. The future is bright, folks.

November 21: I'm grateful for the arts. Dance, music, theatre and art all have a place in my heart. And even though I'm nothing but a prole, they still beautify and uplift my life to something beyond the grey box it might otherwise be.

November 22: I am genuinely grateful for the influence of the Gospel in my life. Through my ups and downs and the crises of faith I experience on a just-slightly-less-than-regular basis, the lessons of the Gospel ring true and I know where I can turn for peace.

Happy Thanksgiving to y'all. Hope it finds you in good company and with full bellies, even if you're not celebrating today.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hefting my testimony

In the introductory pages to the Book of Mormon, the testimony of its divinity is given by not only Joseph Smith but also by 11 other witnesses who either met the Angel Moroni or who saw the plates before they were taken back to heaven.  What's interesting to me is that while many of these witnesses eventually left the church, some never to return, none of them ever recanted this testimony they gave of the Book of Mormon and its origins.

Right now, in addition to a few other things I'm working on, I'm trying to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. I've read it a few times before and prayed and pondered over it. I've had good feelings about the book, but nothing as equivocal as Jeffrey R. Holland's testimony of it given in his October 2009 conference address, wherein he said "...I want it absolutely clear when I stand before the judgment bar of God that I declared to the world, in the most straightforward language I could summon, that the Book of Mormon is true..."

One thing I found interesting as I started reading from the beginning last night was the word choice the eight witnesses of the gold plates used.  They said, "And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken" (The Testimony of Eight Witnesses, emphasis added).  They saw the plates and they hefted them. I imagine them holding the plates in their hands and doing a light bounce with their arms to measure the weight of the plates, tracing the engravings and playing with the rings with which they're bound and running their fingers on the thick gauges of gold.

That's what I did last night. The plates weighed on my mind.  I felt them with my heart and I gave them a gentle shake to feel the gravity and truth of the words they contain.

Good word, eh?

I had a dream my life would be...

One more CTW post in the pipeline.  Just like me, when everyone else in the world has moved on, I'm still living in the past.  But it's a good post, at least in my opinion, so I'ma post it anyway!

Till then, a little variety in the form of my emotions...

I've reflected on this before when one of my girlfriends got married last fall and I'm trying not to dwell on it, but I'm just having a hard time with the life I'm living right now.  I take full responsibility for it and I know that if I had made better choices then my life would be different than it is.  I don't blame my circumstances for being too difficult (although at times they seem that they are) and I'm trying hard not to blame the actions of others either.

But I have to admit, when I think back to what I expected my future to hold when I was 6 years old, I wonder if that freckly little kid wouldn't be a little disappointed, and not just because I'm not a champion race car driver in Formula 1.

It's tough.  Sometimes it's just tough looking around and realizing that former mistakes are still guiding your life, than some dumb habit you picked up is still rearing its ugly head and preventing you from doing what you feel like you want to do.

I had all these plans.  I was going to do the proper thing and serve a mission when I was still young, then come home and go to BYU and study something cool. And I'd have a dog and a really bitchin' set of wheels and I'd probably be the Elders' Quorum president and I'd live in a huge house with a bowling alley right next to the library (because I loved the idea of making bowling pins crash while my house guests were trying to read my extensive collection of books). I had all of these huge dreams, most of which I knew weren't going to happen, but I still hoped they would.

It's hard seeing how far you are away from all of that. I know they always say that it doesn't matter where you are on the path as long as you're moving in the right direction and while I know that's true, it's still hard.  That's all. It's just hard. I'm glad I'm moving in the right direction, but I just wish I was there already.  For how much I love travel and road trips and taking my time to get places, when it comes to this whole personal improvement thing, I hate waiting.

I'm sure there's some reason behind it all. I'm sure that if/when I go on a mission, I'll meet someone who is where I was and who needs to know that it's possible. Or maybe if I'd served at 19 I would have been called to some country that was about to implode in violent rebellion. Or maybe there were people I needed to meet while I waited to become the guy I want to be. But I just look at where I'm at right now and how far it is from where I want to be and it's just hard.

I know it's hard for everyone. Not just for me and not just for people who are gay and not just for people who are addicted to something, but for everyone. We all feel like we're being pushed to our very limits at one point or another and we all have those white-knuckle moments where we want to let go. And we all have those moments where we want our upswing to just go a little faster so we can reach the top and get off the ride and enjoy the view and whatever other metaphor you want.

This is just my time to feel this way, I guess.  My time to remind myself to be humble and not seek after the laud and praise of men and focus more on my journey. It'll pass. It always does. Just gotta keep moving forward.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

CTW SLC Part VI- Bobbie's story

As some of you may remember, I've posted a few times about gender confusion.  The first was somewhat caustic and marginalized people who may be confused about their gender and the second was an admission of guilt for that attitude and an open call for more understanding on my part. I don't think I've ever been hateful towards those with gender confusion, but I think that too often, I viewed them with pity because they were so clearly damaged. (Sidebar: I did not know the difference between pity, sympathy and empathy until fairly recently.  Pity is a very negative emotion. Be wary of it Avoid it like the plague.)

Well, it's taken nearly a year, but I feel like that understanding is starting to open up a bit more. I read books on the subject, found blogs of people who were either considering or in the middle of gender reassignment and tried to find those who had experience with it, but usually, those witnesses I found were secondary and the books and blogs I read were impersonal. I still found myself faced with an initial gut reaction of confusion. I simply could not understand why a person would want to be a different gender.

As I stated in my first post on the subject, I am perfectly content being male.  I am no paragon of machismo or masculinity, but I have never felt that I should be a girl.  I am genuinely grateful to God that I was born a man for many reasons, including, among many other things, the ease with which we achieve sexual satisfaction, the fact that it doesn't hurt when our bodies expel gametes and the intrinsic social and professional advantages of being male, deserved or not.  While I consider myself a feminist, I am grateful that if the feminist movement doesn't pan out well, it won't necessarily affect me as much.  Not that I support it, but chauvinism works in my favor, so if that's what's common, I'm glad I'm on the easy side of it.

And, to add to that, I know women who are proud of their womanhood, of the grace with which women have become synonymous. Proud that they get to wear cuter shoes, proud that they get to bear and feed children with their own bodies, proud that, now at least, they can be taken seriously both in the home and in the professional world.  Both gender stereotypes have so much to be proud of.

With respect to all of the primary information I have about gender, I could not understand why someone could possibly feel uncomfortable in their skin that way.  Sure, it would be nice if crying or flirting got me out of speeding tickets, and I know women who wish they had a johnson while camping so peeing was easier, but by and large most people seem happy with their gender.

Enter Bobbie.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

CTW SLC Part V- Marriage Panel

View my other CTW posts here

Both Josh Weed and Steven Frei spoke on a marriage panel, with Craig Mangum and John Gustav-Wrathall.  Craig was previously married to a woman before their divorce and his subsequent, recent marriage to a man and John was married to his now-husband about 15 years ago. John affiliates with the LDS church; Craig does not. In this wise was a widely varied perspective addressed, including people with many different stories.  It was fascinating.

To open, I'm going to address what each one of them said marriage meant to them, mostly because it's just so darn cute.

Steven said that marriage is what has brought him the most happiness in his life, Craig said that it has given him a sense of family and commitment, with all the related peace of mind that attends that, Josh said simply that Lolly is just so good and John related a touching story of his husband sitting with him in his hospital room after a surgery, holding his hand and watching TV.  Tears may or may not have flowed during this part of the discussion.

CTW SLC Part IV- North Star's Participation

"My goodness," you're all thinking, "how could he possibly still be talking about Circling the Wagons? Hasn't it been more than a week?

Well, yes, Mr. or Ms. Snarky-pants, it has, but I'm not done.

loljk i don't actually think you're snarky for thinking that. *tangent over*

North Star had a fair presence at CTW this year. Steven Frei, president of the organization and oft-contributing writer at its sister blog, gave a keynote address, as well as Josh Weed, the therapist from Washington state who gained international notoriety when he came out on his blog as a gay man in a mixed-orientation marriage. Josh also contributes to Northern Lights.

In reality, it was North Star's participation in CTW, as well as the rave reviews the event garnered last year, that made me want to participate. It was a rare treat to see Steven and Josh speak in person about issues that plague the gay Mormon subculture and, indeed, society at large.  However, much of the blogosphere did not share my enthusiasm about their potential contribution to CTW, as both Josh and Steven are faithful Mormons in happy mixed-orientation marriages.  For many, their participation was an affront to the values of CTW, which does not encourage or advocate reorientation therapy.

However, in my opinion, the real values of CTW advocate creating safe spaces for people of all different orientations to be able to discuss these issues, and in that vein, Josh and Steven's participation was gratefully received by many.  Their lives seem just as authentic and genuine as anyone else's and their contributions to the conference were specifically calculated not to prescribe a specific life path to anyone else, but to offer some perspective on how they made it work.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

North Star podcast on CTW

North Star invited me to contribute to a panel discussion via Skype on Circling the Wagons as part of their Voices podcast series. I was honored to discuss this event and found the discussion to be very interesting and edifying.

Have a listen here!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

COTM: Straight six is better than straight sex

Taking a really quick break from CTW while I continue to organize my thoughts, so here's your car-like substance of the moment!

Tonight, I went to see Skyfall. I love Bond movies. I always have. I've stuck with them through the good (You Only Live Twice), the mediocre (A View to a Kill) and the dreadful (The World is Not Enough).  I am particularly fond of this current reboot of the franchise, starting with Casino Royale of 2006.  The movies are smarter, more stylish and deeper than previous installments, coming off as genuine spy movies rather than comic-like MI-5 impersonations.

One thing that I have always loved about James Bond is his taste in cars.  Without regard to how well done the movie is, James Bond always drives an interesting car.

The obviously most famous of James Bond's cars is his Aston Martin DB5, which made its first appearance in the iconic Goldfinger.  The DB5, now one of the most famous cars in history, isn't actually that remarkable.  It's somewhat slow, even for the era, with a 0-60mph time of 8.5 seconds.  Contemporary, similarly priced Ferraris were much faster and, many would argue, prettier and more exotic.

1964 DB5. Sourced here

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

CTW SLC Part III: Turning the corner

Read Part I here and Part II here:

The first paragraph of the first speaker’s address cut me to the quick. Joseph Broom’s words chastised excessive judgment, quickness to anger and general lack of love for others.  Even though he didn’t know who I was, I knew he was talking to me.  He (and the Spirit) gently reminded me that while I am free to make my own choices, my job is to love and support others and only make judgments for myself.  I appreciated so much that sentiment that was echoed again and again by almost every speaker. It reminded me that my inherent lovability as a son of God is not contingent on my obedience and the same principle extended to everyone else in the room.

While I disagreed with some of the statements made by a few speakers and while I did not necessarily morally approve of decisions made by others, I also recognized that I am far from perfect myself and I don’t have all the answers, or even most of the answers. My interpretation of morality is valid, but it is most valid for me and has little sway on the decisions or inclinations of others, especially when used as a weapon to shoot down their choices.

One thing I would like to air out here is that I never fully got over how turned off I was when a few of the speakers spoke of the General Authorities and doctrines of the LDS church. Some of them seemed so bitter and venomous to many of the teachings of the LDS church and its leadership, and that animosity was upsetting to me, especially in the CTW environment that encouraged unconditional love to all. The spirit of contention with which some spoke drove away the spirit of love.

Thankfully, those sentiments reared up once or twice early on and then never again for the rest of the day. Indeed, every speaker, without regard to what decisions they’d made for themselves or how they’d decided to manage their lives, sponsored spreading genuine love and understanding to all those who identify with the abbreviations “LDS,” “SSA/SGA,” and “LGBTQ,” and, I’d add, h. sapiens.

Monday, November 5, 2012

CTW SLC Part II- First Impressions

Read Part I here

[This part of the story is most difficult for me to post. It airs out a lot of very ugly emotions I had in the first ten or fifteen minutes of my attendance at Circling the Wagons 2012.  I want the reader to understand that I am as disgusted with myself as you will be, and I insist that you read the other parts of the story after you finish this one to ensure that I am not painting CTW in a light I do not intend and to hopefully offer me some redemption.]

I have to admit, I was disappointed initially. One of the cornerstones of CTW’s existence is unconditional love to LGBTQ Mormons; this is not new to me. North Star, Evergreen International, Affirmation, and any number of other gay Mormon support groups advocate the same thing.  However, unlike more conservative groups like North Star or Evergreen, the focus is placed less on finding joy in full fellowship in the LDS church and more on finding authenticity and joy in whatever life path feels correct, including those which do not include activity or membership within the LDS church. I have nothing but respect for those who take that approach to seeking reconciliation.

However, as a gay guy who sometimes feels like he is barely holding on to the church’s standards, I have found that the more I associate with those who have left the church or who are choosing to live a life contrary to its standards, the more difficult it is for me to want to be in the Gospel.

I found myself judging those around me and contemplated leaving for fear of being indoctrinated into leaving the church and getting married in California, New York, Iowa or one of the other great states that recognize gay marriage.  I was nervous to be there and I felt like my faith would be attacked, like I would be asked, right then and there, to choose between gay and God, and I worried about the pressure I'd feel from Adam and Steve over here.

I steadied my nerves and prayed that God would help me see through the heathen words of those around me and understand some of the underlying truths that had to be in there somewhere.  After all, this was a conference for gay Mormons. Surely, they'd acknowledge the second part of that descriptor, right? Surely it wasn't all about convincing your parents to march with you in the Pride parade and only about crafting the perfect letter to urge President Monson to allow gays to marry in the temple.  Right?

More to come...

Circling the Wagons SLC 2012 Part I: Hitching my mustang to the wagon train

Circling the Wagons is an organization that seeks to reach out to LGBTQ/SSA/SGA [alphabet soup] people who identify as Mormon, either as a function of their culture or their current religious affiliation, and help them reconcile their faith with their sexuality. They do this in no prescribed way; as such, members of the organization and attendees at their second annual Circling the Wagons conference November 2-4, 2012 came from broad and varied walks of life, with virtually the only congruity being some kind of relationship with the LDS church.

CTW’s 2011 conference popped up on my newsfeed one day and I instantly regretted not knowing about it sooner so that I could plan to attend. Seeing the mainstream media's attention given to Bishop Kloosterman's talk and hearing some of the positive feedback on the mission of the organization, I knew that next year, I needed to be there.

However, this whole travelling-the-world thing and also having to work overtime to recuperate all those Guatemalan quetzales meant that I completely forgot that the conference was to be held the first weekend in November, or, um, yesterday.  I realized my mistake Friday night and desperately sought ways to attend. Cheap flights didn’t match the CTW schedule and my car isn’t exactly a Prius in the fuel-economy department, so I began to lament that I’d have to miss it yet again.  In a last fit of desperation, I texted a few friends, asking if anyone would like a last-minute, extremely short, no-expenses-paid trip to Utah.

As luck would have it, the best friend with whom I most often travel didn’t have any plans and would be willing to help with gas. He asked what I was going out there for and I sheepishly responded, “A conference,” hoping he’d drop it.  I’m out to this guy already, but I never like rubbing it in his face that I’m gay.

He didn’t drop it, and I expounded that it was a conference for gay Mormons. His response shocked me.

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