Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sermon From the Electric Chapel: Why I love Lady Gaga

As I lay in bed one January night, thoughts about my parents flooded my mind. I had numerous hypothetical arguments with them. I felt anxiety, stress, and pain over the way our relationship had deteriorated over the last few years. I felt anger at their refusal to listen and their ease at disengaging from my life. I felt the pain of neglect. And I felt an overwhelming desire to fall asleep, although it avoided me for several hours.
The next morning, as I was showering and getting ready, that internal angst and conflict returned, and I found myself defending myself in my head again. As I caught myself, however, I was instantly transported back to the Born This Way Ball two days previous, where I had listened to my favorite musician sing her heart out.
Lady Gaga had a killer entrance, like usual, and her show was incredible. She went on for about an hour, then she took a minute, walked to the front of the stage, and talked to us. She preached her own little sermon, which I would probably entitle the “Don’t Give a Fuck” sermon. She said that when she was outcast in her youth, or when she is attacked in the media today, she refuses to give a fuck. She asked her dancers how they felt when others belittled them in their youth. They responded that they don’t give a fuck.
Then she turned to us, and this is the moment I was thrown into this morning. She said “It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, black, white, asian, or muslim. If others try to tear you down, do not give a fuck. So let me ask you this: when others try to hurt you, are you going to give a fuck?” To which thousands of Little Monsters screamed “No!”
And in that moment I looked around at those thousands of people, who were as different as possible from one person to the next. But in that moment, we were one people. We were united. Our Mother Monster formed us into a community, where love and compassion are law.
Being brought back to that memory that morning threw out all the voices of disapproval, rejection, and hate. I felt nothing but love and acceptance, and I heard the words of the song “Bad Kids” ring in my ears: “Don’t be insecure if your heart is pure. You’re still good to me. You’re a bad kid, baby.” And I knew that at least to Lady Gaga, I was still worth it.
I know how ridiculous that may sound. She is an international pop star who doesn’t know me from the millions of other Little Monsters out there. Yet, at the same time she does know me. As she told us at her concert, she is me. “Years from now, when they ask you who Lady Gaga was, you tell them, she was us.”
Despite being projected into the international starlight she never forgets her roots, that we feel as she did, as she does. I love Lady Gaga, because in her music, in her words, at her concerts I know that she truly and sincerely loves me, even if she may never meet me. I feel that.
And so I wonder, who speaks the words of God more: the “christians” protesting her concert, telling her fans that they are damned, or the woman who spends her money and her life singing and telling others that they are beautiful, that they are wonderful, and that they will always have a home with her, as one of her Little Monsters? I hear the mercy and love of God in her words, as unconventional as that may seem.
Though I may never be able to express it to her, I am so grateful for Lady Gaga, for her courage and her bold voice of compassion. And I hope that she feels my love, along with the love of all the Little Monsters around the world. She can be sure that we won’t “forget her when she comes crying to heaven’s door,” because she gave us the courage and hope to get there ourselves.
Paws up!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Discussion at Home

Matt here.

Picking up from last week, I'd just asked the elders to come over to my house so we could talk. They were in the city proper and I live out on the edge, so they said they'd be by in about an hour.


I'm a believing person. If you tell me you had a good time on our date, I'll believe you. If you say you're allergic to wheat, I'll believe you. If you say you care about me, I'll believe you.

One thing I've believed in is that the church has its members' best interests at heart. As a teenager, a few of my home teachees were inactive, and when we'd visit them every month I'd get a distinct sense that we were imposing and that they didn't really want us there. I couldn't figure out why. To me, it seemed like a nice thing, to have people who would check up on you and make sure you have help if there's a crisis. Yeah, we'd do a little spiritual thought thing that I guess could (in retrospect, did) get on people's nerves, but in my mind at least that was secondary. The primary purpose was to let them know we were willing to help with whatever they might need.

I haven't been hometaught since my first year at BYU, and that's hurt. I bring this up because in my handful of years as a less active or inactive member, I've also never been visited by the missionaries.The two are linked in my head because I had a different idea of what it meant to be inactive--I thought I would be pursued. I mean, isn't that one of the standard ex-Mormon rants, that they never leave you alone? Just because I didn't want to go to church doesn't mean I didn't want any contact.

But as I've mentioned, I'm trying to take Joan Didion's words to heart: "Character--the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life--is the source from which self-respect springs." I called the elders because I'm tired of waiting for the church to come to me. I guess part of my goal for the visit was to assert myself. I'm still here, I'm still a member. What are you gonna do about it?


In the end, I committed to read the scriptures every day until our next meeting, one week later. I expected something like that going in, and I'd've been disappointed if they hadn't asked. There discussion that led there was interesting, though.

First, Elder M (the redhead) was gone; they were doing exchanges. When I answered the door, I found Elder H (with the interesting voice) and Elder T, who was gorgeous.

Damn, I thought. One of the reasons I'd been so comfortable around Elders H&M was that I didn't feel a physical spark with either of them, so it was easy to focus on other things, like religion or whatever. Elder T was just shy of my height, green eyed, and had a beautiful smile. I would find out over the course of our discussion that he was also my age, having left on his mission a few years later than normal. Damn.

I led them onto the back porch, where I'd put out a couple of green plastic chairs in a triangle. They didn't know this, of course, but the back yard at my parents' house is my special place. I've spent more time out there than anyone else in my family, playing around or swimming or laying in the sun or whatever. It added something to my sense of security, being on my turf. I took the chair with my back to the pool, so I could see the house on the off chance that someone came home early. (I was supposed to have the house to myself for a few more hours.)

For a couple of seconds we just sat there. Then I told them a little about me: not sure about religion or God or anything like that, but raised in the church and wanting to take another look at it. Came out at BYU, inactive for a handful of years.

Elder T started with (what seemed to me to be) a curveball: "What's the most important thing to you?" And of course I knew they were expecting me to say family, and I wracked my brain to come up with a different answer, but after a couple of seconds I gave in because my family actually is the most important thing for me. But I followed it up with an similarly important second thing--"my independence." We talked about our families for a bit, Elder H complimenting my parents effusively, as he should, but they didn't press into Plan of Salvation territory, like I'd assumed they would. Elder T said he totally understood having difficulty submitting to authority, since he was an "alpha-male" type, and I privately agreed, fervently, with that.

Elder H asked me if there was some particular event that pushed me away from the church. Later he'd confess that since finding out he'd be coming to California he'd been afraid of Prop 8 coming up, and that explained why his face fell when I told him there were two things: first, Prop 8, and second, the utter lack of spiritual confirmation I've felt. I explained that while I believe it's entirely possible to be a good person and be against gay marriage at the polls (e.g. my parents), I can't excuse the church's role in the awful, dishonest Yes-On-8 campaign.

Both missionaries were touchingly sympathetic. Elder H, I'm pretty sure, is actually in favor of gay marriage and feels very conflicted about it. Elder T distracted me with that damn smile of his, so I don't remember exactly what he said other than affirming his belief that the church is led by inspiration. Neither missionary tried to treat it as inconsequential, which I appreciated.

After a time we moved on to the lack of spiritual confirmation, and I'm not going to tell you most of this part.  The three of us were open about the things we knew and believed and hoped, and we all shared some things that don't see daylight all that often, even for them as missionaries I would guess. Elder H talked about different ways that the spirit might manifest itself, though, and Elder T cautioned both to be sure I'm not expecting some grand miracle and that getting a testimony of God or the church could take years, as it had for him. (Remember that he's twenty-four.)

We wrapped up by setting a place (a nearby park) and time (same time, one week later) for our next meeting. I showed them out, and made a list of study questions for the coming week:

  1. Do I believe in God?
  2. Do I believe in Jesus?
  3. Do I believe in the Mormon church?
  4. What would spiritual confirmation be like?

And if you'd like to find out how that went, as well as hear about my second meeting with the Elders, that's what my next post will be about.


Unrelated: What My Daughter Wore
Unrelated: Do You Hold Hands?
Semi-related: Ben and Matthew

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reliving It

I have this thing I do, where I imagine what it would be like to wake up and find that I’m back in time, but with all my memories intact. It started at some point during my mission, when I would imagine what it would be like to wake up back in the MTC, at the very beginning of my two year mission. I imagined that after the big long “Noooooo!” that I would get used to the idea and use it to my advantage.
            I think about it still, and I think that I would be a much better missionary (ironic, since I haven’t been to church in over a year). My coming out process would be much simpler. I think that I would do many things the same, but some things would definitely be different. I would seek out the people that mattered sooner. I would make the moments count more. I would take more time to play. And rather than succumb to the pressure of “accomplishing” or “being enough”, I would just live, and it would be great.
            I was thinking about this in more detail the other day, and thinking about things during my coming out that were wonderful and amazing, but that later brought me a lot of pain. Friendships that I eventually lost. Relationships that ended in a blaze of fire and smoke. And the chaotic attempt to cope with the chaos that was certainly not my most graceful life period.
            With the obvious exception of the things I did that hurt other people, I would take most all of it again. I would dive into the friendships and the relationships just as I did before, but with a slight variation.
            As I was playing through the scenario in my head, I noticed that in “reliving” this period again the one difference was that I had a solid sense of security and, therefore, confidence. I knew things were going to be okay, and so in this scenario I had no fear. Chance encounters were purposeful encounters. I was more open with my emotions, my interest, my intent. The more I ran through this “reliving” thing, the more I liked the idea. And then I had a thought.
            Why can’t I live that way now? Yes, I don’t have the luxury and the security of knowing where things are going to go and that they’re going to be alright, but I can at least presume the second one.
            I decided that the biggest obstacle is something that I simply don’t have in the present: certainty. The whole trick of life is that we have to make our decisions and lead our lives with the deep understanding that nothing is certain. And I think it’s that uncertainty that paralyzes me, that adds a sense of fear or hesitancy to my life. If I could conquer it, the confidence that comes with it would feel incredible.
            But the more I think about it, the more I think that conquering uncertainty isn’t the point. And it’s probably a fruitless effort anyway. I think the real key is to learn to accept uncertainty, but to live with it knowing on a very deep level that everything will be okay. Even if everything falls apart, we’ll live.

            This is a challenge for me. But I would really like to get there. Because the level of living in that state would be so fulfilling. It reminds me of a quote from the Dalai Lama, and I’ll leave you with that. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Parts of Life)

Life is looking up! And life also isn't looking down. And life sucks.

Apparently, experiencing the full range of human emotions in one week is difficult, for me.

Monday morning. Woke me up in my bed with half-asian swallowing his stubborn pride, and he wants back together. We made a mistake. And he wants back. I handled the situation well. We didn't cuddle, we didn't kiss. But we talked. We talked about how we need to work on certain things (both of us) and that I needed a day to get my thoughts in order. I was happy he came by (relieved even) and knew, especially in this so called "soul" of mine that I wanted to make this work, especially after having been broken up on a somewhat silly issue.

Tuesday afternoon. Half-asian calls me. We had a major argument that ended well. My voice was raised (over the phone) but it felt so GOOD. It felt like we were finally solving stuff. And I thought, I hoped, that this relationship will work.

Tuesday evening. He meets me at work as I'm cleaning up. We talk lightly. Banter is there. Willingness to work on things is there. Then he drops a bombshell. Doesn't matter what that is, but it was some serious shiz. And NOW I am PISSED.

And hurt. That pain then serves to fuel my anger. I was visibly shaking from my anger. I knew I couldn't make any rational decisions at that moment. So, I call final decisions off for the night and we will talk about it in the morning.

Wednesday morning (with only an hour and half of sleep under my belt). Still pissed. Still hurt. Still don't think he understands where I'm coming from. So, go through the entire conversation again, using my best friend's, Kim's, advice from the night before. And I really nailed ever point I could. I have never seen my half-asian so apologetic, so sad, so overwhelmed. But now, NOW I know that he understands the extent of my emotions. More importantly, he now understands why they are there.

Wednesday afternoon(ish). Fell asleep in his arms. Napped for four hours. And woke up in the most pleasant of moods. I'm more willing to work on things now, but also really suspicious of my good mood that clearly does not match my anger from a the night before (and the morning after). Sure enough, the anger begins to seep back in. But, something has changed. Anger is no longer at the forefront of my thoughts. It is there, but I can do other things, like think rationally. So, I decided that half-asian is now on probation (to a point). I will work on forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It is the core of Mormon theology (according to Mormons). Forgiveness is  a way for us humans to move on past life events and work so that we don't become old spinsters with nothing to comfort us but the prospect of death. However, I suck at this whole forgiveness thing. I'm great at what I think is really the core of Mormon theology (guilt) but I suck at the forgiveness part.

To sum things up; (a tl;dr if you will) half-asian swallowed his pride and is willing to try to bridge the gap he (and partially me) caused. I have chosen to accept knowing full well that I would have to work so hard on forgiveness.

In other news. Gay pride is in a week and a half and I have a closely knit group of friends to go with (along with my half-asian) (thank God).

I bought some gay pride stuff for me to wear/use at the event. Including a rainbow set of dog tags and a flag.

Also, checked my bank account. And, for some very unknown reason, and I'm still mystified by this even after talking with my very wise mother, there is and extra 930$ in my bank account, courtesy of BYU. Why? No idea, making me very suspicious of it. So, I won't use it and I will go to BYU tomorrow to see if this money thing can be figured out. I'm obviously hoping that I get to keep the money, but this mistake seems so severe that I doubt I will.

I love you all, and thanks for listening to my ramblings!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Excuse Me

Why should I require abs?
I want a man with a soft stomach so that when I rest my head on it, I can feel comfortable.

Why should I require a flat stomach?
I want a man who will go on ice cream, frozen yogurt, and dinner dates with me.

Why should I require someone hot in bed?
I want a man who knows the skills to satisfy me in bed. And physical attractiveness is no guarantee of that.

Why should I require clear skin, blemish free?
I want a blemish or a few to remind me that no one is ever perfect, ever. And that his scars make him better, not bitter, about the way his life has gone.

Why should I require a full head of hair?
I want a head that can understand my rants about gender, heteronormativity, and queer theory. And give me feedback.

Why should I require a man to be masculine?
I want a man who is unafraid of being who he truly is, even if it contrasts with what the world wants from him.

Why should I require someone like me?
I want a man who expects these same sentiments from me.


Thank you for letting me indulge in some creative writing. I’ve been getting pretty fed up with societal expectations of people, and moreover, people’s adhesion to these ideas. Society isn’t an individual; it isn’t one personal being that you will ever interact with. And its production of beauty standards and other expectations, dispensed through the media and culture, does not account for the majority of people in this country. While I enjoy the occasional depiction of a “Ken doll,” we must meet these images and the expectations that accompany them and that govern the rest of us with a critical eye. Will they truly bring us happiness in our individual lives? Should we police others by these standards?

Praise the Lord for hip ‘90s music. Because I’m not going to be a pawn in society’s game. And for that I respectfully say, “excuse me.”

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Elders

Matt here.

You'll remember that last week the elders came for dinner. They showed up soaked through from the rain. I wished I could have sent them off to a back room to change into dry clothes, but the best I could do was hand them towels. They put on brave faces, but it can't be comfortable to sit in soaked suits.

Somehow the evening had been scheduled such that Mom was practicing a song with one of her RS sisters. For a minute the elders just sort of stood awkwardly behind their chairs in the dining room while Mom sang and ignored them and I got dinner on the table. It clicked in my head that I was supposed to take charge of them, so I pulled them over to help scoop pineapple teriyaki chicken out of the crock pot and into a serving dish and to get bread. (If you ever feel tempted to try a crock pot recipe for pineapple teriyaki chicken, don't do it.) Elder H. got the bread; Elder M. got the chicken. I got the pitcher of water, and by the time we finished setting the table, Mom had finished her song and said goodbye to her friend.

We sat down and made conversation, and also ate the gross pineapple chicken.

Elder H. is the senior companion, now out for about 18 months. He has light brown hair, cut quite short. I would have guessed by his accent that he was from Texas, but he said Utah. We bonded over our affinity for books. Elder M. is a redhead, and everything from his manners to his intonation says "I'm still a teenager." Not in a bad way, just sort of clueless. He was mostly quiet. Both boys are about 5'8".

Eventually we finished the meal, and Elder H. said, "You know, we haven't been getting a lot of appointments lately, so I was wondering if we could teach you a first discussion." I got all sad inside and looked off into the distance while Mom said "Of course!"

So they taught. I didn't want to hear a first discussion, but I also didn't want to be rude by getting up and leaving, so I switched off between staring at nothing in the distance and staring down at my blue hoodie. Mom was a golden investigator, although some of her softball questions were nonetheless interesting because she was role playing as her mom, my grandmother, who was Lutheran before meeting LDS missionaries a long long time ago. The key, for her, was eternal family.

The message of the first vision and the restoration was nothing new, of course, but listening to Elder H. tell it did something for me. Something about his halting, squeaky-drawly voice, or something about our shared and treasured books, or something about how vulnerable and bedraggled he looked touched me. I could feel my impression of him shift from the indistinctness of distant politeness to a definite sense of his honesty and trustworthiness. That this was our second meal together in a handful of days didn't hurt--rarely have I spent so much casual time with a set of missionaries. I enjoyed listening to him, even if I didn't value the words he said.

As they were talking, I was full of questions, and the next morning, I called the elders' cell phone.

"Hey, Elders, what are you up to? Not much huh. Well, do you think you could come over here? Yeah, if now works for you. Yeah, I want to talk about some church stuff with you."

Thursday, May 16, 2013

From Anxiety to Empathy

The last 15 years have been chaotic. In the late 90’s America was on top in every way. We had no major enemies that we knew of. We were progressing technologically. We were at the peak of economic growth. Things were good, and we had it really good.
            Since then we’ve endured terror attacks from foreigners and our own citizens. We’ve been heavily involved militarily in a good number of countries. The economy crashed in one of the biggest dips in the last 80 years. As one author put it, since the turn of the century we’ve been living in an age of anxiety, and we’re only now beginning to come down from our state of panic as a people.
            In the aftermath I look around at the rest of the world. I see a middle east that is in major transition in every way, and I wonder if we won’t be seeing them as our economic equals very soon. The spread of technology is bringing far-off parts of the globe into the modern age and improving their quality of living. And other nations are beginning to rival the United States economically, militarily, and intellectually.
            For example, look up the city of Dubai. Just look it up. You know what, I’ll post the pictures here, because they’re so freaking amazing. Dubai is a city in the United Arab Emirates, a small country located on the south-eastern tip of the Saudi Arabian peninsula. This first pic is Dubai in 1990. Keep in mind, this is 23 years ago. Most of the readers of this blog are older than this picture.

Now here it is in 2003, ten years later.

And again in 2005.

            Holy. Friggin’. Crap. Amazing, isn’t it? This city has come out of nowhere and exploded with growth and prosperity.
            There’s another city, I believe this one is in Saudi Arabia, which is being built and intended to be 100% run on renewable energy and will be 100% environmentally friendly. That’s intense. This portion of the world is going places. I couldn’t believe the changes going on over there when I first read that.
            My second thought was, “the United States is supposed to be doing this stuff first, not countries barely emerging from third world living conditions.”
            But the scientists aren’t in the US anymore. Not like they were before. I thought about that and I wondered why our generation here in the US isn’t as driven to the STEM careers as the generation thirty, forty, or fifty years before. I think there are a lot of things that have led our generation to where we are today, but I think a few things have definitely affected the way we view the world, and I think they’re harming us.
            We grew up in the most prosperous economic times since the 1950s. We had everything, and our parents wanted us to have everything possible. We had pretty good childhoods, for the most part. The country as a whole was focused on a new approach to life—consumerism—and we were growing up in the thick of it. And this drive led us to our life goals and career choices.
            What I think is fascinating is that instead of kids wanting to be scientists or astronauts, kids want to do whatever will make the most money. It’s not about passion or discovery anymore. At least not in the popular culture. It’s about wealth and an exciting life. I mean, when Jersey Shore and Meet the Kardashians are the top-grossing shows on cable television, that says something.
            I think that the America we grew up in told us that gaining more of anything, whether money, possessions, prestige, or leisure, was the point of it all. So now we have an America where there are so many lawyers that they can’t get jobs, but we have to hire our computer technicians from India and Japan. Sure, a job in computers will pay well, but no one wants to just be paid well. We want to be paid a lot.
            To credit our generation, though, I think we’re quickly gaining a pretty good bullshit meter. We can smell “fake” a mile away, and we’re beginning to realize that there is more to life than the things our parent-generation gave us.
            And I think there’s proof. Look at the major issues today. Yes, the economy is an issue, but social justice is getting attention like never before. This week Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize marriage equality, the third state in 11 days. Because of the internet and our passion (addiction?) to it, we can learn about things we never would have known before. We can hear the voices of people who never would have been heard before. And we can find compassion for people that we never would have before.
And when it comes down to it, it’s this compassion that is driving our social and political efforts. Because deep down we know that the message from our elders that more is better and most is best is bullshit. There is more to life than wealth and superiority.
Because of this, I take hope. And I don’t worry so much about other countries rivaling our economy, our prosperity, or our standard of living. For a moment, I glimpse a world where we regard other nations as equals, not as inferiors who need domesticating. We have different cultures and different values, but we will be able to explore those and share those as peers.
I recently heard in an interview that in the next 5 years the number of people connected to the internet around the world is going to dramatically increase. Voices still silent will be connected, and we will truly be interacting in an international internet. The dynamics of the world are changing, and the luxury of the safety of “control” won’t exist for the US anymore. I’m not sure what our role is going to be, but I think it’s important that we accept these new changes. We should allow the empathy that has led to the spread of movements like marriage equality guide us in our new relationships with our rising world cousins. Then it won’t matter whether we are gay or straight, American or Saudi, or whatever else. We will have built a world with enough room for everyone.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fuck Life. Fuck Life For Now

Curse words are a new thing for me. Very new. Just started using them two months ago or so. Don't know how I feel about all of them yet. I've always used Damn and Hell (the minor ones) but Shit, Bitch, Fuck are all new. And I started using them just so that I could reprogram my brain out of this Utah shit hole.

You know, ask me last Friday, am I happy? Yes. The answer would have been yes. I had some minor complaints (no friends here, no Aspen Grove, no money, a root canal) but nothing I couldn't handle. 

Seriously, though, I was happy. Life has bumps come along the way and slowly degrades from great to okay, but it always goes back again. It always has. Unfortunately, when it rains, it pours. And I think this downpour of feelings is quickly eroding my soul away.

I'll get my soul back. I'm not dramatic enough to think otherwise. But for now, I want to leave it somewhere on an island where the only video game is robot unicorn attack and all my feelings have turned into narwhals. Some sort of dominion/bananagrams/killer bunnies/settlers/laser chess/strip poker is always being played and all copies of phase 10 have been burned. Somewhere that my life is lacking in purpose, somewhere I can ignore life.

You know what this is about?
Roommates didn't do cleaning checks (promptly failing) and BLAME ME! Fuck them. 

After not seeing a dentist in two years, my lack of flossing has lead to nine cavities. All between my teeth. In addition, I have a pretty severe case of gingivitis and now must brush after every meal, use Listerine, and no more snack food. Apparently, fuck my metabolism (and my wallet).

Due to previous mentioned dentist, I'm out 800 bucks, and was previously about one hundred fifty short on tuition. Now, I'm almost 1000 short, and have two weeks to pay it. So, withdrew from all my classes, and still have to pay 25% of tuition for classes I'm not taking and now I have my first two W's. Fuck the transcript.

To drop said classes, BYU made me get up early to go see a counselor. I get in there, he says I don't need counseling to withdraw, and let me go after 10 seconds. So why did I have to trudge up to campus this morning??? Fuck BYU.

All my friends are gone. At least, I feel that way. They are all up at Aspen Grove, and I'm just down here in Provo, masturbating, having been denied a job. And there are still spots open! So, clearly I did something wrong and this is karma's way of saying fuck you.

Oh. and you know what? Half-Asian broke up with me. I called him, because we had our first major issue as a couple (you know, eight months in, we have defiantly had minor issues, but never anything major that needed too much discussing and solving). And, he wasn't willing to work on things. He just said done. A major issue comes up. He's done. FUCK HIM!

Lee's Life: -Single (and didn't see this coming, could have sworn I was dating someone rational.)
- Empty. Purposeful less.
- No Aspen Grove. Have a different job, but I will miss those mountains, that beauty, that heartsong that is up there.
- Friendless. There are people down here, people I know, but I need to make new close friends.
- Short on money... dropped all my classes, and still don't have money.
- And emotions. These emotions. I hate them. Happy, sad, cynical, uncaring, sad, angry, determined, sad. Repeat. And then repeat again. 

I may be new to curse words, but, correct me if I'm wrong, I think they are appropriate where I placed them. Basically after every event over the past couple days in my life.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Weekend aLAy

Every episode of MTV’s The Hills depicts Los Angeles, California as the city where dreams come true. But even in my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined the weekend I had. If someone had told me I would have left LA trying sushi for the first time (and enjoying it!) and having attended a party at a phat pad in the Hollywood Hills overlooking Sunset Boulevard, I would have lol-ed. As it turns out, the joke is on me.

Before this past weekend, the extent of my LA experience has been...non-existent. Living in the SF Bay Area, there's no real point in traveling down south when you live in the greatest region ever all my needs and desires are met in the North.

But the city kept beckoning. And I finally answered the call.

Upon arriving, my astonished speechlessness and jaw on the ground hindered a proper greeting to LA, as I instantly became a fangirl of this new environment. Once that subsided, I was able to better analyze my surroundings. What did I observe?

Traffic. I completely understated the severity and affect this had on anything I wanted to do. "What's the quickest way?" and "How long with traffic?" became the 2 most FAQs of the weekend.

 Style. Sitting in a music themed barbershop, with posters ranging from The Beatles to Avril Lavigne covering the walls, affirmed the totally cool and totally hip trends of the region, musically and dermatologically.

 Heat. Okseriouslywhyisitsofreakinghot. Although I was prepared to leave behind the chilly beachside weather of Santa Barbara for the weekend, I was not ready for the hot inland that awaited me. 

Bodies. "Are people so bored that they get abs like that? Get a life!" "I wanna feed half of this city." 

Thinness. The prevalence of extreme thinness couldn’t be ignored. What also couldn’t be ignored, however, were the numerous places to eat at. Could this body type be indicative of the beauty standards and culture? Or maybe it's a sign that Umami should lower the price of their $11 burgers?

But the premiere event of the weekend was seeing Marina and the Diamonds live in concert. Joined by flocks of preteen girls and gay hipsters, my eardrums were treated to one of the best shows I've been to in a while. I featured a Marina song in my list of favorite songs from 2012, but I'm going to post another song, "Power and Control," so that my love of Marina is made evident.

(Note: screaming the lyrics and my hysterical shouts of praise during the song scared not only the people around me away, but also my voice away. Well worth it though). 

There you have it. Traffic, style, heat, bodies, and thinness. And Marina. My weekend in LA was one to remember, and I look forward to the day when I can return back. Apart from feeling completely out of place for saying “hella,” I developed a strange love for LA, and discovered there’s enough room in California for the Bay Area and LA to coexist. And what do the residents of LA think if you hate on their city? "Suck my strap-on."

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Not Drowning In a Sea of Mormonism

Matt here.

I’ve been living with my parents for a little over a month now, after coming back from two years in Japan. In Japan I could ignore Mormonism much more effectively than I can here. There were always friends or blogs or random run-ins with missionaries that brought it up, but I could still go days and days without thinking about it. Here, that’s not an option.
My parents are devout. There are sets of scriptures all over the house, including my old French and Spanish sets in the bookcases in my bedroom. There are pictures of the Sacramento and Oakland temples on the walls, Relief Society cutouts and hymn arrangements on the piano, funeral and wedding leftovers in the fridge. They don’t ask me to join their scripture study since I asked them not to, but they still read to each other out loud, just like when I was small even though it’s only the two of them now. Every Sunday they pack off to church for a few hours. In between Sundays people call the house to make appointments with the bishop, ladies drop by to practice musical numbers, information about the ward that borders but isn’t quite gossip flows in and out. The missionaries come to dinner.

They’ve done that twice since I’ve been here, once with my dad here and once with me as Man of the House. Mom cooked both times, which is weird for our household--but then, she used premade dinners she’d made for an enrichment night lesson, so I guess it’s not that out of character after all. Perhaps more importantly, neither night was awkward. For the first time I can remember, I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove to the missionaries, or anything to apologize for. I wasn’t defensive or maudlin. I was just a gracious host.

Why the change? I don’t know, but I bet it has something to do with how young they looked. I remember being twelve and fifteen and eighteen and seeing missionaries and thinking how mature and powerful they looked and feeling intimidated. I remember feeling like they were so wise and confident and full of knowledge and truth and feeling jealous. But these elders looked like little kids! Short and with baby faces, and when I asked about their pre-mission lives they talked about high school. It’s hard to be either intimidated by or jealous of babies, even (especially?) in suits. I feel like I can handle them now.

I think my time in Japan played a big part in the change, though it could have just been the time, location independent. I feel like an adult now, now that I know I’ve had giant sweeps of experiences that they haven’t had. I know things they don’t know. I feel like the playing field is much more even--maybe they know things about spirituality and God and Mormonism that I don’t (maybe), but I know things about literature and living in a foreign country and being gay that they have no idea about.

Perhaps it’s this sense of adulthood that makes it so much easier to be in my parents’ home than it used to be. The Mormonism in the air doesn’t give me the emotional rash it used to. I don’t resent it and the pain it caused me any more. There are other changes too, of course--I’m thinking particularly of having had the opportunity to host my dad four times while I was overseas, the last time for more than a month--but then again, perhaps they’re all tied together in a mess of independence and growing up.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Shame and Vulnerability in the Realm of the Fabulous

Anyone that has been following me for a while knows how much I love the work of Brene Brown from the University of Houston. Dr. Brown is a social worker who has spent more than a decade studying really messy issues like shame, vulnerability, and wholeheartedness in an effort to really understand what breeds connection, and what destroys it.
In her third and most recent book, “Daring Greatly”, she explores the concept of vulnerability at a deeper level. But before she can really get into the trenches with vulnerability, she has to lay a groundwork with us readers about shame, what it is, how it works, and how it plays into our daily lives.
Shame, she says, is the fear of disconnection. It is the very primitive fear that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Shame is being rejected. It is losing your job. It is calling him, but never getting a call back. And it is everywhere in our daily lives.
She goes on, making sure that we understand that shame is different from guilt. Guilt is “I did something bad.” But shame is “I am bad.” There’s a huge difference. And while guilt can actually inspire us to improve by pointing out how our actions differ from our values, shame is destructive, and impedes progress and growth.
As she is explaining shame, she discusses how her research illustrated that men and women experience shame differently. Women, she said, deal with shame in a web. Here is a list describing shame for women straight from her book:
- Look perfect. Do perfect. Be perfect. Anything less than that is shaming.
- Being judged by other mothers
- Being exposed – the flawed parts of yourself that you want to hide from everyone are revealed
- No matter what I achieve or how far I’ve come, where I come from and what I’ve survived will always keep me from feeling like I’m good enough.
- Even though everyone knows that there’s no way to do it all, everyone still expects it. Shame is when you can’t pull off looking like it’s under control.
- Never enough at home. Never enough at work. Never enough in bed. Never enough with my parents. Shame is never enough.
- No seat at the cool table. The pretty girls are laughing.
All these implicit demands on women are extremely contradictory, Dr. Brown points out. Thus as a woman attempts to escape the web of shame in one way, she falls right into another spot, getting stuck. And the more she wrestles to get out the more she gets tangled.
Men, on the other hand, experience shame in another way. Once again, a list from her book:
- Shame is failure. At work. On the football field. In your marriage. In bed. With money. With your children. It doesn’t matter – shame is failure.
- Shame is being wrong. Not doing it wrong, but being wrong.
- Shame is a sense of being defective.
- Shame happens when people think you’re soft. It’s degrading and shaming to be seen as anything but tough.
- Revealing any weakness is shaming. Basically, shame is weakness
- Showing fear is shameful. You can’t show fear. You can’t be afraid – no matter what.
- Shame is being seen as “the guy you can shove up against the lockers.”
- Our worst fear is being criticized or ridiculed – either one of these is extremely shaming.
One phrase she said that she heard all the time was for men the rule is “don’t be a pussy.” For men, shame is a box that they are trapped in, giving them room for aggression or non-emotion.
She recounts a story from a student who explained that as a child he loved to paint and draw. He was obsessed with it. One day he overheard his father and his friend talking in the kitchen. The friend pointed at the paintings on the fridge and said “So you’re raising a faggot now?” From that day, his father forbade him from taking any art classes. But it didn’t matter, because this boy was so shamed that he hadn’t drawn a thing since that day.
The trouble with shame for men is that not only is it reinforced by other men, but women are willing to beat the emotional shit out of a man that lets himself be vulnerable. What she eventually learned was that women often want a “pretended” vulnerability. They want a man to be sensitive, but only superficially. Because deep down they can’t take it if their man breaks down. They want him to be their rock.
As I read through this today I kept nodding my head. And eventually tears made their way to the surface. But as I read it, I thought, yes, I’ve experienced the “box” shame like other men do, but I also experience it as a web, just like the women. The more I read the more I thought “gay men experience both of these. We’re torn between both.”
I remember being three years old, and asking my parents for the one thing I truly wanted for my birthday: the Barbie set of Aladdin and Jasmine. I can still remember how much I wanted those two dolls. My dad isn’t a hard-ass when it comes to conforming to masculine ideals, but this still bothered him. My mom didn’t think it was a huge deal. So they compromised, and I got Aladdin, but not Jasmine.
I did, however, get birthday money, and I knew exactly what I wanted. So we went to the store, and I wanted to buy Jasmine. My dad did not like this at all. My mom finally made a strong stand, that it wasn’t a big deal, and so I got to buy Jasmine.
That was the beginning of a Barbie collection that contained a number of dolls, male and female. My dad used to joke that he was concerned, until I pulled Ken’s head off his body, and he knew I’d be fine. Since I’ve come out, he doesn’t tell that story anymore.
I tell this story to make the point that every gay man experienced this “sissy” accusation as a child. We were called “girls” or “gay” or “faggots.” We were held up to that masculine ideal, and being by nature more sensitive, expressive, artistic people we failed that ideal every time. And the final clash against that “weakness” measuring stick was coming to terms with our sexuality. We finally accepted that by our very natures, we didn’t fit.
Some of us are okay with that. Some still struggle with it. But even in the mainstream gay community I see it playing a role. Being too sensitive or emotionally vulnerable (even in a relationship) can be dangerous ground for a gay man. We are still very guarded, and still deal with shame over allowing ourselves to be somewhat more feminine. Some circles of gay look down on that, while others celebrate it. But it is still there.
Mostly I see this in the need to always be in control. We have to be cool and collected. We have to be the life of the party, charismatic and totally in control of the situation. Any weakness, any emotional crack in our porcelain shield, and we get eaten alive. We think we’ve escaped the box, but we still get trapped by it.
But that’s not the whole deal for the gay community. We play the web game too. Since embracing my sexuality I definitely have a greater drive to be absolutely beautiful. I want to look flawless. Our community is full of the drive to be perfect, in every single way. We need chiseled abs, defined pecs, and a great ass. Our hair has to be perfect, and our clothes are either Armani Exchange or nothing at all. Our apartments must be immaculate, our cars fast and sexy, and our boyfriends gorgeous. And I haven’t even talked about money. Money is the lifeblood of the gay shame game. If you have money, you can be as beautiful and perfect as you want. No money? Then don’t even talk to me.
We get stuck in the same web issues that women do.  Be sexy all the time, but don’t be a slut. Be classy and sweet, but don’t be insincere or too soft. Be assertive and in control, but don’t be a bitch. Or be a bitch, but the one that everyone wants to be with.
There is this deep and underlying drive that if we can look, act, and surround ourselves with perfection, then we will finally be good enough. We’ve come out of a world of male shame patterns that we can’t live up to, so we created our own hybrid, because at least there we can compete. It’s ironic that rather than breaking shame games all together, we just created a version we think we can master.
It’s vital to realize that the shallowness and judgment that are so characteristic of the gay community are there because that is how we are treating ourselves internally. Shame is on every street corner of Fabuopolis. And our drive for perfection has been so complete and so terribly desperate that we have created some of the most incredible art in the process.
Granted, not all of that is due to shame, and not all of the gay community is the way I have described them. But those are the overarching characteristics of shame in the gay community. Looking at it this way, it’s clear that our community needs this wholehearted work. We need to learn to be vulnerable, especially in our relationships with our wonderful boyfriends. Vulnerability scares the hell out of us, and we’ll drink or spend ourselves into the ground before we let ourselves be perceived as vulnerable, but it has to happen.
The good news is that if there is any community that is in a position to revolutionize itself, it’s the gay community. We are a group that has always been counter-culture, and constantly needing to redefine ourselves in light of all the ways we don’t fit into the rest of society. What this means is that we have the ability to redefine our relationships without anyone’s permission. Because of the “fuck you” attitude we’ve had to develop to survive, we can give our own culture’s shame demands the middle finger. In a time when gay relationships are being restructured and redefined, we can embrace vulnerability and work through shame together. Because really, whether we’re a twink or a bear, a jock or a drag queen, that experience of shame is the one thing we all share. We can look at any other LGBT individual and say “I get it, hon.”
This is not an easy thing to do. It’s not comfortable, and it’s not for the faint-hearted. But if we want something more than endless weekends half-drunk at the club or relationships that are more than just the flavor of the month, then this has to happen. We can be a cruel bunch to one another, and to ourselves, but the rainbow-colored flag gives me hope. It gives me hope because I know that we have already been through so much.
We are a people of persistence and determination. From the early years when our drag queens at Stonewall said “no more!” to the marches for equality in San Francisco, around the nation, and around the world, we are a people with a proud history of rising above. We are a resilient people. A beautiful people. And with the courage to be vulnerable, to dare greatly, we can change everything.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Coming Out About...Coming Out

This past week, NBA star Jason Collins came out as a gay male. First, I will endorse Collins’ published letter in Sports Illustrated, which can be read here.

Second, allow me to critique the other media buzz surrounding Collins and coming out. One particular headline I saw that rubbed me the wrong way?

Pro basketball player Jason Collins appears in his first interview since coming out.

Now, I understand the innocence in this headline. But still, I beg the question: what does it matter?

Headlines and hoopla like this are precisely reason enough to keep people in the closet, to prevent them from openly claiming their sexuality. Phrases and attitudes like this treat it like a big deal, like coming out makes people completely different from who they were before. I can testify that I am the same person as before, only now I’m cluing people in to my preferences. And taking more fashion risks.

I have long wanted to write about coming out, because I think there are many problematic discourses surrounding it. In particular, the act of coming out and ways of doing it act as a singular prescription for all. In reality, no one gay or LGBTQ-identified person’s experience is the same as another’s. My experience is not the same as someone else’s experience. What works for me may not work for someone else, because each of us have different factors and circumstances that may or may not affect us. We’re individuals. We have individual lives.

I do not wish to speculate about the life of Jason Collins, since I do not know him or his life personally. But I do wish to highlight his acknowledgment of social factors preventing him from feeling comfortable coming out, as well his privileges in doing so. These highlight important social issues affecting LGBTQ-identified individuals, as well as notions of gender and sexuality.

Collins admits, I'm glad I'm coming out in 2013 rather than 2003. The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted. And yet we still have so much farther to go.” And while Collins attempts to not make this a progress narrative by confessing we have much farther to travel, I can’t help but wonder…for whom has the climate shifted? And which public has changed their opinion? For many who remain in the LDS Church, laughter ensues.

Collins also admits his own privilege in coming out. Collins states as “a free agent, literally and figuratively…I've reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want,” admitting his privilege in being a free agent, which he perceives as the opportunity to come out do whatever he wants. Additionally, he admits that he goes against “the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I've always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn't make you soft?” I cringe because I wonder what’s so wrong with abiding by the stereotype? Can we just forget notions of traditional masculinity and be who we are?

Coming out can be hard, difficult, and in many situations, not option. I myself, along with many readers of this blog, have grown up in Mormon families. Some even continue practicing the religion, whether in those spaces or elsewhere. In our situations, coming out can be a difficult thing. Reconciling long-held familial beliefs with one’s sexuality, in addition to worrying about acceptance and tolerance from one’s own family, remains a striking issue for many of us. Add in concerns with church policies and manners of treating its LGBTQ-identified members, and coming out doesn’t seem as much fun as staying in anymore.  

My belief is this: in regards to coming out, I would want anyone to do it on their own will, agenda, and desire. There’s already so much pressure to adhere to heterosexuality and a traditional life, claiming one’s sexuality and personal identity should not be pressured as well. It’s an individual action that must be done the individual feels is the right time, if at all. Kudos to Jason Collins for being able to do so. I hope it’s a positive thing for him. But it's not the only narrative of a gay man.  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

What's Best?

Matt here.

Today I feel humble. I don't know why you should be reading me when there's so much else available. Thank you.


When I run in the mornings I listen to a podcast called The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, and I've caught up to the first century AD. A couple of recent episodes have talked about Skepticism, and the discussion resonated with me. I don't have the energy to reserve judgement about everything (as recommended), but when it comes to Mormonism, that strategy has worked for me so far. Friends and family gush that it's true or it's false and I just sit here saying "Maybe." Then I go on with my life as seems best to me.

For the past handful of years, 'best' has been to pick the general principles out of Mormonism while ignoring its major claims to authority. My Mormons would say that that's a gutted version of the religion, that I'm missing the most important parts, but I wonder. I've never understood why a prophet would be necessary, or baptism. Or temple ordinances. To me, those have always seemed like ornamentation, superfluous to the main thrust of perfecting the people.

Recently, though, I've been wondering if I need to pay more attention to Mormonism's claims of authority. For whatever reason, my idea of 'best' has cracked a bit and needs shoring up.

It's a scary prospect, reevaluating things like this. What if as a result it seems to me that Mormonism is true in its entirety? That would suck. It would cut apart my plans for a family. It would mean dealing with vapid Sunday services again, and losing a tenth of my money. But it seems at least as bad to continue as I have been just because it's comfortable and not because it seems best. In fact, that's a caveat to my belief that (if Mormonism turns out to be true) God will forgive me my unbelief--that my intent was good. I think the belief that everything will be alright in the end can be dangerous, if it lulls us into complacency.

So sometime soon, when I'm employed again and not living with my parents again, you can expect to see me wrestle some thoughts out on here. I imagine I won't come to any conclusions about truth or falsehood, but I hope I'll be able to build up my understanding of what I think is best.

Apropos of nothing, but laugh-out-loud funny: How I Became a Hipster

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sanskrit Wisdom and Being Enough

I saw this on Facebook the other day, and I liked it enough to download it to my phone. These days picture downloads to my phone are reserved for quotes that really inspire me or adorable pictures of my friends’ kids that make my hypothetical uterus hurt. This post is the former.
There is a decent amount of helpful wisdom here, and whether or not it is actually Sanskrit wisdom, I found it valuable. The point that struck me the most was number 6. For those who skimmed or those who will have to glance back to remember what 6 was, I’ll just retype it.
6. ‘There’ is no better than ‘here.’ When your ‘there’ has become ‘here’, you will simply obtain another ‘there’ that will, again, look better than ‘here’.”
I realize that this is a fancy version of “the grass is always greener”, but for some reason the different wording gave it a new appearance.
This concept is something that I have become more conscious of in myself over the past year or two, especially when it comes to dating and relationships. At its root is something that I believe every human being does from time to time, and is something that is making people miserable. It’s the underlying belief that if we can only obtain _________ (insert something shiny and new here), then we will be happy and fulfilled. Life will be good, and we’ll hit that elusive state where everything is just right.
We do this with stuff all the time. The capitalist revolution of the last thirty years has turned us from citizens to consumers, and everywhere we look is the promise of “buy this, and then you’ll be happy.” It’s that surge of excitement and lust when we see the unveiling of the new iPhone, and that flush of resentment and envy when someone else gets it first. It’s the urge that sends us time and time again to Amazon and Etsy, and keeps us consuming when we really don’t need, or even want, whatever we’re buying.
We do this with ourselves too. This one takes a slightly different form, though. It’s more of a “when I am ________ (insert something shiny that could be you! here), then I’ll be happy. This belief is more powerful than the one that gets us to hoard stuff, though this is definitely used against us to get us to believe we need to buy something. The blank in this belief takes many forms. When I am thinner, buffer, smarter, straight, tanner, richer, more spiritual, educated, debt free, prettier, more handsome, in a relationship, employed, successful, the reigning pokemon champion, famous, and whatever the hell else we can possibly conceive. This false belief convinces us that when we are like some wonderful ideal, then we’ll have happiness. Then we’ll hit nirvana, zen, enlightenment, whatever.
I’ve caught myself doing that with dating, too. There’s a voice that is so subtle it doesn’t even use words that says “when you’re with this guy, or, if you could get that guy, then you’ll be happy. Then you will be more.” As I’ve become more aware of this influence, I’ve realized that the deep drive beneath it is the erroneous belief that if I could just find a guy that’s hot enough, mature enough, successful enough, etc. etc., then I will be more. The desire isn’t to be in the relationship with that kind of person, it’s to be different, better, because of it. And that difference, whatever it might be, is what I truly desire deep down.
Eckhart Tolle is an author who writes and speaks about this idea a lot. He makes the claim that no matter what, we will never get to this place where we have enough, are enough, date someone who makes us enough. This is because we are buying into a lie that is a human epidemic. The lie is this: You are not enough. This lie is so powerful, he says, because the ego (the voice in our head, the mind that does the thinking) is already in a constant state of threat, believing that it is going to be annihilated. The problem for us is when we believe that voice in our head to be us, and thus believe that we are threatened by our “not enough-ness”.
But it isn’t us. The true us, he says, is deeper. It cannot be improved or reduced, because it is already in a state of perfection and “enough-ness”. The trick is to stop believing the voice in our head, stop believing that it is us, and find the deeper awareness that is within us. That state of peace and wholeness and contentment exists within us already. We don’t need to buy it, become it, or date it. We have to find it, in the quiet recesses of our souls.
An idea, ironically, that is number 9 on the Sanskrit rules for being human.
So get off of ebay, stop stalking that guy you don’t actually want to date, quit trying to get your parents’ approval, and enough with the frantic struggle to be enough. Because you are. And I am. Nothing you can acquire or become will make you happier. When you connect with that deeper sense of awareness all those anxieties and fickle desires fall away. What you’re left with is the deep sense of worthiness, of being enough, and the joy of the present moment.
We are enough, and we’re enough right here, right now.