Thursday, December 24, 2009

Trying to Prove the Truth of My Existence

On my way up to visit family for Christmas, I was looking for a passage in Practice in Christianity by Søren Kierkegaard. (I didn't find what I was looking for; when I do I'm sure I'll blog about it.) I came across a passage about recognizing truth (or ignoring it) when it is before us:

Pilate asks Christ the question: What is truth? ... That it can occur to Pilate at that moment to question Christ in this way demonstrates precisely that he has no eye at all for truth. ... [F]or in questioning Christ in this way ... he makes the self-disclosure that Christ's life has not explained to him what truth is--but how then could Christ with words enlighten Pilate about this when that which is truth, Christ's life, has not opened Pilate's eyes to what truth is! ... The question is just as foolish ... as if someone were to ask a man with whom he was standing and talking, "May I put this question to you, do you exist?" ... And what should that man really reply? "If someone by standing and talking with me cannot be certain that I exist, then my assurances cannot be of any use, since, after all, my assurances are certainly something much inferior to my existence" (XII 187 - 188).

As I read this, a parallel struck me. It is a similar phenomenon with those who sit and argue against many things, refusing evidence and testimony against their beliefs. In particular I thought of those who deny the evidence and testimony of those who are homosexual. (I was thinking of this as I will be spending this Christmas in the company of a family member who holds to such views and opinions.) Often such people make the argument that homosexuality is a matter of psychological dysfunctions, childhood trauma, maladjustment to sexual maturation, etc. Such arguments are usually used to discredit the claims and testimony of those who are homosexual. As I remember one person putting it, "I am not considered a credible witness to my own experience."

I have looked at and experienced these kinds of judgments from communities often involved in making these kinds of arguments. From my own experience, and discussions with such people, they want to make homosexuality not exist (at least within their sphere of perceptible reality). As the infamous Utah Senator Chris Buttars said, "I don't mind gays, but I don't want them stuffing it in my throat all the time and especially in my kid's face." As I would translate it, "I say, 'I don't mind gays,' so as not to seem like a total bigot, but I don't want them to exist, let alone know of their existence." The Uganda bill to criminalize homosexuality as a capital offense goes even further. It is not just a fight to push away what they consider un-reality from their perception; it is an attempt to actively stamp it out through force. Even this fight is fueled by the argument that homosexuality is a choice, a dysfunction, a disease to be treated.

Rachel Maddow did a series of segments on her MSNBC show, The Rachel Maddow Show, about the influence of US change therapy advocates shaping the Uganda bill. As is shown, those who try to argue change therapy and the illness model of (and why I make a point of including it here) turn to--what I consider to be--charlatans, yes men, liars, and people otherwise unfit to be considered any kind of authority on the subject. As Rachel points out, these people are using "made up, fake, authoritative stuff that ... is being taken as science."

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To bring this to more of my personal life, this is why I have not been able to have any kind of meaningful contact or correspondence with the mentioned member of my family: to be so thoroughly dismissed, to have my life and existence thrown out as un-reality leaves me at a loss as to how I may be able to say anything more. In a profoundly frustrated and hurting way, I admit I most likely cannot say anything at all. I do not know how to express the pain when someone who has been so close to you in life suddenly says, "Do you exist?" Perhaps a better way to put it is they seem to say, "I know you do not exist."

In the end, and why I think the passage from Kierkegaard struck me when I read it, all we can do is exist. For such people who refuse to listen and acknowledge us as reality we cannot say anything. And perhaps this is why some of such people come around when they no longer know of homosexuality in the abstract but begin to know homosexuals in person. Like Christ (with no intention to be blasphemous with the comparison) we cannot respond with words and rhetoric. It is our lives as we live that shows them what reality is or is not.

And this brings me to the last point I will make in this entry. The fact that it is our lives, not our rhetoric, that shows reality is why I take issue with parts of gay culture (to use a broad term). We fight to show ourselves as meaningful, productive people, yet so many do not show it in how they live their lives. This is also part of why I believe in the importance of same-sex marriage rights: the gay community needs the opportunity to be held to rights and responsibilities to show themselves a worthwhile group. This is not to say it cannot be done without marriage rights. However, marriage is the institution where the issues of living in respect of love and sex--the issues of sexuality--are most directly given opportunity to be shown and proven.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Some Snide Thoughts About Christmas at Church

Today, my ward had their Christmas program in Sacrament meeting and Sunday School. If I had to paint it, well, it would all be in shades of beige. Even so, I had a couple somewhat silly thoughts during the morning I want to share.

The Sacrament Meeting program started with a woman talking about all the bustle, decorations, and waiting for Santa that comes with Christmas time. She then said, "It's all too easy to forget why we celebrate this season." I came very close to muttering under my breath, "To appease the Pagans?"

In Elder's Quorum, the teacher had us go one at a time saying our names and what we did. I said, "I've been unemployed for two years, play Dungeons and Dragons, just opened an storefront, and deal with trying to get medical needs covered." What I had thought of saying was, "I've been unemployed for two years. On the side, I'm a raging heretic and a social gad-fly."

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Better of Equal Options

Wednesday at my group counseling session, I told the group about how I had met with my bishop and how I planned on attending church meetings so I could network with the ward for job leads. The conversation from there went easily to dealing with our LDS backgrounds and how to deal with LDS authorities, especially bishops. I talked about how I found the encounter easy to deal with as I went in with a very specific goal and topic. I wasn't there out of a sense of duty to "confess" or "repent." One member, who is active in his ward, talked about how he believes the bishop is not necessary for salvation/exaltation. I really liked how he talked about how one should only go to the bishop with problems and issues when one is inspired to do so (not shamed or guilted). The bishop, he said, is there to be a person of guidance and teaching. He is not the one who absolves our guilt or cleanses our sins.

At the end of the session we do something called "check outs." This is an opportunity for every member to articulate what they are taking away from the session and mention anything they would like to keep discussing the next time we meet. At this session, as people took their turns, I had a profound Spiritual epiphany. I don't know why it came then. Perhaps it was the discussions about dealing with going to church meetings, the position and powers of church leaders, or perhaps me talking about how I planned to attend church to network with the ward. What came to me was an answer to a question I've carried with me for over four years.

As I've written about before, back in 2005 I came to an understanding of what general path is best for me to take with my sexuality. It came from a process of prayer, fasting, and totally surrendering myself in being willing to accept whatever answer came to me. Although the answer came out clear, one thing that I have always wondered was why out of the options none of them were considered bad or wrong for me. The only difference was that one was "best" for my spiritual growth for this life and into the next. Even then, I understood the "best" was only something ever so slightly better than the others. Ever since then I've wondered why this particular option, to embrace my sexuality and even seek out a male partner, is "best." Wednesday, it just came down on me. It was one of those moments of understanding, when knowledge and understanding just comes. This option is "best" not because it will put me, per se, in some position of better spirituality or better attitude for salvation. All in all, when it comes to only me, all options were equal in what their path would do for me spiritually. The difference, where the "best" came from, was what this path will allow me to give to others. As I have felt for some time, there is a need for the gad-fly. I am not talking about being disruptive, contentious, or a nucence. What is needed is a voice of reason and moderation both in the LDS community and LGBT culture.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Going to Church and Meeting With My Bishop

Sunday, I attended my local ward meetings and met with my bishop. I did this all to see what the bishop could do to help me, if anything.

Church meetings went well. I found the ward to be very friendly and welcoming in general. People quickly noticed me as new and made sure I got to where I needed to go. Even the bishop noticed me before Sacrament Meeting started and stopped to talk to me. The only incident that was of note happened during Gospel Principles class. The topic was "The Family: A Proclamation to the World." I was tense when things started as the proclamation is often pointed to and used as a weapon against homosexuals. At the beginning of the class the usual rhetoric of "The family is under attack" was thrown out. What got to me was a comment regarding "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." The man sitting next to me said he took it as a point to accept the way he was made. While I could spin that response to all kinds of things, what got me was that he was going with the same subtext of "I was born with this genitalia, therefore I must be these certain ways." Personally, I find this attitude at the center of sexism, even hetero-sexism [1].

In response I said, "I'm not saying this to be controversial or contentious, but we need to be careful not to be overly simplistic about this [2]. I wonder if they are talking about gender or sex. Those two terms tend to get conflated. We need to be aware that many people are born with indeterminate sex [3]." My comment seemed to go over well. Many people even told me they liked my contribution to the class.

In the afternoon I met with the bishop. I told him how I hadn't attended church meetings in over two years. I told him how I had been dealing with medical issues and unemployment for two years. (Nothing about my sexuality, or even any specifics about why I hadn't been attending came up in our discussion.) I then told him the purpose of my wanting to speak with him was to see if there is anything the ward could do to help me find/afford a place to live come next month. He told me the current policy of the LDS church is not to give direct assistance in housing, with the exception of perhaps the occasional utility bill. The economic condition even effects the ability of the church to give aid. Above all that, the church only really gives direct assistance for people who are active, tithe paying, etc. I told him I understood. Even with that he continued to talk around in a few circles about how he wouldn't be able to offer anything more than perhaps a food order from the Bishop's Storehouse. As I have been approved for food stamp assistance, I told him I was not in need of that kind of assistance.

After about three loops of him telling me about how he isn't able to help, he then went to a kind of testimony about how he's glad to see me at church and how I'll be blessed if I'll continue attending because he's been so blessed for attending church meetings through his life. I told him how I felt the past couple years of being away from church activity had been necessary to keep me away from experiencing a great amount of direct harm. (My subtext, of course, being the drama and attitudes around Proposition 8.) The bishop then started into his testimony how much he has been blessed by church activity. He seemed to catch himself saying, "Your experience may not have been the same." I replied, "I wouldn't expect to be."

The entire experience of going back to church, speaking up in Sunday School, and meeting with the bishop was all surprisingly calm for me. I would be lying if I said there was no tension. I felt it. However, I kept my composure, didn't have any moment where I felt like I was going to freak out, and even felt rather empowered. Perhaps it was the anti-anxiety medication. Perhaps it was that I was there with a specific purpose and didn't need anything else, and I was ready to accept "no" as their response. Maybe it was both. In the end it felt like a kind of subtly important experience to feel in control and not really threatened.

Waiting to meet with the bishop right after me was the Ward Employment Specialist. I spoke with him for a couples minutes before he went in. I told him about my training/schooling and what kind of work I'm looking for along with what I'm not looking for. I gave him my e-mail address and phone number and he gave me his phone number along with a referral for at least a part-time job he knew about off the top of his head. It was at that point I decided I would attend church for the next while. I realized the ward is a ready made society I can network in. I know how to move and work in it, and the members, by virtue of them being members, are very willing to give basic help. I don't know if I will be bringing up any issues about my sexuality directly. I'm sure something will eventually be said, and I will not be able to ethically refrain from responding.

1: Although some would label me as a "feminist," I prefer the term "anti-sexist." I do not believe in women or men being superior to the other. I even argue that men are also trapped and pidgeon holed by the social mores feminism fights against (see Myth of Male Power by Warren Farrell, Ph.D.). I believe, in many ways, our application of the labels "male" and "female" to traits and attributes almost arbitrary and often pointless. I also believe that much of the arguments against homosexuals is the same basis of classic sexism. All together, I use the term sexism as an umbrella whenever I believe any gender or sexual orientation is (wrongly) held as superior to others. More specific terms: feminist, masculinist, heterosexist, and homosexist.

2: One of my difficulties in dealing with religious people is the simplicity they insist on dealing with things. In the case of "The Family," they take the simple statements given in the document as the end-all discussion on the topic. While I understand the simple nature of the document, I do not accept it is the entire discussion. God and the universe are far more complex than can be contained by a single sentence.

3: Most people are unaware of the issues surrounding inter-sexed people. From what I've studied, about 1.5% of people around the world are born in some way with indeterminate sex characteristics.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Meds and a New Attitude

This week I met with a nurse practitioner to take a look at my medications. I didn't go to my usual psychiatrist as he is unavailable due to medical issues of his own and Voc Rehab is covering me meeting with this nurse practitioner. We decided to try changing my medications as the current ones--Effexor and Strattera--no longer seem to be working well. Effexor, with the neurotransmitters it affects, may even be contributing to my heightened general anxiety issues. I was a bit concerned, however, about changing medications as I had just finally gotten my medications fully covered for free through programs for low income people. Normally, out of pocket cost for my Effexor alone was almost $300 per month. I did a basic Google search on my new medications; Citalopram, Clonazepam, and Trazodone; and estimated the cost for filling all three would be around $250. I was very surprised when I went to the pharmacy last night and only had to pay $17.88 for all of it. As I was expecting to pay a lot, for a moment when the pharmacist told me the total came to "seventeen eighty-eight" I thought she meant $1,788.

Going off old medications and starting new ones is always quite the roller coaster ride. When I went off St. John's Wort on my mission before starting Effexor, I dealt with muscle weakness and even a moment of suicidal thoughts. This time around, as I get to go off old medications while going on new ones at the same time, the results seem to be much more positive. After only one day I'm feeling much more calm; things aren't annoying me, or at least not causing me crazy levels of anxiety; and I'm even smiling and laughing. I don't know how long this new attitude will last. I think it will calm down a bit in a few weeks, as is normal. Hopefully, though, I will be able to function again and either go back to school or find a job. Also, for now, I'm in much more of a mood to read and write again, instead of just sitting in front of the TV or wasting time on Facebook. On the bad side of effects of the switch is the slipping of my equilibrium when I stand up, an increased appetite, and sleeping much more deeply than is normal. At least I'm feeling very rested when I wake up.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Fallacious Six-year Old

Today I went to the pharmacy to have some new prescriptions filled. While waiting, I watched a girl, about six-years old, take newly bought gloves from her sister, about eight-years old. The older sister didn't want to give the gloves to her younger sister saying, "I don't want you to open them."

The six-year old replied, "I'm not going to open them." She then moved to a position behind the older sister's chair and "opened" the gloves: removing the sales tag and putting them on her hands. She then made the argument that she needed to put them on because "My hands are cold outside."

I muttered, "You aren't outside," under my breath.

The incident gnawed at me the entire time I was in line. I think the main reason was because both parents did nothing about their younger child lying to the older sister. All they seemed to do is treat the older girl as being selfish. (Granted, in a way she may have been.)

On my way out of the pharmacy I made a point to stop and speak to the younger girl. Something in me just couldn't stand to leave without saying something. I approached the girls sitting next to their mother and said, "Excuse me, but I feel something needs to be said." I then pointed to the six-year old girl, telling her, "Honey, I think you need to apologize to your sister for lying to her about the gloves and making a fallacious argument to justify it."

The three of them sat there looking back at me with a look as if to say, "Why are you talking to us?" I left immediately, not in any mood to hear a rebuttal from the mother, which I think would have been something akin to "Mind your own business." Honestly, looking back, the only things I would have done differently would have been to say something sooner and thought of a different word than "fallacious."

I don't have any children of my own, and I understand the generally offensive nature of having strangers try to discipline one's children from the sideline. I also realize this kind of thing is typical of children and siblings at their ages. At the same time, this exchange between sisters and their parents struck something in me. Perhaps it is the nature of it was all too much an example of what I see in the greater world and politics in general: lying about what one is going to do and then making fallacious arguments to justify one's actions after the fact. Also--if I may put forward a bit of parenting philosophy--if a child is old enough to articulate an argument, they are old enough to be corrected.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Letting Go and Letting God

I have not blogged in some time as I have struggled with feelings of anxiety and a general sense of hopelessness as I've tried to keep myself together as I wait for help. As the year comes to an end, and my current living situation along with it, I have an increased sense of desperation to get my situation under control. Understandably this has increased my anxiety. Yesterday, I contacted the Executive Ward Secretary of my ward to schedule an appointment with my bishop so I can ask him for help in finding assistance, specifically in trying to find a new living arrangement. Today, I have been feeling an intense level of anxiety as I consider how the meeting may go. Compared to previous meetings with bishops, I have doubts of it going well. My anxiety over the meeting was so high I had an adrenaline high and my heart was nearly racing. At the moment, however, I feel a soothing calm.

The calm came as I turned on KBYU, simply trying to find something to watch to take my mind off the thought of my meeting with my bishop. As PBS is doing their pledge drive, they are showing a number of programs that one can receive as "gifts" for donating. Tonight was a program by Wayne Dyer called "Excuses Begone." A number of points hit home with me. The main one was his discussion of the recovery therapy saying "Let go and let God." As I watched the program I found myself calming down as I considered the ideas Dyer talked about.

Much of my anxiety and depression of the past couple years have been around issues of trust. My new individual counselor put it very well in our last session when he said he could put the trauma of my life into the word "rejection." I have experienced a great amount of cathartic crying as I've thought about the rejection I have felt and still feel in my life. I have taken it and no longer feel the ability to trust most other people. I don't even trust myself as I struggle with the issues of my body often failing to function properly. Dyer talked about "Let go and let God" is about putting trust not in others or even one's self, it is about putting trust in that higher power: one's Source, God, or whatever label one chooses to use. As I have pondered this, the issue I realize that the spiritual issue that has crippled me over the past couple years has not been simply the issues of my medical problems, but the loss of surrender to God.

Back in 2007 I had my final blow out with my last bishop, stopped attending church meetings, and even asked my home teachers to stop visiting as I felt one in particular was being far too pushy and preachy with me. Although I still feel the step to remove myself from church attendance was in many ways necessary to keeping things from becoming even worse, I realize I let myself lose something very important. I lost my sense of surrender to God and began to try to control too much by my own power. The great moments of my life, where I have found enlightenment, self-actualization, and peace have been those times when I really let go, surrendering myself to God's will, guidance, and influence.

Unlike many I know who consider religion to be a harmful institution, I believe it is very necessary and a powerful tool in spirituality. One of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life to date came in the fall of 2007 as I read Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore. It was an experience of understanding the powerful good and spiritual strength that came from me attending church services, even though I still had many criticisms and took issue with the institutions positions and actions regarding sexuality. These are some of the passages that struck me then and even now:

Another aspect of modern life is a loss of formal religious practice in many people's lives, which is not only a threat to spirituality as such, but also deprives the soul of valuable symbolic and reflective experience. (211)

... [C]hurch teaches us directly and symbolically to see the sacred dimensions of everyday life. ... [R]eligion is an "art of memory," a way of sustaining mindfulness about the religion that is inherent in everything we do. ... Without this lowly incorporation of the sacred into life, religion can become so far removed from the human situation as to be irrelevant. ... An appreciation for vernacular spirituality is important because without it our idealization of the holy, making it precious and too removed from life, can actually obstruct a genuine sensitivity to what is sacred. Churchgoing can become a mere aesthetic experience or, psychologically, even a defense against the power of the holy. Formal religion, so powerful and influential in the establishment of values and principles, always lies on a cusp between the divine and the demonic. (214-216)

When I was actively going to church and Institute, I walked the line of that cusp: the precarious balancing act that is walking the straight and narrow of God's will. I do not know if I will return to church activity. In many ways I still feel it will be a hostile environment. The fall out of Proposition 8 is still very active and I suspect many will be all too willing to pull out the rhetoric of the past couple years to try to put me in what they think is my place. At the same time, as I've contemplated what it is God wants of me, I realize my calling in life, in some way, is to be a gad fly to the institution. It is not a calling of trying to tear down, ridicule, or otherwise be a causer of discord. At this moment I feel a peaceful indignation towards the willful ignorance, supposition, and adherence to those I consider to be charlatans and yes men for guidance and "understanding" of issues. I do not know what form my attempts to educate and inform those in power will take. For now, I must simply let go of my attempts to control events and return to letting God carry me to whatever destination His plan has for me.