Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Resignation

Dear Utah (and US) job market (and general society):

I quit.

I no longer wish to deal with your expectations as they tear at my psyche and leave me feeling worthless and unwanted. I am not "highly energetic," "upbeat," or "outgoing." I do not multitask, answer phones, or "enjoy" trying to help the proudly mindless masses. I do not own a car, let alone have a driver's license--nor do I see myself getting them anytime in my future. I refuse to be marked down and treated as inefficient due to the flaws in your own systems and/or the failings of others. I am not willing to drop the care and management of my medical needs for the sake of your arbitrary hours of operation.

I am a highly focused, intelligent, efficient person. I practically thrive off of tedium. I enjoy organizing, thinking, and working at my own pace. I am melancholy in personality, but that does not mean I am unpleasant. I prefer to understand what I am doing and how it works with the larger process rather than just going at my part by rote.

Please contact me when you are willing to work with my capabilities and no longer demanding what I cannot give or do.

Ryan R. Hollist

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Smashing Pride Kick Off

Last night I attended a party to kick off the SLC Pride weekend. The event was hosted by some friends of mine--whom I have not kept in touch with very well for the last couple years. It was good to see them again, even if we didn't really get to catch up much. I also enjoyed mashing buttons and getting thoroughly trounced in the Smash Brothers tournament. Other than that I was rather annoyed with the evening.

As I have been getting out and socializing more these days, I am realizing why I don't do it much in general to begin with. I don't keep the volume down as low as some people I know, but when I must strain my voice to speak it's too loud for me. After a while of being in the middle of the throbbing electronica, I had to go outside and lie on the grass to keep from being sick. Also, I don't drink alcohol, smoke, or care for... well... other stuff. I've never found any real enjoyment out of my experience with them. In fact, my system seems far more interested in trying to let me know how much it doesn't appreciate being exposed to any of it, rather than responding in whatever amazingly great way it seems to for so many others.

As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP*) I have a low threshold of tolerance for stimuli. Crocheting and watching MST3K is plenty exciting for me when it comes to an evening's entertainment. I think this is why I usually find general socializing with LDS people more tolerable than the gay community. The former tends to run at a more restrained level--sober, in multiple meaning of the word--that my system can tolerate.

*This is from The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron. As a book about a general trait, this book describes me very, very well. If I had the money, I would buy a copy for every supervisor/manager and HR director I work with.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Finishing My Grandmother's Afghan

Last week my aunt, Karen, gave me a box full of knitted squares. These were done by her mother, whom we often called "Flo Baby," and a few other relatives. The project had started a few years ago when Karen saw an afghan in a magazine. The project was put aside when Flo was diagnosed with cancer and later passed away. The box sat for a couple years in storage.

With me starting Joe d'Arc Crochet, my step-mother, Marla and Karen sister, suggested I should be able to finish piecing together the squares. I spent the last week completing the project and delivered the finished project to Karen yesterday evening.

Working on this project has been an interesting experience for me. It has given me a sense of connecting with Flo after her passing as well as connecting with my aunt, Karen. It seemed especially appropriate to finish this project over this past week as all of Flo's daughters, all converts to the LDS church, did her temple work. I even did some of the work while sitting in the temple waiting room as they went through the sealing session.

No other project has given me such a profound sense of accomplishment as this one has.

Reviewing the Past In Light of the Present

Blogging has definitely become less of a priority for me. Another month has passed by without a post. I've had a number of things I've thought about writing about. However, it just doesn't seem like something I need to do so much. As I said before, I tend to write more when I'm down and negative. The past month has been one of continued, general improvement. At the moment I can say my general feelings of well-being and mental heath are the best they have been in at least five years. All this has made me wonder about what I have written on this blog in the past.

I started this blog as a way of trying to vent and deal with issues I had over the past couple years when I was in a poor state of mental health. As I read over past entries I can easily see the high level of general anxiety I was under during that time. However, I cannot think of much, if anything, I would change about what I wrote. Perhaps some subtle aspects of tone would change if I were to (re)write them now. One great validation to myself in reviewing these old posts is the ability I retained, despite the anxiety, of being able to still hear my internal voice of reason.

Over the past while I have had the experience of associating with and/or dealing with people who had no internal check on reason and rationality. As much as I have suffered in my own problems and condition I at least have been blessed to keep contact with at least some small part of my mind that tells me "This isn't rational." I'm so grateful for it, I have started to cry as I write this.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Back to Blogging

It has been over two months since my last post. The situation of my life made it a little difficult to comfortably sit down and write about what has been going on. There is something about using a computer that isn't one's own that just leaves one feeling not quite right about writing. (I realize it's kind of silly, especially since this gets openly published for the world to see.)

Over the past two months my general situation has notably improved. I feel very good about the level of care I am receiving and the competence of those administering it. Perhaps that is the other reason I haven't been blogging much: I feel more like writing when I'm down and negative. I got with a new nurse practitioner with Weber Human Services to monitor and manage my medications. We have things at a level that I feel is the best I've been in the last 2-3 years.

I am still unemployed. I have been looking, but with the market and economy as it is the cards seem stacked against me. I have started with a new Voc Rehab counselor here in Weber county. She admitted that it will be difficult for me as I have a rather choppy work history (the longest I've held a job over the past decade was a couple months short of two years). In the mean time I am still working on trying to get either SSI or SSDI coverage so I can take care of living expenses. However, I was told it would take around six months for a decision to be made about qualifying.

Probably the biggest piece of news in my life over the past few months is the small business I'm trying to get started selling my crochet work. I named it Joe d'Arc Crochet after my online alias (I also think Joe d'Arc is a little bit more marketable than Ryan Hollist).

I opened a store front on back in December and have listed the items I could from what materials I have available. So far it has been very slow, but some have shown interest. Just a couple weeks ago I decided to make as serious an effort as I can with this business. I made a basic flyer showing some of the work I've done and even made a Facebook fan page. I also contacted some local stores to see if they would be willing to sell some of my work on consignment. Last week the store manager of Cahoots (an LGBT themed novelty store in Salt Lake) said she would like to see my work and talk about selling some of my work. Other than that, it has been difficult trying to get things started. I've used what material I have and turned around the money I got from the couples sales I've had to replenish supplies. However, it is difficult trying to get any kind of business going when one has almost no capital to invest.

I have much more to write about, but I will put it in a separate post.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Indignation and a "Disturbance In the Force"

Over this past weekend I felt an increase in my sense of indignation regarding what I consider to be fear mongering, perpetuation misinformation, and outright lying--to name a few--by individuals and organizations that fight against LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been among these, and I found myself particularly focusing on the arguments they made during the push for California's Proposition 8. All of this seemed to reach a near "disturbance in the Force" kind of level with my soul. I decided, Monday, to finally write a brief letter to my new bishop along with providing him copies of the disciplinary council decision from 2001 when I was officially disfellowshipped from the body of the church and a copy of the letter I sent to the last bishop I spoke with about my sexuality.

I was wondering why I felt this way; I was trying to figure out why I suddenly had these feelings and thoughts come on. At first I thought it may be a combination of my depression, continuing to work out my appropriate medication levels, following the updates from Facebook friends on the progress of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger court arguments, and having met with my Elders' Quorum President on Sunday for a standard quarterly PPI (personal priesthood interview). Perhaps it is part of all these. However, given what came out today in Perry v. Schwarzenegger I feel perhaps I somehow sensed this coming.

From PRIDE In Utah!:

Even after Pro-8 counsel fought furiously to keep them hidden, documents from within the LDS/Mormon hierarchy were ruled as valid by Judge Walker today. The first was an email detailing that the Prop 8 Campaign was “entirely under direction of the priesthood!” As the email was read it, detailed incredible details, such as the fact that the Mormon church had a “key-leader in every zip code in California,” organizing the efforts of pro-8. The document also describes plan for grassroots organizing based on church wards led by ward priests. Apparently, the LDS church had an average of 20,000 volunteers walking neighborhoods at any given time.

The 2nd document is a record of the minutes in a meeting of the LDS officials. It details that Mormons were “not to take the lead, but to work within the coalition” in order to minimize negative impact on the church. In otherwords, the documents make it clear that 2 way flow of info between the campaign and the church was regular, but church pretended to lay low. The LDS church pushed for the campaign to privde the talking points, but it would provide the volunteers.

I have been upset before about what has been revealed about the involvement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Proposition 8. Now, however, my indignation is just at its max. It's not anger; it's not hatred. Indignation is the only word I have for it. I am blown away by the level of hypocracy and lies this shows from the institutional levels of the organization that is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am seriously ready to let loose on the next person to accuse the LGBT community of picking on, twisting words of, or smearing the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The organization seems all too ready to do that to itself, and every serious, rational accusation made has so far been confirmed--and then some. I also will have nothing to do with those who argue they are fighting not a civil policy but a moral issue. Those who choose to fight so unethically, and with such blatant hypocracy, have no right to even try standing on claims of morality.

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Gone But Not Forgotten": Sex, Intimacy, Affection

The other night I watched an Indie gay film titled Gone But Not Forgotten. Over the past few days and nights I have been thinking of the effect the movie had on me. (I will try to avoid plot spoilers.)

The story is basic enough: Drew Parker, a forest ranger, rescues mark, a man with amnesia who fell from the cliffs. Their friendship soon becomes more, but their romance is threatened as Mark's forgotten past comes back to claim him.

Other than Mark's amnesia, the plot uses very little, if any, complex or stilted plot devices. Also, being a low-budget Indie film, some quality is lacking at points and there are at least two scenes I feel the actors' deliveries were a little flat. However, I still found it all very touching and profound. I have not been able to stop thinking of how it made me feel and what I think about issues of sex, intimacy, and affection.

For starters, some of the things I found enjoyable about the film was what it lacked from most other gay cinema. There weren't any bars, dance clubs, back rooms, or "fabulously" outrageous drag queens that all too often dress the scenes. There weren't bitchy drama queens, mannish lesbians, or youth obsessed twinks filling out the cast. Other than some natural nods to the usual angst of being gay men and the final explanation of what sent Mark to the mountain, the story could easily be have been about a heterosexual couple.

What struck me the most was the development of the relationship between Drew and Mark. If it were not for knowing the film is gay cinema, the romantic connection between the two men doesn't begin to become apparent until nearly thirty minutes into the film. That the writer and director take the time to show the men developing a friendship into a romance is something I have rarely seen in gay cinema. My experience is most of the time the relationship seems to start with sex and everything else comes later. Even when the romance becomes known there is a delay and development before any sex actually occurs. There is a real sense of a meaningful relationship developing, not just a flurry of passion and romance.

When the characters do actually have sex it is probably the only such scene I have seen in gay cinema I really feel should be called a "love scene." Most other films seem to rely on the styles and modes used in porn. While I know some who would call this particular scene pornographic, there is a definite difference in how it is handled. The montage is slow, deliberate, caring, affectionate, and really portrays two people joining together in intimacy--not just getting off together.

This is the difficulty I have with much of the portrayal and discussion of sex in both gay culture and general society. The sense of intimacy, affection, and emotional impact often seem lost. Sex seems more like an itch to be scratched. Now, I'm not pure on this either. I've had more than my share of sexual partners over the past eleven years. The vast majority of them have been out of a desire to appease my libido, and it is because of these experiences that I strongly believe sex needs to be treated as something more than a biological urge.

I often hear the argument that men are better at separating sex from love. While I'm sure there is some supporting research surveys, this does not describe me. For me, physical touch is inextricably linked to affection and intimacy. I remember in my adolescence wishing I could hug my friends to show them how I cared about them, but I didn't as such displays are not considered appropriate, especially between boys/men. One of the things I actually liked about my mission was that the Elders would actually hug each other. Although I understood why, I didn't like it when my mission president said we shouldn't be doing it so often, especially in public. My desire and need for physical affection and intimacy are such that, although it would be difficult, I would rather go without sex for the rest of my life as long as I had someone to hold, and who would hold me back.

This is what watching Gone But Not Forgotten has evoked in me: seeing such a portrayal of affection and intimacy brings up such a powerful yearning for it myself that I feel physically ill when I think about it. It is not a matter of libido; although, it is not divorced from it either. It is not about sex; although that is a natural extension and expression of what I yearn for. As Drew puts it, "I just want somebody to come home to. Somebody that wants to come home to me too. That when they walk out that door, I know that they're gonna walk back in again."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Body Image

As a preface, I want to say this entry is perhaps one of the most difficult entries I will ever write. I am a very open person, in general. I usually find myself holding back on what I feel comfortable talking. This, however, is a topic I feel much shame about, and it is because of that shame I feel I need to start addressing it more directly.

I've never been a skinny person; I've always been at least "chunky." Even in my teenage years, when I slimmed up a bit due to growth spurts and the exercise I got in marching band, I was overweight. I still remember being measured for my colorguard costume at the beginning of my senior year and my waist being thirty-nine inches. I still consider the photograph of me in my costume to be the best picture ever taken of me. When I performed my senior-year Winterguard solo for a school assembly a friend told me how someone next to him said, "He's the fat, gay guy." In elementary school kids called me "sumo" on the playground. (Although, breaking with the stereotype, I actually enjoyed dodge ball and did fairly well at it.) I also felt very self-conscious around my step-mother, who was always trying to lose those ten or twenty pounds most middle-age women have.

It is my birth mother I keep coming back to as the root of the damage that has been reinforced through almost every stage of my life. I remember her being very blunt about my weight and size. One incident that sticks out very clearly in my mind is when I was about six or seven, after my parents' divorce and she was allowed visitation under the supervision of a social worker. I don't remember exactly what my mother said. I know it was something about my size, or how I needed to lose weight. I was so upset with her I got out of my chair and kicked her in the shin. Looking back, I think this was a major incident in the social worker telling the courts it wasn't healthy for us children to be visiting our mother. Even after I was no longer keeping direct contact with her she would send me herbal diet supplements--usually nasty, bitter herbal teas.

As I've discussed this history with therapists, it seems there is no wonder why I have such a deeply shamed-in negative body image. It haunts me where ever I go, coloring almost everything I do. I almost always seem to have the thought in the back of my mind wondering how many people are looking at me in judgement and/or disgust because of my weight. Intellectually, I can reason that the number is probably not that high, but emotionally it is difficult to feel people don't look at me the same way I look at myself. Our general culture is bad enough with how it enforces unrealistic body images. Just the other day I was with a friend at the grocery store and we stopped at the magazine rack. We took a moment and really looked at some of the covers and how unrealistic the models looked with all the air brushing and Photoshop work. I particularly took notice of the cover of the latest Men's Health Magazine. I was horrified at the level of computer work they did on the photo. I wonder if they even bothered with a model, or if they just generated the whole thing electronically.

It's even worse as a gay man. The culture is deeply youth obsessed and steeped in body worship. Porn stars are held up as idols and the yard stick by which to be judged. I know this is an over generalization, but it is difficult to see past it when the entrance to the dating scene is covered by signs saying "NO Fatties!"--and other qualifiers I will leave out to keep this blog reasonably family friendly. Perhaps the most shaming thing about all of this is the hypocrisy I feel with myself. While I so deeply resent being treated the way I am because of my weight, I realize my judgements and desires are much the same. I may not be at the level of some--refusing to even consider someone with a waist size of 30 or more, or requiring a large genitals to body fat ratio--but I still find myself looking at the magazine covers and not wanting to settle for less (or more, as the case may be).

I've tried to go on diets, only to be so crazed with cravings I felt like I was going through the DT's. I had times when I wished so desperately to lose weight by any means I wished I could bring myself to be bulimic. (Part of me feels weak and even more shameful for not being able to even do that.) Exercise is difficult as I really don't enjoy it for the most part. The exercise classes I have taken I usually find to be run at an energy level I just simply can't maintain.

I did find something of a release from all this shame for a time. In the fall of 2004, I read Coming Out: An Act of Love by Rob Eichberg, Ph.D. In the second chapter, Dr. Eichberg has a questionnaire asking the reader to respond to questions about how they feel about such things as being worthwhile, lovable, telling the truth, etc. Each question is to be considered in the context of the reader's childhood, adolescence, and present feelings. I took the time and care to actually sit down and write out my responses. I did it without editing what came out. In some cases I didn't realize what I wrote until after it was on the page. One response came out in a very shocking way, and I have felt so much shame for even thinking this that I have never shared it before with anyone outside of therapy.

Q: How do you feel about being lovable? Do you feel that there is anything you have to do, be, or say in order to be worthy of love?

A: I keep seeing in my mind that if I had a better body things would be different. If I wasn't so fat, if I was more muscular, if my penis was larger things would be better. Basically if I was porn star worthy my life would be good. I'd be able to find a boyfriend who really loved me. I would have a far better social life. I wouldn't be so depressed, alone, and hating myself every time I see or feel the huge stores of fat on my body. I would be able to like myself.

I remember how surprised I was at my response. I physically felt a jolt of electricity pass through my brain as I finally pulled all these issues to the surface of my consciousness. After this things began to change. It wasn't all at once. Over the next year I let go of the sense of being judged by others and much of the shame I held for myself. I stopped worrying so much about what I ate and realized I started eating better. I got into an exercise routine that worked well for me and I was able to reasonably enjoy. I even pulled together the confidence to start asking guys out on dates. By the end of 2005 I had lost forty pounds, going from 280 to 240 pounds, and went down to a size 40 waist from 48.

But it didn't last. Over the past few years I've gained the weight back and now weigh around 290 pounds and my waist size is back to 48. I get basically no exercise these days, and I can easily say I am in the worst shape of my life. Just walking a few blocks can leave me with aching legs and short of breath. I keep wondering what happened to stop and reverse the progress I made. Maybe I can blame my depression, hypothyroid, or some other things. Mostly, however, I think it was the changes in environment as I moved from place to place. When I had my epiphany and made good changes I was in places where I had the space and convenience to choose what I was going to do and how I would do it. I was also surrounded, mainly, by people I didn't feel any negative judgement from. Things began to change when I moved to a place where I felt the judgement and didn't have the space and convenience to do quite as I chose. Perhaps this is why the issue has become something that demands to be faced now. Over the past few months, and especially the past couple weeks, my situation has changed to be an environment where I feel even more restricted and judged.