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.