Monday, July 29, 2013

One Year of Blogging

It has now been one year since I started blogging. One year ago I started this blog to create dialogue and build bridges between different groups of people and communities that quite often don't understand one another and often strongly disagree with one another. During the past year I have written on a variety of topics, some of them rather controversial. I have made it a point to live up to the name of the blog and run against the grain. I have stepped out of the box of what is typically expected for a Mormon, for a bisexual man, and for an SSA man. I have stuck to what I believe, regardless of what others have expected of me.

It's been an interesting year. I initially had a list of topics that I wanted to write about. I was sometimes surprised at how quickly I moved through those topics and would have to find others to write about. Sometimes one came up just in time, and I would write about current events and my perspective on them. At other times I experienced writer's block, and struggled to find something to write about.

At one point I started sharing my personal story and introducing family members in my blog posts. I found this a wonderful opportunity for this normally rather shy and introverted guy to open up and share about himself with others.

At times I felt disappointed at the lack of comments and feedback I received on my blog posts. At times I would think that nobody was reading my blog. But then someone would write to me and mention that they read my blog, or they would mention it in a conversation. Where before I wondered if what I was writing was making any kind of impact, I heard from others what they thought of what I was writing.

For the last year, I have kept to a regular schedule of posting on my blog every other Monday. There have been times I've surprised myself for keeping it going this long without either missing a post or being late. For a man with ADD, keeping this up was quite a challenge, and posting regularly for a year is quite a personal accomplishment.

I have gotten a lot out of writing this blog for the past year. It has caused me to think on a deeper level on a number of controversial topics. And it has helped me with my mission of creating bridges of understanding and acceptance between the LGBT/Queer, SSA and Mormon communities.

It is with mixed feelings that I am announcing that I am putting the regular posting schedule of my blog on hiatus. I have come to realize that I need a break. There have been a number of times recently that writing a post has felt more like a chore than something I was doing because I want to do it. And I want this blog to be something I'm doing because I want to do rather than something I feel I have to do.

This does not mean that I am going to stop posting altogether or that I am going to shut my blog down. I still want to continue the "My Story" series, and there are a couple of other topics I have in mind that I want to write about. What it does mean is that I will not be posting on a regular schedule for the time being.

In closing this post, I want to thank everyone that has been reading this blog, whether this is the first post you have read or whether you've been reading everything I've posted for the last year. I also want to thank everyone that has shared with me their thoughts and feelings about what I've written, whether it was done publicly or privately. Please continue to do so. Knowing the impact I have means a lot to me. I look forward to continue hearing from the readers of this blog that have been a large part of what has kept it going.

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Story -Part 6

When I last left off in the "My Story" series, I had gotten up to the age of ten. In this post, I will cover another few years of my life. If you have not read the previous posts in this series, I have included links at the bottom of this post.

I continued to do well in school for fifth and sixth grades. Both years I had the same teacher for a fifth/sixth grade split class (meaning half the students in the class were in fifth grade, while the other half were in sixth grade). I continued to be shy, and was still slow to make new friends, though with the friends I did have I got along rather well.

By this time the school had converted to a year-round program to accommodate more students without having to build more schools or bring in more portable classrooms. There were four different "tracks," three of which would be in session at any given time. We would typically attend for about nine or so weeks, and then have three weeks off school. When we came back, we'd be in a different classroom. I remember at first how it felt different attending school during the summer, though it was nice to have breaks from school during the middle of the year.

I also continued to be a very avid reader. Our school was involved in a program called Book-It at the time, which rewarded students for reading outside of class. I was so far beyond the other students in the class, that at one point my teacher got permission from my parents to take me to lunch as a reward during an off-track period.

When I started junior high school, I continued to do well overall in school. It was during seventh grade that I stopped taking Ritalin for my ADD. There is some irony in the fact that I stopped taking it mostly due to forgetting to take it. Though because I was still doing well in school, and because some of my symptoms of ADD had dissipated, my doctor and my parents didn't see a strong need to keep me medicated.

The one exception to me doing well in school was P.E. (Physical Education or Gym class). While I maintained As and Bs in all of my other classes, P.E. was the one class where my grades dropped to the C range. It's not that I didn't participate, because I did, but I was not very well coordinated, athletically or otherwise, and had never had a whole lot of interest in sports. These factors came together to affect my grade.

P.E. in junior high school is also when I can first distinctly remember starting to notice my attractions to other boys and men. Though there was almost never any full nudity in the locker room while I was in junior high school, and I can only remember a handful of times that we were required to shower, being in daily situations of seeing other boys shirtless in the locker room, as well as when we'd differentiate teams by "shirts" and "skins," I was definitely getting more exposure to seeing other boys in states of undress. With this added to swimming activities in Boy Scouts, I started to notice that my curiosity about what others' bodies looked like was developing into something more. Over the first couple of years of puberty, this curiosity turned definitively into attraction.

The more I became aware of the attractions, the more I tried to hide and suppress them. I also hoped that this was some sort of phase that would soon pass. Obviously it didn't. I did not think of myself as gay, as that was a rather abstract term for me at the time, and from what I had heard from those around me, was full of lots of negative connotations and stereotypes that didn't fit me. I also didn't think of myself as bisexual at the time; while I did have some interest and attraction to girls, I was not familiar with the term bisexual at the time.

I also noticed early on that I seemed to be alone in my attractions to other boys and men. I remember some sleepovers with my scout troop in a leader's backyard (in which our leader and his family were sleeping inside) or other sleepovers with groups of friends in which we'd get into games of truth or dare. Though nothing overtly sexual happened with these dares, some of them did involve flashing, mooning or stripping. I quickly noticed that I seemed to be the only one that was interested in closely watching in dares that involved nudity, and I remember the embarrassment and shame I felt when others noticed me looking much more intently than others during these dares. I tried to play it off when I got teased about it, but in reality, I was horrified at being found out. The teasing, while fairly mild in nature at this time, reinforced the sense of feeling different and pushed me to further suppress and hide my attractions from others.

During the summer after I finished 7th grade, my scout troop went on a week-long scout camp. It was during this time that I first developed an infatuation or crush on another boy. The camp counselor assigned to our troop was about a year or two older than me. I quickly found myself drawn to him. Though I did see him as physically attractive, it was his personality that drew me in more than anything else. He was outgoing and friendly (and in particular, he was friendly toward me). I just found myself always wanting to be with him or around him. Though I never saw him again after the camp, I definitely thought about him a lot in the weeks after I got home.

When I was in 8th grade, my parents sold their home in Kearns and we moved. As it took them some time to find a house that they liked, my family ended up living with my mom's parents for about seven or eight months. During this time, my youngest brother was born. So for most of that time, we had eleven people living in one house. There was little privacy, and me and my brothers and sisters alternated between the one bedroom set aside for the children and sleeping on couches, sofa-beds, and love sacks.

I was able to deal with the living conditions without much problem. What did become difficult for me was when we started attending church in my grandparents' ward and I started attending school in the neighborhood. As was common for me, I was rather shy, and slow to make friends. That in itself was something I'd learned to accept and deal with about myself.

What was difficult for me was that I wasn't well accepted by the other boys my age in the neighborhood. Several of them I had met before, as they were my grandparents' neighbors' kids. But as far as most of them were concerned, I was just the new kid in the neighborhood and therefore an object of teasing and ridicule. What made it worse for me was that on the surface they acted like they accepted me. It gave me a false sense of acceptance and comfort at first. Afterwards I felt as if I had been lured in, only so they had someone they could tease and make the butt of their jokes. It would have been easier for me if they rejected me outright. Instead, they pretended to be my friends.

There was one boy that I was able to form a tenuous friendship with. When we were hanging out one-on-one, we got along fine. But whenever he was with the group, he reverted back to the group mentality and teased me just as much as the others.

As I'd already learned to hide my attractions, I continued to do so around this group. In fact, one could almost say that I over-compensated. I remember one instance when we were walking home from school in which several of them mooned me, and I responded by covering my eyes and acting disgusted.

But the real lesson I learned from this experience was that not only did I need to hide my attractions, I also needed to hide my feelings, because the teasing wasn't nearly so bad when they couldn't see that they were getting to me.

It was much to my relief when the end of the school year came and my family moved into our new house in Murray. I saw it both as an escape from the incessant teasing that bordered on bullying, and an opportunity to have a new start with new friends.

* * * * *

My Story -Part 1
My Story -Part 2
My Story -Part 3
My Story -Part 4
My Story -Part 5

I am now up to the age of fourteen, and once again feel that I have reached a good stopping point. As always, I appreciate your comments and your feedback.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Pride

Last month, a number of cities around the country and around the world held Pride celebrations. There was one held in Salt Lake City at the beginning of June. I did not attend it this year, though I have attended it the past two years. My experiences at Pride have left me with mixed feelings. There are definitely positive things that I saw about Pride, although there were also negative things. In this post, I will discuss both.

As I mentioned, many Gay Pride festivals, parades and marches took place last month. The reason that so many take place in June is because the first Gay Pride March took place on the anniversary of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn and the ensuing Stonewall Riots that occurred on June 28, 1969. The Stonewall Riots marked the birth of the modern Gay Rights Movement. The first Gay Pride marches took place on June 28, 1970 in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In 1971, seven more cities held marches, and by 1972, the number of cities holding marches had increased to 17, and every major city in the United States had gay rights groups.

Pride does a lot of good for the queer community. It provides an opportunity to gather together. It provides visibility. It brings awareness of discrimination, bigotry and violence that still does take place against LGBT people. And it helps bring in others to support the group. It also provides awareness about the risk for AIDS and other STDs. It provides awareness and support for those at risk for suicide. And it provides countless other resources for those in the queer community.

I would argue, however, that Pride celebrations do just about as much harm as good. I'll illustrate what I personally noticed with the first time I attended a Pride celebration two years ago. I ran in a 5K hosted by the local Pride Center, watched the parade and attended the festival. This was all here in Utah, so my observations may or may not apply to Pride celebrations in other cities.

At the time I was working to balance my sexuality and spirituality, both of which were important to me. At all of the events that I went to, I noticed a general anti-religious tone and a specific anti-Mormon tone. This not only made me feel uncomfortable attending, but also made me feel feel less than completely welcome. Because I was religious and I was Mormon, I did not fit the mold of what someone in the queer community should be (at least according to the opinions I heard). I found some bitter irony that a group that so strongly fights bigotry and discrimination in one area was so willing to take part in it in another area.

The other aspect that flavored my first experience with Pride was the overt display of sexuality. I remember one man in particular in the parade that was wearing so little, that what little was covered left almost nothing to the imagination. And though he was the most extreme example, he was far from the only one. I remember joking with a friend afterward that if I wanted to look at porn, I could have stayed at home. Quite frankly, I did not find either the parade or the festival to be family friendly. There is no way I would consider taking one of my younger nieces or nephews to a Pride event. They do not need that kind of exposure to sexuality.

I think both of these aspects of Pride that I observed do a great disservice to the queer community. Rather than creating understanding for those that struggle the most to see the queer community as anything other than sexual deviants who despise religion, it reinforces those stereotypes. It ignores the opportunity to gain allies and create bridges of understanding, and instead widens the gap of separation, resentment and misunderstanding that already exist.

I am not opposed to Pride celebrations, as I do believe that they do a lot of good. But if they are to be successful in their goals of reducing or eliminating discrimination, bigotry and misunderstanding, some things are going to need to change. Instead of being little short of a gay Mardi Gras, Pride celebrations could take a lesson from the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s that did so much more to create the needed changes in society.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome and appreciated.