Thursday, October 29, 2009

To Cut a Gourd

Taking a break from the current series, I just thought I'd share some of the holiday festivities I've participated in. Being the second year that we have carved pumpkins as a group of friends, it's become tradition....

...It's also become evidence of my progress in gaydom. Case in point:

2008: Artsy Face Pumpkin

2009: Manifestation of Gleekiness, No. 1

You be the judge.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Now Pronounce Thee…, Part 2


I'd been home from my mission exactly 9 days and it was Chenese and Nate's big day. Throughout high school, I'd considered Nate my best friend—my biggest competition in every sense of the word, though we never conceived each other as such. We were just friends seeking to make the school a better place. Nate and Chenese met under interesting circumstances and it didn't take long for love to blossom. He was her Model UN mentor and she was the girl everyone adored. Smart, talented, and perfect. For me, they became a sort of inspiration—a model for romance.

Bronson, Nate's fellow mentor, was visibly taken with Chenese from day one. It was that kind of puppy love that caused him to follow her, start up intellectual conversations to the ends of impressing her, and write borderline-creepy poetry about her. Nate understood that she did not find this attention flattering and one day came to her aid. Acting as hostess at a Model UN party, Chenese spent much of that night avoiding Bronson, but he managed to hover about her for a time always returning the conversation to himself as we do when we want to appear intellectual. Identifying the young woman's predicament (and likely seeing an opportunity to make a move himself), Nate came to Chenese's aid with a simple and smooth move.

Entering into the conversation, Nate smoothly distracted Bronson with a simple phrase taking advantage of a major chink in his armor:

"That's so interesting."

Seizing Bronson's attention by presenting him an opportunity to flex his intellectual muscles, Nate provided her a discrete exit, and himself with something much more meaningful. Their romance was sparked by a glance over his shoulder as she walked away and mouthed the words "Thank you" from across the room.

It was this story that solidified my relationship with Chenese and Nate. As the unattached nice guy in their life, I attained the status of designated third wheel in their relationship. They confided in me these romantic stories, their hopes and dreams, and their concerns for others.

I felt like a scientist making some sort of discovery. I was able to (in a very minimal way) see love germinate, sprout and grow over the course of four years. To return and see these two wed for time and all eternity was one of the most fortunate events of my life and has provided me with a vision of what love means. They had good times and bad, challenges and trials, yet nothing has phased the way that they treat each other or those around them. Seeing them look into each others' eyes and kiss over the alter –the way that they would any other day of their life together—took my breath away. Of course, each relationship is different from the next, but I learned from them that subtlety and consistency can be a fairytale romance in its own right.

End, Part 2.

I Now Pronounce Thee…

May I just say I love weddings? I really do. Although there is plenty of reason to be resentful over equal rights and such, nothing can beat a good wedding. I definitely have my fair share of cynicism in regards to marriage and Utah culture (too young, too fast,…too horny…). Since getting back from my mission, I've been to a number of weddings and receptions for friends in every situation you can imagine: LDS and non-LDS friends; college, high school, and mission friends; and even some of the girls who went out with me.

I am not quite sure why I sometimes go out of my way to find even the weakest excuse to attend nuptial festivities. Perhaps it's the calorie-dense food? The carefree, positive ambiance? The opportunity to dress in a three-piece suit? Likely, the answer is a clichéd "all of the above." This might explain why I've considered taking up the weekend pastime of wedding crashing.

It's perhaps the most unique of date ideas. Pull out the society page from the local paper, and hop from wedding reception to wedding reception, and introduce yourself as a cousin or friend of some sort. It has the ingredients of a great time: free food, social interaction, and adventure (especially if someone accuses you of trespassing…). Morally gray hijinks aside, some of my fondest memories and most embarrassing memories are associated with weddings and as the wedding of one of my dearest friends approaches, I've decided to share some of those moments.

End, Part 1.

Go Out and Earn Those Gay Merit Badges

I can easily say that in the past year, I've come a long way. I feel so much more accomplished and self-assured at this point in my life. I've made my way professionally, academically, and emotionally.

Recently, I've decided that we GMBs need a way to show just how far we've come in our journeys. That's why I suggest the implementation of a "gay merit badge" system.

Now, having watched the Shelley Long movie Troop Beverly Hills in the past week, my brain might have melted a bit—exposed to the late 80s camp—but this idea has some potential. In the film, spoiled trophy wife Phyllis Nefler leads a group of equally-spoiled rich girl scouts to a sense of accomplishment and self-understanding as they sell cookies, tract through the wilderness, and (of course) earn merit badges.

While the girls in the movie earn merit badges for everything from divorce court to jewelry appraisal, my gay merit badge sash would display my accomplishments in:

Interior Design

Qualifications: multiple day-long trips to IKEA, holding the decorating responsibilities in my office, incorporating words like "décor" and "ambiance" into my regular vocabulary.

Making "One of the Girls" Status

Qualifications: girl friends making invitations to bachelorette parties, attendance at multiple baby and wedding showers, regularly complimenting my girl friends' fashion.

Wedding Dress Shopping

Qualifications: studying and critiquing dresses in magazines with Cole and my best girl friends, acting as consultant to an engaged couple and the groom's mother on a trip to David's Bridal as well as selecting the 'winning' dress.

There is nothing better than being happy about who you are. I accept my talents for what they are as I become more comfortable and proud of what makes me me: an eye for fashion, compassion for my closest girl friends, etc.

Accusations of indoctrination aside, that's perhaps the greatest thing that organizations like the Boy and Girl Scouts of America accomplish. Like Phyllis Nefler and her Wilderness Girls show us, we all need to look back once in a while and ask what kind of a difference we've made and assure ourselves that we're happy with who we are and the difference we make in others' lives for being who we are.

Friday, October 16, 2009

On the Protection of Civil-Rights

I had a difficult time reading Elder Oaks civil rights/Prop 8 analogy. Oaks, giving a talk at BYU-I (follow link to transcript here), likened the backlash against Mormons as a result of Proposition 8 to the hardships faced by those involved in the civil rights movement. Several comments have been made regarding the comparison (see SL Tribune commentary) and it has largely been seen as a gross misuse of the emotional and political significance of the civil rights movement.

A talented legal mind, Oaks drew on a number of different political movements. He praised the constitution as a document written "by wise men whom [God] raised up for that very purpose." He also cited the example of Oyun Altangerel, a Mongolian woman who performed a hunger strike and organized protests in favor of democracy. Oaks defines one of the roles of government as to "protect the health and safety of all." As anyone knows, the interpretation of the law is just as contentious as the actual laws themselves (if not more so). Who is to determine what needs to be protected or saved? That is the foundation of democracy and civil protest.

One statement that stands out in Oaks' speech is the section title "Religious Freedom Diluted by Other 'Civil Rights.' " The movement to legalize same-sex marriage is indeed one of civil rights with which the LDS Church and other religious groups disagree on the basis of freedom to practice religion (…at least the way they define it). Defined in terms of protecting health and safety by the right, gays and lesbians attempting to marry have been demonized in this debate.

We have been called everything from heathens to pseudo-victims and "deniers of free speech" to "opponents of democracy" as Elder Oaks insinuates. I believe differently from Elder Oaks and find it hypocritical not only for him but also others to demand their civil rights to freedoms of belief and speech yet use it to deny ours. If all men were created equal, then why should one man or woman be denied a right because his or her religious beliefs do not fall in line with those of the majority? That is why we life in a democracy with protection of Civil Rights despite the differing opinions of the majority—that is what makes this country great.

One cannot simply state that someone's beliefs are inferior because they are based more in religion or convenience or reason. This argument hinges on the biggest hot button of the entire debate: What is the family and does the government need to protect it? Is this a matter of health and safety?

The one man, one woman definition of the family is based in belief and tradition that is preserved at a cost. In 2006, half a million children in this country were in foster care. 250,000 were under the age of ten. Of those half million 50,000 (10%) were adopted (See US Dept. of Health and Human Services report). The foster care system of the country has been investigated by a number of journalists for certain abuses, and despite the good that many of these foster parents do, study after study has shown that a stable situation is a more conducive atmosphere to child development. Which only leaves one question: can gay/lesbian couples provide that type of environment? Given the right to marry, they could provide a stable atmosphere albeit one with a different set of religious beliefs.

Also, how can the government really protect its citizens' health or safety by denying the right to marry to same-sex couples? I suppose the implication here is STIs. Granted, the prevalence of these diseases is higher in the gay community; however, I think that this is more a result of the civil rights issue than a discouragement. Were straight couples not given the right to pledge fidelity to one another, would they be expected to pair up and remain monogamous for the rest of their lives? No. The promiscuity and instability of gay culture stems from the fact that we are denied a very basic right to be anything more than a couple and NOT an evil desire to destroy others' beliefs.

Although Elder Oaks drew connections between the Civil Rights movement and Mormon activism in California's Prop. 8 debate, a paradox surfaces that civil-rights and persecution—if anything—are two-way streets. Respecting others' beliefs means respecting the rights of others not only to believe but also to do—despite difference.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rethinking “Don’t Tell”: Gays in the Armed Forces

I got an interesting question from a friend yesterday that got me thinking:

Hey, one of my friends in my legislative politics class is writing a paper arguing about the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, and is wondering about the view that homosexuals take on it. Any thoughts? Would you be offended or a supporter of separate living barracks for Out individuals if it were repealed?

My response:

A homosexual who has served in the armed forces would probably have a more interesting and thoughtful response, but I'll speak to what I understand or presume to understand.

"Don't ask, don't tell" was implemented largely on the basis of not making straight individuals uncomfortable without outright denying homosexuals the right to serve in the armed forces. The main problem with that position is that it suggests a relationship of inferiority/superiority.

That begs the question, what would be the consequences of being Out in the armed forces? The worst case scenario would be violence and/or discrimination which, ideally, should be ameliorated by the justice system of the armed forces. That said, Out individuals would be aware of the risks they take by being Out with their fellow soldiers/marines/etc. just as they would be with their family members or co-workers.

The main problems I see with the proposed solution of living in separate barracks are:

  1. It reminds me of the "separate but equal" pre-civil-rights doctrine. Who's to guarantee equal conditions/facilities/treatment in separation.
  2. Financially, it would likely be difficult to secure or construct homosexual-only barracks.
  3. Finally, it is not a solution to the larger problem.

I see it this way: separation suggests that Out individuals need some sort of protection. To me what is really necessary is a change in mindset. But how do you change a person's misconceptions? Through lectures? Through violence? No. The only solution is putting these people in a position from which they can see for themselves that the stereotypes don't hold up. (Especially for gays in the military. In my limited experience, I've found that gay the men I've known in the armed forces do not stick out it any way).

I concede that it's a difficult question, but I think that it will just take a few willing strong men and women being themselves—given the opportunity to be Out (and guaranteed protection)—to break down those stereotypes by fighting alongside men and women who don't necessarily agree with their lifestyle.

...Or... perhaps the best solution would be homosexual squadrons in the Greek tradition? Men fighting alongside their lovers fighting for each others' lives in the heat and passion of battle. Although I might contradict my "separate but equal" point, I suppose there would definitely be more incentive to succeed!

Monday, October 12, 2009

“We Need to Talk”, Part 5

After that emotional episode with Jacqueline, I became a little more cautious in regards to coming out to especially close friends from high school.

Since everyone I saw on a regular basis already knew, the issue didn't come up often. By that time, everyone around me knew and the issues were all on the table by that point. At this point, Jacqueline and Cole began to work through some issues and ended up being as close as they'd ever been. Because of Cole and Jacqueline's situation, I was rather cautious about coming out to friend Serenity. We'd never actually dated or anything the like, but it was apparent that she had feelings for me in high school.

To be honest, part of Serenity terrified me. She is one of the strongest women I know. Intense as the pyres of purgatory. Amazingly talented. One of those few people who could do anything she put her mind to and given a fair chance. Without meeting her, you can understand why I was intimidated.

In high school, I was struggling with a lot of different things (enough that I could probably compile into a post of itself) and evaded or played dumb to any hint Serenity might have provided for us to do anything alone together. This persisted for longer than either of us would be happy to admit yet we considered each other friends.

In the year or so before my mission, we had the biggest falling out I've ever had in my life (with the exception of perhaps a mission friend, but, again, that's another story…). It involved the production of a musical—a high-brow satire of communist ideology—and creative rights. We both abandoned the project and three years of awkwardness ensued.

Upon my return, things had improved thanks to the healing powers of time. We were both more mature and I had gained some confidence from the trials of being a missionary. That said, there was a certain residual awkwardness we were not able to overcome no matter how much fun we had together. Living a few hours apart, we'd make an effort to hang out when we managed to be in the same part of Utah at the same time.

Being the sophisticated, talented woman she is, Serenity didn't need to sit down with me and have a tough conversation to realize that I was gay. Perhaps she knew before anyone else.

One of my little evasive tactics for talking about life without indicating my sexuality is constructing my sentences without subject pronouns. That way there's no lying involved—just a lot of "We did this or that" and benign code words. In conversation, Mark became known as "The Missionary." After sitting through one of these conversations with me and Jacqueline on a shopping trip, Serenity immediately became suspicious. And as Cole was one of the only guys I introduced "The Missionary" to, Serenity sought to put her curiosities to rest. The following is a recreated conversation between the two:

Cole: Serenity! How are you? Is school treating you well?

Serenity: You know. Same old. Same old. Lots of stress.

Cole: I know. You're as amazing as ever and holding that A average.

Serenity: Haha…. Maybe.

Cole: I'm sorry I couldn't make it down last week with the others. Jacqueline and (Gay Mormon Boy) said you three had a great time.

Serenity: Yeah. It was great. I have a question for you, though.

Cole: Of course.

Serenity: What's this about GMB's "Missionary"

Cole: What about "The Missionary?"

Serenity: I guess it surprised me to hear GMB was so serious with someone.

Cole: (anticipating) So what's your question?

Serenity: Is his missionary a guy?

Cole: Ummm… I can't answer that question. You'll need to talk to him about that.

So she knew. Cole told me immediately and I wasn't sure what to think. That bit of terror and fear from high school resurfaced as I anticipated running into her the next time. What would she say? Would she avoid me? Would she even bring it up?

Upon arriving at her place for a little pre-Halloween festivity, I felt a real difference in the atmosphere as she opened the door to her apartment. That little talk with Cole ironically cured our relationship of all the awkwardness in the air. Serenity quickly adjusted as the possibility of a relationship came to an end forever and my capacity in her life—as a shopping buddy and fellow partaker of the arts—came to fruition. We were able to joke like never before and laugh about everything we'd been through.

Sharing this part of my life has brought me closer and closer to nearly all of my friends. The more I accept and share this part of my life, the better I feel about everything I had once felt badly or awkwardly about. I might have a different approach to making my life what I want it to be—taking things a day at a time rather than jumping in—I can see that I have been and am making genuine progress in my life in a direction I'm finally happy with.

And in the end, I think that's all any of us can ask.

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