Monday, December 31, 2007

Fracture

In any group brought together by near any condition of race, sex, religion, or what have you, there seems to be a shared a problem. There’s always a temptation towards orthodoxy to the cause, and a sort of authoritarianism and elitism. Leaders emerge, factions form, and, for some extreme members, the right and reasonable goals of the group become less important than control and fanaticism. For such reasons I’ve tended to shy away from leading, following, or getting the hell out of the way of any of my groups, aside from my home.

The gay communities are no different. Things are much better than they were last decade, and I greatly respect most all here in Utah who have taken on leadership positions. Though I’ve known some to have unfortunate weaknesses, most are great conscientious people, the sort, or better than the sort you’d find in your average group’s leadership.

Our particular group of gay and lesbian parents seems to have taken a turn for the worse though. Rob and a good friend were once in the leadership positions, and things were great, but each year we all wanted new folks to take charge. After the last changing of the guard, a new dynamic was initially subtle. The person in charge was a friend of a long time member but wasn’t anyone we knew. She immediately changed the group to a new email account, and we suddenly found ourselves off the email list. We kept telling them, and they kept saying they’d add us, and we were never added. We got some of the emails forwarded to us by friends and they kept talking about the group as if they were only meant for lesbian parents, only mentioning “moms”. Now I don’t mind that. I think people get way too concerned about PC inclusive language, and I’m able to translate as long as I know intentions are good. But it seems it wasn’t just a matter of language; eventually it started to seem there was resistance to including gay men and our families in the activities at all. The last I heard no gay men are at their events now, and single parents are being discouraged from attending, and even some lesbian couples, our friends, have been somehow dropped from the email list.

The last email I got forwarded to me was about the Christmas party, which is usually at our friend’s house, a male couple, but not this year. The email explained how they weren’t going to hire the same Santa we’ve used for years because he came with his wife, Mrs. Clause, and that was too “heteronormative.” Instead of this sweet old couple, who’ve always been great with us and our kids, they wanted Santa and an elf. It seems they were basically firing the guy for being heterosexual.

Okay, I know this all may sound like sour grapes :-). But I’d be concerned about what’s happening to that group now even if we were not one of the couples on the outs.

I do hope I’m misreading this, and that there are reasonable explanations for what seems to be leadership taking on a sort of lesbian couple elitism and gay orthodoxy. I also know, if the worst is the case, it’s a problem with the new leadership, not the many great families left in the group. One bad apple in charge and so on… This group has existed for many years just fine until now.

I see this though, and I worry how it’s going to end up biting my family. Such leaders seem to be swinging the pendulum way too far; they’re creating a stereotype about our families, particularly of lesbians in this case as anti-men. I worry also that insulating their children from cultural icons that are, to an overwhelming degree, heterosexual will become a problem, a suspicious redaction and a show of a sort of heterophobia to their children who can be hurt by such every bit as much as gay kids can be by their parent’s homophobia. On the other hand, I do know this sort of thing happens in all minority groups, and maybe it’s silly of me to think we should keep the “heteronormative” Santa when I don’t care about the, say, black Santa used in some parts of the black community.

In the end, there are bigots on both sides of most any political divide, and I hope that gay intolerance is not the problem here and that I’ve misunderstood something and will be corrected soon. In some ways, I fear our fanatics more than the outright anti-gay Sodom and hellfire opponent. I’m more comfortable with outside and direct threats.

Anyway, after trying to get included for a couple months now, we’ve formed our own group of parents, and we’ll welcome anyone who welcomes us: gay, lesbian, straight, or “straight” ;-). For us, it all worked out, and our kids still have their friends in similar families, and we still have the same great lesbian and gay friends there that we did before to rely on for advice in the similar trials we face.

In fact, our new group just had our first monthly excursion, sledding. See:



After 30 minuets, to show the difference between our boys, Brian was here:

warming in the car, while Alan found a slide and was still tiring me out.


We brought doughnuts and hot chocolate and ended up inadvertently feeding a good number of hungry sledders and their parents. We were happy to share, and even happier that all still took our food and were congenial after we answered their questions about our group. I don't care if they were heteronormative, straight people are just fine by me :-).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas 2007

I hope you all had a great holiday.

I was wound up with excitement for weeks and wasn't let down. For a while there in life Christmas had just become an excuse to get together with family. That's certainly not a bad thing, but it had lost some of the magic it had when I was a kid. With our boys, though, it's all back and more. The idea of seeing them find the living room full of surprises had me as excited as ever.

As I have for every Christmas in my memory, we went out for a nice dinner on Christmas Eve with my side of the family.



After Dinner we head to my parent's home to exchange gifts with family. It's difficult to keep two five-year-olds on their best manners at a nice restaurant with presents looming so close, but it's tradition and I had to endure it as well.

The favorite gift for Alan this year was a robotic parrot, a noisy thing given by the grandparents secure in knowing it was leaving their home.

For Brian, who was our big spender last holiday season, it wasn't anything expensive that he loved this year. After seeing Ratatouille, he became interested in restaurants, wanting to cook and taking the food orders of random people. So I made him a menu on the computer and laminated it. Costs << $1.00 but he hasn't let it out of his sight. He wants to call his Restaurant "Danes" because he misread the name of the grocery store Dan's, which was on his old menu, a newspaper insert.

On Christmass morning I was thrilled to see their faces in the family room, but check this cuteness out, in Brian's closet once again. Brian had wrote letters to his stuffed animals telling them, if they needed him, he'd be in the kitchen. I guess he knew he'd get caught up in the excitement. They're becoming such a good readers and writers.


The big Santa surprise was:
Spencer and Harry, those are now their real given names too. Hope they're both dudes.

Santa kindly brought me a bigger flash drive. Nevertheless, my favorite gift was the In Rainbows box set I ordered for myself in October but forgot about until it arrived last week.
Other than that, we've spent the last couple days putting together legos, puzzles, and playing games. We'll spend New Years in home too, doing the same until we fall asleep before ten. I'm happy, though, to give up that holiday for the sort of Christmas children provide.

(BTW, Thank you Java and Iwonder. I'll still be accepting gifts through Kwanza; I know many were too busy ;-))

Friday, December 21, 2007

Click Here Before Christmas!

Surprise!

I know it’s early, but I didn’t want to catch my readers on Christmas and make them feel bad that they got nothing for me. I’m thoughtful that way.

Without further delay, I got you two presents:

Click to Unwrap Gaily Wrapped Package with Dried Citrus Fruit Décor #1

Click to Unwrap Gaily Wrapped Package with Dried Citrus Fruit Décor #2

Do you love it?

I knew you would.

The first is a donation to This American Life, to support their free podcasts. By my site stats and the price per year per listener they pay for bandwidth, all my daily readers and a couple more can now download it each week and listen, guilt free for a year! It’s one of my favorite radio programs, and I hope you like it; I love Ira Glass (who, as odd as it might sound, is my idea of a sexy celebrity).

The second gift is a little more practical, like the package of underwear Santa might stuff in your stocking. It’s irrigation water. It only lasts for two months, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Yes, yes, you’re very welcome.

In all seriousness, I do love and appreciate our interactions and did want to genuinely get the frequent visitors here something, without scaring them with a package from an internet personality. I hope the water and guilt free podcasts fit. So merry Christmas Paul, Mr. Fob, Chris, iwonder, Elbow, playasinmar, Beck, Abelard, L, Chedner, Brady, MoHoHawaii, Java, Cas, J, and all those other people for whom I feel like a smuck for starting a list on which I knew, from the start, that I’d forget a couple people I really appreciate but just haven’t seen around here for a while!



You know…

Well… When someone gives you a Christmas gift, in this culture, most people might expect reciprocation. Not that I am; I’m just say’n… I mean, you just got a gift, right? And you don’t want to be thought of as some unmannered good-for-nothing, do you?

Of course, I’d never think that of you… but you know that’s what they’re thinking right now. About you.

Yes, it’s unfair. You’re a good person. You clicked yourself here having no idea you’d become obligated to anything and, yet, here you are. Obligated, by all sorts of social norms. And they’re all talking about how ungrateful you appear right now, sitting there just clicks away from giving me something nice in return. Unfair that.

Wouldn’t it be cool, though, if you really put me in my place and outdid my measly gift?! You could prove them all wrong about you!

I only gave my blog readers just over a dollar per visitor per day; that's nothing (though, please, still think of me as generous). Furthermore, just think of all your readers that you could obligate in turn! Make giving conspicuous and grotesque and contagious, I always say. Make it spread through the blog-iverse.

Whatever you decide. I know you’ll do the right thing, and I can’t wait to see what you get me. You could… Ah, never mind. You’ll do the right thing.

Just FYI, just incase, you can check out some nice gift ideas at give.org. You know what I think is a nice gift? Toys for Tots. Even though I gave it, I think I would appreciate some Oxfam too. Maybe a couple of you could go in on a camel for me? Oh, I’d be so surprised and delighted! It’d be the best Christmas ever!

Or surprise me with something else. I’d like that too.

Just know, our Christmas here will be ruined if you don’t get me anything, and we’ll sit home crying through to the New Year.

You don’t want that.

You don’t want to make my children cry, do you?

Eh, even if you get me nothing, Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Between Bacon and Breathing (Human Sacrifice, 3 of 3)

Giving up breathing is a big deal, and bacon, well, not so much. At the one extreme I think it’s a moral obligation to intervene; at the other we should probably keep even our opinions to ourselves. So what am I supposed to do in the middle ground? What is the right response?

And, of course, we are here in the middle ground. I look at all the blogs of gay Mormons and see some people struggling with their sacrifices, some giving up a lot for their ideas of faith. It’s a religious sacrifice somewhere between giving up bacon and breathing, but not really near either; though it does, at times, play the major role in a suicide. What is the right response from a guy like me?

The way I see it, and I really am working such out as I type (so be lenient :-)), there are a couple options when confronted with any faith-based sacrifice.

1. Keep your mouth shut and hands to yourself. I don’t care to debate, even on my own ground, the virtue or villainy of an exposed head of female hair, drinking tea, or eating bacon, as long as people are free to partake of or avoid either. It’d have to be some really good miracle bacon to warrant more.

2. Speak up against it on your own turf. I guess I’d actually place a religious sacrifice of one’s orientation here. I feel I’m obligated to speak out against such a substantial life-altering sacrifice on my turf, or neutral ground, particularly for what I’ve witnessed in my past (e.g.). Elsewhere, I should probably keep my distance from that topic, and just focus on being supportive in other ways. I feel this way because there’s no real arguing with any matter of faith, and, besides, the last thing you want is a gay man following his orientation while still believing it wrong. The sacrifice may hurt, but to only partially convince anyone otherwise would hurt worse. Furthermore, there are some instance where I think sacrificing one’s orientation can be the right thing to do, depending on the circumstances of families already in existence and the personalities involved. No, gays should not go to the home of such faiths and proselytize :-), and, though I’ve tripped up in places, I think I’ve done an okay job of backing my radical pro-gay agenda, if not my self, out of internet homes that would disagree, and have advertized their position clearly.

This is also where I’d put, say, a woman’s willing sacrifice of her education or basic human rights for religious reasons. But how many times have I brought that up? Sure, my passions are biased.

3. Speak up against it on their turf. Confrontation. There’s a difference between the person sacrificing for a faith in private, and the person telling others they should do the same, particularly when the second person isn’t actually willing to sacrifice the equivalent thing in their life. But is it enough to take this next step? For orientation? I’m not sure; here’s where I’d split hairs. If the person is advocating others sacrifice their orientation, and I see they’re doing so using lies about the real world, particularly when they’re about what gay people do and who they are, thereby attacking my home in the process, I’m more than willing to go to their soap box and confront. If they’re using faith alone, then there’s not much point in arguing; I should probably keep away. Though, if they’re using faith to advocate others do harm to anyone else, by law or other means, I think I’ve another reason to be confrontational.

4. Personally and physically get in their way. Here’s where I’d put the extreme questions of religious sacrifice. I’d wrestle the poison out of the hand of the Jonestown citizens, with absolutely zero, if not negative concern for their religious freedom. I’d rationalize this by the fact that a person next month is not completely the same person they are this month, and I have to believe saving that future person’s right to life is worth to them the violation of the current person’s right to practice their faith. But yeah, it’s a bad rationalization, and I also think their faith is bunk, worse than bunk. It’s a bit of religious bias I’d have without shame. Should I feel like a bigot for that?

FYI, I’d not put orientation in category 4 under any circumstance. No worries, my MoHo brothers, I’ll not hunt you down and throw naked men at you.

5. As a society, we should get in their way. I have a problem with government banning religious practices, though those that end in the practitioner’s death test my limits. Really, most mainstream religions, in theory, ask for a person’s life. Muslims are to be in complete submission to Allah, and Christians are to be willing to give up life for Christ. I know people who promised to slit their throats for the old ceremonies of the predominant religion. Most religions simply do ask for that sort of dedication to the organization, for understandable reasons, and I don’t think government should get involved in telling any adherent they cannot make such covenants. Even if they follow through, if a sane person wants to kill themselves for Allah, or Christ, or whatever they believe in, I’ll go as far as #4, but I’d worry about government getting into the business of banning self-targeted religious practice of most any sort.

Does that mean I’ll not go far enough? I’m not sure.

I hate it, but I don’t think it’s my government’s place to mandate, say, a blood transfusion for an adult Jehovah’s Witness. If a faith asks for you to kill someone else, like your children, of course the government should stop you. I think our government, as it did with the KKK, should also play a role when the religious leader encourages assaults on the life and liberty of a follower’s neighbor. I would even like to see government crack down on anyone like Jim Jones, using religion to get people to sacrifice their lives. But for law to stop the individual from following their faith, when it’s only their selves they directly harm? I don’t like where that road goes.

Of course, thinking on it more, all this means I’d have Abraham arrested before he got Isaac to Moriah, and I’d have Moses in jail for killing children, not to mention that unfortunate gentile he caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath. You have to draw the line somewhere, though, and where a religion starts to ask for your neighbor’s life is as fine a place as any; even at the off chance you upset the supernatural.

Anyway, I don’t know if I settled anything, but at least I feel more organized about what a guy should do in such instances. What he should feel is another issue altogether. It’s just tough, some days, to watch someone starve when you see no reason for it.

I suppose it’s the universal curse of having to watch a human give up anything for beliefs or lack thereof, from near any outsider’s perspective. All religions think those not in their group are sacrificing something wonderful, and I’m sure I’m regarded the same way by a Muslim, Mormon, Methodist, or even, extreme as it is, a person about to drink poison for their reward. Each claim to have special spiritual evidence that those who don’t hold their particular faith are sacrificing something far greater than what their organization asks of them; they have to. We’ll all be in some faith’s hell, after death, and I’m sure they cringe at the idea of my eventual pain too. They too have to figure out how to respond. To my point of view, though, the pain is all too apparent now, in religious sacrifices from the Muslim’s hunger to the Jonestown suicide. There’s no need to wait for promises to come true, from my perspective; I just hope I know how to rightly respond.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Breathing (Human Sacrifice, 2 of 3)

Unfortunately the story of religious sacrifice isn’t always as benign as dietary restrictions.

A while ago I watched a documentary on the Jonestown tragedy (to head off trouble, I’m not saying Jones’ church is the same sort of creature as any mainline church, Muslim, LDS, or otherwise; it’s a very extreme case and chosen to the other extreme when compared to my first example). For those who don’t remember, this was a religious community led by Jim Jones. He eventually moved his congregation to Guyana. From there a congressman along with a group of reporters and concerned family visited Jonestown. Some were murdered on Jones’ orders.

Here you can listen Jones explain what’s to be done next, and I think all adults should. A warning: it’s emotionally difficult.

To Mr. Jones (or at least his followers), God had told him US troops were on their way to kill everyone, and he, “speaking as a prophet,” told his followers in order to conquer death and the enemies of good, they had to willingly sacrifice their life, “just like Jesus.” A lone woman, Christina, can be heard protesting in this recording, particularly “for the babies.” She makes her case, and it brought me to tears, but she is powerless in the face of the group’s unflinching faith. As happens so many times under questioning, she’s told she just has to trust. And how can she argue? God gives commandments and humans should follow. She’s even shouted down by fellow believers. Get that? People actually argue with her as to why they should kill themselves and their children.

In the end over 900 people were dead. Some adults were forced to take in poison. Some fed it to their children. But many just put it to their lips willingly.

There really aren’t words to adequately qualify such an event; it’s one of those pits of thought. I’d imagine this degree of unshakable, propelling faith in a religion is alien to most in the modern world (well, in the west). To me, it should speak to the false nature of that belief. In my experience, it’s not truth that’ll ask you for such a show of strong belief. Truth doesn’t care to be safe from objective investigation; it welcomes doubt and is steadfast for your belief or none at all. But for some I’m sure the sort of conviction shown by Jones’ followers was attractive (before the end). It’s a well known sort of human reflex, to take surrounding human’s conviction as evidence, and it often works to reasonable ends in mundane life, though an advertiser here and there may abuse it (They call the tool Social Proof ).

The thing that haunts me with this event is that I can’t blow this off as a 100% group of nuts. There were a lot of bodies, in the end. Undoubtedly, there were many intelligent people among them, and it would be a huge mistake to write them all off as crazed or dimwitted. In fact, intelligence, like any human tool, is there at the mercy of the will; it will work towards what you want, not necessarily what is right or rational. It is a common error of most people to assume those who believe false faiths do so for stupidity. Most often it is actually their significant intelligence that helps them remain recalcitrant. Without it they’d never find those the loopholes of empiricism, construct the necessary self-mystifications, or be able to talk others into following. These people had their faith, it gave them their reasons, and they applied their intelligence to decide they were doing good, well-intentioned work of God.

What’s worse is that Jonestown is nothing in comparison to what’s occurred in human history. There have been centuries of willing (and forced) human sacrifice for ideas, hopes, promises that never come true, from the crusades to those events involving religions only an archeologists would now remember. People even give all for faith in extraterrestrials. The intricacy, certainty, and conviction in such thinking is astounding on one level, but all too human on another, a potential that sits in all of us and of which I’m sure we’ve not seen the end.

The above example of religious sacrifice is the other extreme, in contrast to the first example. Of course, I can’t justify getting in the way of dietary restrictions; I don’t even want to. Such sacrifice is not near my business. On the other hand, I do feel obligated to get in the way of the sort of sacrifice for faith in this post. It can be as indiscriminate a killer as a bomb in a crowd. Respect for religion and personal conviction be damned. I’ll get in the way if I can. I can’t sit back and let people use the tools of faith to take lives, even if it’s only suicide. I’d attack that religion and its leaders, forcefully and publically. Is that wrong? Is that intolerant, or totalitarian even?

I do know Christina, in that tape, is among the people I know next to nothing about but respect. I’ve thought about her often since I first heard that recording. She should have gone further, shown more opposition. She should have called her fellow followers to reason, and said what we all know she’d realized but didn’t say: that their faith was wrong here. Nevertheless, she showed a lot of courage to buck social proof and challenge her community. Jones says how much he appreciates her; of course, he “likes an agitator” because she shows them “both sides of the issue.” He pretends to promote free will and to have nothing to fear in her questioning, but I have to hope, given enough time, given enough reasoning, he would have something to fear, and Christina could have saved many lives with a bit more disrespect for the beliefs of those living them.

Okay, there are the two extremes, and I react differently to both. It may seem that the answer is simple, but what if it’s not drinking poison? What if it’s refusing a blood transfusion for a faith? There is a gradient, not a step, all the way back to the bacon. So how to decide what to do in the middle; that’s what I’m hoping to work out next.

Yes, I know such posts get too long, but they're mainly for working things out for myself :-). I'll be done soon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bacon (Human Sacrifice, 1 of 3)

One of my friends is a conservative Muslim. We met volunteering for the same organization and hit it off right from the start; in fact, as unlikely friends we would be, I’d say we get along better than any other two people in this organization. Sure, some topics are probably no use for us to enter, but we share a work ethic and many common values and, together, have accomplished much beyond those communities that’d claim us. She is, in fact, my bad cop.

This friend wears full dress, even in July. I’ve never seen her hair, and she never shakes the hand of a man, even a gay one :-). In fact I have to watch myself that I don’t inadvertently, say, tap her on the shoulder when I want to get her attention. Often we’re fed by the organization for which we volunteer, but even if, say, ham is adjacent to an acceptable sandwich on a deli plate, she’d not touch it; she’ll go hungry all day. I hate to watch her do that, but that’s what she gives up for her faith.

Now, I’ve read the Koran a couple times. I’ve found it to be an amazing work, particularly considering its purported origins, and I could certainly say I found and felt the glinting strands of inspiration, truth, and morality running through it, as I do in every religious text I’ve read. But I’m not a Muslim, and, as any non-Muslim would, I think for good reason. While she feels she has had some personal, confirming experience with her God, and, while I’d take her word on most things, I don’t believe it here. Not near that she is dishonest--no way--she’s amongst the most honest, intelligent, and dependable people I know. I’m sure she feels something; I’m near sure everyone who makes such sacrifices does. I also personally know how you can cause yourself to feel something, and how easy it is to motivate oneself and inadvertently color one’s memory when the stakes are as high as eternity and fate has placed you in any tradition of faith.

I, in my tradition, have had many a ham sandwich and I have zero moral qualms for that fact. I’d even say placing such sacrifices into the realm of morality is morally wrong. It weakens the entire body of ethics, and it gets me upset to think of the ulterior reasons some manipulate people’s hope to do good with what, to me, are rules there to support a human organization, not morality or God. To play with such can be useful for leaders, but it can do a lot of unintended harm. In fact, I’d wager falsely calling something or some group evil has caused far more human tragedy than falsely calling something good.

Humans do naturally develop a deep and important sense of fairness (ask any 5-year-old ;-)). It’s vital to our everyday life as a social species, and most feel it deeply. We can even image the areas of our brain that work out such morality. And it motivates; following rules and exercising self control can, ironically, feel good, as it plays off this sense of morality, even if the sacrifice isn’t based in moral reasoning.

Leaders and organizations, secular and religious, use these tools in the morality kit all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with right or wrong, consciously or not. They build group unity and identity, separate people culturally from the influence of those not in the organization, increase group numbers (typically with sex laws), and make members feel good about being a member for abstaining from even false evils, particularly with the idea of pleasing God and/or receiving reward. To me, it’s for such reasons some organizations mix stuff like “don’t wear linen with wool” in with “don’t murder.”

Here, though and gratefully, with my Muslim friend we’re talking about ham, headscarves, and handshakes. While she sacrifices more for her faith than most (you should see her by the end of Ramadan!), she’s not hurting anyone and it’s none of my business. It’s simply far from liberation to tear the headscarf from someone choosing to wear it and free to leave it off; it’s nearer assault.

Furthermore, my ham-philia and homosexuality somehow aren’t an issue for her; nor has it gotten in the way of our friendship. I don’t know if such was an issue before our friendship or if she harbors some “hate the sin” reasoning and I don’t care to, but she’ll support equal rights for my family, if not call it supernaturally equal. The consequences of what, to her, are serious commandments about her behavior, sex, food, and dress, straight from God, delivered by His prophet, are just not that pressing for her neighbors… As long as she doesn’t try to pass some sort of Defense of Meat Act (DOMA) to put her religious belief about ideal meals into her neighbor’s kitchen.

I certainly do feel and should say that I find her guiding moral here wrong, in my own life, and eroding to morality on whole. But hey, she thinks I eat abominably; I’ll call it even. In considering her life, though, I have to look at it a bit differently. I can’t keep how I regard those few ethics of hers that concern me in mind when I love so much else about her. Her sincerity, strong testimony, and, of course, friendship make those rules important and serious to me too. I’ll tell her if I saw a slice of ham near her sandwich. I’d even take that bullet and eat it for her :-).

End of part 1 of 3. I’ll work my way to a point, eventually.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Miscellaneous

--Rob’s dad stayed with us and offered to watch the boys. Once we got them to bed we went and caught I Am Legend. To admit to my inner sissy, I would have sat on Rob’s lap through the entire thing if I could have, and I’m sure I grabbed him too tight a couple times. It’s been years since I’ve seen a horror movie, aside from Doogal, which the boys suggested. I enjoyed it much more than I expected, despite jumping all over the place. The whole notion of a zombie of any sort really gets to me on a gut level, the familiar and loved turning on you and such (don’t even get me started on the dog… I’ve been a sucker for such since Old Yeller). Will Smith ain’t bad either ;-).

--I opened Brian’s closet to put some clothes away and stumbled upon this:
A group of picnicking stuffed animals, each with a cup of water, or more. I love these kinds of messes.

--I noticed the fruit dryer on last Friday and thought, “Great, I love Rob’s apple chips.” But I came to find that none of it was for my stomach. He was drying citrus fruit to use as decorations for our presents… to match our citrus fruit themed tree…
Yes, we are, indeed, gay.

--Seems MoHo, Todd, won Survivor. Sneaky and scheming, and I wonder how his actions might reflect on gays and Mormons alike, but that was what he was supposed to do, right? Sneak, lie, and scheme... Congratulations, then.

--I realized one more parental mistake. I started counting over the weekend to three with no idea what I’d do if I actually reached it. Thank goodness it’s so effective :-).

--We went to Rob's family Christmas party. I love his family. There's still that one uncle, though, who gives me dirty looks and has never said hi. Now that's dedication; it's been 15 years!

--We went to another Christmas party (tis the season):

And of all the people I could have ran into I saw this guy again, one of the two people with whom I’ve ever been physically forceful. He must have been out of prison for a while now, as he had a daughter, about a year old. I hope the personal demon that put away for so long is well behind him.

We just said hi. That’s it; no strong emotions left in either of us about the other I guess. Funny how your history means so much less to you once you become someone’s parent. It’s like it all was about someone else :-).

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Sins of This Father

After that last post I kind of worry I talked myself up too much as a parent :-). I think I’ll take a bit of Mr. Fob’s example and give a couple parental confessions a shot.

1. More than once but not more than five times I’ve answered “Because I told you to.” In response to “Why?” I promised myself I’d never use such a non-answer with our boys, and it used to grate on me when I heard other parents use it… but, beyond the tenth level of why’s after I ask them to do something, promises to self get broken. It will never happen again, I promise.

2. Twice I’ve brushed one of my son’s teeth with the other’s toothbrush. Yes, my heart sunk too when I realized it. Of course, I’ve no good defense for this one. There are simply those occasional nights when bed time can be what one might imagine it’d be like to go into the jungle, chase down and restrain a wild chimp, cajole it into Sponge Bob pajamas, and hope for it to calm down while you read it a story. Add to that the dim light of bedtime and I hope, boys, if you’re reading this in horror as an adult, you’ll give a modicum of forgiveness to your pop.

3. I ate some, only some of their candy after they went to bed last Halloween, and never got caught.

4. I taught them what the speed limit is and how to read the digital speedometer on our car. This may not sound bad; I know I didn’t anticipate any problems. Now, though, every time I go even a mile per hour over what’s posted, I make them think their father is turning to a life of crime. How to explain “But everybody does it, everybody goes about 5 over!” to your kids? You think about the teen years and you don’t. That’s how. Now I’m stuck by fear of guilt at exactly the speed limit, as I probably should be; parents be warned.

5. There have been times I’ve hurt my children by assuming they understood something on my level when I should have known they only heard it on their level. For example, our boys did pre-school three days a week, half-day. Kindergarten, though, is all day, and that’s how I phrased it, “all day.” First day of kindergarten, I found Brian crying, and he wouldn’t tell me why. After some talking he let out that he was sad because, in his mind, he’d not be home until bed time. When he understood that “all day” just meant he’d be at school for lunch and two more hours, he was fine, but my heart broke to think he imagined that’s what we wanted or were asking.

6. In one of our home videos I reversed the frames so that it looks like they’re sliding up a slide. When last at that same playground, Brian was trying to remember how he did that, slide up a slide. I thought it was so cute that I didn’t relieve him of his confusion. My excuse was that I want him to figure such out for himself, but to see him experiment at the bottom of that slide… well, I admit I was more motivated by the cuteness than imparting any lesson about magic or physics, contrary to my parenting policy on such. .

7. I have accused one son for something the other did. Okay, yes, sometime’s I’m not a great detective when I find a crime scene in the home, and face two suspects refusing to fess up. I have been fooled by circumstantial evidence. I feel horrible to have put one kid in the position of defending himself from false accusations, not to mention letting the other feel they can get off scot-free that way. Once, they even got heat for a mess I made; I did, though, confess. I’m grateful they seem to have begun to take responsibility more readily, but I am very sorry for those couple instances.

I’m sure there are others ways in which I’ve fallen short. I hate to think on some of the more serious of those above (though, sure, I don’t have much penitence for, say, eating their candy). Every parent is probably bothered that they’re not the perfect parent. Nevertheless, no one is, and I’d hate to have a parent who thought they were.

Simply, in defending my family’s right to be and have equal treatment, I hope to never give the impression that I think we do everything right as parents. Like most any parents, we may do an overall good job for our children, but we fail at times too, and still have much to learn with each new phase of their lives. I wish we could do so without the added scrutiny, without feeling like we have to be twice as good as average to be considered equal, but it is what it is.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Children Need a Mom and a Dad

To be plain about it, our children do not have a mother. For that, many argue our family shouldn’t be.

As our boys well understand, there is, of course, a woman who carried them, and took care of them for the months before their birth. I love her like a sister, the children know her, and know our deep gratitude. We have a special name for her, but a ‘mother,’ to us, is a woman who parents you, who is emotionally tied to you, and, while many will want to say that, of course, our children have a mother, focusing on the biology, we reserve that word for those women who do the work of parenting. The reason should be more than evident to any adopted child, or any child, really, who takes the time to wonder what’s important in their relationship with their parents.

The detractors of our families are not stupid, though. Most people are raised by heterosexual couples and feel strongly for their parents. Our opponents apply a slight trick of vocabulary and emotion and this argument becomes one of the most effective they have. I’d bet even a lot of folks reading this, when they read that first sentence, cringed somewhere inside, and some even became morally incensed, for their reflexive extrapolation of their familial feelings into our home. I’ve got no problem with such reflex, as long as it doesn't end there. Heck, I love my mom too, and am sure my life’s quality would have been greatly diminished without her.

But it’s not just a mom, a woman I love, right? I love my mom. I love my particular parents. When you think on it beyond the superficial, it’s clear what we love about our parents is not their anatomy, or genes, not the ‘M’ or ‘F’ on their birth certificates. We love the people they are, their parenting. We’ve a whole tomb of loving history to back up our strong feelings about ‘mom’ and ‘dad,’ beginning even before our memory, in places where baby books can only testify. We love every patched scrape, every late night they worked for us or paced in an emergency room. We love every encouragement to go beyond ourselves, every hug, smile, and lesson imparted. Though no child cares from what anatomical shape all those experiences come, the words ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ still become infused with wonderful feelings by the association.

Our detractors, as low as it strikes me, try to turn those emotions into a weapon, to imply something that is false about our family. The implication being that only moms mother and only dads father, and so our children are only half parented, missing half all those many experiences. The implication is, for example, that when our boys fall down and scrape a knee that we both, both being their 1950’s stereotype of a father, turn to their teary faces and tell them to stop bawling; be a man.

I think, though, most modern humans would admit they parent for their child’s needs, aiming to make them moral, healthy, and happy individuals. Most fathers mother, at times, and most mothers father, when needed. Being a parent of twins, a necessity to parent in a way unique to each child is even more striking. I know my one son responds best to a gentle touch; the other is more rough and tumble. If treated with the same parenting stereotype of mothering or fathering I’d be doing both a disservice. So when they’re hurt, we comfort them, and when they’re crying in forced drama, we encourage them to get back on the horse. Our parenting, just as it is in any other home, is a balance of the notions behind mothering and fathering, though never perfect (but if you think you do a perfect job as a parent, you're doing it wrong ;-)).

I’m reminded here of my Aunt Beanie, a very old woman who’s lost that part of the mind that would censor her younger self. After about 6 months of our children’s lives, she complained to my mom that, if anything, we “mother them too much.” She felt we kept them too close, and didn’t insist enough they “soothe themselves.” That was how they mothered in her generation. By today’s standards she’d be a very masculine parent. Heck, many of the kids back then, in the golden age of “the family,” were raised by their siblings, particularly here in Utah. I just find it funny that the only criticism of our parenting we’ve received from those who actually know us is that we mother too much :-).

It’s also bit comical that the folks who’ll deride gay men as unfit to be parents for their inability to do the traditional jobs of mothers are the same people who’ll complain about gay men being too feminine. One of the best things about being gay is being let go from those artificial gender rules. You can more easily do what you're innately best at, regardless of what's traditionally in your gender, and this carries over into our homes. Some lesbian moms can teach their kids how to through a curve ball better than any man, and some gay men make better cookies than the most domestic matriarch. We are lucky to have this freedom to more easily do what we're best at for our family, even if at the price of some alienation.

Personally, we have one of the best homemakers I’ve known, my Rob. In all, I have to conclude that it’s not really our actions of parenting, or our children's happiness about which our opponents are concerned; it’s about maintaining their stereotypes and superstitions about what it means to be gay, or a man, or a woman.

On this topic, it’s typically also stated that our children suffer from merely having little influence or example from adult females, and thus they won’t know how to build a family. In a way, with Rob as a stay at home parent and with our great involvement of extended family, it seems to me we’ve a better example of a traditional family than most around here. Furthermore, it's not like our family is a no-estrogen zone. Our kids spend much of their day with their female teachers and friends, almost every day they see their grandparents, and there’s an aunt or niece at our home almost as often . In short I’d say they’ve more access to examples of diversity in human sex, race, and family types than most kids in Utah. We’ve been sure of that

It’s not like they’ll hit puberty and have no idea how to treat or court a woman, or have no close female they could, if they felt it necessary for any reason, turn to for personal advice. Nevertheless, as a guy who’s been chaste and kept a strong union for well over a decade, I don’t feel abnormally unqualified to teach my children about what it means to court, love, cherish, and respect either a man or a woman, towards whichever their orientation may point. I know I learned much from my parents that’s been applied to our home (I also know most of those who use this argument offer their gay children far worse than no example, without a moral flinch).

And hey, as a bonus, the woman who marries one of our boys will get a man who knows work, at home and in the office, can be shared. Unlike some of the men in our family, they’ll know it is actually possible for a man to do his fair part with the cooking and laundry :-).

Finally here, a typical gay marriage opponent will resort to a variant of something like: “So you’re saying that mothers are disposable then?!!” Yes, that’s what I’m saying… Let’s get rid of mothers. My kids don’t have a sister either; so I advocate getting rid of them too, right? Sheesh! Does this mean the Catholics I’ve encountered using this argument by logical extension believe non-catholic parents are disposable as well?

To be clear, no one is saying that mothers or fathers are disposable; quite the contrary. I’ve never met a gay man or woman who’s had anything bad to say about mothers or fathers in general, or the institute of traditional marriage. It is simply politically effective for our opponents to use such hysterics, again playing on the emotions behind ‘mom’ and ‘dad.’ Ironic, though, that it is these same people who are arguing that either Rob or I should have been replaced to make their idea of ideal. It’s as though, to protect “the children,” they’re willing to ignore the reality of their attachments and needs of our children. No, the same strong emotions that make this argument effective for some are present in our home too, and deserve respect as well. Parents are vital, indispensable, and it’s tragic when they’re lost. But every child needs their particular family, the people bound to them emotionally and obligated to them as parents. No one else will do for my children; no one else will do for your children.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Nielsen on Romney

I couldn’t and didn’t say it better myself.

Jeffrey Nielsen’s take on Romney’s speech.

He makes me want to fill a plastic bag with cheerios and head off to sacrament meeting today.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Romney’s Faith in America

I know that many here probably like Romney, a lot (some, considering the gay + LDS thing, may even love him ;-)). I caught his speech yesterday, though, and am motivated to blog on the matter. Though I know it was meant for very conservative early primary voters, I was expecting something else, and was quite surprised at the content.

Here’s a link to the text of the speech, “Faith in America.”

And we are troubled at home by government overspending, overuse of foreign oil, and the breakdown of the family.

Let me get the Romney-gay rights stuff out of the way first… :-)

I’m all for cutting government spending, getting off oil, and supporting families. I just wish he meant what he said. We may see if he does on spending and oil, but that last bit is clear code. Sure, “the family,” as defined by Romney took a hit when women gained the power to more easily leave their husbands. But divorce rates have been steadily declining for over 2 decades; teen pregnancy has been on the decline for a while as well. In fact, no one I know is attacking the family, or man-woman marriage; most everyone thinks such is amongst the most precious institutions of human life.

It should be clear to all that he is referring to his record of attacking our families, those headed by gays and lesbians, not defending from any breakdown. I’m sure the writer of the speech was counting on that to be clear to the religious right. The two topics are already tied on the Romney site.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the brazen use of such Orwellian doublespeak. Defending “the family” means attacking families. Those who are "anti-marriage," are advocating marriage. Protecting “the children” means keeping children’s parents from legal responsibilities, and making them pay more in taxes, health insurance, and encouraging them to use welfare and put the kids in daycare (1, 2). Really? People are buying this, or do they really deep down know it’s a poor sound bite of an excuse to treat people in a way you’d not want to be treated?

Romney's excuse is the standard “Ideal Family” argument. I went over that in great detail in these posts. In the end it’s that he thinks it’s best for our children to have different parents (never mind that we could say that of more than half of all kids ;-); no one has an “ideal” home). While children do need mothering and fathering, he argues they need a mother and a father and hopes prejudice will assume the rest: that men don’t, say, nurture and women don’t push. It’s a cheap trick of vocabulary meant to tug on the emotions most of us associate with mom and dad, despite the fact that those emotions, along with mothering, and fathering all go on in the homes of gays and lesbians.

But even if Romney is right here, and the government’s position should be that our children should have different parents, it still makes no sense. It’s somehow better for our “deprived” children if the people raising them are not legally responsible to each other, and are encouraged to place them in daycare and so on? Wouldn’t legal marriage make Romney’s bad situation for them better? Isn’t that why “pro-family” folks decry out-of-wedlock births, because marriage stabilizes a child’s home? Or is it just a façade of an argument, meant to hide the sort of intolerance the man holds, and yet is also hoping to quell in others with this speech?

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

When I heard this, along with the bit that the Constitution was meant for religious people, I was surprised. This is, after all, supposed to be a speech about religious tolerance. I know many atheists, my dad for one, and they are amongst the most principled individuals you could meet. They are so because they value morality, no hope for reward or fear of punishment, no means to absolve themselves of past sins either. If asked who would be the least risk to do harm with his freedom, the man who does right because he loves right, or the man who does so under want of reward, I think most would take the first man any day. Nevertheless, Romney apparently thinks differently and this comes off as a threat to both atheists and agnostics. Consider how you’d react if your President stated that, for your religious ideas, you can’t be trusted to sustain freedom, or that the constitution wasn’t meant for you.

Still, I bet there’ll be little fuss over this in his party, and it will help him in the primaries. Though, in the US there are about 3 to 5 times more nontheists than LDS, almost 75% of republicans say they’re less likely to vote for an atheist and only 28% are less likely to vote for a Mormon (link). How’s that for a religious test?

I suppose, such shouldn’t be a surprise. Minorities, once they begin to take a place in the majority, often show the same low tolerance they once experienced. I don’t mean to say this is the case for the LDS as a whole; it happens in parts of the gay community too.

Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.

More code, but hey, I know I’m absolutely exhausted by such people too, Mr. I’d be “better for gay rights than Ted Kennedy” in the 90's :-).

They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

Thank goodness such bogymen don’t exist, then, or at least that such folks are so small in number that I’ve never encountered one. They are so bad that the mere idea of them gets the troupes to the polls, right? Everyone I know, though, is just fine with public displays of faith and acknowledgements of Gods. The problem comes when you ask your neighbor to pay for your religion, when you ask a Baptist to, say, pay for a granite statue of the Buddha in the public square.

Here in Utah we just had a fight over a Ten Commandments monument a while back, and the government eventually won the right to keep it on public land, and that’s fine by me. We paid only for the land, and I’m a sucker for monuments. But then the local Summums came in and wanted their monument of the Seven Aphorisms in the same area, and guess who fought of that? They were fueled by religious intolerance, but not from the dreaded secularist war machine.

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders - in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places.

It is best to acknowledge what or who created you, be you Christian, Hindu, or even Atheist. But for the record, as far as I can tell, the founders didn’t put statements of faith on our currency (more irony, God on Mammon :-)), nor did they put it in our pledge. All that was added later.

I'd watch it on the Founders. I mean, have you ever read the derogatory things Thomas Paine wrote about the Bible in the Age or Reason? Heck, Thomas Jefferson took the bible and removed all the supernatural events and republished it. He also wrote:

That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God, physically speaking, I have been convinced by the writings of men more learned than myself in that lore. But that he might conscientiously believe himself inspired from above, is very possible.

Believed? Possible? Can you imagine if Romney rewrote the Bible, or said that instead of what he said yesterday?

If you don’t get elected, Romney, it may be some comfort that Jefferson would more likely be burned in effigy over a pile of Paine’s books on the campus of Bob Jones University than be reelected these days. That’s religious tolerance today; our 3rd President would probably not get a tenth of either party’s vote.

I'm not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our tradition of religious liberty

That makes two of us.

Okay, it’s nice to get that off my chest. I hope I wasn’t too inflammatory, but please, this was a speech on religious tolerance, right?!

Eh, at least I know I’m manlier than Mitt. ;-)

And hey, once I find the candidate that meets my requirements, you can all pick on him or her (not an endorsement of Hillary) too. Don't hold your breath.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christmas and Very Local Politics

Last night, as we do every year, we took the boys out separately to shop for Christmas presents. Brian went with Rob this time and Alan with me. Every time we separate them it means, without fail, whoever is with Alan will be eating at the Training Table while the other will be eating at Noodles and Company. No offence to Brian’s tastes, but I much prefer the cheese fries, and a #24.

Anyway, while driving to dinner, I had a podcast on of a npr story on about poverty in South Africa. Alan was listening with interest and, once we sat down he began asking all sorts of questions. Do they have a bathroom? A bedroom? Why don’t they have food? And so on. As our experience with volunteerism has shown in the past, they are both already, to my great joy, quick to feel concern for others.

The program had talked about the government’s inefficacy in dealing with some of the problems and finally Alan asked, “Do they have a president?” I guess he was wondering why no one was helping them.

I explained a simple version of South African History and politics, to the extent that I understood it. I talked about how lucky we are to live where we do and so on (though, ironically, South Africa does recognize gay unions).

He then asked if George Washington was our president. I smiled and told him no and then paused to think how to introduce George W. Bush without giving him credit for keeping our family from such poverty, when the man has done a good deal to keep us as second class citizens. To be honest, we haven’t really talked as much as we probably should about politics with them for the complex issues it brings up for our family.

In the pause, though, Alan asked, “Is Daddy the president?”

I’m sure my chuckle was too loud. I told him “No, he’s too busy being your Daddy.” but I wanted to say “Yes, of our home, daddy is president. But I’m the legislative and judicial branch ;-).” Rob was touched Alan thought he's responsible for our running water, and plentiful chests of toys, not to mention food, such as cheese fries, but I couldn’t give him all that credit.

For Mr. President, Alan ended up buying a CD of Brahms piano concertos. He had to listen to many tracks at Barns and Nobel before picking the right CD; it was cute. For his brother, he got a puzzle and a spirograph (two things I loved as a kid, but I swear I did not exhort undue influence). No worries, neither Rob or Brian read the blogs :-).

From me Mr. President will be getting, of all things, a vacuum. I know, how 1950’s male chauvinist of me, in some weird alternative gay 1950’s universe. It’s what he asked for though, I swear, and it’s a really cool robot vacuum. Besides, all that was on my list was a car recharger for my ipod.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

ForeSite

Hey, didn’t I say a long while ago that I was going to put up a site? Wasn’t I almost ready to publish it? :-)

Okay, yes. So why not, one imaginably could ask?

Well, the software I was using was the trial version, and it expired just before I was going to publish. I thought I’d just buy the real deal when it expired, and keep at it, but I kept putting it off, forgetting it every time I was at a software store. I realized, though, I had been putting it off purposefully as well.

My last site was a lot of fun at start, and it was fulfilling to get letters telling me I’d helped or humored, but it ultimately left me with a bad taste. Sure, it became contentious and a chore, at times, and that’s tolerable. It climaxed, though, in threats to my life from some pretty nasty regions of the homophobes. I’m sure that this blog could become a similar problem, but it’s not the same. That site was getting orders of magnitude more traffic.

I now realize, while I very much want a venue where I could have a more substantial voice than this tiny internet corner allows, I guess I’m a bit gun shy now. It embarrasses me to write that. I used to enjoy the fight. But then the kids came, and everything changed. I’m comfortable now to check my e-mail without the expectation of threats or profanity. It’s no longer exciting to see a poor argument coming at me, just begging to be humiliated; it can mean a threat to my home. However, that cuts both ways. To defend us I have to be out there and speak up too. I have to try to do something.

So I’m left wondering how to balance that? Pawning it off on someone else sounds good ;-). I’ve been busy with a lot of other time-demanding work, but I hope to eventually organize a couple people who are where I was before our boys were born. I don’t want to and don’t have the time anymore to manage a big site, and it can take a lot of time to do it right, but I’ve much research collected, essays (and screeds ;-)) written, and would love to put it all up again, not to mention some pages that were substantial traffic draws though had nothing to do with gay issues. Maybe when the primaries are over I’ll be able to talk some of the younger gays from our community to take on such a horrible task ;-).

Monday, December 03, 2007

Snow

I know I said I’d take a break, for Paul :-), but this post will have no comment-worthy material. It’s just; it was a great weekend.

We got our tree up on Friday. On Saturday we had a big snowstorm, and we took that as the sign to stay home and decorate. The kids worked on the bottom 4 ft of the tree while Rob and I put on the lights. Then, once the bottom was overburdened, I took them out to play in the new snow while Rob finished up.
It’s funny how some of the best feelings of your childhood get lost in places from which only your children can retrieve them. Anybody else remember this feeling?
Falling back into that tempting cushion of fresh snow, soon to be an angel… Or this one:
Slipping on a trampoline with the weight of a foot of powder jumping with you… Or this one:
The perfect quiet you seem to only find now in the dampening effects in a mass of snow covered trees.

Oh, and what about this one, poor guy:
Here, that deserves a closer look:
Ain’t he cute? Okay, not as cute as when he was a pup, but the spheres of snow firmly packed into his fur help.

Then, that night, we had our formal family party, where it’s just my parents and my siblings (the big one, with all the grandkids, is later in the month). Though, with some, we do indeed have our differences, I do love my siblings and enjoy being around them.

Finally, this may sound odd and crude, and it is, but it was a good, unexpected cap to the weekend. At Sunday family dinner my dad taped a… umm… remote controlled flatulence sound producer to the bottom of my niece’s chair, and gave the remote to our Allan, who, amazingly, didn’t let us on to the joke, and held off tripping it until she was well into her meal. My sophomoric sides were hurting... You had to be there, I guess. We're quite different, but I love my dad's humor.

Also good, there’s no sign of coyote in the snow this morning at our place, yet. Though, at my parents, we could see where two of them were following a deer; Ultima, you’re safe for now.

Friday, November 30, 2007

I'm in a Sad State

Once again Utah is top in the nation in depression. We’re 51st even… Did we finally liberate the great state of Canada? North Montana now? ;-)

Utah, why you so down, baby? You’ve got great mountains, beautiful national parks, and a huge lake. Sure, it’s one part stagnant salt water and two parts rotting brine shrimp, but it’s huge and attractive, from orbit. According to Bart Simpson, you’re the home of America’s most powerful weirdoes, and we even just convicted one. What more could you want? Is it because our state song is so, um… I very much regret ‘gay’ is the most descriptive word for it (see for yourself: I dare you to disagree. The old one was much better)? Is it that your state bird is the California Gull? We can change all that, dear. Chin up.

Okay, depression isn’t funny, but I don’t really know what to do when I see it and light-heartedness is my fallback position.

So what is wrong with us? Something in the water? The culture? That radiating, mind-altering meteorite buried deep below Provo? Sure, we have a low number of psychiatrists, but why aren’t our depressed folks pumping up the demand for more? Nevertheless, we already spend near the national average per person on mental health here. So why are there so many depressed in Utah in the first place?

It’s personally confusing. I know Utah can make me tense and anxious at certain times, and I know there are days I want to leave for friendlier politics. But this is a response to times when our legislature and local culture aim at my family and gay rights (something most Utahns don’t face, else I’d have Rob on my health insurance already). Sure, that puts me on edge, and makes us have to work harder here than we would elsewhere, but, even under those circumstances, never depressed. Heck, we moved back here because we love it here and we stay because we’re happy here. Utah really is "a pretty great state", really (If only I could afford to relocate all our family, friends, and national parks… ;-)). Apparently, though, I walk our streets with a bunch of sad folks.

It also seems we’re 45th in the nation in suicides per person. No state wants to be high on that ranking, and I hope, Utah, we feel a bit of motivating embarrassment to change our ways and help these people. I'll throw in a bit of time, attention, and/or money; just get us organized.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Smug

As I mentioned a couple posts ago, I’ve been bothered by our air here in the Salt Lake valley. It came to a head last month when I realized that I’d just told my kids they couldn’t go out and jump on the tramp because there was a health advisory out against unnecessary breathing out of doors, as ironic as that sounds. So I decided to so something to alleviate my guilt a bit and recently bought a hybrid.

I typically don’t much care about cars; that’s Rob’s thing. I must admit, however, that I like this car in a way that’s given me a glimpse into what it’s like to be a car lover. Most of the things I really like about it are things I never really considered to be a plus on a vehicle. It’s doesn’t have much power, but I like that it has a jack for my ipod so that I don’t have to monkey with those sketchy FM transmitters. It looks like it’s about to give birth to a riding lawnmower, but I like having a Bluetooth connection to my phone so that I can look cool/insane talking into the air in an empty car. But more than I could have ever possibly anticipated, I really enjoy not having to use a car key anymore. You just get in and push a button. I had no idea how unhappy reaching into my pockets had made me all these years.

What I did, admittedly, anticipate was the benefit of having a driver’s side ego-inflator.

I’m doing something for the planet… by driving… burning gas still… but Yeah for me!! I’ll take that extra trip to the grocery store :-).

I know I shouldn’t use the ego-inflator too often—it’s not real, and it’s certainly a waste of resources—but… but it’s a temptation that hangs in the air of this car right with that new car smell (which is probably a cocktail of volatile carcinogens, carcinogens that smell nice). It’s like an added feature, as comforting as having heated seats in the winter.

Must… resist… singing…



There but for the grace of God go I.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Moral Orientation

After over a year of looking at the variety in gay Mormon blogs, one thing sticks out: “gay” can mean a lot of things. Some experience their orientation as merely a defective response to physical cues, some see it as a psychological scar from bad parenting, and some, of course, don’t care from whence love springs :-). I’ve posted on how important these differences are (here). But I think I missed one and am having a sort of epiphany (bear with me; sometimes my epiphanies just fizzle out). There seems to be an ingrained moral component to only some people’s experience of being “gay.”

A long while ago I posted on research that has begun to tease apart the mechanics of our moral reasoning (here and here). To sum up and simplify, the research basically seems to show two main moral reasoning centers in the human mind: a so-called emotional moral processor and a more logical moral processor. For example, when people are given the option of killing one man to save five the emotional center only knows to shout “Don’t kill him” while the other does the math and says “5-1=4. Kill him!” (Read more in this post). Furthermore, if you physically damage the emotional moral processor, people begin to make very different moral decisions (Read more in this post).

Okay, now add to that a fact I just posted as a bit of a joke (at the end of this post): there seems to be a significant genetic component to homophobia. Looking back at those posts in the light of this idea of a moral component to sexual orientation, I’m struck by a couple things.

When I was coming out, homophobia was something to which I paid great attention. Some of my friends were simply not bothered at all by my being gay. My best friend, a very manly, 100% heterosexual guy, had and has no problems seeing Rob and I be affectionate. He should have a problem, by stereotypes: a guy from South Carolina with a conservative Baptist background in a hyper-masculine profession (firefighter). I know by experience, though, many straight men do reflexively gag at the idea of two men kissing. While all my friends were great, I did have some, even among the more liberal of them, who had a visceral negative response to homosexuality, and they basically learned to stifle this response when it came to Rob and me. I don't care a bit about such homophobia and greatly respect them for muting it. For themselves, though, I’m sure they never could.

So, I’m beginning to wonder if such gut reaction homophobia may be an inherited part of the emotional moral reasoning center of some human minds? 28% hereditable, in fact :-)? To me, that could make sense and would explain a couple things.

It would make sense in that we need to be preprogrammed to develop wills to do stuff like eat, keep warm and so on. While there may be a benefit to there being a small portion of homosexuality in a species, in humans (though certainly not in some other species), it’s most efficient for the majority to be oriented towards producing new offspring. Just as we’re programmed to not find, say, rocks attractive and suitable for pair bonding (well, most of them ;-)), and because the male and female human can be somewhat similar, perhaps some come programmed with a strong “no homosexuality” gut reaction in that particular moral reasoning region and some do not.

This would explain the difference I’ve experienced in homophobia in straight men. Though, logically, two straight men may have no moral problem with homosexuality, one may have this gut aversion and the other will not.

Such a preprogrammed gut aversion could explain the persistence of homophobia. It’s too easy to mistake disgust with moral disgust, and even easier to call something “immoral for everybody” when your gut moral reaction is “immoral for me.” It is clear why many organizations haven’t been fans of homosexuality; it hurt group numbers and when groups fight, physically or ideologically, numbers matter a lot. Today, some of that is certainly still a reason to pose homosexuality as immoral, but I think this gut personal reaction in some heterosexuals regarding a gay relationship may be a comparable player.

Finally, this would explain the differences I see in the gay men around here. Personally, when I think of heterosexual sex and intimacy, I feel a gut reaction of being repelled. I don’t want to say disgust, as I’m so used to seeing it in media and in my life that I’m effectively comfortable with seeing heterosexual behavior in others, but, for me, it strikes me as wrong to the core. I’m supposed to pair up with a man (Well, one in particular ;-)), and, as odd as it may sound to some, to think of doing the same with a woman strikes me as deviant, against some law of life. It's as though that logical part of my moral processor knows there’s nothing wrong with it, and in fact knows it’s a great thing for many, but there’s still this emotional moral sense in me that says it’s somehow wrong. I fear, if raised in gay bizzarro world, where I wasn’t conditioned to accept heterosexual behavior, I may have became a heterophobe :-). In all seriousness, I regret that I can see that potential in myself, as a one-time fan of conservative orthodoxy, and I fear, if I were a straight male in this culture and had the same gut aversion to relations with a man for myself as I do now for relations with a woman, I’d tend to homophobia. I can understand why some so easily become homophobic with little cultural prodding (thanks goodness I’m gay :-)).

Nevertheless, it seems some gay men may be oriented towards men in many ways, but not similarly morally oriented (away from women or towards men). This could be the same as the difference between the straight guy who can watch two men kiss without squirming and one who cannot, though both may be great allies to the gay community. This could also explain why so often it seems people around here may be talking about what it means to be “gay” or “ssa” or whatever, and totally miss the mark in the eyes of others.

I have to admit, though I knew there was much diversity, I came here more so thinking that my “gay” was what being gay means, particularly in this regards. I was wrong and there are clearly many aspects to orientation. Among them, the moral orientation may be amongst the most important factor for LDS gays, above the physical and emotional. As I guess, again, I already knew :-).

Anyway, I’d love to see the results of similar research on gay and straight men when shown images of various couples or asked about sexual hypotheticals, not to mention how those with the VMPC lesions in their emotional moral processor respond and how they express homophobia. If only I went into that area of study; too late now :-).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fanksgiving

Last year, I wrote a post, based on our family tradition of going around the table and saying why we’re thankful for in each person. I’ll not do that again. No, I’ve not succumbed to the undercurrent of us v. them. Yet. I just don’t have the time for a post that could fit in all the new folk around here :-). But I do want you all to know I’ve gratitude for getting to know those who visit (and particularly those lend their voices and good nature to) my little spot here, to whatever extent this medium allows. I’m also thankful to get to know the people whose blogs I frequent. Many make me smile, make me think, or just plane entertain. Even when they leave me feeling down for the author’s difficult predicaments, I know it’s better than not listening, and it makes the almost inevitable upswing in their lives all the more welcome and worth the feelings of investment (again, to whatever extent this medium allows :-)).

We just returned from Moab where we spent the holiday. This was a particularly memorable thanksgiving for us as Rob and I combined families this year. It’s always difficult to tell either of our parents we’ll be spending a holiday with the other set, and so we try to be as fair as possible. This year, we were headed down to be with Rob’s clan and Rob called my parents to tell them. Long-story-short, by the end of it all he had invited my parents, one aunt, one sister and a couple nieces and in-laws with us (I told him not to offer unless he was willing to hear yes :-)).

I can’t help but imagine an outsider would expect mixing such different families to result in some trouble. Add in the fact that the families are joined together by a gay union and you’ve the makings of a short-lived sitcom. Nevertheless, we all get along great. In addition to our personal bit of diversity, we had representatives from all across the political, religious, social, and racial spectrums there. I think it shows how much the world has changed that such categorizations now mean next to nothing in the face of the modern human family, far less than the quality of, say, your stuffing. Heck, in my parents’ lifetime, not only would it have been unthinkable that a gay couple could bring such great families together; it would be highly improbable for even an interracial couple. It’s hard to remember, but things really are changing quickly, and for that I am, of course, thankful.

With both families, though, our numbers were so large no home could hold us. So we had Thanksgiving outside this year, in Canyon Lands.
A bit untraditional, and a lot of fun. Rob organized everyone into a perfectly choreographed potluck. I’ll be honest, not everybody in our families is a good cook--Rob is, by far, the best--but this way we got the best dish from each family member (some were smartly assigned to bring the paper plates). We also brought a bunch of 4-wheelers and motorcycles to replace the traditional post-dinner tryptophan nap. Good times.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same. A pilgrim and an Indian, isn’t that too cutesie? Maybe in the same way as wearing, say, matching pink outfits? Yes, you’re right, yes it is. But, in our defense, again, we bought those costumes for a school pageant a week ago, not even thinking about using them for the holiday. Furthermore, at the idea, both the boys wanted to wear them to show their other grandparents and we were all for getting more use out of them.

Unfortunately, once we got home, Brian, my pilgrim, manifest-destinied right into Alan's room, gave him a cold, and took all his toys. No worries though, Alan's been relocated to a wonderful reservation in the laundry room, where he's set up a slot machine.

Finally, the day after thanksgiving we took my parents to see some of the sights; they haven’t been in the area much, though my mom grew up near Price. We planned a drive to beautiful, scenic Dead Horse Point:
Damn cloud.

Eh, I know I’ve been a lucky man, weather aside. So, to whatever person, place, or thing; to whatever luck, accident, or fate; to whatever God, law of physics, will, gene, or meme there may be out there coming together to make my Thanksgivings less of a reminder to be thankful, fanks (As my Alan up there would say).

Here’s to hoping to deserve it then :-).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

This is Ridiculous

You know what I mean. It seems I must have prophetic power.

Let’s debate, of course. I mean, I’m right and oh so many others are wrong, after all. And sure, maybe we can occasionally argue, post a heated comment or two. I know I’ve written what I’ve regretted, once time cooled me down.

I had no idea, though, the seriousness of what goes on through the back allies of this internet neighborhood until today. I knew the streets here were a bit more mean, yep, but I now get the feeling I don’t know the half of it.

Sure, I caught wind of some serious threats from other’s blogs, threats of calling the morality police, and so on. But now I hear of physical threats and know people’s personal, perhaps professional lives are being put in jeopardy. Some of these people have spouses, kids too; none of whom deserve the repercussions, regardless of what we think has been done to us by their family member. But when a person is attacked with such real world threats their family can’t help but pay a price too.

There’s a wide line between arguing a point by reason and by threat. This community must go back to respecting that border, or else, in a matter of months, all that will be left here are the people out for a fight, and nothing more. Trust in my prophetic abilities. It’ll be a post-apocalyptic wasteland of filthy sodomites and sadistic homophobes, and you just know my team will end up with the studded-leather Mad-Max outfits. No one wants to see that.

Personally, I want to make sure this place is as safe for all as possible; not safe from dissent, of course, but from real world danger. Furthermore, I think we should all want this place to be particularly safe for the people who are the most vulnerable to such threats, those who have something like a family to frantically defend. If we lose their voice, we’ll lose a lot (myself, for one ;-], and I want to stick around).

So can’t we all just fight and get along? Don’t make me dress like The Humongous every time I want to blog. It looks like it would chafe:

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The WSGCAPDP Vote

The race for the white house is heating up. Now, I don’t claim to be politically savvy, or all that knowledgeable in the arena. But, as a service to all those candidates hoping to capture that influential western-suburban-gay-christiany-agnostic-prudish-doctor-parent vote, let me tell you the top ten things you need to say (not necessarily in order). So listen up. I’m looking at you, Huckabee.

1. Tell me you’ll do all you can to be sure my children won’t end up paying my debts. Our national debt is ticking away; at tens of thousands per US citizen now. I haven’t been in any debt in my personal life for many years and can’t stand paying any interest, but here I am with this government debt, and it’s even worse that it’ll probably be my kids who’ll pay for it. Send us the bill; let’s pay it and balance our national budget. We need, say, to go to war? It’s necessary? Fine. Tell me to sacrifice and I’ll sacrifice now. I mean how embarrassing would it be to be the first generation in a long while to leave the next with less?

2. Tell me that you’ll keep our military strong, well equipped, and intimidating; providing for our national defense, I feel, is one of the top jobs of government. But also tell me that you’ll never use the military carelessly. If you want my vote, I have to know that, when my boys turn 18, you’ll not have gotten us into a pointless war that will chew them up. If we need to send our kids or ourselves into battle, I have to trust that you’ll know what a need is; give me more than rumors of, say, yellow cake and grand visions of transforming the middle east. Show me that we must do it to defend ourselves, or that we’ve the moral duty to defend others (and that in doing so we won’t make things worse for those others). On this same topic, let gays be open in the armed forces already. I mean, if we really are at war, let’s not be firing translators because they talked about who they went on a date with last night.

3. Tell me that you care passionately about freedom of expression, association, and religion. Tell me the Constitution, the Bill of Rights are important to you. I want to be able to say what I feel, I want my government to listen (by my elected representatives, not wiretap), and I want even my detractors to have those rights. I also, being a Utahn :-), want to keep my guns, though don’t mind some regulation on some weapons. I mean, I’m sure the founders didn’t intend the 2nd amendment to apply to all arms, from side to nuclear, but I want the option of defending my family somewhat effectively when threatened, and we’ve been threatened at times.

4. Health care. I don’t claim to understand why things are becoming so ridiculous, but I’ve got my own horror stories. To be honest, I don’t know what would be the best solution here either; just that it’s a growing problem, nationally and in my personal observations. If you want my vote, I’m going to need to hear what particular steps you back. Less regulation? Universal coverage? I’m willing to listen to any good arguments.

5. Speaking of health insurance... Advocate full and equal legal rights for all families, regardless of the sexual anatomy of those involved. You don’t want to call it “marriage”? I can live with that. But my family pays into our coffers and should have equal rights. Anything less is simply wrong and I want to see you stand up and say it in the face of the PC pressure to be, if at all publically for equal rights, some lukewarm begrudging supporter.

6. Tell me the US will behave morally. Tell me the United States Government will not torture or send prisoners to jurisdictions where torture is practiced, with zero equivocation. Tell me, when we do business and trade with another country, we will always take into consideration the treatment of the citizens of that country by their government, not merely the gain of having them as a trading partner. Just as I don’t want to pass on a financial debt to our kids; I don’t want to pass on a moral debt.

7. Tell me you’ll do something about our air. I’m not talking even about global warming, though that’s a concern. I’m talking about the immense embarrassment we should feel as a population that there are literally days we can’t let our kids out to play in our cities because the air carries well past a safe level of pollutants. I’m talking about the fact that we know this air is killing thousands of people in our cities prematurely. Think about it. There are days we foul our outside air so bad that we shouldn’t breathe it. That’s crazy.

8. Abortion and stem cell research. See this post.

9. Tell me you'll be above reproach. I don't want you to even have a way of knowing who gave what to your campaign. Don’t accept any donations from PACs. Take public money, or small personal contributions, keep away from the loopholes, and publically disavow and discourage folks who, for your cause, do things like push polls and smear the reputations of, say, people who served honorably in the military. I’m not a fan of telling people how they can spend their cash or speak, but politicians are free to accept it or not and I want a candidate who plays fair and is obligated to no one, unless it’s everyone. Of course, this probably means you won't win...

10. Briefs. I don’t trust a man in boxers. I’m not, however, sure how I feel about a woman in boxers.

And if you want my vote 4 years from now, do what you say. Furthermore, if you happen to cheat on your wife and end up going on national television and lying about it, you’ll not get my vote again either. I’m just say’n, just in case; I don’t want to have to vote for Nader ;-).