Tuesday, May 4, 2010

“From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate.” ~Socrates~

“From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate.” ~Socrates~

I think that quote pretty much sums it up. Some of the most homophobic people I’ve ever met in my life have come out of the closet at later times in their lives. As sad as it is for me to admit it, I was once incredibly homophobic. No, I didn’t participate in any hate crimes or anything of that nature, but I did joke around about other kids in my high school who were very obviously gay as well, though none of us were out at the time. My crass joking enabled me to make friends without them questioning my sexuality. I used the other kids as a defense to prevent myself from a similar fate. It is definitely not a part of my life I am proud of, but it happened nevertheless.

I’ve been affected by homophobia my whole life. I know I’m not alone in my thoughts on the matter either. I was recently discussing the random thoughts running through my head and the precautions I take without realizing it. The friend I was talking with said she’s got another friend who voiced similar experiences to her. Sometimes I do things to protect myself without even realizing it. For instance, a few years ago, I was at the store purchasing a Valentines Day gift for my boyfriend. The item I bought was clearly for a man, I also bought a Valentines Day card to go with it of course. As I set my items on the conveyor belt at the register, I placed the card down first and the other item on top of it. I just did it, without thinking twice about why. Then I took a step back and evaluated my reasoning on a deeper level. The conclusion I drew was that I was trying to prevent other people in line with me from seeing I was buying a card to go with a gift for a man. I’d deliberately hidden the card beneath the other item. It irritated me that I did that. I’d been out for nearly five years by that time and I was and am completely comfortable living as a Gay man. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that people around me are so comfortable with my sexual orientation.

Another example happened just a few weeks ago. A girl I work with was throwing a birthday party for another coworker. There were several of my coworkers there with their husbands and boyfriends. I tend to feel incredibly uncomfortable around straight men I don’t know. People kept asking me if I was okay and wondering why I wasn’t my usual self. I was at the party for over an hour before I finally opened up and started having a good time. I tend to withdraw and hang in the shadows until I can be sure that the straight men there won’t think that I’m coming on to them for merely making conversation. Sadly, I’ve heard horror stories about gay men having a good time in social situations, but the minute other people find out they are gay, suddenly they’re getting beat up. It’s a horribly reality, and frankly it scares me.

A close friend of mine (we’ll call her Jessica) actually avoided an incident this last weekend. She has a second job as a bar tender on the weekends. The bar she works at is a straight bar, but there is a transvestite who comes in fairly regularly (we’ll call her Tina). This last weekend, Tina was dancing and another patron came over and was dancing with her. No one seemed to think much of it. Later that evening, Jessica overheard another man telling the guy who’d danced with Tina that she was in fact a man. The conversation continued and multiple homophobic comments were exchanged. One of the two men decided they needed to teach Tina a lesson and proceeded to make plans to beat her up. At this point, Jessica approached them and said that there was no place for their bigoted, homophobic attitudes in her bar. She then informed them that if they even touched Tina, it would be the last thing they ever did. A while later, she heard them making comments again, then one of the men got up from the table and started walking toward Tina. Luckily Jessica was able to step in front of him and ask him to leave. Then she stepped over to the table where he and his friends were sitting. She proceeded to pick up the beers and pitcher they just ordered and pour them out. When the other men protested she spoke up and said, “I told all of you that homophobia has no place in my bar! Your friend has made it so none of you are welcome here anymore tonight. Please leave.” Luckily for Jessica and Tina, the men left without further incident.

The last incident I wanted to share was not necessarily one of hate, just intolerance in general. A close friend of mine lives in the heart of Downtown Salt Lake City. He’s less than one block from Temple Square. Needless to say, twice a year, when the LDS Church holds their Semiannual General Conference, finding a parking space anywhere near the area is unheard of. In fact, the parking garage to my friend’s building is normally closed for public access, but they open it up and charge people to park there during those two weekends each year.

The big weekend happened a few weeks ago. My friend made plans in advance so he wouldn’t need to leave his condo for any reason. He and his boyfriend were getting things done around the house and decided to take a walk to a nearby grocery store. As they were making their way back, they each had a hand full of groceries and had linked arms. They weren’t kissing, or even holding hands. Furthermore, it was during the time between Conference sessions so there weren’t a lot of people out. There was a group of people near the corner standing and talking as they approached. Suddenly, a man left the circle and approached my friend. He casually said, “There are people around here who don’t appreciate that kind of display and I would like to politely ask you to leave.” I can’t even fathom the audacity of this man to feel this sort of request is even remotely appropriate. My friend was not strolling through Temple Square, he was walking on a public sidewalk along South Temple, further than one city block from the Temple grounds. Clearly this man was a visitor to this part of the city. I happen to drive by this stretch of road every day and I’ve seen gay couples holding hands and walking together on multiple occasions. It’s not out of the ordinary. Despite the reputation of Utah and the surrounding area, Salt Lake City is quite tolerant and accepting of each other’s differences.

In reaction to this strange request, my friend looked from the man, to his boyfriend and back. He was already irritated at having to stay inside for the majority of the weekend and here was this man asking him to leave. His response was much calmer than it could have been. He looked the gentleman in the eyes and said, “I live in the building on the corner. I will not leave because I’m going home and I do not know what display you are referring to which is inappropriate! When did it become inappropriate for two people to walk along a city sidewalk with their arms linked together?” He didn’t wait for a response before they began walking again, this time a little quicker but their arms remained linked nonetheless.

People fear what they don’t understand. I know this is true, but why do they so often feel the need to act on this fear? Whether it is action against gay people, people of different religious groups, races, or cultures, we hear all too often stories of hatred, animosity, mistrust, oppression, judgment, and condemnation. As a human race, we need to take a step back from other people’s lives and ask ourselves, “Does this actually have any affect whatsoever on my life?” If not, then leave it be and move on!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Evolution Of My Theism

It’s been a while since I’ve posted and I’ve had several topics run through my brain of what to write, but I haven’t had much time to sit down and get it out. Today, the topic at the top of my head is the changes in my belief system. As mentioned in previous posts, I grew up within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). This set of beliefs was taught to me from birth and I accepted them as absolute truth. In fact, when I was a child, I was told that I belonged to the only true church on Earth. My best friend, who lived just across the street, was within the boundaries of a different ward (a geographical region within the LDS faith). Due to the fact that she was in a different ward, she attended church at another building. One day, I was talking with my grandmother and I asked, “Grandma, which church is true, mine or Kimberly’s?” My grandma replied that both were true. My response was a priceless line which has been laughed at within my family for years, “but mine is truer!”

I grew up in Star Valley, Wyoming, which is a small community on the Idaho border. The predominant faith in the area is overwhelmingly LDS. As I got older, I never thought to question anything about the religion. Nearly everyone I knew was an active churchgoer. Those who didn’t attend or belonged to other religions were not necessarily treated with a cold shoulder, but it was common to feel sorrow for the sake of their eternal salvation. When I discovered I was Gay, a ‘grievous sin’ ranking up there with the murderers and rapists, I was clearly troubled. Eventually, I came to a place where I was at peace with my sexuality and when I finally stopped lying about my sexual orientation, I stopped attending church altogether.

Shortly after I stopped going, my bishop (the presiding leader of a ward) asked me to come by his office after church services one afternoon to talk. I explained that I was Gay and would not be attending church anymore. He counseled me of the dangers I faced and explained that in the next life I would be attracted to women. It was a sin for me to seek relationships with men, but I shouldn’t actively seek relationships with women at this time either because it wouldn’t be fair to either of us as neither partners’ needs would be met. At that time, he asked me if I felt I was born this way. When I responded in the affirmative, he put in plain words that some children, through no fault of their own, are born addicted to crack cocaine. Even though this does occur, it doesn’t make it appropriate to start using crack cocaine as an adult. Although I was mortified at having listened to a grown man compare the love between two adults to a crack addict, I was cordial and attested that I had made my decision, it was not something I came to overnight, but I had carefully considered all my options for years.

When I first stopped going to services, I still had a strong belief in the teaching of the LDS Church, I merely felt they were misguided in this one area. Then more time passed, and I began to question more and more of the beliefs until I renounced it completely, holding the belief that Joseph Smith was a man of God, but his church had changed over time and was no longer what it was at the onset. I still believe part of that last statement. I don’t think the LDS Church of 2010 is anything like Joseph originally had planned and I think he’d be sadly disappointed at what it has become.

My childhood faith preaches that God’s love is unending and cannot be comprehended by human beings. God loves all his children unconditionally. Then in the next breath they tell me that God will cast me out of his home because I fell in love with, and made a family with someone of the same gender. This is incredibly contradictory to me! I don’t have children of my own yet, but when I think about how much I love each and every one of my nieces and nephews, there is nothing any of them could do which would make me love them less. Furthermore, if something were to happen where they needed a place to live, nothing would stop me from opening my door to them. Not only that, but my parents have the same love for me. Just over a year ago, I moved back home to be with my family for a few months while I worked through some personal issues. Shortly after I moved home, my ex-boyfriend was kicked out of his house by his stepdad. Not only did my parents open their door to me in my time of need, they allowed him to move in with us too. If God’s love is so unconditional, how is it possible that a mortal, such as myself or my parents, is more capable of extending love to another than God is capable of.

The evolution of my beliefs continued as the wheel of time kept pressing forward. I soon began questioning all organized religion. Sure, at the core, they all want the betterment of the human race, but when you mingle them together, it results in war, hatred, animosity, mistrust, oppression, judgment, condemnation, and a slew of other awful things! Eventually, I began to question the very idea of God at all. I believe that it is possible that there is an omniscient male being in control of everything, but it’s highly unlikely. It’s also possible that there is a monster made of a spaghetti-like substance that would like nothing more than to torture all human beings. A creature who plans a specific damnation of all beings for the next life. To me, these two beliefs are just as likely. On the other hand, the idea that the universe exists due to natural laws of physics, laws which exist regardless of mass belief, is a more charming explanation. I believe in Karma. Good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds punished. I feel this is a natural law of attraction.

In closing, I wanted to share an interesting statistic: Just over 10% of people do not believe in God. Another, more startling statistic shows that in prison, less than 1% of people don’t believe, meaning that over 99% have faith in God. Furthermore, on the opposite end of the spectrum, members of the National Academy of Sciences (people with a generally higher IQ score than your average Joe), when polled, 72% have a ‘personal disbelief in God’ thereby claiming Atheism, and another 20% claim ‘doubt or agnosticism’ leaving the remaining 8% with a belief in God. I find these details completely fascinating!