My exciting little life

Someone recently told me I have led an exciting life. After a few moments of denial, I admitted that my life has been pretty interesting.

A few examples…

  1. Growing up in a very strict household where I couldn’t watch television, wear short sleeves, or attend my school’s basketball games
  2. Coming out to my family at twenty years of age
  3. Creating a Michael Jackson fan site that became the catalyst for a trip to Germany in 2001
  4. Getting to see Michael Jackson in concert on 9/10/01
  5. Being in New York City on 9/11/01
  6. Meeting my partner of 9 years on the internet
  7. Getting to see some of the best performers on earth live in concert
  8. Traveling to various parts of the country
  9. Becoming a business owner earlier this year
  10. Having a scan of my Michael Jackson concert ticket included in an upcoming special on National Geographic

Even though I am typically scared of my own shadow, I am glad I have been willing to put myself out there on multiple occasions. Those are typically the moments that have been the most rewarding.

HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’ and childhood trauma

HBO’s new series, The Leftovers, looks very intriguing. And a little scary. After roughly 2% of the world’s population disappears in a rapture-like event, the show follows what happens to those who remain behind. This reminds me a bit too much of the movies I was forced to watch as a child while attending a Southern Baptist school.

I grew up without television, so when our teachers decided to show us a movie it was usually a treat. Not only did we get to feast our hungry eyes upon delicious cartoons like Bambi, we got to skip the monotony of classroom activities. Unfortunately, the movie selection wasn’t always so innocuous.

While still in elementary school, we were shown A Thief In The Night and A Distant Thunder – films that detailed the Rapture and the horrifying events that followed. These movies not only showed people being forced to receive the Mark of the Beast, but what would happen to those who refused. The first movie in the series had a particularly haunting song that is stuck in my head to this very day.

There’s no time to change your mind; the Son has come and you’ve been left behind. I wish we’d all been ready.
Children died, the days grew cold. A piece of bread would buy a bag of gold. I wish we’d all been ready.

Because the Holiness church had taught me nothing about the Rapture but everything about what would happen in the End Times, I knew I would be one of those who was left behind to either take the Mark or be put to death. I wept hysterically throughout both films, so much so that my teacher mistook my tears for a desire to be born again. She led me in prayer a couple of times, but soon realized she was getting nowhere and told me to talk it over with my parents when I got home.

Needless to say, it was a traumatizing experience. Almost as bad as the time my aunt and uncle (also Baptists) showed my family a video of people dying in car accidents and going to hell. Good times.

So, it is with trepidation that I am actually looking forward to watching The Leftovers. Hopefully I have watched enough horror movies and reality television over the past 20 years to desensitize myself.

Everything we learned from the ‘Duck Dynasty’ fiasco in one sentence

Noah Michelson, the editor for Huffington Post’s Gay Voices, summed up the brouhaha over Phil Robertson and A&E in one (extremely long) sentence.

You can say whatever you want, including that gay people are sinful and full of “murder, envy, strife, hatred” and are in the same league as those who enjoy being penetrated by barnyard animals and that black people were “happy” and were not “singing the blues” when Jim Crow laws ruled America, and as long as you later tack on “I love all of humanity” and I would “never incite or encourage hate” and throw around the word “tolerance,” and as long as there’s enough money and publicity swirling and more ready to be made, you will face absolutely no consequences and if anything you’ll be celebrated as a hero and lauded as an icon of freedom — some will even go so far as to call you the “Rosa Parks” of our generation — while the people you were talking about will still be vilified and will have to fight even harder against society’s belief that they are — even in the 21st century, even in a country that is not supposed to be ruled by religion or heartless, hateful zealots — at their very core all of those vile and (let it be said once and for all) patently untrue things that you said about them.

Ain’t that the truth!

Hypocrisy abounds over ‘Duck Dynasty’ star’s comments on gays

Earlier this year when Paula Deen admitted to using the “N” word thirty years ago, the public reacted in anger. Social media erupted with negative comments about her weight, her intelligence, and even the part of the country she is from. Virtually every single chain stopped carrying her merchandise. She lost her show on The Food Network. People were determined that she pay a huge price for her apparent racism.

Yesterday, after reading the remarks made to GQ magazine by Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame, I wondered what price he would have to pay for comparing homosexuality to bestiality.

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.

It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

I was pleasantly surprised to learn this morning that he had been suspended by A&E, but I quickly realized he wouldn’t pay for his homophobic remarks in nearly the same way Deen had to pay for admitting her use of a racist word. People seemed to be downright celebratory.

Apparently, this man is viewed as a god to rednecks, right-wingers, Christians, and even members of the Tea Party. Sarah Palin released a statement supporting him and decrying the loss of freedom of speech. The governor of Louisiana even proclaimed his pride in the “Duck Dynasty” family. Since Robertson’s comment was steeped in biblical references, one has to wonder what has happened to the separation of church and state in this country.

As far as freedom of speech goes, most of the American public doesn’t seem to comprehend what that even means. Robertson exercised his freedom of speech when he made his comments to the reporter. Nothing prevented him from making those remarks, even if they were asinine. There is also nothing to prevent others from responding to those statements with disbelief or even jubilation.

My main grievance with this whole thing is how people who label themselves “Christian” are the first to get in line behind something hateful. Sure, some of them truly believe homosexuality is a sin and worthy of hell, but why would they celebrate a statement that talks about how much better a vagina is than an anus? It’s absurd. He could have worded his beliefs in a clear manner without stooping to descriptive references of anal intercourse.

Also, where in the Bible are Christians commanded to single out one sin over another? Nowhere that I can recall, but for some reason modern-day Christians like to pick on members of the gay community. How many of the other sins in the Bible are they ignoring in their pursuits – like fornication or adultery? How many couples do you know – Christian or not – who didn’t have sex before they were married?

We all grew up hearing “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” but I can’t help but wonder how many people are going to be mentally and even physically wounded by Robertson’s words. A quick look through social networks reveals a seething anger against members of the LGBT community, and one can only speculate whether those folks will put their words into action. I also wonder how many young people will commit suicide rather than reveal their true selves to parents who are sitting around the dinner table this week spewing hatred toward other human beings simply because of who they love.

On the plus side of things, we are at least talking about this. It is no longer okay for someone to slander the gay and lesbian community without getting at least some level of retribution. It may not be anywhere close to the price Paula Deen had to pay, but I don’t suppose we can expect people to care as much about homophobia as they do about racism.

Not yet.

Out of order

mose_gingerich_out_of_order

I recently began watching Amish: Out of Order on the National Geographic Channel. The reality show features Mose Gingerich, an ex-Amish man who is struggling with issues pertaining to faith and family. Because Mose left the faith of his childhood, he is shunned by his family and considered damned for eternity. I can empathize with him on many levels and had a very visceral reaction to the show.

Like Mose, I was brought up in a strict religious home. My family worshiped at a small Pentecostal Holiness church that placed much emphasis on appearance and behavior. Our church leaders were able to pick verses out of the Bible to back up all of the strict rules we lived by. Women were required to have long hair (most wore it up in a bun), long dresses, and no makeup. Both sexes were expected to wear long sleeves and no jewelry… wedding bands included. Our pastor went as far as preaching against women shaving their underarms and legs.

Like the Amish, Holiness people didn’t fit in very well with the outside world. This “outsider” status wasn’t considered a negative attribute, but was actually taught as part of God’s plan for his people. Verses like the following were often used to explain why we were supposed to be different.

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” – John 15:19

As I grew older, I began to question many of the things I was being taught. On one hand I was being told the world was bad, while on the other I was hearing how God loved the world so much he sent his only son to die for it.

It didn’t help matters that my sister and I were attending a Baptist school where we were learning things that contradicted what we were hearing at our Pentecostal church four times each week. The differences weren’t huge but large enough to make me realize religion wasn’t so black and white. My Baptist teachers were reading the same verses but coming away with a different meaning. I began to understand reading the Bible and creating a belief system based off of it was completely subject to interpretation.

As I grew into a young man, I parted ways with organized religion – although it wasn’t so much a conscious decision as a slow weaning away. I didn’t feel like there was a place for me anymore in the little concrete block church where I spent countless hours as a child, so I simply quit attending services.

Although pulling away from the church community alienated me from most of my friends and family, I don’t think I was prepared for the rejection I was to experience after coming out as a gay man. While I may not have been shunned to the degree of Mose or other ex-Amish, I have had my share of rejection by members of the faith of my childhood.

I have now been living my life openly for almost 18 years. I have a wonderful partner, and I have been attending a loving and accepting church since 2006. Regardless of how stable and normal I might consider my life to be, I realize most of the people I grew up going to church with believe I am deceived and damned to hell.

Like the Amish, most of my family believes the only possible path to spiritual reparation for me would be returning to the Holiness community. Like Mose, I have no desire to participate in a denomination so encumbered by dogma and tradition and so separatist that they relish in their alienation from the rest of humanity.

No news is good news

My regular readers (all three of you) may have noticed that I don’t post many news-related tidbits anymore. That’s mostly because I have been making a conscious effort to avoid watching or reading news. Headlines no longer appear on my homepage and I steer clear of talking heads on television. Aside from reading the occasional story in our local hometown paper or searching for Michael Jackson-related articles, I am almost completely out of the loop.

This is a huge change for me, considering I would have once referred to myself as a “news junkie,” but I honestly prefer it this way. News has a way of only concentrating on the negative aspects of a story. I’ve learned that most of what I hear about in the media isn’t going to impact me personally, so worrying about it is futile. It makes much more sense for me to concern myself with things that are within my reach – things like improving my relationships with others, helping out at my church, and becoming a better steward of my time.

A few childhood memories

Lots of Church

We attended church services four times a week – on Wednesday night, Saturday night, and twice on Sundays. If we had a revival, it wasn’t uncommon for them to last up to four weeks or longer, which meant that we went to church every night and twice on Sundays.

At our annual Thanksgiving meeting, we would attend church twice a day for four days straight. Many of those services stretched on for three to four hours, resulting in grumbling bellies and sleepiness.

No Television or Movies

I saw very little television before the age of 16. My dad did have a television once or twice, but it was always against my mother’s wishes and hidden in a back room. I was in high school when my dad purchased a set and put it in our spare bedroom. I’ve been a tv junkie ever since.

I had never been to a movie theater until I was in my late teens, and I loved the thrill of the big screen. I would sometimes see the same movie several times if I really liked it.

Dress Codes

Our strict Pentecostal doctrine dictated that I had to wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants – even in summer. My sister and mother never wore pants or cut their hair, and neither of my parents wore wedding bands or watches.

Sports & Games

While a game of softball or football was okay around the house, playing on the school team or attending ballgames was out of the question. My mother didn’t even allow us to play checkers or chess. No explanation was given beyond, “That’s how I was raised.”

After I had moved out on my own around the age of twenty, I finally purchased a set of checkers. I distinctly remember the look on my mother’s face when she found out about it.

No Devil Music

Anything not labeled “gospel” or “Christian” music by my mother was strictly forbidden. Well, “Happy Birthday” and secular Christmas songs were acceptable, which was something I never could figure out. Mom would constantly listen to southern gospel radio, something that I despise to this very day.

As I became a teenager and my friends started taking a real interest in pop music, my dad would sometimes let me listen to the radio while my mother was out of the house. I thoroughly enjoyed Prince’s “Kiss” and Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” and danced around like my panties were on fire (my mother always called underwear by that name, no matter which sex they were intended for).

Baby Dolls

My maternal grandmother, whom I love dearly, always used to remark that I should have been a girl and my sister should have been a boy. This was based on my interest in most things girly and my sister’s love of climbing trees and making mud pies. I, of course, participated in the traditionally masculine pastimes, too, but I suppose the non-traditional behavior was more noticeable.

One Christmas, my granny presented me, my sister, and my female cousin with matching baby dolls in strollers. I was delighted as she explained that she knew I would have been jealous if she hadn’t gotten one for me.

Chocolate Milk & Baby Cows

This same grandmother used to tell me that white women had white breast milk and black women had chocolate milk. I can remember longing for a black nanny who could quench my unending thirst for delicious chocolate milk.

She also once told me that if I would circle our house three times that there would be two calves following me. Being a die-hard animal lover, I ran around and around the house, stopping frequently to look behind me for the two baby cows that never appeared. When I brought this fact to her attention, she laughed until she almost cried and explained that there were two calves behind me… on my legs.