You have written me a couple of missives recently. Normally, I would not bother to respond to anonymous flames, since I usually assume that someone who doesn’t sign their name lacks the courage of their convictions. But it seems with you that you actually know me, or knew me, back in my adolescence and young adulthood. Because of this connection, I believe that you deserve at least the minimum courtesy of a good Fisking. So here goes. You wrote:
Spenny, it sure is weird to see you acting like a crazy looney(sic) gay guy. Did you erase your CTR ( Choose The Right ) Tattoo that you have on your ankle? Have you completely forgotten about all the girls you danced with at the Church Dances. I am sure that in time all your values will come back and you will bring out the nice old CTR Tattoo.
Let’s start with that first line.
Spenny, it sure is weird to see you acting like a crazy looney(sic) gay guy.
Wow, no one has called me Spenny in years! It’s kinda nice. First off, I’m not acting. What I write on my blog, in my freelance work and my filmmaking, is what I truly believe. Unlike the bravado performance I was putting on back in my youth when I was pretending to be a person I was not, this is not an act. Let me also assure you that I am not, indeed, crazy. I have a full bill of mental health. Back when I was still a church-going Mormon, I did have some problems in that regard. I struggled mightily with depression for a time, even using prescription drugs to treat it. Since I left the church behind though, I’ve been in a robust state of emotional health. Sure, like everyone, I have to deal with the stresses of life, but the depression that once haunted me has dissipated like a fog. Does that have anything to do with my former religious convictions? I can’t say definitively, though I would point out that Utah has the highest rate of anti-depressant perscription in the nation. Just sayin’.
On the other hand, I do cop to being occasionally loony. As well as zany, wacky, and even madcap. You know, like the next door neighbor in a bad sitcom.
As for the gay guy part, well, let’s skip forward a bit in your letter.
Have you completely forgotten about all the girls you danced with at the Church Dances.(?)
Nope, I certainly haven’t forgotten those lovely girls I danced with. I remember them. I remember the “No Pelvic Thrusting” rule. I remember that Modern English song they always played. And I very much remember dancing with these pretty girls and feeling nothing for them, while gazing over their shoulders at the guys I secretly wanted to be with instead. It’s a pretty universal experience for people like me. I also remember that I really liked to cut a rug. Yeah, I was a total solid gold dancer. That, dear Anon, is what we call a clue.
Did you erase your CTR ( Choose The Right ) Tattoo that you have on your ankle?
Angelina Jolie aside, erasing tattoos is a tricky business. So you will be pleased to know that it still resides there above my left ankle bone. Even more so, it still reminds me to do the right, a little talisman of caution to act carefully and always consider the consequences.
However, it’s not alone, that tattoo. It’s been joined by others. There is the flag of the California Republic, to remind me of where I come from, no matter where I go in the world. There is the Gadsden Flag, the famous “Don’t Tread On Me” with a coiled rattlesnake. That one serves to remind me to always be suspicious of organized power, especially that of the state. Then there is the seal of the Muscogee Nation, my father’s Indian Tribe, to remind me of my blood ties to this land, and the price my ancestors paid during the colonization of America. Along with my Mormon ancestry, that particular symbol helps me to recall that there are two sides to every story. Next up in the cue will be the symbol of my Alma Mater, St. John's College, with the Latin inscription I love, which roughly translates into "Through books and science we make boys into men".
But the tattoo that is dearest to me is a small one only a few inches from the “CTR”. I got it on an impulse a few years ago in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I’d been thinking about my “CTR” tat, and what it meant. I decided to get a new tattoo that symbolized the lessons I’d learned since I’d gotten that first ink, back when I still believed that the “Right” was whatever they taught us in Sunday School. My new tattoo instead spoke to what I have learned in the long journey since. It’s one word, that runs in black letters down my Achilles Tendon, that famous weak spot of ancient mythology. The word?
I am sure that in time all your values will come back
The logical fallacy here is presupposition. You assume that my values have somehow ‘left” me. But they have not. Indeed, I feel that I am living in closer adherence to my true values then at any time in my life.
One of my values is honesty. It is a value that I frequently abused when I was younger. I lied to you, Anon. For that I am sorry, and I apologize. I lied, by not sharing with you the deep doubts I had about our far-fetched religion. I lied to you by suppressing my anger at the arrogance and abuses of power I saw in the leadership of that very church. I lied to you about my own makeup, who I am, the critical mindset that has been a part of me since I was a child, even something as basic as who I am attracted to and with whom I fall in love. I lied, although I will say in my defense, I lied for a good reason. I lied because I loved you, and I feared you would reject me. You see, another of my values, Anon, is unconditional love. It’s a hard value, maybe the hardest, but it was a value that I was taught was a fundamental part of the gospel. Yet it was not a value that I frequently saw put into practice. Now Anon, because you are anon, I don’t really know who you are. But there is a good chance that you are someone I loved. If that is the case, let me assure you. I still do love you. I love you no matter what you’ve done with your life. I love you even if you have done things I believe to be morally wrong, even if you have given support to organizations or people I detest, even if you no longer love me. I love you if you drive an S.U.V. and shop at Wal-Mart! What I do know, Anon, is that if I had been honest back then, if I had told you and those others around me who I really was, the reaction would have been one of rejection, revulsion, and maybe even hatred. I know, because I saw just that directed at those unforunate souls who, for one reason or another, failed to fit in. Rather then unconditional love, I saw over and over the practice of disfellowship, an idea that is anethema to Christianity.
Nothing saddens me in my life as much as the friends I have lost, the people once dear to me who are no longer part of my life. I would want nothing more then to still carry those friendships and ties to my past. But I could not do so at the price of lying about who I am. I tried, and it was far too much to bare. It almost killed me. So I live with this small hole in my heart, where I keep the memory of all those whom I once loved, but who turned their backs on me. Oh, and before you say to me that you would love me again if only I would just change into something that I am not, let me assure you. That is not love. That is self-righteousness.
OK Anon, I’ve given it to you pretty good here! I know how much Mormons usually shy away from dissent, and so I hope I haven’t stuck my blade in too deep. I only hoped to draw a little blood, not to hit any major veins or arteries. I realize that if you were just to read my responses above to you, you might get the impression that I am bitter about my upbringing. Yet I am not! I knew many wonderful people in my youth, and they shared with me plenty of wisdom about life. I would never renounce those whom I loved, nor am I specifically targeting the faith we shared, which I find no more or less guilty then any number of other faith-based belief systems (I’ll spare you the lecture on my doubts and fears about faith in the unseen in general, because that’s not what I think you were asking for when you wrote me). I would like to think that your words, no matter that they came off to me as a bit condescending, were spoken out of genuine care for me. It’s interesting that you bring up values. The word, of course, refers to what we value, what brings us happiness and joy in this life. I don’t have any lasting measure of bitterness about the things, right and wrong, that I learned in my Mormon community, because my life is far too occupied with things that I value now to be concerned with the past. Here is a list of things that I value. They are in no particular order, and of course some of them are more valuable to be then others. I’ll leave you to guess. This is what my life is about now:
Good country music. The Perfect T-Shirt. 15 a side Union Rugby. My Mom, always. Dim Sum. Mt. Washington. Patrick O’Brien novels. The Daily Show. Nieces and nephews that are sweeter then sugar. My Australians. Oklahoma. Vintage Mercedes. Making fun of the modern-day Pharisees. Luke, the Basset Beagle. Anti-war protests. The American Red Cross. Road trips with my dad. The upstairs room at Old Compton’s Pub in London. Emmy Lou Harris. Good dark beer. The Phoenix, in the East Village. The Hegalian dialectic. Charles Mingus. Anson King, my best black friend. Haitian food. Chinatown. Sex. Music biographies. Bach’s St. Mathew’s Passion, the most spiritual piece of music ever written. The Windes Brothers. Austin. Standing up for the legal rights of queers, oddballs, and brown people. Screwdrivers. Bruce Springsteen. The Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Shows at The Echo. Fixing the broken election system. The Silverlake dog park. My amazing sisters and their solid husbands. The Isiah Berlin fox and hedgehog analogy. The island of Manhattan. Dan Savage. The ACLU. The Arroyo Parkway. Film Festivals. Left-wing Jewish politicians. Cowboy boots. Aristotle and the catagorization of things. Public radio. Sushi. The Utah mountains. Immigration rallies. Elliot Smith. Richard Neutra. Santa Fe. The End Of Faith, by Sam Harris. Big Love. Human Rights Watch. Concilience, by Edward Wilson. My ex-boyfriend. Butt Magazine. San Francisco on a cold day. My producer Amy. The four Gospels of the New Testament. Thai food. The Stonewall Democratic Club. Running on the elliptical trainer. The Bingham Cup. Knowing that while my life may not matter much over the long course of history, I am unique, and I have the responsibility do the right thing towards others and to try and keep those I love safe and well. Euclid 1:47. Gillian Welch.
These are some of my values, Anon. They have never left me, and they never will. I hope you can find it in your heart and mind to stretch a little, and consider some of the things I love. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover some values of your own that you’ve kept hidden under a bushel, like I did for so long.