Rolling Queers


“My friends and I, we used to go down to the Salt Lake City Cemetery on Saturday nights, and we would roll queers there.”

I looked at the man, the murderer, with confusion on my face. “Roll queers?”

“Yeah. We’d go down, bash them up a bit, steal their jackets or shoes, take their stuff. Gay guys would hang out in the cemetery that night, so we knew where to find them.”

I could hardly hide my expression of disgust and shock as he told me this simple tidbit. Knowing this man would go on to brutally torture and kill a gay man just a few years later, in the late 1980s… hearing him casually talk about beating gay men up in his youth, it just felt like a blow to my stomach. I felt cold for the entire interview after that.

Later, after the video call ended and I could finally think clearly, I realized I was shaking. I splashed some cold water on my face, guzzled a bottle of water, and chomped on some chocolate that had been offered. I felt myself calm down. A few minutes later, I rejoined the camera crew at the table, and sat in heavy silence for a bit.

“That was intense,” I processed out loud. “Challenging on so many levels. On a personal level. He was charming. Charismatic. But there was a coldness to him. He was manipulating, lying at times. I can’t figure out why he talked to us. I mean, he seems like a nice man, someone who has been changed by nearly 30 years in prison. And as a social worker, I believe in prison reform. I believe people can change, that they deserve second chances. But I know what he did, what he is capable of.”

“What did he mean by ‘rolling queers’?” I looked up at the woman asking the question, knowing this story was new to her, and wondered what she must be thinking after an interview like that. I took a deep breath.

“It’s different, being gay, nowadays. There are gay bars, clubs, and phone apps. It’s easy to date, to find people to connect with. But back in the 1970s and 80s, it was different. It was dangerous to be gay.”


“Absolutely dangerous. Coming out was impossible in a place like Salt Lake City. It could mean being disowned by family, being fired from jobs. There were gay bars back then, but guys like this might wait outside, to beat you up, to ‘roll’ you. Plus you had to register to get inside. And cops would patrol these places, arrest gay men, threaten to expose them unless they were paid off. It wasn’t exactly common, but it happened a lot. Gay men could lose their jobs, their church memberships, their families. And they could be attacked.

“But they still wanted to meet other gay men. They had to hide from everyone around them, and yet they needed to connect with others. They would sometimes go to public parks or other places, like libraries or cemeteries, to try to meet other guys. They might use fake names, afraid to be exposed in their public lives, but their need to connect with others was so great that it was worth the risk.

“I’m picturing these guys in the 80s, going down to a cemetery discreetly, walking the grounds and trying to meet other guys, catch their eyes. These guys could have been lawyers, bishops, dads. Just lonely guys in Utah. Have you been to the downtown cemetery? There are all these walking trails. It’s almost like a park.

“Anyway, imagine these guys, parking blocks away, nervous to be seen, walking through the park. And then being attacked by this group of violent teenagers. Their wallets are stolen, their jackets, their shoes, maybe their car keys. And then, punched, hurt, beat up, having to find their way home to tend to their wounds. Imagine the excuses they had to make to their families and coworkers. Imagine how scared they must have been to go out again. To be targeted like that, to be hurt, to be “rolled” just for being gay, that’s a hate crime. And sometimes these accidents resulted in permanent injury. Sometimes in death. What could they do, go down to the local police, say ‘I’m gay and I was attacked’? Imagine living like that!

“To see him sitting there, talking about ‘rolling queers’ as a regular pass-time, like he was talking about ‘tipping cows’. It’s like frat guys sitting around and casually discussing rape with terms like ‘banging chicks’. It just, it just makes me furious. It hurts me to hear it.”

The room was silent for a bit. Saying it all out loud helped me process, but the feelings didn’t go away. They stayed with me that night, and into the next morning. ‘Rolling Queers.’ It’s a different world now in 2018, but people are still attacked for being gay. I think back to last year’s Pride celebration and the group of so-called Christians standing outside with their messages of God’s hate for gay people. I think of a history of gay people being assaulted, of transgender people getting it even worse. I think of the men on the other ends of those blows and how they lived their lives thinking this was normal, that it was acceptable. How they went on to become fathers and how they spread their hate.

It’s going to take a few days for the images in my head to leave. In a weird way, working gone this project, I feel a bit like Truman Capote, during his work on In Cold Blood. I won’t dive into depression and alcoholism, I’ll process, open up, maybe even write a bit about what I’m going through, knowing that the end result, the final project, the documentary itself, has the potential to teach about our past, to remember the fallen, and to learn about ourselves.




I’ve never claimed to understand technology. I’m the kind of guy that just wants to push the ON button and have everything work. I’m a creature of habit. I want to start my morning with my brewed cup of coffee, my laptop open on my table, and the programs I’ve chosen to use all working correctly. I want to sip on my caffeine and toggle between an electronic comic book and an open browser with tabs for FacebookYahoo Mail, and CNN. (That’s right, I still use Yahoo Mail, that same account I set up back in 1997, which now has tens of thousands of archived Emails in it).

Nothing infuriates me quite so much as technology that won’t work. Random computer viruses (probably from visiting the wrong porn site), laptop batteries that die a bit too quickly (probably because I haven’t updated in far too long), or a change in the homepage when I open Internet Explorer (probably because I didn’t click some box when I opened some account), they make me crazy. Those and intrusive Internet ads that require me to click eight little ‘X’s to escape. I hate altering my habits, and I hate being inconvenienced. So when something isn’t working right, I can quickly go from calm to ‘I’m going to smash you with a hammer, stomp on you, and dump you in a lake somewhere!’ without warning.

A few days ago, I called my mother and asked her about day. She was slightly insane, having been on hold with Amazon tech support for two hours. Her Alexa machine wasn’t working, and when she called to get it figured out, she found out there was something wrong with her login account. She needed some sort of password change, but she couldn’t change it because the Email she had registered with didn’t match the Email she was currently using. She was transferred multiple times, put on long holds, and forced to listen to ear-worm music for hours when all she wanted was to get the weather report from Alexa in the morning like she was used to. (I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent on the phone with tech support agents over the years).

It takes me months, if not years, to adapt to changes in tech when they take place. When I get a new phone, it doesn’t feel right for so long. My thumb doesn’t tap the screen in the same place, it fits differently in my palm, and the volume down button is in a new place. My first cell phone was simple, just a phone. Now my screen is filled with apps, and there is a camera always pointed at my face recording who knows what and showing it to who knows who.  I have to monitor data usage, and I have an Autocorrect demon living inside that is determined to make my life a living hell. I tell myself that I’m not attached to my phone, but I always have it on me. It’s always in my hand, in my pocket, or right next to me. I check it during red lights while I drive. It is the last thing I look at before I go to bed, and the first thing I reach for when I wake up. When I’m forced to disconnect from it, due to a dead battery, or a low WiFi zone, or even during a movie, I have a mild anxiety that doesn’t go away until I can see what the new headlines are, if I have any new Emails, and if anyone new liked my latest Facebook post. It’s crazy-making realizing this. But again, I’m a creature of habit and I don’t want to change anything.

It is daunting to realize technology has defined and dominated every single part of my life, from childhood on. When I think back, I get these flashes of tech that represent such key moments in my life along the way. 1984: recording myself singing on cassette player. 1985: typing out endless computer program commands on the Texas Instrument Basic for hours in order to play Hang-Man. 1990: playing Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda on Nintendo for the first time and having Mom comment behind me that “these graphics are so awesome!” 1993: getting my first CDs for Christmas and listening to albums my very own Disc-Man. 1995: playing Super Mario 3 for 16 straight hours one Saturday, with no breaks at all. 1996: setting the VCR to record my favorite programs while I was at work, then fast-forwarding through the commercials later when I watched; that and spending an hour looking through movies I might want to rent at the local video store. 1997: tying up the phone lines with the obnoxious sounds of America Online connecting to the Internet, then clicking on a webpage I was interested in only to leave the room for several minutes while the page loaded. 2001: getting my first cell phone for $20 per month, one that would allow local calls only, and with only 200 minutes available. 2005: uploading all of my CDs into music files on my computer, and then converting the songs to a different format in order to pile them on to my new IPOD. 2008: experiencing distress because my DVR was filling up with re-runs of my favorite shows, and knowing there were new things I wanted to watch. 2010: buying a combination DVD and VCR at home because so many of my favorites were still on VHS. 2012: asking students in a college classroom to stop playing Angry Birds and listen. 2014: growing completely frustrated because I couldn’t get my iPhone to sync up to my car’s stereo, and thus getting teased by friends for still using CDs. 2018: sitting down on the couch and deciding if I wanted to watch a show on HuluHBO, Amazon Prime, Netflix, CBS Online, or YouTube; years ago, I would have just chosen from a local channel, but who has local channels anymore? (As I make this list, I realize each one of these experiences could elicit their own blog entry).

I look toward the future and wonder what is possible. Self-driving cars, Virtual Reality interfaces, the cloning of human organs, DNA engines. Tech will change in the next 20 years as much as it has in the past 20, and one day in the future, my sons may sit down to write about how things are so different for them than it was when they were kids. I’ll constantly be adapting just like they will. Everyone has to.

Sometimes I sit back and ruminate on the floating Internet out there, the data that forever preserves videos and photos in some virtual space. I think of archived Email folders, about the super-villain fan fiction that I wrote back in college, about college transcripts and submitted term papers. I think of the LGBT history video series I did on YouTube, about social media comment wars I’ve engaged in, about Instagram photos, about sexy pictures I’ve sent back and forth with friends. What would people find were they to Google my name, and what if they looked just a bit farther? Who is saving my photos? I exist out there in that data stream, and I’m not sure where. It’s exhausting, thinking  of this. And yet, there are eight billion people on the planet. I exist as only drops in the ocean. This blog entry will just be one more particle.

Years ago, I opened up a broken laptop to look at what was inside. Clips, screws, and elastics held delicate components in place. There were fans, bands, and bizarre metal pieces, all wired into a larger motherboard. Looking down on the tech felt like viewing a city from an airplane. Geometric squares and circles, connected by paths and blips. Shrunk to tiny size, I could get lost in a city like that, lost in the motherboard.

I guess I already am.

Master of the Universe


“Whoa, that’s awesome.”

Mom watched me put together the final pieces of Snake Mountain, my big gift for Christmas, together in the corner of the living room. There was wrapping paper scattered everywhere. The other kids all had some of their new Christmas gifts off in some corner of the house, where they were playing. It was weird to hear her say the word ‘awesome’, a word I associated with kids, not parents.

“Yeah, I’m pretty excited about it.” I could set Snake Mountain against the wall in my room, opposite from Castle Grayskull, the craggy space where He-Man lived with his allies in EterniaSnake Mountain was for the villains, the ones working for Skeletor. I could already picture the epic adventures between the heroes and the villains that would take place.

I toggled the different features of the new headquarters. There was a trapdoor that could be triggered, to send the heroes plunging downward. There was even a snake-headed microphone, battery-powered, that I could speak into as if I was Skeletor himself, one that would alter my voice to something deep and monstrous. I picked it up to practice.

“You’ll never get out alive, He-Man!”

My mother clapped her hands in enjoyment, hearing the cool sound effects. I wouldn’t say it directly, but I knew there was no Santa Claus. After all, I was ten years old. So I knew she had personally sacrificed a lot to bring me such a nice gift for Christmas.

Mom carried a list in her purse for whenever she took a trip or spent a day out shopping. I updated it a few times a year, when they released new lines of the Masters of the Universe toy-line. On special days, she would buy me one of the five dollar action figures, then cross the name off her list. I loved having new characters to add to my ongoing toy adventures, working in storylines from the cartoon into my play but more often making up my own stories.

Lately, Evil-Lyn had been using magic to trick heroes to fighting each other in the arena, and forcing He-Man and Battle-Cat to watch in a cage, unable to help their allies. Fist-O had defeated Buzz-Off and Moss-Man had fallen to Man-At-Arms. Skeletor’s henchmen watched on a television in a nearby cave, laughing so hard. I already had it planned out, how He-Man’s most underestimated allies, Teela (a girl who was the captain of the guard!) and Orko (a clumsy magician that looked like a ghost) would end up saving the day by defeating Evil-Lyn, then the Sorceress could heal the heroes, who could then turn on the armies of Skeletor. I had been playing this storyline out for several days, keeping notes in a notebook, content to play it out and having a blast along the way.

The name Masters of the Universe for the He-Man cartoon and toys made me smile, from a sense of irony. I so often felt like everything in my life was out of my control, but I got to control the storylines here. I couldn’t change much in the outside world, how my brother and sister picked on me a lot and were always arguing, how sometimes I remembered how I had been sexually abused a few years before, how my dad was constantly crying while laying on the floor or locked in his room, how mom always seemed so stretched thin trying to take care of a family with nine people in it, and how I didn’t fit in with other kids at school. I hated how awkward I felt around other boys. I couldn’t make a basket with the ball, hit a ball with coordination, or even ride a bike, and I got teased because I spent my time writing or drawing. I had a few friends, guys who also liked Saturday morning cartoons, but most of them weren’t Mormon (there weren’t many Mormons in the area of southwest Missouri), and I knew I was mostly only supposed to play with kids who shared my beliefs. But He-Man gave me a place to escape.

He-Man was cool, too. He didn’t fit in either. Well, at least not when he was Prince Adam. Adam was kind of girly, with thick blonde hair, and he acted scared of everything. He was royalty, but people were always confused by him and impatient. His only friend, well, his only true friend, seemed to be his cat, Cringor, a talking green tiger thing who was even more afraid than Adam. Everyone saw both Adam and Cringer as helpless, silly, and incompetent. But with just a flash of a sword and a few magic words, Adam transformed into the most powerful man in the universe, and Cringer into his mighty steed, Battle Cat. 

The plots in He-Man the cartoon often seemed a bit thin. How could Adam’s allies never recognize that he was He-Man… they had the same haircut! And exactly how many green-striped cats could there be in Eternia! But I always figured that maybe there was a magic spell that prevented people from figuring it out.

A world full of magic. One where the guy who didn’t fit in could change into someone powerful and confident, with lots of friends and amazing adventures. One where the heroes were always sure to win, and where there was a happy ending after every conflict. Those were exactly the kinds of adventures that a kid like me needed.





Captain Comics


“Excuse me, Corbin?”

He looked up from behind the glass counter, where he was sorting through new packs of Magic: the Gathering cards. “Hey, Chad, what’s up?” I had always found Corbin handsome, but I could never say that. I was only 16, and still firmly in denial about being gay.

“Hey, I was wondering–” My heart was pounding. I shouldn’t be this nervous over something so simple.

“Are you here to empty your comic box? I put an alternate cover for the new Uncanny X-Men for you, plus your regular copy. It’s good art, could be a collector’s item if you want it.”

“Oh, no, I’ll probably just take the regular. I don’t think I could afford the alternate cover.” I smiled, awkward, and stepped to the side as a kid came up to the counter, carrying a stack of Gen13 comics, all of them featuring covers with girls who had enormous bowling-ball-size breasts in tight T-shirts. Those were bad, but not nearly as risqué as the Vampirella comics, where the girls were basically wearing strings. I hated this trend in comics in the mid 1990s, where so many artists seemed to make girls’ breasts bigger than their heads.

I waited for a moment, practicing my speech in my brain again, as the customer tried convincing Corbin to sell the comic books at half the price. Captain Comics was a tiny store, a small storefront in Idaho Falls, Idaho, nestled next to a Little Caesers and some cell phone shop on the other side. There were bins full of back issues, a wall of new comics, and sections for trading cards, card games, and comic book memorabilia. With a small back room, and a long glass counter, it had become a place of refuge for me over the past year, a place I frequented once per week at least, so I could pick up some new comics with money I had saved up.

I’d become obsessed with Marvel Comics over the past few years. I’d first fallen in love with comics in the sixth grade, when Archie Comics was printing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I later fell in love with the X-Men, and soon found myself wanting to buy everything put out. But I also wanted to start collecting everything that had been printed before, seeking to understand the deep and rich histories of Captain America and Thor and Ghost Rider and Spider-Man and everyone else, not an easy feat in the pre-digital age, when tens of thousands of comics had been printed over the decades before me. I had a special fondness for discontinued titles like the Defenders. If I wasn’t careful, I could easily blow entire paychecks at the store, and instead had to watch for sales, bargain bins, and occasional online auctions of comics over E-bay.

I kept my comics so carefully, bagged, boarded, and in alphabetical order, lined and stacked in cardboard boxes at home in my bedroom. As my collection expanded, the space in my room shrank, more comics lining the desk, the closet, the floor against the wall. They had become my greatest obsession, my greatest love.

And in ways, my greatest escape.

Corbin was free again as the customer huffed out in frustration. He turned back to me. “So what was it you wanted to ask me?”

I lowered my eyes, embarrassed and a bit ashamed of myself. “I, um, haven’t ever told you much about me. I’m Mormon. I work after school and everything, but I’ve been saving up money for my mission that I’ll go on in a few years, and also I’m saving up for my senior trip. And I love comics. They are, like, one of the best things in my life right now. But I can’t keep affording to buy them because–”

Corbin tilted his head, sympathetically. “Do you need me to put a hold on your box for a while?”

I looked up, surprised. “No–no, that’s not what I’m saying. I–look, my parents got divorced a few years ago and my mom married this guy, my step-dad, and he’s kind of a huge jerk, like he yells and hits and stuff, and I don’t really have a dad around. I’m not sure why I’m telling you that. What I’m getting at is, I was wondering if maybe I could work in your shop on Saturdays or something, or maybe on Tuesday nights when you get your new comics shipments in. I could work just like a few hours a week, and you don’t have to make me an employee. Maybe you could just let me work off the amount I would owe for the new comics I’m ordering? I would work hard, and that would let me keep getting comics so I could keep saving up for my mission and everything.”

My heart was pounding out of my chest as I waited for Corbin to respond. He looked at me intently, curious and wanting to ask a million things, I’m sure, but he just stayed there silent for a small eternity. Finally he spoke.

“Chad, you’re a good kid. I’ve always liked you. And you seem trustworthy.” He paused again and I waited for him to break the bad news. But then he surprised me. “You know what, let’s try it out. Five dollars an hour, a few hours per week. And you can be paid in comic books. That’s two-and-a-half standard books an hour, five books for a two-hour shift. Two hours a week on Tuesday nights work for you?”

“Yes! Yes, absolutely!” I gripped his hand in a hearty handshake, shaking hard. “You won’t regret this, sir. I’ll work really hard.” I felt like I had just made the deal of the century.

The next Tuesday I worked my first short shift. Within a few months, I was working Saturdays, and in time, even running the store for afternoons or evenings on my own. I would continue working at Captain Comics throughout my high school experience, right up until I left on my mission, for a total of three years. And the entire time, I was being paid in comic books. My collection at home expanded into around ten thousand before I was all done, and I’d move the boxes with me through most of my adult life.

Reflecting back on this story now, at the time of writing, at age 39, I think of how much comics saved me, especially during my difficult adolescence. My love of comics also led to me working for Marvel Comics for a few years, and even writing my own line of comics.

So from both 15 year old Chad, and 39 year old Chad, thank you, Corbin of Captain Comics, wherever you are, for giving a young man a chance when he most needed it.

White kid, black avatar


“These villagers are giving Kevin a hard time. I bet it is because he is black.”

A, my 6-year old, toggled the control to the Playstation 4 as he bounced up on to his feet, unable to hold still. He had his newly created character, Kevin, walk through the sparsely populated Pelican Town, chatting with strangers. I had explained to him that talking to everyone was important because relationships in the game were built slowly over time, by speaking with people and occasionally giving them presents. He could even learn what kinds of presents each person liked, like jewels, fresh fruit, or fish, and then give those specific gifts to strengthen the friendship bonds. A was getting the hang of it. But the villagers didn’t know Kevin at first and were saying coy and dismissive things to him.

A was playing Stardew Valley, a kid-friendly game that involved farming, building wealth, planting seeds, purchasing animals, building friendships, foraging, and even mining. He had been watching his older brother, J, play it for a few months and had wanted to try out his own character.

A had been thinking about his character Kevin for a few days before he brought it up. He waited for a quiet evening then asked if we could design a new game for him, and the boyfriend and I enthusiastically agreed. We opened up the design screen, typed in the name Kevin at his request, then moved to select the character specifications.

“I want him to have brown hair, a blue shirt, brown pants, and black shoes. And I think he should have brown skin.”

I had turned to him, surprised and pleased, and asked him why.

“Well, the town has a bunch of white people in it. I’ve watched J play and there are only a few brown or black people. They need more.”

I nodded, pulling in A for a squeeze as I changed Kevin’s skin color. And then A had gone about learning how to play the game. Kevin settled into a small house on a wide piece of land. He learned how to chop down trees, hoe the ground, purchase seeds and plant them, and water.

“Man, Kevin worked really hard on his first day!” A had said before sending an exhausted Kevin to bed for the night. And when the sun rose the next morning, A focused on taking Kevin around Pelican Town to meet new friends.

When A made the comment about Kevin’s race being the reason that the villagers weren’t being friendly, I turned to him surprised.

“You think it is because he’s black? Why do you say that?”

A didn’t look over as he took Kevin down to the beach to forage for shells and clams. “Well, you and Mom taught me about slavery. White people used to own black people and were super mean to them. And now white people are mean to black people sometimes. So maybe that’s why they aren’t being nice to Kevin.”

I hesitated. “A, it’s just a game.”

He looked at me with an expression that said ‘duh.’ “I know. But it’s like real life. And black people have to work harder sometimes. That’s why we need to be nice to everyone.”

My thoughts were spinning. I had made a strong effort, in the lives of both of my children, to teach them about the components of social justice. We had gentle, kid-friendly discussions about feminism, homophobia, racism, and disabilities, always with the very strong message that we are never to be bullies and that we embrace and stand up for everyone around us. While I had mentioned racism to A before, we hadn’t had any lengthy discussions about it, and I wondered if it had been something on his mind.

A turned to me. “Did you know that there were slaves a long-long time ago, too? The Egyptians had slaves before Moses freed them.”

My eyes opened wide, and I looked at him confused. “Where did you learn about that?”

Another ‘duh’ look. “Daddy, I go to school. Me and my brother both.”

I remembered that J, his older brother, age 9, had been learning about Hebrew stories in his class lately, and they had probably been talking about it at home. The boys went to a charter school with an alternative education curriculum, with sections on mythology and historical stories. I nodded, accepting the answer.

“Slavery is horrible. It’s one of the worst things in human history,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. I’m glad people are free now.” A said with startling insight.

Later that night, after the kids were asleep, I thought about the implications of this discussion, cleaning up the kids’ toys. I thought of my older sister, who was raising three adopted kids, two of them the same age, one who is white and one who is black, and the differences in how the world will treat them growing up. I thought about two friends of mine, a gay couple, who are raising a black son and daughter, and I thought of a dear friend of mine, a black woman who had been raised by white parents. I wondered how all of these people in my life would feel about my white son choosing a black avatar, a 6-year old boy wondering if there was racism built into his video game. I didn’t come to any conclusions. I just felt the feelings, a mix of pride, fear, anxiety, and discomfort all at once. A had approached the topic from a 6-year old understanding, a place of empathy, not impatience or superiority, and that felt okay for now. He’d seen the need for more diversity in his video game and had made that happen, and that part thrilled me.

My sons, with their gay dad and straight mom, with their black cousin and lesbian aunt, with their Mormon grandparents and ex-Mormon parents, were being raised to see the world from a wider view than the one I’d be raised with.

As I laid down that night, I found sleep evasive. Strangely, I was just a bit worried about Kevin.

8 billion

My first year of college, I had an ant problem. I lived in an old apartment up on the hill above Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. The complex was called Aspen Grove, but we affectionately referred to it as Aspen Hole, because the units were in various states of disrepair. There were two bedrooms, a small kitchen and living room, and a small bathroom, and generally four college students were crammed into them. Over 95 per cent of the students at the school were fellow Mormons, and we made up wards and stakes of students, there for a shared college experience with those just like us. (I find it strangely comforting to think that 16 years later, Mormon guys are still likely living in those apartments, and they probably aren’t any nicer.)

My first month in the apartments were in the dead of summer, when temperatures were higher and student population was slightly lower. I began to notice a lot of ants on the sidewalk outside our front door and around the entrance to our home, a problem that seemed to be getting steadily worse over time. My roommates weren’t exactly great at cleaning the kitchen or doing dishes, so the ants began making their way slowly inward, becoming bolder and slowly taking over the apartment. I complained about it a few times, and the landlord assured me the problem was being dealt with, but after a few more weeks, it got even more unmanageable.

One Sunday afternoon, I walked home to find a swarm of ants (hang on, what is a mass of ants called, let me look it up–okay, it’s a colony)– a colony of ants in a dark black mass swarming on the sidewalk like an inky disgusting puddle. I considered stomping there until they were all gone, but couldn’t do it. I was so disgusted. Where were they coming from, and why were they hanging right outside my front door? So grossed out, I began searching for what must have been a nest. I found nothing outside and worried it might be underground, then I realized it was in the wall of my apartment building. It was the only explanation.

Inside, I noticed, for the first time, an electrical socket that was right next to the front door. I was oblivious to it, because none of the outlets worked in that room. I retrieved a screwdriver, loosened the cover to the socket, and then pried it loose. As the covering fell to the floor, a black mass of ants began climbing out of the socket in every direction, spilling out of it like ooze, going up on the wall and down to the floor. I had disturbed the nest, and the thousands of little ants were coming out to claim their revenge in one of the most Alfred Hitchcock moments of my life.

I fled from the apartment and got the landlord, who investigated, got similar freaked out, and then retrieved an industrial size can of bug spray, which he emptied in into the wall, committing genocide against the invaders. An hour later, he was sweeping up the little corpses into a dustpan and tossing them outside into the lawn, which was also disgusting. There must have been tens of thousands of them. (I slept the next few nights at my mother’s home, an hour’s drive away).


This image left my brain until recently. I was away for a weekend in Phoenix, Arizona. It was a new place, somewhere I had never been before, and there were people, everywhere. Lines waiting to get into restaurants, dog walkers, the homeless, impatient girls on cell phones, people spitting smoke into the air in their unending lines of cars. They were hacking, spitting, texting, lounging, and complaining, everyone impatient for whatever it was they were waiting for.

There are people everywhere, and in every neighborhood, and Phoenix was lovely, so I’m not sure why it was this moment that the image of the swarm of ants hit me. It just suddenly dawned on me that we are everywhere. We are vast swarms all over the planet. There are 8 billion of us, swarming out of our nests and over the mountains, deserts, oceans, and rainforests, while we consume, devour, breed, and swarm, all the while complaining that we don’t have enough.

The math of it all exhausts me. Ten per cent of 8 billion, that is 8 with nine zeroes behind it, is 8 with 8 zeroes behind it, or 8 hundred million. Like some crazy natural disaster could strike and wipe out 1 billion people, and there would still be 7 billion left. And there are reports that this next generation could take the total up to 10 billion. Yet we can’t get gun control, or women’s rights, or our prison systems, or air pollution, or global warming, or basic health care under control.

A few years into my education, in a human behavior course in college, we had a discussion on the risks of overpopulation. The year then was 2004. The population at the time was 6.5 billion. It’s been fifteen years since then, a dime and a nickel of time, and we’ve increased by another 1.5. I remember arguing, naively, at the time, from my Mormon, Republican mindset that God would take care of the population issues, and that it wasn’t a real risk as he had a grand design in mind. Another student wondered aloud if that grand design included the entire destruction of our planet.

I’m not an anxious person, but the thought of it all just scares me sometimes, stops me right in my tracks. I have a feeling that that image of the swarming colony of ants is going to stick with me for a bit.

I don’t dance like I used to. Partly because I’m in a relationship with a guy who doesn’t like to dance much, and partly because I’m a little older now and I vastly prefer going to bed early.

But there remains something so magical about a dance floor in a gay club, full of loud beats that shake the floor (and my own bones), where men (mostly gay) and women (mostly straight) shake their asses and throw their hands in the air while they scream out the lyrics to their favorite songs. It is a beautiful space to celebrate life and leave the world behind.

I don’t fit with the standard gay club culture. I don’t use drugs, and I don’t like getting drunk. I enjoy one drink, perhaps two, enough to loosen the wires in my brain and let it all go, perhaps just dipping my toes in the world where my head spins slightly and I get a dopey grin on my face. But I stop there. I don’t like getting drunk, or sloppy. It results in nausea and headaches, and I’d much rather live with energy the next day instead of a hangover in bed. On top of that, I’m the guy that gets to the club before it’s really busy, and I prefer to leave when I get tired, generally around midnight, which is when a lot of the crowd starts to arrive. I’d much rather wake at 7 the next morning, and I’m certainly not equipped to sleep until noon.

Every gay club has its own character and flair. Some seem to cater to youthful crowds, where long lines congregate at the bars for cheap or overpriced drinks, people pack into the patio or outdoor areas to talk loudly or smoke, and others cram into the dance floor in hard packs to strut and perform, or to shuffle from foot to foot while they sip on their drinks. Some clubs are huge, with upstairs levels or basements, cages or dance poles, tiered stairs to dance on, and multiple bars, indoor and out. Others are simple, a section of floor around a bar, with stools and standing room early. Some are seedy, with old porn photos on the wall, trophies for the latest Mr. Leather contest winner in glass cases, and long dark hallways where, in earlier years, gay men might venture for anonymous sex.

I’m currently staying in Phoenix, Arizona, for a few days, and whenever I travel to a new place, I’m always curious about the local gay culture. (A few months ago in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, I discovered two gay bars, one that was very trendy and was, literally, empty of people on a late Friday night, and another that had multiple levels and was filled with people who looked like they’d stepped out of 1995). Within a two mile radius of the place I’m staying in Phoenix, I discovered no less than seven gay clubs, knowing I’d likely see none of them, or maybe just one. Some had normal names, like Charlie’s and Stacy’s, and others more trendy names, like Kobalt, but there were a few holdovers from the days when gay clubs had, well, gay names, like Cruising’ 7th, and the Rock. Each club tends to have its own feel and vibe, and its own crowd that it caters to. (Note that in some cities, gay people just frequent regular bars, there being no real separation in the communities, everyone equally integrated).

So on Thursday night, I headed over to Kobalt to watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race, one of my favorite pass times in a crowd of gay men who tend to scream, applaud, and laugh raucously at the screen. There were multiple tables full of congenial, and mostly white, men in their 20s and 30s, and we had drinks and laughed together. It was wonderful.

Friday night, I walked past Cruisin’ 7th, and popped in out of curiosity. I found a small seedy space with about 12 men propped on bar stools (keep in mind it was 6 pm). One of them aggressively flirted, clearly very inebriated, offering to buy me ‘just a shot or two’ as I casually turned him down.

“I’m just here celebrating because I’m finally out of a terrible relationship. I supported his fucking ass for too long and he fucking left me anyway. And he thought was was so special, he made me grieve for two months before I got on with my life. And he couldn’t even finish medical school! He thinks he’s so smart, but he didn’t even know what an ampersand was! Come on, just one drink!”

Later that same night, I sat through a mediocre play on the campus of Arizona State University, about three employees who swept up popcorn in a movie theater. In it, one of the characters, a young black man, struggled with his homosexuality, which had resulted in depression and a suicide attempt in his past, and another young woman admitted to being bisexual, causing her to fight off rumors that she was lesbian. And somehow, more than anything else, the play, and the very brief experiences with the gay community in Phoenix, left me with thoughts of how the world is changing for queer kids, and how grateful I am to witness that firsthand and peripherally all at once.


the Prodigal Son

How well I remember the parable of the Prodigal Son, told often during my upbringing and adulthood in Mormonism.

In the New Testament, Jesus used parables to teach his followers, simple stories that can be interpreted many ways to teach moralistic and life lessons. (Aesop’s fables did the same thing, just with a bit more flair).

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, a wealthy man gives half os his wealth to each of his sons. One son squanders it all and ends up destitute, then he comes back home and is openly greeted, given riches and a huge feast. The other son, the one who was faithful and never left, is jealous, and his dad basically tells him to get over it and rejoice that his brother returned at all.

End of story.


Except the part that should have continued, the one where the brother, the one who squandered all of his riches in the first place, stayed for a little while and then left again, taking more wealth with him. Because just over there in the city, there were girls to impress, spirits to consume, and frivolous things to buy. Then there is the part where the faithful son gets to tell the dad, “Hey, I told you so!”

This might be a slightly cynical take on an old tale, but it is one that years of life experience has taught me. My years of experience as a therapist have shown me that there is a very fine line between supporting someone and enabling them. Who wants to make a change when they can continue to take advantage of people around them and get a free ride?

During my faithful Mormon years, I was the good kid who stayed home and followed all of the rules. I was respectful, consistent, and reliable. I got amazing grades, had an after-school job, and served my two-year missionary service. When I got home, I attended college for six consecutive years and I paid my own way through, always holding a full-time job. I paid for my rent, my books, my cell phone, and my car insurance, and I went without health insurance. I had not an ounce of help.

I have only one brother, and he took a very different life path. He is eight years older than me. He started drinking in high school, grew his hair out, and bragged about the girls he was dominating. He bullied his younger siblings, wiping boogers on my books and blaring his trombone in my ear. For the ten years after high school, he could barely hold a job and he spent most of it high on drugs. He married, fathered a child, got into several domestic disputes with his wife, chain-smoked, did drugs, and divorced. Throughout this, my family developed the habit of rushing to his rescue, paying his bills when he didn’t show up to work, giving him places to stay, and giving him spending money, which he would then turn around and spend on drugs. He moved to a new city, married and divorced again, the moved to another new city, married a third time, fathered two more children, and divorced yet again. Throughout all of this, he has failed to hold down jobs, has continued to use drugs consistently, does not pay child support, and has had a number of concerning charges leveled against him, even in recent years, including allegations of animal abuse.

Recently, my brother was arrested, and rather publicly. He loaded a stack of 40-foot long pipes from a farmer’s field through the back windows of his small car, so that they extended a dozen or so feet out each side of his car, and then he drove down the highway, reportedly in an attempt to get money for them from a recycling facility. While driving with the oversized pipes, he struck several vehicles with them, and was soon arrested by the police, who took an embarrassing mugshot of him at the police station. The story was shared hundreds of times and received several hundred comments on social media.

My brother, who is now in his late 40s, began trending on social media as one of the nation’s dumbest criminals. Hundreds of comments showed up in the media articles, harsh statements about the impact of drugs, how he should be removed from the gene pool, and how he should never be allowed to see the light of day again.

More painful, though, were the comments by people who knew him. “That’s the guy that comes in to my gas station. He says rude things to me and he’s so creepy. I don’t feel safe when he is there” and “That’s the guy who struck my mom’s car with those pipes!” and “He will never realize how much stealing those pipes hurt my parents. It will cost them hundreds of dollars to replace and they will never see a penny of that money from him.”

I posted a link to the news article about the arrest, and multiple family members reached out to me abruptly, demanding and pleading that I take it down so other people didn’t find out about it. I was furious, but sure enough I took it down. Over the following days, I watched history repeat itself. My brother was bailed out, his car was taken out of impound, and his rent was paid. And last I heard? Just a few days after his arrest, he took a road trip south to visit friends and family. I understand he finds the whole thing rather funny.

This blog comes from a deeply personal and painful space, one that I don’t often give voice to publicly. I’m certainly not seeking to shame anyone, I simply want to give voice to my feelings and experiences. My little sister and I, who are both gay, often feel like the ‘black sheep of the family’, estranged, overlooked, and forgotten. On top of that, I’ve never asked for support, recognition, or financial assistance, even during times of my life when I’ve struggled, from my family or anyone else. I have family members visit the city where I live and stay for days without telling me that they are here. I hear from my father once or twice per year, and I would honestly be surprised if he could tell me the names of my own children, no less their ages. I just published a book and only two members of my family have read it, with the others bizarrely silent about it.

This past ten days, I have felt like the faithful son, watching father slay the fatted calf and offer rings and coats to the brother who is prodigal. (Prodigal, by the way, is defined as wanton, reckless, and wasteful.) I’m standing in the corner as he eats the meat, as everyone celebrates his return and ignores his past, and I’m furious. I’m furious and I’m hurt.

As with all things, I choose what to share and with whom. I choose what to give voice. After a few decades of living closeted, I refuse to remain silent any longer, to quiet the parts of myself that are in pain. Even in this blog, while I give voice to the pain, I have refrained from sharing things about my brother and family that come from very shameful, deep places of pain. I choose to do that for me and for them. But I do refuse silence.

But, like all parables, I get to choose what I want to learn from the Prodigal Son, and I choose not trust those who hurt others. I choose to not remain silent in the corner while others sacrifice and celebrate and, yes, enable. I choose to plan my future separate from those things that bring me pain. I choose self-preservation. And I choose to be embarrassed by the actions of a brother who has shown time again that he will hurt others to get what he wants. And I choose a life away from family members who would cause me harm.

Fragile Mormon Ego

In a college class I taught a few years ago, right in the heart of Salt Lake City, what many locals might call the “Mormon Bubble”, during which we discussed the way Utah is viewed by the rest of the world. (In fact, I think I even blogged about this. It can be hard to remember). We talked about all of the times that Utah has hit the international media circuits over the past few years.

The actively LDS students in the room had hoped that stories about Utah would be related to charity work, to missionary work, and to Christian examples. But universally every story that we found was, well, negative. Maybe even a little bit embarrassing.

We found stories on CNN, Fox News, and other sites that were related to how Mormons make policies against gay people and fight gay marriage, about how gay teens are committing suicide, and about young women coming forward at BYU and in churches who were told to keep their sexual assaults quiet by church leaders (or worse, they were blamed for their own assaults). There were stories about tithing dollars being used to build a mall, about how BYU was being considered for a list of institutions that were known to hate gay people, and how Utah was leading the nation in gender discrimination in the workplace statistics. We made lists of these headlines, and they were hard to face up to.

One student in the classroom, a lovely LDS girl who worked hard to love everyone, raised her hand and wondered aloud why people saw the church she and her family loved so much with so much hatred and vitriol, why they laughed at things that were sacred to her. We had a discussion about reputation, and about how things can look different from the inside than from the outside. She was receptive to feedback, and ultimately it was a strong and openminded lesson for all involved. (She is my favorite kind of Mormon. She loves her church, and she is open to the ideas of others around her).

Well, yesterday, Utah hit the national headlines again, this time for a bizarre poster that was printed up on BYU campus. A small organization that is part of the school’s math department, called Women in Math, created an event in which four of the school’s beloved math professors would speak to those in attendance. The young woman who created the poster placed four photos of the teachers across the top, then the name of the organization underneath them. So it resulted in… four white guys over a heading that read ‘Women in Math’. And then, in the most Mormon way possible, the poster finished with “There will be treats. All levels of math welcome.”


I copied this to my own Facebook wall with a roll of my eyes, and the tagline “Mormons gotta Morm. Oh BYU, what have you done now?”

Swiftly, like all things on Facebook, some of the comments became politicized. Some decried that all Mormons are misogynistic. (I argued that while the organization and belief system is misogynistic, that doesn’t mean the individual members are). Others, actively Mormon, felt their religion was being attacked and began writing out lists of facts in defense of their beliefs. This lead to some back and forths, some private messages, and, well, a few Facebook unfriendings before it was all finished.

These days, it takes a lot to get me fired up. I use a life motto, a Jewel song lyric that I refer back to often: “No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.” As such, I am careful with who I allow into my life, who I choose to engage with. I keep a far distance from all things Mormon in my day-to-day life, but it still hits me regularly because of my family, my community, my friends, and my clients. It’s hard to stay far from. And when you’ve lost a few friends to suicide, it is very difficult not to get very passionate about.

In a few of those private chats, one friend abjectly refused to admit that the Mormon religion is homophobic, racist, and misogynistic, and they felt that my stating such was a direct attack on their beliefs and family. “How would you feel if I said terrible things like this about gays?” they said, to which I responded, “Many gays are absolutely misogynistic, racist, and even homophobic, but not inherently. And there is a huge difference between a sexual orientation, which is not chosen, and a religious belief system, which is chosen.” Despite this, they refused to bend.

Now here is the thing, I remember how fragile my ego as a Mormon used to be. The slightest criticism of the prophets, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, or the Church led me to defensively dig in my heels and refuse that there could be any flaws. But even when I dug in, I knew I had doubts about polygamy, about the way the church treats women, blacks, and gays, and about its weird mystical/esoteric history. (God lives on another planet, remember. It’s all very Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.)

But even the most rational person can admit that the Mormon church (as well as the wider society around it) is abjectly homophobic, racist, and misogynistic. It denied blacks the Priesthood and taught that they were cursed with blackness by God! It currently calls gay marriage apostate and doesn’t allow children of gay couples to be baptized! Women bow their heads in temple ceremonies and promise to subject themselves to their husbands… with their faces veiled!

If you are Mormon, I understand you. I empathize with you. And I probably like you. But if your ego is so fragile that you can’t admit basic facts, well, I have very little room for you in my life ultimately.

But back to that Women in Math poster, come on, that is hilarious. And if you can’t laugh with me, well there is probably not much room for you either.

In Monster Life

27858291_10160117274245061_4633234525172819479_n“Dad!” A, my 6-year old son, bounded into the room with excitement. “I forgot to tell you! At school today, I was designing a brand new game to play! It’s going to be epic!”

I turned toward him with genuine excitement. I loved when he got this excited. “Oh yeah? Let me see it!”

He put his hands on his hips and looked up at me with a half-roll of his eyes. “You can’t see it yet. It’s still up here in my head. I didn’t actually design it yet.”

“Oh, pardon me, then tell me about it.”

A began talking animatedly. “Okay, so you know how people love fighting games, like Injustice or like that Pokemon fighting game, or, like Mortal Kombat. This is one of those games except it is full of monsters. I’m going to call it In Monster Life!”

He paused dramatically, and I gave a ‘Whoa’ sound.

For the next several minutes, A followed me around the kitchen, telling me about the different monsters he would design, and how they would all have different skills and special moves. I could tell he was making some of it up as he went, but his rich stories had always been rich with details, and he never forgot them once he spoke them out loud. I had always called him my little story-teller. He was brilliant at coming up with original ideas, and he put so much drama into his stories, using voices and inflections. He’d been doing it since he was two, and I constantly wondered how this talent would blossom when he grew up. I’d gotten my story-telling skills from my mother, and it seemed A had inherited them from me, but he certainly had his own spin.

“And there is also Birdman! I think he is my favorite one. He’s, like, a human guy who had some science stuff happen and now he is part bird! He has like human feet and huge wings so he can fly cause they are connected to his arms, and he has some feathers and skin both, and he can grow beaks and shoot them at the bad guys! Well, no one is the bad guy totally but he can shoot them at the guy he is fighting. He can shoot so many beaks!”

After a while, I got out a pen and paper and started making a list of the different monsters he was describing, making effort to spell them as he said them, as in the case of the ‘Abomiddle Snowman’, who “has so many muscles and fights best in cold places!”

A told me that he wanted 12 monsters total, and as we got farther down the list, I could tell he was making up creatures on the spot.

“I guess there should be maybe one girl monster, so there can be Hyper-Girl. She’s really funny looking and monstery, like part-monster, and she has crazy teeth, but she can shoot off some energy stuff from her eyes that makes people around her crazy because she is so hyper!”

As we finished the list, A grabbed a huge stack of paper and sat down at the table to begin designing the monsters. I wrote the names on top of each page, from Hoomanji to Hydro-Fire, and spent the next few hours carefully designing each one, using intricate detail in his 6-year old style. There was a “robot cube” monster, who looked like a cube but could transform into different shapes. There was “like a lobster monster except he is like a cyborg and can shoot stuff and stuff”. He designed a “demon that is also a snake” and a “ghost that can turn into not-a-ghost and fill the air with steam and that is the only time he can be attacked”.

When A wanted one of his characters, a “robot-barbarian with a big sword and a little sword” to be named “He-Man”, I told him that was already trade-marked. After he learned what a trademark was, he decided to change the name. “We can just call him ‘He-Guy’ then.”

A then came up with six different battlegrounds for the monsters to fight in, including a “lava jungle” and a “water desert,”, and he giggled as he wanted one silly battle-ground, calling the last one “Clifford’s playground”, as he looked at his toy version of the big, red dog himself.

Seeing his creations down on paper only energized A more. I found him baffling at time. He could sometimes struggle to get through a single short book, and he could barely focus long enough to put his own shoes on, sometimes taking as long as 6 or 7 minutes, but he could focus on a task like this for over 2 hours and not run out of energy. He asked me to assign him some mock battles, and I wrote a few out on paper, choosing two to fight and a battleground for them to fight in. He then assigned a few drawing assignments for me, and I worked extra hard to match the details of his creations in my art, to his utter joy. Soon, we pulled my 9-year old, J, and my boyfriend in on it, and we had a stack full of drawings of the different characters. Later, I made sure to spend one-on-one time with J, playing with toys and giving him plenty of attention. It’s always necessary to balance the dad scales so both boys feel loved.

Before bed that night, A gave me a huge hug. “Thanks for helping me with In Monster Life, daddy. Are you proud of me?”28168173_10160117274285061_1163685287753908127_n

“Buddy, I’m so proud of you. You have such a great brain. It’s always telling stories.”

“Yeah, just like yours.”