Mormon coffee talk

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“I mean, seriously, what a douchebag move, am I right? Why else do people go to weddings if not to get drunk? I mean, unless you are getting married yourself or you are like the mother or father of the bride, then you just go there to get drunk or to get laid or, I don’t know, to meet people and get drunk with them. It’s free alcohol. Everyone expects it. You drink and you flirt. And this guy, he refuses not only to drink with me, but then he doesn’t even want to talk to me because I’m a little bit tipsy. Who is he to judge me?”

This woman must be the most unhappy person I have ever heard speak, I thought as I tried to tune her out. She has been going on like this ever since I sat down. She won’t stop! She’s being so loud!

And then there is that stupid Mormon girl, the one bridesmaid who won’t wear the dress that the bride actually chose because she feels it is too immodest. The dresses were cute! They were pink and like sleeveless but this bitch feels like exposing her shoulders will give the boys around her unclean thoughts or whatever and she isn’t even that cute. So she has to go and ruin the wedding because she wants to wear like a sweater over her shoulders and she is the only one in the line who looks different than the rest, and she is like taking attention away from the bride which is basically the worst sin you can commit on someone’s wedding day, don’t you think?”

Stop talking stop talking stop talking. I sipped my coffee, trying to focus on the stack of paperwork I had brought to the coffeeshop with me. There was nowhere else to sit, and this woman was talking so loud. I thought about turning to her and asking her to be quiet. The friend she was with wasn’t even talking back, just making mm-hmm and oh-no and oh-yeah statements. Just breathe. You’re cool. Just focus on your work. I managed to turn her out for a few minutes before she got louder.

“So then I get back to work on Monday after and I’m still hungover and I’m still pissed, but then, bam, guess what, my manager puts me in charge of that work project we have been working on. Like I’m finally in charge of the stuff that no one wants to be in charge over. Probably because I’m the only one who gives a shit. And no on there in the whole company even cares about the little rules anyway, and how do you think they are going to feel when I start making them follow the rules. Like everyone takes drinks to their desks and they aren’t supposed to. How do you think they are going to feel when I start walking by their desks and taking their drinks away, one by one, and just tossing them right in the garbage. I mean, they are going to be livid. I can just see the one guy next to me like ‘hey, I just spent four dollars on that energy drink, don’t throw it away’ and I’ll be like ‘well, guess who’s in charge now, bitch!'”

Okay, I have to admit this is kind of entertaining, I thought. It is unlike me to get so annoyed with someone so easily, she was just so loud. I kind of like eavesdropping on people sometimes. Instead of working on my notes, I instead got out my computer and started writing down what she was complaining about. This woman is a character.

“I just, this isn’t where I thought I would be in my life right now, right? I thought I would meet some guy. Instead it is just me and my dumb dog. I say dumb but I love him, you know that. In fact, he is probably the love of my life. I am done with men, at least for a minute. Did I tell you about that last guy I tried dating, the one from the singles’ ward? I mean, I’m not active or anything but I still want a good Mormon guy. I should have known something was completely wrong with him based on the fact that he’s 30 and not married. I know I’m almost 30, but it’s different for girls. Guys can have whoever they want. I just haven’t had the right person come along yet. So anyway one day he lectures me because he sees wine in my fridge and we haven’t even kissed or anything and it’s like our third date and he wants me to be a good Mormon girl and I’m feeling embarrassed and tell him it’s not mine that I just keep it there for friends who come over and I’m lying of course and he goes ‘yeah, but you should avoid the very appearance of evil’. I’m all embarrassed but then a few days later I find out that he has a porn addiction problem. He tells me that he doesn’t want to get too serious with me before he tells me the truth. And I’m like ‘what a hypocrite’ and I ended things right there. ‘The very appearance of evil’ indeed. I mean, I deserve someone amazing, not just some guy. You deserve someone amazing too. I mean, everyone does, even gay Corey.”

Gay Corey? Who is gay Corey? The two women laugh hysterically for a moment, some inside joke between then, and then I hear a loud slurp as the woman finishes her iced latte, sucking the last bits of liquid from between chunks of ice. She stands up and walks by me, giving me a slight sneer-slash-smile before dumping her drink in the garbage. From behind me I hear her summon her friend.

“Come on, let’s go.”

Her friend says ‘oh, okay’ and quickly gathers her things before rushing out. My fingers are moving on the keyboard, and all I can think is, wait, what just happened? 

 

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the unintentional hypocrite

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before i went on my first date with a man, i did marriage counseling for dozens and dozens of couples

before i knew what i wanted to do with my life, i successfully completed six years of college with a 3.8 grade point average

before i considered myself authentic, i wrote hundreds of pages of journal entries and poems exploring my soul

before i knew how to tell my story, i published a book

before i had my first real kiss, i had a successful marriage to a woman, and everyone thought we were the perfect couple

before i knew what being mentally healthy was, i was the director of a community mental health center

before i understood my own spirituality, i completed a two year dedicated missionary service and baptized several into the faith i was born into

before i understood how to take care of myself, i was taking care of two sons who required my everything

before i lived well, i merely lived

 

 

Among the Unhealthy

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There’s something that happens when you become emotionally well. Suddenly, the emotionally unwell become toxic.

As a therapist, when I work with clients who are unwell (in unhealthy relationships, anxious, depressed, at difficult jobs, etc), my first goal is to help them realize that they have the ability to be well, and then to help them draw upon their personal strengths to reinforce healthy living, no matter what is happening around them. Certain things are out of their power and certain things are directly in their power. I help them learn the areas of their life where they are able to take control and impact positive change for themselves.

I often compare emotional health to physical health–when we don’t pay attention to our physical habits, we can slowly and consistently become unhealthy. We put on three pounds, then five, then ten. At some point, we have to make changes, and it is a lot easier to lose five pounds then it is to lose forty, and easier to lose forty than it is to lose one hundred. The greater the weight, the longer and more consistent the change in response must be. Healthy habits must return, through nutrition and exercise, and the health will slowly and consistently return.

First clients have to learn what is in their control and what isn’t. Massive credit card debt can’t immediately be eliminated, but budgeting and earning and planning can easily happen. An unfaithful husband may not stop cheating, but the spouse can choose how to handle the emotions, the relationship, the communication, and the long-term plans of the marriage. Recovery from chemotherapy can’t be rushed or altered, but healthy habits and relationships and mental states can be fostered to help with the healing.

We all know what it feels like to be depressed, to feel like life is out of control, to feel like the world is crashing in. Humans have an amazing capacity to heal and change and survive. But at some point we have to choose what to do with it. We can wallow and give in and give up, or we can rise above and tackle and heal. People who are unwell often make the mistake of thinking they are alone, that their pain is more excessive than the pain of others, and that no one can understand them.

Which brings us to the topic of this blog, the healthy person who has taken time to heal and move forward who then dwells among the unhealthy, or those who decide not to make changes and work on themselves. We all have friends who have financial difficulties or health problems or work problems or relationship problems or faith problems, and they expend a lot of energy complaining about those problems, frustrated that their lives aren’t easy. They want an easy fix, a lottery win or a romantic interest with a lot of money or a weight loss pill, that will suddenly come along and make life simple, yet they refuse consistently to budget or to communicate with their spouse or to reach out for therapy or to exercise and eat right. The idea of getting healthy becomes threatening, and so they keep making unhealthy choices and complaining about their lives.

When describing healthy relationships to clients, I hold up two fingers. “A healthy relationship is when two individuals who are healthy and happy in their own skin decide to be together.” I then point those fingers inward toward each other, demonstrating balance and compromise. “If one of the individuals is happy and healthy and the other is not, there is an imbalance in the relationship, one that becomes unsustainable. It is customary for someone to be stressed or sick or sad or to have family problems, that is different than someone who falls into unhealthy patterns and consistently refuses to work on getting out of them, and then that person begins to blame the stable person for their inability to bear the extra weight of the relationship.” This model can apply to any close relationship, from best friends to spouses to parent/child to boss/coworker.

At the end of the day, the model is pretty simple: every person out there is responsible for their own happiness. And it is easy for the healthy person to want to help the unhealthy person, but only so long as the unhealthy person is also helping themselves; we can never bear the burden of another person long-term.

Another simple recognition: I am a better father, boyfriend, son, friend, worker, therapist, etc when I am happy and comfortable in my own skin. It takes a lot of work, but I’m at the stage in life where it becomes easier to maintain–it’s easier to lose one pound than it is twenty. But I had to do a lot of work to get here.

Sam is never responsible for his boss’s cruelty and harsh expectations; Sam is responsible for staying at the job and being frustrated by it daily.

Alice is never responsible for her husband’s name-calling and violent words; Alice is responsible for choosing to stay with him, for being depressed every day and not speaking up for herself.

Betty is never responsible for the diabetes she was born with; Betty is responsible for her food choices and her refusal to stop eating unhealthy sugary things because she feels she deserves them, even when they constantly make her sick.

Doug is never responsible for his church making policies that state homosexuality is a sin; Doug is responsible for choosing to attend the church each week and feeling broken inside and guilty about who he is.

Jack is never responsible for his wife’s health struggles and her mood swings; Jack is responsible for never talking to her about his feelings, never asking for help from professionals, and just remaining silent and unhappy in the marriage day after day.

A blog like this can be dangerous to write. Depression is real. Trauma is real. Pain is real. And there are many things in life out of our control. But we, each of us, have the ability to become healthy, through hard work and consistent effort. And once we have done it, once we have become healthy, we can certainly understand how it felt to be unhealthy. We can empathize and honor.

But there is nothing quite so exhausting as investing long-term in the person who won’t help themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss you, Miss you

Hey Kurt,

It’s coming up on a year now and it still regularly strikes me how unfair it is that you are gone. I take comfort in the fact that you left peacefully and quickly and while you were at your happiest, but that only works some of the time. Other times, its strikes me as completely unfair and unjust and horrible. For those of us that love you, the world just won’t quite be the same again (especially your family and fiancée).

I see you places, just remember you being in those places. Grabbing coffee at the corner shop where I’d grab my black hot coffee and you’d get something iced and delicious and we would talk about business plans and dating lives and the antics of our children. Situated next to each other on the elliptical machines at the local gym, each of us with a book placed on the machine in front of us but neither of us really reading as we shared out-of-breath anecdotes and rolled our eyes with disgust at whatever hot guy would walk by posing for himself in the mirror. At the local dance club where you would sometimes have one too many and get all giggly as you danced and made out with your fiancée, so long as the song was right, a Britney or a Rihanna, or else you would stop dancing in protest at the bad song playing and remove yourself from the floor. I see you all over this city, and I miss your backyard barbecues, your stories about growing flowers and hikes through the mountains, and your raucous laughter at irreverent stories. I can still hear the way you would mutter ‘oh Lord’ after a juicy bit of gossip.

And it’s totally selfish (“You’re allowed to be selfish. You should be selfish”, you would say in response to that), but I want you around to celebrate accomplishments with. I want to call you up and tell you how well my business is doing and how I’m finally out of debt–you had such a beautiful way of seeing me as full of potential and strength and you spent so many hours in conversation inspiring to push myself harder and to not mope or despair. I want to tell you about my recent travel and hear you ask for details while you make fun of me for doing what I did instead of what you thought I should do. I want to tell you about the writing projects I’m working on, things that have been in development for years that are finally seeing the light of day, and hear you shout in triumph because you believed in me and knew I could do it.

I miss the way you didn’t pull any punches, and how you could see right through me with no pretense or nonsense. I miss the way you inspired me to only see the best version of myself, and I miss how you would lose patience with me a bit when I fell back on old patterns. I miss your computer brain and how I would have to remind you to think with your heart sometimes as see the world in more than black-and-white and how I would have to convince you that sometimes kindness and listening and understanding were the best approaches, and I miss how you would call me up afterward and say ‘Okay, you were right’ and I would say ‘Of course I was right’ and you’d say ‘Don’t get cocky, bastard’ and we’d have a good laugh and make plans to hang out again soon.

I miss how I mattered to you every day, no matter where I was or what I was going through. I miss how we could go silent for a few days and then pick right back up where we left off.

I vividly remember that Sunday afternoon, nearly a year ago, when I got off work and headed home and started cooking lunch when I got a random text message from a friend informing me that you had died in a car accident minutes before. I remember rushing to the hospital in a daze, unable to cry, and joining with your friends in the hallway and going into all-business mode as we found out what happened. And I remember how it didn’t dawn on me that it was all real until I pulled out my phone and sent you a text message habitually and then I realized that you couldn’t answer and weren’t coming back. I remember sinking to the floor behind a garbage can in a sterile hallway and letting the tears come for the first time. I remember standing in the hospital room of your fiancée as he struggled through injuries and a concussion to realize what had happened, a horrible blend of clarity and confusion, numbness and tears.

Even as I type this today, though, Kurt, I’ve got a dumb smile on my face because of what you taught me and how you changed me. I hate that you are gone, and I love the difference you made in my life. Someday I hope to publish something and put the words ‘To Kurt’ in the front of the book, and everyone who reads it will have no idea who you are but I’ll know. And I think somewhere, you’ll know too.

I remember us laughing one day about how kids in grade school can’t say love, instead they’ll say like once for casual interest and like twice for genuine affection. “I like you” and “I like you-like you” meant very different things, and we laughed about the psychology of what that means for adults who play the same kinds of games.

Well, sir, I miss a lot of people. But I miss you-miss you.

Thanks for everything, and know you are on my mind, regularly, and not just mine. You are missed-missed by a lot of people.

with much love,

Chad

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What We Survived

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“What is the thing you are lucky to have survived? I want you to turn to the members of your small group and share with them, and later you’ll be writing a paper on the same topic.”

I felt nervous as I turned to the other three members of my group, already feeling like I didn’t fit in. I was 23 years old and, as far as I knew, the only Mormon kid in my college cohort of social work undergraduates. I was here at Boise State University in a room full of mostly white students, but there were only a handful of men. After high school, I had spent two years on a Mormon mission, and then another two years at a Mormon university. Now I was here among students who called themselves feminists and who sometimes drank alcohol and I didn’t know at all where to fit in. I felt constantly judged for being religious, and many of them felt constantly judged by me because I was religious, and both of those things were probably true. On top of it all, I was hiding the fact that I was gay, way deep down inside, not daring to tell anyone about my terrible shame.

I boldly agreed to go first, keeping eye contact with my group, hoping to find acceptance there.

“I, uh, went through some pretty tough things as a kid and teenager,” I said, sounding confident even though I wasn’t. I chose not to speak about growing up gay, or about my dad leaving, or about the sexual abuse, and instead focused on more recent events. “Um, when I was 16, I remember coming home one day and finding my 6-lb puppy, just this little black scruffy thing named Sammy, literally broken and lying on the floor in the frozen garage. During the day, my stepfather Kent said she had been causing trouble so he tried to toss her outside in the slow and then he slammed the sliding glass door closed on her on accident. He basically just put her down in the garage to freeze to death. I picked her up and could feel her ribs were broken and I cuddled her underneath the blankets in my bed. Kent came down angry and told me to put her back in the garage and I refused and for some reason he left us alone. He was violent and angry a lot during those years, but somehow that was the worst thing he had done.”

The other students in the group had pained looks on their faces, and they shared in this sadness with me for a moment, then took their turns in sharing their stories. One of the students shared a history of being sexually assaulted and then struggling with eating disorders and suicide attempts afterwards. Another student talked about being in the room when her own mother was murdered. The third talked about a horrific car accident that killed three other people and put her in the hospital, one she nearly didn’t survive.

A moment later, we opened the discussion up to the wider classroom and a handful of people shared their stories. One man had lost friends in combat only to be sent home when he was caught in an explosion, one woman had lost her entire home and everything she owned in a house fire, one had been married to a police officer killed in the line of duty.

I remember sitting there with a sense of emptiness and awe as I looked around this room of brave and incredible people. The only thing we had in common was being here in school at the same time, students in a university program. The professor talked about how humans are powerful and resilient and incredible, how we survive some of the worst things in the world and come out stronger on the other side, although we are forever changed. He talked about how, as social workers, we would be sitting with people in their most vulnerable and tragic spaces and helping them find their strength and their truth. And he talked about how even though we survive painful things, we likely have other painful things to survive in the future.

In many ways, this college experience launched my career in trauma work. Over the following years, I have sat with people in their greatest moments of pain, some of it unfathomable. I’ve sat with the woman who had a gun pointed into her open mouth during a bank robbery, the woman who watched her husband commit suicide with a shotgun right in front of her, the man who found his husband hanging over the breakfast table, the mother who woke up from a coma only to learn her entire family had been killed by a drunk driver, the man who lost his entire family during his 25 years in prison, the man who learned of his sister’s death at the hands of a serial killer, the woman whose husband came out of the closet after 40 years of marriage, the athlete who lost his job and scholarship because of one night of careless drinking, and the mother whose son took his own life because he felt rejected by a church for being gay.

If I were to sit in a group now and talk about what I survived, my answer would be much more recent. I would tell about being a home owner with a child, a pregnant spouse, a business, and major religious responsibilities when I came out of the closet and had to start my life over, rebuilding every relationship and learning how to live.

After I’ve worked in trauma several days in a row, I look at the world differently. I see people as survivors, and there is a weight to my eyes. A few days off with sunshine and fresh air, hugs from my children, laughter with friends, savory food, sweat, sleep, sex, wine, inspiration from history, and chocolate in some form or combination is needed to return the optimism.

It is at times a dark and difficult world. And it is a bright and beautiful one.

And we survive both.

 

The Silver Sea

Tonight
The sea turned silver
The boiling sun
Took refuge behind a mass of opaque clouds
As yellow light spilled from its edges
In life-giving tendrils

With only a slight shift in vantage
I stood in a scattered crowd of humans
And saw the earth curve
A long arc across the horizon

Unconquerable ocean rolled forth endlessly
Walls of it smashing
Into the ground beneath me
Slowly and incessantly wearing it down

Rushing water drowned all sound
The guitars, the children,
The motors and tinny radios,
The fragile thumping hearts

And the humans stood as one
Facing west
Looking toward the circular world
As pin-prick stars
And spreading shadows
And salt-soaked wind
And whispering water
Held their weight.

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Monty

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Above all else it was those eyes, those steel blue grey eyes that bore down on you even in black and white.

Montgomery Clift had an obsessive way of approaching his movie roles. He liked long silences, pregnant pauses, subtle facial reactions, and characters that were relatable and perhaps a bit irredeemable. And it showed in his films, whether he was playing the cowboy son of John Wayne in Red River or the working class man in love with two women in A Place in the Sun or the lobotomizing psychiatrist in Suddenly, Last Summer or the self-sacrificing soldier in From Here to Eternity.

The entire country seemed to love him and wanted more movies and more, but Clift was picky and demanding, and, honestly, just as obsessive in his private life. He didn’t just drink, he drank, excessively and often. And he took pills by the handful. He spent months and years exploring the world, falling in and out of love with men and women both, picking just a few friends at a time that he would obsess over.

Internally, Monty was as complex as they come, with a complicated family history and an inner turmoil that he could never quite silence. He felt he should be with women, but he desired men, and he judged himself harshly, and he could never quite relax, not until he fell into absolute exhaustion. Monty had a twin sister (who would outlive him by nearly 50 years), an older brother (a serial monogamist with frequent marriages and divorces), a niece who committed murder, a father who lost everything more than once, and a mother who had a secret past as the secret daughter and heiress of wealthy slave owners and Civil War generals.

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And then came the car crash. Monty had been speeding down the hill from the home of his best friend, Elizabeth Taylor, the woman he described as his female self. He was hyped up on drugs and half asleep from alcohol, in between therapy sessions and in between movies and driving way too quickly. Elizabeth herself had climbed into the wreckage of the car and held Monty’s bloody head, clearing his broken teeth from his throat with a finger so that he could breathe, before the ambulance arrived. He lived, but would go on with permanent scarring and chronic pain for the rest of his life forever after. He looked different in his films after that, there was a weight there, and a lack of innocence. Monty had been changed.

He kept up the drug use after that, and the drinking, and he was a little less careful about the men that he dated though no less ashamed. But he kept acting. He played Sigmund Freud, he did stage productions, and he gave his, perhaps, most memorable performance as a mentally feeble concentration camp survivor in Judgment at Nuremberg. He was considered one of Hollywood’s finest, his nearest contemporary Marlon Brando, who is often remembered as the best there has ever been.

Monty died at age 45, decades too early, but he’d aged his body beyond its capacity to survive. He died simply, quietly, naked on his own bed, and the shockwaves of his passing hit the public hard. It was only 1966.

Monty was critical of the Hollywood that he was part of. He put up with the script reviews, the competition for attention and roles, the publicity appearances, the mandated interviews, and the moralistic weight of those in power. “I’m just trying to be an actor; not a movie star, an actor,” he said once, as he turned down scripts, refused deals from major agencies, and sometimes took years off between projects. Whatever might be said about him, whatever vices he may have had, it’s important to realize that he did it on his own terms, and he still made it big, still became a household name.

And those eyes…

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Ho Chi Minh City

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“It all for her, everything. She lucky girl.”

My Viatnamese Lyft driver, Tuan, beamed as he talked about his daughter, navigating the car through the mild hills of San Diego. I smiled back.

“How old is she?”

“Oh, she 12. Her name Lina.” He indicated a photo of her that he kept nearby of a beautiful young Viatnamese girl, black hair and bright smile. “Her mother and I, we work always just for her, just so she can focus on education, have a different life.”

I commented on how beautiful Lina was, and Tuan asked if I had children. I mentioned I had two sons, ages 8 and 5, and he laughed heartily.

“Oh, two boys! They so busy, I guess! Girls more focused, more emotional. You lucky.”

We both laughed.

When Tuan asked, I told him I was a therapist, and he gave a cooing sound for a moment, seemingly impressed. He went on to explain how he worked as a driver all day long, stopping only to eat and relieve himself, and how his wife worked impossible hours as a nail technician. “We both work hard, too hard, but it good for us, for our family. We take care of Lina.”

I looked surprised, raising my eyebrows slightly as we sat at the stop light. “With you both gone all day, who takes care of Lina?”

“Oh! I should have said,” he laughed again. “My mother and father, they live in home with us. Mother is 84, father is 91, but they in good health. They wake Lina, take to school, pick up and feed. We take care of them, they take care of Lina. Wife parents still back in Viet Nam, but we not visit, too far, 20 hours by plane. Lina want to go to Viet Nam all the time, but we cannot go. We cannot even travel California, too expensive, have to pay bills and raise family. Education what important.”

I found myself asking the obligatory American question, the same question any white person has of any person from another country, before I could stop myself. “Oh, how long have you been in the United States?”

Tuan grinned broadly again, the smile almost constantly on his thin face. “We be here almost 20 year. I met my wife back in Ho Chi Minh City, where we grow up. It hot there, too hot, California nice weather. I meet her on a date with another girl, she was dating my friend, but I like her. We get married and move to San Diego, bring my parents here. Have our daughter. We citizens now. Very happy family now, but we work too hard, I think.”

Tuan asked me where I was from, and I said that I’d grown up in the Midwest but that my current home was in Salt Lake City.

He laughed. “Oh, that place have lot of mountains and lot of Mormons. Big families, lots of kids!”

I found myself laughing back. “Yes, that describes Utah very well.”

We drove through several more lights as Tuan talked about the San Diego weather, the seasons, the tourists, and driving. I muttered a few questions from time to time, but had difficulty slowing my own thoughts. I found myself wanting to ask a hundred questions, but refused to ask any of them, thrilled at Tuan’s narration of his own story. I thought of recent immigration policies, of the vastness and beauty of the world, of the rhetoric and fear spreading through the Hispanic and African and Latino and Middle Eastern people I know in central Utah as they wondered what would happen to their families in today’s America.

We pulled up to my lodging, the little Airbnb I would be staying for the weekend, and Tuan gave me a hearty handshake. “You enjoy those boys of yours,” he smiled.

I grinned back. “Thank you, Tuan, it was a pleasure meeting you. Thank you for telling me about your family.”

“I am lucky man,” he said, “but must go back to work. You enjoy vacation in San Diego. Maybe someday I visit Salt Lake City. And maybe someday you visit Ho Chi Minh City, too.”

“I’d like that,” I said, and closed the door as he drove away. I gave a quick wave, one proud dad to another, and both Americans.

Leaving Provo

provoSometimes when I travel I find myself wanting to create an alternate origin story for myself, skew just a few details to make my story a little bit more even-keeled.

Today on the flight to San Diego, I sat on the back row of the plane. We flew out of Provo, Utah, departing from a tiny little airport surrounded by dry fields and, farther off, breath-taking mountains. My car in the long-term parking lot was just across a small road from a literal cow pasture.

I was placed in the middle seat, and the woman to my right snored gently as the baby across the aisle cooed and cried, alternatively. The girl to my left, I later learned her name was Kimber, dutifully scrolled words in her leather bound diary as I read my book, the autobiography of Greg Louganis. She was gorgeous, a shapely blonde with her hair in pigtails under a ball cap, and she wore only a modest amount of makeup, something rare for Utah girls. I glanced at her moving pen from time to time and caught glimpses of angsty words.

Why can’t the world understand that people are just people and I’m so tired of having my heart broken and I just wonder what Heavenly Father has in store for me.

About halfway through the short flight, Kimber cleared her throat a few times, gently trying to get my attention. I could tell she wanted to talk. When we made eye contact, she opened our conversation with a casual “So are you from Utah?” and within minutes she was telling me her entire life story. I have the odd ability to get strangers to open up to me, likely my social work background and my empathic nature; sometimes I love this about myself, and sometimes I don’t.

Kimber talked about being the youngest of four kids and growing up in southern California with her single mother after her father left when she was a child. She talked about playing softball in high school and dealing with getting teased for being a lesbian all the time, even though she wasn’t gay. Her eyes flashed to the cover of my Louganis book, and then she glanced back up, seemingly trying to tell me that if I was gay, she was okay with that. She said she joined the Mormon Church when she turned 18 and moved to Utah for college.

As Kimber peppered me with a dozen rapid-fire questions about myself, I found myself filling in the facts wrong, creating a slightly different timeline for myself with the basic facts of my current life staying the same but my past vastly changed. I told her I grew up in Missouri, went to college in Seattle, and moved to Utah to launch a business. I told her I was a single father of two sons, that I was a therapist, and that I taught college.

Kimber leaned forward in the small space, her eyes alive with wonder, as she told me she served a mission in Oklahoma and had been home for two years, when she began therapy herself, and it changed her life, she said. She held up her journal and said it had become her best friend and her best coping mechanism.

Her voice lowered as she began asking me questions. She had an insider, a therapist as a captive audience for the rest of the flight, and she was going to take advantage of it. Is porn addiction real? she asked, as she confided that her current boyfriend had problems. Is it true that Mormons have more depression and teen suicides? she asked, as she talked about a suicidal friend. Is it normal for girls to want to wait until they are 30 to get married? she asked, as she talked about wanting to explore the world before she took the plunge. Is it more important to be in a relationship 100 per cent, or to have a life outside of the relationship? she asked, as she told me about her desire to be a career woman and not a housewife.

At one point, Kimber held up a finger to stop me. She had to write this down, she said, and began furiously scribbling notes in her journal as the flight attendants announced our landing in San Diego. I showed Kimber pictures of my sons, when she asked, and she commented how they looked just like me.

As we stood to gather our bags, Kimber and I exchanged names, finally, belatedly, and wished each other well. She gave me an extra sincere look in my eyes as she firmly shook my hand. “It was an honor to meet you,” she said, and her intense gaze seemed to convey the subtext that this meeting was meant to be, orchestrated in the pre-existence by God himself perhaps. I smiled at her genuineness and sincerity.

I gave Kimber a bright smile as I walked away. “Kimber, you’re my favorite kind of Mormon,” I said, then turned to the waiting San Diego sunshine, ready for adventures ahead.

5 Hate Crimes

hatecrimes

I’ve spent a lot of time recently researching gay hate crimes, especially those based here in Utah. Across history, there have been far more than you think, and most of them are never reported as hate crimes. As I talk about this research with others, I find how little understanding there is regarding what a hate crime actually is.

A hate crime is defined quite simply as “a crime motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, typically one involving violence.” A crime. A crime can be a robbery, an assault, a sexual assault, any form of abuse, vandalism, battery, unjust denial of rights, unfair discrimination or harassment in the workplace or community, or murder.

When people do think of ‘gay hate crimes’, they tend to only think of “gay-bashing”, in which someone is beat or harmed for being gay, or, in extreme cases, murder. And they usually think of young gay men, not transgender women. They don’t think of rape or abuse or discrimination. And when you ask people to list victims of hate crime, generally only one name comes to mind: Matthew Shephard.

It’s important to understand hate crimes so that we can work to not only educate about them and prevent them, but to prosecute people accordingly. There is a substantial difference between a violent crime against a person, and a violent crime against a person who is targeted because of their minority status. We must protect our citizens, no matter who they love or what religion they practice or what gender identity they embrace.

Below are five brief examples of different kinds of hate crimes. And while you may think that cases like this are rare, chances are you personally know someone who has been the victim of more than one of these crimes, and chances are you personally know at least one person who has committed one of these crimes.

  1. Mike and Brad walked down the road hand in hand, chatting idly about their days, when the older man saw them. He crossed the street and began to taunt the gay couple softly with hateful words. He walked just a few feet behind them, muttering “faggots” and “sissies” and he told them quietly that they weren’t safe there, that they should go back where they came from, that he and his friends would teach them a lesson if they ever returned. He kept his voice low so no one else could here. The man followed them for two full blocks as they walked swiftly, hearts pounding and hands clutched tightly, hoping they were safe before he finally turned away.
  2. Jan was only out as bisexual to a few friends in college. She had a boyfriend now, but in high school she’d had a girlfriend, and she got different things from her relationships with women than she did with men. She’d had two drinks at the party when Adam started bragging to Jan that she wouldn’t like chicks if she had had a real man. She tried laughing it off, but he wouldn’t let it drop. And she didn’t notice when he dropped the GHB into her drink. Later, he got her alone and she lay unconscious while he raped her in her own bed. The next morning, when she woke up, he was still next to her.
  3. Tyler’s dad hit him for the first time when he was 6 years old. Tyler had been mimicking the moves of the dancers on television, and his dad angrily struck him, saying no son of his would grow up to be a fag. Throughout the rest of his childhood, Tyler learned to act tough, to pretend to be interested in sports, and to always talk about the girls he liked, because the moment his dad saw any sort of “weakness” or femininity, Tyler ended up hit. When Tyler was 12, Tyler’s mother told him to just wait until he was 18, then he could finally be himself out on his own, but that seemed like an eternity away, and his nose was bloody now from the latest blow, and he wondered if the world would be a better place without him in it.
  4. Jacqueline knew it was dangerous to walk home by herself, she’d heard the stories. But it was midnight and she had to work in the morning, and she didn’t want to  stay out with her friends until the club closed. Tonight she was in a gorgeous black dress with heels, and she had on a gorgeous blonde wig with red fingernails and lipstick; she felt like a million bucks. In the morning, she would just be Jack again and back at her desk job, where her coworkers had no idea she was really a woman inside. Jacqueline stepped into the crosswalk in front of her building when the car hit her. She never knew who it was inside it, but she hit the ground and moments later felt the car back over her again, and then again before it drove away. She heard the man yell “FAG!” as he drove away, and then she fell unconscious, head bleeding and bones broken. She lay there for several minutes before someone noticed and called the ambulance.
  5. Alison looked at the picture of her wife and newborn son on her desk at work and she smiled. She had never believed a life like this was possible, her legally married with a son at home, in a beautiful apartment in the city and with a job as a paralegal that she loved. That afternoon, she was called into the Human Resources office, where the director informed her that there had been… complaints… (there had been such weight to that word) about Alison flaunting her lifestyle in the office. It was bad for morale, she was told, and it was affecting productivity. The company regretted it, she was told, but they felt it was best for Alison to pack up her things and look for work in an environment that was more supportive of Alison’s lifestyle (that word again). Alison placed her family picture in the cardboard box of belongings and walked out, tears streaming down her face.

At this point in my life, I know hundreds of LGBT people. Very few of those I know have been the victims of violent or blatant hate crimes. But nearly everyone I know has experienced discrimination in some form for being gay–the dirty looks from people on the street, the hateful words from family members, or the refusal of service at a restaurant. It has never been easier for LGBT people to find love and acceptance. But hate crimes still happen, and our history is full of them. It’s important to talk about them, to understand where we come from, and to open dialogues about the dangers we face.

Because every human deserves to feel safe and to have basic protections in place.