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Interview with a polygamist

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I never really planned on being a third wife. It just kind of happened that way. After my first marriage fell apart, I just… I needed some comfort. I confided in some friends about how difficult my life was as a single parent. I grew closer and closer to them. And when they invited me to be a part of their family, it just made sense to me. 

Let’s start closer to the beginning. Did you grow up Mormon?

Yes, I grew up in a very Mormon family. But the Mormons don’t practice polygamy. I mean, they used to. 

So more a traditional Mormon family, then. In Utah?

Yeah, small town in central Utah. Very Mormon family, very Mormon community. I’m still Mormon, by the way. Just more a variation of all that. 

Tell me more about that.

Back in the beginning, the Church was restored to the Earth and the leaders said they were prophets and apostles and that they spoke for God. They formed entire communities, like Nauvoo, Illinois, and then Salt Lake City, and the leaders were leaders in both government and church. So when they said to go on a mission, the men went on missions, leaving their families for years. And when the church said no coffee, everyone stopped drinking coffee. And if you didn’t listen, you were disobedient, and usually excommunicated, which meant that you couldn’t go to the highest level of Heaven with your family. 

Go on.

So the early leaders of the church told everyone that God wanted the men to marry multiple women. In some cases, that meant a man had two wives, and in some cases, it meant literally dozens of wives. 

That sounds intense.

What do you mean?

Well, the dynamics of that alone. Church/faith communities where men are encouraged to take multiple wives. The household dynamics of women having to share a husband. Who has seniority, who gets along. The pressure on the man to provide for everyone, and the pressure on the women to set aside any concerns and share their man so that they could show their faith. And then, if you didn’t go along with it, you would be kicked out Heaven. Intense.

Yeah, some of those old stories make me really sad. Men would get married at 20 and have a few children. Then as their wife’s body began to change as she went through childbirth a few times, he would find a new young wife, then another and another. Then the same thing would happen with her, and the next. And all those children, I can barely keep track of my three!

Yeah, two kids is plenty for me to be responsible for. I can barely afford my rent and the costs of two. Can you imagine the medical costs for a family of 75? Food, housing, toys, school? That makes my head spin.

And some of the old stories, like men in their sixties marrying girls who were 17. Abuse and rape. A few accounts in the early days of Joseph Smith approaching some of his friend’s wives to be with him.

Women seen as commodities, that only had value as long as they were pretty and child-bearing, it seems like.

Well, I wouldn’t say they didn’t have value. But, yeah, they were supposed to clean the house and raise the kids and that was it. Anyway, the Church had thousands and thousands of families in polygamy relationships for a bunch of decades.

You would think there would be more men than women… where would all the men find more wives?

I have no idea. The Church went on like this until the early 1900s, when they officially disavowed the practice due to pressure from the government. And then things got tricky, because God had supposedly revealed polygamy. They were now three or four generations into it, and the Church started teaching that while polygamy is still something that will happen in Heaven, we can’t do it on Earth anymore. 

So did you know about polygamy growing up?

Only a little bit. It’s something that we barely talked about. Most people in my family and in the Mormon church kind of just don’t like to talk about it. They just focus on the parts of the Church that they like. It’s kind of like how Americans talk about slavery; they see it as something that was part of the past but don’t really want to dwell on it. 

It’s getting harder to ignore these days, though. All of the media attention to the Warren Jeffs case and the FLDS, and the Big Love show. All the media reports and documentaries.

Exactly. So I was a faithful Mormon girl and married in the temple to a returned missionary and we had a couple kids, but he had health issues and he was a huge jerk. And he stepped out on me a lot, and we fought and it was ugly, and after almost twenty years of that, we were both tired of pretending, and so we divorced. And I was single for a while. And then, last year, I became a third wife. 

Okay, so take me a back just a little bit. Your new husband and your new sister-wives, tell me about them, are they Mormon?

Actually, yeah. There are still pockets of polygamists all around, especially in Utah. Neighborhoods and schools, sometimes whole towns. Way more than people think. I mean, the man can only legally marry one woman, but there are spiritual wedding ceremonies performed to multiple women in lots of cases. Some of these groups belong to branches off the LDS Church, like the FLDS, where they have their own prophets and apostles. And some of them are still part of the main Church, they believe in Thomas Monson as the current prophet and they go to Church every week, but they lead polygamist lives because they think its part of their own salvation, something God commands. They just can’t tell anyone about it. 

So your congregation knows your husband is married to his first wife, but you and the second wife are just seen as single women and mothers in the ward?

Actually, yeah. We get pressure put on us, she and I, to find men and get married, but we just smile and say we are too busy or we can’t find the right person. But we are actually married, just not like they think. 

Is there anyone in your life who knows about you being a third wife?

Very few people. My mom found out and she won’t talk to me. My teenage daughter told her, and we had a huge fight. A few of my close friends know, and they are sweet to me. But most people wouldn’t understand. 

So tell me about your family.

That’s the million dollar question. My husband and his first wife married young. They met at BYU and were very happy together. They had a few children as he graduated and started working, and they bought their first house. No one in their family is polygamist, but they shared a love for old church teachings together. Eventually they decided together that they wanted a second wife together. They found a community of Saints who are very private and practice polygamy. And then they found the second wife, and courted her together. They weren’t really looking for a third wife, but I grew very close to them and they surprised me by offering the idea. They brought me and my kids into the family and we’ve been together ever since. 

How do the dynamics work in the family?

Well, we spend every Sunday together as one family unit. Otherwise we alternate evenings. He works, and we all work, so family in the evenings. I see him two nights per week on a rotating schedule, Monday/Tuesday, Wednesday/Thursday, or Friday/Saturday. We stay in contact online the rest of the time. It’s actually very seamless for us. We all love this life. 

You were referencing the old order earlier, and how women were victimized and marginalized–

Let me interrupt you there. I’ve given this a lot of thought. There is an enormous difference between expecting women and men to be polygamous, and having consenting adults choose this life. We are raising our children, both sons and daughters, to be free thinkers and to choose the lives they want for themselves. We have no expectation that they will join us in polygamy. We don’t condone the actions of men like Warren Jeffs. This is a life that works for us, and not for others. It works because our husband is a just and good man, and we all love him and believe in this life for us. 

Physician, Heal Thyself

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Sometimes I wonder what it would look like if I did a therapy session with myself. If I did one today, it would probably look something like this.

“Hi, Chad, thank you for coming in today. I appreciate you reaching out for help and support. You had a chance to review the confidentiality paperwork and sign before beginning?”

Yes, thank you for having me. I did review the paperwork and I don’t have any questions.

“So, let’s just jump right in. What brings you in today?”

Well, I have a pretty complicated life. I’m trying to figure out what I want to do for work. I’m co-raising a couple of sons (they are amazing, by the way). I’m having difficulty feeling grounded in my life. And dating, ugh, don’t get me started.

“That does sound complicated. Sounds like you have a very full plate.”

Honestly, it feels more manageable right now in this moment than it ever has in the past. I feel like I have it under control, except for the being grounded thing.

“What makes it feel more in control now than it has in the past?”

Well, we don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this, but it’ll help to know my origins. I grew up Mormon in Missouri in a pretty complicated family. Chaotic, lots going on all the time, lots of drama, but also lots of love. I was the family social worker from my youngest days, learned to take care of everyone else’s problems as a way to avoid my own.

“And what kinds of problems were you having?”

I realized pretty young I was gay. So despite the family drama stuff, I found a way to hide that part of myself so I didn’t have to ever deal with it. I mean, being gay just wasn’t an option. And because I acted like everything was fine, no one really noticed my struggles. I learned to hide in plain sight, even from myself.

“I could ask a lot of questions here, but you mentioned you didn’t want to spend a lot of time on that part of the story.”

Right. So, to sum up, I spent a lot of time trying to cure myself, like my religion promised I could, by being unselfish and serving God, on and on. I spent a ton of time in church, paid my ten per cent tithing, spent two full years as a missionary, went to a church college. Praying, always praying for a fix, and always feeling broken, distant, different from other men. Dated women cause I was supposed to, but was never attracted to them, not even a bit.

“Go on.”

I met Megan when she was 18 and I was 21. It wasn’t until six years later, when we had been dating for a while, that she asked me finally why I hadn’t kissed her or held her hand. I finally told her I was gay. She shrugged, no big deal, we were married a few months later.

“So you hadn’t been physically intimate with anyone during that time?”

No. And I had only come out to religious leaders. But I still did the church thing, got my Masters degree, and started working before I got married.

“Sounds like you have always had a lot of drive.”

Yeah, I think so. Anyway, Megan and I had a great marriage, except for the whole I’m not into women thing. We had a kid after a few years, and I finally started to shut down. The cure thing wasn’t working after years of trying. I got depressed, gained some weight, snapped out of it, lost the weight, and finally came out of the closet, left the Mormon church. Megan was pregnant with our second during all of this.

“My word. That must have been a very difficult period. How long ago was this?”

Four and a half years now. Things are good between us now. We moved to Utah, are raising the kids together. There was this crazy couple of years at first. Brand new out single gay male, ex-Mormon, dating for the first time, and with two kids under three to raise.

“And all the while having to work and take care of regular day-to-day life.”

Yeah, there were some rough patches, but to feel alive, you know? It was like coming up for air after years of holding my breath.

“Well, I have a million questions, but let’s bring things up to the present. How are things for you now?”

I moved back to Utah in April after working in Seattle for six months. I see my kids a ton and they are thriving. And, well, I feel like a 20 year old. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I mean, I’m here in Utah and I’m not leaving again, they are too important to me. But I don’t know what to do.

“What do you mean, you feel like a 20 year old?”

Most American kids go through that period of discovery after high school. They ask themselves the hard questions, travel, study, go in to debt, fall in and out of love, decide what they want to do when they grow up. They make mistakes, drink and have sex and take road trips.

“That sounds fairly typical to the American 2o-something. What was 20 like for you?”

Oh, God. 20 for me was wearing shirts and ties, knocking on doors, and telling people to come to Jesus, all the while living around a bunch of 20 year old guys doing the same thing, pretending I fit in and that I wasn’t attracted to them, and praying constantly I wouldn’t be gay anymore.

“That’s a very different upbringing. And you feel you are 20 now?”

In some ways. I mean, I’m 36, not 20. I have my college education. I have dependents, and bills. I have no desire to shed all responsibility and make enormous mistakes or drink myself to sleep, or to fall in and out of love over and over.

“So clarify for me, then. How do you feel 20?”

I have no idea what to do with my life.

“Let’s jump a couple of months in the future. It’s early fall and everything in your life has gone perfectly between now and then. You have found your grounding. In fact, everything is going just the way you want it. What is different in your life then?”

Well, many things are the same. I’m here in Utah. I have my sons often. I have my friends.

“And what is different?”

I’m in a relationship that is building toward permanent. I’m making better money doing something I love.

“Anything else?”

I’m out of debt, exercising more often, traveling more. I’d feel more self-assured. But those things would come with the relationship and job, I’d expect.

“Those things you are listing, being in a relationship and working at something you love, those don’t seem that unrealistic.”

Ugh, they shouldn’t be.

“‘Ugh?’ Why ‘ugh’?”

Those are the very things that have eluded me the past few years.

“Can we spend some time breaking those apart a bit? Dating and career?”

Yeah, that would be really good actually.

“Let’s start with relationships. Tell me what’s going on there.”

I don’t know if I have the objectivity to even tell you that. The gay community is complicated. A huge portion of it is very body and sex focused, hugely focused on alcohol. And there is so much emotional damage in the community. You have all of these grown-up men with jobs and families who act like teenagers when it comes to sex and alcohol because they did what I did growing up, hiding themselves in plain sight, and now they have to make up for lost time. I know not everyone is like that, but it is a huge portion of the dating pool here. Perfect body looking for perfect body, gym, booze, sex, and on to the next. It’s exhausting.

“And where do you fit in to all of this?”

I’m… different. I don’t know. Maybe it’s having kids, or being a bit older. Maybe it’s what I do for a living or the age I came out. I just want more than that.

“Can I challenge you on something?”

Yeah, absolutely.

“It seems almost as if you see yourself as separate from this definition of the gay community. Like you are above it, perhaps.”

That stings to hear, but I can see the truth in that. I drink sometimes. I enjoy sex sometimes. I go to the gym. I had a period of ‘making up for lost time.’ I don’t think I see myself as ‘above’ so much as I’m just having a difficult time dating in that world.

“Well, it’s very different from the world you knew. Mormon kid in Missouri, missionary, college student, professional, married straight man with kids, all with this very confining Mormon standard of morals and ways to live.”

Yes! It is very different.

“So why do you think you have had such a difficult time with dating?”

Okay, instead of comparing myself to the community, let me just talk about my experience. What works for me. When it comes to dating, I’m straightforward. I share what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling. I’m bold. I’m romantic. I’m not a jump into bed quickly kind of guy, not until I feel that connection and chemistry with someone.

“Go on.”

So it tends to fall apart in one of two places. Once we have passed that whole ‘I have kids’ thing, which is a barrier to some, and once I see that a guy is stable financially and emotionally, then we get to that first date. I’m not afraid to ask someone out, and if I have a good time, I’ll ask them out again. A lot of guys seem to wait to be asked out.

“So you go out on a date, and then?”

First dates are usually coffee, dinner, a walk, something like that. Simple. Get to know you conversation. Now I’ll rule out the terrible first dates that could never lead anywhere, dates where the guy is a jerk or monopolizes the conversation or treats our first meeting as a therapy session, and the ones where the guy is a huge flake. I seem to have some sort of curse when it comes to the second date.

“You’re giving me a lot to follow up on, but let’s start there. What is the second date curse?”

When I let myself get interested in a guy, which frankly takes a lot at this point, something seems to happen before the second date occurs. Three recent examples: one guy relapsed on drugs after five years of sobriety, one guy let me know he changed his mind about dating and he just wanted casual sex, one guy–

“I’m going to stop you there. Again, I’m getting that ‘above’ thing. A second date curse isn’t a thing. Take a wider view.”

I… truly don’t know. I could be coy and just say I haven’t found the right one yet. I could say my expectations are too high. I could go internal and say I need to love myself before I can love someone else. I could get cynical and say maybe relationships aren’t for me, or successful relationships aren’t possible. To keep it simple, I guess I’m just sick to death of searching for something that consistently eludes me.

“And why are you ‘sick to death’ of it?”

It’s, frankly, just exhausting. I see successful relationships around me. Guys that have been together for 20 years, or 10, or 5, who have homes and kids, who travel together and enjoy being together. I want that. And I have no idea how to find it.

You aren’t unique in that, you know? That’s every single person on the planet. That’s every person, gay or straight or bisexual, who hasn’t found someone, or who has had their heart broken. So let me ask a very simple question. Why do you want to be in a relationship?”

For the simplest of reasons. I want someone to share my life with.

“Tell me more.”

Even though I was closeted, I was married for years. I liked that, except for the whole wrong gender thing. I liked having someone to check in with at the end of the day. Good mornings and good nights, evening walks, cuddle time, meals and family events together. Hell, having a second income was great. Not some co-dependent thing. Just someone to share life with. I want that.

“Have you had that with anyone in the past four and a half years?”

Briefly. I fell for this guy long distance for a while. When we were together, it was great. Reciprocal. Eye contact and affection and laughing and silliness. It was good. But then he’d be gone and we’d fight or grow silent. Ultimately it just didn’t work, but during those brief times we were together, it was great.

“So when it comes to dating, I basically see three options for you. One, you can give up, quit trying, and just focus on yourself. Two, you can keep putting yourself out there and trying (but maybe lose the ‘I’m cursed’ mentality). Or three, you can jump into something and just hope it works out.”

Clearly the second option is the best one.

“I don’t think your expectations are unrealistic. You want to find someone who is put together and who wants to be with you. That makes sense. You want the unicorn in the field full of horses. How do you feel right now, having talked about this?”

Relieved. Exhausted, but relieved. It’s nice to have it all out there and to realize where I’ve been screwing up. Can we talk about career a bit?

“Yes. What do you want out of your job?”

I want to make more money doing things I love.

“And what are those things?”

To be honest, I’m not sure. I feel like I could divide myself in 8 and do each of them full time. I could continue doing social work. I could teach college full time. I could write and travel. I could make documentaries. I could–

“You have varied interests, it seems.”

I absolutely do. It’s back to the 20 year old feeling. Guy enters college, takes some classes, figures out what the hell he wants to do with his life.

“And what do you want to do with your life?”

Make money doing something I love.

“We seem to be in a circle. You want money and to do something you love, but you don’t know what that is.”

That is absolutely correct.

“So let me challenge you. Try thinking of this like a 36 year old father, and not a pretend 20 year old. What do you want?”

I… don’t know. Okay. Let me think. I don’t want the life I had before, working 60 hour weeks at a mediocre job. I want to work for myself. I–

“Do you want to keep doing social work?”

I… don’t think so. I think I want to write.

“You want to be a writer?”

Yeah, I think so. I want someone to give me a hundred thousand dollars a year and I will just write and share my ideas and insight with the world for the rest of my life. I’ll be like David Sedaris. I’ll make people laugh and smile and think and feel and cry. I’ll help through words. I’m good at it, but I have no idea how to make a living at it.

“We’re all out of time for today. Let me ask what you learned today, what insights did you gain in today’s session?”

Well, I’m no different than anyone else. I’m unique and I’m looking for things that are right for me, and I should’t get down just because my life hasn’t mapped out the way I’d expected.

“Great beginnings. For next time, I want you to let yourself think of becoming a writer. One who inspires others and maybe even makes that hundred thousand a year. What would that entail and how could you make a living? I’ll see you next week, Chad.”

Epiphany: advice from Mom

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“Hey, mom.”

“Hi, son. How would you define epiphany?”

“Hmm. Well, I don’t have a dictionary in front of me but I guess it would be like a realization. An enlightenment with some meaning and purpose attached.”

“Yes, that’s it, I had one of those. About you.”

“Oh?”

“I was watching this building go up, all the creation that goes into it, all the energy and effort to make something beautiful in a place that is already beautiful. And then I thought of you and how you would see this. How you would look at something like this and see something amazing and be able to put it into simple words that would capture it perfectly and probably make me laugh and feel inspired all at once.”

“Wow, thanks, Mom.”

“So my epiphany is this: you need to be a writer. You need to write. You don’t need to write about sadness or growing up gay and Mormon or even about being a dad. You need to write about how you can see the world uniquely and use the past and the present and possibility. You could describe a leaf or a cloud or a country and people will want to read it.”

“Wow.”

“I mean, I don’t know how you find a column or something to write for, or how you get paid to write like that. But I know you love it. Maybe it’s a book or a blog or a story, but, son, you need to write. I know you have been searching for something, and I think that is it, and I think it’s the right time.”

“I know, Mom. I’ve been telling you lately how I feel like something big is right around the corner, how something is going to happen and soon, and how I need to be ready for it. I’ve taken a lot of big leaps in my life, and things are working out so far. I don’t know what is next, I just know it is something, and I need to make it happen.”

“Well, listen to your mom. This could be it.”

“Maybe it is, Mom. I’ll give it some thought. Thank you.”

“I love you, son.”

“I love you, too. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Cold Case

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DAY 1

It’s Sunday, June 28, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and it is unseasonably hot, over 100 degrees. I’m grumpy and a little bit mopey today, and the heat just makes me not want to be outside.

I turn on some music and find some projects to keep me busy around the house. Eventually I turn on a few old cold case files online, listening to solved missing persons and murder cases years after the fact due to dedicated detectives, new information, or DNA results. I’ve always been fascinated by these stories, and I love a good mystery, so long as it has a good resolution.

My mind wanders a bit. I’ve been in Utah for four years now, and I find myself fascinated by its rich and complex history, the clash of community with religious culture. I begin wondering about unsolved cases here, and what they might be. I’ve grown familiar with some of the terrible murders that have taken place here over the years. There are some truly horrific stories that come out of this place: Mark Hofmann, Frances Schreuder, Gary Gilmore, the execution of Joe Hill, and, worst of all, the horrific Hi-Fi Murders. Ted Bundy even made some stops here. But what about the unsolved?

I find an attachment to the Utah police department’s website, a section of ‘cold case’ files, unsolved murders and missing persons. Brief photos and paragraphs about unsolved crimes with a number to call with tips. I spend a few hours reading through these sad stories, feeling intrigued, sad, and maybe a little tired at these tragic endings to human lives. Fontella Galloway, age 63, found raped and murdered in her home in 1969. Jan Marie Stavros, age 43, who went missing from her home mysteriously in 2001. Marty James Shook, age 21, who was murdered while hitchhiking in 1982. Rachael Marie Runyon, age 3, who was kidnapped from a playground and murdered in 1982. Carla Maxwell, age 20, who was brutally murdered while working a shift at a 7-11 in 1986. Othea Duncan Wamsley, age 43, who was kidnapped from the grocery store where she worked, killed, and dumped near a canal in 1976.

As I scroll through these cases, I find myself pondering the human condition, how we hurt each other, how we lie and cover things up. How easily we forget those who are lost. How fascinated we are by the salacious and the cruel.

I close my computer and run some errands, but my mind keeps wandering back to one case among the dozens I read. Maybe it’s the wording that intrigues me. Wallace Thornton. Age 25 at the time of his murder from multiple gunshot wounds. Body discovered in a field, frozen. No mention of family or loved ones, but a line that states “was known to have been involved in a lifestyle that brought concerns to him for his safety.” What kind of lifestyle? That word haunts me a bit, and I’m not sure why.

There are three photos linked. One is a face shot of Wallace, looking pleasant, content, blonde hair parted, eyes wide, a small smile on his face. Then two shots of the field where he was found.

As I fall asleep, I find myself wanting to learn more about Mr. Thornton.

(The following from website: https://secure.utah.gov/coldcase/casedetail.html?id=63

Wallace Thornton

MISSING SINCE: 27-01-1975

CASE #: 75-4826

AGE: 25 (DOB: )

HEIGHT: 6′ 0″

WEIGHT: lbs

HAIR: Blond/Strawberry

EYES:

RACE: Caucasian

ABOUT THIS CASE

This is a Unified Police Department cold case homicide. If you have information regarding this case please contact the Unified Police Department, 801-743-5900 or tips@saltlakeupd.org. Case Synopsis: Wallace, age 25, was last seen or heard from on or around January 23, 1975. Wallace was known to have been involved in a lifestyle that brought concerns to him for his safety. Wallace’s body was found on the afternoon of January 27th by county highway workers at approximately 7800 South and 5200 West next to the road in a dry-farm field. Wallace died as the result of multiple gunshot wounds. The specific time of death was indeterminable due to freezing conditions but it is estimated he died several days prior to the discovery of his body.

DAY 2

“Hi, ma’am. How are you today?”

I stand in a back corner of the Salt Lake City library that I’ve never been to before. It’s over 100 degrees outside and it feels great to be in an air-conditioned room. A man who looks like he hasn’t showered or washed his clothes in weeks sits at a computer behind me, singing the lyrics to a Tina Turner song out loud, ear phones in his ears.

The woman behind the records desk is five feet tall and likely in her mid-sixties. Her hair is disheveled and she looks tired and a little grumpy. “I’m just okay. How can I help you?”

“I’m looking for issues of the Salt Lake Tribune from the first two months of 1975.”

“Please fill out that form and I’ll get you the microfiche.”

As I fill out my name and request information, I make small talk. “It sure is hot outside.”

“I hate it!” Her response is sharp and startles me. “It’s June, for God’s sake. I can’t take heat like this all summer.”

I give her an appeasing glance as I hand over the paper. She brings back the microfiche for the two months requested and shows me how to load them into the viewing machine, how to print, and how to sharpen the image.

I think I’ve used microfiche before, back in high school perhaps, but now here I am scanning old newspapers for information on an unsolved murder. I feel like some kind of investigative reporter. Truly, I’m not sure what I’m looking for. I can be innately curious. I have a writer’s brain that won’t let go of ideas sometimes.

The information on Wallace Thornton’s murder in 1975 was scant and full of curious holes. It says he was last heard from on January 23, 1975, and that his body was found in a frozen field by county highway workers on January 27; he may have been dead, from multiple gun shot wounds, for several days, but it was cold so they weren’t sure how long at the time. It also mentioned him being involved in a potentially dangerous “lifestyle.”

I begin searching through the newspaper one page at a time, scanning headlines and articles. I begin on January 23 and go all the way through about February 5. There is no mention of Thornton as a missing person the first several days, and no mention of his body being found on the 27th, which seems strange, as it seems a noteworthy discovery, a 25 year old male dead in a field, murdered.

The paper is comprehensive. Sports, lots of ads, reports on stocks and weather and politics. Fashion tips (“Springy curls, big look in hairstyles”), recipes, reports about the Relief Society being concerned about the pending Equal Rights Amendment.

And the paper isn’t afraid of salacious or violent stories. I read about 18 year old Mark Chandler Austin in Provo who killed his 16 year old wife, Catherine Lorraine Duke, her 7 month old “fetus” in her arms, both stabbed. I read about the brutal killing of 2 Mormon missionaries, Gary Darley and Mark Fischer, killed in Austin, TX by taxidermest Robert Kleasen, age 42, who cut up the bodies with a band saw. I read about the Los Angeles Slasher’s ninth victim, a man with his throat cut, and how they had no suspects.

But no mention of Thornton, not until the 29th, where his name flashes in the funeral announcements.

“Sandy. Funeral services for Wallace Mayo Thornton, 25… who was found dead in West Jordan Jan 27, 1975 of causes pending medical examination… Born April 4, 1949 Salt Lake City to Mayo and Florence Nielson Thornton.” It goes on to mention that he had been married and divorced twice. That he was a truck driver. That he was LDS. It mentions two daughters as well as his brothers, sisters and grandparents.

Dead of causes pending medical examination? Multiple gunshot wounds seems somehow mentionable. I’m baffled by this omission.

I keep searching the paper. Only one more mention, on the day of the actual funeral, simply stating where the funeral and burial were to take place. No more mentions of this in the two weeks after his death.

As I wind the microfiche back up, I feel more curious than ever. What happened to Thornton? Why wasn’t it reported on?

I decide maybe my next stop will be the police station.

DAY 3

I feel funny pulling up to the police building in western Salt Lake City. I run it through in my mind: I’m sure I have been to police stations in the past, yet I can’t recall when. With my work as a social worker, surely, to request a record of an arrest on a foster parent or biological parent. But this is definitely among my first times in one of the buildings.

This is a big one, it feels a bit like a distribution center. It’s enormous and full of rooms. I walk in the main door, and thank goodness for air-conditioning because this week in Utah continues to be unbearably hot.

A good-looking cop in his forties greets me, in uniform, his sleeves rolled up to show tattoos of Chinese characters on both his forearms. He instructs me to set my things down on a belt, empty my pockets, and walk through the metal detector. I ask him about his day and he mumbles something back, hands me my things, and sends me down the hall.

I pass a wall of pictures of fallen officers, men killed in the line of duty over the past 100 years. I see plaques for men who have won awards, photos of community leaders. There are a few officers in the hallways having quiet conversations. I have always had a lot of respect for the police. I know a few personally, both in my family and friend circles, and know how hard they have to work, even in the smallest of towns. Few people are happy to see a policeman–they are either interfering with a crime or arriving after something terrible has happened, and they are rarely thanked for their hard work.

I make my way down to the records room, where a man with a red-headed girl stand in line in front of me, waiting for a file they have requested. The girl looks back at me, then away quickly, then back again. I finally wave and she ducks her head, shy, her face turning bright red. She’s unkempt in a dress she has probably worn for several days in a row. The man she is with, presumably her father, has grease-stained arms and clothing, likely working as a mechanic by day, I think.

After a few minutes, I step up to the window. A beautiful brunette woman asks how she can help me. I explain that I’m seeking information, if it is available to the public, on a 40 year old unsolved murder. She looks baffled. I’m guessing she gets a lot of strange requests for various records, but not many like this. She instructs me to fill out a request form, that requires my name and address, the case, and a few other basics.

The woman then takes the form and asks me to wait for a moment. She gets on the phone behind her desk and stays there for several minutes in an animated conversation. I can’t hear her, but suddenly I wonder what I’m doing here, getting involved in something that has nothing to do with me. Is she calling the homicide detective about me? The case is forty years old, but surely there is a homicide detective still assigned, with a room full of cases in cardboard boxes.

The woman finally returns to the window. “Thank you for waiting. This was an unusual request, so I had to call the assigned homicide detective.”

Oh, crap, I think.

“Even though this case is decades old, there is no statute of limitations on homicides, so it remains an unsolved murder. Records requests are usually for basic police reports or minor crimes. We don’t allow copies of higher status cases out there for several reasons. If you were a family member, you might be entitled to some basic information. As it is, we wouldn’t want to put you in any danger or get you involved.”

I think through everything she has said and it all makes sense. She asks if I want to pay ten dollars to get an official statement from the detective basically saying he can’t give me anything, and I decline. She tells me to have a nice day, and as I walk to my car, I realize my name and request will now be filed in Wallace Thornton’s unsolved homicide file.

A few days later, I realize I’m not done yet. I don’t know why my thoughts are on this case, but I feel drawn to it, like I’m supposed to help somehow. Or maybe I just can’t let go of an idea once I’ve latched on.

I call the local newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune, and ask if there is a way to do an online database search for Thornton in the past four decades. They give me access to an online search database, and I punch in his name. I see, again, the death announcement and the funeral announcement that I had seen a few days ago when I did my microfiche search in the library. Then I come across one additional article, on the same day as his death announcement, that actually mentions his murder. How had I missed this my first time through?

The very short article showed up on January 30, 1975, next to a one panel cartoon with a father and son driving, and seeing a billboard that reads “Double up, America!” In the cartoon, the father explains, “That refers to carpooling! It’s got nothing to do with co-ed dormitories at school!”

The article reads, spelling mistakes included: “Death Study Continues. Sheriff’s detectives in Salt Lake County continued their investigation Wednesday, following up numerous leads in the death of a man, whose frozen body was found Monday. Wallace Maya Thornton, 25, 5400 S. 3rd West, had been dead about two weeks when Salt Lake County Highway Department employes spotted his body near 7800 South at 6000 West. The victim had been shot three times and lawmen said several suspects are due to be questioned.”

The search of decades worth of newspaper never mentions Thornton again. He’s forgotten, and it makes me sad.

As I go to bed, I turn on Solved, a television show that discusses the closing of cases and details the detective work involved. It randomly shows a story based in Wood’s Cross, Utah, and tells how Lt. Brad Benson opened a 25 year old case that had laid dormant for decades. Karin Strom had been violently murdered, and decades later Brad used DNA from under the fingernails to tie the crime to Edward Owens, who was arrested and convicted. It is possible, it does happen.

Where is justice for Wallace Thornton?

I’m not done yet.

Wheel of Fortune, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide

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Sally Ride loved science more than anything.

And when her parents fostered a sense of purpose in her, during her upbringing primarily in California, Sally knew could do anything she wanted, at a time when many women did not realize their potential. In fact, after she made history by being the first American woman in space (two Soviet women beat her to it), she devoted decades of her life afterwards to inspiring middle school age girls to love and be inspired by science.

And when Sally recognized that girls are vastly under-represented in the fields of science (including math and engineering), she realized that 13 year old boys who get a C in science are told they can grow up to be anything, and that 13 year old girls who get an A in science are encouraged to be nurses and housewives.

And when Sally herself realized she was willing to live up to nothing less than her potential, while hitting tennis rackets on a nearly professional level, she put herself through college, excelling in a field dominated by  men.

And when NASA, after decades, finally opened up its recruitment to women, Sally applied, and moved to Texas to train as an astronaut. She worked tirelessly, using her analytical brain to solve complex problems, practicing for untold hours until she was skilled and it all made sense.

And when Sally was selected to be the first woman from the program to launch, she herself became an international celebrity, something she was quite unready for. In fact, Sally was a very private person. She had never even told her husband Steve, at the time, about being a lesbian, about falling in love with a woman in college. For, like so many others, it took her time to sort out her feelings from the expectations of her culture.

And when, for months before and after the launch, Sally endured exhausting questions from reporters: What makeup will you wear in space and If the pressure gets to be too much, will you just weep and They are working you so hard, you have no choice but to submit, I guess it is like being raped, you might as well just lay back and enjoy it and do you worry that the flight will harm your reproductive organs, and Johnny Carson made jokes about her bra on television, and Billy Joel immortalized her name in the song We Didn’t Start the Fire, tucking her smoothly in between Wheel of Fortune and heavy metal, suicide in his complicated lyrics, Sally smiled, nodded, quipped back, and asked the reporters why they weren’t asking these same questions to the male astronauts on her team, a team of equals.

And when Sally received her NASA uniform, she had the tag read, simply, Sally, not Ride or Dr. Ride, just Sally. 

And when Sally chose to be an astronaut, and her sister chose to be a minister, Sally’s mother joked that at least one of her daughters would make it to Heaven.

And when the Challenger exploded, and later the Columbia, Sally worked tirelessly until she found out why, exposing corruption within the industry that had resulted in the deaths of her peers.

And when Sally fell in love with Tam O’Shaughnessy, a beautiful and independent woman she had met years before, she quietly left her husband and moved in, telling no one, even her family.

And when Sally got cancer far too young, she suffered quietly, telling no one except her closest loved ones until the very end. And when Tam planned a memorial for Sally, and wondered how she should define their relationship, Sally thoughtfully considered coming out of the closet finally, but worried about its impact on NASA.

And when Sally died at age 61, and Tam told the world about their decades long relationship finally, the critics came out of the woodwork. The homophobic were outraged that a lesbian was such a public name. And among the LGBT community, they berated Sally for not coming out as a gay icon years before. And Sally’s family grieved on their own terms.

And when Sally’s name was used on scholarships and elementary schools and even a mountain range on the moon, Sally must have smiled, somewhere somehow.

Because Sally Ride loved science more than anything.

 

Ensign Peak

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One Saturday several months ago, it rained endlessly, great buckets over the valley, grey skies draining out their excess on the dry land beneath. On Sunday, the skies cleared and the sun washed warmly over the wet expanses. I made my way to the hills and parked my car at Ensign Peak Nature Park, not far from my home in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’ve lived here four years now, give or take a few months, but I’ve never been to this particular park.

Flags fly at the bottom, which is fitting as the word ensign means a flag or standard. Apparently back in 1847, when the Mormons first settled in the Salt Lake valley, Brigham Young marched a group of men up to the top of this hill overlooking the city. He concocted a story about being shown this valley by the ghost of Joseph Smith in a holy vision and declared this is where the Saints would settle and build their new land. They named the hilltop Ensign Peak, referencing an old scripture from Isaiah in the Old Testament.

As I hike the relatively easy half mile incline to the top of the hill, my heart rate increased with minor exertion and my thoughts strayed to the thousands of people who had hiked this trail before me, going back generations. I get like this sometimes, existential, somehow connected to humanity going back to the beginning and pushing forward into the generations to come, my spirit extending outward beyond myself, soul open, eyes wide.

Life stirs in the bushes and trees around me. This Earth that supports life in all its forms, from the smallest of aphids to the largest of whales, from a single blade of grass to a sycamore tree, from one quiet infant to an entire race of humans each warring for their own interests and screaming for validation. A squirrel scrambles to the side, a bird flits up to a tree top, a cricket jumps across the path.

It only takes me 20 minutes to reach the top, and I find a rock to sit against, rolling my jacket up behind the small of my back. There is a little tower of rocks, man-made, up at the Peak, commemorating the space. I don’t let myself look at the horizon, not yet. I just want to experience life here for a moment. It’s warm, there’s a breeze, the ground is hard.

Over the next 20 minutes, I shut my eyes and just listen to the errant conversations around me, snippets of dialogue, voices among loved ones, words that only exist for the amount of time it takes for them to be spoken.

“How long are you in town before you head back to Berlin? We have to take you to a Bees game while you are here!”

“Mom! I already have four likes and two friend requests, look!”

“Sorry about my dog, she just makes that noise when she’s excited, but she would never hurt anyone.”

“Honey, did you forget the snack packs? He’s gonna want his snack pack.”

“I love you, too.”

I notice the quiet within myself, my own internal voices are silent. Those persistent drives and discomforts about the empty bank account, the need for better nutrition, the lack of abs, the lack of a boyfriend… they are silent for now, and it feels amazing. My face, my hands, my neck, all exposed skin soaks up the sunlight and the breeze.

After a time I stand and I take in a slow view of the horizon. The sun hangs low over the Great Salt Lake in the west with the Oquirrh Mountains on the horizon, the city stretches on endlessly to the South with buildings and roads as far as I can see, the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains give color and life to the east. The beautiful State Capitol building lies just below the peak, the smaller Salt Lake City Temple (the Mormon holy building) just beyond that, the University of Utah to the west, enormous apartment buildings jutting all over the valley.

I think back to the how the horizon has changed over the years. Back in 1847, this was a wide open expanse, all brown rock and blue skies. By 1900, the Mormon temple must have been the biggest building, with only small roads and homes around it, now it is dwarfed by concrete and metal businesses and dwellings, beautiful but barely noticeable unless you are right next to it. Before that, this peak must have been used by the fur traders and trappers who moved into the region, seeking to pillage its resources for wealth. Still before that, Native Americans likely used the same view to scout out resources, water sources or animals for hunting, or perhaps as a vantage point to watch for enemies. And it will keep changing as humans die and new humans take their places, as buildings and roads crumble and new structures are built over the old. What will be the view from this peak in ten years, fifty, one hundred?

I keep my back to the others who come and go behind me, still catching bits of their conversations.

“Dude, if you can’t run up this hill, you definitely aren’t ready for a marathon.”

“Should I text her again? No, you’re right, I just gotta wait for a response.”

“This is my first climb since my knee surgery. I can’t wait for a real challenge.”

“Humans,” I think, and I realize I’m smiling. Humans indeed.

I’m there for another ninety minutes, thinking, peaceful, centered, not worried about yesterday or tomorrow. These are the moments to live for, these spiritual moments in nature. I find them in nature, in the human story, in myself.

As the sun sets, I descend. There is a poetry to this place. An ensign raised for a new land, a peak from which you can see with clarity all around you, every potential, every pitfall. An ensign for myself, and one I plan to return to often.

The 12 Guys you Meet on Grindr

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Oh, Grindr.

Grindr is a phone app used by gay men to meet other gay men nearby. Urban dictionary defines it as “Location based iPhone/iTouch App for gay, bi, and curious men to meet. Uses GPS technology in your iPhone and WiFi in iPod Touch to determine your exact location and instantly connect you with guys in your area. View pictures, stats, and map locations at a tap. Totally discreet because Grindr doesn’t ask for your email address or require account registration.”

You download the app and create a basic profile, in which you can upload a photograph (some choose to keep this blank), share a few of your statistics (height, weight, relationship status), and type just a few lines about yourself and what you are looking for.

You open the app on your phone by clicking the small yellow box with the black cat mask on it. A grid of boxes opens up, each box representing a man who has the app also opened on his phone, and the boxes arrange in order of how far away they are from you. (In large cities, walking a few blocks means entirely new groupings of men. In more rural areas, the closest man might be 70 miles away). To look at the photo and profile, you simply click on the image, and you click on a message icon if you want to send a message to that person. You can also upload more photographs from your phone, or take live photographs, to send to the man as well. Finally, you can send a GPS ping that shows him exactly where you are on a map, making meetups easy. Often addresses and phone numbers are exchanged, and conversations continue once the app is closed.

Now it is no secret that men, straight or gay, are and always have been very sexually driven. Much energy is given to the thought of, pursuit of, and acquisition of, sex. When straight men are dating women, basic kindness and charm seem to be part of the process. When it comes to men dating men, however, it often seems that all bets are off. And now, in the age of instant gratification, where we can look at a box of photographs and immediately determine our level of sexual interest based on a photo, some shared information, the content of a message, or a misspelled word and determine interest and attraction sight unseen, it has never been easier to find sex.

I find Grindr amusing. When I have it downloaded, I have generally tried two separate approaches in my profile. Approach one: a simple photograph of myself (clothed and smiling) with no other information. Approach two: a simple photograph of myself (clothed and smiling) with a small blurb that lists my age (36), height (5’11), weight (180 lbs), and a few lines saying something like “Educated professional looking for chats, new friends, or dates. Not here for hook-ups. A little charm and consistency go a long way.”

Some guys download Grindr to chat, others to easily get laid, some just to see who is around.

Following are twelve conversations, or variations thereof, you will definitely have on Grindr if you have the app. Maybe you have had some of these word for word.

1. the Bots

His profile: a relatively handsome guy with a basic age and weight listed.

Him: Hey, you’re cute.

Me: Thank you, you too.

Him: I’m new here. My battery is dying. May I have your number?

Me: You’re a bot, aren’t you?

Him: Click this link to come watch me on camera. The credit card request is just to verify you are of age.

Me: *block*

2. the Bros

His profile: generally a headless muscly torso with a tagline that says something like “Masc seeking Masc, not into fems”

Him: Sup.

Me: Hello.

Him: Hey.

Me: Hello.

Him: Looking?

Me: For sex? Not at the moment.

3. The Skanks

His profile: Grindr doesn’t allow nudity in profile photos, but imagine whatever is closest. Photo will be something like a close-up of his underpants, another headless torso, or him in tight shorts turned around and grabbing his rear. A few brief sentences like “Willing bottom, ready to take your load. You host. Ready now. Don’t waste my time with chat. Not into fat guys.”

Him: {unsolicited photo of his penis, or perhaps of him bent over}

Me: Wow. That was… well, good for you.

Him: Looking?

Me: No thanks.

Him: Where’s your pics?

Me: I don’t share nudes.

Him: Come on, you’re hot. Let me take your load.

4. The Very Persistent

His profile: Normal looking guy of any age, a few stats listed about himself. A blurb saying something like “Average guy looking for a real connection.”

Him: Hi.

Him: Hi.

Him: Hello?

Him: You’re cute.

Him: Are you getting my messages?

Him: Hi.

Him: Hi.

Him: Hello?

Him: Are you there?

5. The Martyr

His profile: Usually an average guy of any age with a pleasant smile. Profile reads something like “Aren’t there any good guys left in the world? Tired of being single. Think maybe I’m the only decent guy left.”

Him: Hi there. How are you?

Me: I’m fine, thank you. How are you?

Him: Wanna go out some time?”

Me: I’ve got a pretty busy week with work right now, but we could chat a bit.

Him: Whatever. You’re just like all the other guys. Why won’t you come and meet me?

Me: Well, I’m not looking for sex. And I’m working right now.

Him: Who said I was looking for sex!

Him: Why would you think that about me!

Him: I just want someone to cuddle with! I didn’t even want sex!

Him: You’re just like all the others!

Me: Whoa, I said I’m working right now. Relax, man, it’s Grindr!

Him: #### you! (block)

6. The Cheater

His profile: Good-looking guy, shirt on or off, with a blurb saying something like “Partnered to a good guy, yes he knows I’m on here. Just seeing who is out there. Not interested in sex usually, but you never know.”

Him: You’re hot. Want some company?

Me: You’re partnered…

Him: I am but I want you.

Me: Are you guys open?

Him: Nope but I know he cheats on me and I don’t say anything so it’s my turn. Come over.

7. The Polyamorous

His profile: Generally a photo of two partnered guys (any age or appearance) with some listed stats and a small blurb like “Happily married and occasionally seeking a third for fun. I’m top, he’s bottom.”

Him: My boyfriend and I are looking for a third. Interested?

Me: Not really my style. I’m down for new friends, though.

Him: No thanks.

8. The Very Descriptive

His profile: Usually either a black screen or a stock photo of a sandy beach, a “keep calm and carry on” meme, or a cartoon character. No stats or words listed.

Him: I’m laying all horned up in my hotel room with porn playing on the TV. Looking for two guys to come over and make me their slave while I’m handcuffed and blindfolded. I’ll leave the door unlocked. I’ll take both of your loads and then you can just leave me there. Interested?

Him: {location ping sent}

Him: {photo of genitals}

Me: Well, that is quite a way to begin a conversation. You want all that and you’ve only seen a face photo of me?

Him: {silence. he’s already cut and pasted the same information to every other guy on the app}

9. The Narcissist

His profile: A photo of a very good-looking all-American type guy. A few lines read “Don’t waste my time. Good-looking guy seeking fit athletic masculine guys who are down to clown. If I don’t respond, it means I don’t find you attractive.”

Him: Hey stud.

Me: Hi back.

Him: I’ll get right to the point.

Him: You are one of like 2 per cent of guys that I actually find attractive. I’m a top hosting right now. Why don’t you come over?

Me: You’re certainly very handsome, but I’m not really interested in random sex. Would you like to meet for coffee some time?

Him: I’m not looking for a relationship, dude. Come over, or don’t.

10. The Discreet

His profile: No photo, no words about himself.

Him: Hey there.

Me: Hi back.

Him: Do you have more pics of yourself?

Me: You can already see one of me. Can I see one of you?

Him: Dude, I gotta be discreet. I’m not out yet.

Me: That’s cool. I understand.

Him: Wanna meet up some time?

Me: I still don’t know what you look like.

Him: Yeah, I’m discreet.

Me: Yes, I know. You said that.

Him: So you have more pics?

11. The “Back-in-the-Day” Guy

His profile: An attractive picture of a shirtless relatively fit guy. Age listed at 45. Nothing written.

Him: You’re really cute.

Me: Thank you. I like your photo.

Him: Thank you. Want to get together for a walk some time?

Me: Sure, that sounds fine.

**At the meeting, you realize he is actually 58 and weighs about 30 more pounds than he did in the photo, which was taken 7 years ago. He acts surprised and upset when you comment on his misrepresentation.

12. And finally: The Disappearing Nice Guy

His profile: Good-looking guy with basic stats that seem honest. He actually takes time to write out a basic profile. “Busy professional with lots of interests. Looking to meet a nice guy. Hoping for a relationship, but down for fun in the mean time.”

Him: Hey, I really like your profile.

Me: I like yours too. How is your week going?

Him: Really well. And yours?

Me: Good! Hitting the gym soon. Big plans for your evening?

Him: Just relaxing at home. Would you like to get together for coffee some time?

Me: I would like that. When works for you?

{2 days later} Me: Hey, haven’t heard back from you… Still want to get that coffee?

So after reading all this, you gotta be wondering why I’m on Grindr. Easy answer. I like to believe I’m that ever elusive 13th guy, the one using a convenient phone app in an effort to meet quality guys for dating and hoping for a substantial connection. We all have our reasons for being on Grindr, but ultimately, using the app is like checking the fridge to see what food is there although you aren’t hungry.

You just open the door and hope maybe something will catch your eye.

Honorifics: a complicated prayer to a complicated god

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Oh God, the Eternal Father, hallowed by Thy name, Thy oh so many names.

Oh Elohim, Yahweh, Yeshua, Adonai, el Shaddai, Jehovah, Allah, Jesus, El Roi, El Elgon, Immanuel.

Oh great I Am, I Am that I Am, I Yam what I Yam and that’s all I Yam.

Oh All-Powerful, All-Seeing, All-Knowing, Unattainable, Unreachable, Unknowable, Unfathomable, Incomprehensible God

Oh Holy Trinity, Three-In-One, All-In-One, One True God, One-and-Only, One is the Loneliest Number.

Oh Abba, Heavenly Father, Father in Heaven, Everlasting Father, Son of God, Son of Man, Dad, Dada, Daddy, Poppa, Pops, Pop-Pop, Pappy, Sire, Paterfamilias.

Oh Creator, Comforter, Mediator, Savior, Judge, Jury, and Executioner.

Oh Lord of Hosts, Host of Heaven, Hostess with the Mostess.

Oh Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, First and Last, One Eternal Round, Sideways, Up, Down, Upside Down, Downside Up, Within and Without, Around, Over, Under, Inside, Outside, Inside Out, Outside In, In Every Heart and yet Bigger than the Universe.

Oh Lamb of God, True Vine, Living Water, Bread of Life, Bacon-Wrapped Supreme Deep-Dish Parmesan Cheese-Stuffed Crust Meatlovers Deluxe, Hot Fudge Ice Cream Sundae Pretty Please with Sprinkles and a Cherry on Top.

Oh King of Kings, Lords of Lords, Prince of Peace.

Oh Light of the World, the Word, the Word of God, the Word of Life, the Word to your Mother.

Oh Bridegroom, Good Shepherd, High Priest, Rock of Salvation, and also Paper and Scissors of Salvation.

Oh the Resurrection and the Life, the Way the Truth and the Life, Great Life Insurance Policy for the Hereafer.

Oh Master and Commander of Vast Hosts of Archangels, with whom Thou canst wipe out entire cities that look at Thou funny.

Oh Greatest of Patriarchs, Thou who puttest men on top and says women belong to their husbands and should always be pregnant and beautiful and in the 1950s like immortal Donna Reeds.

Oh Great Married God, Thou who never discusses Thy wife (or perhaps wives because polygamy is in the Bible, and also perhaps daughters because incest is too), Thou who hast created billions of children to populate Thy blue planet, go Thou.

Oh Great White Bearded Old Man in the Sky.

Oh Great Heterosexual God.

Oh Rich Wealthy God Who Has All the Things.

Oh God Who Created Man in His Image, which is only one image and that is why there is only one gender, one skin color, one sexual preference because Thy children are all exactly the same, just like Thou.

Oh Fickle God, Maker of the Cute and the Ugly, Crafter of the Rose and the Thistle; Designer of the Bunny, the Panda Bear, and the Spiny Lumpsucker; Crafter of Lemonade and Ludefisk; Maker of Hawaii and Nebraska.

Oh God who blames the Devil for all the bad things that happen, but then Thou created the Devil in the first place, so…

Oh Lover of All Thy Children, Thou Who Brings all back to Heaven as Long as they followed Thy rules like getting baptized or accepting Thou in their hearts, and as long as they give Thee lots of money.

Oh Great Tease in the Sky, Thou Who Hast Created Pornography, Sex, Drugs, and other Tempting Things and then said ‘Thou Shalt Not Do These Things’.

Oh Great Master of Selective Hearing.

Oh Great Utilizer of Tough Love, Thou Who Givest and Thou Who Takest Away, Thou who slappest Thy children and sayest ‘this hurtest me more than it hurtest you’ and ‘I did it because I love you.’

Oh God Who Can Do All Things, Except Maybe making a mountain even Thou can’t move.

Oh Great Venti Quad Shot Pumpkin Spice Cinammon Frappucino Soy Milk Latte in the Sky.

Oh Mighty Killer of Babies; Declarer of War and Bankruptcy; Giver of Cancer, AIDS, and Diarrhea.

Oh Powerful Bully who tosses over the chessboard when Thou art losing the game; Oh Stomper of Ants; Oh Great Hitler in the Sky, user of atomic bombs, plagues, earthquakes, famines, cyclones, tsunamis, droughts, hunger, hurricanes, and floods that kill billions of people when Thou feels grumpy (but thanks for that rainbow Thou gavest the few people on the ark afterwards, that was nice).

Oh Giant Narcissist in the Sky.

Oh Giver of the Best Invisible Hugs.

Oh Creator of Saddam Hussein, Sarah Palin, Judge Judy, Soulja Boy, and Khloe Kardashian.

Oh Giver of Truth, Thou Whose Name is used in Hundreds of Separate Religions, Thou who must get a kick out of each one saying they have the truth while Thou remains silent with a bowl of popcorn.

Give me this day my daily bread, then leave me the fuck alone.

Amen.

My Own Valentine

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For most of my life, I have had a tendency for being a little bit too tough on myself, in all the wrong ways. I learned a few years ago the human habit of mistaking GUILT for SHAME, and frankly, it changed my life.

GUILT is the experience of regret about something I want to rightfully change (in other words, I experienced something I didn’t like, so I want to make amends and not do it again). SHAME is the measure of worth in accordance to the guilt. Most humans have the tendency to take experience of GUILT, and turn it into the experience of SHAME. (Americans are amazing at this, and women are even more impressive, as are those who grew up in conservative religious households).

Examples: If my son makes a mess and I get angry and scream at him, I will later feel guilty. I don’t like screaming at my son and I should have handled it differently. I make amends and we clean up the mess together and I learn a lesson about myself. That is GUILT.

If my son makes a mess and I get angry and scream at him, and then suddenly I start beating myself up for being a terrible parent who makes huge mistakes, and I think I’m messing my children up, and I wonder why I ever decided to become a father… well, that is SHAME.

If I feel sad one evening and I eat an entire pizza to feed my feelings, and later I will feel bloated and gross. I decide that I don’t like how that feels and recommit to myself to eat better and exercise. That is GUILT.

If I feel sad one evening and I eat an entire pizza to pizza to feed my feelings, and later I will feel bloated and gross. I decide that I am a fat, lazy slob that no one will ever love and why do I even work out or try to look good because I’ll be single forever. This is SHAME.

And while we all have individual examples applicable to our lives, families, and internal doubts and struggles, these principles are universal. Simply put, GUILT is healthy, and SHAME is not.

I work with my clients in therapy on these principles constantly. When I first point out SHAME to them, many of them feel SHAME about having SHAME. Ironic, isn’t it?

One of my very favorite quotes is from a Jewel song. “No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.”

And so, over the years, I have learned to be forgiving and kind toward myself after I experienced GUILT, and I learned to begin separating out the SHAME. Any negative patterns within myself, I began sorting out because I realized they were bringing me pain. They were things I wished to be free from.

I’ve been single, almost exclusively, for nearly five years now. I have balanced out a single life with one where I have learned to be more and more true to myself as a professional, as a father, and as a friend. I am getting better and better at being a strong, compassionate, and authentic person who puts himself first in healthy ways, learning more from the GUILT experiences and reducing the amount that come from SHAME.

And that brings us to Valentine’s Day, a day when it is easy to sit and lament being alone, to dredge up sadness and bitterness about the times when I fell in love or tried too hard or had my heart broken. It’s easy to jump to a SHAME space about being single, as if the status of being in a relationship somehow automatically assigns me more worth as a human being.

I’ve given love a good shot a few times over the years, hoping there will be times when it pays off. And I’ve learned that while it hasn’t yet, I can offer myself the same love I hope to receive from other people. My life is slowly and surely transforming, turning ever more amazing as I proceed down positive paths, learning as I go.

And in my mind, firmly in the GUILT space, are the memories of painful times in dating in the past:

The time that man, after making out with me on a date, sent me a message the next morning that said ‘That was a mistake, I don’t find you that cute. We won’t be going out again.’

The time another man had sex with me after a date and told me, while still cuddling with me, that I had soft skin and a nice dick, but I needed to work harder on the rest of me.

That time another man kissed me and then immediately said, “I shouldn’t have done that. I respect you too much.”

That time I pined after a man for far too long who I loved, and who loved me, but the man lived far away and refused to be with me even when he could have been.

That time when I was told that I had all the qualities a man was looking for, but that my children were holding me back.

The times I have been told I’m too confident, or too smart, or not handsome enough, or that I don’t drink enough, or that I don’t have enough money.

All of those comments on dates that have reinforced SHAME, measuring my worth as a date-able commodity, I learned to instead push them into the GUILT category, and to begin learning about myself through the types of men I date, and how they treat me, and who I choose to give of my time and attention to, and how I treat myself after these experiences, and who I surround myself with, and how I pursue relationships.

And while I remain open to love and relationships with the right person, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to turn that love and attention toward myself and my children.

And thus it is that today, at age 37, I am thrilled to be my very own Valentine.

 

Why Barbara Jordan is My Hero

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On July 13, 1976, a New York Times article read:

“It is a classic American success story: A poor child of extraordinary intellect, driven by parents who sought a better life for their offspring; an ambitious student who turned to the study of law because it seemed to provide the key to influence; a young politician who, not despairing after defeats in two attempts for public office, was elected on the third try; a state senator and then a member of Congress, who sought out and gradually won the confidence of the powerful and who was not beneath compromising and making deals to win some of that power.

It was, in short, the road to success that white men had traveled since the country was founded.”

A few months ago, I had never heard of Barbara Jordan. I started doing daily posts on an LGBT history site that I created, and one day I came across Jordan. I clicked on a few links and watched her powerful and moving speech at the impeachment trial of Richard Nixon, where her mix of clear-headed and unbiased focus, social justice, and powerful oratory skills stirred my soul, and then I saw her moving speech at the 1976 Democratic National Convention and had to sit down I was so impressed. Then I learned that both speeches are considered in the top twenty of best American speeches given in American history. So I quickly sought to learn more about her.

Born in 1936, Barbara Jordan grew up in the poor sections of Houston, where segregation ensured lower education standards, poverty ran rampant, and unadulterated racism often resulted in lynchings, violent mobs, and unfair legal sanctions and punishments.

Barbara’s hero was her grandfather, her mother’s father, John Patten. Despite a meager upbringing, Patten married and had a family, and opened a candy shop, establishing a business with which he planned to provide for his family for their entire lives. When a young black man robbed Patten’s store one night, Patten grabbed his gun and chased the man into the streets. When white policemen saw Patten with a gun, Patten put up his hands to surrender, but one of the officers shot him in the hand. Patten was later put on trial, where the police claimed Patten had shot at them multiple times, and an all-white jury convicted Patten to ten years in jail. Patten served 8 years in filthy, undernourished conditions. He lost his business, and one of his children died while he was gone. Upon his exit, he began peddling junk, and he taught his favorite granddaughter, Barbara Charline, how to work hard and how to stand up for herself.

Barbara witnessed the impacts of racism and segregation on a daily basis growing up, but she was able to view the entire system with a keen mind. She excelled in school, learning how to emphasize her talents and challenge her shortcomings, and pushed herself through Harvard Law School. Settling back in Houston, she began running for public office, and quickly learned how the local white politicians wanted to take advantage of her talents and race to further themselves. She lost two elections before staking her own claim and digging in on her own terms.

Over the following years in her terms of government, first in the Senate, and then in Congress, Barbara developed the unique ability to stand firmly for African Americans, and for women, while maintaining alliances with the white politicians around her, particularly one with Lyndon B. Johnson during his time in office as president. She was sought out hundreds of times for public speeches, was considered for the vice presidency by Jimmy Carter (though she ended up turning down an offer in his White House unless he offered her the position of Attorney General; he didn’t), and had a group of national followers who wanted her to run for President, but she felt the time was not right.

Jordan had the unique capacity to remain in the moment, something I strive for on a daily basis. She could take insurmountable tasks, like researching and dusting off old policies and procedures, without the benefit of the Internet, and spending weeks and months compiling notes to form clear-headed arguments. She addressed her needs, formed boundaries, celebrated life, valued her friends and loved ones, and maintained a balance of self-care, career aspirations, and personal relationships. She lived, and she lived large, and she lived well.

Barbara died just short of the age of 60, after a years long battle with multiple sclerosis and, later, leukemia. At her side until the end was Nancy Earl, an educational psychologist, a white woman, and Barbara’s best friend, lover, and partner for 30 years. Barbara lived in a time when she could not come out as lesbian, and likely had to introduce the love of her life as her “roommate” or “friend” in public. They weren’t allowed to marry, but they lived as if they were. Earl and Jordan loved each other deeply and fully. They owned a home together and traveled together, an interracial lesbian couple in Texas, keeping their home life a secret from the public. This both delights me and makes me sad.

Barbara Jordan was the first southern black woman elected to the House of Representatives, the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after the Reconstruction, the first black woman to address the Democratic National Convention, and the first black woman to be buried in Texas State Cemetery. Since her death, Jordan has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, has been put on a postage stamp, has been placed in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and has had numerous schools as well as a main terminal in the Austin airport named for her.

Barbara Jordan broke down barriers for women, for African Americans, and for LGBT people, in the face of oppression and impossible obstacles. Her skills and talents led her to rise above. Now envision a world in which all are given equal opportunities for success, when systems of oppression and privilege are not in place to hold others back. What have we missed out on because we favor the majority and make it easier for them to succeed?

I am proud to call Barbara Jordan a personal hero. My world is better because she lived.

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