Missionary Training

MTC

I remember lying in bed that first night at the MTC, feeling empty and eerie. I was in someone else’s bed, in someone else’s room. Across the room, someone I didn’t know was snoring. And this was going to be my new world.

It was 10:30 pm on December 31, 1997. In just a few hours, the rest of the world would be celebrating the arrival of a New Year with celebrations and resolutions. But I was a missionary now, an elder, and I was dedicating the next two years to God. I was tired, but my head wouldn’t stop spinning with memories and fears, hopes and wishes.

Just a handful of hours before, I had bid my family farewell. My family. My mother, my little sister (still in high school), and I had been through a lot together. My five older siblings had been out of the house for years, and we were the youngest two left with a single mother, our own separate little family unit, different from the home my siblings had known. We had survived the abuse at the hands of Kent together. I had been the Priesthood holder in the home, the protector, the man of the house. And now I was leaving them behind for two entire years. But I felt safe knowing I would see them in a few weeks again, when they came to bid me farewell on the day I would go to the Salt Lake City Airport and fly to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the central city of the area I would be spending the next two years in.

Only a few months before, I had received my missionary call. It was a moment I had prepared my entire life for. I had saved up money, read and studied the scriptures, prayed and stayed active in Church all through my adolescence. All in preparation for what everyone said were the ‘best two years’ of a young man’s life. I would serve for two years, then come home and enroll in college and get married and have children and stall a faithful Mormon for my entire life. That was the blueprint, that was the divine plan. That day, I had received the letter in my hands. I could be going anywhere. My best friends from high school had gone on to Munich, Germany, and Trujillo, Peru, and Cape Town, South Africa. I could be going to Russia (and learning Russian) or going to China (and learning Chinese). It could be anywhere. I gathered all of my friends and loved ones that evening and ripped open the envelope. Philadelphia. I had been a bit flummoxed, a bit disappointed to be serving in the United States, somehow wondering if I wasn’t a bit less worthy than the others because I was gay and that was why I hadn’t been called overseas.

My mom had beamed with pride and sadness as she sat next to me in the farewell family meeting. There were prayers and songs and testimonies and then I had hugged my family goodbye. Me and hundreds of others, all there on New Years Eve, changing our lives. Then I had wheeled my two packed suitcases, full of white shirts and black pants and scriptures and ties, along with a few toiletries. That was it. For two years, there would be no books, no magazines, no movies, no television. Just the scriptures. Just hard work and prayers to God. We elite young men and women (but mostly men) would spend two years bringing souls to God.

Ages passed in my brain over that next hour as I lay there in bed, watching the minutes creep by. I had graduated high school just six months ago, and I had waited patiently until I turned 19. I had worked at comic book shops and at a local Target to pass the time, delaying college until my return. I had said goodbye to my friends, leaving on their own missions and going off to school and getting married. I had kept myself worthy. I had avoided dating girls completely, and avoided thinking about boys. And now I was here, and I didn’t know how to feel, what to feel.

After finding my assigned room and bunk earlier in the day, I had met the other missionaries in my district. For some bizarre reason, my companion, Elder Franklin, and I had been placed in a group of missionaries who were all headed to Raleigh, North Carolina, and not with the rest of the group who were going to Philadelphia with us. I sat with the other young men in meetings and at dinner that first night, immediately realizing I didn’t fit in. Some of them were athletes (and so so handsome, but I didn’t let myself dwell on that), some were funny, some were quirky. They formed a brotherhood. But I was on the outs, I was the secretly gay one. I wondered if my entire mission would feel this way, me trying to fit in with the other guys, the normal ones, with me on the outskirts squirming in my own skin.

Elder Franklin was nice. A California guy from a good family, funny, class clown type. He weighed 317 pounds, and he jokingly referred to himself as Franklin 3:17, a loose reference to the family scripture in the Bible in the book of John. But where all of the other guys were sleeping in rooms with four elders in them, set in two sets of bunk beds, Franklin and I had our own room. I felt isolated and forgotten, homesick and foreign.

I watched the clock turn 12:00, and realized 1998 was here. The next twelve months would be one hundred per cent in the arms of God, doing his service, acting as an instrument of his hands. I would teach others diligently and dutifully of the atonement of Christ, the love of God, the life of Joseph Smith, the truth of the Book of Mormon, the sole truths of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was humbling, overwhelming, mind-boggling. How would I do this? How could I rewrite my very self for this? I turned on my side, away from the harsh red numbers of the clock, and shut my eyes tight. Tears leaked out onto my pillow. Ignoring the snores on the other side of the room, I muttered a prayer, my hundredth such prayer in just a day, and my first of the new year.

Dear God, I began. I asked for his guidance, his strength. I asked him to watch over my family in my absence. I asked him to keep the desires of my heart pure. I asked him to bless me with his holy spirit, to give me truth, to give me strength. And then I made that most frightening request, the one God had remained silent on for so long. I asked him to heal me. I didn’t use the word gay this time, God knew what I meant.

My eyes closed and I sang hymns in my head to help me fall asleep. I had a busy day ahead. A busy two years ahead.

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Being a Sock-guy

 

socks

“New Year’s Resolution Number Six: Become a Sock-guy.”

When I set goals for the beginning of this year, that was one of the items on my list. A sock-guy. I’d always wanted to be a sock-guy.

A sock-guy is someone who can wear crazy socks and totally get away with it. Bright yellow socks with black umbrellas on them, socks that look like the wallpaper in his grandmother’s bathroom with brown and tan floral prints, black socks with white lettered Internet acronyms all over them like “GTFO!”, socks with lightning bolts running up and down each side, socks with cartoon faces of ducks staring at everyone who notices them.

And so I started buying cool socks, figuring I would collect a few pairs at a time. My personal trainer was the first to really notice, since he has me take my shoes off during workouts. “What are you wearing?!” he said with a laugh at my black and red checkered socks, which did not match my workout shorts and tank top at all. But that’s part of the charm of being a sock-guy, the socks not matching your clothing. I told him about my resolution, and over the next several workouts he started to look forward to seeing what socks I would be wearing next.

This morning, as I dressed, I opened up a box of new socks I just ordered online from a place called Happy Socks. Four pairs of comfortable and colorful pastel socks for the spring season. Without giving it much though, I grabbed a pair that is bright pink with embroidered palm trees on it and I slipped them on. I wore a blue checkered shirt and a pair of black jeans, then tied on my blue tennis shoes. Doing a self-check, I realized the entire outfit worked together pretty well, except for the pink palm tree socks. These are socks that will draw the eye, making people think “Why would he wear those socks with blue shoes?” My boyfriend noticed them with a small grimace. “Um, nice socks,” he said, hesitantly supportive. “They, uh, really go with your outfit.”

There is a large part of me that wants to be the guy that fits in, that wears tailored clothes, tight button-down lumberjack shirts with rolled up sleeves with form-fitting jeans that make my ass look great. But there is a larger part of me that would fit right in in Portland, with a Pac-Man hoodie and a pair of jean shorts. Part of me wants the nice new shoes, and a larger part of me is the guy who wears white socks with his flip flops… and goes out in public.

I’ve always had that internal battle, the desire to fit in counterbalanced by the larger desire to stand out, the need to be looked at and admired by modern standards of fashion and the need to be looked at and admired for my own sense of individuality and strength. In elementary school, when I was the kid picked last on the team, I always longed to be one of the cool kids, to be tall and good-looking and great at sports, but honestly I was okay with being picked last too because that meant no one else was picked last, and I didn’t really want to be like those other kids, I just wanted to be me.

And so being a sock-guy is really about being more of myself, being an individual, being someone who is strong and creative, who turns heads due to his bold and quirky choices, and who loves being in his own skin.

And if wearing a crazy pair of socks helps accomplish that for me, well, then I’m gonna a be a guy who wears crazy socks every day.

Believing in Angels

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I grew up believing I could see angels.

At least if I was worthy enough.

In fact, the first tenets of my religion, outside of belief in Jesus Christ himself, were tied up around visits from heavenly beings to those who had enough faith. The very origins of the Mormons, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lay in the tenet that something asked with faith would be revealed. A Mormon favorite scripture lay in James 1:5: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. Joseph Smith did that, they believe, and God manifested himself with his son, Jesus Christ, at his side, inspiring Joseph to create a brand new church.

Nearly twenty years later, I can still remember the night I went to bed absolutely positive I would be seeing an angel, one with a miracle in his hand. At the time, I was training to be a missionary, in the aptly named Missionary Training Center, one of the holiest places on Earth according to Mormons. I had had Priesthood leaders lay their hands on my head and set me apart as a missionary, placing a ‘mantle’ upon me, one that was there to increase my spiritual sensitivity and my access to the Holy Ghost itself, so long as I was living worthy. I had literally set aside all of my mortal concerns. I had delayed college for two full years so that I could go be a missionary, paying out of pocket to do so. I had left my family behind, not even allowed to make phone calls to them while I was gone. I was leaving my friends, my home, my hobbies and interests, and sacrificing every moment of every day.

In the days prior, I had been reading the scriptures nonstop, praying constantly, and thinking of nothing but spiritual things, even keeping hymns playing in my heart. I had fasted and listened with my full heart and spirit to the leaders who had spoken to us, listening for every answer.

The night before, Steven R. Covey, the famous businessman, author, and motivational speaker, the man who had written Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, himself a Mormon, had given a speech to a crowd of young missionaries about looking at others the way Jesus looks at us. I had been implementing this view during the day, seeing those around me as children of God, and then I had taken a step farther and turned it inwardly. For one of the first times in my life, I saw myself as a child of God, someone who deserves happiness, someone who can do anything with God, someone who was capable of performing miracles.

And then I saw myself as, perhaps, someone who could have a miracle performed upon him. Someone who was worthy. Someone who could be healed, not for selfish reasons but to make me a better servant of God, a better advocate of his as I spent the next few years bringing other souls to him.

All day that day I had been filled with light and love. My nerve endings were on fire, my stomach felt full with no food, my head felt light and brimming with hope. I climbed into my bed at the MTC that night with more hope than I had ever felt before. I muttered a prayer to God, with tears streaming down my face, that I was ready. I was ready, at last, to be cured of being gay. I had been hoping for this cure since I was in elementary school, and I knew now that finally, finally, I could be made whole, be made straight, be made right in the eyes of God. I had been promised I could be cured if I tried hard enough, and this time I knew I could. I had faith.

As I closed my eyes that night, I remember wondering if I might actually see an angel. My desires were righteous, my heart was pure. I might actually get my  miracle.

And then I fell asleep. And then, hours later, I woke up. I came aware suddenly, my stomach rumbling, my head clouded, and I swiftly sat up. I scanned my insides. Nothing felt different, but everything would be, I just knew it.

Within a few hours, walking around outside among the other missionaries, I had immediately noticed a few of them were attractive, and I silently cursed myself. I instead made myself look at the women around, the sister missionaries and the employees at the MTC, and wondered if I could find them attractive now. But it was the same as it had always been, there was nothing there, no attraction, no noticing.

I found a quiet corner and prayed, asking God for guidance, and I felt that I just needed to be patient. No angel, no cure, but perhaps a bit more patience. I needed a blessing.

That entire day, I squirmed in my chair, still mostly fasting, and I struggled to stay focused. I needed that blessing and I needed it now. Finally the evening had arrived, and I rushed into the man who served in a leadership position over me, a branch president, a man I had never met but one who was assigned to help the missionaries during their training.

Brother Christensen listened kindly as I told him everything. I told him about being gay, about being here on a mission for the right reasons, about knowing I could be cured, and about needing his help to make the cure happen. Tears had spilled down my cheeks the entire time and I had made no effort to wipe them free. My heart had thudded in my chest, my fingers had been tightly clasped into fists.

Brother Christensen listened. And then he stayed silent. And then he spoke the words that would haunt me for the next several years.

“Elder Anderson, your desires for a cure are righteous, but it is not your lot to be cured of your same-sex attraction. This is your cross to bear. It’s a condition you were meant to live with and to learn from. Perhaps a cure can come in the future, but this is not something I can help you with today.”

He had given me a blessing that night anyway. One of comfort. But I couldn’t hear a word of it through my own shame. My ears and heart had been filled with foolishness and embarrassment. I had felt so sure, so pure, so trusting in God. I had believed in angels.

A small part of my spirit died that day, and stayed that way for a long time to come. I finished my missionary training, and I spent hours, days, weeks, months knocking on doors, teaching others how to make themselves right with God so that they could join his church. But the entire time, I felt like a hypocrite. Because how could I teach them to be right when I was never right myself?

I had believed in angels. But they had just flown on by.

He Said

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he said

“You’re husband material,” he said, looking into my eyes with candor. “And I have a terrible habit of only falling for guys who are bad for me. So I’m not really interested in seeing you again.”

“I made a huge mistake,” he said, looking away. “Making out with you sent the wrong message because I don’t think you’re that cute. But maybe we can hang out again some time.”

“Chad was the one who got away,” he said to a friend, who later told me. “He was sweet and good-looking and actually wanted to date me. But he expected me to text back, to put in effort. I know he’s still single, but I’m just not ready for that kind of guy.”

“You’re the kind of guy I could move across the country for,” he said, with those blue eyes right on mine, “and you’ve accomplished so much. I can’t do this, not until I’m someone who’s done as much as you have.”

“You’re friends are crazy hot,” he said, eyes mischievous on the dance floor. “But they aren’t my type. I prefer guys like you, guys more average.”

“I like everything about you,” he said with a reassuring lopsided smile, “and there is nothing I would change. I could spend my life with you if you just change the following things about yourself.”

“I love you,” he said, with sincere eyes much too quickly, repeating it often and consistently until I believed him. Then one afternoon, he shrugged, averted his gaze, and said, “You know, I’m just not feeling it anymore.”

“If only I wasn’t married,” he said.

“If only I was younger,”  he said.

“If only you were younger,” he said.

“I’m not ready for kids,” he said.

“Can you bring your kids on our second date?” he said.

“You have nice skin but you have some work to do on your body,” he said.

“I might be busy for a month or two but maybe I’ll give you call some time,” he said.

“I only like older guys,” he said.

“I only like younger, skinny guys,” he said.

“I only like beefy bears,” he said.

“It’s only been three days, but do you want to be my boyfriend?” he said.

“You’re not Mormon enough,” he said.

“I don’t date ex-Mormons,” he said.

“I like you, but not as much as I like meth,” he said.

“I like you way too much way too soon,” he said.

“I’m just not ready to date someone again,”  he said.

“I’m just looking for sex,”  he said.

“You actually look good now, what changed?” he said.

“Don’t call me handsome, it makes me insecure,” he said.

“I’m ashamed of myself as a person,” he said.

“I’ve never dated a therapist. Do you think I have depression?” he said.

“I’m not capable of trusting another person again,” he said.

“Yo keep a lot hidden,” he said, his brown eyes focused on me intently. “It makes me wonder what you’re thinking. It makes me wonder about you. You seem like a great guy. I mean, how is a guy like you still single?”

 

 

 

 

Asian Massage

Massage

“Why not?” I thought.

Walking the rainy streets of Boston, I had been exploring the campus of Harvard University all morning before I decided to walk the surrounding neighborhoods. I was enjoying the rich architecture, the cobblestone streets, the people watching. But it was cold and I was a little sore from yesterday’s flight, so why not get a massage. It’s okay to treat myself from time to time.

I walked into the little store front where the red sign advertised a massage. There was a fish tank and some kitschy decor. Up a few stairs, there was an Asian woman who I later learned was from China. Her hair was in two long ponytails. She was a little overweight and had a shirt on that exposed her shoulders, covered her breasts, and then hung open on each side while hanging loosely down the front, meaning you could see both of her sides but not her stomach. She gave a wide smile and had several gaps in her teeth.

“Hi! I’m Winnie! What your name, handsome young boy?”

I introduced myself and inquired about rates. I opted to get a “foot and scalp massage” for 30 minutes at the reasonable rate of $40, and Winnie enthusiastically led me to a back room where I took a seat in a plastic covered chair. While my feet soaked in deliciously hot water, she worked on my scalp, neck, and jaw, and it was heavenly. Soon, she began working on my feet, using her strong hands to find every possible sore spot.

Winnie made small talk with me during the massage. I chose my words carefully as she only had limited English skills. I learned she had moved to the United States three years before and that she had two children at home, that she had a mother back in mainland China, and that she thought America was too cold.

She asked me questions as well, and she responded with far too much enthusiasm when it was clear she didn’t understand many of my words. And she flirted with her words. A lot. Something she must have figured that America men wanted from her. “What you do for work? Oh, a counselor, how nice, strong handsome young man!” and “Oh, you from Utah, there many strong young boys there like you!” and “Oh you have some kids! Handsome young boys grow to strong man like you!” When I mentioned having a boyfriend, she didn’t quite seem to understand. “Oh a boyfriend, good for all the beautiful girls,” she replied.

While working on my neck, Winnie offered me a discounted rate on a body massage, and I agreed. So after the 30 minutes were up, she led me to a back room and instructed me to lay down on a massage table that was covered only by a sheet. There was no towel or covering, so I stripped down to my briefs and laid face down on the table.

Winnie rolled her hands and elbows over the prominent knots in my shoulders and back, legs and arms, continually commenting on how strong I was, how handsome and young. It started out funny and then just got annoying due to the frequency. It was an awesome massage, so I just stayed silent.

Then Winnie climbed up on the table and straddled my hips as she dug in. “You so stress, so tired,” she said, digging her elbows into my back. “You need woman like me to relax.”

“Um,” I muttered, and then didn’t know what to say. “You–I’m not interested in contact like that.”

Winnie slid off me and began working on my hips, muttering the word “handsome” and giving a little moan. She then grabbed the briefs and began yanking them down.

I jerked up on the table. “Whoa, whoa, no thank you, no.”

She tried reaching under my hips. “Like me to–”

And I moved off of the table this time. “Nope, no. No. No thank you.”

“You big strong man, like woman to–”

“Nope. Massage over. Nope.”

Winnie looked at me, confused, and then walked out of the room. As I dressed, I had to laugh to myself. Had that just happened? Is that what–is this her life? Men come in and– Is she paid for–? Her shirt, the unending flirtations, the reputations of Asian massage parlors. I buttoned up my shirt and slipped on my shoes. I glanced at my phone. It was 2 pm on a weekday. Good lord, what was this place like on an evening or a weekend?

I slipped my jacket back over my shoulders. I felt relaxed and tense at once. I got my wallet out of my pocket, wanting to get out of there in a hurry. Huh. It really had been a great massage.

I walked out into the lobby and saw Winnie standing at the same counter. While she had greeted me with a happy expression, she now stood there impatiently. Her arms were folded tightly and I could still see her sides from where the shirt opened up. She had a stern look now and her ponytails seemed almost comical with this expression.

“You pay.”

“Yeah, of course.” I muttered, flipping through the bills in my wallet.

“You not like massage.”

“Um, no, the massage was great, but I didn’t want– you know what, never mind. Here you go.” I handed her six twenty dollar bills, enough to cover the massage price, 100, plus a 20 dollar tip.

Winnie counted the money quickly, then looked up me with disgust. “No, this not enough. You give me more tip. I work hard at your stress, this not enough.”

I laughed loudly this time at her strange mix of boldness and audacity. I stepped toward the door.

“Excuse me? That’s a twenty per cent tip on a weird experience.” I opened the door.

“Twenty per cent not enough! You give me bigger tip!”

Winnie shouted out at me as I stepped into the rainy streets, struggling not to laugh at the unintended innuendo.

Finding Gordon part 1

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I walked through the cemetery, feeling nervous. It was silly to feel nervous. It was a small town cemetery in Delta, Utah, a place I had never even been before. The graves were arranged in rows and many had been there for several decades. Maybe I wasn’t nervous so much as a little afraid. I was afraid he was forgotten by his family just like he’d been forgotten by the rest of us.

I’d never met Gordon personally. He’d been killed when he was 28 years old. November 23, 1988, that was the day. The day before my tenth birthday, now that I think of it. I hadn’t even heard his name until I was in my mid-thirties.

As an out gay man in Utah, I had found myself playing amateur detective slash fledgling historian and looking into gay hate crimes. I’d been on a journey for several months, learning facts about those were taken too soon for being gay. Most of the murders remained unsolved. And among those that were solved, there had been very little justice. The killers, all men, had often used the gay panic defense. “He flirted with me, judge, and I couldn’t stop myself from violent murder.” And sometimes it had worked. Too often it had worked.

I had been driving to small town courthouses for several months now, finding the records rooms and asking for copies of the files, the ones open to the public. Lengthy court transcripts on some of them, troves of information. But there had been nothing like Gordon’s story. When I’d pulled into the small records room at the Millard County Courthouse, I had been flummoxed by the stacks of boxes containing the records. I spent a day in the waiting room scanning through them, then asked for copies. Several hours, and several hundred dollars later, I had driven home with a trunk full of white paper containing the decades old murder trials of the men who had killed Gordon.

Over the next several weeks, as I balanced raising kids and running a business, I spent my free time reading the transcripts and copiously taking notes on them. I learned about Gordon through this. I read through nearly 2000 pages of jury selection. I read the opening statements, the testimonies of his loved ones including his parents, the timeline of events and the exhausting lists of collected evidence. I read the medical testimonies of professionals who discussed the state of the body after he’d been found. It was horrible.

I had only been a child when he was killed, a Mormon kid in south-western Missouri. But no word spread. Nothing was mentioned about the young man brutally murdered for being gay. Another decade later, when Matthew Shepard was murdered in a similar way, it was all the media could talk about. But nothing about Gordon.

The trials read with intrigue, courtroom drama, high emotion, and twists and turns. The cast of characters that took shape in my mind was storied and complex and, in ways, unbelievable, dozens of figures cut from Utah Mormon molds, across all ages and spectrums. It was boring in places, dozens of pages in a row of evidence lists and legal jargon. And then the results: the death penalty for one man, and life in prison for another. My notes extended from tens of pages to hundreds.

At the end, I felt I knew Gordon in many ways. But I knew him only by what happened to him, by the terrible things those men did before they killed him even more terribly. I knew the terror he felt, the void he left in the lives of others. I had a little list of facts about where he’d lived and worked, a few notes about his friendships. But there was much more I didn’t know, I couldn’t know. I only knew he was important, and it had become crucial that I find him.

I found a map in the back of the cemetery that detailed the lists of graves in their layouts. And there he was, there was his name: Church, Gordon Ray. My heart rate had picked up while I walked to the cemetery. I saw a section of graves devoted to his family. I saw the grave of his grandmother, his father, and others. Simple and sweet graves with small epitaphs and lists of family relationships, birth and death dates. Simple facts to remember human lives, fading as those who loved them grew older. Cemeteries always make me so sad.

And then, I found Gordon. I saw the most beautiful headstone I had ever seen. A large, beautiful, well-kept headstone. A giant quote across the top read “When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.” His name, birth and death dates all in large blocked stone, and his family relationships outlined on the back.

And at the top, his picture. His handsome face shining out, his bright smile, his thick hair, his clear eyes, his trademark mole, all immortalized there. It was shocking, unexpected, beautiful.

Tears ran down my cheeks and I wrapped my arms around myself, looking at his photo. I had the sudden realization that he had been so loved. And more than that, that he had been remembered. And honored. In this simple little cemetery in this quiet little town, overlooking the landscape of the town he was raised in, Gordon had been honored.

I stayed there for several minutes. My mind raced with the details of the trial and what I knew about his life. I felt cold inside as I realized that in the casket below me, his remains were there. His body would still be broken, all these years later. What those men had done to him, how they had hurt him.

I eventually turned away, but I looked back at Gordon one last time. “I honor you. I remember you.”

And as I walked away, I knew I had a long journey ahead. I had a story to tell.

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Origin

 

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Zero

My mother wrote songs as she rocked me

Singing lyrics aloud, her eyes blue on mine brown

A song of the mother Mary rocking the Christ child

A lullaby that soothed until heavy eyelids closed in sleep.

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Five

We cut holes in shoeboxes

Then covered them in paper, pink and red mostly.

Scissors sliced thick paper into hearts and letters

While scented colored markers etched our names

In grape purple and lemon yellow and licorice black.

On super hero valentines,

I wrote To’s and From’s to each member of my class

Except I wrote two for Michael, the boy who made me laugh.

I liked-him-liked-him

The way Chris liked Michelle and Jason liked Desiree.

At the Valentines Party, I placed each small card in each small box

And two in Michael’s.

But I only wrote a From on one of his cards, leaving the other blank.

If I gave two to him, the other boys would know I was different.

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Fifteen

“You are indeed one of Heavenly Father’s choice sons.

Do not in any way disappoint Him.”

The patriarch spoke kindly, firmly,

A direct message from God to me on his breath.

Weeks before, when I had told the bishop my shameful secret,

the message had been the same, kind and firm.

“God loves you, He does not tolerate sin.”

The words of the prophets, kind and firm again.

“Pray, do everything God says, and He will cure you,

Make you straight,

Because He loves you.”

And so I ket my eyes just that, straight

Focused, unerring.

Dad was gone,

And my stepfather spoke with fists and angry words.

I was a fairy, he said. I would never measure up to a real man.

But God, He heard. I just couldn’t disappoint Him.

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twenty-seven

She looked at me sincerely, tears streaming down her face,

And asked why, why after six years of dating, we hadn’t kissed,

Hadn’t held hands, not even once.

I thought of the familiar excuses, used again and again,

About trying to be moral and righteous,

About saying it wasn’t just her, that I’d never kissed anyone,

Never held anyone’s hands.

Those were true words, but not the whole truth.

She needed the whole truth.

“I’m gay,” I said. “But I’m trying to cure it.”

And she didn’t mind. And so we kissed, finally.

There was affection and regard and kindness behind it,

If not chemical attraction,

And relationships had been built on less.

And for her the feelings were real.

And so, three months later, we married.

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thirty-two

The day my second son was born, I got that same sense

Of holding my entire world in my hands.

That word again, Fatherhood,

Overwhelming in its possibility, its responsibility.

Here, a new miracle, different from his brother in every way.

But this time, our lives were different.

Early drafts of divorce papers sat on the desk at home.

I was sleeping in the basement now,

And her heart was broken,

While mine, though sad, had come up for oxygen

After three decades of holding its breath.

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thirty-eight

Pen to paper, I think back on six years of firsts.

First authentic kiss.

First try at an authentic relationship

And first authentic heartbreak.

First time dancing, euphoric and free.

First friends, real friends, finally, friends.

First realization that I like myself, powerfully,

And that I have no need to be cured of something that was never wrong.

First freedoms, from religion and deadly self-expectations.

I live now, loudly.

My sons thrive in two households, and they will tell anyone who asks

That their mother likes boys who like girls

And their father likes boys who like boys.

They are thriving, and smiling, and real.

And so is she.

And so am I.

the Harper Lee dream

Harper

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the cinema with a group of friends and watched some broadcasted TED talks. The topics ranged from eliminating poverty to understanding the impact of stress on aging of DNA to plans to build a civilization on Mars in my lifetime. I left there feeling flummoxed in all the right ways: uplifted, amazed, inspired, even a little overwhelmed but the good kind. The program closed with the wonderful Anne Lamott reading an inspirational piece about things she’d learned, and I’d felt inspired and triggered in wonderful ways.

I felt renewed, restored. I’ve been on a media purge lately, habitually checking the president’s Twitter account to see what new thing I should be outraged by next. To leave a program feeling inspired and whole again, well that was simply wonderful.

I’m finding more of these experiences lately. Last week, I went to a salon at the home of a local well known feminist where an incredible local black woman, a lawyer writer author and professor, shared data on the evidence of black women being involved in slave revolts. She shared many inspiring points, but one stuck with me more than anything, the observation that when an interracial couple has a mixed race child, that child is always considered black, thus a white woman can give birth to a white child but a black woman can never give birth to a white child.

Before I fell asleep last night, I watched Hassan Minaj deliver a biting political comedy address at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, closing with poignant observations that he, the son of Indian immigrants and a brown skinned Muslim man, has the freedom of speech to criticize and cajole the white elected leader of the country, and that is what makes the country great. It was funny, sad, critical, and inspiring.

I fell asleep reading the works of Nelson Mandela, a man thrown in jail for his political involvement in a movement that demanded equality for black and white. I’ve read how he survived in prison for nearly three decades. He sat in a cell while his wife was imprisoned and harassed, while his mother died, while his oldest son was killed, while his daughter grew to adulthood and married and had children of her own. And despite the harshness of his conditions, he writes in such a way that, again, I feel inspired and empowered. His words brim with hope and positivity and the belief in change.

This morning, as I made my coffee, I plopped a DVD in the player to listen to while I worked. I have a habit of just grabbing documentaries randomly off the library shelf, something to help me expand my learning into new areas and categories I might not have been exposed to otherwise. This particular documentary discussed how To Kill a Mockingbird was created, and how it has become a timeless and enduring classic that has spanned continents and generations.

It opened with the story of Harper Lee, a small-town author who found herself too busy to write until a few friends saved up enough money and surprised her with a gift: they gave her enough money to cover all her bills and expenses for one year with the idea that she would use that year to write a book. That book became To Kill a Mockingbird.

I can’t get this thought out of my head, these kind people taking a risk on a friend, believing in her enough to give her an incredible opportunity. My mind moves to history, to the things I surround myself with, to the causes I believe in, to the things I choose to watch and read and write about, to the conversations I pursue. I look at a world of lessons from history, of the strength of human character, of scientific breakthroughs.

And then I flip back to the news feed on my phone for just a moment. People injured on planes, people shot and killed before the killer was shot and killed, the death of a 15 year old boy in a police shooting, White House drama over health care and a potential war with North Korea, and I feel my stomach sink. This is the news that the world pays attention to, the painful and heart-breaking, the torturous and deadly, the heavy and disheartened.

Last night, for a time, I sat with my boyfriend Mike and another friend in a hot tub and we talked about the ways we want to change the world, what we want to do with our lives. Mike talked about his love of music, the friend talked of helping those in need and healing. I briefly talked of my love of doing therapy and helping people find themselves and their potentials after their difficult and painful pasts.

“But that’s not what I want to do forever,” I said. “I want to tell stories. I want to change people. I want to inspire them with words and shared experiences. I want to look into the past and present and get people talking about things that both hurt and inspire. I want to see where we have come from and where we are and where we might be going and I want to share that with others. I want to write, and I want to share my voice both in word and aloud.”

As I sit and type this, I think again of Harper Lee and the chance was taken on her. I think of the documentary I’m making, of the dozens of things I want to write about if I could just find the time, the ability, the discipline, the audience. I thought of Harper’s timeless words that change everyone who read them.

“‘Atticus, he was real nice.’

‘Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.'”

Homemade Pizza

Pizza“Homemade pizza!” My 8 year old son, J, grimaced as he said it, like he had just received bad news from the doctor.

Mike, my boyfriend, nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, homemade pizza! You’ll love it!”

J merely nodded, slowly backing out of the room, a hasty retreat for a panicking child with a delicate palette. Soon, in the next room, I heard J exasperated. “He’s making homemade pizza! Oh no!”

Mike looked nervous, and I gave him a reassuring hug. He’s been getting used to dating a guy with children, and to even having a children around, and he’s been adapting quite well. It had been a few weeks previously when he had mentioned casually that my sons don’t eat quite as healthy as they could, and I had laughed almost hysterically. Eight years worth of feeding children came rushing back to me in a series of horrible and hilarious memories: spaghetti sauce washed out of hair and belly buttons, two year old mouths clamped shut refusing even one bite of turkey, ordered plates at restaurants met with tears and horror, being told my pancakes taste like garbage, and favorite meals rejected out of bad moods. I thought of all the ways I had tried making diets more nutritious, from pureeing beets and spinach into smoothies to mixing protein powder into waffle batter. I relived every time I had ever reached the decision to just feed them what they would actually eat rather than fighting them over choosing carrot sticks over Cheetos.

But to Mike I just smiled, and said I’m sure the kids would love his cooking.

I mean, Mike is a phenomenal cook. It’s one of his many talents. He can pick up fresh ingredients and cook phenomenal dishes from scratch. He’s been challenged, working with my vegetarian pallet, and has creatively used tofu and every kind of vegetable in making delicious casseroles, frittatas, pastas, cream soups, and salads. I have loved every dish. My kids, though… they wouldn’t have tried a single bite of any of them even if they’d been offered one.

While the kids played in the next room, Mike lovingly crafted pizza dough on two separate pans. He made a sauce of tomatoes for the kids, adding sugar to sweeten it, and a pesto sauce for the adult’s pizza. He spread cheese and pepperoni over theirs, then goat cheese, sesame seeds, fennel, spinach, and arugula over ours. It took a few hours while I played board games and toys with the kids, then he placed them in the oven.

Several minutes later, I heard an “oh no!” from the kitchen and rushed in to find Mike pulling the pizzas out of the oven frantically. Somehow, he had doubled the dough recipe, meaning the pizza crusts had risen to twice their standard size. He muttered quietly, trying to squish them down to size and spreading new toppings over them.

Thirty minutes later, we sat down at the table for dinner. J panicked, the pizza placed in front of him in an even slice.

“I, um, do I have to eat this?”

Mike looked nervous across the table, wanting to win the kids over with his cooking even though they were already very fond of him. I gave J a dad look and he looked away.

“Listen, buddy, you like pizza. You’ve had pizza before and you liked it. You can at least try this.”

“But we’ve made homemade pizza at mom’s house before and I didn’t like it very much! I know about homemade pizza already!”

“Buddy, just try it.”

His brother, A, took a small bite of the corner of the cheesy crush. “It’s not bad!” he muttered, enthusiastic, trying to reassure his brother. A often has problems with food, but he tends to only act up when his brother isn’t.

“Try some, J.” I said, in a sterner voice.

J reluctantly reached up his thumb and forefinger and picked up a crumb off the corner of the crust, placing it on his tongue. “There, see, I don’t like it.”

I could see his anxiety rising as he worked himself up. “J! Take a bite!”

He grimaced and closed his eyes, leaning his mouth down to the plate and taking a brief lick against the crust, getting a touch of sauce. He recoiled. “I think I’m allergic!”

I breathed out as Mike patted my arm. “It’s okay, he doesn’t have to try it.”

“I want him to at least try it. Come on, J.”

He looked panicked, over at my slice of pizza, covered in salad and seeds. “Um, maybe I would like yours better.” He was searching for any way out that he could.

I silently held my slice up and he took a bite, chewing on it slowly. “Um, this is okay! I like yours better!” he said. Then I watched him chew three times, open his eyes wide, and then promptly vomit his partially chewed food and the rest of the contents of his stomach all over his plate.

It was a few hours later, as the kids were tucked in soundly and sleeping. The rest of the night had gone well. J had cleaned himself up, had a good cry, and had eaten peanut butter and jelly. He gave an apology. “I just really really don’t like homemade pizza. I only like Little Ceaser’s. Or Domino’s. Or Pizza Hut or something. Just not homemade!”

Mike and I stoked a small fire in the fireplace and cuddled a bit, laughing about the day. After the vomit, he’d looked like a wounded animal and had vowed he would never cook for the kids again. I had merely laughed at that, knowing the feeling.

“Parenting is the fun stuff, like wrestling and tickles and Pokemon battles. But it’s also wiping up urine off the floor, working through crazy crying fits, and, yeah, even cleaning throw up off the double-stuffed crust homemade pizza you spent three hours making.”

He grimaced and snuggled harder into me.

“The big thing is that you tried.”

And then I noticed an inexplicable dislodged piece of pepperoni across the floor on the carpet across the room, and the laughter started all over again.