Friday, November 28, 2008

Possible Reasons I Don't Remember Any of the People* I Went to High School With Who Have Recently Found Me On Facebook

1. I was secretly more popular in high school than I thought I was, so everyone knew me even if I didn't know them. And why wouldn't I be, with a face like this?

2. Similar to #1, but not so much popular as recognizable. As in, "Hey! I remember him--he was that white guy I went to school with."

3. A variation on #2: Perhaps one of the other two** white guys I graduated with was more popular than I and people are mistaking me for him.

4. The whole experience was just so traumatic that I've blocked it out.

5. I was so self-absorbed in high school that I failed to recognize there were other people around me***.

6. I am not really me, but rather a clone of me who was given (most of) my memories in order to pass as me while the real me rots in a secret prison somewhere in La Mancha.

7. Alien abduction****.

*And when I say "any of the people" I mean anyone but
you, dear blog reader who happens to be a high school friend who has recently found me on Facebook. Because of course I remember you.

**Literally--I counted.

***Note that this is likely true (of me in high school as well as me in the present) whether or not it explains the failure to remember old acquaintances.

****Note that #6 and #7 are not mutually exclusive.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gender Confusion

My friend Dandypratt sent me a link to GenderAnalyzer, an automatic tool that guesses whether a given website is written by a man or a woman. It's 76% sure that I'm a man. Of course I went through and plugged in every blog I could think of. A couple interesting results:
  • GenderAnalyzer is 64% sure that FoxyJ is a man. Wouldn't that make for an interesting twist in our story? Boy, we really fooled you all, didn't we?
  • GenderAnalyzer is only 58% sure that Samantha Stevens is a woman, noting that she's fairly gender neutral--apparently Tolkien Boy needs to do a better job of impersonating a female.
  • GenderAnalyzer is 98% sure that Theric is a woman. I know that Th. often posts comments using his wife's Blogger ID, but has Lady Steed secretly been writing her husband's blog all this time?
Apparently the trial run has proven the tool to be less accurate than anticipated; there's some speculation as to why here, as well as plans to try to improve the process. I'm curious to see if they're able to make this work accurately, or if it ends up being the case that there simply isn't that significant a difference between men's and women's writing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shared Solitude

Yesterday was FoxyJ's and my seventh anniversary. We got a babysitter for the first time in months and went out for bowling, frozen yogurt, and Borders browsing. Then we came home and watched Smallville, which was a special wedding episode just for our anniversary (never mind the fact that the groom got impaled and the bride got dragged off to the Arctic by a Kryptonian monster). It was a nice evening.

I am not by nature a very social person. I like my quiet and I like my solitude. It's pretty horrible of me to feel this way, but often when the children are demanding my attention I wish they'd just go away. I sometimes envy my single friends whose time is their own, who can spend five hours reading a book or browsing Wikipedia or taking a nap and not have to justify their use of time to anyone (never mind the fact that few people, single or not, ever have five hours of free time to do anything).

I've actually tried living that fantasy life of solitude, though, and it wasn't as great as I'd imagined it would be. It was, as a matter of fact, kind of lonely. Tonight Emily Pearson posted a little about her evolving thoughts on marriage, citing a line from Shall We Dance?:
[We get married] because we need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet, I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything – the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it. All the time, every day. You’re saying, “Your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness."
When I lived alone for three months in a mildewy basement apartment in Seattle, with much of my time free to spend as I pleased and no one who cared what I did or didn't do, that's what was missing: a witness.

I'm thankful to witness my children's lives as they grow, to have them to witness mine. I'm thankful to put them to bed every night by 7:30 and have peace and quiet for the rest of the evening. I'm thankful to have someone to spend those evenings with, and I'm thankful that person is FoxyJ, who's happy to spend those evenings together watching a movie or playing Scrabble, but is also happy to pass the evening quietly reading a book or browsing the internet. As I write this post the children are sweetly sleeping (is it bad that I love them most when they're asleep?) and Foxy is sitting on the guest bed next to the desk, researching for a paper on Titus Andronicus (never mind that the play ends with everyone brutally murdered and/or eaten). We each have our solitude, but we have someone to witness that solitude, to be there when we decide we aren't in the mood to be alone anymore.

All things considered, I'm a pretty lucky guy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Flip-flopping like a Massachusetts senator
(or, for that matter, a Massachusetts governor)

Elder Lance B. Wickman, member of the Quorum of the Seventy, ca. 2007:
It really doesn’t matter what you call it. If you have some legally sanctioned relationship with the bundle of legal rights traditionally belonging to marriage and governing authority has slapped a label on it, whether it is civil union or domestic partnership or whatever label it’s given, it is nonetheless tantamount to marriage. That is something to which our doctrine simply requires us to speak out and say, “That is not right. That’s not appropriate.”
Official LDS church press release, 13 August 2008:
The Church does not object to rights (already established in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference.
Salt Lake Tribune, 17 November 2008:

In a written statement to The Salt Lake Tribune late Monday, church spokeswoman Kim Farah said, "The Church is not planning on commenting on civil unions for the time being."

But spokesman Michael Otterson suggested a few days ago to a Washington Post reporter that the church's post-election remarks were "based on civil unions in California and that no decision has been made regarding similar rights in Utah," the paper said. "I don't want to give the impression that the church is saying civil unions in all cases are OK," Otterson was quoted as saying.

So now I'm confused. Are civil unions okay or not? Why would you say one thing in one context but something completely different in another context? Perhaps this explains it:

Leaked internal memo, LDS church, 4 March 1997:
Elder Oaks was the first to recognize that in the political process that in order to win this battle, there may have to be certain legal rights recognized for unmarried people such as hospital visitation so opponents in the legislature will come away with something. This is proving to be the case [in Hawaii and California].
In other words, in liberal states like California and Hawaii, the church is willing to allow gay couples little perks like hospital visitation rights in order to get them to shut up, but in ultra-conservative Utah no such concessions are necessary. When passing Prop 8 was all that mattered it was important to make it clear that they're pro-marriage, not anti-gay; now that they've won it's not so important.

It's one thing to see politicians put words together creatively and even lie in order to get what they want, but it's downright depressing to see religious leaders, who you'd expect to be concerned with truth above all else, so skilled at the dirty game of politics. I was angry this morning but tonight I'm just sad.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Tipping Point
Speculating the Unspeculatable

If you had asked me a year ago--and several people did, at one time or another--whether I thought the Mormon church would ever change its position on homosexuality, I would have said (a) I don't care, (b) I don't know, and (c) probably not. Once I left the church I ceased to care what they believe because it doesn't affect me, at least not directly. Honestly, I believe the church's teachings on homosexuality do horrible damage to gay people in and out of the church by teaching that who we are is a lie, but I suppose I see that as something so far out of my control that it's not worth my time and energy worrying about. I had come to recognize lies for lies and truths for truths, and I've seen countless other people do the same. It's rarely a painless journey but hell, nothing is.

Even the fact that the church regularly told its members to vote for anti-gay legislation didn't concern me too much, because it's not like Mormons make up a significant portion of the voting population in many areas of the world. The past six months have proven me wrong in my assumption about the extent of Mormons' potential influence on secular legislation, but even now I'm not particularly invested in the church announcing that same-sex relationships are just as valid in the eyes of God as opposite-sex relationships. They're welcome to go on believing that homosexual behavior is sinful, so long as they learn to keep the legal codification of that belief within the bounds of their own membership.

So today my answers (a) and (b) remain the same, but I'm no longer so sure about (c). My belief that the LDS church was unlikely to ever change its stance on homosexuality was based in the same reasons most Mormons will give: the eternal nature of gender and family relationships are so entwined in basic Mormon doctrine that it would be impossible to pull the beliefs about homosexuality out without unraveling the entire belief system.

I began to question this assumption, though, a couple months ago when Scot posted about a talk given in 1954 by an LDS apostle in which pretty much the same arguments the church uses to oppose same-sex marriage today were used to oppose mixed-race marriage then. It's really quite jarring to read the racist rhetoric used in talks like this one--I was born a year after the revelation that gave black men the priesthood and so have seen very little of this side of the church's history. To think that church leaders could talk like this at BYU or in General Conference, and that people just accepted it, is both apalling and enlightening. One can't help but wonder if fifty years from now Mormons will be just as appalled by the heterosexist rhetoric used in today's fireside devotionals and conference talks.

It's hard to imagine how the church would reconcile acceptance of homosexual relationships with the rest of their doctrine, but I'm sure it was once just as hard to imagine how a God who is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" would change his position on plural marriage or on the exclusion of the "descendants of Cain" from the priesthood. The common explanation of those changes now, looking back, is that the church changed policy, not doctrine, or that it was just a matter of the Saints misunderstanding God's will. I doubt, though, that those Saints would find your opinion any less heretical if you were to go back in time and tell them this.

Over the past several weeks I've developed a theory: In order to survive an institution must evolve; the LDS church has shown this ability to evolve and thus has thrived over the past century and a half. One of the church's virtues, in fact, is its ability to change, based on the doctrine of continuing revelation. If not, it would have died out a century ago. There came a time when in order to survive the church needed to change its position on plural marriage; the world at large simply wouldn't tolerate a church that continued to practice a marriage system that had mostly died out in Western civilization centuries earlier. It changed and it survived. Later, there came a time when the world at large would not tolerate a church that continued to deny some of its members the most basic and essential rites of its doctrine (i.e. eternal marriage) based simply on their race. This is not to say that anyone was going to step in and take away the church's right to practice its beliefs, but that people would not want to associate with a church they saw as racist, and so the membership would dwindle away to nothing. The church changed and it survived.

Curious to see if the facts supported this theory, I looked up the historical growth rate of the church and found this on Wikipedia:

At first glance the graph supports my theory. Right around 1966, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, there's a rapid decline in the growth rate, which doesn't find its way back up until 1989, once the church had had a decade to move away from its image as a racist organization. Before my supporters pat me on the back and my naysayers jump on me, though, let me say that this correlation is far from proving causality. It doesn't take into account, for example, the fact that the late sixties also saw a lot of mission-age young men otherwise occupied in Vietnam, which would certainly have an impact on the growth rate. For all I know studies have been done showing the race issue had absolutely nothing to do with the drop in growth rate.

But I believe, nonetheless, that if the church had not changed its position on race it would not currently be the 13 million-member worldwide organization it is. There would have come a tipping point in public opinion after which people simply would not even talk to representatives of a church that held onto antiquated beliefs about race.

That time will come too for homosexuality. This post about evolving public opinion on gay rights and gay marriage (which I just don't get tired of linking to) suggests that time is not all that far away. Either the LDS church will change or it will cease to exist. History--not only the history of the LDS church but also the history of the similarly-dogmatic Catholic church--tells us that ceasing to exist is not a plausible reality. I suspect that long before it gets to the point where most people (within and without the church) are no longer willing to consider the possibility of a faith that excludes same-sex couples, the church will change.

Of course the skeptic in me sees this as a simple matter of LDS leaders changing what are ultimately arbitrary beliefs, but my theory doesn't require the assumption that the church is not indeed led by a prophet inspired by a true and living God. The Mormon understanding of the revelation on the priesthood is that Spencer W. Kimball pleaded and pleaded with God until he received the answer he sought--that all men could hold the priesthood. Perhaps all that's needed here is a prophet, spurred by a declining growth rate, who pleads with God until he gets the answer he's looking for, an answer current leaders don't see not because it's not there but because they haven't even thought to ask.

Or, alternatively, the world might fall subject to a cataclysm brought on by global warming or terrorism, sending people running back to the comforting arms of fundamentalist religion and the reassuring belief that it really was all the gays' fault. Because it always is.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Betraying All That Is Good and Holy

When I was in Spain I looked down on the Americans who refused to speak Spanish with a lisp because it seemed weird to them. I mean, c'mon, it's not even really a lisp--it's just the way the language is spoken. S is pronounced just like it is in English, but the soft c and z are pronounced like an English th. It's no stranger than the fact that in English we put a t and an h together and get en entirely unrelated sound. If you were speaking Russian you wouldn't insist on pronouncing their letters the same as we pronounce them in English.

But some people just couldn't get past the fact that in their minds a soft c and z should sound like an s. It doesn't help that most North Americans' exposure to Spanish is through Latin America, where they've corrupted the language and completely lost the "th" sound.

When I came back to the states I saw other returned missionaries who had served in Spain and pronounced their cs and zs correctly there but since coming home had reverted to what in Spanish is known as seseo, a sort of reverse-lisp. Their excuse? They didn't like being made fun of by the returned missionaries who had served in Latin America. I vowed never to follow that path of weakness. I had learned Spanish in Spain and gosh darn it, that's the Spanish I'd speak until the day I die.

It's been nearly eight years now since I came home from Spain and I've done a pretty good job of retaining my pseudo-Spaniard accent (by which I mean my American accent that tries to be Spaniard). Despite the fact that 95% of my interaction with Spanish speakers has been with Latin Americans who find my accent at best amusing and at worst incomprehensible, I've stuck to my guns.

But now my five-year-old daughter is learning Spanish from a Hispanic teacher in a California school. It would be one thing for me to pronounce words differently than she hears them at school when I'm speaking Spanish or reading a Spanish book, but this afternoon I was helping her with some reading homework and decided to make some flashcards to help her learn the sounds. I was grouping letters together by the sound they make, so for example a single card has ba and va because in Spanish the b and v are identical. I went back and forth on whether to group the soft c and z sounds with the s sounds because in my mind they are entirely distinct and to say otherwise is blasphemy. But S-Boogie has a hard enough time with phonetics as it is, so I decided it would be best to swallow my pride and teach her the same thing she's learning at school.

When I made that first card with sa and za together as if they make the same sound, a little piece of me died inside. The funeral will be held on Saturday.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Because Sometimes Other People Say It Better

(Or at least just as well.)

I spent much of the past several days restraining myself from writing posts that formed themselves in my head. As I did so, I discovered that if I just wait long enough someone else will say what I was going to say.

First, here is a faithful Mormon's explanation of why she opposed Proposition 8. It's good to remember that the question of gay marriage is not the war between homosexuality and religion that it's been made out to be. As this woman eloquently reminds us, we are all "alike unto God," and there are people of all faiths on all sides of the issue.

This is particularly pertinent in light of the protests at LDS churches and temples that have taken place since last Tuesday's passage of Prop 8. Presumably in response to these protests and other understandable demonstrations of anger at the forces behind Prop 8, the No on 8 campaign issued a statement reminding their supporters that "We only further divide our state if we attempt to blame people of faith, African American voters, rural communities and others for this loss."

The LDS church, of course, has issued its own response to the protests, claiming that "It is wrong to target the church and its sacred places of worship." Many bloggers have responded to this press release, but my favorite response so far is that of Chanson at Main Street Plaza: "If you open up a grocery store in the middle of your chapel, you can hardly complain that people are disrespecting your 'sacred places of worship' by shopping there." (Not to mention, I would add, that the church-supported Yes on 8 campaign has been stomping all over the sacred ground of other peoples' marriages and families for the past six months.)

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish implores angry anti-8 protesters to "chill." He notes the fact that young voters overwhelmingly voted against 8 as evidence that this is only a temporary setback for marriage equality. This view is further supported by Gallup polls Scot has posted at showing how rapidly public opinion is swinging toward support of gay rights in general and same-sex marriage specifically. Those who oppose marriage equality must recognize they're fighting a losing battle.

Dale Carpenter at The Volokh Conspiracy recognizes the right of people to express their anger at the LDS church's involvement in Prop 8, but notes the danger of picketing their places of worship and calling for tax audits:
Stop the focus on the Mormon Church. Stop it now. We just lost a ballot fight in which we were falsely but effectively portrayed as attacking religion. So now some of us attack a religion? People were warned that churches would lose their tax-exempt status, which was untrue. So now we have (frivolous) calls for the Mormon Church to lose its tax-exempt status? It's rather selective indignation, anyway, since lots of demographic groups gave us Prop 8 in different ways — some with money and others with votes. I understand the frustration, but this particular expression of it is wrong and counter-productive.
He suggests instead that gay couples lead sit-ins at marriage license bureaus in California, peacefully demanding their constitutionally guaranteed right to be treated equally until the government steps in and does what it must.

The absolute best response to Prop 8 and the LDS church I've heard all week comes from Equality Utah and Utah Senator Scott McCoy. In a news release today they've invited the church to back up its statements that it "does not object to rights ... regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights" by supporting proposed legislation that would grant these specific rights to same-sex couples in Utah, who currently do not enjoy these legal protections. I see this proposal as a win-win situation: gay rights takes a major step forward in Utah, and the LDS church gets a chance to prove to the world that they are not the bigots many people believe they are. Most importantly, it's a chance for the church and the LGBT community to find common ground and work together rather than against each other, which is what I wish would have happened six months ago. Regardless of your faith or your stance on same-sex marriage, I urge you to sign your support to this effort to bridge a gap that just days ago looked unbridgeable.

Finally, I want to mention a couple things that have touched me in the past few days. First, I was grateful to get calls from family members who likely disagree with my position on the LDS church and Prop 8, but were nonetheless concerned for me personally because they knew this has been hard on me emotionally. I've made it clear before that Prop 8 has no legal impact on me or my family, and I don't pretend to suffer in the same way as my friends whose legal rights have been taken away, but I would be lying to say that my experience has been that of the concerned straight liberal who cares about gay rights from a purely intellectual standpoint. In a less-than-rational way, I have felt personally attacked by the church I was raised in, and I appreciate those loved ones who have expressed genuine empathy for this feeling, irrational as it may be.

Perhaps related to that sentiment, I was touched to discover yesterday that one of my brothers-in-law, who I've never before heard express much of an opinion about anything, has been very vocal on Facebook about his anger at Mormons' support of Prop 8. I don't know whether his fervor has anything to do with me or if it's just your basic liberal indignation, but regardless I'm happy to feel that solidarity with him. Tonight he shared a video of commentator Keith Olbermann making a powerful case for why everyone--everyone--should support marriage equality, even if you don't know a single gay person. It just about brought me to tears.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


It's rather sickening that 18,000 marriages can potentially be annulled by popular vote--particularly by such a narrow margin of voters. It's a mockery of the legal system that when judges determine that discrimination is unconstitutional, those who wish to continue discriminating simply change the constitution--especially when so much of the money and political power behind that change come from another state.

I would like to celebrate Obama's victory with the rest of the nation, and I am excited to be part of this historic moment, but I can't stop thinking about the families who will be hurt by Proposition 8. Perhaps President Obama will hold true to the promise he made to the LGBT community to repeal DoMA, and maybe that big step forward will compensate for this huge step backward.

I've been planning for a while to take a little break from blogging after this election. I think I'll do that. Maybe just a few days, maybe a little longer. I'll be back when I have something to say that isn't bitter or angry.

EDIT: Maybe I'm conceding defeat too early. I'd love to see the final count show a last minute turnaround.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A True Maverick: A Republican Without Money

I know there are likely all kinds of motivations behind McCain's and before that Palin's willingness to appear on SNL with Tina Fey, but I just love that we live in a world where politicians are willing to mock themselves.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Audacity to Hope, part two of two

In the first part of this post I talked about how personal financial problems and the War on Gay Marriage had me feeling hopeless and how, although unrelated and kind of random, a mixtape made by various hip-hop artists in support of Barack Obama gave me something to hope for. I noted how, in contrast to the current president who seeks to inspire fear in Americans, Obama inspires hope.

In a recent post I accused Mormons who follow their prophet's call to arms, despite their own consciences telling them this is wrong, of being at best selfish and at worst cowardly. My friend Theric commented that my accusation "tends to suggest that you equate faith with fear, when, really, they are opposites." He's right. Fear is antithetical to faith. I agree with this assessment so much, in fact, that not so long ago, when I was a man of faith, I named my son based on that very idea (and I say I named my son because FoxyJ wanted another name and I only won in the end because she was too drugged after the emergency c-section to care).

One thing that bothers me so much about the Proposition 8 campaign, and particularly because it is religious people who are behind it, is that it is not based in faith, but in fear. I'm speaking now not about those who recognize that discrimination is wrong and are considering voting for it anyway because their prophet told them to, but of the people who wholeheartedly support this discrimination. The way the Yes on 8 campaign has spun the argument, it is not the rights of gay couples that are in danger, but rather the rights of churches and religious parents. They cite inaccurate and irrelevant legal precedent to paint a picture wherein same-sex marriage equals kindergarteners being taught about gay sex and temples being forced to marry gay couples or shut down.

The problem with this reasoning--well, one of the problems because there are many--is that it has nothing to do with same-sex marriage. None of these horrible things Prop 8 supporters fear are direct consequences of gay people getting legally married. They are things these people fear will happen if gay Californians can legally marry. They're afraid of losing their rights to practice their own religion and to raise their children according to their own values. And so what do they do? They take away someone else's rights in order to protect themselves. That's not an action based on faith. That's all fear.

A faith-based response to concerns about a supposed threat to religious rights would, first of all, show faith in humanity. Although Gordon Hinckley, the former president of the LDS Church, said many disparaging things about homosexuality, he was not one to look at the world around him and see conniving liberals out to corrupt him and his family with their devious gay agenda. When members of the church expected him to stand up in General Conference and bemoan the decaying state of the world, instead he spoke of acts of kindness he saw everywhere. He reached out on several occasions to people of other faiths and to people of no faith in attempts to work together for the betterment of the world. I don't mean to compare Hinckley with current LDS president Thomas Monson because Monson may well take this same approach in other contexts and Hinckley may well have done the same as Monson in this context (in fact he did, but I don't think quite to this extent), but Proposition 8 is not based in this same optimistic view of the world. Whereas an optimistic, faith-based worldview would have sought ways to work together with the gay community to ensure that everyone's rights are protected, the pessimistic, fear-based worldview represented by Prop 8 instead turns lesbians and gay men into enemies of religion. Do not unto others what you would have them do unto you, Prop 8 says, but rather do unto others what you fear they'll do to you. Don't turn the other cheek; rather, get them before they get you.

I'm no longer a person of faith, so I need to find another antidote to the fears I have, the chief of which lately is the fear of living in a world with people who are willing to abandon reason and justice in the name of a fear they erroneously call faith. For me hope fills that space once taken by faith. Hope not for things which are unseen, but hope based in the things I do see. Hope, for instance, that comes from taking a look at the progress we've made on the road to equality in just the past twenty years. I have hope that California voters will speak out on Tuesday against discrimination, but I ground that hope in a recognition of the reality that many have been convinced by the scare tactics of the Yes on 8 campaign. And like my believing friends, I recognize that "[hope] without works is dead." Which is why I've talked so much about Prop 8 on this blog, in the hope that I'll convince someone, anyone, that voting no on 8 is the right thing to do; this is why I've donated the very little I can afford to the No campaign; this is why I'll be standing outside a polling place on Tuesday, reminding voters that a No on 8 is a vote for equality. If all this and the much greater work of thousands of others fails and the proposition passes, I'll grieve with the people who suffer from this discrimination and then I'll hope with them for the inevitable tomorrow when we'll be past all this. This hope I have in humanity, even the parts of humanity who currently oppose same-sex marriage, is not based in naive optimism but in historical evidence: the human race has always moved forward; we may experience setbacks along the way, but as we continue to embrace reason we leave behind us the irrational fears of the past.

Hope is my anti-fear. Here's hoping that better tomorrow comes sooner rather than later.