Cougar Town

On return from a work trip, I was waiting to disembark my plane in Salt Lake City, standing up beneath the overhead bins because I am short and I can.  Suddenly, this tall blonde guy in a bright blue Brigham Young University hat, standing in the aisle and leaning on the seat two rows in front of me, caught my eye.  He gave me a smile and a wink.  I smiled back and then dropped my gaze to peer out the window.  He was young and attractive and I admit that I was fractionally flattered, despite the air of a college sophomore “will-flirt-with-anything-that-moves-because-I-am-so-over-powered-by-hormones-that-they-are-shooting-out-the-ends-of-my-hair” that he distinctly had about him.

Step away from the jail bait!” the angel on my right shoulder blared into my ear through a loud-speaker.  I then made a crooked cognitive connection, remembering that the first time I heard about the TV show called “Cougar Town” I had asked if it was set in Provo, home of the Brigham Young University, Cougars.

A few minutes later I stepped out of the gangway and immediately started scanning the hallway of the airport’s terminal for posted bathrooms signs bearing a skirted figure. I found one, walked in and, with a bag on each shoulder, made an abrupt right turn into the first open stall door that I saw.  There in the stall, less than a foot in front of me, I saw – as if in flashes – a bright blue hat, blonde hair, long legs, feet positioned twice shoulder width apart, and (through the legs) an ample stream pouring confidently into the bowl below.

I leapt backward and spun around, narrowly avoiding becoming wedged in the stall doorway by my carry-on bags.  Convinced that I had walked into the men’s room by mistake and not quite sure what to do about it, I began running around in a small circle doing what I reflectively think of as my “panic dance.”

Unfortunately, this happens to be my go-to reaction in emergencies.  The first time I did the “panic dance” was back in college when a crappy plastic lamp spontaneously combusted and I looked over to see a yellow flame within licking distance of the wood paneling of my apartment wall. I leapt to my feet and ran seven laps in a tight circle because my reptilian brain was telling me, “Maybe this will be helpful!”  Luckily, Demetria was there and she put the fire out. (Firefighting is a hobby of Demetria’s. She keeps a fire extinguisher handy “just in case” and is the only person I know who has used it on more than one occasion.)  I no longer remember how she extinguished the flaming lamp, as my view was blurred by a whirling panic dance sequence, but I remember feeling very thankful someone calm was present.

The panic dance I was doing in the airport bathroom might have been less of a circle.  I was trying to figure out how to get out without being seen, and kept changing my mind between running out the door and running into a stall to hide.  I was also trying to keep the heels of my boots from hitting the tile, so as not to give myself away with my overtly feminine clacky-clacks.  During this time, a cute little blonde in her twenties entered the restroom and, just as I did, turned into the first empty stall. Blue hat. Short hair. Intimidatingly aggressive piss stream. She took in these details and immediately joined me in the panic dance.  She was shaking her hands, I was clutching my bags, and we were both running in a crazy loop trying to figure out what we were going to do, all while Mr. BYU obliviously continued to discharge a bladder’s-worth of recycled root beer into the toilet bowl.

I stopped abruptly. It dawned on me that there were two of us and one of him and the math sobered me.  I turned and walked into an empty stall further down the lane, clacking my heels as loudly as possible, and shut the door behind me.  I hadn’t observed any urinals, and obviously Mr. BYU hadn’t either.  I don’t know why I instantly leapt to the conclusion that I was in the wrong room, but even if I was, the fact that another woman made the same mistake was all I needed to feel okay about the whole thing.

I listened as the guy left and waited to hear if he bumped into anyone on his way out.  But as far as I know, he strolled off without ever realizing he had been in the women’s room.  In fact, if only he had been polite enough to close the door to his stall, it’s possible no one else would have known either.

I saw the student once more before I left the airport.  We were down in baggage claim waiting for the belt to start rolling.  He was talking on his cell and giving a wry smile to another woman no closer to his age than I am.  “Damn,” I thought to myself as the conveyor belt creaked to life.  “It’s like he’s drawn to women by an electro-magnetic force.”

Then I briefly imagined another plot for “Cougar Town,” set Provo and centered around the university life that my friends who attended BYU have described to me.  Basically all of the characters will constantly try to work off their un-used sexual tension by exercising at the gym, reading scriptures by lamp-light, or by both making and eating basket loads of baked goods.

“Nah,” I thought to myself as I tugged my rolly-bag off the belt and toward the airport parking lot.  “No one would ever watch that show.”

Ask an Atheist

Last Thursday (April 18th) was “National Ask an Atheist Day.”  I did not know that was a thing until I ended up getting sucked into a Facebook conversation started by an atheist friend of mine who was soliciting questions.

Most of the questions were some version of “how can you prove that there is no god?”  I was reminded that the way most people define atheism is wildly different than the way that I define it.  I know that language evolves and words come to stand for something far beyond their original definitions.  That is a natural phenomenon of language.  But the words “atheist” and “agnostic” do have simple meanings, and that is important to me.

Here is the origin of the word “atheist:”

And here is “agnostic:”

 

An atheist is without god.  An agnostic is without knowledge.  That is it.  The way I define my atheism is very much in line with the basic components of the word, and not all the other things that people want to put on top of that simple absence of belief.  I live without a belief in a god.  That is, I do not accept any version of a god that has been presented to me and therefore I do not worship one.  Do I know for certain that there is no god or anything that might take the place of a creator? No, I don’t. I accept that I don’t know, therefore I consider myself both atheist and agnostic.

Most of the atheists I know describe themselves this way. And most of us don’t want to tell you that you are wrong to believe in something we don’t accept or that you are backward for keeping your traditions.  I understand that atheism isn’t for everyone, just as Mormonism definitely wasn’t for me.  I would love to be a live-and-let-live atheist.  But then someone inevitably wants to teach creationism in science class and I can’t just ‘let live’ anymore, because I consider that an encroachment on the separation of church and state.  But that’s a whole other conversation.

I was reading the thread with interest and not weighing in, but then I lost my self-control.  I really need to get out more.  I don’t get enough human interaction working at home and I have been making Facebook debates my substitute.  I’m going to get myself into trouble.

The question was something like, “If you know that the word ‘atheist’ offends people, why wouldn’t you call yourself an agnostic instead? And if I lack belief in a god but believe in a higher power or force in the universe greater than myself, am I an atheist?”

This is what I wrote in response:

I know the word atheist is loaded and most people define it differently than I do (simply without belief in a god). I think of it like the word “feminist.” It’s loaded with controversy but its meaning is simple. I guess I would say, in answer to your question, I’m an atheist feminist living in Utah. I have accepted that my basic beliefs are offensive to the general population.

As for the second question, this is how I think about it: I am confident there are forces in the universe that we will never understand. We are so limited in our scope and ability to comprehend, that I am confident that we will never know enough to understand the questions to ask, let alone the answers that are out there. (Which is why I love the Douglas Adams answer to life, the universe and everything turning out to be 42.) But let’s just say for a second that we could, and it turns out that the answer is a physical law or a set of physical laws that guides the universe, and we all go, “Oh! Now it makes sense!” And then my bishop from my childhood jumps up and points and me and says “See! I was right! I told you there was something!” Then I would turn to him and say, “Excuse me, but is it a bearded magic man who cares a whole lot about whether or not I masturbate? No? Okay, then fuck off.”

I didn’t tell him that, yes, by my definition, he is an atheist.  I kept this to myself because it was clear that word was inherently pejorative to him. Nor did I tell him that most of the people I meet who consider themselves agnostic are actually atheist by my definition.  I don’t tell my ‘agnostic’ friends that, either.  They seem to think that agnosticism is a politer form of atheism.  Or rather, a refusal to take a side.  The Switzerland of dogmas.  My atheist friends think of themselves as agnostic, but my agnostic friends think of themselves as people who just don’t care and would like to talk about something else, now.  But they are living without a god.  They are atheists, too.

That’s okay.  I hold fast that words have meanings and those meanings are important. But I also want the right to define myself and what I believe.  I can give others that right as well.

Latter Day Saints and Sinners

I allowed myself to be drawn into another family’s facebook fight last week.  I knew it was a bad idea, but I couldn’t help myself.  And anyway it has been so long – I think I just needed to be reminded that you aren’t going to change anyone’s opinion.  Not on the topic of homosexuality.  And not on facebook.

A little background…

When I was a kid, my Mormon bishop was unequivocal about homosexuality.  It was a choice, and it was a bad choice.  This was the message I got from everyone in my community.  But in the last few years, I have noticed a distinct evolution in the way Mormon’s talk about our LGBT brothers and sisters.  Suddenly, there was a different tone.  It is still bad, of course.  But they seemed to get that it wasn’t a choice.  I think the word I have heard most is that it is an “affliction.”  As in, “Have you heard? Her son is afflicted with same sex attraction.”

In the beginning I thought that just the fact that they were moving on the issue was good, because it showed progress.  But I quickly decided that was wrong.  In fact, I’ve decided that the new stance is as or more toxic.  They still believe you have a choice.  If not a choice in who you love and are attracted to, then you have a choice in what you do about it.

This is best explained by the Josh and Lolly phenomenon.  Josh and Lolly Weed are a couple who came out several years ago as “mixed attracted” for lack of a better term.  They wrote a long blog post that went viral and gave a lot of people in the church hope that even if their child suffered from this condition that they could still live a “normal” life, centered around a person of the opposite sex, their children and their church.  And the Saints rejoiced.

But then, a few months ago, the Weeds wrote another post announcing that they were wrong.  It wasn’t working, and they are divorcing.

As a result, in the Utah parlance, people are flipping the freak out.

Last week a woman I know through a writing group posted this blog post written by one such flipper outer titled “Actually, the Mormon Position on Gay Marriage is Stronger Than You Think.  I read the title and knew that I was clicking on danger but as I said already… yeah.  It was a slow work day.  The post has since been removed, but here is the gist: So it didn’t work out for the Weeds.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work!  You don’t have to be attracted to a person to love them, you just have to endure the times when you aren’t ‘feeling it’ until you develop that deeper truer Fiddler on the Roof kind of love.  Then he cites his experience of enduring his wife’s postpartum depression without filing for divorce as proof that this can be done.

It was stupid and my general response was a big eyeroll and an “Oh yeah… I forgot about the enthusiasm with which these people will turn themselves into cognitive knots out of desperation to not have to admit they were wrong.”  Then I started looking through the comments that were being posted and I saw that another person from the writing group, a young and out gay man, returned missionary and current student in good standing at BYU, was trying to have a discussion with the poster’s inlaws, cousins, and other hard believing friends.

“Oh God,” I thought.  “Calvin needs some cover fire.”

So I weighed in and said some pro LGBT stuff, basically stating that I know many LGBT folks in life-long partnerships that are as full of love, sacrifice and commitment as any other couple I have ever met.  Sometimes I think that the one helpful thing one can do in these circumstances is remind everyone that they are talking about real people.  Here is an example of a comment that I got in response.

A homosexual relationship cannot meet the purposes for eternal marriage. Being in love longterm by itself means very little in the scope of eternal purposes for marriage. But in reality, there are relatively few homosexual relationships that are longterm anyway. The media has been very successful in painting a certain picture of homosexual family bliss, but the reality is much much more often promiscuity, damaged people, disease, and misery.

So I said:

I think we worry too much about the afterlife and deciphering God’s plan. I would rather focus my energy on doing the most with this life and caring for my family and loved ones, who are not the promiscuous damaged and diseased people you may think they are. But even if they were, I believe that the Jesus Christ I have read about would pull them in closer and not shun them, IMHO.

That same God loving lady responded with:

It is one of the most successful tools of the adversary, to convince people that disapproval of a sin is equal to hating the sinner. It has become a most powerful lie.

Oh my mistake.  I thought you just wrote off an entire community as diseased and damaged people, which sounds a lot like hating the sinner to me, but whatever.  I don’t know how we got to this place where it is far worse to call someone bigoted than to be bigoted, but that seems to be the way of it.

I lost an entire day on this thread.  I stopped commenting, but I kept reading.  Calvin was fighting a good fight, but he was getting ganged up on and no one wanted to hear what he had to say.  I was proud of him, but was hurting me to watch.  Finally, around midnight, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I fired this off in the comments (please forgive the run on sentences – it was late and I was feeling feisty):

Calvin, I should PM you… but I’m going to just say this publicly because as we say in Utah County “what the heck.” If the article’s data is correct and 40% of millennial Mormons are struggling with their faith over social issues, then the church is in a crisis. As has been stated in this thread many times over, there is a clear choice. Accept all on faith and stay, or find that is not possible and leave (where I find myself). You have somehow made another choice. The bravest choice. You have your testimony of The Heavenly Father and you have what you know to your bones to be true about yourself… in your own heart. Clearly, the dissonance is painful for you, and yet you stay and fight for an answer. It seems to me that those of us who want the church to survive in the future might look to you and your choice and say “how do we resolve this together?” Not to lecture or to call you wicked or to say your choices are to remain celibate and die alone, without knowing love or affection, OR to leave… Here is the thing. I have what I want. I have a Supreme Court decision ruling on my side. The fact that the future of the church weighs in the balance of the next generation, and it seems they are split… a person who has been fighting this fight since the 90s might see that as icing on the cake, and there may be days where I do. But you aren’t me. You have taken the braver path. You are staying to fight the brave fight. There will be many people who will tell you to sit down and listen. Those people want to validate their own decisions. What they don’t understand is that they are validating my decision, with every young person they call wicked and push away. On my basest most broken level I want that. I want the church to fail for everyone the way it failed for me. I want my decisions to be validated. But I have – even now – an elevated level, where I see that this church has the power to help people find meaning in this world. And that part of me wants to tell you to never be discouraged. Keep seeking. Keep asking questions. Keep challenging the accepted views. Sooner or later, for the sake of the future, they will sit down and listen.

If not, the Unitarians are lovely and they don’t care if you wear jeans to church. Just sayin’.

 

Calvin and I ended up taking the conversation over to private message and had a long chat about all of this.  It was really good to decompress and to ease some of the frustration by preaching to the choir instead of to the gargoyles.  The next time I saw him I gave him a big hug and I felt like I had adopted a new nephew.  I know I didn’t budge any minds on that thread; we all left as self-certain as we began.  If I managed to give Calvin a little encouragement, then maybe it wasn’t a lost day after all.

Did I mean it? Do I hope he stays and fights this fight?  Not really.  It was killing me just watching him stand up to some strangers on facebook.  The actual church?  I can’t even imagine.  If I could make his decisions for him, I would get him out of that church and introduce him to some truly compassionate people.  But that’s the whole point.  I don’t want anyone making decisions for each other.  I want us all to have the space and empowerment to find our own paths, wherever they may lead.

Choose Your Love; Love Your Choice

I resigned from my religion today.

Rather, I resigned from the religion I was raised in, which is Mormonism.  I have been out and proud as an atheist for years now.  I have thought about resigning many times but never bothered to do it.  Partly because they make it a hassle.  They call your family and tattle on you and send missionaries by your house to try to talk you out of it.

Last week, however, the LDS church announced (it was leaked and then confirmed, but whatever) that they are changing some official policies regarding same-sex couples and their families.  The quick and dirty version is that same-sex unions were upgraded to “apostacy” and participants in such unions may be disciplined and excommunicated.  That isn’t really the big part – people have been excommunicated for being gay before.  (Though it seemed the church had been softening its message to the LGBTQ community in recent years).  The bit that has everyone up in arms is the fact that they are now prohibiting baptisms of the children of same-sex couples until they are of adult age and even then they have to disavow their parents’ marriage or partnership if they want to be allowed into the fold.  There are more details but they are covered in many places.  If you are interested in learning more this rant delivered by Lewis Black is a good and entertaining summary.

I was shocked and dismayed by the announcement.  It threw me into one of those fury fits that make it difficult to concentrate on anything else.  I spent most of last Friday social notworking from the office and posting things on Facebook like this lovely quote from the current president of the LDS Church, Thomas S. Monson, who apparently didn’t mean “the disparity among some folks regarding the way that same-sex unions should be recognized” when he said “problem” or “child” when he said “person” (that heartless dick).

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Once my passive/aggressive “beat ’em with their own words” hate-post phase passed (which took a couple of days) I calmed down and I had to do some serious soul-searching.

Why is this hitting me so hard? I haven’t believed in ages. I’m not invested in the organization doing or saying the right thing. I can’t comprehend how the LDS church still manages to hurt and disappoint me, even now.  After nearly forty years of being embarrassed and enraged by them, what are my expectations?  And most importantly, who am I really angry for?  Who in my life does this change actually affect?

I have many LGBTQ people in my life, including a child that I would put under the Q category.  But none of them are active Mormons. Most were never Mormons. Of course, I see any systematic discrimination as a slap to the face of the entire community.  But this was something different.  For me, this was personal.

I have decided that it has to do with my own difficult childhood growing up Mormon.  And let me first qualify that statement by saying I had a very easy childhood compared to most people growing up poor in the US in the 1980s. We were under the poverty line, but it was a privileged kind of poverty.  I had two college educated parents who came home every night.  No one drank or did drugs and our neighborhood was so safe that not only did we sleep with the doors unlocked, in warm months we slept with the doors wide open.

I had it pretty easy. But I never fit in.  The kids in my neighborhood weren’t allowed to play at my house because my dad wasn’t an active Mormon and was a known coffee drinker.  I’m sure it didn’t help that I was also a weirdo.  But my dad never came to church and I got teased about it, especially from the girls. And that was just voluntary douche-baggery. This new shit is ordained doctrine from on high. “Ostracize the third grader who lives in the house down the street from you!  For he has two mommies!  And that’s just groddy!” [congregation shouts in unison:] “So say we all!”

Yes, I’m a straight ally.  Yes, I believe that this stance is hurting people and communities.  And I have always been happy to stand up and say that I disagree with the Mormons on a host of issues.  In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a Mormon stance that I do agree with.  Have they ever said they believe in the theory of gravity?  There may be some common ground there…

But I believe that this proclamation was a bridge too far, not for the adult me, but for the child me.  I was the kid who was different.  My family didn’t conform and I was punished for it.  I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now.  It’s cruel and it’s stupid and they don’t get to do it in my name.  They won’t miss my membership on their roles because, frankly, I never paid tithing.  But it makes a difference to me.

I went to a rally in downtown Salt Lake City today and stood in line to have my paperwork notarized and signed by a pro bono lawyer.  It was a beautiful day.  Over 1,000 people showed up to resign or show solidarity.  It was a fun event and I’m proud that I got to be a part of it.

  
I don’t kid myself that the next time the Mormons proclaim something draconian, such as “women who work outside the home shall hence forth wear ankle bracelets!” (should I be writing that? I don’t want to give them any ideas…) that I won’t be outraged and hurt and be thrown into painful reflections.  But at least now I can say that I’m not one of them any more.  We have parted ways.

Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll hear some headline out of Temple Square I will be able to just shake my head and move on with my day.  The fact is, I don’t want to fight with them any more.  Isn’t that the point of separation? We both get to be set free?  I’m free of their craziness and they should be free of my negativity.  I want to focus on the good that leaving religion behind has done for my life.  I don’t want to spend one more minute clawing and throwing shade at the LDS Church.  And if they want to go on being the cold corporate international syndicate of mean girls that they are, then that’s exactly what they should do.

(It took less than a minute to type that last sentence so it doesn’t count.)