23 April, 2017

What Next?

Not a happy time around the Breadbin.

The bariatric surgery Eva had three and a half years ago continues to provide us with surprises, none of them pleasant.

You may recall that everything seemed copacetic at first. She lost close to 200 lbs, and although she has regained some of that, she's a much healthier weight than she was when she was Eva-squared. Her diabetes, once heavily, heavily medicated with insulin, is now kept in check with pills alone. She--well, for a time she did have a lot more energy to burn.

But a year and a half afterwards -- almost two years ago, now -- Eva's mental health suddenly took a turn for the worse.

We still don't understand why malabsorption of her psychiatric medications took so long to manifest. But it did, and it precipitated a months-long medicine dance, trying to find something that kept her anxiety in check without her having to take five times the recommended dosage just for one times the recommended dose to actually absorb and do what it's supposed to. That was not fun to live beside. I can't even imagine what hell it was to live with.

I'm happy to say that problem was eventually solved. I'm not so happy to say that a further problem has suddenly appeared.

Eva has always been proud of her teeth. With good reason. She's always been cavity-free, her teeth nice and white and even. Certainly nothing like my chipped, cavity-ridden mess of a mouth. She's achieved this all on her own, without frequent dentist visits.

About a month ago, coming out of a bout with the flu, Eva suddenly had to deal with excruciating pain in her mouth. Smiling hurt. Yawning was torture. And chewing was agony.

Two broken teeth. SIX cavities, two of them in the broken teeth. A nasty infection. And even more worrisome, an eroding jaw.

What can that possibly have to do with bariatric surgery?

Malabsorption strikes again. This time, vitamin D.

Vitamin D has one major function in the human body, and that is to maintain adequate levels of calcium and phosphorus, both of which are integral to healthy bones and teeth. You're supposed to take a maximum of 2,000 units a day of vitamin D. Eva takes 6,000.

And even so, this is happening to her.

Rather than go for three root canals at $1000+ a pop, Eva elected to simply have two teeth yanked.  Which made everything fine...for all of two weeks.

Another infection. Two more cracked teeth. More cavities, too. Pain that is REALLY FUCKING UNFAIR.

For the first time, Eva told someone asking if she'd have the surgery all over again an emphatic NO.

I feel bad because I should never have taken what I heard at the initial seminar at face value. They utterly neglected to mention possible long-term side effects. They made it sound like as long as you didn't do something stupid like smoke a cigarette, drink soda or alcohol, or eat like a pig, your post-op life would be mostly sunshine and roses. Yes, malabsorption was covered: bariatric patients find themselves on a host of nutritional supplements for that reason. But nobody said boo about what turns out to be an extremely common after-effect: vitamin D deficiency shows up in SIXTY THREE percent of post-operation bariatric patients. What's worse, the pattern of eating you are expected to maintain -- grazing throughout the day, rather than three meals -- exacerbates the problem. So do chewable vitamin supplements (which Eva, thankfully, does not take).

The list of common deficiencies after gastric bypass includes but is not limited to:

  • protein
  • iron
  • calcium
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin B-12
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin K
  • zinc
  • magnesium
  • vitamin C
All of these are typically absorbed in the foot and a half of intestine that has been removed in bariatric surgery. What's really bothering me is that it seems like these deficiencies can stay hidden for years, only to pop up (surprise!) and prove extremely difficult to treat because of malabsorption.

I should have looked all this up. It may well have convinced her not to have the surgery, and to pursue weight loss by other means. Not that anything had worked in the past...that's why she was ACCEPTED for bariatric surgery in the first place!

So, so frustrating. And so, so expensive. Dental care is, for reasons of ancient professional ego, entirely separate from other forms of medical care in Ontario and indeed in North America. Dental benefits are sufficient for routine cleanings. Not for something like this. Hell, we don't even know exactly what this is going to turn out to have to be. Dentures? Implants? Jaw reconstruction? All of the above?

Daunting. Very daunting.

Wish us luck, folks. And if you meet Eva and she's not smiling at you, perhaps you can understand why.





Is Polyamory Only for the Rich?

Geez, I hope not, because if it is, I can't be poly.

Still, I can understand the sentiment. There's a dirt-common poly saying: "Love may be infinite, but time is not." You can substitute money for time and it's no less true.

I am a man naturally given to the extravagant, when the extravagant fits within my budget. I love to give, and while I have very much internalized 'it's the thought that counts'. my thoughts for loves and friends run to spoiling them.

My budget does not run. My budget occasionally limps out to the kitchen, looks around, and slinks back to the couch in despair.  And yes, sometimes that bothers me. I've never been anything close to 'wealthy', materially; truth be told, I wouldn't necessarily want to be. Comfortable, is what I aspire to. And I've had to redefine comfort a few times. Largely successfully, but with occasional wistful moments that force me to reframe my thoughts.

In a poly context, it becomes just one more insecurity to overcome: he's richer than I am, he can give her things experiences that I can not. What makes financial jealousy all the more pernicious is that I can't point to a single thing or experience a poor person (me) can give that a richer person (he) can't.

Negative thought, perish the negative thought. Reframe, reframe, reframe!

Maybe he can take her halfway around the world and I can't even get her out of the province. But I have one thing, one obviously desirable thing, that he doesn't: I'm me. Our experiences, all of them, are fundamentally different because of that fact. Note again: there is no judgment, positive OR negative, implied in the word 'different'. His experiences with her are no more or less valid than mine are.

And rich or poor, you can't put a price on unconditional love.

Actually, there are some aspects of polyamory that make it very well suited to LOWER class people. A sufficiently close polycule shares finances, or if that step hasn't been taken, at least may have access to emergency funds. Calamity is spread out, both emotionally and financially, such that any one person isn't expected to bear any one other person's burden. That is immensely liberating, and it makes for a nice Scotiabank commercial: you're richer than you think.

Never mind emergencies: sharing expenses amongst a larger number of people makes available experiences (and things) that may otherwise be out of reach. It takes compersion, a great deal of it, to take some of your money and give it to your partner to spend on their partner. Knowing that reciprocity exists -- your partner, or hell, your metamour, does the same thing  -- makes it much easier.

Yes, you run the risk of being financially taken advantage of. This is no different than in monogamy; "gold diggers" are, after all, a thing.  That comes down to selecting partners who are not assholes.

What I have found is that love flourishes not in the grand gestures, but in the mundane, quotidian details of life. Whether you go to bed on an air mattress in a bare room or on a bed adorned with 17,000-thread-count unicorn hair sheets, cuddling and drifting off to sleep together is pretty much the same. Great joys can be had as easily on a Sunday drive as they can be on a weekend jaunt to Paris (then again, what with the price of gas, perhaps a Sunday drive isn't the best example to use here).

 Rich or poor, we live and laugh and love in our own unique ways. And if we are poly, we cherish each other, and all our partners, and ideally all our metamours too,  for that unique love.

16 April, 2017

Death And Life

Last week, I officially became a member of Grand River Unitarian Congregation.

Whatever else that place becomes for me in the future, I am sufficiently aware it is a community that shares my ideals, many of my modes of thought, and above all my empathy.

As is said every week in the introductory announcements for the benefit of any guests in attendance, they are a community bound not by shared beliefs, but by shared values and a desire to support one another in the search for truth and meaning.

Anybody who is interested to look further into what could convince a staunchly irreligious person to take this step (and lament not taking it twenty years ago!) should go here and have a look around.

_________________

Today's sermon was, as befits Easter, about death and what comes after.

I have often been accused of being morbid. This comes, I think, from my complete lack of hesitation in discussing death.

I won't say death fascinates me. That sounds too much like I long for it, and I don't. At all. I have far too much to live for; the past year has reinforced that immeasurably.

But it interests me, death. More specifically, what may or may not come after. Of course, we can't be sure if something does...or doesn't. Personally, paraphrasing Jodie Foster in Contact,  Time is a very big place. So big that if this is all there is...it seems like a waste of Time.  To me.

Then again, there are spiritual and scientific postulates that Time is an illusion, that everything which has ever happened or will ever happen is actually happening in the Eternal Moment of Now. It's hard to wrap your head around that when you live in a world as governed by Time as we have allowed ours to be. But perhaps it's true.

Rev. Jess today told a secondhand story about Oral Roberts, the fundamentalist televangelist. In his faith, and in the faiths of many Christians, death is -- for the righteous, of course -- a "calling Home", a gateway to eternal life with God. And yet Roberts told his viewers in 1987 that if they didn't raise $8 million in three months (over and above their usual tithe), he, Roberts, would be "called Home".
His viewers raised $9.1 million. Oral Roberts lived another 22 years.

Which is...perplexing. Surely being "called Home" is a good thing? If you're a Christian?  Why is "God" trying to extort people (for money, no less, the love of which is supposed to be the root of all evil) by dangling something that any self-respecting Christian ought to see as a reward? I leave those answers as an exercise for my readers.

For me, the Christian version of heaven holds less than zero appeal. Not that their hell is any better, mind you, but it doesn't seem much worse to me.

I have thought a lot about this over the years and while I lack for anything definitive to buttress my beliefs, I nonetheless feel quite strongly that

  • death is a transition, not an ending;
  • death is nothing to be afraid of (although dying may well be);
  • whatever comes after is at least to some degree up to us...much as our lives are. 
Perhaps we are reincarnated, as the Buddhists and Hindus believe. I live with a man who believes very passionately in past lives. Speaking for myself, I prefer to concentrate on this life; what's past is prologue. In fact, it seems to me that no matter what you believe about the hereafter, concentrating on this life, this world, is the prudent course of action. If you are in fact to be reincarnated, it's supposedly based on your actions and beliefs in this reality. If heaven or hell awaits, your final destination is predicated on your actions and beliefs in the here and now. And if there's nothing after death, well, then, this life is all you get and it's up to you to make the most of it. 

I learned today that Christians in the first millennium of their faith had a much more prominent belief in bringing 'heaven on earth' about. Their focus wasn't on death and eternal reward or punishment; it was on acting in love to create a paradise in the world they knew. That, to me, seems a much more reasonable and attractive goal than hoping you were born into the right time and place to run across and adopt Christianity so you could be "saved" after death. 

At any rate, death doesn't frighten me. It never has. If there is a next life, I look forward to loving the people I didn't get to this time around. If there's a heaven, I would visualize it as a state of absolute, all-encompassing love. And if there's nothing, if this is all we get...then I will love as many, as much, for as long, as I can. 

08 April, 2017

Coming Out, Part II: To Others

This is a follow-up to my entry from February 18 about coming out to yourself.

I'll start with something I neglected to mention there, and should have. Coming out to yourself is a slow process for most people.

Not all. Some of us know we're poly from an early age. I did. I've often repeated the story of how I shared Laura, Catherine, Sonia, and Anna with my best friend Gordon in thrice-daily bouts of kissing tag. There was no jealousy, probably because both Gordon and I knew that if we weren't kissing someone, we would be, soon.

Kissing tag is puppy love, of course--but I bought Laura a button that said "Let It Be" on it (my first love-gift, at all of eight years old), and I meant it.  I'd have bought Sonia, Anna and Catherine gifts as well, but I ran hard against a poly truth: love may be infinite, but time (and more pertinently, money) isn't.

Anyway...some of us know from an early age, and some of us run across polyamory and immediately know that this is us. Others grow into it, first by recognizing the potential in themselves and then through a lot of observation, reading, and questions.

And that's important, because the key to polyamory is freedom.

There is no one structure you can point to and say "this is poly; all others are not". Actually, it's closer to the truth to point to monogamy and say "this is monogamy; all other relationship structures, so long as they are ethical, are polyamory."

Gay closed triad? Poly. Married couple with additional partners they either share or don't? Poly. Woman who lives alone, and has several committed partners who know about and accept each other? Poly. Add in all the possible permutations of romanticism and sexuality (there are many polyamorous asexual people!), living arrangements, sleeping arrangements, and so on and you end up with a dizzying array of things that are all polyamory. The nice thing is that you get to decide what works for you and your partners and (if applicable) their partner(s) (your metamour(s)).

The downside to this is that coming out as poly isn't quite as self-explanatory as, for example, telling the world you are gay is.

People know what gay is. People, still, have no idea what poly is...and even other poly people might make the mistake (unlikely, but possible) of assuming their brand of poly and yours are identical.  So explanation will be necessary.

And then people will ask questions. Some of those questions you may feel are inappropriate.

_________

I got outed at work not that long ago. Now, contrary to what some of you may think, I don't flaunt my poly any more than any of you flaunt your monogamy. My close friends know, of course, and in quite a lot of (vetted) detail. People further from the center of my life know a lot less, but the ones I'm on decent terms with (and whom I feel I can trust) at least know the bare bones. The overwhelming majority of my colleagues at work had no idea until one of them blurted it out into a packed lunchroom.

Inwardly, I was furious with her, while cursing myself for a fool; I could see how she may have felt she had free rein to talk about it, because of the easy, breezy way I had discussed it with her. Outwardly, I smiled: it was vital I not look discomfited in any way, since this is, as far as I'm concerned, perfectly normal. I engaged with the storm of questions it raised. Yes, I live with my wife and her other partner. No, I don't feel any jealousy over them. Yes, I've been this way as long as I can remember, and I'm committed to both my partners. Yes, I actually DO live with my wife and her boyfriend. (That really proved hard for people to grasp.) And --

--now, really. Would you ask that question of anyone else?

No, you wouldn't. Because you know who sleeps where is none of your business. I will say this, though. Who sleeps where, and more pertinently, who does what with whom before sleeping with them, is none of my business, either.

Other poly people feel differently about this, of course. Some people love to share the intimate details, and some love to have them shared. Some people all share each other, for that matter. For me, it's simply a recognition that each relationship deserves its own space.

I sat back to watch the aftermath. The woman who outed me redeemed herself a little by correcting someone -- before I could! -- who used the word "cheating". "It's not cheating if he knows and accepts," she said. Exactly.

Afterward, several people came to me and disclosed: either they were poly themselves, they had tried (in one case for fifteen years!) a poly relationship in the past, they knew people who were poly, or they were just curious about it.  Others still said the tried and true "I could never do that!"...but there were no hostile reactions.

That's not always the case, of course. For every positive reaction I have heard several negative ones, and some of them are outright vicious. It truly is amazing how much energy some people will put into discrediting something that (a) makes you deliriously happy and (b) doesn't affect them at all.

You'll have misconceptions to address. Some will think you're a swinger (and you might even be one; polyamory and swinging coexist happily for many). To those people you can remind them your partners are not playthings, but people you love and care for, and who love and care for you in return. Some will call you selfish, and you can calmly tell them your partners are free to see other partners, so how is that selfish?

Some will say you can't commit. Don't take that one personally. By "commit" they mean "commit to one person and one person only, you know, like normal people do." Normal people, you see, only love one person at a time. Hint: nobody only loves one person at a time. Guess what, folks? You're all polyamorous, every last one of you reading this post. You all have multiple simultaneous committed loving relationships, and the people in those relationships know and accept it. Your best friend is also close to your brother. Your mom and your husband get along great. (Hey, it does happen.)  The only difference between you and people who actually identify as poly is that we take it one step further into our romantic (and, yes, often sexual) relationships.

WHY COME OUT?

Good question, for which you get to supply your own answer. I have several that work for me. A very important one has to do with the nature of poly itself. Poly, as the woman who outed me helpfully explained, is not cheating. Since cheating means secrecy. poly in turn should (I feel) mean transparency. Not full transparency, of course--there really is such a thing as TMI, even for me--but transparency nonetheless.
The other reason, just as important, is that in poly, your partners are family. These are people you are committed to, people who ideally ought to be accepted as such.

I get that this is uncomfortable for some. What I'd like those some to understand is how uncomfortable it is for me, not to mention a partner of mine, when that partner is denied.  A reminder: any love of mine is known, fully accepted, and probably liked a great deal by my wife. This is not me fucking around behind her back.

Another reason, less true for me but still true, is that coming out is a political statement. What that statement says is: I am free to conduct my life and love in a way that benefits 'more than two', and I grant that freedom to my partners. 

Still another reason to come out is that being in a closet is tiring...and stifling. Keeping an entire slice of your life -- and by definition, an important one -- from the other slices of your life is difficult and ultimately self-deceptive.

HOW TO COME OUT

(a) to a partner

This is by far the most difficult part of the process, because your partner is almost guaranteed to feel supremely threatened by your disclosure, as if she is not good enough. And no matter how gently you couch the revelation, it's entirely possible, even likely, your partner will run away screaming. And so: test the waters first. Ask her if she feels it's possible to love two people at once. Get an idea of what,  exactly, scares your partner (remember: a large component of jealousy is fear). Move slowly. And for God's sake, DON'T have another partner in mind right off the hop. If you say "I love Billy-Bob, but I also love you", it's no different to most people than saying "I'm about to leave you for Billy-Bob".

As to "I'm not good enough"--this is a hard, hard thing for many people to get past. Why do you need someone else, if you've got me?

I have found at this point it's germane to bring up friends. Your partner, hopefully, has more than one friend. Why? Why does he spend time and emotional energy on other friends when he already has one?  Isn't that one friend... good enough?

But I don't have sex with my friends. 

And that's the crux of it, for many, the point she'll either get past, or he won't. You'll have to convince her that your love for others, even if it's physical, will not detract from your love for her. That is, in fact, a hard sell for most; we're all conditioned otherwise. Heavily. But it's important to at least plant the seed that comparison need NOT involve judgement: that "different" is not "better" or "worse". Use any analogy you want. Food works: pick two foods she adores and ask her which food is BETTER.

You're going to be talking a lot before you get going. If communication is not something you do well, I'm sorry to say you're going to have a right bitch of a time with polyamory. Make sure that's tip-top, first.

(b) to your family

Probably NOT a good idea to spring it on the entire family at once, particularly at some holiday gathering or other. Do you have a trusted, reasonably open family member? Particularly one who is at ease with things like LGBTQ rights? That's not a guarantee he'll be equally accepting of poly, but it's a damn good sign.

Here's where you can keep the details down to a dull roar. I mean, even if you're monogamous, how much does your family know, or need to, about your love life? What ought to be important to your family is your happiness.
If possible, it's a good idea to have at least one partner present when you come out. Two (or more) may be a bridge too far. But one partner can deflect some of the heat off you.

And there will almost certainly be heat. You have to remember: this is cheating to many folks; the distinction must be made clear, and driven home, more than once. Give them a chance to research polyamory for themselves, and see what it is and isn't.

After that...time. Time and normalcy. Be open, but not too open, to the questions you'll get. If it all goes pear-shaped--always a possibility--remember the abundant love you can, or do, have, and remember above all just whose life you're living.

02 April, 2017

Right and Wrong

This blog is going to hit some very touchy subjects. It's also more explicit than anything I've ever written here. Parental (or avuncular) guidance suggested.

I contend that there are very few absolute 'wrong's. 

Let me define my terms here:
  • "absolute": true in all times and places, universal. 
  • "wrong": malum in se, "evil in itself". 
And let me put a large caveat here, in boldface, italics, and capitalized:  

I AM NOT DEFENDING ANY ACTION, LEAST OF ALL CALLING IT RIGHT, BY SAYING IT'S NOT AN ABSOLUTE WRONG.

This is a really hard concept to get for many people. I know; I used to be one of them. If something's not wrong, it's right....right? If something's not right, it's wrong? 

There are absolute wrongs in my moral code. Child molestation and rape head the (very short) list. And even those things...are they universally wrong? 

Rape. Can you defend rape? I can't, not as I understand the term. But: the definition of rape has changed considerably. Many people now say that 'rape' is any act of sex performed on someone who is less than totally enthusiastic. That makes virtually everyone a rapist at some point in their lives, you know. Most people have had a partner initiate sex when they were not, strictly speaking, "in the mood". Men are taught now that "no means no", AND THAT IS TRUE...but almost all of us (and more than a few women to boot) have taken an initial no as a maybe and pressed on. That...today...is rape.
Is it wrong? I think it is, for me. I need consent...and grudgingly given consent, or consent I must fight to obtain, will deflate me about as fast as a kick to the balls. I believe myself physically incapable of raping anyone, under any circumstances, ever...and yet even with me, there have been instances in the past where my partner--if I'm being honest with myself--wasn't quite as enthusiastic about the endeavour as I was. And vice versa. 
Nuances, nuances. There is a trivial and yet huge and extremely thorny difference between people who "might be persuaded" and people who really can't be. Some couples even make a game of it: I'm going to do this and you're going to like it, and lo and behold they end up liking it.
This is really, really fraught territory, because people use this to justify their baser urges all the time. And that, by my lights and by the lights of most, is wrong wrong wrong.  But...in all cases? Always?

Child molestation.
 
REMINDER: I AM NOT DEFENDING THIS. AT ALL.

I read something in the late 1990s that made my mind reel like nothing I've read before or since. It was an account, written by an adult who was sexually abused by his uncle when he was thirteen. Eddie, his name was; the uncle's name was Dave. Eddie lived with Uncle Dave because his parents had been killed in a train wreck.

There is simply no way to tell this story without telling the whole story. 

Eddie was a typical thirteen year old kid for that time and place (Brooklyn, New York, 1960s). He had a thirteen year old's perpetual boner and no idea what to do with it.  He fantasized constantly about girls, and the occasional guy, but he had no clue what he was really fantasizing about. Younger readers, remember: no internet. Porn was pretty hard to access if you were a thirteen year old kid in Brooklyn in 1960. You pretty much had to steal a magazine from a store, or know someone who had, and even most of the magazines weren't anywhere near as explicit as what you'll find today with even a cursory glance at a porn site. You could easily get to adulthood without knowing the mechanics of sex.  And 'self-abuse' was very much a thing: it was drilled into the heads of children that if you touched yourself "down there", you'd go blind, hair would grow on your palms, and you'd be cast down into hell to burn forever.
Now, thirteen year old Kenny in 1985 London Ontario could have articulated responses to those things: I could still find it if I was blind; hair on my palms would probably improve the sensation; and I was already burning in hell with this goddamn boner that wouldn't go down. Thirteen year old Eddie in 1960s Brooklyn tried mightily to resist the urge, but...typical thirteen year old boy that he was, he failed. And eventually he came, and thought--no, was certain--that he had broken his dick.
So he went to Uncle Dave, crying. Dave told him it was fine, really, he was 'becoming a man', and suggested Vaseline and a refinement to Eddie's masturbatory technique. Dave went back to his newspaper, Eddie went back to his bedroom, and all was right with the world. For the company that makes Vaseline, things were better than right.

Then one day Eddie was approached by a long-haired hippie type in a dark alley. The stranger offered Eddie a blowjob. Eddie had no idea what that was, and asked the stranger to explain. Having heard the explanation, Eddie ran away...and all that night thought about what he'd been offered. Half glad he ran, half regretting it, seriously conflicted. Most of us guys have been offered the same at some point. Most of us won't admit that even if we declined, we, too, were conflicted.

It tormented Eddie. He had no close friends, nobody to experiment with. And so one night he climbed into his uncle Dave's bed and gave him a blowjob.

Dave woke up in a hell of a hurry, as you can imagine, "Jesus," he kept saying, "how did you know?" Eddie had no idea what Dave was talking about. 
"I DIDN'T", he cried. "I don't know shit! That's why I done it. I want to know everything about this stuff, I'm old enough, and somebody said he wanted to do that to me but I didn't like him, and I like you fine, and God damnit you gotta tell me now!"

So Dave gave Eddie The Talk. Much more in depth than most kids in that time and place would have got. How babies happen. What women are like, and what you do with them, and how to make them enjoy it, too (that last is particularly absent from sex ed classes even now). What can happen if you aren't careful. How there's three kinds of men: men that like it just with women, men that like it just with men, and men who like it with anybody nice--and the same for women.  
Dave told Eddie that the third kind was called 'bisexual', and that's what he, Dave was. "I haven't had sex with a guy in twenty years and I swear to God I never thought about you that way," he said. 

Eddie told his uncle that he was bisexual, too. Dave told him he couldn't know that, not at thirteen. "Oh, I'm sure I'm gonna like girls," said Eddie. "And I know I had fun doing what I just done."

You can guess what happened next.

Afterwards, Dave told Eddie they would never, ever do that again. He warned Eddie to 'stay away from guys who smell funny', and that grownups who like to mess with kids only like it because they know more than the kid does. 

Eddie met Janey, and things progressed with them to the point they were playing doctor, only Eddie did something to Janey that none of the other doctors had tried before. Janey was initially aghast, but also intensely curious, and Eddie told he she could do that to him too, and that doing that meant she couldn't get pregnant.

"How do you know all this stuff?" asked Janey.

And Eddie told her.

They came for Dave and Eddie the next day.

Eddie was pulled out of class--by his ear--and dragged to the principal's office. Two cops, a priest, and a social worker. Eddie told them where Dave was working that day; they called Dave and told him to come to the school immediately, there was an emergency, and when Dave got there the cops beat the shit out of him. The priest, said Eddie, kicked Dave in the balls.

Eddie went to reform school, "where I was butt-fucked by that priest until I was too old to interest him. A couple of Brothers gave it to me for another couple of years after that until I was eighteen and they let me out".

And Dave? Went to jail, where he was raped to death for being a short-eyes.

__________

"Nobody ever asked me once, did I consent?" Eddie was going to testify in court to that effect, only there was no court. 

"I know what you're thinking...a thirteen year old can't consent, right? At nine (when his parents died) I was old enough to deal with death. How old do I have to be to own my own dick?"

"How come it's only okay if whoever you're doing it with is just as ignorant and incompetent as you are?"

'But adults can take advantage of kids..'

"When's the last time you tried to con a thirteen year old kid? Kids at thirteen are as bright and paranoid as they're ever going to be."

"But kids do get suckered, every day, just like anybody else."

"Okay, sure, absolutely. Now, tell me this: if you keep the kids as ignorant as possible, is that more likely to happen, or less? If there's no circumstances under which they are allowed to have sex, do they make their first mistakes with another kid, who will write it on the sidewalk for everybody they know to laugh about it--or with a grown up who doesn't KNOW anybody they know?

Eddie said, after telling his story, that kids should NOT be allowed to have sex with grownups. "Absolutely not," he said. "Never in this world. What happened to me proves it. Once everybody decides something is horrible, they're right."

That's true. For everything. Human sacrifice was not just accepted in Aztec culture; it was a completely unquestioned fact of life, and something a great many people aspired to. Slavery went unchallenged for thousands of years--and still goes unchallenged in some parts of the world. There are dozens of things we consider deeply, grievously wrong which are considered morally right in other places. We think those places, those people are barbaric. They think the same of us. 

I live my life by a moral code. My moral code is not much different from most, I suspect, although it does lack a God to back it up. There is a long, long list of things I consider wrong and reprehensible, and rape and child molestation head that list. Absolutely wrong?  It's easy, perhaps too easy, to say yes. When we consider this question, we are influenced strongly by where and when we grew up and our own set of values. It's sometimes hard to overturn them.

Eddie is right though. Whenever society as a whole decides something is wrong...it's wrong. Whether it should be or not.




30 March, 2017

Bloglet: Never Be Alone With A Woman...

I could write a long article on Mike Pence, the Vice-President of the United States, and why he scares me more than Trump and more than almost anyone in Trump's orbit. (Almost: Steve Bannon is terrifying.)

I could write that blog, but nobody would read it.

And so I will confine myself to writing about the Pence's family rules, which came out in a televised interview last week and which have set Twitter on fire. To wit: Mike Pence does not have dinner with women who are not his wife, and will not attend any event where alcohol is served without her by his side.

This is supposedly standard practice for many Christian families. And oh, boy, I have no idea where to start.

What exactly does this say about men and women? It says, at least so far as I can see, that women are sex objects and that men, or at least men subject to these rules, are incapable of controlling themselves whenever one of those sex objects shows up.

What are we, twelve?

Full disclosure: when I was twelve through seventeen or so, every woman I interacted with showed up in a mattress-staining dream sooner or later. Even then, somehow, I restrained myself from touching...well, most of them...inappropriately. (I will never forgive myself for the shameful conduct detailed there; about the only mitigating thing I can say is that I would never, ever even think about doing something like that now.)

Many -- not all, but many -- of my closest circle of friends are women. Ask those women and most of them will tell you most of their closest friends are guys.  I'm talking about platonic friendships here. I know plenty of other guys who have female best friends, and girls with male best friends.

Is there sexual tension in a small subset of these friendships? You bet your ass. Will sex happen, then? Not on your life. Any inappropriate conduct on my part and the wall goes back up: I lose the friendship. Not worth it. Not even close.

I can have dinner with any one of these friends and trust myself not to succumb to her Eve-like charms. Hell, I could share a bed with one of those women, stay fully clothed, and wake up in the morning without even the tiniest spot of rape in the night.
 I am not my genitals.

Is Mike Pence? Is he nothing but a walking erection looking for somewhere to stick it? Sure seems like it, doesn't it?

If men aren't allowed to be alone with women, then they segregate. Professionally, this perpetuates the male power cycle and denies women equal opportunity. That's part of the appeal for Christian men, who are the unquestioned heads of their households (women are commanded to submit to their husbands). But it does Christian women a huge disservice. Really, it denies their full humanity.

You see this to an even greater degree in Islam, where -- in the stricter sects -- women aren't allowed to leave the house unaccompanied. This, we're told, is for their own protection. Do they need it? The plural of anecdote is not data, but I have read numerous accounts of what happens to women clad in Western attire in Muslim countries. Groping is so common it goes completely unnoticed. Outright rape is a real risk.

I am often ashamed of my gender...but never more so when it comes to this. Maybe Pence and others like him are simply prudent, not prudish. That hurts to even type.






26 March, 2017

"It's Hard To Explain..."

Today's sermon at GRU was on "process theology". I'd never heard the term before. The philosophy presents a conception of God that is radically different from those most people have.

That's another thing I love about this place: different perspectives every week, with emphasis as needed on respecting differing belief systems and the unifying traits they share.

Today, though, was challenging.

Every week they do a 'story for all ages'. The story this time was called "Wabi-sabi", and it was, well, beautifully simple. A cat named Wabi-sabi questions what her name means. Another cat tells her it means 'beautiful'; a dog snarls at her that he can't possibly explain the meaning to someone so simple. "Am I beautiful or am I simple?" she wonders, and learns those two things can be, and should be, celebrated as one and the same. Throughout the story we hear the phrase 'it's hard to explain'. And it is...if you're wedded to the idea that beauty is in the destination, not the journey.

This resonated strongly with me, because finding perfection in imperfection and cherishing the journey... both are things I strive to do each and every day. Musically, what came to mind (and what has stayed in my head since) was this excerpt from an iconic piece of American classical music: 'Simple Gifts'.


'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free 
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, 
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight. 
When true simplicity is gained, 
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed, 
To turn, turn will be our delight, 
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right."

It should be noted that 'come 'round right' means to come back where you began. That might sound wrong--who wants to be back where they started? But if you do so armed with new understandings, how is that not progress?

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be." --Douglas Adams

That's an epitaph. I have made of it a mantra: it's something I repeat to myself whenever I feel out of place, a reminding that right here, right now, is where I am and where I belong.

The children's story about beautiful simplicity, about perfection in imperfection, was a well-chosen introduction to the idea of process theology. And here is where I must stress that this was NOT presented as Truth with a capital T: they don't do that there. This was food for thought, to make of what we would.

WHAT IF God was NOT all-powerful?
WHAT IF God was NOT all-knowing?
WHAT IF God was NOT a Being at all, but a Process?
WHAT IF we, all of us, were a part of that Process?

and finally

WHAT IF that Process could be called by another name...Love?

(full disclosure: not all of this came directly out of the sermon today. Some of it comes from here)...and oh, how it makes me wish *I* could have presented this material. Because this doesn't just speak to me, this IS me.

"to become...the next grandest version of the greatest vision ever you had about Who You Are" -- Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God

The idea here that God is Love. Love is a process. Properly applied, it grows, it expands (don't worry, I'm not going there, not today); it calls to each of us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be in the present moment. We become co-creators with God, in reforming the universe with our every choice. (Quantum mechanics is frolicking in this playground...)

You can take Process Theology as a starting point and apply any number of lenses to it. The site I linked views it through a Christian lens--and yes, that can be done, despite the seemingly unChristian starting point. The idea of 'process' is very important to Buddhist thought. It's also quite amenable to atheism: this is not your typical theistic construction of God. It makes no moral judgments on your actions; it simply evolves, and you with it. We all evolve, you know. Some of us more slowly than others, but we all evolve. Because the journey is an evolution, the evolution is a process, the process is Love, and Love is God.





19 March, 2017

Home(less)

The question is, how do we respond?

Today's sermon at Grand River Unitarian was both the most overtly Christian and the most overtly political I've yet attended.

It's worth noting that the Christianity was still muted, and was the inevitable byproduct of the guest speaker (the Lutheran chaplain of the House of Friendship), and the politics was the inevitable byproduct of the topic (poverty and homelessness).

I'm still glad I went, because once again today's service cleared up something religious that has bothered me for a long time.

Lutherans believe you are 'saved' -- a concept I have enough trouble with --- by God's grace alone, through faith alone. That's always suggested to me that there's nothing you have to do except believe. And if that doesn't work out for you, well, you're not believing hard enough. QED.

The speaker explained that Lutherans believe everything in your life is a God-given gift, and "so  the question is, how do we respond? We give back." Faith without works is thus a false faith.

People fought wars over this. Over whether salvation was by faith or faith plus works. And all one side had to do was explain that really, both sides are saying the same thing. But I guess murder is more fun.

(Next time you're in an argument, stop for a second and check to make sure you don't actually agree with each other.)

You know, I think I'd make a pretty fair minister, at least (and only) in this tradition of Unitarian Universalism  I'm increasingly attracted to. I have the requisite level of caring. I can get up in front of a congregation and tell a pointed story, which is essentially what a decent sermon is. I've got the open mind and an open heart. I'm maybe a touch introverted, but Rev. Jess -- who wasn't there this week -- says she was, too.

Anyway, today there was a fair bit of time devoted to the concept of a universal basic income (UBI). Ontario will be experimenting with a modified version of this plan starting this spring, essentially ensuring that no person's after-tax income can fall below $22,000 a year.

I find it sort of telling that no matter what the topic under discussion is there, it's either something I have studied in some depth or simply run across recently and 'bookmarked' for further investigation. Universal basic income is both those things, and "so how do we respond" is a nice five word summation of my answer to the problem of evil.

We need a response to the evils that are poverty and homelessness.

And we need UBI because 47% of jobs are going to be automated within the next 50 years, starting with truck drivers and (yike) most of the retail sector. We also need UBI because just giving people money with no strings attached is approximately 50% cheaper than paying the costs of poverty--chiefly health care and policing.

The sermon today stressed that people living with homelessness--there's that construction again--are PEOPLE. People who were once your neighbours, people who are still your family.  You may look down your nose at the dishevelled 'bum' hallucinating on the corner, not knowing anything of the trauma that brought him to that corner, not understanding that he medicates that pain with alcohol or harder drugs because what else is there, really? We tell these people to go out and get a job. Hey, you know, it's just that simple. Let them eat cake!

I've never been homeless. We came much closer than I'd like to acknowledge a couple of years ago, but we've always had a roof overhead.  I'm thus not qualified to even speculate on what my existence would look like without one. It's something you take very much for granted.  I certainly have, so much so that I've repeatedly complained about just how many homes I've lived in. It's like the guy with no shoes who met the guy with no feet. We say romantic things like "home is not a place, it's a person" and "as long as I'm with you, I'm home"...and most of us probably have no interest in testing that hypothesis.

There is a tsunami of senior citizen homelessness just around the corner to go along with the tide of homelessness that's already here and largely hidden from view.

The question is, how do we respond?