Being Exvangelical

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. I’ve had a lot going on in my life.

Since I know no one actually reads this blog but me, I’m gonna start taking it in a different direction, kinda. The posts about being transgender have mostly wound down, as now I’m on the other side, and I live my life 100% as I want to. That’s a nice thing! But there’s not much there to write about.

I hit a point this last spring where I decided I couldn’t keep my mouth shut anymore, and I needed to start speaking out. This wasn’t a direction I’d planned on going with my life, but it’s working out, I think. I put together a talk called “Leaving the Flock” about some of the struggles I faced in the evangelical church, as I grew up LGBT from within. I’ve given that talk a couple of times now, and I’d like to do it more, but finding places to speak has been hard.

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It has done pretty well on YouTube, however! I’ve managed to touch a lot of people that way. Usually after watching it they tend to contact me to tell me their story, which I like hearing.

 

I stress that my path is mine, and yours is yours, and where yours goes is okay! I just want people to feel happy and be in a supportive place.
The thing is, that sort of damage just doesn’t go away overnight. I was in the evangelical church for over 30 years. The damage is really deep, and very lasting. It’s gonna take me a while to get past it, if I ever do.

And that’s what I wanna start writing about, at least in part. Things I’m struggling with as I re-learn about the world. There’s a whole community of us out there that go with the term “exvangelical,” meaning someone who is an ex-evangelical.

I might pick apart pieces of Leaving the Flock and post about it here, too, as a way to reach and help others. I know it’s a commitment to listen to me talk for a whole hour, but reading a short thing online isn’t so bad.

We’ll see where this goes. If other people start looking at this blog, maybe I’ll change what I do! But I doubt that’ll ever happen. 🙂

Protecting My Health

Did you know that if your heart rates gets too high while sitting still, an Apple Watch will warn you about it? I’ve been reminded of this a few times in the last week. Twice yesterday alone.

This week has been … not good.

The news that Justice Kennedy is retiring has set my anxiety levels into overdrive. I’ve had a series of flashbacks all week that have just been crippling.

I have to deal with pretty severe anxiety at times. I don’t take anything for it (or even gone to see a doctor about it). I know what triggers it, and I do my best to avoid it. As long as I stay away from the trigger, I do pretty good as a fully functional person. I’m able to avoid it pretty well, so most of the time, I’m just fine.

The Supreme Court has been just about the only check-and-balance we’ve had left against the Evangelicals that run Congress, and the State governments. (45 isn’t an Evangelical, but he plays them like a fiddle and does whatever they want… and there’s Pence.) News that the last check-and-balance we’ve had left is about to fall has been overwhelming.

This (Justice Kennedy retiring) is the end game that Evangelics have been hoping for decades. Just knowing that the people I used to hang out with are ecstatic right now is… overwhelmingly awful. I spent decades having to listen to how amazing this moment would be. I can’t even count the number of times I had to sit in church and listen to someone pray for this moment. It’s gotta be hundreds, if not thousands of times.

My social media feeds have been stuffed full of people that are scared. Post after post. We all knew that 45’s reign was going to be bad, but no one predicted it would be this bad. It feels like we’re about to enter a theocracy unlike any in my lifetime in this country. Sessions quoting bible verses as justification for what they were doing is ultra scary.

The constant reminder on social media of what’s likely in the next 24 months (marriage equality being taken away or made much weaker, state laws being passed that’ll prevent me from using the bathroom outside of my own house, etc) keeps being thrown into my face.

I keep getting flashbacks to awful events in my life. Having to sit in a church for hours while I was forced to listen to someone preach about how gays caused 9/11. Having to listen to an old white man demonize women on “sanctity of life” Sunday. (You know, the Sunday when you pull up into church only to see a graveyard in the front?) Being forced as a child to memorize things I didn’t want to memorize. Having to listen to how people like me are worthless, and should be punished so harshly that not even death will allow us to escape.

This is the trigger that sets off my anxiety. My heart starts to race, I get really hot, I start to sweat, and I feel really terrible about myself. There’s not a lot I can do. I just have to wait and let it pass.

You can’t logic your way out of an anxiety attack. Believe me, I’ve tried. People telling me “oh, it’s not that bad” or “you’re crazy” or “you’re wrong” doesn’t help. It just makes it worse because it adds guilt on top of everything else.

It’s been happening so much that I’m starting to worry about my health.

I need to get away from the thing that triggers it. I’m going to cut way back on social media for a while. I’ve already taken my personal Twitter account off my phone. I can’t really do the same for Facebook, since East Bay Rabbit Rescue uses it to coordinate a lot of things, but I’m not going to be light with the mute button. My health is at stake. 😢

All the Same

Just a quick post this afternoon!

I’ve been on vacation the last few days, hanging out with my furry family. I’ve been getting close to burnout at work, and I really don’t want that to happen, so I took a few days off. It also gives me a chance to relax and get ready to attack MFM head-on for the rest of the month.

This morning, while I was in the shower, I had an interesting thought.

The people here with my furry family are all really different. So different that sometimes we butt heads on things, but we always make up in the end, and that makes it all okay.

I purposely have chosen friends and family for myself that are very different from me, and very different from each other, for the most part. It the uniqueness that I crave and enjoy about the cool relationships I have here. One of the things I frequently say is that I want friends that are different from me… people that are all the same are boring. I don’t want friends that are just clones of myself.

What clicked in my head this morning is that the life I have here is nearly completely the opposite of what I was taught in church. The church values everyone being exactly the same. We were all expected to talk the same, believe the same things (without question), dress the same, act the same, and if someone was different, it was our job to try to make them the same like us.

Being different is good. Being different means you are thinking for yourself.

Relapses

A thing clicked in my head last week. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it means.

Last week someone I follow on Facebook posted a link to a Chris Tomlin video. Chris Tomlin is a Christian musician, and one that I used to enjoy listening to very muchly. I, for whatever reason, clicked on it, and listened to the music… and then proceeded to spend the next couple of hours listening to Christian music.

It brought back all kinds of memories – mostly good – from times I’d listened to music like that. The feeling of being with a group of people and enjoying music like that is a really powerful thing, and it’s something I always looked forward to.

Eventually I caught myself. I realized what I was doing. I was having a relapse. (I managed to get out of it without a lot of guilt, so go me!)

 

What clicked in my head in the days that followed is that I am like a recovering alcoholic. I’ve not an alcoholic, so I’m not completely sure if this is a good analogy, but feels right to me.

My relapse was enjoyable to me. I assume that, at least at the start, a relapse is enjoyable to an alcoholic, too, at least while they’re in the relapse itself. I know from my own knowledge that when I manage to get myself clean on Coke Zero, the first time I take a sip of it after months of being clean, it is just the most amazing thing in the world. Every drop is just mind-blowing incredible.

The feelings I felt were real. I wasn’t being fake “fake” feelings and emotions from somewhere. It was all very legit feelings.

But I have to stop and remind myself that it’s not healthy. It’s not in any way healthy.

The reason I left the church in the first place was because it was not a healthy place for me to be. I was very unhappy with my life, I was constantly saddled with guilt, and I had more cognitive dissonance than any person should have.

No matter how enjoyable those feelings were, they were unhealthy.

 

It is, I’m guessing, but I strongly suspect this is true, the same sort of things that a recovering alcoholic must deal with. Just like how an alcoholic shouldn’t work in a bar, I shouldn’t be around churches. I just can’t handle the temptation. Relapsing is so easy, and so, so unhealthy.

 

Life is soooooooo much better now, now that I’m free from the bad influences of the church. Living my life for me, and no one else, is much more rewarding, and the amount of internal conflict I now have is so minute compared to before. It’s all good things.

I think part of what makes the temptation to relapse so strong is that I’ve done a pretty poor job of replacing things in my life that the church used to provide for me. I’m still struggling to have any sort of a social life, after having it basically handed to me via the group setting at a church. There’s a lot of weekends when I feel super alone, and like there’s no one around that cares about me, which I’m guessing comes from the hole that the church left in my life. (A very unhealthy hole.)

It is, I’m assuming, just a lot like what recovering alcoholics have to go through. I wish I could find a Christianity Survivors Support Group to join, but I doubt that’s even a thing. (A quick Google search shows it isn’t.)

 

I fear I am going to be struggling with this the rest of my life… but I need to be healthy. I need to do what is the best for me, and that’s just the way it is.

Taking Music Back

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It’s not super well known, but spent a lot of years playing trombone at least once a week. I played nearly non-stop from fourth grade up until my early 30s. From high school on I didn’t even take the summer off – I’d still be playing a few times a week. If you add all of this up, it’s roughly 20 years.

Most of that time was spent in a church setting. The church I attended from tenth grade until I left the church for good (again, in my early 30s) had a band. The membership varied from year to year, but I was one of the few constants. When I started playing in it it was mostly made up of professionals from the Air Force Band of Flight, and by the time I left it was mostly just a bunch of amateurs like myself.

The few years I spent playing with professionals taught me a lot. In school I learned how to play an instrument, but I never really learned how to play trombone. There is a difference in learning how to play an instrument, and learning how to play it like it’s meant to be played. Each instrument is different, with different histories and backgrounds, and to play it right, you need to learn about the instrument itself… it’s color, it’s timber, etc. It’s all unique to the horn you’re playing.

Since I was performing weekly, I was forced to get really good at sight reading. This is a hard skill to learn. Learning that it’s okay if you don’t make all of the notes – drop the ones you can’t play – but whatever you do, don’t get lost. My high school band (like all school bands, pretty much) went to “contest” each year. Part of the things the band had to do was sight read. We’d practice for weeks leading up to this. The teacher would give us a pile of music to read as a group, and we’d hand it back in at the end of the class. This was always super easy for me, because I was doing it each and every week, and learning from some of the best in the business.

I loved playing next to folks that really knew how to play. I learned so much, and had a lot of fun doing it.

 

But the good times didn’t last for forever. The group at church changed over the years. It got smaller and smaller. The professionals moved on. The music minister we’d had for forever moved on, and the new person came in totally determined to do his own thing, and tossed out all of the charts I nearly had memorized… and the new ones were super hard, and way beyond my ability to play. (But not read!)

At the end the weekly practices had gone away, and we were down to just a brief read-through before the first service, if we even got that at all. The thing I had totally loved to do changed radically, and not in a good way.

I tried complaining about this (the pieces were so difficult that I needed more than one read-through), but no one really seemed to care. It all fell on deaf ears. I felt like the band was no longer anything anyone cared about. Like we were just an annoying thing in the way that ate into time for sound checks before a service.

Finally, I hit my breaking point. I’d been really upset at how poorly a service had gone (one were we didn’t even get a single read-through – meaning I was sight reading for the performance), and when I said something about how we need more time, and more people (it was down to just a small handful of people at that point), they fired back with “well, maybe if people want the honor of playing in this building, they’d get here earlier.”

I was crushed. I felt like not a single person cared. I’d put 15 or so years of my life into this group, and we were just being tossed away. That was the day I walked out of the doors and never came back.

When I left the church, I thought for sure that music was just something I was going to have to give up. My trombone sat in my closet for many years, because I was scared to touch it. Just looking at it brought back all kinds of memories that I didn’t want to feel. All that angst I had from watching the group at church get tossed away would just bubble to the service and I’d be overwhelmed with emotions.

 

Playing trombone wasn’t the only type of music I did. I was also in choir, and had a pretty good range and ear. (Playing trombone helps a lot with your singing skills – both require you to find the right pitch yourself.) I had a pretty good range as a vocalist. I could sing bass and tenor, and just about anything in between.

When I transitioned, I re-learned how to talk. My vocal range changed. It’s much higher than it used to be. (Not because of hormones… they have nothing to do with it. It was just shear determination that I was going to pass all of the time, darn it.) I had to give up the range in my voice to do this. I bet I could sing alto, but my days of singing bass are long over.

It’s kinda weird. Trombone (and tenor and bass vocally) are all bass clef. I can barely read treble clef, which is the one most people think of when you show them a piece of music. If I were to try to sing alto, I’d have to learn how to read pitches all over again. Sight reading would be hard.

I’d just kinda felt like my days with music had come to an end. I couldn’t touch a trombone because of bad memories, and I could no longer sing the parts I used to. (Nor would I want to even if I could!)

It made me really sad that I’d lost something that was a big part of my life for so long.

 

Flash forward to a few years ago. I somehow picked up an interest in some forms of jazz music. (Namely pieces from the Great American Songbook.) I started listening to Great American Songbook music on the radio. I learned a few of the standards and could pick them out by ear. I’ve learned how different you can do a single piece by playing it in a lot of different styles, or changing the words slightly… all sorts of little tweaks you can do. (I’ve also learned that I like Frank Sinatra’s songs, but I can’t stand listening to him. Hello, Frank. Dynamic range is a thing!)

I sorta fell in love with Jonathan Schwartz when he was a program director for XM Radio (this was before the merger ruined XM). His tastes in music matched mine, a lot, and I’d listen to his program every day at work.

XM got rid of him a few years ago, but I found that he has a streaming show on the Internet weekly, so I still listen to him nearly every day. His radio show is one of the things that I listen to while at work, even. I’ve learned so much about that style of music… and the flame kinda got relit.

I’ve been listening to the Great American Songbook for a few years, and started to long to get back into music, but never really got up the courage to do so.

 

Until a few weeks ago. 🙂

In Rocket City we have a giant piano on the floor in the loft. Normally it’s for running on, but you can play it by touching the keys, too. There’s a game that myself and few others play (hi, Mr. Genesis!) where we’ll play something and see if other people know what it is. Normally I just kinda goof around, but a few weeks ago I really wanted to play… but I can’t read piano music. (It’s treble clef.) Soo… I looked up trombone music, because I can read that.

I spent a few hours playing trombone music on that piano on the ground (poorly, I might add), but that was enough to do it. Just reading music again for the first time in ages… having to think about time signatures, key signatures… having to remember that accidentals carry though the measure… how repeats, codas, and other things work… it all just started flooding back into my head. All this knowledge I forgot I had. Knowledge I had made myself forget about because it reminded me of a horrible time in my life… but this time I was surrounded by friends… and playing songs that I know very well from the radio, but aren’t church songs… it was… amazing.

Finally it all started to click that “you know, there’s stuff other than church music you can play. You listen to it every single day.”

 

On a whim I went online and just started searching for trombone music, and was reminded about “The Real Book,” which is a collection of jazz standards. When I last looked at one of these, I didn’t know any of the songs in it…. but now? I know like half of them, and learn more every day.

My Trombone

My trombone, back where it belongs. ❤

Finally, just in the last few days, I dared to get my trombone out of the closet. I set it up on the stand. I bought Vol 3 of “The Real Book,” because it has “I Left my Heart in San Francisco” in it… and I’m having fun playing music. But this time? I’m just doing it for me. 🙂

I’m really rusty. You can’t take that many years off from playing a brass instrument and not have some rust. Towards the end of each session where I play (for no reason other than it’s fun!), I’ll grab my iPhone and record a little bit. I have a long ways to go, but if I listen realllly closely, I can hear the way I used to play hidden in there. It’s coming out little by little. I’ll have a terrible couple of measures, followed by a few where I’m all smiles as I listen. It’s still there. I still have it.

It’s so nice to have music back in my life. I took it back from the bad memories. They may have robbed me of it for almost a decade, but it’s mine, darnit. And I’m gonna keep it. ❤

Facebook and Life

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A few weeks ago I did a very healthy thing for myself. I deactivated my Facebook account. I didn’t close it – it’s still there if and when I want to go back to it – but it’s in a state of suspended animation for a while.

There’s a couple of reasons for this. The two reasons are kinda one in the same, but I view them as two different reasons.

The life I have now is very different than the one I had growing up. I’m very much a liberal atheist, and I am very sure of what I believe. I know what I believe works for me, and you’re not gonna shake me from it.

The life I had growing up was one of a conservative Christian. It never really clicked in my head. I was just mostly going through the motions because that’s what I was expected to do. There were always a few times when it was too much (such as “sanctity of life” Sunday, where an old white guy would lay in hard to the women in the room about abortion… I always felt so bad for a woman that was there and had had an abortion in the past and didn’t know this was coming), but by and large it was my world. I’ve written about this many times on this blog.

The thing is, for the rest of my family (outside of my brother), this is still their world. They still believe all of this stuff. Or at least have done a good job of convincing themselves that they do.

I use Facebook mainly to keep up with family things, and be able to see photos of my sister’s kids. That’s where the problem was.

Seeing the constant stream of “Like if you love Jesus” things, or the “thoughts and prayers” things, bothered me a lot, but by and large I could tune it out.

That was, until this election season came along. That was the other reason.

The constant negativity around the 2016 election that was ending up on my Facebook feed was too much.

I’m LGBT. I’m proud to be LGBT. I get offended when people run their mouths off about how Trump is the best LGBT candidate ever, when his VP choice not only supports, but funds Gay Conversion therapy. People that honestly believe this stuff are totally clueless and don’t really understand what it’s like to be LGBT in this country right now. They’ll post stuff like that, and then talk about how LGBT people are destroying America… that because we now have gay marriage, their god is going to destroy this country… just… stuff like that. 😦

I couldn’t take it. I bailed. My life has been a lot better ever since. The constant reminder that I’m an outcast and how my views are nearly 180 degrees out of sync was hard.

The last straw was the recommendation that I join the group “Christians for Trump.” I know that Facebook works off a social graph – and that since a lot of people I’m connected to are in that group, it suggests it to me as one I might like too. That’s just how it works… but it was a reminder how different I am than my family. I decided I didn’t wanna hang out with people like that anymore.

So now I’m back to Twitter, Second Life, and this blog. The same way I was for a long time before Facebook.

I joined Facebook for one reason… it was a sneaky way to come out of the closet to my family members. It allowed them to see that not only am I still around, but actually, my life is pretty decent, and I’m not a monster that’s out to anger their god. Or something. That whole thing worked! They now know who I am, and it’s mostly okay.

Maybe it was just time to leave.

I’m Dyslexic

Here’s an interesting and not widely-known thing about me… I’m super dyslexic.

I’m fine with words. I really only have an issue with words when I get extremely tried, and I’ll start swapping whole words randomly. Like I’ll say “table” instead of “horse” or something.

What I really have a problem is is numbers. I cannot read numbers out loud with any degree of accuracy. It’s very frustrating. I can see the number, I can do math with it, but the moment I go to say it? I’ll say it wrong nine out of ten times.

Even worse than reading numbers is someone telling me a number and expecting me to do something with it. This comes up at work all of the time, since I’m getting better about helping to manage my team’s workload using JIRA. My boss will ask me something like “who’s working on BUN-2932” and I have a really hard time with it. She knows it’s an issue, and says “oh right, numbers,” and will send it to me via Slack, but it’s terrible. Triage meetings are the worse when we’re going over huge amounts of open issues and trying to talk about them.

The things that are the hardest are numbers that sound like. “67” and “76” might as well be the same number to me. And “35” and “53.” (The word sixty-seven vs seventy-six. And it took me four tries to type that just now.)

I’m pretty good at coping with it.

I don’t allow people to read me numbers and expect me to do something with them… I insist they use an IM program to send them to me. IP addresses are equality hard. I won’t read someone an IP since I know I’m gonna get it wrong no matter how hard I try.

Some folks have picked up on the weird way I read phone numbers. My phone number as a child in real life was 360-1283. I would read it as “the six oh, twelve eighty three.” I break the second part of the number up into two numbers, each two digits long, which makes it two numbers to me instead of four.

I was a cashier in High School briefly, and I made people mess up on sooooo many checks. (Remember those?) I eventually just gave up and would point to the display on the register and say “this is your total.” And yet, I was one of the fastest around at making change… just as long as I didn’t have to say any of the amounts out loud.

It’s extremely frustrating. I’m glad my boss at work is willing to work with me on it. I’m a really smart person, but somewhere in my head the connection between the part of the brain that can process numbers orally and the part that does math and understanding is miswired.

So now you know! 🙂