Monday, October 27, 2008

Off To Vegas

I'm going out of town for a week to visit my fiancé and see our new house for the first time (and move my stuff in). I don't know how much internet access I will have during that time, so just letting you know that if I'm not heard from during the week, that is why.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Two Videos I Like

I am truly naive. It has floored me how much ugly racism has crept out during this presidential election. I've seen video clips in the news or on YouTube of ignorant people saying, at best, misinformed, and, at worst, hateful things. Naive idealist that I am, I thought people were better than that and that we had come much further than perhaps we have. When I look at Barack Obama, I don't see the color of his skin; I just see a man I admire a lot whom I feel would make a great leader, especially in what I predict will be even more perilous times. Regardless of whether people like Obama or not, I hope it has to do more with his policies than his color. Here are two videos I've seen recently that hit on issues I agree with:

Donna Brazile speaks about race.

Colin Powell endorses Barack Obama.

If you don't have time to watch the entire Powell clip, this is the part I want to focus on in this post:

"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, 'Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.'

"Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian.

"But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America.

"Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?

"Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, 'He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.' This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards -- Purple Heart, Bronze Star -- showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old.

"And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross; it didn't have the Star of David; it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.

"Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Theatre Snob or "Now For Something Completely Different"

I've spent much of this blog talking about my gay LDS issues. Today it's about theatre.

I am a theatre snob. I freely admit it and do not apologize for it. I like going to see excellent theatre, and anything below my high standards receives criticism. My mom doesn't always like going to shows with me because she thinks I am too critical. Whether I am too critical is up for debate, but I admit I am very critical of any play (or movie) that I see. Frankly, I wish I could just go to a show and enjoy it without the critic in me constantly making mental notes about what I am seeing, and there have been times when I get so lost in a show that the criticism stops. Those ones are the best; but the majority of things I see are scrutinized (and sometimes torn apart) by my inner critic. Mostly it's acting and directing and performance that receive my toughest criticisms because those are my focus. Jonah, for example, criticizes costumes a lot because that is his forté.

The other night a good friend of mine (who is also quite critical about theatre) and I went to see a friend of ours in a show. Neither of us particularly wanted to see the show itself because we both had low expectations, but we really wanted to see our friend perform. True to our suspicions, the show was pretty terrible. Our friend (and actually most of the performers) gave good performances and made the most of some weak material, but the material itself was pretty mediocre. The premise was interesting, but the execution was not, nor were the stakes high enough or the characters deep enough for me to be moved in any meaningful way. At intermission my friend and I proceeded to pick the show apart, and I'm sure if anyone around us heard our conversation they probably thought we were huge theatre snobs. So be it.

I said to my friend that it was typical "bad Mormon theatre," which as a Mormon and a theatre professional I feel I am qualified to say. He replied that it reminded him of a bad BYU Young Ambassador show (is there a good BYU Young Ambassador show? Kidding.). We felt the show came off as disjointed, condescending, and preachy and thought overall that the songs, book, and choreography were uninspired and superficial. When we got together with our friend after the show, she agreed with every assessment we made about the show, and said her director also thought the material was weak and tried to do the best she could with it. I had a feeling our friend knew she was in a bad show because she is a pretty theatre-savvy individual.

The composer of the show came out prior to the Act 1 beginning to tell us that the show had been 22 years (I think) in the making, and when the show was over I thought, "It took you 22 years to come up with this?!" What really annoyed me (as is often the case when I'm seeing theatre in the Beehive State) was that so many people around me were buying into it, and several people gave the thing a standing ovation (but then I find that Utah audiences are often willing to give a dog taking a crap onstage a standing O). It's appalling to me how willing people (both theatre professionals and audiences alike) are to settle for mediocrity.

I'm not saying that all theatre has to be deep or meaningful or socially relevant nor do I hold community theatre up to the same standard I hold professional theatre. What I do want is to be entertained or moved or see some issue from another perspective in a polished, professional, and interesting or clever way. The musical Mamma Mia, for example, is not high art or anything other than a big ball of fluff; but I saw a touring company give a terrific performance of it that was very entertaining and well done. On the other hand, I just saw a socially relevent play at Salt Lake Acting Company called The Overwhelming which I found to be extremely well written, well acted, and well directed, and I left feeling I had seen a great piece of theatre. Pioneer Theatre Company just did a production of My Fair Lady that I found to be extremely well done. I saw a community theatre production of Caroline or Change in the recent past that was more invigorating and interesting than some of the professional theatre I've seen. So I don't think I am unreasonable in my request.

I do find, however, that so many audiences here in Utah (and probably elsewhere) have this attitude that if somebody's putting their heart into something and doing a passable job of presenting something mediocre or even downright awful that we need to celebrate it and applaud it as if it's the Second Coming or something. I disagree.

I worked for several years at a theater that thrived on mediocrity and sloppiness. We did half-assed shows to sell-out crowds, and our audiences acted like we'd given them top-notch entertainment worthy of a brilliant production of Shakespeare or Sondheim. I was constantly frustrated by our troupe's unwillingness to strive for perfection and polish and even more frustrated by our audiences' willingness to accept it. I can't tell you how many times I said to myself, "Imagine how these people would respond if the show was actually any good." Now that isn't to say we didn't do some good stuff there, but we also did some things that I just thought were mediocre and even terrible. One of the reasons I chose to move on from that theater (because it was a well-paying job) was that I no longer felt challenged or particularly proud of what I was doing. Nor is that to say that I don't still take jobs for money rather than the art (call me a hypocrite). I'm just saying that I wish we as a society (both as theatre professionals and audiences) would try to raise the bar in what we deem acceptable as good entertainment and/or thought-provoking theatre. I think we should demand more of ourselves.

Now if you think I'm being too critical of theatre, imagine how high that beam of criticism is focused on myself as a performer. I do not claim to be the greatest actor or singer (and certainly not dancer), but I sure strive to be, and I am constantly dissecting and picking my own performances apart to see what can be improved and polished. I'm not asking perfection of anybody; I'm just asking that we strive for perfeaction and not settle for mediocrity in the theatre.

That's all.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Only Thing We Have To Fear...

About three or so years ago my mom's house was robbed. She had only been gone an hour, and it was the middle of the day, and a thief (or thieves) broke in and stole some costume jewelry, her wedding ring, a camera, her pillow cases, her passport, some stationary (WTF?!), and some other various things. All in all, I think it was maybe $2,000 - $3,000 worth of stuff. The police actually think it was kids and certainly not professionals. It was surprising to me actually how much else they could have taken that was worth more money that they left remaining.

The fact that they stole these things was not a big deal (except the wedding wing, which of course had great sentimental value to my mom). After all, it was only money, and most of these things were either replaceable or not worth much to begin with. What has always upset me about the robbery is what else they stole: my mom's sense of security and her peace of mind. Three years later, my mom is a different person in some ways. She's far more paranoid, she jumps at every little sound (even sounds the house has been making for years), she locks the door even if people are home, she doesn't like being alone at all, and even though she bought an extremely efficient and well-endorsed home security system, I don't think she feels all that much safer.

That's what upsets me the most: my mom is still scared of being robbed or attacked. Her peace of mind of feeling safe in her own home is gone, and it angers me that these robbers took that as well. And now with my sister having just gotten married and me eventually on my way out, it concerns me that she will be living here all by herself because I think it will only make her fears worse.

I remember when 9-11 happened. I flew that very week because I had a wedding to go to, and I remember how many seats on the plane were empty because people had canceled their flights. I also remember various people around me seemed nervous and scared to be flying. I wasn't nor was the guy next to me. We had a small conversation about it and agreed that whatever was going to happen would happen, and that we weren't going to let it stop us from living our lives.

I remember arriving for my friend's wedding, and her mother would freak out whenever a plane flew over the area because she was convinced that more terrorists were coming to kill more people (never mind that this was podunk town in Pennsylvania).

I remember how overreactionary I thought people were about airport security, and to this day I still think it's all a facade designed to make people feel safer rather than providing any genuine security. I feel far more inconvenienced by airport security than I do more safe.

I've looked at how this administration has exploited people's fears in order to achieve its often self-serving goals and how people have bought into it because they are afraid. And often thought when I've heard them recite the mantra, "If we don't do 'such-and-such' the terrorists win," and thinking to myself, "No, if we don't continue living our lives without fear, the terrorists win."

You read the paper or turn on the news, and someone is telling you that you have to worry about this and that; there's some new disease out there; studies have shown that something is bad for you; the economy is plummeting; terrorists are after you and your family; etc., and people let their fears paralyze them and stress them out and prevent them from living their lives.

I try very hard not to allow myself to get scared by stuff. Certainly I have fears, but I find the best way to tackle fear is to just throw myself into whatever it is I'm afraid of, and I would say 99.9% of the time the reality is nowhere near as frightening as my imaginings were.

I remember as an acting student we were often given crazy exercises to do, and you would stand in front of your classmates in a very vulnerable position doing whatever it is you were asked to do. It was scary to put oneself in that position, but I always found that if I just threw myself into it, it never was as bad as my fears allowed to me think it was and quite often was very rewarding and fun.

As an actor, it's always nerve-racking to go to auditions, and there's always this fear that I might screw up and make a fool of myself. Guess what? 9 out of 10 times the audition goes fine, and the one time that I do make a fool of myself is not as big a deal as I imagine it to be. The world still keeps on turning, and I end up learning what I need to do to avoid feeling that way at the next audition. And each audition makes me better at it. Even if the audition isn't my best, I always learn something that I can do to be a better auditioner.

For years I spent my life in the closet, scared that if I came out or acted on my feelings that somehow the powers of hell would snatch me up, that my family and friends would treat me badly or somehow stop loving me; that God would think less of me; and that my world would somehow implode. Guess what? It never happened. If anything, life is better now. I'm not saying that is the right choice for everybody. Each person has to find their own path. But it was very right for me, and I spent years being paralyzed and repressed by this fear, and once I let go, life became so much easier to live.

My point is (and I really believe this) that the fears we have are almost always more terrible in our imaginations than they are in reality, and if we allow our fears to paralyze us or stop us from living our lives or doing the things we desire to do, I think we often do ourselves a great disservice.

It really is like Franklin D. Roosevelt said.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Who I Was Then

I attended my nephew’s choral concert at his high school a few nights ago (ironically the same group of students I substitute taught the week before), and as I was watching this group of high school students singing in their various choirs, I thought, “My gosh! That was me nearly 20 years ago!” It is almost unfathomable to me that it’s been almost 20 years since I graduated from high school (I imagine my reunion will be next summer). First of all, I don’t feel it. I feel quite young. And second, I just can’t believe that much time has passed.

I was sitting on the row with my mom, my brother and sister-in-law, and their children, and I thought how even though it didn’t seem so much time had passed that at the same time it also seemed like a lifetime ago. I thought to myself, none of my brother’s kids even existed in mortality 20 years ago; my dad was still alive; my brother and his wife were just newlyweds; I was working at an ice cream shop for minimum wage; I was very much struggling with my homosexuality in a very negative way at that time; and I was starting to lose my faith in God. In fact, just a year or so after my graduation, I was completely inactive in my church, very bitter towards God for my perceived troubles, and slightly estranged from my family. And I thought to myself, “What if I had stayed that person? Where would I be now?” I actually shudder at the thought.

I was a different person then; much more self-centered than I feel I am now, and I was losing faith that God even cared about me. But one night I was praying, and a whole new world was opened up to me where I saw that not only did I matter to God, but that he knew me individually and very much loved and cared about me. I also felt that the LDS Church was God's true church on earth, and I felt very compelled to serve a mission and felt compelled to not give in to my homosexual feelings at that time. As I sat at the concert last night I thought, “Why would God tell me to fight those feelings then, and yet, several years later would I feel that same God telling me it was okay to let go and come out of the closet?” Of course, the obvious argument was that it wasn't God that told me it was okay to come out, but I do believe it was. I'm not even saying that I believe God necessarily condones my choice, but that He knew it would be better for my emotional health to do so. I do also very strongly believe that Jonah and I are supposed to be together, and as I've stated many times before, I certainly feel happier and more at peace having made the decision to be with him. What has been affirmed to be time and time again is that God loves me regardless of my choices and that things will be okay for me.

As I was at this concert, it occurred to me that if I had come out at an earlier age or if I had chosen not to follow the promptings I had to serve a mission or be active in the church, then my relationship with God would be different today and perhaps negative or even nonexistent, and I don’t think I ever would have met Jonah, or if I had, I don’t know that I would have been as emotionally or spiritually attracted to him like I am. I also think I might have done some things I would have regretted later on.

I’m not sure if my thoughts are coming across the way I am intending or why I even feel compelled to write about it, but it was just interesting to think about the path I am on in life compared to the path I was on and how different my life is in some ways than it was when I was 17 and yet there were also aspects that remained the same as well. I guess what really hit me was that God sees my life all at once, unlike me who experiences the present and remembers fragments of my past. He sees my past, present, and future all at once (at least that is what I believe), and so I believe the revelations he gives me are based on what he knows about me throughout my life and not just now. Perhaps that is why He has made me to feel that being with Jonah is a good thing and that it is appropriate for this time in my life to have made the decisions I've made. I am simply trusting him. I wish I could clarify what I really felt at the concert, but it is not coming out in this post the way I am intending. Perhaps someone can help me better articulate what I am trying to say (or perhaps I need to dwell on it a bit more. Anyway, part of the point I am trying to make is that it was an unusual experience just having different memories and realizations flood into my mind while this concert was going on. The concert was enjoyable, too, by the way. Quite good for a high school choir, I thought.

Sorry if this post is confusing.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Proposition 8

I've been meaning to write my feelings about California's Proposition 8 which is trying to ban same-sex marriage in that state. The LDS Church, of which I am still a member, has put a lot of money and manpower into trying to get Californians to pass the bill.

Jonah and I have set a date to get married on December 31 in Orange County, so obviously I am hoping the proposition is defeated. I am sad that my church has put so much time, money, and blatant political effort into passing a bill that I disagree with. I am not surprised, though. The LDS Church is very focused on marriage between man and a woman being an eternal and moral principle, and they do not believe that man has the right to to try and monkey around with an eternal law.

My position is that even if same-sex marriage is wrong in the eyes of God, a man-made law isn't going to alter that nor will it force the LDS Church to have to abide by it. I just want to be married to the person I love and have the same rights and privileges that come with that. I know my religion doesn't see it that way, and I can respect that.

I refuse to get on the LDS Church-bashing train, though. Many of my gay friends see it as a personal attack on them, and perhaps they are right to feel that way. Regardless of the fact that my religious leaders and some of my fellow members are trying to pass a law that I disagree with, I do respect their right to fight for what they believe in just as I am trying to fight for what I believe in.

In spite of differences of opinion, I do love my religion and all it has taught and given me throughout my life. I still enjoy being a part of it. I hold no malice towards it. But it is true that I do not always agree with the way things are handled, and this is one of those times.

I do not claim to know with absolute certainty God's mind or his will concerning me. I do know with absolute certainty that since I found Jonah and since I came out of the closet, I am far happier than I was when I was trying so hard to live in the "Mormon box," as I call it. How that will affect me in the afterlife remains to be seen. But right now my life is very good, and I do not regret the decisions I've made regarding my relationship with Jonah and my coming out. I am trying my best to live as good a life as I can, and I am trying to live according to what I believe is true and good the best way I know how. I would like marriage with my partner to be a part of that. I hope I can marry Jonah legally in California, and I hope one day that right will be allowed to all gay couples in all states. If Proposition 8 passes, Jonah and I will have a commitment ceremony here in Utah. No matter what, it will not diminish the love or devotion we already have to one another.

So many people are scared of giving gays and lesbians the right to marry. We're truly no different than our heterosexual counterparts. We just want to live, love, and grow old together like everyone else.

I found an interesting quote from a talk Thomas S. Monson gave at the April, 2005 conference. The entire talk can be found here, but here's the quote:

"Several years ago we had a young paperboy who didn't always deliver the paper in the manner intended. Instead of getting the paper on the porch, he sometimes accidentally threw it into the bushes or even close to the street. Some on his paper route decided to start a petition of complaint. One day a delegation came to our home and asked my wife, Frances, to sign the petition. She declined, saying, "Why, he's just a little boy, and the papers are so heavy for him. I would never be critical of him, for he tries his best." The petition, however, was signed by many of the others on the paper route and sent to the boy's supervisors.

"Not many days afterward, I came home from work and found Frances in tears. When she was finally able to talk, she told me that she had just learned that the body of the little paperboy had been found in his garage, where he had taken his own life. Apparently the criticism heaped upon him had been too much for him to bear. How grateful we were that we had not joined in that criticism. What a vivid lesson this has always been regarding the importance of being nonjudgmental and treating everyone with kindness."

Some of us in this world are "little paperboys" who have tried our whole lives to get that damn "paper on the porch," but we just can't do it. The "papers are so heavy" for us, and even though some people wish we could get it on the porch, sometimes the "bushes" or the "street" are all we can manage. Please don't sign a "petition" that will diminish us further.

How's that for metaphorical overload? ;-)

Friday, October 03, 2008

My Sister's Love

My sister was married recently. In fact, she just got back from her honeymoon a few days ago. She seems happy, if not a bit overwhelmed by the life changes marriage brings. But my mom told me something very touching about my sister that she had recently found out herself. When my sister was first dating her now husband, one of the things that she told him very early in their relationship was that I was gay, and that if he had any problems with that, the relationship wouldn’t work. Her husband is fairly conservative (as is my sister), but neither one has had anything but good vibes and thoughts when it comes to Jonah and me. My brother-in-law, upon meeting Jonah for the first time, gave him a big hug, and he seems to like both of us a lot. Jonah flew in to help alter my sister's wedding dress, and we gave her and my brother-in-law a wedding gift as well as a prank gift that my brother-in-law quite enjoyed. I like my brother-in-law, too, even if I think he’s an enormous goofball (which he, himself, would be the first to admit).

My sister has wanted to get married and have kids for a long, long time, and it touched me immensely that in spite of her conservative values and in spite of her desires for marriage and kids, that her love and support for me transcends all that; that she was willing to say goodbye to a potential relationship if this guy wasn’t willing to accept me. It made both me and my mom cry as my mom shared this with me. Certainly I shouldn’t be surprised that my sister, who is one of the kindest, most loving people I know, would feel this way, but not all people do, and it was nice to have it reinforced. And my sister and her new husband are very good for each other, I think, so all is well.

Anyway, I was extremely moved by this grand gesture from my very quiet and reserved sister.

One other thing I wanted to share that shows my rebellious streak. My mom is a worker at the temple, and for the most part, she enjoys it. One thing she is not so keen on is how rigid many of the rules are and how everything has to be done an exact way. I'm not speaking of the ceremonies or ordinances. I'm talking about how the temple clothing after it is laundered has to be folded in an exact, precise way. My mom folded some things and then somebody went in and redid everything she had done because it wasn't done the exact "right" way, and it annoyed her because she felt her hard work had been for naught. I told my mom that I think I would purposely fold things wrong just to annoy people and get a rise out of them. As I said it, I realize that rebelliousness and unwillingness to conform is strong in me. I enjoy rocking the boat and knocking people off balance sometimes. I think it's good for people. Perhaps I'm wrong, and perhaps that line of thinking isn't right, but that's my nature.