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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Crushed Graham & Amendment One

Let me clear, Billy Graham and I would almost never agree.

Rev. Graham is an right wing evangelical Christian and I am a Buddhist/ Christian skeptic needs science and reason to be at the center of my spirituality. I am a gay man who believes the LGBT people must have the same rights as all people before the law. Rev. Graham's relationship with US presidents, especially Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon made me very uncomfortable, bringing giving the right wing more access to the president then I like to see.

At the same time, I always found Billy Graham someone I could imagine talking across differences. He was never as hateful or divisive as Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, though his son and heir Franklin Graham talks MUCH more like those other two figures. For decades, Billy Graham has appealed to a broad spectrum of Americans with some positive things to say about being a good person and preaching a Christianity of service to others and trying to make the world a better place. He has been a person I had respect for until now.

I am very very disheartened at his vocal support of the anti-equal marriage Amendment One in North Carolina that is being voted on today. If you want to know about this evil law, the internet is fully of information. Basically, this law is designed to stop same sex couples from ever getting all of the rights and privileges that straight married people get. It would even ban domestic partnership/civil unions.

The idea that Rev. Graham would be against same sex marriage on the grounds of his faith is no surprise. While I know countless Christian theologians who would disagree with Rev. Graham's stand, he has a right to it. I think Billy Grahams has every right to preach against gay marriage, he has every right to not allow ministers in his faith to perform same sex blessings.

The problem is we are talking about civil law. The founders of this country were mainly  deists, who believed that a creator God brought the world into being then left it alone. They were very distrustful of organized religion being involved in politics and developed our government and laws to be separate and secular, to keep religious concerns at a distance.

As strongly as I support same sex couples having the same rights and privileges before the law as heterosexual couples, I equally support the right of churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. to say what they want about human sexuality (even if, on spiritual grounds I personally believe they are dead wrong) and to refuse to marry same sex couples.

Rev. Graham is violating that most treasured American value of keeping religious concerns out of government. A secular government has to treat all people with respect and dignity and has support some things (like racist clan marches, anti-choice protests, the refusal to ordain female clergy) that are against many of our values.

I used to respect Billy Graham as a reasonably intelligent man I disagreed with, but for whom who I had some respect. Now that respect for Billy Graham and his legacy is crushed. I now think of him as bigot who doesn't respect the fundamental separation of church and state and is so blinded by hatred for LGBT people that he won't allow the state to give us full and equal rights. If Billy really "loved the sinner and hated the sin" he would stay out of the legal process and preach against gay marriage in his churches and to his followers. Trying to stop the secular legal rights of a group of Americans is shameful. If I as an American must support the right of the KKK to exist, to parade, to write hateful anti-racist tomes, then Billy Graham can let the state give me and mine equal rights before the law and still preach and teach against who I am. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Occupy Narcissism!

At this moment in history, there many people looking at the economic issues impacting the US and the world. Many scholars and activists are seeing that the economic systems we live under are unjust, and destruction or reform. The “haves” have more than ever and the “have-nots” have less ever. Wall Street, big corporations, big government, etc. have let the 99% down and made the 1% richer.  In this country, people are jobless, broke and their houses have negative value.

In this crisis, when we want immediate solutions and a rapid an end to our severe anxiety, the narcissist leader or savior has taken a pivotal role.

What is narcissism? That is a complex question. In psychoanalytic thinking, narcissism is a fact of human existence. Narcissism is on spectrum from healthy self-love to a pathological condition where people’s relationships with themselves and others are rooted in egoism, conceit, vanity or plain old selfishness.
We are all narcissistic to one degree or another. Healthy narcissism is the origin of self esteem and the source of confidence that allows us to achieve our goals. At the level of pathology, narcissism leads to selfishness, greed, and grasping for power.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World Video

As we look at the economic situation in the US and globally, much has been written about the unjust economic systems, but we often ignore the psychology of these systems and those who drive these systems. We ignore these important factors at our own peril.
I want to reflect on two important psychology factors in power structures of these economic and corporate systems. The first involves people with pathological levels of narcissism who are in power and the second about the psychology those of us who put them in power.
To the first point, is it no surprise that some of the most powerful people in the history of the world have had very high levels of narcissism. When we think empire building and genocide names like Napoleon, Adolf Hitler, Nicolae CeauČ™escu, Kim Jong-il, surface and their narcissism is very apparent. If you read books about such successful business leaders at Donald Trump, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, the narcissist issues don’t require and explicit explanation, the concepts seem jump off the page.

When an intelligent, well spoken person is also a narcissist, they desire power and have the talents to achieve it. Narcissists can inspire people. They are charismatic. The problem is, for people with pathological levels of narcissism the good of others or an organization as whole is secondary, if it is even a priority at all. The pathologic narcissist uses the ideals of helping others and moving an organization forward as means to gather personal power. Yet, in a crisis situation, they are seen by others (and most certainly by themselves) as courageous and possessing strength to act. These are people who can cut budgets, jobs, and programs far more easily than others. Their self-focus means that the effect their decisions have on others or on the long term picture don't concern them as much as it might people with healthy levels of narcissism. They may be strong leaders, but they are very poor team builders. They are top down people who rarely listen to others and only value those who affirm them. This is because inside these are people who are frightened and insecure. They need constant affirmation and do not see dialogue or challenges are constructive, they see them as threats. Narcissistic leaders don’t work with or learn from those that might disagree with them, they eliminate them.
The second psychological factor is the motivation behind those who bring narcissists to power. In times of crisis, like the economic crisis we are all currently in, we want quick, comfortable solutions. At a very deep level, we want someone to take power and "fix" things right away. We want a stern powerful mommy or daddy to take control. We want our anxieties to go away, even if it means we will be punished. In a severe crisis, like the one we are in now, at some point, we want the anxieties to go away more that we want to look at long and hard at difficult issues. In our weakness and insecurity, the narcissistic leader attracts us. We can hand them power and believe that s/he can be our savior. As long as we accept and empower her/him, we are off the hook. We no longer have to be anxious and have the added bonus of not having to act. Our belief, our faith in the leader is enough, we have little to do, we empower them do the dirty work, and we stop caring how they do it.

This second factor is perhaps the most dangerous to our souls. In the extreme, we give up our power, and release our connections to our problems out of fear and anxiety. Charming, power-hungry narcissists have always existed, but they do not always become powerful leaders in organizations and societies. Our own primitive fears and insecurities lead us to invest in the wrong people in times of crisis.
We have to learn to deal with our fears and with our big and complex problems in realistic ways. Fast painful solutions seldom work in the long term. The narcissistic leaders we have put in power, be s/he the CEO of an organization or the dictator of a country, can make us feel better, yet all the while taking power for themselves and destroying soul of the organizations/countries they were empowered to save. All of these organizations who have hired these pit bulls to "save them" may or may not survive, but very often end up becoming organizations far different than they ever intended. How many alternative voices were silenced by the narcissistic leader in her/his rise to power? How much do people who remain in such organizations feel hopeless, silenced, and disempowered? How many programs have been eliminated so that the organization no longer lives up to its purpose, goals or mission?
During the 2008 election, Michelle Obama as heavily criticized for statements she made  implying that under the presidency of  George W. Bush it was hard to be proud to be an American. To me, the future first lady was reflecting the sentiments of many in this country who realized we had elected a narcissistic leader in W who greatly damaged this country because his own narcisstic issues. The same can be said of dictators around the world, capitalist, communist, etc. The economic systems of the world are in flux. We are entering a time when we realize that extreme forms of capitalism and communism have failed. We are entering a time when cheap petroleum-based energy sources can no longer give us the illusion of cheap endless energy. We are scared and panicked. One of the questions we have to ask ourselves is do we have the courage, maturity and strength to elect leaders who will have long term visions and solutions that won't fix things right away? Will we have courage make democracy and dialogue, which can be clunky, time consuming and just plain difficult, essential ingredients of our future leaders and power structures? Will continue to choose to empower pathological narcissists to be our leaders? Will we grow beyond the need to create leaders who will temporarily sooth our anxieties and bring us brief comfort all the while destroying our souls, taking our power, alienating us from one another and killing the heart of the good we want our companies, organizations and governments to do?

Let's keep protesting, keep occupying, keep trying to change or destroy broken institutions, but let's also look at our own fears and anxieties. Let's listen to each other and look at who we invest with our trust and our power. Let’s occupy narcissism and take its power away.   

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The enemy may be closer than you think...Think outside the group

The enemy may be closer than you think….

Human are social animals. We constantly organizing into different groups, it is part of our innate nature.

The idea of identity politics has helped groups like African-Americans, woman and LGBT people work together for civil rights for their group as a whole. We now live in a world where the internet has created almost infinite opportunities for people to connect. One of the ways this has changed our culture is that many people can now find others “like” themselves far more easily. We also can be far more specific about what our “likes” are.  We can now find others like us, in some may meaningful to us, from all around the world in the blink of an eye. If you knit, if you are vegan, if you ethnically half Irish/half Japanese or if you are a half Irish/half Japanese vegan knitter you can find others like you and be in regular touch with them. It can be an amazing source of support; you can now easily can reach out to people who can give you support and help you as you wrestle with your own sense of identity.
While this can be amazingly positive, it can also lull us into a false sense of trust, safety and security. As we form relationships in these kinds of groups we often assume that we have more in common with the people in these groups than we actually so. As I gay man, it can be wonderful, at times, to be with other LGBT people. I remember initially how amazing and affirming it felt to join gay groups, march in gay pride, etc., especially as I was first coming out. However, over time, I have come to realize that being queer not enough for me to decide to bring someone into my life in a meaningful way. Because I meet another gay person that doesn’t mean s/he is trustworthy, honest or would make a good friend or a good leader.  I am fairly certain that woman, black people, Episcopalians and vegans have all probably learned the same lesson.

The older I get more I realize that my membership in these kinds of groups, LGBT, religious, social, etc can be wonderful and affirming, but are not without risks. Meeting others with whom I have some one thing or set of things in common doesn’t at all mean I have anything else in common with them. One fact about someone says nothing about them beyond that specific issue.

Taking this point even a little further, that false sense of security might lead me to believe that others in my “group” are good and honorable people. I can put my trust in someone in my group; I can feel comfortable giving my power over to that person, and trusting that s/he can be a leader for me. On the other side, it can also lead those hungry for power to use their membership in an affinity group manipulate fellow group members, abuse power and bring advantage to themselves at the expense of others in their group.

How often do we think that the person know from church must be a good person because they attend the same church we do?  Do we think that someone in our own racial or ethnic group is a better person because they share an ethnic heritage with us? How many women might choose a woman lawyer and thinking she might be a better lawyer because she is a woman?  Gay men like Roy Kohn and J. Edgar Hoover greedily gathered power and were major players in the ruthless persecution of other gay people. Phyllis Schlafly is a woman who spent a large part of her adult life working against feminist causes. African-American U.S. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas has ruled or argued against issues civil rights issues involving Black Americans over and over again. Your greatest enemy may someone who in some ways seems like your brother or a sister.

While I think the idea of affinity groups and identity politics have a place in our lives there are important cautions and real dangers. It is important watch ourselves in groups; to we make sure that our expectations of the types of relationships we form within our affinity groups are based in reality, not some fantasy of what SHOULD be true.  We have to be careful not turn too much power over to our fellow group members.  People who seek power and control come in all shapes and sizes. Your worse enemy may look like you, like the same things you like , may even have many of the same views as you and yet still may be using you and taking advantage of you.

Your greatest friends or allies people may be people very different from you. There amazing white anti-racists, loyal straight people hard working for LGBT justice causes and committed justice-seeking men who are ardent feminists.

Think outside the group…

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Of priests, football and idols

The Penn State child sexual abuse scandal is all over the news. Once again a pillar of the community, a person in power in a beloved American institution, abused his authority to violate children. Once again the people in that institution not only did not have any safeguards to protect children, but the structure of this institution (college football) developed in ways that protected the abusers. Equally, or perhaps more disturbingly, the cult of American college football bought vocally strong support from fans for those who knew about the abuse of children and never did anything about it.

Does any of this sound familiar? Am I talking about football or the church?


For me, someone from Fall River MA, one of the first places in the US to break the story of the widespread sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, this story is all too familiar.  In the middle of that scandal one of the parish priests I grew up with was arrested and sentenced on charges of child pornography. Also as that scandal grew, the hierarchy of the church, and many faithful Catholics, believed that the abuse could be explained by looking at the horrible actions a few pedophiles, but not in looking in the ways the church itself operated as structured. It is the structure for the institution itself that allowed pedophiles to function and flourish.

Now the news is full of sensational details and questions about whether or not graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported the abuse to the police and why once head coach Joe Paterno was informed of the abuse he didn’t make sure child molester Jerry Sandusky wasn’t fired and arrested. Penn State fired Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier on Nov. 9, four days after Sandusky was arrested. Athletic director Tim Curley and a vice president, Gary Schultz, are accused of perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse. Both have stepped down from their posts. In midst of this, Penn State fans are rallying around Joe Paterno and the institution and see that the only fault is in the abusers, not the system.

That questions of who knew about the abuse and who failed report it are very important, but they are also a tantalizing distraction from looking at the ways this kind of thing can happen and can be prevented. It is clear, in the “wink, wink, nod, nod” culture of college football numerous people knew of or even witnessed Jerry Sandusky’s violation of young boys. Some people told some other people, but nobody pushed hard enough to report this to authorities and be sure it was followed through on. Many people found many ways to ignore or minimize what was happening. As a result, not surprisingly, as the years passed, more and more children were violated.

Is it a coincidence that both college football and the Roman Catholic church are beloved powerful hierarchical organizations where white men have all the power and authority?  We as a society still have a tendency to create individuals and institutions that become idols which we shower with adoration and hand over inordinate amounts of power. In today’s world the idolatry for us is not a golden calf in desert, but continues in the people and institutions help foster. We create people who we set apart and set above the rest of us. While those who abuse that power have individual responsibility when they abuse that power, we as a society have to look at the ways we create idols that are above accountability. We give people power and don’t look at how power has to be shared and kept in check in ongoing ways.

Yes, the abuser must be punished. Yes those who didn’t report this must be held accountable, but if we are really interested in stopping this from happening again we must be wiling to look at the iconic hierarchical institutions we create.

What are things to look for?

  • Look for institutions where the relationship between those at the top with the most power and the bottom with the least power most are extreme.

    • In the Catholic Church, the chasm between the laity and the people is enormous. There can be no “mass” without a priest. Individual churches have no say in what priests lead their congregations, they cannot dismiss a priest nor do they have any authority to hold their priest accountable for anything. Priests are closer to God; they have the power to act as the go-between for God and the people. Women cannot hold any position of ordained ecclesiastic power.

    • In college football, the overwhelmingly white male owners, then coaches, have lots of power and money. Under them are student assistants, like Mike McQueary, then players. These players are often young economically disadvantaged students on athletic scholarships, at schools where their academic backgrounds are far below the students they are in class with and who are many of the fans of their games. While children aren’t necessary a part of this hierarchy, the power and money are structured such that those at top have so much power and control they are able away to get away with many things no one could. They are above scrutiny.

    • In the business world at a big corporations, is the janitor making minimum wage with no benefits while CEO and CFO make 30 million dollars?

  • Look for rigidity of power. Is power something shared, invested in different people at different times, or does it always stick to one person or one tiny group of people for long periods of time? Are roles rigid in the institution? People have different functions, different responsibilities in organizations; are those functions rigid or can people move between them? For example, could the laity at a congregation have a say about type of liturgy/worship they do or would that be seen as overstepping their boundaries?

  • Are there groups of people excluded from power, like women, people of color, LGBT people, etc? Are there many ‘kinds” of people holding power at different time, or does the same “kind” of people always seem to hold most of power? 

  • Is there accountability? Are there set mechanisms that monitor power? What say to the people in an institution about power? Are people afraid to speak up?

Let’s prosecute the predator that is Jerry Sandusky and make sure he is punished and never has ANY access to children ever again (or ever sees the light of day again as far as I am concerned!) Let’s look at all those, like Mike McQueary and Joe Paterno, who didn’t make sure that abuse of children they knew about was fully exposed.  The guilt of those who allow violation of children to continue must called to account. However, if we as a society are REALLY interested in stopping the abuse of the most vulnerable, the least powerful in our world, we have to look squarely and honestly at the people and institutions we help create and maintain. We have to be sure we don’t commit the sin of idolatry. We have to be sure that don’t create people and institutions that are so powerful, that have so much control over others and so little accountable to anyone, that they are get away with horrible abuse.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cruised by God

It has been awhile since I wrote in this blog, I have decided to come back slowly, committing only to a couple of entries a week. TO get me start, I am going to publish some poems of mine, here is my all time favorite:

Cruised by God on Route 3 by Chris Medeiros (May 31, 2004)

Driving down the highway, the sky is clear and open, the roadway is filled with tired travelers heading home.

My monkey mind darts from place to place,

Is there money in the checking account?

Will I ever find love?

Do have enough gas?

Am I too fat?

A shiny silver pick-up drives by me.

The driver’s face is clear and chiseled, his strong arms and broad shoulders thickly outlined by his deep green tank top.

For the smallest moment, his mouth, his shining blue eyes, his deep dimples, look at me and sparkle,

 He drives on.

My face grows hot, my skin flushes.

Electric Goosebumps rise on my flesh.

My groin tingles.

I smile.

In the blink I feel handsome, sexy,

My mind stops.

My body feels

Someone sees me.

I remember, it was you again.

Another of your thousands faces I too often forget to notice.

You have returned to show me that you and your creation are beautiful.

You remind that my flesh is good, my body is holy.

I too often forget that I am made in your image, my body reflection of your joy.

 A radiant beauty beyond compare.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Life and Death of One Good Man

This past weekend I gathered with some of my dearest friends I have to attend the Tunbridge fair and the small town of Tunbridge VT. I started going five years ago, though many of my friends had been going for years.

Four years ago it was an especially important fair, though at the time, none of us knew it. It was the last time a very dear friend to us, Rob, would be with his friends. I was so blessed that after losing touch with him for sometime I really got to spend some quality time with him that weekend, it was amazingly special to me at the time, then hearing that he died just a few hours after I had been with made it all the more tragic…and magical.

For months after his death I listened to this song several times a day.

When I Get Where I'm Going by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton

Rob was a military man, an outdoorsman, a man devoted to his parents and sisters and brothers, a good friend, and a man of deep passion and love. He had a deep hearty laugh and a strong firm hug. His death was sudden and completely unexpected. It really impacted this small group of gay men in VT who loved him dearly.

Rob lived a full and rich life with close family and good friends, but, like many gay men of the boomer generation, couldn’t bring his worlds together and lived closeted deeply divided life. His life ended somewhat accidentally, but the closet killed him as surely as if someone had killed him with gun. I know it has forever made me think of all the closet doors that are closed so tightly, of the scores of men and women around the world barricaded behind high walls that are built with the bricks of depression, alcohol and drugs. If you want to read the whole story, see the book Injustice and the Care of Souls: Taking Oppression Seriously in Pastoral Care by Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook and Karen Montagno, I wrote chapter 19 on pastoral care with gay men and I used pieces of the story of Rob’s life and death to talk about the many issues gay men face and about the issues pastors and counselors should take into account if they really want to help us.

Personally, his death is perhaps one of the single hardest things I have ever been through. I would say it took my most of a year to feel like myself again, though after the first few weeks were over I hid the depth of feelings I was experiencing from most of the people around me. Few of my friends or family heard me talk about Rob even though I had known him for many years before he died. Perhaps the closet he lived into blended into our relationship too. I know that closet door kept us like two ends of a rubber band, stretching far apart and snapping back together over and over again over many years.

I can’t completely explain why his death hit me so hard and frankly I don’t want to. Sometimes, when we try to explain everything, we rob the experience of its authenticity and power. When we reduce something down to an “explanation” rather feel the experience of it, something is lost.  If you have ever taken a seashell or a rock home from a beach you know what I mean. It is never as wonderful and beautiful as it was on the beach.

I know that his loss, the loss of this kind, good man, very fundamentally changed me and how I think and feel. His death happened right as I entered my 40’s, at a time when many of us begin to realize that we are around the mid point of our lives, the place where there are as many years behind us as head of us. Seeing him again after a long separation, only to lose him in a matter of hours was a hard reminder of how fragile hope, love and life is for us all.

I learned many lessons through the experience of knowing, loving and losing Rob, but rather than try to sum it up, I hope some of what I have posted here tells more of the story.

The End of Summer (for Rob) by Chris Medeiros
The end of summer approaches.
The days grow shorter, the air cooler.
The bears know the long winter is coming, and they play in the September sun, relishing in the dwindling days of sunlight, celebrating the sheer joy of time with friends before the long winter’s sleep.
The leaves know too, they explode with their brightest and most beautiful faces before they brown and the fall away.
The September clouds grow and cover more and more of the once summer…now fall… indigo sky.
We celebrated the last gasp of summer together, never imagining….
I knew about the shorter days, the cooler air, bright falling leaves, and the growing clouds, but I didn’t know the how much the fall wind would take…
Winter is not yet here, yet there seems no warmth anywhere,
The nights are cold,
In mourning, even the thickest wool blankets feel threadbare against my skin.
Winter will come and be colder without you.
It is so hard to believe there can ever be spring…and yet….spring will come

As the calendar marches on and the winter clouds will thin and float away
When the spring sun melts the ice and warms the cold earth and I will remember how you could melt my blues and grays away with a look, a smile, a hug
When I feel the warm breeze will remember your open heart
I will feel spring again
I will remember you
I will smile
But in my heart,
Even on the clearest spring day,
The sky will never be as blue as your eyes.

From Rob’s Memorial at the home of Ivan and Mongo, South Royalton, VT October 1, 2006
I first met Rob several years ago in Provincetown. We had an instant rapport. I just couldn’t resist that easy smile and that natural charm. From the first words over fours ago in Ptown to the last goodbye in the living room of this house hours before he passed away, Rob was in my heart.  For so many reasons, we fell in and out of touch over the the many years we knew one another. We often went for months, without seeing each then somehow magically, the universe would snap us back into each other’s lives again and again.

I feel blessed that on the last weekend of his life, we found other again and got to see all the wonderful changes in him as he came back home to Vermont. Rob was home, happy and the most comfortable in his own skin I have seen. Neither of us realized how short that reunion would be.

I am so grateful to have had Rob in my life, he taught me so many things. Rob had a way of being so real and so down earth, in a way doesn't come easily to everyone. Rob reminded me that basic simple things, like good friends, good food, strongly laughter and sitting in the sun can be the most joyful things in the world. Rob took me camping for the first time I have ever been and I learned the bliss of listening to birds, walking in the woods, feeling the breeze and just being with someone you care about, doing nothing in particular.
Rob had few expectations of people, yet gave to the people cared about with an open heart. Rob was not always a big talker, especially about his feelings, but he taught me that you can communicate more genuine love with smile, a hug and most importantly the way you live your life and any words can ever express.
To say I loved Rob is not enough. Rob was “home” to me, as warm, loving, familiar and natural a part of my life as anyone has ever been to me. If we are very lucky in this life, we encounter a few people, perhaps a handful, who we love and trust instantly, whose souls we recognize as bonded to our own, people who enter our hearts as fully and naturally as blood flows through our veins. Rob was always that for me. Rob and I were lucky to have a home in our dear friend here Ivan as well.

All of us are so lucky to have Rob in our lives in some many ways we did, our friend, our brother.  There were many homes for Rob.

The “home” Rob came from and maintained in relationship with his family. People as good and decent as Rob don’t just appear out of nowhere, they come from love. Anyone who knew Rob at all knew his deep love for his family. Perhaps his own personal demons kept him from sharing parts of his life with those he loved, but in no way did that ever altered the depth of his love and commitment to his family. From his family, Rob developed his hard working nature, integrity, strength of character and generosity. All of these things drew wonderful people around him all of his life.

The other major home for Rob was his family of friends, especially those that gathered around this place. Ivan and Mongo, created this place of love and that is and has been home in some way to many of us.  All of Rob’s friends helped him, through simple the act of friendship, to come to love and accept himself more and more. When will all lost that remarkable man, he had changed. He was miles from Rob I met in Provincetown, who was always figuratively and literally looking over his shoulder. During his last few days on earth, Rob was laughing and celebrating with dear friends in this place, with people who he loved and who loved him very much. I hope that we all have the gift of our last days being so happy and filled with love.

The other for Rob home the natural and beauty of the trees, the forest, the sky, the wind, the place Rob's soul always lived and always will and that is where I will always look for him.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sybil, RuPaul and the magic closet we can all have

Many of you have seen the TV movie Sybil with Sally Field about a woman who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID (formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder.) In the film, the main character has many well developed and distinctive personalities. Similarly, you may also have heard of a woman named Truddi Chase wrote a book called “When Rabbit Howls” in 1987 about her experiences with the same disorder. Both of these women suffered terrible repeated physical and sexual abuse as children. While many looking at DID from the outside may it as a height of mental illness, if can actually be viewed as a defense against madness. One theory of DID, it was it is a phenomenon that occurs among very creative people and that this people split off as a way of not going crazy. The abuse, and the memories of the abuse and the complex emotions around them are too much for one person to handle, so the creating of different personalities is away of shuttling memories and emotions into different parts of mind so that the trauma is not to overwhelming.

DID is at the extreme end of the spectrum of a group of conditions called dissociative disorders. Very seldom do people have discreet personalities like Sybil and Truddi Chase, but a much larger group of people suffer from a variety of dissociative disorders where parts of themselves, their personalities, emotions, memories are “split” off from one another. These people may have gaps in memory, sudden mood swings or emotion disjoints, like crying but not feeling sad or feeling extreme emotion but lacking the ability to express it clearly or openly. There also people who act and even appear completely different in different situations or with different people, but they do not have fully separate personalities. These can arranged on a long spectrum from at the more functional end the closeted lesbian who is one person in the gay world and another with her family to, at the totally pathological end, the decorated fire chief who is a well respected member of the community but has a secret life torturing and killing prostitutes.

As some of you know that this week I am starting a year long extensive study in Existential-Psychoanalytic Therapy as I slowly work my way back to seeing psychotherapy clients again. I am a little nervous about the class (this isn’t light stuff and requires a lot of self analysis) but I am much more excited, than I am nervous. I am sure my experiences in that group with fuel some VERY interesting blog postings during the coming year.! What interests me it the approach of this professor and this group is the philosophy behind this class. We will be exploring what we call mental or psychological disorders as very human ways of seeing the world. Not all ways of seeing the world are equally healthy or functional, but nevertheless they are human. Some are personality styles, common differences among people, but others, like those on the disassociate disorder spectrum can paralyze peoples lives and stop, hinder or blunt lives. Some people learn to split themselves off so well, in a way that is so natural to them, that it is almost second nature. At an extreme, thesen people aren’t even sure what their real self is because they are so split off they stop being able to imagine themselves as whole. When these get extreme and limit the way people function in life or block their ability to be happy, therapy and sometimes medication are good and necessary aids to helping people get their lives back under some control.

Yet, from styles to disorder, there are things we can learn from trauma and disassociation. Don’t we all have memories or bit of memories we don’t understand? Haven’t we all had trauma and suffered some abuse in some way? Don’t we get depressed and have mood swings? Don’t we all split of parts of ourselves, consciously and unconsciously, at different time with different people?

So why am I concluding my closet series talking about this?

I think we all are different selves with different people and I don’t always think it is a bad thing. I might talk about them same topic at work, with my mother and with my friends in very different ways. I “perform” the roles of son, co-worker and friend in different ways. Different clothing or costumes both change the person wearing the clothes and may change how people who see them treat them. Clergy people learned long ago that their vestments can allow them to feel powerful and holy and radically change how people treat them.

Of late I have been slightly addicted to two shows created by one of the most famous living drag queens, RuPaul, on LOGO, Drag Race and Drag U. I am not a drag queen and have never felt a pull toward that, yet I love these shows! They show that, using clothes and makeup people can access and express parts of themselves that they don’t normally. While Drag is different for different people, for many effeminate gay men, drag is a way of taking the very thing that they were teased about and turning on its head and creating strong, clever, sarcastic and powerful characters for themselves. They come bigger than life. The show Drag U is a very interesting show because the whole objective is to invite biological women, who have felt ugly and powerless, come on the show enroll in “school” to have drag queens can teach theses women how to create a drag persona and become more powerful and confident, to find their inner Drag queen. Drag takes the idea that women are weaker and powerless and turns it on its head to create powerful, almost superhero-like human beings.

As I stated in the other postings on this blog, I think in general the closet is a terrible place. Not being able to be who you are is destructive to the closeted person and those around them. However, there are many ways that being different things to different people at different times is very functional and a very good way to explore different part of yourself that aren’t always easy to access. Drag is only one good example. So is dressing up or down in ways you aren’t used to. If you are always in T-shirt and jeans type, look for something dresser that you like, and try that once in awhile. If you are never in jeans or t-shirt, try that! Institutions create dress codes and uniforms because they understand that you can push people into both behaving differently and have people treat each other differently just using clothes.

Clothes, however, are not the only way to access different parts of the self, there is makeup, voice, ways of walking, posture…in other words, theater! If you have something scary you have to do in life, pretend you are a strong confident person, create a character, give him/her a name, a history, a walk and an attitude. Pretending/performing/acting are actually ways to explore even more real parts of ourselves, of our potential. If you walk into a situation pretending to be confident, acting like a character that is different from how you normally think of yourself, that act of that performance is actually a part of the real you!

The closet can be a locked prison where people are trapped in or lock themselves in or it can be a place of potential liberation filled with magical options that make life more interesting and powerful.