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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Religion: Random Thoughts, And Dismantling The Bars In Your Mind

I hate driving past Christian billboards. I hate seeing churches. And I can't stand those little wooden crosses around town with the words "Only Jesus Saves" spelled out on them.
My old Christian self would love them. But now they are just painful reminders of bad times.
Long before I knew I was bisexual, I knew I was not a good enough Christian. And that I would never be, no matter what I did. No matter how hard I tried.
And by "good enough," I don't mean perfect. I just mean good enough.
I always knew, deep down, that I secretly wanted to rebel, to just be free of all these rules and fears about whether that book, song, or movie was bad or good, or the constant obsession over controlling my very thoughts.
People say that atheists and non-Christians just want to sin. And that's not true. I just want to relax and be happy. I just want to enjoy my life. I just want to worry only about whether my actions hurt others or not. (And people say, "Why have morality, when you don't have God?" And to that I say, "Why NOT have morality?!" Society and life in general is so much better with it, don't you think? And isn't that reason enough? It should be.)

I once heard a pastor ask, "Can you even take one breath without sinning?" And I felt like I couldn't. I was walking, breathing, living sin. And this was when I was trying so hard to be a good Christian, that I couldn't sleep at night because I was too afraid of the thoughts I would think if I let go and relaxed. I could be literally lying there and doing nothing, and still sinning. I could literally be drifting off to sleep, and have to rouse myself to beg for forgiveness.

The prayer and bible study were bad enough, but they were nothing compared to the constant mind-prayer and self-policing of my thoughts. Reading the bible was a chore I got tired of, and felt bad about. But the prayer never really stopped. Imaging an introvert trying to constantly maintain a one-sided conversation. It could drive one insane.
I begged God constantly to help me do better. And when I felt like I was finally doing good enough, I wondered why I couldn't maintain that all the time, and the thought of trying exhausted me. I hated my life.
I even felt guilty for feeling guilty. Supposedly God was enough, and I had to be easy on myself because I could never be perfect. But then Christian leaders would talk out both sides of their mouths, as they had a minimum standard you had to meet, if you really loved God. Prayer, bible study, and thought-policing--the basic, bare minimum Christian level--even that was enormously difficult for me to maintain! And that was without going to church. I knew I "should," but could never find a good one, or the thought of it would be exhausting and stressful.
I begged God to show me he was real, so that I could continue to believe in him. And in spite of that, I sensed my grip on my own Christianity slowly slipping away. It seemed so cruel, when I would supposedly go to hell for not believing, and God was not making it possible for me to believe.  (I could no longer "make" myself believe, or make myself act like I did, go through the motions hoping that it would "catch" and come naturally to me once more.) God was sending me to hell on purpose, and I was livid.

Now I hardly think about these things. But my thirteen-year-old self is still a part of me, and so I find myself still constantly wondering if I'm doing something wrong. At my new job especially, my first professional job as a tax preparer, I've discovered that I'm still feeling like I'm constantly sinning, only now I'm replacing sinning with "messing up someone's taxes," and God with my boss. But somehow, the consequences still feel eternal!

The thing about being a Christian is, someone is always judging you. And I don't mean the ultimate Someone, although that is always used against you--I mean there's always someone here on earth that tells you you're doing something wrong. If you wear pants as a girl, someone will call your salvation into question just because you're not wearing an ankle-length skirt. And I never wore ankle-length skirts, or any skirts, because they were always associated in my mind with particularly cult-like elements. I was judging those elements, and I still do, because...well, they're cults. Their female members especially have to give up so much of what makes them their own unique persons, just to be good enough for God. And their husbands.
And this, what one wears, is just one example in a sea of debates that about things so small, but that are all made to be larger than life. Is this movie, that book, this song--is it worldly or demonic? How can one tel? It's either, "Don't be so worldly!" or "Don't be so legalistic!"
And I didn't know which one to tell myself.

I have trouble deciding what exactly to call myself with my own sexuality, and I also have trouble when it comes to religion. All I know is that I'm not straight, and I'm not evangelical. And I'm never going to try to be either one ever again. I want to be happy.

It's like I knew all along, deep down, that if I let up on myself even for one minute, I was going to mentally bolt for freedom, make a mad dash away from Christianity and choose happiness over God. And as much as I tried to deny it, I knew that that was my only choice. That I couldn't have both.

Now I do what I want, and then feel guilty about it. But it's better than it was, for a long time. And the more I'm aware of my guilt, the better I feel, and the easier I am on myself.
Someday, I hope it will be even better.

The thing about religion is, everything that feels good is wrong. Masturbation is wrong, because it feels good, and you can only feel that good with the church's authorization. Music that you can actually dance to is wrong, because again, it makes your body feel good, without God or religion. Even thinking rebellious thoughts, even dreaming of freedom, is wrong. And anything that feels too good and brings too much pleasure is an idol. Even if you would otherwise be allowed to do it. If it feels good, it's wrong.

I got free. And I hope everyone eventually gets free. But the work comes in dismantling or escaping the prison inside your own mind. And sometimes it's hard to even know it's there. But acknowledging and seeing the bars makes it easier to stop banging against them, and try to go around them.

LGBT: Which Is Harder--Coming Out, Or Getting Your Driver's License?

Years ago, I did not have my driver's license, and I wanted nothing more in the world than to have it. I just wanted to be done with the driving tests, for the rest of my life, hopefully. The thought of trying to get it terrified me. But I knew I could not be happy until I was at least trying to get it.
I finally realized that I could do the driving test, and secretly think of it as a "practice" test. I was just practicing. It didn't take away my panic, but it was something. It was something, at least.

Now I feel the same way about coming out to my mother's family. I can't be happy until I do. At least, I can't be completely happy. And I also can't be completely happy until I tell the uncle who emotionally abused me as child, that what he did affected me. This is what I obsess over now. And no matter what my mother says, I can't stop. I think about it every day, and I feel miserable until there is some kind of plan of action.
My anxiety prevented me from getting my license for a long time. But there are more factors than my anxiety that complicate my plans here.

One is that my mom has mixed feelings about me coming out, and I feel like I need her support.

Another factor is that I don't know how my grandfather will take it. But I sometimes feel like I will grieve him no matter what I do--that even though he is always so happy to see me, that he secretly worries and obsesses over my salvation because I don't go to church. I feel like I'll never be Christian enough for him.
So why not just come out?

Another factor that keeps me up at night is that I don't know exactly how to say that I'm not straight. I use "gay" in my everyday life to refer to all but the "TQ" in "LGBTQ," basically, but other people think of it differently. I suppose I am technically bisexual, but I don't like the term bisexual, because it implies that I can just marry a man and be happy, even though I would feel that I was missing out on at least kissing another woman or two. And I don't like the term lesbian/gay, because that implies that I don't like men at all. So I use "gay," even though it's an umbrella term in my mind. It makes it easier, especially, when my own sexuality is so unpredictable even to me.
But how to explain all of this, when my uncle especially will probably just assume whatever he wants? And I don't want to get into these complicated explanations with them, anyway. They wouldn't understand, and might use it to say that I'm really straight, which I know isn't true.
So do I say gay, or bisexual? Gay would imply that it's not a choice, which it isn't (being bisexual/not straight), at least for me. But bisexual might give my grandfather hope that I'll marry a man, which could ease his transition into accepting my non-straightness. Would bisexual give them "permission" to deny my gay side? It is just as important as my straight side, and I don't want them to refuse to see the real me. As much as this makes my uncle right about LGBTQ people...do I have to "flaunt it" until they get the message? :)

And if my grandfather has a good enough memory, I am out to him. He once used the word "husband" to talk about my future, and I replied using the phrase "husband or wife." Boy, was he shocked! "You need a husband, not a wife, baby," he said. I let it go at that, for now. Perhaps I'll use that phrase again sometime. Perhaps I won't. I have to play it by ear whenever I see my family.

And finally, there is the fact that there are so many ways to come out, and I have no idea which one would be best. I have no idea what I want my coming out story to be. If this is the story I will tell for the rest of my life, if the occasion arises, what kind of story do I want to tell? I really don't know. Not at this point.

It feels good to admit that I obsess over this. I obsess over both coming out, and "coming out" as affected by my uncle's mistreatment. Sometimes they both seem equally daunting, and other times, the emotional abuse seems harder to bring up or acknowledge. But I know I won't truly be happy until I do both.
I feel like I shouldn't obsess over this unless I'm going to do it tomorrow. And that's exactly how I felt about my license. But the thing about obsessing is, I can't stop doing it. So maybe I should just acknowledge that I do it, and embrace the obsession rather than fighting it. If I had done that before, would it have been easier to get my driver's license? I guess I'll never know.
I keep trying to think of ways to drop my gayness into conversation, but it seems impossible. I am still getting used to talking and joking about my bisexuality with my completely supportive mother. When my first instinct is to hide it, not talk about it, rarely mention it--then how much of mentioning it is natural, and how much is forced into the conversation? I have no idea, so I just keep trying to be natural, trying to get more comfortable being more of myself. My voice still strains or cracks a little when mentioning my bisexuality "casually," so I have to practice.
And this is with my mom who says affectionately that I'm her favorite fruit. So I guess I've got to practice more.

I obsess, but it scares me. Just like with my license.
And even though coming out casually would be ideal for me, I don't know if that's possible. And I don't really know what the solution here is--not yet. But talking about my obsession really helps me feel better about it. Maybe I should just focus on accepting myself as obsessed, rather than trying to change.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Work/LGBT: What I've Learned From My New Tax Preparation Job

I went back to work today, and found out that when bosses tell you what you'll be doing tomorrow or next week, they might be wrong. Through no fault of their own, in fact, they might be full of crap.
I was confused, last week, when my boss said that she wanted me to start answering phones and greeting people, because I had already done that a little. Then I was further confused when I arrived at work, and the designated receptionist was there. Peak tax season is slow to hit this year, and I don't have my license back from the state yet, so I have little else to do than check other people's work, and there's not much of that, either. The hours tick by so slowly sometimes.

The dedicated receptionist is an old woman who has said that she hopes her grandchildren don't have kids, because they're not as conservative as she is, and that she wishes that they lived in another state so that she didn't know so much about them and their lives. I was horrified when I heard both of those things, but I had to be polite, of course.
I had mentioned being homoschooled to her once, when she asked where I had gone to school. Later, when the subject came up again, she asked if I was religious, being homoschooled. (I've changed the spelling to "homoschooled" on purpose, because the new spelling and pronunciation doesn't have the bad memories associated with religion.) I didn't know what to say, so I just nodded a little.
If it comes up and I do eventually come out at work, my story is that I am a gay Christian. People don't let you talk about morality or what Jesus/the bible really meant, unless you say you're a Christian. (Though work is hardly the place for that, although talking about conservative Christianity is not appropriate, either.)
She is already self-righteous, and I have a feeling she would be very homophobic. If she goes on a rant about that, I plan to smile and say demurely, "Actually, I have a lot of gay friends," then try quietly to leave the room. I don't know if I'm confident enough to do anything more right now.

She used the word "Negro" today, totally un-self-conscious about it. "That man who came in--yes, that's the one, he's Negro." Apparently the civil rights movement never happened in her world? I thought even the elderly didn't use that word, unless they were mocking black people. I can't even say that word with a straight face; I thought it had been established that people with dark skin, in America, do not generally like that word applied to them. (It's too close to a much worse word, I had read.)
I personally felt so very relieved, though. She's an idiot! It doesn't matter if she's homophobic, because she's an idiot!
That was what went through my mind today, hearing that out of her mouth. It was such a relief! Her opinions didn't hurt as much. And I wished I could feel that way about everyone.
One of my favorite new shows is The Real O'Neils, presently on Hulu. In an early episode, the young gay main character is told by his grandmother, "God says you are broken, and you need fixing." He says that he didn't know that anything his grandmother said could hurt him, before that moment. It's a dark moment in an otherwise light and funny show.
Whether you think they can or not, homophobes might hurt. My mom says that people can only make you feel a certain way if part of you believes them--but I can't help how she let me be raised. But for this one, at least, I don't have a personal history with her, and I can try to remember how out-of-touch and idiotic she really is.
Her idiocy is my shield. May she not hurt LGBT people, or racial minorities!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

My New "First Career-Job" Challenges

I've been having dreams lately about trying to act like a grownup when I don't feel like one. Ever since I started my new job--the first job I've ever had that seemed like it could be a career, my first "grownup" job--I've been nervous about losing it somehow, or not acting professional enough. And I'm not sure what to do about that.
My mom tells me that I don't have to work there, that there are other tax offices in our area. But this one is what I know, so I want to stay if possible. And unfortunately, I don't really know what could be my boss's fault, and what could be mine, if something goes wrong.
But I just keep reminding myself that it doesn't matter if this job blows up in my face; I can get my bearings and start over, even if it is scary. It is not instantly effective, but I don't know what else to do.

I hear my older, conservative coworkers and boss praise Trump once or twice a day, and I keep my mouth shut. I don't think Trump is good for the country. But I'm probably not going to convince them, and I don't feel confident of my position in this job yet. I don't want to offend the people who try to help me, otherwise. Not yet. Maybe not even this year.
I am almost twenty-six, and all of my coworkers and boss are over fifty. They all have opposite-sex spouses. Someday I hope to have a same-sex spouse. They do not know this.
Liberty Tax has a company policy not to discriminate based on sexual orientation. And I live in Oregon, where such discrimination is prohibited anyway--for now. I still don't want to tell them. For now.

I look younger than I am. I wear sweaters, partly in imitation of my coworkers, and partly to keep warm. I took them from my mom, but I don't think they make me look older. I'm a cisgender female, and I have my long hair down, like my boss, and I assume that that is professional enough. I don't dare wear my preferred ponytail, for fear of looking fifteen.
I'm afraid no one wants a "kid" doing their tax returns. I suppose I'll be answering a lot of questions about how old I am, and trying not to get tired of it.

I don't have my tax license back from the state yet. It could take up to 4-6 weeks, and I'm three weeks into that. That is part of my worries about my job. "Peak" is slower to start this year, my boss says, so we're not usually busy, when I've been there. The office already has a receptionist.
4-6 weeks in which I may not be needed. Those are rather dismal prospects. What if my boss decides I need to simply be laid off for the whole season, or until I get my license? What if once I'm gone, she sees no reason to bring me back?

I'm also afraid I don't know how to be professional. Someone was supposed to show me how to answer the phones, but they didn't. There is a lot of pressure not to let the phone ring more than twice. So, while others were too busy, I answered it, imitating my coworkers.
The greeting they want us all to use is long and tedious. "Thank you for calling ______. This is _______. How may I help you?" When I call someone, I get ready to speak right away. If I heard this on the phone, I would get impatient.
 My boss mentioned the idea of me answering people's questions about the products we offer, but I only feel confident enough to transfer the call. I might get it wrong. And no one would want one person to answer some questions, and then be put on hold until someone else can answer the others.
 I am afraid my voice is too low, especially on the phone. I am afraid I don't sound chipper enough. I can't get up the energy to make it higher, when I'm nervously trying to make my words sound professional. The company's "Always be happy" rule makes me feel like I'm working at Disneyland. The manual especially makes it obvious they want us to buy into the company as an entity and present a certain image. In a way, we are all expected to be the happy Lady Liberty tax dancers they hire to dance on the sidewalks.

I have to learn life in a corporate office structure from scratch. "Policy and Procedure" is a meeting. The printer takes paper facing up, not down. Water goes in the back of the coffee maker, not the coffee pot. I'm lucky I haven't been embarrassed by my ignorance yet. I ask about tax laws, but those other things I found out on my own. I wonder if there's anything I just don't know about working in an office. Or in this office specifically.
I just do what I know to do, remind myself that there are other tax preparer jobs, and comfort myself that it only lasts for three more months, until next year. Next year, I hope, I'll feel more confident. And I always go home and distract myself with entertainment and cats. I know I won't always feel this way, but for now, it can be pretty scary sometimes.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

LGBT/Book Review: TWET--Asking For It And, Why Lesbians Are Considered Harmless

 The Wrong End of Time by John Brunner, page 35.
 
Good news! I have recently acquired two more books by John Brunner, Born Under Mars (1967), and The Stardroppers (1972). Now we can find out if his earlier books had the same homophobic/homoerotic fixations as The Wrong End of Time. I would also like to acquire The Atlantic Abomination, another earlier book, because knowing what I know of Mr. Brunner's literary obsessions, the use of that word is rather interesting...

But first, let's get back to the present book. Chapter IV introduces us to another character, Lora Turpin, the love interest for psychic Danty, who is also the daughter of Soviet agent Shecklov's handler in the states.

Lora Turpin had all she could take, and said so to her mother. Her mother, with her usual infuriating white satin calmness--out of a bottle with White Satin on the label--called her a misbegotton moron and suggested that radiation must have affected the ovum from which she was conceived. 

It's not often in this book that Brunner makes jokes, unless the joke is that people are gay, I guess? But the White Satin one I actually found amusing, and not sad that the author can't come out even to himself.
Lora has a big fight with her mother, about why she has to share a bedroom with her brother while the "Canadian" (who is actually the Soviet agent) is staying with them. She storms out and grabs "a hovercar going anywhere."

...and what was more she was forbidden to ride the hoverline, which was why she did it when she was in a bad temper.

I would have guessed that Lora was supposed to be about 15 or 16, but the novel states that she is 18. And I believe her brother is a few years older, the way he is written. She doesn't seem to have a job or go to school, and they have a housekeeper, so she doesn't keep the house. And in this overcrowded world, she still lives with her parents, and they apparently can forbid her from riding the hoverlines. (I wonder what would happen if they tried to punish her, or kick her out. They don't seem to care about doing either, though.) Her grandmother, her mother's mother, also lives with her, but no one of the older generations seems to care much about being involved with either Lora or her brother Peter, except for her grandmother's need to complain about everyone in the family, mostly to her son-in-law, whom she also complains about.
There is also something very disturbing about the way that Lora is written, in the very next paragraph from that quoted above. See if you can spot it:

This time it didn't lead to the anticipated result.  Naturally, because she was very pretty, several men leered at her, but they were all reeky ancients, at least forty, and the only hand that did try stroking her bare waist belonged to a fat mannish woman who got off at the second halt. 

So now we've got our first and only lesbian in this book! But more disturbing is the implication that Lora wanted to be touched by strangers on the hoverline, as long as they weren't "reeky ancients"--as long as they were young enough, and as long as they were men.
The book says she wanted to pick up a boy, since she "hadn't had a boy for over a week." It talks about her wearing a "play top," whatever that is, and her "crotch-zip shorts." (Does the author not know that almost ALL shorts and pants zip in the front, or the "crotch"? Is he trying to imply that they zip around the top of her inseam, so that she can more easily have sex or something? And wouldn't that be dangerous to put the zipper there, even for someone with no dangly bits?)
She had walked out of the house in what she happened to be wearing at the time, but she apparently still dressed in order to be sexually assaulted--in other words, she was "asking for it." It makes me wonder if John Brunner had assaulted anyone, or defended someone who did. It's very sickening.
At the very least, he accidentally implied that she not only wanted attention from young men, but that she wanted to be touched without explicit permission. But how can one accidentally imply that, with the way he phrased it? ("But the only hand that did try stroking her bare waist..." as if she wanted a hand to stroke her bare waist, without asking first!) She is meant to be immature (and of course grows up later because of her male love interest), yet the most pouty and attention-seeking teenager would probably not want to be touched without so much as a "hello."
John Brunner apparently understood feminists, and women in general, about as well as he understood homosexuals.

I also thought it interesting that, while male homosexuals (sometimes actually bisexuals) are portrayed as criminals who would kill you for your clothes (to sell them, apparently), or old perverted televangelists who touch themselves while watching young people make out, or young men who have sex with old perverted televangelists and are implied to have incestuous feelings for their own sisters...lesbians or female bisexuals are portrayed as ultimately harmless.
The "fat mannish woman" strokes Lora's waist, but Lora seems more upset about the "reeky ancients" who leer at her. She doesn't seem interested in the woman at all, but neither does she feel uncomfortable or afraid of her. Lora apparently doesn't even seem to respond, not even to move away. Does she just stand there and let the woman pet her like a cat? That's what it seems to be happening.
She doesn't mind a woman she's not interested in, sexually assaulting her. The woman also gets out of the car very soon, and doesn't even invite Lora to come with her.

Brunner, the author, doesn't mind lesbians, because they are no threat to him. They won't sexually assault him (male homosexuals probably wouldn't either, but he doesn't seem to know that), and most of all, they don't make him experience any scary feelings.
He can tell himself that he's just interested in them because they are two women together, not because they are homosexual like him and he likes the idea of someone like him finding love or sex. 
So he doesn't have to think of himself as homosexual, if he imagines two women together--even if they are interested in each other and not him. (I once met a lesbian woman online who loved to read about male/male romance, but would never want to be with a man, herself, in real life. And I am almost the same way, seeing myself as happier in general with another woman. So reading preference does not automatically translate to real life preferences.)
So he uses women--lesbians or people who are actually bisexual women--in order to hide from his own homosexual feelings. That's why gay women are so harmless, in his mind. And part of why they are so "hot" to so many "heterosexual" men even today.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

LGBT/Minimalism: Starting My New Student-Debt-Free Career, And Why I Won't Come Out At Work Yet

 First day of training today, as a tax preparer. I have talked about how I became licensed here, for the $250 I paid for the class. (Since I would be working for the company that put on the class, they paid for my test and licensing fees.) I can't actually prepare taxes until my paperwork comes in, but in most states you don't even need a license. But my new boss did let me do practice problems on their computer program later in the day, and time was not as long, as I actually started feeling like I did something. Before that, I was reading the company manual and doing little else. It was a bit amusing how unprofessionally enthusiastic some parts of it were.

Twice in the manual, it literally says that the company strives to be "the #1 tax preparation firm in the universe."
The universe--there IS life on other planets, and it has both a government and a monetary system!
I also learned who really killed Kennedy (it was Johnson), because my new coworkers are just that, um...interesting.
Something else I found interesting was the assertion that was made, "Pence won't do that to Trump." What? Is the vice president killing the president a common thing or something? If they're so confident of Pence's goodness, how did the possibility of him being a murderer even come up? I've never thought to say, "Jesus wasn't a rapist," and I would be disturbed if I did. My coworkers talked about how nice Pence was, but still apparently wondered, briefly, if he would kill someone.
Of course, when I told a few Facebook friends that I knew who really killed Kennedy, one of them was so overcome with guilt that he confessed that he had killed JFK. When asked whether he was acting on the orders of his alien overlords, he replied, "I am the alien overlord."
So I guess we've got two suspects now. And now I know whom the aliens pay their taxes to.

Less amusing was another conversation I overheard, between the two women who weren't my boss.
"You know what I've been praying lately? I just pray that my grandkids never have kids."
I thought at first she meant "out of wedlock" or "in their teens," but the other lady reacted with shock and almost horror.
"If you aren't bringing up the right kind of people in the world, what are you doing?" she asked.
"But my son isn't as conservative as I am," the first one explained. I didn't hear much after that.

It was disturbing on so many levels. The pressure to have kids, the pressure not to have kids--especially because the parents weren't like her. And I myself do worry about the possibly-gay or trans kids of conservative parents, but only because I'm afraid of the very real harm caused by anti-LGBT beliefs, or that they will harm others. Maybe she is afraid for her possible great-grandchildren's souls...but my worry causes harm and even suicide in the one life we know we have.
I'm not sure exactly what she meant by that, and I don't intend to ask. I don't want to participate when they discuss religion or politics in the office.
I can't imagine coming out at work in the foreseeable future. In Oregon, I can't be fired because of sexual orientation, and I am told that tax preparers are scarce. But I want to do it when I'm comfortable in this job, and only then if it comes up.
Right now, I might say I don't have a boyfriend because I'm "busy" and "a lazy dater." Or maybe even, it's hard to find a good guy, or someone who shares my values. It's true, since I don't believe in buying new cars or other status symbols. And, though I am bisexual, I just see myself as happier with another girl, and it's very rare anymore that I like a guy as much as I like the thought of being with a nice, pretty girl.
But that values thing above could come in handy. If I ever do come out, my angle will be that I am a gay Christian. All of my coworkers I have met so far seem to be Christian. And my own faith journey is...complicated, but I never set out to lose my faith, so why should anyone tell me what I can and can't be? (Though I won't put it like that, at work. I don't owe them information about my spiritual journey that they will just use to inwardly condemn me anyway.)
If I am to change anyone's mind, I want it to be because of people getting to know and like me, and then learning what I am. Or better yet, I want to change people's minds with my own happy life.

The one who didn't want great-grandchildren (how sad is that!) is the receptionist, the first person who greets people when they walk in the door. Is she going to be able to equally welcome all people, or more specifically all couples? Is she going to make everyone feel right at home, without a hint of unprofessional disapproval? I guess I'll have to keep my eyes and ears open.
I have no idea what the future holds, but right now I have enough on my plate without worrying about how to tell religious coworkers. I guess I'll just have to focus on my religious extended family instead--eventually...

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

LGBT/Minimalism/Preppers: Storing Books

I am soon starting my new job as a tax preparer, and the twelve inches of snow that prevented me from going to my first day of training for the job today, remind me that when my family and I get snow here in the country, we sometimes lose power too. So I'm writing while I can.
The snow also reminds me of the two conflicting ideologies I have: being a minimalist, who also wants to prepare for hard times that may come.
So when it comes to books, I have to figure out a balance between the urge to get rid of almost everything, and the urge to hoard everything. I love books, and if we lose power for a long period of time, paper books are all I have. So there's the urge to collect as many paper books as I cheaply can, in the hope that some of them are good, and in case I don't have any other means of entertainment left.
Older used books, if you know the right places to look, are very cheap, in general. I miss the library book sales half the time (which irritates me to no end that they can't advertise the sales better). But even without them, I recently managed to find dozens of science-fiction novellas from the 1950s through the 1970s in a local thrift shop, for a dollar each. So I stocked up on the ones that looked good.

The problem, though, is that it's nearly impossible to find older books with LGBT characters, much less non-straight romance, even in a genre full of alien species. And I like me some gay romance to warm my little gay heart.
And to make it even more awful, in most straight romance, the author's idea of compatibility consists of, "They're in close proximity to each other, and their genitals don't match." Or, even worse, "They hate each other, and their genitals don't match."
Yet there is some interesting subtext in some of these novels. I am convinced that the one I am reviewing right now, The Wrong End of Time by John Brunner, reflects the late author's struggle with his own sexuality. And in another novel I have read a bit of, Invaders From Rigel by Fletcher Pratt, two "roommates" seem to be a gay couple, one calling the other "old dear," and behaving like he very much cares for Old Dear.
But I want more than subtext. Imagine how straight people would feel if examples of their romance were suppressed for decades, centuries even, or portrayed as decadent, destructive, or wrong--and reading the gay romance in old books was just a depressing reminder that their ancestors had to hide their love. If only we lived in a world where no one had to feel this way.

There are excellent stories out there, with characters who happen to fall in love in matching pairs of men and women. And some characters even go from living as a man to living as a woman, and vice versa. But these books are, nearly all of them, relatively modern, and so relatively expensive. And often, the cheapest option for these is ebooks, which would disappear if we lost access to electricity over the long term.
I can't go out and buy a dozen "gay" books as easily or cheaply as I could a dozen "straight" books. About a month ago, I inquired about LGBT books at a local used bookstore in a small town near me, and the man working there directed me to the feminist section, saying, "You might find some here." I didn't find even one. And I live in Oregon, a semi-blue state.
So I stock up on cheap scifi, mystery, and other books I am curious about, occasionally when I can, while using the rest of my book money to buy books I really want. And the cheap books are almost as easily gotten rid of as they are acquired.

There are also ways to make the most of the heteronormative old books you find. I'm having fun writing a review of a book with very homophobic overtones. I also enjoy reading between the lines, and speculating on what the author was going through at the time, or whether he or she was subtextually writing LGBT characters. It's really fun to dissect a story, criticize it, and speculate about the author.
Writing gay fan fiction, mostly in my head for my own entertainment, is another way I deal with the lack of what I really want to read.
But in most of the books I have, there is always something missing. Stories are not as vibrant, without characters of all kinds of abilities, sexualities, gender identities, races, etc. In the batch of scifi I got, I believe all of the protagonists are male, and almost all are white--the lead in The Wrong End of Time is black (though more "well-spoken" than the bad black characters, meaning understood by the white characters), and the lead in two others (Galactic Derelict and The Defiant Agents by Andre Norton) is Apache. But there is not much diversity other than that, to my knowledge. And these stories really miss out, because of it.

When it comes to minimalism and "stuff," different circumstances in life make me want different things. The snow makes me want to hoard things, especially information and entertainment through books. I have lived through many winters where my only source of entertainment for a day or more are the paper books that I have on hand.
I like to look at pictures of personal and public libraries on Pinterest. I love to dream of having lots and lots of books. But sometimes I think that I'll just get rid of most of the books anyway, especially if they are antique leather-bound books and therefore probably boring to me, terribly heteronormative, or morally appalling in what they do write about homosexuals.
But a more modern science-fiction library, even if most of these paperbacks are written for a straight, homophobic audience? Yeah, I might take that. (I also might cull it down, though.) But I do like having cheap entertainment when there's nothing else to read.
Some people are minimalists, except when it comes to books. I try to keep that in mind, whenever I feel like I have too many. I have a shelf full of cheap scifi, and if I had a lot more, I would probably get rid of some. If they're boring, I won't even read them before I give them away. And I will get rid of them when I'm done reading or reviewing them, too. They are held looser than other books, more easily gotten rid of.
And sometimes I even get rid of the "permanent" books I have on hand, when I'm not using them regularly. Those are more challenging to decide on, and to get rid of. But that's another subject altogether.
The bottom line with books, and with anything, is that you just have to find a balance that works for you. Too much would be overwhelming, and too little would make you feel deprived.
One of the most helpful things I have ever done was to write down the names and authors of the books I'm unsure of getting rid of, so that I can get them back if I want to. I have a special notebook with only that list. So far, I have not had to use it to get any books back, but it does comfort me, nonetheless.
Find the right balance for you--the balance between getting rid of everything and hoarding it all, and the balance between cheap books and desirable books--and write down the ones you do get rid of, if that makes it easier. Your book collection will probably be expanding and shrinking for the rest of your life, so don't worry if it expands temporarily.