This forthcoming content will be far more personal than is the norm for this blog, but I've realized I have to be open to this blog evolving as I do. The last two years have been rough personally for me, and I'm finally in a place where I feel like I can safely share some of the "stuff" that was really congesting my heart and soul during that time. I've lagged a bit with this blog during that time, and I deeply miss the celebration of life and ideas that this blog used to allow me on a more regular basis. So here goes attempting to integrate parts of myself that have been more compartmentalized in the past: I’m going to write a little series of stories about growing up/coming of age “queer”, which will help elucidate what “queer” means to me. A few weeks ago I journaled about this a lot and was able to see a lot of my history in a new way. Part of this clarity has come with moving across the country from where I grew up, cliche as that is. So I’m going to transcribe the story so far here and break it up into several posts. Enjoy, and thank you all for reading! Peace.
In high school and for much of college I lacked motivation, and also self respect. I had no vision of my future—particularly of my future self. Would I grow up to be a man or a woman? It was to me an obvious question (though not an obvious answer) because I really felt like neither girl nor boy. Perhaps boy more than girl, but my body (especially increasingly after puberty) certainly did not match that vision. So I felt ashamed because secretly I would entertain what I saw as a delusion… I saw my cross-gender identification as childish and fantastical. Thus at low points later in my life I felt a strange, unexplainable revulsion at daydreaming and unabashed use of the imagination. I think right before I found the language to describe how I felt, it was the worst. And I love imagination, it is the birthplace of magic and so central to our humanity… but I had developed a love/hate relationship with it, and something had to give…
I finally finished college. It barely seemed like a triumph, because although I’d had some amazingly formative experiences in the realm of the intellect, I did not have much to show for emotional development. During semesters I took off from school, it actually felt good to prolong the inevitable—that college would end and I would be thrust into the adult world, still feeling like a child—perhaps an intellectually intelligent one, but that hardly mattered, I realized. I don’t even know how much I subscribed to the idea that the end of college marks some kind of entry into a world more “real” than any other. But the residue from that myth, created like a cloud in the cultural ether, still weighed on me, and caused me to be afraid.
It ended up that I took to academia. Other than being fulfilling and stimulating mentally and thus (for me) socially, I took great comfort in the almost monastic, disembodied ritual of it. At my best, I thrive there, and at worst, perhaps hide from the world of people, consumerism, popular media and thus… gender roles.
Also there was a strange solidarity to be found in the scholarly realm. Not queer or transgender per se (for, I admit with some regret that befriending people who I shared that with was “not my thing” at the time—I was confused about where I belonged, to say the least). Rather, the solidarity I found there was one that tacitly implied some sort of outcast or “freak” self-identification on the part of us scholars. I repeat those epithets of course in their empowered, liberatory forms. Us queers-of-the-mind… we studied human culture, the human body and the human condition, and somehow this discipline seemed to help many of us cope with our own feelings of alienation from that mysterious subject… that confusing and messy text: humanity.
Academia is a sort of ascetic discipline. Especially grad school and especially the humanities… because it’s text, text, text all the time, that we ingest, and digest, and excrete. We bleed text, like the ancient desert father of Christianity did with respect to scripture. Athletes of the mind… or the soul, or your disembodied self of choice.
To be clear, this is no criticism of academia—far from it! Indeed I think that some semblance of these feelings are what drives scholarship and research forward. Maybe its simply “nerd solidarity”, but whatever it was, it helped me feel like I fit in somewhere.
Gradually I’ve learned how people leverage that positionality in as healthy a way as they can, and use that focus on “anything but the self” to help solve some of the world’s greatest mysteries and problems.
These people are scholars, professors, teachers, and doctors, to name some. High-level nerds, geeks and warlocks-of-the-word (and also not to forget the lifelong scholars—the "freelance gnostics" (term coined by Erik Davis) who work outside of the institution of academia, and these people are often the most graceful hackers and scientists-artists of all). Anyhow, I welcomed the opportunity to lose myself in the annals of history and anthropology, as if I was an alien from another planet, studying homo sapiens and their semiotic legacy.
If I didn’t have this academic rubric that concentrated my focus and took it away from myself, it seemed I would slip away on a cloud of fantasy, obsessing about things I felt I couldn’t change.
Scholarship —more precisely Christian history and the history of asceticism— is my magic wand. Magical items are just things that concentrate the attention, like light through a prismatic crystal, and beam it toward something specific.
I guess what connects me to the humans who founded mystical and ascetic theology thousands of years ago is this: We develop armaments of the mind, and they keep demons away. Define demons however you wish, but the method is tried and true, and in a world where many say that “God is dead”, it’s still working for me.
How is my quest for knowledge so different from those of the ancient past, who lived before universities existed? The impulse is the same…it is the human semiotic drive, and no one can escape its allure, not atheists, nuclear physicists, computer programmers, naturalists, nor people of faith. The mystery of the symbol is far too powerful. As I like to say, in the beginning was the Sign…and the sign was…
(To be continued…)