Well, It’s About Time.

So, the United States Supreme Court finally decided in favor of same-sex marriage. It’s not surprising, really; it’s been a foregone conclusion for a couple of years now. It was like a poorly-paced novel or show; the outcome is inevitable, but it drags on for so long that you almost don’t expect it to happen. But when it finally does, it feels like the most satisfying thing ever. That kind of statement probably warrants the assumption that I’m neck-deep in the politics at hand, but I’m utterly apolitical; if you’re looking for a debate, don’t bother posting. I lack the time, patience, and energy for that kind of thing. I doubt I’d change your mind regardless.

For me, it’s not a question of parties or other inherently limiting affiliations. Anyone can make promises and tell you what you want to hear. People can change sides and make concessions whenever it’s convenient. All that matters to me is if it works. I consider myself a student of all subjects, though history is among my favorites. I find traditions fascinating, but I’d be foolish to ignore how society changes with times. Knowledge, technology, expectations, roles, beliefs, goals, prejudices, businesses, friends, enemies…It’s all connected in one huge, ever-shifting reality. All we have are the memories from which we can hopefully learn.

If I traveled back in time 20 years and told 1995-Me that same-sex marriage would be made legal, he’d…Well, he’d probably grab a kitchen knife and chase me – the 30-year-old stranger that suddenly appeared – out of the house. That aside, he’d likely be confused and uncomfortable. At that point, my only exposure to anything remotely homosexual were Uranus and Neptune, the lesbian couple from the Sailor Moon anime who were infamously dubbed as “cousins” in the American broadcast. I’ve always been amused by younger viewers saying how “groundbreaking” recent shows like Adventure Time, MLP: FIM, and The Legend of Korra have been with regards to their implied same-sex romances. Japan has had that market cornered for decades; there are whole genres devoted to them! It’s just that mainstream American media – until quite recently – has had a huge, often hypocritical hang-up when it comes to portraying sexuality. What we have now is not so much a leap forward as it is slowly playing catch-up.

Sorry, went on a tangent. Point is, back in 1995 I was just a child a San Francisco Bay Area suburb. I was a classic latchkey kid, the kind who’d spend afternoons watching TV, finishing homework, reading, and doing chores before (hopefully) seeing a parent at dinnertime. I still get surprised reactions when people – mostly women – find out I know how to run a household. Not exactly quantum mechanics, folks. Being isolated so much never struck me as odd. What did, however, was how the other kids were treating me. I’ve mentioned how much of a bookworm I am; even as a child, I was intelligent, short, effeminate, shy, awkward, lacked confidence, skipped a grade, wore glasses, and was a late bloomer. That’s some prime bullying material, and everyone seemed to know it. But it went beyond that, and I didn’t understand what it was until much later:

I was different.

It wasn’t something that could be pinned down to just intelligence and whatnot; the others could sense that something was “off” – and therefore wrong – about me. I think it had mostly to do with my appearance; I still get mistaken for a woman sometimes. I’m now awesome and confident enough to roll with it. But in 1995, I was a nervous, quivering, prone-to-crying wreck who was bullied all the way through freshman year of high school. California might have a reputation for being progressive, but that doesn’t work so well in real life. I got crude jibes about shaving my legs, putting on makeup, my time of the month, you name it, they said it. I’ve been called every homophobic epithet you can possibly think of, usually from kids on bikes or passing cars as I walked home every day. I’ve had stuff thrown at me, been beaten up, all of it. Unlike the supposed politically-correct era we live in today, nobody – adult, kid, or otherwise – stepped in to help me. There was no “It Gets Better” for me. People only cared when I started fighting back; a ruthless temper can end a fight very quickly. It can also isolate you, and not in a good way. I was respected as a potential valedictorian for the rest my high school days – I was even nominated for the Every 15 Minutes Program and to give a speech at graduation – but I didn’t make any friends.

The problem wasn’t limited to school, though. Much of my family are devoutly religious; my grandfather was a minister, and his emigration here to preach was the reason I was born in America. I went to Sunday school, attended church twice a week, the whole bit. I’m still pretty good when it comes to Biblical topics on Jeopardy.  Growing up like that isn’t too bad; there’s a sense of family, community, and purpose. It’s all fine…as long as you follow whatever you’re told. That’s a real problem when it comes to someone like me, who constantly searches for answers, questions explanations, and strives to see the bigger picture. Or someone who so blatantly doesn’t conform to gender roles and sexuality, for that matter. There’s a lot of guilt involved with that kind of upbringing: the constant fear of disappointing your elders, the paranoia of being caught and judged, the logic that God doesn’t answer your prayers to stop the bullying because you’re a sinner, hating yourself for not wanting to be masculine etc. Never mind being smart, responsible, and having perfect grades; if you don’t conform, you’re a rebellious outcast. Needless to say, I wasn’t popular with the kids my age, either.

I’m not going to deny the importance of religion – people need to believe in something to survive, be it spiritual, philosophical, technological, whatever – but I can’t abide by it. The human mind is far more stubborn and creative than any religion can fully encompass, and we’re just starting to understand how it works on a psychological level. The centuries of violence, bloodshed, and oppression, all for what? They’re all the same stories, told in different ways. It’s like the human race; many branches, one tree. We should be learning from and helping each other survive. Yeah, I know it’s naive and it’ll probably never work; we as a society are still too foolish to make it happen. We’ll probably never find whichever beliefs – if any – are accurate. That’s a two-way street, by the way. Extremism is bad regardless of what side it’s on, and the messages from some well-meaning social media groups outright terrify me. I’m celebrating the same-sex marriage victory with the rest of you, but remember, popular beliefs and morals change over time. In another 40 years, we’ll be the ones considered old-fashioned and mocked accordingly.

Think about it.

So, where does the legalization of same-sex marriage leave me? Pretty much where I was yesterday, honestly. Despite numerous assumptions to the contrary over the years, I’m not gay. I’m 1.5 at most on the Kinsey Scale. I’m not too keen on the whole categorizing thing, though. I’m far more interested in gender fluidity; biological sex and gender are now considered separate, and the latter has its own spectrum. That explains a lot for me, even if the concept is still being developed. 1995-Me could’ve really used that term and had a better childhood. The human mind is too complex to be limited to society’s expected gender roles, which is something that our culture is only beginning to understand. As for all those lost, bitter years? I’ll never get them back. But I can take solace in the fact that while I may be different, the times have (temporarily, at least) shifted in my favor.

As for the rest of you, congratulations. You’ve earned this victory.

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Robin Williams, And Why We Need To Talk About Depression

When I started writing this, I was going to focus on the death of Robin Williams. But looking over all the coverage in the last 48 hours, I’ve realized that such an article would just be repeating the same stories already out there. I could talk about watching Mork & Mindy reruns on Nick at Nite as a kid, or how I saw Aladdin, Jumanji, and Mrs. Doubtfire enough times to memorize every line. I could talk about how legitimately creepy I found him in One Hour Photo and Law and Order SVU. I could talk about how the phrase, “It’s not your fault” still makes me tear up. But you’ve read – and likely experienced – all of that already. It’s amazing how one man can bring together millions of strangers with a common experience of laughter. I wish I had a better story to tell you, that I was trapped in an elevator with him for an hour, or that he held a door open for me one time. But I don’t. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 30 years, but I never met him.

And now I never will.

If there’s anything positive that can come out of this tragedy, it’s that more people are talking about depression and suicide. It needs to be discussed. Our culture has many proverbial elephants in the room, but depression is one of the biggest and deadliest. Psychology has developed leaps and bounds over the last century, but there’s still so much we don’t know. Lobotomies aren’t a form of treatment anymore, though all the medications and their innumerable side effects aren’t much better. Most folks haven’t bothered to learn anything about depression; if something’s uncomfortable, it’s much easier to sweep it under the rug. There’s an unspoken stigma – especially for men – about mental health. Oh sure, we all know it’s there, but who wants to think about that? It’s so much easier going about your daily life, catching a movie, playing a video game…whatever it takes to keep you distracted from the darker, lesser-known aspects of our existence. Because there’s no way anything like that could happen to you, right?

I know better.

I know what it’s like having that little twinge of doubt consuming your every action and decision. It builds with each passing day, filling and weighing your down like molten lead. I know the burn of stigma and shame, that sense of worthlessness and isolation. That no one could possibly understand. That you’re different, broken, maybe a lost cause. That you shouldn’t bother asking for help, because it’s nothing, it’s all your fault, and no one would want to help you anyway. That you have to pretend and put on a smile, and how exhausting it is. That you can’t fall asleep sometimes, because your brain is spinning like a tire stuck in mud. That you occasionally dread getting up in the morning because it’s yet another day bereft of meaning. That every aspect of your life is conspiring to make you more miserable. That things are so bad now, and the future is a terrifying prospect.

Look, I know you’re out there. You’re sitting in front a screen somewhere, and you’re feeling trapped and alone. I don’t know you, your background, age, sex, gender, ethnicity, circumstances, none of the above. I’m not going to pretend that I get everything about what you’re going through, but I know enough. Depression isn’t just a habit you can kick; it’s there, and it’s a serious, potentially deadly problem. It doesn’t make you a bad or weak person. But leaving it untreated is like putting a rock in your shoe and running a marathon. So, let me ask (and you don’t have to answer, but just think about it): What’s stopping you from getting help? Is it fear of rejection? Insurance coverage costs? Guilt? Whatever it is, are there ways around it? Also, let’s make one thing clear:

There is nothing, nothing wrong with asking for help.

I’m not going to romanticize therapy, either; it’s difficult in ways you’d never expect. It makes you take a long, hard look at yourself, and there’s no instant cure. For some, a couple of pills a day isn’t going to solve your problems. But if you’re going to do anything, then at least talk about it. If you can get therapy, go for it. If not, talk to your trusted family and friends. If not them, support groups and hotlines. Possibly all of the above. If you need to call someone, there are plenty waiting to listen. People can and will help you, but they’re never going to know unless you tell them. And for those of you who know someone in need, be there for them. It’s not about politics, taboos, or whatever else; someone you care about needs your help. I don’t think you’re going to leave them hanging. If you want to learn more about depression and suicide, there are several resources online. Try starting with the entries on WebMD, Wikipedia, and TV Tropes.

I don’t know if this post is going to make any difference. If it helps someone struggling out there, then I’d consider it a success. I’m typically reserved and quiet, so all of this preaching about seeking help from others and whatnot might sound hypocritical. Despite that, I am living proof of my argument; I wouldn’t be here otherwise. I’m not an optimist, but I’d rather fill an empty life than throw it away. Look, I’m not idealistic enough to think that we can change everything about depression overnight; despite all our advancements, we’re barely scratching the surface. But the first step is talking about it. Too many people have lost their lives in the silence already.

I’ve been on the soapbox long enough. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on a Robin Williams movie binge.

Three Questions With Lois Lane

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about questions. As in, the three you’d dread being asked by a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist writing about your life. It’s an interesting prompt; it’s like thinking up ways to confuse yourself. It’s harder to write about something uncomfortable, but the thought of being grilled by the likes of Lois Lane makes me geek out in the best way. As for the questions, though…

Lois: You write about many subjects and have tons of interests, but you rarely talk about faith. What exactly is your stance on religion?

Uh, er…It’s complicated. My mom’s side of the family is devoutly religious – my grandfather was even a minister – but I often got into trouble for asking so many questions and not accepting the explanations given to me. The phrase, “Because I said so” meant nothing to me. Yeah, I was that kid. Though I was responsible and had perfect grades, I was often treated like a rebellious outcast. There are still some people at the local church who refuse to even look at me. There’s a lot of guilt and shame that comes with that kind of upbringing. I won’t deny the importance of religion – people need to believe in something, be it spiritual, philosophical, psychological, technological, etc. – but I can’t adhere to one over the other. For all the politics and bloodshed, religions often tell the same stories and beliefs in different ways. It’s like the human race; many branches, one tree. The problem comes when you use those beliefs to justify violence and oppression against others. Life is far too short, and people should be treated humanely regardless of what gods to which they pray. We should be helping and learning, not killing each other. I’m not naive enough to think everyone would act in such an idealistic way, of course. Conflict is unavoidable. We may never find out which beliefs – if any – are accurate. All we can really do is find happiness while we can.

Lois: Uh huh. Sounds like agnosticism by way of the Dalai Lama. So, what’s with the pretty hair? You’ve written that it’s part of your individuality, but is there something more to it than that? Is it just an expression of vanity? Gender dysphoria? Sexual orientation?

Whoa, Ms. Lane. Making a lot of assumptions here. Yeah, I can’t say that I’m the most macho guy around, but adhering to stereotypes is a fool’s errand. People are still shocked when they find out I know how to run a household; apparently men are supposed to be inept in that regard. Everyone is bombarded with expectations on a daily basis, encouraging them to achieve some kind of socially-approved image of perfection. It happens to both women and men, and it’s a tragedy waiting to happen. After years of bullying and being called girly, I finally decided to roll with it. I grew out my hair as a way to mess with expectations; you’d be amazed how many compliments and double-takes I get in public. I don’t mind being mistaken for a “miss” anymore. As for the gender/orientation thing…I’ll get married to an amazing woman (sorry, gentlemen) someday, but I want a relationship built on something more meaningful than an outdated ideal. I want to create my own niche in life, not be shoved into a category. I’d expect the same kind of drive out of my spouse. The important things are your capabilities and choices, not what’s between your legs. It took me a long time to realize that being different is a good thing. It’s made me a much more confident person. And yes, there is some vanity involved; my hair looks good.

Lois:…Right. All of this idealism and whatnot sounds great, but some of your articles hint at depression, insecurity, and isolation. Is what you’ve said thus far just a cover for your pessimism?

Look, it hasn’t been easy. In retrospect, I’ve gotten through stuff that should never happen to anyone. But it did, and it made me a better, stronger person for it. And yeah, it’s driven me to very bad places. I’m still making my way back, and sometimes I stumble. Fallibility is part of the human condition. Pessimism is a big part of who I am; it keeps me grounded and realistic. Here’s something to consider, though: People really like to refer to Nietzsche when they’re thinking about how pointless life is. He’s practically the go-to philosopher for it in pop culture. However, they’re not fully considering his work in context; Nietzsche argues that since life is meaningless, you should overcome and take it on your own terms. You’re a tiny speck in the grand scheme of things. So what? Since you’re going to die regardless, you might as well enjoy it. Live by your own virtues and morality, and make it worthwhile for yourself and others. If I can approach each day as such and continue growing as person, then maybe I’ll die satisfied.

Lois: Huh. You sound like Lex before he went insane…Anyway, enough questions for the day. I’ll be back tomorrow. Have a good one! (Wait till Smallville hears this…)

Daily Prompt: Perspective, Or: Worth Beyond Likes

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt focuses on perspective. More specifically, how our perception of something we hate can be altered by something we enjoy. One of my biggest problems is with self-absorption. I loathe it with a fiery, unbridled passion. People who are so utterly, ridiculously focused upon themselves that they completely dismiss others and the world around them. The level of narcissism, the blatant me me me! attitude…it’s beyond appalling. The fact that our society encourages such behavior makes it even worse. You ever see a grown adult stamp their feet because the complimentary coffee ran out? Oh, how I wish that was an exaggeration. Or how about people who can’t make it through the day without obsessively updating their Facebook status or Twitter feed? I bet you’ve seen it. Next time you’re on a train or eating lunch with coworkers, take a look around. Is anyone actually interacting with each other? Yeah, probably not. For many people, the appeal of social media isn’t necessarily connecting with others or conveying ideas, but the acknowledgement of their own existence. On a subconscious level, everyone is aware of their fallibility and mortality. Some profiles and pages practically scream “Yes, I am a human being with a life and memories and needs! Please notice me! I deserve to be remembered! I’m interesting, I promise!” Machinima summed it up in graphic detail. We as culture are being raised on this unabashed sense of self-entitlement while sacrificing self-worth in the process. It’s a profound paradox with some really nasty implications for our successors.

I’m not immune to it, either. I enjoy the acknowledgement I get from my readers. It feels good! Every time the little icon on my WordPress header lights up, so do my eyes. Yes, I managed to reach someone! You’d think I was stuck on a deserted island with a ham radio or something. For those of you unfamiliar with my gaming writing, I’m a prominent amateur game reviewer. I’d like to think I’m still good at it, and my readership seems to agree. But for years, I thought that was all I was. Never mind putting myself through college, being well-read, traveling, or any of that. I thought that all I could offer the world was that ever-lengthening list of game analyses. I’d monitor my hits (which are apparently near 1.7 million at the time of this writing) with an almost religious zeal. Winning writing contests and getting fan mail was just icing on the cake. And I still appreciate it. But there’s always a little voice in the back of my head mocking me; Gee, another video game? Writing? Oh, please. You’re supposed to be smart, and THIS is the best you can do? When are you going to do something worthwhile? How’s that going to change the world? Does any of this actually matter? Do YOU even matter?

Self-esteem issues, anyone?

That’s something that I’m still working to get past. While I enjoy what I do, the guilt and self-doubt drive me nuts sometimes. But after a while, I realized that I was more than just that list of articles. That my importance didn’t revolve around how many hits or likes I got. The point was that I created something – an idea, an argument, a voice – and conveyed it to others. Innovation (for better or worse) without the conveyance of the concepts already learned. It’s something a lot of people (and certainly not just my generation) have to realize. Reality does not exist just for you. If the universe were an ocean, we’d be too small to even be considered subatomic particles. For all our insignificance, all we can do is influence our tiny speck of the world. Do you want to just sit around waiting for someone to push a button to acknowledge you? I don’t. Not anymore.