Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dancing Through Life

This summer, I have been doing a lot of thinking. Thinking, reflecting, pondering, and everything in between. Things have slowed down after an action-packed first year of college and between work schedules at my two jobs, all I have is free time. Everything calmed down, I reverted back to some of my more laid back tendencies, and I took a much needed break from the ongoing storm of events that is college. I got to thinking about how different things are right now in 2014 versus last year at the beginning of August. When I moved back to my hometown of Yakima after living on my own for the first time, the adjustment was incredibly hard on me, physically and emotionally. I honestly didn't expect that at all.

See, for years, I swore up and down that as soon as I graduated, I was getting out and never looking back. If you grew up in a small town community like me, you probably understand this desire. Everyone I went to high school with seems to be doing the same exact thing as the next person--studying at an in-state college, most of them still living at home. Now, I'm not at all trying to bash on these people; everyone has their own path to follow and it's not my place to judge why someone makes different choices than me. Personally, I hope all of my old friends and acquaintances get out, at least for a little bit, to explore and experience the world beyond the Northwest. (I certainly plan on experiencing something other than Happy Valley, because let's face it--Provo ain't much better.) But I understand now when I didn't before why so many choose to stay.

High school sucked for me. It pretty much sucks for everyone. But I projected those feelings onto the city of Yakima as a whole. In my mind, Yakima was the problem. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that I found something worth staying for. I joined a society that has become my family; they have been there for me through the biggest trials of my life thusfar. My best friend found me in a bad place at the end of my junior year and helped me to find my self-worth again three years after having been sexually assaulted. He stuck it out through stuff no one should be expected to go through, from my own family drama to my parents hating him to me falling in love with him. And even when I pushed him away, he still fought for me. He still voted for me.

He introduced me to the most amazing group of individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I never believed I would have so many people I could truly call my friends, let alone lifelong friends. But that's exactly what the Dance Syndicate has given me. It has been my home, literally and figuratively, for the last two years. When I was expelled my senior year of high school, they were the only ones who were there for me. When everyone else faded away and walked out of my life, I turned around and there they were. With open arms and ears, and loving hearts. If it weren't for them, I seriously don't know where I'd be. I don't even want to think about how far I could have sank into my depression after having everything I knew ripped away from me if it hadn't been for that support system.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. I could write an entire blogpost just about the Dance Syndicate and everything they've given me and taught me over the last two years (and I probably will soon!). So can you see now why it was so hard for me to want to leave, when suddenly I had something in Yakima worth staying for? I had no guarantee I would ever find something quite like this anywhere else, and I really don't think I ever will. I have a purpose here. I have lifelong friends here. I was comfortable. I was finally home. For the first time in 18 years. And then I was supposed to leave them behind? Just like that?

I almost didn't. I almost stayed. I thought maybe I'd just work for a year to save up money and then move to LA like I was supposed to. But deep down, I knew I couldn't do that. If I came up with an excuse, if I put it all off, I'd never be able to move on or let go. I would get too comfortable and end up like most people who are faced with the same life decision. The decision to stay where it's familiar and where you feel at home is not a bad one; I just knew it wasn't for me. I've known since I was 14 that I wasn't going to become the person I want to be in Yakima. She's out there waiting, and I have to search beyond the nest if I'm going to find her.

All that being said, it didn't make the move any easier. Ask any of my dorm-mates: I pined for home; I spent hours on the phone with everyone back in Yakima; I often wouldn't leave my room; I counted down the days until Thanksgiving. My heart was still in Washington. But I've come to understand now that all those emotions and mixed feelings are perfectly normal. Slowly but surely, you learn to adapt. Little by little, you let go. Until you realize you haven't called home in a week and that's okay. Then you notice you've started to refer to your college town as home and the summer goodbyes are just as difficult to say as the ones that were 18 years in the making.

That first week home, I seriously contemplated packing up and moving back to Provo. Moving to a brand new place is so incredibly difficult. Who could have imagined returning to a life you left behind and trying to jump back into things would be even harder? I feel as though I was dropped into this limbo space where I'm not at school, but I'm not really home either, because I missed so much and we all know it's temporary. Of course everyone has loved having me back and I've made some great memories this summer. I've been so grateful to spend time with people who mean the world to me. Yet, I often feel alone. When I'm at work surrounded by a hundred other servers, or out dancing on Friday nights, or curling up with my mom to watch a movie. It all feels a world away. Like I'm not really here. And I'm scared going back to school is going to feel the same way.

I don't want to feel like this anymore. This feeling of isolation. Of silence in my soul. It's impossible to describe. But as I sit here writing all this at four in the morning in an empty house, feeling completely lost without my parents (they're out of town) or anyone else around me, I'm holding back tears. With all this uncertainty in my life right now, as far where I belong or what I should do next, I know one thing for sure: I don't ever want to be alone. I need people. I need support. I can't do this on my own.

If you know me even a little bit, you know how extremely hard that is for me to admit. I like to pretend I'm completely self-sufficient and independent and I don't need anyone's help, but it's not true. This dream I have of being an awesome businesswoman with an amazing career and nothing holding me back has suddenly been shattered. Not that I can't have all of that and companionship, too. It's just, my head has been telling me for years, "I don't need a man or family to be happy--all that fluff is just a plus and if it comes along, swell. But if not, oh well. I'm not going to go chasing it down with the risk of never attaining it. That would hurt more: to desire something you can't have versus choosing to live without it." And now suddenly, my heart is saying, "I want love. I want marriage. I want a family."

Blech. Just admitting all that makes me feel gross inside. I have issues.

I am not at all suggesting I'm ready for that stuff. I'm only 19. I won't be ready for awhile. But I do know things are starting to shift in my life. I'm growing up, and I guess that means it's time to start thinking about these things.

I've had a life policy for the last few years to just to do my best to survive: care a little less, avoid trouble, and know that nothing really matters in the end, so maybe have a little fun along the way. I've been trying to dance through life. Dance makes everything better. That's something the Dance Syndicate taught me. But then I takes two to dance. You can't do it alone. You have to trust your partner; you have to rely on them. And in the end, that's what makes the dance so enjoyable.

I don't know what to expect this year at BYU. I don't really know how or where I fit in right now. I don't know where I'll be in a year. I'm still trying to figure out what exactly I want out of this life; I have an idea, but I still have so much to learn. I do know, whatever it is, I'll get there. With the help of others, I can do it. I'm planning on it. I'm planning for uncertainty. I'm planning for growth. I'm planning for adventure.

I plan on dancing through life.

"And the strange thing: your life could end up changing while you're dancing through."

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What 'Sex Positive' Actually Means

In previous posts, I've discussed openly my sexual orientation as well as my sexual behavior and the consequences I've faced because of this behavior. Yes, there can be negative results to having a hyperactive sex drive like I do. However, despite all this, I remain sex positive.

What does sex positive mean, you ask? Well, let me tell you. Sex positivity is the idea that men and women alike should have the right to express themselves sexually without being judged. Sex positive as it relates to feminism focuses on the idea that sexual freedom is essential in the fight for equality and women's freedom. In our society, men are often allowed, and even encouraged, to act upon their sexual urges with no fear of retribution or consequence because they have been taught since infant-hood that sexual desires are an innate part of being a boy. But with women, from the time we are young girls, we are told that our sexuality should not be talked about and should be kept secret, as if it were something to be ashamed of.

I remember being taught in Sunday School that our virtue was dependent on our sexual purity and our sexual urges were to be ignored. They were never acknowledged or dealt with; instead, they were swept under the rug. No one ever taught us, as young women, how to handle our sexuality. I was made to feel like I was not a proper girl because I often thought about sex like I was told boys do. And if I acted upon those thoughts, I would lose my virtue. To this day, I still do not understand this mentality. Do people not know the definition of the word virtue? Here, let me help you out:

virtue (ˈvɜːtjuː, -tʃuː) —n: 1. the quality or practice of moral excellence or righteousness.

Does it say anywhere in that definition "sexual purity?" I know for some people, that's what it means to practice moral excellence. But I have met many amazing and moral individuals who are sexually active, and they are far better people than some Christians or Mormons. Does this mean they have no virtue? No value?

Morality is an individual idea. It is a code either a culture or you yourself decide is ethical and acceptable. There is not one right or wrong way to morally govern your life. All you have to do is travel to a different country to see how different someone's morality can be simply because they grew up in a different culture. For this reason, I do not believe it is right for anyone to judge another person's actions. I mean, this is pretty cut and dry, people. Even Jesus taught that. You don't have to agree with others' lifestyles; but you don't have the right to look down on them for their decisions.

This practice of judging others for their actions has led to a culture in America of slut-shaming. Slut shaming is when someone bashes or verbally attacks an individual--usually a woman--for their sexual actions, or perceived sexual actions. THIS IS NOT OKAY AND NEEDS TO STOP. Unfortunately, within moral circles, such as Christian culture, slut shaming is completely acceptable and even somewhat encouraged. I attend BYU, and one of the things they make students swear to when they sign the honor code is to turn anyone in to the Honor Code Office that is being sexually inappropriate so they can face discipline.

Not only is that kinda creepy (like, dude, why are you so interested in someone else's sex life?), but it creates a culture that says it's okay to decide someone else's worth based on their actions and then punish them for said actions that do not in any way affect you. This also leads to a negative conception of sex. And people wonder why Christians have to fight against a guilty conscience concerning their sex life, even after being married.

The sex-positive movement is a movement that is trying to create a new culture which promotes and embraces sexuality all across the spectrum, from asexual to celibate to "sexually promiscuous." It also puts emphasis on consent and safe sex practices.

Sex positive means we acknowledge there is no such things as "sluts". There are women who are more sexually active and there are women who are not. Neither type of person should be shamed for their own choices.

Sex positive means we reject a culture that says if you aren't putting out, you're a prude; but if you've slept with even one guy, you're a whore.

Sex positive means we believe sex is a good thing! It is a gift that God gave us to create life, as well as to become closer to another human being and to experience pleasure.

Sex positive means determining for yourself what sex means to you and not determining it for others.

Sex positive means all sex that is being had should be consensual and safe, and any other factors are no one's business.

Sex positive means I can choose to wait for marriage because of religious convictions and still acknowledge that sex is important and not something to be ashamed of. It also means I can choose not to wait for marriage because of personal choices and that is not something to be ashamed of.

Basically, I'm saying all of this to try and get people to understand that sex is awesome, no matter how or when or with whom you are having it--it just needs to be consensual and safe. Having moral standards surrounding sexual activity is a good thing too, as long as it doesn't lead to bashing or superiority complexes. You don't have to agree with someone to love them.

I want people to also understand that when someone says they are sex positive, that doesn't automatically mean they are going around having sex with every person they meet. Some of the most sex positive women I've met didn't have sex until they were married, and that's great! As this article so wonderfully put it, "being sex positive isn't about encouraging everyone to have tons of sex all the time; it's about understanding that sex should be safe, shame-free and above all, based on informed, personal choices."

Let's get rid of a culture that puts women down for the same actions that are encouraged in men. That is sexism, and it is degrading and harmful. Let's get rid of slut-shaming and the idea that just because you don't agree with someone, that makes you better than them. Ask yourself, "Would Jesus have done this?"

We all need to be a little bit more loving and a lot less judgmental. Christian culture needs to refocus on what Jesus really came to this Earth to teach us: love and understanding and acceptance. He didn't teach us to call each other sluts or whores or prudes. He didn't teach us to shame or label or judge others. We get so caught up in all the rules and standards we think we have to follow in order to be considered a good person, and we forget to simply "love one another as Jesus loves you."

Let's stop the hate. Let's stop the judging. Let's start loving. Let's start being sex positive. Let's start being a little bit more like Jesus.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Coming Out

On the 29th of June, I had the opportunity to travel to Seattle with a very dear friend of mine for one of the biggest events of the year. I was so excited, because this is something I have wanted to attend for awhile now and was not sure I would ever have the chance to do so. But lucky for me, I was indeed able to see in person one of the most well-attended parades to take place each year in Washington. Seattle Pridefest.

I'm sure most of you know what a Pride Parade is, but just in case you don't, Wikipedia is here for you. Basically, it's just a festival to celebrate gender or sexual diversity and how beautiful it is that we have so many different kinds of people living among us. It's a weekend of acceptance, love, and pride in who you were designed to be.

I truly do believe God made us to be exactly who we feel we are and I believe everyone is born with certain traits they will have for the rest of their lives and, most likely, eternity. I believe sexuality and gender are eternal; however, sometimes they might not be what we expect. But isn't that kind of awesome?? Life is exciting and scary and adventurous and surprising and beautiful. It gives me hope to see a world developing that actually recognizes these facts and even embraces them.

Why have we, in past generations (and still today, but slowly and surely that is changing), clung to this fear of people who are different from us? Why do we hesitate when we should be running, grasping, leaping for the opportunity to experience variety in our lives? Roosevelt was so right when he said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. It's scary to see a society that still, to some extent, thinks there's nothing wrong with being afraid of another human being simply because they aren't "normal." I'm pretty sure that's one of the things Christ was fighting when he lived on Earth.

With that in mind, I want to admit that I was exactly that type of person about two years ago. One of my best friends at the time came out to me and right away, I tried to convince him to not be gay. Looking back, I can't believe I could ever do that to someone. What the hell was wrong with me? Since when was it okay to tell someone else who they are? I'm having a hard enough time trying to figure out who I am; what makes me think I'm qualified or that I have the right to sit and tell a fellow sibling in Christ their labels and identities are evil, therefore they are evil? That's exactly what is happening when someone comes out and the first words out of a person's mouth are, "homosexuality is a sin.", dude. That is not your job. That is God's. And others are always telling people like me that God works on His own time schedule, so maybe everyone should stop rushing to do all His dirty work when I have yet to see Him strike any LGBTQ people with lightning.

Our only job as children of God is to show love and charity. You are not going to "fix" anyone or anything by telling them your opinions on LBGTQ rights. No, I don't care if you think it's not your opinion, but scripture; Newsflash: Not everyone believes in the same God. Not everyone believes in a higher power. And religion is all about faith, because that's exactly what all beliefs are based on--faith. Not fact, not evidence. So until you have some sort of physical evidence that your God who believes homosexuality is inherently evil exists without a doubt, everything you have to say on the matter will continue to be opinion. 

Instead of standing in judgment of others and casting the stone when you are not without sin, every member of the LGBTQIA community would appreciate it if, instead, you took some tips on how to react in a helpful and loving way. I especially would appreciate it right now, because I'm about to tell you something I have not yet shared publicly. But here it goes.

I'm bisexual.
Bisexual Pride Flag
Shocked? Not shocked? I've gotten both reactions from the few people I've told so far. It hasn't been surprising for many of my friends that grew up with me, because I've always been very physical and sexual since I was young, but I acted that way with men and women equally. Others have been very confused because, if you know me even a little bit, you know I'm boy crazy. Or at least I was in high school. For that exact reason, I was one of the people who were completely bewildered by this new discovery.

I've always just assumed I was straight because, like I said, I really like men, and I never felt a desire to pursue a woman romantically. Whenever I found a woman attractive, I just figured it was because women tend to be better about acknowledging someone of the same gender's individual beauty. But looking back, I can see all the signs. I definitely had a few female crushes; I just didn't know that's what it was. Yeah, I've kissed a couple girls. And yeah, Katy Perry, I even liked it.

Let me clear up a few things for everyone reading this now, so there are no misunderstandings. Bisexual means you are attracted to people of the opposite and same gender. On average, that usually means being attracted to anyone who identifies as male or female. It does NOT mean I am attracted to anyone regardless of gender. That would be pansexual. These two types of sexuality are not at all the same and those of us who identify with either one would appreciate it if you did not continue thinking so.

The other misconception often made when someone comes out about their sexuality is that their romantic feelings are the same as their sexual ones. This is not always the case, and I am one of those people where it is not. I find women physically and sexually attractive. I find men physically and sexually attractive. However, I have never in the past, nor will I ever in the future, have a desire to pursue a woman romantically. I thought about this for a long time after I learned the differences between gender, sex, orientation, and romanticism. (Please please please watch the video in that link if you are finding it difficult to follow anything I've written so far.) After much pondering, I came to realize that I would never be comfortable having a romantic relationship with a woman and I still very much desire an emotional connection with a man exclusively. So, to all my religious friends out there--don't worry, I'm still gonna marry a dude (assuming I get married at some point).*

If you're having a hard time with all this, I completely understand. Take a minute to follow a few of these suggestions and please feel free to do a little research if you have any other questions. Also, don't think you can't talk to me directly. I'm okay with you asking me anything or telling me how you are feeling.

Please understand: all of this has not changed who I am. I'm still the same person at my core. I will always be the outgoing, out-spoken, confident, loving, inclusive, crazy woman I've always been. And really, that's the most important part. This doesn't mean I lust after all my female friends; I still have a preference like most people do and it definitely does not include most women, or very many women at all honestly (I'm pretty picky). It just means I'm a little bit more open than I was yesterday.

I'm so happy and relieved to understand myself a little better through all this identity crisis and confusion I've been experiencing for the last year. My past makes so much more sense, and my future does too. I'm actually really excited, because I'm a big fan of identities and labels. Some people aren't since, yes, labels can be very harmful. Too often, they are used to force everyone into tiny boxes based on what others want you to be. Labels will often be used against you and give bullies power over you. For these reasons, labels can be dangerous.

However, for me, my labels give me purpose. They give me strength. The moments when we are weakest in life are when we don't know who we are or where we stand, and you'll notice a pattern--those times tend to be when others label you the most. Labeling myself means no one else has that right anymore. Sure, they can try, but it won't matter because I'm not going to subscribe to what others say I should be. No one can say who I am but me. And my labels are what make me who I am.

I am a woman. I am a ginger. I am a Mormon. I am a musician. And I'm bisexual. Those are my labels. That is who I am. You can never take it away from me.

*Sarcastic tone intended.