Friday, January 19, 2018

I Shall Miss Loving Him

The next Vancouver Men’s Chorus concert is called Gays of Our Lives. I’ll get to the “Diva Medley” eventually.

We’re also singing “I Shall Miss Loving You,” by Peter McWilliams and Kris Anthony. Running through this particular song at rehearsal last week transported me to my life in Chicago long ago. I was Director of the LGBT Rights/AIDS & Civil Liberties Project at the ACLU of Illinois, and sang with Windy City Gay Chorus from 1995 to 2000.

Most of the songs and the many memorial services from that era blur together. However, I remember the last time I sang “I Shall Miss Loving You.” It was exactly eighteen years ago this month, at the memorial for one of our singers. My friend Jim Palmer.

The miraculous new HIV/AIDS medications came along too late to stop the disease’s progress through Jim’s body. Still, he wanted to see the new millennium. He barely made it. Jim was thirty years old.

I shall miss loving you.
I shall miss the comfort of your embrace….

I shall miss the joy of your comings,
And pain of your goings, and,
After a time,
I shall miss loving you.

As I previously wrote, our June concert also includes Dance On Your Grave,” a furious danse macabre that channeled our communal rage at the cruel and inadequate response to AIDS. In contrast, “I Shall Miss Loving You” captures a different aspect of that era: learning how to live with grief. I was not the only member of VMC with tears in my eyes as we rehearsed the song.

I’m surprised I found a photograph of Jim where he isn’t the one holding a rainbow-colored martini.

As a writer, I have a complicated relationship with Memory. Seeing pictures or chatting with old friends can trigger the retrieval of long-lost events from the deepest recesses of our minds. But I’m most interested in what our brains hold on to, after the passage of time filters, sorts, and shapes our core memories.

This is the Jim who endures: charming and fun, kind and boyish, handsome but modest. He was the perfectly poised “Plus One” – ready to accompany you to the opera, family dinner, or a leather S & M convention. With an implausibly suitable outfit for each already waiting in his closet.

After eighteen years, I’m amused to discover virtually all of my specific memories of Jim involve episodes that are patently unsuitable for a family blog that my mother and daughter may read. So this will have to do:

Jim went to Vassar, not long after the historic women’s college finally admitted men. He dressed like a fop and bantered like Oscar Wilde. Jim was never the butchest spoon in the drawer.

But this was the 1990’s, long before the internet and It Gets Better. So Jim didn’t formally come out to his parents until he was in his twenties. They were the usual Reagan era WASPy conservatives; his dad was ex-military.

Coming out was stressful for Jim, but it went well. As usual, his parents already knew – but not because of Jim’s foppish taste in youthful attire. Instead, a couple of years before, the FBI told Jim’s parents he was gay. It came up during a background check for his dad’s security clearance.

When I was a young Mormon intellectual at BYU, I heard numerous debates over “where is the Mormon Shakespeare or Mozart?” No doubt the same hand-wringing discussions have continued over the last two decades without me. Great Mormon art has been prophesied by every Prophet since Joseph Smith founded the church in 1830. We’re still waiting.1

1In a delightful bit of irony, the defining theater event of our era, Angels in America, centers on a closeted gay Mormon lawyer and his family, but it was written by gay Jewish playwright Tony Kushner. And the most successful Broadway musical this century is the funny and profane Book of Mormon, from the iconoclastic creators of South Park.

Mormonism bubbled out of one of the perennial religious percolations that infuse American history. In many ways, the LDS Church is a Puritan reaction (and overreaction) to the “vain repetitions” and pope-ish apostasy that preceded it. When it comes to music, Mormons are pretty much Philistines, generally sticking with simple hymns played on a piano. Or maybe a cheap electric organ, if some matron or closet case from the congregation can remember their childhood music lessons.

This means I grew up without being exposed to any of the great church music that occupied composers for hundreds of years. Attending Anglican services and singing in the excellent choir at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle finally introduced me to the glories of Western music. It’s what I’m listening to right now.

In addition to its English text, “I Shall Miss Loving You” includes an antiphonal counter melody in Latin:  Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem. It’s the heart of the ancient requiem mass: “O Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, grant them peace.” The most sublime musical experiences of my life include singing Barber’s setting of the “Agnus Dei” (it’s the choral version of his famous “Adagio For Strings”) with Windy City Gay Chorus, as well as singing Herbert Howells’ exquisite modern Requiem at Saint Mark’s.

Sadly, however, Vancouver Men’s Chorus is omitting the Latin text. We will be singing “loo” instead, because our conductor is uncomfortable when VMC’s music gets too churchy. So I’m bummed.

Yes, I realize that makes me a complete hypocrite. My own PTSD was caused by anti-gay trauma inflicted by the Mormons. Many LGBT individuals are equally scarred by experiences in other faith communities. Sigh. I suppose I’m lucky I wasn’t exposed to incense or Mozart as a child.

Regardless of our backgrounds, grief is a process. The familiar Latin requiem text memorializes the lost, and also our loss. For example, the powerful movement “Dies Irae” – “Day of Wrath” – from Mozart’s Requiem channels my anger, just like “Dance On Your Grave” from Naked Man. But rage and pain eventually wear away, leaving love and remembrance.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine:
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord: let perpetual light shine upon them.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Astrology for Nerds

I can’t resist online personality tests. They combine several of my favorite things: complex typologies and patterns, fault lines between tribal and individual identity, intersections between biological and cultural development, and amusing cocktail chatter. For example, I recently came out of the closet as a “Neutral Good” person, at least according to the potential moral alignments for characters in Dungeons & Dragons.

Personality is hard wired – an immutable characteristic” as the Supreme Court used to say. In my family, my brothers and I all look sorta like each other (and both parents). We also exhibit similar personality traits, to the annoyance of our partners and children. In contrast, my three kids came from separate adoptions. They all have blue eyes and an addiction to Apple devices, but not much else in common. Each has a very distinctive personality.

One of most people’s defining personality traits is our identity as either an introvert or an extrovert. The usual caveats apply – ambiverts exist, this trait can be experienced as spectrum, individual results may vary, blah blah blah. But roughly two thirds of the population exhibit primarily extroverted characteristics, and one third of us are introverts. The good third.

Here’s a chart identifying some of the attributes most commonly associated with introverts and extroverts. You don’t need to be an extrovert to like people or socialize, and you don’t need to be an introvert to enjoy quiet time alone. Instead, here is the key distinction between the two personality types: extroverts recharge their batteries by being social; introverts find socializing to be draining, and recharge by spending time alone.

Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking helped me recognize my fundamentally introverted nature, and my need for tools to navigate our boisterous world. This is particularly important for anyone who by choice or nature is often expected to speak out in social situations. In my life, the tyranny of the closet has created an additional challenge: wearing any mask puts me at risk of further damage to my authentic self.

Introversion is one of those minority traits that survived thousands of generations of human evolution. Apparently both extroverts and introverts have something to contribute to our very social species. Just like the persistent presence of LGBT individuals in the population. However, it only takes a tenth of the number of introverts for the gays to spice things up. We fall between the 2% worldwide proportion of red hair, and 8% for blue eyes. (Blue-eyed, red-haired homosexuals are like unicorns.)

The most famous personality typology is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. MBTI was developed seventy years ago by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, based on a conceptual framework for human psychology originally proposed by Carl Jung. MBTI evaluates an individual’s approach to experiencing the world on four binary dimensions, resulting in sixteen distinct combinations. That’s seven more possibilities than the nine you get with D&D’s moral alignments.

Frankly, I never remember what any of the letters mean after the initial I or E (for Introvert and Extrovert). And I can’t be bothered to explain the difference between Sensors v. Intuitives, Thinkers v. Feelers, or Judgers v. Perceivers. Go ahead and google them for yourself.

Over the years, Human Resources folks have used MBTI to evaluate workplace dynamics, and educators have used it for career advice. Official instruments for evaluating MBTI types are rigorous and expensive. Fortunately, the Internet provides numerous free and easy alternatives. For example:

Here’s a list of the sixteen types, with their percentage distribution in the general population. MBTI adherents do not agree on labels or shorthand descriptions for each, so don’t blame me for these examples.
  • ISTJ (6%): "Trustee". Dependable and decisive in practical affairs.
  • ISTP (5%): "Artisan". Impulsive thrill seekers - good with tools.
  • ISFJ (6%): "Conservator". Loyal people with a desire to help.
  • ISFP (5%): "Artist". Creative people - keenly developed senses.
  • INTJ (1%): "Scientist". Pragmatic and decisive - system builders.
  • INTP (1%): "Architect". Precise in thought and language.
  • INFJ (1%): "Author". Complicated people, driven to help others.
  • INFP (1%): "Questor". A sense of honor - somewhat lost in life.
  • ESTJ (13%): "Administrator". Responsible - pillars of strength.
  • ESTP (13%): "Promotor". Dynamic, competitive entrepreneurs.
  • ESFJ (13%): "Seller". Sociable - outstanding hosts or hostesses.
  • ESFP (13%): "Entertainer". Warm, optimistic, witty and generous.
  • ENTJ (5%): "Field Marshal". Driven to lead - natural executives.
  • ENTP (5%): "Inventor". Innovative people - open to possibilities.
  • ENFJ (5%): "Pedagogue". Helping others fulfill their potential.
  • ENFP (5%): "Journalist". Uncanny sense of motivations of others.
My MBTI test results always converge on INFP.  (Spoiler alert – INFP is the worst possible fit for the legal profession.)

I’m ambivalent about Myers-Briggs personality types.

Maggie Koerth-Baker, a writer at Nate Silver’s analytical website, recently wrote about the attractions and deficiencies of personality typologies like MBTI. She describes MBTI as “astrology for nerds” based on “junk science.” The fundamental problem is “personality traits fall on a bell curve and most of us will be near the middle of the distribution. When you try to categorize people by type, you end up with a lot of people who are placed in boxes that seem far apart, but whose distribution of personality is actually pretty close to each other.” 

Nevertheless, personality traits are real. At least some of the specific components of MBTI have demonstrable validity, such as the “I” versus “E” of introversion and extroversion. Koerth-Baker directs MBTI and Buzzfeed quiz obsessives to other tests that instead look at individual traits with quantifiable measures. “The most popular — used by the vast majority of scientists who study personality — is called the Big Five, a system that organizes personality around five broad clusters of traits: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience.” I’ll return to this topic when I write about Lawyer Personalities.

Logomania is our brain’s instinct to either find or create coherent patterns in our experience. MBTI is mostly just another horoscopic obsession, with a lot of projection and confirmation bias going on. You might as well plan your life based on fortune cookies, or your birth in the traditional Chinese calendar's Yang Wood Year of the Dragon. (Did I mention I’m also a Taurus? But not stubborn.)

Hence my ambivalence about MBTI: secretly I can’t resist giving it a little logomaniacal credence, because I recognize a kernel of useful insight. But I’m embarrassed about it.

So, as usual in these situations, I hide behind humor. I will therefore give the last word to blogger Heidi Priebe at with some of her tongue in cheek tributes to each of the sixteen Myers-Briggs types:

Bonus Myers-Briggs Typologies:

Impatient MBTI Shorthand