Thursday, June 30, 2011

Drinking 101: A word of wisdom

This post is directed at Mormons, gay and straight, who drink or are open to giving it a try. The problem with being raised LDS is that we have parents who don't drink and who therefore have taught us nothing about how it's done. We don't know how to do it! It turns out that, like almost everything, there are sensible, even stylish ways to go about this as well as ways which range from the merely boorish to the downright self-destructive.

This brief guide is intended, dear reader, to spare you much heartache. Trust me, you don't want to learn how to drink in a gay bar. :- )

So, without further introduction, here are MoHoHawaii's guidelines for successful drinking. Prost!

  • Know what a drink is. A drink is a fairly standard measure of alcohol. It's equal to 12 oz. of beer, 6 oz. of wine and 1.5 fl. oz. of 80 proof spirits such as gin, tequila, whiskey or vodka. When we talk about how many drinks a person has had, we're talking about these measures, regardless of the number of glasses that have been used.

  • Drink socially. Drinking is an extraordinarily useful social lubricant. It's been around for millenia. When you start to drink, do it with friends. It's many times more pleasurable than drinking alone.

  • Drink slowly. There's no need to rush. Pace yourself. Drinking too fast is a classic newbie mistake.

  • Don't forget food. Alcoholic beverages are best enjoyed with food. If you have friends over and offer them drinks, serve snacks as well. Wine or beer is naturally paired with dinner. Mixed drinks are a good aperitif, or pre-dinner drink to get the conversation flowing.

    It's generally a bad idea to drink on an empty stomach. An empty stomach will cause you to absorb the alcohol very quickly. You can feel drunk on a single drink if your stomach is empty. This is not a good idea.

  • Measure. If you mix drinks for yourself or friends, you should always measure the booze you use. There are several reasons for this. The first is that cocktails (mixed drinks) that are too strong don't taste good. The second is that if your drinks are too big, they are likely to lead to overdrinking. This is bad. You can always have, or offer a guest, another drink later. Leave the supersizing to Slurpees and Big Gulps. Serve, or consume, a single drink at a time.

    Note: Some bars (outside of Utah) serve large drinks, drinks that really count as doubles (i.e., two drinks in a single serving). If this happens, realize that you are drinking two drinks and adjust accordingly.

  • Try drinks that are slightly sweet if you're new to drinking. People who are just starting to drink generally like flavors that are slightly sweeter than people who have been drinking for many years. For example, you may want to try wine, such as Riesling, that is not fully dry ("dry" means "no sugar"). Similarly, some mixed drinks are sweeter than others.

  • Drink in moderation. It turns out that drinking is good for you. No kidding. People who drink in moderation, which for a medium-sized man is defined as one to four drinks per day, have lower mortality than nondrinkers and heavy drinkers. The effect isn't subtle. Daily moderate drinking adds 3.5 years to average life expectancy. To put this in perspective, access to everything modern medicine has to offer adds seven years to life expectancy, compared to no health care whatsoever. HOWEVER, the health outcomes of heavy drinkers (for example, men who consume more than 5 drinks per day) get worse and worse as the amount of alcohol increases.

  • Know your limit. It turns out that people metabolize alcohol at different rates. Men who are between 150 lbs and 200 lbs can metabolize about one drink per hour. Most women are somewhat lighter than this, and should adjust accordingly. If you take SSRIs (anti-depressants), be aware that these drugs tend to affect your ability to metabolize alcohol. If you're on anti-depressants, you probably should drink to drink less than your peers who are not on these medications. Also, if you are completely new to drinking, you should take it easy and start slow. To get started, I recommend one drink per hour, with a maximum of four to five drinks in any 12 hour period. If you feel sick the next day (i.e., have a hangover or can't remember the previous evening), it's a sign that you've drunk too much. Don't do this. Being drunk is impolite. You will annoy your friends, and possibly endanger yourself.

    Since everyone metabolizes alcohol at different rates, I recommend just being aware of your body. If your speech is slurred, and you feel that your motor coordination is impaired, slow down.

  • Drink lots of water. Alcohol tends to dehydrate you. You should drink one 8 oz. glass of water for each drink you consume. You'll be glad you did the next day.

  • If you're old enough to drink, you're old enough to drink decent stuff. Please, don't buy rotgut (the cheapest brands). You don't necessarily have to drink top-shelf hooch, but in general, quality makes a difference. If you like beer, try beer from local breweries. In Utah, Squatter's and Wasatch make decent beer.

  • Use the right glass. There are different kinds of glasses for different kinds of drinks. Use the right one; glassware is not expensive (try Ikea). And no plastic cups!!!

  • If you live in Utah, buy your beer at the State Liquor Store The beer sold in Utah grocery stores is watered down, 3.2% beer, which is generally nasty. Skip this and go for the good stuff.

  • Don't drink and drive. This is a big subject, but the best advice I have is to have a designated non-drinking driver or to take public transportation if you're going to be drinking.

  • Don't drink much before sex. This is also a big subject. The synopsis is this: alcohol reduces inhibition, which is one of the reasons it's so valuable socially. Parties go a lot better, and people will be less shy if there's something to drink. However, if you're in a situation where you expect sexual activity, you should exercise caution with alcohol. One of the biggest cofactors with HIV infection is intoxication-- you are more likely to forgo precaution against infection (or sleep with the wrong person) if you are drunk.

  • A lot of people who start drinking wonder if they might be prone to alcoholism. There's an easy test. If drinking a little compels you to drink until you get very drunk, and you have a history of not being able to drink moderately, you're probably a person who should be drinking at all. There's no shame in this; if that's you, just don't drink.

    I have a personal testimony of drinking. It's a wonderful way to connect with other people socially. It's a great addition to delicious food and congenial conversation. It's a well-established part of social camaraderie, going back at least 18,000 years of human history. I love to think of our hunter-gatherer ancestors sitting around sharing a brewski and telling stories around the campfire.

    Finally, here are a few tips for things to drink.

    Beers: try microbrews, or beers from Belgium or Germany. Mass-market American beer really isn't fit to drink.

    Wine: start with sweeter wines and work your way to drier wines. Wine can be expensive. If you're budget conscious, beer or mixed drinks are probably a better deal. Wine generally means "red wine." White wine is inexplicably popular in the U.S. It's perfectly fine to pair red wine with seafood dishes.

    Mixed drinks: There are a lot of choices. Here are a handful classic cocktails that get served to guests in the MoHoHawaii household. Be sure to make these with good quality spirits.

    2/3 oz. Rose's Lime juice
    2 oz. gin (Beefeaters or Plymouth)

    Shake with ice until very, very cold; strain into a cocktail glass.

    2 oz. bourbon whiskey (Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, etc.)
    1 oz. sweet vermouth (Noilly Prat, red label)
    Dash Angostura bitters

    Stir with ice (don't shake, or you get unappetizing foam on top); strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a preserved cherry.

    Manhattan (variation)
    2 oz. bourbon whiskey (Wild Turkey, Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, etc.)
    1/2 oz. sweet vermouth (Noilly Prat, red label)
    1/2 oz. coffee liqueur (Kahlua)

    Stir with ice until very cold; strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a preserved cherry. This is amazingly delicious and doesn't taste like coffee.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    My MoHo weekend

    My boyfriend Tobi and I had a houseguest for the four-day Pride weekend: Invictus Pilgrim! It's the first time that I've hosted a blogging colleague at my home, and IP's visit also corresponded with a reconnection of sorts for me with my LDS roots. As you can imagine, we talked a lot about the Church, spirituality, coming out, family relationships, etc. (Both IP and I like to talk. A lot. From about 8am to midnight. You can't shut us up. No surprise there. Tobi was very patient. :- ))

    My friend John G-W has written before on his blog about the unique kind of fellowship he receives from his MoHo friends. I can really relate to that. I live my life in a very non-Mormon environment (although I have a large LDS extended family), so it was nice to be able to connect with a friend who understood the Mormon side of me.

    Tobi, IP and I had a very full weekend. We had dim sum with a very charming straight couple who are active in the Mormon Stories organization. We went to a very well-attended MoHo breakfast (thanks, Moving Horizon, for hosting that). There were several concerts, street fairs, festive dinners at home and, of course, the main event which was our local Pride parade. The parade had 400,000 spectators this year.

    I don't really have any deep insights to share in this post, except to express gratitude for the possibility of friendship in this life. We can love each other. We can support each other and bear each other's burdens. And, when that happens, it feels great. Thanks for being there, IP. I'm honored to have you as a friend.

    To one and all, Happy Pride!

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    Patriarchy, redux

    A recent post on a Mormon-themed group blog asked the question What are some of the common themes that emerge in patriarchal societies? It then compared these societies with Mormonism. There were a number of parallels.

    To me, the most interesting aspect of this article was what it didn't mention. Here are the salient items that I thought were missing:

    • Persecution of homosexuals. Iran and Saudi Arabia prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality. Other patriarchal societies criminalize it. In Mormonism, homosexuality is the sin next to murder, and the Church uses its political muscle against gay civil rights.

      Homosexuality, especially male homosexuality, is a repudiation of the patriarchal order’s insistence on strict sexual roles. Gender roles, as Elder Bruce Porter recently put it, are “woven into the very fabric of the universe” for patriarchal cultures. They are the one nonnegotiable item of patriarchal power structures.

      The Church’s most strongly worded statement of patriarchal gender roles, The Family: A Proclamation to the World, was issued in response to increasing civil tolerance for homosexuals. This isn’t a coincidence.

    • Male preoccupation with female modesty. Patriarchal societies in the Arab world and elsewhere enforce restrictive clothing standards for women, up to and including full veil.

      In LDS culture, female modesty is a frequent sermon topic. (“Male modesty” doesn’t exist. The shirts and skins basketball game in the Cultural Hall is still around. Male modesty can only jokingly be referred to in LDS circles, usually in relation to homosexuality. Like a lot things in LDS culture, “modesty” involves gender.)

    • Denial of female sexuality. Patriarchal cultures do not generally do not admit the possibility of women as people with legitimate sexual needs of their own. Instead, women are viewed by their “roles” as wives (providers of sexual release to men) and mothers (asexual nurturers of children).

      In Mormon culture, you often see women put on the pedestal of motherhood in a way that neglects the existence of female sexual desire and the need for female sexual fulfillment. The sexually empowered woman is not an LDS archetype.

      An odd reflection of the patriarchal denial of female sexuality can be seen in how partriarchal societies treat male homosexuality compared to female homosexuality. In places like Saudi Arabia, female homosexuality is not against the law. Basically, it is not acknowledged to exist. The reason is that the patriarchal view of sex requires a penis to be present. No penis, no sex. No penetration, no sex. In LDS culture, male homosexuality receives the lion's share of attention. Lesbians are rarely mentioned by Mormon leaders. (Penises are, like, way super important in the dudeocracy.)

    • Polygamy.Patriarchal societies, such as Islam, often practice polygyny (and never polyandry).

      Mormon culture has polygamist roots, and elements of polygamist teachings (D&C 132, along with asymmetrical rules for the sealing ordinance, for example) are still on the books.

    • Placement of responsibility for male sexual behavior upon women. Most patriarchal cultures view male sexual desire for women as a consequence of female seduction. In these cultures, women who are raped are punished for inflaming male desire.

      In LDS culture, there have been recent sermons that tell young women that they are responsible for the moral purity of young men.

    I'm probably not alone in finding this list a bit creepy.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Change is good

    One of the weirdest things that ever happened was when my college-age son and I were going through some old boxes and he found a copy of the Book of Mormon with his mother's and my photo pasted in the front with our testimonies. The photo was older than he was. This was from one of those ward missionary projects where everyone had to make a bunch of these personalized books and give them to the missionaries to hand out.

    The stiff smiles in the photo and the boilerplate confession of faith (including set phrases!) sent me back years. I recalled the person I was at the time of the photo-- closeted, nearly suicidal, and just barely managing to keep the cognitive dissonance from leaking out. And judgmental.

    My son was not raised in the church, so the whole thing was extra strange to him. I looked at him sheepishly and gave a what-can-you-do kind of shrug. It was awkward and funny at the same time.

    Anyway, changes can be profound. To all of you who are in the process of reevaluating your position with respect to the Church, here's to you! Change is good.

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Coming out video

    Here's a short coming out video that I enjoyed. It's by a very well-spoken young gay Mormon. I wish him well. He deserves all the happiness that life has to offer.

    (Running time 4:11)

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    LDS message for Pride

    Timed for the annual gay pride celebrations, the LDS Church's official magazine, the Ensign, has an anti-gay manifesto in its current issue.

    The article is written by Elder Bruce D. Porter a General Authority who was formerly a political science professor at BYU. The article's subject is political, not spiritual.

    Placing political op-ed pieces in the Church's educational materials is not a good idea. In fact, mixing politics with religion, in general, is a bad idea. It results in bad politics and bad religion.

    Three things struck me when reading the piece. First, there's the virulence of its anti-gay sentiment. The article contains no words of compassion, just condemnation and a call to political action against families the Church doesn't approve of. Then there's the cowardice. The article doesn't mention gay people by name, and it doesn't use the term homosexuality. It is written entirely using code words. And finally, the article repeatedly claims victim status for the Church. It evades all responsibility for the disaster that was Proposition 8.

    You can read the essay for yourself, but I will respond to a few of the most egregious parts.

    The first four paragraphs lay the foundation of a straw man argument. Porter presents as controversial the completely uncontroversial position that the family is an important social institution. (Can you see where this is going yet?) After this set up, Porter gets ready to attack his straw man:

    [M]any of society’s leaders and opinion-makers increasingly seem to have lost their bearings when it comes to understanding the vital importance of the family.


    We live in a day ... when good is called evil and evil good. Those who defend the traditional family ... are mocked and ridiculed. On the other hand, those ... who seek to redefine the very essence of what a family is, are praised and upheld as champions of tolerance. Truly, the world has turned upside down.


    For the record, those of us who are on the receiving end of the Church's political campaigns do not mock the Church. We disagree with the Church's political actions, and we are harmed by the practical consequences of those actions. There's a difference between disagreeing and mocking, even if the Church doesn't see it.

    As for the argument that proponents of marriage equality want to "redefine the very essence of what a family is," one can also ask if President Kimball redefined "the very essence" of LDS priesthood in 1978. Extending the rights and benefits of marriage to a small minority of people has no effect on existing marriages, just as giving the LDS priesthood to blacks did not "redefine" the priesthood already held by others.

    As usual, just exactly how same-sex marriage is an attack on the traditional family or on traditional marriage is not explained, it is merely taken for granted. For a thorough discussion of these issues, I would recommend to Elder Porter the transcript of the federal court case that overturned Prop. 8 in California. (Why was Elder Porter, an expert from BYU, not a witness at that trial?)

    Next, Porter dismisses tolerance as a virtue while simultaneously accusing any who engage in debate over gay issues as intolerant:

    Latter-day Saints are often accused of narrow-mindedness or lack of tolerance and compassion because of our belief in following precise standards of moral behavior as set forth by God’s prophets.... Until recently in our national history, tolerance referred to racial and religious non-discrimination....

    Today, however, the world is in danger of abandoning all sense of absolute right or wrong, all morality and virtue, replacing them with an all-encompassing “tolerance” that no longer means what it once meant. An extreme definition of tolerance is now widespread that implicitly or explicitly endorses the right of every person to choose their own morality, even their own “truth,” as though morality and truth were mere matters of personal preference. This extreme tolerance culminates in a refusal to recognize any fixed standards or draw moral distinctions of any kind. Few dare say no to the “almighty self” or suggest that some so-called “lifestyles” may be destructive, contrary to higher law, or simply wrong.

    When tolerance is so inflated out of all proportions, it means the death of virtue, for the essence of morality is to draw clear distinctions between right and wrong. All virtue requires saying no firmly and courageously to all that is morally bankrupt.

    I don't know where to begin with this kind of twisted and self-serving statement. First of all, the Church is hardly in a position to bring up racial tolerance. Its racist policies were firmly in place within recent memory (I grew up with them), and it used virtually the same language in arguing against civil rights for blacks as it now uses for gay people! The argument, then as now, was (mis)framed in terms of morality and supporting families.

    Now, as then, the Church seems unable to distinguish between what influence it should exert over civil laws and the influence it has over religious laws. Why isn't Elder Porter railing against the evils of alcohol and coffee? Where's the Church's support for a referendum that would outlaw alcoholic beverages and Starbucks? And if religious views are so important to respect, where's Elder Porter's support of gay-affirming churches who want to bless gay unions?

    The theme of Mormons-as-victims continues:

    Curiously enough, this new modern tolerance is often a one-way street. Those who practice it expect everyone to tolerate them in anything they say or do, but show no tolerance themselves toward those who express differing viewpoints or defend traditional morality. Indeed, their intolerance is often most barbed toward those of religious conviction.

    In other words, Porter thinks the right of free expression is stifled by open political debate. Porter confuses the right of free expression with an (imagined) right to say whatever one wants without having others who disagree get their chance to present their own arguments. But, apparently, the opinions of others (including those actually harmed by the Church's political actions) don't matter. According the Porter, the Church knows better than the people whose lives it seeks to disrupt:

    By defending the traditional family [i.e., legislating against families the Church doesn't approve of], Latter-day Saints bless all people whether others recognize it now or not.

    Excuse me for not extending my thanks as I watch my partner lose his right to live in the same country as me due to the Church's efforts to "bless" my life whether I recognize it or not. Please, spare yourselves the effort! The Church is accruing some pretty bad karma with its effort to 'bless' people like me by attacking the one thing in our lives we care most about: our families.

    In the middle of all the politics, Elder Porter does bring up one religious point. However, it's the heretical idea that has recently been introduced by LDS leaders to the effect that God's love is conditional.

    God’s love is sometimes described as unconditional.... But while God’s love is all-encompassing, His blessings are highly conditional, including the very blessing of being able to feel and experience His love.

    [This is an example of bad religion, and it's not coincidental that it is linked to unjust politics.]

    Finally, it's back to politics for the wrap-up, with a call to political action:
    The Church is a small institution compared with the world at large. Nevertheless, the Latter-day Saints as a people should not underestimate the power of our example, nor our capacity to persuade public opinion, reverse negative trends, or invite seeking souls to enter the gate and walk the Lord’s chosen way. We ought to give our best efforts, in cooperation with like-minded persons and institutions, to defend the family and raise a voice of warning and of invitation to the world. The Lord expects us to do this, and in doing so to ignore the mocking and scorn of those in the great and spacious building, where is housed the pride of the world.

    The sense of persecution is just breathtaking, and in case you missed it, the call to "give our best efforts" means to donate money, and to do this "in cooperation with like-minded persons and institutions" means to give money to groups like the National Organization for Marriage, a political organization that was created by the Church to get Prop. 8 on the ballot in California. (Elder Holland's son Matthew was a member of the original board of directors.)

    But there's more:

    May we as members of the Church rise up and assume our divinely appointed role as a light to the nations. May we sacrifice and labor to rear a generation strong enough to resist the siren songs of popular culture, a generation filled with the Holy Ghost so that they may discern the difference between good and evil, between legitimate tolerance and moral surrender.

    Many younger LDS people are not okay with this message. It is not "popular culture" that makes young Mormons sensitive to the plight of their gay peers; it is an emerging sense of justice. I know many devout members of the Church who are heartbroken over the harmful ideas that Elder Porter repeats here. Many members are ashamed of what their Church is doing, and rightly so.

    Elder Porter, please know that demeaning someone else's family does not strengthen your own.

    I thought things were changing with these folks. Apparently, they are not. Is the Church warming up for the fight in Minnesota in 2012?

    There is a silver lining here. It's clear that Elder Porter's op-ed sermon is very defensive. He knows that the Church's position is unpopular with many members of the Church and that its involvement in Prop. 8 was a PR disaster. The subtext of the article is a sense of panic that the Church is losing this one.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    It Gets Better - Background

    This is a recent talk by Dan Savage, creator of the It Gets Better project, given at Google. He explains the origin of the project.

    What Savage says in this talk is very relevant for Mormons and quite thought provoking. Effectively, it's a story about the power of social media and the inability of institutions to control the channels of communication to young people.

    (Run time 46:43, very worthwhile)

    The It Gets Better project has had a big impact. While browsing through some of the videos, I found this one by an LDS lesbian which had an intriguing comment:
    Natalie, I just wanted to let you know that my awesome BYU professor showed your video in class to help us understand a little more about how hard it would be to be LDS and struggling with ssa. Thanks for sharing!

    They're showing friggin' It Gets Better videos in BYU classes now. Let that one sink in for a minute.