I’ve decided to offer my services as as a freelancer making and editing Khan Academy-style videos for various math classes, particularly calculus. If you find yourself interested in such services, please contact me at


On Imagine Dragons’ “Amsterdam,” and being gay and Mormon

I don’t know what this song is supposed to be about, but if this song is not about a gay Mormon becoming aware of his sexuality, attempting to deny it, struggling and failing to resist “temptation,” looking for help in trying to live the straight life, hearing and attempting to follow (or cope with) well-meaning advice from more-or-less sympathetic people around him, and ultimately deciding to accept himself and make his own decisions, then I don’t know what it is about. And that, my friends, is my story. Today, on National Coming Out Day, I’m going to tell you some of that story.

I’m sorry, mother / I’m sorry I let you down

The very first person I told was not my mother, but my bishop. I was eighteen, I think, and I had been “struggling with feelings of same-gender attraction,” as the clinical language employed to hold these yucky, sinful feelings at the end of a pair of surgical tongs would have it, for at least four years. I did not want to be this way — gays were bad and terrible and succumbing to this temptation was letting the “natural man” win. I remember sitting on a bus stop bench on my way to school one crisp fall morning, all but crying, pleading with God to tell me that I wasn’t really gay (even though I had a crush on my (male) math professor). Finally I mustered the courage to confess my sinful feelings to my bishop. He was very kind. He said, “That is serious,” and recommended professional counseling. He also recommended that I tell my parents. So the very second person I told was my mother. I walked home, sat on the kitchen counter in my church clothes, and said, “Mom, I have been struggling with same-sex attraction.” She was surprised but promised to help me overcome these sinful impulses. I was grateful; that’s what I wanted to hear at that time. I wanted to hear that I could get through this, and that I wasn’t doomed to be gay.

Over the course of the next eight years, many things changed. I gradually came to accept myself, and to realize that these feelings weren’t sinful. My being gay, and accepting myself as being gay, has been hard on my mom, and I’m sorry about that. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is.

Well, these days I’m fine / No, these days I tend to lie

I wore a lot of masks for a lot of years, and eventually those masks started to chafe. When I lived in San Diego, I went to a singles ward. For those of you unfamiliar with this idea, the plan is that you throw a bunch of young single adults together into a church organization, and then hopefully marriages happen — heterosexual marriages, of course. There’s an expectation hanging in the air that everyone should be dating, and if you’re not, then you are not taking your duties as a young single Mormon seriously. It was during my time in San Diego that I came to accept that I was gay — but before this acceptance, I lied to myself, and to the girls I dated, that everything was totally okay with this situation, and after this acceptance, I still put on my straight mask every Sunday and acted cheerful and bit my tongue whenever a wave of anti-gay sentiment would break over me (and this was in the thick of the first few post-Prop-8 legal fights over gay marriage, so there were plenty of those waves sloshing around). I was not fine, but my mask made me feel a little more safe. It could only ever be temporary, though. There is only so much lying you can do. Masks are heavy, and they make it hard to breathe.

Just by my left brain / Just by the side of the Tin Man

For a lot of years I tried to let my mind overrule my heart. It was important to me to have a wife and a family and a white picket fence and a dog and 2.3 children. It was important for me to stay Mormon. It was going to be okay, because there were people who had made it work. People can change. People are awesome; they can do lots of things. I was going to make it. Even though it was going to leave a lot of needs unfulfilled, it would still fulfill a bunch of other needs, and that complicated calculus was going to work out in my favor somehow. (I wrote that D&S post, btw. I’m done being anonymous about it.)

Eventually, though, I realized that I had a heart all along and I needed to listen to what it said.

“Your time will come, if you wait for it” / It’s hard – Believe me, I’ve tried / but I keep coming up short

The party line of the church when it comes to gay people is that yes, some people are born gay, and we don’t know why, but acting on those impulses is bad, and everything is going to work out in eternity. There seems to be the understanding that being gay is an unfortunate condition of mortality that will magically go away once immortality happens. In other words, it’s pathologized. Something is wrong with you, like if you were born without a foot or something. Don’t worry, you’ll get that foot back when you are resurrected.

The well-meaning advice given to me by a succession of Mormons trying to be sympathetic and understanding while toeing the party line was thus: “Just don’t act on it in mortality. It’ll all work out in heaven, you’ll see.” And, you know, for a long time, that was comforting. But once I started to think about the subtext, it started to feel less like sympathy and more like condescension. “Oh, you poor broken thing, you’ll be fixed after you die.” It started to rankle.

The other thing that really rankled about this was that I felt like these people did not understand how hard it was, and how saturated the world is with heteronormativity. Every straight couple cuddling in church or walking down the street holding hands, every “what’s-your-type” or “who’s-your-celebrity-crush” conversation with the guys, every Valentine’s day commercial where the guy plants a beautiful piece of jewelry in the girl’s coat pocket, every failed relationship with a girl who you actually really like but just can’t love — they’re all reminders that you are not normal, no matter how hard you try. You will always come up short.

I’m sorry, lover / I’m sorry I bring you down

And on that subject: The hardest coming out I ever had to do was to my girlfriend. We had been dating, pretty seriously if long-distance, for eight or nine months. She was from a part of the city that is usually considered to be the blue enclave in an otherwise very red area, and had expressed some pretty liberal views about the church, and so even when I admitted to myself that I was gay (this happened during the time we were dating), I wasn’t too worried. I thought she might be someone I could be Josh Weed with.

One day, though, she told me a story that made it clear that that was not really an option, and I knew that I was going to have to tell her, and that our relationship would end as a result. I still remember that phone call. I was so nervous; my heart was pounding. But it was what needed to happen, for the both of us.

(The fact that I awkwardly bumped into her two weeks later at a restaurant where we’d gone on a date the previous winter was just an amusing bit of cosmic lagniappe.)

Kinda thought it was a mystery / and then I thought I wasn’t meant to be / You set yourself fantastically, “Congratulations, you were all alone”

Why was I gay? Why did I have to struggle with this? Was it some cosmic mistake? Just a big sign from the heavens that I was supposed to spend my life alone, without companionship of the meaningful sort that everyone else gets to experience, and then when I died God would pat me on the back and say “congratulations, you did it, you were alone forever just like I wanted you to be”?

Fortunately, as it turns out, no.

“Your time will come if you wait for it” / … But I won’t wait much longer / ’cause these walls start crashing down

As I’ve alluded in the rest of this post, I am done waiting. Those walls are now rubble on the ground. I broke through the barriers that kept me from accepting myself as myself. It was hard, and it took a long time, and several rounds of counseling, but it was worth it. I make my own decisions now. I have a serious boyfriend now, and it is wonderful — I couldn’t believe how big of a difference there is between this relationship and relationships I have had in the past. The rain falls for the both of us; the sun shines on the both of us. I am happy.

Believe me when I say / that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Observations on moving

(WordPress just said “Beep beep boop” while it prepared this page for me. That made me happy. I always need more deliberate whimsy in my life.)

On Sunday I jumped in the car and drove to my new home for the next year at least. I’ve been collecting some thoughts, observations, and stories over the last week or so about the move, with the aim of compiling them in a blog post. So here goes!

  • I drove I-80 through Cheyenne and then down I-25. I was originally going to go US-40 through Vernal and then to US-34 through Rocky Mountain National Park, but I ended up getting a later start than I wanted, so I took the quicker route.
  • It’s been a while since I’ve driven I-80 through Evanston, so I had forgotten how pretty the stretch just past Echo Reservoir is. The highway follows a cut through red rocks and pine trees, which is a lovely combination — especially because I’m more used to the drive through southern Utah, where it’s just plain red rocks (and maybe some sagebrush if you’re lucky).
  • The drive through Wyoming is a whole lot of boring flatlands punctuated by sudden moments of ridiculous beauty. As soon as you get past Evanston, there’s a solid hour of nothing interesting, but then suddenly at Green River there’s this ridiculous bluff that pops up out of nowhere and a cool tunnel through a mountain, and then there’s nothing again for two hours, and suddenly there’s this really interesting mountain that just stands out all by itself, and then an hour of boring, and then you climb out of Laramie through this gorgeous red rock pass, and on top of the pass there’s this plateau with these neat rock outcroppings all over. 
  • I’m always amused by flipping through radio stations out in the middle of nowhere, just to see what’s on the dial. Usually, at any given point in Wyoming, there is a Jesus station, an NPR station, and some country music. 
  • On that subject: I think that in order to understand country music, you really have to drive through some flatlands under that clear blue sky you only get in the summer. I don’t particularly like country music (with the exception of Johnny Cash and sometimes Garth Brooks), but I do appreciate how it captures the feeling of expanse that’s found in these places.
  • When I got my uhaul box I found that my spice box had fallen over and disgorged its contents all over everything else. Not a big deal, except for the fact that my cumin is in a bottle whose lid has been broken for quite a long time. So now a bunch of my stuff smells like cumin. I wish it had been basil or something because damn but cumin is pungent.
  • My landlord is basically the coolest.
  • I now own a kitchen table and six chairs. SIX! That means I can invite five people over and have chairs for all of them! There is not room in my kitchen for six chairs so I’m going to have to scatter a few throughout my house. 
  • I also now own a coffee table and it makes me feel like an adult at least a little bit.
  • Have been feeling a little insecure lately because my new town is a little smaller, a little countrier, and maybe a little less tolerant than San Diego.
  • Have also been feeling really lucky and really happy lately, for other reasons that I don’t particularly feel like disclosing.

Running out of steam. Maybe more later.

A darn shame: On l’affaire Kelly et al.

(That’s right, I’m mixing several languages in my post title. flex)

About a year and a half ago, By Common Consent published an interesting post entitled “A darn shame“. The gist of the post is that the author firmly believes that the church is the way to God, and the instrument to build the kingdom of God on the earth, but:

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that my gay friends investigate the church. This sickens me. As far as I can tell (a very limited distance), to join the church as a member of the LGBT community is to consign yourself to misery.  Since we are, that we might have joy, I cannot suggest it.

This seems to be the seed around which my thoughts on the excommunication of Kate Kelly have crystallized. Even if I were a believing Mormon once more (I’m not, for a variety of reasons, but I don’t count myself among the bitter exmo crowd), I would be unable, in good conscience, to recommend the church to many of the friends I’ve made in graduate school. They ask questions and want good answers that have good reasons besides “because I said so,” and recent events indicate that the church climate is once more growing colder for questioners.

Recently, it looked like the church was taking steps to distance itself from the Proposition 8 fiasco (though contra this narrative, see here for an example of local leaders involving themselves in the fray in their official capacities), grapple with its views on gay people, extend a welcoming hand toward those who doubt, and frankly address sensitive issues in church history. I and others saw these developments as steps toward greater glasnost and willingness to engage with the murky business of life in a pluralistic, evidence-based society. I was hopeful.

To see why this looked like a pivot toward glasnost, it’s useful to look a little further back in the church’s recent history. Starting in, say, the early 1980’s (or maybe earlier, perhaps as a result of the correlation program beginning in earnest in 1972), there seemed to be a trend toward anti-intellectualism, and in my reading, Boyd Packer was at the center of this movement. In 1981, he gave an address to church educators entitled “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater than the Intellect“, in which he said that “some things that are true are not very useful.” Many have read this as a shot across the bow of Mormon historians who feel it is important to develop the most factual accounts of church history possible. Another address, given by Boyd Packer in May of 1993, is even more direct:

There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. … The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement… and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.

(Speaking as someone who’s all three of those things, back when I was struggling with how much I wanted to be involved with the church, it wounded me more than a little to hear that I was considered a danger to the church.) This period of strong anti-intellectualism culminated in September 1993 with formal church discipline of six intellectuals who had spoken publicly to express their doubts about the status quo. With this history in mind, it’s more evident why the recent actions of the church looked like an opening up to hard questions on thorny issues, and why I was hopeful.

Imagine my surprise (and dismay), then, when news came that disciplinary proceedings had been initiated against Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, and Rock Waterman. (And if you think that the timing is a coincidence and that local leaders didn’t have marching orders from Salt Lake, then would you like to buy this neat bridge?) I had hoped that the church was more willing to substantively address questions, even difficult ones. I had hoped that well-meaning doubt, backed by the spirit of inquiry, would no longer be stigmatized. I had hoped that we had left 1993 behind us. It looks, though, like I was wrong. And that’s a darn shame.

Let’s talk about Led Zeppelin IV for a moment

First of all, rank the tracks on Led Zeppelin IV from best to least best (I avoid the word “worst” on purpose here). Now, do the same for any other rock album, and start comparing head-to-head: the top track to the top track, the second to the second, and so forth. Now obviously the four best tracks on IV are Levee, Stairway, Black Dog, and Rock and Roll, in some order, and I think it’s clear that these four will win each one of those head-to-head matchups. (Indeed, one could persuasively argue that the fourth-best song on IV is better than the second-best, or even the best, song on many other albums.) But what’s incredible about this album is that the fifth- through eighth-best tracks will blow any other album’s deep tracks out of the water.

Let’s see this principle in action. My ranking of IV’s tracks goes something like Levee – Stairway – Black Dog – Rock and Roll – Misty Mountain Hop – Going to California – Evermore – Four Sticks. (You could talk me into interchanging Stairway and Levee or Black Dog and Rock and Roll or California and Evermore. And really, the “least-best” track on the album is Four Sticks?? Any other album is going to compete with that?)

Now let’s compare head-to-head with another iconic album: Van Halen’s debut. The ranking of this album’s tracks is going to be something like Runnin’ – Jamie’s Crying – You Really Got Me – Ain’t Talkin’ – Ice Cream Man – I’m the One – Eruption – Feel Your Love – Little Dreamer – On Fire – Atomic Punk. The first time I’m seriously persuaded to take the Van Halen track over the Led Zeppelin track comes clear down at track 7, where I like Eruption slightly more than Evermore. And I like Feel Your Love better than Four Sticks, but I’ll take Four Sticks over anything in slots 9-11 on the Van Halen album.

The brilliance of individual tracks aside, another place where IV shines is sequencing. Is there a better four-track sequence than Black Dog – Rock and Roll – Evermore – Stairway? Is there a better closing track than Levee? I submit that the answer to both questions is a “no” as resounding and emphatic as the crisp snap of John Bonham’s drums (although VH’s opening four is competitive).

Come at me bro. Tell me I’m wrong.

Quant analysis

So I’m meeting with my advisor on Friday and have to have something productive to show for myself but I can’t brain enough right now to do the qualitative analysis I was planning on, so I’m doing some quant stuff instead. The problem is there’s so much quant stuff to do that I keep starting to do one thing but distracting myself with something else. So I’m going to make a list here so that I can be more focused.

  • ANOVA test/homework fairness questions (DONE)
  • Import and link Calc 2 roster data (DONE)
    • Clean data so that it doesn’t have a bunch of RedIDs for which I have nothing other than an indicator of their Spring 13 enrollment status (DONE – More annoying than I’d thought)
    • Recalculate persistence
  • How do various sub-populations compare in various outcomes across the four treatments? This is a big question that uses a lot of two-way between-groups ANOVA.
    • Sub-populations: people who’ve never had calculus before; gender; race/ethnicity; quartiles on CCR; quartiles on ACT/SAT…
      • Made a variable for the kind of calculus people have had before.
    • Outcomes: beliefs items; final grade; score on final exam; CCI score; CCI normalized gain; persistence…
  • Link focus group protocol items to post-term survey items (DONE-ish. No analyses conducted yet but I know which FG items correspond to which survey items.)
  • Learn R and the IRT packages for R; conduct IRT analysis of CCI items

I’m sure I’ll think of more things but this is a good list for right now.

Here is a thing that happened today

I was leaving the UCSD campus and decided to print off several articles I need to read before Wednesday. I walked into the APM mailroom/printer room, and there were two other people, one of whom left just as I was walking in. I got my computer open and was starting to find the pdfs I needed to print, when the second guy opened the door to walk out, reached for the light switch, and turned off the light. With, y’know, me still standing there in the room.

As the door slowly closed and the light from the hall grew gradually dimmer, I made some noises like “Uh – I – were you – um -” and he rushed back in and was like “Oh I’m so sorry, I forgot about you!”

#unforgettable #thatswhatIam #itsbeenagooddaytoday