to the mormons who are hurting right now

I have a fair amount of liberal LDS friends and this year has been a rough one for them. Today I read a blog post: It Hurts To Be A Mormon Right Now that I think summarizes how many of them feel at the moment. It’s difficult to know if that pain is isolated to those “new order Mormons”, or if it goes even deeper because, frankly, most Mormons don’t want to talk about this sort of thing.

I usually refrain from commenting publicly on the dealings of the LDS church (unless they do something to influence the political landscape, then all bets are off). I’m no longer LDS, religious, or even spiritual, really, and know full well that once you leave the LDS church, your opinion on such things no longer matters to those on the inside. It was how I handled such people when I was LDS, “Oh, they left the church. Oh.” That second “oh” was a dismissal. Nothing they said on the subject was relevant anymore. Because they left. The fact that even though I spent almost 30 years in the church, read all of the Standard Works, read the Book of Mormon more times than I can even remember, went to the temple, served a mission, read the Missionary Library, Church History Institute Manual, (etc. etc.), people act as though as soon as I left, I didn’t have a right to weigh in anymore because I’m an outsider. And outsiders don’t understand us.

But I do understand.

I understand what it was like to feel as though you were part of the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times and to feel the majesty of that. To feel loved by God. To feel God answering your prayers. To feel love for your Church and to feel like you belong. I know the feeling of hearing the prophet’s voice and know that they were conveying the Word of God. I understand those feelings.

But I also understand what it was like to have the feeling that the church you love isn’t what you thought it was. To feel the anxiety of wondering what else has been left out of the narrative. To feel that maybe what I value and what the church values aren’t the same things. To feel questioning, disappointment, regret. To feel that you might not belong as well as you thought. I understand those feelings, too.

There are a lot of people, people I know, for whom going to church really hurts right now. To those people, I just want to say I understand. Unlike some, I know that you aren’t looking for reasons to leave. Quite the contrary, you are desperate to stay. I understand that, even though you may consider me a friend, you don’t want my path to be your path. I understand that, too. But, in spite of that, should you feel the need to to talk to someone who understands, who honestly doesn’t care if you leave or if your stay as long as you end up in a place of lasting peace and love, then call me. Or send me a text. Or a Facebook message. Or invite yourself over for dinner. If I am not that friend for you, speak to someone. No one can walk this path for you, but it helps to walk it with someone.

Be gentle with yourself, friend. I hope that however all this turns out for you, you arrive a place where you can have a quiet heart and mind.


intro to being an ally

Your best friend is a gay Mormon and you saw the pain that she went through to acknowledge her sexuality and navigate her role in the church and her family. Or perhaps you saw the protests in Ferguson and wondered what if you weren’t white and your own kid was in that situation. Or maybe you saw how your sister worked and sacrificed at her job only to be paid less and consistently passed over for promotions.

And you want to do something, anything, to help.

Awesome. You are taking the first steps towards being an activist. I know the word “activist” has a negative connotation, especially in the LDS community, but just look at the word, itself. “Activist” simply means “one who acts”. If you do something to help, if you act, you’re an activist. And that’s something to be proud of.

Now, it can be tricky when you are an activist trying to help a group for which you personally aren’t a member. For these people, the term “ally” is often used. But being an ally is no easy task. It may seem like you are constantly saying and doing the wrong thing and that probably is because you are constantly saying and doing the wrong thing. You’ll probably find this extremely hard to deal with. After all, you are in this to help people, not hurt them more. Sometimes it may seem that you are doing more harm than good and it would be better if you stopped trying to “help” at all. But don’t give up! There are some things you can do to avoid those very common mistakes among allies. But first, we have to talk about a few foundational things.

Privilege Trigger Warning: I’m about to talk about privilege

People in positions of privilege often get really upset when it’s implied that they are, well, in a position of privilege. They think the assumption is being made that they haven’t worked for the things that they have in life. For them, privilege means that there are people out there that think that because they are white and male, for example, that their life has been easy and that everything has been handed to them. But this is not what privilege really means. Privilege means that our society gives more advantage to some groups than other groups. That’s pretty much it. You still have to work hard and take advantage of opportunities in life, but there are some groups for whom those opportunities are far fewer because it’s much less likely that people will give them the benefit of the doubt, no matter how hard they work. Some succeed, of course, but the odds are not in their favor.

A very simple example of this comes from my elementary school. My parents and family were very well respected. We weren’t rich, but we were seen as honest, good people. Which was true in almost every case. Very early in my life, I got the reputation as a “good kid”. One day in elementary school, when I was walking back from the cafeteria with a friend, there was a really, really annoying kid from a younger grade that was provoking me. I had had enough of it so I started throwing rocks at him. A little later, I was pulled out of my class by this kid’s teacher who asked me if I had thrown rocks at the kid. I admitted that I did, but that he was calling me names (mind you, even at the time I wasn’t deeply hurt by what the kid was saying, just annoyed).

“I thought so,” she said, “I told him Clint wouldn’t have done that unless he had had a good reason,” and I was allowed back to my classroom and he was punished for provoking me. Let’s review: a younger kid was being annoying, I responded much more violently than was reasonable, and he was punished while I faced no consequences. You see, I was a “good kid” and “good kids” didn’t do bad things so if it was done by a “good kid”, it must have really been a good thing. He was a “bad kid” who did “bad things”. My reputation as a “good kid” meant that even though what I did was worse, objectively, what he did was deemed worse because he was a “bad kid”. And that’s kind of how privilege works. Some people are treated better than others, not just because of their actions, but because of the assumptions make about the generalizations of the people involved.

Fast forward to college. I had maintained my reputation as a “good kid” in college mostly by virtue doing things a “good kid” would do. I wasn’t using my reputation to my advantage or being false, it was simply how I interacted with the world. We were allowed to use the editing suite for any projects we wanted, not just school projects, as long as they weren’t commercial. A friend was working on a short film and was editing the movie with some other friends that included someone that wasn’t currently a student. I was in the editing suite cutting my own project, but I was part of discussions about their project as they worked collaboratively.

Later, I was pulled aside by a professor who asked if I had been involved in my friend’s short film. I said that, no, I was not involved in the project. He was angry that a non-student had been allowed in the editing suite, which was against school policy. There were tens of thousands of dollars of equipment in the suite so it wasn’t an unreasonable policy to only allow students in who unlocked the door with their student ID (which maintained an access log). Later I became angry. Everyone on that project were “good kids” and nothing bad was going to happen. I felt the assumption that these kids would steal anything from the room to be deeply disrespectful.

Basically, I had had someone check our privilege. It didn’t matter that they were “good kids”. They broke a rule and being “good kids” shouldn’t have absolved them from the consequences of their actions (as minor as those consequences ended up being). “Privilege” doesn’t demand to be treated equally, “privilege” demands to be treated better and gets very angry when it is treated the same as everyone else.

What does this have to do with being an ally?

Most Frustrations Allies Express Stem From Privilege

Saying that privilege is the root of most of the problems that new allies face sounds like an oversimplification, but when you look at the most common complaints and frustrations that new allies have, this can become more apparent. Often times frustration comes from pushback at saying the “wrong thing”. You mean well, but people seem to always jump all over you every time you say something. Even if they do so in a polite way, it can be frustrating to face such frequent resistance. There are some frequently uttered statements from new allies that will face pushback from most minority communities.

“It feels like my contributions aren’t really valued.”

Perhaps you are being unfairly treated, but it’s also likely that it’s not so much that your contributions aren’t valued, it’s that they aren’t given extra value. This probably feels untrue to the heartfelt ally (you are there because you value equality, after all), but often times we expect people who are “lower” than us to defer to us and our opinions. This happens often when men enter feminist communities and are not used to being dismissed, shut down, or criticized by women. They aren’t trying to be sexist, of course, but many, many women in the U.S. are raised to defer to men in conversations and we all get used to it happening that way, even if it seems like we are having an equally weighted conversation. In feminist conversations, those dynamics are usually not adhered to and to the man used to them, it seems disrespectful and downright rude, but it’s because we’re experiencing for the first time what it is like to be a woman on the other side of our conversations. It’s not like what you have to say isn’t valued, it’s just that usually you experience value inflation and you’re now experiencing a more equitable dialog.

“It shouldn’t be so hard to help.”

This is related to the first statement, but more easily illustrates the arrogance of privilege. This statement implies that the solution is simple and if people would just let you help, you could make a real difference. The reality is activism is very, very hard. There are reasons why sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. exist in the world still. If they were easy to solve, they would have been solved already. You may have some good ideas as a new ally, but it’s more likely your ideas aren’t taking into account a lot of considerations that you aren’t aware of or perhaps ignore a long history of social dynamics that prevent your idea from ever working and so your thoughts and ideas may seem to be constantly resisted. That’s not saying that you don’t have something to offer and that your ideas don’t have some value, but trying to change the hearts and minds has never been nor will ever be easy.

“I’m so tired of hearing about x.”

You are probably saying this because you have been so emotionally enveloped in x that you are simply exhausted. You are probably saying this because you want to show your friends in the minority community just how much x has meant to you. The problem is that you are complaining about something that isn’t actually happening to you. It’s affecting you, of course, but it’s affecting you from a position of privilege because, in reality, it doesn’t affect or represent your day to day experience. But for those in the minority community, if every much does, and hearing you say that you are tired of it may be met with exasperation because, well, they are the ones to whom this actually is affecting. Sure, you may be emotionally drained from the week-long outrage of following stories about Ferguson, MO, but you know who is more tired than you? Black people, for whom it was a much more direct representation of their daily life and hearing you as a white person complain about it won’t likely garner much sympathy.

“I’m an x, so I know what it’s like to face discrimination.”

This may seem unrelated to privilege because it comes from a place of discrimination. While there are common themes in discrimination and prejudice, but the differences of situation between minority groups are significant and this attitude can actually incubate a lot of ugly privilege even in minority communities. For example, the string of transphobia that you sometimes find in the gay male community or the homophobia that exists in corners of the black civil rights movement. The thing with privilege is that there are different kinds and you can be privileged in one respect but not privileged in another, such as the case of a white, middle-class woman or a white middle-class gay man. (If you are a poor black trans-woman, well, things are pretty stacked against you.)

“I just focus on loving each other.” or “We should be treating each other with respect.” or “I don’t discuss politics; I focus on people.”

This is often employed by people who want to engage with the minority community, but don’t feel comfortable with certain political assertions made by the group. Everyone chooses their level of engagement, of course, and not everyone in minority communities agrees with the nuance of politics, but there are usually some core tenants that most people in the community share. An ally who expresses the above is often uncertain or uncomfortable with those political assertions. This also is rooted in the privilege of being uncertain. A man raising a child with his same-sex partner has less of the luxury of uncertainty as the rights afforded by marriage make a real difference in his life.

Such statement above are not always overtly useful as they don’t always indicate the level of commitment to community goals or even basic concepts. There are plenty of people who think gays are should be “treated equally” by restricting them to marriages with opposite-sex partners. There are some who express their “respect” for gays by not being distracted by their homosexual afflictions and respecting the straight person they are “underneath”. You should always be authentic, of course, but selective engagement and acceptance of group goals will usually be met with selective engagement and acceptance in return.

That may sound a little harsh, but consider the hypothetical situation where there is a clamor to remove the tax-exempt status of the LDS church (because, let’s be real, probably anyone reading this is or was LDS). You have two protestant friends, one who vocally disagrees with this effort and speaks out defending the LDS church’s right to exist as a legally-recognized church and another who whenever is asked insists the focus should be on “loving each other and treating each other with respect.” Now, it’s possible that you’d just accept that as it is, but it’s also possible you’d think, “um…so what does that mean?” Any feelings toward the two people are likely to be somewhat different.

Check your privilege at the door

“Check your privilege” is sometimes used to shut down someone who has an opinion about a group about which they aren’t a member. More often, though, this is just the perception of the person being “checked”. What is often more the case is that someone’s privileges are causing them to make uninformed statements and that they should examine their statements from the perspective of the group about which they are speaking. Self-awareness is not an easy goal. We all mess it up sometimes, but there are some things we can do as an ally that will help us to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing.

Be sure you know what an ally is

Some people say that they are an “ally” when they really mean “friend”. You can be a friend to someone or a group without participating directly in their goals. An ally, however, means that there is an element of providing resources or direct support. Friend can be a passive thing. Ally is a title of action. Assuming the title of “ally” without actually speaking up for, providing material assistance, or some other form of active support will likely be met with resistance.

Educate yourself and allow yourself to be educated

One of the biggest problem with allies in activist groups is the ally assuming that they understand the politics and social dynamics of the issue and group so they speak confidently and lovingly as they say things that horribly offend the group. This is almost always accidental, but minority groups face ignorance in their daily lives and want to keep as little of it in their groups as possible. The best way to prevent thesis to learn as much as you can about the topic, from the group and on your own. Activist groups will be able to tell almost instantly who has and hasn’t informed themselves of the issues surrounding their cause and they will have varying degrees of patience with educating new members. Don’t assume it is their responsibility to educate you. And don’t take the attitude that they should spend more time with you because “they need all the help they can get”. Ignorance takes time and energy to correct so if they are spending much of their time informing you, you are a drain on resources rather than a help. When they do take the time to correct or inform you, listen. If you have sincere questions, ask, but do so with the intent of learning.

Don’t complain about your problems to the group

Being an ally is hard. I haven’t even talked about the consequences of being an ally from the perspective of the ally. The ally may face rejection and hostility from their own groups. They may make all sorts of financial, social, and emotional sacrifices. Then there is the energy of dealing with the politics and in-fighting of the group itself. There is also the real emotional toll that comes from empathy as they hear and help alleviate the pain that comes from the group to which they have allied themselves. The place to complain about this, however, is not the group itself.

This isn’t to belittle the sacrifices that ally makes, but rather to minimize saying the “wrong thing” by choosing who that thing is said to.

The “Silk ring” theory is an informal guide for complaining based on the idea that you should provide “comfort in” and negative emotions should be “dumped out.” The person in the middle of the ring is the one experiencing the “bad thing”, the first rung out is a the person closest such as a spouse or parent. The next ring is close friends and going out and out as the level of closeness decreases. You can complain about the “bad thing” but you should only do so to someone on your ring or further out; you should never complain to someone in a closer ring.

Applying this concept to the ally, the ally should be allowed to express the difficulties that they face as an ally, but they should do so to other allies or those further away from the trauma, never to people closer to the trauma. Doing so will avoid those situations where an male ally exhaustedly complains about trying to explain the problems that women face to a friend to a woman herself who is thinking the whole time, “I’m so sorry that was hard for you, try living it every day of your life.” That’s not saying that he can’t express his frustration, just that he should be conscious of who he’s complaining to.

 This isn’t about you

In some ways it is about you. You have feelings of injustice and have experienced your own pain, but taking the Silk ring into account, for the purposes of the group, you are there to help and if you aren’t helping, you’re pulling resources. If you need help resolving your feelings around an issue, some questions to the group are certainly warranted, but their primary goal isn’t to support you. You are there to support them. This sounds cold, but remember that even though the activists groups are at the center of the Silk ring, allies are at the center of their own, different Silk ring and can (and should) help lift each other up and support each other in their ally-ship.

You can make a difference, really

Now this has been an extremely long post where it sounds like I basically call allies worthless and that they shouldn’t even bother. But the reality is that allies are desperately needed in every minority advocacy issue and that a lot of good can be done that only allies can do. For example: Mormons Building Bridges. MBB is an ally group for the gay community and in 2012 marched 300 people in Sunday dress in the Salt Lake City Pride Parade. Now, MBB isn’t perfect. They occasional say the “wrong thing” and don’t go as far to provide certain support that many in the gay community wish they would. But as I watched MBB march in the parade and saw members of the group breaking away so they could hug tearful gay people watching on the sidewalk, I saw the power of the ally. They can go places that we can’t go and can do things that we can’t do. We need people who are willing to stand where they wouldn’t be otherwise, stretch out a hand, and say, “How can I help?”

some thoughts about controversial topics and the internet

The Internet is like a newspaper…that tells you how much it hates you.
The Internet

I’ve had some form of web site since 1999 and a blog (or a few blogs) since 2004. One of my various blogs was on homosexuality, particularly as it relates to Mormonism. I started it in the first part of 2008. Yep, that 2008: the year of California’s Prop 8. That experience and publishing on the internet has forever colored how I view  controversy and conversation in general. In some ways it made me more cynical, as you may imagine, but in other ways I’m actually more hopeful than I’ve ever been.

Gutenberg, the original Zuckerberg

While I believe that the internet has completely changed how we interact and relate with each other, it’s not the first time something like this has happened. Every time media technology takes a huge leap forward, conflict arises. Take, for example, the printing press. Before the printing press made books cheaper and more widely available, most people’s world was measured in tens of miles. Books allowed more people to express themselves and their ideas and this made the people who were the ones disseminating information before, particularly the Catholic church, react pretty harshly against this lessening of influence. It’s no coincidence that the rise of Protestantism occurred a short hundred years later.

Now, while books had become cheaper, they were still by no means cheap. People who were expressing their ideas were a relative few, but increased books meant increased literacy and the sum total mean that more people were speaking and more people were listening. And there was conflict. Latin no longer was the universal language as it was then cheap enough to print books in local languages, which increased European nationalism and, in some cases, a need to maintain national “purity” through usually horrific means.

Still, the net result was a gain in literacy and ideas that lead to a growing increase in technology and quality of life.

Skipping ahead a few centuries, we get to the internet. Built on the foundations of technologies past, usage of internet has spread much more quickly than printed media and that growing ubiquity has caused some conflict and uneasiness. Most people see the internet for what it is: a communications device. There are those political regimes that view communication as de-stabilizing (and de-stabilizing it can be) and try to control the internet’s usage and there are other who view communication as a basic tenant of humanity and endeavor (with varying degrees of success) to accelerate its proliferation.

“I can’t hear you la la la la!!!”

So, now instead of a few people with the means of spreading and learning new ideas, anyone with access to an internet connection can be a publisher. While there are still those whose geography or income limit their access, most of the people in the developed world and a growing number in the developing world now have a platform to share their experiences and ideas and everyone else with access has the ability to hear them.

I believe this has been more personally destabilizing for people than previous technological advances because of the nearing universal nature of access as well as the proliferation of those things shared. There is often criticism launched and younger generations for the depth of sharing that occurs because of the ease of the medium. With three taps, for example, I can let everyone on the internet know where I am, what the weather is like where I am, and what device I’m using. If I put a little effort into it, I could set it up where this information, and more, is published with no more consciousness than carrying my phone with me and ensuring it stays charged.

I don’t think this volume of information is, in itself, the part that people are having a hard time adjusting to. After all, before the internet the libraries were full of more information than any human could have consumed in a lifetime. I think what makes it different this time around is the personal contexts in while people are hearing new, sometimes upsetting ideas.

Before, most people either didn’t share their opinions as freely or shared them mostly within the confines of those around them. Even though television had greatly increased the availability of information, there was still only a few gatekeepers and most inter-personal conversation on topics happened with those with whom people had personal contact. This geographic closeness also increased the likelihood that those with whom you had conversations either  agreed with you or avoided conflict by simply not disagreeing with you. This is an oversimplification of course as communities and regions have always had internal conflicts as well as people having inter-personal conflict, but generally, people kept their conflict to themselves.

But now, people can potentially not only hears ideas from all over (a habit they started forming from television) but the ease of communication meant that people started expressing themselves freely as well. A lot of people started hearing the people around them talking about family, religion, sex, politics, Elf on the Shelf and all manner of controversial topics. And, for a lot of people, it’s been terrifying. On a personal level, I experienced this with my gay Mormon blog. I was in the first wave of adherent gay Mormons to come out of the closet publicly online. There were others who had come out in previous years, but much of it was in the form of books and niche news reporting. Someone had to go looking for them. For us, people who had no idea about gays, Mormons, or the intersection of the two were stumbling across my blog and the blogs of others. And for a lot of people, it was a transformative experience. I mean, my experience wasn’t transformative, but the experience of learning that I existed was transformative. Perhaps all they knew about gays were what they saw on TV or learned about in church and here I was, sounding very Mormon indeed and it caused an internal conflict for people. Cognitive dissonance, if you will.

For someone who had only been taught that homosexuality was a hedonistic state caused by selfish depravity. While my selfishness knows no bounds when it comes to Oreos, I don’t believe myself to be any more depraved than the next person. People in this situation were being forced to decide between thinking I was lying and thereby confirming what they “knew” to be true about gays, thinking that what they knew about gay people was wrong, or (more often) deciding the issue of gay people was more complicated than they had thought and either sought more information or left it at that. Now, throw that cognitive dissonance into a pot with someone that you know and love and a lot of emotional energy is expended in reviewing and revising your views. It’s not easy. Depending on the the nature and depth of your beliefs, it can be downright earth-shattering. Such was the case with me. The debate over Prop. 8 forever changed how I view Mormonism and Mormons. It doesn’t define how I view them, mind you, but it did cause some painful review and revising.

Gays and Mormons aren’t alone in this process. They are joined by fathers who are discovering that their sons are democrats, daughters who are discovering their mom is against abortion, couples who are discovering their partner supports euthanasia, and so on. Society is basically learning what everyone else really thinks and it has been painful as people are faced with the task of re-categorization. There has also been no small amount of paranoia at what we’ve yet to learn about each other.

Apocalypse Not Yet

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been a First Amendment groupie. For me, people widely expressing their opinions and stories doesn’t signify a breakdown in society, but rather is the ideal and is the basis for our concept of liberty. The Freedom of Speech is as relatively unfettered as it is in the United States simply because it must be to be meaningful. While our nation isn’t a democracy, Freedom of Speech for everyone and anyone…anyone is the spirit of our democracy. If you don’t have Freedom of Speech, I don’t truly have it either.

And that’s the thing, while attitudes are definitely changing as people encounter new ideas, it’s important to remember that a lot of those “new” ideas, opinions, and attitudes have been around for a long, long time. Someone surprised at the “recent” belief in the immutability of homosexuality may be surprised to discover the 1961 British film Victim which asserts that for gays, homosexuality is “in their nature” and isn’t something that they choose, even passively. That was 53 years ago. Even more surprising is that Victim is a remake of a German film Different From The Others (Anders als die Andern) from 1919, almost 100 years ago. At the risk of slipping into queer theory, I won’t even go to the empathetic portrayal of homosexuals in literature and art. (Hint: it goes back a lot further than 1919.)

I bring this point up to illustrate that, now more than ever, we are seeing each other as we truly are. It will take some time as we adjust what we mean to believe x and what it means to be y becomes reconciled with the what we see and read from those around us, but we’ll come out on the other side better for it. We can’t be truly accepting of one another until we are honest enough to know who we are accepting. It’s no coincidence that often those with whom we are the closest are often those with whom we share most honestly. We love them not only in spite of their flaws, but sometimes even because of them.

For me, this also extends to society at large. Save a few spikes here and there, there has been a steady decline in violence world-wide for centuries. No one knows for sure why this is the case and why it continues to decline today (our current violent crime rate in the US has fallen 70% since the early 90’s [PDF]). A popular theory is one that I share: increased communication. Quite simply, it’s more difficult to see someone as evil if you have heard them in their own voice. I believe that as people continue communicating with people of differing ideas, we’ll eventually learn to get along better and not because we convert everyone over to “our” side, the printing press didn’t make the Catholic church go away, after all. As we learn each other’s stories and they learn ours, we’ll be able to see the overlap in our views and better handle those fringes where we don’t, and probably never will, agree. It may be tempting to want everyone to just “shut up about it” (I felt that pretty strongly at times in 2008), but in order to get past this painful phase, we have to keep talking. And, more importantly, we have to keep listening.

The trick is how to use the internet to communicate effectively, which will be the topic of my next post.

movie list for halloween (for grownups)

Look, I’m not saying Hocus Pocus isn’t be a fun little movie, but I’m a little surprised how often it shows up on Facebook when grown-up people solicit horror movies to watch for Halloween. I recognize that for a lot of people being scared isn’t a thrilling experience, but horror is often unjustly dismissed as being cheap and gimmicky when it can be one of the most emotive and innovative genres in film. The greatest horror movies are trying to make you think more than they are trying to scare you (though if they can do both, that works too). If you want to explore some excellent, suspenseful, and potentially shocking movies this Halloween, try the list below.


Creepy and Disturbing

“Horror” is an unfortunate name for the genre. Quite often people associate horror with schlocky gore-fests and quickly dismiss it as something they are not interested in. While gore has its place (see the next section), there are plenty of films out there who accomplish the goal of unsettling its audience by way of subtle suspense or uncomfortable situations rather than relying solely on the fear of violence.


Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)

Let the Right One In

Before everyone was sick of zombies, everyone was sick of vampires. This Swedish vampire film, however, explores vampirism like none other. Set in a Nordic small town where it doesn’t ever seem to be truly sunny, a pre-teen vampire, Eli, befriends the town’s awkward rejected kid, Oskar, who quickly falls in love with her. When she begins to defend him in a way that only a bloodthirsty vampire can do, Oskar must choose between humanity and the only thing that has shown him kindness.

Why It Is Awesome

Vampires have been a metaphor for the dangers of sexuality for centuries. Vampires don’t just stalk and attack their chosen victims, they lure and seduce them, making their victims willing participants in their own demise. Setting a vampire story during puberty and the interactions with Eli’s adult care-taker revisits this metaphor in a way that is unsettling, even if it remains in the subtext to the point of being able to be ignored by less engaged audience members. You are never completely sure if Eli returns Oskar’s affections or if she is simply using him to aid in her survival, or both. Let The Right One In also explores the effects of bullying and how far some kids will go to escape terrible pursecution. Between the things that the film isn’t saying, the beautiful dreariness of the setting, and imagery of vampiric violence at the hands of a twelve-year-old girl Let The Right One In is intensely disturbing, creepy, and sad.

Note: If you are allergic to subtitles (you’ll hate most of this list), you can try the perfectly competent American remake Let Me In which pushes some of the films more disturbing themes further down into the subtext while maintaining the tone. If at all possible, however, watch the Swedish original.


Rear Window

Rear Window

This is my favorite Hitchcock film. Jimmy Stewart stars as a news photographer who is forced into a wheelchair and his apartment after breaking his leg on the job. As one who refuses to be confined by anything and anyone, including his girlfriend played by pre-princess Grace Kelly, this arrangement is frustrating in the least. His only pass-time are the other inhabitants of the apartment building whose lives he peeps into across the courtyard. Other start to doubt his stability as he becomes increasingly convinced that he saw one of his neighbors murdering his wife and he becomes suspicious that the murderer is aware of his observer.

Why It Is Awesome

The thing that makes Alfred Hitchcock thrillers so effective is that they avoid the schlocky campiness that other films of the time safely played in. He pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time and got away with as much as he could and what he couldn’t he hid in hints and subtext. He also took limitations that for some directions would have felt gimmicky and makes them a strength. You may not even notice after watching the movie that the camera never leaves Jimmy Stewards apartment. He is confined, so we are confined and that inability to escape slowly puts pressure on the audience through the entire film making you increasingly uncomfortable. By the time the film is over, it’s almost baffling how you can feel so suffocated and isolated at the same time.


The Orphanage (El orfanato)

The Orphanage

This movie is probably one of the only times that an orphan looks fondly upon her time spent at an orphanage. Belén Ruida stars as a woman who returns to the now-closed orphanage she spent time in as a child with the intent on opening it as a group home for handicapped youth with her husband and their adopted son, Simón. She learns, however, that after being adopted out of the orphanage, things didn’t end well for the ones who remained and something in the house starts showing an unsettling amount of interest in her and her young son.

Why It Is Awesome

There are many good American horror movies, but there are several excellent foreign horror movies. With American horror movies, you know there is a pattern, a system, that most horror movies won’t stray away from: the hero of the film will get away, you don’t kill children or pets, you aren’t going to pay all that money for Scarlett Johansson to be in your film just to kill her 20 minutes in, etc. Those movies that don’t follow this pattern seem to specifically break these rules to show their edginess or bravery. With foreign horror movies, however, these rules simply don’t seem to exist and deviating from them isn’t seen as a creative choice but because the story just happens in a way that should happen.

Reading the plot of The Orphanage likely instills little interest and watching the trailer, less so. It sounds like a typical haunted house story with maybe some twist that proves the filmmaker’s cleverness. The Orphanage, however, is my favorite horror film of all time. Instead of a haunted house story, it simply a story that has a haunted house. Instead of a ghost story, it’s a story about ghosts. The deviations from horror tropes don’t feel gimmicky, but develop organically. It’s genuinely scary, but it’s understated and never has that moment of reveal that usually feels underwhelming in most horror films. While its ending would would likely never be acceptable to a mass American audience you walk away with a positive, sentimental feeling that is almost unheard of in the genre. It’s a horror film for fans and non-fans alike.


Intense and Violent

Violence and gore is what most people cite when they express a dislike for horror films. It can be irritating when people dismiss horror violence as cheap and tawdry and then laud a violent war film like Saving Private Ryan. Sure, Ryan, is a good film and it’s important to have accurate representations of war violence, but it’s also important to examine the nature of violence itself. Horror violence allows us to separate violence as an element and separate it from the context of reality. We can then place the violence into symbols of our own lives to examine what we fear and what that says about us.

These films use the fear of violence/gore not only to raise the intensity level, but also to advance the plot and make a statement about the world in which the film exists.


28 Days Later

28 Days Later

Cillian Murphy stars in this British “zombie” film in which a modified strain of rabies is released into England which turns its inhabitants into crazed, cannibalistic beasts. Murphy’s character, Jim, misses the onset of the apocalypse having been in a coma in the hospital  (not unlike the main character in The Walking Dead) and must quickly learn to adapt to his new reality. He finds other survivors and they struggle to survive learning that the zombies are the least of their worries.

Why It Is Awesome

28 Days Later was one of the first to modify the zombie character from a reanimated corpse to a irreparably diseased human. Because their bodies aren’t weakened by death, the ravenous creatures in this film sprint towards their victims and infection happens quickly – less than 10 seconds – making hard decisions more of a matter of impulse than tortured consideration. The speed of infections and the creatures themselves create an urgency and panic in this movie greater than most zombie films. Zombie fiction is more metaphorical than most monster fiction and 28 Days Later is no different, posing the question which is more dangerous, a ultra-violent but mindless human, or those humans forced to live in such a world.

Cinematically, the movie was one of the first popular films to be shot on video entirely using consumer digital camcorders. Shooting at a film frame rate of 24 frames per second gives it a cinematic feel, but the low resolution video gives the movie a digital dirtiness to complement the dirtiness of the world.




A “zombie” film similar to 28 Days Later[Rec] is a Spanish film that follows a reporter as a routine story leads her and her camera man to be quarantined in an apartment building that is suffering from an outbreak of a deadly illness. Instead of staying dead, however, victims reanimate and rush the nearest living thing, intent on spreading the infection. The reporter and cameraman become suspicious that the authorities outside the quarantine aren’t attempting to save their lives as much as simply trying to contain the outbreak and letting the collateral damage be what may.

Why It Is Awesome

Little did The Blair Witch Project realize that they would be creating an entirely new genre – the “found footage” film. [Rec] succeeds where its inspiration fails in that it never completely forces you to ask the question “Why don’t you put the camera down?!” Being reporters with an increasing sense of conspiracy justifies suspending disbelief sufficiently to allow a fulfillment of the promise of the found footage film: video is reality. For most of the century, film has been used for movies and video has been used for news and live programming. Because of this we developed the bug in our head of video represents reality. Most movies that try to capitalize on this cultural quirk fail as the impossibility of the images seem cheesy and fake in a video context or the acting seems to “act-y”. [Rec], however, succeeds where others fail by pushing only so far into the unbelievable that we get left in the middle. Most of the time we remember that what are watching isn’t real, but the human-ness of the monsters and the video-ness create tiny moments of doubt in the un-reality of it all that it makes it difficult to ever feel completely safe while watching this movie.


The Signal

The Signal
This film has three parts, directed by three different directors, and is representative of the best of low-budget independent horror films. Ultra-violent, dingy, and disturbing, it tells the story of a couple having an affair who struggle to survive when they wake up to every television, cell phone, and device with an antenna producing a subliminal signal that that dramatically enhances negative character traits, to the point of murder. Unlike zombies or “28 Days Later zombies”, they are still human and can talk and think, they just have zero restraint on their negative emotions. Trying to survive becomes more and more difficult as they struggle with the unpredictable affects from the signal.

Why It Is Awesome

Low-budget independent horror movies, along with music videos, are some of the most innovative visual media in existence. This movie has its problems: it doesn’t really have the budget to fulfill its ambition, some of the acting is rough, and its rather disjointed, but it takes a unique idea and storytelling method and runs with it. Such movies are the inspiration for filmmakers decades later. It’s possible, even likely, that you won’t enjoy watching The Signal, but it’s probably unlike anything you’ve ever seen.


Fun and Campy

Horror is ripe for parody and sometimes the best way to enjoy horror films for someone who doesn’t like horror films is to watch a movie that lovingly mocks them.


Cabin in the Woods

Cabin In The Woods

A “meta” film, Cabin in the Woods is a horror film about horror films. Co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, fans of Buffy and Angel will likely feel right at home in this snarky love letter to the genre. A group of teenagers decide to get out of town for the weekend in a cabin in the rural mountains when they soon realize that everything isn’t as it seems and that they don’t have complete control over their own destiny, however much they may try.

Why It Is Awesome

Instead of a mindless parody that just aims for the low-hanging fruit of the genre, Cabin in the Woods, has its own story and ideas, but takes the time to stop and examine the clichés that riddle horror films. Instead of derisively mocking them, however, the movie pokes fun with reverence the mocking coming from a place of deep knowledge an familiarity. Typical tone-breaking Whedonequse one-liners are a nice bonus.




Jessie Eisenberg is unlikely to be on anyone’s short list for survivors of the zombie apocalypse and that’s precisely what makes this movie so awesome. (This is completely independent of my crush on Eisenberg. Probably.) Eisenberg’s conflict avoidance philosophy to the apocalypse serves as the perfect foil for Woody Harrelson’s more, shall we say, baseball-bat-based approach. The two reluctantly team up with a pair of sisters played by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslen as they search for a rumored haven free from the zombie infection.

Why It Is Awesome

Most zombie fiction assumes that hand-wringing Eisneberg-types die in the first wave of infection and it is hilarious to see such a character take his own approach to survival. Consistently funny and absurdly violent, Zombieland, only takes itself seriously enough to maintain legitimacy, but isn’t above a detour cameo by a famous comedic actor. No complaints here.


Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

Like Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead adds a little levity to the undead apocalypse. Simon Pegg stars as good-hearted loser, Shaun, who’s life is suddenly given meaning one morning when the dead rise from the grave and he assumes the responsibility of saving everyone close to him…and everyone close to them, even if he can’t stand them.

Why It Is Awesome

Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead are two takes on the same premise and appeal of zombie fiction: what can be a weakness in our current lives can be an asset in the apocolypse (and vice versa). That and Simon Pegg is delightful.

we’d like to talk

Look, we get it. When we told you that we are gay, you weren’t really expecting it. All sort of emotions rushed into your head. You may have been upset that something like this could happen. You may have been confused about what this means in context of God and faith. You may have even been wondering if we were really sure we are gay. You made sure to tell us, however, that you love us. This made us cry.

But you’re still not sure about this “whole thing”.

And that’s okay; it really is. By the time we told you, we had years of coming to terms with it ourselves. All of the questions you asked yourself about us, we asked about ourselves and we came to the realization that, yes, we are gay and pursuing a relationship with someone of the same sex is a part of the path that will bring us the most peace and happiness. Deep down, you think we are making a mistake.

You always pictured us married to someone of the opposite sex, buying a house, having kids, probably like you did. That’s not going to happen, now. Actually, it never was going to happen; you just know it, now. We’re completely willing to give you some time with this, but while you’re adjusting, life is moving on for us.

With all of the socially acceptability out there, life still isn’t always that easy for gays. Many families reject their gay members completely. We know you’re not like that, but we’re also perceptive. We can tell that your uncomfortable with things. When we talk about “gay stuff” (which apparently means anything that reminds you that we are gay), we can hear the clamminess in your voice. We can tell that you’d rather not talk about it. In these situations, it’s as awkward for us as it is for you. We continue to call you on the phone, to drop by because we believe family is important, like you do. We are also, however, meeting new people, people who don’t get all awkward when we talk about “gay stuff”. They are excited for us when we tell them that we’ve met someone new. They want to see pictures and when we pull up the Facebook profile of that special someone, they say “cute!” (and we agree). It’s nice to talk to these people; it’s easy. They don’t just tolerate our presence, they seek it out. They don’t get quiet when we tell them about the great date we had last night. In fact, they are excited for us.

You probably get to the point where you tell us that you’re “okay with everything”, but you’d prefer if we’d not bring anyone home, especially not around your kids. They’re young and you just don’t want to have That Conversation with them yet. We know what you are talking about, but it sounds a little hollow. (Do you explain the relationship dynamics of every couple that your kids encounter? When they are around their friend’s straight parents, do you dread that this might bring up questions about sex?) We understand, but we’re disappointed. We thought you were farther along than that.

Just like your kids are important to you, they are important to us, too. It hurts that you’d think our presence would be detrimental or problematic. So, it’s easier if we don’t come around as much. We realize that you’ve stopped “adjusting” and we aren’t completely happy with the place you’ve settled into. It’s a place that seems to allow you to exclude us, but think that you’re acting towards us with love. But we can still hear the ring of discomfort in your voice. We’ve never heard love produce that particular frequency, but we have heard it produced by fear.

Things are going well with Cute and it would be the point where you’d bring them home to meet the family, but now we’re uncomfortable. You see, Cute is very important to us. We love Cute. Cute’s probably the most important person in our lives because that’s what happens when you fall in love and start to share your life with someone. But we remember how you asked us not to bring someone home. We remember how you didn’t want to have to “explain” us to your kids. We don’t really trust you to meet Cute, honestly. We can handle you being awkward around us-we’re used to it-but we’d be rather pained if your discomfort showed around Cute or if you said one of those really hurtful things you say (the ones you say without knowing). We’re just not sure if we want to risk it. We recognize that we are ringing with that tone of fear, but we still don’t introduce you. It’s easier that way.

Cute proposes and we enthusiastically accept. We don’t invite you to the wedding. We know that you’ll have an internal moral dilemma upon seeing our wedding invitation and you try to decide if attending a gay wedding would be showing that you support something that you don’t believe in. We figure that you won’t come and even if you did, you’d be mired in that moral debate the whole time and definitely wouldn’t bring the kids. We’d rather our wedding be shared with people that we can create an atmosphere of unreserved joy and love. So we don’t invite you, because its easier that way. Our friends are there. They’re the ones who thinks we are both “cute!” in our wedding pictures (and we agree).

We adopt kids, sign up for the PTA, go on vacations, celebrate birthdays, go Trick-or-Treating, complain about the cost of class pictures, and wonder if the the little ones are eating enough fruit. We send out Christmas cards, birth announcements, upload vacation photos to the Internet, but we don’t send them your way. Besides, we know that you’d have that internal moral debate about wether or not to put the pictures up on the fridge (you probably won’t), so we just save you the trouble.

Your kids are grown (biological reproduction gives you a head-start) and with your kids out of the house, you start to think of us more. You think about family a lot these days. Times are different now, and you don’t think “stuff like that” is that big a deal anymore. You decide to call, but we don’t answer. We’re on the phone to with one of the other parents from the play group – the one who thinks our kids are “cute!” (and we agree). We see your number pop up on the phone, but we don’t want to have yet another superficial conversation right now where we completely avoid talking about “gay stuff” (which, being married and having adopted kids, would leave a fifteen minute conversation about the weather) and besides, we have dinner to make. Later that night, we think about your call. We think about all of the times we tried to engage with you about our lives, but you wouldn’t. A memory of you saying how you think marriage is sacred and should only be between man and woman flickers into our mind and a familiar old resentment bubbles up. We push it back down. Family is important. We tell ourselves we should give you a call tomorrow. We make a mental note and stick it somewhere between the reminder about ballet lessons and the one that says it’s our turn to bring snacks to soccer practice.