Tuesday, November 4, 2014

2014: A Big Year

Happy Anniversary to me!

When I came out on 4 November 2013, I decided I would stop living behind a facade. I wanted to break down my barriers, be a little more extroverted, and do fun, new things. I decided I would end the year with a bang and make 2014 a good year. That's one reason I haven't been blogging for a while. Here's a recap:

November 2013

I sent off for my personal genetics kit with 23andMe. I have been studying bioinformatics, so it seemed like a good investment. I've always wanted to download my DNA onto a flash drive and put it in my pocket just so I could say "I've got my genes in my jeans".

December 2013

My bioinformatics group presented a poster at the BYU Biotechnology and Bioinformatics Symposium. Jimmy and I didn't get to study what we had originally wanted about genetics in being gay (that story here, here, and here), but it was still fun to learn more about genetics and use BYU's supercomputer.

January 2014

I participated in my first Frigid 5K and Polar Plunge (a big deal--I'm not a runner). It was a 5K loop that started and ended at the Utah Lake. At the end, they had used a few chainsaws to cut small rectangles in the ice, and they dropped a shark cage down into the lake (so we wouldn't float under the ice!). We plunged into the ice water and got out, because, who doesn't do that at the end of a winter 5K?

I won 4th place at my first Mario Kart Tournament (also my first time playing Mario Kart!). No medal, sadly. But these guys are serious at Mario Kart.

I went to my first muddy hot spring with some friends! Also jumped in the freezing Utah Lake. Again.

February 2014

I got my first tax return from the IRS! I guess that's one step closer to being a real adult.

March 2014

I ate my first Bacon Maple Doughnut at BYU.

April 2014

I explored my first mine with some good friends.

In April, I also shot my first gun this big:

Oh yeah, my family was also sealed in the Draper, Utah temple! We also got some good sibling photos :)

May, June, July 2014

I went rock climbing for the first time with some new friends this month. It was a blast, and I hope to pick it up and go regularly.

I moved to Austin, TX and started my first software development internship at National Instruments! It's a company that provides LabVIEW, a graphical programming tool for scientists and engineers. Also the company behind Lego Mindstorms. My team was really awesome, and I owe a lot of what I learned to them.

In the evenings I was able to go down and visit downtown Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World! I also ended up with awesome room mates from BYU that also interned at NI. 

I also figured that if I was in the Live Music Capital of the World, I should pick up a new instrument--one on my bucket list. I chose the accordion! 

National Instruments provided several fun days for the interns, one of which was a field day, just like in elementary school! We played capture the flag and had a great time building friendships among the interns.

And I explored the campus of University of Texas at Austin.

More crazy, on-the-edge stuff: I took a hang gliding lesson! We went as a group and were able to run down a practice hill into gusts of wind and get a few feet off the ground. It was nothing too crazy, since it was just a beginner course.

I caught up with some other LGBT friends in Austin and also saw my first outdoor play: Oklahoma!

Also while in Austin, I participated in my first 36-hour hackathon at the National Day of Civic Hacking, an event organized by Code for America. The challenge was to come together with several other hackers and build something that gives back and benefits society and our communities. I worked with my team and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas (see their blog post about it here) to create an open-source web app that Bigs and Littles can use to find local family-friendly events. Our app won $1,000 for best use of the ESRI map API, and I donated my cut of it back to BBBS.

It wasn't ALL coding...we took breaks to shoot each other with nerf guns :)

August 2014

At the end of my internship, I drove through Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and on to Nevada. On the way I stopped at the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam!

In Las Vegas I went to the largest, oldest, and most (in)famous hacker conference: DEFCON. It's something that I've wanted to do since getting into computer science. It was expensive, but a tremendous experience. I got to learn about what I love, and I learned new tricks for getting computers to do what I want them to.

While at the conference, I also attended Queercon, an LGBT get-together for hackers. It was really cool to meet another group of people that have similar minority intersections that I do: tech-loving LGBT folks. One of the events was a party hosted by Google in one of the pent houses overlooking the Las Vegas strip, a fantastic view:

September 2014

September was a good month. I started school at BYU again, and I got involved with its unofficial LGBT organization, USGA. Earlier I wrote a post about my first experience at USGA, and I decided to get involved in the leadership.

 I also decided to embrace the rainbow. First, because my life is too dull to hate colors. I need that happiness and variety it brings to my life. Second, I have come to love what it represents. Sexuality is not binary. There is a spectrum of sexuality, of gender identity, of opinion, and of experience. When we seek the full spectrum of life, we have a greater vision with which to interact with others. So, to celebrate and add color to my everyday life, I designed my new debit card with a picture of a rainbow piano:

Having defined what the rainbow means to me, I felt more comfortable getting to know other people's perspectives, so I went to my first Pride festival! Provo's pride festival was fabulous. It was very family-friendly, and I got to man the USGA booth for a few hours.

Pride has a new meaning for me. Rather than not humble, it has taken on the meaning of not ashamed. Sometimes we as LGBT people are forced to create our own comfort in hostile or unfriendly environments; sometimes this comes off as us flaunting our sexuality or shoving it in others' faces. I understand the discomfort that can occur because of such display of sexuality -- it's what I've been living my whole life as a gay man, so please excuse our few days of pride when we create our own comfort.

October 2014

I have been serving with my LGBT brothers and sisters as the Faith Committee Chair. My committee organized the At the Forefront event, where we had a guest speaker (Dr. Roni Jo Draper) come and lead a discussion on how ward leaders can make church a more comfortable, safe, and welcoming place for queer/SSA individuals. She is a professor in teacher education at BYU and is a great ally and advocate. Read the blog post about it here, and listen to the presentation/view the slides here.

I also decided to personalize my macbook after a year and a half with some stickers I had accumulated. It sums up several aspects of my personality pretty well.

In the past, I have not really known how to answer the question "What is something unique about you?" when introducing myself. 

Now I find suitable the following: "I'm a spanish-speaking gay mormon hacker accordionist that is passionate about open-source software development."

Dan Bunker

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


"Work less hard at being the more right than others
and harder at being more gracious."

What do I desire?

I listen to myriad, diverse viewpoints on issues of today—gay marriage, women and the priesthood, and discrimination in housing and employment among those issues—, and I find myself becoming more and more cynical and critical.

I see narrow-minded opinions and sweeping generalizations from both sides paraded in facebook comments and inferred in shared articles on social media, and I feel called upon to reel them in, to call those people out on their narrow views. I've thought, I'm going to be the middle man and will object to outrageous interjections from all sides. That way I can bring balance to these arguments.

As I review my efforts, I realize that I'm simply disagreeing with anything and everything that sounds like an opinion. Who wants to be around someone that simply disagrees with everything? Do I want to be remembered as the guy that always looked for something to disagree with in a conversation? When someone seeks a listening and sympathetic ear in order to confide tender feelings, do I want that they avoid me because I'm a disagreeable person?

Earlier this year, I confided some of my struggles to a person I really admire—a person that has influenced me to be better and has left a meaningful impact on my life. I asked her for some advice on life. Here's part of her response:
I think that you begin to see that shallow, smug opinions abound...and they are not real answers to anything.  And there is much sincerity in the convictions people hold, even when you believe they are wrong...I learned a lesson a little too late probably, but have taken it to heart, and that is to work less hard at being more right than others and harder at being more gracious.
That's what I desire: to be more gracious.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Evil and Suffering in the Context of Same-Gender Attraction

This past semester at BYU I wrote a paper for my Philosophy of Religion class. The topic was "The problem of evil and suffering," and we were to make an argument either for or against the evidence for the existence of a god. My professor left the following comment after grading it:
Thanks for this Dan. It is one of about four papers written for my philosophy courses over the years in which a student uses personal experiences to help make arguments. These are always deeply personal, for the writer uses the paper as a forum for discussing critical issues they are facing.

The paper is well written and defended, and it has a good logical flow. You bring up critical elements and add essential scholarly input, making the paper a good philosophy paper as a result. Your use of logic, particularly the fallacies, is very impressive.
One that does not face Auschwitz in some form during one’s life effectively cannot grow in the same way that one that has can...the personal insight and growth from it ends up being priceless. God wants us to face both the real Auschwitz, the ultimate product of human evil, and our own personal trials, for he wants us to be absolutely convinced of what the correct life must be in the eternities. Not everyone has to live in Auschwitz to understand its horror, and not everyone has to experience every Auschwitz for oneself—thank goodness—for we can and do learn from others. Thanks for your willingness to share your personal insight with me. 
 He was very kind, but I'd like to know what you of the mohosphere think, if you're so inclined to read this long paper. I apologize beforehand for mixing MLA and APA citation formats. Anyway, the paper:

PHIL 215
1 April 2014
The Problem of Evil and Suffering in the Context of Same-Gender Attraction
            Victor E. Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps and a pioneering psychiatrist, wrote Mans Search for Meaning to explain his views of the typical characteristics of an inmate of the concentration camps: the hope and hopelessness, and the choice to become more than the external situation. His autobiography and explanation of Logotherapy provide insight into:
1.        a unique perspective on human psychology,
2.        the relevance of that perspective to psychological topics of import to people of faith, and
3.        potential therapeutic usefulness of that perspective.
We will review these three areas based on Frankls Mans Search for Meaning and discuss how they relate to the topic of evil and suffering in same-gender attraction.
            Some have vehemently expressed the opinion that comparing todays homosexuals to holocaust victims is a false analogy: that civil and social persecution currently faced by many homosexuals is not comparable to the mass genocide effected by Nazism; however, in so doing they risk committing the fallacy of relative privation and trivializing the real persecutions and internal psychological struggles that do take place. My purpose here is not to assess the strengths of these opposing arguments, but rather I will relate some personal experiences and experiences of others in coming to terms with same-gender attraction and examine how Frankls Logotherapy techniques can help one reconcile faith and feelings. This necessarily invites discussion on the evidence of the existence of a God and whether evil and suffering are necessary, and we will examine what influential philosophers have to say about the subject.
A Unique Perspective on Human Psychology
            Frankls unique perspective is marked by the idea that life is not an entity that starts whole and complete, examining what one has lost, but rather an entity that begins with nothing, examining what one has that keeps one going; essentially, it is filled with and revolves about a will to meaning, as opposed to Freuds proposed will to pleasure and Adlers will to power (Frankl 99). This is reminiscent of British theologian John Hicks argument that suffering exists in order that human beings, as free responsible agents, may use this world as a place of soul making, which involves the spiritual perfection of our character and persons (Pojman 74).
            Frankl illustrates this will to meaning by recounting his experience in the Nazi concentration camps, where prisoners psychological reactions occurred in three stages: shock, apathy, and post-liberation doubt (Frankl 8). Frankls analysis is given with a disclaimer: that it is difficult for an analyst as a prisoner to remain an outsider, objective, detached, and to refrain from giving personal bias when going through the personal challenges he did (6). Thus his perspective is truly unique: he had the very opportunity to live the theory that he taught to others, having been a psychologist before his internment. Frankl relates that various defense mechanisms were created to survive; for example: humor was a weapon in self-preservation (43); striking out ones whole former life was necessary (14), for one could have been a president of a large bank before and assigned as camp police during his imprisonmenta complete loss of the sense of self (63); and depersonalization was required (88)being desensitized, with emotional detachment and being past feeling due to exposure (22)to press on. Thus those prisoners who found a meaning of lifenot concluding that they expected nothing more out of life, but rather pondering what life yet expects from them, through right actions and conduct (77)those prisoners were more likely to survive. Those that did survive reached the third stage: the psychology of liberation (84). They faced both bitterness and disillusionment (91) in their attempt to return to a normal life. Amidst all of these troubles and suffering, Frankl explains, everyones behavior was oriented toward survival; nothing was done if it did not aid in survival chances. As we see in his narrative, religion and spiritualitycall it luck or miracles (6)were highly prevalent.
            My own experience of same-gender attraction and those of some of my friends are similar to this process: shock that our feelings are the definition of same-gender attraction and the associated label gay, loss of sense-of-self, and a sense of liberation accompanied by some disillusionment after coming out. Until recently, society continuously painted an image of those who are gay: lustful, sexually deviant, speedo-wearing, rainbow-flag-waving, pride-parade-marching men. I certainly am not like that, so it made identifying as gay very difficult. It creates in mind the false dilemma described in the suicide note left by Stuart Matis, a gay member of the LDS church:
I was convinced that my desire to change my sexual identity was a divinely inspired desire. As it turns out, God never intended my orientation to change in this lifetime. I had engaged my mind in a false dilemma: either one is gay or one is Christian. As I believed that I was a Christian, I believed that I could never be gay. (Matis 378)
            After the shock, I began dealing with this false dilemma; I was confused about myself. Clearly God allowed this to happenwhether it occurred by his action or his inaction wasnt important to me: I had to deal with it, and it wasnt going away. Like many, I went through a phase of trying to pray the gay away through excellence in church service and increased piety. When that didnt work, I had doubts of my purpose in lifemuch like those prisoners that lost their purpose to live. If God sent us here to multiply and replenish the earthgiving humans sexual urges and desires as a motive for the responsibility for parenthoodthen what purpose do my sexual desires serve? Love is an expression of commitment and altruism, of concern for another person. Am I capable of loving someone of my same gender that way? Clearly societys portrayed image of promiscuous, noncommittal gay men suggests that gays are not capable of this love, but I have felt a non-sexual, emotional connection to other men before, and it was healthier than remaining in a cyclic, depressive, and anxious state of mind. Even those of Christian faith concede that it is not good that the man should be alone (The Holy Bible, Gen. 2:18). One might validly argue, then, that while homosexual activity is immoral, there can be a healthy element to a same-gender, non-sexual relationship that is more than friendship.
            As I reconciled this false dilemma, I decided to come out publicly, as a statement of principle and a voice of hope. One can be a Christian and gay. I soon enjoyed the feeling of liberation; however, it was accompanied by hostility from both the non-religious gay community and the uninformed Mormon community. The argument of the gay community was that I should be true to who I am, that I should live what William James calls Pragmatism: having a set of beliefs that are only usefuland if not useful, then they are not true (Cook 6). The argument of the uninformed Mormon community was that same-gender attraction was a sin and could be changed, that I should change, and, if not, then I should be quiet about it and keep it inside. I was even released from my calling as Executive Secretary for having come out publicly; although Im temple-worthy and hold and use a recommend, some people just dont want to talk about it or get informed, and theyd rather not have me in a position that could be mistaken as a spokesman for an LDS bishopric.
            While this was a mild expression of suppression, the attitudes of many other people today toward gays echo the attitudes of many who participated in the execution of the holocaust: no matter the cause of the people being Jewish, they should be treated as a minority, ostracized, humiliated, and silenced. This makes it difficult for many gays to try and live a normal and emotionally healthy life after coming out, as it was difficult for many internment camp survivors to readjust to a normal life after liberation.
The Relevance of Frankls Perspective to Psychological Topics of Import
for People of Faith
            Despite peoples only behavior being that which aided in survival, religious services were still held privately among the prisoners (Frankl 34). This suggests that, in suffering, man together with God yields greater chances of survival: thus many prisoners developed a deeper sense of spirituality (36). Possibly the greatest point of Frankls perspective that has relevance to people of faith is that, no matter the circumstances, a human always has the right to overcome apathy and suppress irritability (65). Life is not complete without suffering and deathfor those difficult circumstances provide an opportunity for choice. Often, it was futile for the prisoners to imagine a future goal to live fortheir chances of survival were very low; Frankl thus proclaims that when the end is uncertain, we cease living for future goals, and life rather becomes a test of principles, of morals (70): we can always choose to rise above current sufferings and view them as if already in the past (73). The agency is always present: it may not be in the form of choosing circumstances, but it is always inherently present in the form of choosing how to respond to those circumstanceschoosing the right conduct and actions based on correct principles.
            My testimony of the Mormon doctrine of salvation and becoming like God through earthly trials and experiences has pulled me through this difficult experience of same-gender attraction. If God knows what trials are going to make me stretch and grow toward godhood the most, I will trust Him. Like the internment camp prisoners, I have gained a deepened spirituality and a closer relationship with God. I have had personal experiences so sacred that they are sufficient evidence to me for the existence of a loving, caring God. He doesnt always hold my hand through trials, but he does work to set up safety nets all around, even ones that Im not aware of until much later. I have used techniques that Frankl describes to get through my difficult days. One such technique is Logotherapy, which Frankl developed as a potential therapeutic tool.
Potential Therapeutic Usefulness of Logotherapy
            Frankls Logotherapy focuses on the reorientation of a patient toward a meaning of life (98) and the future to be fulfilled by the patient (98)not by telling the patient what to do but by helping them find their own purpose in life (103). Frankl defines tension as a necessary component of mental health: the tension that is between what one is and what one is to become (104). Problems with depression, addiction, and mental status many times come from the boredom that results from a lack of this tension, a lack called an existential vacuum (107-8). Logotherapy aims to help a patient see that his actions now are a second chance, and the first time he did the wrong thingthe past is correctable, the present a chance to do it right (109). It is therefore up to the patient to decide whether to be responsible to society or to his own conscience (110).
            Frankls unique view of suffering is also of therapeutic importance. He claims that each moment of suffering is a chance to turn personal tragedy into triumph (112) and that suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning (113). How can suffering provide meaning? Once again, when life circumstances have taken away the vision of the future, living in the very moment becomes a test of decisions of right versus wrong actionsa test of personal integrity and meaning in ones own life. Logotherapy aids the patient in viewing his life from a different perspective, say, as if from the deathbed (117); such viewpoint provides relief (120). Another tool in Logotherapy is called paradoxical intentioneffective in treating obsessive compulsive and phobic conditions (127). It helps patients understand that the human being has not freedom from conditions, but freedom to take a stand toward conditions (130). It hones in on the human capacity to creatively turn lifes negative aspects into something positive or constructive (137).
            Frankl conclusively states that if suffering is unavoidable, it can provide meaning, hastily adding that suffering is not necessary for meaning, but it can provide meaning (147). His therapy is useful because it helps people focus on both the possibilities of the futurethus providing hopeand the realities of the pastthus providing solace in a life fulfilled (151). This technique has helped me in the moments of heartache; there are days when I want companionship incredibly. There is often an internal tension caused by the difference in what I know to be correct based on my religious beliefs and what I so deeply desire.
            Tension also exists in the idea that procreative powers are God-given and that the attractions we as humans are given are inherently good for the execution of the Plan of Salvation, but what about my same-gender attraction? Should I consider it a good, God-given blessing when it goes directly against the goal of the Plan of Salvation? When a young man and a young woman fall in love in the church, they are admired by all around them but told not yet; go get married, and once they are married, they are looked upon proudly. When a young man and another young man fall in love in the church, it is generally and immediately looked upon as sinful, lustful, and non-committal; they are told to separate, and they are often reported for church discipline, even if they have abided by the same law of chastity and the same commandments as everyone else in the church. The fact is that sexuality is a difficult topic for everyone, but for most people sexual expression and activity is permitted after a period of waiting for marriage. For gays in the church, it is expected that we never, ever give heed to those feelingsno hope exists for some future day where we fully express our love to a significant other that we are attracted to in this life. The Mormon argument is that there is hope for the life after thisthat no blessings, including an eternal companion, will be denied those who remain faithful until the end, however uncomfortable the experience may be. This discomfort is not specific to homosexuality, for sexuality is a difficult topic for everyone.
            Evil and suffering are rarely a trivial, black-and-white issue. Most people would agree that the holocaust was wrong, but good things came out of it too, such as Frankls life work. If we attribute this good to God, must we necessarily attribute the associated evil and suffering to God as well? If I could choose to live my life a second time, would I choose to be gay again? No. Would I choose to not have passed through this experience in this first life? No, for I have learned many valuable lessons about myself, about God, and about my willingness to follow Him. In my experience, Frankls unique perspective on human psychology and the relevance of that perspective to people of faith do help us surmount the evil and suffering present in the world. His technique of Logotherapy helps me reconcile my faith and feelings. For me, the evidence for the existence of a God is overwhelmingnot despite my experience of same-gender attraction but because of it.

Works Cited
Cook, Roger. James and Pragmatism Winter 2011. Unpublished PowerPoint Presentation.
Frankl, Viktor E. Man's Search for Meaning : An Introduction to Logotherapy. 4th ed.
            Cutchogue, N.Y.: Buccaneer Books, 1992. Print.
Matis, Fred, Marilyn Matis, and Ty Mansfield. In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the
            Challenge of Same-gender Attraction. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2004. 
            Kindle file.
Pojman, Louis P. Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Pub. 
            Co., 1987. Print.
The Holy Bible. Authorized King James Version, Translated out of the Original Greek, and 
            with the Former Translations Diligently Compared and Revised, by His 
            Majesty's Special Command. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 
            2006. Print.