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A Painful Conversion of Sexuality Attempt as Interpreted by Virgil

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The Story Virgil Would Record Edit

When growing up, Thomas Swanson realized he was different from most other people. The moment this was real for him was when his friends found a Playboy magazine, and looking at the revealing images of beautiful woman did not spark any desire within him. When Tom asked his friends what this meant, they assured him that this likely meant he was attracted to men. Although the idea of being different was not new to him, the idea that he may like men instead of the normal attraction to the opposite sex was a shocking prospect. Nevertheless, his friends, though young in years, were wise in words, telling Tom this was something uncontrollable and preordained in his creation. Tom was thus reassured by these different feelings due to the support of his friends.

These comforting words did not last for long. When Tom went home and relayed this feeling to his parents- Christian missionaries who travel the country to spread the religion- he was met with a dismal surprise. Instead of the support his friends gave, Tom was greeted with multiple physical beatings by his father until he was sent to the hospital six times. Tom tried to tell his parents that this was something uncontrollable, but they never took his side. Instead, they fed him lies about his creator, saying that God would not create a human like this and that he would be sent to Hell. Tom, however, kept in mind that God was his creator, and he would not create a being he did not love. No matter what horrible things his parents said to him, Tom always knew that God, the father of all, loved him no matter what. Besides this ultimate authority in Tom's religious life, his parents told Tom that the country does not allow people with his sexuality to live. Although Tom did not believe what his parents said about God, this unknown authority did scare Tom, for he was isolated when it came to his exposure to other people; Tom's family traveled so much to spread the Christian way of life that he did not know other worldly authority figures. Thus, it was easy for Tom to believe that the government would not allow these types of feelings, as his parents, the only human authority he knew, also expressed this intolerance. Since his love for his family was outstanding, Tom faced a very difficult life after bringing up his true feelings to his parents, as they were not able to accept it. He did, however, remember the confirmation his peers gave him about his feelings, as well as the belief in God's love for him, allowing him to push through the difficult abuse of his parents.

This mental opposition to his feelings was not the only difficulty Tom experienced. They took him to a therapist who tried to convert his sexuality with electroshock therapy, as a physical means to break down what they saw as the wrong sexuality . Tom remembers being strapped down to a chair as he was shown homosexual images. During the three stages of these sessions, Tom was exposed to ice, heat, and electric therapy, facing each element when shown sexual images involving the same sex. Such torture, as it can be defined, did have a temporary effect on Tom- he was unable to physically touch the same sex out of fear for years afterwards. This, however, did not change the feelings he harbored inside concerning his sexuality. Tom went through these therapies as a way to show his love for his parents, but made it known that nothing, not even physical abuse, would change his innate feelings. His parents, however, did not believe this argument, declaring they would love him again if he would just change his sexual feelings. Although this physical turmoil was hard, the hardest still was thinking back to his family, as his emotional ties to them were very strong. Tom endured these hardships throughout his teenage years, as he voiced that the therapy would never change who he was destined to be. He thought about pretending to change, but Tom knew at some point he would be able to live his life the way he was meant to.

When Tom finally left home for college in another state, he was able to fulfill his life without these hardships. Tom found a support system at college just like his friends who found the PlayBoy with him during his teenage years. This was also the first time Tom met others with the same sexuality as him, correcting the misperceptions his parents told him about the country not allowing homosexuals to exist. Although he does face more subtle opposition with his sexuality, especially with the clergy of his religion, he already was able to pass the toughest hardships during his teen years: the physical and emotional torture inflicted on him by his parents. The fact that he was able to overcome these obstacles, however, allowed Tom to fulfill his destiny by becoming who he was meant to be. Tom's destiny was not anything historic, such as founding a city, but it was him becoming the individual he was preordained to be. After passing the listed hardships of his teen years, Tom was able to freely express his sexuality without any feelings of guilt, fear, or regret.

Similarities of Obstacles to Reaching Individuality Edit

Although my creative piece is not as poetic or creative as Virgil's Aeneid, it does parallel some very important themse seen throughout the epic. It was necessary to create the above account because the news article that detailed the investigation of Thomas Swanson left out many important factors Virgil emphasizes. These include specifically the knowledge of fate throughout the story and the support system lacking in the article, but clearly seen for Aeneas throughout the epic.

Before getting into the differences of the article and Aeneid, it is important to realize the similarities. The biggest emphasis is the idea of pre-ordained fate for an individual. This takes the form of sexuality in the article, as it discusses the hardships Tom endured that attempted to change his preference, yet were unsuccessful. The best illustrations of this come from the opposition endured by his parents and the therapist he sees, which are comparable to two major forces Aeneas has to face in his journeys: Juno and Dido.

The physical turmoil Tom faces parallels Juno's opposition displayed on the sea during Aeneas's journey to Italy. The anger Juno harbors to Aeneas and his men is illustrated in Book I: gens inimica mihi Tyrrhenum navigat aequor ... incute vim ventis summersasque obrue puppis, aut age diversos et disjice corpora ponto (Book I lines lines 67-70). With this statement, Juno asks the god of the winds, Aeolus, to wreak havoc on the Trojans, whom she has a hostile relationship with (inimica mihi). To do this, she asks the winds to physically ruin their voyage by sinking their boats and scattering their boats and bodies across the sea. Thus, Virgil creates a tragic picture of suffering on the seas because of Juno's wrath, an imagery that illustrates the hardships Aeneas faces on the path to conquer his destiny. This is seen in the article when Tom is brought to electroshock therapy, where he went through three stages of "treatment:" ice, heat, and electricity. The following illustrates the basics of what each session consisted of: "After he was seated, each of his hands was strapped to the arms of the chair and softball-size ice blocks were placed in each palm. Then photos of men touching appeared on the screen. At times a heterosexual couple was shown, and the ice was removed. The ice was left on his palms, causing freezing pain, as many photos of homosexual men were shown." Here, the pain endured parallels that Aeneas and his men face on the sea, as both are directed to divert their paths to individual fulfillment: Aeneas's destiny of founding Rome, and Tom's personal sexuality.

These physical torments faced by both characters illustrates the parallels of obstacles that inflicted bodily harms on each man. The other obstacle illustrates an emotional blockade which was harder for each character to overcome. In Book IV of Aeneid, Aeneas is tempted by Dido, queen of Carthage, until Mercury is sent from Jupiter to remind him of his fate. Dido pleads with him to stay and not leave her distressed in Carthage, where Aeneas replies: Me si fata meis paterentur ducere vitam auspiciis et sponte mea componere curas... (Book IV lines 340-341). This statement details what Aeneas would have done if he was not driven by fate, but rather controlled his own life. The technique Virgil uses with diction provoking a rhetorical question emphasizes the role of fate Aeneas is recognizing, as he is trying to tell Dido that he has to leave because it is out of his control. The list of ifs he relates employ how Aeneas's life may have been very different, but this is something uncontrollable that he realizes, and tragically Dido does not. Another notable thing about this section is that Dido is not listed in his list of what he would attend to, such as maintaining Troy, its regime, and his family. These provoke the deepest emotions of love readers can relate to, those of family and the fatherland. Therefore, Tom's parents parallel this temptation of Dido rather than an obvious parallel to Aeneas's family for an important reason: his parents did not support Tom. This similarity of not understanding the fate of the main character is seen throughout both the epic and the article. In Book VI readers confront Dido again, and as Aeneas attempts to relate the role of fate to her again, she turns away, and is inimica (hostile) to him. Tom's parents also force him into this therapy, which was preceded by several beatings from his father, as well as lies about his health and future because of his sexuality. The author concludes that this was their attempt at a "complete emotional and mental breakdown to ensure he would disconnect from his homosexual attractions." These facts illustrate that these complementary players in both accounts do not accept the idea of fate, and thus will not allow themselves to be involved with the fate of Aeneas or Tom. This is where the creative composition is necessary, however, because of Tom's own views on fate: although he now acknowledges that the attempts of change inflicted upon him by his parents did not work, he had no prior knowledge of his fate like Aeneas did.

Where the Differences Emerge Edit

The two pointed similarities tie the Thomas Swanson article and Aeneid together, yet there are some important differences concerning the main characters and their own perceptions of their futures. In Aeneid, it is obvious that Aeneas knows his own future, starting from Book II when his wife informs him of his fate to found a grand city in Italy: Quid tantum insano juvat indulgere dolori, O dulcis conjunx? Non haec sine numine divum eveniunt (Book II lines 778-779). Thus, even before his journey begins, Aeneas is informed of his fate. In the article, however, Swanson is completely ignorant that his sexuality is predetermined: "For a 14-year-old who had had almost no contact with the world outside of missionary compounds, Swanson was terrified. He said he believed every word and wished he could change, hoping God would cure him of AIDS if he were to become straight." This is a major difference from Aeneid, because it acknowledges that Tom had no authority leading him to believe it was okay to follow his fate. The only thing in the article telling Tom the truth was his own mind, which made him question himself on multiple occasions. Virgil, however, uses evident forces that guide Aeneas's destiny, including the gods that create his fate and the support of his family, including his father Anchises, who assure him along his journey. Therefore, instead of changing the role of the parents, which necessarily illustrate temptations that Aeneas also faced through Dido, the role of peers was added in the above composition, which assured Tom that the feelings he harbored concerning his sexuality were okay. Therefore, this changes Tom's overall perspective on the situation, as he no longer questions why nothing changes his views. Although in the article Swanson is eventually lead to an outside assurance through his college peers, this beginning force is necessary to remind himself of his preordained individuality, as we see Virgil employ this authority in Aeneid.

It is also necessary to overlook the common belief of the Christian religion in order to use Virgil's interpretation, as faith is a necessary force for action in Aeneid. Throughout the epic, Virgil refers back to the gods and their role in cultivating Aeneas's future, especially Jupiter, the father of all the gods. In Christianity, the one God worshiped is comparable to Jupiter. However, throughout the article, Tom is reminded by his Christian parents about the common perception of this fate, which is enforced in the real world by this religious belief. In order for Tom to believe in his own individual creation, it is necessary to alter this view on God's beliefs, even if it is only a belief Tom harbors. In this manner, readers feel that Tom's sexuality is preordained, thus paralleling the preordained journey and fate of Aeneas.

Overarching Analysis Edit

Virgil's famous opening, which is characterized by the segments, illustrates the major similarities in themes of both the epic and the story of Thomas Swanson: arma virumque cano... fato profugus ... multum ille et terris jactatus et alto vi superum, saevae memorem Junonis ob iram...dum conderet urbem (Book I lines 1-5). This opening invocation to the Muse, a famous prelude to most classical epics, translates in the following manner: "I sing of arms and a man ... exiled by fate ... hurled about over many lands and seas and the will of the gods, by cruel Juno's remorseless anger... until he founded a city." In these small parts of the opening, Virgil acknowledges many key parts to the epic, such as Aeneas's journey as preordained by fate, the opposition he faces along the way, and the acknowledgment that he does reach his destiny in the end. This technique of briefly summarizing the events of the epic is also seen in the narrative of Thomas Swanson, as he is introduced to the idea that he is different as symbolized by the PlayBoy magazine. Even though his friends and faith in God's purpose assure Tom from the beginning that his feelings are acceptable, the magazine epitomizes feelings supposedly characteristic of the male being, thus foreshadowing how Tom overcoming such a dominant belief in the world- both his and society as a whole- will be difficult. Thus, both works subtly give readers an idea of the remainder of the passage without laying out details.

After the idea of individual identity is introduced at the beginning, both works go into detailed descriptions of the hardships each character faced, as discussed earlier in this analysis. Both are faced with ideas of hopelessness, for Aeneas during his desperate voyage across the seas, and for Tom, the undying animosity his parents hold towards his feelings. This unhappiness each character faces is eventually overcome with the reminder of fate throughout each work. This reminder, which was missing in the actual article, is important to both pieces in order to develop a Virginian text. This reminder of fate is what pushes Aeneas through the hardships, which is necessary for Tom to successfully overcome his hardships as well. Although in the article Tom relies on false impressions in front of his parents, Virgil does not disguise fate. He even sacrifices Dido when reminded of fate, making Dido a tempting force to divert his journey, but not enough. For Tom in the story, he relies on both the words of his friends and his own belief in God as a driving force against his parents' opposition. Instead of hiding his true feelings, which is seen in the article, Tom endures disappointment of his family- people who he loves so dearly- in order to reassure readers of the role of his preordained sexuality. It can be determined from these events that the fates are not only all-powerful, but also harsh, as certain emotions and relationships are sacrificed in order to reach each character's destiny. Although harsh, the gods' wills in each works are overshadowed by the individual prospects each character eventually achieves through self-fulfillment.

Overall, the layout of each work provides a Virgilian tale of overcoming emotional and physical hardships in order to reach destiny. Although the destinies of each character are drastically different, each faces physical obstacles and emotional temptations as challenges to their own fulfillment. Each destiny is also characterized by individual identity, as Aeneas is able to found the city of Rome as preordained by the gods, and Tom is able to freely express his sexuality as he was created by God. Thus, each work in essence briefly defines each character's prospects, thus laying out the difficult journies, sprinkled with reminders of each one's destiny, and ultimately ending with fate fulfilled.

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