Wednesday, June 22, 2016

In The Wake of Orlando: How Uneasy I (Still) Feel

Is anybody else out there still anxious, uneasy, or just plain scared? I hate to admit it. I think I might even be ashamed to admit it. But uneasy is exactly the way I've been feeling for the past few days. The tragedy in Orlando not only saddened me it angered me, frustrated me, and continues to leave me with my defenses up; an uneasy feeling, not just in the pit of my stomach, but pulsing through my entire body.

In the face of that unease I have to admit my truth one more time: I am homosexual.

It was June 22, 1993. North Carolina (of all places). I was performing in summer stock for the first time. I was at the pool. The water was crystal clear as the sun glinted off its translucent ripples. The sounds of laughter and music from that day are still present in my memory. Friends -- both gay and straight -- basked in the sun's rays. It was on this day 23 years ago that I quietly, yet bravely, opened my closet door and walked out into the world.

I celebrate the anniversary of that day every year as another birthday. For that's exactly what it is. Coming out was scary but necessary. It was the only way I could live. Staying in the closet could only continue to propagate loneliness, fear, and confinement. It was suffocating. I was dying. I needed to be set free. I was fortunate enough (as theatre people often are) to be surrounded by a gaggle of gay men who hugged me, loved me, welcomed me (even if some said, "It's about time"). That slap on the ass did not elicit crying it beget a laugh of elation. It was the first time I started being me. The relief far outweighed the trepidation of what my future might hold, i.e. coming out to my parents, revealing my true self to the world. That's reason enough to celebrate this day every year.

With those same embracing, accepting, welcoming men I went many times to the gay bar, Scandals, in Asheville, North Carolina. I enjoyed the unrestricted freedom of dancing the night away with my friends...and strangers alike. I watched with glee as the drag queens lip-synced the hell out of songs by Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and Cher. I sang along at the top of my lungs. I laughed. I drank. I kissed boys. I pressed my body against other men, nary a slit wide enough for light between us. It was freedom. I wasn't scared. It was a place filled with people just like me, celebrating life, hurting no one.

I was a young 22-year old man; naive, excited, nervous, ready.

I'm now a 45-year old man who has seen the world change since that June day in North Carolina all those years ago -- change that I didn't think I would ever see. Personally, I've made tremendous strides in accepting myself and living my life authentically in public. And humankind has made tremendous strides toward equality and human rights.

Change is happening. Most of it positive. It's exciting. But it creates what a friend of mine described perfectly as "a false sense of comfort." We forget how many people merely tolerate us and in some cases simply wish we would shut up and go back inside our closets. There are haters out there and social media allows them to share their hate prolifically.

I live in New York City. And in my City I often feel we live in what I can only describe as a bubble. I don't regularly stop to wonder what life is like for people who don't live here. New York City is such a melting pot of races, cultures, religions. I doubt I'm alone in that bias. Do you think about the attitudes and opinions of people who live in upstate New York, the Midwest, or Deep South very often? Ask yourself. That imaginary bubble creates a sense of security that when truly pondered, especially in the wake of the devastating shooting at Pulse night club in Orlando, is misleading at best.

I don't want to be scared. I don't want to hide. I want to be defiant, vocal, unabashedly out and proud. But god damn it I am afraid. There are preachers who are happy about the massacre in Orlando. (I'm talking about you Steven Anderson, and you Roger Jimenez, and you Donnie Romero. Loving Christians indeed...NOT!) There are Republican leaders in the House of Representatives who block votes on amendments to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. How could I not be afraid in an America (ok, a World) filled with so much phobia and hate? My fears get the better of me and I find myself cowering.

Gay bars should be a safe haven. We shouldn't have to fear for our lives when we're inside. There's enough to threaten us outside the door when homophobic people lie in wait for us to head home so they can hit us with their hateful slurs or, in some cases, their hateful fists. LGBTQ people should not have to worry about losing their jobs because of who they kiss, hold hands with, fuck, or marry. LGBTQ people should not have to worry that a member of one of the Baptist churches, pastored by one of the above mentioned men, will take to heart what their spiritual leader is saying and gun us down.

I have needed all my courage to throw my shoulders back, hold my head up, and walk down the street, completely visible -- vitally visible -- in the days since waking to the nightmare in Orlando. I understand that we, the LGBTQ community, cannot hide, must not hide. We have to be seen. We have to be louder. We. Have. To! That means no matter how uneasy I might still be feeling, I have to continue to be me -- gay, beautiful, fabulous, gender expansive, funny, creative, normal me.

And you, if you're LGBTQ, have to continue to be you.

"There are some wounds that can never heal. There are scars that make us who we are but without them we don't exist." Written by John Logan for the character of Lily on Penny Dreadful.

If you're feeling like me, reach out to the LGBTQ people in your life for support, strength, and courage. I have done that. I continue to do that. If you're the parent of an LGBTQ child or a straight ally, reach out to the LGBTQ people in your life and show them you support them, that you love them, that you're there for them.

"I love you, Michael!!" Those words came to me via text on the Monday following Orlando. They were from my mom. I knew that she was reaching out to her gay child to assure me in four simple words that she was thinking about me after the senseless attack on the LGBTQ community took the lives of 49 people who were merely enjoying their lives in what should have been a safe place to do just that -- enjoy their lives.

That text meant so much to me. You never know who is frightened, who is angry, who is suffering. But kindness and support and love goes a long way toward restoring calm...and healing.

"Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it's a good place to start."  Jason Collins

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fashion Forward: Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Fashion. I love it. Some might say I'm a slave to it. While I like to wear what's "in," I'm also a sucker for something classic; or vintage. So I don't think I'm exactly a slave to fashion. Others might call me a label whore. I can accept this title. There are brands that I like (Louis Vuitton, YSL, Hermès) and brands that I find look good on me (Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood). If I can afford to buy the label, I'm going to buy the label. I've even been referred to as a fashion victim. Well, I have to say that while I have been known to buy the brand because of the label (LV, Hermès), I'm not one that's willing to shell out the money to buy the label just because it's the label, especially if it doesn't look good on me (or the bag doesn't fit my needs). The point is, everyone buys clothes. We're all drawn to certain things. I enjoy cultivating my style in the garden of designer labels when I can. I haven't always been able to do that. And I don't consider my desire to wear labels or my ability to afford them (Gucci platforms, YSL mini bag) a negative attribute. I work. I save. I purchase. Sometimes I have buyers remorse even if I've finally purchased the very item I've been saving for. Money is tangible. Joy from the purchase is not. Ultimately, I find the joy and have no regrets for spending the money.

Fashion trends are dictated by the designers (or Anna Wintour). We're all aware at some point in a season of that one item on everyone's Must List. Maybe it's a bag. Maybe it's a shoe. Maybe it a certain leg width for denim. For spring, I read that the bomber jacket was a must have. After reading that bit of information, wouldn't you know I saw bomber jackets everywhere. It made me wonder what underground syndicate tells every fashion house We want bomber jackets to be the It thing for spring so make one. 

Fashion changes. Sometimes gradually; sometimes from season to season. (Christian Dior used to change his silhouette with every season effectively outdating what was in a woman's closet every few months.) It can be based on the shifting mood of the times. Or can shift the mood of the times by creating something altogether new. 

Style is what you do with that fashion. I prefer to buy things that are on trend with a bent toward the classic. That's my style. I don't want my clothes to be dated by the next season. Something that is in the center of the fashion zeitgeist this season might need only the right accessory to keep the look fresh year after year. 

I do like to find out what has been deemed the hot color of the season. Again, does that syndicate tell everyone This fall we wants lots of cordovan but for spring we want emerald? I incorporate the color either in nail polish or a piece of jewelry or a shirt that has that color in it. Something that allows me to participate without going overboard. And let's be honest, a shirt with cordovan in the print is still going to work for autumn no matter the autumn of what year. Deep red is an autumn/winter color. It's a classic. Emerald will always work for spring/summer. Be smart about what you buy. Have fun, but be smart.

This fashion lesson was brought to you in honor of my visit to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs today. The museum is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a panorama of fashion spanning three centuries. I was in heaven. It's a shame you can't see my halo and wings. I didn't take a selfie. Sorry. 

According to their website there are "300 items of men's, women's and children's fashion from the 18th century to today." I saw them all. Corsets, panniers, breeches, waistcoats, vests, bustles, trains. From Charles-Frederick Worth (consisered by many as the first couturier) to Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret, Jeanne Lanvin and Madeleine Vionnet. And what French fashion exhibit would be complete without Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent? 

I was mildly intrigued by the gowns and menswear of the early 18th century. They're beautiful. There's no denying it. Especially when viewing the details. It's easy to imagine Marie Antoinette and the ladies and gentlemen of the period wearing those clothes. We've seen the images a hundred and two times. We can't imagine how long it took to dress with all those layers. Forget about doing it alone. And forget about a quickie in the antechamber. Beautiful to admire, but yawn. 

Then there was the room filled with dresses I would expect to see in Scarlett O'Hara's closet...although not in her window. 

The changing of the silhouette becomes extremely interesting when you can view it all at once. The corseting and bustles to no bustles to finally no corset--women had to, and still do, go through much more than men when it comes to fashion. Although women have so many more choices than men when it comes to decorating their bodies with the beauty of clothes.

It was upon entering the room showcasing designs from around 1903 and forward that I came alive. These were dresses designed by names I recognized.

1. A selection. This is where my halo started forming

2. Elsa Schiaparelli (she loved shocking pink). To your right is a gown by American designer Mainbocher

3. An Elsa Schiaparelli pink jacket, again in shocking pink. To the right, a blue haute couture gown by her rival, Coco Chanel

4. The room where I got my wings 

5. The "New Look" by Christian Dior

6. Yet another gorgeous Dior

7. This Pierre Balmain is reminiscent of a few gowns I saw in photos from this year's Met Gala--Manus x Machina

8. Hubert de Givenchy coat

9. Again with Dior. The gold outfit to the left belongs to Chanel

10. Cristóbal Balenciaga

11. Both of these pieces are from the mind of Paco Rabanne

12. Both purple and yellow selections are Yves Saint Laurent

13. A Christian Lacroix that might have felt at home in one of the previous rooms

14. That ensemble on the right is the creation of Vivienne Westwood

15. A Raf Simmons dress for the House of Dior

16. The back view of the Dior on the left. The gown on the right is Riccardo Tisci for the House of Givenchy

Regardless of where you spend your money on your clothes, find your style. Figure out what you like, what makes you happy. Pick up a Vogue magazine once in a while and check things out. See what's in your closet already that looks like something you saw in its pages. Have a good time. Fashion should be fun.

Fashion is fantasy. Style is how you express the fantasy. Find your fantasy. Be yourself...confidently. I dare you!

Mon voyage se poursuit. Au Revoir

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Une Fondation et un Cimetière

I was nearly overcome by tears as I descended from the 4th floor terrace of the Fondation Louis Vuitton. The sky was overcast, the sun fighting to break through the haze. The air was crisp. I could hear the water gently rolling down the man made, stepped waterfall, the birds chirping, the various languages one hears in a museum full of the melting pot of people gathered to admire its contents. I was truly happy and surrounded by beauty. Hence the near trickle of tears that nearly dampened my cheeks as if it was a smaller version of the waterfall in front of me. 


The structure of the Fondation Louis Vuitton is itself a piece of art. If you're reminded of the Sydney Opera House when looking at the above pic you're in good company. I was too. Maybe that's because of the curvature. The curved glass portion of the upper levels of the Fondation are designed to look like sailboat sails inflated by air. The Opera House calls its roof "shells". Both look aerodynamically designed with wind in mind. 


Commissioned by Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH (Moët Hennessy • Louis Vuitton) the Frank Gehry (American) designed building is glorious and modern. Its design strikes a contemporary and artistic pose on the outskirts of an historic Paris. Although the metropolis of the business district can be seen from the second floor terrace, that image of glass towers is not the image so often associated with Paris. Which makes this contemporary structure all the more rapturous.


My wish would have been that the sun be a shining today and that I wouldn't have needed a jacket. That was not in Mother Nature's plan. As much as the sun fought to shine through the clouds the clouds proved a stronger opponent than the power of the rays.

However disappointed I may have been by the rain, I'm not sure I can say that it didn't create the perfect atmosphere for strolling through Père Lachaise Cemetery.


Two days in a row I roamed among the dead as they rest. 

On my last visit to Paris in Septembre 2015, I twice attempted a visit to this cimetière. My plans were thwarted both times so I was determined to make it this time. 

Cemeteries are like cities of the dead, don't you think? There is a design to the layout much like a city. The tombstones are monuments much like buildings. There are often flowers and in most cases grassy space--like parks. There are roads on which to drive or walk. It's a city of the dead. 


It's peaceful in a city of the dead. Think about it...one doesn't often hear raised voices or loud music in a cemetery. As I said yesterday, the dead are so respected. And they can't even appreciate it. They're dead! But I digress.


The cobblestone streets running through Père Lachaise were dappled with green grass growing between the stones, which were wet and slick from the pouring rain. The downpour shook loose the flowering buds in the trees mixing them with the rain as each fell to the ground, a mix of flurry and fury. 

To my right just after entering I saw the sign outlining the locations of the notables buried within the walls. Edith Piaf is there. Chopin, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Jim Morrison. Sarah Berhardt is there as well as Molière. These were a few of the names I recognized. I must confess though that it wasn't terribly important for me to see any of their graves. Maybe I would have felt differently if the rain hadn't soaked through my shoes to my socks. But I'm not sure it would have mattered even if the sun had been shining down on me. I just wanted to be inside the walls, see the burial markers. 

They are quite grand, most of them. Some reminded me of phone booths in their shape and height. Some of those had broken doors and revealed a space just large enough to kneel and, most likely, say a prayer for the dead. Not that they need the prayer. They are dead after all. 


Père Lachaise is quite congested with graves. There's barely a space between markers. It seems there are strict limitations to who can be buried there now and the lucky families can purchase in perpetuity or for 50, 30, or 10 years. Leasing for 30 years is a popular option these days. (You can lease your burial plot like you're leasing a new Fiat.) However, if the lease isn't renewed, or the 50, 30, or 10 year time previously purchased not extended, then the bones are dug up, moved to a modern day catacombs, and the grave sight sold or leased to another family. Moral of the story: death may not be the final resting place in Père Lachaise so if you want to stay there...pay up.


The day was filled with beautiful monuments although two quite different versions of beauty--the new and the old. The new modern structure of the Fondation Louis Vuitton was contemporary, if not futuristic. While the oldest structures in Père Lachaise (my favorites) were grand on a smaller scale, mixing centuries of styles and motifs, harkening back to many other times. I do love vintage.


Mon voyage se poursuit. Au Revoir.




Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Les Catacombes De Paris

"Halt, this is the empire of the dead."




I have a fear of death. I'm fairly certain that it is the ppain connected with dying that scares me most--drowning, burning, the agony of disease. Dying alone. That's a huge part of the problem. I know...we all die alone; death is a personal passage; a solitary journey. I get that. Even when someone is holding your hand you're still alone in that final sleep. 

A few days prior to this trip to Paris, I was lying in bed, awake with anxiety, trying to fall asleep. I kept repeating the word "death" over and over. I was trying to get comfortable with it as a word, take some of the darkness and mystique from it; challenge its power.

It is fitting--if only to me--that on my first full day in Paris (on this, my second trip) that I spent some time underground, communing with the bones of many a Parisian's past. 



The descent began via spiral staircase. Spiraling down into the depths of the city's underground. Roughly 60 feet.  Dimly lit, narrow passageways, well worn and slick from moisture and travel, were the path to follow as I felt myself sloping gradually deeper below the surface. The only life was that of the others around me doing the same thing.

It was cold. Chilled to the bone now takes on a new meaning. I felt my teeth trying to chatter. I forbade them to do so, daring them to defy me. I won. I felt my body tense, waiting for someone to jump from one of the dark crevices to scare me. But this was no haunted house or set for a horror film. This was concentrated ground.

Aside from those walking this passage with a companion (and talking while doing so) the journey was silent and serene. Even those holding conversations were kerping them at a low volume. Isn't it amazing how much respect is given to the dead? Oh that we might treat each other in life with as much courtesy and respect. Imagine what your subway ride might actually be like.  



To ogle at stacks of bones might seem an odd thing to do, but the history behind their stacking is fascinating.

In the 18th century it seems health conscious Parisians were looking to improve the city's sanitary conditions. Their bright idea was to empty the church cemeteries, moving the bones to what had formerly been limestone quarries underneath the city. It took decades to complete the process. Ceremonial processions of carts of bones were led by priests to the newly repurposed quarries, now catacombs. In places, the bones could be found stacked five feet high and up to 80 feet deep. Talk about sharing space. And for that matter, can you even imagine the uproar it might cause today to even suggest moving bodies from the cemetery? I don't even want to think about the backlash and sense of entitlement that would present itself.

Death is cold yet I wonder if the ancient ghosts feel the warm presence of the bodies passing through, gawking at their bones as they lie, en mass, in rest. 

"Happy is he who is forever faced with the hour of his death and prepares himself for the end every day."



86 narrow steps twist to the surface. I wasn't any worse for wear--the chill warmed; the damp spots from the drips that fell on me from the limestone ceiling dried--just different. Walking between stacks of bones, staring into empty holes where once sat eyes that saw the Paris of another century, isn't something I do every day. 

In the remnants of death it seems we're all the same. That we might recognize that while we're alive. 

Mon voyage se poursuit. Au revoir. 


Monday, May 9, 2016

The Glacial Pace of a Stroll By The Seine

Is it just me or is the bread fresher and the cheese stinkier--in a good way--in Paris.

And the water. It's just water, right? Except when it the green water of the Seine and you're strolling along side it, moving at the glacial pace that Miranda Priestly hates. You've a café cremè in your hand and that one bird keeps tweeting the same song over and over and it floats on the breeze even as you move further away from it. 





I watched a pair of lovers engage in a kiss on the opposite bank of the Seine. Before them I watched a couple pose for wedding photographs. Virginia may be for lovers but Paris is for LOVERS.

Patches of blue peaked through above me in the patchwork of blue, gray, and white. Eventually the blue disappeared but the sky never dropped its moisture on my head. The breeze blew and the sounds of Paris--sirens, motorcycles, the language--filled my ears. I walked and I walked. And I walked some more.

All the anxiety I had for the nights leading up to getting here have evaporated into thin air now that I'm actually here. As I said in my previous post: "I enjoy being where I'm going. It's the getting there..."



My cousin, Whit, asked me what was on my agenda for this trip. My response: "To breathe the air." I want to drink it all in with my eyes, my nose, my ears. I want to capture it all to memory and translate it all into words and images. I want to taste different wines and eat cheeses that I've never heard of. All of these things are possible. This is my life. I'm living my dream. Nightmares are not an option!

Mon voyage se poursuit. Au revoir. 


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Embracing Life and My Fear of Vulnerability

The anxiety is real. I'm not sure where it comes from or when I developed such a deep cavern of fear for it to fill. But I suffer from it, wake in the middle of the night for no apparent reason because of it. 

My latest bout is travel related. I don't want to fear traveling. I don't want to hate traveling. I enjoy being where I'm going. It's the getting there that drives me to utilize deep, calming breaths...and drink. 

If you read any of my Paris blogs from September 2015, then you know that I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to Paris--the Eiffel Tower, the wine, the Mona Lisa, the wine, Versailles, Hermès, the wine, the chocolate, the cheese, the café's...the wine. Walking on the streets, strolling by the Seine, riding the Metro all brought me joy. You might also remember that I was bumped off my return flight with no explanation. That could have been very traumatic, but I took it in stride, freaking out for a moment, then settling my sleeping and car arrangements for another day, after which I had the glorious opportunity to see Monet's Water Lilies. I'm glad I didn't miss them. So for that I say, Thank you Air France for the bump.

That bump-without-an-explanation is the whole reason I'm returning to Paris almost 8 months to the day of the first trip. I emailed Air France asking 1) for an explanation as to why they were unable to accommodate me on the return flight and 2) to pay for my extra night's hotel cost. They never did explain their inability to accommodate me on my scheduled flight and they didn't pay for the extra night in the hotel. But they gave me a flight voucher worth €800. That basically covered the price of this flight. So again, Thank you Air France for the bump.

For three months I've been marinating in the excitement of returning to Paris. Yet as the day of departure approached I could feel my familiar anxious tropes beginning to take hold of my thoughts and my insides. You know...you find yourself short of breath, nauseous, fearful, emotional. That's anxiety. At least it's my anxiety. Three out of the four nights prior to departure day I found my sleep restless or completely interrupted. My emotions were high. I could cry from a side-eye glance misinterpreted or because the subway left before I could make the transfer. A sad song turned me into a puddle. I found it difficult to relax and more often than not in these situations I resort to an OTC sleeping pill to ensure I get some rest and turn off my mind. 

Finally, the day before departure--departure for Paris in May; Paris in springtime. I tried to check in for my flight on line. I couldn't. I tried four times to no avail. Finally I called the customer service number where I'd originally spoken to a lovely woman who helped me book the flight using my voucher.

I gave Carla, my Air France customer service representative, my ticket number. She pulled up the reservation immediately. At least I thought she had. I mean she confirmed my first, middle, and last names after typing in the number. Then there was silence followed by, "I'm going to need to put you on hold for a couple of minutes." The couple of minutes turned into seven and at least two more times of being put on hold.

It seems that even though I received three emails on February 12, 2016, with all of my itinerary confirmations inside, my reservation had been cancelled on February 14, 2016, for no apparent reason that appeared in any of the information Carla could find. I wanted to vomit. There I was 30 hours before departure and I was no longer booked on the flight. I must confess part of me wanted to just say Fuck it and let the anxiety win. I seriously gave thought to just not going. Then Carla said that she, with the help of a manager, had reinstated my reservation: "You should now be able to check in for the flight online." Except I couldn't because I hadn't remembered to bring my passport to work and needed the number to complete the check in. My anxiety shot through the roof, my stress levels threatened to drown me as they rose toward my chin. 

I went directly home at that point. I did not pass go; I did not collect $200. I managed to check in for the flight and confirm that I was indeed booked for the return. Although I have a bit of trepidation considering the two incidents I've now experienced with Air France. Bump me once, shame on you. Bump me twice, what the hell am I doing here?

The excitement ebbs and flows. The anxiety ebbs and flows. The excitement gets stronger as the departure time nears. 

I hate being vulnerable. I have a fear of flying that presented itself at some point after the devastation of 9/11. Admitting my fear is vulnerability. I hate not knowing exactly what I'm supposed to do and how I'm supposed to do it. That is showing vulnerability. Refer to the first sentence of this paragraph. I realize that much of my anxiety comes from this fear of being vulnerable. 

But I'm going to be in Paris tomorrow and for now I want to embrace the excitement, give the vulnerability a small foot hold, and leave the anxiety in the airport at JFK. 

Mon voyage se poursuit. Au revoir. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

I Dared To Be Me And I Feel Like A Bird Set Free

"The hardest part is being afraid. Afraid that people are going to find out the truth. [But] once you stop being afraid you're free." Steven Carrington, Dynasty circa 1987

It's amazing what a little honesty and eyeliner can do for one's psyche. I'm not talking about covering my face up "with lots of MAC makeup" as Jennifer Hudson sings in "All Dressed In Love." That’s not my thing (but if it’s yours…do it!). I’m talking about a little eyeliner to accentuate the eye, add a pop of color, help me express myself.
 
Since publishing “The Woman In Me” a little over seven weeks ago, my courage and confidence has grown by leaps and bounds. Admitting my truth and embracing myself has been so powerful. It's freedom. Being brave enough to be myself on the street when I'd only previously done so (without fear of judgment or retribution) behind closed doors has been life changing; liberating. I've noticed that I face my life differently. It's as if I take a breath and react in a more grounded less frustrated manner than previous. If you can believe it (because sometimes I still can’t) I'm less hard on myself.
 
I don't think any of us realize how much trauma we cause ourselves with our secrets.

When I embraced myself and started wearing eyeliner in public it was scary. That first step outside the door I would compare myself to a cat whose hackles are raised in a posture of defense. I was on guard -- prepared for even the slightest negative reaction -- even with sunglasses on to hide the liner. But the glasses had to come off and the eyeliner had to be exposed. I'm not Anna Wintour. Sunglasses are not an acceptable accessory at work. Within days of little to no reaction it began to not matter when I stepped outside of my apartment whether I was wearing sunglasses or not. I became less self conscious about wearing the eyeliner. It was merely a little paint on the canvas, an expression accentuating my style. The ease of incorporating a feminine bracelet, ring, boot, etc., followed immediately. And I become less self conscious of those items also.

I soon became aware that I was happier with me; less critical of me. Don't be fooled: I'm still my harshest critic, but I accept that I'm not perfect and never will be. That's hard for a perfectionist. I just have to be the best me I can be. What I've realized is that my courage to show myself with confidence has changed the way I face the challenges that life presents on a daily basis.
 
I first began to notice this difference by the way I reacted to the corrections my personal trainer would give me at the end of an exercise. I have long carried a pot of anger inside of me that boils over any time I feel vulnerable. And let’s face it, doing something new can be a very vulnerable situation. Before "outing" my authentic self in public I would get so angry because I wasn't able to execute an exercise perfectly. Even if i’d never done it before. That pot would boil over, and I would be angry, almost always, for the rest of the training session. Now I seem to accept his assessments less as failure's and more as challenges. Then I attempt again to execute properly a kettle bell swing, a single-arm press with squat, or the ever challenging Turkish Get-Up. It was a shock to me the day I realized I wasn’t getting angry in a situation when I would normally get angry. It began to sink in that by accepting, embracing, and exposing my true self to the world I had become more relaxed in navigating the ups, downs, twists, and turns of my life.
 
I had released myself from my self-made prison of fear and shame. Gilded as it may have been inside with all its pretty things (art, champagne, high heels, and shiny pieces of jewelry) it was still a prison. I had to get out of my own way, spread my wings, fly. I could no longer be contained behind the wall of my home.

On a recent Friday I paid a visit to the Gucci store on Fifth Avenue. It proved to be quite a positive experience. I don't know how many of you have seen the new studded leather navy (or red) and white striped platform pumps from Gucci's SS16 collection, but I have personally been obsessed with them since I first laid eyes on them in the pages of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. They’re art -- sculptural; stunning. Said visit was about seeing the shoes in person in all their beautiful, full-color, 3-D glory.

When I stepped off the top step, having arrived at the third floor of the Gucci store, I saw them sitting on a table. All the available color options from tan to green to silver & black to the aforementioned striped, which has pointed studs and a feline head detail. They were inviting me to come over and look at them, touch them. Never one to be content with admiring beautiful things from a distance I walked myself straight to that table and all but Carrie Bradshaw'd a "Hello Lover" at them all. Is it cheating if you've got hearts where your eyes should be and you've yet to truly commit to loving one more than the others even if you already know you like one more than the others?
 
Anyway, there I was in Gucci and a sales associate, Sherice, was asking me if she could be of assistance. Instead of just admiring the shoes I told her I wanted to try on a pair. She didn't blink an eye as she asked me what size I wear.
 
"I wear an 8 in men's," I responded.

"That's a 10," she replied quickly, which translates to a European 40.
 
I told her I was particularly drawn to the navy and white striped platforms. She promptly went to the back in search of my size.

Sadly, they didn't have the navy and white striped in a 40, but they did have the red and white striped. From the display we took the shoe for my right foot. I tried it on while she went in search of its mate. It fit perfectly. I was Cinderella...without the prince (as I’d put the shoe on my own foot). I bobbed up and down around the shoe salon admiring the reflection of my foot in that shoe in all the mirrors. Then I noticed that all the sales associates in the room were admiring too. They began to remark overwhelmingly with positive comments. Not "to-make-a-sale" comments either. Just positive, uplifting, judgement-free, comments.
 
Ava, another sales associate, chatted me up while Sherice was in the back searching for the mate to the shoe I had on my foot. I began to tell her about my current journey, about the above mentioned piece I had written and the favorable response to it. She listened with total interest then told me if I decided to buy the shoes I had to wear them out into the world. She applauded my co-workers for their support and applauded me for doing that little ol' thing of finally being myself in public.

Those shoes nearly screamed "I belong on your feet! Buy me!" Every sales associate I encountered in Gucci that day was so supportive of me and thrilled when I chose to make the purchase. I couldn't have felt more at ease in a group of strangers.
 
Even more interesting was the fact that I initially wanted the navy and white striped (which was more subdued), but it was the red and white striped that truly made a statement. There was no other option. The navy and white striped could have been ordered for me, but I knew, as did everyone else watching me walk and smile and laugh, that it had to be the red.
 
Ava was right about wearing them out into the world. They're too beautiful to keep hidden behind the walls of my apartment. I didn’t know when I’d find the courage, but I knew I would, just as I’d found the courage to walk out into the world wearing eyeliner. I had to. I wanted to.

Two days later I was wearing those shoes at work.

It was a beautiful spring-like winter Sunday. I wore those shoes for every hour of my 6 hour shift. I opened myself up to the possibility of stares and laughter and even name calling. My hackles were up. I was prepared…and I wasn’t.

What I received was a generous outpouring of positive support. Comments ranging from, “Beautiful” to "How can you walk in those?” to "You are giving me life right now!" resulted in a dialogue of sorts, with no conversation or question shaded negatively. I knew I had chosen a safe space in which to experience my grand initiation of wearing unmistakably women’s shoes in public, but I wasn’t prepared for the feeling of joy that flooded my heart. I received hugs of encouragement and watched as faces masked with astonishment transformed into smiles. I can't begin to express my gratitude for the support of my co-workers. I thankfully work in an industry that embraces all of us -- human beings. And I have a set of core friends who support me no matter what. I basked in that encouragement and support; breathed it in; let it fill me up.
 

There were a couple of obvious (to me) straight men that I passed while walking through the building. I heard them laughing behind me. I'm not sure if the laughter was about seeing a grown man in a pair of women’s platform shoes or if it had nothing to do with me at all. I wasn’t necessarily the punchline to a joke. I just presumed I was. Regardless, I kept my shoulders back, my head held high, and walked, with nary a teeter, back to my office. If they were laughing at me then that's their own insecure shit rearing its ugly head. I rocked those shoes with ease, grace, and style.

I don't need to tell you how important it is to surround yourself with supportive people. What I may need to remind you of though is how important it is to be supportive. We're all in this life together. We have a choice: stand together or tear each other down. "United we stand, divided we fall."

The title of this piece comes partially from the song “Bird Set Free” from Sia’s new album This Is Acting. The album is filled with songs and lyrics that empower me, feed my courage, and make me want to be even more brave. It has become the soundtrack to my current journey. My walk has become a strut of confidence and her album is punctuating every step with positivity.

I’m still afraid but my fears are weakening. I'm freer. I’m supported. I dared to be me and it’s paying off. I’m surviving my own demons. You might even say I'm kicking them in the ass. I love myself more.

Remember that line from The Goonies, "It's our time down here."? Well, “down here” is right now, and it’s my time right now. It's all of our time right now. Be yourself...confidently. I dare you!

I'm here. I'm queer. I'm gay. I'm homosexual. I'm gender expansive. I'm feminine. I'm masculine. I’m pretty. I’m handsome. I'm alive. I'm a bird set free. I'm unstoppable. I'm me.
 
My journey continues.