Friday, February 3, 2017

Struggling To Transcend The Darkness

Yesterday was a dark day for me. Nothing in particular happened to cause the darkness. Unless, of course, you count the state of the country.

I woke up. I made coffee. I drank the coffee. I read Vogue. I was in a pretty good mood. I even decided to be bold with my eye make up: dark purpled-gray on the lids and a smudgy stroke underneath.

Without even knowing why, I just felt dark. I wore mostly black. And with the salt of white in my beard and the dark eyes, I had a vision of what it would all look like and it came together in reality with as much perfection.

The darkness of the outward soon seeped inward.

I asked a question and participated in a discussion about politics: Mr. Trump's Executive Orders, Senate confirmation hearings, Democrats stalling just to be vindictive or because they had legitimate concerns.

During the discussion I listened but couldn't help but feel like the kid sitting in Geometry class, not understanding, finally raising his hand to ask a question, and hearing the snickers of the students around him making him feel even more stupid because now they know he doesn't understand.

I know that these are my own self-imposed feelings of ignorance. I also know that my dread of each new move by the Trump Administration on the chess board that is our country's political game is real. I know that I shouldn't live in fear. But knowing and doing are two different things. I'm trying to understand. I'm trying to have faith. Both are equally difficult for me to do.

I couldn't shake the feelings of dimness that took hold of me yesterday. I tried to engage in other conversations. I felt the people around me working overtime to lift the mood in the room. I couldn't do it for myself, and they couldn't do it for me. I had spiraled down the rabbit hole where even Alice kept her distance. Too much darkness. I was alone. I finally realized the best course of action for me, and everyone around me, was to remove myself from the situation.

Later in the evening I took to Twitter. Searching what was trending led to a Trump related hashtag. I knew I shouldn't click on it but click on it I did. Three tweets in I saw the word "libtard." That's the word that I've noticed more and more from the Right since the election results knocked the air out the Left. It's a hateful word; demeaning.

I wasn't sure it was possible, but the darkness got even darker. I forced myself to close my Twitter app and then forced myself to delete the app from my iPhone.

We're living in a divided time right now. I am honestly trying to understand how the other side feels. I saw the progress that happened during the Obama Administration. However, I'm trying to understand how what I considered progress was not considered progress by Obama haters. It's so difficult to see another's point of view when that point of view at no point has even a hint of aligning with yours.

I can't understand why my being protected, as a gay man, causes so many such discomfort. I don't remember what I felt more of when the Supreme Court ruled on Equality in 2015. Was it relief? (I certainly was relieved. And shocked. I wept.) Or was superiority that people in a country so superiorly Christian would finally have to accept the Separation of Church and State? (I felt that too.) Of course, that ruling inevitably led to Religious Freedom bills being submitted over many parts of the country.

Fear and hate continue to be carefully taught. And they're thriving. They're thriving equally among the Right and the Left: two sides within the same country so divided that we can't even be civil with one another.

I continue to fight my fear and to try not to hate people who might hate me for the way I was born.

I know that I'm supported by some but don't feel that I'm supported by those from whom I'm longing to be held.

As I made my exit yesterday with Charlie Brown's rain cloud firmly secured above my head I said, "The next time I see you I'll try to be more pink."

Today I am trying to combat the darkness with pink. It's light-hearted. It's revitalizing. It lifts my spirits.

I can't watch the news. I can't read my Twitter feed. I don't even want to look at the headlines on Huffington Post. If I do any of those things the brightness will begin to drain from the pink. And if that happens all I'll be left with is the dingy brown of a watery puddle. And that's just one step away from the darkness, over which I'm struggling to transcend.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Fear, Shame, & Discrimination: It's Enough Already

Have you ever had fear of family rejection from doing nothing other than being born? I have. Maybe you've experienced the fear of your family’s reaction when you got your girlfriend pregnant, or wrecked your car, or got a DUI, or failed a class. But that’s different than fearing your family for the way you felt inside because of who you were attracted to. 

Have you ever felt completely isolated from everyone (your parents, your preacher, you teachers, your guidance counselor, your friends), unable to ask questions or talk about how you were feeling, because you feared their reaction? Well, guess what. I have. It was sad and terrifying and lonely. And I felt ashamed of myself for most of my life. That fear was caustic; it tried to destroy me.

I’m done with that! I’m done with it. I’m not going to apologize for being attracted to men, for enjoying kissing a man, for wanting to hold a man’s hand. I’m not going to apologize for enjoying makeup and a fantastic shoe. I won’t do it. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone condemn me as less than worthy of rights and protections because of how I feel, who I love, what I wear. I WON’T DO IT!

Too much time was wasted living with shame and fear. Too much time is still being wasted with the residual effects of those feelings. I am not a victim. I am a survivor: of my childhood, of high school, of religious men and women who would have me believe that Hell awaits me if I continue down my path. I could easily play the victim card, but that is unproductive. I am not a victim, but I am angry. I have risen up and I will continue to rise further.

Even the hint of a whiff, via Twitter today, that Mr. Trump might sign an executive order allowing for discrimination against LGBTQ humans has incensed me. It’s enough already. I stand proudly, a capital G, with my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. It is time to stop this nonsense. LGBTQ humans needing protections wouldn’t even be necessary if so many homophobic people, hiding behind religion, afraid of what they won’t or can’t understand would just get over themselves and realize that equality isn’t going to change their lives. It’s going to change the life of someone else. And by doing so will make life better for all. 

We could indeed make America great(er) if we all took a second to support, love, and help each other. We truly are stronger together. I just hope we haven’t destroyed each other by the time we figure that out.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Treading Water in a Sea of Anxiety

photo via Keeper's Blog
“We should be celebrating everyone as much as we can. There’s so much darkness that it’s hard to keep your head above water sometimes.” Christian Siriano

I struggle daily with anxiety from the impending Trump presidency. Impending is a word, for me, that is often followed by the word doom. Impending: imminently threatening or menacing. Doom: adverse fate; ruin; death. Impending Doom. Yep. Sounds about right. 

As a gay man who saw his courage grow by leaps and bounds in 2016 alone, the imminent changing of the guard from the Obama administration to the Trump administration is justifiably unnerving. Therefore: fear of impending doom. I’m treading water in a sea of anxiety. I know I’m not alone.

My anxiety derives from the recent past: Mr. Trump’s words, actions, and reactions on the campaign trail. It is nourished daily as I try to digest the information released of those he’s chosen to surround himself with in the White House — a barrage of anti-gay humans, many of whom seem to lack the qualifications necessary to do the job they’ve been appointed to do. It maintains its grip on me every time he takes to Twitter to tweet…about anything. 

I wish I could keep wearing my rose-colored glasses and pretend everything is ok. But I can't ignore what is happening in the world. I need to be informed, but I’m finding it more and more difficult every day to open my reputable news apps. I fear the headlines. I think to myself: What now? What’s next? I have to read the story because otherwise I won’t know what’s going on. Then, more often than not, my heart sinks into a despair that turns to frustration, then anger. The glasses are cracked. I've had to take them off. The resulting imagery is harsh. As the truth often is. 

Have you noticed the photos that often accompany any article about Mr. Trump? They’re photos that often show him with an expression so self-righteous and smug it makes me think he couldn’t really care less about the people of the country he was just elected to represent. I know these photos are chosen on purpose — a manipulation — to show Mr. Trump at his worst. But I watched him on the campaign trail. I watched portions of the debates. And I’ve read his words. Self-righteous, smug, egotistical, self-important, oppressive, and dishonest are just some of the words I’d use to describe how he comes across. He doesn’t seem approachable and doesn’t seem as if he would take to heart any of the concerns of the people, even if he did take a moment to listen to those concerns. The image he has cultivated is not that of a nice person, and I think he likes it that way. 

I, like many others, never thought Mr. Trump had a chance of winning the election. But he did win. I don’t know how and I don’t know why. As TIME states on the cover of their “Person of the Year” issue, he is “President of the Divided States of America.” Remember the motto, “United we stand, divided we fall?” We are divided as a country. So divided. I can’t even imagine what the next four years will bring, and I don’t even want to think about the possibility of eight. I can’t think about it. I fear we’re on the precipice of a fall: momentous, hazardous, deadly. Every minority group in the "United" States of America has the potential to feel a terminating grip on its rights and freedoms during the Trump administration. All the courage must be gathered. All the voices must be raised. We'll all be stronger together.

So many bemoaned the suckocity of the year that was 2016. I concur (even if I did find a great deal more personal courage). There was terrorism at home and on foreign soil. There was shooting after shooting after shooting. There was hacking (Russia anyone?), and too much attention paid to emails that proved nothing. There was contaminated water and a pipeline. There was fake news shared and tweeted as real. Then there was the Presidential campaign and its subsequent election results. All led to anxiety inducing headlines with subsequent stories that did not alleviate the tension. Now 2016 has ended and the new and shiny year 2017 has begun. But I fear we have passed from the bleak into the ominous. The cold, gray, gloomy days of January are apropos. 

The new year hasn’t had a chance to get tarnished or genuinely fucked up yet. However, this new is not a renewal. It’s a continuation. It’s a year that will bring change to be sure. What that change will be no one knows. I’m guessing not even Mr. Trump. 

We’re hovering over an abyss of the unknown. The darkness is foreboding. I keep trying to shine my light but it’s arduous.

Is it any wonder my anxiety continues to flourish?

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Ruinous Lust

You look at him. He smiles. It’s that same smile he’s been smiling at you for years. That same smile he smiled at you back when he was still “straight.” You feel the flutter in your stomach. You thought those butterflies had flown away, or better yet, died years ago. You worked hard to coax them away; bury them. You tried to give them no nourishment so that they would have to leave you alone and find another place to live; find their way into someone else’s stomach through the hole in the heart left by Cupid’s arrow.

It seems that with the sensation you felt that day you realized they had merely fallen into a deep slumber. Your feelings are still there. You would go with him one more time if he would only ask. You're not in love with him but you love him. Lust is what you’re in with him. You’re in the deepest lust with him and you just want to feel him deep inside you.

He doesn’t care about you. You realize that, right? Yes. You realize it. You know it. He will be your friend but he will be nothing more. He used you once. That was about him and not you. Your feelings were collateral damage. You will never kiss him again. You will never feel his lips on yours or his hands on your body. You will never take him into your mouth again and he will never penetrate you in the way you yearn. Unless you consider the way his has penetrated your heart. But you have to heal that wound. It will do nothing but fester if you continue down this path of wishing and pretending.

He can still be beautiful in your eyes. You have to find the balance. He will never be yours and you will never find yourself comforted in his embrace. You will never fall asleep with your head on his chest.

He is not good for you. You know that. Yet your heart overrides your head every time you see him. You keep hoping, as you’ve been doing for too many years, that the right moment might arise and his eyes will be open and see you as the person he is missing in his life. That is never going to happen. He sees you and he wants nothing more from you than friendship.

That hole in your heart left by Cupid has merely crusted over. Propel the butterflies up and out. Make them break through the scab. Make them exit. Let that particular hole close. Cupid will hopefully provide you with another one day. 

He is the boy that was never meant to be yours and no amount of wishing is going to change that. He doesn’t want you. He never really did. You’ve been suffering, on and off, with your unrequited love of him for too long. 

It’s time you loved yourself more than you think you love him. It’s time to remove the infatuation cataracts from your eyes. Your lips, hands, and body deserve more than the desire to one more time have a chance to get it right and win his heart. 

Your heart is more important than his and some desires do nothing more than ruin a life. Don’t let his smile and your lust continue to affect your life. They’re a mad combination doing nothing more than conspiring against you.

There will be another He if you let there be.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Shoes & Safety-Pins: Unexpected Symbols of Freedom

Sometimes a shoe is more than a shoe. 

Sometimes it's a piece of art that you wear for its beauty. But sometimes it’s a symbol you wear in defiance of all the prejudice, fear, and hate that is around you.

Sometimes a man needs to face himself in the mirror and apply a swipe of mascara, maybe a bit of eye shadow or eye liner, or both, then put on his heels and confidently (Oh how I've had to muster every ounce of courage to appear confident in the days since) walk out of the apartment.

In a country that has proven itself to be at least half (considering the voters in the recent election) full of racists, sexists, and phobes of some sort, it takes a lot for someone like me (a person who deviates from society’s idea of normal) to hold his head up and Just Be.

I am not alone in my fears. I am not alone in my devastation. I am not alone in my courage.  And I am thankfully no longer feeling alone in my sadness. I have friends who can help me be strong and who I hope I help be strong. Now more than ever I feel like we have to be there for each other. We have to support each other. We have to find support if we don’t have it. We have to help others who are hurting—friends and strangers alike. 

Yesterday, as I began to see images of vandalism; to read tweets and status updates of racism and homophobia—at a reprehensible low—I took a moment to breathe down the nausea. Then I took a moment to feel grateful that I live in progressive and generally accepting New York City and had not directly experienced that hate. Then I got angry.

Our President-elect incited this madding crowd during his entire campaign. He unearthed them; brought them into the light. His inability to hold his tongue and be diplomatic (EVER!) has given many of his supporters a sense of empowerment to now say and do whatever they want to anyone.

I want to do more than use my words. I’m stirred to act up; fight back. I want to get my hands dirty and help. I’ve donated to The Trevor Project and Planned Parenthood. That is not enough but it’s a start.

Our President-elect doesn’t have the backs of most of the people that he is set to starting leading in January 2017. It doesn’t seem as if he will surround himself with advisors that will have our backs either.

There are many of us that are angry. Many of us that are scared. Many of us that are grieving. Many of us trying to find a safe place to land.

There’s a new symbol that is being warn to show solidarity. It’s a simple safety pin. You’ve probably got several in the bottom of a drawer where you live. It’s in the name already—safety. It’s a symbol of support: an identifier marking an ally; a safe place for all of us humans who are targets of the Make America Great Again constituency to feel supported, respected, equal.

So as I enter the Third Morning After I’m reminded of a few lyrics from that good ol’ show tune, “A Little More Mascara” from La Cage Aux Folles: “When life is a real bitch again and my old sense of humor has up and gone…I put a little more mascara on.” To this I will add a fabulous pair of shoes and a safety pin.

I will be myself and be a safe place. I will support you and ask for your support in return. I ask that you help me stay strong and courageous and I in turn will help you.

Sometimes a shoe is more than a shoe. And sometimes a safety pin is more than a pin.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Even in Trump’s America, I Will Shine My Light

As I sit in my apartment, trying to drink a cup a coffee on the morning after, I can’t help but feel completely alone. I’m trying to assuage the dread and fear that is knotting my stomach. I’m trying to decide whether crying or not crying is best. I’m angry. I’m devastated. I’m scared. 

I have connected with friends this morning who share in my grief at what happened yesterday in America. I have reached out to a few family members without knowing what the response will be or even if I’ll get one. I have read through many tweets and articles that have already been tweeted and published this morning regarding the outcome of yesterday’s actions. Texts and tweets are a from of connection but in reality, I’m alone in my sadness.

I never knew how much racism, sexism, misogyny, and homophobia existed in my country: the land of the free; the home of the brave. (I’m no fool. I knew it existed just not to this extent.) With the hate-filled words that spewed from his mouth during his entire campaign, Mr. Trump shined the brightest light in the sky, illuminating his existence for all who might feel the same way as he and want to follow him down his dark path of making America great again. (America is already pretty great. Where do we go now?) 

Parallels between Harry Potter’s big bad, Voldemort, and Mr. Trump have already been made Mr. Trump's his Dark Mark shining in the sky brought forth a glut of supporters. His divisive words allowed those who longed for the “good ol’ days” to stand tall, proud, fearlessly in that light and affirm their beliefs because he was saying out loud how they felt. 

As a gay man I have seen so much positive change in our country during President Obama’s two terms. Change that I fear our new president wants to wipe away as quickly as he can. I don’t want to go down the road of #NotMyPresident. But I don’t know how to respect a man who does not respect me and will not have my back.

I’m afraid for my LGBTQ friends (adults and youth alike), my muslim friends, my black friends, my latino friends. Our new conservative leader does not seem to have the best interest of any of us at heart. His own words have proven that during his campaign. On the whiter side, he does have the backing of the KKK. Wait. Stop. Think about that for a second. I saw a tweet this morning by Mikey Walsh that said: 

"Our First Black President will have to greet, and give up the White House & the presidency to a Man endorsed by the KKK. 2016."

Is this America? 

So, what am I to do? What are any of us whom our leaders view as second-class citizens supposed to do? Noah Michelson wrote a fantastic piece at 3am this morning called Dear Queer America: Here Is What We Must Do Now That Trump Will Be President. He tells me to never stop fighting. He tells me to continue to live my life and be me. He tells me to come out again and again. He tells me to be vigilant, to be brave, and to speak. 

The first thing I did was cry. (That answers the question posed in the first paragraph.) Then I tweeted Noah my appreciation and came out again to him. I plan to continue to live my life and show up and be seen. I will continue to love men. I will continue to paint my fingernails and wear high heels with my boy clothes. I will continue to wear eye make up whenever I want to. I will continue to write and explore and be me. I will continue to push back against those who wish I would just go back inside the closet.

I’m terrified of what this upcoming regime change may bring upon this country I call home. But as terrified as I am I don’t want to cower in fear of the Dark Mark hovering above us. The homophobic, racist, sexist, misogynistic citizenry cannot be allowed to make us feel less than. I am an American: a man, a homosexual, an equal.

The sky is gray in New York City today. At first I thought is was the perfect metaphor for the ominous future that is hanging over our country. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe those dark clouds need an even brighter light to illuminate the sky and dissipate the darkness. Maybe a disco playlist will lighten the mood.

I’m still here. I’m still queer. I’m still me. And you’re still you. We have to pull together and not allow this victory to defeat us. We’re Americans, damn it. We’re made of stronger stuff. And to quote the Tony Award winning Best Musical Avenue Q, “Donald Trump is only for now.”

We’ll get through this. We have to. It’s either survive or die and death is not an option. Stay strong. Show up. Be seen. Be yourself. Shine your light.

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