Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Enough Is Enough: Christians, Homosexuality, And The Casting Of Stones

This piece first appeared on HuffPost

I am so tired of hate speech spewing Christians. They of the holier-than-though contingent who seem to think their shit doesn’t stink. 

I am tired of my homosexuality being labeled a sin. 

I am tired of my acting upon my sexual desires being labeled a sin.

John 8:7 (KJV): “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…” 

Ever notice how many of those stones are being cast by Christians? 

Enough with the sin talk already.

Heterosexuals do not corner the market on sex. Because let’s face it, it’s all about the sex isn’t it? That “nasty,” “disgusting,” hurts-so-good butt sex that many people can’t seem to wrap their heads around? What does it matter how two (or more) people express their love for one another? I can even take love out of the sentence and put it even more bluntly. What does it matter how two (or more) people choose to get off? There are even heterosexuals who enjoy a visit to Butt Town.

Homosexuals are not perverse as some are wont to think. And enough with the desire to round us up and kill us. Would you have another holocaust? This time on American soil? From some of the statements I read from Christian leaders in this country, I’m thinking a rainbow holocaust of epic proportions is exactly what some want. I get the feeling there would be much joy from some after an LGBTQ elimination.

I doubt that anyone who hates gay people enough to wish death upon us cares, but I’m a human being. And living with that kind of hate on the periphery for my entire life is challenging to say the least. 

What I find so interesting about hate is the part choice plays in it. Think about this. I’m the gay man. Who could possibly know better than I what I feel and who I’m attracted to? Do you know better than I what I feel because you’re a conservative, a Christian, a whatever else you claim to be? You’re wrong. But here’s what I know. You make a choice. You have chosen to hate something you can’t accept. You have chosen to believe the words of the Bible without question. You have chosen to follow the doctrine of a religion that picks and chooses what is sin. You have made a choice. I did not. 

I was born gay just as I was born with a crossed left eye and blond hair that eventually turned brown. I didn’t have a choice in those matters. It’s that simple.

If people would stop casting their stones for just one second—one second—and look, they would be able to see the LGBTQ people—the human beings—in front of them. But our country—America—is filled with pious people who think they’re doing the “right” thing, but have merely consumed the Kool-Aid laid out for them on the silver platter of self-righteousness.

Who I love, fuck, or get off with is no one’s business unless I share the details. A non-heterosexual couple who wants to get married does not affect negatively the institution of marriage. It’s time to get over that notion. That belief is nothing more than irrational delusion.

It fills me with anger when I see a video like the one posted by Theodore Shoebat calling my homosexuality a perversion worthy of death. Are you kidding me? The professed ‘Christian Militant’ (Christian Militant??) is pious indeed. This man is so drunk on the power of his religious superiority that he believes that people should be put to death merely because they are homosexual. Look in the mirror, sir. You’ve got a little bit of shit dribble on your face.

I grew up in a small town in Kentucky filled with fear and shame because I was gay. (Thank you religion.) I continue to fight against those fears and that shame every day to be the person I want to be and to fully live my life. 

Hate is taught; it is learned. Love comes naturally. I, and my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, deserve to live, to thrive, to love. I know that attitudes toward LGBTQ are more positive and accepting than ever, but I also know that hate has carved out its place in this country. 

I’m not casting a stone but…isn’t hate and the wishing of death a sin?

Hey Benham Brothers, Maybe The Message On The Winds Of The Hurricanes Is For You

This piece first appeared on HuffPost

First Kings 19:12 (KJV): “And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”

A reader of the scriptures learns in the above verse of the still small voice in which God spoke to the prophet Elijah. As a child I remember wondering what that voice would sound like. Would it be an actual voice? Would I know it was God speaking to me? Would I hear it? Would it be a sign that I would see and then take as God’s voice?

The pastor of the church I attended with my parents during my childhood would often say that God had spoken to him about a passage of scripture, which he would then use as the basis for that day's sermon. I grew up believing that God physically spoke to people in the present as I believed he had in the biblical past. I was an innocent then, a child who had yet to see how hateful people can be.

Stephen Sondheim said it beautifully with his lyric, “Careful the things you say, children will listen” from the song “Children Will Listen” from the fairytale musical Into The Woods. He’s not wrong. Children will listen, and they do. They believe. They trust. They don’t often question. But when children grow up, some of what they blindingly believed becomes glaringly untrue.

As an adult who questions everything, I find it annoying (I’m working on finding it entertaining) how God "speaks" to people nowadays. 

Let’s talk specifically about the Benham brothers, David and Jason; twins, who reside in North Carolina, and are so anti-gay that they’re basically pro-hate. They are just the latest in a line of Christians making ridiculous statements about how God sent the recent Hurricanes (Harvey and, specifically, Irma) in retaliation for equality: gay marriage, LGBTQ acceptance, Trans rights, gender identity. 

David Benham: “So today, there’s a message from God for us.”

Jason Benham: (citing Psalms 104:4 [NIV]) “God, he makes the winds his messengers.”

So according to these two, the winds of the hurricanes are messengers sent from God. And God is using these winds to say that we—the people, the nation—need to repent for our egregious sin of finally moving in the direction of equality for ALL human beings. 

If the Benham brothers’ message came from God, then I think God is a little shady. I mean, seriously…speaking to one person one way and another person another? Is he playing us against each other? Is he telling Rick Wiles, Kevin Swanson, the Benham brothers, or any local homophobe one thing while telling other people who fully accept LGBTQ humans something else? How are we supposed to know which voice is the actual voice of God? And who’s telling the truth? Is God a pot stirrer of Mean Girls proportions? Shady indeed.

I think the voice is just that of the subconscious reminding one of what he believes, telling him want he wants to hear, reassuring him of his “rightness.” Those innermost beliefs then get spouted from the proverbial mountain top in the form of words declared without hesitation to be God's own. 

I question the mental stability of anyone who thinks Hurricane Harvey bore down on Houston because of its progressive attitude toward LGBTQ people or because of its former lesbian mayor. Case in point: Ann Coulter’s tweet (click the link). Sounds like her own hateful prejudice coming out to me. But then again, she’s a pot stirrer. 

To believe that Hurricane Irma is yet another punishment for the Divided (er, United) States of America because I can legally get married is an absurd belief. One that unfortunately continues to restrict and limit too many in this country…and the world. 

As much as I’ve questioned my own religious upbringing over the years, I’ve never really stopped to think about God saying hateful, nasty, negative things about LGBTQ people to one group and then turning around and telling another group that LGBTQ people are perfectly exactly the people we’re supposed to be. Born this way! I mean I am made in his image if I'm to believe the words of the Bible that so many take as truth and law. At least the verses that are picked and chosen to be believed…as truth and law.

The people who wish to blame all of the world’s disasters on LGBTQ people should take a second and look at themselves. Let me flip the tables. Maybe God sent the hurricanes to punish you for the vile way you treat LGBTQ people. Maybe the hurricanes are your punishment for dragging God’s name into your own hateful ideals of who deserves what. Maybe the hurricanes are actually that still small voice trying to speak to you “on the wind,” but your hatred is preventing you from hearing it.

Regardless, you're wrong. Neither I nor any members of the LGBTQ community caused the devastation of Harvey or Irma. God is not punishing anyone. And how arrogant is it that anyone would claim to know God’s actions? Hurricanes happen. (Hello…global warming.) Gay is human. Love is love. Gay rights are human rights.

As for using passages from the Bible to get a point across, John 13:34 (KJV) says, “A new commandment I give unto you: that ye love one another. As I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” 

None of us needs that still small voice to tell us to love each other. But even if it did, I don’t know how many of us would hear it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Lightening Power of Laughter

Sometimes it only takes a bit of laughter. Even the witches of Eastwick knew the power of laughter.

I've been down the dark rabbit hole of misery for much of the past week. Okay, why stop at just a week. I've been in that hole for the better part of this year. I seem to fall into it with more frequency and with much ease nowadays. I'm familiar with feeling sorry for myself and with the wallowing that comes with it. As much as I don't want to be a victim I play the victim quite often. I would rather play the dashing socialite that is impeccably dressed (even in jeans and a t-shirt), whose presence is desired where ever he may be. But alas, it is the self-perceived, undesirable victim that I most often play. Although, I'm still pretty well dressed. Even victims can have style.

The words "I hate people" often exit my mouth on the breath of an exhale. But I know that I need people. I don't really hate them. It's the behavior of many who crowd this crazy, sexy, dirty, gray, radiant, glamorous metropolis that I call home that I really hate.

Last night as I sat in a garden with friends and a stranger telling stories, I wasn't miserable. I wasn't sad. I was happy, content, cold! Glass after glass of wine or beer was filled, emptied, and filled again. The contents of a bowl of Seven Layer Dip were demolished as chip after chip scooped up the goods like a backhoe removing dirt. I was talking, listening, laughing. At one point I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. And the coughing started. You know, the coughing: when you're laughing so hard that you can't catch your breath and you start to cough. I had to stop laughing and make myself take deep breaths: in through the nose, out through the mouth. That laughter was wonderful though, even as my lungs burned. I was enjoying the human interaction that we humans are on the planet to enjoy. The interactions that I don't get when I'm down that rabbit hole, isolating. I had forgotten the lightening power of laughter.

Life changes. There is always something that we wish we had done, or wish we were doing. It's up to us to either do those things or find the joy in what it is we are actually doing. I'm currently binging Parenthood on Netflix. I often make myself feel guilty that I'm not taking advantage of everything my City has to offer. But truthfully, I really enjoy sitting on my sofa watching Parenthood. That guilt is so self-inflicted that I should wear a body condom to protect myself from its infection.

As I write this, I'm sitting at my desk listening to the cast recording of the musical Come From Away. It's a 9/11 story. A tale of fear, sadness, compassion, and friendship. This day is heavy. I may never forget what I was doing on that morning 16 years ago when my sister finally got through to me on the phone and informed me of the devastation that was happening outside my window.

As I write this, I'm thinking about my mom and how I wish I could feel her arms around me right now. Sometimes a mother's hug is all one needs to comfort him. I think about how often I don't indulge in her hug when I have the opportunity. This train of thought inevitably leads down the track of impending loss toward that someday (hopefully many years from now) when I will no longer be able to feel her arms around me. My sigh is loud and as heavy as the day. I sent her a text to tell her I love her.

Change can happen in an instant. We can all attest to that. I don't laugh enough. I'm really hard on myself. I wait for things to happen instead of making things happen. Life may seem like it's long but it isn't. It's already September and just yesterday it was June. Time is flying. My waiting and isolating and not laughing only makes what little of it there is miserable.

I have to live. I have to live. I have to live. I am here. I am breathing. I am alive. I have any opportunity I want. I can make choices. I can play the victim or I can write myself a new role. I am here. I have to live.

Laughter was indeed my best medicine. But with medicine, one has to take it in order to feel better, to heal. In order to heal, to feel better, to enjoy my life I need to laugh more. I need to spend more time with my friends. I need to speak the stories instead of just writing them. My sofa will still be there when I want to binge the next television show. But laughing with people is different that laughing at the television.

I've been too heavy lately. It's time for the lightness.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Withdrawing Into Isolation

I am alone. Not literally. I live in a city of 8 million yet I am alone. In that aloneness I am isolated. By choice I am isolated. My intention with this isolation: unclear. I’m living vicariously through the characters of my favorite television shows and through those in the world created in the book I’m currently reading. I’m comfortable hidden behind my own walls. 

My social media has been disconnected. My phone is on Do Not Disturb. I do not want to deal with the world. I do not want the world to deal with me.

I have cut off most of my friends. I have cut off my family. Do they know it? I don’t know. I have chosen to fade from their view. Is it in the hopes that they will recognize that I am no longer there and reach out? Maybe. (How childish) But honestly, I don’t want any of them to see me…like this. For I see myself as a floundering man who has been down this road—what is it, depression ?—before and in their imagined faces I see the look of recognition, that look of here we go again. In their imagined whispers I hear them actually saying, “Here he goes again,” as they take a ragged breath and plaster on a smile before opening the door and embracing me.

Is any of this true? The feeling of aloneness and the isolation is true. The feeling of depression is true. (Although I’m probably just blue, dejected, forlorn. Or maybe as Blanche Devereaux put it, I'm magenta.) The rest could be true. Or maybe it's part of the grand illusion of storytelling that I do so well. I recount stories about my life all of the time: the good, the bad, the ugly, the funny. I make up stories of fiction in an attempt to entertain. I also tell myself stories that may or may not be true. Is it a coping mechanism? Are these stories a way of dealing with my own bullshit? Are they a protective shield that prevents me from being vulnerable in front of the people I love most, (or the one who could love me most), or the people that could help me most? 

I am embarrassed to be this person. 

I’m angry and holding grudges. I’m hurt. I’m cold as stone. Yet I’m so sad...that I ache. I have a large personality that usually doesn’t go unnoticed. Yet I want to fade away. 

I cannot seem to accept that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It feels like weakness. I know that the stronger man knows when to ask for help but it still feels like weakness. Maybe I’m the weaker for sitting alone in my isolation. I’ve been a social butterfly for much of my life yet the idea of fluttering my wings right now doesn’t bring me joy. I would rather sleep. To sleep is to forget even if it’s for just a moment. To sleep is peace, if only briefly. Am I empty? Why am I here? 

Is self-pity in black and white? The role of victim that I have written for myself?

I attempt to put on a smile and pretend that everything is okay. That’s difficult for a person who wears his heart on his sleeve. I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings. 

The sound waves that carry information about my daily life have become radio silent. I am not Rohrering. I am whimpering. 

feel as if I’m too afraid to live yet too scared to die.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Death Does Not Become Me

I've been thinking a lot about death lately. Okay, not just lately. It’s more like I think about death every day. It's kind of a constant presence in my life. I carry it on my back like a cloak. It’s invisible, but it isn’t light. Thoughts of death are very heavy.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t afraid of dying. Maybe it’s not the dying as much as it’s the fear of what comes after. I’ve been aware of a place called Hell for as long as I’ve been able carry a tune. And believe me, that’s a long time.

You see, I was raised in a religious environment where I was cautioned on the unimaginable fiery pit of Hell — or Lake of Fire. I was warned of a judgment day and of how if my name wasn’t found in the Book of Life I would be cast into that pit — that waterless lake — to writhe and burn for eternity. Eternity. That’s forever. Burning. Consumed but not. Feasted on by maggots. Consumed but not. Tormented by demons. No peace. Only anguish. And the falling. Hell, I also remember it being said, is bottomless. So, there would never be nothing but burning, gnawing, writhing, torment, and falling.

Hell scared the shit out of me as a child. 

I was educated early in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. How he, and only he, could save my soul from eternal damnation. All I had to do was ask him into my heart to save my soul from Hell. By doing so, I would be granted entrance into Heaven where I would live for eternity in a mansion of my own in the golden street suburbs of a Utopia that I couldn’t begin to fathom. And I asked him. Then I had to believe that he actually did it. That he saved my soul from Hell.  As a child I imagined Jesus — he looked like the images that appeared in my Bible (white man, beard, compassionate expression, a nice post facial glow) — sitting on a throne in my chest. He was in my heart after all. I had asked him to come inside, and I believed he had accepted my invitation. He had to be sitting there. I didn’t quite know how, but I believed. Ah, the faith of a child.

As I got older my attraction to men began to surface from the dark shadows of my deepest desires. I began to realize that I was homosexual. Wait. What? Homosexual? How was that going to work? As long as I had know about Heaven and Hell I had known that a homosexual was not going to be granted entrance into Heaven. I mean, the Bible said so and I was taught to believe those words without challenge.

Revelations, chapter 21, verse 8: But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.

As a homosexual many will say I fall into the category of the sexually immoral. I might also be considered cowardly if you take into account all of my fears. Then, of course, there’s the option of denying my homosexuality, which would make me a liar. Sheesh.

My thoughts of death —or the afterlife — beget quite a damper on my present life. I am alive but I’m not really living. I fear that fiery pit every single day that I breathe. I find no comfort in the fact that I asked Christ into my heart to save me from that place. I find no comfort in the fact that God is said to have created man in his image and here I am created homosexual...in his image, right? These things don’t match up for me. It’s almost as if I believe I can only have one or the other. I can be a homosexual, live my life, find happiness here on Earth ending up in Hell Or I can fight my desires and deny everything I feel in the hopes that I will find my name in that Book and get to walk through those pearly gates.

I know that not every Christian feels that homosexuals will not see the Kingdom of Heaven. But many do. America — and the world — has made great progress in the area of LGBTQ rights and overall acceptance in the past few years. But even now there are those who are pleased to see our rights being rolled back or at least being attempted to be rolled back. Being a Christian means being Christlike. I have to ask: How is discrimination and violence against a minority group in the name of God Christlike?

As a homosexual, I have lived my life under the shadow of fear for as long as I can remember. First it’s Hell. Then it’s bullies on the playground. Then it’s bullies in high school. Then it’s AIDS. Then it’s fear of familial rejection. Then it’s narrow-minded people who somehow feel better about themselves when they call me names. Then it’s the Americans who currently feel emboldened to stand strong against me on the grounds of religious beliefs.

LGBTQ people have decided that enough is enough and are now very visible. Because of that, narrow-minded people feel persecuted and oppressed. I’m sorry, but give me a break. Oppressed? I’ve felt oppressed since I realized I was homosexual. They’re not oppressed. They just don’t understand same-sex attraction. And they often get hung up on that "dirty," "nasty" sex I enjoy with a man. If they just thought about it in terms of when they realized who they were attracted to and that we realize it the same way an amazing epiphany might happen. But alas, many would rather just think of me as immoral. I’m not. 

When I came out to him even my father responded that he believes what the Bible says. In that moment I was so relieved that he said he loved me and that I was welcome in his home that I didn’t ask him what he meant. To this day I don’t know. Does he merely believe, per the Bible, that my homosexuality is wrong? Or does he believe, per the Bible, that I won’t be joining him in Heaven? Maybe I don’t want to know. Maybe I don't need to know. I can’t quite understand how people can still believe that homosexuality is a choice instead of the way we’re born. Believing it’s a choice is the choice. Not accepting what homosexuals tell you about when they knew they were homosexual is a choice. But I’m off topic.

I’m often angry. It stems from the rhetoric that was used to oppress me as a child. I was scared into believing something that still affects me negatively today. I can’t seem to release the fear. I can’t seem to release the anger.

I find no comfort in my past invocation. I have no faith. I do not trust. 

I don’t know if Hell is a real place, or if we live in hell every day here on Earth. I don’t know if Heaven is a real place either, or if it’s a story of a beautiful paradise made up to comfort us in our time of need when a loved one has died. 

Hell continues to scare the shit out of me. 

And my fear of death does not become me. It hampers me. It stifles me. It limits me. Living my life to its fullest would become me more. I just can't quite step into the sun and leave my shadows behind.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Give Up and My Stars

I feel as if I gave up. No. That’s not right. I don’t feel as if I gave up. I gave up. I walked away. I left it all in my past, a discarded but never forgotten dream. I gave up and convinced myself that what I was doing as I walked away was what I really wanted to do. I lied to myself. I didn’t have the courage to keep trying. I didn’t have the drive or the motivation. I didn’t have faith. I didn’t trust. I put my dream in a box and placed that box in the back corner of a closet. I left it there. Left it there. It didn’t die, as dreams rarely do. But it faded, and it’s barely breathing.

How often do we convince ourselves that what we’re doing is what we want to be doing? How often do we tell the story of how we came to be doing what we’re doing that we actually believe it’s the truth?

I tell the story of how I moved to New York City to pursue a career in musical theater but that I didn’t want to leave the city to go on tour or work elsewhere because I loved being in the city so much. So, I found a job in a box office. I was an accounting major when I first started college and, in this story I tell, working in a box office was a marriage of numbers and theatre, combining two things I love. I like to tell people that working in a box office kept me in the city and in the theatre community. This is true and this is bullshit.

The older I get the more I realize that the life I’ve created for myself is only partly what I imagined it would be. Still, even if I’m not going to be the musical theatre star that Stephen Sondheim writes a role for I need to be creative. I’m a creative person. But with creativity comes the desire for validation. And boy do I desire validation. Jesus!!

Sometimes I can barely breath. I suffocate myself with my own insecurities. I sabotage myself. I feel as if I have become a superficial fool who likes nothing more than to play the victim of his self-created circumstances even as he says he doesn’t want to be a victim. Moronic whiplash! I am often filled with dislike for the man I currently am.

Get up.

Do something.

Change it.

Get out of your own way.

I have forward motion paralysis in respect to making changes in my life. It’s a symptom of fear. And I’ve got plenty of fear. And because of that fear I’m pretty sure I’ve been stuck in place for years. I’ve made some positive strides in my life. Many of them in the recent past. But those strides haven’t moved me forward enough in my opinion. 

I was told once that I had stars in my eyes. It was a negative comment. But I did have stars in my eyes. And I never saw those stars as anything but joy, excitement, desire, goals, dreams. Thrills waiting to be experienced. Sometimes I feel the flicker of those stars and I remember. But most days my stars lie dormant, all but burned out. 

I wonder if I’m on the cusp of a change in my life? I feel as if I want to rip off my skin and be somebody new. Or just scream as loudly as I can until all the pent up frustration, sadness, anger, has been expelled from my body. Will I then walk away changed? Will I have stepped out of my way? Will my stars flicker again? Will I have the courage to pull that box out of the closet and open it, hear it’s beating heart get stronger, let the sunshine revitalize what’s faded?

I’m going to have to take some chances. I’m going to have to be willing to fail. I’m going to have to trust that I will get back up again. I’m going to have to be vulnerable.

I’m not good at any of that. But I really want those stars back in my eyes.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Four Hours on a Train: A Tweet Opera

NYC, July 24, 2017, 8:30 am Departure.

9:02 am: The City lies under a blanket of fog. The world turns. The train moves forward. I am stuck. Moving yet not.

9:18 am: I am neither mover nor shaker. I move in no circles. Excepting for the one encompassed by my rut. Stuck.

9:54 am: Gray skies. Raindrops streak the train window. Towns pass in a blur. Steeples. Flags. Lakes. Gloomy all.

10:53 am: The train stops unexpectedly. A breeze sways the leafy branches. There's a chill. I await the arrival of Dementors. Trepidation.

11:09 am: The train sits powerless, silent but for the sound of breathing. The air is still. Waves ripple beyond the glass. Waiting.

11:49 am: The boats bob up and down on the turbulent sea. Anchored in place. Sails folded. Rainy days in seaside towns. Sad.

12:05 pm: The broken ruin of what used to be still stands proudly on the hill. Oh, to stand that proudly, even now, as broken is how I feel.

12:32 pm: "Maybe u can't connect because u're not as funny, stylish, or clever as u think u are," he said to himself. "And u're kinda cold.”

12:59 pm: As the condensation continued to fog the windows I began to wonder, "Is this a reflection of my mind?"

Boston, July 24, 2017, 1:07 pm Arrival

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Shallow Travails of a Bourgie Debutante

I love fashion. I am an acolyte of the Houses that pique my interest—Dior, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Fendi, Hermès—and can often be found stepping through their gleaming glass doors to see in person what I first see between the covers of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar—shoes, bags, jewelry, scarves.

There’s glamour to be found reflected back in the dressing room mirror (Dior); style that is unmistakable (Chanel); and an exclusivity that one might easily feel elevates his status (Hermès) I love it! I have arrived at a moment in my life where I am enjoying the exploration and expression of my style more than ever before. My confidence has grown, even if at times it is still lacking in fearless self-assurance. Of course, being harder on myself than anyone else could possibly be I like to berate and deride myself—not seeing the growth—only seeing how much progress I still need to make. It’s a glass half full, glass half empty kind of thing and I’ve never been an easy optimist.

I’m not afraid to walk through the door as a handsome man in a perfectly fitted black suit opens it for me. If fact, I believe in that moment that I belong there, deserve to be there. I carry myself with an air of confidence: my shoulders back, my chin up, my chest thrust forward, sun glasses firmly in place, resting bitch face perfectly expressionless. My God, I’m Emily Gilmore. But honestly, I feel more and more that my confidence is #FakeConfidence. For you see, the moment a sales person starts to be nice to me (e.g. offering me water or champagne or showing me what I’ve come into the boutique to see) I begin to feel my old familiar feelings of worthlessness and low-self esteem creep in.

I’ve lived, changed, developed, grown, and survived in New York City for 20 years yet the wispy remnants of my small town self continue to tug at me. My previously mentioned lack of self-assurance has me often asking myself the question, “Who do you think you are?” It's classic Imposter Syndrome.

On a recent shopping spree that took me from Fifth Avenue to Madison Avenue then back along the glittering designer boutique-dotted 57th Street, I experienced a wave of good ol’ Imposter Syndrome. 

The shopping experience started out perfectly. I stumbled upon a 60% off sale at Saks Fifth Avenue and met the fabulous Shaniece. Say what you will about sales people in high end stores trying to made a commission. I can tell when those sales people couldn’t care less about me. Shaniece was not one them. She was a riot: funny, catty, honest. Whether she had her eye on a possible commission or not, she made me feel like nothing less than a man who happened to be shopping on a Monday in Saks Fifth Avenue.

From there I made a beeline to Hermès on Madison Avenue. I’d recently become obsessed with owning an Hermès scarf. I needed one. I had a bag that was crying out for one. And it seemed that that Monday was the day. Through the doors with confidence I stepped and gayly forward I strode to the cases where the scarves were displayed in all their colorful silkiness under glass. I was quickly joined by the gracious and gallant Luke, who proceeded to pull out every scarf I had the desire to see even though the first one he showed me was The One. He treated me like I assume he treats any other person in the boutique. He was kind and attentive, knowledgable and generous. I knew that I wanted to spend money in Hermès that day so I didn’t feel as if I was wasting Luke’s time. My confidence was completely connected to the fact that I wasn’t planning to leave without a scarf.

To browse—perchance to buy…or not. There’s the rub. If I know I just want to browse in a luxury boutique I try and make myself invisible. I love attention and yet in a “just looking” situation I try not to attract attention. I hate this about myself. I am trying to cultivate the life that I want in New York City and that includes being able to buy designer pieces from time to time.

As I turned the corner onto 57th Street from Madison Avenue I saw the Fendi boutique. I remembered the fabulous boots from Spring/Summer 2017 that I’d seen Gigi Hadid wear in photographs in Harper’s Bazaar. I wanted to see those boots. I was flying high from my experience at both Saks and Hermès. It seemed like the perfect moment to take my first step inside Fendi and see the beauty in person.

I was shocked to see Maria, the former manager of Maison Margiela, standing in the store. Turns out she now works for Fendi. Having had several conversations with her at Margiela over the past 10 months I felt comfortable enough to proceed with the browsing. But as she took me under her wing, I could feel my “Who Do You Think You Are?”-ness kick in. It was a physical feeling: self-conscious, embarrassed. Maria, and her co-worker, Iris, were being so nice to me. I didn’t feel I deserved it. We were taking about the boots that I had come inside to see and before I knew it I had a glass of champagne and the boots were on my feet. Now let me be honest, that kind of customer service is something that I want even if at times it makes me uncomfortable. It is decadent and evocative of the life that I see in my fantasies. On the other hand, I knew I wasn’t going to buy those boots so I felt as if all the attention being bestowed upon me was actually taking away from the attention that could be paid to other customers. I felt as if I was wasting their time. This was my own doing. Neither Maria nor Iris ever made me feel that way. And Maria, knowing me from a previous boutique, was just being Maria. I spoke with her about how I was feeling. She told me that I should get over that, let it go. If the only way to get better at doing something is to continue to do it then I guess there will have to be more browsing in my future. 

I was walking around Fendi in a pair of boots that mere moments before I had no intention of trying on. And I loved having them on. I was enjoying a glass of champagne. I was living the life I wanted. But I was so concerned with being seen as a fake that I couldn’t fully enjoy my moment of playing dress up. My previous feeling of pure bliss got a mental take down by my feeling of inferiority. I let my low self-esteem and low self-worth sabotage my joy.

Ruts change from time to time. They can fluctuate from deep to shallow to somewhere in between, then back to deep again. That’s what happens to me. I must have been in a shallower portion of my Imposter Syndrome rut while in Hermès because I was happy and unconcerned about the amount of time Luke was spending with me. I didn’t feel as if I was wasting his time. However, I all but fell backwards into the deepest trench of my rut while I was inside Fendi. 

I am no longer living in Population 325 KY. I am no longer the child being chided by his father, “I hope you get a good job when you grow up because you have expensive taste.” I have a good job. I’m conservative with my money until I’m extravagant. But because of my monetarily conservative nature, I’ve figured out how to afford the extravagance. I am Michael Rohrer. I have lived in and created a life for myself in New York City for 20 years. I am not getting “above my raising.” I have bettered myself. Why then do I keep asking myself, “Who do you think you are?” I am aware of my Imposter Syndrome. But I seem to be unaware of how to get past it. I’m betting it will always be there, if maybe just a little less persuasive the more authentically confident I become.

If you noticed in an earlier paragraph I mentioned the word “status.” For me, my ability to afford luxury items denotes an arrival; a step up the rung on the social ladder. This is all preposterous, I know. I’m aware of my own bullshit. I’m kidding no one other than myself. There is no social ladder that I’m climbing. I may be climbing a ladder but it’s the ladder of Delusions of Grandeur. The ability to purchase luxury items—designer labels—doesn’t make me anything more than a man who owns that item. My struggle to belong has somehow led me to believe that my ability to purchase these things makes me a more prominent person. It doesn’t. They’re just things. 
In the April 1965 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, Tom Wolfe wrote a piece entitled “Pariah Styles: The New Chic.” In it he writes of the new aristocracy in New York Society after World War II. How aristocracy is no longer denoted by the owning of property or lineage. He writes of the new aristocracy that they use one trick attributed to the old aristocracy and that is confidence. This confidence is what sets them apart from the “bourgeois striver.”

I’m a bourgeois striver: firmly middle class striving for an upper class guise but often lacking the confidence to maintain the façade. I wasn’t born into the aristocracy of old New York. Hell, I wasn’t born a Blue Blood of old Kentucky. I will never debut. I will never be part of that world. I will never know what it feels like for an Hermès scarf to just be a scarf instead of the scarf. I feel as if I will always remain on the outside, a Bourgie Debutante with his nose pressed up against the glass even as he wears a white ball gown by Dior. I know that in reality buying luxury items means nothing more than I have spent my money on something that cost me a lot of it. The happiness of the purchase stays with me briefly before the little voice in my head starts whispering, “Who do you think you are?” Then the smile on my face fades and my joy dissipates like ash from burned paper floating off into nothingness.

I know I am impeding my confidence and happiness. I know I am preventing myself from achieving and retaining the joy in any given experience. I know I am stopping my excitement in its high heeled tracks. But that sense of “Who Do You Think You Are?” is deeply rooted in my psyche. I know it’s just a glass of champagne. I know it’s just a moment of human interaction where a sales person takes the time to try and build a relationship with a possible client. I know I am not a waste of time. I know I’m good enough to be inside the boutique. I know I am deserving enough to have the things I desire. I know that those things don’t make me who I am. I also know that no matter how many times I tell you what “I know” it doesn’t mean that I believe it. Some days I do. Most I don’t. 

So I’m a bourgeois striver. So what? My father was right, I do have expensive taste. So what? My life is mine. My desires are mine. My dreams are mine. My goals are mine. To have what I want, I know I have to get past my insecurities and live confidently. That’s easier said than done but being aware is the first step toward change, right.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotten my heel stuck in a rung on this ladder and I can’t reach that glass of champagne until I get it unstuck. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Process Of Elimination: How Do We Stop The Persecution Of Gay Men In Chechnya?

This piece originally appeared on HuffPost Queer Voices

We are born. We exist. We are not flaws in the grand design. We are perfect as we are. We will not be eliminated.

Chechnya. 2017. Gay men are being starved, beaten, murdered. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or have chosen to ignore this information, you’ve probably seen a headline or 20 come through your Facebook or Twitter feed regarding these torturous persecutions. It seems that Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the republic of Chechnya (a mostly Muslim region in Russia) wants to rid (RID!) his republic of all gay men by Ramadan, which begins May 26, 2017. 

Ramadan, in case you don’t know, is a period of fasting, a time in which religious followers of Islam are supposedly brought closer to God and reminded of those less fortunate. Any human being that a family, a community, a government, a religion, a sect wishes to be rid of seems nothing if not less fortunate in my opinion. So as Chechnya approaches this holy period its leader hopes to have less “unfortunate” people to worry about. Religion…sign me up!

I am heartbroken. I am disturbed. I am angry. 

I don’t know what I can do to help. I am one person. But my ache and desire for an intervention is real. What can we (the gay community, the American people) do? How can we help? From thousands of miles away, how do we help them? 

I'm terrified for people I don't even know. I'm in anguish that men who love other men (like I love other men) are being beaten and murdered. Murdered! For merely being born gay. For choosing to live the lives they were born to live.

Scream. Yell. Kick something. Break something. It helps to release the tension but only briefly. The world view of gay people has certainly changed for the better over the decades since the Mattachine Society met in secret, since the rioters at Stonewall rose up, since the marchers of Act Up chanted "Fight Back, Fight AIDS.” But the world is still filled with evil people who want to eradicate anything and everything they see as different. Religion often feeds that evil and helps it to grow. Phobias of all varieties are running rampant. And bigots seem more emboldened than ever. Progress certainly seems to bring out the worst in people

I am moved to tears every time I think about the gay men living (dying) in Chechnya. I feel like Shirley MacLaine's character in the film Terms of Endearment: frustrated, agitated, screaming, "Give my daughter the shot!!!" But in this scenario I'm the one frustrated, agitated, and angry, screaming: Leave us the fuck alone to live our lives in peace!! I have to say us because if we gay humans don't stand with other gay humans then who are we? These are our brothers that are being beaten and murdered. For nothing! Lives are being ended…for nothing! Innocence shattered. Persecution due to a belief that who one loves (or kisses, or holds hand with, or fucks) is wrong. 

It is not lost on me that I live in the United States of America. I know how blessed I am. Yet even while the hatred and homophobia exists here, I am free to live, love and marry. The pursuit of happiness is mine and I can grasp it. But even here at home (the land of the free and brave) we don’t seem to have a president who cares enough about us to fight for the human rights, the equal rights, of LGBTQ humans. And with all the alleged Russian interference and collusion, will America step in to help or watch this tragedy play out from the sidelines?

We are not a blight on our family’s name. We are not stains on the fabric of society to be rubbed out. We are beautiful people who deserve to live and love and pursue our dreams just like anyone else. No government, no religion, no family member has the right to rid the world of us, or even attempt to rid the world of us. Being born heterosexual does not entitle one to all the rights and privileges of a civilized society but being born should guarantee them. Then again, what is civilized about beating and murdering human beings because they are gay?

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

Friday, April 21, 2017

Memory & Faith

Memory and Faith are tricky things. One has to believe that both are real. As time goes by each becomes less easy to trust.

It was 1978. February if memory serves. I was six years old. What does a 45-year old man remember about the things that happened to him when he was six? It’s been nearly 40 years.

I was at Central Baptist Church.

What does a six year old know? I remember knowing the difference between right and wrong, fear and comfort, life and death, heaven and hell.

I don’t remember a burden being lifted when I stepped out of the pew and made my way toward the altar. 

I remember kneeling at the altar. I can almost see the color of the stained wood, the length of it across the front of the sanctuary. It hovers in my memory along with cloudy images of gum stuck underneath the pew in front of where mamaw sat that I would pick at when she would let me lie on the floor beneath it, or the image painted behind the baptistry.

I don’t remember the words that I said. What I do remember is that I was supposed to ask Christ into my heart so that my soul would be saved from an eternity in hell. Someone was there with me. Someone who asked me if I wanted to be saved. I responded yes. Was it a verbal “yes” or a simple nod of the head? I don’t know. I remember the person saying words aloud that I then repeated. I remember repeating the words with sincerity even though at six years old I probably didn’t quite understand sincerity but now recognize it to be innocence and trust. That is how I asked Christ to save me from hell. 

I remember crying.

I believed that it happened. That must be the childlike faith I heard spoken of in so many church services. I was humbled, convicted as I remember it being termed. I wanted to step out of the pew. I wanted to go to the altar. I wanted to ask. And I wanted to accept. 

Again, I remember crying. 

I remember feeling a sense of relief. Was it that I felt lighter? Was it that I felt whole? Was it happiness? Was it that I felt I’d done something right, something pleasing? Was it because Jesus had taken up residence in my spiritual heart? I remember picturing Jesus living inside my chest. I was six. I thought Jesus was literally inside my heart.

I remember being lifted up to stand upon the altar by, I think, Harold Gardner. He may have been the person who led me. The image of the man’s face, the sound of his voice, is in that cloudy space along with the altar, the gum, and the baptistry image. Upon that altar I stood in front of a congregation of people who were staring back at me with smiles on their faces. I do remember that.

I don’t remember talking to you or mom that night. I don’t remember even seeing your faces. Or the faces of mamaw and papaw for that matter. 

If memory serves there was a handshake line for the congregation to welcome the newly saved into the flock. After that it’s blank.

It seems my 45-year old self remembers more than I thought.

Salvation is something that can never be taken away from me, something I can never lose. That's what I was always told. The redemption, the protection, is forever. I merely have to accept that that's the truth. Once upon a time I asked, once upon a time I received, and once upon that time I accepted. 

Nearly forty years later in my journey I strive to find my own relationship with God—the higher power—that works for me. A relationship that is my own. I'm no longer six years old and faith is a bigger undertaking than it was then. Humans (and their judgment) do not help. But humankind does not have a say in my relationship with God. It is mine and mine alone. 

Memory and Faith. There's often no proof of either. They are wisps of smoke that cannot be grasped. One just has to believe they are real.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The One About My Mom

In my mind she’s 40 or thereabouts. She’s frozen in time. I can’t pinpoint why 40 is the age. 

I remember her turning 30. I remember specifically that we had gotten new carpet in our house in Bardwell, Kentucky, just days prior to that milestone and that someone had spilled a beverage on the carpet in the living room. I remember her crying on her birthday as she told this information to her dad, my granddaddy. I now know that it wasn’t about the spill as much as it was about turning 30, having experienced that often anxiety-riddled birthday for myself. 

I remember when she turned 50. My sister and I threw a surprise party for her complete with high school friends she hadn’t seen in many years along with a secret arrival from New York by yours truly. She was lured to my sister’s church’s fellowship hall under the guise of helping sew Easter costumes. She was carrying her own sewing machine when she entered that room to the shock of “Surprise” and smiling faces. She cried. Holding that sewing machine, she cried. It makes me tear up as I write this remembering with joy that we had not only managed to surprise her, but that she was also truly happy.

The year she turned 40, I turned 22. Forty is another milestone birthday but I still can’t pinpoint what it is about that year, that age. She wanted a t-shirt that said, “It took me 40 years to look this good.” I got it for her. (When I turned 40 she asked me if I wanted one of my own. I declined that fashion statement straight out. We both laughed). 

As I said, I turned 22 the year she turned 40. That was the year I came out to my friends as gay. It was three months after her birthday and a mere 14 days after mine. Milestones reached for each of us back in 1993. The only way I would want to be 22 again would be if I could retain all the knowledge I have obtained since then, but I digress. When I picture her in my mind the image is often of her at this time in her life, our lives.

Christmas morning, 1972
I know she’s gotten older but it never ceases to shock me when I see her face after a prolonged absence. Her beauty endures. Her smile is still vibrant and alive. Her eyes are still twinkling pools of blue. She’s still the biggest kid on Christmas morning. She still believes in the magic of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and that I will always be her little boy no matter how old I get.

She will binge watch Downton Abbey with me and cry at all the right moments. She will play games into the night. She's my only Words With Friends opponent. She still looks and acts like my mom, just an older version. Her face is no longer as smooth as it once was, her hair no longer brown. But the reality of her age doesn’t line up with the suspended memory in my mind.

Time marches on. Mortality strums its thumb over the heartstrings.

She just turned a young 64. And I’m her “forever” little boy who has grown to be a man nearing 46. The relationship between mother and son has changed over the years. Because of what she calls a “mother’s love” I probably feel more at ease being myself around her than any other person in my immediate family. I don’t talk to her as much as I used to nor as much as I should. We text, yes. But hearing her voice can sometimes ease the pain that she doesn’t even know I’m feeling, calm the fears that she doesn’t even know are there.

January 2016
Phone calls always end with “I love you.” And I do love her. I’ll never be able to express adequately how much. It’s just not possible. She’s my mom…momma.

All of this has been written in preface to the shock of hearing that she was in the emergency room on Saturday night. She was out to dinner and talking to a friend when she felt pain in the left side of her jaw and then the left side of her face started to tingle and feel numb. Numb is how I felt upon reading those words in the text from my sister. Even when I read her words, “I think she is okay,” (my sister texting as a nurse as much as my sister), mortality showed itself. 

Her blood pressure was high. The doctor ordered a head CT, chest x-ray, and EKG. They all came back clear. However, I was not prepared to hear the word “stroke” as a possibility even if it did have the word “mini” in front of it. A mini donut is still a donut and sugar is sugar. My mom can’t be the age where people have a stroke. She just can’t be. Can she? 

As I said, everything came back clear. Her blood pressure is totally normal. Nothing confirmed conclusively that she had indeed had a mini stroke. But she was scared. I understand that. I too was scared. She stayed overnight in the hospital but was released on Sunday and went home. So back to life as usualShe’s a trooper who doesn’t even plan on missing a day of work. But me, I’m not ready, nor will I ever be, for words like “stroke” or “heart attack,” or anything else negative for that matter, to be in the same sentence when referring to her. She’s my mom. She’s always been in my corner. What would I do without her? 

I want to protect her from the havoc that the repercussions of the aforementioned words could/might/can wreak on her. I want to be in her corner, like the Crazy Healthy Dragon on the POM Wonderful commercial who fights off the free radicals.

She is no longer 40 and I am no longer 22. Time has marched on. It keeps marching. That’s a good thing because if it stopped then one of us wouldn’t be here to march with it. 

Andy Rooney said, “I didn’t get old on purpose, it just happened. If you’re lucky, it could happen to you.” 

She’s lucky. I’m lucky. Our luck continues.

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.