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 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.

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?