Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Baa, Baa, Black Sheep Have You Any Wool?" No, but I Have Some Shame

This piece also appears on HuffPost Gay Voices

You know the phrase, "Hit me like a ton of bricks?” Well, that proverbial ton of bricks fell on me recently. It happened over lunch with my best friend. I was talking to him about my latest mixed bag of thoughts on religion, family, and homosexuality when he posed this question: Do you think if your parents don't feel disappointed about you being gay then you lose your power?

I was confused. "My power?" I asked.

He explained “power” as my ability to stand out, that something they talk about, the thing that makes me special. Then he compared it to being the black sheep of the family. Ah yes, the black sheep. That family member considered wayward; a disappointment. The black sheep is the one constantly doing something that warrants those secret conversations held in gossipy, hushed voices. Disappointment in him is punctuated by deep sighs and head shakes. Said black sheep probably didn’t set out to play his role, but it’s the reason he stands out in the familial crowd. 

You know, I think I've been thinking of myself as my family’s black sheep for a long time. I’m not the alcoholic, the drug addict, the loner, the one unable to hold down a job, or the one who frightens people with his temper tantrums. I'm the gay one. At some point I decided being gay is my claim to fame in my family, and that my “fame” is cause for disappointment. I have so convinced myself that my parents are disappointed in me for being gay that I keep pushing them to confirm my suspicions. I seem unable to accept that they've told me they aren't disappointed in me or ashamed of me. You know what I think that might mean? I'm disappointed in me, and I'm trying to project that onto them. There’s that damn ton of bricks again.

So here's the kicker. All the delving into and questioning of my black sheep syndrome led me to realize I have shame about being gay. What?! Who am I? Where is the proud gay man I thought I was? The instances of low self-worth, low self-esteem and self-disappointment are products of shame. My shame. I've been so busy trying to place the blame on others for these feelings that I failed to see the person most responsible for them is me. 

In her book Daring Greatly, author Brené Brown talks in depth about shame. I’m now beginning to understand that my feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, and disappointment are products of my shame. I often think I’m not good enough. Well, that’s all on me. While reading Brown’s words I was reminded of that scary moment when I picked up the phone to call and come out to my dad, that moment when the number was dialed, but he had yet to answer. I knew I had to do it. I was ready to do it. Realizing I have to deal with my own shame is the same. It’s scary, but I have to do it. I’m ready to do it. I’ve started the process. It’s unsettling, but the outcome can only be better than the current situation.

It has become clear to me that for many years I’ve defined myself as gay. Defined myself. As if being gay is all there is to me. Believe me, I experienced the head shake and eye roll you might be experiencing right now when the disbelief at my own self-imposed limitations began to sink in. I’m more than just a gay man and being gay doesn't make me the black sheep or even a black sheep. I'm neither more odd nor disreputable than any other member of my family. I'm not wayward or a deviant. Being gay is just one facet to the multi-faceted person I am. How in the world did I allow myself to believe that being gay is the most important thing about me? Why did I ever start entertaining the idea that I’m my family’s black sheep? 

I am a man who had the courage to come out to his family and friends. I am a man who left what would have been a suffocating small town life to follow his dreams and move to New York City. I am a man who finally understands that it’s okay to ask for help and am seeking that help. I am a man who is discovering what his life can be. I am a man who now questions instead of just accepts. I am a singer, a storyteller, a red wine enthusiast, a lover of television, and sometimes I cut my own hair (don’t tell Truvy). These are just a few facets that contribute to the whole me.

I am the writer of my story, and I’ve been writing myself a shitty role. Beginning to acknowledge how shame feeds my feelings of disappointment and black sheepness has been interesting. I’ve been looking for someone to blame and using my being gay as a catalyst for my feelings of unworthiness in belonging on the branches of my family tree. I’m important to my family for many reasons the first of which is they love me. My being gay might get a few sentences from them here and there, but it’s not what makes me me. That is not my “power.” I realize I have to change the way I see myself and know that I’m more than the limitations I keep putting on me.

No parent or friend or therapist or book is going to be able to make that change. It can only be me. The aforementioned can be supportive and provide helpful tools, but ultimately I have to climb out of my shame box and face its by-products. I have to stop thinking of myself as the black sheep and find pride in the man who continues to examine his life in order to become a better person. A person who just happens to be gay. Now to secure that ton of bricks.

Friday, November 8, 2013

ENDA Is a Necessity Because Discrimination Is not an Option

It’s been nearly 20 years since I first saw the film Philadelphia. It was the winter of 1994 after returning to college from Christmas break. I saw it with my best friend. I remember it so clearly. It’s indelibly burned into my mind and my heart. We two sat in our seats as the theater began to empty, unable to move, tears flowing in steady streams from our swollen eyes. One of our classmates had been a few rows behind us. She approached and asked if we were ok. Her gesture of kindness has always stayed with me as well as that moment of sitting in the harsh lighted ugliness of that litter strewn theater with my best friend digesting what we had just witnessed.

We were newly out gay men. I had come out in the summer of 1993 so it hadn’t been quite a year since I’d been honest with myself and my friends about my sexual orientation. I was 22 and my college graduation was mere months away, my life loomed large in front of me. Anything was possible, and I wanted to take a bite out of it all. Being discriminated against wasn’t a thought in my mind. And AIDS? Well, AIDS scared the shit out of me. It still does even though I am very aware of how the disease is spread, the advances in AIDS research, and the drugs that exist due to that research. It’s no longer the death sentence it still was even in 1993 at the time of Philadelphia’s release.

That film had such a profound, emotional effect on me—the blatant discrimination, the fear of AIDS—that I couldn’t bear to watch it again. I’ve owned it on DVD for many years, a piece of cinematic history that was important and necessary. I needed to have it in my DVD library. As a gay man I had to have it in my library. But, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it again. Until now. A random afternoon, that maybe wasn’t so random, I removed that DVD from its place on the shelf. The faces of Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington stared back at me. I knew what I was getting myself into as I dusted off the top before opening the case.

Discrimination. It’s an ugly word. It’s defined by Random House Dictionary as the “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.”

Here we are in 2013 hoping the people who vote bills into laws in this country will vote to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). (Oddly enough, ENDA was first introduced in Congress in1994). It’s been nearly 20 years since “Andrew Beckett,” the character played by Tom Hanks in the aforementioned film, sued the law firm where he had been the “golden boy” for the discriminatory action of wrongful termination. He believed the partners learned he had AIDS then fabricated a story of his incompetence in order to fire him. Fear at its best.

It’s a head scratcher that there is even a need for ENDA today. If I’m good at my job, how does my sexual orientation affect anyone? “Charles Wheeler,” the head of the discriminating firm in the film Philadelphia is played to perfection by Jason Robards. He is the bulldog face of all the disgust and fear that is associated with homosexuality and, in this film, AIDS. I couldn’t help but see similarities between this character and current Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boenher. 

Boehner is a Republican Representative that most recently, for me, was the face of our government shut down. Now he’s the man who would block ENDA. Why are you standing in the way, Mr. Boehner? Why is it so important for you to block a law that would protect people from discrimination? I mean it is illegal to discriminate against a person due to race, color, nationality, gender, and religious beliefs—to name a few protections. And as for religious beliefs, why is it that part of the stall of this bill has to do with exemptions being given to religious organizations? If an employer can cite religious beliefs as a reason for discriminating against LGBTQ employees then doesn’t it make sense that those opposed to homosexuality will use religion to discriminate, whether they practice it or not? I’m just asking. I mean, isn’t ENDA a civil rights issue, a human rights issue? Why are we giving in to the demands of religious organizations at the expense of anyone's rights?

The partners in the law firm that wrongfully terminated Andrew Beckett are, to me, stodgy old men with antiquated ideals. They perfectly embody the stodgy old men with antiquated ideals who want to stand in the way of progress in this county. They represent, to me, many of the Congressmen who have to vote this legislation into law. That scares me. What does sexual orientation matter if an employee is a good employee? No one should live in fear of losing his job simply because of who he is attracted to. Sexual orientation should have nothing to do with a person’s employability. ENDA should be a moot point. However, it’s seems to be a necessity. Sad, but true.

In the opening credits of Philadelphia there are many striking images, but none as poignant as the Liberty Bell. That iconic symbol of American history represents freedom. Liberty means “freedom from tyrannical government.” Those who oppose ENDA are tyrants. They refuse to see the LGBTQ community as people deserving of protection. They seem willing to sacrifice those they see as weaker and less than. They’re as prejudiced, bigoted, and fearful as the partners in the fictional law firm in Philadelphia who found any way they could to get rid of their golden boy.

I’m thankful to work in an industry that accepts me and my sexual orientation. I don’t fear that I will be fired for being gay, but my heart aches and my blood pressure soars when I think of the gay men and women who do have to live in fear. Don’t we all deserve the freedom to be ourselves? No employer should have the right to fire an employee just for being gay. It’s un-American. And to all the Bible beaters against ENDA I say to you: Discrimination is not very Christian.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Being My Own Man: Discovering What I Learned From My Father

This piece also appears on HuffPost Gay Voices

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a man. I mean, I've got a penis so biologically I’m a man, but what does it mean to be a man? My dad says a man knows he's a man by how he feels within himself. I don't feel particularly manly. I feel much more in tune with my feminine side than my masculine.

I grew up in a small southern town somewhere near the intersection of stop sign and caution light. It's a place I jokingly refer to as “Podunk” or “Population 600.” It’s a beautiful place. Country roads lined by fields of corn or soy beans. Homes with big front yards. The churches are many and the restaurants few. My male role models in this Shangri-la-of-the-Country were church-going, outdoorsy types that I had nothing in common with. They’re hunters and fishermen; blue-color workmen. In my family, the men mark the seasons, not by longer days or the changing of colors, but by what animal it’s legal to hunt. They almost all enjoy the solitary peace of casting a line out into the water and waiting for a fish to bite. Most of them can fix a carburetor and many even do their own home repairs. These are the ideals of what it meant to be a man as I saw it, growing up in my small town under the tutelage of a dad who enjoys and can do all of the above.

There are some boys as young as 7- or 8-years old that you can already tell are all boy. I was not one of them. There was nothing masculine about me. I did not enjoy hunting of any kind. I didn’t like shooting a gun. I couldn’t shoot the arrow straight from the bow. As for fishing, the endless hours of sitting in a boat on the glassy waters of some lake hoping and waiting for a fish to take the bait, well let’s just say that bored me to tears. Of course none of that stopped my dad from taking me on a few of his hunting/fishing excursions. He wanted to teach me. He wanted me to enjoy what he enjoyed. I hated it. We found no common ground. I can’t begin to imagine his frustration when he began to realize he might be raising a gay son.

Moving on to sports. Well, that was a no go too. I didn’t like playing sports, and I didn’t like watching sports. I played basketball in junior high (because my dad wanted me to), which translated to me warming the bench, keeping my uniform neat and clean. I watched as my older cousins ran up and down the basketball court, scoring points. I watched as everyone cheered for them and patted their backs. I was not one of them. Full confession, I would have been happier being a cheerleader, cheering their victory, than to be sitting on the bench hoping I never had to be put into the game.

I was the boy who would much rather be inside the air conditioned house in the summer. Given the choice between playing outside or watching television I would always choose the latter, especially if it meant watching Santa Barbara or Another World. I didn’t want to mess up my hair or my clothes. I didn’t want to get my hands dirty. Even when it came to mowing the lawn (my job as the son in the family), I wore clothes that were too nice for the task.

My dad is a good man. He’s strong. He’s a provider. He’s a fixer of broken things, a disciplinarian, a caretaker. I respect him, and am thankful for him, but I have always felt like I would never be the man he is. 

Note to Self: Change way of thinking. 

I may not like to do the things my dad does or be able to repair the things he can, but that doesn’t make me any less of a man. I realized during this quest for understanding that I’ve been trying to define what being a man is, but being a man is open to interpretation. It takes all kinds of us. I’ve spent most of my adult life feeling as if I’ve failed at being a man, but that’s simply untrue. This Badge of (self-proclaimed) Failure is something I gave myself.

One of my best friends gave me his thoughts on what it means to be a man. He said, “I think being a man means having the strength to take care of yourself, the generosity to take care of others, the wisdom to ask for help when you need it, and the humility to accept help when it is offered.”

His words resonated with me. They have nothing to do with the images I’ve carried in my head since boyhood. They’re more about integrity, courage and responsibility.

I will never be a butch man, I am much more feminine than that, but I am a man. I’m a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend. I am a collector of art, a theatre goer, a lover of pop music, a drinker of red wine. I still don’t like to get my hands too dirty, I prefer to call a repairman, and I still love Santa Barbara (gone now to soap opera heaven). I take my responsibilities seriously and like seeing the tasks associated with those responsibilities accomplished. I love my family and my friends. I can be trusted and counted on. I strive to live a good life and to have the courage to change things that aren’t working even though change is difficult. I admit that my pride often gets in the way when it comes to asking for help, but ultimately I’ve realized it is a stronger man who will ask for help and a weaker who thinks he doesn’t need it.  

So what did I learn from writing this piece? Hobbies and abilities don’t make the man. It is our actions. I’m not the same as my dad and that’s okay. I’m me. I’m my own kind of man. One that’s smart enough to realize where he learned to have integrity. Maybe it is as simple as what dad said, and it's all about how I feel within.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Scandal(ized) and Loving It!

It's the age of binging. No, I'm not talking about on food or alcohol, although I’m sure somebody somewhere is binging on one or both of those things. I'm talking about on television. We live in an age where binging on television is the new normal. Not only is binge-worthy television more easily accessible these days, with Netflix, On Demand, online, and complete seasons on DVD, it is highly entertaining and addictively watchable. When you're fortunate enough to latch on to a series that makes you want to skip meals and sleep, choosing instead to watch the next episode, then you've struck television gold in your quest for your next great binge. My latest is Scandal.

The rapid fire sound of a clicking camera shutter snapshots images across the screen, giving me the sense that someone is always watching. The camera slowly pans the scene, alternating between clear and prism distorted shots. Scandal has a look and style all its own. For me, these stylistic choices mimic the idea that someone is always watching, but what did they actually see. I don't know what took me so long to join the masses in watching this series of sex and politics, but I'm thankful that I no longer have to shake my head apologetically or shrug my shoulders unaware when it comes to Olivia Pope references or articles written about Bellamy Young's portrayal of First Lady, Mellie Grant. I am now in the know and couldn't be happier to be an attendee at the gladiator party.

Let me start by saying Shonda Rhimes is a genius. She has created, with Scandal, a television show that appeals to me even more than Grey's Anatomy did when it was fresh and new. Scandal is a political drama with enough thrills, sex, romance, power hungry politicians, and yes, scandals, to fill a six month quota in just one episode. It’s never boring. I am constantly intrigued and never surprised when I find myself shocked. There's a level of anxiety that hovers in the room when I watch. The story lines can take any twist or turn during a given episode, but those twists and turns always feel right. The brilliant writers know how to give enough backstory to leave you wanting more, while answering questions you didn’t even know you wanted the answers to. They know how to shock you and they know when to give you the payoff. I am never sure what to expect, but being open-mouthed (jaw to the floor) is an expression my face has gotten used to.

When you watch a show called Scandal you expect there to be plenty of what the title suggests. You will not be disappointed. There are scandals that last an episode, scandals that span the season, and one major, overarching series scandal that looms over everyone’s head. However, the show is about so much more than the sum of its scandals. 

Kerry Washington's character, Olivia Pope is a “fixer,” a crisis manager. Her job is to fix the problem. And manage her client’s problem she will, even if she can’t manage her own. She runs Pope & Associates, a collective of lawyers, sleuths, and hackers who help her help the client. There's quite a bit of dysfunction between these characters, but the same can be said of any family. And that’s what the characters who work at Pope & Associates are, a family. For that matter so are the characters who work in the White House. All of their paths cross, their lives overlap. They know each other as much as they allow themselves to be known. Sometimes they work together as a team. Sometimes they work against each other. There is a desire among these characters to take care of one another, but there is also a willingness to hurt each other for the greater good. The question of who can you trust is always in the air and friendships seem only as deep as Olivia Pope's Prada bag. 

If the scandals make the show interesting, it’s the characters that make the show compelling. The storytelling is so engaging, the scenes so well acted, that the machinations of the political figures that thrive and breathe in Scandal's Washington, D.C. make me question what childish plots and crafty schemes our real life politicians keep hidden.

Scandal is delicious and just as good as all your friends keep telling you it is. It rightfully earns its People Magazine praise as "TV's juiciest drama." I don’t want to give anything away. I want you to experience for yourself the political intrigue as it unfolds in all its breathless, sordid detail. The search for your next great binge is over. Pour yourself a glass of wine. "It's handled."

This piece also appears on HuffPost TV

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Therapeutic Evening in the Kitchen

It’s been so long since I’ve cooked for myself in my own kitchen that I forgot how enjoyable it can be; how washing and cutting up vegetables can be relaxing and therapeutic. Don’t even get me started on the smell that fills the house when there’s something baking in the oven. For this piece that something baking was marinated chicken. My senses perked up the minute the Clean Linen smell of my Glade plugin was overtaken by the sweet smell of the marinade fused with a hint of garlic.

First things first. Before I got to the baking of the chicken I had to cook the base ingredient of the dish I had chosen to prepare. I cooked a pot of red quinoa (pronounced keen-wa). Quinoa is a grain, and, as the back of the box tells me, it contains “one of the best sources of protein in the vegetable kingdom.” It’s a complete protein grain. It’s good for you. That makes me feel good about eating it. For you gluten intolerant folks, it’s gluten free. Trying to eat a health conscious diet in a fast-paced stressful world when sometimes all I want to do is eat a box of cookies is difficult. Finding something that is good for me, easy to prepare, and also tastes good is a gift from the gods. Well, actually the ancient Inca civilization in South America, but I’m not telling their story. Back to the cooking. I cooked the pot of red quinoa and then place the pot into the refrigerator to cool down. For the dish I’m preparing the quinoa needs to be cold. So straight from stove to refrigerator. Of course, with a pot that hot one should place it on a pot holder. Just sayin’. 

While the quinoa cooled, I moved on to the chicken. I took two medium sized chicken breasts, and with a chop stick, poked several holes into each breast, piercing them all the way through. (If you had a frustrating day this is a great way to stab something and not get put in jail.) While shopping at the grocery store I’d purposefully neglected buying a marinade in lieu of a salad dressing I had at home: Brianna’s Home Style Blush Wine Vinaigrette. (There’s a sticker on this particular salad dressing that says it’s perfect for strawberries. Hence the sweet smell filling the house.) I took my holey chicken breasts and placed them on a tin foil bed and poured the salad dressing on top. I didn’t cover them in it to sit for hours I merely coated them with it making sure they were sitting in a salad dressing bath. I then sprinkled them with garlic salt and Goya Sazonador Total seasoning. Lots of the Goya. I wanted there to be plenty of it so that when the juices started flowing all the seasoning wouldn’t end up running off the chicken breasts and flavoring the salad dressing. Can’t you see it? The chicken breasts sitting in that salad dressing bath as it heats up and begins to bubble around them like a Blush Wine hot spring? Mmm!

I poured myself a glass of red wine and turned on a little Miles Davis (thanks “Carrie Mathison” on Homeland for turning me on to his music) and set about creating the rest of my meal for the evening. I mean it is creating isn’t it? Mixing and blending, chopping and peeling, adding color and flavor. Food is yet another canvas on which to be creative. I always enjoy the colors of the food and mixing those colors to create a visual that is just as beautiful to see as it is tasty to eat -- a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.

The washing and chopping began with a medium sized orange bell pepper. Can’t you just see the pop of color that orange bell pepper gives the brownish red quinoa? When I’ve made a version of this dish in the past I’ve tended to use yellow bell pepper, but orange seemed the right choice this time. It is fall after all. Next I peeled and seeded a medium sized cucumber followed by a medium sized purple onion. Are you sensing a size theme here -- two medium sized chicken breasts, a medium sized bell pepper, cucumber, and onion? I’m not really a size queen, I swear. After seeding the cucumber I chopped it into quarters and then diced the quarters into smaller chunks. The same with the onion. Diced. Small pieces. So right now I’ve got a brownish red quinoa canvas onto which I’ve spattered orange bell pepper, light green cucumber, and purple onion. What I chose next was an unconventional addition to this dish that I hadn’t thrown in before -- fresh mango. Yes, you read that right. Fresh yellow mango. I love mango and have a mango corer that I love to use. It slides right down the pesky, odd-shaped core and gets it out of my way leaving the meat of the mango housed inside two halves of skin. I cut the mango into strips, peeled away the skin, then, you guessed it, dice it into bite-sized cubes. To the brownish red canvas I’ve added orange, light green, purple, and now a pop of yellow.

With the veggies and fruits portion peeled, cut, and added, I moved on to the meat and cheese portion of the dish. The chicken cooked for roughly 30 minutes in its foil packet. The sweet smell making me salivate. I couldn’t resist taking a bite of it as I prepared to cube it. It was the first time I had used the Brianna’s dressing as a marinade. It won’t be the last.  

After adding the cubed chunks of chicken to the other ingredients, I prepared one of my favorite ingredients in this dish: crumbled feta cheese. Normally I buy it already crumbled, but his time the only way I could get regular feta cheese (i.e. not flavored or fat free) was to buy a block of it. I cut the block in half and began to crumble it. It ended up being about a cup. Maybe a little more, but who’s measuring? Besides the mango and the chicken, I decided to add another new addition: two tablespoons of capers. 

I love capers. They give such a salty kick to any dish. If you’re keeping up with these ingredients you’ve noticed that it is a mix of sweet and salty. The bell pepper and the mango are sweet. The feta and the capers are salty. The onion adds a bit of bite. The chicken was marinated in a sweet salad dressing. This dish is not only healthy (fresh ingredients, high in protein), it’s colorful, crisp, and crunchy.  

To finish off I tossed three tablespoons of olive oil and three tablespoons of red wine vinegar over top of the ingredients. I sprinkled on a nice bit of the Goya seasoning, some garlic salt, and plain black pepper. Contemplating whether or not my mixing bowl was big enough, I began to blend its contents, making sure the olive oil, vinegar, and seasonings coated everything. Of course there’s the obligatory taste, add more seasoning, stir, and taste again. It’s what you do. It’s the only way to know if it’s right. 

Essentially what I’ve prepared is a summer salad. I know, summer is over, but with the warm days we’ve been having in October this could easily be an Indian summer salad. The colors make sense now, right: orange, yellow, purple, and dark green (the capers) tossed into the brownish red quinoa? It looks like fall even as it hints to the recent hot days when watermelon might have been on the dessert menu.

Of course I needed a couple of side dishes to go with the quinoa salad. I bought a can of turnip greens because they remind me of home. Glory Foods brand Seasoned Southern Style turnip greens. (Kind of makes you wanna sing “Love that chicken from Popeyes doesn’t it?) I let the turnip greens simmer on low while I was peeling, chopping and dicing. When I serve them the finishing touch is always a small pour of vinegar over the top. I don't know what it is about the acidic tartness of vinegar that works on turnip greens, but turnips greens aren't turnip greens to me without it. I also steamed fresh green beans that I snapped myself. Throw a little sea salt on top of the green beans before you cover and steam them. That’s some tasty goodness right there. Don’t let them steam too long though. You’re gonna want them crisp.

Don’t forget to top off your glass of red wine. It goes great with this meal.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Education: Our Best Defense Against Ignorance

A version of this piece also appears on Huffington Post Gay voices

Please put your hands together and give a warm welcome to the founder of conservative group Mission America and all around good Christian, Linda Harvey.

Why are we in such a place, friends, where children learn homosexual behavior is noble? That amputating healthy body parts is admirable but the mention of Jesus Christ during a graduation ceremony is controversial? I'll tell you how. It's because not enough of us are calling this lunacy what it is. We need to have a clear idea about what is evil and speak up about it in order to preserve the good. And these actions are pure evil and should be declared child abuse.

The above words, used to speak out again the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), stunned me into silence that quickly turned into an angry outburst. No applause for you, Linda Harvey.

Why shouldn't schools include gay-inclusive education, e.g. the Stonewall riots, Harvey Milk? In History class children are educated about war, slavery, the civil rights movement, Nazis, the Holocaust. I'm purposefully pointing out darker moments in history because I feel people like Linda Harvey, who are so against homosexuality, equate us gay people on par with these moments. Why shouldn't a child learn of gay-related issues in school? If knowledge is power, doesn't it take some of the stigma away from homosexuality if children are taught of its existence instead of it being a dirty little secret that is only spoken about in hushed voices like cancer being discussed around the dinner table?

I would have benefited from such a learning environment. Instead I was taught about homosexuality and its "sinful" place in our society by preachers who condemned me to Hell before I even fully understood what I was feeling. Imagine growing up without that fear. Imagine learning in an environment where questions can be asked and a dialogue can be started. I had no one to speak to about what I was feeling.

For those who are convinced that homosexuals are out to recruit children or that children who learn about homosexuality might want to become one of us I say this. I was not recruited. Homosexuality was not promoted to me. On the flip side I'll add, I did not want to become a straight man no matter how much I was taught about human sexuality and reproduction in health class. I grew up around only heterosexual relationships, and I didn't decide one day to be straight. We are who we are and understanding who we are is only going to benefit us not harm us. I so often hear that gay people have an agenda. I think those against gay people have more of an agenda than anyone. Gay people want to be heard and accepted. Those against us want to persecute us and would be happiest if we went back into the closet and left them to live in ignorant bliss in their rose-colored glasses world.

Don't try to convince me that children need protecting from the knowledge that LGBTQ people exist. Some children are scared and trying to understand what they're feeling. I would know. Others are cruel and laugh in the face of those they see as different. I would know that, too. I myself was bullied by a school mate who later in life reached out to me to tell me that he too was gay and so afraid of his feelings that he joined others in name-calling me as a defensive tactic. Interesting. Maybe with the help of forward thinking teachers, like those involved with GLSEN, other children and teens can avoid such situations because they will learn what they're feeling is nothing to be ashamed of. Those not in the position to struggle with the fear of their own feelings have no right to condemn an education practice that will help explain them. All of us want to be understood and accepted.

Below is the mission statement of GLSEN:

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. 
We believe that such an atmosphere engenders a positive sense of self, which is the basis of educational achievement and personal growth. Since homophobia and heterosexism undermine a healthy school climate, we work to educate teachers, students and the public at large about the damaging effects these forces have on youth and adults alike. We recognize that forces such as racism and sexism have similarly adverse impacts on communities and we support schools in seeking to redress all such inequities. 
GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes in creating a more vibrant and diverse community. We welcome any and all individuals as members, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or occupation, who are committed to seeing this philosophy realized in K-12 schools.

Where's the evil? How is the above mission statement anything but a wonderful commitment to safety, education, and respect for all students?

Often times I believe we are against something because we don't understand it. It doesn't make sense to us. Let me take a moment and say that I recognize how I react when I don't understand something. I lash out and get angry. I feel foolish and embarrassed. I don't want to admit that I don't know the answer, how to solve the problem. Now go with me here, but I'm wondering if people who don't understand homosexuality, people who think it's just dirty sex and perversion, are afraid to admit they don't understand and are lashing out as a way to cover their lack of knowledge.

Maybe some of these people truly feel that they're right and that homosexuality is wrong, but maybe some are just digging in their heels, fighting every step of the way, at learning something new. I don't have the answer, but I know that when I accept that I don't understand something and acknowledge that my reaction is because of that lack of understanding, I feel a lot better about the situation and become much more open to learning. It's much easier to learn something new than to pretend you know everything.

I'm so proud to live in America where we have the freedom to even debate this topic. I'm proud to be a gay American and to witness all the progress gay people have made even in the 20 years since I came out of the closet. There's still a long way to go, but educating people is a step in the right direction. The time for hiding is over. Now is the time to teach. Now is the time to listen. Now is the time to learn. Now is the time for understanding. Now is the time to change your point of view. Now is the time to once again integrate and accept.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Fear-of-Living Asylum

Photo Credit: Pam Hawkins
September 1, 2013. Sunday afternoon.

It's been a very long time since my spirit has been this low. I have no drive, no motivation. My home hasn't quite become a prison, but it's no longer a sanctuary used for recharging life’s batteries. It's become more of a hideout--the only place I feel completely safe and free. Freedom while hiding out? What kind of freedom is that? Freedom is living without confinement. I’m living in self-imposed confinement as if I’ve checked myself into the Fear-of-Living Asylum. There is no human contact. There's loneliness. That kind of “freedom” is more paralyzing than freeing.  

Do you ever find yourself excited at the prospect of hanging out with friends? Then as the rendezvous time approaches you wish only to be at home--alone? So you make an excuse and go home. Then an hour later (if you even make it an hour) you're filled with regret for not hanging out? You wanted to, but something inside of you just couldn’t? Desire and Reluctance battle it out inside of me, the Big Money prize almost always given to Reluctance. I hide. I need to be around people; I need human contact; I need to nourish my soul, but I feel that my mood and energy is so negative that subjecting another person to it would be worse than sitting home alone. Okay, I can hear the thoughts going through your head right now. You're thinking that my mood might actually lift if I was hanging out with my friends and to that I respond, “You're probably right.” I just can't seem to see that through the murk because I'm living too deeply in my head. Is slight depression at play here?

I'm reminded of a time in my adolescence. I used to love to play in the closet (insert gay joke here). My bedroom was the first door on the right as you walked down the hallway in the house where I grew up. It had wall-to-wall rust-colored carpet that extended into the closet. Not that you could see it for all the bags of clothes and junk. I can picture it clearly in my mind even now. That shallow closet was a good hiding place--for things and for me. It was a place to be alone. I used to part the hanging clothes down the center and push them to either end of the rod so that the string from the overhead light was exposed, hanging down, easily accessible should I want to pull it and plunge myself into darkness. I would sit inside that confined space on a black garbage bag filled with outgrown clothes. It was like it was a beanbag. I was separate and alone, while the goings on inside the rest of the house continued without me. Concealed, hidden, shut away from view behind that door I felt safe. I paid no attention to the idea that someone might be just outside the door listening--a trait that didn't carry into my adulthood. Now I’m constantly concerned about who can hear what.

My apartment is like a larger version of that closet. I’m surrounded; enclosed. I feel safe from the world behind its closed doors. I feel untouchable. I feel like anything is possible for me. I’m on my turf. I reign supreme. It's a place where I dream of what I want, but I never fully set those dreams into motion. Once I cross the threshold into the outside world, the concrete walls that house my home are replaced by imaginary walls that I allow to quench the flames of my desires. Inside my false-sense-of-happy self-confinement, I use my keyboard to write about my life, but I’m not breathing in the life that I want to be living, should be living.

Later that evening I was watching the film Les Misérables. I hadn’t seen it since opening day at the Ziegfeld Theatre here in New York. Sitting in the back of that movie theatre alone my tears were hidden by the darkness as I began to cry like I knew I would. The score, at times, sweeps me away. There are moments when I do get bored with the story, but its themes of redemption, love, and forgiveness always suck me back in. I admit that sometimes all I need to hear is a chord or musical motif and I start to cry. 

On this night, alone in my living room, my spirit particularly low, there was more behind the tears that flowed from my eyes than the storyline or musical themes evoked. I needed to cry. We’ve all been in that place where a good cry is all we need in order to feel better. We open those flood gates and let the tears pour out and then the weight in our chest begins to lift and life doesn’t seem so bad. With this particular cry, I was heaving. I was crying aloud; moaning. I remember pulling the dishtowel that was in my lap to my mouth to muffle the sounds. The tears were dripping from my cheeks and chin. My body shook. I turned to look at a recently purchased photograph hanging on my wall and its words “Help me” connected with my eyes, filtered through my brain, and came out of my mouth. I sat in my chair, heaving and moaning, crying out “Help me” to no one in particular and to the Universe as a whole. 

I did feel better after releasing that deluge of tears, but I was still heavyhearted. Part of my self-confinement stems from the dredging up of feelings and stories that I’ve been experiencing for almost a year in therapy. Most recently said dredging seems to have me constantly aware of how I’m feeling and trying to figure out what’s causing the feelings. I am living in an awareness that for most of my life I’ve tried to ignore. Well, I can’t ignore it anymore. 

I’m living in fear of being me. I admit it. I’m afraid to make mistakes. I’m afraid to not be perfect. I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m always looking for the punishment. I’m a pessimist. It’s never “I’ve got four days of vacation left,” it’s, “I’ve only got four days of vacation left.” I desire to change this. I am getting help to achieve this desire. I don’t want my life to be hidden behind walls. I want my life to be lived in the open.

I realize that I’m isolating myself. I’m searching for answers. I’m trying to find courage instead of just having courage. When people used to say to me, “I’ll try.” I used to always respond with, “Don’t try. Do it or don’t.” I need to start practicing what I used to preach. I need to face my fears. I need to face myself. I need to accept that I’m not perfect, and that I make mistakes. I need to admit those mistakes and learn from them. That scares the shit out of me. I never dreamed I would become a person so scared of success, failure, living. I need to sign myself out of the Fear-of-Living Asylum and step into the world where the word “hide” is merely a word followed by the words “and seek” and nothing more. 

“Seek and you will find.” Hide and you will wither away. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Potato Salad at the Memorial Service

If ever there was a day that I believed angels watch over me, and the universe is full of tiny moments--gifts--that I don’t always see, today was that day.

As many of you know I have been tweeting, status updating, and all around bemoaning the fact that CBS and Time Warner Cable have been in a financial dispute over rebroadcasting fees. That dispute led to the blackout of CBS and Showtime in the New York City area on August 2, 2013. As of Monday, September 2nd at 6pm that blackout ended, returning to me my much missed Dexter, but also returning to me The Young and the Restless.

Many of you know from reading my previous blog post "My Grandmother and Katherine Chancellor: Restless No More" that my grandmother watched Y&R from its beginning scene until her final day, November 15, 2004. Well, she didn’t actually watch it that day as she passed early in the morning, and if I’m honest she was in so much pain that the drugs administered to numb that pain kept her in and out of consciousness for the days leading up to the end. I don’t know what her final scene was, but you get the idea. She was more than a fan, she was a life long viewer. Since her death I have felt a connection to her through the presence of Katherine Chancellor, the Grande Dame of Genoa City, played for nearly 40 years by the enjoyably watchable Jeanne Cooper. When Jeanne passed away on May 8, 2013 Katherine too passed away. Not on that date of course, but when the same actor embodies a character for so long--bringing with her a nuanced sense of timing and style, wisdom and inspiration, strength and loyalty--even the thought of recasting the role is sacrilege. Thankfully the powers that be at The Young and the Restless knew this to be true. Their only option was to write the death of the beloved character.

That brings me back to the CBS blackout. As it happened, CBS and Time Warner Cable reached a deal just in time for Katherine Chancellor’s memorial service. It aired over the two day period of September 3-4. I watched both episodes on September 4th. To say that I cried is completely unnecessary. Of course I did. This fictional character that was a link to my grandmother was being memorialized. I thought of my grandmother, nine years in the ground, and how her grace and beauty, her voice and her style are now just memories--moments I recall in my mind, photographs where I can see her smile, video from Christmas morning where I can see her move and hear her voice.

I paused the episode and went to my kitchen for a glass of water. I was hungry so I decided to see if there was anything to eat in my refrigerator. Finding something edible inside was a surprise. Normally, it’s empty, but today there was a container of leftovers from my dinner on Sunday night--a container of potato salad. I grabbed it and went back to my sofa and the memorial service.

I was watching classic scenes of Y&R’s longest running super couple, those of Katherine and her frenemy, Jill, when I looked down, almost absentmindedly, ready to fork another piece of potato into my mouth, and realized I was eating potato salad. POTATO SALAD of all things!! I hadn't even recognized what I was doing when I got that small container out of the refrigerator. I mean I knew it was potato salad. I even said out loud (with some excitement because I’d forgotten it was there), “I can eat the potato salad,” but it hadn’t really sunk in what I was eating. You see, my grandmother made the best potato salad I’ve ever eaten. Everyone in the family ate it up...literally. It was the one thing we knew she would make for every family gathering. It was expected. You might say it was her signature dish. No one can really replicate it, try as we might. I was mid bite when I grasped I was eating potato salad while watching the memorial service for the character that linked me to my grandmother. It was in that moment I noticed her senior year picture was smiling at me from its shelf just to the right of the television. I lost all composure. I became a wet, sloppy mess. 

I had ordered that potato salad by accident on Sunday night. The unconscious moment in which I had chosen to eat it was so fitting. I don’t know if it was a bite with a particular taste or texture, but when it dawned on me, I sat the container down and wept. She was here with me. Her picture was smiling at me. You might say that I had one more moment of watching The Young and the Restless with my grandmother. 

I miss her. I don’t dwell on it, but there are random moments where I wish I could talk to her. Today, I called my mom and told her what had happened. I’m a sentimental fool and this moment was so poignant to me that many of the tears I shed along with those onscreen crying over Katherine were tears I was again shedding for my grandmother. 

Many things in this world remind me of her, but good potato salad and The Young and the Restless take me back to her house like nothing else. I love you, Gran. Thank you for the small moment we shared today. I’m so thankful my eyes were open.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Gratitude From 'Self-Worth'

To share ones life, even a part of it, takes a vulnerability that I don’t often possess. My story is one of many in this world, yet there is a universality in it that allows people to connect to it. Opening up and sharing the struggles and joys of my life with others, then hearing from them how they recognize themselves is something that I hadn’t anticipated. It's more than I could have asked for.  

None of us are alone. There is common ground. Honest sharing starts a dialogue where people can discuss how they feel, what they’ve been through, what they’re currently experiencing. I feel blessed to have found a voice and a platform for sharing mine.

To say that I was overwhelmed by the response to my latest HuffPo Gay Voices blog post, "How Do You Find Self-Worth When You Don't Like Yourself" is an understatement. The piece resonated with so many people from all walks of life proving that we're all human beings and that feelings of unworthiness are not unique to one's gender, sexual orientation, or position in life. I was unprepared for the number of people from all over the country, and other parts of the world, that reached out to thank me, tell me I'd written their story, tell me what they did to find self-worth. 

Many told me I was brave and courageous for sharing this story. I’m thankful for those comments. I appreciate them along with all those who chose to share their similar stories with me. Those who reached out on twitter and Facebook. Those who gave generous positive feedback. Words are powerful. I have found bravery in bearing my soul so honestly. Sometimes facing the scariest thing can be the most rewarding. 

Positive comments are like beautiful flowers in the garden of life, but as everyone knows, any beautiful garden can be infested by weeds. The trick is to not let them strangle the beauty and mar the landscape. The positive comments I received from the above mentioned blog created a diverse flower bed full of engaging thoughts, interesting advice, and pearls of wisdom, but there were weeds mixed in. Sometimes they weren’t easy to see at first -- hiding; buried between beautiful gems of flourishing positivity. In an open forum where people hide behind keyboards and animated avatars with all the courage in the world to say something negative, these “weeds” are to be expected. My favorites from the current blog include: “Quit feeling sorry for yourself,” “Sounds like someone needs more sunshine and fresh air in their life,” “Self-absorption is a turn off,” “Very often low self esteem is well earned.” My personal favorite had the word "vapid" in it, but because I refuse to give credence to such out and out meanness I won’t quote the entire remark.  

It took me a few days to read the comments. I wanted to read them, but was afraid of the negativity. I thought any negative reaction to my soul-bearing blog post might feed into my feelings of unworthiness or undesirability, but I wanted to see the flowers. I found the courage to read them and, with the help of a coworker, not take the negative ones too seriously. The piece I wrote was important to me. I wanted to interact with those who were so positive in their responses. I wanted to acknowledge those who gave good advice. Doing so was a step in the right direction for me. I was able to draw strength from all of you. The above mentioned “weedy” statements became humorous to me instead of depressing. I allowed myself to think about what was said, then question it’s truth and validity. In spite of the weeds I was still able to see the flowers. I was able to allow the good and the bad to coexist and not get bogged down by the bad. 

Listen, I'm thankful every morning that I wake up to another day. There will always be challenges to face, but there will also be victories to celebrate. I'm working on being kinder to myself and my therapist can attest to that. Look. That’s me planting a few flowers in the garden. I’m still going to find weeds in there. Even weeds that I plant myself, but I’m figuring out how to not let those weeds dictate how I view the garden as a whole.

To those of you who said my story is your story I say, "Thank you for helping me see that none of us are alone." Plant the seed of positivity and watch what happens. The effect is beautiful and can change what you see and how you see it. Weeds will always be there. We just have to keep them from choking the vibrant garden that is life.

The journey continues.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How Do You Find Self-Worth When You Don't Like Yourself?

This piece also appears on HuffPost Gay Voices

A couple of months ago I was asked if I was having suicidal thoughts. I am NOT suicidal. I have no desire to end my life. I enjoy television and wine and sleep too much to not be able to indulge in them whenever I please. The reason for my frank opening statement (other than creating drama) is that lately I’ve been wondering who would miss me if I was actually gone? Who cares that I’m here?

Okay, I know the first response to that question is my mom. I know that she cares if I’m alive as does my dad. I’m sure I’ve other family members and select friends that also care if I’m alive. So then I ask, Do I care? That may seem an absurd question after I’ve said I don’t want to end my life, but it stems from a throb of feeling unworthy and undesired that pulses through me more often than not. This is NOT a cry for help. This is just a moment of honesty that is being put into words even though the words are scary to see.

Being desired is such a basic craving. We all want to be desired: by our family, friends, a lover, our coworkers. What happens when we don’t desire ourselves?

I’m beginning to realize that I don’t like myself very much. All these years of feeling like I couldn’t raise the eyebrow or pique the interest of an attractive man might actually stem from the fact that I’m exuding the pheromones of one who feels unworthy of being loved and therefore thinks he’s undesirable to all. Could it be that simple? I’m sure I’m not the only gay man--or person--who feels or has felt this way. Do you have to love yourself before you can love someone else or be loved by someone else? Is that a myth? 

I keep wondering if I’ll ever love myself enough to be loved by another person. I hate being vulnerable and vulnerability is key to opening ones heart to another person. For years I’ve lived under the guise of When the right person shows up I’ll know and my heart will automatically open. Is that utter bullshit?

Like every gay man I know, I stand in front of my mirror post shower each morning and apply anti-wrinkle moisturizer to my face. I apply deep wrinkle eye treatment under my eyes. I make sure my brows are plucked and even. I add product to my hair and style it as perfect or perfectly messy as I want. I choose my wardrobe (i.e. armor) for the day with perfection in mind. I choose the right bracelet and ring to accessorize my look. I choose the best shoe for the occasion. I put myself together with the precision of an artist. Finally, I apply my lip moisturizer and a spritz (or 7) of cologne then walk out my door with all the confidence I can muster, but it’s all fake.

Underneath it all I’m insecure. I’ve put myself together to attract attention hoping others might envy me, desire to be me, or be jealous of me. (Shallow much?) None of this opens me up to be desired as a person: for my conversation or companionship. No matter. I look good so that makes me “feel” good. Then I realize that no one’s paying attention to my stylish Marc Jacobs bag or my Michael Kors shirt or my Donna Karan jeans. No one cares who made my sunglasses or if my underwear are merely Hanes from the corner Duane Reade. I care, of course, but all of these things are peacock’s plumage: beautiful articles that hide the man who feels unworthy and undesirable, and thereby questions who would miss him if he was gone. Then just like that I pierce my own good feeling from inside the armor.

I want to like myself. I want to love myself. I want to be happy with my life. What I’m learning is that I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. That seems crazy to me, but it’s the truth. At 42, I’m uncomfortable in the skin of a gay man. I think that has everything to do with my feelings of unworthiness and undesirability. I just don’t like myself. I’m looking for outside “liking” in order to feel good about me. That’s never going to cut it. I have to be proud of me:  my life, my accomplishments, my choices. I have hold my head up with pride and confidence and know that I matter, that my ideas and opinions matter.

I recently read an article on Huffington Post by Mark Brennan Rosenberg titled “Are Gay Men A Gay Man’s Worst Enemy?” It really got me to thinking about being gay, having gay friends, and gay culture itself. I have been that catty queen who snarkily strikes down another gay man with bitchy comments. I have also been the gay man who feels like he’s the one being judged by the catty queens. This behavior in our own community coupled with my own insecurities has led me to a place of not taking love chances on anyone. I don’t want to put myself out there in the world. I’m a bystander instead of a participant. It makes me so angry. That anger, initially used as blame and placed on someone else, really reflects back on me. I’m the reason that I don’t go out. I care too much about what other people think because I don’t think too highly of myself. Here’s where unworthiness and undesirability come into play and become immobilizing.

I’m NOT suicidal. I’m a lonely gay man who has let his feeling that no one would care if he lived or died become a room whose walls are closing in. There is no freedom in this room. I’m not saying that I think walking into one of the NYC gay bar’s Posh, Therapy, or Industry is going to change that. I’m not saying that someone I’m interested in showing me a little interest is going to change that. I’m saying that I know I have to find confidence and worthiness in myself. I don’t really know how, but God knows I’m trying to figure that out.

I wish we could bottle up that time in childhood when we feared nothing and were game to try anything. Imagine being able to uncork that bottle and take a small whiff, remembering how it felt to be fearless, to not care what other people thought, to know we were loved, worthy, cared for, desired. 

Go ahead. Imagine that bottle. Uncork it. Breath deep. Find it. Find the courage. Find the confidence. I’m talking to myself here. Breath deep. They’re there. Breath deep, Michael. Now LIVE.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

It's Gonna Take a Reset

Sometimes I just need to clear my head of the pollution that’s clogging up the processor. I need a “reset Safari” button for my brain. The cache needs to be cleared of all of its downloaded cookies and previously viewed pages so that I can browse with a cleaner slate.

The past is the past. I have to learn from it, but not live in it. I have to take what has happened in my life and reconcile it like last months bank statement then file it away. The past can’t be changed. Some of it is joyous and some of it is not. It can’t be put on like a sweater in the cold months. I shouldn’t be paraded around like a prized Pomapoo.

Actions of the past are actions of the past. A bad choice, a hateful criticism from a parent, a harsh word from a stranger is not something that is constant and therefore shouldn’t be on a constant loop of remembrance, playing over and over in my mind.

How will I ever learn to truly love myself, be happy with myself, take pride in myself if I allow shame-filled feelings of my past to keep me in a fear-filled present?

I have been stuck in this purgatory rut of wanting to move forward, of wanting to progress to the next level, but continually falling off the platform as I leap for the gold coin hanging above me.

I see the words that I’m typing. I hear them as they run through my brain before making their way to my fingertips. I know that I can live the life I want. I know that I can find happiness. I know that I can love myself. I know that I can care about other people, another person. It's all about choice, and I seem to keep making the safe one.

I keep wondering what keeps me grounded in my fear? Why do I feel so safe in the rut? Why is pushing against the walls sometimes all that I can manage? Do I need someone else to pull me up? Do I want someone else to pull me up? Why can’t I just climb out all by myself? When will I climb out all by myself?

This life that is mine keeps churning through its minutes and hours. The sun rises and sets every day. I have to find a way to enjoy what I’m doing even if its nothing more than sitting on my sofa watching bad television. I judge me a lot. 

I deserve to live the life I want and to be happy with the path I choose. I deserve to see a kinder expression on the face staring back at me in the mirror. 

The past may inform the present, but it doesn’t have the right to dictate it. I think I’m letting my past dictate my present. I’m keeping myself trapped between the murky walls of self-doubt, unworthiness, and fear.  

I’ve had moments of living outside of this rut, but the older I get, the more it seems I’m walking back into its smothering yet comfortable confinement. I’m hiding. I’m hiding and wondering if I’m missed. I’m wondering if I’m missed instead of living in the world, leaving moments of laughter and energy that are missed when they are absent.

I am the only thing standing in my way. I get that. I am the one making this journey more difficult than it has to be. I am the one letting fear keep me from feeling the touch of another human being. I am the one encased in armor. I am the one with the key. I am the one who can unlock the door, release the dusty build up, and let the sunshine of the me I want to be in. 

I am the one. Acknowledging may be the first step but action is required. It’s gonna take a reset and it’s time.

Friday, July 12, 2013

I Swish

I swish. I’m tired of apologizing for it or being scared of it. I’m ready to be comfortable in my own skin. I’m not completely there, but I’m ready to be. Isn’t that the first step? Acknowledging?

I’m a gay man. I was born gay. The question, “What if it was a choice? Would it matter?” has been posed to me a few times lately. I don’t know how to answer that because for me it wasn’t a choice. I’m thinking I wouldn’t choose to live my life attracted to men in a world full of venom-spewing right wingers and so-called Christians who desire a “vomit” button to show their distaste at same-sex love.

I want to be brave and live my life. I want to be comfortable in my skin. I want to be happy. I want to know that Heaven awaits me. I want the fear of Hell to go away. I want to understand why the verses in the Bible about homosexuality still carry so much weight in the 21st Century. I want to know if the translation of those verses are a colossal joke left by the man who translated them so many years ago. 

I want to be proud of myself. I want to know that God is not sitting on his throne in Heaven shaking his head at me in disappointment. I want to bring joy and pride to my parents, not the disappointment that I fear they feel when they think about me.

I want to live my life without shame. I want my attraction to men to be nothing more than that -- an attraction to the same sex. Love is love. 

I want to practice what I preach and fearlessly believe it.

I swish. When I walk down the street with a good jam playing through the earbuds of my iPod I strut it out. I want to live in that happy place without fear. I want to mouth the words carefree of who might be watching me as if I was rehearsing for my next drag performance.

I want to learn to laugh at myself. To not take myself so seriously. "It's only life after all." I want to let go and take a deep breath, feel my shoulders release all their tension and know that life will continue even if I leave my armor lying on the side of the road somewhere.

Life is for living. I’ve read that, heard it in television sitcoms & dramas, in movies. I’ve heard it in songs. Life is for living. I want to live. I want to thrive. I want to know what life is like when my heart is filled to bursting because I’ve opened it up to embrace the help and love of another person.

Imagine what I could accomplish if I would just unlock the lock, embrace vulnerability, step out into the world and swish my way to the fearless life of happiness that I know is out there. The life that I’ve been too afraid to live.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Chandelier

Once upon a time in the early 70s in a place far from here, a little boy fell under the spell of a beautiful object that held its beauty in teardrops of dangling glass.
I don't really have a first memory of it; it’s more of an awareness. I was younger than seven when it shined its way onto my radar and bedazzled me with its glittering prisms that created sparkling rainbows. I know this because when I was seven-and-a-half my grandparents moved from the "old" house into the "new" house (more than 30 years later and we still differentiate between the two houses like that). Anyway, I remember it hanging in the formal living room of the old house: a grand room full of furniture that was different from all the other furniture in the house; that room you weren't allowed to enter unless it was a special occasion like prom night or Easter morning, and you were in there to have your picture taken.

Isn't it funny what we remember? I remember my grandmother's house always being clean and in perfect order--both the old one and the new one. As for the old one, it truly was an old house complete with crumbling front porch that was closed off and to be avoided at all costs lest you fall through the rotting wood. It had been my granddaddy's grandmother's house. Once inside, however, it was grandmother’s house. No crumbling porch or sagging roof mattered. It was easy, magic, bliss. It was perfect to me. Being at her house always made my heart leap with happiness. 

My child self was first mesmerized by this hanging light and its shimmering teardrops of dangling glass in that old house. It was unlike anything I had seen in anyone else’s house. It was so grand. I had no understanding of the words opulent or extravagant when I was young, but as an adult looking back on it, that’s exactly what I think of the chandelier hanging in that formal living room. It was, to me, the utmost in opulence. I’m fairly certain I thought my grandparents were wealthy. They weren’t. They were middle class with good taste and that chandelier was the grandest of accessories.

When their new house was ready for occupancy, the chandelier made the move. It was hung in the new formal living. The same furniture from the previous formal living room was arranged in the new formal living room, the aesthetic completed with white shag carpet and a window treatment that Scarlett O’Hara would have been proud to take down and have made into a dress. I was old enough to be aware of beautiful things by then and seeing the chandelier hanging in that room was when my fascination with it really took root. 

I used to sneak a stroll through that room when no one was watching just so I could feel for a moment like I was transported to another place--say a room in the Carrington mansion on Dynasty or the Chancellor mansion on The Young and the Restless. I have always had a vivid imagination and that room became the setting for my fantasies when I could actually find a moment to tiptoe into it: moving nothing yet touching everything; absorbing the atmosphere. If I listen hard enough I can hear my grandmother calling my name from the den asking me what I was doing. She knew when I was being too quiet that I was in that room.

I loved to play dress up as a little boy and nothing was better than having a large "diamond" hanging from a chain around my neck. I was so excited when I got tall enough to reach the lowest hanging teardrops on the chandelier. (It ranks right up there with my feet fitting into my mother’s shoes, but that’s another story.) When I found myself in the house alone I would trespass into that room and take one of the teardrops down and hang it from a necklace that I had managed to secretly take from my grandmother’s bedroom. I remember the heart-racing fear of getting caught and the heart-pounding race against time to get that teardrop looped back into its slot when the back door opened. I remember exiting the room at the end farthest from the back door turning as I did to make sure there was no evidence that I'd been inside it at all.

Now the grand, opulent, extravagant, shimmering light is mine. I own it. It glimmers and sparkles in my bedroom. I washed, dried, and painstakingly hung each of the 69 glass teardrops. It was like decorating a Christmas tree. You know how that is: you hang a few ornaments then step back and look. Well, that’s exactly what I did. I hung a few teardrops then stepped off the chair, looking up and marveling as the bare bones of this light fixture began to take shape with each new ornamental embellishment. At least there were predesignated holes for all these “ornaments.” The bygone era sounds of “Moonlight Serenade” filled my apartment creating the perfect ambience as I incorporated into my own home an object that had so fascinated me as a child. The nostalgia factor was overwhelming.

It’s surreal to see it hanging in my bedroom. I can’t seem to stop staring at it. I walk into the room and stare at it. I lie on my bed and stare at it. I can see it so clearly hanging in my grandparents house. I find my mind awash with memories, my face covered in a smile. Of course the downside of it hanging in my house means my grandparents are no longer alive. That means there’s a bit of sadness attached to the happiness it brings me. Still, there are more smiles than tears when I look at it. It brings with it good memories of family dinners and laughter around the dining room table. 

That little boy who used to thrill at the stolen moments of hanging one of those teardrops around his neck grew up to be the man who couldn’t resist hanging one of those teardrops around his neck before placing it in its rightful slot in its new home. 

We can't stop time from passing. My adult self cherishes this memento from my past. I’m so proud to have it. I feel I’m the perfect guardian of The Chandelier.