Russian Roulette

1 11 2017

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Shortly after the new administration took over our country, and after I marched on Washington DC, I attended a Women in Business conference. It’s an annual event that is inspiring and empowering, and the overnight format really allows you to have some deeper conversations that really help you to connect with other women. After spending a late night in the Platt 99 bar with Cindy Solomon buying rounds of drinks, I failed to sleep in, and stumbled downstairs to get breakfast.

In the hotel restaurant, I was seated at a two-top by myself, which I was perfectly content with, seeing as how my introverted self hadn’t had a moment alone in 24 hours (awake, that is). I ordered myself a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, then proceeded to go circumnavigate the buffet like a shark, quickly honing in on the roasted potatoes and bell peppers. With a perfect balance of indulgence and restraint, I sat back down to enjoy my plate of food, when I heard another woman call my name.

 

“Kelly!” her heavy Russian accent called out, “Would you like to join us?” I smiled and obliged, moving my things to her nearby table. The invitation came from a woman I had met at dinner the night before. She works as an executive assistant in another department and the same large institution I work for, and I learned all about her recent move from rural Indiana. She introduced me to a young woman, also Russian, also an executive assistant for a large company. Both were in a very relaxed state of exhaustion, and the younger woman was enjoying a bloody Mary with her meal.

 

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Over the course of our breakfast, they were reminiscing about some of their Russian cultural heritage, excited to share with an outsider like me who is interested in culture. “Russian woman,” my colleague shared, “NEVER go outside without full face and hair done. It would be tragedy!” They both laughed. “Oh?” I questioned, “That’s actually a lot like how Southern women used to be in the U.S.! My aunt in Texas talked about how you wouldn’t even step outside to grab the newspaper without full makeup on.”

The conversation went on to share about how the younger woman’s American husband struggled to understand Russian habits. When they visited Russia, he innocently smiled and said hello to everyone they passed, while the local people glared back at him like he was an insane asylum escapee to be weary of. I shared my own observations about how people in cold climates tend to walk faster and smile less, because they are focusing on getting someplace above freezing, whereas southerners lollygag and pause for sweet conversations in the shade to prevent the inevitable perspiration. “But once you KNOW someone in Russia,” the younger woman continued, “they will welcome you with open arms, and they will feed you endless foods and drinks, and be incredibly friendly to you!” They both laughed and nodded in agreement, and insisted, “You really MUST come visit Russia!”

Russland, Moskau, Basiliuskathedrale

I smiled, as the thought perforated my mind. I do SO love getting invitations from people to visit a foreign country as a friend instead of as a tourist. But then reality flashed onto my frontal lobe, like a jolt of lightening. I hesitated how to delicately share the truth. “I’d love to see Russia someday, but it’s not very safe for me right now.” I hoped they would have a sudden realization and then nod in agreement and let it go. Instead, I got two very puzzled looks back.

 

_96558973_gayrusafp1may13I swallowed, realizing that I would have to spell it out. “Well, it’s illegal to be gay in Russia. I could be arrested and jailed if I go there.” Surely, now, they would feel sheepish about their ignorance and say something mildly apologetic before switching the subject, right?

 

“No, that’s not true,” one of them said confidently. “You heard some lies.”

olympics_are_gay_propaganda_2053775“Um, no, it’s the law in Russia. It was passed just before they hosted the 2014 Olympics. It was a really big deal because numerous athletes from other countries ended up not going to compete because they feared for their safety.”

“No, that is fake news. You heard a bad story from not good source.”

fake-news_bigNow I was a little annoyed at their insistence that what I was telling them was not factual. “No, it was not just one story. Every major news source reported the same thing. There are video clips of Russian officials talking about the new laws and the implications for LGBT Russians and visitors.”

“Really? It must have been a bad translation. Sometimes the American TV translates one things and the Russian says something totally different. In any case, you would be fine in Russia. Nobody cares.”

Okay, now I was beyond annoyed, but also curious. How could these two Russian expats, one in her 50s, one in her 20s, both completely deny a basic fact that is LAW in Russia?

130919083221-putin-protest-exlarge-169“That’s great that most people you know don’t care if someone is gay, but the fact is that the government has passed a law making it punishable to exhibit non-traditional behavior in front of minors, and I don’t really want to spend my money someplace that is so clearly against people like me. Hopefully someday things will change. I’d love to visit Russia before I die.”

Russia Gay Activists

Of courses, if I were to travel to Chechnya today, I can be caned and even punished by death for being gay. Today hundreds of gay men are being held at a secret prison- a la concentration camp- in Argun, where they are beaten and tortured. And if I exhibit any ‘gay propaganda’ or otherwise pro-gay behavior that happens to be in front of a minor, I can be arrested anywhere in Russia.  So, theoretically, simply talking about my wife in public can be grounds for my arrest, because it promotes “non-traditional” lifestyle. 

At this, they finally shrugged their shoulders and conceded.

So, with all the recent news about Russian influence on the U.S. election, I cannot help but wonder, is this what our future looks like? Will our media eventually become a watered down reflection of Putin-esque autocracy? Will Americans in the future insist that “there is no Muslim ban,” because that’s what the leader tells them, and thus that’s what they believe?

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The unwavering loyalty of these women to an ‘alternate fact’ that they had no proof of, but is easily dis-proven, terrifies me. I see similar behavior in some of my fellow Americans. The leader says X, so X it must be! We do not question the leader! Right?

 

 

Or do we? Do we resist? Do we fight for the media? For independent journalism? The choice is clear for me. I like truth. I hope you like truth too. Regardless of whether the truth supports my values or not, I still don’t want to live a life of intention ignorance.

(If you’re curious about the history and evolution on Russia’s stance on gay rights, here’s a great article).

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The Introvert-Extrovert Relationship Dynamic

17 07 2017

You already have some sense of what it means to be an introvert or an extrovert. If someone appears outgoing, loquacious, and charming, they are clearly an extrovert, right? While the quiet, thoughtful, reserved person in the corner is the introvert, who prefers one-on-one encounters, of course. If you are making assumptions based on this outward appearance, you may be getting it all wrong. This is why I often get mislabeled an extrovert.

My definition is quite simple. When you go out in a large crowd of people for an hour or two, or entertain a small group of friends for an evening, how do you feel afterward? I’m not asking if you enjoyed yourself- hopefully that answer is always yes! But do you feel satiated, maybe a little drained, and ready for some alone time to recover from being “on”? This makes you an introvert.

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If you’re like my wife, however, you come home invigorated, excited, and pulsing with

energy! “What’s next?!?” is likely running through your brain, and you need time to let your brain finish mapping all the new connections you made in the evening’s many conversations. That makes you an extrovert! (Bethany is an extrovert times 10.)

Being in a relationship with a large discrepancy in your introvert/extrovert status can be challenging. Believe it or not, it is doable, and can be quite enjoyable! The key is recognizing that it’s difficult for BOTH people, at first. You will need to do a little legwork if you want this to be enjoyable.

You need to first understand your own emotional and physical needs, and learn how to effectively communicate your needs, while also listening to the other person’s (sometimes foreign-sounding) perspective. Living a happy life requires balancing the energy. After all, you likely love the person you’re with BECAUSE they balance you out. So in order to preserve this complimentary relationship, you must learn how to respect the Yin to your Yang.

Be aware that, like almost everything in life, there is a broad spectrum between introversion and extroversion. It’s not one or the other. You may find that some of these feel more or less relevant to you individually, because your personality is defined by far more than this one aspect.

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The Extrovert

For the extrovert, she may feel like she has to compromise to stay in with her partner when she’d rather go out. She may feel torn between fulfilling her own needs for social interaction, and allowing the introvert to have enough down time. She might also feel like it is her role, as the extrovert, to be the social planner, to enrich the introvert’s life with as much fun as possible!

What you need to know about yourself

You’re often the life of the party, telling stories that make people laugh, and planning the next get-together at the end of the evening. People often assume that you have thousands of friends, and are way too busy to hang out with them one-on-one, so they never ask. You may spend so much time in group settings that you don’t feel like you have many really close friends, even though any one of your circle would jump at a chance to help you.

Even though you crave that social interaction, it is also important to allow yourself time to sit quietly and reflect internally. It doesn’t take much down time for you to balance out all your social time. Force your monkey mind to slow down, and instead of thinking about “what’s next?” relive the great experiences you recently had. What part of your week was your favorite? Why? It may feel forced at first, but doing this for just 30-60 minutes at the end of your week will help you to appreciate all the wonderful things you experienced even more, and enable you to recognize what truly makes you the happiest, so you can be more selective in the future.

Going out may be critical to your mental health. Even though you might feel guilty about indulging in too many activities, these are an important part of feeding your soul. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make adjustments. Tight budget? Invite friends to meet you for a picnic instead of dropping $20 on dinner out. It’s the social aspect you crave, and that can take many different forms. You need other people because they elevate your own energy level, allowing you to feel happier and be more productive.

When my wife and I went through a tight financial period, we slashed our budget for dining out. She worked from home, so she lost her only lifeline to the rest of the world. We quickly realized that this was affecting her mental state significantly, and came up with a compromise. Instead of us both going out with friends for dinner twice a week, she became a regular at the local coffee shop, allowing her to fulfill her social needs by herself, on a much smaller budget. I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t usually have time to go there on weekdays, so I’m not missing out either. And coffee is cheaper than a therapist. Win-win!

Let your partner know what your needs are, and don’t be afraid to take care of yourself independently. Find group activities that you know they have no interest in, and make connections that allow you to interact with others, without taking away from activities you enjoy doing together.

What you need to know about your beloved introvert

Your introverted partner would do anything to make you happy. Your energetic personality gives them joy, and elevates them, much in the same way you feel energized by larger groups of friends. They may push their own limits, going out frequently, choosing to spend what little down time they do have with you, instead of spending much-needed time alone. When they do this for too long, they become run-down, exhausted (and maybe cranky).

introvert timeEncourage them to have their alone time. It may mean that they go for a walk by themselves, or work in the yard, or simply lay down on the couch while you’re in the other room working on something else. Their need to be alone is not a rejection of you. You need to have a clear conversation and tell them (repeatedly) that it’s okay for them to ask to stay home while you go out and take care of your own social needs.

While you may want to verbalize everything, introverts often enjoy silence. At some point, your chatter (directed at no one but yourself) becomes mental clutter. Every time you say something, their brain wants to be attentive and alert, and it take mental energy for them to listen to you, even when you’re just muttering to yourself, “Was that David who just walked past? Nope, nope, just someone who looks similar.” If you can cut back on verbalizing things that are not intended for them to respond to, it helps them to relax.

introvert

The Introvert

Sometimes people mistakenly think that you don’t value their friendship, or don’t want to spend time with them. You frequently don’t respond to invites for events until the day of, because you never know if you’ll have enough energy to go out. You usually have a good time when you do venture out, but you know that you need to be in the right mindset to enjoy yourself.

You feel pressure by others to join them. “Come on, it’ll be fun!” they try to persuade you. It probably will be, but, much like going out and over indulging on drinks, you don’t want to regret it the next day. When you’re already at your threshold for social interaction, if you push yourself further, you will feel utterly exhausted and unproductive the next day. You sometimes feel like a bad friend for skipping out on so many things, and fear that eventually you might stop getting invited.

14322695_1256787684403853_1054437703607303099_nYou need to understand the physical way that social interactions affect you. Listen to your body. It’s perfectly okay to take your down time. You need significantly more down time than extroverts. This doesn’t mean you must be anti-social, but you can learn to create a safe space for interacting on your own terms. While a party where you only know one person might make you cringe, you can focus on spending quality time with the friends you already have. Did you skip out on your friend’s birthday party? Follow up the next day and invite them to join you for a nice walk to catch up! Instead of waiting for group invitations you don’t want, be proactive at inviting one or two friends for something more your speed.

While it’s important to know what your body needs, you can choose to strengthen and train your social skills. If you know that your introversion may be limiting you- from either making new friends, or learning something new, or networking and advancing your career- it’s up to you to decide whether its worth it to sacrifice a little bit of your down time, temporarily, for the sake of reaching that goal. I’m not going to say that it’s easy to learn to feign extroversion, but over 10 years, I have reached a point where I’m commonly mistaken for an extrovert. It’s helped me to grow professionally and personally, and it was worth the small sacrifice, in my case.

You don’t have to play by extrovert rules, just observe what they do and put your own twist on it. I loathe small talk, so when I had to network in my mid-twenties, I came up with lists of quirky, interesting facts, about either myself or the world, that empowered me to steer conversations into an area where I felt more control. And it worked.

What you need to know about your beloved extrovert

You admire them for their ability to be effortlessly charming and outgoing. Their confidence may boost your own, allowing you to be a bit more comfortable putting yourself out there. You should be careful not to become reliant on them for that, or risk falling into a dependent relationship.

13507146_10210053131315044_8251726965732768012_nJust because they like to go out and talk to everybody, does not mean that they think less of you. They need this social interaction just as much as you need your alone time. Don’t take it personally, and do not use their extroversion against them in disagreements. Most importantly, you need to have trust in your relationship. If you find yourself getting nervous that they are going out because you’re not good enough, then you need to turn your focus inward. Until you see and appreciate your inherent value as a person, and love yourself independently, you will continue to struggle to give your extrovert the trust and freedom they need to go out without you.

While you spend much more time structuring thoughts in side your head, extroverts often verbalize way more, and it is often more for themselves than for you. You want to be a good listener, which can make it hard to tune them out when they are not talking with/at you. This will be hard for extroverts to understand, since they may not even realize they are talking out loud. Let them know why this can be mentally exhausting for you, or remove yourself from the situation if you find it too stressful to filter them out.

extrovert

The Sweet Spot

YinYang

At its best, you will find that there is a delightful balance between the two of you, where the introvert feels more confident and enjoys more social interactions, and the extrovert learns to find peace in stillness, to reflect and grow individually. We all need a balance of this yin and yang, even if the balance is heavier on one side or the other for different people.

Find the things about your partner that you admire because they are things you aren’t so good at. Ask them to help teach you how to enjoy those things, so that you can grow as an individual. Allow them the freedom and trust to take care of themselves, without jealousy or resentment.

Always, ALWAYS put yourself first. You cannot be a good partner if you are not balanced internally. Your own well being is key to a successful relationship.

 





D.C. Pride

22 06 2017

Back in November, my wife and I were shocked by the results of the U.S. election. We felt numbed and despaired over what would happen in this alternate reality that we must now call our future. When the plans for the Womens March on Washington emerged, we had a brief discussion and decided that, one way or another, we had to be there. ww3

 

Flash forward to January. Shortly after our new POTUS was officially sworn in, there were 7 busloads of invigorated women (and a handful of wonderfully feminist men) departing from a parking lot in Indianapolis Friday evening, . We road through the night, marched with a million other women, then got back on those buses Saturday night to ride home, too energized to sleep. 16143153_10212060536858928_8363833951619441822_n

 

The ensuing response from the 45th administration was comical. Clearly, we had made an impression. Our numbers, as well as our voices, were heard around the world. It felt empowering, in a time of great despair, to know that I WAS THERE. I felt like I was part of history, and no matter how much hot air he blew trying to claim we weren’t, the new president clearly saw us as a powerful force.

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Upon our return to home, I worked hard to maintain a balance of vigilant activism, and healing self-care. It wasn’t easy. This president proceeded to launch a relentless twitterstorm of daily lies, distractions, smoke and mirrors to overwhelm and obfuscate the barrage of controversial bills he pursued. It quickly became clear to me, that we needed to do more to make our voices heard.

 

In this new era of so-called ‘fake news,’ ‘alternate facts’, and a shocking roll back of transparency in our federal administration, we are scared about what secret dealings may be underway. If #45 is good at anything, it’s being secretive, lacking loyalty, and flip-flopping to appease whomever he wants something from. So, despite some supporters’ claims that he was ‘pro-LGBT,’ our community is appalled by the horribly anti-LGBT people he has put into powerful positions.

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Our very own governor of Indiana (aka VP Pence), made headlines in 2015 with his rushed decision to try to institutionalize a religious freedom to discriminate (RFRA), before the business communities outcry forced him to repeal the anti-LGBT law. Our state lost over $60Million in business due to Pence’s irresponsible insistence on pushing his own personal anti-LGBT religious agenda onto our state. No matter what this POTUS thinks personally, he is clearly willing to throw us under the bus if it helps him get something else that he wants. He has no moral scruples.

 

So, I checked my balance of airline miles, and booked us a flight back to D.C., to march with our LGBTA brothers and sisters.

If ever there was a year to celebrate LGBT Pride in our nation’s capitol, this is it.

While Indianapolis has a (surprisingly) amazing pride celebration every year, I expected D.C. Pride would be bigger, especially this year. Not surprisingly, everywhere we went, we met other people who had the same idea we did. Seattle, Mexico City, Detroit, Toronto- we flew in from everywhere to show our strength!! We all showed up in force, flooding and overwhelming the city over several days of festivities, so that #45 could not deny our numbers. Everywhere you walk in D.C., rainbow flags outnumber even American flags, as an otherwise very proud community made itself even more visible. Allies, like our friends who put us up in their guest room for free, also proudly displayed their freshly purchased rainbow gear.

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Thank you.

Thank you to all our allies, who proudly celebrate with us every Pride, every day, every year; who shed tears and shared hugs when our community suffered the most deadly mass shooting in history; who walk us home when we don’t feel safe; who refuse to ignore overheard homophobic comments; and who stand up to strangers to tell them that it’s not okay to use ‘gay’ as a derogatory adverb.

Thank you to Washington D.C. Your community warms my heart. It makes me feel good knowing that #45 is literally surrounded by LGBT pride, and that our former homophobic governor has to dodge rainbows on every street corner!

Thank you to my LGBTQA brothers and sisters, who were brave enough to out yourselves, to normalize our existence by simply being unapologetically you, to defy the estimations of how many of us there truly are, and who, above all else, demonstrate on a daily basis that we are simply human, just like anyone else. We are still a minority facing intensive legal and personal discrimination, though it’s getting easier, especially in large cities like Indianapolis or Washington D.C. Our visibility is key to our acceptance.

Especially, a huge thank you to my beloved trans folks, for whom the fight is ten times harder; who need our support more than anyone; who teach me constantly how I can improve, to be more aware, to be more considerate, to keep adjusting my language, to be a better ally, and a better human.

Thank you to the rest of you, especially in smaller towns and communities, who don’t personally know any LGBTQA people (that you are aware of), who might be uncomfortable and have questions, but who are willing to learn how to be, what to say (or not), and how to embrace & support people who are different than you in some ways, but just like you in even more ways.

 

Together, we are winning.

If you build LGBT inclusion, we will come out.

 

 

 

 

 





Summer Solstice

21 06 2017

Lately I’ve felt like I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, constantly finding myself at the end of the night with an unfinished list and chatter on my mind. The world continues to get more chaotic, and respites seem fewer and farther between. The need for self-care is far greater now than ever before, yet we struggle to disconnect ourselves long enough to truly recover from the daily atrocities that surround us. To be indifferent is not the answer, but sometimes we need to ignore and forget, if only for a little while.

Or maybe the answer is not dis-connecting, but re-connecting.

Nature often reminds us of our insignificance. Despite all the human-related news and technologies, we are still struck down by flash floods and volcanoes. We are still stuck on this never-ending rotational orb, through darkness, and light, day in and day out.

When I feel overwhelmed, I shift my scale. Instead of focusing on the immensity of it all, stop to look closer to your own two feet. While I may not take enough stock in the little things that bring us joy and beauty every day, today is a big opportunity.

Today is the tipping point. The longest day of the year. Make it count. I rose to the sunrise and was inspired to write. Thank you, universe, for reminding me of what is important.

 

“Summer Solstice”

She  tiptoed through the night

Mottled with inky darkness and human light,

Languidly climbing to the precipice

Of spring and summer.

For 6 long months, she traversed.

She focused on this moment,

When she would find equilibrium

For one brief but beautiful second.

She paused there, at the top,

Darkness all around her,

As a pinpoint of light begins to appear.

It rapidly explodes into a scene

Rivaling Tambora in Indonesia.

Epic eruption, decimating the weight of

A thousand hours of struggle.

Silhouettes of trees, dappled with flames,

Sunlight strewn through them like lava.

She inhales deeply,

Absorbing the dawn,

Filling her lungs with vermillion blaze.

Hovering under ominous clouds,

Foreboding of nebulous worries,

She knows the climb back down will still be difficult.

She takes one drousy, prolonged blink,

Opens her bleary eyes,

And begins her journey.

~KRW

6.21.17

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Finding Joy, Despite Doubling Losses

7 03 2017

This weekend, no less than 5 times, I got to ruin an otherwise perfectly lovely conversation with a stranger.

It went like this:

Them: It was so nice to get to meet you! So what brings you to Dallas anyway?

Me: Actually… a funeral.

Them: (Frowny face) I’m sorry for your loss. 

Me: It’s okay- it was my aunt, and she lived an amazing life for 75 years, but fell ill and was praying to go, so we are truly celebrating her life. She was a joyful inspiration to me. 

Them: (perplexed) O-ohh… okay. 

 

17103530_1503487709733848_1723492595264449756_nFor the most part, it was entirely accurate. My Aunt Suzanne’s service was filled with stories of adolescent debauchery, laughter, incredibly fond memories, and… more tears came from laughing than crying. Which is exactly how I hope my own life celebration will go (after I hurl myself from a plane at age 85 and slyly ‘forget’ to open my parachute).

 

I barely shed a tear, knowing how much Suzanne inspired myself-  and clearly many others- to live each day to the fullest, to be joyful, and- most of all- to be grateful for every chance we are given to experience our lives. From my earliest memories, Suzanne was a bastion of joy. She taught me to love, laugh, & forgive. She was literally THE MOST grateful person I have ever met to this day. I love her, and will miss her, but I know that she has made her mark on this world, and fulfilled her destiny.

 

Today, 2 days after we buried the vessel Suzanne’s soul was born into, we flew back home to Indianapolis. I ended up sitting apart from my wife, due to the last minute booking. So, after the pre-flight chatter had subsided, I pulled out my journal, plugged in my earbuds, and listened to music while I wrote.

 

At first, I wrote about what had happened. Then, I wrote about what I thought. Finally I wrote about what I FELT. If you’ve never done free-writing, you should. It’s very liberating to just keep writing without editing. You’ll be amazed at what comes out.

 

What did I learn?

17098194_1503487736400512_6181040724228158408_nMy father was the baby of his family- the youngest of three- before his father remarried and my aunt Tina was born. But in his early days, it was just him and two older sisters. Both of his older sisters have now passed, and he chose not to come to the funeral this weekend. Many family members and close friends of Suzanne’s asked me, “Is Mike coming?” I had to sheepishly shrug my shoulders and admit, “I don’t know.”

 

You see, my father cut all contact with my family 4 years ago, and stopped returning my calls. So I had no idea if I would see him this past weekend or not. I had a hunch the answer would be NO. My dad is a Narcissist, and 71 years old. So, I had a feeling that, despite being the ‘baby,’ seeing his 2nd sister be buried would be extra tough on him. Narcissists don’t like to feel tough emotions. Physical pain is okay, but emotional pain should just not exist.

Composed 6.March.2017:

Hovering in a soft, billowing sea of white,

blanketed in the familial love I left behind,

I imagine the loved ones waiting ahead

to welcome me home with open arms.

Somewhere in the vast middle

I fly over a strange, misty land,

an abstract place I’m unable to pinpoint,

where my genetic roots have migrated,

settling into shaky, water-logged soil.

I feel the gravitational pull, downward,

heavy on my iron heart.

I fear this entire vessel may go down,

crashing into an ocean of uncertainty.

But I refuse to lose myself to this dark, chromosome abyss. 

I leave behind only a dozen drops of salt water

hovering softly, in a sea of white. 

-KRW

On the plane today, leaving Durant, OK, leaving Dallas, TX, I quickly realized that I did not just bury my aunt Suzanne this weekend. I buried my father too. This was my last chance to see him in person, to forgive him, and to say goodbye, because in my heart I know that- had he come- it would have been the last time I would see my father.

 

I worked hard to prepare for this encounter. In my mind, I knew exactly how it would play out:

He would see me, and pretend nothing had ever happened. Like he didn’t just pick up and move his new family to another state without telling us, or giving us a forwarding address, or his new phone number. He would embrace me, and I would let him. My residual anger would well up inside me, but I would quell it silently. He would ask something simple like, “how are you?” And I would respond, despite my consternation. Despite the fact that he RSVP’d “No” to his own son’s wedding last fall.

I would remind myself that his condition, being a narcissist, is not dissimilar from his condition as an alcoholic, and  I must pity him instead of loathe him. I would miss his smile, and notice how much he has aged since I saw him last. I would grow sad, seeing that the sparkle in his eyes has become dull and bleary, and I would register that his once optimistic glow had been replaced by a din of drudgery. I wouldn’t ask him how his wife is, since she was partly to blame for our estrangement, but I would secretly wish love and joy back into his life. I would remember to hold him a few extra seconds as we hugged goodbye, squeezing him tightly, so he knew how much I loved him, knowing that it wold be our last hug ever.

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That never happened, sadly. Instead, I will remember burying my father’s sister, and thinking more about my own dad. I stood by the burial plots of my family, and pondered whether or not my dad had reserved a plot for himself next to his own father and sister. I would not expect him to plan far enough ahead to be buried with his own wife or children. He would just buy enough space for himself- if anything. As we lifted off and flew away from my ancestors’ burial sites, it really hit home. I may not even know when I lose my father. He may pass from liver disease this week, or this year, or next, but his estrangement leaves us out in the cold.

 

So, I remind myself- and you- to be mindful. Be grateful. Be joyful!! Know that every day is a gift, and every day could be your last. Don’t waste them being petty or holding grudges, or judging others for their actions. Their motives may be confusing, but we each walk our own path. Just do what you can to make this world a little bit kinder, and don’t hesitate to say, “I love you.”

 

 





Why I March

20 01 2017

dcrainAs I type this, many are weeping at the end of an era. Many others are cheering at a new chapter in American history. The clouds are crying into dark & heavy atmosphere, which feels fitting.

 

But, I’m done crying. I’m done being shocked. I’m done being distracted by another stupid tweet or another mindless meme. I’m done sitting on the sidelines. I’m ready to fight.

 

582b7d491800002c0030e402Let me be clear- I hate politics. I hate filling space in my brain with lists of people I’ve never met and the reasons why I should or should not like them. I hate wondering what a company’s values are every time I lay my plastic card down at the cash register. I’ve never marched in a protest. I’ve never spent hours making poignant and powerful signs. I hate everything to do with politics.

 

This is how I know that we are entering an era that is unprecedented.  People who never before felt compelled to get involved, suddenly feel like they have no choice. And I am one of them. 

 

10436160_891482897601002_2027435962132802493_nTo clarify, I have taken some actions before. I’ve signed countless online petitions to protect rights for my fellow citizens. I’ve worked to educate others on issues of the environment. And I did attend a few rallies to fight for marriage equality, just as we reached the crescendo, from 2013-2015. But I don’t like crowds. I don’t like to be noticed. I don’t like to be the center of attention. So I mostly just looked on quietly, while I proudly watched other people be my voice, carry that sign, shout our chants.

 

tsunami-2I feel like I am a relaxed tourist, sitting on a beach, ignoring reality, and enjoying the sunshine, when all of the sudden I look up to see an enormous tsunami of change preparing to crash down upon me. I can either give up, sit in my chair, and dig my feet into the sand fruitlessly. Or, I can fight. I can stand up, grab that inflatable tube, put my swim goggles on, and take a deep breath in. I’m not going down without a fight. I refuse to drown, no matter how massive the wave may be before me. I’m choosing to go in, and it’s gonna be a wild ride.

 

Tonight, I am getting on that bus. I’m heading to Washington D.C., to our nation’s capitol, and I am going to carry that sign, I’m gonna march in that march, I’m gonna sing every song I know the words to, and I am going to make my voice heard.

 


We ARE what makes this nation great.
And we want to make the next administration damn sure, that we are watching, we are listening, and we are keeping track. We will NOT let this nation get sunk beneath the tsunami. We will fight to survive! No matter how many waves crash down upon us, we will not drown! Instead, we will find more ways to float, we will bring our sisters and brothers up onto our rafts, and we will keep going!

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Parapet PhotographyThis morning, I went to Calvin Fletcher’s Coffee, to see some of my favorite people before we go to D.C. They gave me hugs, and love, and support, and gratitude. As I was sitting there, a man sitting alone at a nearby table was listening to our conversation, and said to me, “Hey, I’d like to show you something,” motioning to his laptop. I walked over and looked over his shoulder as he said, “THIS is why I march,” with tears in his eyes. On the screen was a picture of a 4 year old girl in a Rosie the Riveter shirt.


I am marching because
I cannot let one president set us back 40 years. I march because, although I have no children of my own, I worry for the future of my village’s children. I march for Dean’s daughter. I march because I believe in community, and love, and acceptance. I believe that we ALL must be invested in our shared future, which means caring about not only your neighbors, but those around you that you do not know, may not understand, may not recognize, or may not even like. No matter what, a rising tide raises ALL ships, and I refuse to sit by and watch someone else drown.

 

I am marching because:

Climate change IS REAL.

Love is LOVE.

Women’s rights ARE HUMAN rights.

Black Lives MATTER. 

No lives are ILLEGAL.

And Kindness is FREE. 

 

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Grieving: How the Pulse Massacre Affects All of Us

14 06 2016


Grief is a fickle thing. It’s hard to define. It’s hard to defend. Some people get it. Some people don’t. I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions about my own grieving lately, as I was struggling to understand just why the loss of 49 beautiful souls I never knew, in a state I don’t live in, has hit me so fucking hard.

 

ss-160612-pulse-vigil-jsw-09_4c70cbb1faf2b866f969c050aa30e728.nbcnews-fp-1200-800Yes, of course, I think that ALL Americans should be grieving this loss right now. It’s a national tragedy. It’s the deadliest mass shooting in history. Our trend line is moving in the wrong direction. But I think that most Americans haven’t been waking up crying.

 

Some people are just more empathetic and feel emotions harder. Some people shed tears when celebrities die, whom they’ve never met before, just because the person’s art inspired them. But that’s not me.

 

Some of us are heartbroken because you are parents, and so many of the lives taken were just babes in the woods. Akyra Monet Murray was only 18 years old, and never even had a 2016-06-14_9-22-27chance to vote for president before being murdered. Many were barely in their twenties, and couldn’t even buy a drink- they just came out to dance and be with friends. Brenda Lee Marquez McCool was a mother to 12 children, and was there dancing with her gay son, who survived, and will have to deal with her loss and all the ‘what ifs’. Christopher Andrew Leinonen and Juan Ramon Guerrero were planning their wedding, and now will have a joint funeral instead. The individual stories are heart breaking.

 

A lot of us are crying because we are gay, and this was a hate crime by a homophobic man targeted at a gay night club. This is me. But it goes alot deeper than this.

 

13407150_1160339034048719_5298806267185347464_nIt feels selfish to say, “It could have been me,” but it’s what’s going through all of our minds right now. Earlier that same day, I was walking in the Indy Pride parade. I was dancing to Bigfoot Yancey play music at our pride celebration. I could have been out at Metro that night, celebrating our love and our freedom, as we approach the historic 1-year anniversary of being granted the right to equal marriage. It really could have been me.

 

I’ve seen a lot of Facebook posts from my friends, struggling to understand, walking in a cloud of numb achiness, unable to cope with this tragedy. Yet we knew nobody personally affected. Many of my LGBT friends are my age or younger, and seem to be struggling the most with the Pulse massacre. I am starting to figure out why we are hurting so badly.

 

This Saturday, June 18th, I will turn 36 years old. I didn’t come out until I was 29, when I met my soulmate, who happened to be a woman. I have experienced several personal tragedies in my life, and I am no stranger to grief. Which is why it feels so odd to be so distraught by this attack. I’m scared that next time I want to go dancing at a gay club, or marching in a pride parade, or even just living my life as an out and proud gay person, I too could be the target of such an awful attack. I tried to explain this fear to my mom, and, trying to console me, she said, “It’s not going to happen to you, but it’s a reminder to be careful out there, showing affection in public.”

 

For my wife, who has been out of the closet for nearly 30 years, this is nothing new. She HAS been shot at. She HAS been spat on by strangers. She HAS had to fight back against people who simply didn’t like the way she cuts her hair, and felt the need to verbalize their internal hatred towards a person who, while different from them, is a beautiful, loving, kind person.

 

29115c4e67ff92e95626b75fffaa1e95When we were considering moving to Indianapolis in 2013, we came here for a weekend to check out the city. While walking downtown, we stopped at a crosswalk to wait for the light. I reached for my wife’s hand by her side, and she jerked it away. I looked at her, upset that she didn’t want to clasp hands after we were just having such a nice conversation. She said, “I don’t know if it’s safe here.” My response was, “Well if it’s not safe, I want to know now, before we decide to move here.” She nervously agreed, and we walked hand in hand, met by nothing but smiles and loving looks from strangers who can see how in love we are.

 

I’ve never faced the same level of discrimination and hatred that my wife, and many older LGBT folks, have had to face in their lives. I know that things were different 20, 30 years ago, and I have always been proud and relieved to be alive in a time where we have come so far. Until now.

 

candlesFor the first time in my life, I truly understand what it feels like to be a second class citizen. I know what fear tastes like. It’s different than being forced to travel hundreds of miles to another state to get married. It’s far worse. I now know that I may never feel safe or secure again. Even after years have passed without incident, this moment in history will remain like a shard of glass lodged into my brain. THAT is why I am grieving. For not only the lives of the people who have died, and the lives of those who survived, and who will have to learn to go on with a giant gaping hole in their hearts where a loved one once lived, but also for a generation of young LGBT people who should never have to know this level of deeply entrenched fear. I thought we were past this. I had hopes that young people would find all the love and acceptance that the generations before them fought so hard to earn. And instead, I feel like we have just been set back to 1969.
So, please, don’t tell me it’s not a big deal. Don’t tell me it’s not technically a hate crime yet. Don’t tell me to feel better. Don’t talk to me about guns. Don’t tell me that it was one crazy guy and I’m perfectly safe. I’m not. My heart is not safe. My mind is not safe. My soul is deeply battered and bruised. I am lucky to be alive, but I feel like a survivor as well. I’ll grieve as damn long as I need to, because some wounds never heal.

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