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.



The Pulse of America

13 06 2016


news june 12 2016I am shocked and my heart is aching, along with millions of Americans, and LGBT people worldwide. On Saturday, I was marching in the 2 hour long Indy Pride parade, celebrating my equal marriage rights, dancing to live music with many friends and allies, and enjoying a feeling of love, support, and security. The next morning, I woke up to something unimaginable.

In 2016, we are reeling from the most deadly mass shooting in history, specifically targeting our community. The disgusting murders and attacks that took place between 2-5am Sunday morning at the LGBT nightclub, Pulse, are unfathomable. If you are not part of this community, you may not understand the ripple effects of this bloody attack. This murderer targeted us in the one place where we can feel safe. This was our church, our sanctuary, a place where no one needs to live in fear. For those allies who may not understand completely, you need to know more about why this type of attack is so gut wrenching.  


This horrific event is making international news, making history, and reigniting conversations.

But it’s not the first time June has made the news for our community.

Do you know why June is LGBT Pride month?


1969- Stonewall Inn

In 1969, the gay pride movement sprang out of another horrific event. Stonewall. In a different era, physical safety was at the forefront of every gay person in America, a daily fear based in real danger on every street. The gay community only felt safe in places not dissimilar to the Pulse night club in Orlando. They feared constant persecution, and sought solace in the privacy of  these clubs. It was a place where you could be yourself, perhaps for the first time in your life. You could finally feel free to express your true self, to not be judged, to not worry about being attacked or leered at.


stonewalliiOn June 28, 1969, Stonewall Inn was filled with people who were mourning the loss of icon & actress Judy Garland just 6 days earlier. Around 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969, 8 police officers, busted into the Stonewall Inn to conduct a raid. Gay men and drag queens were handcuffed and arrested, until one person, who repeatedly fought back, shouted to the crows “Why don’t you do something?” The LGBT community hit a tipping point, and the crowd collectively decided to fight back for their rights for the first time in history. The riots that ensued marked the beginning of the gay rights movement. It was not the first time the LGBT community suffered bloody bruises, nor have we seen the last.


2015 -Marriage Equality

10644926_890978134318145_1803539000570143421_nCountless struggles and brave fighters in between 1969 and 2015 have built up to something that many older LGBT folks thought they would never see in their lifetimes. I myself watched closely for 4 years as my marriage became repeatedly legal, then illegal, over and over again, as state by state overturned marriage bans, then put a stay on rulings denouncing the bans on gay marriage.

In 2015, June 26th became known for the historical pronouncement by the U.S. Supreme Court declaring that our LGBT citizens are constitutionally guaranteed equal access to the 1,000 benefits of legally recognized marriage. Marriage equality. Love wins! I had hoped that this would be the pinnacle of the gay rights movement (now LGBT movement)- a turning point, signaling the end of our uphill struggle. But our fight is not over.


2016- The Deadliest Mass Shooting in American History

Let’s not let one homophobic man redefine our history. We must pull together, to love one another, to mourn the loss of our brothers and sisters, and to push for greater recognition of our rights as humans.


ec892e313cf65bc8c82b13da5148dd0eOur fight is not over.

  1. We must call on our allies to speak up. We must demand that our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors, and our family stop being bystanders to subtle erosions of our rights. Words are weapons too.
  2. 11709658_891482884267670_569629766078156716_nWe must call on our lawmakers. We must question why it’s okay to legally gain access to a machine that can murder so many people so quickly and so easily. No person needs a weapon of mass destruction to hunt for food or protect their family.
  3. 11667276_891482920934333_5618867141807357087_nWe must ALL demand equal rights. Marriage equality is a huge step forward, but we have not completed the path. It’s 2016, and I can be fired for being gay. I can be denied housing for being gay. This is institutionalized bigotry that requires a change in our laws in order to force it to end. We must demand that our state provides protections against discrimination, and we must question our federal government to work to correct where our states are refusing to protect us. We are still not treated as equals. Until sexual orientation and gender identity are considered protected classes, just as are race, religion, and many other groups, we are subject to discrimination and hate crimes.


2016- Our LGBT Future

First, let us grieve & support everyone affected by this horrific tragedy. Then, let’s use this tragic loss to fuel our collective fire. We need to push for change! Until we are equals, we are not free! Until our society accepts us as equal, this kind of bigotry will continue to fester quietly in corners of America. We must stomp it out! Don’t be a silent bystander. That is not America.

Let’s show the world that America is built on LOVE & EQUALITY!!!


The Gay Way to Shave (My Lesbian Car Lesson)

9 06 2016

I was 15 when I bought my first car. I still have him, 20 years and 11 months later- his name is Sam, and he’s a 1969 Volkswagen Bus. If you’ve not had the pleasure of riding in a VW bus, you should know that it is pure joy to drive, though not without its nuances. Yes, a fender bender may render you crippled, as there is less than an inch of metal between your legs and the car ahead of you. It’s also loud, and the exact opposite of aerodynamic- like driving a brick wall. When I was 16, my bus, Sam, was my daily driver, and he strolled me through many a Michigan winter with ease, even on the sketchy, ice-covered dirt roads I resided on.


11329844_873397612742864_7132719970890849809_nVolkswagen buses are known for one more thing. Heat… or lack thereof. When your engine is at the back of your bus, you are lucky to keep your toes thawed enough to shift gears in February. Thus, at age 16, I decided that it was prudent to stop shaving my leg hair, to trap any excess heat I could muster to survive the season. Believe it or not, I truly felt a difference! Years later, in architecture school, I understood the basic principles behind this thermal phenomenon, and felt affirmed in my nascent intuition. Thus began my exploration into defying American gender norms.


I knew that European women scoffed at this weird American standard requiring women to strip their legs bare of the hair that their parents gave them. It’s a vestigial element from our cavewoman days, no? Either way, the fiery internal feminist in me didn’t care about what was “normal,” and neither did my high school boyfriend, thank goodness. He love me regardless. And I never asked him to shave his back either, so we were pretty even, it seemed.


Flash forward to Indiana. I moved from Michigan to a state barely touching the vast bodies of water that we call the Great Lakes, and naively assumed that the treacherous Michigan humidity would be left behind as well. WRONG. It is humid as… um… frack… here. And as I struggle to maintain my sanity in the celebratory month of my birth, which also coincides with PRIDE, I am at a loss of how to balance my feminist ideals with my tendency to overheat.


IMG_4111Several years ago, after I came out, I discovered a certain freedom that allowed me to embrace my feminine side more so than I ever felt comfortable as a hetero-normative female. (See January’s post for more insight). One of those discoveries was this- when it’s really friggin hot, the inverse of my teenage years is also true- shaving my legs (at least up to my knees) can truly help to keep me to stay cooler in the summer time… and that is OKAY. It makes me no less of a feminist, no less of a butch lesbian, to choose to do whatever the hell I want with my body for the sake ofFullSizeRender_1 personal comfort. In fact, despite everything I felt forced upon me as a young person, when I CHOOSE to alter my body for myself- not for the perception of others- it is truly empowering. Yes, most of the time my legs are au naturel, and beautiful, and sexy, and just as they were born to be. But sometimes, when the forecast calls for 97 degrees and I will be baking in the heat all weekend, every little bit helps, and I will gladly shave off that excess, heat-trapping hair because it will make me cooler and happier. For the same reason some people choose to shave their heads in the summertime, I will lower my cooling load (yes this is ‘Archispeak’) via my shins and calves. I think that just makes me smart and practical, but you can apply whatever labels you like.
13244708_1142559419160014_5404030174740506919_nSo, this Saturday, I will be strutting my naked legs at Indy Pride, not embarrassed or proud- just comfortable and cool. And you should also listen to your body, and do what makes you comfortable and happy. Life is too short to be shoehorned into someone else’s idea of conformity. 

It’s not a ‘Femme’ Thing – The Power of Clothing & Identity

1 04 2016

The Tomboy & the Awkward Teens

Growing up, I was a pretty awesome tomboy. I ran to keep up with my two older brothers, scraping knees and dirtying dresses to try to climb into the forbidden tree house in the woods. I caught frogs and bathed turtles in the dog’s water bowl. As a preteen, I went back and forth between wearing baggy clothes to hide my shape, and conceding to my best friend’s fashion advice about short shorts and makeup. Like many girls that age, I struggled to be comfortable in my own skin as I tried to define who I was. However, I was the girl who always picked up other people for photos, in order to prove my strength. I also taught myself how to sew my own clothing around age 14 in order to create a unique style that fit my body the way I wanted it to.



I learned the incredible power that clothing can have over perception. Dressing like a girl also meant being ogled as a girl. Sexism was alive and rampant, and men from 16 to 60 regularly honked or made comments as I walked down our small town streets. My best friend thought it was cool to get hit on by older men, and she loved the attention. I, on the other hand, hated it. I didn’t want boys to see me that way, and I developed a fear of being stared at or hit on by the opposite sex. If I’m invisible, I’m safe from that objectification.

By the time I started college, I had overcome much of my body image issues, thanks in large part to the unconditional love of my high school sweetheart, who is by and far the most respectful man I have ever met. With his gentle love and support, I started to feel confident in myself, and in control of my life. I dressed how I felt best, and didn’t concern myself with what other people thought. I started to shed myself  of the most eclectic attire that I hid behind in my youth, and started to search out a style that could be both uniquely my own, but also professional. As I started my career as a young Architect, I liked looking put together, because it made me feel like an adult who deserves to be heard. I dressed for respect.


Dressing for ‘Real Life’

I donned appropriately fitted suits at work, trying to balance comfort and professionalism with pieces of feminine flair. As a young woman in a male-dominated field, I had to balance many aspects of my appearance, to look serious, yet distinctive. I had no desire to repeat the offenses of the 1980s, with ridiculously bulky shoulder pads to compete with male body types. I had to look like a peer, but not a dude. In lieu of the fashion-forward blouses that the secretaries and interior designers wore, I learned to wear conservative collared shirts in collars beyons the blue or white of my male counterparts. If I was feeling a blue pin stripe sort of mood, I might add -(gasp!)- dangling, sparkly earrings! I wore my long hair mostly up in a bun or a low ponytail, but would let it down when I felt the need to look more feminine. Outside of work, I was still an active athlete, and often wore comfortable shorts with ample pockets, and practical sports bras beneath tank tops or t-shirts. You never know when you might run into someone with a frisbee and have an impromptu game of ultimate, after all! I owned one pair of strappy black dress shoes with a chunky heel that I could walk in, for that rare occasion that required me to wear a dress. For the most part, I dressed only feminine enough to be clearly identified as a woman, but never accused of being ‘girly.’

Even in my twenties, being hit on by guys gave me the creeps. I avoided unwanted male attention by dressing in a way that should not say, “Hey look at me!” and I think I escaped the worst of the sleaze. Yet, it still happens, and no matter how polite or nice the guy may be, I never know how to respond, and I hate the attention. Being in a long term relationship gave me a shield to protect myself from such unwanted attention, and I learned to quickly insert “my boyfriend” into all conversations with the opposite sex- just to be clear. I had no interest in any other men, and was grateful to have the safety of my relationship to help fend off occasional suitors.


Switching Teams- the Lesbian Uniform

My previous partner of 14 years is a very masculine man, tall, with broad shoulders, strong arms, a square jaw, and a deep voice. Compared to him, even in combat boots, or chuck a boos, I was always the feminine one.

Then, at the age of 29, I met a woman. Not just any woman, but my soulmate. And a lesbian.

Nothing can prepare you for switching from straight culture to gay culture. Everything you think you know about who you are and your place in society is rapidly dispelled. Dating a woman is entirely different than dating a man! There’s no ‘his’ and ‘hers’ expectations, no gender roles to despise, you are suddenly free to follow your heart! The dichotomy of masculine and feminine almost entirely disappears. (Almost). There are no longer any lines in the sand, or an understood balance of yin and yang. Nobody looks at you and asks, “why is SHE going to play with the guys while her boyfriend makes dinner?” In reality, I found this transformation quite liberating, yet I learned just how much I still clung to those stereotypes that I fought so hard to break down.


Pin the Tail on the “Femme”

When I started dating Bethany, everything changed. She herself is a dichotomy of masculine and feminine, with her short but funky hairstyle, her feminine curves, and her extensive tattoos. She can rock a dress all night long, only to change into carharts and wrench on her motorcycle the next morning. Being next to her suddenly brought into question some parts of my own identity that I never expected. When people see us together, especially straight people, they immediately want to categorize us, to be able to clearly label us, in order to push their own comfortable, hetero-normative gender roles onto us.


“Which one of you is the ‘boy’?” the unfamiliar breeders sometimes wonder. As offensive as this question is, in gay culture, the same things still happens, except it’s ‘butch’ and ‘femme’ instead of ‘boy’ and ‘girl.’  So when people see us together, they see Bethany’s tattoos and short hair, and immediately decide that she’s the butch and I must be – by default- the femme. F-E-M-M-E. Me??? Seriously? At first, I was extremely offended. I’m not a girly-girl, by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, people want to put a label on me, and my long hair seems to be the only indicator they can see, so… “Femme” it is. All the sudden, now that I’m with a woman, my context has changed how people perceive me.  When she dresses ‘butch,’ I end up feeling more ‘femme,’ by default.

Looks can be deceiving. The reality is, I’m the one who gets called to remove the icky spider from the bathroom. I’m the one who deals with the tiniest occurrence of blood. I’m the patient yet tough negotiator. I’m the one who comes in from the yard with dirt under her fingernails every weekend. I’m the one who hates makeup. And I’m the Femme???

My wife is the one who loves getting dressed up in elaborate costumes with full, dramatic makeup. She’s the one with both a shoe and a wig collection that would make Theater Bizarre folks jealous. She’s the one who is sensitive and passionate, in need of more cajoling and reassurance. She’s the one who is incredibly thoughtful and considerate, and remembers everyone’s birthdays. So does that mean she’s the femme??


The truth is, we both are both. We joke that I’m a femmey butch, and she is the butchy femme. Within each of us, we have both feminine and masculine characteristics that play to our strengths.


Learning all the nuances of lesbian gender roles and identity is tough when you are new to the gay scene. Nothing translates from my previous life as a straight ciswoman.


Learning to Embrace Femininity

As a feminine tomboy, becoming an open lesbian was a real game changer. Suddenly, I had a new title that was way more effective than “taken” to ward off male attention. In the past, some men would literally hit on me and say “I don’t care if you’re married.” GROSS. But now, as a lesbian, I’m completely off the table for straight guys. (Obviously, there can be a sidebar conversation here about monogamy and polyamory, but that is outside the scope of my expertise or interest). Unlike the straight version of myself, being gay suddenly felt liberating. I now finally understand why it bothered me SO much when men hit on me. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t single, or that an individual was unattractive, it was truly that what I did not want sexual attention any men.


1898110_761767903905836_219651953483986976_nAs I learned what it meant to be comfortable with the title of lesbian, a shocking realization occurred. I spent decades of my life trying to break the perception of a woman being weak and frilly and liking to cook and clean. I revolted against traditional women’s work, even refusing to learn to cook until my mid twenties, because “that’s what they want women to be good at.”  I had never even made a pot of coffee in my life until I became a lesbian. Take that, male chauvinism! Now that I was no longer bound by the stereotypical gender roles, I learned that I can actually enjoy being feminine.


Suddenly, instead of fighting for an expansion of equal gender roles, I could do whatever I wanted. With my beautiful soulmate at my side, I was liberated to be masculine one day or feminine the next, without fear of bringing down the perception of women as a whole. I enjoyed the secret pleasure of knowing that I could do more pushups than most of the people in a room, while wearing elegant attire. Wearing a dress still sometimes feels like I’m in drag, but I love it. It’s fun!

Most of all, my wife makes me feel beautiful and sexy in a whole new way, that makes me want to dress more flirtatious around her. Over the first year or two after coming out as gay, I rediscovered and redefined myself as a woman. I finally felt entitled to claim my femininity, without fear that it would discredit my other strengths. It was a glorious discovery, and a journey that I hope will never end!


Sincerely yours,

A happy, femmey butch

75 and Sunny

31 03 2016

It’s a cold, dreary evening – dark and lonely. I’m sitting here downloading photos from my camera onto the computer, and this song came on called, “75 and Sunny” by Ryan Montbleau. I think it was on a compilation CD, or maybe it was a free weekly download from itunes. Regardless of where it came from, it’s a song that truly resonates with me. He sings about wanting to not waste away our days drinking and obscuring reality, but to fill them with intention and purpose and full awareness.

At this moment, My heart is filling up with love! It’s overwhelming and wonderful! In less than a minute, listening to the chorus of this folk song, all these feelings well up inside of me, and I can’t help but burst out crying. I feel so lucky to be here, to have so many amazing people in my life!


i’d rather be 75 and sunny

than acting like i was 17 and freezing again

i rather be up early in the morning

than up late at night erasing memories of where i have been

or to be thru at 52, someday, stone faced and bleary eyed

you better believe i’m lookin for the moment, but my moment’s growin bigger by and by


river2Maybe it’s this song, or these beautiful memories before me, I don’t know why I suddenly feel this way. I just have so much love in my marrow! There’s no word to describe it. This wave of emotion just pours over me, like I’m sitting by a roaring river in the West Virginia mountains, feeling flooded with life. I have this strong connection, this energy radiating through me, coursing through my veins into my fingertips and the ends of my toes! I cannot say where it is coming from. I’m not immersed in nature. I’m nowhere special. There’s no energy vortex here. There’s no awesome beauty in my bedroom. There’s just me, this song, and these images of people I love.


snowflakes-in-the-night-sky-lisa-jayne-konopkaOutside, despite the early blanket of darkness, I can see that there are giant snowflakes falling. I notice them more than usual, perhaps because it’s early in the season, or maybe my senses are heightened at the moment. Sometimes I get this ‘high’ inspired by nature, and it feels a lot like this. Is it possible that I have found a way to manifest this same euphoria at will? Have I elevated my senses to some new dimension? What a joy it would be to find beauty and positive energy in every place, not just from natural marvels hours from my home! My chest aches with happiness, and all I can think is, “I love life!” I love LOVE! This feeling is so much more intense than ever before, and just makes me want to go shout it to the world, to share with everyone I know!

  I think I may have one particular person to thank for this unexpected rush of love.

Finding people who appreciate life is rare, but when I do, their energy bounces off my own in harmonic resonance, getting amplified, growing, radiating farther than ever before. Yesterday I had the great pleasure of spending many hours with my new friend, Bethany. It was our first time hanging out together, but it lasted for nearly eight hours of nonstop conversation and cooking together.


10400912_26605094757_3588_nI wouldn’t want to scare her off by telling her this so soon after we met, but I totally love her. How could you not??? She embodies love. Even if I’m the 27th person in line, I really hope that I get to spend more time with her someday. She elevates my own lust for life, and makes me want to be a better person. She inspires me!


One thing I’ve learned is that life is too short to waste time. It took me 8 years to tell another dear friend how truly important she is to me, and it elevated our friendship when I finally did share. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice, of waiting too long to be honest. I suspect that my new friend can handle the intensity of love that I am capable of dispensing, but I’m going to play it safe for a while. She’s already started making plans for us this summer to go on a road trip, so maybe she feels a fraction as much appreciation for my company as I feel for hers. I can be patient. She’s an amazing soul and worth waiting for. But, if she decides she’s sick of me in a month and never wants to talk to me again, I won’t regret a thing.

Just one day with her has enriched my life, and given me new perspective, which is more than I can say about 90% of the people I meet.

In fact, this experience tonight inspired me to write several poems. This one poured out of my pen like an April rainstorm in Austin:

“harmonic resonance”aura

my bountiful heart beats.
rings of oscillations
drift outward softly
as in a still lake
broken by a pebble’s weight.

lost in the middle,
they converge with another’s.
the two waves unite
in harmonic resonance,
growing stronger,
merging into one.

the rogue wave of our hearts,
the amplified rhythm
of our individual beats,
the coalescing surge of energy
could raise the titanic.


Today I want to share some of my writing from the year I met my soulmate.

This entry is from December 27, 2009. I had just met her a couple weeks earlier, and we met intentionally for the very first time the day before I wrote this.

It’s amazing for me to look back and see just how early I knew, although it took me nearly two months to admit it to myself.

She still inspires me today.

Namaste, Bethany. I love you more than words can ever tell.

The Brief but Powerful Role of Keystone Underground: How Kelly Met Bethany

6 02 2016

It had been a bitterly cold week, especially for so early in December, and filled with frustration at the office. The guy in charge was exercising his newfound power by declaring their startup nonprofit of five “NOT a democracy.” By Wednesday Kelly was already thinking about the weekend, and she texted Lisa to see if she wanted to go out dancing Friday or Saturday night. It’s good to help blow off steam, and prevent herself from becoming a complete hermit crab, Kelly decided. Lisa is pretty much always interested in dancing, and surprisingly available last minute, which made her Kelly’s favorite dancing buddy.

Me: We could try Elks Lodge Friday night

Lisa: Well, I’m actually supposed to go on a sort of date Friday night, which might be fine, because we’re meeting at 6:30, but I probably shouldn’t plan on being done early.

Me: Oh, nice! Well have a good time on your maybe date. What about Saturday?

Lisa: Saturday’s wide open, I think. And I’m pretty sure that is the night my friend was telling me about something going on in Ypsilanti at some new place that opened up there.

Me: Oh? I’ve never really been to Ypsilanti, except to buy art supplies once.

Lisa: Yeah, I’m trying to remember what the place is called… I’ll have to look it up. But she did say that it’s a completely smoke free venue, which was why I want to try it!

Me: That sounds great. Sure, let’s try it! I’ll meet you at your house at 9 so we can carpool?

Lisa: Sounds like a plan.


Saturday evening Kelly put on some comfortable jeans, knee-high striped socks that she could push down if she got too hot, and a tan v-neck t-shirt with a thin brown sweater over the top. Layers are critical when you go out dancing in Michigan winters! She bundled up her long brown hair into four loose quadrants, then secured them to the crown of her head with elastic bands, so that she could dance freely without a care. Just before she left home, she opened the drawer to the right of the sink, pulled out a clear glass vial an inch in diameter, closed her eyes, and sprinkled glitter over the top of her head. It fell softly onto her shoulders, across her collarbone, and caught in her eyelashes, ever so slightly. There’s never a chance to wear glitter that gets missed by this grrrl!

Lisa greeted her at the door looking like she had just gotten home from work. “I can’t decide if I want to dress up a little, in case there are some eligible women there tonight, or just be comfortable,” Lisa explained. Kelly shrugged her shoulders, “Do both.” Lisa spent a few more minutes debating what to change into, and forgot to run a comb through her hair before putting on her eyeglasses and slipping on some comfortable shoes. Jeans and a long sleeve shirt it was then.

Kelly offered to drive, and Lisa navigated the car to downtown Ypsilanti. This town kind of has a reputation that precedes it. Although it is the next door neighbor to the affluent and highly educated Ann Arbor, it gets a bad rap as an area of poverty and high crime. Kelly had heard that there was actually a pretty up-and-coming art scene here, but somehow never made it there to check it out. Most of her friends live in or around Ann Arbor, and it’s the only place that anyone ever suggests for places to go.  Lisa’s house is in this no-man’s-land between the two towns, filled with strip malls of cell phone dealers, mattress stores, and a hidden pocket of co-op housing, built from former military barracks. It wasn’t rural, like Kelly’s home, but it wasn’t urban or suburban either. It just felt like you were lost in a grey area between two points on the map, with no tranquility and nothing to walk to, but conveniently located close to US-23, I-94, and two centers of employment.

water towerAs they drove down Washtenaw, the scenery changed from strip malls and fast food joints to a quaint and historic little downtown. They passed by the edge of Eastern Michigan’s campus, a surprisingly large university that gets dwarfed by U of M’s presence in Washtenaw county. Just across from the corner of campus, a ridiculously phallic-shaped water tower emerged with a wooden-shingled dome, dividing the 4-lane street into two boulevarded one ways. As their eastbound lanes curved right, it made room for a block of large historic homes that were now turned into student apartments.

Downtown was just a couple more blocks from campus, and looked much nicer than Kelly had imagined. There were three blocks decorated with matching acorn lampposts, like you would see in a Norman Rockwell painting, with intricate storefronts topped with apartments above. Each retail space was filled with some store or restaurant that you’ve never seen anywhere else. It held a very local charm, without a Starbucks in sight.Michigan Avenue in downtown Ypsilanti. Steve Pepple |

They found a free parking spot right out front on the main drag, and Kelly backed into the spot, waiting a minute for traffic to clear so she could open her door. She scurried to the sidewalk to wait for Lisa, turning herself around to take in all of her surroundings. She admired the diversity of the architecture, some modern, some ornate, with incredibly detailed stonework, and some simply old. “It’s really cute here,” she muttered aloud.

“I know, right? I was surprised the first time I came to Ypsi, too,” shared Lisa, “and Depot Town is equally nice. That’s where my office is, and it’s just a few more blocks that way,” she pointed in the direction of a bridge down the hill.

J_Neil's-thumb-590x384-72360“And THIS,” Lisa turned to face the crosswalk, “is where we are going!” Across the street was a large glass storefront with a corner vestibule. It looked like a restaurant, and an empty one at that. Kelly was a little bit disappointed, but followed her friend out of the cold. “So, I think this place is actually downstairs,” she posited, scanning the abundance of signage and literature that filled the entryway, looking for confirmation of this mystical venue.

logo“Ah! There it is- Keystone Underground-  Martini Bar!” Inside the restaurant, where a hostess stand should have been, a sandwich board sign stood waist-high, directing them down an open stairwell into a much darker space. As they reached the last steps, a truly unique space emerged. It was a long, narrow room, divided in half by a brick wall punctuated by arched openings. It felt a lot like an eastern European wine cellar, cozy and warm, ancient yet secretive. The underground bar had a modern flare, the bar lit dimly with neon signs that reflected off the bright orange bartop. To the left, as they walked through one of the archways, more seating appeared, and a DJ booth was set up against the back wall, not quite ready for the dance floor.

10400912_26605094757_3588_nLisa spotted her friend, and walked over to greet her with a hug. She was a short, curvaceous woman, with spiky hair. One long sweep of bangs curled in front of her left ear and framed a gigantic, beaming smile. In an instant, Kelly could tell that she’s the kind of person who can warm an entire room with her smile, which squished her wide blue eyes into dark slivers as her big, rosy cheeks reached for the moon. They walked back over to Kelly, who stood frozen in the mostly empty void, unsure of what to do. “Kelly, this is my friend, Bethany. She’s the one who is organizing the Electronic Saturdays here tonight!” “Hey there! How’s it going?” Lisa’s chipper friend asked as she greeted Kelly, then excused herself to go hug another stranger. She must be a little bit older than herself, Kelly thought, but her energy was through the roof, as she watched this pint-sized tattooed figure bouncing through the room, checking in with the DJ on equipment setup, greeting other people who were starting to trickle in the door. There weren’t many other people at this bar, but Bethany seemed to know every single one of them.

barThe bar was relatively new, and it appeared that most people didn’t know it existed yet. Kelly decided to have a drink, since there wasn’t a big enough crowd to feel comfortable dancing in yet. She asked her friend for suggestions, and had no idea what actually got ordered. A golden martini arrived in front of her, and it was tasty, but not cheap. Certainly, one $10 drink would be enough for the night. “And this is why I don’t like to go out and drink,” she reminded herself. The two chatted about work stuff, and at some point Lisa’s friend came back by to visit more. She was trying to persuade them to get out on the dance floor, where a total of zero people were dancing. “Hmmm… maybe in a little bit,” Kelly politely responded, with a suspicious feeling that there would be no dancing tonight. It was already getting late, and she was stifling yawns instead of shaking her groove thing, which meant that she wouldn’t last too much longer.


The people watching was pretty good, although the place never really did pick up much. Eventually, since the sole purpose of coming out was to dance, Lisa did convince Kelly to get up for a couple of songs. Bethany joined them, and was a welcome added distraction, not that there was anyone there watching them. Not surprising, she was a very outgoing, extroverted dancer, smiling and laughing and cracking jokes with the two. It was enough to help Kelly to relax and have some fun. “Awwww, yeah! That’s my jam!” she hollered, kicking up her heels and throwing her elbows back with excitement. Both Lisa and Kelly laughed out loud, the only two introverts to be found, both equally astonished and entertained by Bethany’s exuberance.

17474_1340610997960_7137416_nThe night turned out surprisingly well! They may not have spent hours dancing like Kelly had hoped for, but it felt really good to finally give in and get out there, even if they were the only ones dancing. Just before midnight, Corey thanked her new friend for helping them to break in the dance floor, and walked back upstairs to the street to turn into a pumpkin. “Perhaps she will be our new dancing buddy!” Kelly thought after dropping off Lisa and heading home. Cold car tires crunched over the gravel driveway. In the conifer-cloaked darkness, she quietly tiptoed through the front door, greeted by a cat along the way. She pulled her sweater over her head, sniffed it, and realized, “and I don’t smell like smoke!” When you factored in that sweet smell of success, Ypsilanti started to look like a great new option for dancing. And besides, Santa made an appearance at Keystone, and even swung around a steel column like a stripper, so, there’s always that to look forward to next time.


Update: The $10 martinis proved a bit too rich for Ypsi blood, at least circa 2009, so the venue no longer exists as Keystone Underground. Michigan passed a smoking ban that opened up all sorts of new smoke-free destinations soon after. But, that fateful night, during the brief period that Keystone Underground was in existence, Kelly met her soulmate. Kelly and Bethany rent the space they met at for their very own wedding reception when they got married two years later.

Freedom to Marry (now let’s not get fired for being gay)

2 07 2015

I’m married. No… for reals… I’M MARRIED.

Not just on my federal taxes.

Not just in the state of Indiana.

I’m married in ALL 50 STATES!!!

11540844_891563900926235_6369982575811555878_nSCOTUS RULES!

There is no way that I can express how amazing the past week has been. I’ve been counting down to this for over 2 years, since the 2013 ruling that granted federal rights to gay and lesbian married couples. My lawyer friend, Cindy, told me that it would only be a matter of time before the lawsuits from individual states worked their way up to the supreme court and- the way these things work- it would likely be June 2015 before it got ‘resolved.’ She was spot on.

June 26, 2015 was a day that the previous generation of LGBT folks thought they would NEVER see. They have endured countless discriminatory acts against them. They have been yelled at. They have been beaten. They have had to walk home in fear of an attack. They have been denied health care. They have had to watch their partners die from hospital waiting rooms. They have been turned away from funerals. They have been left penniless when unable to inherit their own life from their passed love.

They have had their love questioned. They have been told they are ‘disgusting.’ They resigned themselves to introducing their ‘friend,’ or- if they were really brave- their ‘partner.’ They didn’t think this day would every come.



For three and a half years I have been married. Yes- LEGALLY married (as I often have to explain). No, it was in Buffalo, NY (because doesn’t every couple get asked WHERE they got married?!?) As a newlywed, I audaciously referred to her as ‘my wife,’ despite how weird it sounded as it echoed in the ears of my midwestern coworkers. I was determined to claim this word and normalize it. I often got asked to repeat myself, when people’s eyebrows wrinkled with confusion. “Yes, my wife,” I would reiterate casually. Because how can we expect people to get comfortable with it if they never encounter it?

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Today, our world is transformed. Marriage is marriage. Love is love. Typing these words still makes my eyes grow watery and my cheeks smile.

10644926_890978134318145_1803539000570143421_nWe have celebrated our marriage every time it was made a little bit more legal. It’s been kind of fun, I mean, how many straight couples can say they threw 5 parties to celebrate their wedding in the first 5 years of being married? (2011 Elopement in Buffalo + 2012 Reception in Ypsilanti + 2013 Federal ruling + 2014 Indiana ban overturn + 2015 Marriage equality). Now, there will be no more mandatory destination marriages. No more traveling to get married again when a new state passes laws allowing it.

And that’s not all! We have Divorce Equality too!! No more waiting for YEARS to get divorced because they aren’t citizens in the state they got married.


As a younger generation gay person, I am blessed beyond belief. I came out at age 29 and I never endured what my wife did. She was kicked out of her parents home at age 17 for being gay. She knows the real fear of being threatened. When we first visited Indianapolis and contemplated me taking a new job that would require us to move here, I wanted to know if we would feel welcomed. She wanted to know if we would be safe.

10455424_675962182486409_7473511755486069770_nI will never forget that Friday, after my full day interview went so well, we went to walk around downtown Indianapolis so that we could seriously consider this opportunity. We were waiting for the crosswalk signal on Delaware Street, and I naturally reached my hand over to clasp the hand of my love. Her hand instinctively jerked away from mine. I turned to look at her, clearly confused by her behavior. Before I had a chance to ask, she said, “I don’t know if we should be doing that here.” I turned my shoulders square to hers, stared into her eyes and said, “Honey, if this is NOT okay in this town, I want to know NOW, before we decide if we want to move here.”

We have been welcomed so warmly by our new city, that this story seems laughable today. We are extremely open, loud and proud. We are met with nothing but love by our neighbors. Even those who clearly didn’t know that we are gay, stammer to correct themselves when I edit their assumptions.


Let’s remember that marriage equality today does not erase the painful past. These emotional scars are deep for Bethany, and for millions of Americans like her. More importantly, our fight is not over. SCOTUS ended marriage discrimination, but not all discrimination. I can still be fired for being gay. I can be denied a mortgage. I can be refused a large number of basic parts of living, just not the legal piece of paper that affords a married couple all those wonderful rights.

11709658_891482884267670_569629766078156716_nThe marriage fight is over, once and for all. This will bring awareness. This will cause conversations and questions and dialogue about an issue many were embarrassed to discuss. This opens the door for more closeted LGBTQ folks to finally come out to their friends and family. This will let the next generation of kids know that they are EQUAL to their straight peers, and not something to be bullied.

So what’s next? We need to fix discrimination. Let’s start by amending the laws to reflect that LGBTQ citizens are at a much higher risk of being denied, bullied, ignored, and refused service. I’m not talking about RFRA, the black eye that Governor Pence gave the state of Indiana. I’m talking about our state constitutions. In many states like Michigan and Indiana, our local government has refused to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the anti-discrimination language.

In 1968 the Civil Rights Act brought equal rights language to many of us who faced discrimination. There’s a federal version and there are state versions. The original federal language made it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin.” They have been amended over the years to protect new statuses, like being pregnant (remember when women got fired for being pregnant as a regular practice?) So, you can’t be denied based on race, creed, color, religion, disability, age, sex, or veteran status, but you CAN be denied if you’re gay. Or fired. Or not hired. The list goes on.

11230777_890837747665517_5698155796869169047_nSo, “yay” for wedding cakes and all the happy couples I know who refused to get married until they could do so in their home states. I expect the USPS to be carrying lots of beautifully crafted wedding invitations to my doorstep in the ensuing months. For those of us already married, and, hopefully, ALL OF US, let’s get back to work!

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