Physical Obesity

Obesity snuck up on me, slowly and surely over a period of months and years. I certainly knew I was overweight: I was winded and sweaty all the time, standing could be difficult and so could climbing stairs, I bought giant baggy shirts to fit over my ample stomach, and my face was fatter and rounder. I consumed bags of microwave popcorn, large bags of peanut butter M-n-Ms, liters of Pepsi, and bags of sugared mangos in between meals, and I ate seconds and thirds for dinner and had three or four bowls of cereal for breakfast. Once when I sprained my ankle, I was on crutches, and getting myself from my car to my office became a struggle.

Still, the word obese never crossed my mind. It was a dangerous word, an ugly word. In fact, the only thing worse than obese, when it came to weight, was morbidly obese, a word that implies someone is near death.

My son was flipping through photo albums recently and he looked up with surprise and his usual candor. “Dad, you were really fat when I was a baby. But not anymore, right?”

I remember the day I learned I was obese. It was at a family Christmas party, and my sister Sue had a Wii system. Wanting to engage in some fun family Wii competitions, she had a few of us create character avatars to play with on the game. I designed a little man to look like me with brown hair and clothing, and I entered my height. Then I stood on the little scale for the Wii to take my weight. In front of my entire family, the avatar on the screen suddenly ballooned out to beach ball size, accompanied by a cartoon sound effect, a rubbery boing noise. Giant capital letters flashed on the screen, followed by exclamation marks.

YOU ARE OBESE!!!

And that simple humiliation began my personal transformation and, in many ways, marked the first steps toward living rather than just being alive. It didn’t take long to realize I was eating too much and too quickly, so I began by lowering quantities of food, drinking more water, and learning a bit about what I was putting into my body. I began monitoring what I ate, what foods my body needed, and how many Calories exists in foods.

I had felt abjectly out of control of my life for years at that point, trapped by religion and culture, trapped in the closet, trapped by self-expectations that I had to work 60 hours per week and serve in the church and that it was selfish and ugly to do anything for myself.

So I began walking at lunchtime, and then I began working on the elliptical trainer at the gym during my lunch break. I started lifting weights in the mornings, something I had never done. I began dropping pounds swiftly. At my heaviest, I was 255 lbs. (I’m a 5 feet 11 inches tall). Before long I was at 240, then 230, then 220. I started gaining a bit of confidence in myself, enjoying the gains I was making and seeing the results in myself.

I learned a lot about myself at that time. I learned that weight comes on slow and steadily over time, one half pound at a time, over a period of months and years. I learned that losing weight is a relatively simple science, boiled down simply to burning more energy than consumed. I learned that the human body is forgiving, that it is eager to be healthy and will work toward health when correct decisions are made. I learned that old habits can be hard to break, but that the alternative is simply gaining more and more. And, perhaps most importantly, I learned that change takes time: If it takes a year to gain 50 pounds, it is going to take more than a few weeks to take the weight off. I adopted the mantra of slow and steady growth over time.

Once I hit 220, I plateaued for a while. The weight came off more slowly and was more difficult to shed. But as long as I stayed consistent, and was patient and kind toward myself, it continued going down 1-3 pounds every few weeks. 220 became 215, then 210, then 200.

By then, I had taken careful stock of my life. I realized that I had had zero nutrition or exercise knowledge instilled in me growing up, in a family that often struggles with obesity. I realized I was participating in a religion that vilifies coffee and alcohol, but says nothing about obesity and physical health. I realized I was surrounded by people in my life who cared about me, but who completely enabled my dangerous habits and said nothing about my weight or my unhappiness; in fact, some of these people resented me or called me selfish when I began transforming myself. And I realized that it wasn’t just physical weight I had put on, it was mental weight, it was emotional weight, and it was spiritual weight. I had become obese in every sense. Dropping pounds was only the beginning of a years-long transformation ahead of me.

Four years after I began losing my weight, I hit my lowest adult weight, and the most fit time in my life, at 175 lbs. I had lost a total of 80 pounds. I looked and felt better. I felt cleansed and strong and confident. And it was then that I began focusing on shedding the other types of weight I had to lose. I take care of my physical health now on all fronts: exercise, nutrition, sleep, hydration, and overall wellness. It felt, and feels, wonderful.

As I type this, I line up two photographs of myself, one from 8 years ago, and one from last summer. The first, I’m dressed in white at a religious event, literally standing in front of a painting of Jesus. My lips are curved into a smile that doesn’t match my eyes, which seem as heavy as my face, as heavy as the expectations I placed upon myself. In the second, my smile is genuine, my eyes are alive, my arms are strong and I’m alive. It’s difficult for me to reconcile these two versions of myself.

And then two simple thoughts come to mind: life is meant to be lived, and I refuse to spend another moment miserable.

 

(Blogs on spiritual, emotional, and mental obesity to follow).

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“Give him a chance!”

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Since the historic and painful election of Donald Trump, I keep hearing from leaders who disavowed him, everyone from Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney to Barack Obama himself, that we should give him a chance. The thing is, I don’t know if I can. I certainly don’t want to. It’s a survival skill to deny people who have shown they are willing to hurt me the opportunity to hurt me again.

I haven’t had great experiences with men in my life. My father was emotionally distant for years before he left the house, and he had little to do with me after that. And my stepfather was violent, with words and fists, just as he had been in two marriages prior to the one toward my mother. And I grew up in a church led by white men that told me being gay was a sin.

It was early on when I became aware of the patriarchal society that we live in, where we see entire systems that favor men, give them power, and then make excuses for their bad behavior and weakness. Religious institutions that give solely men the ability to act in God’s name, a country whose government only recognized white men as voting bodies and citizens for the first few hundred years of rule and have made it extremely difficult for anyone else who wants a place at the table, and employment systems that favor men in salary and position, after they grew up in schools that gave men better access to educational opportunities and resources. Men receive favoritism on almost every front of their lives, and white straight Christian men get the most handed to them.

Look at that basic system and history and tie that in to irrefutable statistics. Men almost universally are the perpetrators of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault and molestation (towards both men and women), and violent crimes, including murder and gun crimes. Men have driven our world to war. Men have enslaved races. Men cast laws that vilify and punish those that aren’t like them. And men toss aside anyone who tries to refute or reduce their power or ideals, generally in the name of a male god. (And when I say “almost universally”, I’m referencing statistics that are in excess of 95 per cent out of 100).

Not all men fall into these categories by any means. I’m a man who is a loving father of two sons. I know many men who are honorable, kind, and strong. But I have been hurt by many men, and not by any women. I learned long ago to keep clear boundaries around someone who has shown they are willing to hurt me. I will not, will never make excuses for someone who uses fists and violent words to hurt me. I will not give them another chance to do so. Forgive, never forget.

And so, I’m angry about being told to “give him a chance.” I accept the world that I live in is one that favors men, that says “boys will be boys” when a man commits a rape, and then blames the girl for the rape with “she should have said no more loudly” or “she shouldn’t have been drinking”; a society that says batterers were merely “pushed too hard” while blaming the woman for staying; religions that say that men have God-given potentials to lead others to salvation while women are merely meant to be wives and mothers and to serve the men they belong to.

I’m angry about a campaign that excused Donald Trump at every turn while vilifying Hillary Clinton; that shrugged off his sexual assault talk as “locker room talk” or “a long time ago” while lambasting her for calling some Americans deplorable; that excuses his failure to show tax returns and overlooks several pending criminal charges against him while constantly calling her a criminal for perceived offenses for which she is solely responsible. And I’m furious that we set up a patriarchal set of rules for Hillary to play by, saying this was the only way for a woman to become president, and then we tore her apart and blamed her for operating within the system that was set up.

I can’t keep making excuses for Trump. I won’t sympathize with him for being under pressure, I won’t explain away his terrible comments and statements about entire populations of people, I won’t shrug off his history of misogyny. He can put on a suit and speak to the people, but I will hear him describing walking in on teenage girls of beauty pageants so he can see them change because no one would stop him. I can watch him shake hands with foreign leaders, but I will remember him lauding Putin as a leader while threatening to register and ban an entire religion. I can see him shrug that gay people and black people and women are okay and they don’t bother him, but I will recall his endorsements by white supremacists, his governmental appointments of people who demonstrate hate toward those not like them, and the dozen women who have accused him of sexual assault.

Conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, it is long past time we let women have an equal, if not majority, position in leading our country, in any and all elected positions. There has been a lot of horrible and horrific things that have happened in our world’s history, and nearly all of it can be directly tied to a system that prefers men and places them in charge. We do not need men to merely honor and respect women, we need men to acknowledge and recognize that there are some things that women are better at, and on that list is leading.

I can only imagine how ugly things are about to get in a country that is willing to give men like Donald Trump a chance. I fear we are in for Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy, and J. Edgar Hoover levels of pain and shame in the few years ahead. And when someone strikes my cheek, I refuse to turn it so he can strike the other.

 

 

 

How to Be Grateful

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It’s only recently that I learned how to be grateful.

I grew up learning about gratitude without ever allowing myself to feel it, not on any real level. I would recite prayers with litanies of ‘grateful’ lists immediately followed by a request for forgiveness for my many sins, everything from telling a lie to being gay on the inside. “I’m grateful for my family, and for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for all the challenges thou givest me to prove my devotion to you, and for all of the many blessings thou hast seen fit to grant me. Please help me be better, be stronger, and not be gay anymore.”

Gratitude means something completely different to me now. It’s not a list of facts. Gratitude now is in the specifics, and it is firmly grounded in the present. I take regular opportunities to be grateful, if not daily then at least every other day, and I try to feel grateful in the moment and not just during times of prayer. Rather than being grateful for sunlight, for example, I take time to feel grateful while feeling sunlight on my skin, and I combine that with gratitude in the temperature of the air and the feel of the ground under my feet and the warmth on and within me and the natural beauty of rolling clouds. I can lose myself in this kind of gratitude, and it is one of my most spiritually building character traits.

And so today is Thanksgiving. And it happens to be my 38th birthday. It is 4 pm as I type this and I’m still in my pajamas. My stomach is far too full of food. I have received hundreds of messages, mostly electronic, from loved ones who care about me. My five year old son is drawing Batman characters in blue ink next to me, and my eight year old son is snoring softly on the couch while he dozes, and my sister is watching soap operas in the next room. My toes are cold and the coffee at my keyboard is steaming hot. Classic Christmas carols are playing on the radio. The sink is filled with unwashed dishes.

It is a beautiful day to be alive. And I am basking, in the moment, in gratitude.

I am thankful, first and foremost, for myself, and this is the place that any gratitude list should start. I am grateful for my big brown eyes, through which I see the world around me and look for adventures. I’m grateful for my strong hands, that support me and do the work that needs to be done. I’m grateful for my spine, twisted though it is with scoliosis, that bears the weight of my body and my experiences. I am grateful for my heart, which finds the best in those around me and puts protections in place to keep me strong and resilient. I am grateful for my feet, which take me to the corners of cities and wildernesses in a spirit of exploration and conquest.

I am thankful for my sons, above all else, who inspire me with laughter and insight, and who give me the greatest ground upon which to stand and see the future from. I am thankful for the generous light in their eyes, the trust they place in me, the space under each arm that they snuggle into during story or movie times, and for the way they constantly inspire me into laughter and joy and meltdowns of inspiration.

I’m grateful for history, for my own and for that of the world, for all of the ugly parts and all of the pretty parts and the way they shape my view of the world. I’m even grateful for history as it happens, even now, and the resolve it leaves me with to make the world a better place. I’m grateful for the human capacity for resiliency, the ability to go through the worst the world has to offer and to still come out stronger on the other side.

I could type for days on the things I’m grateful for, but I’ll conclude with one simple thought: Life is short, and grateful is a much better space to dwell than mopey or bitter or despairing, and I’m grateful to know that too.

 

the Medium

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I expected some sort of new-age woman with long thick red hair and heavy make-up, though I knew I was forming some sort of biased opinion in my mind based on me personal perceptions of psychics. Wait, she didn’t call herself a psychic anyway, she called herself a medium.

Curious, I took a few moments to search what the difference between the two was, and I found an apt description by Rebecca Rosen online: “Psychics tune into the energy of people or objects by feeling or sensing elements of their past, present and future. Simply put, psychics rely on their basic sense of intuition and psychic ability to gather information for the person being read. Mediums take it a step further. A medium uses his or her psychic or intuitive abilities to see the past, present and future events of a person by tuning into the spirit energy surrounding that person. This means mediums rely on the presence of non-physical energy outside of themselves for the information relevant to the person being read.”

I do believe in the human capacity to tune into others. I consider myself an empath; I can sense the emotions of others, and if I’m not careful I can get caught up in the emotions. It takes me mental and emotional effort to keep myself free and clear, and it tremendously aids my work as a therapist. I definitely believe there are mediums and psychics in the world, people who are subject to the emotions and impressions of the energies and consciousnesses of those who have passed on.

When I met the medium, she was nothing like I expected. She was a normal looking person, a beautiful women with long hair, fit and athletic, who talked about her children and her journey. She had kind eyes and an intuitive nature about her, and I immediately felt at ease, once I realized she was not seeking money or recognition or endorsement. She simply had a message to share.

The medium explained to me that she had first discovered her talents a few years before, when she realized she was sensitive to the energies of those close to her who had passed, and sometimes to the energies of deceased loved ones of friends or acquaintances. She would sometimes get direct messages for a loved one, or a gentle impression to do something (like making caramels for a neighbor, a gesture from a deceased grandmother through the medium), and on occasion could have direct conversations. She explained to me that this was the first time she had ever had a direct conversation with someone who she didn’t know.

My best friend Kurt died last April in a small car accident that caused internal bleeding. He shouldn’t have died, but he did, and it was a huge shock. His fiancée had been with him at the time. The medium explained that she had been playing with her children in a park near the site of the accident when she came down with a tremendous headache. She returned to the park a few days later and got the same headache, and she realized someone was trying to communicate with her. After doing a bit of research, she realized it was Kurt.

The medium presented me with several pages of notes she had taken from her conversations with Kurt, a strange stream of consciousness from him to her. He was at peace, he was confused about how abruptly things had happened, he wanted to be sure his fiancée was okay. Most of the notes were about how happy he had been, how he had created a life for himself and how he wanted his fiancée to go on with his life.

I was very moved as she spoke, talking about how powerful Kurt is, how much influence he has. I had tears rolling down my cheeks as she told me things like, “He is such a beautiful spirit. Even thru that confusion/that fuzz, shining right thru it there is joy, love (SO MUCH LOVE) and light (SO MUCH LIGHT) from his being. He is light.”

She gripped my hand across the table as she told me Kurt’s message for me. “You were his rock, his hero, his adventure, his light, his ‘twin’, and he is so thankful for what you both shared and all you taught him about strength and courage and finding your voice.”

My mind flashed with all of my adventures with Kurt, all of our texts and conversations, all of the coffee and drinks and movies, all of the laughter, all of the trips, all of the heart-sharing, all of the dreaming and scheming, all of the quiet moments, all of the assurance that he would always be there and he would always understand me. I muttered through my tears about how much he had meant to me, and how much he had changed me into someone better, and the medium smiled back and told me I had meant just as much to him.

She looked down briefly, and then back up, and met my eyes again, and she told me that something very big was right on the horizon for me, that all of my efforts were soon to pay off in a great success, and she told me that love was on the horizon with someone I hadn’t met yet, the kind of love Kurt had found with his fiancée.

I dried my tears and we talked a bit about life and journeys and goals and dreams, and then the medium gave me a big hug and said that we were supposed to have met. With a promise to stay in touch, we said farewell and she drove away.

It took me a few weeks to make sense of this whole experience, to realize the beauty of the kind of person who would deliver a message like that at no personal gain, but simply because she felt compelled to. I have wondered about Kurt, knowing he is at peace and that he continues to watch out for me sometimes, but mostly that he is watching out for his sons and his fiancée, and that he is of course having a brand new set of adventures, because he can do nothing left than live life at its fullest, in whatever form life takes.

Kurt Peterson, my friend, I miss you every day, and I remember you always. Thank you, thank you, again, for the influence you have had on my life. I’m living strong, and in a way that I know you would be proud of me. Rest well, sir, and journey on.

Supernatural elements in Religion

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I grew up in a religion that actively taught about supernatural forces directed by God for the good of mankind. I was taught that everyone who has ever lived on Earth existed in a spiritual form prior to coming to Earth and receiving bodies. In that pre-mortal form, we had relationships and interactions and intellect, and that we made the choice to come to Earth, knowing we would have spiritual blinders placed on us to restrict our memories of that pre-mortal life. Any spirit who didn’t choose to come to Earth could roam the Earth and was called an “evil spirit”, and there were potentially billions of them, all who worked for Satan. Mortals were meant to choose religion and God and sacrifice, and after dying, spirits would go on existing in another realm called the Spirit World, where they would wait for resurrection (or unification of the spirit with the body) and then judgment, so God could send them on to Heaven and Hell accordingly. In addition to that, God, who lives on another planet, had a planetary spiritual force, called the Holy Ghost, through which he could send messages in the form of thoughts and inspirations to his believing children.

Also, I believed in the Priesthood, a magical type of authority passed from one man down to another, so long as they are worthy according to Church standards. The Priesthood had various levels of authority mixed in, and the men who held it were authorized to channel some of this godly force to perform tasks on Earth, such as blessing the bread and water of the sacrament to performing a valid baptism to laying hands on the heads of another to give them a blessing, or special individualized message from God. Again, very supernatural in its essence.

If the spiritual forces, the spiritual realms, and the Holy Ghost weren’t sufficient, I also grew up believing in spiritual gifts, immortal creatures, and mystical artifacts. Each individual (but mostly the men) has inherent individual spiritual gifts that can be enhanced through belief, things like the spirit of discernment or the power to heal others, gifts that, like mutant powers in a weird way, could be discovered and utilized for the good of God with his blessing. Angels appeared all over the scriptures and in Church history, performing miracles and giving advice and causing mortals to speak in tongues, and the devil tried to possess or influence mortals through duplicity and temptation. And prophets used magical stones to translate ancient records or to light up ancient wooden submarines on ocean voyages,  and golden balls to give directions in the wilderness.

As I look upon all of this with a critical eye with a grown-up, I am a bit taken aback by how fantasy novel it all seems. There are such elements of story-telling to the whole belief structure. Epic franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter and the Wheel of Time and the X-Men that so beautifully explore the concepts of destiny and prophecy, and that allow certain characters to be born with special powers so they can fight against the forces of evil. But somehow when we toss the word God in to the mix, these concepts are taken serious. There is a suspension of disbelief in mortals who belief in virgin births and men being raised from the dead, and who use those beliefs to form and shape entire societies through narrow interpretations of rules.

I now consider myself a very spiritual and non-religious atheist, if I have to use a label, and I have a difficult time understanding supernatural religious belief structures in a world that avoids scientific interpretation and quantifiable evidence and results. I do still believe in elements of “supernatural”-ness, however. When I examine my beliefs, I do believe that individuals have special skills and talents that others do not. I do believe that human energy exists after the body expires, not as a ghost or spirit necessarily but perhaps as a consciousness, even if only in the memories of forms of the people and places they lived among.

Regarding individual skills and talents, for example, I have a unique capacity for empathy: I can easily read the energy and emotions of most people around me, particularly when there is eye contact and communication happening. I am also a quick study, and can often make sense of complex human stories across history and find truth and enlightenment in them. I think I also have a talent for teaching, for facilitating groups, for presenting information, and for writing. Other people are builders, or organizers, or are amazing with machines and industry, or are nurturers. The lists of skills is endless.

After my grandfather died, my mother would often speak of being able to feel him around, near her, especially during times when she needed comfort or guidance. While I never felt his presence, I believed her when she said this. And I think anyone who has ever lost a very close loved one has that capacity, to feel the energy of their loved ones, even to hear their voices, in particular places or during particular times of need. I had this same experience after Kurt, my best friend, died in a car accident last April.

This blog entry is a bit more free-form, but I needed a chance to organize my thoughts and experiences in this matter, and it is all here to set up a blog I will write tomorrow. About a month ago, I had a woman reach out to me stating that Kurt’s spirit had reached out to her and that he had a message for me. And a few weeks ago, I met with this woman, who called herself a medium. I went into the meeting skeptical and open-minded all at once. And it turned out to be a wonderfully healing experience. I’ll be back tomorrow to share more.

 

 

The Man I Love

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Hey there, Man I Love,

I’m pretty sure I haven’t met you yet. I mean, it’s possible that I’ve met you and there haven’t been any sparks, or I just don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I’m erring on the side of “haven’t met you yet.”

Anyway, wanted to sit down and write you a letter since you were on my mind. (When you read this, and after you eventually get to know me, I presume that you’ll be charmed and find it totally adorable that I would take time to write a letter like this. I mean, if you don’t find this charming, chances are you and I wouldn’t work well anyway).

The image I put up on the top is a screenshot from that old 1940s movie starring Ida Lupino (how amazing was she!) where George Gershwin wrote that song, “The Man I Love”, and it’s all sweet and sappy about a girl waiting around for that perfect guy that is going to give her the perfect life. (You know the song, right? Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James all sang it later. If you don’t know it, give it a listen before you keep reading).

Super sappy song, right? But totally sweet and hits you right in all the feel goods. The major difference being that I’m not sitting around.

Anyway, where the hell have you been? I mean, I’ve been keeping an eye out for a while now. My kids were toddler and infant when I first became available, and now they are both school age. (They are seriously growing so fast). Six years! I haven’t exactly been idly waiting. I’m running a business, getting in shape, making plans for a future that may well be solo, and generally loving life. I fell in love a couple times, briefly at least, but nothing took. I’m living the hell out of life, solo, and I quite like my company. Still hoping you’ll show up though.

I think I know a little bit about you already, because I know me so well. I have no doubt that you are going to surprise me all of the time with who you are and where you come from. I look forward to that, to constantly being taken aback by the person you are and the life you have lived.

I presume you will be the kind of guy who texts back, and who not only enjoys spending time with me but makes an effort to do so, and that you’ll be bold enough to start a conversation and invested enough to keep one going. I assume we will have similar interests that overlap: old Hollywood movies, live music, hearty laughter, delicious food in small quantities, a love of random selection and the human story, a desire to travel the world, and a nice blend of introvert/extrovert to us. I presume you’ll want to build something together, steadily and consistently, over time. I presume you’ll have heart and soul in equal measure, that you’ll do nice things and enjoy it when I do nice things back.

I presume that you are balanced, and that you have a life apart from mine, one that is full and fulfilling, with a job and family and friends and interests, and that you’ll want me to be a part of that life, and that we can work together to keep ourselves strong individually so we can be stronger together. I presume that my kids think you are hilarious and someone worthy of their trust.

I don’t care what you look like. I mean, obviously I do care what you look like, but I don’t have a type, as long as you take care of yourself. I am way more attracted to a man who can banter, who can hold a conversation, who can make me laugh, and who is kind to others. And a man who can stand for social justice, who can appreciate a powerful woman and who can embrace those who haven’t had it as easy as we have because of skin color or ethnicity or gender identity or country of origin or religion, well that is a man I can stand next to proudly. I prefer a man who can talk it out when things get tough, who can ask for what he needs, who can admit when he makes a mistake, and a man who listens, who doesn’t give me ultimatums or push me too hard before I’m ready.

And if you can enchant me with a pair of eyes, kiss me like I liked to be kissed, and hold me tight in a pair of strong arms, well, I have a feeling the rest is going to happen pretty naturally, and regularly, and repeatedly. Ahem. Better change the subject.

Anyway, mister man, wherever you are, I’m standing here rooted in place with my two little saplings, and growing upward, ever upward. I’m guessing the taller I get, the easier it will be to see me.

Anyway, I’ll close up with a few of Gershwin’s words. I almost look forward to those little silent moments between us the most.

“He’ll look at me and smile; I’ll understand.

And in a little while, he’ll take my hand.

And though it seems absurd, I know we both won’t say a word.

Maybe I shall meet him Sunday, maybe Monday maybe not.

Still I’m sure to meet him one day.”

See you around? Soon, maybe?

Sincerely, the Man You Love

Political Outrage: an Internet story

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“Validate me!” she screamed with her fingertips after taking a sip of her triple-shot Americano with just a splash of vanilla in it.

“Why don’t you validate me!” he screamed back, his fingers moving slowly and carefully on his old trusty personal computer. A glass of untouched milk, fresh from the cow, sat next to the keyboard.

She couldn’t believe what she was seeing, and her eyes scanned the coffee shop patrons to see if anyone else could sense her outrage. “I saw you share that post from Fox News that said Donald Trump might turn out to be a good president. You shared the post, which must mean you voted for him, which must mean you are a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynist who has no understanding of history. Japanese internment camps, the Suffragettes, slavery, the Nazis! Why don’t you just unfriend me if you can’t even stand up for basic human decency!”

He almost choked on the hairs of his moustache that he had been chewing between his teeth. “And I saw that you shared that post from CNN that exonerated Hillary Clinton from Benghazi and her Email scandals! You shared the post, which must mean you voted for her, which must mean you are so focused on political correctness that you are automatically discrediting our President-Elect and an entire political party for not agreeing with you! And I understand history just fine. I’m seeing it repeat itself in my own community! The Great Depression, the Recession, the National Deficit rising due to illegal immigrants, the welfare system, and Obamacare! Why don’t you just unfriend me if you can’t even realize hard-working families like mine are suffering!”

She pounded a fist down on the table when she saw his reply. She had just finished checking the likes on her newest Instagram selfie and had snickered during the newest released jokes from Samantha Bee on Full Frontal. She took a moment to collect herself before replying. “For your information, I work just as hard as you, if not harder. I go to school and I’m getting As, and I work full time. I consider myself educated and empowered and I’m dedicated to the causes of social justice! You don’t get to cast generalizations of me based on your own ethnocentrism!”

He took a long clean drink of milk and grinded his teeth for a moment, then looked up at a picture of his wife on the wall to steady himself before answering. He checked the clock to make sure he wouldn’t miss Sean Hannity’s radio show in an hour. “For your information, I am a 52 year old man. I run my own farm and my wife drives truck just to make ends meet. I have to pay four employees, and I’m putting both of my daughters through school. Don’t you dare assume that because my family comes first, I am some sort of backwoods hood-wearing gun-toting uneducated misfit because I don’t share your opinions!”

She felt an empty pit in the base of her stomach as she tightened her braid. “Don’t you understand that Hillary represented change! She supported gay rights! Women’s right to choose! She didn’t want to deport millions of Americans and build a wall to keep out more! She didn’t want to register immigrants! She would have worked for the rights of others without trying to change your rights! Plus she won the majority vote!”

He felt that familiar thud in his chest, all defensiveness and anger. He cracked his neck with a quick twist before replying. “And don’t you see that for the rest of us, Trump represents change! The system isn’t working! I can’t feed my family! I don’t agree with Trump on everything, but a man that can run a business that employs thousands, use a corrupt system in his own favor, and who isn’t afraid to just speak his mind, well, that is a man I can support! And he won the electoral vote, which is the law of the land!”

It took a few days for her to reply because her heart was broken. This time, she sent a private message instead of a public post. “Look, I just can’t stay in contact with a man who so clearly doesn’t understand me. I’m blocking you from my Facebook, but I’m sure I’ll see soon enough.”

He took a week to write back, his jaw tense with pride and hurt. “Your mother tells me you’re doing well at school. I’ll see you come Christmas time. We may disagree, but you’ll always be my daughter.”

Unrest

chad1

I haven’t written in a few days. I’ve been distracting myself with projects and workouts and, as always, work. This morning, as I sit down to type my thoughts, I find my insides a quagmire of outrage and confusion, impatience and frustration, sadness and numbness, and maybe more than anything: disappointment.

My brain is spinning in circles, with no clear direction, random facts brimming to the surface in a stream of consciousness that I can’t clearly comprehend.

My thoughts keep going back to the movements of the past. Segregation, for example. After decades of black kids being restricted to poorer educations, people had to force the government to decide to take action, and that took another dozen years before they began enforcing sanctions and made segregation illegal. Even then, local politicians authorized the use of police and military force to keep grade school aged black kids from walking into white schools. It took a few years for the heat to wear off, and then the public stopped focusing on segregation as a hot button issue, and so all of the publicly funded white private schools that were created, and racially based, were ignored. We have seen this trend again more recently with the passage of gay marriage; those opposed went kicking and screaming, and then instead fought for legislation for “religious freedom” which would allow people to discriminate against gays on a legal level.

Then my head spins to the Civil Rights movement, the public marches, almost universally peaceable, that were met with extreme violence on the part of white protesters who refused to give African Americans a seat at the table, and instead murdered, beat, and intimidated them. Then I flash to the Civil War, where hundreds of thousands of lives were lost to end slavery. And then it spins on to a litany of facts, from failure to give women a seat at the table, to lacks of hate crime laws to protect populations that need help, to… on and on.

And then I’m back to where I spent the days before the election: absolute shock and disgust that anyone could possibly vote against measures that accept and include humanity, and how we can possibly give power to a man affiliated with every principle  that goes against my personal feelings and beliefs. How could my own family have voted for that man? How can they not share my outrage, my disgust, my fear?

And then, finally, my rational brain trumps my emotional brain. In the cause of social justice, there are no easy victories. Nearly everyone I consider a hero has been fighting this same fight with little victories and major setbacks since long before I was born. The Equal Rights Amendment never passed, Martin Luther King gave his very life, Emma Goldman was deported for refusing to be silent, on and on.

Despite the ugly corners of the history of humanity, however, this does feel like a very divisive shift. After a handful of years of slow and deliberate progress, this feels like such an angry line in the sand. In a strange and somewhat hopeful way, I see a silver lining of this election possibly being a great unifier: Donald Trump and those he has surrounded himself with are anti-everything: Black, Mexican, Muslim, Immigrant, Woman, Gay, Transgender, the Disabled… we have an opportunity to all be on the same page.

I see people I respect, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, conceding in a way, with mutterings of giving the new president a chance. I don’t think I can do that. I recognize that there are governments out there without the freedom of speech, who silence those who are not in power, who use intimidation, prosecution, and violence to keep voices from being shared openly. This feels like a step in that direction. It feels disgusting, and scary. And all around me, I see people (most of them white and religious) who shrug and roll their eyes and say this isn’t that big of a deal. To me, it is, and to nearly everyone in my circles, both professionally and personally, both locally and online, it is a big deal as well.

I’ve spent hours in these past several weeks typing about social justice, about logic and human rights and history and celebrating our differences. And I’m realizing that it is almost impossible to reason with the unreasonable. I can’t reason with a political mindset of refusing to teach sex education, then refusing to allow women to get abortions, then refusing to pay welfare to babies born in poverty. And how is it that for the second time in my life time, my candidate has won the majority vote and still isn’t the president?

As I organize my thoughts here, I realize how all over the place I am, how exhausted. I feel like I just emptied the drawers of my desk and dresser and laid out all of the items in a big pile on the floor, and now I’m just standing there, a bit helpless and overwhelmed, with no idea of how to organize them differently, or if I should just leave them all there in a big pile, or if I should just start with one item and begin the job.

For a few minutes, at least, I’m tired of screaming, and I’m tired of being silent. I’m tired of reasoning and being reasonable, and I’m tired of being silenced and being told to wait my turn. I’m experiencing a vast and personal unrest. The fundamentals of my life haven’t changed: job, kids, bills, goals, living life… but my faith in humanity is being stretched and I’m not sure what to do with it.

 

just the way things are

utahcapitol

I arrived early to the rally and stood at the base of the large white monument, looming under the sky, electric lights making it shine up on the hill. I’ve always found the Utah State Capitol Building, at the top of Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City, to be a beautiful building, with an incredible view of the city stretching on for miles around. I’ve walked the grounds many times. But this time, I had a heavy heart, and a heavy clarity.

I stood at the base of the steps in the chill air and looked at the small monuments that have been built there, celebrating the accomplishments of the pioneers who settled Utah. It showcased hard-working religions men pulling carts and women in long skirts bearing and raising children, succeeding in taming the harsh wilderness. The accomplishments of white people in front of a white building. No mention of the slaves dragged behind them, no memorial to the Native Americans that were killed and swindled out of land.

I felt cynical as I looked up to the governmental structure and thought about events in another white building this week, where the first African American president met with a new President Elect, this a white man who has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. Hillary’s loss has caused me pain this week, but not nearly so much pain as the election of Trump and all he stands for, and all his election says about our country, and the progress we lack.

With thoughts of the unjust loss of Al Gore to George Bush in my head, followed by the loss of Hillary to Trump, with a corrupt system of electoral college votes in place, I ascended the steps at the Capitol to join with like minds, the disenfranchised and their allies. I stood in solidarity in the cold with the gays and lesbians, transgender individuals, African and Hispanic and Asian and Middle Eastern Americans, atheists and Muslims, and women who fall into each of these categories. We stood together and we grieved and processed, talked and shared.

We stood on the steps of a government building all in white, above the tributes to white men, and we grieved our failure to find a place within their government. We stood and grieved that the laws of a country that was built on equality fails to protect its citizens who don’t belong, a country that said equality but from the beginning didn’t include women or blacks or anyone else in their plans.

I got a funny taste in my mouth as I looked over the city. My eyes landed on the Mormon temple and I thought of all those years I fought for a place to belong in an organization that celebrates white men, a church with the same history as the government that Trump was about to take over. I thought of all of the people I love who are in pain right now. And I realized that pain is nothing unique.

And then I realized that this is how it has always been. And this is the way it will likely always be. The fight of the oppressed against the oppressors, it is the way of things. Women wanting equal pay and the right to not be raped and abused and the right to determine their own health care choices, black people wanting to not be profiled by police or to be thrown in jail for minor offenses, transgender people wanting basic human protections against excessive violence, Muslim people wanting the right to worship and to feel safe on their own streets, Native American people wanting protections and sovereignty on their own sacred lands.

We have been fighting this fight since the very formation of America. This country that espouses its freedom and opportunity and American dream-ism with waving flags and fireworks. We espouse hope and acceptance, while half of us complain about their lack of religious freedom and their weariness over being politically correct. This is the country of leading gun violence and murders in the world, of the highest prison populations in the world, of one of the highest inequality rates for women in the world. This is the home of slavery, Native American genocide attempts, sterilization, stacks of unsolved murders against transgender women of color, gay change therapy, Japanese internment camps, lynching, Civil War, lack of representation in government by women, over-representation of African American men in prisons, lack of health care, extreme poverty, Communist witch hunts. This is the country that dropped two atomic bombs and launched a war on Iraq under false pretenses.

I feel practically pessimistic as these thoughts race through my head. I think of my heroes, people who have fought the system and had small triumphs along the way, some of whom were killed for their attempts. I think of Hillary Clinton, and Barbara Jordan, and Sally Ride, and Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama, and Martin Luther King, and Coretta Scott King, and Harvey Milk, and Fannie Lou Hamer, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Thurgood Marshall, and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Margaret Sanger, and Harriet Tubman, and Abraham Lincoln, and Gloria Steinem, and the hundreds of others who spent lifetimes making small cracks in the glass.

After the small rally, and the hugs and handshakes, I walked back to my car in the cold, in the dark, and I sighed heavily. My grief remains palpable. I descended the hill from the Capitol Building, wondering what hope there is for a country that shines its white building on the hill and ignores those on its steps.

Dark America: 5 painful responses to Trump’s election

darkamerica

Without revealing any individual’s identity, here are five genuine responses from people that I have heard from in private conversations since the election of Donald Trump. As you read this, I ask you to simply hear the experiences of others, without justification and without comparison. Pain isn’t meant to be compared to the pain of another, everyone’s pain is valid. And no matter what your personal feelings and reactions to all of this are, I invite you to recognize that these are real people who are in pain that is different than yours.

1: “When I was a teenager, I was raped. I’ve been dealing with the consequences of that rape my entire adult life, and it has affected my self-esteem and a lot of my personal relationships. When I tried to talk to others about it, I was blamed. I was told that maybe I was asking for it, I was told that boys can’t be expected to be responsible for themselves when girls put themselves in particular positions, I was told I should have said no or fought back harder, and I was told that a lot of girls go through the same thing and it was no big deal. I was even told by one person that maybe I was asking for it and maybe I learned some things and maybe deep down I enjoyed it.

Since the Access Hollywood tapes were released about Trump, I have been hearing those same excuses about him, excusing his behavior, all over the media and all over the Internet. He dismisses it as locker room talk, his son says women in the work place should expect it if they want to interact with men, and people keep saying it is no big deal. I’ve been a nervous wreck for months. And now, now that he has been elected, I feel like the rape is happening all over again. Not literally, but emotionally. I can’t be silenced this time.”

2: “When I came out of the closet, my family disowned me and I had to leave my faith, after I attempted suicide a few times, in order to find peace. A few years later, I found a partner and learned to live happily. We made a home and a life for ourselves. We had to wait ten years to get legally married. We have always wanted to be parents and because of state laws, we couldn’t adopt together or be foster parents together until we were able to be married. Now we have two kids in our home and we are going through the adoption process. With Trump, and worse, Pence, in the White House, I am genuinely scared for my family. We are on our own. Are they going to try to cancel my marriage? Take my children from me? I’ve been walking around nervous for months. Now I am downright scared.”

3: “You have no idea what it is like to be Muslim in this country, especially in places where there is a lot of white people around. I’m not a practicing Muslim. I don’t wear the head covering or go to worship. But just by my face, my coloring, people know I am from the Middle East. I’m small, and even though I have a family through marriage who happen to be white, I constantly fear just a bit for my safety, especially when I’m on my own. In crowds, at sports games, especially in airports, you should see the looks people give me. I can’t be deported, I’m a citizen now, but is this government going to require me to register in a database? Are there going to be witch hunts like there were for the Japanese in World War II or the Communists during McCarthyism? What does this mean for me? And what about those who are more vulnerable, more isolated than I am? What about those who waited years to escape war zones and refugee camps, only to arrive here to discover they aren’t safe after all? And now, with Trump as president, I’m scared I’ll be getting more than looks, that those who hate Muslims will be braver in expressing that hate. I feel vulnerable all the time lately.”

4: “I found my son crying in his room on Wednesday, the day after the election. He’s only 8. We hadn’t really talked about the election, but he came home from school crying. When I asked him what is wrong, he told me that a few of his friends in his school class who are Mexican were upset at school because Donald Trump was going to send their families back to Mexico behind a wall and they didn’t want to leave their school and their friends. My son is white, but he doesn’t understand why his friends might get sent away. I had absolutely no idea what to say to him. I still don’t.”

5: “I’m a mess. An absolute mess. And it has taken me hours of contemplating to figure out why. The last several elections haven’t upset me like this. I had general respect for George Bush and Mitt Romney and John Kerry, even if I didn’t like their politics. They are good honorable men with families and histories of public service. They were accused of flip-flopping and inconsistency and their public service careers were widely scrutinized, and their campaigns lost on fair ground. (And all of these men came out against Trump!) Donald Trump hasn’t had a public service career, and his professional life has been combed over but no one seems to care about sexism, homophobia, racism, law suits, tax evasion, bigotry, infidelity, or narcissism. Democrats and Republicans have come out against him and no one cares. Sarah Palin would be a better president than Trump–she’s ridiculous and illogical, but at least she has experience in public office!

I sat there watching the election results this week, seeing the numbers of people voting for Trump all over the country, and my senses were reeling. I expected those results from Utah and Idaho perhaps, but seeing the close margins all over the country, well, I felt like a giant spotlight had suddenly exposed this country I love for the ugly place it is. All the pockets of muck and cobwebs and skeletons, all the history of lynchings and slavery and genocide and everything that has happened here, it just all came gurgling to the surface. How could this have happened?

And I guess the reason I’m so upset is in seeing America for what it really is. Even Obama and Clinton are giving messages of ‘just be optimistic and patient and it will all work out’, but I can’t look at my neighbors the same. My mother, my sister, my best friend, they all voted for Trump. And after all these years of progression, with gay marriage passing and health care reform and discussions about the one per cent, I have gradually felt safer in  a country that was making slow and consistent change over the years. Well, that is at a screeching halt now. I naively assumed Hillary would win and progress would continue. But now I know the real America. And I’m not sure I want to live here anymore.”