Matt

“Do you personally relate to Matthew Shephard? How did his death impact you?”

I furrowed my brow. I hadn’t expected that question. “I’d have to think about that a little bit.” I smiled up at the crowd for moment as they waited patiently. It was getting closer to 11 pm, and the crowd was awake, but we were all emotionally exhausted after the production of the Laramie Project that we had just witnessed.

The play had beautifully recreated the Matthew Shephard story. A group of actors had portrayed a few dozen people from Laramie, Wyoming in a rapid fire monologues, all based on interviews that took place after the horrible hate crime had taken place in 1998. Ranchers, friends of the victim, friends of the killers, drug addicts, bartenders, teachers, students, their only connection having been living in a small Wyoming town that had been  ravaged by a nosey and impossible media that flooded the town for a time, then left it abruptly when another story had come along.

I flashed my brain back to 1998, when I learned about Matthew’s murder. He was only months older than me, just shy of 22, and I was turning 20. I was a Mormon missionary at the time, barely out of high school, and steadily internally torturing myself for being gay, begging in prayers every night for an impossible cure. The first person I had baptized on my mission had been gay. And I knew other gay people. But the way I thought of them at the time, gay people, I thought of them as weak of character, like they had succumbed to temptation, like they hadn’t been strong enough to stop themselves from being gay. Not like me, I was strong enough to not be gay… but I hated myself at the time, because the temptations kept recurring, kept coming back.

The thoughts spread through me and I looked back up at the crowd, a sad smile on my face. I was there as a social worker with training in working with the LGBT community, and as someone who had spent time researching hate crimes in recent months. Earlier in the day, I had given a lengthy presentation to the students at Southern Utah University, and now I was here for a post-show discussion. This had been the toughest question so far.

“Well,” I started, eloquently, “I was basically the same age as Matthew Shephard. I was 20 at the time of his murder.” The time he was punched with fists, pistol-whipped with the butt of a gun, kicked and beat more after being tied to a fence, and then left to die overnight with his skull crushed. He’d been in a coma for days before finally dying. “I guess his death impacted me a lot, it impacted all of us a lot. I grew up gay and religious and in a small town too.”

My eyes moved over the crowd a bit and I breathed out slowly. “More than anything at the time, I remember how whenever anyone talked about Matt, they were finding ways to blame him for his own death. I remember people saying terrible things. If he hadn’t been gay, if he hadn’t flirted with those men, if he hadn’t gone out alone, if he hadn’t been at a bar, if he hadn’t been drinking, if he hadn’t been so flamboyant, if he hadn’t experimented with drugs, if he had been smarter and not gone off with those two men… if if if… then he wouldn’t have been killed. And no one was talking about the killers, no one was outraged in the same way I was outraged. I remember his death scared me. It was one more reason to not be out of the closet, because if I was out of the closet then I could get attacked and beat and killed like Matt had been. And in my brain, I figured that didn’t happen to people who weren’t gay. And in my brain, I guess I thought it was Matt’s fault too, at the time.

“And I didn’t realize that there had been hundreds of other men attacked and killed for being gay. I just knew about Matt. And I saw the protestors at his funeral, and I saw how his parents spoke up and chose not to pursue the death penalty for one of the killers, and I heard no words from the Church leaders that I looked to for guidance about it.

“And that was almost 20 years ago. And Matt didn’t live. I lived. If that had been me, all of the experiences I have had since then would be erased. I wouldn’t have served a mission, or gone to college, or had children. I lived, and Matt didn’t. And his family has had every day since then without Matt in their lives. His parents and his brother, his family and friends, they never got to see what he would become. So I guess Matt’s death affected me a lot.”

There was a pause before I decided I didn’t have anything else to say. The questions continued for a bit, and the evening ended, and there were hugs and handshakes and goodbyes. And then I was dropped back off at the hotel.

I looked out at the horizon in the dark over the nearby streets of Cedar City, Utah, and I felt temporary, as this would be one more moment that would soon be passed.

matt

 

 

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Universal

universal-studios-orlando-review

One day, an executive for a company sat down and thought, Hmm, people love the movies. And people love parks. What if we made a movie park. Disneyland did it with Snow White and Cinderella and all that. They have rides and castles and people in costumes. What if we did that for beloved movies?

And so that executive pitched the idea, and it was accepted, and a giant plot of land was purchased, and worlds collided as giant rides and structures, food stations and shops were built around common themes. Jurassic Park, King Kong, the Simpsons, Marvel Super Heroes, and the newest crowd draw, Harry Potter. They built the parks, and they came up with marketing strategies, and they opened the doors, charging hundreds of dollars per person to come inside. And soon, billions were pouring.

On our first day in Universal Studios, all 30 members of my family wore matching shirts, black and white striped prisoner of Azkaban shirts emblazoned with our names and prisoner numbers, and the employees gushed at our creativity. We waited in a long line to park, walked a long distance to the park entrance, and waited in line to enter. Friendly employees scanned our tickets (my two sons and I cost nearly $700 for park tickets for two days, not including parking, lodging, airfare, or food), and then we started to walk. And walk. And walk.

The large family group had agreed to meet for a photograph on the bridge in front of Hogwarts, in the Harry Potter section of the park, and it took us a full hour for everyone to assemble. We smiled for our photos, then moved into Hogwarts itself, where we stood in line for an hour to go on an incredible motion ride with Harry Potter and his friends. Hungry, we moved to a nearby food line, where we waited for 40 minutes to order, and the kids fell asleep on the bench while eating, already exhausted. We browsed the shops, displays, and decorations, then waited in line to enter the wand shop to see a magical display.

The kids were troopers, standing still and staying good-natured and staying quiet during the long line waits, but we were all a bit worn down already and the day wasn’t even a third over. Over the next 7 hours, we found dinosaurs peeking through trees, avoided some long lines while standing in others, purchased snacks, splashed in Dr. Seuss structures, rode the Hogwarts Express to the other side, snapped photos of SpongeBob Squarepants, and eventually trundled back to our cars and back to the hotels, where we soaked in the hot tub for a few minutes before passing out.

A second day in the park seemed daunting, especially as a few family arguments erupted and one of the kids seemed to be having tummy troubles. As we parked again, there was tension in the air and we waited in the long line to enter the park again. I kept a giant smile on my face, telling the kids how excited I was for King Kong and Shrek and the Minions and they stayed smiling. We walked through the park quickly, knowing the lines would be mounting, and I had to do some quick calculations.

As a conservative estimate, I guessed there were 10,000 people at the parks on any given day, who each paid about $150 for admission, that was $1,500,000 per day, before the cost of food, parking, and souvenirs. I don’t have a great business brain, but I calculated that many of these rides and structures had been running for several decades, and I was flummoxed by the amount of money rolling in at this place.

We rushed to King Kong just after the ride opened and stood in line for over an hour to ride it, then another 90 minutes later for the Spider-Man ride, and another 45 later for the 3-D Shrek film. I pictured people back home, blaring on their horns over a few extra seconds at a stoplight, or haggling over the nickel cost increase on their box of cereal now here maxing out there credit cards for an $8 cup of root beer and a 90 minute wait for a 3 minute decades-old ride.

We left the park early the second day, our feet and backs tired, ready for a good night’s sleep. And then we lost our car in the parking lot, unable to remember where we had parked in the tension of the morning. 45 minutes later, we finally drove out of there, our souvenirs clutched in our hands and our stomachs full of heavy foods.

I sat down with the boys that night and recounted our favorite parts of the last few days as we had tried to get our money’s worth in the busy parks. Added all up, we had a great time, but it cost a lot of money. There are a lot of ways to vacation, I thought, and I wasn’t sure this was my favorite way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speed bumps

speedbumps

I have a bad habit of seeing small setbacks as major crises. In the moment that they happen, they feel that way, they feel like permanent barriers, insurmountable and impenetrable. Like any other human, I can then spiral downward for a bit, wondering if I have what it takes and contemplating whether I’m doomed to fail.

Within a few hours, I generally gain perspective again, and I’m able to get a clearer picture. Generally, with a bit of clarity, what seemed like a mountain soon stands clear as a speed bump, a small upset in the road that required me to slow down and check my pace, roll over it slowly and carefully. It is only once the speed bump is carefully cleared that I can resume my previous speed.

And there are times when speed bumps are placed strategically one after the next to keep me going slow. During those times, I grow more accustomed to them and I get used to the feeling of their inconvenience and frustration under my feet. The momentary devastation tends to come only when the speed bump is unexpected, when I’ve been cruising along for a period of time and looking toward the horizon, and then I have to hit the brakes in order to move safely forward.

The day after a speed bump, I get sad and quiet, I withdraw a bit and do a bit of self-assessment. I stop myself from the downward spiral, the one where I grieve my lost years in the closet and feel like I have to hit life at full speed. I remind myself of my progress and my positive changes, I remind myself of the things that bring me truth and light and peace, and I breathe deeply. Then I get angry for a bit, at the event or person or circumstance that placed the speed bump in my way. After the anger simmers for a bit, I exercise, and I let my heart pound toxins right out of my system. And after the workout, my focus sharpens. I look ahead with renewed focus and scan the road ahead for further barriers even as I sharply focus back on the horizon again.

And sometimes that horizon doesn’t look quite like what I had originally envisioned it to be, and that is just fine.

The last few days hit me with a few setbacks, one small and one large. A personal project I’ve put a tremendous amount of effort into seemingly came to a screeching halt with an unexpected Email, and I had to do a lot of self-inventory to revisit my focus. At the same time, I realized a recent developing friendship may not be quite what I thought it was, and that required a bit of focus and processing as well. After an evening of bad dreams, I had to rise, breathe, stretch, exercise, and then chart the path ahead once again with new light.

A few weeks ago, I was processing with a client her tendency to be really rough on herself when things don’t go right. Like me, she grew up in a very religious family as part of a church that taught merit-based salvation. She was born into the philosophy that she came to Earth a sinner based on the choices of Adam and Eve thousands of years ago, and that she had to be saved through a sacrifice by the son of god, and that she then had to prove her worthiness to that god through her choices and actions. Like me, she left this religion years before, but like me she also finds old thinking patterns returning, surrendering subconsciously to the idea that she must earn her happiness, and that happiness can only look one particular way.

After we dissected these thinking patterns, my client and I were able to put down on paper the actual definitions of happiness, of worth, of merit: healthy human relationships, inner peace, adventure, service to others, laughter. We made a list of things to be grateful for, of things that were going right, and of beautiful things in the world. We then set goals for the immediate future.

With new light, this brave woman stepped back into her life and saw the struggles in her life as exactly what they were: temporary, momentary, fleeting. Progress is measured in small increments over time, and speed bumps are a natural part of the landscape along the way.

And so today, I will take a bit of time to survey the land ahead, and then I will look ahead to see where I should place my feet next, working my way ever forward to the goals I have set, and I will do all of this with kindness toward myself and laser sharp focus.

the power of Jealousy

jealousy

This morning I yawned widely, waking up at five am and, like most Americans, I grabbed my phone and checked Facebook status updates. The first image to pop up was of a close friend announcing his new relationship status, making he and his boyfriend “Facebook Official”. I had a moment of pure joy for them, good people who fought the odds and found each other. And then I had one brief stabbing moment of bitter jealousy.

I had the same experience yesterday having coffee with a good friend, as I was genuinely happy for him telling stories of skiing with his boyfriend and preparing for an upcoming epic vacation, yet I had that bitter flavor in my mouth again, envious at the good things in his life.

Every human gets jealous of other humans, it’s the way of things. Jealousy is a complex emotion rooted, a complicated mix of shame, fear, and sadness. When we experience jealousy, we are feeling our own shame at not having the thing we want in conjunction with worrying we aren’t good enough to have that thing, while we are at the same time sad about not having it and scared we won’t ever have it.

Jealousy isn’t necessarily an unhealthy emotion–it is rooted in the idea of human want and need, and we always have things we want and need. Jealousy can become ugly when it dictates thoughts and interactions. Jealousy can complicate human relationships and can facilitate setbacks that can last for years, and jealousy is almost always accompanied by deep internal pain.

At its essence, jealousy is always understandable.

My mother has a stomach condition that prohibits her from eating most foods. And she loves eating. So our family gathers for meals in a restaurant and we order fresh fruits and deep fried cheeses and crunchy breads, and she eats saltine crackers.

One of my sisters tried for years to get pregnant, and was unsuccessful, while the sister closest to her in age had six successful pregnancies and deliveries during the same time frame.

A dear friend of mine lost his father when he was young and has spent his entire life grieving him, and he’s married to a woman who has a close relationship with her father, constantly causing him internal pain.

Jealousy is often accompanied by being genuinely happy for someone at the same time.

Sometimes jealousy is irrational as well, as people envy what they see in others but refuse to work on in themselves. John is obese and is jealous of Sam being fit but John doesn’t want to eat right or exercise; Sally hates her job and is jealous of Jane’s great job but Sally doesn’t want to spend four years in college.

Like any human, I grow jealous of other humans frequently. And like any human, others grow jealous of me. I frequently have friends say they are jealous of my relationship with my children, my recent travels, or my self-employment. I don’t like hearing this information, and I sometimes feel the need to justify and explain away why they shouldn’t be jealous by emphasizing how expensive the kids are, how unsteady self-employment can be, or how long I had to wait in my life to be able to travel. But instead of growing frustrated, I focus on the positive. When someone says I’m lucky to have children, I nod and agree that I am lucky, for indeed I am.

When I grow jealous, I do my best to break it apart into smaller emotions. What am I experiencing shame over? What am I sad about? And what am I scared of? I let myself feel the feelings and then process them (the same kind of work I would do with a client, I do with myself).

This morning, for example, seeing two people celebrate their relationship on Facebook, I processed silently to myself. What am I experiencing shame over? Well, I date and I haven’t found a lasting healthy relationship, and though I’m very happy being single, I still have the idea somewhere deep down that being in a relationship is the desired thing, and it is something that I want. What am I sad about? I’m happy for them, and sad that my own efforts haven’t resulted in a happy and lasting relationship. And I sometimes find myself lonely. And what am I scared of? I’m scared that I won’t find that.

There, jealousy dissected. I can then focus on the happiness I feel toward the other person and go about my day.

Like all complex human feelings, jealousy is one of the feelings in recent years that I have learned to be grateful for, it is a powerful and rich emotion that comes to the surface when my heart has a message that my brain needs to hear. I can be jealous of and happy for someone all at the same time, and I can be secure in my own life and still want more.

my friend Steven

steven

When Steven first knocked on the door, my hands were dripping with dish water and I had my infant son on one hip, an image of a harried domestic housewife in a rush. I was living with my sons in a small two bedroom apartment in Salt Lake City, with a roommate who also had two sons living in the second bedroom. I was poor and working at a terrible job, but I was 32 and just barely beginning my life as an out gay man.

Once a month, my roommate and I hosted a support group at our home for gay fathers, the majority of the men were formerly Mormon and newly out of the closet, many of them still married to their wives, and many of them not even out to their families yet. We would get together and talk, process through our experiences and offer support to each other during such a difficult transition.

And so there was Steven and my eyes went wide, cause this guy was handsome, and there  I was with a literal baby on my hip. He was tall, in incredible shape, and with a bright wide smile. He stepped right inside, all confidence and laughter and swagger, and the kind of energy that leaves you a bit flummoxed at first. He was also 90 minutes early for the meeting.

Steven came in and we became fast friends as I rushed around the kitchen and living preparing for the meeting. I shared a bit of my story with him, how I had just come out months before and moved here, and I introduced him to my children. And Steven told me his story, much of it like mine: growing up Mormon in another state, getting married young, and having two children with his wife. Steven had been deployed in the military before coming home and getting his professional certifications. Now he was in Salt Lake City, starting his life over, and figuring out what it meant to be gay and happy in his own skin. He stumbled over the word gay that first time, having to stop himself and breathe a little bit. “It just feels weird to say that out loud to someone, that I’m gay.”

Over the next few weeks, I saw Steven go through his firsts, the same firsts I had been through just months before. I introduced him to a gay swim team I had joined (and laughed hysterically when one of my friends leaned over the first day Steven donned his swimsuit and whispered, “Good God, you’re friends with a porn star!”) and watched him make friends (something Steven does easily, because he is hilarious). I took him to his first gay club and watched him stand in the corner, shy and making casual conversation, until just a few weeks later when he joined the dance floor and let go. Steven called me the first time a guy asked him out, and I had to explain to him that it was a date, and then he called me glowing after that first date with a guy, glowing and twitterpated, because he had had his first kiss. And then, dozens of months later, he called me in anguish the first time he had his heart broken.

A few years after Steven came out, when my baby was no longer a baby but now a fat and clumsy little toddler, a large group of us went down to Moab, Utah, a small resort town near the border of a few national parks, for their annual Pride celebration. My best friend Kurt and I shared a hotel room and connected with our other friends for drinks and dinners during the festivities. One day, Steven and his then boyfriend hiked miles up into Arches National Park so they could be near the famous Delicate Arch at sunset. The two men stripped down to a small pair of pink lacey ruffled panties. They both strapped small white angel wings on their shoulders, pink garters on their muscular legs, and pink feather boas around their necks. And then, in angelic and athletic poses, they stood against the red rock arches with the sun setting behind them and snapped photographs as the tourists nearby gawked and cheered.

When I saw the photos later, I remember laughing with abject delight, and contemplating the swift differences in our lives in the short times we had known each other. All of the building blocks of our lives remained the same: we were still dads, we still had the same jobs, we still had the same families… yet now we smiled with our whole hearts, we had authentic friends, we genuinely liked ourselves, and sometimes we danced under strobe lights or wore pink panties against setting suns just to say that we had.

This morning, I had coffee with my friend Steven for the first time in a few months; this time, my baby isn’t a baby but a prolific and hilarious kindergartener. Steven and his partner live in a beautiful house on the hill now that is just perfectly them. There is a large deck with comfortable chairs that overlooks the city, and you can sit there and sip espresso as hummingbirds flit around the feeder above you. We talked about our jobs, and our kids, and about co-parenting. We talked about the projects we are working on, about places we hope to travel this year, and about mutual friends. Several times during our conversation, Steven made me laugh out loud with his deep voice and his scandalous stories, just a bit too risqué for public spaces.

I gave Steven a giant hug goodbye, and I sat in my car unmoving for a few minutes, remembering just a few short years ago when he knocked on the door, frightened to even use the word gay, and remembering my own fears back then. I felt the last handful of years flash by for a moment, grounding me in the present, on a journey with unknown adventures ahead, and with some of the most incredible men a guy can have at my side.

(Thank you for the laughs and adventures, Steven! You number among my very favorite people. 🙂 )

 

 

Date Night For One

As I sat in the coffee shop just before I was supposed to meet Jeremy (not his real name), I scrolled back through our text messages from the few days previous, remembering the details we had exchanged about home towns and jobs and hobbies.

Jeremy seemed like a quality guy: he had a stable job, he owned a home, he had an adorable dog, and he took care of himself. I scrolled through the photos he had sent after we met on an online dating sight. He had brown eyes, a wide smile, and seemed to be in great shape. After a few days of chatting, I had asked him out for coffee and he had responded with an enthusiastic “YES!!!” that made me laugh.

I looked up to the time. 6:10 pm, and we were supposed to meet by 6:00. I’d give him a few more minutes before I texted. I took a sip from my decaf drip.

Jeremy had also checked all of the boxes that I had: he was single, emotionally stable, communicative without being standoffish or needy, funny, he liked the fact that I had kids, he wasn’t in a rush for a relationship, and he didn’t live hundreds of miles away (this had been a problem for me more than once). It was coffee, nothing more nothing less, and I was actually excited about this one.

My phone dinged and I looked down to see it was 6:15. There was a message from Jeremy. I smiled, thinking he was telling me he was running late, then I grimaced instead.

“Hi Chad, I was really looking forward to meeting you tonight and I’m glad we chatted the last few days. I was reading through our messages just now and I realized that I’m just not emotionally equipped to have a conversation with someone new right now. Work was just too stressful today. You seem like a great guy and maybe I’ll contact you in a month or so when things settle down. Sorry. Jeremy.”

My mind went instantly calm, but I could feel myself clenching my jaw. I took a long sip of my drink and then sighed. Okay, I told myself, this is not your thing, this is his thing, and it’s just coffee. This isn’t even someone that you know and it’s no big deal.

I briefly considered texting back, but instead just closed my phone. A text cancel 15 minutes after the meet-up time was rude at the very least, even if he was a really good guy. A bit frustrated now, I considered how to spend my suddenly free evening, and, after finishing my drink, took myself for a walk. I laughed and then cursed as I heard my friend Billy’s voice in my head, teasing me that I have the super power to attract any handsome guy in a ten mile radius who is either major drama or has major emotional problems. #### you, Billy, I thought with a smile.

As my feet moved, my head started spinning with the human panic and shame that sometimes comes with rejection. Six years of this! Six years of guys who don’t message back! Six years of chatting only to have guys fall silent or only want sex! Six years of first-time meet-ups, sitting across from someone while you size each other up, is he good looking enough stable enough interesting enough funny enough! Six years of second or third dates followed by an ‘I’m not interested’ or ‘I’m getting back with me ex’ or ‘I’m not out of the closet yet’ or ‘I should have told you I was married’ or ‘I just got out of a psychiatric facility’ or ‘I don’t like kids’ or ‘I’m currently unemployed’! Six exhausting years of this!

I was mad now and walking more quickly. Not mad at Jeremy per say, because whatever, I don’t even know him, but mad at the emotional energy dating sucks out of you. Six years. Why do I keep doing this to myself?

I rolled my eyes at the sky and slowed my breathing. I was a human having a human reaction to something that on another night wouldn’t bother me at all, but this time I was annoyed. It was only recently I had decided to try my hand at dating again, after a difficult breakup from someone I had loved, and it was the same old games all over again. Like every human, I needed a chance to get mad for a minute, and I’d had my minute.

I took a minute to remind myself that I’m not the only one who goes through this in dating. Men and women of every age get lonely, try to meet someone, get sick of trying to meet someone and take a break, try to meet someone again, and get their heart broken all the time. And, just like me, they in turn break the hearts of others sometimes. I see humans who completely despair when they are rejected. Someone doesn’t show up for coffee and they go on a long spiral of self-shaming, calling themselves pathetic and hopeless and unlovable and destined to die alone, all over something as simple as a cancelled date.

I sat down on a park bench and thought things through. I needed a bit of self-care tonight. I didn’t know of any friends who were free, so instead I decided to treat myself to a movie. There was a theater nearby, so I walked in and purchased myself a ticket and had a brief moment of oh my god instead of being on a date you’re at the movies by yourself before I calmed the voice and exhaled. No, I wasn’t going to give that voice room right now. I was going to enjoy myself.

I got an iced tea to drink and I found a spot in the middle of the movie theater, shutting down my phone so I wouldn’t be tempted to check it. I gave myself a mental pat on the back, happy with myself for self-care skills. I often travel solo, see movies by myself, and take myself out to dinner, and I find myself to be pretty good company.

As the previews ended and the lights in the theater dimmed, I sat up and looked around and realized I was the only person in the movie theater. I mean, I went to the movies alone, but this was a whole different level of alone in a city full of half a million people.

“God, damn it,” I muttered out loud, then folded my arms, furrowed my brow, sank down in my chair, and prepared to sit through a movie.

datenight

inversion skies

inversion1

the flying flag flutters

the white of its alternating stripes blending into the

still white polluted sky behind it

the air is thick with the smoke that blankets the city

the exhaust fumes from cars and factories

drift upward

seamless and indistinguishable

raindrops in the smoggy ocean above

stark black telephone wires divide the expanse

small birds dot the rooftops on the horizon

finding no safety in their numbers

and haunting electric lights glow and struggle to be seen

 

I view this through cracked glass

the interior world behind me reflecting back

distorting the sounds and sights of

brewing coffee and blasting heat and lulling piano

into a soft shimmer on the window

 

this atmosphere dwells in my head my heart my gut my lungs

my fingers clutch a pen tightly

and I remember the color blue

and the heat of the sun

and the gulping of fresh clear oxygen

inversion2

Same-sex attraction disorder

When I was 14, I would wait patiently for the Ensign magazine to arrive in the mail, just a few weeks after the Mormon General Conference. I was taught in Church to pray and fast before the semi-annual satellite broadcast, in which the prophets and apostles would give inspired addresses to Church members around the world, in order to prepare myself for messages that God had for me to help me in my needs. When the magazine arrived, I had the chance to scour their words in print, searching for the answers I so desperately needed.

I remember flipping through the Ensign to the back, where I could look in the index for topics covered in the ten hours worth of talks, and then I could flip to the page I needed. Some points were frequently referenced, like Atonement and Sacrifice and Temple Marriage. Never anything on homosexuality or being gay, never anything about how to finally cure the condition I was plagued. There were always words about how to be better, be stronger, be more dedicated to God, but never how to free myself from the malady of being same-sex attracted, that deadly curse I had been both with and could tell no one about.

Many of my journal entries from this time are self-flagellations, deep and abiding shame over my inability to cure myself, scathing self-directed declarations of shame. I would sometimes look in the mirror, right into my own eyes, and see someone so weak, and just hate myself. And then I would drop to my knees at the side of my bed and just beg God to cure me, prayers of deep shame and unworthiness. I would often fall asleep with tear stains on the pillow.

I look back on this version of myself now with such compassion and understanding. I see my teenage self as courageous, earnest, seeking, passionate, talented, and powerful, not as weak and broken and afflicted as he so often felt back then. I see my life so clearly now.

Instead of a broken child, I see a young man who grew up believing he was a sinner simply for being gay. I look at someone who grew very accustomed to hiding himself from others, so effectively that he didn’t kiss someone of the opposite sex until he was 27 years old, and he didn’t kiss someone of the same sex until he was 32. It breaks my heart to think of the words that he used in his journal back then to describe himself: broken shattered sinner crooked selfish unworthy abomination and beyond repair.

I’m now 38 years old, and the world is very different. Gay marriage is legal, and even the Mormon leaders now talk about being homosexual, generally with compassion and at least partial understanding. There are Church organizations dedicated to LGBT Mormons, and secret Internet groups that allow people to talk to others like them without being exposed to family and friends. I sometimes forget where I came from, and tend to believe that there is no one out there who struggles now in the way that I did then.

samesexattraction

I met a young man recently from a small Utah town. He is God-fearing, a good careful Mormon boy, and in a lot of pain. When I asked him what was wrong, he looked down at the ground, his face painted with shame, and he explained that he suffers from ‘same-sex attraction disorder’. He said he couldn’t tell his family, and that he believed that if he tries hard enough, he hopes that he will be able to ‘fix’ his ‘illness’, to marry a girl in the temple and have children and be a forever family.

I cried with this young man, and felt grateful that he could confide in me. I validated his pain, and told him that I knew exactly how he feels. I looked him right in the eyes and told him that he isn’t broken, that he isn’t ill, that he isn’t cursed, and he may not have believed me then but he knew that I believed what I said. I told him that God loved him and wanted him to love himself. I told him that he could have a happy life, and that he didn’t have to go through life seeking a cure for something that isn’t wrong in the first place. I shared part of my own story and I assured him that after all those years, now I like myself, I celebrate myself, and I’m surrounded by people that love and celebrate me as well. I told him that life is beautiful, though not without pain, and that every day is worth living.

That young man was frightened of the word gay. To him, it signified all those parts of himself that he was ashamed of. It carried the weight of hell and fear and pain and failure. He instead chose to use same-sex attraction disorder to describe himself, an acronym that ironically comes out to be SAD. The word disorder itself implying illness, malady, and, in essence, the phrase not like us.

I sometimes forget my own origins and the work it took to get here. I’m so accustomed to living happily that I forget the years of misery, and the extreme pain I had to pass through to achieve peace.

And so for myself, for for this young man and all those in the world like him,  I must say these words from time to time. I say them loud and proud and strong and with clarity and understanding and peace.

Being gay is not a choice. It’s not a condition, a maladjustment, or a disorder. It is a sexual orientation every bit as viable as bisexual or heterosexual is. It isn’t a label or a classification. It is a word that I own because it sets me apart from others and from my past self, and it allows me to celebrate myself and the person I am, the same person I spent so long being ashamed of. In matters of spirituality and religion and family and job and future, all of those things sort themselves out, but no one who is ashamed of themselves can be truly happy or authentic, and I refuse to surround myself with anyone who sees me as less than or expects me to be ashamed of myself.

I was created to be exactly who I am, and I celebrate that creation. I live, and I live happily and well. And every once in a while, I go inwardly and clear out the cobwebs and give that younger version of myself one giant hug and whisper to him to just wait, everything one day is going to be just fine.

Protect Ya Tings!: Time in the Bahamas

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I stepped off the Disney ship and into the Bahamas, expecting the assembly of aggressive island salesman that assault tourists at any port.

“Hi there, handsome, what you need? Hat, sunglasses, jacket, hand-carved toys for the kiddies?”

“Hey, brother, come and get some island special!”

“American! I have a drink for you!”

“Get ya hair braided here! Four dollars per inch!”

“Taxi or cab, taxi or cab, ride to Atlantis four dollars! You want taxi to beach!”

I kept my eyes averted, knowing that any eye contact or conversation would lead to further attempts at sales. I saw a may eye my wallet pocket, and then give me a grin, filled with missing teeth, when he saw me notice. When a small girl, only seven, called me ‘handsome American’ and invited me to her family booth, I walked more quickly away, feeling sad and overwhelmed.

I walked briefly through the Straw Market, where dozens of women sold homemade wares in a building cooled only by high-powered fans. They each sat in hardback chairs, fanning themselves, attempting to engage me as I walked by. The whole place was a rather sad version of Pike Market in Seattle, and I wondered what the daily life for these women was, working back-breaking hours at this small market to rent spaces.

I walked up the streets of Nassau quickly and evenly, passing through the westernized commercial district, where I saw McDonalds and Burger King among the bars, tattoo shops, liquor shops, and souvenir shops. I walked through the more historic district, where a statue of the first Queen Elizabeth stood in an unkempt courtyard; past the Supreme Court of the Bahamas, a small building with bright pink walls; and past a sex education clinic with two large billboards, one reading “Abstain or Condomize” and another that announced “Protect Ya Tings!” Thinking back to the man eyeing my wallet, I slid a hand in my pocket protectively and thought that sign had good advice.

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Around another corner, I came across another court building, this one emblazoned with a large plaque of the Coat of Arms of the Bahamas. I was struck by the detailed artistic image, and baffled by its complexities and bizarre imagery. A budding flower surrounded by palm fronds seemingly grew out of a conch shell across the top, and the shell, itself blooming blue and orange blossoms or ribbons, sat atop a shield divided in two, the top half showing a bold and brilliant sun and the bottom half showing an old English ship, meant to represent the famous Columbus ship the Santa Maria, on the ocean. The shield pierced the ground in two, one side of it ocean and the other side land, and banners reading the words “Forward, Onward, Upward Together”. Most striking, and most strange, were the two animals on either side holding up the shield, a Marlin, standing on its tail on the ocean’s surface, and a Flamingo, one leg raised appropriately, the other securely on the ground.

With a bit of research and conversation, I learned a bit more about the Bahamas themselves. A chain of literally hundreds of islands with a population of nearly 400,000. The Bahamas had been populated by Native people for hundreds of years before Columbus landed in 1492 on the island of Guanahani. He promptly renamed it San Salvador Island, took over the “savage” people, and populated the island and those nearby with white settlers and African slaves, who could plunder the wealth of the islands for its new conquerors. The forests were chopped down, the sea life depleted, and the white man’s government was set up, passing from country to country until England took over. The capital city of Nassau (a frequent staging base for pirates) was set up as the seat of government, and established on New Providence Island. The following centuries were full of political strife, involvement in World Wars, and governmental growth until the Bahamas became its own nation a mere five decades ago.

Later in the day, with my sons and a few family members, I took a bus tour of Nassau, and listened to the driver recite historical facts as we drove through streets. I wondered what daily life here would be like, in a city that clearly struggles with poverty. I saw farms in backyards full of broken down cars, busted windows, exhausted looking elderly people sitting on dilapidated porches. The driver discussed the layout of the islands and travel between them, how 85 per cent of the locals are directly descended from the African slaves brought to the islands by Columbus and his men, and the pride the people put into their government. He discussed how the island had been ravaged by hurricanes, and how it took years to recover after each one.

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The driver high-lighted the flying Bahamas flag, a simple image, like any flag, with so much symbolic meaning. He stated that the black triangle represented the people and their strength they carried, the gold stripe represented sand and sun, and the aquamarine fields represented the ocean around them.

As the bus pulled into the dock, and I prepared to board the ship again, I held my sons close in to me. We talked about life in other countries and history and my brain was filled with profound thoughts I needed to get on to paper soon. One of my sons guzzled half a bottle of water while the other leaned in and whispered, “I love you, daddy.”

I grinned as we got off the bus, their hands in mine, and thought, “Protect Ya Tings!” once again.

Resolute: 2016

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If, on January 1st of 2016, I had had a chance to look ahead in a crystal ball and see the events of the coming year in my personal life, I think I would have withered in fear and amazement.

2016 was powerful and defining, and devastating and painful. It taught me some of my harshest lessons and brought me some of my greatest pains, and it gave me tremendous resolve and drive, freeing me from shackles and opening me up to new horizons.

In 2016, I learned a powerful lesson about failure when a professional venture I put a lot of personal stock into failed for a handful of variable reasons. I learned how to pick myself back up, be smart about goal achievement, and plan accordingly, a lesson that anyone who wants to succeed must learn. I learned about the importance of consistency, and about slow and steady growth over time. I learned about doing what you love because you love it first and foremost.

In 2016, my best friend Kurt was tragically killed in a car accident at the peak of his happiness. From him, I learned about reaching out to others, about practicality, about passion, about seizing the day, about planning and achieving, and about self-acceptance. I learned about grief, pain, love, and loss.

In 2016, I saw all of my personal values, most related to social justice, brought to the forefront of the political spectrum and the national consciousness. I spent months outraged over the election, and then weeks afterwards devastated over the results. I learned the skills of perseverance, of rebounding after setbacks, of activism, and of clarity to the world around me.

In 2016, I also saw a tremendous amount of personal gains. I got completely out of debt and made solid financial goals for the next several years, something I’ve been unable to do in years prior. I spent months researching ideas for a book, and I’m seeing my hard work come to fruition in the coming months. I’ve put in steady work at the gym and have lost 15 pounds and lowered my body fat percentage by nearly 10 per cent. I’ve improved my nutrition and sleep habits, my self-care skills, and my own inner peace and balance through meditation and writing.

In 2016, I travelled. I started the year in Palm Springs with a wonderful friend I was dating at the time. I healed and mended on the streets of Los Angeles. I wrote and researched in Las Vegas. I walked miles through New England with my sister Sheri, and then embarked on incredible adventures in New York City. I found undiscovered secrets in small Utah towns. And I took a wonderfully contemplative trip to Washington DC, where I was inspired by history and reconnected with old friends.

In 2016, I read the biographies of powerful people, I watched piles of old movies, I created memories with old friends and new friends, and I found my inner sense of independence and strength as I set and achieved impossible goals, always firmly grounded on the present and with my eye to the future.

And as always, my greatest measure of success and happiness lies with my children. My sons turned 8 and 5 this year, and they started 2nd grade and kindergarten respectively. They are strong. They are bright and imaginative and prolific. They are confident. They listen to their hearts and share of themselves. They play, and embrace the world, and love with their entire beings. And it is in their eyes that I can see I’m living right and doing well.

And so I begin 2017 with a look out at the bright world around me. I have a pen and notebook in one hand, marked out with a list of goals, and I have a walking stick in the other. I have my good suit on, my walking shoes tightly tied, and my eyes on the horizon, ready for an entire world of possibilities ahead.