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Life Lessons and Detergent Threats

When a gay is backed into a corner by his anal-retentive boyfriend–who’s harping about his putatively superior decorating abilities–he’ll say what he must to shut down the borderline argument:

“If you’re not nicer to me, I’ll wash this repeatedly with industrial detergent!”

Andy postures in the kitchen corner, holding a mid-century modern chair as ransom. He wins.

But, for good measure, he adds, “And my gargoyle is not kitsch!”

Well played, sir. Well played.

Having a live-in boyfriend is fun. We can agree, argue, subject one another to our respective cold shoulders, throw temper-tantrums, emphatically assert we’re superior decorators (fine, that’s all me), and have stress-induced crying fits. But then we have sex, and all potential slights or work day traumas are resolved. Sex is sort of like The Price is Right‘s Plinko game: Regardless of what chips you bring to the table, you almost always have a happy ending.

With this foray into genuine boyfriendom, I’ve realized that being a late-bloomer works to my advantage. Sure, I’ve been like a camel for a while–minus the hump (ba da bah!); meaning, I’ve been able to go without a lot of things for protracted periods of time, all the while cobbling together some semblance of selfhood and self-esteem. That’s not to say camels don’t have low self-esteem, but you get my point.

Bringing a more robust sense of self to a relationship facilitates more in-depth, personally meaningful conversations, as well as the development of a maturity toolkit to deal with the rigors of relationships: mending slighted feelings; admitting you’re wrong; clearly communicating your thoughts; and owning up to the fact that, sometimes, you’re being an asshole (this is not the same thing as admitting you’re wrong). It’s been a learning process, but an important one. It’s made me more human and less machine-like.

It’s made me cherish the quiet, important moments of sitting there and staring at Andy, each of us expecting or needing nothing more.

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ANNimosity

Maybe I just had a really slow, boring day at work. Or maybe I’m just fed up with the incompetence that surrounds me. Or perhaps I just despise the GOP and everything they do to subjugate minorities and infringe upon the rights of their fellow Americans. Yeah, it’s the latter. So, in honor of the RNC, I composed a little something for the “show-stopper,” Ann Romney.

Dear Ann:

Today, I want to talk to you about love. It’s a strange, little, bizarre word with slightly saccharine baggage. But it feels so nice to hear, especially when it comes from someone who genuinely cares about you. It’s a shame I’d never consider you to be such a person, even if you threatened to dress me in Gaga’s meat outfit and throw me into a bin of ravenous Chihuahuas.

In your riveting speech last night, you extended your hand to those Americans “going through difficult times,” which I’m fairly certain excludes you. (By the way, how is the Utah ski lodge faring this time of year–so much to worry about with global warming, you know?) But I get it, you’re going for a Nobel Peace Prize–you know, that award thing President Obama received back in 2009–by trying to connect with those Americans (read, the ninety-nine percent).

But maybe you’re just a big kidder. For instance, this excerpt just cracked me up: “…The parents who lie awake at night side by side, wondering how they’ll be able to pay the mortgage or make the rent; the single dad who’s working extra hours tonight, so that his kids can buy some new clothes to go back to school, can take a school trip or play a sport, so his kids can feel…like the other kids.”

I mean, if you were serious, it’d read more along these lines: “The parents who lie awake at night, wondering if one of them will ever be able to have legal rights over their child; the single woman who was raped being told that, yes, she and her rapist ‘conceived’ the child together, and he can potentially sue for parental rights; the two dads wishing their son wasn’t ridiculed at school and could feel…like other kids.” Oh, my bad. Was I projecting? It must be that internalized gay agenda.

Oh, Ann. While I am a man (not a “real married” one, that is), I do know what it’s like to get late-night phone calls from an elderly friend–whom I consider family–and then make the long drive to check on him. My friends and I also know the fastest route to the local emergency room, because we have to worry about the time it’ll take to jump through additional legal hoops in the off-chance that we’ll actually succeed in cajoling a doctor to let us stay with our partners and not be left in an informational dead zone–meaning, the ER lobby. Oh, wait. You can visit and make end-of-life decisions for Mitt? Fascinating.

Now, Ann, I don’t mean to be hard on you. I did think the homage you paid to your family was touching. Especially this part: “When he was 15, Dad came to America. In our country, he saw hope and an opportunity to escape from poverty.” Now, this country was fine and dandy for your father and countless ancestors before him–never mind the Native Americans who got in their way–but let’s keep all of the “others” out, especially those with brown skin or an “accent.” That is, unless they’re here to tend one of your six lawns or raise your children. Then they can have a little more time to trim the hedges or make your sons’ lunches before they get a ride from ICE.

And the parts about you and Mitt eating on an ironing board were priceless. It really showed your love and devotion for one another over the years. Because nothing says devotion like an ironing board: “…When Mitt and I met and fell in love, we were determined not to let anything stand in the way of our life together. I was an Episcopalian. He was a Mormon.” Thank goodness y’all didn’t let your gay neighbors’ loving relationship get in the way of your happiness (they have a way of doing that, or so Rush tells me). And here’s additional thanks that y’all didn’t let religious differences get between you two. I mean, what kind of country would we live in if we let religious extremists control the government, sanctioning only those relationships they deem worthy and punishing everyone else? It’s a slippery slope, Ann. And I’m glad you’re wearing heels.

And I agree with you. You can trust Mitt. As long as you’re a rich, white, bigoted, heterosexual misogynist. And I’m sure he loves America. At least the rich parts.

But Ann, I’m at a loss. Despite your love-infused speech, I have to say you’re wrong. There would be an America without you and your husband.

In fact, it’d be a much better one.

Gay kisses,

Matt

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Fishes, Loaves, and Rainbows

It’s not often that, as an adult, you have a chance to tell your parents that you’re proud of them. Regardless of whether or not they do admirable things after you’re out of the proverbial nest, it just seems weird to have such a verbal exchange with someone who changed your diapers. But then you get reminders of just how much they do–not for personal gain, but because they want to make a difference.

And I had one such reminder this past Sunday. During our weekly phone conversation, my parents summarized the first meeting of an LGBT support group they helped organize with other progressive members of area parishes. Yes, “parishes.” Contrary to the Vatican’s problematic dogma, and the hate that’s regularly spewed by bishops and other Catholic clergy, there are plenty of tolerant Catholics out there fighting for equality. Even in Alabama.

“Hey, yeah, I’ll let your mother tell you more about it. We may have to move to a larger space for the next one. And we had at least one each of the LGBT.”

I smile. Southerners: we preface everything with “the.” Dad hands the phone to Mom.

“Hey, honey! We had a great turnout. And everyone liked the door prizes.”

Again, I smile.

It’s almost cliche to write that growing up gay is fraught with challenges. But it is, especially when you’re cognizant that your identity–even if you can’t quite yet put a name to it–is seemingly irreconcilable with your religious background. Being gay in a hyper-conservative state is hard. Being gay and Catholic in Alabama is even harder. But my sister and I went through the motions our parents expected of us–you know, living under their roof and all. Still, we preferred mimicking the chorus member, who’d bang on a tambourine at the most inopportune moments during Mass, over paying attention to what was being said.

And as often happens, we left the roost and took our respective positions regarding religion. By now, our parents have accepted our decisions, and don’t push. We respect each other’s beliefs, or the lack thereof, and they use their faith to build bridges rather than walls.

Without any provocation or emphatic suggestions on my part, they each attended a symposium led by a progressive Catholic ministry. There, they learned more about LGBT life and rights in the context of Catholicism. They came back energized and determined to make a difference. And last Friday, they, along with a handful of allies–my sister included–saw the first glimpse of their efforts: 25 to 30 LGBT-identified individuals gathered for their first meeting. Some had been out for years and coupled for decades; some were new to the community. And each of them found a place alongside my family.

While I’ve long since forgotten most of what I learned in CCD, I do recall that excessive pride is sinful. More than that, it’s dangerous.

But in this instance, I think it’s heavenly.

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Wankers, Wankers Everywhere…and Not a Drop [of Vodka] to Drink

There seems to be no shortage of underemployed or unemployed peers of mine attempting to stay afloat in this rancid soup of an economy. And it’s that unfortunate fact that keeps me from entertaining protracted rants about my shitty work environment. Because, yes, while it might be a horrible place, it’s a job, a steady paycheck—even if said check could be a bit more substantial to make the end of the month not appear so far away.

Still, this gay has to let his hair fro out every now and again—casting aside the conditioner and wide-toothed comb for a bit of old-fashioned vitriol and finger snaps to keep my hair curled. What exactly could be bad about my work environment you ask? Well, I work with a bunch of wankers. On a military base.

I know, I know—me, in a military compound? Hilarious. But it’s tragically true. Never did I imagine I’d be in cahoots with Big Brother. But when an unfortunate event—yay, job loss!—conspires with one particularly inane life choice—yay, I’m an anthropologist!—my work life becomes a real life version of The Office. But instead of a funny or attractive cast, I’m stuck with the unfashionable dregs.

At the get-go, I had three wonderfully fun, informed, and competent friends around me—balancing out the crazy in a precise four-on-four split. But then, one by one, they left me high and dry. (Okay, that’s not really true. They each left for better jobs or for their own reasons—meaning: preserving what little sanity they had left.) And the minute the last one left me—with me screaming from inside the barbed-wire after her, “Run, bitch, run!”— the orcas started circling the baby seal.

Then, it got Animal Planet in this motherfucker. And while this baby seal may be outnumbered and torn apart, I intend to give the bastards the runs. It’s the very least I can do. Especially for the leading whale herself, whom I’ve dubbed McNutterpants. I even wrote her a note.

Dear McNutterpants:

I know you despise me. Don’t act like you don’t. Perhaps this is because I stand up for myself and can back up my arguments with actual facts, rather than the nut baggery you constantly pull out of your vapid head. Or perhaps it’s also because: (1) I’m proficient and competent in my job duties; (2) I can speak like an adult, and not the disturbingly high Disney character you so often channel; (3) I can actually use a computer to perform intensely difficult actions like, say, printing off an entire PowerPoint slide without assistance (I know, it’s hard); and (4) I don’t obsess over minutiae or interject myself into every conversation in a tragic attempt to make myself appear relevant.

So, do you think you could, I don’t know, fake a bit of professionalism?

Kisses,

Matt

But since I have yet to cast the last vestige of professionalism asunder, I’ll just leave that note unsent and add it to the pile.

Until I find myself in the middle of my resignation speech at some future staff meeting—and pointing to each and every person, and relaying my true opinion of them—I’ll just enjoy staring blankly at their incompetent selves while turning up the volume of Emeli Sandé’s “Next to Me,” then shrugging at their exasperation.

Can’t. Hear. You. Wankers.

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I Want To Hold Your Hand

Context is everything. If the past decade’s worth of anthropological musings and experiences has taught me anything, it’s that simple fact. And as my boyfriend Andy and I were accosted this past Saturday, that phrase looped through my mind.

The morning had been a good one. We slept in, went out for breakfast, then drove to a favorite antiquing haunt with new iTunes as our morning’s soundtrack. The beautiful day was ours for the taking, and we were enjoying every minute of it.

Until we returned to Raleigh a few hours later and pulled up to a traffic light. A new Ford pickup idled in the next lane over, and I paid it little attention.

It was one of those quietly perfect moments: his hand in mine, the music low and soothing.

And then erratic movement from the truck drew my attention.

The truck’s backseat passenger talked animatedly to his front seat companions and motioned toward us. The smile he had plastered across his face was eerily familiar–one I’d seen exchanged between drunk fraternity brothers threatening me and my friends outside an Alabama gay bar; the same I’d experienced countless times in crowds, followed by whispers and pointed fingers; the exact one I faced when four men in a similar truck tried to force me off an Alabama road. So I knew what was next.

But instead of engaging them, I stared ahead and silently willed the light to change. And I kept holding Andy’s hand, squeezing it a little tighter.

Their gestures became more emphatic and drew Andy’s attention. I looked over with him, into their hateful faces. We raised our clasped hands, and I kissed his. And that’s when things escalated. Because when bigots are literally faced by those whom they taunt, they suddenly realize their targets have means of reacting–can hold their own–and they panic. That’s when they started screaming “Fucking faggots!” We responded with our own salutation and matching raised middle fingers.

The light changed. We got ahead of them. I seethed with anger. The car ahead of them turned, and their truck pulled up beside us. Leaning out the lowered window, the backseat rider screamed a few more “faggot”-laced comments. That’s when Andy took out his phone and took their picture. Like a chastised child, the bigot dove into the backseat, rolled up the window, and the truck accelerated.

I tailed them while Andy leaned into the windshield and made it very clear that we were photographing their license plate. They began weaving haphazardly through traffic. I slowed and turned down our street.

And we were once again left in silence. But this time, it was tinged with discomfort and anger. And fear.

We pulled up to the house and sat there. I got out. As I removed my keys from my bag, I fought back tears demanding release and shook off tremors running through my hands. I tried to laugh things off. I couldn’t.

Neither of us could smile, even as we dumped out our our antiquing spoils and situated them in the apartment. And then we lay down and held each other. There was tacit knowledge–a close call.

We knew we could’ve easily been on a deserted road, in the middle of nowhere. They could’ve been drunk, and more reactive. There could’ve been more of them. They could’ve had a gun. We could’ve had a gun. And the latter thought scared me even more.

And the provocative act in all of it? Holding hands.

I know, it’s terrifying. It hurts the children. It’ll surely evoke nature’s wrath and wipe Raleigh off the map. Yet, it was that innocuous act, in the privacy of my personal vehicle, which tipped them over the edge.

I’ve long realized that the world is full of hateful, ignorant, despicable people. The same people who break into a woman’s home, tie her up, carve “Dyke” into her body, and attempt to burn her alive; the same people who kidnap children to “save” them from their “immoral” parents; the same people who advocate for “rounding up the deviants” and confining them in electrified fences until they starve to death. The same people who fail to see the hypocrisy in tying a man to a fence, beating him, and leaving him to die alone in the name of a man who was nailed to a cross, beaten, and left to die alone.

The point at which a person is objectified to the degree that they are no longer considered human is the point at which unimaginable violence is exacted upon them. It’s the point at which LGBT individuals become hate crimes.

For me, the terrifying reality of this particular incident is that–in our country today–these three men stand an equal chance of being reprimanded for their hateful behavior as they do for being commended for their “defense of traditions.”

And until you find yourself on the “other” side, it’s much easier to turn a blind eye to hate–to tell yourself that your sandwich doesn’t fund murder, to quell the rising fear within your heart that such behavior may one day be directed at you.

After all, you’re just holding someone’s hand. What could possibly come of that?

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MOmentum

So, it happened: I finally met a genuinely good guy who can tolerate my quirks, including more than a touch of OCD and ADD. Having been an ace at crashing and burning online, I was absolutely stunned that (1) I met Andy in person; (2) Andy wasn’t a cocaine addict (Boyfriend Number 2, I wish you well); and (3) Andy thought I was cute.

Like most new couples, we kept a bit of distance at first—meeting once or twice during the week and then having a weekend of intense…coupling. But then a month was gone, and I’d roll over and he’d still be there: he wasn’t a figment of my imagination! With us hovering near the two month mark, we’re trying to break his lease, extricate him from his disturbingly Stepfordian cookie-cutter apartment, and move him into my historic downtown digs.

Now, if you haven’t yet started your eye-rolls and catty commentary, go ahead and get it out of your system.

I’ll be the first to write that I’m not an easy person with whom to live. And while I hardly ever quote my maternal side of the family—save my mother—my maternal grandfather was right: “Matt, you want to know the fastest way to become bitter enemies with your friends? Live with them.”

Score one for Papa.

I think it was the hamburger burned into my cookie sheets—or maybe the mounds of food-caked dishes constantly cluttering the sink, or the laundry detritus scattered around—that instigated the Chernobyl-sized meltdown with my roommates during our sophomore year of college. After a probable case of beta fish poisoning—R.I.P. Artemis—and many subsequent cold shoulders, I stormed out, never to speak to them again. We’d known each other since sixth grade.

Flash forward through eight years of living alone to the moment Andy said, during our second fight (the first was about iced versus hot coffee), “Well, I don’t like that!” Following his outstretched arm to my 1940s Art Deco inlaid sideboard, I bit my lower lip and had a momentary eye-twitch. Then I said, “Okay.”

I know. I surprised myself.

But there we were: on the floor (don’t ask), compromising on décor. And the scariest part for me: actually envisioning parting with the sideboard to bring in a piece of furniture he preferred. Even that dresser thing in his bedroom that I planned to accidentally burn. Sure, some people may think we’re channeling our inner lesbians prematurely, but we’re both realizing that this thing has a good shot of lasting far longer than even Queer as Folk.

And I have to say, it’s oddly liberating for me to come back and not have everything in its place. He’s not remotely messy, it’s just that some things aren’t where I put them–my apartment is no longer a museum, but a home. And with every one of his additions, I become more endeared to seeing his stuff around. Knowing that he’ll be back after work to fill his empty shoes means more to me than where he tossed them. Plus, I don’t mind doubling my wardrobe or tripling my DVD collection.

So, while I pull myself out of my “dark, slightly depressing” color story, he’ll work on not stepping out of the shower until after he towels off his feet. And while I will part with the industrial megaphone–it added just that necessary touch of whimsy–I’ll gain a beautiful mid-century sofa and chair, not to mention their owner. Little compromises and open communication at the outset work wonders.

Farting around each other also helps. That, and lending a hand to shave those embarrassingly random patches of light back hair. Because once you pass that particular threshold, you’re pretty good to go.

Plus, he actually likes the sideboard. He was just being spiteful.

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My Apologies, Did My Civil Rights Get In the Way of Your Bigotry?

Frequently, I’m about as subtle as a shotgun, as smooth as sandpaper. But I’m pretty surprised at how many people have defaulted as Romney/Ryan apologists or supporters. Especially women, whose rights are violated whenever R/R open their yaps.

Sure, like a good anthropologist, I quell the urge to respond to what I perceive to be blatant ignorance and misinformation posted on my friends’ Facebook feeds by clueless dolts. But lately, I just can’t stand it. For me, anyone who supports the double douches has either been dropped off my Facebook “friends” list, or can happily escort themselves off; that means any stealth R/R supporters. So many people write or say something along the lines of “You can’t hold one or two things against Romney and Ryan, and act like everything they stand for is bad or detrimental to the economy and the US population.” Really? Just listen to them speak. They’re as slippery as eels (sorry, eels) and clearly don’t give a damn about anyone except the rich–hence their complete disengagement from many problems plaguing the US.

And they sure as hell don’t care about minorities. Label me as a far left, bleeding heart liberal or whatever you want. Silly me for wanting someone who supports me as a US citizen, taxpayer, and human being. While I do profoundly and sincerely respect everyone’s rights to express their beliefs, I cannot in good conscience–staying true to who I am at my core–respect anyone who supports someone whose platform is based upon disrespect, intolerance, disenfranchisement, and prejudice: objectifying fellow people as “others” for personal gain. None of that can or should be inscribed into doctrine for the US population.

So before I step off my soapbox, I’ll reiterate that any supporter of Romney/Ryan is no ally or friend of mine. For me, it’s as simple as that. No grey area. Case closed.

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Chick-fil-HAAAAAAAY

Has everyone grown tired of the Chick-fil-A debate? Probably. After all, there’re plenty of more pressing issues on the national front and around the world. Does that mean that I’ll let the issue fade away? As much as I’d like to, I’m genetically predisposed to be an outspoken loudmouth.

When I start thinking about why this whole hullabaloo aggravates me so, I’m offered not-so-gentle, unexpected reminders. Like when I got pretty sick this past weekend, and my boyfriend had to take me to an urgent care clinic to determine why my brain decided to catch on fire and disturb my tenuous, shallow sleep with hallucinatory dreams. Unlike most of the population, we had some additional baggage walking through the doors: should I collapse and be scooted next door to the hospital, he’d have no right to see me. When you’re feeling less than sub-par, the last thing you want to worry about is your significant other being left to wonder where in the hell you’ve been taken.

But we ended up walking out together, and strolling into the hospital lab for me to get blood drawn. Still, the accusing stares of some hospital staff conveyed a clear message: You’re different, and we don’t have to play by your rules. Three vials of blood later and we were walking back out together.

And since my boyfriend is a knight in shining armor and knows that sweets make everything better, we went to a local sweets shop that has recently been supportive of the LGBT community. Interestingly, it’s situated just across the street from a Chick-fil-A. Unbeknownst to me, as we waited in line, a teenage couple found us to be an amusing spectacle and occupied their time with making sad, pathetic hand gestures and glances in our general direction (they got the limp wrist all wrong). Now, it’s not the first time such smirks or head nods were used to openly convey some bigots’ disapproval toward me or my friends. Whether such actions transform later in life to shouted epithets or physical violence toward LGBTQ individuals isn’t the issue (it’s a major issue, but not this one). The issue I constantly grapple with is why do people think they can still do this, in public no less, to people who are just going about their day–getting health-related issues checked, getting gelato to recuperate from a taxing day? Perhaps it’s because it’s trendy to normalize and rationalize hate and hateful organizations’ actions. Enter again: the Chick-fil-A debate.

We can blame a lot of the sensationalism around such debates on the media; collectively, they’re an easy enough scapegoat and have to drive up their ratings somehow. But I think people often deflect too much–don’t take enough responsibility for their actions, even if they’re seemingly insignificant. Whether you’re ordering a cake from a bigoted baker or eating at Chick-Fil-A, you’re underwriting the hate they promulgate with profits you helped create. Does this mean that such businesses don’t also do good things with their profits? Of course not. But should you succumb to apathy, remain silent, and endorse hatred of any minority group a business or corporation decides to target? No.

For those who are able, who are fortunate enough to have access to quality food vendors–to businesses or farmers who support you–why not expend that extra block’s walk or five-minute drive to support a business that supports you? Is convenience really worth becoming kitchenfellows with self-identified bigots? Do I sound like a privileged asshole? Slightly.

But here’s the thing: I’m nowhere close to wealthy. Does that mean that I don’t sometimes spend imprudently? No. Like many of my generation, I live paycheck to paycheck and have no job-related benefits, and will only be able to retire when I’m dead. I have a 3-hour roundtrip commute to work, and pay nearly $350 in monthly gas expenses, not to mention car maintenance. But does that mean that I’d rather stop at a Chick-fil-A instead of waiting to get home to a box of produce from a locally-owned LGBT business that supports local farmers–the weekly cost of which is equivalent to about five chicken sandwiches and nowhere near the 1400 grams of sodium or 440 calories per sandwich? Hell. Fucking. No.

My point is this: If you can find an alternative to a hateful business–not just Chick-fil-A, but the entire gamut–why not do so? When I learn of any business that is anti-LGBT or against any minority, I cross them off my list if they’re on it. No quibbling, no apologies. While it may seem insignificant to omit a sandwich from your life, you’re doing more than a favor to your body–you’re being an example, showing others that you will not support an organization that will never miss your patronage and never wanted it in the first place. Hell, if the Jim Henson Company can end a 50-year relationship with Chick-fil-A over their stance on gay marriage, you can at least take your chicken craving to KFC.

Do I think that Chick-fil-A will ever go bankrupt? Probably not, unless their bigwigs get caught at some rest stops choking different kinds of chicken. Do I think it’s fair for businesses to be barred from setting up shop in certain areas (even if I cheered at the stalwart Boston and Chicago mayors’ opposition)? No, because that shoe can easily be slipped on the other foot. Do I secretly want to smack hipsters upside their heads for eating at Chick-fil-A to be counter counter-culture, alternative, and misunderstood? God, yes. Do I care that a local Chick-fil-A franchise is owned by an LGBTQ individual? Hell no. While I don’t presume to know their rationale–maybe they’re valiantly trying to make inroads–a portion of their profits still goes to the parent corporation. So, yes, kudos to Raleigh’s Cameron Village Chick-fil-A for their hideous monstrosity, and for ruining the residual character of the historically-interesting Cameron Village; I never thought I’d say or write that I preferred a parking lot over a building. But I do.

More importantly, though, do I think this debate is worth castigating friends–some of whom are LGBTQ–who choose to patronize the business? No. We all are free to express our opinions, even if we differ. For me, it’s not about the flair of abstaining–the “look how awesome I am” drivel people like to cite for self-aggrandizing purposes–but knowing on a personal level that I’m made of sterner stuff.

At least more so than something steeped in bigotry and warmed under a heat lamp.