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Learning Curves

I’ll just go ahead and write it. Put it out there. Feel the weight of a lackadaisical writing mantle be lifted off of me and onto the shoulders of some other, more resolute writerlyish person. Deep breath.

Using a limited vocabulary to convey just how life-changing a trip can be is, well, limiting.

(See?!)

Just kidding! I’ll never shut up, nor will I ever stop using words incorrectly.

So, here we go. The first (but definitely not last) post since the cross country road trip came to its conclusion Sunday night.

***
Like I was writing, a road trip of this scale can leave much more in its wake than an ear infection and six cavities. Because there’re certain things we learned along the way that’ll have long-lasting implications for every single thing we do from here on out.
Such as:

1. Never substitute anything for your favorite vodka. Dirty, dry martinis just aren’t the same without Grey Goose.

2. You should get drunk and watch The Muppet Show on mute in a trashy gay bar at least once. And appreciate how well their mouthing syncs with Rihanna’s music.

3. French toast will never be the same after eating at Olea’s in San Francisco.

The best French toast EVER4.  When faded and tattered, Hampton Inn signage is incredibly disturbing.

5.  When all else fails, and you have no idea of a city’s sketchiness factor, plug the local  Whole Foods address into the GPS. You may have to fight over the last of the vegan gummy bears, but at least you won’t get knifed. And you might even see Jake Gyllenhaal.

6.  If you have a visible tattoo, use it to your advantage in Bubba Land while doing your best to engage in overly butch behavior. (Yes, even in a line at a gas station Subway. Especially in a line at a gas station Subway.)

7.  Celebrities are much shorter in real life. But they still sort of shine.

8.  Coffee is a necessity. If trying to travel cheaply, just skip lunch. Your partner will thank you for it.
Who loves coffee? (Who clearly needs coffee?) I DO!9.  Always tip the silver fox valet. Well.

10.  Los Angeles has a lot of charm if you’re willing to wade through some muck first.

11.  Don’t ever discount a city or state without first visiting it. Almost every state has something amazing hidden away. Except Mississippi.

12. Only stop at Mississippi’s visitor’s center if you want to be offered apple cider laced with Jesus.

13.  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is always a good default. Culinary safety blankets should never be underestimated.

14.  If you want a primer on what’s wrong with America, spend approximately six minutes at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

15.  Alabama’s red clay has restorative properties.

16.  Traipse around the woods and talk about life. It’s incredibly freeing. Even if you’re not talking to anyone.

17.  Daydreaming is the basis for action and change.

18.  Frustration and borderline migraines will dispel after the first bite of well-cooked chow mein. Even at 11:00 PM. On Christmas.

Chow mein: the Christmas savior.19.  Always carry an umbrella in San Francisco. And remember it may not always fit between construction scaffolding.

20.  Strong drinks and antiquing should almost always be coupled.

21.  Silence can be just as meaningful as conversation.

22.  Brandi Carlile should be on every traveler’s playlist.

23.  Wait for that overnighted fleece. You will reap the rewards your entire trip. Even if you have to admit that he was right.

24.  Never eat at a Vegas casino. It’ll just make you sad inside. And your insides sad.

Not a restaurant...comfy room, though.25.  Sometimes, you just have to quiet that inner food critic and eat something because, as Andy says, “It’s warm. And you can chew it.”

26.  The Grand Canyon will take your breathe away. (Or is that the 14 degree weather?)

Breathtaking...and cold.27.  A Post It that reads “Duvet covers & sheets are clean for your arrival” probably means exactly the opposite. And that a porno was just shot there.

Clean? Doubtful.28.  The comfort of holding hands in silence cannot be overstated.

Warmth29.  Deciding that you can’t grow anymore in a place you love means it’s time to move on. Not that you’ve failed.

30.  Revel in the ambiguity, for it’s all that we know.

***

I know what you’re thinking. Chow mein, really?

Alright.

But at least a few of them are serious and slightly sentimental. (Or are you crying because you have a wicked New Year’s hangover? At least now you know Point 1 is valid. Booyah.)

So, while I’m downing medication for my agitated ear and sinuses, and Andy and I are setting our sights on the future, there’s plenty more to figure out.

One fork-full of chow mein at a time.

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And All That [Gay] Jazz

Something happened to me between the self-revelatory statements “I’m gay” and “WHY DON’T I HAVE A BOYFRIEND?!”

And not just jar after jar of Nutella. (But who’s counting?!)

Valentine's Day 2012

It was more of a self-realization about the dating scene. A realization that a lot of people are having in this iPhone-driven, text-heavy age.

Let me preface this by writing that a few of these problems aren’t necessarily LGBT-centric. But since I’m a flaming mo, my perspective’s a bit skewed.

***

From best friends and family members, to colleagues and angsty passersby, I’ve developed more than a peripheral knowledge of the most effective dating [avoidance] strategies.

Avoidance strategies, you ask?

Well, yes.

Because (1) It’s damn difficult to click with people in person. Like the time I tried to flirt with this one guy, pivot on a dime, and walk away confidently. Instead, I stuttered a goodbye and whipped around so quickly that I slipped, overcompensated, and knocked over a lube display. Classy lady.

And (2) It just gets exhausting writing profile after profile after profile on the most cutting-edge, most widely used dating sites “Proven to get you a date is less than a month!” or “At least get you laid.” Because then you turn into that person whose profile reads, “I HATE EVERYONE. THERE ARE NO REAL PEOPLE LEFT!” with an accompanying profile picture of a pixilated torso.

***

It just became easier to throw my hands up after a few bombed dates, blame it on the economy draining the last of an increasingly shallow dating pool, and sidle up to my computer for a Golden Girls marathon.

Alright, so I hadn’t quite spiraled to the point of a Goldie Hawn Death Becomes Her cat mo—mostly because I’m allergic, and can’t stomach that much frosting. But I did break out the hole-ridden jeans and stained hoodie to venture to Harris Teeter for a sweet treat.

Or treats.

At least self-checkout stations make eye contact avoidable.

Most of the time.

***

Maybe I’d just become so far resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to find someone that I finally did. When I least expected it.

I know, I know. I hate that saccharine “It happens when you least expect it!” bullshit. Because I’d recited that to myself time after time (whenever I took my head out of my chocolate-covered pretzel feedbag).

But I ignored the fact that entertaining that very thought meant that I was still seeking out that ever-elusive complement to myself, even if I told myself I wasn’t.

Then, boom.

Andy happened.

So I figured, “Finally! I’m set. Relationship maintenance can’t be too demanding. The hard stuff is over!”

Oh, naivety.

Now, before I have to sleep in the guest bedroom, I’m not saying the effort involved in maintaining a relationship is bang-my-head-against-the-wall bad. Quite the contrary–it’s made me more mature, more patient, and (hopefully) more empathetic.

Still, there’ve been unexpected issues that’ve challenged us. Issues that I think other LGBTs encounter and, sometimes, can’t quite reconcile.

***

Andy and I hadn’t been together two months before I got horribly sick and had to go to an urgent care clinic, then to the hospital. I could barely keep both eyes open, and had to deal with filling out mountains of paperwork.

Then I got to a page I’d seen plenty of times before when I was single–one I’d never panicked over or had to think intensely about. It was the “right to medical information” page–where you list out who’s able to receive your medical information or request it, and their relationship to you.

The ink blot started to grow larger as I wondered, hesitating about broaching the topic for fear of freaking out Andy and making him think I was moving too fast.

Did I list him?

Should I tell him that I’m listing him?

What if I don’t list him and they run me to the E.R. and he’s not “privileged” with the information regarding my whereabouts?

Would they acknowledge a gay relationship?

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t danced through my sleep-deprived mind.

But one good side-effect of feeling crappy is that you give less of a damn about dating etiquette than usual. And while potential hospitalization isn’t a desired litmus test to see if you have a keeper by your side, it does the job.

We cleared the hurdle.

Even if the “A” was more of an inkblot than a letter.

***

Albeit thankfully short, that situation made me think about my LGBT friends, and the whole topic of “gay relationship time” versus “straight relationship time.” Sure, the latter are good topics for poking fun, but I think there’s a little something to it.

For a lot of LGBT couples, it’s hard to avoid heavy-hitting topics like healthcare, end-of-life decisions, housing issues, and property rights. In fact, like Andy and I learned, you have to broach them much, much earlier than some straight friends. That’s not to disparage our allies, or presume that heterosexual couples don’t have to engage in such intense dialogue. (The latter is clearly not true.)

By and large, though, most LGBT Americans don’t have the luxury of a temporal cushion to lighten the blow of such charged topics; we can’t assume that we’ll be afforded particular rights just because we have a partner of the opposite sex. So, a few months in, Andy and I were well-versed in familial histories, medical issues, end-of-life decisions, health and life insurance providers, and general contingency plans.

But for every story like ours, plenty of others don’t go so well–and not necessarily because of ill-suited matches. Heavy conversations have a way of exhausting a relationship speedily, smothering the initial flames of exuberance with overwhelming, sudden responsibilities and stressors. Pressures specific to LGBT relationships aren’t often understood by the general public. To everyone else, on the surface, it’s yet another failed LGBT relationship; it’s easier to default to that stance rather than think about the heteronormative, theocratically-legislated context in which LGBT relationships are established. Instead of attempting to change that context, though, ignorant people are more content to buy into the crazed, Santorum-ish perception of the “inherent instability” of LGBT relationships—and use that fallacious argument to continue LGBT-based discrimination.

Traversing bumpy relationship terrain early on does have a bonding effect, too. Even if conversations along the way don’t exactly come easily, and may shave off a few weeks from the honeymoon period. Because very few want “More peas?” followed by “Cremation or burial? Organ donation?”

Still, in the span of a few weeks, Andy and I jumped from hesitant-to-fart to peeing-with-the-door-open. Because with other, more pressing matters at hand, who really cares?

(Other than visitors.)

Olympians, sort of

So, while Andy and I aren’t Olympians, we’ve cleared a number of hurdles.

Not without a few stumbles or scuffs.

But we’re still going strong.

And if we can do it, plenty of y’all can, too.

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Timing

Time is such a crazy little critter.

Everyone who’s ever had to get up at the ass crack of dawn for work, to celebrate an anniversary, to declare someone dead gets it.

And while I’ve always thought of myself as being pretty good about time—real life time and gay time (gays, you know what I’m talking about)—it’s shocking how quickly it can get away from me, slip between my mental frames.

Then slap me across the face two weeks after my last blog post. (Yes, I know I’m a slack blogger.)

***

It’s jarring how suddenly time can collapse yet encompass innumerable life experiences; it boggles the mind how chocked-full those collapsed lapses can be.

This thought was sandwiched between a few others as Andy, his sister Lindsey, and I commuted back from a whirlwind Thanksgiving trip to their hometown of Pleasantville, and a jaunt to New York City.

Sure, the bracketing thoughts may have been a little catty given the expected stress-fueled spats that bubble out when three adults are packed into a Prius, along with all necessary accoutrements (and by “necessary” I mean two gays over-packing and attempting to convince Lindsey that there will probably be enough oxygen left in the backseat for her to breathe); are exhausted by idiotic drivers (driver of the Honda Odyssey, who couldn’t quite grasp the concept of cruise control, I remember you); and are forced to use rest area porta potties due to the “mass volume” of users (while blinding our minds’ eyes against the disturbing mental images associated with using “porta potty” and “mass volume” together.)   

So, despite the fact that Andy and I were fuming over something that now escapes me, I still couldn’t believe where I was and how fortunate I was to be there.

***

A year prior, I’d been quietly ruminating about why it was that I had so many wonderful friends and family surrounding me, but felt I was missing out on something great.

Six months later, when I was stressed, exhausted, smelly, and, quite literally, a hot mess, I met him. The him him I’d be thinking about and telling myself I hadn’t been searching for over the past few years.

But there he was.

Just like that.

Him

He’d just dropped into my life.

And I cringed about how the trite yet apropos “when you least expect it” cliché happened to be.

***

Nearly six more months later, Andy and I have blown through the honeymoon period, navigated the consolidation of two households, argued here and there and made up, met the parents, and settled into a life together that’s only gotten more development, more grounded, and more rooted every single day.

Even still, it’s hard for me to imagine how delightfully quickly my life has changed.

Sure, time is still a beast, and there’re plenty of friends and family with whom we’d both like to spend more time. But we’re still balancing the personal with the professional, and trying not to let our extreme commutes and stressful jobs get the best of us.

And acknowledging that it’s okay to take time for ourselves, to grow our relationship more and more without guilt.

And knowing that our friends and family understand this, and love that we’re happy.

Because for so long, time was an enemy—reminding us of what we didn’t have. Now, though, it’s cherished, crystallized in moments along a path to an unknown future.

And while time isn’t infinite, and we never know what’ll happen next, we do know that we’ll each have a hand to hold along the way.

Copilots

That we’re in it together.

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Quotable Friends

Eyeglasses are my porcupine quills: indicators that you should venture elsewhere—far, far away from me.

And yet, bastards still poke, poke, poke.

Like the coworker invading my self-quarantined office.

“Wow, you eat a lot of yogurt. You eat that entire container in a day?”

I sharpen my gaze on her reddened cankles and slowly work my way up to her bloated face.

“There are worse things to eat.”

Point taken. She leaves.

***

But on the cusp of one of the most divisive elections in recent history, there’re plenty more who just don’t take the hints. Popular bloggers and prolific writers have penned articles of the “De-Friend Me” ilk, targeting Facebook and the “Friends” list we all like to think we regulate.

Still, I’m a curious being. So I pulled up my “Friends” list and searched “Mitt Romney” and “Paul Ryan.” And lo and behold! I found “friends” who’ve “liked” them. And I mean like them like them, not “liking” them to glean the latest drivel from the far right.

And sure, I wasn’t surprised by a few. I mean, c’mon. Like I really thought those people from high school I’ve been meaning to delete—who’ve stayed in the same small town, who’re still beating their bibles with as much conviction as the “good ol’ days”—are about to stand up and do something proactive for the future.

Bubye and good luck, y’all.

Still, there are the stealth supporters–friends you suspect will welcome you into their home, treat you nicely to your face. Then fill in the Romney/Ryan bubble on their voter form, and justify your continued marginalization by citing economic turmoil or foreign policies.

And yes, don’t we all wish LGBT rights weren’t topics to address in a presidential election, to sway someone’s vote? It’d be wonderful if they weren’t issues of concern. But they are.

So when my life is dragged out for public consumption, and my civil rights are contorted into “benefits” that I’m not “qualified” to receive, pardon me for getting a tad defensive.

For a lot of “friends,” it’s fun to have “the gays” in your fold, even if you’re quietly homophobic. Because having friends like them garners you certain attention, makes you feel special. But all you’re doing is appropriating part of someone’s life for personal gain.

You smile when they babysit your kids, buy you a drink, say you look nice, organize your wedding, treat you with respect.

And still you turn your back on them in the voter booth. There, within that tiny space, you align yourself with the same side pushing to disenfranchise the majority of Americans who don’t fall within a particular income bracket; whose skin isn’t the right color; whose first language isn’t English; whose health isn’t perfect; whose lives are just as disposable when they’re deployed as they are upon returning from service; whose bodies are “temples for God and country” and not for personal use and protection.

If you find yourself voting for that kind of national legacy, I hope you’re proud of yourself.

Because I’m not.

And I’m too goddamned tired to entertain “friends” from different “walks of life” if that means having people around me who think I’m not entitled to have the same rights that they enjoy. Who can’t see that “Romney/Ryan” signs translate to “Hates Gays, Loves Misogynists.”

But that’s reality.

And I wonder if dealing with this bullshit is worth it. If Andy and I wouldn’t be better off packing our apartment and moving to a country where we aren’t defined by gender identity and treated as “others.” Someplace where we can just be, and be respected.

It’s my hope that my true friends will have my back during this election. But if you’re planning to vote for Romney/Ryan, don’t expect to have any semblance of a relationship with me, regardless of how long we’ve known one another.

I’m not just talking “de-friending” me on Facebook. 

I mean, don’t speak to me. Don’t wish me well. Just leave.

I’ll understand.

I just wish you could, too.

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Blushing Pink

After flipping over the sixth pillow and finding an $85.00 price tag, I start searching for the clearance rack. If this swanky décor boutique even has one.

So I smile and peruse and pick things up and try not to drop them because everything is bloody expensive.

And then, behold, the clearance rack!

But I know even before puttering over to the dark corner where all things stained and forgotten are banished that I’m not here for a chipped vase–even if it’s only $55.00!

I’ve been thinking about these “Mr.” bowtie hand towels since I first saw them with Andy. I was so despicably close to snagging them then, along with two “Mr.” mustache-laced highball glasses, that I really want them now.

But, there’s a catch: “Mr.” towels are tied to their “Mrs.” complements.

Because, sweet readers, it seems only straight couples can have these particular hand towels.

But just for bitchy shits, I give it a whirl.

“Excuse me. Is there any way I can switch these two so that there are two ‘Mr.’ towels?”

The smartly dressed employee walks from behind the counter, smiling as she does.

“Oh, hmmm. I thought each was sold separately. I doubt there will be an issue. But let me just check with the owner.”

She disappears into the back, and I imagine some Oz-like character with a pompadour dictating his will to his employed peon.

“NONSENSE! Absolutely no gay hand towels for the flamboyant one! Look at his sweater for bejesus-sake!”

She reappears. But I already know the answer.

“Well, the owner says that we don’t have enough in stock to split them, but to come back later. There might be some then.”

And I just might not have the money in my pocket.

I smile and thank her, since she seems genuinely sorry.

But then I redirect my attention to the overflowing display. Then do some quick math:

Overpriced towels+Empty store/Potential customers on the outskirts of downtown=Bullshit.

I stand there a minute more, silently accusing the towels of their misdeed. But that makes me angrier.

Don’t blame the towels, Matt. Blame Oz.

So I buy some random Deco-like tray reproduction and leave.

Fair Trade?

Yeah, that’ll show’em.

***

By the time I run more errands, mourn the fact that my favorite camera shop is closing, and circle back to The Target to print off some photos, I’m fairly well pickled with resentment.

But as I take my frustrations out on the photo kiosk, muttering “No gay towels for me!” I select a photo of me and Andy from Pride.

I stop.

I take in the moment.

I own it.

So I let the pickled jar of resentment burp a little–no, I don’t fart–swallow my frustration, and revel in the fact that I’m happy right now. That I don’t need some goddamn towels to tell me that I have a boyfriend whom I love, someone who makes me want to come home. That I should stop having some stupid pity party over cheap cotton and get over it.

And I do. I grab the photos and start searching for conditioner.

“Excuse me! Sir!”

Great. Now the kiosk Nazis are going to shake me down. And I’m not old enough to be called ‘Sir.’

But when I turn, I see the guy who’d been standing behind me, waiting patiently as I’d muttered and punched the kiosk screen.

I’ll go ahead and admit I’d prejudged him–fratastic and vapid with a few pretty girlfriends (at least from what I could see blown up on the kiosk screen, from my perch next to an old pumpkin display); basically, many of the traits I associate with the proverbial bigoted Bubba.

“You forgot this.”

It’s another copy of the Pride photo.

I thank him, turn, and blush a little. And that gets me angry, too.

There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. And, clearly, he doesn’t give a shit.

Wait.

He. Doesn’t. Give. A. Shit.

If he’d wanted to, he’d have tacked a smirk, or sigh, or epithetical comment after “this.” But he didn’t. Because he was printing out moments of his own life. He had his own life. Why should he care?

Exactly.

***

With bags in-hand, I toss everything onto our bed and get changed. And there, pushed against my closet wall, hangs one of the first shirts I bought specifically for a gay college party.

Not a fun-gay party.

A gay-gay party.

The Pink Party.

I’d only been out for a little while when I got the invite through a friend’s friend. Having little in the way of man-snagging clothing at that particular point, I’d run to The Target in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to find something pink.

Anything.

I think I was probably contemplating a Bratz tee when I saw the fairly ho-hum pink-and-gray striped shirt.

Mine.

Pinky

So I was prepped for the party. I was going to be with The Gays.

Somewhere along the line, I ended up on a couch with my friend, and we giggled as we watched two guys totally suck face on top of the kitchen island. (Yes, I think I even said ‘Suck face’ back then.)

And they did so without worry–like it was normal.

Because it was normal.

Oh.

But then I got tired, and slightly despondent that I’d decided to wear my battered Adidas, and left with my friend. Right before we left, though, a guy gave us each a shot.

I’d had a little to drink already, but did a little equation:

Sober stranger with a shot+Unknown party host+Unfamiliar apartment complex+Driving home=Take the shot.

About five minutes later, I remembered I’d always been terrible at math. And gullible to boot.

“Ay ThiNnnk there-uh mayuh Bin somMMmmmethinnn in Dat shottttt.”

I was totally fine to drive.

And then I drove over an entire roundabout. I didn’t just hop the curb. I mean I drove right through the center of it–planting bed with pansies and all. How my Pontiac Sunbird ever made it is still a blur.

That, single reader who stumbled upon this blog, is the reason why I never drive after a stranger hands me a drink.

Kidding! No strangers and drinks. And no drinks and driving. Alright, PSA over.

Regardless of the roofie dollop, the party was fun. Because I was out.

I was OUT.

The Out Matt.

I was myself. For the first time in a while.

And it felt a whole hell of a lot better than being drunk.

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Reading the Leaves

The leaf landed so stealthily that I didn’t notice it resting on my hand until Meadow and Dave exchanged vows.

Because that’s when I nudged Andy’s hand, smiling as I did.

***

Life chapters before that moment, I was walking with my paternal grandmother, feeling the autumn breeze on our shoulders and watching the leaves glide down from above.

We’d been talking about nothing in particular when a browned leaf grazed my hand on its downward track. And when I shook my hand in response, Mom-Mau took it with her gnarled, arthritic one and squeezed.

I looked down at her, and she smiled up.

“That’s a good sign, a leaf falling on your hand. A good sign of good things to come.”

Her aged brown eyes danced mischievously, focusing not on me but the past–perhaps a younger version of herself experiencing life before it changed.

Before a lithe, smooth-talking Italian named Edward asked her out for a date and stuck her with the bill; before they found themselves dancing across a battered lodge floor; before they tied the knot; before the war; before my father’s birth; before the trials and tribulations life doles out tested their resolve; before they found their faces aging, the laugh lines growing deeper from the corners of their eyes; before their grandchildren were born; before we celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary; before his chest pains increased in regularity; before that day in the hospital when everything changed; before she said her final goodbye.

Then, as quickly as the leaf had floated from my hand to the ground, the spark faded, receding behind Mom-Mau’s deep browns like a wave from shore, bringing her back to the brisk day in which we found ourselves. To a different kind of comfort, a different life.

A few years later, I held her hand again. But for the last time.

***

So, as they exchanged vows, I raised my camera slightly and snapped a blurry photo.

Reading the Leaves

But the most meaningful part wasn’t the photo, or the leaf caught within the lens; it was Andy’s leg resting against mine. Acknowledging how time continues to unfold and reveal so many moments, each of which is but a blip on my life’s radar–an anchor to experience.

And like that moment so many years ago, I had someone by my side whom I loved deeply, whose love I never deserved–for which I never asked.

A type of love that just is.

So I let my eyes dance for a moment, glancing back through the memories, through the experiences that brought me to this moment with him. Knowing life changes without warning.

Tied Together

Knowing, above all else, there is living ahead.

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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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Remembering Stonewall

Like the first time I blasted off a shotgun at dented Coke cans, relatively recent Federal and State legislative reforms have hit and missed their respective marks. Today’s affirmation of the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality hit the bullseye. As a person whose genetics have gifted me with a circulatory disease and a brief and relatively tame brush with the big “C,” among other things, I smiled widely as I read today’s headline over lunch. But with every step forward, we sometimes stumble back when problematic policy intends to perpetuate unconstitutional practices and undermine minority rights.

Still, we’re growing stronger as we step forward and clear the hurdles in our collective path. Whether it’s the increasingly divisive rhetoric promulgated in advance of the upcoming election, or the simple fact that minorities are tired of being bullied by clueless members of the majority, there’s almost a palpable energy being emanated by more progressive Gen Xers and Yers, baby-boomers, and beyond. While my sister continues to have my back, and has always been my most rabid advocate even before I came out, my baby-boomer parents are attempting to create an LGBTQ-tolerant ministry through their small Catholic Church in Alabama. And even while she’s been hospitalized, my maternal grandmother—my last remaining grandparent—keeps asking me if I’m getting “out there” and questioning why I don’t yet have a boyfriend.

While I understand that my family is an exception—for which I’m immensely fortunate—they illustrate a very clear message: intolerance is no longer the status quo, and the generational argument for bigotry is a cop out. Through education and continuous dialogue, each of us has the ability to change–to activate within others an innate activist mentality. In our own ways, we all want to craft a future where we’re a happier, more contented people. Until I came out, my parents had a very peripheral understanding of LGBTQ individuals and the issues that we face on a daily basis—in the oftentimes circuitous navigation of daily life tasks that many take for granted. And it wasn’t until I became deeply involved with the fight against Amendment One that they realized how targeted specific legislation was in denying minorities basic civil rights.

For many, it’s not until there’s a close tie to, or a familiar face put on, an issue that they suddenly realize that they have an obligation to be a decent human being and speak up. When I relayed a real-life case of a gay man being denied the right to visit his dying partner and subsequently collect his remains, and then threatened with death by his partner’s bigoted family when he attempted to attend his partner’s funeral, my grandmother sighed deeply over the phone, her voice wavering, and said, “Oh, Matthew. You’re bringing me to tears. This is so horrible. But what these people want to do to you and others won’t last. You’ll make it through.” Now, not only does she know the wide-reaching implications of what one piece of North Carolina legislation could do to her grandson’s life, but her Bridge Club does, too.

Because it’s up to us to get involved, and embolden others to do the same. We just have to stand firm and advocate for proactive changes. We have to make the future a place worth living. Every stride that we make today or tomorrow or next week has implications for crafting a more tolerant future for us all. If we learned nothing else from the Stonewall riots 43 years ago today, it’s that we each have to be willing to raise our voice, even if timidity or bigotry seeks to quiet it. We have to let our stories, our lives, and our relationships evidence the longevity of our fight.

Each of us is a catalyst for change. But we first must stand up, speak out, and simply be.

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The F Word

Friendship is rarely tidy. And I can be a terrible friend. I don’t keep up the way I should. Texting isn’t my forte, and the OCD-ADHD double-punch sometimes sidelines phone conversations mid-sentence, demanding that my attention be turned to a dusty sill or a wilted plant. Or narcissism wins, and I make the conversation about me, me, me before interrupting myself and asking what it was that we were talking about. I’ve offended plenty, amused a few. But I’ve been supported by more.

Maybe it’s the incremental perspective gained through the passage of another year, or my disdain for the holidays manifesting in some odd, Scrooge-esque retrospective glance, questioning what it is that I have to be happy about. What exactly did 2011 do for me, anyway? But then I realize that it’s not about what the year did, but what I did with it, and what others did for me in the process. What they taught me.

Shooting the shit with friends reveals more to me about the world and my haphazard navigation of it than any anthropology seminar ever could. I’ve become attuned to how I search the depths of daily minutiae, try to find some semblance of vindication for what I do and who I’ve become. I hope for a resounding, amplified “Werk!” to each tiny action that comprises some infinitesimal fraction of my daily life. But this year I didn’t have to search quite as intensely as I’ve had to before. Because friends expressed it through unspoken acts, expecting no thanks; they did so without prompting, because they wanted to.

They called my flu-afflicted self from their cars to ensure I got the food they’d left at my door. They said “Hi” in a crowded theater and welcomed me. They sat on a couch in a crowded room to get to know me. They talked me down from panic-attacks. They called in a panic to check in as Mother Nature let loose. They sent unsolicited gifts just to make me laugh. They donated. They stayed on the phone when I started crying. They didn’t laugh when I tried make a point. They talked over the static, across oceans. They tolerated my angsty tirades about the unfairness of it all. They commiserated over boys’ stupidity and ambiguity. They helped me move on. They said I looked dinged-up, that I needed a break. They told me I had to learn to say “No.” They pushed a glass of scotch into my shaking hands and gave me a place to spend the night. They hooted along at a concert. They told me to get over it. They said I was doing good things. They made me feel less alone. They pulled me out of my comfort zone. They tried. They let me go.

More than anything, though, they’re still here. Waiting patiently for me to subvert my obstinacy and do what I have to do. Because they know by now that I need to learn to slacken the reigns. And I’ll do it soon enough. What the days’ revelations don’t unlock gradually, the fragile economic times wrench open. So I’ll dust myself off, let the burn subside, and embrace uncertainty. Because I know full-well that, even if I should fail miserably, I’ll have my own cheering section rooting me on. They’re integral.

They’re my people. Friends are family. And my family is lovingly extended.

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Moving Gaily Forward

A little over six years ago, I sat my parents and sister down at our large antique dining room table in an incredibly dramatic fashion and announced that I had something to tell them, something that’d been eating away at me, eroding my relationship with them. I’d informed my sister of my plans, and she stood by me stoically.

Being gay in a small Alabama town isn’t easy. It’s not easy anywhere, really. But watching others who identified as members of the LGBT community being persecuted at my high school made me close the closet door tighter, shove a chair under its knob even. But I always knew, just like you always hear. From the time I was about eight or nine years old, I knew I wasn’t like other boys. Contact sports were never my thing, but I craved the attention boys would give me, even if they were about the tackle me because I actually caught a football (this happened exactly once, and I ran to the wrong end zone). But then we got older, and any semblance of prolonged contact was automatically suspect. Either tacit or explicit, the assumption was clear: he’s a fag.

I wasn’t called a fag until high school. I even used it in my own jeers among peers. Because that’s what you do when you’re desperate to hide a part of yourself, when you see other, prouder, braver people demoralized in front of the lunchtime crowds. I became grateful that, somehow, I passed. But everyone’s time comes due. And then you become the fag people laugh at when you walk down the hall, the fag people impersonate with overly embellished, lispy inflections and limp wrists. But you deny it; it’s the only way you know how to cope.

And then you graduate, and move away from the small town to a bona fide city, still in Alabama. There, you make life-long friends during heartfelt conversations and experiences, and leave others behind in quintessentially angsty tirades. You grow a little over the years. More people come into your life: first crushes, first exes. You realize through these experiences that who you are at your core isn’t problematic or immoral; it’s just a part of you–not the whole shebang, but a crucial building-block to use as a basis for constructing your future self.

And then you prepare to tell the people who’ve been there from the beginning, and hope they accept you. Because, during the ride back to that small Alabama town, you steel your nerves for the potential fallout–what you’ll grab and leave with, how hard you’ll try not to let them see you fall apart. You stay as distant as you’ve been for the past few years during those first few days back, trying to wrap your mind around the fact that this is it: the moment of truth.

Then we all sit down. We’re all here, at the table. And I stare at my plate. I trip over my introductory blurb–memorized for months now, but as distant as Pluto. The silence becomes palpable. I glance up every now and then to make sure they’re still there, that I’m not still in my Tuscaloosa apartment talking into the dark. And then my voice cracks at the precipice of that final phrase. But I fall in, the words following me down and out.

“I’m gay.”

Silence. I look up, straight into their eyes, catch a tear or two. And I want to scream. But then, another voice breaks the silence.

“I hope you know that this doesn’t mean that we love you any less.” Mom: the champion.

Still, it takes time for it to sink in. There’re more tears and questions, and all the typical things that follow. And there’s a bit of distance. But then, gradually, there’s more acceptance and interest in my romantic life. There’s the usual prodding about “getting out there” and questions about “seeing anyone.” They express an interest in becoming more involved, educating others. They want to make a difference for others like me. They talk about opening their home in the middle of the Alabama woods to disowned, homeless, or threatened LGBT youth. They are no longer the “them” against “us.” I’m immensely proud.

And I think to myself, and say aloud, “I’m fucking lucky.” I’m out, proud, and loved.

And I love each and every one of you.