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An Adonis I Am Not. Please Pass the Cake.

Okay.

I’ll just go ahead and throw out a few caveats beforehand.

One, it’s 2:40 AM on a Monday that’s promising freezing rain during my hour-and-a-half work commute. Two, I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in days. Three, my normal weekday alarm will be going off in less than an hour.

So, kittens, there you have it. Because you know what’s coming. A bitch sprinkle-topped sundae to start your Monday off right.

***

Now, in my quest to reclaim some much needed sleep, I drink water, pee, check to see if there’s the slightest chance that work will be cancelled and I can take an anti-anxiety pill to calm my nerves and smack me into a deep sleep.

Alas, now I have to pee more, and get to look forward to a fun-filled drive to work at 4 AM.

But just for shits and giggles, I figure I may as well catch up on the world and read something.

So, as I scroll through the emotion-filled Facebook posts about Downtown Abbey, I happen upon this article about gay men and body image, specifically how seemingly pervasive body dysmorphic disorder is among gay men.

I figure, “Great, this’ll be interesting.”

Instead, I’m angry and more than a smidge disappointed.

***

Like most subcultures nested within any identity group, gay men have plenty of stereotypes mapped onto them. Some are slightly accurate. Some are fun to re-appropriate and deploy among gay friends. Most are just plain annoying.

And this article played right into those stereotypes, with its first ab-clad image.

Sure, who hasn’t been discontent with their body?

Whether you’re straight or LGBT, it’s hard to find a single person who’s never had some form of body dysmorphic disorder–who’s looked into the mirror every single day of their life and said, “Oh hey, hot stuff. Lookin’ good as always! *Wink*”

But the two main justifications for why it seems that gay men are disproportionately affected are what floored me: (1) Childhood trauma, including parental rejection; (2) Heteronormative social morays.

Alakazam!

So, because my parents hated me, because the Catholic church preached that homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of an omnipotent God, because society’s default is heteronormative behavior, I’m doomed to do extra crunches for the rest of my life?

Um, no.

For one, my parents didn’t hate me; they just didn’t know part of me. Because, being gay isn’t who I am, it’s only one part. And now they’re unbelievably supportive.

Family support.

Did they reify certain heteronormative behaviors and map them onto me as a kid? Sure. But what parents don’t screw up their kids in some way? Did that irrevocably damage me? No. Did it make my coming out process that much more difficult and seemingly stunt me sociosexually? A bit.

Secondly, whether it was juvenile angst, disinterest, or a combination of the two, I never really paid attention in church. Because, well, I thought all of those things being preached about were a bit restrictive. Not so unlike the polyester-blend pants I wore to CCD.

I mean, even when we glossed over the sinful topic of “self-love” in confirmation class, and I saw all the boys shift nervously and uncomfortably, I knew they each had their own little secrets that only they, their hands, and whomever washed their bed sheets knew.

Third, were gay porn stars and the gays-for-pay on Queer as Folk the closest figures to role models this oppressive heteronormative society left me? (And, yes, I know some of the QaF actors are LGBT.) No. Were they the ones I saw the most as a 21 year-old trying to reconcile all of this in my noggin? Sure.

And after I announced my gayness to my empty faux wood-paneled apartment in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, did I say to myself, “Okay, I’m gay. Now what?” And from there, did I revamp my diet, go to the gym every single day, and begin cycling into anorexia? Yes, yes, and yes. In the process, did I find that elusive six pack, Orlando Bloom’s chiseled jaw? No. But did I want that? I thought I did.

Ribs mean I'm beautiful and skinny. Meh.

But after I destroyed my legs from improper weight-lifting, followed by excessive cardio; after I lost fifteen pounds and could fit into XS shirts, but still felt awful; after I told myself I was in control, but knew better after waking up in a series of beds, did I blame my parents, my former faith, American society?

The shirt says it all. And while I didn't get this until after a particular phase, it sums it up.

Hell no. I blamed myself.

Because regardless of your background, only you can become comfortable with yourself. That’s the most basic truth anyone can ever fully realize about themselves.

Nothing’s going to happen magically, or through prayer, or because you saved that puppy from getting plowed over in the interstate. You’re not going to wake up and have a six pack, have defined biceps, have amazing quads if you don’t get off your ass and do something about it.

And you’re not going to find a counterpart if you align your mental cogs with a defeatist mentality that’s constantly whispering, “Nobody will love you and your love handles. Life’s so unfair for you.”

Maybe I’m just annoyed because I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m comfortable with myself. And sure, that took going through anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation, and nearly entertaining suicidal thoughts.

But now I’m content enough with my body that I don’t have to run to the gym whenever I go on a carb bender. Nor do I shove my finger down my throat.

I exercise when I can, strengthening my mind and body as I go. Because when you’re finally at a point when you can look in the mirror and not cringe–when you’re not exactly where you want to be, but, hey, you’re fine with that–you begin to exude this sense of self worth that’s more potent than any pheromone. And people pick up on that.

More importantly, gay guys, the worthwhile gays recognize it. And those who don’t, or think you’re delusional, are too preoccupied with finding their Castro clone amidst a sea of rippling thighs and bulging biceps. But we’re not all Brian Kinney’s in search of a Justin; some of us are Ted’s, or Emmett’s, or Michael’s, or Justin’s, or Ben’s.

Or ourselves.

A quirky mess. But I own it, y'all.

And there’re plenty of allies, faith groups, friends, and LGBTs who recognize that, too. My family, friends, and boyfriend all do.

But he loves this quirky mess. And I love him.

Life’s not a flowerbed that’s suddenly glutted by roses. And there’s not always going to be firm grounding to root into. It takes weeding, tilling, cultivation, and maintenance.

And while you’ll get pricked by life’s thorns, and meet plenty of pricks in the process, those experiences and people won’t define who you are or who you want to be. Only you can do that.

***

Now, many of y’all (the three people who read this blog) are probably rolling your eyes or saying that I’m contradicting myself and reaffirming everything this article’s author has discussed.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a saint. That I’ve entertained some pretty dangerous behavior. That I’ve been untrue to myself. That I’ve told myself who I want and what I’ll be and that nothing will change that.

But experience changes you. Every single one. And it’s up to you to learn from them, dovetail them with your personal history, and make something worthwhile out of it all. Not tell yourself you’re a gay victim in the straight world.

For me as a gay man, I started out writing my life’s memoir as a ghost writer–some other shade of the person I thought I’d be.

But for a while now, I’ve been happy to take that pen back and take credit where it’s due.

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Together, We Remember and Fight

Andy watches Gwyneth Paltrow drive by in a Land Rover; I scratch my head and try to figure out how far off Christopher Street Two Boots actually is, and how long it’ll take us to order pizza once we finally get there.

Clearly, my stomach isn’t affected by star power. (Especially since Gwyneth probably hasn’t eaten a carb since Hush. Bless her heart.)

***

Soon enough, we’re powering through massive sauce-slathered slices and watching as hipster after hipster pours in for their daily carb fix. And as we look out at passersby puttering along sidewalks, I imagine how much this street has seen, especially with our next stop just a few blocks away.

Two Boots pizza...mmmm...

We finish up, and join the hive buzzing outside. As we remark at a particular mo’s great cowl neck sweater, the air chills and the remaining sunlight filters behind 1 World Trade Center.

A fading view

We turn a corner, dodge some taxis, then walk up to Stonewall Inn. Surprisingly unimposing, Stonewall’s façade is bathed in light, its slightly tattered rainbow flags fluttering in the breeze.   

It still has the BamPow! effect it did when I first saw it earlier this year. And I almost recite exactly what I did back then: So, this is where it happened.
 
***
 
 
To most people, this building isn’t anything special—just another bar with poster ads featuring scantily-clad, ripped models. The same can be said for Christopher Street Park across the way, minus the poster models (on most days, I mean).
 
Stonewall Inn

After the requisite pictures, we venture inside. And that’s when I feel the “something else” about this place. No, it’s not the booze. It’s the ambience, the tacit understanding that these boards, these walls, are hallowed ground to many LGBT Americans.

We sidle up to the same bar where generations of LGBTs and prominent civil rights figureheads initiated romantic conversations or decided to take a stand.

With two cosmos in tow, we leave the tab open and seat ourselves in a dimly lit corner.

Stonewall cosmo, of course

A trio of men carouse at the bar, and two women on a date navigate the awkwardness of ice-breaking conversations. The older bartender surveys the bar with a measured, seasoned eye, and strikes up conversations with a few nervous single guys sitting at the opposite end of the bar.

There’s no pretense. No expectations. Just unencumbered joy.

And I imagine this to be the atmosphere in 1969 when the police attempted to quash this haven and imprison those who railed against them. But thanks to those brave figures, Andy and I, along with all the others, are able to enjoy a drink or two, and absorb the history through osmosis.

***

Framed photographs along the wall depict various scenes before and after the Stonewall riots—the tension and catharsis are palpable.

“I wonder where these people are now,” Andy muses. “Especially that one.”

He points to a young guy seated on the steps of the neighboring business front. With his gaze fixed on something far away—perhaps processing the moment—he pushes his blonde hair behind one ear. Above him, two women share a celebratory kiss, and three men wrap their arms around one another, each smiling directly into the camera. In the foreground, a brunette with glasses smiles wryly, his eyes betraying a mischievous air.

Remembering Stonewall

Looking from the photograph to the present scenes unfolding before us, I think how little has changed. But how everything did.

How one event can propel others forward, out of societal shackles, into action. How ardently and passionately our forbearers have fought for our rights, and how far we still must go. How indescribable it is to have Andy by my side, in a place like this.

Knowing that, in a different time, we could’ve been sitting there, reflecting on our respective days, when the door crashed open and batons started flying. Knowing that there’re still heinous crimes committed against people just for dallying in front of such an establishment.

Knowing that we have the ability to craft a better future for a gay couple who, years into the future, will sit exactly where we are and ruminate about the people who’ve been seated at this table.

And, with hope, will thank us, 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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T is for…

Every year around this time, everyone starts cramming in gym sessions in the hopes that those extra crunches and lunges will somehow offset the caloric intake of Thanksgiving dinner.

They think about the long commutes to their destinations, what dishes to prepare, and try to figure out how in the hell they’re going to distract their crazy grandmother long enough to snatch away her hoarded painkillers and substitute them with multivitamins.

***

But rarely do we stop and consider that (1) Thanksgiving is a celebration of the upheaval of Native American life-ways, courtesy of colonists and their smallpox blankets; and (2) Clichéd attempts to be “good people” shouldn’t be reserved for the holidays.

You shouldn’t wait to donate to a food pantry. You shouldn’t carelessly throw your money into a shiny red bucket and feel the weight of your good deed lift off your shoulders (because you just funded bigots). And you shouldn’t forget that plenty of people don’t have homes or friends or any support to lean on during these socially-reinforced, absurdly ritualized holidays.

Now, I’m the first to admit my guilt for doing all of these things. (And that I’m a Scrooge.) But after realizing that The Salvation Army is severely anti-LGBT, I began ignoring their ringing bells.

And when I’ve celebrated difficult times in my life with friends by my side, especially when I’d isolated myself to such a degree that I didn’t return home for the holidays, I realized how important each of them is for keeping me going 24/7—even if I don’t touch base with them for weeks or months. 

Just knowing they’re there means the world.

Knowing there’re people out there who’ll do the right thing has a profoundly comforting effect. And it’s even more comforting to know that that effect is like a stone cast into a pond—the subsequent waves ripple through your life, informing your decisions.

***

Had I not had parents who were determined to show my sister and I how life isn’t fair, that it isn’t balanced, it would’ve taken me much longer to learn how to pay it forward.

Until I saw unexpected joy flash across the faces of kids who didn’t think they’d get anything for Christmas; until I understood the value of sitting and talking to a blind woman, and letting her dog feel the grass outside instead of the scattered, waste-stained newspapers it used; until I watched a curmudgeonly nursing home resident abandoned by her family crack a smile at a pack of Reese’s and a carton of Marlboro Lights—I didn’t truly comprehend the enormous responsibility we each have to extend a hand and do something good.

***

This time last year, I was prepping a turkey for the first Transgiving at the LGBT Center of Raleigh. Over that year, the Center had become a home base for me, and had been the primary reason I’d moved to Raleigh. Getting involved—giving back in some small way—brought together a family of good people. Up to that point, I’d never known anyone who identified as trans, and I quickly realized how uninformed I’d let myself become.

While I’d been obsessed with gay male subculture and understanding everything I’d let myself believe it to be to about—butch, fem, top, bottom, vers, bear, twink…—I’d let myself forget the very thing that united LGBT individuals during the Stonewall Riots, that bonded them in a way: community.

So often we jabber about the LGBT community, like it’s a cohesive whole. But let’s face it: the “T” in LGBT is always tossed to the back. The “T” is never at the front. Because being “T” isn’t as seemingly trendy or cool or understood as being “L” or “G” or “B.”

***

But this time of year, there’s a reason why TDOR begins with a “T.” Today, on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we—the TBLGs, the allies—remember every trans or gender non-conforming person who’s been killed this year for being themselves.

For trying to live their lives to the fullest. For giving themselves a shot. For trying to educate others. For simply trying to be.

For searching for companionship and support in a sometimes cold, unforgiving world.

Every year, TDOR reminds us just how callous and hateful people can be, and how easily ignorance and fear can destroy us.

Can blind us.

Can lull us into complacency.

Can keep us from giving back.

TDOR 2011, We remember
But we also have reminders of just how wonderful we humans can be to one another.

***

So, last year, after the first Transgiving ended with smiles, laughter, and joyful tears, we surveyed the mountains of food and did what made sense. With our cars loaded down, we distributed as many plates as we could to those who didn’t have a home to go to, who didn’t have a friend to chat with or a shoulder to lean on.

And as we emerged empty-handed from one dark park, I realized that it didn’t matter that we were trans, gay, lesbian, bi, queer, straight.

What mattered was that we were human.

That we tried to share that humanity.

Even a little bit.

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Bonded, James Bonded

Okay, so I already wrote this post once. Then accidentally deleted it in a flurry of excitement surrounding the latest episode of The Walking Dead.

Worse yet, the episode sucked. 

The Post Lost Forever was much better, mostly because it was infused with the enthusiasm borne out of a day off work. So forgive this iteration’s jagged edges.

But first, let’s start off with the good news: Daniel Craig isn’t a bigot. Or at least I don’t think so. The bad news? Plenty of his fans definitely are. Well, at least some bubbas.

***

This past Saturday, I wasn’t focused on the movies or James Bond, and I certainly wasn’t contemplating the politics of cinema. With my parents leaving town, and Andy receiving the Parental Seal of Approval with flying colors, we figured a little downtime was in order. And seeing as how movies provide much needed escapist fodder in our post-work day routine, we thought something splashed across the big-screen was appropriate.

Double-plus bonus: it was late. That meant the crotchety seniors were well into bed, and the hormone-high tweens had been picked up in minivans hours ago, taking their overinflated senses of misunderstood selves with them, along with their manic texting, LOLs, and like-cluttered drivel. The theatre closest to our place was a magnet for drunken undergraduates, so we’d be free of them, too.

After driving to the far-flung theatre and paying an exorbitant amount for Sour Jacks and Mike and Ikes, we settled into the unexpectedly crowded theatre.

But I really didn’t think about anything other than the movie, and sharing it with Andy.

And Sour Jacks. Always Sour Jacks.

***

By the time Skyfall started, I’d eaten almost all of our candy, and knew I’d have to sit through a painfully long introduction full of Bond poses, shooting, blood splatter, scantily-clad women, and random explosions.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Before I knew it, Bond had gotten blasted right off the train (Spoiler alert! Or was I supposed to write that before I gave it away? Oh well.), and I halfway expected the 28 Days Later actress responsible for his big fall to be attacked by rage-fueled sacks of flesh as she sat contemplating her unfortunate gunnery.

Meanwhile, Judi Dench made some caustic remarks, because she’s friggin Judi Dench and can do that. And Bond fed a sex-slave’s bodyguard to a komodo dragon, had shower sex, and ventured onto a deserted island resort city—which, coincidentally, Andy had told me about the day before.

A bad dye job later, we were vis-à-vis with Silva. Everyone in the theatre seemed to like his eccentricities.

But the minute it became clear his hands were getting pretty homey with Bond’s inner thighs (a.k.a., the Holy Lands), the audience erupted with expletives, gasps, and slightly muffled epithets.

That’s the moment when Andy and I were ripped off the island and brought crashing back into the overstuffed movie seats—to reality. In such an unexpected way that I thought I was dreaming. But when I shot a glance to Andy, I could tell it wasn’t a dream.

More of a nightmare than anything.

It’s not that I’m afraid of the dark. Just what lurks under its convenient veil. And, in that moment, I thought of the rash of very public shootings and violence earlier this year, and how easily nighttime and a generalized mob mentality can become quick bedfellows.

That’s where I hate to be: the edge—on it, wondering when I’m going to be reminded of my slight difference, and by whom. And I hate the feelings of helplessness associated with that liminal position. Knowing that, if I say anything—go right over the precipice—I’ll be putting more than myself in jeopardy.

So we took it.

In darkness.

In silent solidarity—bonded.

And sat as our movie experience was derailed, unbeknownst to those surrounding us.

***

And then we watched as a victim of the sex trade—having been bound and tortured—was shot in the head.

The response: nothing.

Not even a gasp.

Clearly, the majority of our lovely audience preferred rape, imprisonment, and misogyny over the slightest hints of homoeroticism. (Which reminded me why Romney/Ryan won NC. But I digress.)

And while I’m sure the loudest objecting bubbas pitched tents with every rub of Silva’s hands, I couldn’t help but become more embittered about the double standard LGBTs still face—how any sign of affection is perceived as an explicit display; how every exchange is suspect; how everything we do is thrown before voyeurs, who are afforded the ability to pass legislated judgment on our lives. Who take our lives in their hands and play with them.

Or end them.

Do I care about straight people showing affection? No. Would I have been equally as distressed to see the Bond-Silva exchange transpire with two opposite-sex actors? Yes. The principal elements are Bond’s captivity, and Silva’s insinuations of Bond’s imminent death.

Is there a sexual overtone to the whole scene? Sure. When isn’t there with captivity, regardless of the players’ biological sex?

***

So, as the rest of the movie blurred by, and Skyfall fell into a fiery heap, I focused on the little things.

Like how Bond joked about Silva’s hands, and didn’t care about the villain’s sexual wiring.

Like how he focused on life and living over everything else.

Like how we all get shaken and stirred.

But it’s what’s left that counts.

Shaken, but delicious.

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Like I Wasn’t Going To Blog About Last Night

As I stress ate my grilled cheese sandwich and pile of fries, and watched the polling results with Andy and his sister Lindsey, I felt a numbness blanketing my mind.

And it wasn’t my first drink.

Election Fuel

It was the weight of the evening, the suddenness with which the past year seemed to come crashing to the fore of my mind, pushing everything else out of the way and demanding my attention.

But I had plenty of company.

Instead of the usually deafening conversational buzz, our favorite haunt was filled with quiet murmurs between patrons, each of whom sat rapt, their eyes glued to the small television hanging over the bar. But when a key state went blue, cheers erupted and drink orders soared.

The energy only increased at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, and plenty of us began to feel confident that the country was going to continue in the right direction, not be lulled into some comatose state by a pathological, self-aggrandizing liar and his misogynistic henchman.  

But the night was wearing on, and my second drink began tapping my stress-filled mind on its shoulder, asking it why it wasn’t in bed.

Still, the three of us refused to go to bed without knowing which way the swing states swung. So we left, side-stepped an opossum trudging down the sidewalk, and settled in at Lindsey’s.

Before I knew it, Rachel Maddow was silencing a commentator to announce Ohio’s polling results. I was suddenly wide awake. I squeezed Andy’s hand.

And nearly crushed it when Ohio went to Obama.

Cathartic Exhale

That’s when I started to exhale–the first time in months. 

***

There were so many “what ifs” on both sides of the coin regarding the election’s outcome. If he didn’t win, what would we do, where would we go? If he does win, will the next four years see the country move toward a fair, more equal future for us all?

And there, onscreen, I had the first bits of proof—the groundswell of support for LGBT equality in three (maybe four) states; the strong fights against bigoted, state-authored legislation; the election of Tammy Baldwin to the Senate.

My exhausted ADD-wired mind could barely process it all.

But I did know that certain mental lists—“What to pack,” “What to sell,” “Where to move,” “What to do”—were now in a shred queue.

***

Still, with so much going right in the election, there were low points paving the way, and even after the polls closed. With the election sliding in Obama’s favor, others more gracious than I are asking that there be a restoration of respect—specifically, a hand extended back to the Romney/Ryan supporters.

Knowing that a hand most definitely wouldn’t have been extended had the election gone the other way, I couldn’t disagree more.

My position on Romney/Ryan supporters hasn’t changed; those people who voted for two men who wanted to make my life, my family’s life, my friends’ lives, and the United States worse can continue to stay away from me.

Despite the stress, this election forced people to be accountable, to show their true colors—reveal themselves for the closeted homophobes, racists, and bigots they have always been, but have been too cowardly to show without a white man of their ilk leading the charge.

It taught me that more LGBT individuals than I care to imagine must be grappling with internalized homophobia. Because I simply cannot fathom any other reason why any LGBT person would have been content watching their rights, their children’s rights, their basic human dignities torn apart by this would-be Republican juggernaut. And I refuse to think the economy or foreign policy or any other issue can possibly trump your life and livelihood, much less those of the people you love.

I learned that, while I love where I live, I can always return when more sensible folks are at the helm. When there’s no question if the state government I support financially and socially will respect me as an equal. When I don’t have to spend my free time fighting, fighting, fighting instead of living, living, living.

***

If nothing else, this election has opened a lot of eyes.

It’s shaken many people awake.

It’s shown the naysayers that we will not back down.

It’s shown that reason, truth, and respect count for something.  

Bright Future

And if I’m going to count on anything these days, it’s that holy trinity. 

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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.

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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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Threading A Future Together

Moments like these demand such strength to stay upright. An observer by nature, I often soak in what I see and process it through prose, the medium through which I’ve channeled much of my life and that which has become my saving grace so many times before. But today, words fail.

Some might say I’m feeding into a defeatist mentality. That I think it’s over. That it was all for naught. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Am I disheartened that a majority of North Carolinians chose hate and ignorance, thereby causing North Carolina to backslide into the same welter of inequity and disenfranchisement promulgated by its neighboring southern states? Undoubtedly. But am I exceptionally proud of the strides the LGBTQ-ally community made over the past year, in anticipation of Amendment One? You bet your asses.

For the better part of a year, many of us have been fighting the fight: handing out buttons and posting signs in our yards; making convoys to voting stations and participating in phone banks; educating those who didn’t understand the amendment’s wide-reaching implications and bolstering those who did to keep on trucking; planning festival events and organizational activities to showcase the Triangle’s diversity in the hopes of demonstrating how problematic this sort of institutionalized bigotry is and how many it will affect; marching to make a difference and making our presence known. Coming together for a common goal; making a difference when we could’ve easily thrown up our hands and embraced apathy. We’ve made an impact. We’ve grown, we’ve cried, we’ve driven ourselves to the brink.

And sometimes we lose. But Amendment One will not stand the test of time. It will be relegated to the proverbial dustbin with other similarly authored legislation—of the same ilk that once barred other minorities from sharing basic civil rights. It will instantaneously become a horrendous blight on North Carolina’s constitution, and will be an embarrassment for future legislators to repeal. It will undermine North Carolina’s vitality. Businesses will hemorrhage employees who no longer receive benefits for their children or their partners. Everyone will know someone affected. No citizen will be spared. Amendment One is a vector of a legislative epidemic.

Hateful people will always exist. But they won’t always wield majority rule. The issues that concerned generations before mine are disturbingly laughable to us today. What today’s young people care about is making a life for themselves—and doing so together, regardless of our abilities, ethnicities, or gender identities. We realize that the religious right’s latest buffeting will be the last significant wave we will have to endure—that those of us fighting for equality have droves of advocates joining us in solidarity.

We’re all part of a quilt that’s been tattered by hate, bigotry, and ignorance. But it’s slowly being patched together through proactive activism and genuine respect. Because somewhere in the madness, we realize that our respective futures hang by threads. But if they’re sewn together, our bond will never unravel.

And our success will blanket the nation.

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OutRaleigh 2012: All Families Matter, Even In The Rain

The monsoon was in full force as my friends and fellow OutRaleigh coordinators held down a collapsing, wind-torn tent while the vendor scrambled to pack away her wares. While I won’t speak for Rebecca and Kim, I’m fairly certain they’d agree that this was not how we envisioned OutRaleigh 2012 to close.

Minutes before I found the panicky vendor holding down her tent, I was ankle-deep in water after sprinting to stop a road barricade from it’s wind-blown track into busy downtown traffic. Between fragmented thoughts of wondering if my iPhone and camera had been soaked through like my bag and clothes, and realizing how ridiculously long my curls are when wet, I had to laugh at the entire situation.

A year in the making, OutRaleigh 2012 had been planned meticulously. But Mother Nature always has other plans, and we rolled with them with equal parts humor and fortitude. Because as vendors vacated their spaces, and onstage performances came to a halt, we kept going. And so did others. Out of storefronts that I passed in my frenetic sprints to and from soggy vendor spaces, people gathered and welcomed rain-soaked OutRaleigh visitors inside. Kristy Lee, one of our performers, gathered a crowd beneath a downtown business’s porch overhang and belted out her inspirational music. We were all wet, but we were all still there. Taking action, making a stand.

As with any organizational effort in which the LGBTQ community has a significant hand, there were protesting bigots who tried their best to dampen festival-goers’ spirits. Gathered on street corners, they held their religious texts aloft, reciting our collective sins and damning us all to fiery demises. On the KidsZone‘s periphery, a large group coalesced with signs, chanting hatred for young children to hear. But the most personally disturbing scene was witnessing one of the fear-mongers giving their young child an explicit sign to hold. With his tiny hands wrapped around the sign’s base, the boy served as a haunting reminder of the inculcated bigotry the LGBTQ-ally community endures every single day. But in an almost biblical way, the deluge cleansed the festival of those hateful people; they scattered and fled, like cowards usually do in the face of adversity. Those who remained celebrated life, albeit soggy.

And that’s what OutRaleigh is about: embracing diversity and living life to the fullest. We connect with and support one another when hateful zealots attempt to undermine our course, and advocate for our deaths. But we’re not going anywhere. As OutRaleigh 2012 showed me, not only can I count on dear friends to help me weather the storm, but I know there are thousands of others out there who will too.

All we have to do is continue our journey through the best and worst of times, shining brighter each step of the way, finding ourselves in the darkest hours.