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Be Proud

I was a freshman in high school when Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die in the coldness of Laramie, Wyoming. News of his attack trickled down through my small town’s news and gossip mills—the entire twisted, tragic narrative framed as something problematic and salacious. Few discussed it openly, and those who did defaulted to the deeply flawed victim-blaming mentality: he had it coming, after all. So I policed myself even more, venturing further into my closet’s shadows.

I’d known I was different since I was eight. Without the vocabulary to really capture what I knew, I entertained the thought that I had some innate superhero ability, or some amazingly unique, mutant-like advantage. But it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I quietly admitted to myself that, in all likelihood, I was gay. Only one classmate actually came out, and he—and his family—were smeared across the front page of the local paper, and he and his boyfriend were given wide berth at the prom. From the periphery of the dance floor, I’d watched them watch each other, my eyes falling to their clasped hands. That’s what I wanted. Still, I never verbalized my truth, made it real, until I was nearly finished with college.

***

The Pulse massacre last year ripped through the LGBTQIA+ community; I was visiting my family in Alabama, and walked into the living room—eyes still bleary from sleep—to my parents glued to the screen, their faces screwed up in horror. My heart rate quickened and I started sweating and I walked out the front door. I kept going for a mile, circling through our family’s land and ending up back at an old, shattered playground my grandparents had helped my parents build. My ex-husband and I were in the middle of separating, and would, weeks after I returned, decide to divorce. But still, we talked through the sheer tragedy of this latest news, hearing our words echo back to one another over the phone, the world suddenly feeling so much smaller, even more fragile.

Months later, as the malignancies of the 2016 election revealed the extent to which this nation is still so deeply racist and misogynistic, I felt a hollowness I’d experienced all those closeted years ago. Again, the future felt so fragile—knowing the ensuing violence espoused from on high would be mapped more vehemently and pointedly onto people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ people, and women.

***

So many people have been lost over the past year, the vast majority of whom being people of color.

I made the mistake of reading an article today that advocated for dissolving National Coming Out Day. The author was a cis, white, gay man whose utter lack of history and severe cognitive dissonance made me cringe. I disagreed with every single one of his points. Now more than ever, LGBTQIA+ people must be visible; we must show that we aren’t going anywhere, that the future will only get browner, queerer, and—mother goddesses be willing—more female.

Reading his suggestions, I thought back to when I came out over 12 years ago. It was a crucial, life-saving decision; the act of bringing voice to what I’d long since known quieted the malevolent voices in my mind, and stemmed the self-harming actions and suicidal thoughts that’d skewed my perception of what my future would look like. In coming out, I wrested power back from those whose narrow worldviews kept me barricaded within my private torture chamber. My mind could only take so much trauma before it went into a numbing survival mode, blunting senses and joy—clouding my mind’s eye with a grayed shroud devoid of hope.

Being out and visible for anyone is a courageous exercise. And for me, I’m quickly reminded of how much privilege I carry as a white, cis, gay man—the relative security I’m ensured that is so far out of reach for my trans* family and friends, especially trans* women of color.

Dark, uncertain times necessitate that we band together; the more closely bound we are—the more vigilant and outspoken we are, the more protective we are of our neighbors who aren’t afforded the same privileges—the better equipped we’ll be to combat the growing chill, the biting hatred of legislative rollbacks.

This National Coming Out Day, I hope more people come out and don’t tacitly endorse heteronormative behaviors that inform dangerous, violent actions.

Each of us is endowed with a moral compass. And it’s up to us to reorient the national narrative—even by taking slow, iterative steps in times like these—to advance and promote a future in which we’re all recognized as people deserving of basic, inalienable rights.

We must be confident and authentic—and wield those sources of power compassionately.

 

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Same-Sex Marriage? Must Be the Fiery End Times. (But I Don’t Even Have A Sunburn.)

My brain is still a gelatinous blob of nothingness when Andy calls.

“Isn’t the news exciting?!”

With my mental hourglass still turning, waiting for my responses to load, my mind thumbs through options.

Did we have a baby?

Have we adopted another geriatric dog?

Did we win the lottery?

He senses my uncertainty – probably tipped off by the prolonged “Durrrrrr…uhhhh…

“GAY MARRIAGE IS LEGAL!”

Toby smells himself. I awaken.

“HOLYFUCK…SHIT!”

Of course this would be the morning when I’d convinced myself not to immediately open Facebook. No, cut the cord a little bit. Give yourself some mental space to think. And so I’d stared at the morning light filtering through the windows, thought about my impending phone interview, and watched Toby drag his ass across the floor – ending at his food bowl where he waited expectantly.

So the SCOTUS ruling had been mentally supplanted a bit by my concern that Toby’s anal glands needed to be expressed again.

But now I know. And Andy gives me a minute to collect my thoughts, cry, and call him later.

Online, a giant rainbow cloaks every news page, and I can’t believe this day is actually here. We’d been on pins and needles before with DOMA, and every other time something idiotic was passed down from on high – on both federal and local levels. But now, we were equal in the eyes of the law.

And, most certainly, conservatives are soon to be calling this the END TIMES, what with “post-racial society” statements being tragically disproven, Confederate flags being removed, and LGBTQIAers being able to marry. Surely, society is caving in on itself like a dying star. Only rapture will save the righteous. But we’ve been through the End Times a couple times before, and I don’t even have a sunburn.

The enormity of this decision can’t be overstated. Not only is this a legal victory, it’s a moral victory. Now, rather than being demonized and dehumanized by legislation – by talks from hyper-conservative pundits, by stupid business owners given airtime – we FINALLY have something more substantial than DOMA being stricken down a year ago today. Today, we have the beginnings of a delicately balanced playing field – a harbinger of societal change and restructuration. Now is the time to celebrate, but also to remember there’re so many more fights to wage for fair housing, benefits, and everything in between.

It’s time to reach out and promote peace and understanding across the spectrum of humanity – while there’s this victory, there’s still a long way for this country to go on minority rights, and acknowledging racial tensions, climate change, a living wage, on and on ad nauseum.

We still have a long way to go as a country, but at least now our national whole is a little more colorful.

YASSSSSSSSSSSS.

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Call’em Out. The Haters, I Mean.

Y’all. I think it goes without saying that we’re all thrilled for Caitlyn Jenner. And by “we” I mean my friends and family and everyone in my life who matters.

The haters, however, can suck it.

It never takes long for willfully ignorant trash to voice their opinions, concerns, and general lack of social awareness and tout it all as sound, reasonable feedback. Alright, I’ll go ahead and admit it: I let Facebook fools get to me. There you have it. I’m one of the ones who bites when people say dumb shit, and I let my blood boil at their insidiously inflammatory commentary after the fact.

But you know what? I never regret biting. And you know why? Because those idiots need to hear an opposing view. They’re the kind of people who take silence to be passive affirmation – they’re of the ilk to think everyone’s on their side. When, in fact, most of us are laughing at their ignorance, or being the bigger person and letting it roll off us – using it as an example of “not stooping to their level.”

Well, it’s hard for me to let some things go. Especially when I know first-hand the social isolation, fear, anger, and debilitating sadness that can rack a person who’s questioning their identity. And I can only imagine that such feelings are multiplied exponentially for trans individuals, especially youth.

As I’ve said before, the “T” of LGBTQIA often gets lost in the shuffle – trans lives are so often talked about relative to the periphery, rather than in relation to the whole. But I hope that with more education, as more prominent figureheads (like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn) and local leaders speak up and legislation is passed, that being and identifying as trans will no longer have the added social stigma within and outside the LGBTQIA community.

I hope that people will think before they say completely debased, idiotic things that they think are funny or witty or cute, and really register what those callous remarks translate to, and how much damage they can do. It’s no wonder that so many kids are committing suicide – no matter how closely knit their supportive web, it only takes one horrific, monstrous comment to undo so much. Especially when one’s internal dialogue is already so exhaustively ongoing, stress-inducing, and debilitating.

When I was in high school, identifying as gay – much less trans – wasn’t an option. Liking art, or being overly involved in drama, or just being quiet and reserved had a way of casting you in a less than acceptable light. Anything outside the mainstream was never talked about, and if it was, only in hushed tones. There was only one kid in my grade who came out, and his senior year was made a living hell for it. He was even on the front page of the local newspaper.

Years ago, I reached out to him and told him how much his bravery meant to me – and that I was sorry for not being myself back then. By the time I reached out to him, I’d already put myself through my own trials and tribulations, had already pulled myself back from the suicidal brink, and vowed never to let myself sink back into that darkness. So when I see or read or hear people gleefully, playfully pushing anyone around or making intensely insensitive remarks – even virtually, even about celebrities who will always be in a realm all their own – I open my big mouth, or rap away on the keyboard to let them know that they’re not in high school anymore. They can’t bully and not expect resistance.

Haters will always hate – because, really, that’s all they have. That’s the only way they feel relevant. But decent people can always be decent. You can always speak up, you can always push back; you have a voice, so use it – and use it for the right reasons.

Speak up for those who could use a friend. Speak up for those who don’t have the glitz of Hollywood on their side. Do something to help them find their voice, and help them hear it over the ignorant prattle.

And always tell the haters where they can stick it. And remind them that they’re a little fish in a rapidly drying pond.