I Still Have Hope

It’s been raining since early this morning and it’s got me in a bit of a haze. The sky is grey and there’s flooding everywhere and it’s the kind of cold out that you can’t escape from even when you’re dry. I can’t help but be melodramatic and say that my city is in mourning. Today is Martin Luther King Day and on Friday we will be saying goodbye to our nation’s first black president and inaugurating a man who I can only describe as the biggest threat to civil rights we’ve seen in quite a long time. I think my mourning city has the right idea.

A little over eight years ago, I was gathered with friends at Sidetrack on election night. I remember crying when it flashed that Barack Obama was our new president. They played Diana Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the outpouring of love that I felt as soon as that first “Ahhhh, Ahhh, Ahh, Oh” hit was an amazing feeling. People were hugging and crying and I felt something that I hadn’t ever felt before, politically speaking. I felt hope. I felt like we had turned a corner. I felt like I finally had a person in the White House who saw me. Here was a man who I admired. Who was well-spoken and charismatic. I had grown up surrounded by men who were bullies. Men who took what they wanted and didn’t care who they hurt or how they behaved. But here was a man who was elected by the people who was the antithesis of that. He was compassionate and thoughtful and smart and caring. It made me feel that I was finally living in a country where those qualities were being rewarded, rather than being pushed aside.

I grew up in a very tiny town in Northwest Ohio where the Civil Rights Movement was barely covered in history class, if at all. Although I haven’t lived there in nearly seventeen years, I can say with a large degree of certainty that there’s still not a single black family that lives there. When I stop to think about things like that, it’s easy to get blindsided by just how far we still have to go. President Obama being in office made it feel like we were at least headed in a more positive direction. With him leaving office though, it’s hard to believe that we as a nation are still pointing that way. In an opinion piece about Obama’s resilient optimism, The New York Times wrote, “Many Americans celebrated the election of the first African-American president as a welcome milestone in the history of a nation conceived in slavery and afflicted by institutional racism. Yet the bigotry that president-elect Donald Trump capitalized on during his run for office confirmed a point that Mr. Obama himself made from the start: that simply electing a black president would not magically dispel the prejudices that have dogged the country since its inception. Even now, these stubborn biases and beliefs, amplified by a divisive and hostile campaign that appealed not to people’s better instincts but their worst, have blinded many Americans to their own good fortune, fortune that flowed from policies set in motion by this president.” This most recent election, where the newly elected President of the United States has promised to undo all the progress that we have made as a country and as humans, has almost paralyzed me with grief. That we have a congress run by officials who have made it their sole mission to see the legacy of the first black President overruled rather than help the people who elected them has me feeling lost and broken. That I’m sitting here on MLK Day writing this has me feeling disgusted with our country if I’m being completely truthful. He certainly didn’t die for this.

I’m grateful that there are people like John Lewis and Elizabeth Warren and Gwen Moore and Al Franken and Lavern Cox and Nicole LeFavour and Samantha Bee and Harriet McKinney and David Crawley and Sergio Tundo who stand up for what is right and do so unashamedly and in the face of tremendous opposition. I am grateful for the support and love of groups like the Pantsuit Nation and I urge everyone to take an active role in politics and social issues going forward. I urge everyone to search their hearts and fight for what is right. Identify people you admire. Research them. Do what you can to empower the movements. Teach your children to love and be inclusive and to recognize things that are worth fighting for. Really research the people who are in these public offices that are only there to oppress this country’s people or to further their own careers and vote them out. This election didn’t happen in a vacuum. Trump was elected by the power of horrible people and on the backs of good people who did nothing to stop him.

As we gear up for yet another fight for equality, I look to the words of President Obama in his recent farewell address at McCormick Place here in Chicago. “Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair and just and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace; you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.”

If he still has hope, then so do I.

Love In the Time of War

Probably like many of the people that will read this, I have been trying to find words for how this past week and a half has me feeling. Broken, lost, and scared don’t seem to really encapsulate the storm that’s been raging in my heart and mind. I keep wanting to ask myself what kind of alternate reality I woke up to find myself in. But the more that I’ve reflected upon it, the more I’ve realized that this isn’t an alternate reality. This is the reality that I’ve always known was there. This is the reality that I grew up in. The reality that I thought that I had escaped or distanced myself from or had slinked back into the shadows to be forgotten. The reality of me walking down the halls of my middle and high schools to shouts of “fag.” The reality of my year book being taken in eighth grade only to be returned with “faggot” written on every single page. The reality of  the “good ol’ boys” in my hometown starting a “petition” to have the single black family in town “removed.” The reality of guidance councilors who did nothing to help me or stop the constant emotional and sometimes physical attacks on me. The reality of cousins turning their heads while their friends told me that I deserved to get the shit kicked out of me for something that I myself hadn’t even figured out yet. That is the reality that I recognize and that is the America that many people know all too well. Over the past year and a half since the presidential campaign started, this reality has been threatening to rear it’s ugly, hateful head. And now, it’s here. “Hopeless” seems like a far better word to describe my feelings.

Following the election, I more or less went numb. Even a week and a half later, I’ve found it difficult to focus on much of anything for more than minutes at a time. The home that I’ve created with my fiancé has felt cold and foreign and empty, like it’s not even ours anymore and I’ve cried more than once on the train to and from work. I’ve been accused of being an “urban elite,” as if that’s even a thing. That because I live in a city, I’m out of touch with rural America. But an America that doesn’t allow LGBTQ people or people of color sounds a hell of a lot more “elite” to me. Rural America drove me out of my hometown with torches and pitchforks fifteen years ago, and now they’re trying to do it again. But I’m supposed to sit and empathize with them? Rural America has taken too much for me, and I’m just not sure I have any empathy left. We’ve all lost jobs. We all struggle to pay bills. These struggles are not exclusive to Rural America. But Rural America’s joblessness has nothing to do with a trans kid feeling safe and protected. What the hell does accepting swastikas painted on a girl’s locker in Cedarburg, Wisconsin have to do with getting Rural America their jobs back? What the fuck does terrorizing Muslims have to do with the economy?

This is everyone’s America. To succeed doesn’t mean that someone else has to fail. To die.

14990992_10154671458282528_308071309055262681_oThe one thing that I have realized again about myself since the election, however, is that I am built to fight. I am built to withstand the storm. I am built to rise up and fight for myself and for those who can’t. I will not go back to being the frightened kid, scared to walk down the street. I won’t be the boy who bit his tongue and was too scared to stand up to the bullies who made it their goal to break me or the people who were supposed to protect me and refused. But first, I need to rest and refuel. I have to replenish the energy that’s been drained from me. I have to walk and play the Hamilton soundtrack and attend Pride events and listen to knowledgeable and caring people. I have to plan my wedding and love my fiancé. And then I have to get to work.

A wise woman once told me that, “We’re allowed to take a break. But we’re not allowed to give up.”

And I won’t.

Maybe I Won’t Die Alone After All

In a few short months, Michael and I will be moving in together. Two months and twenty seven days to be exact. To say I’m that terrified would be understatement.

free-moving-boxesI haven’t lived with anyone for over twelve years, and I wouldn’t exactly say I’m easy to live with. I’m particular, I like my space and my things, and I need a great deal of alone time. These attributes have softened a bit since Michael and I started dating a little over a year ago, but I’m still a little frightened for his safety.

It’s not that I ever saw myself living alone forever. I just sorta blinked and a decade had gone by. Revealing all the ways I’m not a complete grown-up has always been scary for me. Like, what’s gonna happen when he finds out that I sometimes go full days without ever once putting on pants? Or that I sometimes watch the series finale of Six Feet Under just to cry. While I don’t necessarily think that any of my “single behavior” is a deal-breaker, I could probably go the rest of my life without Michael finding out first-hand what I can do to a bathroom after eating dinner at Flat Top.

Soon enough we’ll start looking for an apartment to co-habitate and then we’ll go about the delicate business of deciding which of our own prized possessions meets the others’ standard of living. Will I be able to make peace with the fact that he owns more IKEA than either he or I would care to admit? Will he be able to handle the hodgepodge hand-me-down furniture that I love? And most importantly, can either of us handle each other’s hands on our stuff?

And how do we know that this is even the right move? Have I lived alone for so long because I’m incapable of sharing the same space as another human being? Of course I’ve read all the pre-move in blog entries. Huffington Post says there are five things we should ask before moving in together. Those questions are all well and good, but what about questions like, “What should I be doing when you’re being a huge brat?” and, “What is an acceptable amount of alone time?” “Am I allowed to tell your cat to STFU after she’s whined for an hour?” These are the important questions and am I a total dick for asking them?

I do believe that Michael and I are approaching this merger as adults and that there really won’t be a ton of snags along the way. I love him. He loves me. We handle problems pretty quickly and easily. We already have a drawer and a toothbrush and keys to each others’ places. We spend most of our time together. I think that what I really need to do is get out of my own way and be happy about taking this step with such an amazing guy.

He’d be lucky to have me anyway. I come with a rather impressive dowry of tireless wit, out-of-print comic books, and a semi-decent DVD collection. And one asshole cat.

Walk Through Walls: The Second Coming of Kitty Pryde

Shortly into our relationship, I asked Boyfriend the most important question anyone can be asked ever. “If you had your choice of mutant powers, what would you choose?” He told me that he’d choose the ability to turn intangible. To phase through solid objects and walk through walls like Kitty Pryde. I’m pretty sure my choice would be to be able to teleport from one place to another or flight so that I’d never have to take another damn bus again.

I recently took him home to meet my family for the first time and things went well. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the whole thing, but I wasn’t nervous for the reasons that you’d 3922773e6ff327f46c611d824b4c3999expect. I wasn’t nervous about them meeting him. I wasn’t nervous about him meeting them. I was nervous for him to see my interaction with them. I’ve never had a very high patience threshold for my family. It’s something I’ve been working on for the past year, but no one can push my buttons quite like my family. I’ve never introduced anyone I was dating to my family for this exact reason. I knew there’d be a time where I’d had enough and I’d snap on either my mother or my brother and I’d really look like an asshole even if I’d been justified. So I built a wall around my family and I and the outside. But there I was, introducing Boyfriend to my family and my head wasn’t absolutely exploding. (Even with a little snag at the very end of the weekend, we all got out relatively unscathed.)

Throughout my life, I’ve gotten through tough times and situations by putting expiration dates on everything. I’d get through projects I didn’t like at work by reminding myself that it was just a project and would be over in a set time. I got through school the same way. It started spilling over into the good things though too, and made even happy times just something I had to get through. It really made dating difficult. I’d meet someone and already be counting down the minutes thinking about how soon I could be done with the date. Half the time I’d only half listen in conversations. I wouldn’t even bother really getting to know someone because I was making sure that it wouldn’t last or have a chance to go anywhere meaningful. I’d erected walls around my life basically. Carefully constructed mazes in my head to keep myself from getting off track or even looking at my surroundings. I’d transformed everything into a task to be completed. A hall to walk down. Being with Boyfriend has been a completely new and different experience for me. For the first time in as long as I can remember  — maybe ever — I’ve found myself thinking of things as open-ended. We’ve talked about our futures together. I’ve actually let myself realize that the future is something further down the road than three months.

When I was just coming out, I fell hard for a guy I met during my first stint in college. I was completely and totally infatuated with him and I spent the better part of a decade sewing the pieces of my heart back together after he shredded it. There were plenty of guys after him who left plenty of scars, but by then I was already largely done building up my defenses and failsafes. Cement brick by cement brick, I’d inclosed myself inside a structure strong enough to weather whatever I knew was gonna be thrown at me. I’d always thought that love was something that the other person also had to feel for you to be considered “in love.” I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell any of those guys how I felt, even if I’d been growing immune to whatever their feelings for me might’ve been. With Boyfriend, I’ve been removing pieces of that armor. Enough to let in a little light and enough to let out an “I love you.”

Maybe Boyfriend already has Kitty Pryde’s powers.  Or maybe I’ve inherited them from him and it’s me who’s walking through the walls I’ve built in my life. Whatever the reason, being a mutant in love is pretty fucking rad.

Grudge Match

When listing skills on my resume of life, one thing I’ve always had is the ability to hold a grudge. Trust me, if you were ever mean to me or even just short with me, I’ve got it filed away. Color-coded, alphabetized, locked in the vault and probably labeled with “fuck that bitch” in big bold letters. Probably in Gotham Black at 24 point size. I’ve held grudges against people, against time periods, against cities and even against myself. I’ve held onto things from when I was ten years old and one thing I know for certain is this: carrying around a grudge can lead to some serious back problems.

When I moved to the city, I moved here for my three best friends. Maybe I was trying too hard to fit us into a little gay Sex And The City mold, but I was devastated when the first of them moved away to teach in Thailand. One night at dinner he just casually dropped it in our laps. Like it was something that commonly happened. “I’m going to the grocery store.” “I’m giving up carbs.” “I’m moving to Thailand.” And then he was gone. Poof. I didn’t talk to him for the first three months he was there. I was angry that he just left without at least mentioning it was something he was thinking of doing. He came back after nine months, went out to California and never came back again. I felt destroyed all over again. He’d left me twice and didn’t look back.

Another friend started dating someone and instantly moved in with him. He stopped being the friend I knew. He had changed and I was determined to believe that it was for the worse. It was like I blinked and he just went on growing into a different person while I was stuck in the same place spinning my wheels because no one told me how to really live life. How dare he leave me without direction?! What good is being Carrie Bradshaw when there’s no Miranda Hobbs by your side? He had ruined my perfect television life and I wasn’t gonna let him get away with it. The problem though, is that I tend less to actually air my grievances than to just sit and wallow in them.

Other people came and went. Girlfriends were especially hard. Fact: there is no other demographic of people who will drop a gay BFF faster than a straight girl who just got married. It’s like, “Bye, Felicia.” Except guess what. You’re the Felicia.

I’ve flown into faux jealous rages over guys who I didn’t even want to date in the first place got caught making out with randoms in the bar. In true dramatic fashion, I’ve ceremoniously burned gifts, manuscripts and memories over a grudge I was convinced was deserved. I’ve stink-eyed my way through every single bar in this god-forsaken town. I’ve deleted more Facebook friends through clenched teeth and squinty eyes than I’d care to admit. I’ve stormed out of enough parties to make storming out of parties “my thing.” And all it’s gotten me is a reputation for being a world-class asshole.

tumblr_n9c0fnan8x1s7zen1o1_500A wise woman once told me that you don’t have to walk around with all that baggage. It’s a lot easier to stick it all in a locker and take the key rather than lug everything around with you. When it comes to the shit from your past, no one’s luggage looks like this season’s Louis Vuitton, so it’s best to just let it go Adele Dazeem style. Splattered all around Chicago, you can find the word “FORGIVE” painted on sidewalks or random curbs. The “FORGIVE YOURSELF” ones are harder to find – maybe because that tends to be the hardest grudge to give up. The one you have with yourself. All that crap you did or didn’t do. All the shit you’ve talked about someone else. The times you’ve let someone else down. The times you’ve let yourself down. Let it go.

The point is, a grudge is really only keeping you from moving forward with your own life. What’s the point of being weighed down because some dickhead shoved past you in a crowded bar or because one of your friends needed to make a change in their life that didn’t include you. Everyone is just trying to get to where they need to be and nine times out of ten they’re not trying to hurt you – even if they’re not being totally careful with your feelings. Move on with your life. Believe me, it’s really fucking difficult, but it tends to get easier the more you do it. Who wants to be laying on their death bed blabbering on and on about all the people that pissed them off?

Throw your shoulders back and let the grudges fall off. You’ll walk a little taller, you’ll look at things a little differently and you’ll be a lot happier.

Coming of Age

A year ago, I set out to fall in love with a city. I laid out a plan to immerse myself in Chicago. To really find out if I and it had what it takes to make a life together. Goals to visit parts of the city I’d never been to, intentions to drink less and see old friends more. Turns out that plan didn’t really work for me, and things ended up getting a lot worse before they got better.

I moved to Chicago because I had exhausted all my options everywhere else I’d lived. I grew up in Ohio, then followed my mom to Kenosha, Wisconsin after I failed out of college in my second year. You actually have to go to class when you’re in college I guess. I moved in with a roommate for a year and then moved up to Milwaukee once she realized I was a terrible roommate. I moved into a place of my own three months later after realizing that the girls I was living with then were the terrible roommates. I lost a bit of my soul to retail. I gained a little of it back by working at a non-profit. I moved to Chicago because my friends were here. I toiled away in shitty salon job after shitty salon job before finally deciding to go back to school and get my degree in graphic design. My friends moved away. I was left here. I’m still here.

I laid out the plan to embrace my life. But I was really laying out a plan to embrace a life; any life. I’d shuffled along for so long and I was finally starting to admit to myself that I didn’t see anything better. That I felt completely lost. Lost and living in a city that doesn’t exactly help you when you’re feeling lost.

It turns out what I really needed to do to start the process was start letting go of a bunch of bullshit. It’s a strange feeling when you wake up one morning and you’re in the thirties and you’re wondering what the hell happened to put you where you are. It’s an even stranger feeling to wake up like that year after year. And even stranger yet when you really take the time to examine exactly what your role was in bringing you to that point. I thought that trying to fall in love with my city would be the answer. I thought that once I really loved where I lived and got that feeling that so many other Chicagoans have that everything would finally fall into place and I’d be a shiny, happy person that everyone wanted to be around and would call to go to fucking brunch on Sunday mornings and we’d gab about our great weekends and just generally be awesome. I thought I’d be awesome. Instead, I was just a drunk. And all those years of inaction had actually lead me to where I was.

I started going to therapy. I realized that it wasn’t going to matter where I lived as long as I was still carrying around all the crap that I’d been carrying around. I started making actual goals. I started getting over my feelings of abandonment and betrayal. I started finding things that I liked to do and places I liked to go.

I started to feel less lost.

Which brings us back here a year later. Laying out a new plan for this endeavor. No bullet-pointed blueprints. No numbered quick-fixes. Just life and a greater attempt to live it.

I Got My Pride

The Pride Parade here in Chicago has always been one of my favorite events of the entire year. It’s really any kind of display of community celebration that really gets me going, but Pride is an especially fantastic time. I also like fireworks, but that’s neither here nor there.

This year, someone had the idea to split Pride up between two weekends – Pridefest was last weekend and the Pride Parade is this coming Sunday. I don’t exactly know the reason for the split, but I have a feeling it had something to do with the bars being able to make double the income from two huge gay weekends. A good friend of mine that I met in school owns a tee shirt company geared towards the ladies who love ladies and I worked her booth at Pridefest this past weekend. It was a great chance to be at the fest while still being apart from it, and after two days of hocking tee shirts to lesbians, I was BEAT. I’m a little sad that I ended up missing all the entertainment because I heard Deborah Cox and Neon Hitch were amazing, but a boy can’t be all places at once. It also provided a nice opportunity to experience the fest while still having a space to sit down and relax and breathe between onslaughts of rabid lesbians trying to get their novelty tee fix. Plus, being able to people watch from the sidelines at Pridefest offers an interesting vantage point. Only at a gay street festival is only wearing mesh underwear considered acceptable attire. You just can’t get away with that shit at Ribfest, y’know?

Simply put, I’ve always liked the parade because it makes me happy. Easy as that. It’s a time to celebrate, and with this week’s historic overturn of DOMA, gay people everywhere have even more reason to celebrate. But for me, the parade goes deeper than just gay pride. It goes to just having pride period. Being happy with who I am and excited about the places my life is going. It’s easy to get annoyed with the crowds and all the drunk assholes, but at Pride I try to look past all of that. So far this year I haven’t really been able to do that with much of my life. Pride seems like a good place to work all that shit out.

I had a date last night with a kid I met at the fest and we went to a CS Magazine party at a furniture studio in River North. A nice little cocktail open house with champagne and hors d’oeuvres. Then we went to Boarding Room for a martini before saying goodnight. Instead of just hopping on the train and heading home, I walked down State Street and just took in the city like I haven’t done in a really long time. And for the first time in a really long time I didn’t feel like I was fighting with Chicago and I really did own a piece of it. A small little corner of it was mine. The air had this charge that I used to feel when I first moved here. Maybe last night I felt like so many other people do when they talk about their affinity towards this city.

So whether you make it to the parade or not this weekend, take a minute to take inventory of yourself and where you’re at and find a little space that you’re proud of and celebrate it. And maybe dig out a pair of mesh underwear and strut your stuff like you were meant to.