Gratitude Challenge

What a week

Today, I’ve been attempting to find the best way to show my gratitude. Even when I’ve been at my most stressful, most challenging, and most blue points in Oklahoma, I’ve realized I always have something or someone for which I am grateful, thankful and full of gratitude.

To be fair, this has been a weird week. However, because I refuse to count my hours, I will simply focus on all the wonderful experiences I have had. I was able to see my Royals sweep the Angels (in-person) to advance to the ALCS. I spent an entire weekend with my sister, brother-in-law, and adorable nephew. I took Monday morning off. Had three meetings Tuesday evening and then caught the end of tech rehearsal for Miss OSU. Helped with and watch dress rehearsal for Miss OSU on Wednesday. And helped set up a program, welcome our guests, and run ballots for the Miss OSU judges this evening. Today, I had a full day of work and will soon be sleeping under my desk during my students’ lock in retreat.

So while it’s fair to say I’m more than a little smothered, covered, sauced, and fried, I still have so much gratitude to share this week.

And sharing that gratitude has been the most empowering, calming, and centering activity I have done.


Why this week?

While this week was jam packed with things to do, I was completely taken aback at how long it has taken me to find my gratitude. I spent much of the week frustrated with my situation, impatient with others, and generally not a happy person to be around. Meanwhile, throughout the week, great things were happening to me and all around me.

First, my dear friend Allison posted my #MyStoryIsBeautiful guest post to her blog, which was amazing. I had struggled with how to find the right voice for her blog without losing too much of my sense of self in the story, but I can see now by the response I have received that everything worked out just like it should. Last night, after a particularly long day, I laid on my couch in tears for about an hour because I was just so overwhelmed with the love I’d received. In case I haven’t expressed it, I am grateful to Allison for asking me to share my story and so thankful to call her a friend.

Much of that love came from friends and former teachers whose words were so touching and loving that I couldn’t hardly bear it. I was completely overwhelmed at the way these people responded. I don’t know if any/all of them have read my posts here or not, but the response to that post was just so bucket-filling. To know that these people I know, I love, and I call my friends were moved by that post or felt compelled to say something to me was just so astounding.

And then I realized that if they could express something like this at the exact right moment, then it’s time for me to begin expressing my love and gratitude to others as well.



A Challenge to Myself

So I decided. I refuse to let myself get bogged down in the challenges I face at work, in how distant I am from my family, or in how frustratingly slow of a process social justice is. Instead, I will use my time to recognize those who have brought some kind of joy into my life and express my gratitude for knowing them. Much like the “bros” in the video above, I realized that I really do not tell the people around me how much I care for them and that I love them. Whether that is some curse of the hegemony and patriarchy around me or simply a mental lapse, it is something I intend to correct.
But I want to be clear. This challenge is not about spreading something around like wildfire. I’m not trying to create a movement wherein millions of people across the globe post videos and give to a cause they know nothing about.
This is a challenge to myself. Whenever I’m struggling to find the happiness around me, I will take a step back and begin giving thanks and gratitude to those who have brought some lightness into my life.
I invite you to join me, but I won’t call you out and publicly shame you into participation. Instead, I ask you to help keep me accountable. See me posting something incredibly negative on Twitter? Empathize, but remind me to give gratitude to those around me. Did I post an entry focused on negativity? Empathize, but remind me about all the wonderful people who surround me.


#GratitudeChallenge

Let me start here: This week, I am struck by the knowledge of how much my teachers throughout my K-12 years have impacted me as an adult. From kindergarten with Mrs. Mesler through the most challenging days with Señora Ramsey as a senior, each and every teacher gave me part of themselves that I have taken with me into adulthood. The best part is that not all of my teachers were actually in my classrooms. Some of these folks didn’t start at one of my schools until I was well beyond that grade level. But I’ll never forget what they’ve all done for me.
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Coming Out (Part 3)

Trying to figure out what to say

It’s been a little while since I posted more about my coming out and that’s really just because I didn’t know how to continue. Telling my story in this chronological order doesn’t really feel right at this point. There is so much more to it than just a sequence of events. There’s so much more feeling and struggle and joy and pain and happiness in it than just “I did this and then did that and then talked to this person…”

Plus, in my timeline of this story, I’ve already reached my college years. My internal struggle at this point was essentially over. Sure, I dealt with understanding how to exist in a heteronormative world, but I knew who I was and I no longer needed to deny it. I was dealing with so many other developmental tasks at this point that my sexuality really wasn’t that salient.

If you’ve read any of my thesis, then you’ve read about how difficult it can be for a gay person to exist in the hyper-masculine fields of the sciences. And yeah, it is, but I was so much more focused on my faith development, my studies, moving toward self-authorship, and changing my professional focus from meteorology to student affairs.

By the time I was a senior at KU, however, I’d settled in my faith development, my studies were quickly winding down, and I was well on my way to finding and getting accepted to a grad school. Suddenly, my sexuality was the most salient thing in my life. I finally took the plunge and really began my coming out process at KU’s Leadershape Institute.

For those who don’t know about Leadershape, the Institute is a week-long retreat for students that focuses on social justice, vision casting, and social change. The week is incredibly transformative so each participant is put into a family cluster. Your cluster is your home base and you become very close very quick. On the first or second night, I chose to come out to family cluster. I knew I couldn’t be anything other than 100% honest with them.

That really put the first crack in the door of my closet. Next, I confessed to my friend Sarah. Shortly after, I had that conversation with my friend Kathryn that I’ve detailed before. From there, I began to live more openly. When I arrived at Nebraska, I came out on the very first day of orientation.


Coming out to family is harder than it looks

But there’s a reason that coming out to your friends and acquaintances is separate from coming out to your family in the sexual orientation identity development models. Coming out to your family is so much more incredibly challenging. With friends, you know you can always find others, that people will always come into and out of your life; that is a family you can choose.

That’s the thing about irrational fears. They cannot be rationalized…suddenly every single fear you’ve ever had about coming out that you thought you’d already worked through comes flooding back and you can. not. stop. them. 

Your actual family, on the other hand, is not something that can be changed. But they could cut off all connection. Your relationship could change. And really, what’s worse than making already awkward gatherings even more awkward. I sweat enough as it is…I don’t need the extra pressure of an awkward conversation. (To be fair, I now welcome these conversations because they make all of us better. And my immediate and extended family has been the most amazing.)

When you’re in that moment, though, where you’re trying to figure out how and when to come out to them all, there’s suddenly this irrational fear that you’ll be asked to leave that family Christmas celebration. Or that you’ll suddenly be cut off. That you’ll no longer have anywhere to call home. That you’ll no longer be welcome.

That’s the thing about irrational fears. They cannot be rationalized. I never had any doubt that my parents would be anything but supportive and loving, but I was terrified of having that conversation. Because suddenly every single fear you’ve ever had about coming out that you thought you’d already worked through comes flooding back and you can. not. stop. them. 

The reason I cried when I came out to my sister over the phone in April 2014 wasn’t because I was suddenly so relieved. It was because I knew she could finally understand me. Because I no longer had to adopt some pretense for my actions and beliefs. And because those irrational fears were finally erased. It was the same feeling as when I cried after getting into a car accident. I was quite literally in shock. I shook. I cried. I sweated through three layers of shirt. I couldn’t breathe. I felt extremely nauseated. I had to hang up and focus on finishing the last two blocks of my drive home.


Coming out really never stops

This series could literally go on forever. Unfortunately, it would start to look a lot like “Well, today I had to come out to the mail delivery person. Huzzah.”

I think that’s partially why I chose this venue to “complete” my coming out. I was tired of having to tell people. My sexual and affectional orientation is extremely important to me and sits at the very core of my being, but those conversations are exhausting. I would much rather have that 437th conversation about why I left meteorology, or explain for the 9,663,234th time that calling heavy rain a “monsoon” is outright wrong, or explain for the umpteen-trillionth time what it is that I do than have to come out one more time.

But the thing is, I know I will have to come out forever unless I’m fortunate enough to become some major worldwide celebrity…which really doesn’t seem likely. I’ll have to come out to everyone at the doctor’s office once I finally select a new primary physician, I’ll have to come out anytime someone asks me to donate blood, I’ll have to come out to my future partner (which you would think wouldn’t be necessary but, believe me, it is). But this is all ok. 

WeRise

It’s ok if for no other reason than that I was able to tell my story myself. I didn’t have to deal with people spreading rumors and secrets behind my back (that I know of). I didn’t have to deal with the threat of physical, emotional, or psychological violence related to my orientation or perceived orientation. I didn’t have to deal with the questions, the disapproving looks, and the rejection.

It’s ok if for no other reason than I know that I will never be denied healthcare because of who I am. I will never be accused to just being too greedy and deemed untrustworthy by a potential partner because of my orientation. I will never have to fight for the right to exist in the first place.

It’s ok if for no other reason than because now I am able to focus the conversation on educating others about the coming out process. I am able to speak up about my experiences with the hope of encouraging or supporting someone else. I am able to speak up without fear of losing my job, my home, or my insurance.

In the future, I am hopeful that I will be a little more consistent with posting. I am also hopeful that I can at least temporarily leave this conversation behind and move to using this blog to discuss the issues that are important to me as a first-year professional, as a social justice journeyer, and as a person.

Coming Out (Part 2)

For a brief (lol) introduction to why I’m posting a Coming Out series, check out Coming Out (Part 1.5). For some context, you may also wish to view the coming out story of Daniel Pierce, which I am still unable to watch.


Ah, Childhood

One of the first questions you get when you’re coming out is “When did you know you were gay?” For me, the answer is simple. I always knew I was more attracted to males.

Even when I was in preschool, I remember feeling more comfortable around the girls in my class or the little neighbor girl. I think all the adults around me sort of thought it was cute that I played with the girls. I’m pretty sure I was called a “Ladies Man” more than once. But I only played with them because I was more comfortable. I knew that by playing with girls I wouldn’t have to talk about who I liked or who I had a crush on. And, as they talked about boys, I could join in or at least not have to talk about girls. I knew that I could be different without being abnormal.

That is a very powerful thing, by the way. Getting to be different without having to be abnormal. There is no worse feeling in the world than knowing you’re not like everybody else and knowing that being so makes you pretty undesirable. From a very early age, I learned how to exist in stealth mode. It occurs to me now that this existence has probably led to me being a pretty loud-mouthed activist today. Oh well.

I had my first crush in kindergarten, though. Yes, it was on a boy. It was very confusing because I’d only ever heard or been told that boys liked girls. So I just assumed that it was nothing. As a kid, you have that ability; that privilege to just let things go as something you don’t understand because OH MY GOD THERE’S A NEW TOY IN THE BOX AND I HAVE TO PLAY WITH IT RIGHT NOW. Being a kid is great.


Middle School is Confusing Enough. Also, High School

Those feelings don’t just go away, though. I had them all throughout elementary school and in to middle school. That’s a weird time to begin understanding that about yourself. While I’m fortunate to have grown up in a family where I was never told that I couldn’t be something. I was always told that I would be loved unconditionally. That doesn’t mean it was any easier to understand who I was.

That’s the challenge of living in such a heteronormative culture. I never really saw gay people on TV. And when I did, they were mostly the butt of the joke (even on everyone’s favorite, FRIENDS, gay men are never portrayed positively or as successful).

In high school I had my first “girlfriend.” I put that in quotes because I knew it wasn’t real. For me, it was a way of attempting to reject my sexuality. I spent all day watching the guys in my school, but knew that I shouldn’t/couldn’t be gay, so I began “dating” my best friend. That wasn’t a good idea for a lot of reasons.

While I was in high school, I joined a church and became very active. I was looking for some way of reconciling my sexuality with a faith. I wanted to be told that it was OK. That was OK. Instead, I found an environment where if you didn’t fit into their very narrow box, you were berated, treated with a healthy dose of disapproval, and prayed for. I didn’t need to be prayed for. I needed to be accepted.


Letting Go – Or, Sometimes Life Sucks

As I was turning 18, getting ready to head off to college, and preparing to vote in my first presidential election (a monumental time by itself), I began expressing my deeply liberal worldview on Facebook and elsewhere. I was absolutely shellshocked when I was met with nothing but animosity, veiled and not-so-veiled insults, and accusations of a poor parenting structure by my church family.

I could not believe that I would get this kind of reaction from a group of people I attended services with. Our sermons were generally a very positive experience. The pastor did not preach fire and brimstone or end-of-times lessons. He generally discussed love, service, and living your faith, so it destroyed me to discover that others in the congregation had interpreted everything so differently.

While that has turned out to be a powerful character-building event for me and has led to me discovering my beliefs more fully, it was very painful to experience as I moved away from home. The most painful was realizing that the very people with whom I thought I shared an unconditional love used nothing but conditions to qualify their love for me. I realized that coming out at that time would be completely unsafe. So, as I started at KU, I remained as closeted as possible.


Thanks Again

I recognize that that’s a lot to cover in one post, so I’m going to stop it here. For those who have studied LGB identity development, I’ve already covered the first two processes in D’Augelli’s model and am working on the third stage of Cass’s model.

It’s important for me to share this part of my life as well because I want others to know that even though the struggle with their identity, they can get through it. I was fortunate to grow up in a home environment where I never truly had to fear for my safety or shelter. Even so, I struggled to accept my identity internally. It sucked. It was hard. But I’m glad I went through it because I now know that nothing can ever shake my foundations.

My next post will delve deeper into my college life and the external coming out process. Again, I want to thank everyone for reading and following my journey. I’m looking forward to finishing the bulk of this series and using it to move forward into other topics.

Be good to each other.

 

Coming Out (Part: Thank You)

First, I want to thank each and every person who took the time to read Coming Out (Part 1.5). I hadn’t intended for the post to be some kind of announcement, but the support I received (including people from whom I had vigorously hidden my sexuality) was overwhelming. And it has further proven to me that it is incredibly important for people to understand their identity, live it, and share it when necessary.

When I created this blog, I specifically wanted it to be more than just a place where I talk about my identity. I wanted to share the experience of being a first-year student affairs professional. I wanted to talk about my successes and struggles as I navigate an entirely new system and bureaucracy. I wanted to discuss my ever-evolving search for a PhD program.

But I also want to continue sharing my story. Because I know there are people around me who are still hiding a part of themselves. I want others to know there is nothing wrong with them, there is nothing to hide, and there is always someone they can talk to. 

So anyway, thanks for taking the time to read this. I’m so happy you all were here and I hope you’ll stick around. 

I’m Here. I’m Queer. But do I want to be out at work?

My Coming Out Story (In a nutshell…seriously)

I started my coming out process during my senior year of college when I came out to my friend Sarah. I was trying to figure out how to tell our mutual friend (my best friend) that I was gay and she told me to just rip off the bandage. I’d taken Kathryn to dinner and planned to tell her there (she could totally tell something was up) but I chickened out. Literally. I got The Bill Self at 23rd Street Brewery and ate so much buffalo chicken that I thought I would throw up.

So I waited. And I felt the weight of my confession literally weighing on me for the next two days until I finally just spilled. She smiled, she teared up, and then she called me an idiot (or something similar) for waiting. And our friendship became my rock.

When I moved to Nebraska to work on my Master’s degree, I’d decided that I would live openly. On the first day of Orientation, while eating lunch with three other guys in my program, the conversation of marriage came up (two of them were recently married) and they asked if I, who had been sitting so quietly, staring at my Subway, had a girlfriend. I looked up and confidently (I hope…I was literally terrified) said, “No, but I’ve got a boyfriend.”

Their response was exactly what you’d hope for: “Oh. Cool. What’s his name?”

Later that day, I came out to the rest of the group in different ways, but that moment at the lunch table has been my defining moment. That is when I began living openly as a gay man. But it wasn’t for many more months that I would come out to my family.

In April 2013, I was having an argument with my sister over a piece of legislation back home to which I was ardently opposed (but my dad had helped to write), when she asked why I was so emotionally involved. I took a deep breath and said, “Because this could affect me. Because I am gay.” Neither of us said anything for a long time. “You know that I know and that I love you, right?” she said. I lost it.

It was another two months before I came out to my parents. My mom had surprised me at work and then we went out to eat and got ice cream. While we were eating my ice cream, we discussed my thesis (“Making Their Own Way: The Experiences of Gay Male Students in STEM”) and my purpose and I chose that moment to come out. Then, when I got home to celebrate with my family the following weekend, I also came out to my dad.

My Dilemma

I am incredibly fortunate to have found such a supportive community, including my family. I still have a lot more family to whom have yet to come out, but I’m really happy with where I am. I know now that I can live openly and be myself without fearing retribution or persecution (for the most part). I’ve also recognized that I exist in a space which confers massive amounts of privilege upon me where I get to live openly and my officemates and students accept me.

But I also report to many people on my campus and if I choose to be open with them about my identity I know that it could have very negative consequences. My group could be penalized via the budget, program approvals, purchase order requests, or the general business attitude toward my office.

My students run a $150,000 budget for programming, my boss runs a similarly sized program for the arts in the community, I supervise two GTAs, a work study student, and an administrative specialist. What if my coming out were to reflect negatively upon them or make their work more difficult to do?

My fears aren’t completely unfounded, either. Recently, when attempting to bring an LGBTQ group to campus for a residency and performance series, my supervisor found nothing but roadblocks even though his advisory board had actually suggested the event and unanimously approved it. Members of my division who would describe themselves as feminists or, worse yet, women, have experienced direct oppression from the administration.

As much as I struggle with the guilt and shame that theoretically would exist if I came out professionally, I struggle more with the guilt and shame of not living authentically in my professional life.

Where I’m At Now

Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to any of this. Of course, it would be easy for some to say that I should just come out and be authentic because that’s the right thing to do. But you have to remember that although President Obama has signed an Executive Order protecting workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people, in Oklahoma, it is also still legal to fire an employee for perceived sexual orientation. The city of Stillwater does not protect its LGBTQ citizens from discrimination, either.

Others have suggested that if I experience discrimination, that I should just file a complaint with Human Resources. Unfortunately, I have already seen how ineffective that can be at my institution.

At the end of the day, I can only give so many presentations on inclusive communities, identity, and privilege & oppression before I expect to see some changes around me. Many times, I have felt as if I’m the only person on this campus who is concerned for the well-being of all students, staff, and faculty. When none of that is returned to you, it can feel incredibly isolating and defeating.

Where We Go From Here

I don’t think there’s an easy answer. We continue fighting the good fight. But we also keep supporting each other. We keep sharing our stories with each other in the hopes that we can connect and support one another.

No law will change how people feel. We have to do that. But I don’t think we have to do it alone. We can do this together.