Love, Casey

Earlier this month I saw the coming-of-age and coming-out movie Love, Simon. It was touching, heart-warming, and made me wonder when we stopped sharing our own coming out stories.

I came out 18 years ago in Austin at the age of 21. It seemed that whenever I met another gay guy, we’d inevitably share when and how we came out. I think the last time I shared the story was when I met Daniel 5.5 years ago, and before that I don’t even remember. Nor have I heard coming out stories from others in recent history either.

When did we stop sharing our stories? Why don’t we tell them anymore? Was it just too long ago? Is it because I live in a very accepting part of the country now so the stories have less impact? Are they just too painful and we’d prefer not to remember?

Should we dust off our stories and retell them? Much like the heartbreaking stories of the AIDS crisis that so heavily influenced what it meant to be gay in America in the 80s — stories that we’ve stopped telling and are slowly disappearing — are we losing part of gay culture by not telling our coming out stories?

I think we are. I think we’re doing a disservice thinking that people coming out today, young and old, don’t struggle and don’t need to hear that they are not alone in that struggle.

To quote the King of Pop, let’s start with the man in the mirror…

My story

I finally admitted I was gay in 2000 right after college while living in Austin. I’d known it for years but “praying away the gay” had been a miserable failure and I was desperate to stop living a lie.

The very first person I came out to, tearfully, was my good friend Megan who accepted me with open, loving arms. I remember her telling me that me being gay didn’t change anything about our relationship, and it hasn’t. I can’t tell you how relieving it was to finally tell someone and to be loved regardless. I can say without exaggeration that her response to me coming out saved my life.

One of the first people at work I came out to was my friend Jonobie — a woman who has since become my very best friend. Only minutes after coming out to her, she almost punched a guy making homophobic comments. A few months later I came out to my teammate Jenny and she went from utter disbelief to trying to set me up within seconds.

But other interactions weren’t so rosy.

Like Simon in the movie, I came out to my parents at Christmas. Unlike Simon, my parents are conservative evangelicals. There were tears, words of “why are you making this choice?”, “you just haven’t found the right girl yet”, “but you’ll never have kids”, “what did I do wrong?”, “you should see a counselor”, etc. Lets just say that it didn’t go well and has been a very rocky path since. I envy loving, accepting, affirming parents like Simon’s.

I came out to another close college friend sometime in 2001. We use to attend church together in college. I honestly don’t remember the details of coming out to him, but he didn’t accept me with open arms. We remained friends, albeit of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” variety. When I got engaged to Benjamin he wasn’t able to tell me he was happy for me because he believed being gay was a sin. But the story takes a turn for the better when in 2009 he messaged me and said that his sister, whom he is very close to, came out to him and he was able to lovingly accept her. In his letter he apologized for hurting me when I came out to him and thanked me for giving him a chance to wrestle with some of the issues before his sister came out to him. Helping this man be able to accept his sister may be the thing I am proudest of in my life, because I know how much I wanted that for myself.

And it doesn’t end there. Society assumes that everyone is straight unless proven otherwise, so every interaction with a new person may turn into a coming out story. At some point it almost becomes second nature for those of us living in liberal, accepting areas of the country. (I’m sure I came out to some random clerk at the grocery store just last week trying to find something for Daniel.) For others in more rural or conservative areas, life exists in the closet because coming out is a risky ordeal, only undergone for specific people.

Your story

Stories help reveal our humanity, our realness to others. Within our stories we find common ground and commonalities. Coming out stories are no different.

If you’re LGBTQ+, what’s your coming out story?

If you’re not LGBTQ+, what’s a story of when someone came out to you?

So who’s the girl in the relationship?

Earlier today while Daniel was mowing the lawn and I was washing dishes I recalled a close friend’s parent asking them “who was the girl” in my relationship. The question surfaces up one of the things I think is most awesome about same-sex relationships: there are no “expected” gender roles so we get to do whatever works for us expectation-free.

Daniel and I split up some of the classic gender roles in a variety of ways, usually playing to our strengths (he loves the outdoors and nature) and personalities (I’m an OCD clean-freak).

  • He usually cooks and I do the dishes. When I bake he does dishes.
  • We both wash and fold laundry.
  • He mows the lawn. He gardens.
  • He deals with the compost. I take the trash and recycling out.
  • I vacuum the house. He cleans the toilets.
  • We both do the grocery shopping.
  • He takes care of the pets (and by pets I mean house plants).
  • I wash the car. He takes pictures of me washing the car.
  • He handles the house plumbing. I take care of the electrical work.
  • We both work; I make more than he does (tech vs government sectors).
  • Daniel does more of the emotional labor in the relationship (this is something I acknowledge and am working on).
  • I pester him about calling his mother and reminding him of friends’ birthdays.
  • I throw pottery. He blows glass. We both sew.
  • He does woodworking. I write code.
  • I lift weights and run. He rides a bike and played rugby.
  • I’m vain about my hair (and never notice when he gets his cut).
  • We both have some body-image issues.

Of course, most of the time when someone asks that question they’re really talking about sex. And to that I just have to laugh because it does nothing but highlight just how limited some people’s ideas of sex actually are. If you have to ask the question, you’re probably doing sex wrong.1


1 And frankly, that’s none of their damn business anyway. What’s wrong with these people?

Gay community at Critical

Last week Daniel and I attended Critical Northwest, the annual Seattle-region Burning Man. This was our second time to go, the first was in 2015, and one of the things that we felt was lacking in 2015 was a sense of gay community.

This year we put a concerted effort into building and fostering queer community before the event. In the spirit of radical inclusion we decided to focus on a larger queer1 community rather than just a gay community. We created a Facebook sub-group for Critical Northwest Queers to create ideas, we contacted theme camps and encouraged them to host queer-centric events, and we collated and displayed all queer events as part of the Queer Agenda with Camp Waystation during the week.

And overall I think our efforts were successful! I heard from numerous people how they felt that the event this year was explicitly, not just implicitly, queer-friendly and welcoming. The spirit of queer-inclusion seemed to bleed over into other camps flying various Pride flags which was fantastic.

But a queer community does not necessarily imply a gay community. Over the course of the week out of ~1200 participants Daniel and I only found 10 other male-identified people that seemed a part of the gay community — that seemed like our people — and very few of those attended the queer events. So while it felt really great knowing that others were finding their community this year, it was frustrating to feel that we still weren’t finding ours after putting a concerted effort into it.

There are a plethora of possibilities as to why so few gay men went to Critical. Perhaps there were well more than 10 other gay men out there that we never met. Perhaps gay men who were there didn’t identify as queer or weren’t looking for a community. Perhaps gay men are less likely to attend a regional burn (I don’t know what percentage of Burning Man participants are gay men). Perhaps this was an off year. Perhaps my expectations and hopes were just too high.

Regardless of the reason we don’t feel like we found our community at Critical.


1 Yes, I used the word queer although I still cringe internally every time. LGBTQ+ is utterly unpronounceable.

#putashirton body shames men

Fruit of the Loom has a new, and rather clever, marketing campaign for their t-shirts: PutAShirtOn.org. Their tongue-in-cheek video1 explains that the real reason for all the shirtless selfies on social media is because the guy’s shirts are poor quality and are getting “ripped” and “shredded”. Their social media campaign suggests that people comment on these photos with a #putashirton hashtag, which ties into Fruit of the Loom’s marketing campaign, and promote their EverSoft shirts.

It’s clever.

It’s also body shaming men.

I spent all of my childhood and most of my adult life hating how I looked and feeling ashamed of my body. I remember in middle school my dad took my brother and I to an after-school basketball program. I had so much shame taking my shirt off for the “skins” team that I refused to go back after the first night.

In college I remember riding my bike one day without a shirt on. Some assholes in a truck pulled up besides me at a stop sign and mocked me to “put a shirt on that ugly body”, laughed, and drove off.

It wasn’t until two years ago that I did enough mental and physical work to like how I looked. After feeling more confident I started posting some pictures to Instagram (warning: I’m often shirtless). Positive reinforcement of those pics by friends and strangers helped reinforce that I’m not ugly. I can easily imagine how shamed I would have felt at the beginning of that journey if someone had posted this marketing hashtag to my shirtless posts. (Today I would just consider them trolls and delete them.)

Feel free to roll your eyes at we narcissists (or want-to-be narcissists) posting shirtless selfies, but please don’t use this marketing hashtag to shame us.


1 A video which includes generally slim guys, most of them white, and all but one of them smooth, thus further perpetuating this as the “right” way that men should look. To their credit, it isn’t all really buff guys, so there’s at least that.

Thankful for Chosen Family

Today, and always, I am thankful for my chosen family. They have celebrated with me during my victories and supported me during my lowest moments. They will always and forever be the people I hold closest to my heart.

For those of you not familiar with the term, chosen family are those friends who are so close that they are like family — often closer than your biological one.

I discovered the first of my chosen family 20 years ago when I left home for TAMS and really began to discover who I am. I rediscovered others at A&M who have adopted me whole heartedly into their lives and with whom I chat every week. My chosen family made coming out of the closet possible, were my rock in that storm of my life, and they love me exactly as I am, imperfections and all. We dance at country & western gay bars, run half-marathons, play D&D & board games, and can chat about any and everything endlessly for hours. Not to mention traveling the world together and the ability to talk about literally anything.

My chosen family celebrated with me at my “wedding” in Texas, mourned when Prop 8 passed in CA, celebrated like crazy people when gay marriage passed in WA, and then celebrated again even more when it became the law of the land. My chosen family mourned with me and supported me through my divorce and helped me pick up the pieces. My ex-husband continues to be a part of my chosen family. As is my wonderful partner Daniel.

Members of my chosen family have travelled thousands of miles to visit me in every city I’ve ever lived in after college. They text or call me on every birthday. They have shown much more than passing interest in what is going on in my life, including excitedly asking about every boyfriend I have ever dated.

I am so incredibly fortunate to have the love and support of a small group of amazing people who I am proud to call my family. To my chosen family: thank you and I love you.

Celebrating 16 Years of Gayness

Today is National Coming Out Day and I’m celebrating 16 years of gayness.

I came out of the closet in 2001 at the age of 22 after being mired in self-loathing for years due to my fundamentalist religious upbringing. When I came out I was very fortunate to be living in a progressive city (keep Austin weird, y’all), have a solid job with an LGBT-friendly company (thank you IBM!), not be financially dependent upon my parents in any way, and have friends who accepted me with love1.

Coming out of the closet and admitting to myself, and my friends, that I am gay was a turning point in my life. It’s not been perfect, but I’ve never been happier to be able to live my authentic life at home and at work.

There those among us who think we don’t need National Coming Out Day, that by intentionally coming out and celebrating it we are preventing gayness from being fully normalized and accepted in society. To that I reply: check your privilege.2

Coming out risks rejection from loved ones and peers. Many LGBTQ-folks are financially dependent upon their parents and risk being kicked out of their homes; a disproportionate number of homeless youth are LGBTQ. In numerous states, if you come out to your employer they can fire you. For many people there are real, tangible risks to living an authentic life.

For those of us who have a preponderance of privilege, I believe we have a moral responsibility to come out. Coming out establishes an expectation of acceptance, similar to our expectations of justice and liberty. Coming out, and being out, help creates that normalcy of gayness that will ultimately reduce National Coming Out Day to a mere Hallmark Holiday, with as much emotional and life-changing consequences as getting a greeting card.

Until then, if you can, I encourage you to be very visibly out. Let’s help create those places for fellow LGBTQ-folks to be safe and help blaze the trail of acceptance that those before us started.

Thanks to my friend Jason Lucas for helping me coalesce my thoughts on this.


1 The second person I came out to was a woman I had worked with for just a few short months: Jonobie Ford. Seventeen years later she remains my best friend.

2 Alternatively: “you try growing up in a small town in the south in a state where it’s legal to be fired for being gay in a fundamentalist conservative Republican family knowing you are going to hell and then tell me we don’t need this”, but “check your privilege” is more succinct.

A Preponderance of Privilege

Despite being gay, I have a preponderance of privilege1.

I am privileged to be a white cis male born in America. I am privileged to come from a loving, caring household. My parents worked very hard while I was growing up and we always had enough quality food on the table. My parents paid for me to go to college and I graduated with no student loans. I am privileged to have a knack with computers, and privileged to have had access to one at a very early age. I am privileged to work in the tech industry and am paid insanely well. And while I work hard at my job, so do many others in many other industries who live paycheck to paycheck. I am privileged to be fully-abeled, have good health, and good health insurance through my company.

I have so much privilege that frankly, it’s embarrassing. I contributed nothing to being white, being male, being from a loving household, having a knack for tech, or being born fully-abled. Throughout the course of my life I’ve used and build upon these things to get where I am today. Doors were opened and opportunities presented to me because of my privilege.

The only aspect of my life where I don’t have privilege is being gay. And still I am privileged in that the thing that makes me part of a minority group is something I can easily hide if I felt my safety was at risk.

Being gay is what helped me see my privilege.

I think until you can identify some area where you don’t have privilege, it’s hard to really grasp what privilege means. It’s much easier to see doors that were closed in front of you for something you can’t change rather than ones opened just because of who you are. It wasn’t until I had to fight for the right to marry the man I loved that I understood that not everyone is playing on the same field.

It’s worth noting that privilege does not denigrate effort. You can work hard for what you’ve achieved with or without privilege, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t start with a leg up on the ladder because of that privilege.

Being privileged is what makes it easier for me to live as an openly gay man.

LGBTQ+ people can be fired simply for being gay in 28 states, yet because of my privilege I was never worried about this when I lived in Texas nor am I concerned about someone not hiring me because I’m gay. My privilege lets me get away with things like this worry-free that others can’t. And I feel that it’s my obligation to use that privilege to be very visibly out as a gay man, both personally and professionally. To advocate for those less privileged in my workplace, be they LGBTQ+, women, people of color, etc.

I consider it my moral obligation to use my privilege to help others with less privilege in any way that I can3, Because I did nothing to earn this privilege myself.

 

1 I know many people get wound around the axle on the word “privilege”. If you are a religiously-inclined person, just substitute “blessed” or “blessings” for privilege. It’s not an exact match but if that helps you with the concept, go for it.2

2 That ruins the alliteration in the title though, so just retitle this post in your head to A Bevy of Blessings.

3 To those of religious backgrounds, this should bring to mind the parable of the faithful servant.