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.

Role models

“Who are my role models?” popped into my head about a week ago, for some reason only my subconscious understands, and it’s been an interesting question to ponder for the past several days. To the best of my memory I’ve never had explicit role models. No one that if asked I could readily respond with.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that I have two implicit role models and I’d wager a pretty penny that until they read this they won’t have realized it either. Those people are John Martin and Jonobie Ford.

 

John Martin and I met while working at IBM on a remote assignment in Irvine, CA over 15 years ago. He’s about 20 years older than I am and yet we are more alike than different. We’re both gay, enjoy country western dancing, are frugal but not cheap, like reading and blogging, and more. We’re so alike in some ways that we affectionately refer to each other as BigMe and MiniMe.

In the gay community we often talk about living our authentic life, being who we are and not who others want us to be. John has always exemplified that. It was John that taught me that it really is OK to be out at work and that bringing your whole self to work is how you do your best work. Good employers recognize this. For me IBM sure did, as did Isilon/EMC, as does Spaceflight Industries. John inspired me to be very visibly out at work, to leverage my privilege to make it a safe place for others to be out as well.

I’ve learned other lessons from John too, like it’s OK to make big changes in your career, that it’s absolutely OK to have not just friendly but loving relationships with your ex-spouse, that living well below your means now opens up many doors in the future, that there’s no shame in trying something bold and changing paths when it wasn’t the right decision. But the one word that I keep coming back to with John, and what makes him a role model to me, is his authenticity.

 

I’ve known Jonobie Ford for almost 18 years now. We met at Tivoli, our first jobs after college. She was one of the very first people I came out to at work. One Friday afternoon, before the weekly beer bash, I asked her to take a stroll around the pond with me. I was a nervous wreck, terrified of being rejected. Jonobie accepted me with open arms and an hour later was ready to punch a guy on my behalf after he said some homophobic comment at the beer bash.

It isn’t her fierce friendship that makes her a role model to me, although she is my best friend, it’s her creativity and refusal to fit into anyone’s box.

I can’t even keep track of all the different kinds of creative endeavors Jonobie has done in her life so far. Drawing, pottery, dancing, brewing, aerial silks, knitting, and bartending just to name a few off the top of my head. At her encouragement I took my first pottery class 15 years ago and have been hooked ever since. We’ve brewed ginger beer and even taken a bellydance class together (yup, I’ve done bellydancing). Her stories of sketching encouraged me to take a chance on being a model myself. I might never have tried partner acrobatics and glassblowing were it not for catching a part of her adventurous spirit a decade ago. Being creative is just who Jonobie is, it isn’t something that gets tacked onto her life. She’s shown me that it’s more than OK to try some new creative endeavor, it’s part and parcel of living.

Jonobie doesn’t fit into any one, or anyone’s, box. She’s a woman in tech with bright pink hair. She’s insanely creative (see above) and runs races (we ran a marathon together!). She loves to travel internationally and quiet board game afternoons. She’s a feminist and very vocal LGBTQ+ ally. She’s done rock climbing, drawn models, done bow-and-arrow and gun target practice. She’s gone to Burning Man and a yoga retreat in Mexico. I’ve never known her to let anyone or anything dictate what she could and couldn’t do based on some stupid societal norm — and that’s inspiring.

So who cares if I want to present as a masculine gay man and also take bellydancing classes? Nothing’s going to stop me from helping the receptionist empty and reload the dishwasher at work even though some may see it as “beneath me”. Why should anyone care that I don’t drink alcohol or coffee because I can’t stand the taste? I workout 6 days a week, have 14.75″ biceps, and yet ugly cry while watching Moulin Rouge every. single. time. I don’t have to fit into anyone’s box either.

 

I suspect that neither John or Jonobie realize that I view them as role models, so clearly it’s possible to be a role model and not know it. That leads to the extremely scary possibility that I may be a role model for someone. If so, heaven help us all.

Seattle-area Employee Donation Matching

In the past I have been terrible when comparing job opportunities in how the different companies match employee donations to charitable organizations. As someone who believes strongly in charitable giving and donates 10% of his income to charities every year, there’s a big difference in an employer who will match $15k of that or one who won’t match anything.

So while I’m not looking for a job right now, I was curious how major Seattle-area tech employers compared with regard to their employee charity matching programs. The results were enlightening.

Employer Matching Refs
Adobe $10,000 DoubleTheDonation
Amazon none DoubleTheDonation
Apple $10,000 DoubleTheDonation
Dell $10,000 DoubleTheDonation
Dropbox $1,000 DoubleTheDonation
Expedia $4,000 DoubleTheDonation
Facebook none Facebook employee
Google $12,000 DoubleTheDonation
IBM $5,000 DoubleTheDonation
Microsoft $15,000 Microsoft
Oracle $300 DoubleTheDonation
Tableau $500 DoubleTheDonation

It’s clear which of those stand out:

  • Microsoft for their very generous $15k matching program. Way to go Microsoft!
  • Amazon, one of the biggest tech employers in the region, for matching absolutely nothing. Ditto Facebook.
  • Oracle for their almost-embarassing $300 match. Yes, Tableau is only $500 but I expect more from a company with a $200b market cap than one with $7b market cap.

It’s interesting to compare these to other major Seattle-area employers, all of which are rather generous:

Employer Matching Refs
Alaska Airlines $4,000 DoubleTheDonation
Boeing $6,000 DoubleTheDonation
Nordstrom $5,000 DoubleTheDonation

Clearly there are a lot of factors in play when you choose where to work, but next time I’m looking for a job I need to factor in employer matching to ensure I’m not leaving thousands of dollars of Doing Good sitting on the table.

2018, more and less

I’m not one for making New Year resolutions, but I see value in taking a moment to reflect on the prior year and brainstorming ideas on how to make the new year better. I’m approaching 2018 with a “more and less” philosophy.

More content creation; less passive media consumption.

I want to create more content than I consume. There are times I find myself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. Instead I want to put more energy in blogging, working on code for Distributed Proofreaders, working on VoteSTEM.org, and yes even posting more selfies on my Instagram.

More reading; more science fiction & fantasy.

Reading, particularly science fiction and fantasy, has always been my way to escape and decompress. I’ve found that reading also frees up my mind from hyper-focusing on whatever problem I’m working on and lets my subconscious piece things together, ultimately helping me work through the problem.

For the past couple of years I’ve been terrible about making time to read and I intend to change that. The year is off to a good start with discovering the Expanse series (thanks Josh!) and the Bobiverse books (thanks Samantha!).

Less soda, sweets, and carbs; more vegetables and bacon.

I’m already pretty good about not eating hollow calories like soda and sweets, but I’m still a sucker for carbs in all forms. Heaven is bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I want to pare that down and eat more vegetables. And bacon, because: bacon.

More cooking; less eating out.

Daniel does most all of the cooking in our household and I do the dishes. This is primarily because he really enjoys cooking and also because when we started dating he was working from home and could start dinner early. (There is nothing as awesome as coming home from work to a house that smells of delicious food and immediately sitting down to eat.)

Our work schedules have shifted and I get home between half an hour to a full hour before he does but he still does most of the cooking. This makes for late meals, eats into our evenings together, and risks a hangry Casey. I want to start doing more of the cooking before he gets home so that we are eating earlier and have more time together.

In addition to this, I want to eat lunch out less. This will require better meal planning and, frankly, making enough dinner that there are leftovers to take with me to the office.

More consistent workouts, including leg days and weekend running with the gang.

I’ve been remarkably consistent about working out in the mornings over the past 17 years, but not so consistent with having high-quality workouts. This year I want to be more focused on the workouts themselves and stop skimping on leg days, which I hate.

I also want to run more with my weekend running gang. Getting together and running once a week with that cadre of friends that I’ve known for more than 15 years is so good for me, body and soul.

Actually, just more running in general. I always forget how fantastic I feel after a run.

More haircuts.

I want to get more haircuts in 2018. I really like the way I look after a fresh haircut, but with ~4 weeks between haircuts my hair looks like crap there towards the end and I hate it. Sadly, my barber is no longer convenient to my office so there’s a huge time overhead in getting a haircut. I’m loath to change barbers, so I will have to get creative in making time to get my haircut more frequently.

More time with chosen family.

I want to spend more time with my chosen family in 2018. As time goes on I realize how important they are to me and how much their company improves all aspects of my life.

More good; less bad.

This year I want to do more good and fight more bad. Working to positively influence the 2018 midterm elections is a big part of that, primarily through VoteSTEM.org, but also through donations to candidate campaigns across the nation. Less dwelling on our shithole President and his cronies and more working to right the ship and empowering those people who will make that possible.

 

2018 is going to be a great year, more and less.