Smile more and donate to a charity

If you shop at Amazon and are not using AmazonSmile, your favorite non-profit is missing out on money!

For the past 4 years, Amazon has donated millions of dollars to charities by having shoppers go through the AmazonSmile website. You, the buyer, shop just as you normally would and Amazon gives 0.5% of your purchase to the non-profit of your choice. It costs you, the buyer, absolutely nothing. The only catch is that you have to purchase through the AmazonSmile website.

Remembering to go to the AmazonSmile website is the hardest part of the whole endeavor. Luckily there are some browser plugins that will do that redirection for you:

If you shop at Amazon I encourage you to install a plugin to make sure you are buying through AmazonSmile and helping, even if it’s just a little, a non-profit you love.

My donations go to Distributed Proofreaders, you can select them for your charity on AmazonSmile using this link.

To be clear, I’m not encouraging anyone to shop at Amazon who isn’t already (shop at local merchants whenever possible!) but if you are shopping there, I encourage you to use AmazonSmile.

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.

Get your anti-NRA membership now!

Tired of the NRA buying politicians and stifling discussion about reasonable gun laws? Me too! Wish you could join an organization to help fight them? You can!

Everytown for Gun Safety and the Brady Campaign are two great organizations fighting back against the NRA and trying to enact sane, sensible laws to reduce gun violence in the US. Join them by making a yearly donation as an anti-NRA membership – $40/year is a great place to start.

The NRA boasts a membership of 5 million people with current annual dues of $40/year generating $165 million in dues in 2015. Money they then use to buy politicians. It’s worth noting that not all gun owners are NRA members (roughly 1 in 5 are), but many gun owners support the NRA’s policies.

NRA members are also vocal to their elected officials and we must be too. Contact your state and federal representatives and demand reasonable gun laws – Everytown and the Brady Campaign can help with that.

Imagine what a difference it would make if the 78% of the people in the US who didn’t own a gun got a “membership” in Everytown and demanded sensible gun laws.

 

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.

Feeling Unsafe in Trump’s Rural America

This weekend Daniel and I got out of town and stayed at a lovely AirBnB out in Deming, WA — about 2 hours north of Seattle. Our AirBnB hosts were delightful people and our stay was great. Along the way I figured out that I now feel unsafe in rural America.

You don’t have to get far outside of Seattle to see pro-Trump signs. They’re on the side of I-5 as well as alongside small backroads but all primarily in rural areas. This isn’t surprising, urban centers are typically lean liberal (read: Democrat) and rural areas typically lean conservative (read: Republican). As someone who grew up in a rural, very conservative, area of the country I have first-hand experience with the racism and homophobia that go with such insular, isolated, usually-religious communities. Rural areas didn’t suddenly get more racist or homophobic the day Trump was elected, but they did get implicit affirmation that it’s OK to vent those opinions vocally, just like their new President did on the campaign trail.

As we left I-5 in left-leaning Whatcom county I started to feel more uncomfortable, wondering if it really was safe for two gay guys to stay at an AirBnB in a very rural area. After we checked in and walked along the road to the Nooksack river, I wondered if it was safe for us to be seen together as trucks with gun racks drove past. When the owner of the general store looked us over as we walked in together I wondered if we were in a safe place. I don’t know if we were or not but I felt unsafe all the same.

We got back to Seattle without incident this afternoon and I read about how Trump praised leaders of homophobic groups, as sharp contrast to former-President Obama’s proclamation of support. It’s no wonder I don’t feel safe in Trump-land.

I’m realize I’m being irrational, but I told Daniel that for our vacation this fall I didn’t want to visit any US county that went to Trump. That effectively nixed our plans to visit Alaska. I’m not all sad about this though, there are tons of wonderful blue cities in the US and literally hundreds of countries to visit where I feel safe. I’m sure they won’t mind taking my liberal US dollar either.

Body-image struggles

I’ve always struggled with body-image issues and been unhappy with how I looked. It’s only been in the past decade that I’ve had moments, rare but wonderful moments, when I liked what I saw in the mirror or in a photo. Despite quickly approaching 40, those moments are occurring more frequently now.

I’ve worked on this blog post off and on for many months now, unsure of how to approach the topic. It wasn’t until I read my friend Scott McGlothlen’s post Posing Naked: The Good Kind of Awkward (link is safe for work) that I realized what I needed to do was just be honest and vulnerable.

It starts early and follows us forever

Like many of us, my body-image issues started very young. 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. I’m uncertain my Dad had any idea the real reason why I refused to go back, but to his credit he didn’t force me.

I am very fortunate that I didn’t grow up in a hyper-masculine household. I was never shamed by my family for how I looked, yet shame I had nonetheless.

In college I once went on a bike ride without a shirt and was ridiculed waiting at a stop sign by guys in a pickup truck telling me to stop embarrassing myself and put a shirt on.

In 2012 while I was riding a bus to work someone took a photo of me, posted it on Facebook, and their friends proceeded to comment on how disproportionate I looked.

Neither of those incidents did anything to make me feel better about how I looked.

Physical and mental workouts

Over the years I’ve put a lot of effort into how I look and how I think about myself.

Shortly after I started working for IBM in 2000 I got a gym membership and began working out in the mornings before work. Every workday lifting weights or running. 16 years later and I still go to the gym every weekday morning before work. On the weekends I run with friends and sometimes run half-marathons.

I have undoubtably made progress on how I look physically, progress I am very happy about. I have also made noticeable strides in how I feel about myself and that’s the progress that I’m happiest with. I’ve finally accepted that I will never look like the models we’re marketed with and that’s OK. I don’t always love what I see in the mirror, but I am at least content with the image I see. That’s huge strides from two decades ago.

Take more, not fewer, pictures

Because of my body-image issues, I’ve almost always hated pictures of myself. My mental critiques run something like:

That photo has the profile of the nose that I hate.

I’m smiling like a dork in that one.

Oh god, all you can see is how skinny I am.

Yet in some ways pictures are one of the best things to show us that we change over time. That those hours at the gym are actually doing something, something we don’t see day-to-day in the mirror. That concerted effort of eating better really has shrunk those love-handles. That maybe, just maybe, we’ve grown into that nose that we hate1.

Pictures provide a great opportunity for some mental growth too although posting them on social media is a double-edged sword. It’s hard being vulnerable, and strangers can be real assholes sometimes, but nothing gives you a shot of confidence than having friends like and comment on a picture of you.

If the social-media hive-mind thinks I look good, maybe I do.

Maybe the internal record I play for myself is a broken reflection of the reality, a reality that others see differently.

Recently a friend who dislikes pictures of herself showed me a photo of her taken at a work party that she adored. In the photo she is beaming and beautiful — just as she appears to me every time we’re together. In that photo she was finally able to see what the rest of see daily.

Maybe we need to take more pictures of ourselves to finally capture those moments for us that others see all the time.

Photoshoot

For my birthday in 2016 I gave myself a rather interesting birthday present: a photoshoot. Those moments when I liked what I see in the mirror had come more frequently and I wanted to memorialize it, for fear it might never happen again.

I asked my friend and photographer Ryan Pennington if he were willing, and he agreed. I knew Ryan would make me feel at ease and that at the end of the process if I didn’t like any of the photos, he would know it was due to my own issues and not his skills as a photographer.

Sometime during the middle of the shoot Ryan took a picture and showed me the camera. Without really thinking I exclaimed: “Damn, he’s hot. Oh wait that’s me!“. That’s the sign of a good photographer, folks.

The shoot was 7 hours and produced 800 photos. That set got culled to a final set of 70 that I love. Let me say that again a little louder: I have 70 photos of me that I love. I didn’t think I would ever be able to say that.

I shared several of them with friends on Facebook and guess what: they loved them too. My friend Jason Silzer commented on a photo with this pearl of wisdom that I am still trying to integrate into my reality:

Now you see what we all already see.

That’s so incredibly hard to believe, but I keep trying.

All of us struggle

Why am I writing all of this? My hope, my vain hope, is that knowing I have body-image issues helps someone else realize that they are not alone in theirs. That everyone has body-image issues. Old, young, men, women, boys, girls, straight, gay, cis, trans.

That good looking guy walking down the street? He probably has some body-image issues. And that cute girl always posting pictures of herself on Facebook may be dealing with some of the same self-esteem issues you are. We always present our best selves to the world, particularly on social media, but that doesn’t mean we alway believe the image we’re presenting.

It’s incredibly hard, but I encourage you to try and see yourself as others see you. None of us are as ugly as we think.


1 Ok, that will never happen.