“Born This Way” NOH8

The NOH8 Campaign is a photographic silent protest in direct response to the passing of Proposition 8.  (Proposition 8 passed in California on November 4, 2008 amending the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage)  Photos feature subjects with duct tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Proposition 8 and similar legislation around the world, with “NOH8” painted on one cheek in protest.

NOH8 recently did their own video of  Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” as a way to show support to the LGBT community.  I’ve posted it above because I thought the message was a good one.  A student let me know about NOH8 and came up with an idea to try to bring the campaign to AU.  The NOH8 Campaign takes their photo shoots to different cities all over the country.  Hopefully one day in the future they will choose Aurora, IL as a sight.  If you would like to show your support and hopefully get NOH8 to come to AU, feel free to send in your photo!

Join the NOH8 Campaign from anywhere in the world!

How can you submit your own MY NOH8 photo? It’s easy!

  1. Create a User Profile @ www.NOH8Campaign.com
  2. Take your own amateur NOH8 Photo. Your “NOH8” must be visible!
  3. Under the MY NOH8 Section, click “Upload & Manage MY NOH8 Photos
  4. Read the Terms & Conditions & Submit!

Coming Out Stories #2

Happy International Coming Out Day!!!  Here is my second post on coming out stories.  This is also shared from a Texas A&M student.

“Five Years of Honesty”

Honesty.  It is the pillar that we dance around, that we lean against, we push and pull, love and hate, avoid and ultimately learn to accept.  And in that very moment of acceptance everything changes, things begin to click and there is a boost of energy unlike any other.  In that moment I realized something great about honesty, that the truth that I once knew, the truth that was “stretched,” the so-called truth that became my daily norm was in fact just a lie.  In that moment I realized that lying only forced me to succumb to square one.  And in that moment I realized I should have dressed better for the occasion.

I’m currently 20 and have been out and proud for a little over 5 years now.  That is 25% of my existence that I have lived in freedom.  It was my former self, the facade and the lies that I created; it was myself that I broke away from.  In  retrospect I understand that the pressures society had on me of course influenced my decisions to do the things that I did but I was the one who took it even further.  It was I who created and fostered a toxic environment that led me to contemplate but never attempt suicide.  It just didn’t sit right that I lived this double life, never sought for help, would be fine externally yet go home to cry in the middle of the night.  I realized in those moments that we all inherently know the problems in our life and we as individuals have the abilities to fix them.  We are ultimately in control.

So let me set up when I first came out.  I had an extra push: a friend of mine came out as a lesbian during sophomore year of high school and I observed how her life changed dramatically.  She dressed differently, she shaved her head, and she had this liberated confidence that was intoxicating, and I wanted that for myself.  So there was a day in my math class where we had a substitute  teacher who fell asleep.  A group of us started to play truth or dare.  When it came to my turn that friend of mine decided to be my ‘challenger’ if you will.  She asked, “truth or dare?” and I’m not willing to pull off someone’s weave so I chose truth.  She asked, “Ryan, are you gay?”  I knew it was coming.  This wasn’t a question that slapped me in the face.  In that moment, it was right.  It was my time.  So I responded to her and others, “No, I’m bi.”  I had always known that I was gay but fear once again held its grip on me.  I knew it and they knew it.  But, I acknowledge that it was a step in the right direction.  I started to begin to free myself from the shackles that held me down.  I wasn’t completely liberated but the opportunity had opened its door.  And I understood that with patience comes transition.  By the time junior year came around I shed myself of the bisexual identity since I had come to grow into my homosexual self.

Once I felt the time to be right again, I decided to come out to my sister, she is my only sibling, and I thought she could be the step that would lead to coming out to my parents.  At the time I was sixteen, she had already left for college and we were having a conversation by phone.  I thought because she was hundreds of miles away if she didn’t accept me, what would it matter?  I was safe and there was a distance that kept it that way.  I remember watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy whilst talking to her.  I remember watching these people and thinking, “if they’re on television being who they are I can be like that in my own life.”  So I gathered my strength and this is how that conversation went:

Me:  “Lucy I have something to say.”

Sister: “What?  It better not be something stupid.”

Me:  “No it’s not something stupid.”

Sister:  “Then what?”

Me:  “I’m gay.”

Sister: pauses. “Well DUH!!”

It went over very well.  If it were anyone else I would’ve been highly irritated and ever more confused.  I realized the extent and virtuoso to the phrase “words have power.”  The way I dress, the way I talk, the way I listen, the way I move has impact in some form or fashion.  I realized that the few years I was out before coming to college I had started to gain control but had no idea what to do with it.  The moment I came out to my parents stemmed from frustration; I was standing in the garage with my mother and she had been questioning my friendship with one of my best friends.  My mom wanted me to stay away from her because she thought that girl was trying to ‘do something’ with me.  I told her that nothing was going to ever happen but she was adamant that something would.  This wasn’t the way I had planned on telling my mother but it just happened.  I said her “Nothing will ever happen because I’M GAY!”  The look on her face was purely stunned.  She didn’t say anything and then she gave me a hug that only a mother could give.  She took a step back and asked, “Does your father know?  I’m going to tell your father.”  And like a six year old she ran inside before I had a chance to explain myself.   That night my dad came into my bedroom and sat down and we conversed for a bit about how I was gay and the fact that they accepted and loved me no matter what.

I realized once attending college that I am now in control.  I am left alone to my own devices and nothing except for myself can get in my way.  As I continue to evolve and grow my confidence explodes, as does the cloud of glitter that surrounds me.  I want any sort of extension that I project to have positive impact to those who encounter it.  I like to think of myself as metaphorical beacon of light.  At the age of 20, I understand that this process is much bigger than myself and I want to pass this energy and opportunity to others, that honesty really is the best policy.  I’m in a position now that my experience makes me a self proclaimed wise soul, and I have the attire to match.  So in hopes that you’ll benefit I want to close with some words of encouragement written by Dr. Suess:

“I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind.         Some come from ahead and some come from behind.             But I’ve bought a big bat.  I’m all ready you see.                    Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!”

Coming Out Stories- #1

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m doing some research to find materials to hand out for International Coming Out Day on October 11th.  I found a great website, LGBT Campus, which has a lot of great ideas and materials for helping campuses become more LGBT friendly.  I found “The Coming Out Monologues” written by Texas A&M students and downloaded the PDF.  I plan to share a few of these monologues in my blog.  Here is the first titled, “Nocturne”

It all started with the thoughts.   A fleeting word or feeling as I saw a guy from a distance.  “He’s kind of…, or I really like…”  Not even complete before I brushed them aside.  Not me, anyone but me.  I couldn’t be gay.  I thought to myself, “I can’t be gay because I’m smart, I’m cool, my mom won’t approve, I’m athletic, because I’m a percussionist, etc.”  Excuse after tired excuse, half of them made no sense at all.  The truth was, I was trying to say “I’m not gay because I’m not like them.”  “I’m not gay because that’s not what I want!”  Without even knowing who they were.

I had this idea of gay people in my head.  They were arrogant, narcissistic, promiscuous, feminine, and sinful.  I would sit on the bench outside my apartments in the dead of night, looking at the night sky and try to ponder the gay away.  In actuality, I knew these things weren’t always true but I held onto them because they were the only thing that kept me away from accepting the truth.  I was one  of them.  I knew the whole time.  I knew it but I tried repeatedly to rationalize the facts away, and this cerebral dance of the dusk I did every night was the only thing that slowed my path to the eventual truth.  But I had been doing some thinking for a long time.  I sat under those stars and I steadily began to realize that no matter how much I didn’t want it to be the truth.  It was.

I liked boys.  I liked boys and I like them a lot.  I didn’t officially come out of the closet until my sophomore year of high school.  I remember it well.  It was the most perfect timing.  I had just moved to a new school, so I had free reign as far as creating my image was concerned.  But then a new conundrum occurred to me.  I’m gay, but what “kind” of gay am I?  What kind of gay should I be?  MTV and LOGO had filled my head with this idea that every gay belongs to a genre like a song or something.  Hmm, if I had to pick a type of song to describe me, it would definitely be the nocturne.  For those that don’t know, a nocturne is a piece of music that is inspired and usually evocative of the night.  It’s feel mixes with the night air flawlessly and it’s tone seems to make the stars sparkle all the brighter.  They are soft, lucid, dreamy, and ethereal.

I’ve found that I’m a different person at night.  During the day, I’m busy, rushed, full of energy and usually a bit out of it.  But when night-time comes, I’m calm, contemplative, full of a kind of daring, emotion,  and clarity of thought that only night-time seems to bring.  There’s just something about the brightness of the stars on the inky black of space and the night air that just takes me to my most comfortable place.  Takes me to myself I guess you could say.

But I eventually learned these thoughts weren’t quite correct.  Just like music varies and sometimes doesn’t fit into a specific genre, gays are very diverse.  Sure everyone has their favorite kinds, but no one listens to one thing only.  There’s no rule that says you must “choose” what kind of gay you are.  No one will strike you down if you aren’t really masculine or really feminine.  Lightning won’t burn you to a crisp if you’re not the most fashionable guy at your job, school, church, etc.  You don’t have to learn an art or play a sport or work out 24/7 if you don’t want to.  And you will not be executed if you dislike Cher and Lady Gaga!  I promise!  What’s important is that you do what you like to do, act the way you would like to, and overall, just be who you are.

The ones that matter don’t mind and the ones that mind don’t matter.  And you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more, trust me.  Things after that were smooth sailing.  I came out to quite a few other people.  Of course I had my rejections and of course people talked.  But just as I expected most of my friends didn’t mind at all.  One of the times that I really treasure is when I found out that my drum-line buddies knew I was gay.  Everyone knows that gossip spreads like wildfire in high school.  I never really told them, but of course they heard the rumors and a few of them were brave enough to ask me if they were true.  At this point I wasn’t ashamed, so I told them the truth.  They took it quite well.

I had expected to be ostracized and disrespected with the raw maleness of drum-line and all.  I had expected to be shunned and exiled.  But all of them were really cool about it, nothing changed about our friendship except for a gay joke here and there.  I was still invited to the football matches against the brass and the drum-line pool parties.  I was still asked to come do homework and just shoot the breeze.  I was still asked about how this or that should be played and how much did I like this solo or that ensemble.  I was still a part of the group and I was still the really awesome percussionist that they had befriended at the beginning of the year.  It made me feel really good that my sexuality didn’t affect the chemistry of the group as I had expected that it would.

Going into college, I felt secure in my sexuality.  I was proud to be gay, and coming out to people was something I had done before and something I knew I could do again.  But unfortunately I realized that coming out to people had become easier, but it was still not easy.  In high school, you tell like 3 people and the whole school knows.  In college, you tell 3 people and maybe 5 more people find out.  I found that college wasn’t so much different from high school socially.  People still had their social circles and the people they hung out with.  These groups just seemed to be a lot smaller than in high school and didn’t gossip anywhere near as much.  So it was up to me to come out to everyone I wanted to.  The last person that I recall coming out to was my good friend Tyler.  We had met in Physics 218 and had become good friends and percussion buddies.  It was coming out day and I had decided it was about that time in our friendship.  But I was lame, and scared of what he would think, so I texted him.  “Hey Tyler, there’s something I have to tell you…”  He responded, “What’s up?”  I texted back, “Tyler, today is coming out day, and the person I’ve decided to come out to is you.  I’m gay.”  He didn’t text me back for like 15 minutes.  I thought my life was over.  “So what, you hate me now?” I texted him.  “Oh sorry.  I was riding my bike to the rec and so I didn’t look at my phone till I got there.  No, I don’t hate you.  That’s really cool and I”m honored you decided to come out to me.  Thanks man.”

I don’t regret much in life.  And I must say, I definitely don’t regret the thinking, the pondering, I did in my youth.  I don’t regret the soul searching and the nights spent sitting in my bed awake thinking about who I was.  My experiences have made me who I am.  But my journey isn’t quite over, it’s just getting started, and I look forward to the future with my head held high and my eyes on the night sky.

First Love

First love in college?  Really?  Well if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender then yes, this is very possible.  I know even for heterosexuals the first time they may fall in love with someone won’t be until college.  For students I talk to who identify as LGBT, college is a time of discovery and possibly having that first long term relationship.  Some people don’t even come out until after college, but for the ones who have come out, college can be a crazy time trying to navigate the waters of a relationship.

Of course, in a lot of ways, LGBT relationships are very similar to heterosexual relationships.  There are some extra factors to consider with this population.  I find that a lot of LGBT students state they have felt lonely in their junior high or high school years.  They may have had lots of friends, but rarely any love relationships.  They also state that going out with someone of the same sex the first time can be intimidating.  The world is full of heterosexual couples.  I have never had to grow up in a world where I see all these couples and they are different than my dream of what a couple looks like.  When I was young and had my first boy crush I didn’t look around me and see all these girl/girl couples.  I’m sure if I had I would wonder to my young self, “What is wrong with me?”  Especially if I look at my parents relationship and saw that they were both dads or both moms and I want to be with the opposite sex.  I can see how it would be confusing.  Then to finally live out the dream knowing it was different from the majority would be a little scary.

It isn’t easy to be different.  At my wise old age of 37 I can see the value of being different, but when I was 13 I didn’t want to be any different from anyone else.  This is the world some of my LGBT students have grown up in.  So a first real relationship with someone you are super sexually attracted to can be overpowering.  That first relationship holds so much weight.  A lot of LGBT students tell me their first love was with someone who has either been “out” longer than they have or has had previous relationships.  Most of the time they fall in love with someone who has more experience than they do.  At first, this is great.  They are introduced to a whole new world and it is very exciting.  The problem comes when the person experiencing love for the first time falls harder than their partner.  As the months go by, problems can add up.

A lot of students talk about the fear of losing that person who introduced them to a whole new world.  You have finally found this relationship you’ve been dreaming about and can hardly believe this person is attracted to you.  You find the person who probably felt the same way you did growing up, and that is rare.  However, you may feel they don’t need you as much as you need them.  This may cause you to be more jealous of their friends, especially if they are the same sex.  Jealousy develops because it is hard to be confident in a first relationship.  You don’t feel experienced enough so you wonder if someone else will catch their eye.  This can be a valid fear.  I’ve heard that some people like to experiment sexually for awhile after they come out.  You may wonder if your partner is having other sexual relationships outside of your relationship.  If it is your own mind playing tricks with you, start to work on your self-confidence.  There are ways to improve your own self-esteem so it doesn’t sabotage your relationship.  Your partner is going to get tired of trying to reassure you all the time.  You have to believe this person wants to be with you until proven otherwise.  Try to trust your partner and believe in yourself until you have concrete proof that they are stepping out on you.

Maybe you see certain signs that point in the direction of cheating that puts your guard up, or you know they have cheated in the past.  When this happens it can be hard to deal with.  This isn’t an easy conversation to have.   You may want to let your partner know of your fears, but be careful.  If you come off as too accusatory or angry you will only cause them to be defensive.  However, don’t just let it go if you you’ve witnessed things you are uncomfortable with.  It may be easier for people in the LGBT community to settle in relationships because of the fear of not finding someone else.  Even heterosexuals have this fear, and it is well known their pool of potential partners is larger.  Don’t let fear of not finding someone else keep you in a bad relationship.  It can be hard to let go of that first love, but dating and relationships are a way of finding out what you like and don’t like.  You rarely strike a jackpot on the first try.

If your partner is pulling away for some reason, holding them in a death grip isn’t going to help the situation.  If you are unhappy, try not to stay longer than you should out of fear of not finding anyone else who will love you.  There are plenty of great gay and lesbian couples who have found true love and now in a few states even able to get married.  Don’t give up hope.  Maybe that first love will work out, but if it doesn’t, keep looking for that next door to open.  Every relationship teaches you something about yourself.  Take that information and use it to your advantage in the future.  Maybe the one you are destined for hasn’t even made their way out of the closet yet.  I know a lot of LGBT students who become depressed over being alone so often.  I know that sucks, but try to find time for friends and focus on other areas of your life until another great person comes along.  Also, know that college is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rest of your adult life.  There will be plenty of opportunities to meet new people after college.  It can be hard to watch all the couples around campus and feel you are the only one alone, but trust me, you aren’t alone.  If you are feeling depressed after a break up and have no one around to open up to, please seek out a counselor who can listen and give you some support.  Break ups, especially losing your first love, can be extremely difficult.  Hang in there, it does get better.

LGBT Pride

The month of June is now celebrated as LGBT Pride Month.  Chicago has its annual Pride Parade the last Sunday of June.  This date was chosen to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village that started the LGBT movement.  I’ve been wanting to add a category about LGBT relationships on my blog since I started it.  I work with several students who identify as Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual.  I have yet to meet any students who identify as Transgender, but I know they are out there and may read my blog at some point.  I’ve been hesitant to write about LGBT issues only because I don’t have any experience myself being a heterosexual.  I have learned a lot from the people I work with and feel I could write about their experiences with some confidence.  However, I don’t want to misrepresent this population in any way because I have a lot of respect for those who have come out in our culture, which still has many biases towards this population.  I will do my best and am open for any corrective criticism from the LGBT population who may read this blog so I can make the proper corrections if I am wrong in anything I say or represent in my posts.

I thought commemorating the Stonewall Riots was a good way to start my posts focused on LGBT relationships on my blog.  For those gay and straight people out there who are unaware of why Gay Pride Month is in June I will give you a little background.  In the 1950’s and 60’s our government was very anti-homosexual.  Police often raided known gay bars and it was extremely dangerous to be openly gay.  On June 28, 1969 police went to raid the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.  The police lost control and a riot ensued.  More protests continued from the residents of Greenwich Village the next night.  Facing a few obstacles, gays and lesbians finally formed a cohesive community in which they fought for their rights.  The first Gay Pride Marches took place on June 28, 1970 in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots.  Today Gay Pride events are held at the end of June every year for the same reason all over the world.

Being a white heterosexual person in this country I realize that I am very privileged.  Although our country has come a long way in the last 40 years, there is still a lot of hate and ignorance out there when it comes to race and sexual orientation.  I grew up watching tv and seeing a lot of people who look like me, and since I am heterosexual I have witnessed couples on tv who are attracted to the opposite sex like I am.  If I was homosexual I would not have had this privilege.  Many of the LGBT students I talk to at Aurora University have come out.  Most of them feel accepted by the students on campus.  However, most of them admit having memories of when they didn’t feel accepted and felt very alone.  Some of them pretended to be straight in order to fit in.  Some of them were still questioning their sexual orientation but always felt something was different about them.  As a young kid, especially in junior high and high school, most people aspire to fit in and be part of group.  To realize you are different is torture at this age.  Most students will admit having to rely on themselves because there wasn’t anyone to confide or talk to.  This can be dangerous for some people because it leads to substance abuse or depression.  According to the Pride Institute, up to 33% of the lesbian and gay population have difficulty controlling their drug or alcohol use.  This percentage is higher for transgender individuals.  They also report that LGBT people are 2-4 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety than heterosexuals.

Also, because this population is often more autonomous, out of a need to be, they also struggle with relationship issues more often.  A lot of LGBT people admit that they have never learned how to have a healthy homosexual relationship because they never were able to witness one growing up.  Today there are more examples of homosexual relationships in the media, but it is still vastly underrepresented in our culture.  Unless you live in San Francisco, New York, Miami, Chicago or other big cities it is hard to find a community of LGBT people to help young homosexuals learn about relationships.  Many do not know how to manage a healthy sex life or have healthy intimacy in a relationship.  I can’t pretend to have all the answers.  I know some relationship issues are universal and I’m sure LGBT people can find some advice on any of my postings.  However, I also hope to pull out some specific issues concerning the LGBT population when it comes to relationships and write about it here on my blog.  I may ask some people to guest post, and if you are reading this and would like to contribute, please let me know.  For now I will simply link you to a blog that I know is very good written by Brandon Lacy Campos, My Feet Only Walk Forward.  I also recommend reading One Gay At A Time.  Not that either of these blogs provide relationship advice like mine, but they are very good at being honest about being gay in this culture and managing dating, relationship and other life issues.  I will try to add bits of wisdom on this blog as well.  Please be patient as I’m still learning how to provide counseling advice and relationship insights for the LGBT community to give it the honor and respect it deserves.