Running to Stand Still

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Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of listening to my friend Richard sing and play guitar to songs from U2’s Joshua Tree album.  I had not heard much of Joshua Tree in the years since I wore my cassette tape of it out back when I was in Bible college.  Throughout the evening, Richard had me awash in college memories.  I was struck by how many of my memories included going long distances on open roads, whether it was for weekend choir or preaching trips or visits home to see my parents or adventures in the hometowns of my college friends.  And Joshua Tree was one of a handful of albums/cassettes that provided a soundtrack for much of those years.  So, if you are reading this, Richard, thanks for taking me a sentimental journey that night.

After the concert, but before I even got in my car to drive home, I downloaded Joshua Tree so I could have it again. It’s such a great album and yet, in the last two weeks, one song has bubbled in me more than all the other tracks.  As I drive around LA, or walk the dogs, or swim, I find myself humming or singing,

Ha la la la de day
Ha la la la de day
Ha la la de day.

Maybe you know it, maybe you don’t but it’s the refrain to as song called Running to Stand Still.  It starts,

And so she woke up
Woke up from where she was
Lying still
Said I gotta do something
About where we’re going

It’s a sad song, a song about love not quite going right, maybe even about life not quite going right.  It’s a dirge, a lament.  Even before Tuesday, it had once again become a soundtrack, a part of me.

Obviously, much has been written about Tuesday, all of it on Facebook.  Well, most of it on Facebook.  We’ve certainly had the opportunity to air all of our opinions about this election and the aftermath.  If we thought it was divisive before and we thought it would go away after the election, we misjudged that as grandly as many misjudged the outcome of the election itself.

I voted for Hillary Clinton.  I can’t imagine anyone being shocked by that admission.  I don’t love her in the way some of my friends do, but I did feel that with the options presented, she was my, our, best hope.  I will also admit to being a big Obama fan, too.  I would happily sign up for four more year of him and Michelle.  Yes, I know that not everyone feels the same way.

Also, for the last week, I was working on a written piece that I hoped would be a part of a storytelling show.  I recounted one of the worst things that ever happened to me, maybe the very worst, and the show’s director asked for rewrites that took me further and further from a workable piece.  Have you ever written paragraph after paragraph and with each sentence found yourself drifting completely away from whatever it is you wanted to say when you started writing? When this person told me that I would not be asked to participate, it was a crushing blow.  Are you ok, they asked.  No, not right now, but I will be.

Ha la la la de day
Ha la la la de day
Ha la la de day.

Yesterday, after not speaking to each other since pre-results Tuesday, I called my parents.  We do not talk politics much, we are not on the same page.  But I was shocked to find out just how truly gleeful my Dad was about Trump’s victory.  I tried to explain that I was worried about my safety and my civil rights, but he was more interested in telling me the ways Obama failed these last eight years and that Hillary should be in jail.  It got heated and then it cooled.  My Dad said that with Tump being president, I have probably never been safer.  They told me that they loved me, I told them, I know, I love you too.

I did not post much to my FB wall this week.  I made a joke about moving to Canada (how original) early on Tuesday when I still had some hope that the direction the night felt like it was headed was not going to careen in the way that it did.  The next day, I posted a picture of my dog Ricky looking super adorable at the Blessing of the Animals at my church last Sunday.  Also, on Wednesday, I posted a picture of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son, a U.S. soldier, was killed in 2004 in the Iraq war.  Mr. Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was one of the most emotional moments of the convention.  President Elect Trump made fun of the family and conjectured that Mrs. Khan, who stood silently by her husband, was not allowed to speak.

Also, yesterday, someone I went to Bible college with posted a meme that said, “Protests only work if human rights have been violated.  Protesting for not getting your way is just crying.” I hesitated to comment, what good does it do, but I wrote, “I have not been protesting, so I only have a limited understanding, but I do believe there are people who fear that with Trump’s election, their human rights will be taken away. I know I fear that my human rights will be taken away. We will see what the future holds.” To which a stranger responded to me, “And what about the human rights of others being demolished right now in the protests? You are worried about nothing. The riots however are real.”

So I said,  “I am not making light of the violence that is occurring at the protests right now, but you do not need to dismiss my concerns about what the future holds.”  I did not think that was too offensive.  As you might suspect, a part of me wanted to lash out, say something cruel.  I looked at this stranger’s FB profile.  Apparently she loves her grandbabies and her state university.  I don’t really know why she felt the need to attack me, a stranger to her as much as she is to me.

You got to cry without weeping
Talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice.

Anyway, I decided to take a break from Facebook.  If you see this, it doesn’t mean I’m on FB again, WordPress just automatically sends my blogs to Facebook when I publish them.

It’s Saturday night, this dramatic week is nearly over.  I don’t mind saying I’m glad to see it go.  I have a party I need to get to and I need to change into something cute.  (Typos and run on sentences, be damned.) Tomorrow is another day, a new week.  But tonight, I want to raise a glass and toast my friends and say that I’m sad. If you’re sad too, I get it.

Tomorrow we can leap and soar and fly, but tonight, suffer the needle chill, we are running to stand still.

A Sad Confession

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It was me.  Let the chips fall where they may.

I know I don’t think of myself as a trouble maker and yet the fact that trouble always has a way of finding me indicates that perhaps I seek trouble more than I am willing to admit.  It all started a few days ago.  On Facebook, naturally.

Someone I grew up with, I’ll call her Melissa, posted a picture on Facebook that I found disturbing.  She posted a picture of a bloody dead deer.  She included with the picture a witticism about the deer being Bambi’s mom.  Now, I am from the midwest, so I have seen quite a few pictures of dead deer on social media over the last few years.  To me, it’s jarring to scroll down your news feed and come upon a picture of a bloody animal.  And let me state for the record, there is a possibility that I am the only person who feels that way.

This person who posted the picture is not someone I would classify as a close friend.  I have not seen her once in the last 20 years.  I decided in that moment to unfollow Melissa.  It’s not like we really even have much Facebook contact, we don’t send messages, she doesn’t really click like on pictures I post.

I can’t remember how it all played out, but I think when I told FB I wanted to unfollow Melissa it asked me if I wanted to report that picture.  So I said yes.  In retrospect, I have to wonder why I felt the need to report the picture.  It was and is my understanding that if one person reports a picture, nothing happens.  If several people report a picture, FB may delete it or ask you to delete it.  If anyone has more expertise on FB’s reporting policies, please feel free to weigh in.

Facebook asked me why I wanted to report the picture and after a series of multiple choices, I chose that the picture was gory.  Obviously, gore is somewhat objective, I realize not everyone in the world looks at a picture of a dead deer, bleeding out from its wound, and sees that as unsightly.

I posted a tweet/status update about hoping there might be less dead deer photos in my news feed this fall and winter.  I wondered what might be the kindest, smartest, most empathetic way to ask people to post less of these type pictures.  I don’t think what I came up with achieved those missions. I wrote, “Racking my brain, trying to figure out the least passive aggressive way to ask people not to post pictures of dead deer this deer season.”  A few people clicked like, a few agreed with me.

Later, I went back to Melissa’s FB page and I saw that she left a comment under her picture that anyone who was offended by her picture should just delete her, so I did.  She said that she was from Kansas and people from Kansas hunt.  (I’m paraphrasing.)

I will say that I am not a vegetarian, nor am I against hunting.  That Melissa and her family will consume this animal does not disturb me.  I just did not think it was the kind of thing I wanted to see on social media.

This morning, a friend of mine who saw my tweet/status update from Monday asked if I was the person who reported Melissa’s picture.  I admitted to my friend that it was me.  This friend shared with me the status update and thread where she said someone had reported her picture and she wanted to know who it was so she could delete them.  There were many comments of support, people who felt there was nothing disturbing at all about her dead deer picture.

And that’s when I felt bad.  I asked myself again, seriously, why did I feel the need to report the picture? Why did I get so fired up? It’s just a picture.  Couldn’t I have just unfollowed and not look back?  I thought about sending Melissa a message, apologizing for reporting the picture, offering best wishes, trying to explain myself.  I realized, though, that there was nothing I could say that would make her see it my way.  We both may be from Kansas, we both might have even moved far away from Kansas, but we see life differently.

If I could undo reporting the picture, I would.  If I could undo unfriending Melissa, I would do that too.

What’s done is done after all.  And this is a sad confession, but it was only after reading her latest status update this morning that I really tried to look at the whole thing from her perspective.  It’s my understanding that the deer was shot by her husband, and people commented that it was a good shot, a clean kill.  She was proud of her man and she wanted to share it.  And then I come along…

I don’t know if the picture is still up, I do know that she knows it was me.  She commented in another thread that she thought I was the kind of person who would have told her without reporting it.  And I would say she makes a good point.

So, I guess that’s it.  Everybody knows.  I know there are much bigger problems in the world than this, but I am not proud of my actions.

Melissa, if you ever happen to see this, know that I am truly sorry.  I do wish you the very best.

Guest Blogger, Linda Bailey Walsh: There are Many Ways to Save a Life

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This is a picture of my friend Linda when she was in grade school. Cute kid, huh? I asked her to write a guest blog, to expound on something she said on Facebook last week about the Caitlyn Jenner controversy. She wrote this blog and as you will read, she shares some childhood experiences, things that you don’t like to think about your friends having to experience. And yet, Linda survived. Survived and thrived. She is the beautiful adult in the other picture, but it’s the kid pic that I can’t stop thinking about. She tugs at my heart strings. I think we might all have a lot more empathy for folks we disagreed with if we found a picture of them at 6 and looked at that for a few minutes. Just an idea. Anyway, here is Linda’s guest blog, I hope it will touch your heart the way to touched mine.

There are Many Ways to Save a Life

I had the amusing realization this week that if you haven’t spoken with me in a while or if we only know each other from social media most likely you would assume I am gay. The reason why is because I often post about LGBT issues as well as women’s issues. I am unapologetic about this. I am passionate about them. I try not to take the bait and post about straight up politics but when it comes to equality and civil rights. I can’t keep quiet. After all, not speaking up is usually the number one reason that prejudice and discrimination are able to thrive.

For the record, I am not gay so, I’ll never truly know what it feels like to be gay or transgender but, I do know what it’s like to feel an “otherness”. I was a weird kid. Passionate about the arts and performing pretty much from birth. I read Edgar Allen Poe for fun in 3rd grade and stayed in one of 3 characters all day everyday when I was 4 (Barbie, Miss Flowers & Gypsy. I would tell you who I was that day and only answer to that name. ) Later there would be liquid eyeliner drawn in vines around my eyes to compliment my Mohawk. I was lucky enough to be born into an awesome family but still I know that often they didn’t know what to make of me. We are children of longshoreman who play sports and cheer. We do not practice Iambic Pentameter for fun.

I experienced my share of being bullied or just plain ostracized which for me, was worse. Before the punk rock phase I looked like an average kid but what was inside of me always shone through and kids can sniff out someone who’s different like canaries in a coalmine.

Luckily as I got older I found my tribe. The Artists, the Activists, the Fun and the Fierce. There is nothing in the world like realizing you are not alone.

In time the things that made me different became the things I grew to love most about myself. As corny as it may sound I know now that those are the things that make me special.
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I also remember everyone that ever stood up for me when I was down. Christine Angelucci protected me in Elementary school when I had to constantly find a new route home to avoid getting beaten up. Holly Arnold standing up to a cheerleading coach who was bullying me, my future brother in law Sean Smith having a talk with a boy who told me just how ugly he thought I was in front of an entire class. My parents, my sisters, the list goes on and on.

And as an adult I have been fortunate to be surrounded by amazingly loving and inspiring people. This includes the family I was born into and the one that I made out in the world. People (often LGBT) who made me dinner while I nursed a heart that felt irreparably shattered. Those who inspired me to be better in my work and my life. People have saved me on many days and in many ways just by being there, loving me and saying “I understand. I’ve been there. You are not alone.”

So this last week we met Caitlyn Jenner. I’m proud that most of the response I bore witness to was very positive. Of course it wasn’t all positive. I can understand confusion and even fear so long as it is balanced with kindness. After all this is an extraordinarily new situation for most people. What truly puzzled me is the people who felt somehow attacked, that to support Caitlyn in her journey somehow was an insult to others. Most specifically I am speaking of the word Hero. Many revered Caitlyn for sharing her story and immediately there was backlash, a wave of photos of Soldiers, Firefighters & Police with statements proclaiming them the real heroes. I would not for one second assert that they are not heroes. Of course, of course, of course they are heroes. I truly can’t imagine the bravery in their hearts and I am sincerely grateful for it. My question is this: Why can’t two good things exist simultaneously? There are different ways to be heroic. Why does something have to be bad for something else to be good? One does not diminish the other. There are many ways to save a life. There is no limited admission to the “Good”.

I know that Jenner is a very wealthy, privileged person. Trust me, if I am defending anyone who has anything to do with the Kardashian’s I must feel very strongly! However like Ellen DeGeneres who struggled for almost a decade after coming out, she is still putting herself and her livelihood at great personal risk but, these are the people that need to come forward. I can promise you that for every Jenner there are multitudes that do not have the resources or the support that she does. For those people, often living in fear and isolation it can literally mean life or death to know that someone else exists that is like them and better yet, is thriving.

People say Caitlyn’s story is personal. It is but she has chosen to share it and I truly believe in my soul that there is someone out there who will find hope, possibly lifesaving hope in that story and I find that to be heroic.

Again for me, all it took to make this life worth living was finding my people and the ones who stood up for me and stood with me saying…”I understand. I have been there. You are not alone.” True heroes to me.

Indeed, there are many ways to save a life.

Call Me Caitlyn

caitlyn-jenner-boobs-060115I had a hard time falling asleep last night, many things on my mind.  One of the things bouncing around my pea brain was all the turmoil around Caitlyn Jenner that I noticed on Facebook yesterday.  Certainly, she was all over the news on Monday, but it was not until yesterday that I noticed several of my Facebook friends picked up and shared the story about her receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN.  It wasn’t until later in the day that I understood what had transpired.  After ESPN announced the award’s recipient on Monday, several people suggested that someone named Noah Galloway, an Iraq war veteran, amputee, motivational speaker and Dancing with the Stars contestant, should have won the award.  If you are reading this and think I am only talking about you, please understand I saw several comments from people I know and people I don’t know claiming that Bruce Jenner could not possibly be a hero.

I wrote a little something on my Facebook wall, that I thought it careless and cruel to invalidate Jenner’s experience that because she is not a war veteran, her story has no value. Of course, most of the people who commented hold similar viewpoints as me. A couple of people stated that they did not see Jenner as a hero, which lends the question, what defines a hero anyway?

On Sunday, I was interviewed for a project, which I can’t really say too much about at this point in time. One of the things that came up in this interview was how playing the victim was a recurring storyline in my life. I asked the interviewer, “Why do you think that is?” He suggested that maybe, because I knew even as a child, that if I was gay, I could be rejected by my family and everyone I knew, it might have somehow set a course for my life. It seems incredible to me, but there really are boys and girls growing up today that aren’t taught at an early age, that there is something wrong with who they are in their core. For me, the message I received from church, school, family and peers was clear, do not grow up to be gay. And you know, I’m still a work in progress, but it seems it is possible that that fear of rejection has played a part in my adult refrain of always seeing myself as an outsider, trying to claw my way into acceptance and love.

Bruce Jenner’s story is different than mine, as is Caitlyn’s. One of the things that inspires me about Caitlyn is that she hopes she will be a better person than Bruce was. It inspires me because I have my own moments in my yesterdays that I am ashamed of. I’d like to be a better person in the future than I was in my past. On Monday, I did not think to myself, Call Me Caitlyn. But this morning is a new day. This morning I realized why yesterday’s anti-Caitlyn comments frustrated me. That it took me so long to make the connection is a startling reminder of how slow on the uptake I can be. I am Caitlyn. I am not an Olympic gold medal winner, I am not a reality star, I am not transgender woman, but we are connected. If Caitlyn puts the T in LGBT, goodness knows how much G I put in it. And I love my little umbrella, my L’s, my G’s, my B’s, my T’s. We were all, most of us anyway, just little kids growing up somewhere, afraid that the world would reject us if they knew our secrets.

To be honest, one thing that Caitlyn’s journey has reminded me of is that some of the world will hate you when they find out your secret. But others will lend their support and, if you are strong enough, you will make it. You will thrive. Maybe you will even become a hero. Yes, there might be some disagreement as to whether or not you actually are a hero, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t one.

Guest Blogger, David Dillon

The Music Man Finale

Families can be a tricky thing.  Ideally, from the time you are little, they should be your first and strongest support system.  Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t.

I’ve written often about my time performing in the play Party, it was truly one of the most magical times of my life.  I did the play in Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco, and suffice to say, every city bore its own adventures.   One of the plays many gifts was getting to know funny, talented people, many of whom are still in my life, among them Party‘s playwright, David Dillon.   While we lost touch for a few years, through the magic of Facebook, we are reconnected.  And I am glad, because he always has a perceptive, droll take on just about every topic,  He told me he had a bullying story, this one is about family, and I feel quite honored that he has shared it here.  Thank you, David.

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Way before I was born, my father’s parents purchased some property along the lake on Chicago’s south side. There were two lots … one with a single family home and right next door, a beautiful three story apartment building with one large apartment on each floor and a smaller basement apartment. My father had been one of seven children, so the idea was that the grandparents would live in the house and then inexpensively rent the apartments out to those of their kids and their families who wanted to live nearby.

My mother, father, sister and I lived on the third floor. The apartments were huge by today’s standards and right behind our building was Rainbow Beach. Our yard butted right up to the park and just a few steps beyond was one of the most popular beaches in Chicago. I used to love to sit on our enclosed back porch and listen to the sounds of summer as I watched the sailboats dotting the lake in the distance. Maybe it is the Piscean in me, but I have always been soothed by the sounds of water and the crashing of the Lake Michigan waves were about the most wonderful sounds I have ever heard. It was a paradise for kids and I remember being blissfully happy there in my youngest years.

In the first floor apartment lived a favorite aunt and uncle and a wonderful flock of cousins. My uncle was an art dealer and there was a cultured and civilized manner about both him and my aunt that always attracted me. My parents never needed to find an outside babysitter either; we had a built in roster of sitters all throughout the building. Home was a safe, care free and cheerful place.

My happiness turned to deep sadness, though, when that arm of our family announced that they would be moving to Tacoma, Washington. I couldn’t imagine life without them.

Now, by this time, I had already showed signs of not being interested in typical “boy” stuff. I had no use whatsoever for sports or the roughhousing that was common among my peers.

I had discovered musicals when I was five (what you might call a Dead Giveaway) and was obsessed with “The Music Man.” My bedroom was decorated with photos of Shirley Jones placed in the frames that my sister’s Barbie clothes came in. We somewhere have a small piece of film of me at Christmastime wearing a “Music Man” outfit my maternal Grandmother made for me and singing my little heart out. I was way more interested in escaping to my fantasy world listening to my musical LPs than I was in anything a Normal Boy would do. The world of musicals was always a magic place for me. It still is. And it saved me from what would have otherwise been a completely dark stretch of years.
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As it turned out, my favorite first floor family was replaced by my least favorite of my father’s brother’s families and paradise soon turned into hell.

This group of cousins had no interest in anything but sports and they took note of my lack of interest early on and with a vengeance. I became the target of ruthless bullying and believe me, the pain of being bullied is made all the worse when it comes from family. They called me a sissy, taunted me and treated me so horribly that the home that used to be my safe place soon became the place I was scared to be. I stayed indoors whenever I could instead of being out in the yard or around the front porch for fear of encountering them. I hated being there and I hated these interlopers for ruining the place I so used to love.

I also began to hate who I was. I wanted desperately to be the kind of boy everyone expected me to be. Not because I craved “boy” things like sports, but because my life would just have been easier. I was made to feel like something was dreadfully wrong with me and I became engulfed by the loneliest kind of sadness.

An interesting thing – this family apparently felt that gender roles only applied to boys. I say that because one of the young girls in that family was a Textbook Tomboy. She behaved more like a boy than I did and she and one of her brothers were the two who were the most mean to me. But I never saw anyone tease her or prod her into putting on a dress and playing with dolls. No one told Textbook Tomboy to put down the baseball bat. Astonishingly, it never occurred to anyone that she was actually the gender skewed “girl” version of me. I wish I had been articulate enough then to have pointed out both the irony and the hypocrisy, but I just suffered in silence.

It may come as no surprise that I still have an extreme aversion to sports. They always represented my oppressors. Even now, fifty years later, I struggle to get past that.

Skip ahead almost forty years. Out of the blue one day, I got an email from the second oldest son of the family I so wished had never come to South Shore Drive. He was actually the best of the bunch, so I welcomed getting back in touch with him. In one of his first emails to me, however, he revealed that Textbook Tomboy had come out as a lesbian in adulthood. (Quelle surprise!) But, he was very quick to add that with the help of therapy and God, she was able to be cured, to rid herself of that existence and become straight.

Unfuckingbelievable.

What he had to say hit the very core of why I despised those cousins and could easily have triggered what my Facebook friends now call a “David rant.” But instead, I let it go. There was simply no point. This family would never “get it” and I would only be beating my head against a wall.

If that had been an end to it, I’d have let it all alone and moved on with the knowledge that some people will just never change and that was just a fact of life.

You can imagine how surprised I was to next get an email from the Textbook Tomboy Former Lesbian Bully Cousin who had been so cruel to me when we were kids. She wanted to apologize for how she treated me growing up and said that she often throughout her life thought about those days and her behavior towards me with regret. She hoped I would forgive her.

I can honestly say that I would have had a different response had one of two things been true. If she had accepted who she really was and was living life as a lesbian, I’d have forgiven her. I understand the psychology of closeted and fearful youth. Or, if she had even simply lived her life as a straight woman (if she truly WAS straight) who looked back at a kind of childhood behavior she was ashamed of, I’d have also forgiven her.

But, this “Former Lesbian” stuff didn’t allow me to be generous. By seeking out ways to be “fixed,” she and her family were once again, decades later, affirming that who gay people are (meaning me) is fundamentally wrong and obviously sick. The conversion therapy she believed in and that her family celebrated as her salvation is a lie. It is a lifeline clung to in desperation by self loathing fags and dykes who despise themselves for who they are.

I felt their judgment again and with the same sting as when we were kids and it enraged me. They had made it clear so many years ago that my not being the kind of boy they thought I should be made me an aberration. Now, she had been “saved” from the Evils of Lesbianism and her family thanked God for delivering her from such a wretched existence.

That did it. I was no longer going to let her or her family off the hook for what they did to me.

So, I wrote her back.

I told her how scarred I still was from her treatment of me. I told her how she took a place I loved and turned it into a place where I lived frightened rather than happy. I told her how she made me hate myself for not being the person she thought I should be and how she robbed me of a beloved part of my childhood. Finally, I told her to look to her God for forgiveness, for she wouldn’t get any from me.

Damn, it felt good.

Now, a number of people in my life have told me that I hold on to things for too long, that I need to learn how to forgive. They tell me this not for the sake of those who have wronged me, but for my sake. They tell me it sets you free. They might have a point. My father committed suicide when I was thirteen and I still have not completely forgiven him and that has colored every moment of my life since. And no betrayal by a friend or lover ever goes forgotten.

So, a couple of years ago, for better or worse I took the High Road. I sent the Former Lesbian a message on Facebook and told her I forgive her. But, no, I didn’t do it for her. I did it because I refuse to let what she did to me so long ago still have a hold on me. As long as I clung to the state of being unforgiving, I was acknowledging her power over me and my life. I had to let it go.

What I know is that I have something she will never have – the knowledge that I am living life truthfully and proudly as the person I am. The miserable little boy who didn’t know who he was and was made to feel “wrong” is an open and out gay man who unapologetically and joyfully embraces his identity. And, the Textbook Tomboy Former Lesbian Bully Cousin is as lost a creature as has ever walked the earth, though she will never see, admit or come to terms with that. She would, in fact, deny that to her dying breath. And so, she will never know the peace of loving and accepting herself in total honestly.

So, I win.

Meeee

Every Punch, Kick and Shove

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My friend Paul wrote an open letter to his middle school classmates on Facebook yesterday. I’ve included it here because, frankly, it’s heartracing to read. It’s a missive about bullying. I’ll let him tell his own story, but suffice to say, I’ve thought plenty about it over the last 24 hours. As a show of support, I posted on his FB wall the video of Julia Sugarbaker telling off her sister Suzanne’s pageant bully, because his letter is just that fierce. Clearly, I’m not the only one touched by what he wrote because the last time I looked there were 44 comments from his friends telling him how awesome he is. And the thing about middle school for most of us outcasts, is, we can’t imagine an adulthood where even 10 people would go out of their way to tell us how great and special and unique we are. But, if we survive it, it does get better. Paul and his fabulous life are proof of it. Enjoy, and I hope you get as worked up as I did.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE 1990 GRADUATING CLASS OF ASHLAND MIDDLE SCHOOL
In this day and age, the term “being bullied” is (sadly) as common as a Coachella reference and a Kardashian quote. Everyone at some point has had the experience of being the brunt of a bully.
It’s always been that way it seems if your different. It’s especially true if you’re a gay kid growing up in a shitsville hick town. And that’s the way it was for my twin brother and me.
The blessing is we survived it together, and being twins made the pain of three long years of physical and emotional torturing bearable. Had we not had each other to experience it all, at the same time, I don’t know if either of us would be here in this world right now. When I hear that another young gay kid commits suicide, I lose my breath. I ache. I too know that feeling of dread, of hopelessness; it’s like you’re being gaslighted by your entire class (we were)for reasons we couldn’t understand. It’s exhausting, and it’s downright scary, especially when you’re being picked on, teased and tormented for just being who you are.
Those kids who were too effeminate, too nice to speak up and too scared to fight back..well, that was my brother and me.
What made matters worse was trying to go to teachers, school counselors and principles, even our parents- nobody could say the obvious. And in 1989,in the small town of Ashland in Southern Oregon where hillbilly ignorance runs under the guise of New Thought Enlightenment back then (and probably now), nobody would.
The reason I bring this up is because earlier this week, I had a friend request from one of those bullies. A girl (yeah, my brother and I were so “faggy” that even the girls would pick on us.)
However, I don’t look like I used to (neither do they). Let’s just say I’m not that “fat faggot” they used to taunt.
I was surprised at first. It’s been 25 years. But with three solid years of daily ridicule and punishment, you don’t forget the names of your bullies. None of them. I even remember in my Junior High yearbook I wrote down the names they called us, or what they did to my brother and me by every name in that book.
Surprise turned to wonder for a few days..then wonder turned to anger and rage. “Why the fuck would this lady-douchebag have the nerve to friend request me?”
Then rage turned to laughter, and that’s where I’m at (any time you can use the word “lady-douchebag” has to elicit at least a smile).
I’m not going to call anyone out personally; I don’t need to. I can tell you that almost every kid in my graduating class of Ashland Middle School were little bitch-ass bullies to my brother and me (except for a handful of students who showed kindness and tolerance, and to this day I know them by name.) You never apologized when you should have, and now, it doesn’t even matter.
Whether that entire class owns up to their behavior doesn’t mean a damn thing to me now, for every word they broke me down with, every punch, kick and shove they did to us only made us to love harder, to fight harder for the things and people we believe in. I’m still that “faggy” kid you used to torture, but I’m not fat, and I’m not afraid.
To the entire graduating Class of 1990 from Ashland Middle School,don’t send me a friend request. We’re not friends, and we’ve never been. And yes, you all, each and every one of you, were gay-bashing little bastards.
In short,to quote the great Heather Mooney in “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion: “Why don’t you tell everyone I said to go fuck themselves for making my teen years a living hell?”
Love,
Paul Ybarra

Nothing Painful

high_tea_palm_court-3Here is the synopsis of a screenplay that I always think I’m going to write. It’s called Nothing Painful and it’s about a 40-something gay man who is deeply depressed. He decides he wants to kill himself. He does not have enough money in his retirement fund to actually retire but he has enough that, once he cashes it in, he can afford one last luxury vacation. In some versions, he goes to New York, a city where he once lived in his 20’s, when his life felt full of possibility. In another version, he goes to Paris, the city he’s always dreamed of visiting.

Our protagonist checks into his hotel, the Plaza, in the New York version and whatever hotel Carrie Bradshaw stayed at in the Paris version. As he checks into the hotel, he sees an attractive couple, his age, with photogenic children checking in at the same time. He looks longingly at the children. When he was young, he thought he wanted to have children of his own.

The next two days are active but dour. He eats baked goods at pastry shops, walks the city’s streets and parks, visits museums. If our budget is grand enough, there will be a scene where he walks through the galleries of the Met (if it’s New York) or the Louvre (if it’s Paris). After the Met (or the Louvre), he visits a thrift shop. (Do they have those in Paris? I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been.) At the thrift shop, he finds a simple, but evocative painting for 20 dollars or 20 euros. The shopkeeper asks if he wants to buy the painting. Our protagonist hesitates, sadly. Obviously, he has come to New York or Paris to end his life. Who needs a second or third or fourth hand amateur painting? But he has the money and it calls to him, so he buys it. He walks down the streets of New York or Paris with the brown papered parcel in his hands, back to his hotel.

Shoot, I forgot to say that we know early on, before he even lands in New York or Paris that he has decided to take pills to kill himself. He had studied suicide strategies on the internet and he’d settled on pills because he wanted “nothing painful.” When he returns to his room, he unwraps the painting and leans it against the bureau. He takes off his shoes, maybe strips down to his underwear if the guy we cast is handsome enough, and lays on his bed and stares at the painting. He falls asleep.

The next day, his third day in New York, or Paris, he takes afternoon tea in the hotel lobby. (Do they have afternoon tea in Paris? Do I need to switch this to London? I think they must have tea in Paris because weren’t they having tea at the hotel in Sex and the City when Carrie met Petrovsky’s bitchy daughter?) Either in the Palm Court, or Paris’ Palm Court equivalent, our protagonist sits alone at a table with a view of the entire lovely, ornate room. With resignation, he orders high tea and champagne.

The family he witnessed at check-in, is also in the Palm Court (or Parisian Palm Court equivalent) at the same time. I forgot to tell you that earlier, after check-in, but before this moment, our protagonist saw the family either in the hotel or on his travels in the city and he witnessed unsavory behavior from all four of the children. Not ordinary, those darn kids stuff, but that brat from The Slap territory. Times four. He grimaces when he sees them.

His tea comes, as does his champagne. He stares listlessly at the bubbles. Meanwhile, the four terrors have unleashed their evil on the entire dining room. Lots of “I don’t WANNA!!”‘s and kicking adults in the shin and overturned pastry carts. Our Joe, his name is Joe, he is just that average, becomes more and more nervous and upset. This is painful. He thinks, these hellions are ruining my last trip to New York! (Or, these monsteurs are ruining my first and only trip to Paris!) He looks around the room, the juxtaposition of a historic, elegant hotel, decadently decorated pastries, cute tea sandwiches. And then he looks at the kids and the horrible parents who have allowed the melee. And he picks up his champagne glass and channeling his inner Susan Hayward, screams (or maybe whispers, which do you think would be more effective?), “I WANT TO LIVE.” (If he whispers, it’s more like, “i want to live.”) And he laughs, yelps even because he realizes that he doesn’t want to die after all. Sure he’s depressed, who isn’t!?!?

And then he has a Scooby Doo zoinks moment where he bellows, “I can’t afford this hotel! I gotta get out of here.” Cut to slapstick hotel room packing scene with Abba song in the background, just to, you know, remind the viewer that Joe is gay.

On the flight home, of course, the family from the hotel is on Joe’s plane. While they wreak havoc on the entire aircraft, (flight attendants tied down in jump seats, there is rifling through passengers’ carry ons, overturned drink cart), Joe smiles. He has learned that pain is part of life, part of his life, part of everyone’s life. In a more mischevious version, he might offer the bottle of suicide pills to the mother or father on the plane, “My gift from me to you,” he might say with a creepy Zachary Quinto smile. (Full disclosure: I am OBSESSED with The Slap.)

Our last shot is Joe in the airport terminal, LAX perhaps, he stares ahead, thrift shop painting in one hand, suitcase in the other. We see the bright sunshine, through the revolving doors. Joe stands still, the conveyer belt moves him toward those doors. Life itself is propelling him home. Fade to whiteout.

Is it morbid or worrisome to admit to having a suicide fantasy? This morning, when I woke up early and couldn’t fall back to sleep, I thought, I am so sad, I just want to be happy again. I knew the pain, in that moment, was not suicide-inducing, but when it gets dark, I always wonder, what will I do when it gets darker? Will I someday reach a point where I truly want my life to end? I mean, I don’t know.

I suppose it’s a healthy sign that even my suicide fantasy ends with me choosing life. (Here’s a twist you didn’t see coming: Joe is based on me.) The other thing I thought about this morning, truly, is that if at some point I plan to end it all, I should really try to spend a bit of my 401K money before I do it. And the fact that I can fantasize about a fancy trip to a luxury hotel (checking in before I check out) is heartening.

This day ended up so much happier than it started. Sure there was the return to the blog and the return to Facebook, which were not insignificant, but more than that, I just had a really nice day. I went for a swim, then lay in the sun for a few minutes before going home. I made an amazing salami, provolone and arugula sandwich. Eric and I went to a museum we’d always talked about visiting, went to Starbucks, drove through Chinatown, went to dinner. Just a strand of beautiful moments. And those moments are woven into other beautiful moments, and also some painful moments, and they all come together to make the fabric that is my life.

As we were driving down Wilshire, I read, on Facebook, that a friend of a friend died this week by his own hand. Because I am obsessed with all things death related, I went to his page and read the tributes his friends and family wrote. He was loved, and yet, he is no longer here with us, here with those who loved him. And I looked out the window, away from Eric. I shed a tear that I didn’t particulary want him to see. As we headed west, the sun setting, I wondered if I was weeping for my friend’s friend or for myself.

But I know, and I suspect that you know, too. I was weeping for both of us.