Sunday, November 12, 2017

Proportional Drama

Why is it we seem to create more drama for ourselves than is actually necessary, as if any drama at all were actually necessary?

I recently traveled across the country to honor a family member where I would also find myself face to face with two other family members who’ve caused me great emotional pain in the past. I hadn’t seen them in 20 and 30 years respectively and hadn’t anticipated seeing them again. But, now I was going to.

Prior to the trip, I did everything I could to prepare myself emotionally, mentally and spiritually; had in-depth sessions with my therapist, asked my Wiccan friend to remember me in her Samhain rituals, invoked my numerous spirit guides, meditated on my own inner strength, rationalized that this was all for my own healing/greater good and paid attention to the increasing number of synchronicities as the trip itself approached. 

I planned to leave Los Angeles two days prior to the celebration which would give me time to adjust to the time difference. The main event was a formal ceremony which would offer minimal interaction with the individuals. However, the free time before and after the ceremony itself was where I anticipated any possible interaction as we would be free to mill about, and that was what triggered the anxiety. Also, there was a second, less formal event where I knew additional family drama might raise its tragic head.

I developed the attitude of 'I’m simply going to do what I feel is important to me' and if anyone would give me grief, I would simply reply "I no longer care what you think. I do what I feel is best for me, for my greater good, not yours."

Kind of a polite "Go fuck yourself!"

Plus, I was there to honor the celebrant and no one else. Period. Case closed. Move along.

Everything I saw/felt/interpreted indicated the trip itself would be smooth and positive. Yet, the anxiety persisted.

As I hate traveling anyway, the night before leaving I had a difficult time sleeping; tossing and turning almost all night. I tried every trick I knew to relax-a white noise app, a guided meditation app, melatonin-but the anticipation of what could happen along the way and while there was also a bit of a worry. Okay, a major worry, in spite of the fact I knew I could control nothing but my reaction to whatever might come up.

Other than the traditional rough landing at my final destination, the travel itself went well; the plethora of synchronicities surrounding the departure gate for the last leg was overwhelmingly supportive. "All would be well," they said. I felt blessed.

Once I arrived, I began to steady myself for the event two days later. It all seemed to be so surreal, yet actually happening. I kept up my mantra, "I can do this, it’s for my greater good. I can do this, it’s for my greater good."

The two nights I was there before the ceremony, I had an even harder time sleeping, tossing and turning all night, suffered bad cases of indigestion, and now higher anxiety as the reality was now setting in. Plus, I was not in the comfort and safety of my home, my bed. Still, I continued my mantra, "I can do this, it’s for my greater good. I can do this, it’s for my greater good. I can do this, it IS for my greater good, damn it."

While some anxiety is normal, I think the amount I was feeling was a bit extreme. I believe the emotional attachment I once had to these people and amount of time that had passed since I last saw them had allowed the pain to fester all of which kept me from fully grounding myself. Plus, this was family which seems to carry added weight.

I knew I had no control over anything but my reaction. I knew I had to get through this struggle. I knew I would get through this moment. I knew the Universe was teaching me a lesson and I would be fine in the end. Yet, the anxiety was still overwhelming.

On the hour’s drive to the venue, I practiced settling myself-deep breathing exercises, picturing my safe place, connecting with my guides. One family member, who was in a similar boat as I, shared his strategy as to how he planned on surviving this moment. Knowing I had an ally on my side was very reassuring.

We arrived at the venue, parked and found some seats in the auditorium. After greeting some of the others already there, the particular two individuals in question finally arrived at the ceremony. I decided to take my power back and walked up to one of them. After a brief moment while he finished another conversation, we extended our hands, shook them and exchanged a "How do you do?" and a "Fine, thank you." He then turned and walked away. The other was busy so I returned to my seat. Following the ceremony, everyone milled about the foyer and entryway while waiting to leave for the second event. I had found out these two people wouldn’t be going, so I could breathe a bit once we were on our way. Shortly, the two came up to me; we shook hands, and they said their goodbyes and were off.

And that was that. A grand total of about two minutes caused me so much anxiety that I was physically ill at times and then turned out to be nothing like I had imagined.

Why is it we blow such things so out of proportion? I believe it’s because we attach too much emotion to situations especially where family is involved. I don’t mean to suggest emotions are bad, but sometimes we allow them to cloud our judgment. I’d been through difficult times before but to me, this was very different. Perhaps it was because these were two family members with some long and difficult history between us. Perhaps it’s also because we want to believe we will be safe so we imagine all the worst case scenarios in order to be prepared which triggers the anxiety and then it almost never turns out the way we imagined. Funny, that. It’s like an emotional catch-22.

So, what was the Universe teaching me here? 
  1. Stop overthinking, for one; but that is so much easier said than done. 
  2. In reality, nothing turns out how we imagine it will. 
  3. Let go of what you can’t control. 
  4. Trust in the Universe and in yourself.
Perhaps all of the above. With an emphasis on the last part of the last one.

Life is not about the destination but is the journey itself and what we learn along the way.

Especially from the bumps we hit...


Friday, October 20, 2017

Struggles

I know we all have our personal preferences;
  • Red wine or white? 
  • Dark chocolate or milk? 
  • Madonna or Cher?
I also know we all have our personal beliefs when it comes to politics.

Yet, I have been struggling lately; especially with this last one.

As I have been walking this newer path, or at least trying to, I seem to have hit a wall, which, I know, is normal. But, this is a difficult wall to climb. It’s also a very painful one.


In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz shares some ancient Toltec wisdom to help bring peace and enlightenment for us to live by in order to better today’s society. There are four agreements that he says the ancient Toltecs lived by:
  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Take nothing personally.
  3. Make no assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.
Two of those I can easily live with.

Two of those I struggle with, especially in today’s very difficult times.

In Buddhist Boot Camp, Timber Hawkeye describes his journey to spiritual understanding. He has stripped away all the trappings of Buddhism as a religion and presented the results, the basic tenets, as an inspirational guide for each of us to be a better person regardless of our personal faith.

In it, he explains Buddhism teaches that the opposite of what I know to be true, is also true. It's just true for someone else. And that’s when the conflicts begin; when we try to impose our truth on someone else whose truth is different than ours, then they resist which we sometimes take personally. "Can’t they see I’m right?"

Years ago, a colleague of mine was very supportive when my husband divorced me. "You deserved better, you were too good for him," she’d say. I felt safe (to an extent) with her. She later openly stated her opposition to same-sex marriage. (This was before the US Supreme Court decision.) When I called her out on her stance, she cited her religious views and claimed it wasn’t personal.

"Bullshit," I said. Even though she was coming from her place of truth, it subjugated me to second-class status as it denied me the same rights accorded by marriage that she takes for granted. How can I not take that personally? Yet, we were both still coming from our respective places of truth. We never came to an understanding. In 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex couples and the right to marry. I'm not sure how she accepted that ruling. I was so overcome with emotions, I framed the LA Times and hung it proudly in my entryway.

With the current stepped up verbal, political and violent attacks against the LGBTQIA community, how can anyone not take it personally when votes are cast against us? Especially when those votes come from those close to us?

It is indeed a struggle. I have to ask myself, "Are these individuals actually acting to hurt me and the LGBTQIA community? Are they marking their ballot specifically to spite me?" Letting go of the disappointment that they don’t 'see the light' of the pain they are causing me is difficult. While we are relatively safe in California against anti-discrimination laws, other states still have laws on the books allowing an employer to simply dismiss a worker because of their personal life. And other countries are indeed far worse.

Sometimes I question whether it's worth my energy to talk to these individuals. Will they see my side and see that I am right? Will they at least listen to my argument that "We the People" does indeed mean EVERYBODY? In my early years of activism, I learned when to give up on a lost cause. I have learned when someone will at least listen and maybe take my side into consideration. I try to keep that distinction in mind.

At a recent meeting of my LGBTQIA writers' group, I noticed some word art on the walls of the home where we were meeting. One particular piece that caught my eye said something like "I get wherever I need to go, I get whatever I need." Or something to that effect.

The next day, an article appeared in my Facebook timeline, newsfeed, or whatever they’re calling it this week. The article was titled Feeling Offended by Anything (or Anyone) is a Choice. The author, Jacky Exton, believes that we assign our value to others’ opinions. For example, if someone said I was a lousy teacher, I’d be offended because I define myself as a teacher. But, if someone said I was a lousy flamenco dancer, I wouldn’t take offense because I don’t define myself as a flamenco dancer. So, we define ourselves by external labels and then value ourselves by how other people see us in those labels.

I define myself as a citizen of the United States. I have been taught I am entitled to the same unalienable rights as every other citizen of this nation. I also define myself as gay. Yet, others don’t believe that LGBTQIA citizens are entitled to those exact same unalienable rights. They vote for parties and candidates who want to take them away. How am I not supposed to be offended? How can I not take this personally? 

More importantly, how, amongst all this, am I to maintain peace of mind?

When people look at their ballot, they have a lot to consider. They bring in a lot of questions, thoughts, and ideas from their personal truths. Do they stop and think about all the individuals in their lives and how their votes will affect each of them? Most likely not. I have a hard time thinking that my friends mark their ballots specifically for anti-LGBTQIA parties and candidates in order to spite me. Wouldn’t that be an assumption if I thought they really did vote that way? It would.

Does it still hurt? Yes. 

Buddhism also teaches that we can’t control others’ actions, but only our own reactions.

So, it’s up to me to choose how to react;
  • I can do nothing at all or,
  • I can make assumptions and take things personally which I could internalize and ruminate or,
  • I can be righteously indignant and turn that into action or,
  • I can continue to learn to value myself as I see my self.
So, it seems I got what I needed from that article when I needed it.

This may not help me alleviate the pain and disappointment right now, but it’s giving me a road map to get me where I need to go.





Both "The Four Agreements" and "Buddhist Boot Camp" are available on Amazon.com

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Hot Cocoa



Hello, little one, it’s been a while since we’ve had a chat. How are you doing? Would you like some cocoa?

Here you go. Careful, it’s hot. 

You’re welcome. 

Hm?

Yes, things have been difficult lately, haven’t they? And for both of us. So, what’s bothering you?

I see; you’re afraid. Afraid of what? 

Oh, afraid he’ll leave. Well, that’s always a possibility that we can’t control. We have lost a few, haven’t we?

Well, he died because he was ill. I think of it like this; he had fulfilled his journey here on Earth and also with us and it was his time. I don’t know how else I can explain it. But we were able to move on.

What about the others?

Wait. What? 

No, it was never your fault! You must never think that. You never did anything wrong! Come here, let me hold you. There. Shhh…It was always something to do with them, you must remember that. They reached a point where they had to go off on their own. Can you think of it like this: we were helping them grow, and they reached a point where they could grow no further? They were afraid of what they might find; what they might discover. So, they ran.

In a way, yes. They were afraid of themselves.

Oh my, little one, yes. This last one was excruciatingly painful. But, look at the risk we did take. We should be proud of ourselves for opening our hearts again. But, look at what he has to overcome.

Yes, in a way it does make sense, but no, it doesn’t ease the pain. We wish him well. 

Yes, always. Here dry your eyes.

Yeah, he was. He was very special; he always will be. 

What was that sigh about?

The future? What about it?

Yes, learning to trust again will be hard. But, in time I think we can. Besides, the future will be what it will be. We can't change it.

What?

That's true. Not everyone has to understand us. Or accept us. And not everyone will. And that's okay. We just have to understand and accept ourselves.

Yes, it hurts. But, we will surround ourselves with those that love us and accept us and we'll be fine.

Yes, the future is scary. It's scary because we don't know what's coming. But you know what? I’m here right beside you. Here, take my hand. Can I tell you something? 

Okay, here goes. Feelings are normal. Adults can get scared, too.

Yes, we do. And we acknowledge the feeling and then we try our best to work through it. Or with it.

Feel better?

Only a little?

Hey, I will never let you down. I am here with you always, because you know what? We are one and the same. You are as much a part of me as I am of you. And when you begin to feel fearful, or distrustful again, I will be right here to protect you.

Yes, always...


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Synchronicities 7

The synchronicities happening in my life have taken quite an interesting turn.

First, they were mostly sets of the same digit, appearing often; for example, 1111, 222, 777, 8888888. I'd notice them mostly on license plates, clocks, receipts, etc. I believe I have written about them before. After all, this post is titled "Synchronicities 7."

Then they added another level and became repeated combinations of 3- or 4- digits. Two threes and a one is a frequent combination, usually as 331 or 313. Two ones and two sevens is another one I see often; 1177, 1717, etc.

Also, words began appearing frequently, and usually they were connected to a young man who is very special to me. Since his first name can be used either as a noun or a verb, and his last name can be a verb, those particular words would stand out when I saw or heard them. Often they, both first and last names, would appear in a crossword puzzle I do, Daily Celebrity Crossword, and an opponent even played his last name in Words With Friends and twice the new tiles in my rack formed his first name. One might argue that I might be a bit sensitive to seeing or hearing his names being the deep connection we share(d) and in time that sensitivity would wear off. Yet, combined with all the other synchronicities happening, and the varied areas where his name appears often at random times, I believe the Universe is keeping his name front and center reminding me of our connection.

Coincidences rarely happen. However, these numbers have been appearing daily for over a year which leads me to believe this is something more than simple coincidence, especially when it happens multiple times in one day with different numbers.

Now, here's where the plot thickens. On a recent Monday, I went to my local Home Depot. I parked in a space with no cars in the space directly in front of me or to either side of that one which gave me a clear view of the cars in the next aisle over. There were two cars parked side by side with no cars for two spaces on either side of them. So, these two were by themselves. They stood out.

As I have a thing for license plates, I glanced at these two. I had already seen a plate with 111 in this same parking lot! Both cars' plates ended in the same three-digit number, 837! This was a new sequence for me; I had never noticed it before. What are the odds of two cars sitting side by side, not surrounded by other cars for at least two spaces on either side, ending in the same three digits? I would think they would be astronomical.

Later that same week on Thursday, I drove to my doctor's office for a routine visit. In less than ten minutes, from the time I entered the parking lot to the time I entered the building, I noticed 858 on three different license plates! Now, I must say I didn't go plate by plate looking for repeated number sequences as this is a huge medical facility and I was running close to my appointment time. All three plates just happened to be where I simply glanced over at them.

Some numerologists ascribe material needs or situation-finances, career, etc-to the number 8. These two combinations seemed to suggest that 1) the Universe has my back where my material situation is concerned, and that 2) a change would be coming to my material status so, I was either going to wipe out financially or win the lottery. Either way is a change. But, the Universe still has my back.

Being that these are the first two specific "messages" I've seen, I tried not to attach any hope or expectation to them. I simply acknowledged them, accepted that the Universe has my back, noted a change would be coming at some point in the future, made a mental note of gratitude and went on my day as usual.


By Friday of the same week, I had received word that one of my creditors was substantially raising my limit, a surprise windfall was deposited directly to my bank account, and I learned my pension check was increasing.

On my way to a different appointment a week later, I stopped at a Starbucks. While leaving the lot, I had to wait for a car to pull out of a spot. The license plate ended in 111. A few moments later, while driving on the freeway to the appointment, two cars passed me on the left. They were in adjacent lanes, one to my immediate left, the other to the left of that car, so for one brief moment, they were side by side. Both cars' plates ended in 777!

Sample of a finished Bonza puzzle
Synchronicities don't always involve numbers. As I've mentioned, they have also involved words. I enjoy music as I drive and was listening to an 80s station. As I was approaching this new appointment, one of my favorite songs came on and finished just as I parked my car. I was a bit early for my appointment, so I sat on a bench to while away the time. Taking out my iPhone, I decided to play a puzzle game, Bonza, that I have on both my iPhone and iPad. Now, I haven't played this app on my phone for quite some time, maybe a year at least, so this was unusual. In Bonza, there is a clue, and the answers connect via common letters, similar to a crossword. At first, the answers are broken into pieces and I have to figure out the words or phrases and where they connect. The clue to the next available puzzle in the pack was "Rick Rolled." I had no idea what that meant and as I like a nice challenge, I tapped the screen and there were the pieces of the words or phrases. As I pieced the answers together, they began forming lines from the chorus of the song I had heard just moments before; "Never Gonna Give You Up," by Rick Astley!

The facts that 1) I had just heard the song moments before; 2) I rarely play this puzzle on my phone (the screen's too small to read comfortably with my bad vision) and 3) this was the only available puzzle for me suggested this was not merely a coincidence especially since I had seen 111, twin 777s and now this new synchronicity with the song and puzzle all in about 45 minutes?

So, it seems newer number sequences are appearing simultaneously, or at least in near rapid fire succession. And now the Universe is keeping me on my toes with music and different puzzles. I will say, I am curious as to why the Universe used this song. I'm trying hard not to read anything into it, but it isn't easy.

I try to take it all in stride which is difficult given it can be quite overwhelming. I view the numbers all as affirmations that I'm on the right path for my greater good and all will be well in the end.

And if it's not well, it's not the end.

(But, that song, though...)

Please check out Bonza and Daily Celebrity Crossword for your phone or tablet. They are highly addictive!! 

"Never Gonna Give You Up" official video

Thursday, October 5, 2017

More Shame


Tower of London
I am a great believer in synchronicity, those seemingly odd coincidences that might not be so odd or coincidental after all.

Shortly after I wrote my post about shame in the gay male community, an article appeared on the Huffington Post Queer Voices page about that very topic. But, with a different angle. 

The timing was not lost on me. But, what the timing means, I have yet to discover.

The writer began by stating that as gay men we should not feel shame for having casual anonymous sex.

I agree wholeheartedly. But, NOT for the reasons the author gave. And in my eyes, he stands on very flimsy ground.

He begins his article stating that anonymous sex was a crucial part of gay men’s history and development. Okay, that much is true. For centuries the only way two men could have sex was through anonymous encounters usually meeting in clandestine locations and under the cover of darkness, or in places designed for such encounters, i.e., bathhouses. No names were exchanged because to divulge personal information could possibly lead to severe consequences-public shaming, being fired, murder. Yet, today that still happens. Casual hookups easily made from our phones through hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff have led to attacks, robberies, or worse.

He continues and states casual anonymous sex is so much a part of our gay male culture that is has been practically ingrained into our gay DNA. And that if you are single you are expected to engage in casual, sometimes anonymous, sex.

"...as a single gay man, casual sex is what I am expected to do. It is the social script written for my people.

Expected? EXPECTED? Bullfuckingshit.

The only things we are expected to do is pay our taxes and then eventually die, although some people get away without paying their taxes. 

Oh, it gets better.

"...for a gay man, his decision to engage in such behavior runs deeper than mere bodily satisfaction. It is a part of his history and identity.”

"...we continue to strengthen a sexual culture that is unique to our identity because to operate against this is to divorce ourselves from a gay past."

Hiding Place in a safe house
So, we have no control, no free will against freeing the willie. We are nothing more than mindless sexual robots fucking anonymously out of historical duty. I see.

Times change, dude. It may be part of our history and collective identity, but our individual identity is what we make of ourselves.

Sex is the essence of our being. First dates involve technical discussions of who tops and who bottoms?

We live for sex, not self-improvement? Not strengthening the mind, enlightening the spirit?

"To wait in purity for our Prince Charming is to welcome certain isolation. Worse, to abstain from this behavior is to sever what little ties connect us to our gay past.”

So, if I don’t engage in casual sex, I’m not actually gay and I will be shunned? Nor am I connected to my gay past? 

Oh, hell no.

I am connected to my past because of who and where I come from. If I were to engage in behaviors from my ancestral past, I would be a polygamous slave owner running a safe house on the Underground Railroad while awaiting my fate in the Tower of London. We cannot change the past, whether historical or ancestral. We can acknowledge it happened, learn from it and move on. 

"...gay men inhabit a society far removed from the heteronormative. We should feel no shame when engaging in these behaviors. Rather, we should feel community, camaraderie, and unity. For all the divisions that plague the gay community, casual, anonymous sex is perhaps the one commonality that binds us.

He’s right. We should feel no shame for these behaviors, nor should we feel shame for any emotionally healthy behavior we choose to engage in. But, here’s where he truly lost me. He states, "This is not the first time I have had anonymous sex, nor will it be the last. This is not the first time I have loathed the experience, nor will it be the last.

Polygamous Family
So, I have one question; why? Why continue doing something you loathe? Out of obligation to our history? Because it’s part of a community script? Because you are expected to? I have no words.

I have had a few anonymous encounters in my life. I loathed them all. Then that loathing eventually turned inward. Therapists say that if a behavior brings you pleasure, you should continue provided it is safe and healthy-meaning it doesn’t cause physical or emotional harm to you or others. In other words, no addictive behaviors, e.g. drugs, tobacco, overeating, excessive shopping. So, I stopped having anonymous casual encounters.

I do feel community, camaraderie, and unity with my gay brethren because my romantic and sexual attraction is toward my own gender. But, I do not feel community, camaraderie, and unity with my gay brethren when those same brothers try and dictate to me what is best for my greater good because they have not walked my individual path. 

I understand that some men have that need for casual anonymous sex. I don't.

Do I feel my abstaining from casual sex disconnects me from my gay history? Not any more than my not following my ancestors’ ways of life disconnects me from my heritage. 

Do I feel I am abstaining from casual sex out of some religious indoctrination? No.

Do I feel I am abstaining from casual sex out of some heteronormative ingraining? No.

Do I feel I am abstaining from casual sex out of my own personal experiences? Yes.

Do I feel I am abstaining from casual sex because I’ve determined it is for my greater good? Yes.

And no one knows better than I what is best for my greater good.

Even if I am still trying to figure it out.

As I go along...

        Day by day...

                Step by step...



To view the original article, click here.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Shame

For a community that prides itself on acceptance, and fights for it in mainstream society, it amazes me how often some members of the gay male community aren't as accepting of diversity, and in fact, can be quite judgmental.

For a community that prides itself on freedom of self-expression, and often challenges the norms in that self-expression, I'm confused as to why some members of the community deride others' self-expression, especially when it runs counter to their own self-expression. 

In fact, the community can be quite divisive as well as divided.

At least from my perspective.

Recently an actor took the step of coming out publicly. Coming out is a very brave personal step because we are never sure of the outcome, especially where our family, friends or jobs are concerned: "Will I be accepted or rejected?" "Will I be fired?" Current state workplace laws are quite varied, yet in 2017, 28 states still have laws allowing a person to be fired simply for being gay or lesbian, and in 30 states for being transgender. Plus, coming out as a public figure is even riskier as many careers have been ruined because of coming out, being outed or even simply being perceived as LGBTQ. However, this actor also took the even braver steps of coming out not only as gay but also as a gay Muslim and as a “total bottom.” This means he likes it “up you know where.” (His words, not mine.)

Now, I was brought up to be a bit more discreet about intimacy. It’s private. It’s personal. So, I have a very difficult time understanding why he chose to disclose that last bit of information. But, to each, his own and I respect his decision to do so. 

I do understand that many straight people are curious about how two people of the same gender have sex and presumptions are frequently made. Male couples are often asked, "Which one’s the girl?" while two women are asked the opposite question. All of this plays into gender stereotypes and roles within relationships based on those stereotypes.

Even among gay men, there seems to be some fascination with other men’s preferred positions. I remember years ago sitting in a staff development training focusing on science standards and the presenter was sharing some geology activities. Next to me was another gay male teacher who knew I had just started dating someone and was asking some innocent questions, "What does he do?" "How’d you two meet?" "How old is he?" I got a little sheepish when I said he was somewhat younger. Later, the presenter went over the sedimentary process of the rock cycle and explained that sedimentary rocks form in layers from the bottom up, therefore the youngest layer is always on top. It was then my colleague leaned over and whispered, "Is it true? Is the youngest always on top?" I must have turned a bright shade of burgundy.

When I came out in 1983, the gay liberation movement was in full swing. We were fighting for our rights and redefining what it meant to be a couple. After all, this was quite new, two people of the same gender openly establishing themselves as a couple instead of just "room-" or "housemates" or as ambiguous "friends". Societal norms were also being thrown out because two people of the same gender in a relationship could both be breadwinners. Household chores couldn't be divvied up along gender stereotypes. Even the norm of monogamy came into question as couples decided whether or not sexual fidelity truly mattered if emotional monogamy was all that they desired. After all, we were not in typical heterosexual relationships, therefore we didn't have to behave in the typical heterosexual way we were raised. So, people experimented and made choices based on what felt right for them.

As it should be.

You would think that with all the bullying and name-calling gay men suffer growing up, you would also think they would be the first ones to recognize it. Yet, in his coming out, the actor addressed the issue of "bottom-shaming" in the gay community, where men who prefer this role in sex are often looked down upon. One Facebook friend even asked his followers about "bottom-shaming" and if they had heard, witnessed, or even experienced it. And if so, was it other bottoms or tops (the ones who like putting it up you know where) who were doing it. 

I read the comments and unofficially tallied the results. About half had not heard, witnessed or experienced bottom-shaming and found the very idea to be divisive. In fact, a few were even repulsed that it occurred; "Good bottoms make good tops, and vice versa." "We need each other, why stoop to shaming?" The other half was divided roughly in half again saying it was other bottoms who did the shaming, while the other half had heard tops doing the shaming. (Note: this does not include any fantasy play where shaming is part of the scenario.)

There was no apparent consensus why the bottoms were shaming other bottoms; some seemed to think maybe they were jealous that some bottoms were getting more action? Then does this become a form of slut-shaming?

I could not understand why someone who prefers to top would shame the bottoms. After all, doesn't the top need a bottom? So, maybe it's an ego thing?

Interestingly, there was also a handful of comments where men remarked about being shamed for not enjoying anal sex, or for identifying as asexual. They were told they weren’t really gay or not even normal because they weren't sexually active enough. How much is enough? Who sets the rules and limits? Is there a committee somewhere?

And more importantly, why should it matter to anyone how active someone chooses to be or not to be?

When I was a bit more active on gay social media, okay, the apps, I saw countless references to ageism, racism and other '-isms.' "No one over 40, please." "No (insert race here). Not racist, just a preference." "No fats, no fems." There’s nothing wrong with a preference, but if you have to put it in writing, and advertise it, it becomes ageist, racist, or other-ist; like a sign "No (age/race/fat/fem) allowed."


I occasionally read a column written by an older gay man for older gay men who are adjusting to aging in a community that seems to sound the death knell for anyone over forty. One of his most recent columns focused on "slut-shaming." He wrote about all the negative comments directed at him regarding the prior column where he admitted that when he is not seriously dating someone, he sometimes seeks out hookups. The comments, which I couldn't read as they were sent privately, seemed to be coming from people in committed relationships deriding him for anonymous sex at his age. He's 53. As long as he and his partner are consenting and playing safely, what difference does it make to anyone else? Yet, so many were quick to comment/judge.

I am lost as to why all this shaming goes on in a community where many of us are still healing from hurts lingering silently under the surface and have overcome a lot of self-shaming during our own coming out process. According to many articles I read, bottom-shaming seems very pervasive among some segments of the community. There are multiple historical references where penetration by another male was used, or seen, as an act of submission, weakness, vulnerability, or defeat which might have something to do with the shaming. Or could we be reconnecting sexual positions to heteronormativity; the receptive partner must be the girl and therefore not a "real man." Misogyny, anyone? Internalized homophobia? Perhaps he who doth protest too much has something to hide.

I do realize this is a small segment of the community. Many of us have arrived at a mindset where we don't give a fuck who does what to whom as long as it's consenting and safe. Yet, this small segment seems to be quite "vocal" especially when leaving comments on articles and posts. Maybe they're being a bit brave hiding behind a keyboard. But, in all fairness, in the past when I participated more in community organizations, I actually witnessed some of the shaming.

I just don't understand why the life someone chooses to live should matter to anyone else as long as no other person is being harmed. Hasn't that been our argument all along? In the 1986 case Bowers v. Hardwick, the US Supreme Court decided to uphold Georgia's sodomy laws effectively policing our bedrooms denying us our privacy. The community was outraged. "Two consenting adults should be allowed to have sex how and when they want" became the rallying cry. So, why do so many of us still point fingers and shame others who are having sex how and when they want? Is it so they can feel better about themselves by appearing superior to someone else? Self-validation, perhaps? It comes off as hypocritical to me.

If we truly believe that our brothers and sisters should have the freedom to express themselves however they choose, even sexually, then we should honor their choices and simply STFU.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

September

September has different meanings for different people. In the Northern Hemisphere the autumnal equinox marks the end of summer and beginning of fall, and with that comes the traditional back to school shopping spree. But, that has been shifting earlier and earlier for a few years. The back to school stuff, not the equinox. And for my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, it means the end of winter with the beginning of spring due to the vernal equinox.

Here in the US, Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15 which is Independence Day for many Central American countries and runs to October 14.

September is also National Suicide Prevention Awareness month. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, death by suicide is the 10th leading cause of death over all. (1)

It’s no secret we all suffer from depression or anxiety from time to time. We are only human, after all. 

Some of us suffer from depression and/or anxiety on a continual basis but are unaware of how or unable to end the pain of either. 

Some of us turn to trusted friends, or seek out professional mental health.

Far too many do neither and either suffer in silence or do something more drastic when the pain becomes unbearable.

In my life, I can recall three times when the pain became unbearable. Each time, except the last one, I sought help before considering anything drastic.

This last time, I was able to help myself, for I had learned to depend on and believe in my inner strength, no matter what happens. Plus, I came to believe that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, however long the tunnel appears to be. In addition, I focused on some other blessings I realized I had. 

Do I still get overwhelmed? Yes, but now by very different issues along my new path. And, yes, I do feel like giving up sometimes because the path itself is overwhelming at times. But the Universe loves me and keeps reminding me about that and that I will be taken care of, that all will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, it's not the end. (I’ve seen that thought attributed both to Buddha, and John Lennon.)

But, I also have two physical reminders to keep me grounded and focused. One is permanent, mostly, and the other is designed to wear off, but I hope it never does. If it does, I will simply remedy that.

I’ll start with the semi-permanent one first. 

I stumbled on the My Intent Project through a post on Facebook, and went to their page, there is a link below. I was intrigued by their mission to inspire dialogue and change through positive action. People are encouraged to choose and wear a word (their intent) which is stamped on a charm. The charm is then attached to thread and worn continuously until the string breaks signifying you have realized your intent. The charm can also be worn on a chain around the neck or attached to a keychain. The visibility of the charm is to remind you to stay focused on your word, your action, your intent. Having just retired, a bit earlier than I had planned and saved for, I was concerned with finances. I was also concerned with this new life with nothing pressing for me to do, yet feeling called (maybe pushed? encouraged?) into a new direction, but not knowing what it was going to be-some great unknown. To ease my mind, I chose the word 'SURRENDER' as I am learning to surrender into the current moment, without focusing too much on my past, which I can’t change; or my future, which I can’t control; but just on the gift of now, my present-which I accept.

I am also learning to surrender to the pain itself. Because every athlete will tell you, “No pain, no gain.” This pain is part of the growth I am experiencing. It will be over sometime.

The more permanent reminder is a small tattoo of a semicolon. I have it on the side of my right wrist just below my thumb. The meaning behind the tattoo comes from the idea that when a writer chooses to continue a sentence instead of ending it, they use a semicolon instead a period. I am the writer and my life is my sentence. I am choosing to continue. I discovered the idea of the semicolon tattoo, again through Facebook, where Project Semicolon has a page. There is a link to their website below.

One of the largest groups dying by suicide is LGBTQ youth. Many of these tragic deaths are a result of relentless anti-LGBTQ bullying. Actual statistics for LGBTQ deaths by suicide are hard to quantify because many young people are afraid to come out because of the bullying or other factors. What adds to the tragedy is that many of the victims of bullying are perceived to be LGBTQ, when in fact, they have made no such disclosure.

According to data from the 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), of surveyed LGB students:
  • 10% were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property
  • 34% were bullied on school property
  • 28% were bullied electronically
  • 23% of LGB students who had dated or went out with someone during the 12 months before the survey had experienced sexual dating violence in the prior year
  • 18% of LGB students had experienced physical dating violence
  • 18% of LGB students had been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives. (2)

The Trevor Project is an online crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, and there are many community centers around the world where anyone in crisis may turn for help.

Only one of my ideations about suicide was related to the possibility of being gay and being bullied about it. The others were due to depression, another leading risk factor.

Please familiarize yourself with the risk factors around suicide. There are far too many to enumerate here, but include:
  • Feeling like a burden to others,
  • Giving away prized possessions,
  • Saying goodbye,
  • Depression,
  • Bullying
There is a link below to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for a more complete list of risk and contributing factors.

If you or you believe someone you love is at risk, please seek professional help.

Resources:
National Alliance on Mental Illness, Nami.org, 800-950-NAMI
Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth. thetrevorproject.org, 866-488-7386




(2)  2015 YRBS

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Blessed Technology

I'm taking a detour with this post and ranting about something that has been bothering, perplexing and just confounding me. 

And really beginning to piss me off.

Technology. And even more of its accursedness...since I've already discussed how I and many others believe it is causing a breakdown in communication.

Don’t get me wrong, I do see some benefits to technology. When I was teaching, I subscribed to an online planbook where I could plan lessons comfortably at home in my pajamas with an adult beverage, or two; then access them at school on my district-issued laptop. And since all my teacher editions were now web-based, I didn’t have any heavy teacher editions to lug home. Without technology, I wouldn’t have the benefit of sharing my journey. Without technology, we wouldn’t have x-ray machines telling me there is nothing wrong with my chronically aching, pain-filled shoulders. So, the pain must be in my head, then. Or, maybe it is in the soft tissues, necessitating an MRI, another technological marvel.

A few times in the past month, I was doing some online shopping due to an influx of store-specific gift cards. I found some items that I might like and would work for me, so I checked online for the local stores’ inventory. Each time it showed the item I wanted was in stock, I would drive to the store to preview it, as I prefer to see it in person first, rather than purchase it, wait for it to arrive, find out it isn't quite what I thought, then go through the hassle of returning it and either getting a new gift card or reloading the original one. Each time I arrived, there was no such stock. Finally, I asked a clerk to help me.

Clerk, checking his handheld device: “I'm sorry, the store inventory shows we are sold out."

Me: "Really? But my phone says you have several in stock. See, here's the website."

Clerk: “The website is updated every 24-48 hours.

Me, in my head: WTF? Seriously? We can send a remote-controlled vehicle into outer space, land it on a dusty planet, have it take and send back selfies, yet we can’t update store inventory at a moment’s notice?

The clerk is sympathetic to my frustration and asks, however gingerly, “Sir, may I make a suggestion?”

“Yes,” I say, realizing the clerk is sincerely trying to help and is totally innocent of all the techno-lying I have just been subjected to. Plus, I’m sure he wants to avoid a customer meltdown. “Please.”

“If I may suggest, reserve the item online before coming in. The website will simply check the store’s inventory, but only if you reserve it online, first.”

“But, won’t I have to enter my charge card, and purchase it; then, we'd have to go through the hassle of returning it if I changed my mind?"

“Not to simply reserve it, that way you can see it in person, first. And if we don’t have it, we can’t reserve it. And then you wouldn’t have wasted a trip."

“Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind for next time.” 

A few times also, I have needed a special ingredient for a recipe I wanted to try. In one case the recipe suggested a very specific product (dark chocolate peanut butter) and actually listed the name of the company, so I go to the website to search for the closest store that sells and (hopefully) has it in stock. The website asks if it may use my current location, I answer in the affirmative, and the response comes back, “Based on your IP address the store nearest to you is in….Hoboken, NJ.” 

WTF? That’s approximately 2,799 miles away from me!

Another website for a different product suggested a store somewhere else on the east coast. Yeah, right. 

I thought both were a just bit far, so I finally found the “Search by Zip Code” box and that turned up stores much closer. (Note to self: always search by zip code.)

Yet, I was wondering why my IP address was suggesting stores on the east coast of the US? I checked with an IP address tracker and that turned out to be much more accurate. It showed I was only 10 miles away from myself. I guess I’ll never know where I truly am solely based on my IP address.

I marvel at technology. I do. But, will I ever find out what’s wrong with my shoulders? Perhaps it’s actually metaphysical. Or worse, the age factor.

Sometimes technology is a marvel; Saturn has some beautiful rings around it, and Mars seems lovely. After all, I’ve seen the pictures. It’s almost like I’ve been there. I also enjoy tracking packages when I order something. When I ordered curtains for my bedroom, I placed the order with a company in New York. The package originated somewhere in India, was transferred to New Delhi and then went on to Frankfurt, Germany, eventually clearing US Customs in New York City. Finally, the package arrived at my home, where I promptly hung them. Later, I was tracking another package when I discovered that FedEx labeled it 'damaged and undeliverable' and I was prompted to contact the merchant who quickly replaced the order. Yes, technology can be a blessing.

At other times, it’s enough to make anyone throw in the towel, find a quaint little cabin by a meadow stream where the otters play and the deer feed off the grasses, where I can sit and hold an actual book in my hands and read by the firelight, just like Abraham Lincoln did.


Interested in dark chocolate peanut butter? Click here

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Another Nightmare

In addition to being somewhat introverted, I also suffer from social anxiety.

And, I am a borderline Highly Sensitive Person(HSP)/Empath.

All three came crashing together this past week. In order to understand their impact, I first need to explain the differences.

Introversion and its colleague, extroversion, are simply personality traits. They are not conditions to overcome. They are a part of us. We learn to manage them, to live with them. When I have been around people for any length of time, my energy is depleted and I feel exhausted. The larger the group, the longer the time I am around them, the more exhausted I feel. So, I naturally try and avoid large group situations. For me, a large group is any amount greater than about five.

Anxiety and its counterpart, depression, are learned. We ruminate over the past that went wrong and then anticipate the future that will go wrong; well, at least go wrong in our heads. All of this worry causes us not to live in this present moment. It is a difficult pattern to break, since we can’t control the outcome, but it can be done. Social anxiety is usually centered around how we might be perceived in a social situation, that someone might discover our ‘secret’ should we have one. We might have to reveal something too personal. Of course, we don’t have to reveal anything we don’t want to, and my experience has been that what I’ve been anxious about, doesn't usually come to pass. But, it is a very hard habit to unlearn. I should also say that, in my case, the greater the gay male factor in the impending situation, the more anxious I am likely to become.
Horrors!

An HSP/Empath feels the emotions and energies of a situation as if they were their own when they truly aren’t. When I see someone hurt, I feel with them, in addition to feeling for them. The deeper the HSP/Empath feels the external feelings, the further along the spectrum they are. I am barely across the threshold into Empath.

So, as you can see, under the right conditions, i.e., being around a lot of people for an extended amount of time, I can become an emotional mess, timebomb, and/or disaster.

Conditions this last week lined up perfectly for such an opportunity.

I had jury duty.

In downtown Los Angeles.

Whenever I go into downtown, I prefer taking public transportation rather than sitting forever in rush hour traffic. I had taken the subway for almost a year to and from work, so I am used to it. But, I have my little rituals for preparing myself for public transportation because I certainly don’t want to feel all the emotions of the various people on the train. The trip into downtown was uneventful. I listened to some native flute music on my iPhone as I felt it was too early for something less calming.

Still half-asleep from waking up earlier than I’d become accustomed to, I walked the two blocks from the station to the courthouse, went through the security screening, got yelled at by the young sheriff-in-training because I forgot one small thing in my pocket which set off the bells and whistles, and then sat through the monotonous forty-five minute orientation where we were told several times we could not be dismissed before 4:00. It was now 8:45. This was going to be a long day.
I sighed.

And then waited.

And waited.

And waited some more. The first two panels weren’t called until 11:00 or so and I sat there expecting my name to be called because I believe things happen for a reason, and I believed this was a lesson to teach me something. I just wasn’t sure what, yet.

But, anyway…

Sitting in the jury assembly room with upwards of 250 people was nerve wracking. So many emotions and energy were floating around the room, I tried to remain grounded. But, I so wanted to go home. I was fearful of being called to a panel where I would be interviewed by the attorneys, where I could end up actually interacting with eleven other strangers, allegedly my peers, ultimately to decide the fate of the defendant, a role I am not comfortable with. Let’s add the anxiety of possibly wrongly convicting someone to the social anxiety I’m already experiencing. Plus, the introversion of being around hordes of people. This was not adding up to be a nice time. But, I had no control over any of it except my reaction to it all. Could that be my lesson here?

Lunch came and went and I was still not assigned to a panel, despite three (or was it four?) panels having been called. Okay, so far so good, and 1.5 hours for lunch. I could do this. Unless…well, even if I were called for a panel, I could still do this.

After a mediocre lunch in the courthouse cafeteria, I reported back to the jury assembly room and waited.

And waited.

Shortly after lunch, a panel was called and I knew my fate was sealed, after all, the pool was shrinking. The pool was now down to about 50, more or less, as very few other jurors had been released from the prior panels. But, to my surprise I survived.

2:15 and another panel is called. Nope, still not my turn. About two more hours, at least; how many more panels could be called on a Thursday afternoon? Who knows? Now I know my fate is sealed for the last panel of the day. Maybe they’ll just have us report to the courtroom tomorrow.

3:15 and an announcement is made: The jury office has received an all clear and can release all remaining members in the pool!!! And it’s before 4:00!

I wait to be called to be dismissed (I was third from the last of about jurors 30 left) and hurried to the Metro station. I have now completed my civic duty for at least the next twelve months and have my certificate to prove it!

Red Line Train
I walked briskly to the station and arrived with about five minutes to spare before my train arrived. I boarded and found a seat next to the window, which gives me some sense of not being confined, even if we are underground. As this was the second stop on the route, the train was still relatively empty being afternoon rush hour was just getting underway. We left for the next stop where more people got on. We went on to the next stop. Some people got on and a few disembarked and the car is filling up. People are standing, and the man sitting next to me brought his bike on board. I will say, he made it very clear to me he would move the bike out of my way when I needed him to. I thought it was kind of him to acknowledge me being somewhat trapped in, and I told him I was riding all the way to the end, so there was no worry.  Having ridden the trains before, I knew the approximate time the train takes at each stop. But, this seemed to be taking longer than usual. After about five minutes the driver announced there was a problem at a station further along the route and we would be holding for a while. Maybe up to ten minutes. Eventually we moved along to the next station, a major transfer point between four train lines and multiple busses in DTLA, so many people boarded and a few disembarked. And we hold yet again.

Being that I am sitting, listening to some music on my phone, I feel relatively disengaged from the people around me, somewhat soothing my introversion, though the handsome man, not the bike man, next to me does make a few comments regarding the delay. Being that the comments are about our common dilemma and not overall small talk, I respond and go back to my music. The overall energy is increasing as the delay lengthens and frustration begins to set in.

Eventually we are cleared to move along to the next station where we are told that this train will now undergo a route change; it's no longer the Red Line, but is converting over to Purple. With this station being the last station common to both lines, all Red Line passengers must disembark and there will be another train along in a few moments. 

I've heard this before, but usually when trains go out of service due to a mechanical issue, not for a route change due to some problem at a station. But, what can I do? The Purple Line won't take me back to my car. 

But, all these upset, frustrated, irritated people on a subway platform during rush hour on a Thursday afternoon was a potential for something to happen. But, I was only concerned for my anxiety, introversion, and epathic feelings. I'm glad I grounded myself that morning.

After waiting for the third Red Line train to arrive, the first two arrived already filled to standing room only and still many of the stranded passengers still tried to board, I, and my new companion-a middle aged Asian woman with whom I kept sharing what rumors I heard among the Metro workers and the LAPD Transit police-found seats and headed onwards to our ultimate destinations, our respective homes, roughly two and a half hours later than what a normal, uneventful trip would have taken us.

So, did I learn my lesson? 

In terms of my introversion, I will learn to manage it. I knew about the jury duty, and realized it would just tire me out from being around all the hordes of people. Mental preparation is the key.

Anxiety is a step by step procedure. I made it into the jury room, then through each of the panels called, just taking one moment at a time. 

In terms of my empathicness, I imagine myself encased in either a white light, or cement, whatever I need to repel the emotions of others. The weaker I feel that day, the heavier the material I envision.

Yet, all in all, I survived.

So, yes, I’d say I learned it.

Yet, I never want to go through a day like that again.

But, invariably, at some point, I will.

And, I’ll survive that, too.
Tranquility


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Dualities

Symbols have always fascinated me. And, the more spiritual they are, the more I'm drawn to them which has only intensified lately.

The Triquetra
For a while, I was drawn to symbols involving Celtic knotwork, like the triquetra. My Celtic heritage may have had something to do with it. The touch of Scandinavian blood I have has triggered an interest in Norse mythology and symbols, like Thor's hammer. 

My Shamanic leanings inspired an interest in medicine wheels and their various interpretations, which in turn inspired me to create my own with images my various spirit guides. 

When I first began going to yoga, I was drawn to the Om symbol. The studio I attend has a beautiful piece of Om inspired art hanging above the teacher's platform in each the color-themed rooms. I made one for my bedroom.

Lately I've been fascinated with the yin yang symbol and the idea of dualities comprising and balanced within the whole.

The original meaning behind the yin yang is that two contrary yet complementary forces are working together to bring balance to the completeness of life. There can't be the dark without the light; the male without the female; the earth without the heavens. Yet, the most interesting aspect for me is that within each half of the circle there exists a bit of the other; a bit of the light within the dark, a bit of the female within the male, and vice versa.

While the concept revolves around the wholeness of life and society, I'm turning it inward as well. I can't exist in peace without the balanced dual aspects of who I am. I do have a dark side, not dark as in evil, but dark as in negative. I can be angry, down or depressed, as I'm only human. Yet, within each emotion exists the opposite-calm, upbeat, or manic. (I have yet to see the manic side of me, yet it's in there somewhere.) When I find myself in one of the dark moods, I can look for it's opposite to pull me out of the darkness. When I'm angry, I can find something to calm me down.

I also can't exist without both the masculine and feminine sides of me. I'd like to make this perfectly clear, this has nothing to do with orientation. In the yin yang, one side is identified as female and the other as male and each contains a bit of the other. Based on the original philosophy, the feminine side was also associated with emotion-the heart, and the male with logic-the brain. Again, each side has a bit of the other; meaning women can be logical and men can be emotional. Unfortunately, we are usually socialized against that part of the other side within us; men are socialized not to show emotion, women are socialized not to appear too logical in front of men. But, however we are socialized, those parts do exist within us.

A few appropriations of the yin yang in popular culture have caught my eye. I saw one of two cuddling cats silkscreened on a t-shirt; one in white, the other in the color of the shirt due to the negative space in the design. Another of my favorites shows two trees of life, with each tree growing out of its own side spreading its canopy into the other.

Another one that truly struck me had the rainbow colors in one half, the other half being black. Honoring the concept of the duality, I began to look at why this representation hit so close to home, other than the gay pride colors were represented. Looking first at the outward symbology, the two communities-gay and straight-comprise the greater whole, which in turn means both communities should work together to bring oneness to all, because if one is working against the whole, aren't they also working against their own wholeness by abiding in their darkness? To me, the rainbow circle within the black side represents the LGBTQIA men and women working within the straight community, usually in their jobs or with their families, like ambassadors. For example, I was a teacher for many years and the only gay teacher at my school for at least the last twelve. To me, the black circle within the rainbow half represents our straight allies who actively work for change, not just voicing support for their gay family members and friends.

Internally, I see myself walking between the two communities. Or, trying to at least. I acknowledge the straight culture I was brought up in, while honoring my gay identity. When I am in the straight community, I am still gay and seeing things through my own gay lens. 

I also have a third interpretation of the yin yang. 

It can also apply to relationships. I have come to believe that each relationship we enter is a mirror unto ourselves. We often find qualities in the other person that we admire or that frustrate us. Sometimes those qualities are what we don’t see or don’t like about ourself. I know I can have a tendency to get angry and snippy. Okay, I can get downright bitchy when pushed. I don’t like that quality in others, because I don’t like it in me. A friend of mine is a bit more outgoing than I am, which I admire, and wish I could be more like that. 

While on a social level, we can’t control the entire community, we can only strive to do our part to work for equality. In a relationship, we have no control over how the other person reacts or behaves, only ourself, which brings us to the individual level. What do we do? I believe the key idea here is to maintain balance. We should maintain balance between work and play, spirit and ego, self and others. While it would be wonderful to maintain a positive happy attitude all of the time, it isn't possible due to life's ups and downs. In those times when we find ourselves a bit down, we can search inside for something to bring us back up.

Maintaining balance isn't easy.

We can at least try.