Monday, June 15, 2020

Authenticity? Can I Get A Do-Over?

Excited to get back to this blog. I am still wrestling with exactly what it will be for me now in this present context, but I think that is actually what the overall theme of this blog is. Who am I? What is it to be authentic? I’ve always been frustrated by the overly simplistic advice to, “Just be yourself.” Really? Is it that simple? Who is that? Who are you? Do any of us every really know. I think there are moments of clarity scattered through our lives wear the best path for us is crystal clear, and, sometimes, we still find ourselves following a different path.

The nickname of Culbs was given to be years ago by one of the sons of my former pastor. At that time, I was being incredible inauthentic. That was a chapter in my life where I was desperately trying to shed myself of my homosexuality, to be someone whom I thought I needed to be in order to be accepted by my family and by the larger world. When I started this blog, the focus the one what the experience of coming out and accepting myself as a gay man looked like. Was that being authentic? I think it was a step closer. 

The voice that drove me to try to reject such a deeply personal part of myself as my sexuality was, and is, still in there. It’s that part of myself that tells me that, if I don’t present myself in a way that they find pleasing, or at least acceptable, I will be rejected and placed upon the discard pile. I’ve spoke to other gay men around my age, and they often compare their experience of struggling to come out to mine. I do think there are many ways in which the journeys are similar. I also recognize that my experience of fully recognizing who I am and then not only deciding to actively engage in a campaign to “kill” a significant part of myself, enlisting allies in the effort to do so, was different.  I literally declared war on myself, and, now, even years later, I’m still wrestling with what it is to live with myself.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not wrestling with whether or not it is okay for me to be gay, but I am wrestling with what it is to be in my mid-40s, overweight (Obesity Class 2 according to the online BMI calculator), single, and fairly new in a profession when many who are my biological contemporaries are decades into their lives and careers. Now, let’s throw in a pandemic, uprising over racial injustice, and a world economy on the brink of collapse. 

For someone who struggles to feel safe and secure when things are “normal,” whatever the hell that is, safety and security are difficult to find right now. Everything feels like it is resting on a rug and that I’m looking at some giant magician whom I can already see lifting the edge of it in preparation to give a swift and exaggerated tug. I’ve seen this trick before. The rug will get pulled out and everything will be fine, right? I mean I know that’s how it’s supposed to work, but I don’t ever remember seeing that trick and not having some anxiety that it won’t work this time to wondering if the magician will mess it up and everything will go tumbling. And, if I feel this way, how does this moment feel for those with less privilege and status than I have? I’m a cis white man who is has worked steadily with no interruption in my income since Covid-19 shut the world down. 

Also, my privilege and status being what they are, that doesn’t take away from the reality that I feel unstable and insecure most of the time. This is where I start to use my therapist voice inside my own head and remind myself that it is okay that I don’t feel okay. Sometimes I am able to hear those words, and sometimes they echo off the recesses of my mind in search of someone to receive them, even partially. This is what I think this blog is supposed to be about now. So many of the details of my life are already publicly available. I think this next step in my journey, the step that would be most helpful to me and would therefore allow me to be more present and available to others is for me to talk about the things that I don’t talk about. 

I’ll wrap up this post with a BrenĂ© Brown quote. Can’t go wrong with her, right? I think this sums up what I want to live (and write) into.

If you're reading this, thank you for being willing to walk with me on this journey.

Culbs, a.k.a. Josh

Sunday, August 4, 2019


Well, here I am sitting in another airport after doing some redemptive sight-seeing, attending a beautiful wedding, and learning of two mass shootings. The mix of emotions that I am experiencing in this moment is, to say the least, complex. My world has changed so much since I made that last trip to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007. At that time, it hadn’t even occurred to me that there could be a world available to me in which I could live openly as my authentic self without fear of being terminated from my job or ostracized by my family.  I now take those things as given factors in my life. In 2007, as I navigated the streets of San Francisco with friends from my former church in Zanesville, I never could have conceived that I would return to the city 12 years later to attend the wedding of a dear friend to his husband. Sadly, in 2007, 8 years after the shooting at Columbine High School, I could conceive of that it was to experience the shock of the headlines following a mass shooting. 

Now, I am sitting in the dizzying swirl of messages that consistently follow these horrific events: the calls from those with progressive leanings, myself included, who are asking for some measure of reasonable gun legislation only to hear those calls interpreted by more conservative ears as a call to confiscate all firearms. Those same conservative voices want to place the blame on those with a mental health diagnosis. Not everyone with a mental health diagnosis is unsafe to own a weapon. Additionally, the very presence of these mass shootings in our lives is certainly a contributing factor to the increasing number of anxiety and depression diagnoses. Additionally, the environment and national security concerns related to climate change tell us that our world will likely only become more violent as long as we continue on current trajectory.

My head and my heart are heavy today. I had planned that this post that would be written would be a long and joyous one filled with more photos from the weekend. That just doesn’t seem appropriate this morning. Take care of yourself today. Show love to those around you today, and, if the opportunity presents itself, show love to someone that you barely or don’t even know. Stricter, more reasonable laws would help, but, ultimately, it is a greater love for each other and a greater appreciation for the connection that exists between all of us that will enable us to truly create something better and to alter that trajectory of our world.

With love to you all…


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Building Something New!

Today was exhausting, and it was amazing. I knew that I couldn’t let myself rest when I got off the plane, and I didn’t. I got to my hotel, checked in and unpacked as quickly as possible and then headed out into the city. I quickly realized that getting around the city via Lyft wasn’t going to be a feasible option as a ride one-way to the Golden Gate Bridge from my hotel in Oakland was over $50. Ouch! My first thought was, I can walk. It says that it’s going to take about 3 hours, but I’m on vacation. I got time; so, I headed out. I covered a couple of miles before I realized that walking the 12 miles from my hotel to the bridge wasn’t going to be feasible. I was going to have to become friends with BART, the Bay Are Rapid Transit System.” BART is a bit more complex than my COTA back home. For $2, I can get almost anywhere in the city in Columbus as long as I’m okay with not getting there in a quick and efficient manner. This is not the case with BART. You have to pre-load money onto a card, and, then, you have to pay for each leg of each transit trip separately, and they don’t all charge at the same rate. Some buses are even drastically more expensive than other buses. BART and I managed to get through our day, and I still managed to rack up a ridiculous number of steps for the day, which I’m thankful for. We’ll come back to that when I share with you about the late night dinner that I just devoured.

Anyway, I opted to prioritize the Castro over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was important to me to go back and reclaim that experience as my full self, and it is something that I’ve done before. On my walk, I came across a beautiful purple building that was decorated with evenly spaced Pride flags all around the building. Naturally, this caught my attention. As I walked up to the front door, I saw that it was the San Francisco LGBT Center. I almost walked in, but I opted not to when I saw that it was a Health Center as well as a Legal Clinic. I didn’t want to intrude, as a tourist, upon a space where folks go to seek help and support for personal matters It warmed my heart to know that they are there though. I also came across the Bob Ross LGBT Senior Center (No. Not that Bob Ross.) This Bob Ross was an activist and a publisher. 

I also came across the Safeway, the supermarket of ‘Tales of the City’ fame. I did step inside, but, like Mary Ann Singleton, I also left without having found love. Shortly thereafter, I did step onto Castro Street. Seeing the theater and all of the Pride flags lining the street and the rainbow crosswalks was so validating and powerful, especially since the last time that I was in San Francisco, I was still fighting so hard to deny my true self. I actually remember that day in San Francisco 12 years ago as being a fun day, but I remember feeling tortured in the days leading up to it. 

In preparation for the trip, we’d had one of our cars shipped out ahead of time. That sounds extreme,  I know, but we were going to be driving from San Diego to Oregon and along the northern states back to Ohio. That was a lot of miles, and, if we listed all four of us legitimately on a rental car, it was going to actually cost more to rent than to just ship a car out. With that much driving, we didn’t want to risk something happening and having to deal with the fallout from a rental car company and possibly not being properly insured to drive their car. Anyway, given that these were our circumstances, one of the guys in the group had a friend who lived in San Diego who agreed to pick us up at the airport and drive us to the storage facility where the car was. Then, we all went to lunch and hung out with him the rest of the day, including getting lunch (my first ever fish tacos) and going to the beach. Now, this individual who picked us up (I don’t even recall his name now) was, in my opinion, incredibly attractive. This would be fine if I hadn’t trained my mind at the time to believe that I was the vilest of all creatures for having the thoughts that entered my mind as we found ourselves together at the beach later. So, I spiraled. It was bad. I made myself miserable, and I was a pain in the ass to the other guys as we drove away from San Diego towards Los Angeles. In retrospect, this is all so clear. Of course, I reacted this way. My brain had been filled with so much negative programming that I was wired to hate myself for almost anything. If only I could go back and whisper in the year of my younger self at that point or at one of many other points, “Dude, you’re gay. Can we just get past this and move on?”

In many ways, I am glad that neither myself nor anyone else was able to reach me until the time that I was ready to confront, address, and accept who I am, all of me. If I had not gone through those years of self-denial, I would not be able to see the beauty of the acceptance that I receive from myself and others in my current reality. Today was one of many times that I reflected how amazing it is that I actually get to live this life. The terrified and distraught individual who walked away from his former church community just a couple of years after that previous trip to San Francisco could never have foreseen the community that he has today nor the opportunities that are put before him. I am so thankful that my previous thinking, though I think very differently now, gives me the perspective to appreciate what it is to live this beautiful life that has welcomed me into it. There are many ways in which my life could be better. I’m sure that everyone could say that there are ways in which their lives could be improved, and I get to live a pretty good one.

I did make it to the Golden Gate Bridge by the way. It felt a little surreal because, more than anything else the I experienced today, it felt like it was exactly the same as I
remembered it from that previous trip. I made me simultaneously feel sad for the change in the relationships with the other guys that I went on the trip with, and it also left me feeling very grateful that I was laying down a new memory in that location. If you'd like to see more  of the photos that I took from today, you can see them on my Instagram (culbs1138).

        Looking forward to getting some sleep and seeing what the city has to offer tomorrow!


Oh! As far as that late night dinner, I made a late night trip out tonight to get some In-N-Out. I couldn’t resist. Probably a bad idea, but I definitely think that I burned through enough calories today to absorb the hit. Plus, I’m on vacation, right?

A Pilgrimage

Hello, readers. Again, it has been a while. I am picking this blog back up for at least the next few days because I have a journey that I want to share with you, a journey that is both literal and symbolic.

As I write this, I am sitting in the Columbus Airport waiting for the first leg of a journey to the San Francisco Bay Area. I am heading out for the wedding of a friend, and I am very excited about that. This friend is someone that I met early in my journey within the United Methodist Church, and I have traveled many places with him both geographically and emotionally as it is often not easy to be in relationship to the United Methodist Church. It is the friendships that are built in and through the struggle that make it bearable and, in my mind, regardless of where the denomination or the remnants of it end up, will be what has made this journey worth it in the end.

There is a second reason that I am emotionally invested in this trip across the country. My last trip to San Francisco was in 2007. I was a very different person then. Well, actually, I guess I was the same person. I was just denying at least one very significant part of myself. I was still neck-deep in the belief that my sexuality was a fundamental flaw and that I was somehow spiritually damaged in a way that needed God’s restoration. I was there only for an afternoon with three friends from my old church as we were engaging in a cross-country road trip that we had started in San Diego. I don’t regret that trip. It was an amazing experience, and I was able to see some really incredible things. I was also with three people that I cared about deeply, and that, if I’m honest, I still care about a great deal, even if we do view the world through very different lenses now. Life is so complicated in that way. 

Given this background, the trip that I am embarking on today has taken on the feeling of a spiritual pilgrimage. The wedding won’t take place until Saturday afternoon, and I don’t have any related social commitments until Friday evening; so, I will have approximately a day and a half to myself to explore. During that last trip, having only an afternoon before we needed to get back on the road, we only had time to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Alcatraz. I do want to go back to the Golden Gate Bridge. A few years ago, I was able to have the amazing experience of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, which was an amazing experience and presents some incredible views of the city. I know that San Francisco doesn’t have the same towering skyline as Manhattan, but I do want to walk across the bridge and into the city. San Francisco is charming in its own way. Of course, I also want to visit The Castro the first time. I want to experience the streets that inspired the work of Harvey Milk and the words of Armistead Maupin.

I may be building up this experience too much, but I feel confident that, no matter what, I will be deeply moved by this experience as I seek to connect with the city in a very different way than I did over a decade ago. I will be posting updates over the next few days, and I may capture some video as well.


I find even this sign off a reflective act as it is from this former time in my life that the nickname Culbs comes from. Using it in this blog is an intentional act to re-connect with a piece of myself  in a healthier and fuller way just as I am hoping to re-connect with the city of San Francisco in a new and different, in hopefully a fuller, way.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Do I Stay Or Do I Go? - #UMCGC19

Today, as of this very moment, my name still appears on the membership of a United Methodist congregation. For the past few months, I have been contemplating what that means. A few weeks ago, I arrived at the conclusion that I would not be traveling into the next quadrennium with the United Methodist Church. I didn’t decide this based on fear of the outcomes of the General Conferences of 2019 or 2020. I arrived at this point not because of what I want to move away from but because of what I want to move towards: my new career as a mental health professional, paying of student loans and other debt, striving to make a difference where I can, and maybe, just maybe, finding a love to walk this journey with, with or without the blessing of “church law.”

This morning, as I sit writing this, I do have to acknowledge that I am feeling a bit wounded. This is somewhat surprising to me. I thought that I had divorced myself for the most part from the emotional entanglements of this General Conference, and, to be honest, I don’t believe that it is the conference itself that is upsetting to me. The aching that I am experiencing right now stems from the reality that there are real people, people that I have spent the last several years getting to know and to love, that are hurting. While I have decided that my time with the denomination is ending, I very much want them to have a church that sees, appreciates, and nurtures them. It does not appear that this is the reality that we are heading towards.

In response to this, I find myself thinking about a significant day in my life, February 13, 2011. This is the day that I first walked through the doors of Broad Street United Methodist Church in downtown Columbus, Ohio. I had been told to go there by Troy Plummer, the Executive Director of the Reconciling Ministries Network at the time. Troy had told me to go there and to find David Meredith and to tell him that he had sent me. 
I didn’t go alone. Despite Broad Street’s overt message of welcome, I had been badly hurt by a church in the past, and I wanted to be cautious. My friend Brittany went with me. We had both left the same non-denominational congregation around the same time in 2009 because we no longer felt like there was a place for us there, me because I was starting to accept that fact that I am gay and she because she had asked her husband for a divorce.

We went to that church because of my journey, but Brittany received an incredible blessing from it as well. Brittany’s marriage had been awful in every way that can be imagined. There is not a category of abuse that she did not experience while in her marriage, and, yet, when she finally found the strength to leave, the eyes of judgment in the church were not standing behind her. They were aimed at her.

Over the course of his sermon, David wove a beautiful narrative of love and the nature of humanity’s relationship to Christ. He spoke about what the love of Christ looks like to the church, and he spoke about how that love appears when it manifests within human relationships as well as what relationships look like when that love is not present, when love looks like demeaning, hitting, screaming, and controlling. I sat beside my friend, watching tears stream down her face, wanting to comfort her, and, at the same time, reminding myself that she needed to hear this, that these were words of healing for her.

For years, I have used the comparison of a broken and abusive marriage to talk about the connection of the United Methodist Church. Sometimes, in marriages where everything appears picture-perfect on the outside, people hit each other, and harsh words are said in the confines of homes that would never be spoken in public. This morning, that comparison has never felt more accurate, except the fear of being seen and heard by the neighbors is gone.

It can be terrifying to walk away from something that you have worked so hard to hold together, and it makes sense for it to feel that way. At the same time, staying in a relationship of abuse seldom ever gets better, especially when the controlling and abusive behavior of one partner is seen by them to be coming from a place of loving correction.

Sometimes, abused spouses remain in harmful relationships because of phrases like “God hates divorce,” because of the kids, or for fear of losing financial stability. Those all feel similar to the reasoning that that I have used that I have heard other progressive United Methodists use as reasons to stay together. I have to admit that the kids have always ben the most compelling reason to me. My heart always breaks when I think about those we would leave behind in a split. There is another side to that though. When adults stay in abusive relationships, they send an unspoken message to their kids that it is okay to allow someone to treat them that way, that it is okay to stand in the stream of abuse and suffering fo the sake of “holding things together.” Similarly, when adults stand up and advocate for themselves, they also transmit that message to their children. Children learn far more from our actions that from our spoken words. 

It was terrifying for me when I left my former congregation. I knew that I needed to go if I was ever to figure out who I needed to be, and, yet, it was not easy. Tears streamed from my eyes, and my hands shook seismically as I walked out of that building into a light rain, having no idea what my future looked like. I’d left behind a community. Looking back on that moment, I can still remember that fear, AND, today, I know that it was one of the strongest, most defining moments of my existence. I would not be who I am today without that moment. I have grown and moved on so much since that moment, and I am not content to stop that progression simply because the church is not willing to come with me. 

To my LGBTQIA+ siblings within the United Methodist Church, I see you. I love you. You are worth standing up and advocating for, and, sometimes, standing up looks like walking away.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Going Back

            In February of this year, I became aware of a transgender person here in my home state of Ohio whose parents had forced (or at least heavily pressured) them into submitting to conversion therapy. The therapy was conducted over the phone, their parents were charged thousands, and surprise, surprise the therapy effort was fraudulently ineffective and altering this individual’s gender identity to be in alignment with what their parents thought it should be. It turns out that the licensed clinician engaging in the “therapy” effort was licensed in and calling from a different state. He was not licensed in Ohio. That fact alone made what he was doing unethical. Upon learning this, I connected the individual with someone who could help them file a complaint with the American Psychological Association. I don’t believe they ever followed through with it though, probably because it could potentially mean revisiting a traumatic experience in their life. As much as I would like to see the perpetrator of this ineffective and harmful practice punished and prevented from doing further harm, I can only respect the individual’s decision to do what is best for them and to protect themselves in whatever way they ultimately determined was best for them.

            For me, the experience should have ended there, but I felt the need to keep investigating. I quickly learned that the psychologist involved in this situation is involved in a larger network of providers who specialize in conversion therapy under the umbrella name of Hope for Wholeness. I wondered if they had any licensed professionals operating under this network here in Ohio. A quick check revealed that there were a couple of counselors willing to counsel by phone or Skype. Depending on the requirements of your particular state, the person that is the licensed clinician may be breaking ethics rules, regulatory guidelines, or the law if they engage in counseling with you while being physically located in another state. There were also a handful of “lay” counselors.

The part that jumped out at me though was seeing the name of the very ministry that I had attended in Columbus years ago in order to be able observe the work that they were doing in hopes of being able to duplicate it in my hometown of Zanesville. I had assumed that, when Exodus International shut their doors a few years ago, they had stopped operating. I’m not sure why I thought that would happen. Maybe that’s what I wanted to happen and so I just blocked out any other possibilities. On the Hope for Wholeness website, the only address listed for the ministry was a post office box. I remembered that from before. When I first inquired about the ministry, they had to verify that they could trust me. It took a number of e-mails before they would give me an address, and then I had to come to the church for a one-on-one meeting with the group leader before they would let me come to an actual group. It’s all very secretive.

I wasn’t conscious initially that this is what I was doing, but I realize now looking back that, becoming aware that they were still operating, reconnected me to some of the anxiety that I had experienced in my final days of coming to that church and in the months that followed. I started on my own journey to explore and confront that anxiety. I started my going through old e-mails to find the address of the church. Then, weeks later, I pulled the address up on Google Maps and just looked at it. Finally, just a few days ago, I took a friend with me and went back to that church so that I could be in that place and feel the weight of being there. I wanted to have someone with me because I wasn’t sure how I would react in that moment. I decided to record a video while I was there to document the experience and to, in some small way, give voice to the feeling of strength that can come from confronting those things which make us anxious.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Reflections on Pulse & The Work That Lies Ahead

            Today has been weighty for me for a couple of reasons. First, after 13 months of being severely under-employed while I finished up the final year of my Master’s, I stepped back into the realm of full-time employment today. I was actually supposed to start this new position last week, but I requested that the start-date be moved back a week in order to allow for me to attend the West Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. I was not conscious when I made that request that I would be moving my first day at my new job to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the devastating shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, a shooting which took the lives of 50 persons if we include the shooter, Omar Mateen. I knew of course that the anniversary was coming. I just wasn’t cognizant until early this morning of the additional emotional impact that it would carry for me today as a take my first steps into this new career, this career of counseling.

            My journey to being a counselor, as many of you know, was birthed out of my own journey to understand my own identity as someone who is both a gay man and a person of faith. My passion is to help create safe spaces where it is safe for others to ask and to work through their own questions of identity regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious or philosophical perspective. I see my calling as that of a companion walking alongside those seeking to better understand themselves, their communities, the world, and the larger universe that contains us all. Of course, I know that many of those questions can never be definitively answered, but there is value in our journey to seek understanding.

            For those who lost their lives a year ago today in that nightclub during an event aimed at celebrating the Latin community, that journey was cut short. That morning, I remember seeing the headlines as I glanced at my Facebook newsfeed as I got ready for the day. That day I went to Cedar Point with a small group of friends. I knew that I would have plenty of time to read into the details either on the car ride up to the park or while standing in line for a ride. Sadly, acts of gun violence come so frequently in the United States that I didn’t feel the kind of urgency that I once did to know what was going on right away. Then, I met my friends, we headed towards Cedar Point, and I… Well, to be honest, I forgot about it.

            When we arrived at the park, we set about riding rides. At some point, while waiting in lines or walking through the park, I began reading more. The details made the impact of what had happened simultaneously grow and shrink. It grew in magnitude as I became aware of how many people had been shot, and it also became smaller, more intimate, as I realized that this could have been me. My mind filled with memories and the emotions of dancing with friends on the floor of Axis Nightclub in the Short North here in Columbus, Ohio. Axis was the first place that I, as a timid adult gay man in my early thirties felt what it was to be truly in community with other people like me. It was the first place that I became conscious of the fact that I, for the first time in my life, wasn’t worried about whether what I was wearing made me look too gay. I wasn’t worried about what my hands were doing, what my voice might sound like, or what words might be carried by it. I felt utterly free to be me. That experience is what gave me that courage to attend my first Pride festival in Columbus the following weekend in 2010.

            With my mind in that space, I wondered how many of the people at Pulse that night were experiencing that feeling of freedom, of utter transparency and authenticity. At that moment, with my friends in the midst of a theme park, it fully coalesced for me how the argument can be made for LGBTQ+ clubs as sacred spaces. In those moments, when we feel free to be the purest representations of ourselves, there is a transcendence to the experience. And that night, that transcendence, that sacredness was shattered, not only for those who were shot but also for those who will never again be able to enter a nightclub or lose themselves in the masses on a dance floor without an awareness that it can all be broken in moments.

            As the day went on, my group of friends, all gay men themselves, began to discuss what we had read. Speaking about it aloud made it even more real. I was thankful to be with them that day. It also made me more aware of other LGBTQ+ persons in the park. As someone who lived for so many years afraid of embracing the fullness of my identity, seeing same-sex couples in the park always brings a smile to my face, but that day it was even more meaningful, a reminder that, no matter what people do to try to push LGBTQ+ persons to the margins, there will always be some among us who will rise to defend our right to be who we are and to love who we love. I was also thankful for supportive comments from Cedar Point employees that day. There was part of me that felt the urge to rush back to Columbus to be with my local community that day, but it felt good to know that I was in community where I was.

            So, today, as I took my first steps into this work of partnering with people, other human beings, to walk with them on their own journeys, I am thankful for those spaces and voices that have helped, and continue to help, me in wrestling with what it is to reconcile aspects of my own identity. I am hopeful and enormously humbled as I earnestly seek to be a presence that walks with others towards a place of better understanding, both of ourselves and of the world that surrounds us. Maybe, someday, we will reach a place where difference is not seen as something to fear or to inspire violence. May we walk together and speak together towards that end. 

~ Culbs