Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Be Prepared for the Holidays!

It is the night before Thanksgiving, and I am sitting at home on my couch.  I worked earlier today.  Then, I came home, fixed dinner, and then headed off to the nearby Starbucks to work on a group project that I will be helping to present for a class next week.  I know that I could have put it off until the weekend, but I wanted to be able to head into tomorrow without it hanging over my head.  Now, I have given myself permission to take the last few hours of tonight just for me.  My plans for the remainder of this evening are simple.  First, I want to write this blog post.  I actually have some urgency about it because I have some things that I want to say and that I know some may need to hear.  After that, I am torn between diving into my copy of Tyler Oakley’s Binge or embarking upon the first disc of Modern Family Season One.  I actually have never seen a single episode of the show, and I am feeling like quite the bad gay for it.  Plus, I actually want to see it.

All that having been said, I want you to know that I am very much looking forward to tomorrow.  I genuinely am.  I also want you to know that I have not always felt that way about Thanksgiving or many other holidays and other occasions for family gatherings.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that every moment of every family gathering was awful all the way through, but these types of events always came with a dreaded sense of anticipation because I knew that, at some point, some well meaning aunt or uncle would turn to me and say, “So, Josh, when are you going to bring a nice girlfriend for the family to meet?” 

Now, in retrospect, a much more mature me wishes I could go back to that much younger me and say, “Look.  They’re going to ask the question.  It’s fine.  Let them ask.  In fact, it might even mean that they already know, you know, that you’re gay.  Just tell them that you’re being selective or focusing on yourself.  You don’t have to answer them.”

To a much younger me, this was a terrifying and traumatizing question.  I would feel the gears inside my head begin to lock up, and I could begin to feel that sense of impending dread fill the pit of my stomach.  I would begin to tell myself such dreaded statements as, “They know,” and “I hope they don’t tell my parents.”  These were usually followed by internal questions to myself like, “How did my voice sound?  Was it too gay?” and “What about this sweater?  Can I possibly look straight in this sweater?”

Please know that, if you are young (or even not so young) and you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual, intersex, questioning, or any other points along the spectrums of sexual orientation or gender identity and you find yourself having these thoughts, asking yourself these questions, or dreading the assemblage of family for the holiday, know that you are not alone and you are not the first person to feel this way.  Also, be smart.  You can’t control for everything, but make a plan for the things that you can anticipate.  I’ve made a list of the things that have helped me in the past.

1. That aunt or uncle is going to ask the question about your significant other.  Decide in advance what your response is going to be.   Don’t leave it to the nervousness in the pit of your stomach in that moment.  Don’t invent a fictional boy/girlfriend either.  That will blow up in your face.  It’s okay to say that you’re really trying to get an “A” in ________________________ class or make the ________________________ team.  Adults take time out from dating at time to focus on themselves.  It’s okay for you to do it at 10, 12, 13, 17, or however old you are.

2. Know who your allies are in the room.  Is there that aunt who is always talking about Broadway show tunes and refers occasionally to her gay friends?  What about that cousin who left home to go away to college or moved to the big city and seems to be a bit more enlightened now?  Is there anyone in the room who knows the truth, your whole truth, and they’ve accepted you for who you are? 

3. Thanksgiving often involves family members watching football.  Sometimes people become animated and very critical of the teams and players during this time.  This may manifest in the occasional gay slur or gender-degrading outburst.  Know that.  Be prepared for it.  Don’t let the words of others define you.  If you are offended by their words, take note of that.  Remember who said them.  Decide whether it is in your best interest to acknowledge it while refusing to let it tear you down or, of you feel safe, decide if you should voice that it offended you. 

4.  If possible, plan your exit in advance or, at least, know where you can retreat to if you need a moment.  If you’re old enough to drive, can you find a way to make sure that you have your own car there?  Do you work?  Is your place of employment open?  Maybe you can pick up a shift that leaves you available for part of the family gathering but not all of it so that you can time limit your exposure.  I used to pick up shifts on holidays when I was younger so that I could control my schedule and so that co-workers with young children could be with their families.  If you can’t control your escape, is there a quiet corner of the house or a spare bedroom that you can slip off to in order to collect yourself if need be.  Sometimes we just need a moment or two to regroup before going back into the throng.

5.  Finally, if you need help, ask for it.  If you are a young LGBTQIA person, reach out to a friend or relative you can trust.  Things really do get better, but sometimes that is hard to see when you are young and college and adult life seem so far away.  Know that you are not alone.  You are part of something bigger.  You have worth and value.  Don’t let anyone take that from you.  If you need to talk to someone and don’t have a safe confidant around you, call The Trevor Project at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386) or, for any age, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


I hope that we all make it through this difficult season.  If you need help in doing so, it’s okay to ask.  I would love to hear about some of your challenges in navigating the holidays.  Let’s just accept that, sometimes, life can be awkward.  Please feel free to reach out to me by e-mail or comment before.  Happy Thanksgiving, and may the holidays be a time of joy and time spent with those you care about!

~ Culbs

Friday, November 20, 2015

Transgender Day of Remembrance

I first remember becoming aware of the Transgender Day of Remembrance four year ago.  I was very active as a volunteer with Equality Ohio and some friends were going to attend a Transgender Day of Remembrance Service.  My work schedule didn’t permit me to be able to go as I usually work in the evenings.  At that time, the notion of someone being transgender was something that I was still becoming comfortable with.  I feel like I almost want to yell at my former self as I write that because it isn’t for me to have to, or not have to, become comfortable with someone else’s journey, but, at the same time, that is as honestly as I can express where I was at that time, and I want to share that here because, somewhere, someone might read this is who struggling to accept someone as transgender.  That someone might even be themselves, and I want them to know that it is okay to honestly wrestle with where they are in an effort to find a place of greater acceptance and understanding.

I met up with the friends who went to the service four years ago afterwards to get dinner.  They tried to explain to me what transpired during the service.  Despite their best attempts, I couldn’t fully visualize it, but I did get a grasp of the fact that it was a very weighty service. 

As time has gone on, and I have continued to do work in the LGBTQIA community, I have gained more and more trans friends.  As I have done so, despite the fact that I have still yet to be able to attend an actual service due to work commitments, this day has increased in weight for me tremendously.  Now, when I think about this day, I see the faces of the trans folks who populate my life.  I see their faces.  I hear their voices.  I think about the things that they contribute to my life and to the lives of others.  Then, I try to imagine the world without them.  Even now, as I write this and intentionally put myself in that space, the thought of their voices being suddenly silenced is enough to bring tears to my eyes.

As I think back over my own journey, as I reflect on the struggle to accept myself as a gay man, it took me a long time to work through the internal questions of my sexual orientation, and it took an even longer time to be able to articulate that to others.  I cannot imagine that additional layer of complexity that comes into play by adding factoring in one’s gender identity being out of alignment with what everyone else sees and working to accept that and then to work through it.  That isn’t my struggle to have though.  It isn’t my journey to take.  That journey belongs to my trans brothers and sisters.  My commitment is simply to journey alongside them and to be an ally in any way that I can. 

No one could have taken my journey for me, and I am thankful that no one has taken from me the ability to continue on this journey.  My trans brothers and sisters deserve the same opportunity.  We all deserve the right to work through our own questions of identity, and, once we have found our own truth, to live it out.

~ Culbs

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Get Out There and Vote, Ohio!

I just want to say that I love my state.  Election Day is never dull in Ohio.  Whether it is a presidential election year or not, Ohio voters are passionate about their views and the issues.  Of course, the big issue in Ohio this time around is the legalization of marijuana.  I’ve got to admit that I have mixed feelings on this one.  The compassionate progressive with me screams “yes!”  The future substance abuse counselor in me screams, “no!”  The progressive voice in me even screams, “no!” when you factor in the aspect of the handful of very rich that would be created by the passage of Issue 3.  I hear the voices in support of the issue saying that, if this doesn’t happen now, it probably won’t come up again for a decade, but I have to think that we will see this issue back sooner if it does not pass today.  If it does pass, my hope would be that there would be a move to amend it in the future to create a greater environment of free, but regulated, enterprise around it.  By regulation, I mean that I think that anyone should be able to get into the business as long as they have met certain administrative and qualitative standards in their operations and production of the product.  

With regards to Issue 2, this one is complicated for me.  I support the creation of a provision by which bi-partisan oversight would be responsible for evaluating ballot issues, like Issue 3, to determine if there is a monopolistic element to them.  Of course, I hear the voices of the opposition who say that this could be used to silence the voices of the people and keep ballot issues from moving forward.  I believe that the bi-partisan requirement would keep that from happening, but, even if it doesn’t, the beauty of a democracy is that we can vote to change it again or we can vote to change the voices who are a part of the process.  I have mechanisms through which I can change elected representatives.  I don’t have established processes by which to control the financial elite once they’ve been given the power to do something.

Issue 1 was really the only no-brainer for me.  Of course, I would like fair, bi-partisan input into how the districting lines are drawn for voting purposes.  Gerrymandering is just wrong.  We need to make sure that our representation is fair in Ohio and representative of the people who occupy our great state.  We really are the heart of it all, Ohio, when it comes to U.S. politics!  Now, get out there and vote!

~ Culbs

P.S.  Consider my views.  Don’t consider my views.  Agree with me.  Don’t agree with me.  The only thing that I ask you to agree with me on is that our right to have a voice in our governing is one of our greatest gifts, as citizens of the United States, and that we should all use it!