My queerness is non-negotiable.

MG pride

It’s National Coming Out Day.

Eight years ago this month I was living in Los Angeles, and nervously revealed to one of my roommates that I was questioning my sexual orientation. I let others imply and assume, however this was the first time I remember actually understanding the possible reality that I might be gay. While I had mostly always known, this was the first time I remember speaking the words, “I’m gay.”

The past eight years have been filled with incredible moments of celebration, and today I live with my best friend, soul mate, and life partner, Mark, who loves me more than I ever knew I needed and deserved. Despite the reality that a coming out process is never truly over, I now feel more out than ever before – certainly much more out than I did eight years ago.

The past eight years have also been filled with great loss and abandonment. Many friends and family members have chosen to disconnect with me, and some after years of negotiations and attempts to control my process and my being. Eight years later, I recognize that none of that was ok. And as a result, we had to part ways.

I’ve come to describe this unfortunate separation as, a door closed, but never locked.

In my case, when doors needed to be closed (sometimes even unwilling), I found other doors to open. Specifically, I found doors revealing a beautiful community of people who love and support me endlessly and unapologetically. And for those who don’t and won’t support me, I’ve simply allowed that door to remain closed, closing chapters of my life in order to move forward with self-care and self-healing.

But I’ve chosen not to lock those doors.

When others are ready and willing, I’m able and hopeful to let them back in. In all of my anger and frustration and hurt, I still love them enough to let them back in.

But I will never negotiate my queerness, not then, not now, not ever. I am not a business deal, a community prayer request, or a being who can be “fixed.” I am not willing to mute myself in order to accommodate to bias-filled perspectives. I am not willing to be anything but my true self, and even if that exists at the cost of more relationships along the way. I don’t need fixing.

The door is closed, but never locked.

I’ve been thinking a lot about acceptance lately, and what that means as I get older and further solidify a future with my partner – what does my being out mean for a future wedding, future kids, and beyond? What does it mean when I no longer have agency to share my story and it becomes others’ to inherit?

Why is coming out important, again and again?

I chatted with a new friend for an hour and a half last night, and a big part of our conversation was about the idea that coming out is a way to pave a path for others to know and believe they, too, can be out. We both come from communities that reek of homophobia and bias. And we both know many folks, still in those communities, who feel trapped and unable to escape the confines of that rigidity.

To those folks who are wrestling with their identity, and feeling unable to come out, please know that you have a friend in me. I am a phone call, email, text, and chat away – do not hesitate to reach out. The process is scary, and at times feels isolating and lonely. Please know that you are not alone – you are never alone.

Allies, you have a responsibility as well. Identifying as an ally is critical (the action part of being an ally – it’s about what you do). Show people you are a space where they can bravely be their true self. Understand timing and let people tell their own story. This is not about you, and remind your friends that you are open and supportive and present. Sometimes this means waiting. Sometimes this means silently listening. Sometimes this is hard on you too. But at the end of the day, you can be a big part of someone’s coming out experience just merely as a result of affirming and loving them unconditionally.

Friends, I implore you to bravely come out – come out wherever, however, whenever you can. And for those who cannot, we will fight for you, make room for you, and welcome you however your process unfolds. Onward, dear friends. Together.

Unapologetically out,

Michael

What kind of world do you want?

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”

I believe it was Malcom X who coined this provocative and relevant thought (and if my citation is inaccurate, I’m sure Malcom X said this at some point, while living this philosophy as his truth). And it’s so accurate, right?

I am obsessed with great content, and especially when that content assists in creating real and raw perspective. For example, when Kerry Washington accepted the Vanguard Award at the GLAAD Awards this past weekend. Pause and listen to her speech. This speech is incredibly valuable, and something which should be replayed over and over – there is a lot more we can be doing, and a lot more inclusion we should be observing. I’m curious to see how Kerry continues the dialogue.

Outside of this speech, and, of course, the previous posts I have used to articulate my thoughts on activism or the current reality in my home state of Oklahoma, I want to pause and show some appreciation for my alma mater, the University of Central Oklahoma. This past week, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at UCO launched a campaign, advertising The Tunnel of Oppression, which is a phenomenal simulation to help students better understand privilege and oppression, and how these concepts impact everyone. Check out the posters below:

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Asians..

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Black Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Disability...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Muslims...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Gay Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Native Americans...

First, I want to thank these brave students for “coming out” in these posters. Whereas many people of color are already “out” as noted by race (being, “color blind,” is not a thing, and all of that), sitting with these search items is a heavy and intense moment – a reality faced by any oppressed or marginalized individual. Next, I want to highlight that these, “Societal assertions,” are very real and are played out for people every single day. And this should not be a surprise. In fact, if you gasped at the items listed in the search bars above, I challenge you to think about your surroundings a bit more critically. This is certainly the case following the OU SAE incident, and has been a theme in a lot of the conversations I have had with friends and colleagues now two weeks after the release of the video. We must challenge a little harder, and push a little deeper.

And this starts with inclusion. How are you integrating inclusion into your conversations and into your personal and professional engagements? As Luke Visconti argues, and I tend to agree, it is so much more than simply asking (expecting) baristas to talk about race in the 20 seconds they have with a customer at Starbucks. If we want inclusion, diversity, equity, multicultural understanding, etc. to be something that is espoused and enacted, it must be something that is integrated through every fiber of an operation. As Visconti points out, it must start from the top (and in the most, see-someone-to-be-someone, kind of way).

One year ago, I was a cluster facilitator at LeaderShape, a leadership retreat for college students. The university where I was working did a campaign to advertise this opportunity, and passed around various flyers reading, “I see a world where ______.” Individuals could write in what kind of world they see. For example, “people have clean water,” “cancer is fully treatable,” “we find peace,” and, “everyone has a puppy,” were a few of my favorites. When I filled out my own flyer to be hung on my office door, I thought long and hard. What kind of world did (do) I want to see?

And, today, I ask you this same question, among others:

How do you see the world? What kind of world do you want? What kind of contribution can you and will you be willing to make? Do you dare?

Engaging,

Michael

*I see a world with liberty and justice for all.

Almost-thirty.

Today, I am 29.

Exactly nine years ago, I stood in my college dorm room, an eager and typically-spirited sophomore, broken and discouraged. There was something frightening about leaving the teens behind, and I was a disaster from the minute I woke up that morning. If you knew me at the time, college-disaster-Michael is much different than current-disaster-Michael. This might be hard to believe, however it’s my birthday and I’m asking you to just go with it. That afternoon, and after a particularly trying morning, a very dear friend of mine shared with me that she had a surprise for me that night, and that I would be really happy about the outcome. Again, for those know know me well, another thing you must know about me is that I absolutely hate surprises. I think it probably has something to do with control, or my inability to hide my emotions. Either way, I really loathe being caught off guard, and this specific friend knew it.

The night commenced, and my anxiety was alarmingly high. Just as we were planning to leave campus for what I thought would be dinner, my friend asked me to come down to the student government office in the student union before leaving. I turned the corner, probably annoyed that we were running off-schedule, and before I knew it, I caught a view of around eighty people packed into the tiny office that, on a normal day, should hold no more than forty. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MICHAEL,” they all screamed, among giggles and, “whoooos.” A huge round of applause broke the awkward, Michael-hates-this-he-hates-every-second-of-this, moment, followed by a hearty singing of, “Happy Birthday.” I was speechless, and as I looked around, I realized the room was full of friends from all walks of my college life. It was stunning, and I will never forget that visual. I note this last point as, in that moment, I realized the page had already been turned. You see, we don’t actually get to turn the final page of some of our favorite chapters.

And here we are, nine years later. Today, I am 29, and officially one year out from what historically has been a tough chapter to turn. A lot can happen in a decade, and a huge reason I was so fearful of leaving the teens behind was a deep and dark fear of not belong able to “top” the successes and achievements I acquired during that decade. After all, this was the decade where I hit puberty, learned to drive, graduated high school, went overseas for the first time, met Tony Blair, got a full-ride to college, and the list goes on and on. And although these fetes may seem noteworthy for the years of adolescence, they were also the time where I lost my grandfather, moved multiple times, acknowledged the struggle of many of my identity issues, and also a variety of other heartache and challenge. Through this reflection, I have realized that leaving my teens was actually not about achievement whatsoever. It was about growing, and learning.

Somewhere over the past ten years, I discovered that, with each decade, it is not at all about finding more or better successes – it’s about finding more and better happiness, it’s about finding more smiles and better health, and it’s about finding more authentic people and better souls to engage. It’s about growth. And growing does not solely equal success and achievement. This development also encompasses loss and heartache, and struggle and dissonance – specifically, how it is that we cope and grieve and move forward. This, too, is impacting and essential.

But today, I feel different. I don’t loathe today, or what this next year can be. Today, I feel more like almost-thirty than I do 29. And I’m absolutely okay with this reality. You see, there is a privilege that comes with almost-thirty: an assumed-sense of maturity, survival-pride, a new dating bracket, earlier bedtimes, and the list goes on and on. I cannot tell you where I’ll be at 39 (physically or emotionally), but I can tell you this, I have ten more years to make the most of this next decade – to live, dance, see, dream, go, do, be, believe, fail, succeed, lose, win, and ultimately prepare to look back and be proud of each of these feelings and moments. And for that, I am hopeful.

Today, I am not 29. I’m almost-thirty. And I’m totally okay with that.

Onward,

Michael

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