My elementary school bully renamed me, “Gay Boy.”

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While my upbringing was drenched in a place of privilege and love, it was also one where I quickly learned the importance of navigating through the trenches of bullying.

At 30 years old, I am still navigating through these trenches.

Where I come from, “gay,” was a horrible thing. A curse. A sin. “A perversion,” some still argue. Needless to say, I resisted this reality for years, dodging any bullet which flew my way. And in addition to dodging metaphorical bullets, I also denied this reality by swearing up and down that I, Michael Anthony Goodman, was straight.

My elementary school bully disagreed. In fact, he never once referred to me as, “Michael.” Instead, “Gay Boy,” would become an identity. I accepted it.

And I avoided him at all cost.

My first encounter with homophobia appeared in fifth grade. From a social capital lens, I was a top tier elementary school attendee. Other kids copied my fashion (JNCO jeans), listened to my stories, and showed interest in the things I was interested in…everyone, expect my elementary school bully. My bully hated me. For two solid years, every time my bully saw me, he referred to me as, “Gay Boy,” pushing me into walls and imitating my, higher-pitched-though-not-yet-hit-puberty, stricken voice.

At some point, I even started to respond to this new identity. I was Gay Boy, no longer Michael Anthony Goodman, minus the “out gay” part, and in major fear of the repercussions of disagreeing with my bully. You didn’t disagree with your bully.

You couldn’t disagree with your bully.

You see, back in the day, there was something charming and rewarding about being a kid who had yet to hit puberty – no voice issues and no size issues. But when you hit puberty and one or both of these things had yet to change – all hell could break loose. And it did, on me. I avoided my bully at all cost, and made a conscious decision that I, Michael Anthony Goodman (or, “Gay Boy,” according to my bully), was not gay.

This moment still terrifies me today.

It terrifies me to remember the feelings of half-knowing who you are, yet half-knowing you couldn’t possibly be that. And my elementary school bully would not be the last bully I encountered through adolescence (and unfortunately, even adulthood). Just last night as I was heading home from dinner, and in preparation for the State of the Union, I watched a man drive through Logan Circle and shout, “FAGGOT,” at a guy who was trying to cross the street before the signal gave way.

Connections to our past (and our memories) are all around us.

On a cabinet behind my desk, I have a Post-It note that reads as follows:

Bullying has no place in our schools and communities.
Speak up for those who can’t.

This specific note was created for last year’s #DayOfSilence, however it was something that re-caught my eye last week as I walked into work. Furthermore, it’s something that has been on my mind as I continue to work in a world (specifically, the United States) and industry (education) where this kind of address is needed.

“Faggot”

“Fag”

“Gay Boy”

“Gay”

These words will not appear in an elementary school text book, however they existed as a giant part of my upbringing. Knowing the impact, how are these words still appearing in school environments across the country? Is this something we’re addressing? Of course, we can surmise multiple variations of how to answer these questions, however the truth remains as such:

Bullies continue to hold power over kids without. 

How does an 8-10 year old understand the idea that gay = insult? What example are you living for your kids, students, or communities? How do you approach bullying and oppression, from in-person to web-based violence? Are you even paying attention?

I’m reflecting on this part of my life journey today, as I was recently reminded of the power that bullying has over people. And in the spirit of living more authentic in 2016 and beyond, I am pushing myself to share more stories of who I am and how I’ve learned and developed. Here’s to all those gay boys out there (and gay boys-adjacent), just trying to evade their elementary school bully. March on.

Releasing, “Gay Boy,”

Michael

“The son who finds the courage to come out as who he is and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”
– President Barack Obama, 2016 State of the Union

Hundreds of thousands have now shared these sentiments online via social media. This son, who President Obama references, is all of us, in some way.

Do you have the courage to override everything you’ve been taught?

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.

Pick 10 Friends

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Last August, I emailed a group of ten friends with the following sentiment:

Hi friends,

I hope you are all doing well, and that the fall is nice and crisp for you.

Since I’ve been in China, I have been thinking a lot about my support system, and also the ways in which I need or seek validation. With each thought, one or all of you have come up at any given moment in making me feel good about myself, my decisions, my (#)perspective, and my future. In honor of this, I’m asking that you ten serve as my personal Board of Directors. And contrary to other designs of BOD-like support-systems, this one is purely based on people who fill my cup – people who make me feel important, and loved.

I have always struggled with the idea of a professional board of directors, because to me, these individuals are hiring, firing, or constantly evaluating. In this case, I’m looking for love, and for people who, at the core, have my best interests at heart (not, at head, if that makes sense). I won’t require much of you, just constant vibes and positivity (though, you’re already pros at that).

Sometimes I could give two shits about what people think. But most of the time, it’s everything to me. Please let me know if you’d like to go on this journey with me.

More to come…

With much sincerity,

Michael

To my surprise, each of these friends agreed to be on this journey with me, and have been life warriors on the front lines of my multi-month transition. To pause and diversify my support system, I went beyond, “my best friend from college,” or, “my people who ___.” I wanted to be intentional, and add a more structured layer of support to my weekly/monthly routine (after all, I’m still a Type A personality, which is certainly not changing anytime soon). To do so, I examined my personal and professional network, and identified the following individuals in my life:

A very intellectually-stimulating person

Someone who “gets the bigger picture”

The most empathetic person I know

The most authentic person I know

Someone who knows my journey, my heart

Someone not afraid to cry with me

The most loyal person I know

Someone who values my voice, my opinion

Someone who has known me longer than most

Someone who is comfortable challenging me

Of course, I am thankful to have considered multiple phenomenal humans under each of these expectations, however the ten individuals who I asked to be part of my personal Board of Directors (BOD) are ones who have provided me with a different experience than I would have had if I simply asked the handful of friends I talk to or see everyday. And more than that, these friends come from all parts of my life – including various points within the many lives I have lived up to this point. This is much bigger than my “right now.” This is the heart of perspective for me, and a chance to honor voices in my life who push me to grow, hope, believe, be. Do.

My first post in the new year challenged people to engage, connect, and collaborate. If you didn’t read it, here’s the gist of my growth-suggestion:

And this has become my challenge for all those reading today’s note: capture your growth.

Sure, I previously referenced resolutions and my belief and advocacy for such dreams, however this is different. This is real and raw, and, in-the-moment, learning. Capture these moments. Get a notebook, email yourself and create a special folder to file these specific emails, and share with yourself any and every learning lesson you experience in 2015. When you get chills, document it. When you have the, oh-shit-ah-ha, moment, save it. Bottle these up, and let them guide you, teach you, train you, and prepare you for the next round of life’s simple gifts. You owe this to yourself.

And if you’re willing to take your learning to an even higher level, share these moments with a friend. Find someone who is dedicated to growth, and use them as a means for processing. Set a bi-weekly coffee meeting (or, “coffee,” for those anti-), and swap notebooks – ask questions, challenge each other, support each other’s ah-ha’s. If you want to grow, and learn, and develop, be about it and do something to elevate your perspective. Be held accountable.

Grow.

In honor of my continued belief in this sentiment, I want to encourage you to also set up a personal Board of Directors. Who cares about you so much that it scares you? Who cares about you so much that you know, if anyone, they have your back, your voice, and your heart? Who matters in your life? Take this, and run with it. In 2015, ideas are shared like wildfire, and it’s up to us to take the ones that mean something to us… and run with them. Run steady. Run fast.

How are you connecting with your friends, your community, your “network?” Are you merely a click and favorite away from your people, or are you engaging with them in a way which truly makes for change on both ends? Are you being challenged? Are you open to challenge? Are you self-disclosing? Are you connecting?

I dare you to grow. I dare you do go. Do. Be.

Watering roots,

Michael

*photo stolen from somewhere on social media

The Young-Professional Sabbatical

Why is it that sabbaticals and/or visiting fellowships are solely reserved for older and more seasoned professionals?

This is a rhetorical question, of course. I understand the value of research, fellowships, and the general, make-us-proud-and-look-good-and-you’ll-benefit-too, thing happening. I have a lot of former faculty members who are taking sabbaticals this year, and it has me thinking a lot about this concept. Most of their journey is to write and do research (or vacation a bit, or do said-professional tasks while vacationing, or not), and also find knew knowledge across the globe. It’s great, and in the end, we all benefit from their discovery (of self, and of knowledge).

In various disciplines, it appears that the older one is, and with more tenure (not to be confused with academic, “tenure”), the more opportunities one has to spread their wings a bit. Freedom. When you’re a new or young professional, these freedoms are limited to begging to attend a one-week conference, or using personal time-off to develop and grow and learn.

But what if, within the first five years as a professional, individuals were allowed 2-3 months (or even 2-3 weeks) to go and do something impacting within another functional area?

Bold, I know. But this is the internship concept, right? Why reserve internships solely for those individuals who are still studying? If we can all get to a place where lifelong learning is accepted and executed, what would be stopping us from allowing young professionals to spread their wings in a facilitated and boomerang-like manner?

“Because there is still a job to be done, Michael,” you might assert.

And, “Because an individual’s development takes a backseat to organizational objectives,” you might further argue.

Listen, I get it. I do. These are sentiments I have heard in previous jobs and/or through colleagues and friends at various institutions (in various functional areas). And more than my own understanding of the easily articulated rebuttal to this dream-sequence, we can all agree that there really is a job still to be done. First priority. But this “getaway” is not as dramatic as it initially comes off, and I would further suggest that, “That Professional,” ruins it for us all.

Yes, “That Professional.” Social media in all forms reveals to us the inner-workings of those few souls who are part of 32 different tasks forces, committees, boards, and associations, all outside of their actual job. All in the name of, “learning,” of course. And to those professionals, I say, “SIMMA DOWN, NOW.” You’re ruining it for the rest of us.

But then I am forced to pause, because I know it’s not their fault. Education is a field where asking people for more and more is just part of the daily operation. Furthermore, we raise most graduate students this way – go, get experience, pursue ten practicum opportunities, write papers at 2:00AM while working most days from 7:30AM-11:00PM. It happens, and I would argue most are better because of that exposure. All in the name of, “learning,” right?

But what about the countries around the globe who pause for months at a time in honor of, “holiday?” What about gap years (which, don’t get me started on my belief in and support for individuals pursuing this option)? These are virtually untouched by young professionals in the United States, and instead, summers are sold solely to those current students who want to advance their professional foundations. And to add, any area with confusing transferability then fights to assist all those who elect to engage. Learning.

Again, “…there is still a job to be done, Michael.” And again, I get it.

I hear many professionals advocate through good and bad, “Do your 1-2 years and then move on to the next job. But is this fair? I have even advised young professionals and peers to think this way, and at times, will stop myself when really evaluating their current situation or status. What if the current gig is a great one for that individual, or what if 6 months is all they care to give or have interest in giving? What if they need perspective? How are they gaining perspective? How are they learning, developing, growing? If going to conferences teaches me anything, it reminds me that some professionals really suck (like the idiot advisor who crashed one of my workshops last spring, among many other examples), and that not every young professional has a supportive or engaging supervisor who cares about their best interests.

Of course, the, “sabbatical or fellowship opportunity,” quest for veteran educators is well-researched and supported, however this post is about finding similar moments for all those up-and-coming educators who are eager and excited to pave their path.

Let’s be unconventional for a moment.

To the supervisees… My charge today is to pause on your current “now.” Reach out to your supervisor. Engage a conversation about learning new tricks and seeing new sites. Dream up other tools for your kit, and draft a one or two month plan which will allow you to be truly drenched in, “learning.” The least your supervisor can do is say no, and at that point, you’ve lost nothing. Hell, show them this post, and ask for their thoughts – if they think this is insane, agree and make some snide remark about how bogus I am. If they’re down, have a plan, a dream-session, a moment to think, feel, and believe, “what if.” Gather new skills and frame those needs in a way that benefits the students and communities you are serving. Everybody can win here.

To the supervisors… Find a way to help make this happen for your employees. Try a summer pause for your people, a winter exchange with another department, campus, or organization (or whatever variation exists for those in whatever field or area of employment), or some way to professionally develop those serving under you. If anything, carve a, “go do whatever, learn, see, inquire, dream,” opportunity. Remember, you don’t know it all, and sometimes others can help your people be a better person for you and for your community. And finally, make sure you are modeling the way. Be learning, seeing, doing, engaging, and let your people see that this, too, should be a value of theirs while working for/with you.

When it comes to someone’s personal and professional development, meet them where they are. Their process is their process. A new month is ahead, and exists as an opportunity to start planning and scheming and growing. So, grow. We’re only all better if we’re all becoming better.

Pausing,

Michael

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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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