Conversion Therapy Must End

“Hello?”

“Michael, it’s [Chris], can you talk?”

“Yeah, of course, hold on a minute, what time is it,” I asked over the phone.

It was just after 1:00AM.

“What’s going on, are you crying? Are you ok?”

“Yes. No. Yes, I’m crying, no I’m not ok,” my friend whispered back. “I just woke up to my parents and a man from my church standing in my room.”

“Wait, what? What did you do?”

“I just laid there. They were begging for Jesus to heal me, to forgive me, to cure me. They were praying for me. My mom was crying-”

“-Oh, gosh, [Chris], I’m so sorry. That is not ok, not ok” I tried to reassure him.

“I gotta go, I think they’re still awake.” And with that, Chris hung up the phone.

I remember this conversation like it happened yesterday. I was 23 years old, and had just moved back to Oklahoma from Los Angeles. I was only out to a few people, and at that point, even some of my best friends didn’t know that I was gay. But Chris knew.

Around the time I started my coming out journey, I had a very good friend connect me with Chris, a new friend from Arkansas, who was experiencing a similar struggle as me. Chris came from a Catholic family, and we both viewed “telling our parents” as the scariest part of the entire coming out process. We had endured childhood and teenage bullying, but learned how to navigate the system. We figured out how to “pass” as straight, or at least undetectable, and checked in from time to time to make sure the other was doing well. The situation I reference above, when Chris called me in the middle of the night, was not uncommon. Chris had it harder than me. He was still around family, through college and beyond, while I had an opportunity to live somewhat independent from some of the bigger fears involved in my struggle.

Chris is now very proudly out as gay, but this was almost not the case. If it weren’t for people in his life who assured, validated, and made space for him to be his true self, Chris might have either existed in the closet (as many men do), or worse.

Worse was almost an option.

Chris’ parents gave him the option of “going to camp.” They didn’t force or demand, but they did strongly recommend. They plead. But of all the things Chris knew to be true in life, it was that he was gay. And that no camp or prayer would change that.

Much like Chris, the ongoing nature of my coming out journey was not fully positive, and even today I am still nursing the scars that were initially deep wounds created as a result of my being gay. But I never went to conversion therapy. I was never prayed over in the middle of the night. I was never beaten or physically assaulted into admitting I could or would change. And while people did attempt to “pray away the gay,”I resisted. Unfortunately, some are still trying.

If you happened to catch 20/20 this week, you will know where this post is going…

“For every camp like this, there are a hundred more that nobody knows about.”

While the progressive part of my brain wants to argue this statistic, the practical part of my experience tells me this might certainly be the case.

Conversion therapy must end.

“Praying away the gay” must end.

Physical and sexual assault as a means of conversion must end.

If you know someone who is currently feeling or physically trapped or stuck in a situation where they are not able to be their true self, please make space for them. Please validate, love, and uplift them. If you cannot make the space, or are at capacity in other ways, please invite others to assist. Remind people that they are loved, and that they are and can be who they are meant to be – their true and authentic self.

To those who might be that person I am referencing…feeling or physically trapped or stuck in a situation like conversion therapy, an abusive family, or more… Please, if you do anything today, let it be holding on. Please know that conversion therapy is not ok. Any emotional, physical, mental, and sexual abuse is not ok. And whoever sent you there or did (are doing) this to you did it without considering you. You matter. You absolutely matter.

But I imagine you are confused, frustrated, hurting.

If you are still called to Christianity, know that there are accepting churches and Christians out there. The version of Christianity or Christians that you are seeing is just one sliver of what that faith might represent. There is a bigger picture of love out there. Love really is out there. If your biological parents won’t accept you, I promise there is a chosen family out there ready and eager to accept, embrace, and adore you. I am ready and eager to accept, embrace, and adore you.

You are acceptable, embraceable, and worthy of adoration.

You are loved.

You are loved.

You are who you are meant to be.

And that person is loved.

I cannot possibly imagine what you are going through, even as my plea comes from a place built on assumptions. But please, if you do anything today, let it be holding on.

Please hold on.

For resources, references, or help making meaning, please see the following:

The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity, via the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)

#BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy

Trevor Project.png

I wish I could wrap all those struggling in a cocoon of love and support. If not physically present for you, I am here emotionally and spiritually. You are not alone.

Here, always here,

Michael

IMG_3911*Photo outside of Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, D.C.
*The name, “Chris,” is a pseudonym to protect the identity of my friend.

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

Marriage…eventually. But marriage, possibly.

I went to bed knowing I would cry a few times today.

I woke up, and videos flooded my timeline. My Facebook and twitter feed both currently exist as an homage to this day one year ago, and alas, the tears are plenty.

I was overwhelmed on this day last year – by love, by stress, by, “what if?”

I remember this day one year ago so deeply and vividly, and as I shared my experience with a group of colleagues yesterday, I couldn’t help but tear up. On this day one year ago, I found myself sitting in an empty classroom of a boarding school, running an institute for my job. I was alone in the classroom, intentionally, refreshing my Twitter feed, refreshing the SCOTUS blog, minute after minute – close to one hour.

My mind wandered to, “when,” and, “what if,” and I paused long enough to miss the reality that my Twitter feed exploded. Between companies arguing for equal love, and friends and fellow community members typing in only emoji-speak, my body sat still with full-body chills. The Supreme Court of the United States had made a decision.

…one that favored me, and many people like me.

I cried. I cried uncontrollably, and stood up because being alone in that moment was no longer acceptable. Ultimately I had set myself up – if the vote went the other way, I could grieve privately and then move on to help others process. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that it would end in this result, and thus, sat still…alone, and needing to share the moment with other living, breathing, beings.

I walked out into the hallway of the classroom building, and not a soul was around. I was still crying, and seconds later, was jolted by the sound of a classroom door swinging open and another voice crashing into my silent space.

Peg.

It was Peg, a women, also living and working in DC, who I had grown quite close to over the few days we had already shared at the institute. We stared at each other, with a stare I will never forget, and immediately ran into a full embrace.

Peg and I held each other as we both sobbed for half of a minute, sharing one of the most emotional-intimate moments I had experienced up to that point.

Freedom.

We both felt free.

Moments later, colleagues in the room Peg emerged from also came bursting out of the classroom, surrounding Peg and I with hugs and cheers, and more tears.

“Love wins,” again, and again.

Equal marriage. Legal. Allowed.

“You belong. You matter. You are enough.”

Love, again, and again.

“…right to wed affirmed,” posits The Washington Post.

The press plate above now sits in a large frame in my living room, as I embrace co-habitation with my soulmate, best friend, and hopefully…eventually…legal husband. This moment at the institute – Peg, this moment, and the SCOTUS decision – lead me to believe I am worthy enough to be someone’s husband, that I am worthy enough to be simply, plainly, and beautifully me.

Someday.

Today I am unapologetically tearful. Today, I am reflecting, remembering, and hoping for more equal-minded decisions and legislation ahead. Today, I am pausing.

I am appreciating. I am loving. I am worthy.

Affirmed,

Michael

“You will not shake me. Ever!”

A few months ago, I posted a piece about juggling the self-worth dissonance I face on a daily basis. Consequently, it was also when told the world I was headed back to graduate school to pursue a PhD from the University of Maryland.

Fear guided that inner-debate around self-worth.

And outside of that headed-to-school processing, the worthiness questions appear in other forms and life capacities. The shooting in Orlando, leaving 49 mostly black and brown queer folks dead, reignited a reminder that I cannot and will not be shaken.

Ever.

A dear friend shared this on my wall, and today I am letting it shine as a bright reminder. You won’t shake me. Period.

brandi b
Thank you for sharing this piece with me, Brandi. Much love. 

Forward,

Michael

“…and we recommit to bending the arc of our Nation toward justice.”

“The fight for dignity and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is reflected in the tireless dedication of advocates and allies who strive to forge a more inclusive society.  They have spurred sweeping progress by changing hearts and minds and by demanding equal treatment — under our laws, from our courts, and in our politics.  This month, we recognize all they have done to bring us to this point, and we recommit to bending the arc of our Nation toward justice.”
Presidential Proclamation — LGBT Pride Month, 2016
The White House

I came out after college.
…and then kept coming out, year after year and to friend after friend.

My first memories of feeling and being, “out,” surfaced when I moved to Los Angeles at 22 years of age, shortly after I graduated from college. I was picked up at the airport by two of my new roommates and coworkers, and halfway through our ride home, one of them noted, “Oh, and you’re going to love West Hollywood and all the gay bars and night life,” assuming I was gay.

My new roommate had assumed correctly, and I let the moment pass. I still consider this my first experience as, “out,” and it was a critical part of my process – it was the beginning. I enjoyed West Hollywood, and all Los Angeles had to offer me as a young, gay Oklahoman, still desperate not to come out to my friends and family back “home.”

I soon moved away from California, and so began the process of coming out to my friends and family. I lost some really close relationships during that time, some that are still broken and bruised today. And as a result of that pain, for many years, I delayed going to any summer LGBT(Q+) Pride events. At that time, I felt the opposite of what the celebration stood for – I was anything but proud.

I was embarrassed, grappling with years of discomfort and shame. It was something I didn’t talk about, and something I didn’t know how to talk about. I had a friend in graduate school once tell me she thought (assumed) I had been out and proud since high school.

My response: “I wasn’t brave enough.”

I wasn’t brave enough. 

poster

I finally felt brave enough in 2012, when I decided to fly to Atlanta and celebrate Pride with one of my best friends who grew up with me on my Air Force Base.

I was nervous about the trip, and kept it quite coy on my social media platforms. That is, until my friend posted on my Facebook that she was excited to see me in Atlanta, and for Pride. It left me quite anxious, and within minutes, I received a message from someone very close to me at the time.

“Why are you going to Atlanta, and what is Pride?”

I sat with this message for about an hour, and finally, I responded the only way I knew how: honest and up-front.

“It’s an LGBT festival for queer people, celebrating who we are.”

“Please tell me you aren’t going,” they quickly responded.

That was the end of our conversation. And I sat at my desk and erupted in tears. I didn’t know what to do from there. I felt trapped, and I felt helpless.

But I went to Pride.

And I forced myself to be proud.

And within hours, I felt liberated – within hours, I felt free.

I was raised in a space that taught me to be shameful of anything related to being gay or queer culture. I was taught rigidity. I was taught the black and white version of social justice – minus love, minus understanding and acceptance, minus peace and dignity for all. And as summer appears each year, I am quickly reminded that progress truly does keep marching on, and we have to march along with it.

Let the Proclamation I cited at the beginning of this piece resound:

“There remains much work to do to extend the promise of our country to every American, but because of the acts of courage of the millions who came out and spoke out to demand justice and of those who quietly toiled and pushed for progress, our Nation has made great strides in recognizing what these brave individuals long knew to be true in their hearts — that love is love and that no person should be judged by anything but the content of their character.”

I believe in this. I connect to this.

We need this.

Come out, this season, any season. If not for yourself, come out as an ally so others in your life can see and believe they are loved and supported. If able and safe, come out so you can pave a new path for others to feel that their most authentic self is just as valued and valuable as any other.

As a 30 year old, I’m hearing some family and friends be vocal for the first time in my life. And while I love and value this personal progress, I am also conscious of the others who face a similar absence as I did for so many years growing up.

Do this for them.

Healing is ongoing. For me, and for you.

Be present. Show up. Be bold and proud. And most of all, spread love.

Make amends with family. Make amends with religious dissonance. Find peace in your heart, be settled and be free from shame and guilt and self-destruction. It gets better, and it can continue to evolve (whatever, “it,” might represent) – you (we) continue to evolve.

Please, beautifully, evolve. I recommit to justice every single day. And today, I’m asking you to do the same.

Love, love is all you need,

Michael

“During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, as Americans wave their flags of pride high and march boldly forward in parades and demonstrations, let us celebrate how far we have come and reaffirm our steadfast belief in the equal dignity of all Americans.”

pride flag

Temporarily Beardless: “We practice self-love in this house.”

Beardless.

Partner: I want to cry.
Me: I want to cry too!
Partner: Wait, what? Why?

Me: Because I look like a troll! Why do you want to cry?
Partner: Because I love you even more. 

“It’s like your armor is gone, super vulnerable,” he says. 

Before I dive deeper into my new (and temporary) beardless state of being, I should admit something quite significant: I gained 30 lbs in 2015.

Yes, you read that right. Thirty.

I have since lost 5 of those lbs in the new year, however the truth remains – since moving back from China on December 2, 2014, I gained 30 full lbs. Needless to say, I was not kind to my body this past year. I’m now working on it.

Unrelated to the great weight gain of 2015, when I turned thirty back in September, I made a list of 30 goals, one of which was, “Shave my beard.” Not for any great cause necessarily – I mostly thought it would be a fun goal, one that would allow my face to breathe for a few days before going back to my beard-filled life.

Fast-forward to this weekend: I’m in the bathroom, post-haircut, using my new beard trimmer. I cut a chunk of hair out of my beard – an unfixable chunk. In a quick judgement call, I decided it would be the day to knock off, “Shave my beard,” from my list of goals. And so, I shaved.

As soon as the clean shave was complete, my eyes welled up and I looked into the mirror with angst and fear. I felt completely undesirable. I felt incredibly naked.

Cue the aforementioned conversation with my partner.

Partner: I want to cry.
Me: I want to cry too!
Partner: Wait, what? Why?

Me: Because I look like a troll! Why do you want to cry?
Partner: Because I love you even more. 

In a moment of, “I’m not worthy,” I realized so much of my pro-beard advocacy had come from 50% enjoying the beard and 50% enjoying the opportunity to hide any double chin(s) that existed under the surface.

I hadn’t seen a clean shave since March 2013.

An hour after the trimming of the beard, my partner and I walked to the grocery store, and over and over in my head, all I could do was repeat something he often says to me when I criticize myself or wade in a space of personal dissonance.

“We practice self-love in this house,” he says.

We practice self-love.

Self-love.

Last year, I wrote a post about my life of weight gain and loss, and reflected on the struggle I have consistently battled with food and self-worth. Here’s a snippet:

“If a cake pop falls in the forest, did the cake pop really ever exist at all?” Furthermore, if I fell down in a forest, what was I doing in that forest to begin with? Was I looking for cake pops? [Was I working out?] I digress. Years ago, I came to terms with the reality that what I saw in the mirror did not necessarily match up to what was actually happening with my body. And, at the center of this lack of congruence, existed a world of issues with control, self-confidence, and self love.

(June 16, 2015)

Whichever house you reside (figuratively and literally), I implore you to practice love. And to practice self-care. Rereading the piece above was particularly important for me last night. With my beardlessness comes great vulnerability.

Here’s to growing my beard back over the next few weeks, and not because I’m hiding behind it or need it to calm my nerves. Here’s to growing my beard back over the next few weeks, and constantly reminding myself that my beauty and worth are truly up to me. Here’s to growing my confidence, and marching onward toward a place of love and self-truth. Ultimately, here’s to resolve, and resolving beautifully.

Learning to love yourself in all forms, shapes, and sizes is one of the toughest and most rewarding fetes one can endure. I’m certainly well on my way.

So fresh and so clean-clean,

Michael

unnamed

 

“This isn’t supposed to happen. People aren’t supposed to be accepting.”

“It’s 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.”

If you remember President Barack Hussein Obama’s State of the Union this year, you’ll recall this powerful part of his speech.

“courage”

“love”

“overrides”

This rhetoric is particularly notable, and upon the completion of his speech, I found myself close to tears, triggered by the reality of a sitting president connecting with a constituency that has long been ostracized by larger communities.

About one year ago, I shared a story about a conversation I had with one of my really good friends with whom I went to college. Here’s a quick grab of that flashback:

Several years ago, I visited a really good friend on the west coast. We had a phenomenal week together, and on my last night in town, we decided to hit up a really nice sushi place to let the goodbye commence. Midway through the conversation, we started talking about religion, and the dissonance between Christians and the gay community. It was great. This particular time in my life, I lived as sponge-like as possible, and I soaked up every bit of knowledge and (#)perspective from those around me. It was important, and still is today.

Seeing a natural opportunity for the inevitable, I posed the following question:

“Do you think being gay is a choice?”

Pause.

“Honestly…yes. I do,” she asserted.

Now, inside I was ready to burst into tears, however on the outside, I kept it cool and appreciated her for her honesty. “How do you resolve that feeling, having so many close, gay friends?”

She thought for a moment. I did too.

Eventually, my friend stood by her initial assertion, and I quickly finished my sushi to, “give me enough time to pack and rest before heading out in the morning.” I was hurt. I wanted my friend to say, “Fuck what I’ve been told, read about, experienced,” and, “You are worthy and beautiful, and did not choose to be gay.” Instead, she validated her faith, and reminded me that I am loved (despite the small caveat living with the confines of her religion). And, truthfully, I don’t fault my friend. At all. In fact, I appreciate her honesty, and the direct approach to our conversation.

But I was still hurt, and I did leave with a huge cloud of Christian guilt over my head (and, my heart). This was when I revisited the religion vs orientation debate going on in my head. For several years leading up to that trip, I had mostly just paused on religion. “Agnostic,” was my response when asked how I identified, and, “Questioning,” shortly after. I’m still questioning. Hell, we should all be questioning.

Moments after this particular post went live, the friend I mentioned in the piece sent me a text to follow up. We went back and forth for a bit of time, and I left the exchange feeling utterly guilty for airing our laundry for all to see online. At the same time, I felt totally inspired by the idea that we are all processing various conversations and interactions in a space and time for which we’re ready (emotionally, physically, mentally, intellectually, and, of course, spiritually).

You see, in so many ways, I expected my friend’s initial response. I provoked her. Where we come from (I talked a bit about this upbringing in a previous post), and at the time, I received very few supportive identity affirmations. I set my friend up. It was unfair.

I also set myself up. I benchmarked my expectations of acceptance around the very areas of self-worth where I was struggling most. Specifically, I existed with an assumption that every person would and should be critical of my identity as a gay man. I know this feeling now (self work is hard, and all of that), as it was further revealed/validated to me, by me last summer when I met my partner’s parents.

It was only over the course of a morning that I spent with them, however it was a first impression, and alas, a terrifying task. We had breakfast, we discussed the beautifully surfaced array of first-impression topics, and we prepared to part ways until the next time I joined them as a kind-of-and-almost-family-member.

As I said goodbye, I was startled by each parent extending their arms to provide a big hug. Two big, tight hugs.

As I was hugging his dad, and just as we walked toward the car, in my head, I couldn’t help but replay the lines, “The isn’t supposed to happen. People aren’t supposed to be accepting.” Much like how I felt as President Obama uttered the words, “It’s 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,” I was overcome with raw emotions.

This isn’t supposed to happen. People aren’t supposed to be accepting.

For so long, I lived in a world where the mere act of someone accepting me, or accepting those around me, was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. And I’m barely able to keep up. I did this to my friend when I asked her the question about Christianity/choice. I did it to my partner’s parents. And I did it to President Obama (sorry, Barack!).

“It’s 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.”

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

Do you have the courage to declare your worth? To live unapologetically?

Do you have the courage to love yourself unconditionally? Authentically?

Do you have the courage to be still?

Reprogramming,

Michael

IMG_3911*photo of doors, outside of Luther Place Memorial Church in Thomas Circle, Washington, D.C.