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

“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

God bless the broken umbrella that led me straight to screaming out loud when it flipped inside out.

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You have officially made it in DC when you’ve battled a gay Republican who hates Pride and disagrees with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

And you’ve officially made it in life when you’ve managed to flip your umbrella from inside-out to the right side amidst a hurricane-related wind and rain storm.

l’ll connect these two points in just a moment.

A few weeks ago, I left my office building, popped out my umbrella, and hit the streets to run an errand for a work colleague. Just as I got to a busy intersection halfway to my destination, I turned toward the wind to stop the rain from soaking the front of my pants. Before I knew it, my umbrella had flipped inside out.

I screamed.

Well, it was more of a yelp.

Either way, I’m not proud of my behavior. People were staring.

After popping my rainguard back into place, I found myself among a sea of people who had virtually zero issues with their umbrella. They were unphased by the hurricane’s strength, and I finished my walk, both soaked and struggling to maneuver through the sidewalks with my umbrella tightly cupped around my head.

How was no one else struggling, I kept arguing with myself.

You should know, this post was almost titled:

Chasing Perfection: Our Self Against the World

I’ll connect this piece in just a moment.

I have determined in my 30 years of life, that most of my perceived-failure exists as a result of multiple decades worth of chasing perfection. I have learned, when perfection is your benchmark, chances are you’re going to fail.

I repeat:

When perfection is your benchmark, chances are, you’re going to fail.

This is scary for a Type A, eager, constant-doer who established achievement as a core value early on. And it’s an ongoing process for me.

“Michael, you’re fine in this current moment.”

“Michael, you’re learning in the dissonance.”

“Michael, you don’t have to be perfect.”

“[insert your name here], you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Our self. Against the world.

Social media may be our biggest barrier. Don’t get me wrong, I will Insta and tweet the life out of my good days and conquered goals. But so will everyone else. Social media serves as a vehicle to inform us of big happenings in the lives of those around us, and among the glitz and wonderful happenings, we are merely a like, share, favorite, or comment away from another’s achievement.

We announce jobs, baby showers, those damn gender-reveal parties, promotions, great meal deals, and other general life wins.

We engage the standard, mirroring a “near-perfect” life.

And this happens a lot.

Similar to looking around at my fellow umbrella-toting passersby, I made a quick and snap judgement that everyone was navigating easily through the rainy streets of the District. I assumed everyone else was fully dry.

In a loosely-related way, my desire to be perfect impacted my assumption that I was failing because I couldn’t move seamlessly with my own umbrella.

*looks at Facebook*

*looks at Instagram*

*sees people skipping joyously-dry through a hurricane*

Am I the only one whose life is in complete shambles right now?

Sure, this may be dramatic, however in the grand comparison to perfection, these days, anything less than a baby announcement or wedding composite can leave someone to feel completely and utterly left behind.

Thankfully, I’m in a good place.

So, What’s the connection to the gay Republican, you might be wondering?

This, too, goes back to perfection.

Through the dissonance between myself and the debatee, one thing was clear: the debatee’s value and understanding of what and how they believed was purely based on the belief that they were under fire; that their umbrella had flipped inside out among a sea of umbrella-perfect strangers. Scramble-mode.

The most consistent tone of our argument was a desire to be perfect.

And to have perfect points. And to have perfect outcomes.

To move through a sea of people, perfectly protected.

But understanding the world in black and white is a limiting perspective.

And sometimes, it’s not black and white (whatever, “it,” might be). Sometimes it’s not sure or settled or defined. Sometimes the waters are murky. Sometimes the wind flips your umbrella inside out. And sometimes you don’t have all the answers.

All of this is okay. You are okay.

“[insert your name here], you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Completely imperfect,

Michael

The Social Justice Scroll

If you know anything about me, you know that I take activism very serious. And, virtually every single day, I get an email or Facebook message from someone who has an issue with my voice or my belief or my outspoken desire to make the world a more inclusive and equitable place. For example, last week Ireland passed marriage equality.

I cried. And I retweeted about 100 tweets regarding this momentous occasion. This is the first country in the world to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote!

Of course, this is just one of many huge experiences related to social justice that is happening in the world (and, including however you frame, “social justice,” in your sphere). Throughout the year, and as issues continue to plague our own country, people take to twitter, Facebook, and various blogs (I guess, this one, included), and air their disagreements and grievances, one way or another. If you’re in any way connected to social justice or equity/inclusion work, you will agree that, when these big things do happen in the world, the internet trolling is on a new level. And thus, all those committed to making the world a more equal place, are on full alert.

We enact, “The Social Justice Scroll.”

Quite simply, The Social Justice Scroll is a mere quick-read through the major articles and stories and statuses posted on any given topic (including the most-posted pieces and remarks with a large amount of comments or likes).

For example, I discovered this while scrolling through my timeline(s) last night:

“Not necessarily saying Jenner is a freak show, but come on people. I didn’t want to post about this but think about what we could accomplish if we spent all of this energy on things that truly matter.”

To pause, when you tee something up as, “I’m not saying…, but…,” you are probably actually saying just that. And, especially when your post is accompanied by a giant photo, reading, “Like if you think we should be worrying about serious things, not this national freak show,” and later noting, “But what got the most attention? A 65 year-old man playing dress up.”

“What you permit, you promote,” and all of that. And, what you post, you probably stand behind. I have a belief that nothing good comes from dodging your true feelings with the mask of, “I wasn’t going to speak up here, but…,” or, “I guess I’ll put in my two cents…” This is the modern day, “I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but…” No, no, please do share those two cents of yours, and while doing so, allow me to move along quietly with gaining frustration.

Of course, it’s not long before the next piece pops up, and the next, and then one about Mike Huckabee’s opinion on Caitlyn, and then one about the next big issue, and so on, and so forth (of course, while not dismissing any issue as one being bigger than the next). And this happens a lot, people start comparing issues. Don’t even get me started on the hero-comparing that is happening right now (soldiers versus Caitlyn Jenner, Barak Obama versus Harvey Milk, and the list goes on). Can we please stop doing this? Can we please just pause and let a moment happen? You don’t have to honor that moment just because everyone else is, but you do have to respect that it’s happening.

I have a friend who often asks me, “Why don’t you just defriend all the homophobes and racists and sexist fools on your timeline? Or at least, why don’t you hide them?” And, to be honest, it has been this past few weeks when I realized the reason I do not get rid of those voices in my life is because I kind of thrive on the dissonance. It get a push from these perspectives, and it is far more impacting on me than reading a random article with no personal connection to the voice.

These are real people.

Let’s pause here for a moment. There are real people in the world who actually think a woman’s place is in the kitchen and not in an office or leadership role. There are real people in the world who have committed to a life of white supremacy. There are real people in this world who think all gay people should go to hell. There are real people in this world who like Peeps. I digress.

I keep these people around because I feel like if I have access to them, they have access to me – and with that shared accessibility, perhaps they’ll learn something. And, perhaps, I might learn something, too. I should add, Oklahoma is not the cause of this dissonance. For so long, and when I moved to Los Angeles after college, I cited my upbringing as the reason I have so many swaying voices in my life. The truth is, these people exist all over the world. And these people will continue to say hateful and small-minded things in order to make meaning of their own beliefs.

I know many would advise against this, however, I always read the “Comments” section. People will usually show you who they really are in any given comment section. It’s painful, but it’s very real. And, as is the social justice educator guilt. This, too, is painful. There are times where you (we) literally will not have the mental capacity or emotional understanding to make a post or write a comment or challenge a bigot. And you should know, you don’t have to. Because this is exhausting. Challenging people all day, every day, is exhausting. And many live this life within the mere makeup of who they are. Please feel the validation that it is okay to be exhausted of this.

And to preemptively address any individuals now annoyed and stewing over this post, I leave you with my favorite line from, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” by Cheryl Strayed (previously the advice column, “Dear Sugar“):

“We are all entitled to our opinions and religious beliefs, but we are not entitled to make shit up and then use the shit we made up to oppress other people.” –Cheryl Strayed

How can you create some dissonance today with those around you? Will you challenge the coworker using, “retarded,” as a derogatory term? Will you address the racial tension in your community? Will you engage with the family member calling Caitlyn Jenner a, “he-she it?” Will you challenge transphobic and homophobic political and religious leadership in your life or community?

Many are trying. And for every hate-filled post, there is one full of curiosity and questions (and not to mention the thousands that exist in opposition of the hate). Curiosity and questions are healthy. Please, remain curious. And be comfortable questioning so you have a better understanding of whatever it is in which you are inquiring. No one should fault you for this. And, further, no one should fault you for speaking up when you know something isn’t right or just.

YMCA of Boulder Valley CEO, Chris Coker, displayed courage recently. Will you?

Exhausted,

Michael

What world do you see

*Photo above taken from somewhere in the internet – thank you to the creative soul who designed this!