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

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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

The 60-seconds following, “I do…”

Shortly after college, I went through a period where my calendar had more weddings than I could count. I attended many, while others received a disappointing regret.

Of course, the weddings I attended were wonderful, and the ones with open bars were ever better. A group of my friends and I even established wedding rituals. Sitting with the same 4-5 singles at each wedding (several of whom are now with partner, and/or child), we would take bets on how long the ceremony would last – in Oklahoma, a wedding could last anywhere from twelve minutes to sixty minutes, and counting.

I watched some of my best friends get married those years after college, and now as I exist within another wave of marriages, I am finding weddings to be significantly less stressful for me (I know, I know, “It’s not about you,” and all of that). Weddings can be expensive for out-of-town guests. I can always appreciate the folks who understood/stand that an, unfortunately-I-can’t-attend, remark is mostly as a result of limited coins, and not because I don’t want to celebrate their love. And more than expensive, weddings can be disappointing for 20 to 30- year old out-of-town guests. Because celebrating love is fun, and it’s beautiful, and can be incredibly inspiring. In this context, there is nothing tougher than realizing you don’t have the funds to celebrate the love of some of your most important people. I digress.

I received a second wind last summer while attending the wedding of a very dear friend of mine in Michigan. I was pretty unhappy at this juncture of my life, and even while driving to the wedding, I remember anticipating how horrible it was going to be to only know one person outside of the bride and groom at this particular event. I even almost turned around and headed home while driving from southern Indiana to western Michigan. I was super-single, and sulked in a pity party for 80% of the drive.

And then something magical happened.

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Suzy Smith and Michael Chandler, 2014

Aside from the wedding being absolutely beautiful and wonderful (I wrote about it here), I experienced an out-of-body feeling while watching the bride and groom walk down the isle after committing, “I do.” It was enchanting. There was an instant change in the way they walked, smiled, and even held on to one another.

And I sat with those emotions for quite some time.

As a result, I now strategically place myself toward the back of any wedding congregation. I have decided there is nothing more satisfying than watching a couple experience the, “I do high,” just moments after they’ve committed to one another. Those 60-seconds following, “I do,” are some of the more joyous moments I have ever witnessed outside of the last five minutes of any episode of Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. It’s so real. And incredibly powerful.

If you’re on any form of social media, you’ll know that I attended a wedding this past weekend in upstate New York. And it surely did not disappoint. And thus, I continue to believe in love. And to want love. And to spread love.

Sharing the same sentiments as I experienced last summer, I commit to, “happily ever after;” No gasps at wedding invitations and announcements of big life moments, no sighs of frustration in the celebration of other’s big life moments, and finally, no skepticism around love. Love love. And love it fully.

Here’s to newlyweds,

Michael

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Laura Persico and Chad Munkres, 2015

A small, manila envelope…

I check my mail every single day.

I am never really expecting anything specific, of course, aside from the occasional Amazon delivery. All of my bills are paid online, my junk-mail blockers are up, and most of my magazine subscriptions come around the same time each quarter. Alas, with hope in my tummy, I still check my mail each day, eager for a surprise.

And last week did not disappoint. After coming home from an 8-day out-of-town institute, I was surprised by a small manila envelope sitting in my mailbox. Before I could get to the contents of the package, I opened a card – addressed to me – explaining the purpose of this piece of mail.

“I am writing you today about letters. As you know, I love notes. They are small acts of kindness delivered to your mailbox. It’s joy in a simple form. This summer it’s my goal to help send 200+ letters. I want you to join me! All I ask is that you send 5 letters to someone you love or a stranger that needs a little joy.”

This message was sandwiched between words of encouragement and general life blessings, and overall existed as a goosebumps-worthy way to start my week. Behind the beautiful letter were five stamped, unaddressed pieces of stationary, wrapped in a beautifully worded note about letters.

“Because sending a letter is the next best thing to showing up personally at someone’s door. Ink from your pen touches the stationary, your fingers touch the paper, your saliva seals the envelope, your scent graces the paper. Something tangible from your world travels through machines and hands, and deposits itself in another’s mailbox; their world. Your letter is then carried inside as an invited guest. The paper that was sitting on your desk, now sits on another’s. The recipient handles the paper that you handled. Letters create a connection that modern and impersonal forms of communication will never replace.”

Like my dear friend, I love letters. I believe in letters, and I care desperately for the art of handwritten notes. While some might argue this art form to be declining or dying, I tend to disagree. What you put out there, you get back. And before I could even celebrate around a plan for sending out the pre-stamped letters, I got another surprise package. This one was from two of my best friends from college, who knew my favorite holiday, the 4th of July, was upon us.

I all but fell apart while reading their card and staring at the surprise gifts. Just as my first friend noted in her letter, “They are small acts of kindness delivered to your mailbox,” I tend to agree more and more. And in the spirit of inspiration and other warm-fuzzies, I spent most of Friday reflecting and writing, and had a tender moment with the US Post Office. Accompanied by five of my own blank and stamped pieces of stationary, the little note below is now on its way to Iowa City, IA. To my little sister, Hope, I challenge you to pay it forward – share some joy this month, show some love.

Make time.

Send love.

Spread joy,

Michael

*Giant thank you to my dear friend, Paige Acker, for thinking of me, charging me with this beautiful task, and declaring to make the world a more positive place for all – I’m thankful to know such a genuine and authentic human being. 

**Double-thank you to my friends Tasha Hinex and Jessica Shropshire, who sent me the 4th of July goodies, and reminded me that the people who know you best are the best people to have in your corner (and let freedom ring, and all of that!). 

Dating is weird.

 

When you’re almost 30, dating can be kind of weird. There’s this, “Sure, I want to have a life partner someday, sooner than later, and maybe build a family while planting roots,” sentiment, which includes all that comes with commitment. Consequently, there is also the reality of losing your freedom and independence, which, truthfully, has kept me single for the better part of this past decade. 

Alas, I went on a date this past weekend. 

Yes, let’s pause on this moment for a second: Michael Anthony Goodman, previously and absolutely independent and uninterested in truly letting his guard down, went on a date. 

And it went pretty well. 

Of course, I should add, if you had been with me just hours before, you would have thought this was certainly not going to be the case. For example, I had brunch with a wonderful friend the morning of my date, and it was typical conversation – life, love, dreams, hopes – quality stuff. Midway through our meal, I started talking about how nervous I was about my date that afternoon. 

“Nerves are good,” she affirmed me, and validated the idea that nerves mean you care about something, and/or that something is/possibly important to you. I agreed, and that’s when the conversation shifted. 

“You know, I’m most worried about the random stuff, like sweating a lot and looking like a beast,” I argued. 

Her response was gasp-worthy and a bit jolting. 

“But that’s who you are,” she posited, in the best of ways. 

Now, as defensive as I planned to be in that moment, I really had no words (and sidebar, I actually do sweat quite easily). My friend was right. It’s more important to be who you are than who you think someone wants you to be. Authenticity. Of course, this has always been a tough pill to swallow for me, and I played out every worst-case scenario one could go through while preparing to meet this new human in a romantic context. 

But I needed to have that moment with my friend to truly pause and center myself before this date. 

You sweat a lot? Sweat on. Hell, glisten on! You put your best self forward, and make no apologies. Because your best self is enough. And that’s enough. 

Now, I wish this spirit was consistent all the way through my walk to the Metro station. Instead, this trek existed as a brainstorming session of self-loathe, all while crafting a list of apologies I needed to make upon introduction. 

“I’m sorry I didn’t get a haircut.”

“I’m sorry I let my pale white feet out on this first day of spring.”

“I’m sorry my beard is patchy.”

“I’m sorry I am 20lbs heavier than I want to be in this current moment.”

“I’m sorry for farting in 6th grade and blaming it on one of my classmates.”

You get the point. 

I was dress-rehearsing tragedy again, though this time, outside of my previous job search. We (I) have to stop doing this. We have to stop being the barrier to success (happiness, fruition, love, joy, completion, etc.). We have to stop getting in the way of our unapologetic and authentic selves. We have to know that putting our best self forward is a pretty good offering. And we have to be okay with that knowledge. 

  

So, I went on a date this weekend. 

And I talked a lot. And I had Birkenstocks on for all to experience my, Casper-the-friendly-toes, as far as the eye can see. And I was nervous, and I did sweat a little. And I rambled on some stories to where I got tripped up within my own words. And all of this is okay. 

Because I’m okay. 

And that’s enough. 

And I’m enough. 

Friends, whether it’s a new job or social circumstance, or even a date, know your worth and know your value. You are good enough, beautiful enough, and absolutely worthy. Be proud of who you see in the mirror, and be your best self for all others to benefit. A new week is here, and the best is yet to come. And who knows, maybe you’ll find a second, a third, or even a fourth date. You deserve it. 

Interested,

Michael 

 

The Value of a Hug

I had a good friend recently ask me, “Have you been hugged since you’ve been in China?”

At first, I thought this was her PG way of asking me if I had hooked up with a local, however she was, in fact, asking if I had been hugged. I sat at my desk for a moment and before typing back, I realized the last hug I experienced was the night before I left for China. That particular evening, I said goodnight to a friend, and just before going to bed, she gave me a tight squeeze and a huge kiss on the cheek. At the time, I didn’t realize the value of this moment, nor did I understand my privilege of human interaction. Hell, I was just coming from a job where I hugged at least five people per day. Real, authentic hugs. Daily.

This past weekend, things changed. I finally experienced my first piece of physical touch in China, other than an introductory handshake here and there (again, no, these are not codewords for any type of R-rated or NC-17 encounters). I was headed to the seashore with some colleagues, and one young woman asked if I was okay with us waiting just a bit longer so she could say goodbye to one of her instructors who was leaving in the next fifteen minutes. Of course, we would wait, and I happily obliged. Just as I casually committed, and out of nowhere, she hugged me.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she exclaimed in broken English.

“You’re welcome,” I chuckled.

She then ran off to celebrate the fifteen minute victory with her friends. I was startled, but as I watched her run across the lobby of the building we were in, I got somewhat of a desperate feeling of, “what if?” What if I had to wait over two weeks for another hug? What if I would never find someone to pat me on the back while laughing? What if handshakes were not enough? What if hugs with Westerners were a huge ‘no-no?’ What if none of the locals wanted to hook up with me? Strike the last question from the record, please – you get the point here.

Overall, the initial question from my good friend has me thinking a lot about the idea of physical touch, and also the reality it plays in my life. I wish I was better at understanding the Love Languages book (I don’t know the actual name or test, but I just call it, “the Love Languages book,” and someone almost always understands what I am talking about). From years of familiarity, I am certain my love-languages are words of affirmation (for myself) and gift giving (for others) – again, not sure if this is actually how it works, but just go with me for a moment. In my understanding of the other options, I would have to say I do not really consider myself a physical touch person. Sure, I love a good hug and/or side-hug, even with strangers. But at the core, I don’t think I would have ever classified myself as one who has a need for physical attention.

Alas, I look back at that last hug from my friend just before I left for China, and the brief hug I received this weekend, and all I can think about is just how essential these moment were for me. Perhaps physical touch is becoming one of my love-languages. Perhaps it has always been there, and I have just been resisting or playing it down. This reflection further leads me to think of the, “Yoga Hug.” I have a friend who I have referenced multiple times in posts throughout my blog, and she exists as one with whom I still keep in great touch. A few years ago, this individual taught me a, what she calls, “Yoga Hug.” In this experience, you hug another person, and before separating, you both take a gigantic breath together and then slowly exhale together. Super intimate, and initially, super awkward. But, this moment always resonates with me, because sometimes intimate and awkward are actually really powerful and perfect.

Think of your last hug. Think of the last time you were intimate and awkward with someone. Think of the last time you held hands with another individual, romantically and/or platonically. Think of the last time you were kissed on the cheek, or the last time someone provided an authentic or lingering handshake. What did those moments feel like? Did you understand the presence of physical touch, or were your boundaries not shaken whatsoever?

In my new world where hugs are rare and physical touch is probably reserved for family or late-night encounters, I am finding my way through a sea of hugless days. And, more often, I am finding myself longing for a bit of physical attention. My challenge to you today, even if awkward or too intimate or oddly uncomfortable, experience a ‘Yoga Hug.’ Breathe in. Exhale. Be free.

Rated PG,

Michael

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When the universe gives you two birthdays…

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Do you know what one eats for breakfast on Day 2 of their 29th birthday? That would be half of a Dove chocolate bar and half of a can of Pringles.

I’m almost-thirty, and funny enough, just after I posted my most recent piece, I came across a post I wrote back in January, titled, “Almost 30.” Stay with me, as I pull a little nugget from that writing:

“Throughout adolescence, humans are both challenged and encouraged to choose the ‘right’ path. Society deems there to be two different directions of interest: one good, one bad. Illustrated by a break in the road, we are asked to go either one way or the other. The past 28 years of my [life] have proved that society doesn’t know shit. And neither do I.”

Intense, right? Thus, Pringles and Dove chocolate for breakfast. Furthermore, this sentiment continues to resonate with me, and to spare you from having to read the entire past post, I figured I would note that I still fundamentally believe in this “path philosophy.” Needless to say, I am excited to continue trekking through the middle – all the way to China. And all the way to thirty.

The best part? This path is one full of love and support. If you have never celebrated a birthday on Facebook, I challenge you to create an account, list tomorrow as your birthday, and reap the benefits of hundreds of friends wishing you well (and if you already have a Facebook, yet need a little bit of love and validation, just change your birthday to say it’s tomorrow and I promise you, only a handful of people will recognize your fib). You see, birthdays are an interesting moment on Facebook. Whereas some friends use the birthday tool as a means for cycling through their entire electronic-roll-a-dex of friends and deleting the ones who they don’t recognize or care for, others use the birthday announcement as a way to celebrate their people and to wish them well.

If there were ever a time to be reminded that you are loved, let it be on your birthday, and let it be via Facebook. However, this also sits with the caveat that, having a birthday and feeling the love thereafter will nothing short of serve as a reminder that you’re an ass hole when you don’t do this same service back to your network. I digress.

I heard from students old and new, parents of students, family friends, family members, friends, several people who commented that they missed my, “sass” (whatever that means), complete strangers, best friends, former flames, teachers, several of my top crushes (including one which I would marry, like, tomorrow), and a series of other who’s-who among my life-network. But I am the lucky one this year, as my birthday, between China and the United States, actually spread across 36 hours. No better way to spend almost-thirty than a two-day love-fest each time I looked at a screen. And one thing is for sure, as a result of that love-fest, I will continue to be purely unapologetic, blow up your social media, live my truth, and tell stories along the way. As my friend Nathan says, “Thanks for entering my world.” Here’s to more interactions with those crushes of mine, and a year of making an in imprint on every single day.

Onward,

Michael

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