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Bad Gay

Bad Gay.

I’m a bad gay. At least that’s what one of my oldest friends told me, mere days after my coming out to her. Of course I was a “bad gay”! I’d only started coming out to my friends and family two days prior. Heck, I’d only come out to myself a week or two before, in which time I confessed my at once confused and passionate feelings to a boy who had come out years before, learned that the feelings were mutual, and endured a slew of his cautionary tales before being allowed to accept him as my first boyfriend. The barren wasteland of my sexuality had experienced its first drop of water; its first ray of sunlight; its first jolt of life. I had accepted my homosexuality or, more appropriately, my romantic feelings toward a person of the same sex. This was all so new. I was gay, yet it was so fresh a thing that I could not possibly be good at it. Bad was the only option for my twenty-two year old self.

While my dear friend intended the accusation as a joke, more or less (She followed up her statement by expressing her desire for the one gay friend that she finally had to be a “Jack,” not the “Will” that she associated me with), my insecurity around the “badness” of my own homosexuality vexed me deeply.

While I was (and am) no great playwright, essayist, actor, or illustrator, I had established the written, theatric, and graphic foundations for these skills years before.  They were all a part of me that had been well-documented, well-explored; integral to my current self. I was intimate with them and them me. I understood them. In making my gayness public I was admitting a part of me rooted even deeper than the arts, biologically speaking, but one that I knew so little about…and it scared the shit out of me.

My boyfriend, this proto-partner of mine, had been in numerous romantic relationships before me. He’d kissed multiple men. He’d had sex multiple times. Had his heart broken. I was a gay virgin in a most whole and profound way. Educated in the Catholic manner, homosexuality was not a possible path for me. The only run-in I’d had with an openly gay person before college was a neighbor who died of AIDS when I was in grade school. Accepting myself was wrought with early onset fear and insecurity.

And then there’s The Struggle. You know about The Struggle, right? How many coming out stories involve such intense emotional, physical, and spiritual strain? Fathers beating sons whom they catch groping another male. Friends and family rejecting completely their offspring. My own boyfriend at the time was kicked out of his house and forced to sleep on a bench at the local train station for a couple days. Aside from my mother and I not speaking for four and a half months, I came out rather painlessly, every single friend and family intact. Sure there were dozens of awkward conversations (My grandfather blamed my “condition” on my male high school teachers who he’d convinced himself I’d been molested by). The boyfriend once told me, “You don’t truly know what it means to be gay because you haven’t really felt the hurt of it.” Those words haunt me to this day. I was doing it all wrong.

 

Thanks to him I lost my virginity, achieved my fair share of kisses, and experienced my very first heartbreak. All of these were great forward strides in my mucky march toward true successful gayhood. Though in the years that followed, two or three that included my transition from college to the so-called real world, I took a number of steps embarrassingly backwards. The pain from the heartache caused me to shy away from my romantic desires which is fine enough were they not so completely attached to my concept of my own homosexuality up into that point, that I buried much of that, too. I surrounded myself with friends that were exclusively straight. I even called myself bisexual which manifested itself in the physical world as a single awkward date with a single girl that ended the only way it could have…terribly. Whereas my original idea of myself as a “bad gay” was based mostly on ignorance, this latest definition was reactionary; a decided rejection of self. Twenty-five years old, living in New York, and utterly clueless.

The gays of New York City succeeded in making me feel even more behind the times; at least the ones that I focused on. I’d watch them walking speedily down the streets of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, sculpted bodies, fitted clothing, hair styled to perfection, exuding a confidence that radiated off of them like a forcefield. I studied them intently, a creeper on a bench or standing at a corner. I was at once in admiration and awe at the amount of work they had to put into themselves to look the way they did. At the gym. At the store. In front of the mirror every morning.  I would picture them at the club, glistening with sweat, grinding, pulsating with one another. They were made for it. Gods of the dancefloor. I even imagined their Struggle to trump my own by a thousand. Then my eye would inevitably turn inward. I’d see the loose fitting clothes, the little tummy, the gradually receding hairline, the hairiness, awkwardness, and at the time, loneliness. How could I ever dream to be this highest caliber of gay (honestly, that’s how I saw them)? It wasn’t so much that I didn’t love who I was. It was more that I despised who I wasn’t. I’m not used to envisioning anything as unachievable, but I felt like I could never be a part of the gay community having never once even given it a chance.

Today I’m not the idiot I had been. My OKCupid account lists me firmly as “Gay.” I came to the obvious conclusion that gay people came in all forms and flavors and currently make up much of my close group of friends. I’ve had a couple more boyfriends, a few more flings. I’ve marched in some pride parades. Volunteered with gay youth and hope to do a lot more. Granted, old concepts of being that “bad gay” persist: I’m weird about public signs of affection. I still hold those Chelsea boys up as a standard. I loathe myself for these things and still feel a twinge of not belonging, though not nearly to the degree that I had. I’ll often announce that I’ve never been bought a drink at a gay bar, packaging the statement as a joke but myself and all those around me would have to be deaf and blind to not see my unrest that fueled those words and others like it. This is my Struggle. Like so many other things in this tale, mine just came a little later.

Do I consider myself a bad gay these days? Honestly, there’s nothing to gain from negative thoughts such as those, the thoughts that crippled the development of my sexuality for years. I have grown and continue to grow. Thirty now, I think only of meeting the man of my dreams, getting married, and adopting children who will benefit from my Struggle as I struggle to ensure they are raised on the conclusions of self-acceptance I learned much later. I will hold my husband’s hand as we stroll down the streets, confident and content. I will continue to use my art to further assist the fight for equality through truth and understanding. I will embrace my all as I welcome others to embrace their own. Am I a bad gay? No, but I will spend the rest of my life becoming a better one.

Rebound and Down: The Ballad of Rider and Trystin

It was the Summer of 2007 and I was 23 years old. My first relationship had ended only a month before, leaving both he and I emotionally wrecked, reeling from the intensity of a love lost and the all-too-fresh anger we had inflicted upon the other. I didn’t know what it meant to be defeated until that Summer. The world felt heavy and dark, a hopeless place that I was destined to float through, eternally sad, eternally alone. And whether on purpose or not, people tend to attract a world that reflects the way they feel about themselves. I was no different. It was this law of negative attraction that introduced me to Rider.

What follows is our story or, more appropriately, the story of our paths briefly crossing. 

 

Part One: Sweet Meet. 

I was draped over my futon, an open box of Peanut Butter Crunch on my chest, my eyes bloodshot, staring dazed at the next episode of Will & Grace on Lifetime. Lord knows when the last time was that I’d shaved, showered, or left the house. I couldn’t have told you the day of the week or the number of times my friends had tried to call or text, to see how I was doing. They angered me, my friends. Partially because of the thought of them perceiving me as weak; partially because I knew that I was weak. Their calls were left unanswered.

As in many situations in my life, it was my mother that moved me to action. She stormed into my bedroom and threw a newspaper at me. She’d circled the address for a temp agency and told me to go. I cleaned myself up (enough) and dragged myself out of the house, into the car, and signed up to be a part of the temporary workforce.

Within a day or two I’d been hired to do small tasks around the area, but it was my last job that matters to this tale: One of the packaging machines had broken down at the old Hershey Chocolate Factory and they needed a bunch of people to count and package Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Hershey’s Kisses into tins. We were separated into two lines and were given our orders. My coworkers for the next week were mostly older black women or black men in their twenties and thirties, covered in tattoos, dressed in oversized clothes, jeans hanging well below their waists. I stood out as I always had amongst my fellow Harrisburg inner-city locals in my bright colors, nerdy graphic tees and fitted tech vest. I was ready to be the black sheep. I was used to it. And then Rider came along.

Twenty minutes late, he strutted in, head held high, a frown on his long mouth. His brown hair was styled like a wave frozen just before it crashed against the shore, and awash with highlights. His shirt and jeans were impossibly tight. From top to toes, he commanded attention with his attention to detail and style. Our boss gestured for him to join the line opposite my own. A good thirty feet between us, for the entire eight hour day, I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

While the attention I’d offered this boy was nothing short of fascination and sexual attraction. Such was not the case with the other workers. Suspicious and annoyed by something so different, they muttered “faggot” under their breaths, would laugh at the sight of him or sound of his voice. I was seething at their unwarranted hate. My temper was so short then, my emotions so raw, but I said nothing. That was day one of ten.

On the second day when Rider entered the warehouse I waved to gain his attention. “Stand with me,” I said. He did. “I’m Trystin,” I said. “Rider,” he replied with a smile. A big beautiful smile. I felt a wave of accomplishment then. Something within the shadowy wilds of my mind shone like a dull light. In Rider I found a kindred spirit in a way I could not put to words. We shared something  I couldn’t put my finger on. That small moment was the first since the breakup that I’d felt…life…inside of me. All I knew is that I didn’t want it to go away. And what I failed to know was that the something we shared was the very parts of myself that I feared the most.

 

Part Two: Chaos Kiss.

Rider and I hopped in my car almost every day to grab lunch at one of the many fast food restaurants in the area. We’d park and sit, chomping on burgers and listening to music. We’d talk comic books and how much we hated our job or how much our coworkers sucked. He’d complain about his boyfriend. Part of me loved that he had a boyfriend because I was terrified of getting too close to anyone and that made things easier.

Our time at the warehouse came to a close, but my friendship with Rider was stronger than ever. I’d pick him up and we’d go on rides or grab a bite, see a movie – stuff like that. Not long after he and his boyfriend broke up. He moved in with friends farther away. I’d still pick him up, of course. I’d travel anywhere to be near him; to feel like I felt like someone else.

It didn’t take much before our night drives, the emptiness and the quiet, caused us to open up to each other. Historically, at first. Rider would light a cigarette and the truths of his past would flow out as smooth and hypnotically as the smoke from his mouth: He couldn’t drive because he was on probation because of a DUI. His mother had kicked him out of the house because he was “too crazy.” They’d once gotten in a fist fight on their front lawn and the neighbors called the police. On an ecstasy trip, Rider had sex with one of his friends and she became pregnant and had a son. Rider was in the process of signing away all rights to the kid. During one ride he received a call that his father had passed away – a motorcycle accident. I asked if he was okay and Rider only replied, “I hate him. I’m glad he’s dead. He left me 20 grand in his will. That’s all I care about.” He was 19 years old.

It became abundantly clear that this person was not what one would refer to as a “good influence.” He was wild, trouble-prone, unapologetically himself, and fiercely flawed. At any other point in my life someone like this would seem alien to me. But when I could only see myself as weak, as lost, as broken; a creature mangled by the pain of week after week of screaming, of crying when I was sure no one could see or hear me. At that moment in time, to look upon Rider was to look upon the person I was becoming. This was my new and inevitable dark trajectory…and he would be the one to lead me there.

Our night rides were the thing I looked forward to the most in all the world back then. Chaos and freedom combined. Soon being near him wasn’t near enough. My hands would explore his body and his mine. When his lips touched my skin, the lingering pieces of the person of sadness I was peeled away, leaving only him and I. Empty. Content.

 

 

Part Three: Down the Rabbit Hole.

I pulled up to the baby blue single-wide late one night, to the sight of Rider racing out with a woman shouting behind him. He slipped into the passenger seat and slammed the door. “I probably won’t be staying here much longer,” he said and took a drag of his cigarette. I pulled off and he asked, “Can we visit a friend of mine?” Of course I agreed to it. There wasn’t much I wouldn’t have said yes to at that point.

Rider guided me into Carlisle, a town close enough to Harrisburg that I’d known of it, but too out of the way for me to have ever visited before. I drove down empty, snake-like streets lined in rundown townhouses, doused in the eerie yellow from the flickering streetlights. Save for a stumbling drunk or a pair of kids standing on a corner, the place appeared a ghost town. “Park here,” Rider said.

We walked down the cracked sidewalk and to the front door of a house that resembled the rest; paint chipping, porch littered with old toys. There were no lights on inside. Rider knocked. Silence. “I don’t think anyone’s here,” I whispered. He told me to wait. I took a deep breath and took in the scenery. Seconds late a pair of eyes peered through the venetian blinds and the door swung open. Standing before us was a girl, no more than fifteen, and very much pregnant. She and Rider shared a friendly, excited hug, then Rider introduced her to me. We stepped inside.

The living room was dark; the only light coming from the cellphones of a pair of girls texting as they sat on an old mattress on the floor. “Hi, Rider!” they chimed in unison. A couple, maybe seventeen years old, were squeezed together on a recliner, whispering to one another as the girl, skinny, blonde, and pale, typed poetry into her laptop. It took a little more focusing on my part, before I caught sight of the man passed out on the couch. He was wiry, shirtless, and a cigarette butt remained between his fingers. His arms and torso were covered in only the most questionable tattoos: demons, flaming skulls, Confederate flags, and swastikas.

This guy, Alvin was his actual name, woke up, cursing under his breath as he climbed to his feet. He noticed me immediately and said, “Who’s the nigger?” At that point just about everyone in the room except for me gasped or shouted “Alvin, don’t!” …which is, of course, what people like that want. He repeated the word at me, fueled by their protest, then burst into a rant about how all the girls should keep their mouths shut; how he’s more of a father to them than their actual dads and they should be grateful. Shortly after that he passed out onto the couch again. All the while this was going on the boy on the recliner gently caresses the cheek of the girl who is on the verge of tears, promising, “Kristen, we graduate next year, baby. One more year and I’m taking you away from this forever. I promise.”

A normal-enough woman enters through the back door, into the kitchen. She’s wearing a business suit and toting a twelve-pack of Bud Light. Rider introduces me to her as the mother of the pregnant girl. Rider then hoists himself onto the kitchen counter and grabs me close. We make out like no one’s there.

Another character in this seemingly endless span of introductions, a pudgy man with a trucker cap and a thick mustache stumbles in through the front door, drunk. He approaches the mom, slaps her on the butt, downs one of the Bud Lights and starts to make out with her not three feet away from Rider and I.

The mood changes when the pregnant girl’s phone rings. She answers, “Hello?” Something about the way she said it sends her mom’s boyfriend into a rage. “That better not be who I think it is!” he says over and over. The girl darts up the stairs. Rider takes me by the hand and we follow her into her room. The heavy thuds of someone coming up behind us is clear, but the three of us are safe behind a locked door before it’s an issue. The girl talks to the father of her child as her mom, her mom’s boyfriend…and Alvin bang on the door.

Through all the shouting, I deciphered the details of the situation: The father of the girl’s child was in jail for a number of crimes, one of them being beating up the very girl he impregnated. Her mom’s boyfriend wasn’t only an over-protective father figure, but also the father of the girl’s jailed boyfriend. The girl was still in love with her ex-boyfriend/abuser and no one was too pleased about this.

Somehow everyone calmed down. Rider and I left that place and I snuck him into my grandparent’s house and spent the night there. Laying naked in bed, my body entwined his, already lost in peaceful slumber, I could not help but think how utterly unphased I was by the evening; how unphased and uncharacteristically calm I had been ever since I’d started this journey as the lonely worker at a Hershey factory. Remember how I said that we attract a physical world that reflects our mental state? I had accomplished that that night. I smiled, kissed Rider on the forehead, and drifted to sleep. Fulfilled. Content.

 

 

Finale: The Point of [No] Return.

The following days were great. Long gone was the sad, lump of a human I had been. A new era had dawned: One where I wasn’t a slave to loss or depression. Nor was I a slave to the arts, to the perceptions of how others perceived me; to constantly caring and concerning myself with the well-being of others. I was of the moment, in the moment, and I loved it! Rider and I would eat at fancy restaurants, guzzle a bottle of rum curbside, watch movies with friends, express our feelings for one another pretty much anywhere in whichever way we saw fit, addicted to the present and never taking anything too seriously.

And then we made a return to the pregnant girl’s house.

It was a pleasant enough Summer day. We approached the house and, before reaching the door, one of the girl’s opened it, ordered us to, “Come inside. Hurry! Hurry!” and slammed the door shut once we had done so.

The tension in the dark home was palpable with the two girls and Alvin peering out of the window as if in wait. In the dining room, the young teenage couple sat in the dark, the boyfriend listening to his girl read aloud dark poems of sadness and fear. Upstairs something crashed to the floor. The door slammed. And then an argument erupted.

One of the voices was that of the pregnant girl. Rider grabbed me by the wrist and we charged up the stairs to see her. She was in a shouting match with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. It turned out that her ex had been released from jail and was planning on coming to take her and his unborn child away. The girl seemed to be open to the idea of running away with the guy who beat her – a fact that infuriated her mother’s boyfriend (aka the father of the abuser). He stomped into a bedroom down the hall with the mother and the daughter (and Rider and I), then back out and down the stairs, seemingly to separate himself and calm down a bit.

There were a couple lines of what I could only assume was cocaine on the nightstand. Empty beer cans littered the floor. The pregnant girl was red in the face, tears flowing. The mother and Rider were attempting to console her. I stood in the corner and watched this display of compassion; of terror and grief, feeling like a mere spectator watching a scene from a film. This was a moment I wasn’t living in with people I didn’t know and, like that, the loneliness found me once again.

Rider kissed the girl on the forehead and hugged her mother then, to me, said, “We should go.” I nodded and walked out of the bedroom and down the hall. As I approached the steps the father/boyfriend was ascending them. He stood close to me. It seemed as though he was towering over me while we were almost exactly the same height. I looked into his bloodshot eyes and saw a deep-seated anger and drive inside of them that sent a chill through me. The man, drunk or high, looked at me and growled through clenched teeth, “If that boy comes here I’m gonna do what I should’ve done years ago. I don’t care if he is my son. If he sets foot in here I’m gonna drag him into the basement, tie him up, and shoot him dead.” To dispel any doubt around his words, the man then reached and lifted the edge of his shirt, revealing a small shotgun pressed between his old jeans and his gut.

I only saw Rider a couple more times after that enlightening afternoon. More my doing than his. I remember going home after dropping Rider off. My home without racist, alcoholic uncles or coked-out mothers or murder-minded fathers. My bedroom with the X-Men action figures and the Looney Tunes posters and the shelf loaded with Gamecube games and philosophy books. My silly and short-tempered, but ferociously loving mother. My sister and cousins and friends who I had been absolutely pulled away from, who were all right there and ready for me upon my return. And of course, the loneliness, the heartache, the longing for things never to be returned- they were waiting for me as well.

The current state of my life could have been a lot better, to be sure. But in the stark juxtaposition between my own world and that of Rider’s, in having escaped into the darkest corners of his own escapism, I returned to my life. A life that had, I was reminded, beaten me down before…and would again. And each time, as I had done before, I learned, I grew, I made art.

I returned to college a week later. My last semester. Another in an endless field of opportunities to question and embrace my world. My life. One month later I made a new best friend; every bit the counter to Rider. Two months later I wrote and co-directed that year’s children’s play. A couple weeks after that, I graduated.  Back in Harrisburg, I hopped back into fascinating world of temporary employment where I met a pair of married hippie managers who took me under their wing, stressing meditation, inner calm, and trusting in my inner strength (and the Universe) to provide my life’s next step. A few months later I visited my father, only to have a teenager girl ram her car into mine, totalling it. It was the resulting insurance check (and those hippies’ words) that financed my move to New York where I, six and a half years later, continue to live no one’s story but my own.

Duck. Flip. Freedom.

I’ve been a teller of stories through images and words since as far back as I can remember. But the true birth of my creative-state occurred one Autumn night when I was in the fifth grade. I was sitting on the living room floor, drawing a giant picture of Daffy Duck on a piece of white pasteboard when – WHACK – a received a light, but surprising, smack to the back of the head. I turned around to find my mother, eyes burning holes into me, and myself unsure of what I’d done.”What. Is. That?” she asked through clenched teeth.”Daffy Duck?” I sputtered, wholly confused.”I see. Well, did you create Daffy Duck?””No,” I said.”Then why would you waste your time drawing some other character that makes other people money when you could be making your own?”Before I could answer, my mom flipped the poster board over, revealing its blank side. Satisfied with her noble deed she returned to watching Oprah.

I remember the feeling I got when I looked at that fresh empty side. The possibility. The opportunity for me to put my pencil to nothingness and turn it into something all my own. Over the next half hour or so, my pencil and I created The Thunder Mammals, a team of mammalian super heroes who protected the Animal Kingdom from menaces within. Sure, I had made up my own characters by that point- tons, in fact -but that smack to the back of my head was the catalyst for a fundamental shift in how I looked everything.

I had a relationship to characters like Daffy Duck and Wile E. Coyote whom I would draw often and one as well with Super Kitty and Clay-Guy and others of my own cartoon pantheon, but the true difference between my attention on one group or the other was negligent. What my mother had taught me in that direct, swift way that defines her methods, was the power of ownership. Daffy was their idea. The Thunder Mammals was mine. Mine. And with that ownership comes a strengthened idea of individuality and, with that, strengthened creativity.

As my artistic relationship with Warner Bros. decreased dramatically and my own characters’ worlds grew into rich, enormous things, the lesson learned quickly spread into other facets of my life. What else was I pouring myself into that was not mine?

Suddenly, the world in which I had lived for over a decade appeared to be, for the most part, not my own. What did I feel about things that did not directly come from the opinions of my parents? What did I know about things that did not directly come from the books that other people had given me? I was nothing more than the receptacle for other people’s creations; a realization that allowed me to set forth on a quest to free myself from it.

In the coming years the word “why?” became my best friend. When I was told how to act, or what to think, or (a major theme in my Roman Catholic schooling and upbringing) what was right or wrong, I immediately rejected the answer and, if the question were one I had never heard before, asked myself how I felt about it; if my opinion was in line with the “me” I am always in the process of building.

I’m sure that a lot of people are reading this and going “Duh!”, but the more I do and the more people I see the more I am sure not enough people have actually received that smack in the head (metaphorically or otherwise) to get them to step outside of the socio-environmental boxes they were placed in. The reasoning behind this, I think, is a healthy blend of social conditioning, rationalization, and laziness (known also as an “addiction to easy”) – By the by, these three things are secret recipe for the perpetuation of a great many terrible, terrible events that have occurred throughout human history.

I’m AWESOME!
We often tend to congratulate ourselves too much, treating a mild victory as an overwhelming success. Certainly we should be proud of our accomplishments and congratulate ourselves for every good thing we do, but much like the teenage girl who treats the discovery of a pimple with a explosive emotional outpouring of someone who’d just lost a loved one , we tend to give our personal progress more weight than it deserves. I’m not saying that getting a tattoo or or boat aren’t steps toward becoming closer to the person you want to be, but so often do we glorify these surface things to the point of glazing over the deeper opportunities for embracing our individuality, sometimes to our detriment. This leads to people thinking things like, “Well, my hair is blue and this yacht is great, but why am I not totally happy and content?” The answer: go deeper.

The way it is.
When the strongest themes of one’s society mix with laziness and a heaping helping of rationalization what you get this is phrase “That’s just the way it is.” Basically, these six words, whether spoken aloud or kept within, are one of the most powerful forces blinding a person to their own creative potential, freedom, and individuality (these three things being the exact same thing, really). If you hate your job, why do you stay there? If you’re in an abusive relationship, why do you stay in it? “That’s just the way it is” is such a convenient answer. Not to mention its close friend, “You can’t have everything,” which, while technically true, allowing it too much pull is the equivalent of blowing off your own leg with a bazooka constructed of your mind’s self-defeat.

The truth is that these debilitating mantras are self-imposed prisons where the guard and prisoner are one. To act against them is to loosen their grip immediately. Search for a new job. Move out of the house of your significant other. Sure, these escapes offer varying levels of difficulty depending on the situation, but merely believing that such a shift is possible is a form of creative freedom.

Is it the way?
Okay. Great. We’ve got blue hair, a yacht, a new job, and are no longer being abused. That’s it, right? We have assumed our individuality and drawn our own life’s picture. All is well, right? RIGHT?

Ha, you wish. Believe it or not, this is still the surface. Physical, tangible things. Toys. Cars. Other people. Houses. Dogs. Jobs. Money. Important things, yes, but to reach the truth of your individual, creative self you must be willing to go deeper, to ask “why” to the very core of who you are.

Compared to this next part, the bad jobs and bad relationships are easy. No matter how we rationalize them, it’s obvious in our hearts that they are bad. When it comes to things like one’s religion or morality or philosophy, things that are sometimes so deeply ingrained in a person’s psyche that they seem as much a part of them as their genetic make-up, “That’s just the way it is” is a force so all-encompassing that it is simply “Correct.”

The African American side of my family comes from the deep south where certain things were a certain way for people of different races. Some of them today are distrustful of white people. I’d say something as simple as “I got an A on my Biology test today” and that would garner the response, “Aw, that’s great Trystin. Now don’t let those teachers try to put any of them white boys ahead of you even though they ain’t as smart as you.” Is this response coming from a place of utmost love and concern? Yes. Is it a dangerous bit of hate based on a generalized and (arguably) outdated assumption that is just as harmful to peaceful race relation as any teachers who might “put any of them white boys ahead of” me? Certainly. If my handful of relatives and others like them would consider the times and their own recent experiences instead of clinging to cultural-spun philosophy then maybe their tune would be different.

The product of a Catholic upbringing, my learned concept of right and wrong was a compilation of carefully selected and translated excerpts from the Bible, everyone’s favorite religious tome. Early on we learned things like “Stealing is bad” and “Killing is bad” and “Not going to church on Sundays bad”. Then as we matured, so did these excerpts increase to combat our newfound urges: “Sex before marriage is bad”, “Adultery is bad”, “Homosexuality is bad”. To many, too many, the words of this book are the be all end all of the core of who they are. These people are so deeply Catholic or Baptist or Jewish that their unique self (them as “Sarah” or “Rachel” or “Greg”) comes second.

To truly reach one’s full potential one must fully look into their own morality. They must first look at the whole and then tear it down piece by piece. The latter is where laziness can come in, too. People love their quick fixes and when they can get the answers to all their tough questions in a simplified single place, be it a bible or a political party, they hold on tight and then concentrate on that new car they’ve had their eye on. This stuff takes work!

Looking at the bible holistically we see the usual excerpts, but also some really odd and disturbing things like men sleeping with their daughters without the least bit of negative connotation and Jesus himself condoning slavery (in quotes that were used in the American South to support their pro-slavery views). And then, once the whole picture has been put together, go ahead and see it as a number of pieces, not one single lesson that you can be for or against.  Just because you think killing is wrong does not mean you need to think missing church on Sunday is, too. Pre-made view sets are not YOUR view sets. The same goes for your parents’ morals and our little two-partied system. Pick and choose what you feel is honestly right for you and, if in the end your moral code seems an awful lot like the one you left behind… Fine! Great! When I drew a picture on that poster board one of the Thunder Mammals was a platypus and looked an awful lot like Daffy Duck…but he wasn’t. He was a conclusion I reached on my own based on a desire to create from within myself. And as I thought holistically and my worldview expanded from the resulting questions, that platypus (and just about everything else) changed as well.

I’ll have you know he looks nothing like Daffy today…except for, you know, having a beak.

Creativity is more than coming up with great ideas for your writing, speaking, business, or art. It is accepting and embracing the fact that you are a unique individual part of a whole and in order to do the most good, to be the happiest, you must forge your own path, your own philosophy, separate from those who have been made by others. They are theirs. Not yours.

7 Missing Tarot [Chapter 1 preview].

I’ve got a novel in the works. Here’s a preview for chapter one of “The 7 Missing Tarot”…

Chapter 1 – In the cards.

“Son of a FUCK!”

I didn’t always curse like this. My parents would have never allowed it. They’d send me to my room without dessert or some TV shit like that…even though we weren’t allowed to watch  much TV growing up. “A box of sin and temptation” and all of that. I mean you’d swear, too if you cut your leg while shaving in the tub. I probably shouldn’t have been so focused on hitting the high notes of Whitney’s Bodyguard theme. Or maybe I shouldn’t use an old razor I found under the sink. Regardless, blood is blood and my thigh is gushing like a motherfucker. My name is Okimbe- Kim for short -and I’m going to pass out now.

It’s roughly ten minutes later and I’m lying…laying?…lying in bed, my roommate Tina holding my hand. Her deadbeat-but-harmless boyfriend Dave is looming over her, scratching his head, his face dopier than usual. Something about me: I pass out at the sight of blood. So whenever I shave in the tub I make sure that I leave the door open and let Tina know so I don’t, you know, drown in the lamest fucking way ever.

Okay. So I guess you’re probably wanting to know more about me than some shit about passing out in tubs. Fine. To tell you the truth, my adult life pales in comparison to my backstory. Like, seriously. My life has been a series of uneventful stumbles and falls since the bad old days. I’m talking newsworthy stuff. Google my name- Okimbe Cuthbert…or Malawe -and you’ll see. Actually, don’t. I’ll just tell you:

You know those weird, creepy cults that pop up from time to time on the news? They’re always in the middle of nowhere on some compound and no one ever knows about it until EVERYONE knows about it. That’s where my story begins. I was born in a shack to a kidnapped twelve-year old girl who died in childbirth. My shit-eating fuck-brained monster of a father- the father of everyone who wasn’t kept in a cage, actually -was the undisputed and omnipotent ruler of the Malawe Compound.

Ogun, he called himself. He was dark skinned with tufts of wild graying black hair framing the entirety of his long face. He stood frighteningly tall, especially in my memory, long legs placing him up close to the heavens he claimed to have descended from. What I remember the most about my father, though, were his eyes: large yellow orbs, glazed over by drugs and delusions; piercing things that shone with the wrath of God.

I was five years old when the S.W.A.T. team stormed us, an army of white-skinned men brandishing weapons and armor like the demon hoards in Ogun’s sermons. I was washing clothes with sisters in the courtyard. My brothers were around, skinning food or hunting or berating the captives. We were all caught unaware. Ogun emerged from the main house at the sound of our screams. He didn’t lift his rifle a fucking inch before a dozen bullets dropped him on his porch. Two of my brothers and one sister, attempting to avenge our prophet-father’s death, were killed as well. All I could do was wail, wide-eyed, as curses and gunshots thundered in the air all around me. I wailed and I wailed, tears rolling down my dry dark cheeks. Wailed as I lost my father; my siblings. Wailed as a strong armored arm picked me up, kicking and screaming, and then hurled me into the back of a black van, promising over and over again that I would be safe now.

“OW. Motherfu-”

“Oh, settle down!” Tina scolds me in her sweetest voice as she applies some weird organic cream to my cut. She’s a skinny white girl with green eyes and blonde hair and dresses in expensive flowy earth tones. She’s been out of college as long as I have, but unlike me, her parents continue to pay her rent and give her an allowance so that she can skip around the city without the slightest care in the world. Lucky bitch. I love her though.

I pull my leg away. “That’s enough, Tina!” Shortly after, I realize that I’m only wearing a towel and her boyfriend Dave now has got front row seats to my goods. “Dammit!”

Dave smirks and shakes his head. Tina giggles as she pulls my leg toward her, once again covering up my ladyparts. “It’s cayenne and cinnamon infused, Kim! For once in your life shut up and let someone do something nice for you.”

My streak of independence (read: stubbornness) might originate from my dead biological father, but it’s more likely that my adopted parents were the ones who instilled those traits in me. Suck on that, nature. Nurture for the win!

After I’d been abducted (read: rescued) from the evil clutches of my fucking backwards backwater Georgian childhood, I was all over the national news. As the youngest and least corrupted of my siblings cameras were on me all the way through my adoption process, where upstanding citizen and (white) Protestant Minister Charles Cuthbert and (white) wife nabbed my high-profile ass and dragged me to a small (white) town in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. I was probably the only black kid for a hundred miles and grossly undereducated. Some would say I was born to be an outcast with a shit ton of anxiety and identity issues. And they’d be right.

More on this later, but for now just know that I was a semi-famous preacher’s daughter who spent my entire childhood in the fucking Whitebread, USA. Oh, and Mr. and Mrs. Cuthbert already had a two-year old son named Ricky, my brother, who I will certainly be talking about more later because he’s a goddamn brilliant mess and I love him more than life itself.

“We’re grabbing bagels at the bodega,” bubbles Tina from a room away. “Want something? My treat!” I can feel the bile rising in my throat when she say “my treat” because I know she knows I’m having money trouble and I know I shouldn’t be angry at her generosity because there isn’t a judgemental bone in her skinny freckled body.

“I’m good!” I reply, ignoring the comically timed rumbling of my stomach.

“You sure?!” It’s Dave this time. I can practically hear the beard and torn skinny jeans and filthy Chucks and flannel shirt and ironic trucker cap in his voice. Fucking hipsters…says the vegan girl with a degree in literature from Sarah Lawrence, an apartment in South Williamsburg, and a wardrobe almost exclusively comprised of locally purchased used (read: vintage) clothing. Ugh, me.

The star-crossed lovers go on their bagel run and I get dressed and do a quick review of myself in the mirror. Tired brown eyes: check. Full lips: check. Thick black hair with streaks of fading gold that doesn’t really know what its doing or where it’s going just like me: Uh huh. And a curvy body that could probably use a couple weeks of cardio, but oh well all my gross online suitors don’t seem to mind so whatever: Yep. Fuck Cosmo. Twig-ass models and shit. I look…okay. Okay enough. These thighs, though. Ugh, me.

Sometime between high school and college I really got into New Age shit. I started doing it to piss off my parents and that bible studies bitch, but it stuck. Astrology, crystal healing, numerology, I eat that stuff up. Because today feels especially directionless and bleak I decide to give myself a full-on tarot reading. The Celtic Cross. Classic. I reach into the wooden red box in the top drawer of my nightstand and pull out my deck. The deck and I walk into our little kitchen/living room/dining area dripping with art and half-dead plants and I take a seat at the faux-wood Ikea table. Let’s all take a quick second to praise Ikea, okay?

Cool.

I promise you I’m not some weird hippy freak who’s always checking her horoscope and yammering on about Reiki and magic spells. I’m not. I love those things. But I’m not. I mean, it’s my religion, you know. I believe in it. We all draw answers from the collective universe in our own ways. Sometimes its putting on a pretty hat and singing to Jesus on Sunday. Sometimes it’s raping and killing girls in the middle of the woods. And, for me- right now, at least -it’s doing a fucking Celtic Cross.

I shuffle the cards with my eyes closed and concentrate on a question. Figure I’ll go with the old standard: What the fuck is my life?

I place the ten cards in the cross-formation, face down like so…

The first card represents the present. I got The Moon. It represents fear. Anxiety. Confusion. That sounds pretty legit.

The second card is the challenge – the main thing standing in your…my….way at the moment. Ah, and it’s good old Seven of Cups: fantasy and illusion. Like maybe it’s all in my head? Ugh.

Next card: the past. And it’s…the Eight of Swords. Not surprising. It’s all about loneliness or feelings of abandonment or imprisonment. I sigh.

Okay. Time for the immediate future. Oh. The Fool. This is one that rarely comes up for me. Despite the negative connotation of “fool” (one that completely fits me), it’s a pretty badass card. It’s a card of new beginnings, spontaneity, embarking on new adventures. If only. The only new adventure yours truly can go on is the quest for a new place of employ-

The apartment door swings open. “Heyy!!” Tina chirps.

“Gah!” The abruptness of her entrance scares the shit of out me and I end up knocking  half my spread and most of my fucking deck on the floor. In fact, the only card that remains completely unmoved is that damned Fool.

Tina’s cheeks flush red. It doesn’t take much. “Oh, Kimbi! I didn’t mean to scare you!”

“Shit…” Dave slurs the word in that lazy baritone. He’s holding a full paper bag with both hands.

“Dave.” Tina commands, already reaching for the bag. “Give me that. You help Kim with her cards.” I try to protest, but that’s never worked before and it won’t work now. Dave lumbers toward me, the docile servant, and gets down on his knees, collecting my fate.

A warm wrapped bagel slams against my boob, stopping me from joining Dave and my fallen cards. “Here. Eat. It’s an everything bagel with vegan sausage, egg, and cheese. Your uzh.” Tina holds the item against my chest and makes her best angry face, which is fucking adorable- like an angry baby or puppy. Oh, and her squeaky-ass voice gets kinda deep and she basically sounds like a Muppet or some cartoon-ass shit. “Take it. Sit down. Dave’ll take care of your little cards.” Like I said: adorable.

I sigh. I moan. I sit my ass down on the couch and eat that bagel because I am fucking starving. That bagel had no chance. Tofu warped into more familiar non-vegan forms is annihilated between my powerful feminine jaws.

Midway through my breakfast I spot Dave at the table, separating my tarot cards into five piles. “What are you doing?” I ask him, spitting chunks of much-desired nutrients as I do.

He shrugs and says, “Organizing them.”

“Why the fuck-” I stop myself. Well, actually, Tina’s wide-eyed death glare stops me. Bitch doesn’t have an intimidating inch over ninety-nine percent of her body, but those fucking eyes, man. Prettiest fucking things in the world when she wants them to be, but upset her and you feel like you’ve been spotted by a pride of lions in the fucking Serengeti when she looks at you.

Once my bagel is sufficiently no more, I down a glass of orange juice Tina places in front of me. “Yo…” Dave begins. My insides are already preparing themselves for the stupid that’s about to happen. “Is this all of them…?” He sifts through the piles of cards with a face overwhelmed with confusion.

Certain of this guy’s incompetence, I march over and sort through the five piles, one each for Cups, Wands, Swords, Pentacles, and the Major Arcana. Fuck. The complete set was not accounted for. I get down on my knees and look for stragglers. Nothing. Fuuuuck. Using my incomparable powers of deduction (read: process of elimination) I count seven tarot missing from the deck:

  • Empress
  • Knight of Cups
  • Five of Cups
  • Three of Cups
  • Heirophant
  • Six of Wands
  • Three of Swords

I search the floor under the table again: nothing. My little red box: nothing. The floor around my little red box…This isn’t fucking happening. What is my life?

I get frantic, shuffling around my room, the living room, opening drawers and closets, digging in pockets, groping every nook and cranny of our little apartment with reckless abandon. I can feel the eyes of Tina and her pet boy boring into me, not quite sure what to do as I scuttle around like a fucking crack crab with my heart thumping hard and fast and my hands and knees coated with dust and the garbled curses I mutter to myself with every fucking fruitless attempt. I hate it when I get like this. Like, I can feel myself losing it, make no mistake. I can feel all the logic and the calm getting the shit kicked out of it by fucking crazy inside of me. The missing cards are just the trigger, really. A minor incident acting as a fucking catalyst, opening the dam of losses. It’s been almost a month since I’ve had a job. My financial security is nonexistent. Chills go up my spine over my daily realization of possessing zero marketable skills. I’ve been single for months. And the last time I’ve had sex- FUCK. And great. Here come goddamn  tears…

“Kimby?” Tina’s voice trembled. She wanted so badly to comfort me but was terrified of approaching me sliding around on the floor, knocking things over and talking to myself. Who’s the scariest thing on the Serengeti now, bitch? Except instead of a ferocious lion I’m a fucking hyena with rabies, begging to be put down before I put down you.

I’ve never been diagnosed with panic attacks officially, but these fucking episodes, whatever they are, have been happening more and more lately.

“I’m fine,” I assure them in a heavy exhale, eyes bulging out of my head and sweat beads dripping down my face like a fucking crackhead in withdrawal. “Fine…fine…” I pick myself up from the floor and wipe the crud from my hands and knees. We’ve sucked at cleaning lately. I stagger to the table and sit down, my gaze roaming from my fraction of a deck to Tina and Dave then back to the deck again. “Missing…”

“I’m sure they’re around here somewhere!” Tina bubbles, no longer worried. “I’ll help look as soon as I put all the groceries away.” She smiles her pretty, pretty smile. I know in my gut that she’s wrong. Any new age person worth half a shit knows that missing tarot cards have meaning. Hell, more meaning than present ones. If I think about those seven cards for a fucking second it’s obvious. I mean, the Empress?! Come on! Come the fuck on!

Maybe the crazies haven’t fully worn off, but the knowledge of what I have to do next hits me like a fucking hydrogen bomb. Or the end of The Sixth Sense. My life is an empty, directionless, depressing hot mess right now and there’s no one to blame but fucking me. Okimbe fucking Cuthbert: certified idiot. The cards said as much. And I’ll be damned if the stuff I need to do to get out of this shit-nest I’ve built for myself rests in the cards that aren’t there. Or, more specifically, the unresolved shit from my life that I’ve been running from, hiding from, ignoring or straight up suppressing.

I guess I’ll be the Fool after all. Time to take impulsiveness by the balls and embark on that new fucking adventure into some old baggage.

Oh, and I’ll try not to curse so fucking much.

Introducting VS…

VS onlyHiya, folks! It brings me great pleasure to introduce “Vs.,” a sort of sub-blog to my main blog posts that offer quick (or quick-ish) glimpses into my opinions on various subjects; everything from Death and Abortion to Avocados and the Lion King. Pretty much anything I’ve ever had a concrete opinion on, many of which I’ve never written about or even had the opportunity to squeeze into a dialogue before. And if the subject is big enough I’ll be following the initial post up with subsequent rounds (I’ve already started Round 4 of Vs. Racism so that’s fun). The goal here is to keep these short and sweet, but effective and release one every single week for the rest of my life. Ha. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, thanks and enjoy!

The first “Vs.” is RACISM! (round one).

This Blog Will Self Destruct in Three…Two…

A nowhere-near-comprehensive list of ways to screw yourself over…

  • Comparing your successes to someone else while lacking a proper competitive spirit
  • Living life under the assumption that you are owed anything
  • Thinking that returning to the way things were is ever the solution (it was the way things were that lead you to the way things are, after all)
  • Focusing on the source of your discontent instead of how to move past it
  • Running FROM something without having something to run TO
  • Prohibiting yourself from trusting others
  • Using certainty as an excuse not to question
  • Ignoring your limits
  • Allowing anything aside from yourself to define your life
  • Avoiding risk
  • Failing to build a bridge between what you know and what you do
  • Resenting others for having what you don’t
  • Pretending something never happened
  • Allowing fear to breed regret
  • Letting pride get in the way of achievement
  • Forgetting that, despite their cliche status, not putting your eggs in one basket, not counting your chickens before they hatch, and relishing the journey over the destination are among the most important lessons out there

I Hate Myself (And So Can You!)

Alright, I’m going to keep this nice and short, but it’s important nonetheless:

Complainers. We all know them. These are the people that, instead of taking many any actionable responses to the less-than-perfect pieces of their existence, turn to people around them and whine about it. These people are lazy, attention-hogging, and/or self-loathing sorts who, by merely existing, bring down the world around them.

Obviously, this way of living isn’t healthy. They’ve set themselves on a downward spiral with only an explosive impact with rock bottom to look forward to. But I’m here to talk to you about you; the one who has to listen to all this crap. Just like surrounding yourself with happy people boosts your morale, allowing this sort of person to cling to you is toxic. They will drain you of your joy, your ambition, slowly but surely, no matter how strong you are. By prolonged exposure to them you are becoming more and more like them. We’re like sponges to the emotional energy of others. It is what it is.

So if you’ve got a complainer in your life you’ve got a couple choices. If you really care about this person then tell them to make a change. For every complaint, tell them to take action and work to resolve it. If you really care about them you should be doing this already. Don’t enable. Don’t coddle. You’re messing things up even more. The second choice is breaking off the relationship. If you tried your hardest, or they’re not even all that close to you, break it off. Move on. Surround yourself with people who will grow you, not screw you up.

Is this pretty obvious? Sure. Do I see and hear it occurring around me so much that I felt the need to string together a quickie-blog about it anyway?

Ohhhhh, totally.

A Black, a Gay, and an Artist Walk Into a Bar…

…and his name is Trystin.

Labels. Names we give to generalizations that we attach to people so that we can easily digest them like swallow-able pills. Using my experience with the three that light up the title of this very blog (black, gay, artist) let’s take a look at the uses and abuses of “the label”, shall we?

Black.
Of the three, this is easily the first label that was bequeathed upon me. I mean, it’s a no-brainer, right? As clear as the skin on my face. Black. Also known as “not white”. White people get the jobs and black people get the shaft. This is more or less the vibe I got from my Southern-bred grandparents and, to a lesser extent, from much of their offspring (my parents, aunts and uncles). Perhaps the most interesting part of this is that I am an ethnic puree of African, German, Native American, and another unclear caucasian source that is possibly Irish. That, of course, is of very little consequence, because genetic make-up is secondary to physical appearance when race labels are involved.

Fortunately, my life experiences were in direct opposition to the “anti-white” way of thinking and thus it never stuck. Those life experiences include, of course, the racial cornucopia that is my family, as well. I got that one’s skin color should not be a factor in who is an acceptable acquaintance, friend, lover.

The second part of my Black Saga kicked off not too long after the first, this time the focus being less on what I was and more on what I wasn’t…or should be. It was brought to my attention by various children on the streets, classmates, and a handful of lackluster relatives that being black wasn’t simply a color, but also a complete “YOU”-in-a-box, encompassing fashion, religion, demeanor, interests, manner of speech and all sorts of things so you don’t have to come up on them on your own!

Much to the dismay of many, by the time this wave of pressure washed ashore I had already formed the foundation of an albeit young, but strong and individualistic personality. A personality that was not tough, sports-oriented, or sexual enough to be “black” and so I was pelted with questions like “Why do you act so white?” or “What’s wrong with you, white boy?” for years and years. It was in high school, when an enormous football player singled me out with this sort of talk, threatening me and whatnot, that I became decidedly anti-label. In my angry rejection I rebelled against anything that was seen as “black” or “white” or “male” or “female” or “old” or “young” and decided to form my own opinions on the individual. Taking it a step too far, I also rejected anyone who seemed to have given into their label. The stereotypes. The whole thing infuriated me and I swore that I would be my own thing and make sure others knew that it was okay to be, too.

Gay.
Then this came along. And by “came along” and I mean “came out” because it was most certainly bouncing around in me since I could feel romantic feelings.

Always socially awkward when it came to prospect of love, I was a slow bloomer. Raised and schooled Catholic I was taught that homosexuality was a sin…a mortal sin…but due to my War on Labels I didn’t really care about what they had to say. I remember thinking during one class, “If it turns out I was gay, that’d be fine. Because I’d be so much more as well. It’s just another piece.” Keep in mind I had been crushing on a dude from my Art class and two from my theater crew at this point so there was no “if” about it.

In 2006 I met a guy who made me feel like no one else did. Awkwardly I expressed these feelings and -POOF- I had a boyfriend. I was g- No. That was a label and I was against those to the point of having a complex. Seriously, people. A bristly chill of anger would creep over me if someone called me “black”, “white”, “mixed”, “Pennsylvanian”, “male”, “American” so when the “g” word (and everything that goes with it) became something that could be associated with me, I freaked out. But on the other hand I was so happy that I found love that I had to tell all my closest friends and family and coworkers and teachers that I was…an individual person who “had a boyfriend.”

And when I was forced to label myself; when someone cornered me with a “Trystin, what are you? What do you consider yourself?” Once I’d responded things like “I am Trystin” or “A guy who is in love with another guy” more times  than they would accept, I would satiate those label-hungry beasts with “bisexual” for while it was a label it didn’t come with much assumed cultural and behavioral aspect other than a shroud of confusion and the general idea of “not being able to trust them”. I could handle that.

Let’s not forget those times I was accused of “not understanding what it’s like to be gay” because I didn’t go through “enough pain” or I didn’t “lose enough.” You know the stories where kids come out and they get disowned or lose all their friends or get mixed up with the wrong gay crowd or bullied then rebel in a sexual fabulous frenzy. I sorta bypassed all of that and thus, according to some, I missed a key chunk of what being gay means.

Now today if the question of my sexuality ever comes up, I answer with a matter-of-fact “I’m gay” and that’s that. What changed? What broke through the bonds of my operant conditioning and anti-label zealotry?!

Find out after the next section.

Artist.
Truth be told, I was going to leave this out. Why? Because it kind of went against everything I said about labels up until this point. Then I decided I had to keep it in…because it kind of goes against everything I said about labels up until this point.

I was raised in a sporty family. Basketball this and football that. Meanwhile, I spent my free time escaping into a magical world of imagination through my drawings. From a very young age I was “the creative one”, “the artist”. This followed me through grade school, high school, and continues into today. It was a label…and I never had a single problem with it. Here’s why:

First, the artist label in itself is an anti-label. To me it was always a symbol of one’s creative individuality and ability to sidestep society’s mainstream views and ideals to the beat of their own drum. It was a label that allowed for such a spectrum of interpretations that I never once considered it for what it was. A generalization.

Another difference between the “artist” label and the labels of “black” and “gay” is that actively being an artist is a choice; something I had power over sharpening, honing, and ultimately delivering to the world. My race and sexuality, not so much. My skin color is there for all to see 24/7 and unless I want to live in a romanceless Hell, lurking in the shadows from those I’m close to, there’s no way I was going to keep my homosexuality hidden.

So that’s how I justified my OK-ness with being called an “artist” and my aversion to being called “black” or “gay”. But in my OK-ness with one and not the other two, appeared the fatal flaw in my perception of the situation…

In the Dark Ages artists certainly existed. They would make paintings and things that were in line with the powerful hand of The Church. Were they to produce something that diverged from the hyper-religious mainstream they would be punished. Potentially severely. Excommunicated. Killed. For producing something different.

The general idea of an artist in 433 AD Holy Roman Empire did not include such lovely thoughts as individual thought, going against the grain, and forming one’s own beliefs about things. Such traits fell under the label “heretic” and “Off with his head!” followed shortly after. From there I thought, “What if I was labeled ‘heretic’ instead of ‘artist’?” Suddenly, the very traits I enjoyed, positive and open, have become a negative means for which to generalize and persecute me. Suddenly, the “artist” label seems an awful lot like the other two and my avoidance of acknowledging them starts to seem an awful lot like fear; a lack of acceptance of those parts of me.

Do not remove this label under penalty of law.
I realized that my war on labels was more or less as effective as completely ignoring their existence in myself. And, taking the “gay” label today especially, ignoring the label pretty much makes it look like I’m ashamed of the label…that being gay is wrong. And in this absolutely crucial time for same-sex rights it’s all hands on deck or nothing at all.

Labels can suck. They tend to come as these neatly wrapped sets with all sorts of parts that society has deemed inseparable from the trait itself. Like black and “droopy pants”, “ebonics” and “unprovoked violence”. Like gay and “limp wrists and lisps”, “sex-pervs”, and “crimes against nature”. The fact of the matter is that in rejecting these labels so completely because of the parts attached I was also rejecting my total embracing of those parts of myself. That’s not to say I was ever ashamed or afraid, but that I spent all that time avoiding them completely when I could have been out there saying “I’m gay!” and then proving to the world that myself and people like me were more than many people’s image of us.

It was a gross miscalculation , founded on the frustrations of a child and left to build, now something that I have made a point to override and rectify in these past years.

I suppose that if this post had a moral, that moral would be to embrace yourself completely; to share yourself completely.

Or even better…

Define your label, don’t let it define you, and then give it to the world.

Carry on.

Fact.

Faith is belief in what you cannot prove.

Hope is belief in your own potential for greatness.

Never lose hope. If you lose hope, all is lost. If you keep it, and take action in its name, it will prove your greatness to the world.

Mirror, Mirror

Let’s talk about reality for a bit, shall we? Reality is what’s real. It’s the truth of all existence. The funny thing is, we as human beings aren’t programmed to know jack-diddly about reality. Our thing is perception. When we look at an ice cream sundae, for example, our mind isn’t sending us this universal “ice cream sundae” that all mankind see when they look at this thing. What we get is our very own personalized perceived ice cream sundae. Our ice cream sundae is unlike anyone else’s. Imagine how these people would react to the treat:

 

Someone with a severe sweet tooth

Someone with severe diabetes

A health nut

A person who hasn’t eaten in days

Someone who’s lactose intolerant

The person who made the sundae

 

All six people would agree that this is indeed an ice cream sundae, but what that term means varies GREATLY.Other more intense examples of different levels of perception in action include people with colorblindness, or total blindness; people who believe the Holocaust never happened, religious fanatics. The point is, what is real and what we perceive to be real should never be mistaken for each other. Having said that, let’s look at these three “selves”:

 

  1. Your current self (according to you)
  2. Your current self (according to your social network)
  3. Your ideal self

 

By the way, there are TONS of other selves (your future self, past self, your self if you hadn’t turned left instead of right on the way to that party last night), but for now we’ll only care about these three. To repeat my past self, all three of these selves are perceptions and are, as such, prone to be REALLY off.

 

1. Your current self (according to you)

Think of those people who are so delusional as to who they are. We all know them.The slimy and gross guy who is convinced that he is God’s gift to women. The self-important actress with the chalkboard-screech voice who is 100% certain she’s destined for Broadway. Their confidence is admirable, but everything else is utter nonsense. Then we’ve got the incredibly talented people who, for some reason or another, don’t think they’re good enough; smart enough; pretty enough and therefore never have the confidence to reach the potential they have within. These examples are on the obvious side, but every single one of us has a set of perceived traits that are quite off the mark.

 

But what is “the mark”? In a world of perception, this is certainly a tricky question. After all, if everything is perception, how can we possibly know what “real” is? The short answer: we can’t. We can only take educated guesses at what the truth is and go from there. Some truths are obvious and almost impossible to refute: the law of gravity, aging, the existence of dogs…other things are not so simple: the existence of dark matter, ghosts, the wrong- or rightness of homosexuality. I’m sure I’ll tackle these scientific, metaphysical and moral subjects in near future, but for now let’s talk about you and how to get as close as humanly possible to the real you.

 

2. Your current self (according to your social network)

One of the crudest, but most important ways of discovering how close perceived self is from your true self, is through how you are perceived by the people around you. From birth we are told not to care what other people think of us. While that works very well from an individualist perspective, it’s not entirely correct. We are social creatures and as such what people think of us impacts our life and therefore is certainly something we should care about. As far as the world is concerned, what other people think of us IS who we are. They will treat us as they perceive us- not as we perceive ourselves. The genocidal dictator might see himself as a great champion of his people…certainly we do not. The talentless actress I mentioned before won’t be viewed as the next Bernadette Peters by the theatrical world. Examining the way others react to you; what they think of you, is a quick and dirty way of getting another perception yourself.

 

Of course, there are some HUGE risks involving this method of self-evaluation: First up, the dreaded “yes-men”. There are some people who are surrounded by a pack of people who will bend over backwards to tell them how great they are, supporting their every decision whether it be out of fear, greed, or pure admiration. These people have successfully bent their social world to mirror their self-perception, thus creating a safe bubble completely impervious to the truths and growth potential that a more diverse group would offer.

 

And how could we possibly forget the other end of the spectrum: those people who are, for one reason or another, surrounded by morons. Say there’s an island where every year, at the first full moon, a virgin must be sacrificed to appease their gods and ensure another year of good fortune and plentiful crop yields. One person decides that this tradition is wrong, inhumane, and she stands up against it. Obviously, this woman in this the right, but the other members of the tribe see her as a traitor. It’s this scenario that the cliche “Don’t care what other people are thinking” is referring to.

 

Basically, relying on what others say about you to truly know who you are is risky business…and not the smartest way to go about things, but never forget that the way you are perceived is the way you will be treated and must be taken into consideration in all you do.

 

3. Your ideal self.

Repeat after me: You CANNOT become the person you want to be if you do not know who you are.

Looking back to the crappy actress with delusions of theatrical superiority, because her self-perception is so off, she cannot become the Broadway starlett she so desires. Let’s say she had a potential to be truly great, all she needed was a few voice and acting lessons. In her current mindset, she is already a fantastic singer and actor, so lessons are out of the question.

 

Then there’s the guy who is attractive and gifted, but doesn’t see himself that way. In this instance, he is so blinded by his low self-worth that he’s convinced that his ideal self is impossible. Or maybe he’s aiming too low. In  both instances, faulty self-perception ruins opportunity for becoming the ideal.

 

So…?

If the opinions of others are a mixed bag when it comes to knowing yourself, our own perceptions could be just as volatile, and the ideal self is of no use UNTIL you know yourself, then how the heck do we figure out who we are?!

 

For starters, let’s take a crack at the people in our social network. How do they interact with you? Do they constantly shower you with praise? Do they think everything you say is a joke? Do they look for reasons to hate you? Once you’ve gathered answers from diverse groupings of your life (family, friends, coworkers, teammates etc…) it’s time to ask yourself, “What do they have to gain by thinking of you this way?” Once you’ve reached your results, take the answers that primarily focus on the other party getting something out of you (attention, money, pain etc…) and throw them away. Then take the answers that focus on giving something TO you (advice, training, critique etc…) and ask yourself, “Why do they feel this way?” The answer to this final question will get you to see yourself through the eyes of someone who has your best interests in mind; it is a foundation to figuring out your truest self.

 

Example #1

Subject: The Yes-Man.

Question: How does he interact with you?

Answer: He agrees with everything I suggest.

Question: “hat does he have to gain by thinking of you this way?

Answer: I am his boss. He says ‘yes’ because he doesn’t want to upset me. He doesn’t want to get fired. He wants to keep his job.

Verdict: The Yes-Man is saying “yes” for himself, not for you, and thus his opinion is irrelevant in this exercise.

 

Example #2

Subject: The Mentor.

Question: How does she interact with you?

Answer: She offers guidance and coaching in forming and achieving my goals.

Question: What does she have to gain by thinking of you this way?

Answer: Nothing, really. She just wants what’s best for me.

Verdict: The Mentor’s primary focus is to better you and therefore her opinion is quite relevant, because it is for YOU.

Question: Why does she feel this way?

Answer: Because she sees my potential to become something more. Because she wants me to succeed; she believes I can succeed.

 

Example #2 provides us with a beneficial relationship from within one’s social network. First, we’ll put this dialogue in the context of the bad actress. The mentor tells her that she’s not as great as she seems; that she needs practice or she’ll never make it. This may be hard for her to hear, but it’s coming from an honest and compassionate place and therefore should be considered…and rightfully so. On the other hand, let’s return to the island where virgins are being slaughtered. The mentor of the person who stands up against this act begs her to adhere to tradition. Sure, the mentor’s advice is coming from a caring place (she’s trying to convince the person that she is doing what she believes to be the right thing)…but the advice is misguided. Like I said, any info gained from social networks is a mixed bag.

 

Fortunately, there’s a little thing called “extending your worldview”. Extending one’s worldview is important because it forces a person to remove themselves from their usual area of thought and see how other cultures might view you. If you live in a small town, look to a big city. Or vice versa. If you live in one country, look to another. Look to areas that are known for their diversity and open-mindedness; where they are not governed by hatred, fear, or a severe control of freedoms of speech; for these places have themselves used an extended worldview to evolve themselves into progressive and welcoming places. New York City, London, Rio De Janeiro, to name a few. The anti-virgin-killer, those in support of gay rights, of racial equality, sexual equality, would find many friends.

 

Lastly, never underestimate the power of your gut. The fact of the matter is that most people know EXACTLY who they are; but they hide behind a mask out of the fear of embodying their true selves. They willingly alter themselves so that both they and the people around them can perceive them as something different than they truly are. What’s to be afraid of? Lots, actually. Losing the support of loved ones. Losing stability; easy answers. Having to start over again. In certain situations people might even fear for their lives. Whatever the fear, know that you will NEVER be happy unless you’re honest with yourself and your surroundings about who you are. So listen to your friends, your world, and, most importantly your heart. Don’t fear what others think of you, but consider it, and fear only what you will not become if you continue to be something you’re not.

 

And for all those who’ve got it all figured out…rock on and dominate!

 

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