The Concept of Love

For the last several years, I have long wondered about a very infuriating concept: Dating.

I believe it’s a vastly popular concept that nobody wants to spend their life alone. Everyone values companionship, a life partner, someone to experience the chaos of existence with. There are those who have little to no trouble attracting interest. Their looks are their top-shelf offering, while their personalities frequently belong in the clearance bin. Others have enough personality for a full-length Harry Potter novel, but are less successful in the visuals category. And there are those in the middle of the ground region that have the best of both worlds. Everyone has their own tribe that they belong to, and the parameters that they fall between. Some facets are assets, and others are roadblocks, but of course the general idea is work with what you have, which many people do successfully.

For anyone who knows me, I haven’t been the luckiest soul in the dating pool. I have been single for a full 26 years. I haven’t gone on any dates because you traditionally need someone else to be willing to go on one with you, and while I have come close to kicking it off my bucket list, it hasn’t happened yet. To give you an idea of my experience, I had a Tinder match offer to go out with me last year; I’m fortunate to live right next door to a popular breakfast restaurant in my city that’s open for most of the day and 24 hours on the weekends, so we were going to go there, and mind you he lived about a half hour away and was willing to come to Kalamazoo for the sole purpose of going out with me. A few minutes after confirming our plans, he messaged me again and said an unexpected issue was happening with his roommate and we’d need to reschedule, and I’ll leave it up to you to discover if I ever heard from him again.

And that’s how it’s typically been. I don’t have many opportunities to go out unless I decide to go by myself (which, from experience, is significantly less enjoyable), so Grindr and Tinder are my two main resources, and it’s very safe to assume they’ve been limited resources at that. A solid 95% of my outgoing messages go unanswered; I had one particular guy who looked like someone I’m acquainted with go so far to say he wasn’t interested when I happened to drunkenly message him one night, and I’ve always been the ‘one and done’ type of person: Message him, if he ignores you, move on. Simple. Of course Grindr itself is not prime real estate for finding Mr. Right, unless you’re looking for Mr. Right Now. I learned that lesson the hard way two years ago where a combination of an unexpected financial hurdle and the stress of being consistently ignored drove me into a depression that kept itself latched on to me like a vulture for a good two or three weeks. That is unhealthy. Even just downplaying things and searching for friends has yielded zero results; again, you typically need the other person to have some level of interest in you to establish some form of relationship. Of course I would never force anyone to talk to me or date me, but it nevertheless remains frustrating.

It’s also forced me to take a hard look at myself and what I’m doing. I’ve sexted multiple times, frequently with guys who don’t live anywhere remotely close to me. Do I expect anything to come of it? No, but it’s more or less a good exercise for me to keep my mind active sexually, to know how to stimulate a guy, should I ever happen to find one. I’ve developed crushes on people. A particularly severe one lasted for I believe a year before he brought it up with me, we continued being friends, and then I never heard from him again. But each time I’m brought back to the same question: What is the concept of love, why do we put so much weight into it, and what value does it really hold?

Society has put a tremendous amount of leverage into what it means to be in a relationship, and the value it brings, and while having a partner to experience life with is (I imagine) a very wonderful thing, it is not the only value and meaning to hold on to. There are multiple people out there who openly choose to not date and enjoy being single, and they deserve all the credit in the world because living your life single is not always the most enjoyable. Your workplace, your friendships, your community, and plenty more all have meaning and value as well; dating someone is not a magical cure-all to your ailments, and is not and should not be the sole mission for anyone in this world.

Historically, I grew up as a relatively shy and introverted person. My opportunities to engage in social activities were few and far between. I maintained a few friendships in middle school and high school, but it was never brought up to the point of consistent after-school plans, contrary to the lives of the majority of my fellow classmates. Much of my socialization revolved around my high school’s band program, and quite honestly, I would not have made it out of my freshman year alive had I not participated. Among the memories it instilled in me, it also cemented my love of music, which has been my primary driving factor for much of my existence. I also began developing feelings for guys in high school as well, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I fully embraced my sexuality and threw all notion of caring what others think out the window.

It’s no surprise to me that my introversion is also a contributing factor to my lack of experience in the dating arena. In recent years, I’ve grown to be far more outgoing. I used to tremble at the concept of talking to strangers on the phone thanks to my anxiety, but after working as a leasing agent for 16 months and using a phone regularly, it’s become second-nature to me. But still, here I am, heading into 2018 without a single relationship to my name.

And yet, my life has more value than my relationship status. In place of having a boyfriend to hold, take care of, support, and experience life with, I’ve instead put myself out there and have experienced other facts of life that have drawn great meaning to me. To date, I have taken 4 international excursions, with number five approaching in four months (this time to Spain, France and Italy). I have taken a few solo trips on my own that have given me time to fully appreciate myself, and I have given a lot to the various people in my life that have come and gone over the last few years. While the list of things I wish I could change about myself is slowly shrinking, having a boyfriend isn’t quite as much a priority to me anymore as it used to be. Just prior to the end of last year, I began eating more healthy, which has been something on my list for quite a while. Perhaps having a thinner body will attract greater interest; it’s no secret that gay men in general can lean more towards the narcissistic side, and if you’re a pound or two overweight, they’ll drop you faster than last season’s Ralph Lauren apparel (though I can say for a fact that not all gay men, or people in general, are like that). And if it doesn’t, oh well. I’ll still have myself (and a thinner body) to appreciate.

Love, as I’ve grown to realize, is far deeper than a meaningful connection with someone you’re in love with. It takes shape in nearly every facet of your life, from the attention you give people, to the time and effort you put into your passion or job. I’ve been on the receiving end of being ghosted multiple times by people, gay guys in particular who, for reasons unknown, feigned friendships with me. I’ve become much more observant of guys who actually put in the effort to talk to me, and have stopped giving so much of my effort into relationships that have become too one-sided, which has led to a much happier me. A guy I’ve been friends with for two years is taking one of the classes I am. Tuesday was my first time seeing him since July when he took me out to dinner, and while I know he’s busy with classes and work, I’ve long wondered about when his free time is. History will certainly tell us that if he was interested in hanging out with me, he would’ve made the time to do so at this point, and even if it was for only an hour or two, that would be fine with me. And of course there was the rather charming “fuck off” type of message I received back in October (full details are in the last blog post) that also made me take a look at the effort I was putting in to guys.

I’ve been so determined to make as many friends as possible that it’s also made me turn a blind eye into the elements that comprise of a friendship, namely the commandment that thou shalt not engage in one-sided relationships. My persistence to attempt to salvage some form of camaraderie, some form of interaction, preferably one that is both physical and visual, has led to more stress and more “woe is me” than I even care to divulge at this point. This has specifically been true for the guys I’ve been, or have attempted to be, friends with; every female acquaintance I’ve encountered has never given me as much hassle as trying to make plans with another guy, and a gay one at that. A guy I became friends with in July 2016 decided to not make any contact with me after I mentally gave him a two-week period to reach out to me. He then messaged me a couple months ago after zero contact, and now hasn’t made any effort to talk to me since; a message to him on Grindr has gone unanswered, and if that alone isn’t a signal, I don’t know what is. I visited my mom last week and attempted to make plans with a mutual follower, and after broaching the topic and telling how disinterested he was, I dropped it. Let the lesson plan here show that if you are trying to make plans with another guy, or trying to make an effort to converse with one, and you are getting little to no effort in return, RUN! Case closed. Point blank and the period. Anyone who claims to call you their friend should be making some form of effort to communicate with you, rather than, as an example, consistently post on social media and interact with multiple other people and give you little to no response at all, and while I certainly never expect immediate replies, I do expect a reply at some point. It’s a difficult lesson to implement, as I have had issues letting go of a few friendships over the years out of my hope that things can go back to how they initially were, but overall, it’s for the best. My happiness (and yours) is more important than any relationship, friendly or otherwise. I’ve been screwed over by guys, and have had my emotions trampled on with little or no care whatsoever, but life goes on, and it simply forces me to keep trying to change my circumstances.

The point of why I go through all of this is simple: I have learned, through my experiences, that being happy with yourself and doing what you love is the most important thing of all. Sure, I’d love to have some gay friends, and more people to hang out with. I’d absolutely die of excitement at the opportunity to do brunch, to go to Chicago or New York or Atlanta with a group of guys and just have fun. I’d love to go out on the weekend with them and hit up the clubs and get my drink on as much as the next homo sapien, but right now due to my current circumstances (see above), I don’t have that luxury, which is okay because it’s taught me to be happy with what I have currently. That, to me, is the best thing of all. I certainly won’t stop trying to talk to guys, and make new friends, maybe a sexual encounter here or there, but I will be happy one way or another. Do not let anyone or anything stand between you and what makes you happy, which, for 2018, is the exact mentality I’m going to have.

Another Year Older

It’s been a while since I put anything on here, and in the span of three months, a good chunk of events have happened.

With it being a few weeks short of the end of the year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened to me in the past twelve months that have transpired. Some of those events have been truly amazing. Others…well, if time machines existed, I’d sign up in a heartbeat to not experience them.

I kicked off 2017 with an impromptu solo vacation to St. Pete’s Beach, roughly 30 or so minutes away from the Tampa airport. It was a great time to get away by myself for a while, relax, and brace myself for another semester and all it would throw at me. I experienced my first crab cake as well, which was delicious. It was, overall, a really great time.

A few weeks after, I took a trip to Chicago for the weekend with my friend Bradley. I was really thrilled he invited me to come along with him, and it was my first taste of Boystown, Chicago’s popular LGBT neighborhood. I also got to experience the magic event known as brunch, and I do not regret one single mimosa consumed.

Early March, Bradley and I voyaged to Chicago again, this time heading out on vacation to Ocho Rios. The week-long break from life was absolutely terrific, as were the unlimited food and drinks. I also experienced my first spa treatment in the form of a facial, along with a ridiculous sunburn that essentially turned me into a lobster for a couple weeks. The skin peeling was not pleasant. The vacation itself, however, was completely worth it.

Later that month, I stepped into a new job capacity at the caf: Scheduling Supervisor. It was admittedly very nice to have the opportunity to set my own hours, and while it came with no pay raise, I was eager to take it on as a means of having the job experience. It was, at times, a challenge, and many other times, it was nice to feel like I was making a positive impact.

Two months later, it was time for another international globe-trotting adventure, this time taking me to Scotland, Ireland, and back to England. I cannot  underscore how thankful I was to have the opportunity to go on another trip like this, and it was a very once-in-a-lifetime experience (this time without my phone getting stolen). I had a great group of people to travel with, and our Tour Director, Georgia, was amazing. Every bit of the trip was all incredibly worth it.

Much of the summer saw me working both jobs with few days off in-between. Mid-August, I finally had the chance to get away twice, once back to Chicago for a weekend, and the second to Key Largo for a solo vacation. I didn’t get to see any of the people I had hoped to encounter in Chicago, but it was still wonderful to get away on both occasions.

Early August, I also took an enormous step forward, finally getting out of the apartment complex I had spent much of my college life in, and moving in with two of my best friends. It was a transition that did not come without its challenges for me, as I had to adjust to no longer living within my bedroom. Through the stumbles, it’s been a major relief for my anxiety, and although my anxiety has periodically cropped up, it’s a significantly better living situation by MILES compared to the past few years.

September 11th came and went, and with it came my forced resignation from the caf due to the vacation I took the week prior with it being Welcome Week. I do not regret having gone on that vacation whatsoever because, in all aspects, it was time for me to get a new job. Working a max of 20 hours possible every week was simply not cutting it anymore, and with my age approaching the late-20s range, it was getting time for me to move past the college life. This just happened to be the shove I needed to find a better job.

The end of October came as well, and with it came the loss of my leasing office gig, having moved off-site in August and no longer meeting the criteria of Brand Ambassadors needing to live on-site. While the new property manager, Ester, said I had potential, she felt I was not at the level I needed to be for her to keep me, which is understandable. That job came with a consistent stream of mistakes on my end, having received no proper training and having to learn nearly everything in a direct hands-on manner, and while I truly enjoyed the experience, there were times where I struggled, and my struggles periodically impacted the lives of not only my coworkers, but current and prospective residents as well, and my efforts to fight to stay on were in vain.

The start of my birthday month was ridiculously stressful, having now been left unemployed entirely. It was quickly approaching the point of choosing to buy food or pay my rent, and that’s certainly a spot nobody wants to or should be left in. By that point, I had about two or three interviews under my belt, and a couple interested calls from employers, but nothing that clicked. I came close to getting a supervisor gig at the new AMC theater that opened downtown, but that fell through. On a whim, I turned to retail and applied for a seasonal position at Macy’s. Four minutes later, I was sent an email to schedule my interview, electing to come in the afternoon the following day where I was met with one of the managers, Tricia. After three brief questions, she hired me.

December has been pretty average for me. Much of it has been spent essentially living at Macy’s, picking up as many hours as possible and trying to not think too hard about my next life moves and where my future will lead me.

On the relationship front, some of my friendships with people have taken a hit. Bryan, a Twitter friend I made last year, determined I was no longer worth his time or effort, and since returning to Twitter, has made zero effort to talk to me in months. Justin, another friend I had, randomly decided to drop me out of his life completely. Off-screen, my luck hasn’t been much better. I’ve been stuck in a pretty consistent stream of unanswered messages, with a few failed date plans sprinkled in. I had a guy from Tinder make plans to have dinner with me, only to have his roommate unexpectedly run into some issue, and hasn’t talked at me since. Another guy I’ve been friends with for a while randomly decided to buy me dinner in July and has made zero effort to talk to me since. Another guy I encountered in the late part of the summer lives about 15 minutes away, and also made no effort to make plans with me as well.

One of the biggest hits came in October, where one such friend flat-out told me “I really wish you would get the hint” after my repeated attempts to try to make plans with him after he expressed interest a month and a half prior. His unexpected refusal came with the explanation that I had kissed him without permission, and that he felt like he couldn’t trust me after issues he experienced with his ex. While I don’t fully know what issues he went through, I know I am certainly not the type of person to force myself onto others, let alone kiss them, and despite the fact I don’t remember what he’s referencing, that also doesn’t mean it didn’t happen either. I have no reason to not believe him, and yet there’s nothing I can do at the present time. That said, it posed a pretty big question mark: Why would someone who I have not seen at all the entire year, after expressing interest in hanging out with me, suddenly change his mind and say he doesn’t feel like he can’t trust me? Nevertheless, it’s not my decision. I will never force someone to talk to me, much less date me, if they don’t want to. Still, this involves someone who literally lives a few houses away. The issue here, I believe, is not the fact that he couldn’t make the time for me, but rather the fact that he didn’t want to. All relationships are, and should be, a two-way street. I am certainly thankful he was up-front with me and essentially told me to stop talking to him, and all I can do is wish him well and move on.

At the present, I am gearing up for my final semester of college. I have five classes on the menu that stand between me and my degree. In the midst of that, I’m also patiently waiting to know if I will be able to keep my job or not. I have an interview set up a week and a half from today, and am in the process of searching for more opportunities. The last thing I want is to be left in the same spot I was in back in November.

All things considered, 2017 was certainly not the worst year of my life. It most definitely came with a good chunk of obstacles, but that’s part of the challenge. It’s a game of a bow and arrow. Every obstacle faced places more pressure on the bow, making it bend further and further, but when you follow your arrow, it’ll never fail to propel you forward. It’s all about how you face those challenges. I have certainly been facing the struggle of not having a car this year more so than in years prior, but life goes on. I may be heading into 2018 single for the 26th year in a row, but time marches forward. There’s a handful of friendships I lost, but that’s part of the game.

There’s a lot I’ve learned about how to properly treat people in a variety of situations. There’s also a lot I’ve learned about what I should expect for myself. All forms of relationships are all about effort. If someone isn’t going to put in the effort with you, don’t put in the effort with them. If someone clearly isn’t making attempts to hang out with you, stop trying. No matter what, always settle for more. Set the same expectations for others that you set for yourself. I have learned that while I’m nowhere close to finding a boyfriend, my energy can still be put to beneficial use.

2018 will be a big year for me. I plan on graduating and discovering my next path in life. It’s gonna be a big year for the country too with midterm elections right around the corner. A lot of positive things have happened in 2017, including the #MeToo movement. Somehow, someway, everything just might work out for me.

It’s been a great ride so far, and the journey’s not over yet.

End of an Era

Time passes. People move. Like a river’s flow, it never ends. People come and go. New opportunities pass as quickly as they come. The chance of a lifetime flies by without a second glance. Life happens. Blink, and you may miss everything.

For four years, I have been in one consistent routine: My on-campus job. Certainly far from being the most glamorous or savory, it paid the bills, paved the way to beautiful friendships, and instilled confidence in me that I don’t believe I would’ve found otherwise. Many times, things were less than pleasant, from coworkers and managers right down to the work itself. But it was a job. I did what was required of me. And most of all, it gave me something to believe in: Myself.

At the dawn of a new semester, I found myself in a hotel room in Chicago, having had to spend the night due to a delayed flight from Orlando en route from my vacation in Key Largo. After making it to one of my classes, I returned to the dining hall, ready to resume my post of reaching out to applicants, hiring in students, adjusting the schedule, and all the fun in-between. One of the managers there who was in charge of the students informed me that the main manager of our unit was not happy I had taken a vacation the previous week, and no longer wanted me responsible for the student scheduling.

This came as a bit of a shock to me. I had made sure to give prior notice before I left (which possibly could’ve slipped through the cracks and something I should’ve kept up on, admittedly). It was not my first vacation under that capacity, having escaped to Europe back in May earlier this year. And (although this was not a point I vocalized) most of my work, if present, would’ve consisted of hiring students, changing the schedule, and so forth, items the managers are certainly able to handle in my absence. To top it off, despite holding only two part-time jobs, I had, up to that point, been working nearly every single day. My shifts weren’t long, no, but at times, it was still exhausting, and I needed a break. My mental health is important.

He offered me some shifts on the student schedule to make up my hours, which had instantly been shortened from 20 to 5 with that bit of information. I said nothing aside from an explanation of my actions, privately noting that if anything, I’d much rather prefer to work in a supervisory capacity as before.

The following day, I arrived after lunch in the hope of picking up a shift or two. Said main manager happened to be there, and showed hesitation when I mentioned my intent to pick up one of the open supervisor shifts, and noted he would have to consult with another manager to see if I could permanently take it. Despite being down a supervisor at the time and my willingness to work, he initially specified that the working supervisor would cover both sections of the caf. After realizing that the other supervisor had called in, he allowed me to work from then until 8, where I proceeded to clock out, eat my meal, and leave.

Last week Monday, and with a bad feeling in my stomach, I arrived to work, where said main manager pulled me on to what used to be my office of operations. He explained that my absence during welcome week was unacceptable, and they had decided to end my employment. He presented me with the option to resign, rather than be terminated, which I gladly took, and with a briefly scribbled note on a clipboard he had with him, I effectively signed off on my four years of employment.

While I vocalized my understanding that we were short-staffed and busy that week, I did mention that it certainly wasn’t an intentional vacation, and despite the part-timeness of the job, I did highlight a particular commitment of mine earlier in the year where I returned to complete my shift after smashing my thumb in a cooler door. It was still to no avail, and with the common “good luck in your future endeavors,” I returned my plate to the dish window, said a few goodbyes, and walked out.

It’s an enormously surreal feeling to no longer work at a place you’ve worked at for the past four years, and to have it end so abruptly. I can at least be thankful that I had the choice to resign, albeit forcefully.

In its absence, it does put pressure on me to find my next gig. My primary reason for staying was to absorb as much resume-boosting material I could, particularly the last five months. It was, however, outliving its usefulness, and I was eager to find something that was a bit more dynamic. Now, I’m getting that push, even if it’s more of a shove in this case.

As things stand, I remain employed at my former apartment complex, and while it also remains in the realm of part-time, it also provides me with some form of income. This, too, is gradually reaching an impasse: One of the stipulations to be a ‘brand ambassador’ is the need to be an on-site resident, something that was recently brought forward by our new property manager and initially introduced by corporate back in May. While my argument of being a former resident of four years is, in my mind, suitable, it’s still unsure how much impact it will actually have, if things eventually reach the end of the line for me. Adding to the unknown is the fact that I don’t know if, much less when, this will be brought up, and how suddenly my employment will end unless I can fulfill a different capacity and remain employed under a different title, avoiding the ‘on-site resident’ requirement altogether. There’s a massive question mark over how much of a requirement it actually is, so things could go either way, but she encouraged me (and rightfully so) to prepare for the worst, and line up another opportunity as soon as possible.

Thus far, I have sent out applications to a few places, including Meijer, Target, and CVS, as well as other apartment complexes in an attempt to continue serving in a similar capacity as before. Wherever I end up is the big question, the answer to which I’m keen on discovering as soon as possible.

The past two weeks have been so consumed by my sudden job switch, I haven’t had much of a chance to take a breath and remember where I’m at. I’m a stone’s throw away from receiving my degree next spring. I remain as single as ever, which, although bothersome, is something I’ve grown to live with. My living situation has dramatically improved from what I’ve known the past several years, and despite my occasional missteps, I could not be happier to finally be living wth people I actually know, much less two of my best friends.

Elsewhere, my international pavement-pounding excursions continue! Not too long ago, I booked my next trip: Mid-May, I will be bound once again for Europe, this time hitting up Spain, the southern portion of France, and Italy, starting off with two days in Paris! I know not long from now, I will (hopefully) be bogged down with a full-time job post-graduation, so the more chances I get to travel the world now while I have the time, the better. There’s a lot of world to see out there.

In case you were wondering, all things considered, I do NOT regret going on vacation. Yes, it cost me my job, but my mental health is vital. I’ve undergone my own mental obstacles as much as the next person, and like anyone else, I deserve a break. Was it perhaps not the greatest timing for a vacation? Could I have done more to get reassurance from the managers that I wasn’t going to be unexpectedly ousted from not only my role, but my job altogether? Of course. But I have outlived the usefulness the caf has provided for me. I have gone through too much of the same routine day in and day out, checking attendance, sorting silverware, wiping down tables, and enforcing the rules. Is it still a role that has some contribution? Absolutely. All jobs do, to a degree. The past four years gave me more than I ever expected. It’s time for me to seek my next big adventure.

I’ve had more than my fair share of doubt over my future. As uneasy as this makes me, I need to focus on the present. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed there’s not another disaster around the corner.

Love Is Love

In the midst of my own life, and the lives of millions of others, an important cultural event of significance has once again cropped up.

The month of June. Surprising, evidently, to numerous news anchors across the country (the clips are on YouTube!), it symbolizes more than the beginning of summer and, for many, the beginning of wedding season.

June is also Pride Month, a monumentally significant aspect in the lives of millions of members within the LGBT community.

Back in high school, this was a grave unknown to me. I was preoccupied with enjoying my summer, laying out by the pool, and freely streaming my favorite TV shows to my heart’s content. But in recent years, it has grown in significance to me, as well as to many others, especially in today’s political climate.

There are some who attempt to mount the argument that if we have a Pride Month for the LGBT, what about a Pride Month for heterosexuals? It’s not too foreign from the argument against February being Black History Month, and attempting to present facts why a White History Month should exist.

It’s tragic, to me, that those who make an effort to display those arguments fail to recognize the importance of why such months exist, because for a good century or two, give or take a couple decades, African-Americans and LGBT have been predominantly under serviced, underrepresented, and overlooked as citizens of the United States. Surely I don’t need to reference the early to mid 1900s, when segregation was a primal fixture of American culture, where you could be denied service based on the color of your skin (or, in other cases, your sexual orientation), or where you could be attacked, lynched, hanged, and otherwise harmed by individuals who were sworn to uphold peace as police officers of their respective counties. The images of African-Americans being blasted by a fire hose for absolutely no reason, or of gay men and women being viciously attacked and stabbed, are still fresh in the minds of many, and it is only thanks to the civil rights pioneers of the time that we have the equality we do today (though, notably, with more work to still be done).

I don’t write this post with the intent of providing a history lesson. Surely there are a few facts I would likely quote in error without doing the proper research beforehand. But what’s important behind why I’m writing this, and why Pride Month exists, goes deeper than what may be seen on the surface.

One of the most divisive figures in society currently serves as the most powerful person in the world. There are those who support him, in some cases blindly; one post I saw had a man speaking out in support of Trump withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement, and, when asked about it, he said he had no clue other than the fact that “I trust Trump.” The opening of this month has, for the first time in many years, received no formal statement by our government, aside from one by the First Daughter who many believe to be not as entirely sincere as it may appear to be.

We live in an age where citizens, many of which are perfectly normal, law-abiding citizens, are attacked based on the color of their skin, who they are as individuals, or who they love (the lady from Walmart using a racial slur may sound familiar, as a recent event). Many of these were circulated across the web after the results of the election, where multiple individuals throughout the country were attacked physically (and, in many cases, verbally) by those claiming such things as “This is a free country, Trump’s president now.” With no doubt, figures like Tomi Lahren (or, perhaps better known as Tammy Lauren) did nothing but fuel these flames and encourage such public displays of free speech, an action which evidently is not extended to the likes of Kathy Griffin and the backlash she received for her Trump photo.

Two years ago in this very month, after years of fighting, marriage was ruled as equal between same-sex couples, a result that did not come about without the effort of multiple individuals. Within the last eight years, for the first time in this country’s history, the sitting President at the time publicly spoke out in support of LGBT equality. Not only that, he backed up his words with actions, such as the departure of such policies as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Two days prior to my European tour, I returned to Kalamazoo to grab a few missed things I left in my apartment, and decided to stop by the caf. I happened to come across one of the sheets I had typed up months ago instructing the students on who to contact about scheduling issues, and directly next to my name, someone had wrote the word ‘gay’.

This is something I chose to keep mum on with social media, apart from a picture I posted to my snapchat story and possibly a few tweets (my memory is a bit hazy). I didn’t readily disclose it with anyone, as far as I can remember, and apart from a friendly reminder to the employees about respect in the workplace regardless of who it involves, I said nothing more of the incident. But for one of the very rare moments in my life, I felt attacked, in a way. Yes, it’s a word on a piece of paper, and nothing more. Nobody was screaming in my face, telling me what a horrible person I was and how I was going to hell. But it was still unsettling to see that, to see that someone would take it upon themselves to target me for whatever reason.

A few years ago, I arrived to work my shift for that day, swiping ID cards. As I walked over to the counter, some guy audibly spoke the word ‘Fag’ to his friend, while staring in my direction. While I am enormously thankful these are the only two incidents where I’ve been…targeted, discriminated, whatever you wish to call it, it’s still sad, in my mind, that there are people who exist that, in some way, shape, or form, refuse to let other people live their lives and do whatever makes them happy.

That, right there, is the motivation behind Pride Month, behind why we, as well as any other person on this planet, should take pride in being who we are. Individuality should never be silenced. Being free to live your life should never feel like a second choice. And in-between transgender bathroom rights at schools being placed back in the hands of the states to decide, in a world where the United States Secretary of Education has refused to publicly state any instance that would prompt her to defend a student regardless of their demographics, background, or sexual orientation, in a world where the Vice President of the United States supports conversion therapy and electrocution as solutions to cure what some call the “gay disease,” it is more important than ever to take pride in who you are.

Coming out three years ago has been, for me, one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. It’s something I never thought I would do in the foreseeable future at the time, and I am beyond glad I did. No matter who you are, or where you come from, you should never be afraid of being who you are, and doing what makes you happy, and that, to me, is the big message behind Pride Month.

It doesn’t get better on its own. If you want to change your life, and change your circumstances, you better work. You better be prepared to make the changes that’ll make you happy. Only by learning to live your life fearlessly can you develop the strategies to make your life better, and live the life you want.

The fight goes on. The battle for full equality for every single person continues. And for as long as I live, I will never stop doing what I can to make the lives of those around me better, because that’s what the world needs.

Be who you are, and love who you love, and you will make an impact. Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.

Twelve Reasons Why, One Reason How

I’m personally not big on following trends. For the most part.

This has manifested itself in a couple of ways. When a new movie comes out, I’m typically not the first one in line to see it. When a new album gets released, I don’t listen to it for quite a while. If there’s a new TV series hitting the airwaves, I probably won’t catch it for a few weeks, if ever.

Thirteen Reasons Why turned out to be an exception.

Like most of the world, I have been gripped with the tale of a high school student named Clay Jensen who comes home from school one day to find a series of tapes left behind by his friend Hannah Baker, a girl at his school who committed suicide, and left those tapes behind as, you might’ve guessed it, thirteen reasons why she did it.

I was not aware there was a book preceding it, and on a night of aimlessly browsing Netflix, I decided to pick it up, and it took me for an emotional tailspin.

More than that, it had a personal connection to me, as I have had thoughts of suicide three times in my life. I’ve had actual, genuine thoughts of killing myself, and ending my life.

The first occurrence happened in my freshman year of high school. I was severely on the outs social-wise; my life consisted of school, band, and homework, with very few opportunities, at least as far as I can recall, for social interaction. The song Outside Looking In by Jordan Pruitt describes my struggle perfectly:

“You don’t know how it feels, to be outside the crowd. You don’t know what it’s like, to be left out. And you don’t know how it feels to be your own best friend, on the outside looking in.”

Thankfully, mostly through the power of music, I survived. I was never universally popular, but at least I never again reached that stage mentally. Or so I believed for a while.

The second incident happened last year in February. The specific details behind this are things I’d prefer, even on my own blog and space, to not mention, but again, I made it through.

The most recent moment happened last August, and it was also the moment that truly hit the most. It’s like a huge, gaping hole in your heart that you can’t figure out how to fill. You lose every ounce to keep going. Everything just feels…hopeless. You feel drained. You don’t even want to go to bed. You just want everything to stop. And all of that was precisely what I was feeling, hitting me after one of my friends I was hanging out with left my apartment.

I felt completely hollow, and useless, and several other adjectives I can’t think of to describe offhand, and while I made no attempt, the thoughts ate me alive. I reached out to a few people to try and vent my emotions, and one of them happened to be a half-hour away from me, who willingly dropped what he was doing to not only come to see me, but bring comfort food in the form of ice cream with him. He did not stay for a significant period of time, but it was the simple act of reminding me I’m not alone as I felt (and sometimes still feel).

Had he not done that, I figured that the odds would be very good that I would at the least be hospitalized, if not, dead at this point.

My mood fluctuates, like any given person. I go through things like everyone else, and I’ve had more than my fair share of rocky moments. I’ve endured a handful of people at work making rude comments about my weight (one going so far as to ask me if I was pregnant). I’ve faced personal issues of who I am as a person, and my subsequent attempts to work through them. I’ve encountered a few…less than pleasant social issues, some of which were of my own fault. But those three moments in my life stick out to me because they are the moments where I was at my absolute worst, mentally, and with one exception, I largely had to try to work through these issues on my own.

That’s where I draw the similarities with Hannah. The first two instances, I largely kept it to myself. Why drag other people into my issues when it feels like nobody cares about me to begin with? That’s the reasoning I took, and it’s a line of reasoning I’m sure many others take as well.

Back in my high school days, I stumbled upon a quote saying “Be kinder than necessary. Everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.” The accuracy behind this is unreal, and it’s the focal point behind who I constantly aim to be as a person and in my relationships with others. Do I love every human? Absolutely not. Some people I dislike. A handful I can’t stand. But flat-out hating people, and living off of that energy? I cannot do it. Ever.

There are factors about me that I wish I could change. I despise not having more friends, and it’s certainly not for lack of trying. My most recent attempt at friendship saw me continually trying to make plans to hang out with one person for the entire fall semester, only to have them repeatedly dodge my attempts and never really reciprocate any of my efforts. This person explained on multiple occasions how busy they were, but quite frequently, details of their outings on social media showed they were busy hanging out with other friends, with no real interest in trying to include me. My last attempt had me walk halfway across campus for socialization, only for them to change their mind and mention we can plan for another time, which I mentally thought and knew was never going to happen (and, after being removed as friends on snapchat and having no interaction in almost four months, turned out to be correct).

The problem was never their schedule. The problem was me. It puts a significant weight on my own self-worth as a human, and not in a good way. I’ve lost a number of friends due to their newfound relationships, more times than I can count. People eventually get bored of me and leave without so much as a stereotypical “have a good one.” One such person who claims to still be friends with me has made zero attempts in weeks to demonstrate this, after mentioning they are suddenly too busy to be friends with me anymore. Granted, it’s a long-distance friendship of sorts, but I also have a handful of other long-distance friends who have shown no issues in making contact with me.

Are these things I actively talk about? No, because for the most part, they’re only significant to me, and I’m the only one impacted by them. Some days, it takes a lot to keep going. Many times, I feel relatively hopeless. But I also fall under a fundamental belief that if my own issues are next to impossible to solve or make any form of progress with, I can at least positively impact the life of someone else, and that’s something that keeps me going.

I am ecstatic that Thirteen Reasons Why is opening a much-needed dialogue about bullying, mental health, and suicide prevention. No matter your demographic, everyone goes through bad times. Some of these times, you have no idea about. People have had experiences far worse than my own, or may be going through some bad experiences currently. It makes you wonder (as it should) what other people deal with, and, ideally, what you can do to be a more supportive person, whether you know someone or not.

A disappointing factor to me is that some are suddenly championing the need to be more supportive people and to treat people better. I don’t think we need a television program to demonstrate this point; you should be a decent human being enough to be doing this already. For example, you may think a Muslim ban is a good idea, but that doesn’t mean you should go beat up every Muslim you see. You may believe transgender individuals do not deserve to use a bathroom that corresponds to the gender they identify is, and if that’s your belief, own it, but don’t punish someone for living their life in a way that conflicts with your own. Hey, if you’re not a fan of “the whole gay thing,” that’s pretty swell, but (and I know I’m just talking crazy here) maybe trying this radical concept of letting other people live their lives might do you some good.

High school environments are notorious for peer-pressuring factors. Everyone wants to be cool, and fit in, and not be weird, and several other things. Various parts of life are a lot like high school: You know the cool group of kids, the punks, the burnouts, the jocks, the list goes on. But rather than trying to fit in, it’s so much more rewarding to simply stand out. People who cannot allow others to be happy living the life they want to live are not people you need to know.

If you see a problem, speak up! In one of the last sequences during the preliminary interviews, the recordings are dated for November of this year, suggesting that in real-time, Hannah’s suicide hasn’t happened yet. Do you see where I’m going with this? You have the power to impact someone else’s life, for better or worse, with every Facebook post, every text, every snap, and every sentence that formulates from your lips and fingers. You have the power to save someone’s life without even realizing it. 

And here people think that one person can’t make a difference. Sure, you may not be able to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but that’s not to say you don’t have the chance, every single day, to make someone else’s life better.

That’s exactly what I operate on. I cannot tell you the number of times people have commented on how sweet and nice I am, and it’s not an act for compliments or attention; it’s who I am as a person. Does this apply 24/7? Of course not. I have my bad moods like any other homo sapien. I just personally find it much more rewarding to, I don’t know, be nice to people in general, or at least aim to.

Don’t become the subject of a tape. Become the cheerleader of someone who needs it. If you’re tired of bullies, do something about it. Spread awareness. Raise your voice. We all have much more power than we realize. In today’s society (need I even mention Syria?), it’s so desperately obvious how much we are in need of support and kindness, as corny as it likely sounds. If you have a lot of followers, awesome. Do something positive with that. Start denouncing all forms of bullying and ignorance wherever you see it. Let people know they are not alone.

Who knows? Maybe it’ll save more people like Hannah.

The Fight Goes On

It’s been a while since I’ve put anything on here.

And man, has a lot changed.

Among the more recent events in my life, I cast my vote for the very first time on November 8th. I was late to work, but have absolutely no regrets at all, and it was an honor to cast my vote for a woman nominated for President for the very first time in the history of the United States.

Later that evening, I, along with millions of others, was completely numb. I had both jobs that day, and simply went through the motions, not really processing anything, and I could tell I was not alone. It was stunning. It didn’t even begin to feel real, like this was reality. It felt like an elaborate prank, but I gradually made myself believe that yes, this was really a thing.

Donald Trump, a man who caused at least a hundred scandals during the course of his campaign, openly mocked a disabled reporter, and thrived on preaching inaccurate information, had in fact been elected as the 45th President of the United States.

Off-hand, I know of maybe 4 people who supported his campaign. I bear them no ill will, because I know they had their own individual reasons for voting for him. But needless to say, it’s troubling.

And in his first week in office alone, his executive orders have had plenty of far-reaching effects, with more reported at be coming (not to mention an executive order permitting discrimination against LGBT people based on religious reasons).

But in-between the chaos of the Cabinet confirmation hearings, the threats thousands, if not, millions are facing, and plenty more, there are slim glimmers of hope. The women’s march held earlier this month is a shining example of that. It marks the first time in my lifetime I have seen millions of people gather to protest in favor of equal rights for women, and it’s truly moving. This was not one singular event, held in one city with a couple dozen people. This was held in several cities throughout the United States and the world, and drew in millions of participants. A close second are the protests at airports throughout the country against the immigration order. Members of Hollywood have made numerous public statements regarding this, and former President Obama, despite stating that he will give Trump his space, has issued his first statement against him within only 9 days of handing over the keys to the White House.

What’s going on in the world right now is absolute chaos. This is a very tumultuous time in history, and rather than healing the wounds and moving forward together, many prominent individuals are striving to do the exact opposite, and it’s terrifying.

But it’s important to remember that thousands of African-Americans didn’t sit in their homes in fear in the mid-1900s at the height of the civil rights movement. Thousands of women didn’t sit down and accept things as they were in the early 1900s prior to women gaining the right to vote. This country has had a longstanding history of those standing up for their rights when their rights are threatened, and that’s exactly what’s happening now.

There are few things more powerful than massive groups of people. History has been changed in the past as a result of this, and has changed for the better. The most powerful weapon against hate, bigotry, and discrimination is you, and your voice. The notion that one person cannot alter the course of society is fundamentally false, and any person that attempts to make you believe otherwise is simply incorrect.

I believe, as I always have, that every single person is equal. Some are more intelligent than others, or nicer than others, or more outgoing, or more well-known, or more ambitious. But regardless of numerical figures, sexual orientations, skin colors, religions, genders, and other identifying factors, everyone is equal. What you do with the gift of your life will determine who you choose to define yourself as, but when it comes to adoption rights, healthcare, salaries, marital rights, and so forth, everyone should have the same opportunities afforded to them as anyone else. Period. A popular opponent that gained notoriety a year and a half ago, Kim Davis, made her resistance to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling well-known, which later proved inconsequential as marriage licenses in Rowan County began to be issued to all applicants.

As long as you are alive, you can make an impact. Financial donations to organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union (which received $24 million over the weekend in its biggest show of support ever) can, in fact, make a difference. Calls, letters, and emails to state representatives can ensure they are aware of how their constituents feel. An important detail to highlight: Reelections for several of them are happening next year in November; this can dramatically alter the way Congress is able to conduct business, and the types of actions they are able to do or not do depending on who occupies those seats. Change can happen, but only if you’re willing to fight for it.

I have come to more realizations about myself and the types of people I’m after. I spent the entirety of the previous semester attempting to engage in a friendship with a guy I’ve known for a year and a half, which, up until I realized this recently, was a one-sided effort on my part, as he made no attempts to make any types of plans with me. One of the hardest lessons is taking a step back, taking a breath, and not trying to force something that won’t happen. To me, he made it very clear he was not interested in anything friendship-wise with me. I don’t hate him; hating someone because they don’t want to be friends with you or don’t want anything to do with you is childish. I do, however, wish he was more open to getting to know me. And yet, the fight goes on.

I recently engaged in a friendly conversation with a guy through Grindr. We had made plans to hang out one Wednesday after I got done working. Little to my surprise, he canceled after I messaged him earlier that day to see if he was still free. Things change. Life is unpredictable. Despite being one of the remarkably few guys interested in conversing with me, and being pretty nice to boot, it’s been 24 hours since I’ve heard from him. Still, the fight goes on.

I have slowly learned who is and isn’t worth the time and effort, and it’s been a wonderful thing to come to this realization. The hardest struggle I have is having most of my friends being of the virtual variety. The only contact I have through them is through social media and texting, which I believe makes it very easy to randomly refuse to talk to someone ever again and not bother to give any reasons, irrespective of their feelings. People make it look so easy to use you for what they need, and toss you aside afterward and not even look back.

I know I’m worth far more than that. My life has meaning. I matter. I exist. And any single person who does not place the same value in me as I place in so many others is not someone I need to concern myself with.

I know I have the power to change my life, and make it into what I want it to be. It’s been a slow climb; the most popular question I still receive is “Why are you so quiet!?” But that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit, and neither should anyone else. Life doesn’t get easier, you just get better.

Nobody ever said it’d be easy, they just promised that it’d be worth it.

The fight goes on.

Are We Out Of The Closet (Woods) Yet?

Since it’s National Coming Out Day, I felt motivated to share my story, and what better place than on a space that’s all my own?

I did not come to full terms with my sexuality until the later part of high school. Early on, I had a period where I believed I was bisexual, and it’s kind of humorous for me to look back and remember that, at the time, that was the biggest secret I had. With my anti-socialness, I felt enormously uncomfortable admitting to anyone who I really was, out of fear that I would be bullied. My high school was not unpleasant, by any means, but I felt like I would be putting myself in a vulnerable position for taunts, threats, and so on, and I wanted to get through high school intact, if possible. There were a handful of guys I had crushes on, but nothing ever came of it. I eventually told one of my friends via Facebook that I was bi, and for a while, she was the only one who knew. A few other people gradually caught on, but for the most part, I kept it a secret. I would periodically fill out the infamous Facebook notes where you answer a bunch of random questions, and every time it reached the “what’s your biggest secret?”, I would answer truthfully, tag the same handful of friends, and then delete it about 10 seconds later.

Eventually this burden carried me to my freshman year of college in the 2012-2013 period. I got roommate matched to live with a guy I’d never met before. We got along really well, and for a short while, it felt like I was slowly starting to get my life back on track. My blog posts at the time reflected as much. I opened up to him about my family dynamics, and he didn’t judge me at all. We continued becoming good friends, and got to become friends with other people on our floor. He, to no surprise, thrived, where I, still trapped in my anxiety and social awkwardness, tried to survive. He switched rooms in the spring semester, but we remained friends. Some advice I gave him helped him get a girlfriend, I helped him write a handful of papers here and there, I even helped him fill out a financial aid appeal form, which ended up allowing him to continue receiving financial aid and stay in college.

The final day of the semester, the two of us were sitting in his room, and I said to him, “I feel like I can tell you anything. I could tell you that I’m gay, and you wouldn’t care.” After sitting there and nodding in silence, I added, “…because I’m gay, actually.” His response was simple. “Calvin, you know I love you man. Come here.” And he got up and gave me a hug, and that moment meant the world to me, not because I thought he was homophobic, but because I didn’t know what to expect. Believe me, my heart was racing. But that moment was pivotal for me, because it gave me the courage to know that some people truly don’t care one way or the other. Sure, he randomly decided he didn’t want to talk to me ever again a week and a half later, which I struggled to come to terms with that whole summer and still, to this day, do not know what exactly happened, but it still gave me the motivation to open up to people more.

The following semester, that circle of acceptance continued to widen. I opened up to two friends I made in one of my English classes. I started working on-campus, and have been fortunate to make a handful of friends who have accepted me all the same. My roommates that year did not care in the slightest. I eventually reached a point where I decided it wasn’t worth it to hide anymore, and on March 17th in 2014, I came out completely.

I have been fortunate enough to have never experienced discrimination directly. The closest I’ve come to it was heading to one of my shifts on-campus and this guy and his friend passed me and one of them audibly whispered “Fag” to his friend out of nowhere, looking at me. I paid them no mind at all. I know for many others, it’s far worse. People have committed suicide as a result of bullying. It’s heartbreaking to know what some people have to go through, feeling like it is unsafe to be who they are. That, to me, is one of the biggest crimes in the world, and perhaps for those back in the 1920s, it was more commonplace and ‘accepted,’ but with how much progress America and the world has made since then, it shouldn’t be a thing, certainly not in the land where we are guaranteed a slice of the ‘American Dream.’

My own road to acceptance has not been an easy one. No, it hasn’t been faced with some of the same challenges many others my age have gone through, ranging anywhere from conversion therapy to disownment. Suffering with anxiety and mild spikes of depression, however, does not bode well in some of the environments I’ve found myself in. Even beyond my sexuality, I’ve had more than my fair share of moments where I wish I could be different, where I could’ve been born differently, had a different upbringing, and so on. My childhood wasn’t unhappy, by any means, and it’s ironic that, out of all the things I wish I could change, I’m thankful my sexuality is not one of them. It’s weird to me that it’s one of the few things about myself that I can embrace.

Another facet to those who are closeted is the fear of how friends and family will react. After making a blog post as my way of coming out, the reactions I received from my friends were all positive. My biggest concern (as my mind loves to exaggerate scenarios and fears) was finding a way to tell my mom, which eventually happened and, as she’s gay and in a relationship, both her and her girlfriend love me just the same. I’ve seen countless stories of LGBT youth who finally work up the courage to come out to their family, only to have their family completely shun them. Such was the case with an old Lifetime movie I loved watching, called Prayers For Bobby, where, after coming out, his mother tried to convert him back to being straight.

No, compared to others who have gone through much worse, I’ve been very lucky. But it’s heartbreaking knowing that isn’t the case for everyone, and that people have lost deep, personal friends, family members, and jobs over what should not be a huge deal at all.

I know there’s a handful of people who don’t support gay marriage, and people who are completely neutral on the subject. There are those who don’t agree with it, but if two other same-sex people want to get married, that’s none of their business (which is 100% accurate). It’s been the subject of religious interventions and proclamations, like “Protect the family!” My thing is, why do people care? It’s the same thing abut someone else’s religious beliefs, or weight, or age, or skin color, or anything else. Why does it matter to you? What makes someone else’s happiness influential on your own? It makes absolutely no sense, and I realized that the more I came out: There are people who don’t care who you love, or what your skin color is, or what you believe in, as long as you’re a good person and treat them with respect. And that’s exactly how it should be.

 

This short film is the same one I’ve left in previous posts, and is one of my favorite (and honestly, one of the most heartbreaking) short films I’ve ever seen. It essentially flips the stereotypes and discriminatory viewpoints of those who are gay and straight, where, as the title suggests, gay is the norm and straight is worthy of disownment. I don’t have to say much to articulate the message of the video; it truly speaks for itself.

The most I can say to whoever happens to read this, regardless of your situation, is that gradually, as clichéd as it sounds, things do get better. Coming out lifted such a huge weight off of my shoulders. I’m beyond fortunate that I can be myself around my co-workers at both of my jobs. There is a whole ocean of people who can and will embrace you for who you are as a person. My sexuality has never defined me; it’s just a small fraction of the person I am, and I know that even if I wasn’t gay, I would still have the same mindset. Some people may not support you. You may lose friends. But ultimately, your happiness is the most important thing you have in this life. Do not waste it being unhappy.

My own abilities to change the stigma that makes thousands of people afraid to love who they love is very limited. The most I can do is offer support to those who need it, in-person or online. It’s not much, but for some, it’s been enough, and I’ve been thankful for that. I’m confident that, eventually, we will reach an era where nobody will need to come out of the closet. People will just be themselves, and not live in fear. That, I assure you, will be a marvelous world to live in, and as long as I and others who have a similar mindset stick to making that happen, it’s distinctly possible we can have a positive impact on history down the road.

I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion.