Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"Dear Family & Friends"

Sent by email this past Saturday:

Dear Family & Friends,

There's always going to be a part of me who's a shy, scared, awkward Catholic altar boy from the Midwest. Many or most of you know I didn't become Chatty, Smiley Nathan until I left for Madison and college. I remember, so vividly, being a terrified queer kid. It's been a long time since I've felt so terrified for our country; really, 9/11, the 2008 collapse, and now this. Nearing 40, confident and embracing and loving of myself and others, I suppose I may hit "Send" on this message and wonder if I should've been a touch more "polite," if I should've been a "good boy" and taken care to edit and soften what I say out loud to people. But I refuse to do that. I write you because this is the scariest time in our nation's history in ages.

We've potentially elected the next Hitler. While Portland is a bubble, and I find comfort and peace and love for this city more than ever, let's face it: potentially half the people we walk by or drive by or sit next to on a park bench or stand next to in the check-out line at the grocery store voted for Trump and want to strip away the rights of anyone who isn't a straight, white, able-bodied, Christian male. I didn't fight this hard for gay marriage, for ultimate love with Gus, for my own sense of self, to stand back and hope for the best. It's time to be louder, weirder, fiercer, more compassionate. It's time to raise my voice louder than ever before. (Tori Amos's song "Silent All These Years" has been my favorite song since I was a freshman in high school; it feels more important and vital now than ever.) Here's that song:


I've received such an outpouring of love from many of you -- people I regularly keep in contact with, others who reached out from years ago to show their support, acquaintances (or so I thought) who said such striking, wise things that you are now imbedded in my heart and I realize "acquaintance" was highly inaccurate. Plus, Gus posted a message about our Love on Facebook that brought me to tears; I'm not even on Facebook, but he made sure I knew about his message, and I saw all the beautiful responses sent his way, for all to see.

It's time to draw a line in the sand and be stronger. I'm not going to be "polite" anymore with those who are bigoted, ignorant, supporters of evil and suppression. I literally feel like I cracked violently out of a chrysalis this week. I think I've always struggled with, say, family reunions. Many, maybe most, of my relatives on both sides of my family are conservative Republicans -- or maybe this is the narrative I've created over the years. (And if so, if I'm wrong on some levels, I want to be corrected, I want that honest, raw, loving dialogue with you. Emphasis on "loving.") I've spent time with racist, homophobic relatives because I wanted to show love, that we're connected by blood, and -- frankly -- I wanted to represent the LGBT community, recognizing I was a "token gay" at some of these gatherings. I recognized the good it did for others to go, "Oh...wow....one of our own flesh and blood is gay", and to reply to myself in return, "See the empathy I'm chiseling with them?" But guess what? I'm not just a token. I'm not some there so you can decide if my life, my rights, are up for debate. I'm a fucking human being who deserves marriage, who deserves to see children and generations not yet born the right to move through this world with safety and respect and empathy and understanding. I have a gay brother. Gus has a gay brother. Right there are four people you're related to who have burst forth into adulthood and our sexualities; four citizens of this country; four men who want to eat and sleep and hang out with friends and watch movies and go camping and get married and have kids and raise pets and tend gardens and worry about bills and go to work and sleep in on weekends and read books and get proper health care and walk down the street loving this beautiful earth.

Where I work, men and women alike are bursting into tears in their cubicles. My Our House brothers and sisters: I love you; you're in my core; we're part of each other. Many of us have had panic attacks; Thursday night I had such a severe panic attack that I was sweating worse than one of my Bikram yoga classes and I started throwing up. Many people I know can't eat and can't sleep and are vomiting. My mom keeps crying into the phone, breaking my heart. Gus & I keep alternating between crying and panic-attacking and righteously yelling and hugging and growing stronger and loving, loving, loving. There's a spiritual rip in the air; it's like a hot air balloon that's been punctured and is sailing on fire toward the ground. I've compared what's happening to my spirit like a butcher kniife stabbing my heart, and then I'm run over by a Mac track, and then I'm left to fester on the side of the road.

This is not a video game, Trump voters; you don't score humanity by practicing glee at the slashing of human dignity & rights.

What's been festering under the surface for years -- hate, prejudice, discrimination -- now feels like it can burst forth and be allowed, encouraged, cheered on.

Aren't I the cousin and nephew whom you played with at summer barbecues and opened presents alongside at Christmas? What changed between then and now that makes you think it's okay for you to have a certain level of American freedom & rights that's higher and better than my own? This isn't rhetorical -- tell me why you matter more than me. And if you're answer is "spiritual" ("You're going to hell") then you better look in the mirror, stop casting stones, and wonder if you really think I'm in league with the devil. (Really, that's what you really believe?) DNA dictates things for all of us. Gay, straight, black, white, able-bodied, physically challenged -- our genetics roll the dice for us. We are killing people across the globe because of DNA. And as for different religions -- a whole can of worms that would turn this message into Gone with the Wind -- let's just say that the world is a richer, more diverse, more beautiful, more mysterious place because we all tap into Meaning and God and Nature and Humanity differently. We all can bring imagination and beauty and clarity to our own experiences, shaped uniquely, unlike anyone else's. What's so wrong with Mystery & Wonder? Isn't mystery and curiosity about Life an enticing elixir that should be encouraged? Why the hell should billions of people on Earth all be expected to think and believe and act the same? Personally, I find joy and fulfillment, sometimes bafflement, always thankfulness when someone else shows me a different angle & viewpoint to this crazy thing called Living.

Listen: after I graduated UW-Madison, I went, "Yay, I have my creative writing degree and I'm so fulfilled! So now how do I pay my bills?" Thus began my "origin story" as a non-profit/social work secret double agent do-gooder. I landed my first job as a Special Education Assistant in a high school. I thought to myself, "I'm so open-minded; I'm helping the world." And I quickly realized my theoretical compassion needed to catch up to real, gritty, actually lived compassion. I admitted to myself that I felt uncomfortable around some of these girls and boys who looked different, or needed help going to the bathroom, or had a learning curve several grades lower than many of us. I didn't feel uncomfortable for any reason other than I hadn't spent significant time around this part of our population before. One boy suffered from grand mal seizures and wore a helmet and we had to rub this charged magnet across his back and hold him while he shook and foamed and fell to the floor. I had to help feed one boy through a tube in his stomach because he didn't have a normal throat. I went home after those early days at the high school, shaming myself for feeling awkward and uncomfortable. But you know what? I ended up cutting myself some slack, lots of it actually. I wanted to help, I wanted to learn: That's a powerful combo deal. Soon, I relaxed into my learning, into the gray zones of human experience, and let myself help and grow more comfortable and eventually let myself blossom into a wiser, more grounded, less judgmental, more open version of myself.

Social media runs rampant. This can be a good thing -- there's no excuse to not look at our nation's history through a multitude of mediums, how even (40) years ago the Bible was used to uphold racism! Blacks and whites couldn't marry each other till the late '60s! That's scarily not that long ago, when all is said and done. Who of you thinks that was an okay way to think? Don't you look back and go, "Oh, my, we've evolved"? Please say yes. It's the same with gay marriage. Don't think you can fuck with my partner's and my rights to enjoy this life together. Don't fucking think you can make Gus cry and have a panic attack and I'm going to sit back and be nice about it and say, "Everybody has their own opinion...." Being gay is not "an opinion." It just is. Don't tell me my life, my God-given spirit, is up for discussion.

What if someone messed with your wife or husband or children or parents? You'd fight back for justice, right?

I spent two years at work reading with a young boy whose mother was imprisoned. He relied heavily on the male influences in his life, many of whom are politically and socially conservative. He'd ask me (innocent) questions: Are you married? Do you have kids? What's gay? Is it normal? I answered every single question honestly and compassionately. I only hope this boy remembers me, my compassion, in his core as he navigates his 3rd-grade sense of self during this stormy, disturbing time in our nation's history.

My dear family & friends: I love, love, love you. Thank you for loving me. Some of your messages to me this week, some of our conversations, have seared themselves into the evolution of my next sense of self. I feel embraced, welcomed, cherished.

There's no, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." There's no sin, no sinner. There's just Nathan.

There's just you. It's okay -- wonderful and interesting and awe-inspiring -- that there's you, who's different than me, who's different from them. We're all the same & all different at the exact same time: it's a paradox. But I'm willing to trust this paradox, explore it.

Feel free to send this message along to those whom I don't know how to contact.

Maggie Rogers' "Alaska" captures how I want Life to be right now, how I want people to connect:

I'm rooting for you. I hope you're doing the same for me. We're all on this planet, feeling the same kinds of feelings. Let's honor and embrace that!

With Blessings,


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