Does this photo make me look gay? Do I make this photo look gay? And what’s with the hair? It looks very Presidential, only fuller, don’t you think?
This was me around the time I realized that I liked boys and the power of Sun-In and a hairdryer. I’ve been thinking about the person in this picture as I recently watched a TV show that you probably did not. ABC’s When We Rise condensed the sweeping arc of gay-rights over the past 50 years into a four-night, eight-hour miniseries. A big commitment, I know—and I don’t just mean from viewers. That a major TV network devoted a week of prime time to telling queer stories is a major sign of progress.
Yet this was no Roots. Ratings sucked, which some might say also signifies progress. Today, the notion that gay people are, you know, people isn’t as wackadoo as it used to be. And so a history lesson depicting the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of the gay movement can’t capture attention the way that the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills can these days.
Still, I liked the show. It spoke to me, maybe because I was born in 1976 and pushed open the closet door when I was 13. Not many middle-school boys back then openly proclaimed their love for Madonna or knew the entire “Vogue” routine. Even fewer kids supported those who did; gay-straight-student alliances were not yet a thing.
As I watched When We Rise, I obviously reflected on how today so many people take for granted the reality of being gay now vs then. In the early ’90s:
- I remember being taken to a psychologist not to change my orientation but to confirm that I might be passing through a phase. (Confirmed! I’m still going through it!)
- I remember stealing gay books from Waldenbooks because I was too scared to be seen buying them.
- I remember being called a faggot one day in high school. I remember being called a faggot the next day, too. And many days after that.
- I remember a guidance counselor who stood in the hallway like a deer in headlights after hearing such barbs hurled at me.
- I remember a theater of moviegoers reacting in (likely feigned) disgust when two male dancers kissed in Madonna’s Truth or Dare. I also remember being one of them, pretending to be grossed out since I wasn’t fully out.
- I remember wearing kooky clothes to school and feeling relieved that people were making fun of me for something other than being gay.
- I remember wishing that I were fat, because I thought one F-word wasn’t as insulting as the other.
- I remember another student coming out and admonishing me for being a disgrace to all gay people (it was either the bathrobe or phone cords I wore to school).
- I remember a friend telling me to walk in front of her because she didn’t want to be seen with me. A friend.
- I remember being fired from a summer job as a supermarket cashier seemingly for being gay, and letting them get away with it because I didn’t want to be that guy who played the minority card. (You can read about it here.)
- I remember deciding to pursue a career in fashion design (my eventual college major), because gay people belong in the arts. I’m gay. I liked clothes. See the logic? A glamorous job in HR never occurred to me. To this day, I’m frustrated that I made a major life decision based on the wrong reasons, or the right reasons at the time, or without much reasoning to begin with.
I remember a lot more, and probably forgot even more. And though I enjoyed the TV show, it made me queasy to relive such memories. I bet the show unnerved lots of homosexuals. Homosexuals! To even hear that word used on TV was weird. Like I’ve always said: Never trust anyone who refers to gays as homosexuals. Continue reading
I came to America in 1979. That I am an immigrant is common knowledge among friends, acquaintances, and anyone who’s sat on my schmata-covered couch (it’s not plastic, OK?). But many people do not realize that I am also a refugee.
My family fled the Soviet Union about 37 years ago so that we could buy quality toilet paper at Walgreens. That, and something about an oppressive regime. I’m too young to remember growing up under authoritarianism (though I’m getting a bit of a real-life lesson now), but my mom tells me that life pretty much sucked.
I think nothing of my neighbor overhearing Britney Spears blaring from my apartment, but when my mom was young, her family used to listen to BBC Radio at home at barely audible levels. They did this in spite and because of the fear that neighbors might discover and report the illegal act, ensuring shipment to a camp (not the summer kind), or worse.
Like most Russians, my mom wasn’t allowed to say anything she wanted, live anywhere she wanted, or work anywhere she wanted. But hey, at least she could vote. The choice was always Candidate A or Not Candidate A. Not Candidate A consistently lost by a landslide.
There were also economic problems. You know, Jews. Many Russians understood the obvious: Money-hungry, cheap Jews were manipulating the ruble. Actually, you could trace pretty much everything wrong with the country back to the Jews. Forced to queue for toilet paper, bread, or whatever surprise staple awaited you (if there was a line, you got on it)? Blame a Jew. Lost a job? Blame a Jew. Stuck in traffic? Blame a Jew. Bad hair day? That’s on you, but take it out on Ilya Cohenbergman anyway because you know he’s doing something to ruin your life. Continue reading
I really wish the title of this post ended after the first three words. Instead, I got screwed in a different way. Turns out that both types of experiences are pretty similar. They yield a weird mix of sadness and excitement, they involve a mess to clean up, and they leave you questioning life choices.
It went down like this: Two weeks ago my boss called me. “Would you mind coming up to our HR rep’s office?”
Of course I mind! Those words can only mean that I was being called into the principal’s office and about to get expelled. But then, I thought: Hmm…maybe they want to give me the raise and promotion I requested a week prior. (I cringed just typing that last sentence.)
So I stepped into the principal’s office and said, “OK guys, this is going to go one of two ways.”
My boss replied, “Well—”
“And there you have it,” I said.
And there I have it. But what do I have? I’m still not sure. It sucks getting laid off, and I’m sure you’re thinking, “Vadim, how can a company be so stupid to get rid of you. You’re so brilliant, intelligent, creative, funny, attractive. You have such a great fashion sense too!”
I know! I thought the same thing!
On the other hand, I feel enthusiastic and optimistic about my future, even if I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. Actually, it’s not that I have no idea—it’s that I have too many ideas. I just need to grow up.
That’s why I’m rebooting this blog. More than two years ago, I launched Ethical Escalator, a blog about ethics (you can still view its posts, dated before this one). But I got lazy. I’m also a great liar, so what do I know about ethics? Besides, I’d found a job in HR that I let take over my life, so I let the blog die.
Today, I’m breathing life back into it. A new title, a new focus, a new me! It’s a Weight Watchers commercial!
I’ll be writing about workplace issues. Because I know about workplace issues. Because I’d written about them for 14 years at a magazine where I was a senior editor (see how I snuck in a credential to give the illusion of authority). Because I recently worked at a Fortune 100 company (I did it again!) managing talent engagement and doing internal communications focusing on leadership, learning, development, performance management, and more. Because I care about creating better workplaces. Because I work.
We all work. We all have all sorts of feelings about our jobs, our managers, our companies, our careers, our lives. I want to share mine with you because…why the hell not? I love challenging the status quo and provoking thought. And this is a better outlet than Facebook, where no one cares what anyone says anyway.
I hope you’ll join me for this ride. I also hope you’ll comment publicly or send me your thoughts. I especially love when someone challenges my own thinking, so tell me when you think I’m right, but also tell me when you think I need a lobotomy. I love praise as much as hate mail. (Actually, I enjoy one of them more. Guess.)
In the meantime, below is the farewell letter I wrote to my work colleagues. It best explains how I feel and offers some thoughts on workplace culture. Continue reading
Over the past week, I‘ve been discovering that there are just as many dumb movies on Amazon Instant Video as on Netflix. I’m in the midst of a free 30-day trial membership with the former and almost every night, I look for a free good movie to watch for free, knowing that I won’t actually find one for free. (And by good, I mean something that measures up to my three favorite classics: Independence Day, Basic Instinct, and Madonna: Truth or Dare.) Basically, I’m Sisyphus—but hey, did I just mention my favorite four-letter F-word enough?
The other night, I slept-watched the 2000 political
thriller snoozer The Contender, packed with enough famous miscast actors to guarantee that it would suck.
It didn’t suck. At least not completely. Without diving too deeply into the plot, after the country’s Vice President dies, Democratic President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) chooses Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) to be the nation’s next Number 2. (Sorry, Hillary.) But some mean, nasty Republicans (what else would they be?) seek to derail Congressional confirmation by exposing Hanson’s torrid sexual past. Turns out, there’s alleged photographic evidence of Hanson reveling in a drunken orgy during a sorority initiation.
To be clear, I believe that to elevate someone who engaged in such debauchery to Vice President is an insult to the nation.
The woman deserves to be President! Continue reading
I had a nervous breakdown earlier this year. Not the kind when your cable freezes just as The Price Is Right is about to reveal the winner of the “Showcase Showdown,” causing you to snap your head sideways and shriek to your pet cat, “Omigod, omigod, omigod, I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown!” I’m talking about the real thing, the kind that you can’t believe is real because it’s so real. The kind that sparks suicidal thoughts not because you actually want to or plan to end your life but because you realize that the life you had already ended and your new life feels like death as you fight to wrap your senses around a future devoid of sense because you can’t but can but can’t but can but can’t but can and finally do comprehend that things will never be the way they were. That kind of nervous breakdown.
I was a mess, sobbing, hyperventilating, pacing back and forth in my studio apartment for hours each day. I’d call friends for emotional support but could barely sputter through my tears. Is this really happening? It’s really happening. Totally surreal. I’d never felt worse.
I haven’t told many people about this because many people would not care, while others would fail at pretending to care. But I mention this here because a good number of confidants replied in ways that were well-meaning but lacked meaning. Continue reading