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 majored in fashion design in college. When you watch the video above, that will be hard to believe. I wanted to wear something that conjured Americana, something that screamed, “USA! USA! USA!” Unfortunately, no number of stars and stripes could save my ensemble. And speaking of, this clip proves that, no, vertical stripes are not always slimming. So much for my fashion education.
Shame on Me
Notice how I haven’t yet mentioned the content of the video. Shame on me for obsessing about my appearance when what matters more are my ideas and opinions. I need to get better at not judging myself so harshly. There are enough other people that already do that for me, or to me.
I guess that comes with public speaking, though. Numerous peers of mine have mentioned some of the feedback they’ve received after their presentations. If it’s not about their shoes, then it’s their shirts, or their hair, or their makeup. Sure enough, I’ve had well-intentioned people point out my wrinkles and fat.
Now, I’m pretty self-deprecating and have no trouble poking fun at myself. (I’m also fairly self-aware and have already identified ways to present better next time. And incidentally, you should check out Jennifer McClure’s “5 Mistakes Successful Speakers Never Make.”) But at some point, the focus really does need to shift to Herbert Robinson. Continue reading
I’ve always thought of myself as contrarian. Generally, I think this is a good trait—but the contrarian in me has me wondering otherwise.
Actually, Leah Clark has me wondering. Leah is an executive coach at Blessing White, a leadership and employee-engagement consultancy. A while back, she and I had an interesting conversation during which Leah asked: Would you rather be labeled contrarian or critical?
I’ve been thinking about her question ever since. After all, if I’m going to slap a sticker on myself, I better make sure it’s the right one.
The Madonna of HR
A common definition is that a contrarian is someone who habitually opposes accepted policies, opinions, or practices. That’s me—but that’s only because there are so many policies, opinions, and practices that are messed up.
Another definition explains that a contrarian accepts nothing that anyone says—that is, a person who takes the opposite opinion for the sake of it. Is that me? I like to think that when I take an alternate position, it’s because I believe what I believe.
I’m also self-aware enough to know when I’m lying to myself. The truth is that I sometimes argue different viewpoints because I enjoy screwing with the status quo. That’s why they call me the Madonna of HR, and by “they,” I obviously mean no one.
If contrarianism can sometimes seem self-indulgent, it is. But is it a bad attribute? Continue reading