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Freeing Myself from Sexual Repression

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

(Cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

Those moments when we realize that we are always learning are the most humbling and most important for me.

I’ve been out of the closet since I was 22 and it’s safe to say that I’m very secure in my identity and very open-minded about sexuality, which I have explored ad nauseum. I have always carried this open-mindedness as a badge of honor given the often sex-negative society we live in today. Imagine my surprise this past weekend when I discovered a new side of my sexual awareness I never knew existed. I had a sexual awakening.

Fittingly, my sexual awakening happened in the Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend exhibit hall, which was on Capitol Hill and within a stone’s throw from the U.S. Capitol. I had never been before so I was excited about what was in store for me, but I certainly didn’t think I was going to tap into an unexplored area of my sexuality. To be sure, there was a lot to take in, and I saw many things, (the most intriguing for me was the leather cocoons) which I had only ever seen online.

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While casually strolling through the many rooms in the exhibit hall, I found myself captivated with all the live demonstrations going on, especially the wrestling demonstration. Picture two attractive and fit men, both in singlets and both quite obviously aroused, wrestling for passersby as a crowd begins to form. It was certainly a spectacle. Of course, grabbing attention is the point of any expo, but I was completely turned on and it wasn’t only because of the demonstration itself, but because I was also engaging in voyeurism. And, I wanted to do more of it.

I love my leather-loving friends, gay and straight alike, but I never considered myself part of their community. When I left the hotel Saturday, I started to think more about this since I had just had such a great time. I had automatically written off an entire sex community early on after coming out (and before, I guess) because I didn’t think it could offer anything for me. And, worse, I realized that I had even been critical of the leather community (and more broadly, the BDSM community) for promoting what I viewed as risky behavior. I had unwittingly repressed a  part of myself and I had never thought twice about it until just this past weekend.

I had repressed my very own sexual freedom.

I’m trying not to be too hard on myself about it. I am, after all, a product of a society that is still debating the merits of discrimination for certain minority groups, especially sexual minorities. To wit, some of America’s most prominent and influential citizens have been instrumental in codifying this kind of oppression through legislation in other countries. Can we say Uganda?

As I reflected on this new awakening I started to drift into the politics of sexual freedom as they currently stand in our own country and what life can be like when we celebrate sexuality and recognize it as a basic human right. In a couple of weeks, many of those at the helm of this movement will converge on Minneapolis for Creating Change, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual LGBT equality conference. Included in this conference is a day-long institute dedicated to sexual freedom and the integral role it plays in the ongoing fight for equality.

To keep the momentum going, Team Columbia and VenusPlusX.org will be hosting a free two-day sexual freedom mini-conference right next door at the Hotel Ivy (it will follow the day-long Creating Change institute and is free to the public and conference attendees) and it will include workshops, political caucuses and live- demonstrations. Attending either would be very beneficial for any LGBT rights advocate looking to make an impact.

Educating Americans on how sexual freedom is an essential part of their daily lives that should be cherished and celebrated is certainly a tall order. If, however, the LGBT rights movement can keep sexual freedom as one of its many driving forces, it could have a far more profound impact on society than it has ever realized.

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Netroots Nation and Me

July 21, 2010 2 comments

I’ve been a busy traveler these past couple of weeks and I’m a bit exhausted from having worked at the annual NCLR conference in San Antonio.

Now, I’m off to the Netroots Nation 2010 conference in Las Vegas. This is really a treat for me and I’m eternally thankful to Mike Rogers and his National Blogger and Citizen Journalist Initiative and another pair of great friends who I’ll be working with while in Vegas.

This is going to be my first Netroots Nation conference and I’m super psyched about it. First off, I’m looking forward to storming Las Vegas with a few thousand fellow progressives and meeting some new friends.

Mostly, though, I’m looking forward to jumpstarting my writing, which has been sorely lacking these days.

Part of that lack in content has to do with what Jim and I have been dealing with these days, not the least of which is a dismal job situation that has soured both of our moods for quite some time.

We’ve also been grappling with one of the worst episodes Jim has ever dealt with and being a caregiver for him has sort of zapped my energy. It is exhausting and I can only imagine how hard it must be for him, and still, I would not trade living with and being his partner for antyhing. We have been through so much together and I’m glad that I’ve been able to be around for him when he needs it the most. There is so much misunderstanding of mental health and I’ve been with him on those days when it seemed like nobody cared about what he was going through. It must be a lonely place sometimes, but at least I’ve been around to see him through it.

So, my hope is that going to Netroots will provide the boost I need to get back to the craft I love so dearly and which I think could use improvement. You should expect to see more posts on this space and on Bilerico.com from myself and other Bilerico Projectors this week.

With that, I’m off to Netroots to enjoy what is arguably one of the best conferences around. Seriously, check out the agenda, even if you’re not going. It should entice you to go next year.

So, hasta luego. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be in Vegas, baby!

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How I Became a Home Depot Defender

June 26, 2010 Leave a comment

(cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

I’m not usually in the practice of coming to the defense of many coporations, especially a giant retailer like Home Depot, but Media Matters for America’s County Fair blog pointed out a World Net Daily report that promoted a homophobic American Family Association (AFA) email to its members. In it, Home Depot is the subject of AFA’s ire for its domestic partner benefits, which are open to domestic partners of their employees.

County Fair on the AFA:

“So, what exactly is the AFA? It certainly sounds wholesome, but a review of its past comments tells an entirely different story. Political Correction — Media Matters’ partner organization — offers some enlightening context:

Yep, you read that correctly. WND quotes an organization that thinks too many Indian-Americans are winning spelling bees and that gay sex is tantamount to domestic terrorism.”

It’s true, as County Fair’s Kyle Frisch points out, that WND is clearly on the furthest parts of the right-wing fringe, but it’s also true that they’re doing their part to spread hatred in the form of some twisted comedy to all its readers.

It’s also true that there are probably some things I would hate to know about Home Depot’s corporate business practices, but at least it does have accepting benefits policies, which include any domestic partner of an employee, which includes its LGBT staffers.

I’m glad they have a presence at Pride celebrations like the one featured in the WND story. More corporations would do well to look to Home Depot for ideas on how they can be more inclusive of their own LGBT employees.

Still, my support for Home Depot doesn’t derive from that alone. There are, thankfully, other American corporations with similar policies. It derives from how much enjoyment my father has found in working for them, especially where it concerns their inclusive policies.

Both my parents are hard-working blue-collar Latinos with not much more than a high school education. They also probably spend their time online doing less social networking than most of those reading this post right now, especially when it comes to activism. But I like to think that over the years I’ve kept them informed enough to consider the LGBT implications of those they support electorally, financially, or as potential employers.

Not too long ago, my dad took a job with a Home Depot in Texas working in the lumber department. I was a little confused when he told me left an operating room position at a local hospital to take a customer service job at Home Depot, but he told me he was happy about the decision and looking forward to not having to contend with physician egos. Understandable.

I can’t say I was really convinced that it was the best decision, but over the last year I have really come to understand more clearly than ever how important it is to attain personal happiness. My partner has been instrumental in helping me get to that point. My father, I’ve learned, is doing what he needs to do to be happy.

He’s also an outstanding carpenter so the lumber department makes perfect sense for him! He even landed an account at a river resort in the Texas hill country making deck chairs. He gets to work with his hands and he’s around 2×4’s and 3×4’s and whatever else you might find in that department. All I know is that he is in utter bliss when he’s there.

I’m very proud of him and he is also skilled at charming the pants off people when he meets them, so it’s fitting to have him on the floor talking to folks about what they need for their own projects.

Despite all that, I was still on the fence about him working there.

I became a Home Depot supporter when my dad told me what he learned after finishing orientation. He called and was very excited to tell me about Home Depot’s LGBT friendly benefits policies and how he spoke up to his supervisors to let them know that he was happy he was working there because of that policy. He told them that he had a gay son, so it was important for him to be working for such a friendly company.

He had come out to his fellow staffers. True, he didn’t come out as a gay man, but I know many parents back home who love their gay and lesbian kids, but who would also prefer that nobody else know they have one. It’s sadly far too common.

I’m lucky enough to have parents who love me for me in private and in public and who are unafraid to say so.

Whether my dad knows it or not, he was an activist that day when he voiced his support for his company’s LGBT policies. LGBT employees at Home Depot should thank my father for his small action.

He is a true friend and ally to our community the world over.

Thanks, Dad.

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The Accidental Vegan

January 28, 2010 1 comment

(cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

Last week marked the end of the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program that I started back on New Year’s Day. I made some resolutions to not only shed a few extra pounds but to make a concerted effort to eat more nutritious foods and learn how to become a better cook. In short, I made a resolution to make a lifestyle change.

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I am happy to report that I made it through the program without faltering once and I even managed to lose a few pounds, though I’m still aiming to lose more. It is pretty astounding just how much saturated fat and cholesterol I have cut out by removing meat, dairy and eggs from my diet. The program was certainly a challenge that I highly recommend to anyone, even if they don’t have the intention of keeping it up. You might be surprised at just how much you won’t miss the things everyone else thinks you will.

As the end date drew nearer, I started to field the question of whether I would keep up with the diet once I completed the program. The fact that I signed up to do this in the first place was a big enough surprise to folks, never mind that I actually completed it. I wasn’t too focused on the question, though, as I just wanted to keep my momentum going and make it to the end. Instead, I decided that I would just keep up with the diet until I made a decision.

Now, almost one week later I have made up my mind: I will remain committed to a vegan diet. Though, my reasons for staying vegan have less to do with the health benefits of such a diet (and, I assure you those benefits are substantial and include numerous benefits for mental health) than they do with how this diet has affected my relationship with Jim. It has actually brought us closer together.

The ways in which this vegan experiment has helped bring about this togetherness are subtle, but they have meant so much to me.

Take for example the first time we ordered in. It was more than a week into the new year before we did this. It was also one of those days when the idea of walking to the grocery store and then coming home to prepare a meal was just too much to bear. Why deal with long lines and self-checkout machines that seem intent on embarrassing you when you can just ask the internet to bring you food. Plus, Jim had had a long and stressful week at work. So, on this particular Saturday evening we decided delivery was the only way we were going to eat that night.

Forty-five minutes later we had food from our favorite Thai restaurant right on our doorstep. Jim has been a vegan for more than a year now. He was also vegetarian prior to becoming a vegan so we rarely shared each other’s food. I was certainly always welcome to try his, but my own biases toward a vegan diet usually kept me from doing so. This was always kind of sad for me since I love food and sharing meals, especially when we get to sample other dishes! Up until Jim changed his diet we always shared. Even though he was a vegetarian I could always at least have whatever cheesy goodness he would so often order. Once he went vegan, though, this practice became almost non-existent.

That changed recently. It happened almost without any thought. We both unwittingly just went for each other’s food as if this were totally commonplace for us. Both of our dishes were excellent, but it wasn’t until Jim had had a second spoonful of mine that he looked up at me and smiled and said, “I’m glad we get to do this again. It’s been so long and it’s fun.”

That moment was when I first began to realize that I was doing something more than just making strides to improve my health. Choosing to go vegan, if only for three weeks, meant that I had also taken an interest in something that means so much to Jim. If I have learned one thing from my experience supporting a partner with bipolar it is that the feeling of loneliness can be intensified so much that it can be debilitating. Me being vegan now means that at least on one front, Jim is not alone. Becoming vegan meant to Jim that I wanted to do something together with him, and sometimes that is all it takes.

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In Sickness and in Health

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment

(cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

I’ve never been prouder to live in Washington, D.C. than this week when the DC Council voted to recognize same-sex marriages. Come next spring, D.C. will be this country’s only major city in which marriage equality is the law, Congress’ intervention notwithstanding.

It was with great anticipation that we attended a rally on eve of the historic vote, as my friends and I have been following this closely for the past year. It was inspiring to hear our elected officials talk about their support for marriage equality, especially the members who took a political risk for such support. I was also smacked with a dose of reality when I though about my own very long engagement to Jim. This is actually going to happen, I kept thinking. No more excuses, he is yours and you are his and you’re going to be married.

I think it’s a tad early to start planning any ceremony, and I know Jim would agree that our ceremony will probably bear little resemblance to any traditional straight ceremony, including the exchanging of vows. There is one tradition, though, I want to incorporate into our ceremony: the promise to support Jim in sickness and in health.

We have been together for more than four years now, but the last two years have been the most intense and integral years of our relationship. In this time, we have moved across the country, endured job losses, two hospitalizations and soon an up-coming marriage. I think my commitment to Jim is more than clear, especially when it comes to supporting him while sick. Now I get to express that commitment in front of the folks I love most.

It isn’t that I’m glad we have had to endure the battle with bipolar. I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that our struggle to live with it has brought us closer together. There have been times when I thought I should leave because I was unequipped to deal with it. Other times, I was just so angry that this was a reality in my life. I was even incredulous to bipolar’s existence, though that was largely a fleeting thought.

Then the thought of being without Jim would surface and suddenly the bipolar disorder seemed less important, less scary. After all, what kind of a man would I be if I left him when he was at his weakest. Where was the passion in me to fight for those I love? Was a sickness going to keep me from being with the one person who made me happiest?

Obviously we have stayed together and we continue to learn from each other. We also continue to learn how to live with bipolar and how to cope with the inevitable ups and downs. I think we have both proven to each other that we are willing to stay with each other in sickness and in health.

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Finding Happiness at Halloween: Lifting the Veil off Mental Health

October 31, 2009 Leave a comment

(cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

Halloween is my partner Jim’s favorite holiday. He loves it more than Thanksgiving and more than Christmas. Around this time of year, it’s not uncommon for our apartment to smell of baked pumpkin seeds and hot cider infused with mulling spices. Indeed, fall is when Jim seems to be the happiest.

But what if that which normally brings happiness and joy fails to do so? How do we reclaim that feeling? What if the only way to feel happiness seems to be only through unhealthy means?

I have been asking myself these questions because I have been helping Jim reclaim that feeling about Halloween. This holiday season has been a little bittersweet since it has arrived on the heels of a mild manic episode. As he has been coming down, he has become almost nostalgic for the time when he wasn’t in treatment and when his mania seemed to run wild.

Halloween is a perfect holiday to feed that mania as revelry and mischief are in the air and all around us. Jim’s drug regiment and treatment, however, preclude him from indulging too much in that revelry and this has caused some anxiety for us both.

According to Jim, being manic is like having the best “high” he can ever hope for. He feels invincible, special, sexy, creative, fun…and happy. In short, being manic for Jim is sort of fun, the subsequent crash notwithstanding. He craves happiness and joy the way we all do, but in his case (and, I presume, in the case for many who have experienced mania) joy in its most potent form has only been discovered while manic.

Happiness is a drug that makes us feel great so I can understand why Jim would want to get back to a place that seems to provide ample amounts of it. My struggle has been to help him find other sources of joy that do not involve a manic high. Recently, we talked about which aspects of Halloween make him happiest. The costumes are certainly at the top of his list.

But then there was the drinking, the parties, the sex…the drinking. These are all fun, to be sure, but doing these things whilst manic has in the past resulted in blackouts and questionable behavior. For Jim, drinking was fun, but not when it involved him disappearing for hours or when he couldn’t remember where he was. And the forceful downward swings that it often caused were not fun for either of us.

We have slowly realized together that his illness has forced us to redefine what fun is and what makes us both happy. We are still in that process and this Halloween will certainly be a test, but I am confident in him. He is more stable than ever before in his life and his outlook is generally positive.

His laments over his mania are just that, laments, and it is important for me to remember that he is still human and, like all of us, he just wants to have fun and be happy.

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Marching Not the Only Event at National Equality March

October 3, 2009 Leave a comment

(cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

A friend of mine visited Chicago recently and we were talking about his trip when he got back to DC. We chatted about various parts of the trip but the comment that struck me the most was when he said that upon mentioning the march to his gay friends there they had no idea what he was talking about. Then he asked me why the gays he talked to in the nation’s third largest city had no idea what was happening here in D.C. on Oct. 11.

Not knowing how to respond I said that I’m not on the ground in Chicago so I don’t know what local folks there are doing to publicize the national event. This news was troubling to both of us as we have been following this march since we both heard about it a few months ago.

Full disclosure: I was originally opposed to the idea of march on Washington when I first learned about it. I have since changed my mind and have even volunteered my time to help out with the D.C. host committee.

The exchange prompted a larger discussion about the whole march and whether it was a good idea. In the end, I wasn’t able to convince him that the march itself is a great idea, though he had always planned to attend since he lives in Washington and is with the movement on principle. He was convinced, however, that it was worthwhile for folks to attend, if feasible, because of the myriad events that will be taking place all weekend long.

Many of these events will be strategy sessions and grass-roots organizing workshops. I told him to think of it as a free conference available to anyone who can make it. We are all aware of how expensive conferences can be, but the best ones are worth the money paid because of the invaluable information received. Part of the idea behind this march is to bring together seasoned and new activists in order to learn from one another. Conferences are excellent for networking opportunities, making new friends and finding out the latest news about an issue. Indeed, learning about the events associated with the march is what sold me in the end and I was heartened when at the end of our conversation, my friend was also a new convert.

In several of the posts I’ve read here on Bilerico and on other LGBT blogs, there has been much pleading with readers to attend to show solidarity and to speak out. If you’re still on the fence, however, maybe learning about the other events happening that weekend and why they are important to the movement will help you make up your mind.

First, it is important that you understand why organizers have called for a march and the strategy for advancing the equal rights movement. From the Equality Across America web site:

Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. We will accept no less and will work until it is achieved. Equality Across America exists to support grassroots organizing in all 435 Congressional Districts to achieve full equality. Many bills currently exist to address some of these issues, but we do not support a piecemeal strategy. We seek one federal solution to full equality.

The strategy:

Equality Across America is a network of decentralized organizers in every one of the 435 Congressional districts. These organizers form Congressional District Action Teams (CDATs) that will do the work on the ground in their own communities to achieve full equality. Each CDAT works not only toward national equality, but participates in their local and state struggles for equality in areas like marriage, adoption, and work-place discrimination. Equality Across America connects organizers from around the country so we can support one another in all of our work, focusing energy and resources in battlegrounds when needed.

Much of the criticism that has been lobbed at organizers of the march (it should be noted that while Cleve Jones has been the subject of much of this criticism, he is only one player and certainly not in charge of the event) is that it will be ineffective, it is a waste of resources, and nobody will be around to listen. Of course, those same critics have said little about what else will be happening that weekend.

“We always wanted this event to be a weekend planned around organizing, not big productions of concerts and social events,” said Robin McGehee, national co-director of the National Equality March. “We looked at the Saturday before as a time to capitalize on the grassroots organizing energy that is happening across the country and allow for people to not only learn or refresh skills around lobbying, phone banking, media work, etc., but, to meet other organizers and activists from across the country that truly want to organize in their congressional districts to bring about full equality across America.”

So, what exactly are these events I keep talking about, and what will attendees get? There are actually far too many to describe here, but you should visit the Equality Across America site for a full schedule of events. I will highlight a few that I think are definitely worth going to. You should note that some require registering so be sure to sign up soon.

There are a whole host of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell events which include a session called “Repealing DADT: Lobbying Tactics”. This training will take place at the fabulous HRC building and there is room for 200 of you who are interested in finding out best practices for lobbying your legislators. Other DADT-related events include a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetary and even a morning cadence run starting at the national WWII memorial.

A big part of what we’ll be marching for is to ensure a better future for LGBT youth. There are several youth-related events that will allow them to network and learn about how they can get involved to help secure that future. SMYAL, a local DC group, is hosting its leadership conference “Stand up, Get Loud” on that Saturday for youth age 13-21. Among the workshops included are those on developing communications skills, college/intern readiness and self-defense. The event is free and includes meals, but it does require registration. The Trevor Project is also sponsoring empowerment trainings and workshops for folks ages 13-25. For those college students looking to take home organizing skills, there will be a session solely on tips for organizing on campus. Again, all these workshops are FREE.

Ever thought of running for office? If so, you should sign up for the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute’s session, “Change Your Government from the Inside”. The Institute has helped hundreds of LGBT candidates run and win public office. Indeed, having more LGBT men and women in public office is one of the most effective ways to advance our cause. Equality Across America is also hosting Camp Courage, a grass-roots organizing workshop modeled after the highly effective “Camp Obama” trainings that helped elect a president. Those attending will be expected to commit to promoting full LGBT equality. This event already has 166 people signed up and organizers are asking for a small donation of $5-$10. Those interested in promoting a healthier relationship between faith and the LGBT equality movement should be sure to attend the “Workshop on Faith Communities & LGBT Justice Campaigns.”

There are several other workshops and events happening that weekend and you should visit the site for more information. Free conferences are not a regular occurrence.

Above all, remember that this march is an opportunity for the LGBT community, which for so long has suffered from disunity, to come together and strategize over how we will advance our cause in the years to come. Being on the same page about our demands and speaking with a united voice is far more effective than a disjointed movement. And, to effectively speak in that voice, we need to be prepared.The workshops will help us prepare and at the end of the weekend we march to the Capitol to make our demands, ready to go home afterward to start making progress.

“The march is not the end. The march is the beginning. We are hoping that our message re-invigorates the dialogue about LGBT full equality and eventually fulfills the dream of EAA [Equality Across America] – an organizing group in every congressional district – ready to lobby and remove people who are not voting for and promoting a full federal equality agenda,” said McGehee. “We are not expecting to wake up on Monday morning with a federal bill on the presidents desk to sign. But we do know that the more noise we make at the march, we have energized our young people, re-committed older advocates, and inspired groups of allies to make sure the issue stays top-of-mind until we all are equal in the eyes of the law.”

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