Celebrating 40: Friendship, Love, and All That Makes Me Happy

06971f03ccc83abf85df467b07a8950a

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of love and excitement. As we were all saying goodbye after five amazing days together, I was so sad. But I had to remind myself to “Smile because it happened.” For over a year I had planned for a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to celebrate my upcoming 40th birthday. When I started planning in June 2015 I said to myself, “I want 5 days with some of the most important people in my life.” I was blown away when 15 people said, “YES!” I know that it is no small order to plan for childcare and to put down the money for such a trip.  Just to celebrate me? Everyone is busy with life, whatever “busy” is to us, we are all busy. I have learned over my 40 years that the best gift you can give someone is the gift of your time. We are not guaranteed tomorrow so choosing to spend time with those you love is a blessing, and I am very blessed.

58f194d4a54b3cea4d0d66179659804f

I wrote in my blog post Thank You For Being a Friend in May 2015, “The way I got out of the darkness of loss is because of friends. The reason I started this blog is because of friends. The reason I met my love is because of friends. Friendships ebb and flow, but the real ones last forever.” I often think about how people come in and out of our lives sometimes for just a season, but there is always a reason. When we arrived in Puerto Vallarta it definitely felt special.  These are the ones who are in my life for more than a season. Some I have known for more than 20 years and some for just about two years, but the time of friendship didn’t matter, this was a special trip. I knew that everyone there could hang and chat in the pool or on the lounge chairs, of course with a cocktail in hand. These are the people who love me so they will all love each other. I was pretty spot-on.

Funny-Friendship-Quotes-1

It is so important to wrap yourself in love, as I wrote about in October 2014, Wrapped In Love. We all go through times of happiness and pain, but surrounding yourself with love is the only way I see out of those painful times and we find that love in the happy times. I am blessed to have a huge support network.  Frankly I’m not sure why so many of them have stuck around so long, haha, but I’m thankful that they have and I’m thankful they chose to spend time with me to celebrate my birthday milestone. I am also grateful to my #squad, did I just write that, for helping me through confusing and painful times in my life. They held my hand and walked with me. I did the personal emotional work and they walked with me.  Had that not happened, my heart would not have been open to let someone great into my life.

Cause once you know what love is, you never let it end.

So I’m feeling all this love celebrating with my friends. See the love and fun!

On this trip, business ventures were created, phone apps were created, caftans were worn, #swan became a friend of all, water was splashed, champagne bottles popped every 15 minutes, and such amazing times were had by all of us. Seriously, just as one drink was finished another one was in your hand and just as the thought of, “man I could use some guac” came across your mind, there was a plate full with accompanying quesadillas poolside! What a dream come true to spend such a special and amazing time with my favorite people in the world!

happiness-family-quotes-Lhqy

What happened at the White Party was probably the most special moment of my life. To celebrate Amanda’s actual birthday and my upcoming one, I thought a White Party was in order.  Everyone came through like rock stars!  I am fortunate that everyone played along with my request, even the husbands!  Thank you. All of a sudden people were dancing and my family was on the computer.  The words “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” were displayed by all of my friends. I leaned down to say something to my family on Skype and then I heard the opening notes of Whitney Houston’s “All the Man That I Need” and I thought, “Here we go.” As I turned to face my friends, many were crying as they flipped the signs to now read, “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” and holding the question mark at the end of the line was the love of my life.  YES, YES OF COURSE I’LL MARRY YOU!!!

WOW, what a night of love and celebration! My fianceé outdid himself and my friends are one of a kind for keeping the secret and helping him execute the most special memory I have. Turning around to see the words “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” held by my best friends, some of them crying with joy(they’ve been on this journey of life with me), my family on Skype, my boyfriend holding the ? and the ring, and Whitney Houston playing in the background…..what could be better? I will get chills thinking of that moment forever.

IMG_2740

We must Be In Love With Our Life. Sometimes that is easier said than done. What I know for sure is that wherever we are and whatever we are doing, its a gift to be here. There are sad times and happy times but those sad ones are meant to lead us down the road to discovering something more happy. Over my almost 40 years I have learned a lot about life and people. These people who just spent five days celebrating with me are so special and so wonderful. As Heather Headley(AIDA fame, now in The Color Purple on Broadway) sings in her song “My Wish”, “I wish you rainy days so you can see the beauty of the clear blue sky…. I pray you’ll always see the forest through the trees…. and I wish you nights of love and days of joy and shoulders when you cry. And just enough hellos to get you through goodbye.”  These are the wishes of friends over the years whose eyes were just a bit clearer than mine. What a gift!

It has been a life’s journey so far and I am lucky to have been on it with so many wonderful and caring people.  Thank you for journeying with me and taking the time to be part of this special trip and our special day. And now, as we do, “Happy birthday day to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Amanda. Happy birthday to you!” (This will bring smiles to 15 people’s faces I know for sure!) Memories to last a lifetime, that I know for sure!

IMG_2679

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

il_340x270.581364270_hlp0

It’s been one week since the mass killing at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida. I haven’t posted anything because I have been at a loss for words. 49 people lost their lives because of hate. It could have happened anywhere.  It could have been me.  It could have been you.

Wherever you find your sanctuary should be sacred and safe. It might be your yoga mat or your church or your gym or your music class or your running path or your, bar. For so many gay men and women they find solace and acceptance at their local gay bars. I have too over the years found a place to be myself at the gay bars in Chicago. Whether it was to go dance, sing showtunes, or just grab a drink with friends, for many years I have found a place of comfort, a place where people understand my journey, at gay bars.

Find a place where you belong with people who understand your journey.

For many years I went to bars with my friends. The very first night I stepped foot in my first gay bar, I breathed a sigh of relief, “Oh, so THIS is what it is supposed to feel like at the bar,” I thought. This is where people like me are hanging out. I was at Sidetrack and it was full of MEN and I felt so at home.  After a few months of being so nervous I’d be shaking on my way to the gay bars, I began to feel more and more comfort. I started to meet other gay men, like me. Again, it was absolutely wonderful to be at a common place where I knew the people there understood me and understood the questions I had, the excitement I felt, and the fear that being there might not always be the safest. That is true, what happened at Pulse night club in Orlando is something that I feared would one day happen. I would sometimes think, “What is stopping a hate filled person from coming in here and shooting this place up and killing many many people?” Sad but true, I’ve had that thought way too many times. We deserve better in America. We deserve to feel safe everywhere, especially the places we consider our sanctuaries.

orlando-strong-ribbon

The shooting in Orlando has hit very close to home. It scares me, yet I know that my life can’t stop. The LGBTQ community was targeted, but like many fights before, I know that my community will survive this tragedy and will move the fight for gun laws.  The Washington Post wrote, “The Gay Rights Movement Could Take On the NRA – And Actually Win.” Like mass shootings of the past, what we can’t let happen is our government to be shocked, pledge to pass stricter gun laws, then fade away quietly without doing a damn thing.  That is what we cannot let happen. We must stand up and right for our safety.  Congress is supposed to write and pass laws that keep us safe. Their inaction over the years has caused us to be more unsafe. Sign this MoveOn.org petition and let your voice be heard here.  And while you are signing, click here to sign a thank you note to Senator Murphy for his filibuster for stronger gun laws. At least he is trying to do something!

Queens get shitdone

While I don’t love the opening line on the above picture, the message is true. The hate filled mass shooting on Orlando’s gay community has struck a chord. We have fought for a long time to get our rights and I truly believe that our “powerful progressive movement” will move us closer to much needed gun reform.

What I know for sure it is that the LGBTQ community is strong, mighty, feisty, loud and proud, and we do, “get shit done.” Everyone should feel safe wherever they find solace and comfort and a place of belonging. The Lieutenant Governor of Utah very boldly called the straight community out on this idea that a gay bar is a sanctuary.  “I believe that there is a question, two questions actually, that each of us needs to ask ourselves in our heart of hearts. And I am speaking now to the straight community. How did you feel when you heard that 49 people had been gunned down by a self-proclaimed terrorist? That’s the easy question. Here is the hard one: Did that feeling change when you found out the shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning? If that feeling changed, then we are doing something wrong.” Wherever you call your sanctuary, you should be able to go and find comfort and safety. Hate cannot and will not force us to hide. It must bring us together. Read what happened when an Orthodox Jewish congregation when to a gay bar. “If we are going to survive, we all need each other.” So, so true. We have to stick together and help. We are at our strongest when we are together.

ws_pride_page_pic

So this is what is going to happen, the LGBTQ community is going to dance again. We’re going to return to our sanctuaries and we’re going to fight to make them safer. We’re going to be loud and proud and we’re going to keep on going. Please join us, help us, and support us. For when we are together we are at our strongest.

Celebrating 40: Authentic You

fridgedoor_2266_882972258

When I think about how I have gotten to where I am I think about hard work, perseverance, tenacity, and a lot of luck, but I have never thought about safety.  Today at work was a morning professional development presentation on LGBTQ students and what we can do to make them feel safe. A news report from a doctor who studies transgender issues was shown and it was said, “with safety comes confidence.” Tears filled my eyes today as I experienced something I once never thought would happen. Public schools are talking about gay students, lesbian students, transgender students and how to best support them. Wow, we have come a long way.

Every person who is part of the LGBTQ community has a journey, a process, a story to tell about coming out. Some people have long, quiet, and painful journeys while others come shooting out of the womb in a cloud of glitter holding a rainbow flag. I think most people fall somewhere in between. My journey was quite long in today’s standards, but not all that painful, luckily. As I have reflected over the years and again today, the word safety makes so much sense. Growing up in a town of less than 50,000 people, we didn’t have much exposure to gay people. My parents did have a family friend, my “Uncle” Ed who we were close with over the years. I definitely felt like my parents would support me with coming out, but I still hesitated for years. Ultimately what pushed me over the edge, at age 26, was two close college friends also coming out at the same time. Safety in numbers, right?

img-thing

I was briefly dating a girl up until weeks before I came out. Once I knew I had support of two friends, that was all I needed.  I had to know that I wasn’t in it alone, that I would have people to go out to the gay bars with and who understood what I was going through. When I finally came out it was still quite a process.  I told a few close friends and my immediate family. It would be a long time before I told anyone connected with work. I played a game of smoke and mirrors. On Monday mornings, “What did you do this weekend?” a colleague would innocently ask.  “Oh nothing, low key.”  Um no, I was dancing in boystown until 5 a.m. Saturday night. Or, I was on a date…with a boy. I just did not feel safe at work talking about it. I was a teacher. I worked with kids. What would people think of me if they knew I was gay? The night I came out to my parents, one of the first things my mother said to me was, “You can’t tell work. They could fire you.” That stuck with me for years and years. It was no fault of my mothers. She was working with the information she had in the society that we lived in at the time. In 2002 when I came out, it still could have been a reality that I could get fired. Actually in some states it STILL is possible to get fired. It wasn’t until 2012, ten years later, that I finally felt that I could be myself at work. I finally felt safe.

fridgedoor_2266_81424367

In 2008 I was hired by a suburban district as a counselor. There were so many changes coming that I just couldn’t see. Although I was much more comfortable and confident in myself, I still kept a pretty low profile with regards to my personal life. A few people knew I was gay, but not many. I still carried with me, “You know they can fire you”, always, everyday. Even though there were other gay employees, I still did not feel safe. Have you ever felt unsafe talking about your weekend, going to a movie with your boyfriend or wife, at work? Probably not for most of you, but for gay people, for me, it was a reality of my smoke and mirrors life. After three years my boss left the district. Shortly after that we became Facebook friends. She wasn’t my boss anymore so I didn’t think anything of it. A year later she hired me at my current job. That is when things changed for me and work, finally.

c4a4592f1bad62f614ab44c6a0f17607

It was 2012, I was in a relationship, it was just before Winter Break and at our Holiday Party my boss said to me, “So what are you and *EX* up to for break? Are you going anywhere?” Whoa! Wait a second! Did I just hear THAT? Did she just ask me about my boyfriend? Holy shit! Calmly, “Yes, we’re going to Cancun.” Oh my god, my boss just nonchalantly asked me about my boyfriend, BY NAME, and I answered her. I have actually never shared this story but her simple inquiry into my life, changed my life, forever. We had never spoken about my personal life really, she saw most of it on Facebook. I didn’t really talk about my personal life at work. It was so ingrained in me to keep it on the down low. Honestly though, just that simple taking interest in a matter of fact way made me FINALLY say to myself, “I’m ok. I can be who I am at work. I can do this. I am safe.” Then in May of 2013 my heart was broken by that guy and the day after the break up I was at work. My boss noticed that I was not right. She came over, asked what was wrong and listened to me while I sobbed. What she did for me, again, just proved that she cared. “Do you have anymore meetings today that I need to cover for you? You don’t need to be here. Go home, go for a run and take care of yourself.” It didn’t matter if I was gay, straight or otherwise, she just cared. Ever since all of that, I have just been myself at work. “What did you do this weekend?” Now I say, “[My boyfriend] and I went to a movie.” People know and it is just simple, normal. I don’t have to tell my journey or explain that I’m gay or worry that they care. When I went through the break up colleagues would commiserate with me because most people have gone through that and it didn’t matter if I was gay or straight, break ups just suck. Period. So now unlike anywhere I have ever worked, it is just known and I feel safe with people knowing because of my boss. She truly is the most amazing boss, person, and friend who broke down a very high wall of mine with one, simple, affirming question. If you know her, next time you cross paths please say, “Thank you for caring.”

fridgedoor_2266_518066222

So what is this all about? It’s about safety. It’s about making sure we all feel confident, safe, and like we belong. It’s about saying thank you to those who have helped along the way. It’s about society and how far we have come in such a short time. In 2002 when I came out I knew we’d get here, but I thought it would be much longer. I thought I would be in my 70s when gay marriage would be legal, not 38. When I came out at 26, that was pretty normal for my generation. Now I have boys coming out in high school in much higher numbers. It is a testament to my school district and the support they give. So this is also about the amazing place I get to work at each day. We want all of our kids to feel safe. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Today my principal stood before our entire staff and said that we are going to continue meeting and learning about LGBTQ issues because it is important that ALL of our students and STAFF feel safe.

When GLEE premiered in 2009 it was the absolute right time for our society. That show struck a chord with so many people and reached so many young boys and girls who could finally say, “There is someone like me.” While watching the first couple of seasons I would often end up in tears and think, “Man I wish I could have come out sooner.” Then I think, “Oh man, if I had come out in college, I would have been one distracted boy.” Everything happens when it is supposed to and right now is the time that we need to embrace our young LGBTQ community and let them know that they are safe. On GLEE all of the students knew they were safe in Mr. Schuester class. For me, on my journey, I have needed to feel safe too. I needed to feel safe coming out to people who understood. At work, finally, I felt safe and was able to start being my authentic self. For that, I’m grateful!

JustBeYouHR

Celebrating 40: Let Your Freak Flag Fly

 

“Let your freak flag wave. Let your freak flag fly.” When I saw Shrek The Musical and heard “Freak Flag” years ago I thought, “Yes, this is amazing. These lyrics are so incredible.” We are all freaks in our own way. We all have quirks and we are all different, but not enough do our children or the youth see our freak flag because we are conditioned to keep it hidden. Even as adults we keep our quirks in the shadows even though it is our quirks that make us unique and different and special and weird and memorable and the best person we can be in this life. The other day a co-worker said to me, “I don’t think we let our kids see our quirky side enough.”  I completely agree which made me want to write this post.

427da9d32934de7743335cc63a9b1d01

A few weeks ago that same co-worker came to my office and told me, “Nine is singing Whitney in the Variety Show.” Nine is a talented group of nine young men who sing acapella at the school where I work. One of my students who is in Nine was in my office just days later.  I said to him, “I hear you are singing Whitney Houston in the V-Show.” He looked at me quizzically. I sang, “How will I know if he really loves me? I say a prayer with every heartbeat.” He said, “Oh, Sam Smith.” At that moment, I knew we had a problem. This generation of kids don’t know Whitney Houston. I knew I had to right this wrong. The next day I wrote to one of his teachers and asked if I could come in and give a 20 minute presentation.  I emailed other students in class to give them some answers so it looked like they knew way more than him. Luckily he is one of the best students I have met in my 16 year career. Plus, this was a leadership class with only 10 total students so I knew my Master Class Lesson on Whitney Houston would work.

I went into his class on Friday and gave this presentation.

WHPresentation

When I arrived this young man said, “Are you here to teach us about Whitney Houston?” The other students smiled then we got started and they enthusiastically answered the questions. One young lady, another of my students, got up and started doing the “How Will I Know” dance moves from the video playing. We laughed, they answered questions, and my heart raced. I am almost 40 years old but I was still nervous. What are these 10 students going to think of me? I don’t care, but what are they going to think? Even though I’m not trying to hide my freak flag in the shadows, I still was a bit nervous. And even though I don’t care what they think, I was nervous. Maybe I care a little more than I think but I really don’t care what they think. In almost 40 years of living I have learned to be confident in me, but in this moment I was nervous. Have you ever been in this situation? We are adults and we have been through our teenage years and our 20s and our 30s, but the moment we put ourselves out there it is like we are 15 again. AH! What was so wonderful is that from what I could tell, these students got it. They let me have fun and they laughed and had fun with me. I thanked them for letting me fly my freak flag, and I encouraged them to fly their own freak flag because we all have one or two or three or more freak flags to fly. As I walked down the hallway back to my office I could hear some of them, “And IIIIIIIIII, eeeeee, IIIIIII will always love youuuuuuu.”  Mission accomplished!

Freak-Flag

What started years ago, and I’m not quite sure how, was an ability I had to be me. When I first came out as a gay man, people would ask, “When did you know you were gay?” I mean, there were signs all along that looking back could have been indicators to other people but to me, I just always knew I was different. I did not want to play football after school with the other boys on the street. I wanted to put on shows and pretend I was a Hollywood star accepting awards and I wanted to play The Price Is Right and I wanted to create dance shows and I wanted to reenact Days of Our Lives: Cruise of Deception scenes(the clean ones), yes I did! Ha, that memory just made me laugh. I wanted to lay in front of the living room stereo on Sunday mornings and listen to four hours of The Weekly Top 40 and I wanted to watch Star Search on Saturday at 5 p.m. and then the same episode repeated Sunday at 4 p.m. About the only thing I had in common with some of the boys on my street was WWF wrestling but secretly I liked Lady Elizabeth and the pomp and circumstance of Macho Man Randy Savage and his sequined robes more than anything else. I was different than the other boys and I knew it; I felt it, but it did not stop me from enjoying what I enjoyed. I just pretty much had to do it on my own because no one else was interested in the same things as I was at the time. I knew I had to hide my interests as not to get teased. I knew that I had a safe place at home but taking my interests out of my house was risky. Finally in middle and mostly high school, I was able to be in band and musicals and I found other people who were like me.  Finally boys and girls were starting to hang out together in mixed groups which made me way more comfortable. Finally I started to feel more like I could express myself. Don’t get me wrong, a lot was still hidden, but I didn’t shy away from my love of Whitney, or Paula Abdul, or Kristi Yamaguchi. I did not shy away from making up a dance to “Vogue” for a band fundraiser. In a way, I had a confidence to do what I wanted to do. I found the right people to surround myself with and that allowed me to be me. I am thankful for my high school friends for allowing me to be me, for laughing with me and at me and loving the young person I was being. I am very blessed to have had the childhood and friends that I did back then.

Dont-change-so-people-will-like-you

Although for 26 years I hid one aspect of myself to the world, I still feel like I said YES to life and let people get to know all the quirks and freak sides of me. Honestly when Whitney Houston died people from elementary school sent condolences because they remembered my love for her. Whenever there is a pageant on television, people know I’m watching. When I was in my first year of teaching, I taught my students the *NSync “It’s Gonna Be Me Dance”. At work now, right next to my marathon metal mug is my Whitney Houston mug. Are my quirks because I’m gay? Hardly. My freak flag flies because it is me. Are my interests different than other men? Perhaps. Or, are other men afraid to fly their freak flag because society has taught them not to? Like I said above, I felt different way before I knew what gay was, so I am thankful that I have always been able to pretty much express my quirks with the support of my family and friends. My dad is the one who actually suggested I tape the 1987 Miss USA pageant, “seems like something you might enjoy.” He was right. The pomp, the circumstance, the SEQUINS! For what it is worth, I’m different and I celebrate it. I Say YES to Life!

Be-Yourself

Get out there and fly your freak flag. Let your kids and other people experience your quirks and encourage theirs. Let them know that being different is just fine and actually what makes life interesting. When they mention someone else’s difference, that is an opportunity to encourage seeing uniqueness in the other person as wonderful. Let them see you celebrate being different and flying your freak flag! Say YES to Life!

Freak Flag – Shrek The Musical

“All the things that make us special

are the things that make us strong.”

Celebrating 40: Dancing, Friendship, and Tea Bags

It’s here. The time has finally arrived. In a few months I will celebrate the 40 year mark in life and oh what a life it has been. Just last weekend this idea for a blog came to my mind. Of course my blog is about life and not letting it pass you by and it’s about celebrating the great things that come our way whether big or small. So I didn’t win the Powerball billions, but I sure feel like I have won in many other ways and parts of my life. “Celebrating 40” is going to be sort of like my version of Oprah’s “What I Know For Sure” at least what I think I know, kind of, at the age of 40.  What I do know for sure is that I’m glad I’m not 23, friendship is awesome, and I have a life Well Traveled.

d99db789af7c05add063cc0a97dd008e

Last weekend a couple friends and I jumped in the car and drove to Bloomington, Indiana, because, why not? Two of us had never been there and we had the time and freedom to do it, so why not? A couple of “What I Know For Sure” moments happened very organically which made me want to write this bog.  At the end of the night, we found ourselves at the local Bloomington club/gay bar filled with early 20 somethings dancing and it was definitely the place to dance.  We walked in to Beyonce, which transitioned to “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” which transitioned to other 80s and 90s pop.  None of us even made a move to the bar for a cocktail, we had had enough. All we wanted to do was dance, and dance we did, for 2 hours until 2 a.m. What is so incredible to me is that at first I thought, “these kids weren’t even blips on the reproductive radar when Cyndi was singing ‘Oh daddy dear you know you’re still number one, and girls they want to have fu-uuun, Oh girls just want to have fun,'” but they were out there dancing and so were we. Patrick danced so much it was like he had just walked out of the lake in his clothes. I just kept looking around thinking how fun it was to be dancing, first of all, and then not giving a care in the world what these kids were probably thinking, like, “who are these old people dancing their fool heads off?” #sorrynotsorry #dontcare #im39 #respect I always have been a dancer at a bar with good music, but what is different now is that I don’t have this sense of looking around and wondering what others are thinking(but have I ever really?-Probably not). I was having fun, so it did not matter. Years ago that wouldn’t have been the case. So with age does come some confidence, some assurance, and a sense of not really caring what others think. It was just so much fun. I often do think, more recently, “Thank god I’m not 22.”  I had so much fun back then and I’m sure these kids were having fun too, but man, almost 40 is kind of awesome, I must say.

Earlier in the evening I had the great pleasure of spending time with some of my friend Sarah’s friends from her time at Indiana University. What I know for sure is that, if you have really good, unique, cool, interesting, well traveled, experienced friends, they also have really cool friends who they introduce you to and within minutes you’re having deep, philosophical conversations. Well, that might be because one of the friends is a college professor, regardless, there is an ease to really wonderful conversation. There is something really nice about drinking great wine, eating delicious food and connecting with people you have never met before. I guess I don’t really have anything profound to say, more just reflecting that I’ve spent a great many years meeting and spending time with some pretty cool, fascinating, crazy(in all the good ways), and crazy(in all the bad ways)people who have introduced me to cool, fascinating, crazy and crazy other people. So with time I can for sure say, I’m glad I’m not 23 again because I’ve had 16 amazing years meeting all these crazy cool people.

IMG_7365

Ok, and then there are those moments when you just bust out laughing and you pee in your pants a little because something is so funny.  My mom would say, “That struck me funny.” On Sunday it is safe to say we all needed a few Advil. Whether it was for a headache due to drinking too much or aching muscles due to dancing all night, that doesn’t matter, we had a 4 hour drive ahead of us. When we stopped on the road I got a Starbucks jasmine mint tea. It was delicious. I always use my tea bags twice.  Maybe it is a secret single behavior or I’m living in the depression, regardless, you can get two good uses out of tea bags(all you dirty minded people stop right there!). As we were cleaning out the car I said, “I’ll keep this.” It was my cup with my tea bags. Patrick and Sarah questioned. I said, “I like to use them twice and this was particularly delicious.” Without hesitation Sarah says, “Well Patrick and I can chip in to get you a box of tea bags girl!” We laughed and laughed and laughed in the middle of the street.  Well girl, I’m not poor, so I don’t need you to buy me tea bags, but what I do need you to do is keep being my friend.

29534aee9065a22a4e46e4b16705912f

What I know for sure as I Celebrate 40 is that friendships have been the single greatest part of my life. Friendships have gotten me through so many tough times and have made the fun times even better. Good lord who would ever want to be in middle school again? Not me, but having friends made it bearable. Having friends who served you Blue Maui and pineapple juice cocktails freshman year of college, yeah you’re right, that isn’t a friend. I’m lucky that I have friends from as far back as age 4 to new ones as of last weekend who are really incredible, cool people. They make my life experience that much better.

 

I don’t know where this journey will end
Cause the world keeps calling me
At home people embrace me as a friend
And I’m loving all the energy

Is That Carly Rae?….A Late 80s History Lesson

Ahhhh, the late 80s and pop music, there isn’t much that brings greater joy for me to think about than those days. Life was easy back then. I ranged in age from 10-13. 1986-1989 were the years that some of our pop divas made huge marks on popular music and me. The American Music Awards held in January 1987 saw Whitney, Janet, and Madonna all take home awards AND they were all there to accept.

7472652175621987

justin_timberlake_1987_01_26

All of these late 80s music memories came rushing back recently when I was sitting at my desk pretty much jamming to the new Carly Rae Jepsen album, Emotion, and a student of mine entered my office, sat down, and said, “Is that Carly Rae?”

carly-rae-jepsen-ec2b7moc2b7tion-2015-deluxe-1500x1500

“Why yes it is,” I responded. We proceeded to briefly talk about the hot lead single, Run Away With Me and why it isn’t a bigger hit. This song opens with a sax solo straight out of 1987 and a steamy fire escape set video staring Richard Marx. But what ensued, much to my delight and probably much to the dismay of my student, was a late 80s diva history.

First and foremost, The Queen of Pop, Whitney’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me). It is pop perfection. What I didn’t tell my student in our history lesson was how I used to act it out leaning up against the house like Whitney did when she had the leather jacket on and leopard print scarf in her hair. IWDWS is quintessential late 80s. The horns, the pop beats, the bright colors in the video, the make-up on Whitney. It all goes down in history as one of my favorite songs and definitely a late 80s favorite. It is interesting to note that IWDWS was written by the same duo who wrote How Will I Know, which was originally intended for Janet Jackson, but helped cement Whitney as a pop icon in the making. The duo of George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, of the group Boy Meets Girl fame (another favorite song of mine, Waiting For A Star To Fall) wrote both pop hits for Whitney and actually intended Waiting For A Star To Fall for her but Arista declined so they made a hit out of the song. Whitney received song writing credits for coming up with the ending, “Don’t you wanna dance, say you wanna dance, don’t you wanna dance (dance)”.  She won Best Pop Female Vocal at the 30th Annual Grammy Awards for I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).

whitneydance

My student of course had heard of Whitney, but really only knew her in reference to the recent tragic loss of Bobbi Kristina and the song I Will Always Love You. I couldn’t help myself but to show her a bit of the video and expound upon her the importance of knowing Whitney Houston and I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me). Honestly, when students happen into my office and let’s say Whitney is playing, I try to make sure they know who she is and why she is important, for real.

Madonna-Open-Your-Heart-309952-1

The second song that really defines the late 80s for me, and if we are keeping to the three top divas of the time, is Madonna’s Open Your Heart. I have heard that Madonna is performing this song on her current Rebel Heart Tour, which makes me happy. There were very few things that my parents forbid my brother and I to do, to watch or to listen to, but Madonna, especially Papa Don’t Preach was on that short list. Somehow Open Your Heart was not on that list and I remember over and over watching that video on MTV. My dad owned a fedora, though it was more of a beach hat, I wore that and danced like Madonna and the little boy all over my house. I do remember thinking less about Madonna’s spiky bustier leotard and way more about how I thought that boy was cute. Remember I was all of 11 at the time. Another thing I never noticed then, or didn’t think about, is that in the opening of the peep show there are two sailors sitting arm and arm together.  Madonna pushing the limits of equality even in 1988!! When Madonna would hang her head way back over the chair and slide off that black wig to reveal her short blonde cut, I died every time!  Still do! Finally, when the boy and Madonna dance shoulder to shoulder at the end of the video, I was so jealous and would fantasize that that was me dancing with Madonna, for real! What a fantastic, fantastic late 80s song that had such a big impact on me and my love of music. It truly is, maybe besides Borderline the first Madonna song that I absolutely loved, oh and Material Girl too. But anyway, it really set a tone for the type of music I would gravitate toward throughout my life. “Open your heart with the key. One is such a lonely number.” Yup, longing, loving, schmaltzy, can’t live without him songs. All of that, and a gay reference in 1988, Way to go Madonna!

Finishing up three of my defining late 80s diva pop hits history, The Pleasure Principle by Janet, “Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.”

e762f85685f44bed72f0235b23b1fadf.350x361x1

This was a 1987 hit and seventh single from her Control album which was a pretty big success for Janet, but nothing like her next two albums would prove to be. The Pleasure Principle was Janet’s first real dance video that I remember. It reminded me so much of Ren McCormick in Footloose dancing in the grain elevator. Don’t get me started on the importance of that movie in my life. HA! Anyway, TPP as you can now imagine, was acted out, many, many times in my basement and in my garage as I would try to recreate Janet’s passion. I’m not much of a technical dancer, so I would go more for the passionate hand to forehead move and throwing my body up against the wall. Oh and the taking off of the jean jacket and swinging that about. That was good too. I loved the part where she danced in front of the wood slats with light shining through and in front of the mirrors. This was a perfect dance hit.

So getting back to the late 80s pop history for my student. It really only included the Whitney portion, but brought back many memories of these other two hits as well. I’m sure my student was thankful for the lesson. We then talked about Carly Rae and her super cool pop album that really should be a much bigger hit.

Stop! Stop right now what you are doing and go listen to these songs from Carly Rae Jepsen’s album Emotion.

Run Away With Me

                                                                             Boy Problems

                           Favourite Colour                   

                                                                                                      Making the Most of the Night

Lets Get Lost

                                                                  Your Type

                                         All That

                                                                                                             LA Hallucinations

                                                                                I Really Like You

Seriously, listen to this album now! It is just as good, if not BETTER than Swizzle’s 1989, also a great pop album, but CRJ can ACTUALLY hold a tune!

I don’t remember where I read or heard this recently, online or NPR, but whatever it was, it said that after the age of 33 we really don’t choose to listen to music that is much different than the music we have always listened to. Thinking about this idea, it really is true for me. I don’t listen to much new music and if I do it really is pop stuff, like Carly Rae’s new album. My music interests and the artists I most listen to now are those from the late 80s and early 90s, for the most part. These were all pivotal influences on my life, especially my life in music. Dick Clark famously said, “Music is the storybook of our lives.” What a true statement. When you think about it, music can take you back to good times, sad times, happy times, bitter times, fun times, really the storybook of our lives. Go enjoy some music from your past and take a walk down memory lane, then listen to Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen!

ilovethe-80s

Equal Dignity — June 26, 2015

10706773_800140693439230_1131084217_n

It’s been 25 days since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of equal rights and equal dignity for all Americans. Call it Gay Marriage, call it Marriage, call it what it is, a Human Right that is afforded to Americans based on our Constitution. I’ve been meaning to write about this momentous day for a few weeks, but just haven’t had a chance. I also wanted it to settle in and I wanted to feel it. On June 26, 2015 LOVE did win.

We should never let anyone into our hearts if they don’t enter with love. With all the hatred around the SCOTUS decision and the fight over equal rights, “Love Wins” is one of the truest messages. As the late, great Whitney Houston once sang, “Your love is my love and my love is your love.”  We all love. We all want to love. We all want to feel love. If two men or two women find love, let it be, please! Who’s to say that your love is more right than my love or my love is more right than your love? Life, this journey, is hard enough, why make it harder by fighting over love? Let love be. Let us move forward allowing everyone to love.

InnerKingdom

So here’s my perspective as a non-religious gay man, it’s a separation of church and state.  Our forefathers wrote that into the constitution for a reason.  For so many years I have been arguing the point that I’m not asking to get married in your church. I’m not religious, so I would never get married in a church. If you want to that is wonderful, for you. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” is part of the Constitution(state, “government”), and if my happiness means marrying a man, then I get to do that. Marriage comes in two forms.  There is a ceremony(the church if you choose) and there is the license. With the legal part of a marriage license come rights that heterosexual couples have always had. These are the law, not the Bible. These are the state, not the church. No matter what you believe marriage is, one man, one woman…two men or two women…everyone should be given the same legal rights of marriage because we live in America and we all should be afforded the same rights.  Now, because SCOTUS ruled in favor, it is the Law of the Land, as it should be, as it always should have been, as it now will be forever more.

IMG_8434

Ever since President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage, I felt things would pick up speed, and they sure did. People have differing opinions on when and how Obama “evolved” into believing in the right for gay men and women to marry. He is a politician and our country is so divided that of course he didn’t come out and fully support gay marriage until after he successfully won his second term. Say what you choose, but what matters to me is that he did and I always felt he would, once he was a second term President. When President Obama took office two states recognized gay marriage, seven years later, all 50 states recognize it. I believe that when the leader of the free world came out and supported equal rights, the slope slipped in the right direction. Call it political posturing, or whatever, Obama had to do it the right way and he did. Thank you Mr. President!

IMG_8431

Several years ago, my friend’s son wrote a letter to President Obama. He asked the President to pass a law so that I can get married. How wonderful, right? E has known me since the time he was born. He and his sister have grown up in a time that gay men and women have just been part of social media and their personal life. In my opinion, he’s been lucky enough to have several “Guncles” in his life, and we are lucky enough to have him in our lives.  This now middle school boy just accepts love as love, couples as couples, people as people.  My hope is that his generation is growing up knowing that “love is love”. They are going to be the first generation that doesn’t quite remember the time of marriage vs. gay marriage. He and his generation will know only, MARRIAGE.

Speaking of the younger generation, did you see this 7 year-old girl stand up to a homophobic preacher?

It’s quite wonderful that I was home in Michigan visiting my family the day of the SCOTUS decision. My five and six-year-old nieces’ take on the day’s events, “Can we be your flower girls and wear pretty dresses?” Again, this young generation will not remember a time when marriage was talked about separately. They will only know marriage as a celebration of love. How wonderful is that?

IMG_8433

The sidewalk in Bronson Park, Kalamazoo, Michigan-June 26, 2015

So what does this all mean? I think Frank Bruni writes about it best in his article “Our Weddings, Our Worth” from the New York Times. It’s about worth. It’s about EVERY American feeling worthy and feeling noticed and feeling dignified. This blows my mind because it is exactly how I feel when Bruni writes, “And that’s because the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t simply about weddings. It was about worth. From the highest of this nation’s perches, in the most authoritative of this nation’s voices, a majority of justices told a minority of Americans that they’re normal and that they belong — fully, joyously and with cake.”  So what it means is that our young gay men and women can grow up in a time knowing that they belong and that they are normal and that they matter. And for me it means that I can get married and have cake!!

As all of this settles in, there are still haters, some of whom want to lead our country like Ted Cruz who is calling for states not to follow the law. Um, Ted, it’s the law. You have to follow it. Sorry dude! We must push that nonsense away(and not vote these bigots into office)and forge our path to love!!  LOVE! While we do that, I would like to share some of my favorite moments and images of June 26th, 2015 and the days following via social media.

***

gay-marriage

The White House

***

IMG_8430

***

IMG_8424

***

IMG_8427

***

IMG_8419

Our President 🙂

***

IMG_8423

Our Next President–Please?

***

IMG_8425

Police raising the Pride flag at City Hall in Chicago

***

IMG_8436

***

IMG_8452

***

IMG_8441

Niagara Falls

***

IMG_8432

What a week in US history

***

homosexuality-is-in

***

church-sign-that-supports-gay-marriage

***

RBG2

***

blame-for-gay-marriage

***

802124_762x762

***

IMG_8417

***

gay-marriage-call-it

***

wonka-gay-marriage

***

pro_gay_marriage_rights_design

***

IMG_8453

***

IMG_8428

A lot of work yet to accomplish

***

IMG_8426

***

This Instagram post from Bey

***

IMG_8451

***

That’s right, what makes being American and living in America so wonderful is that we can all have different opinions and we don’t have to agree on any of them. But, we should always be kind to one another and we all deserve the same rights. In the end, it’s about every American knowing that he matters, that she is worthy, and that we are all dignified. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the most beautiful final paragraph in his majority opinion ruling.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

Now we move forward. Let’s call it marriage. Let’s call it celebrations of love. We’re all equal and we’re all deserving of human rights. We are all deserving of the rights afforded to all Americans. So go ahead, you can just call it MARRIAGE now.