I Have a Crush & His Name Is Adam Rippon

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Don’t get all excited.  My crush isn’t romantic at all, more I’m crushing on Adam Rippon because of the role model status he now has as the first openly gay athlete to qualify for the Winter Olympics.  What a joy it is to know that there are so many people out their for our young, questioning LGBTQ+ youth to look up to.  When I was young I didn’t really have anyone.  Gay men were not in the media except Liberace and eventually Elton John but I didn’t relate to them.  Now, just within the last few years and especially right now there are so many different examples of real and fictional people who are role models and what a breath of fresh air!

“I always felt like it was really important for me to share my story ’cause like when I came out, I did that because when I was young,  I didn’t really like have any role models and um, I wanted to share my story and kind of normalize it a little bit.  And I think it is really important especially in this day and age to share who you are; share your story, especially as a gay athlete.”  ~Adam Rippon

And there you have it, my crush because he is unabashedly himself.  He is snarky and flamboyant and talented and athletic and full of heart.  Adam Rippon is out there setting an example and being himself and sharing his confidence and love and spreading joy.  I will admit, my first encounter with Adam was back in January at the National Skating competition.  I felt he came off confident and charming, but almost arrogant.  That all changed a couple of weeks ago when I started watching the Olympics, watching his interviews, and following him @adaripp and @NBCOlymics on Instagram.

And then there is this one!

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Let’s be honest here, as a young boy growing up there were not role models.  I mean, I loved Whitney and pageants, but I couldn’t talk about that but I didn’t feel safe really talking about that and there wasn’t someone older out there, gay, saying he was interested in the same stuff.  I watched the “Battle of the Carmens”, Katarina Witt vs. Debbie Thomas, and the “Battle of the Brians” Brian Orser vs. Brian Boitano, at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.  I loved it.  Those were the first Winter Olympics I remember.  The red and black sparkles of the ladies’ outfits and the military spandex of the men.

But it wasn’t until 1992 in Albertville that I really fell in love with skating.  Kristi Yamaguchi was everything in my world at that moment.  I had articles and photos taped to my bedroom walls.  I remember the night of the short program I had a band concert and I was so upset that I was going to miss her performance.  Luckily I taped it on the VCR.  I was 15 at the time.  After that Winter Olympics I got rollerblades and I created programs in the street and at the neighbor’s house.  Of course I couldn’t jump, but I was doing triple toe loops in my head with music blaring from my boombox.

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A few weeks ago, when Adam Rippon hit the Olympics and landed an expert program to help the USA bring home a team bronze, there was so much buzz.  I read this article from Vanity Fair and basically I could have written it myself.  It is everything I think and feel from back in those days and coming full circle today.

The Bittersweet Beauty of Adam Rippon

How much an out gay Olympian could mean to a kid now–or to a 34-year-old who’s been waiting for it his whole life. 

https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2018/02/adam-rippon-gay-olympic-athletes

The subtitle says it all.  It could read, “A 41-year-old who’s been waiting for it his whole life” and that would be me.  So here I am thinking how wonderful a time it is to live, minus all the news out of Washington D.C., for many of our LGBTQ+ youth.  Yes, there are still attacks on transgender rights and that has to stop, but for a brief moment in time, Adam Rippon captured the conversation of a nation.  Everyone was talking about Adam.  And because of that and all the media coverage, some little boy in Nebraska, who hasn’t quite figured himself out, but now knows that there are people out there like him and Adam and me, who might now feel just a little bit more confident that, everything will be ok.    

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Recently, Oprah made headlines with a speech she gave at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards.  It was a very powerful speech for many reasons.  She spoke about the #METOO campaign and she talked about living your truth.  When we live our truth we put out there positive energy that not only helps us, but undoubtedly helps someone else who might be watching and we just don’t know it.  When you live your truth you live with power.  You live with the power to make choices and to take roads less traveled and to blaze a path that perhaps has never been blazed before.  When you live your truth you empower not only yourself but you empower other people.  Living our truth is the greatest gift we can give.

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What is so wonderful about Adam Rippon is that he lives his truth.  Maybe if there was an Adam Rippon back in 1988 or 1992 I would have started living my truth much sooner.  Maybe I wouldn’t have, who knows, but what I know for sure is that we might not all identify with him on the surface, but we all can relate to the power he brings to the conversation about just being you, just being the person you were born to be, just living with the freedom to be who YOU are supposed to be.

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So that brings me to the now.  Besides Adam, there is so much GAY out there and it is wonderful.  We have the reboot of WILL & GRACE and QUEER EYE!  I cry at every single episode of the new Queer Eye.

These are two shows that changed the conversation back in the late 90s and early 2000s.  Our country is in such a different place of acceptance and tolerance now.  We do have a long, long way to go but we’re getting there and perhaps these shows helped just a little bit.

You remember this and what a shock it was and then what an, ah ha moment!?!

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And at the Oscars on Sunday, Call Me By Your Name is up for several awards including Best Picture and Best Actor.  It’s a movie about love, finding love, and losing love.  Yes, the title characters are gay, but they could be anyone really.  These are two men who are trying to live their truth while needing to hide it as well.  What a beautiful story about love and lust and the agony of loss.  These are the normal emotions we all feel.

Finally, on March 16, the move Love, Simon will be released in theatres nationwide.  What is that you say, a nationwide released movie about a teenager coming out and finding love?  YES, yes it is indeed!  This is AMERICA and in 2018 we have movies about Amer-I-CANs living their truth.  I wonder what it would have been like if ALL of these amazing, heartwarming, wonderful things in the media and pop culture would have been around in say 1990?  How would my life and so many gay American’s lives be different?

“Everyone deserves a great love story, but for 17-year-old Simon Spier, it’s a little more complicated. He hasn’t told his family or friends that he’s gay, and he doesn’t know the identity of the anonymous classmate that he’s fallen for online. Resolving both issues proves hilarious, terrifying and life-changing. ~Love, Simon

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What I know for sure (I love you Oprah) is that I was gay as hell back then and I’m gay as hell now.  Almost everything about my interests as a kid and teen SCREAMED, “YOU’RE GAY MATT” but I didn’t have an Adam Rippon to look up to.  I didn’t have shows and movies that portrayed anything other than heteronormative families.  I was different, and I knew it, but I never felt I could express it to anyone.  Sure I played dress up in my house and watched pageants on television and I loved figure skating and thought boys were cute and the list goes on and on.  One of these days I should write a blog titled, “The 1000 Signs Matt Was Gay As A Kid”.  I mean, honestly, there might be more.  I digress, what I love about right now is that Adam Rippon is the first openly gay athlete to qualify for the Winter Olympics, compete in them and WIN a medal.  Way to Go Adam!  Thank you for living your truth, being gay as hell, and sharing it all with us.  We owe you, all of us, big time!!

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Celebrating 40: Authentic You

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!

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