Category Archives: General

The Joker

Whenever I’m in a training class or a conference or really any situation where I am in a room of people who are mostly unknown to me, I always cringe inside whenever the facilitator begins the session with the word ‘icebreaker’. The anxiety of doing an unknown activity that is designed to force me to interact with other people is not really how I like to start a day or training session. Any activity that is designed to force me to meet and interact and communicate and socialize with some other ‘learning’ goal is always something difficult to initiate.  But, that is one of the many experiences that a person with a neuro-social deficit, such as someone on the autism spectrum, must always find a way to navigate.

So it was during a recent training, on the second day of an otherwise excellent training on Community Engagement and after spending time the prior day in discussions about recognizing the many identities each of us posses using our diversity and inclusion lens, this second day, we were each given two playing cards, face down as the beginning of another ‘icebreaker’.

cardback

We were instructed to not look at the cards and file in to the the conference room next door to the one we were in so that we could move around.

Once we were in the room, we were given the instructions.

  1. We were not supposed to look at our own cards.
  2. We were supposed to show the red card to everyone else in the room.
  3. We were supposed to respond to others as we moved around the room according to the ‘value’ of the card they were showing:  Cards with numbers 1 through 4 were ‘low value’, 5 – 10 were ‘middle value’, and Jack through Ace were ‘high value’ — we were supposed to interpret what that meant.

So, we begin walking around the room. I’m holding my card, acknowledging others ‘according to the value of their card’ as I walk around the room.

The first person I encounter looks at my card and says, “I don’t know how I’m supposed to respond to that one”.

Huh?

Well, OK, I reluctantly continue to walk around the room.  The next comment was also mysterious, “I wasn’t told how to respond to that one”.

Other comments I received were similar.

OK, so I really do not like this activity.

After doing this for a few minutes, we are told to put that card away (without looking at it) and now display the other card.

And the activity continues now with the other card.

Immediately, I new that I must have had a face card, as all the comments I received were very nice, like everyone wanted to be my best friend.

After doing this for a few minutes, we were then told to now bring out the first card again and then display both cards as we walked around the room.

At this point, I really just want this activity to be finished so we could go back into our training room and back to my ‘safe space’. But anyway, I walked around the room now receiving mostly positive feedback with only a little confusion.

As we walked back to our training room, it occurred to me that this is how I navigate through my life. I am a middle class, professional, middle aged white male, so I am very much aware that even as a gay male, I walk through the world with a good bit of privilege. That would be the second card.

But, at the same time, I often receive comments or reactions similar to the ‘I don’t know what to do with that’, as people might discover this underlying identity I try to hide, as a person on the autism spectrum.

This duality of identities, the visible and seen combined with this unknown identity does catch a lot of people off guard as they try to get to know me.

 

I do understand that many other people who may have any combination of ‘hidden’ identity might have similar responses from others as they reveal themselves. But for me, I am even more aware of the need to talk about my reality living as a person on the autism spectrum.

Oh, and that first card, it was the joker.

Searching for the light of the New Year

As the final few hours of 2016 go by, I am sitting here trying to review this past year and make plans for the next year.  This was a tough year. Not specifically for me, but for many around me, and most definitely for anyone living and working for progressive causes and values. I know many who have experienced loss this year—loss of a loved one, loss of an idol who might have helped them through tough times through their music or art, loss of a relationship or job.

For me, personally, as I say goodbye to 2016, I know I’m exhausted. I have been an activist for LGBT equality and progressive causes for several years and seen so many amazing successes in the past eight years. Through this, I have worked on local issues in Portland, Salem, and all of Oregon, and national issues in Washington, DC.  I have long pleaded with those around me to get involved, to call their representatives in Congress, to show up to Town Halls, to even travel to DC to meet with their members of Congress or their staff.  I know that this is the way to get things done, this is the way to move forward. This is how we resist. This is how we get things done.

OK, let me get back to the reason for this post, to look back at 2016 for me and prepare for 2017.

2016 began so wonderfully and peacefully for me. I was in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware, ringing in the New Year with the man I love. James and I had brought our dogs with us for a weekend at the beach. As an Oregonian, where I have celebrated many holidays on the beach, walking along a quiet beach on New Year’s day was very enjoyable and peaceful.

2016 was the first time I have lived through a blizzard. For someone who loves the snow and loves storms, this was a great adventure, watching the snow pile up for over 24 hours from my apartment window and then going out in the deep snow once the storm had passed was so enjoyable.

In 2016, I began to explore photography through the lenses of old, vintage cameras. I very much have enjoyed walking around wherever I may be, with one or two of my old cameras and looking for images that might translate well through that lens. I know that exploring new places with different cameras has helped a lot to keep my mind off the negativity around me this year.

I was able to travel a little this year, though not as much as I would have liked. We made a couple of trips to New York City, primarily for theatre adventures and I did make one trip to Oregon in the Spring.  In New York, we saw Hamilton—every bit as amazing as the hype behind the show. I also had front row seats to see John Slattery, John Goodman, Nathan Lane, and many other fine actors in Front Page. Broadway and Lincoln Center in New York; Kennedy Center and Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC. So much fine theatre and so happy to have a partner who enjoys good theatre as much as I.

For the first time in many years, I have ended the year working the same job I started the year with, and no thought of needing to renew a contract or search for new employment because my current employment was ending. I am finally able to plan once again for my future, to plan for an eventual retirement in several years. I have been able to begin investing in an IRA and also once again starting a 401K through my employer. Additionally, I have begun some initial investing in a few funds, hoping the market continues to grow in the future, despite the incoming government.

Overall, this year has been a good year for me. I have a good job, a beautiful partner whom I love, and I live in a great city.  As I prepare for this new year, with a new President moving in a few miles from me, and so many unknows, I know it is important to keep these things in perspective, even when I know it might not be as good for everyone else.  I will always turn to photography to help me frame the world around me.

I may be tired, but I know that I cannot stop. I cannot rest. It is the responsibility of every concerned citizen to be engaged, to speak out, and to listen, but question, our leaders in government. Together, we can get through anything that is put in our way. Together, we will make it through another year stronger.

2015: A year accomplished, a year changed

As we approach the end of the year, I think over everything that happened to me this past year. So much happened over the course of the year and I would have considered this year a success if any single one of these things happened without the others.

I started off the year, after several years working as a leader in the HRC Portland Steering Committee, knowing I needed a change. I had been co-chair of the Political Subcommittee, which had morphed into the Political and Community Outreach Subcommittee a few years ago, which was then changed to be called the Community Engagement Subcommittee today. In January, I led the MLK Day of Service volunteer activities in support of LGBT Homeless Youth in the Portland area. What began as the annual effort to solicit donations for the youth and organize volunteers to put the care packages together, turned into two projects this year–one where we assembled the backpacks full of donated items and one where we helped the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC) move to a new location. I knew this would be a challenge, with a higher level of donations this year than before, as well as a second activity that would require more volunteers. After a huge campaign to solicit donations and volunteers, we were rewarded very nicely with both. Over 130 volunteers showed up! It really was an exciting and exhilarating day.

Somehow I knew it would be my last big event for HRC in Portland. And it was a great event to end the long run.

In February, I testified before an Oregon House Committee, representing the Democratic Party of Oregon LGBT Caucus, to support the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which would ban conversion therapy for minors. During my testimony, I also told my own personal story and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Telling my story in front of legislators whom I considered my friends, in front of a room full of other supporters I knew from around Oregon. I still felt all alone as I opened the door to show my personal pains and afflictions.

March, I traveled to Washington, DC, like I always did, for the HRC Equality Convention and Lobby Day. Lobby Day was cancelled, though, due to a snowfall. It was a great convention, all along, I was thinking that it might be my last. The last time I might see many of my friends and brothers who are part of the strong HRC Volunteer Leadership around the country.

At the end of the weekend every year is an awards ceremony. I had long become disillusioned by the awards, because I saw that generally the only personal achievement awards went to those who raised the most money for HRC in the prior year and I knew that I would never be among that group since I focused so much on community building and political relationships. Well, I was surprised. I received one of the personalized awards. I was one of the recipients of the Diversity and Inclusion Leader of the Year awards. (And a few other awards to Portland for things I was directly involved with). Ok, so it was a good year. Since I thought it would be my last awards ceremony with HRC, I thought it was a very good way to end my long tenure.

There was also a “small” thing to note the evening before I left DC when I crossed paths with an attractive man named James. Unknown to me at the time, this would initiate a huge change for me later on in the year.

In April, I testified before the Oregon Senate Committee about the Youth Mental Health Protection Act. It was even more difficult than testifying before the House committee. But, we were victorious. The Senate voted in favor of the bill, after the House had affirmed it in March. Then, on to the Governor.

On May 18, I had the honor of standing behind the Governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, as she signed House Bill 2307 into law. How could my year possibly get any better than that?

In June, on my birthday, I unveiled a new photo project, unlike anything else I had ever done. “Not Human, Born Perfect” was my idea of using photographs to tell stripped down stories of LGBTQ people of all races, ages, and body types. The initial plan was to have 50 stories by my 50th birthday next June, but that goal is put on hold for now, as my life has taken on even more dramatic changes. (I will go back to that project one day, though).

As the month of June passed, I was full of conflicts. I had been in a very insecure job situation ever since 2003, finding layoff situations whenever projects would end. My current job contract didn’t provide any vacation time and the company shut down twice a year, leaving me with two weeks unpaid every year. I could not plan short term or long term and I was really growing weary of the instability and uncertainty. This is not how my career was supposed to go!

For several years, each time I faced a layoff or unemployment, I would often consider looking for employment outside of Portland. Over the years, I basically had narrowed that down to either Chicago or Washington, DC. As I noted earlier, there was an amazing man in Washington, DC with whom I had been communicating almost daily, really, since May. I knew that there was something very different about our interactions than with any other man I had ever met before. I knew that I needed to move to where he was if I was ever going to find out if there was anything more to our interactions.

Since the company where I was contracting had a ‘shut down’ week the last week of June, I knew that that was the time for me to try to arrange job interviews in Washington, DC.

There were three or four companies I was speaking with, but only two seemed to me to be a possible fit for me. I was nearly certain that one or both would schedule interviews in person, but I could not wait any longer beyond about the 17th of June in order to reserve airfare at a reasonable price. So, I took a gamble. I set up my reservations to travel to Washington, DC the last week of June.

The next day, one of the companies called to set up an interview—the last full day I would be in DC.

A week later, the other company called and also set up an interview the same day.

In all my years of job searches, this has never happened. Interviews don’t happen that easily.

So, I had my itinerary complete and traveled to Washington, DC, just a day after the historic Supreme Court ruling on the freedom to marry. I had a great visit with friends and the interviews went well, even while I had to be late to the second one because the first one ran long (they had me talking to everyone in the office, it seemed, including the CEO).

July began, I knew that almost certainly I would be moving by the end of the month, but, of course, I still did not know whether I had a job ahead for me. I most certainly could not move across the country without employment! But, I also needed to give my landlord the required notice that I was leaving. I needed to plan! But I couldn’t. So, another blind gamble. I was confident that I had done well in at least one of the interviews, so I had to take a risk and give my notice that I was moving out.

As I approached the ‘two week’ window for giving notice on my current job, I still did not have a job offer. What do I do? I need to make a decision! Down to the wire, the day before I needed to turn in my notice on my job, I had one company call to present me with a job offer! Then, at the end of the day, the other company contacted me to say I would receive a formal offer the next morning! Really? I must be dreaming! Both offers were exactly what I had asked—one would have me start employment August 10 and the other, August 15. So, I turned in my two week notice at work, then accepted the offer that I considered the best one.

Then, I began a sell off and give away of nearly everything I owned. All my furniture must go! I wanted to only have a few boxes to ship and carry the rest in my car across the country.

July 28th, I brought about 15 boxes of belongings to the local mailbox store and put them in the mail to Maryland. July 29, I had two more boxes to ship (and a few other things went to my mom’s house when I realized they wouldn’t fit in my car). I then hit the road to begin the journey across the country with my dog, Jackson and my little gnome, #timbergnome.

August 2 I arrived in College Park, Maryland. My job didn’t start until August 10, so I had a few days to get things together and also a chance to visit friends. And James and I had our first date on August 3.

The rest of the year has been very busy, getting adjusted to the new job, setting up my new home in Capitol Hill, and most important, more and more dates with the man I fell in love with.

And I am back in a leadership role with HRC here in Washington, DC.  Yes, I accepted an opportunity to be one of the leaders of the Community Engagement subcommittee, part of the HRC Greater Washington, DC Steering Committee.

Looking back on this year, I am overwhelmed and humbled. I never could have predicted any of this, and I definitely would not have believed you if you told me I would be living in Washington, DC by the end of the year.

I am loving my life right now. A beautiful boyfriend, a nice home in one of my favorite neighborhoods, a good job, and a city I have always loved.

Don’t even ask me to predict anything that might happen in 2016.11002819_10153120027072248_1665953913_o

Celebrate Freedom, Celebrate As A True American

For some of us who identify as LGBT, we can fully celebrate freedom as a full citizen in the United States, with the US Supreme Court once again acknowledging that we are equally able to marry the person we love as any other American. But for some, there might still be a sense that we are second class citizens. I’m thinking here about our transgender brothers and sisters and our non-white brothers and sisters.

Today, I won’t write about any of the statistics or tell any stories about these groups and others who still do not feel that they are fully American citizens. No, today I look at the promise that was given to all Americans when the Declaration of Independence was signed, and ask everyone to remember that each of us was created equal.

I think about the day when I can walk hand in hand with my future boyfriend (husband?), who is a beautiful black man, walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, by the White House or anywhere else in Washington, DC. Two men, hand in hand, biracial, walking proud in the nation’s Capital, showing that we are just like every other couple (assuming that we will also be in love at that time).

The promise of freedom for all Americans is in reach and it is now time to celebrate that. This is what is called patriotism. It will still be a fight and challenge for many years to come, but on this Independence Day, I want to celebrate the possibility, especially since we have just been reminded of our full humanity.

Happy Independence Day!

Approaching mid-life…or am I already there?

A week from today is my birthday. My 49th birthday. This past year has been an amazing year, with any highlights. Awards from HRC for the things I have done, being a part of history in Oregon as I helped get the Youth Mental Health Protection Act passed (this is the ban on conversion therapy for minors) and eventually even having the honor of standing behind Governor Kate Brown as she signed the bill.

My life is lived in circles, many repeated places, but the experience each time around always depends on the quantity and quality of lifetime investments I make.

Last June, I returned to live in the city of my birth, still with a little bit of trepidation about my work situation, but with much more confidence in myself and the decisions that I made–an equal amount of reflection of my past experiences and attitudes and conviction in everything I do.

I am once again thinking about my life and career and future loves. I know that my current work contract will end in early August and I am unsure if it will be renewed. At the same time, I recently stepped away from some of my leadership roles in the community, while I figure out what is next.

I have hinted to some that I might contemplate a cross country move create even more change in many ways. I know the job prospects are very different elsewhere and in certain places, like Washington, DC, there are many other opportunities for social justice and political involvement that might be a good change.

Then, there is a man I have met who also happens to live there. I won’t discuss much about that, other than I am currently enjoying getting to know him. I won’t try to guess how this will turn out, other than I know that I will have a great new friend.

Next week, on my birthday, I am unveiling a new set of photos I am calling “Not Human, Born Perfect”. This is a very new and different direction for Mae and the photos I display will be only the beginning of this project, as I plan on freaking 41 additional images, telling stripped down stories of LGBTQ people of all races, ages, and body types.

49. The start of my 50th year on this planet. I really do not feel that old, but I have to admit that I don’t know what it is to feel like ‘that age’. I have so much life ahead of me, even if I have recently spent a lot of time reflecting on the life behind of me. I know that even better things will come, even when I shake things up a little.

Conversion Therapy — A survivor’s story

One of the bills in front of the Oregon House this session is House Bill 2307, the Youth Mental Health Protection Act. In essence, what this does is ban conversion therapy for minors by licensed practitioners. The House Healthcare Committee is currently hearing this bill.

Conversion therapy is defined as practices that purport to either change a person’s sexual orientation, their gender identity or expression, or lessen their same sex sexual desires. This is also sometimes referred to as ‘reparative therapy’.

This one is personal. I will be testifying in support of this bill where I will share my own personal story:

From a very young age, growing up here in Oregon, I knew I was different. I knew I thought differently, saw things in a different way, and felt things differently from everyone else. I also realized that I was more attracted to guys than girls. In my child’s mind, I put these things together and thought that all my differences were due to being gay, and I so much wanted to be like everyone else. When I was in middle school I began hearing about the programs and counselors who vowed they could make someone like me straight. I researched programs through Exodus and read books by licensed psychologists that offered that promise to fix me.

It wasn’t until a few years out of college that I finally connected with a conversion therapy group in Dallas, Texas, where my job had located me. I actively tried to make it work for me, but after countless sessions  of heart-wrenching effort over one year I decided that it was not going to happen. I was a failure.

For the next several years, I dove into my career, pretty much completely neglecting anything else in my life. I did try a couple of relationships with guys, but they failed. I could not fully live since I still had so many things that were unresolved. I had done nothing to fix myself.

It wasn’t until more than 15 years later, when I turned 40 years old, that I connected with a new group of ex-gay survivors at beyondexgay.com. I drove down to their first conference in Irvine, California, not knowing what to expect. I enjoyed the conference, but didn’t feel moved by any of it. It wasn’t until my drive back to Oregon when I was flooded with emotions of what had happened, and where I was with my life and how I had shut off a large part of who I was. So, in 2006, I slowly started living.

Since that time, I have been further finding out really who I am and finally, as recently as last year, discovered that the many differences I was trying to fix all those years ago are much more due to living with Asperger’s Syndrome, on the Autism Spectrum.

Through my life and from the stories I have heard in the ex-gay survivor network, I directly see the harm that is caused by conversion therapy. While it is unrealistic to ask for a complete ban of all forms of conversion therapy, it is very important to support this bill that would put an end to the practice of conversion therapy by a licensed professional for minors.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights has been working towards a goal of eliminating conversion therapy in the next five years. From their website, they have documented many years of research about conversion therapy, along with tools for survivors as well as those who want to work to eliminate conversion therapy.

From the NCLR #BornPerfect project:

Conversion therapy can be extremely dangerous and, in some cases, fatal. In 2009, the APA issued a report concluding that the reported risks of the practices include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.

The risks are even greater for youth. Minors who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation or gender identity face especially serious health risks. Research shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were more than eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide, more than five times more likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

When California passed this ban in 2012, the LGBT caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon passed a resolution to do the same in Oregon. The full DPO State Central Committee followed with a vote in support of the resolution. We have been working with our coalition partners ever since. This is not just important to me, but also important to our LGBT youth.

This law has also passed in New Jersey and the District of Columbia. Oregon will be the third State.

It was a day on, not a day off.

I am so overwhelmed with emotions from today. After several months of planning, we started early this morning to sort and divide the overflowing amount of donated clothing and personal items for the LGBT homeless youth served by SMYRC in Portland and Triple Point in Vancouver. We ended up filling about 220 bags of personal items and many boxes and bags of clothing for them. These bags and other items will hopefully be distributed to the homeless youth for the next 12 months.
We had volunteers front all over, from St Michael’s Episcopal Church, from the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, the wife of Senator Jeff Merkley, and many others.

Everything came together so well.

This reminds me why I devote so much of my life to the organizations of my choice. I see where the work directly affects those who are often neglected. All in the spirit and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.

That is what this day is all about.