My Journey Through the Gates – Revisited

For my first blog post from my website – I wanted to share a piece that I originally wrote back in 2005 when “The Gates” installation was in Central Park.  Some of you who lived in and around New York City at the time may recall them.  They received quite a bit of coverage in the media – both good and not-so-good.  Nonetheless, for where I was  at the time – eight months from my coming out at work and being one hundred percent “out” as my true and authentic self – their presence moved me on a very metaphorical and visceral level.  They prompted this essay, which after reading it through for the first time in years, is just as relevant (if not more so) today then it was when it was written nearly nine years (what???!!!) ago.  It is my Easter gift to you and I hope you enjoy reading it and, hopefully, taking a piece of it with you. . .

 

I came upon “The Gates” today, almost by accident.  I had seen the grand unveiling on television a week or so before, and quitehonestly had forgotten all about them since.      Although impressed by the sheer enormity of the physical display, I was even moved more than I could ever have imagined on a much deeper, more visceral, level.  It’s as if Central Park has been bathed in a bright shade of saffron at every turn.  As I entered the park at Columbus Circle the lunchtime crowd of business people and tourists overwhelmed the grounds at the foot of the Maine Monument, but I soon noticed that this teeming mass of humanity flowed easily up, down and across the park’s paths as they gazed, gawked and otherwise absorbed the sheer enormity of the spectacle before them.  It was an unusually warm and pleasant winter day.  You could actually feel the first hint of spring in the air, and everyone that I passed looked as if they had embraced this temporary break from an otherwise bleak winter season with refreshing joy.  I thought that perhaps all of Manhattan had taken a collective deep breath, as if to purge the winter doldrums with one mighty blow.

It is against this rather festive backdrop that I find myself at peace for the first time in my life.  No delusions, no self-convincing, but honest to goodness serenity.  Imagine that!  After what I had endured in the past year and half, well, it’s actually more like four decades and a half; I am finding it difficult to absorb the notion that I may actually be at a place of inner peace.  Is this what my future holds?  Can this long-elusive congruence truly be everlasting?  Suddenly, a swirl of feelings coursed through my entire body.  Pulses of energy jumped from vein to vein inside of me. I had to stop myself in mid-stroll and brace myself against one of the gates themselves. Is this what being “my true self” really feels like?  I had read many an eloquently written account of this phenomenon by other transgender women whom I admire, but none of that could have properly prepared me for this moment.  It was as exhilarating as it was overwhelming.

In an instant, this deeply personal and introspective moment captured the essence of a lifetime of self-imposed pain and anguish.  The guilt, the shame, the denial, the lies and half-truths all came crashing together in one giant swell of emotion.  As the intensity of my realization strengthened its grip I began to cry from behind my sunglasses.  As my tears turned into sobs, my vision became blurred and I glanced all around to make sure I wasn’t making a complete spectacle of myself.  It was then that I was stricken by the immense metaphor of my surroundings . . . The Gates . . . The Journey . . . My Journey.  Must I pass through every gate to ultimately embrace that which I have always known myself to be?  Are there rules for such things, or is this something you just feel?  Could this be what I am feeling now?  I quickly found a nearby bench so I could sit down and allow myself a few moments of composure to reflect upon the enormity of my epiphany.

If I truly accept the notion that it is my destiny to live my life as the woman that I believe God intended for me to be, am I prepared to deal with all that it changes in my life?  For I have learned that being true to one’s self, in my case my womanhood, not only effects me but also those around me—my son, my siblings, my friends, my colleagues—just to name a few.  The simple fact of the matter is that when a transgender person decides to transition, all of those people who are a part of his or her life are also being asked to transition as well.

As you might imagine, it is difficult–-in some cases next-to-impossible–-for them to grasp the fact that the person whom they have known for all these years will be fading away, never to be seen again.  But is that really true?  I owe a debt of gratitude to my former male self for helping me shape the woman I am today.  I feel that there are many positive facets of my personality that have come from him – my wit, my sense of humor, my business acumen – just to name a few.  It would be inappropriate of me to just blatantly toss them aside in my quest to become more female. Besides, women possess many of those same traits, don’t they?  While my outward appearance has most certainly undergone a rather dramatic change, the fact remains that the essence of me remains unchanged.

Why does embracing one’s innate gender identity have to be so complicated – so controversial?  I just want to be myself.  What’s so wrong about that?  My transexualism has never been a sideshow act of the sort one sees with disturbing regularity on Jerry Springer, but rather a deeply personal and introspective journey.  One that is very different for each person that embarks on such an odyssey.  But to be sure, the entire concept of gender is so engrained in our culture, so polar at its very core, that the slightest divergence or variation has many people running for the exits screaming this simply cannot be.  Well, I’m here to tell you that it most certainly can.  Think about it for a minute.  At the moment of your birth the doctor slapped you on the butt, took a peek between your legs and – voila! – declared you either a girl or a boy . . . how tidy. . .

To be sure, I’ve had people say to me, “but you’re giving up your male privilege, doesn’t that bother you?”  Maybe it’s just me, but I’d much rather have doors opened for me, be allowed to get on and off elevators first, and order first in restaurants.  Frankly, much of the chest thumping, backslapping false bravado I encountered as a guy is simply not where my head is at anymore.  Actually, it never really was there to begin with.

You know, all I ever really wanted was to be a member of the sorority—the sisterhood.  As my own personal journey of transition progresses and I am out and about in the world as Stephanie, I can feel myself embracing the unique relationship that women have towards their surroundings, those they come in contact with, and each other.  For example, many of the women I encounter on the streets of Manhattan always have a smile or a knowing glance for another while they are checking out the outfit you’re wearing!  I have found this perspective to be vastly, and refreshingly (thank God!) different than that of men in our society.  When I pass by a group of ladies outside a restaurant that have just finished their lunch together, it’s all about warm hugs goodbye and animated conversations all around.  It’s so obvious that they truly embrace each other’s lives, and most importantly, their friendships – their connectedness – with one another.  

I am truly blessed to have girlfriends such as these in my life– both transgender and genetic females.  With all of them, especially my genetic female girlfriends, it has never been about my gender identity, but rather about the whole person that I am.  They possess that perhaps all too rare combination of sensitivity and insight to see past the outer me and embrace the inner me.  I am eternally grateful for their love, support, understanding, and acceptance.

I lived the first 40-plus years of my life as a man, with all the roles society places on men in our culture—husband, father, brother, manager, breadwinner, alpha male.  But it was all a charade, a finely orchestrated act, because I was too petrified to confront my innermost feelings—feelings that I experienced each and every day of my life that kept saying in a not-so-subtle way that I was different.  It became a constant drumbeat in my brain, day after day and night after night.  I tried to run from it, to bury it and lock it away in a continuous series of macho endeavors—and I became good at it, really good at it.  Step right up and receive this year’s lifetime achievement award for successfully pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.  No one, and I mean no one, had a clue.

After all, this was what I was supposed to be doing at these various stages of my life anyway, right?  This was what everyone was expecting of me.  It didn’t much matter if I felt like the proverbial square peg in a round hole, feeling like a woman deep down inside wasn’t normal!  So, I fought the good fight and kept up appearances because I didn’t think I had much choice.  But one can only do that for so long before it begins to take a psychological – and physical – toll. I reached a point where that little Pandora’s box in the deepest, darkest recesses of my brain, the one where I had successfully compartmentalized my true self all those years, was about to fly open – never to be closed again.

Once it did I thought for sure I faced nothing less than total Armageddon . . . my life is over . . . everything is crumbling around me . . .there is no tomorrow.  For a while I felt as if I was perched on the edge of an enormous cliff, so high that I could not see the canyon floor below.  It is hard to put into words, but when one locks something away like that for so many years and further buries it with almost constant doses of shame, guilt and denial – and then lets the secret out – well, I think you get the idea.  It calls to mind a lovely passage my therapist shared with me from noted author and diarist, the late Anais Nin:

“And the day came when the risk to remain

tight in a bud

was more painful

than the risk it took

to blossom.”

Having sufficiently composed myself enough so that I could once again watch the passersby come and go, my mind continued to race trying to process the flood of my past, my struggles.  I allowed myself to ponder the vision before my eyes—the multitude of gates that seemed to encircle the Sheep Meadow.  Perhaps the gates do not represent where one is headed, but rather, where one has come from.  A gate (actually three, to be precise) that represent my failed marriages.  My valiant, yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt at trying to live a “normal” life and purge myself, once and for all, of what I believed at the time was a dreaded disease.

But the point is I have passed through them and continue to move forward – to becoming the woman I always knew I was.  I feel as if I have finally mustered up the self-esteem and self-confidence to face the world, once-and-for-all, on my terms: as a parent, a friend, and a sister.

I have reached a place where I thank God each and every night before I go to sleep for making me the unique person that I am.  I consider myself immensely fortunate to have been given the gift of a life in two genders.  I pray that those who may take issue with who and what I am will one day recognize the rather obvious and compelling fact that I have felt all along – I am happy.

If you haven’t already figured it out by now, I consider myself a very spiritual person.  I believe that one cannot embark upon a journey of this magnitude and not possess the belief that some sort of higher power guides their daily life.  For me, it is exactly that spirituality and the daily presence of God in my life, which has everything to do with my progression as a woman.  Their comforting and reassuring embrace has combined to create a perpetually burning flame within my soul that propels me forward on my journey to become my true self.  It is that flame, that feeling emanating from the center of my being, which tells me this is where I must go, where my destiny lies.

Finally composed, I stood up and immediately felt a warm breeze blow back my hair and encircle me.  The sunlight seemed to shine directly through the curtain of the gate I was under, as if to illuminate only me.  I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled as if to let go-for the last time-the demons of self-doubt and anxiety that had taken up residence inside of me for far too long.  Suddenly, a broad smile came across my face as I thought to myself, “it’s going to be okay, I will never be alone.”

As I turned and found my way past the Tavern on the Green and headed out of the park to face my future, I made certain not to re-trace my steps through any gate I had previously passed under.  I will not go back from where I came.  I will remember and not forget, but more importantly, I will learn . . . and grow.

A Question of Velocity

My friend Rachel and I were running a few weeks back along the top of the parking deck next to the hotel we were staying in for one of the meetings we were conducting and, as we always do, began to catch each other up on our lives since we hadn’t seen each other since before the holidays.  As the conversation unfolded we talked about our holidays and time spent with family – or not.  I shared the story of what it was like on Christmas Eve at my sister’s house with her and my brother in-law and my two brothers and their wives.  We had a nice time, especially since my son was home from college and accompanied Mari and I.  It was good that he could spend quality time with all of his uncles. 

But I was quick to point out that it wasn’t always that way.  Truth be told, I was estranged from my brothers for a few years because they were having great difficulty coming to terms with my transition.  That meant not seeing them at all over the holidays.  It took time, but I explained to Rachel that it was not something I could completely control.  “Everyone in their own time” is what I have taken to saying, as I explained they have now reached a point of acceptance of my true self-in terms that work for them.  Do I think they completely understand me?  Heck no.  But I do believe they have progressed past the point of calling me by my former name and using the wrong pronouns all the time. I do believe – make that I know – that they love me, and I love them back.  Thank God. 

My experience with my brothers has taught me a valuable lesson.  Try as I might, I could not control their path to acceptance of me as a woman.  Lord knows I tried, but at the end of the day it had to be on their own terms and, in their own time.  But that said, I remained steadfast in my sense of self and who I am throughout that entire period.  I had an advocate in my sister, but she could only influence them so much.  That’s why I chose not to go to the family Christmas Eve gathering during those years because I had to stand up for myself.  It was the only way I knew how to make my point.  To perhaps influence their feelings towards me given that it was impossible for me to engage them in a one on one conversation about what it is like growing up in the wrong gender and running from it at every turn.  Did it contribute to them final coming around?  Perhaps.  Maybe one day we’ll actually have that conversation.

For many transgender and gender non-conforming people of my generation there exists a conflict between themselves and those that transition with them about its velocity.  For many, it cannot happen fast enough.  Decades spent in the closet have come to end, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle and one’s mindset becomes “now everyone simply must adhere to my schedule – period.”  It’s as simple as that.  It’s all about me.  Well, it’s not – really.  Wrong answer.  Thank you for playing.  We have lovely parting gifts for you.

All too often, at the moment of coming out, blinders seem to go on preventing the individual from seeing the impact that their transition is having on those around them. Soon one finds that life does not occur in the vacuum they have created for themselves – or at the same speed.  I have had many an interaction with transwomen at this point in their lives and the conversation was entirely about hormones, testosterone blockers, electrolysis versus laser hair removal and who’s the best surgeon for their gender reassignment surgery (GRS).  I try to be understanding, really I do, but is there nothing else going on in your life that you’d like to talk about?  Do you have any other interests? Hobbies?  “All Trans, all the time” is one dimensional and can be just plain boring – bordering on tedious. 

Honestly, I can see where this can happen.  It happened to me.  I completely miscalculated the impact of changing one’s gender can have on the uninitiated. A prime example of this is how I initially handled things with my son – which was a lesson in how NOT to do it. For example, I actually thought that by having pictures of me as my true self with my girlfriends scattered about my apartment would some how create an opportunity for me to have a dialogue with my then 11 year-old. What was I thinking?

I recall my therapist giving me quite a well deserved tongue-lashing when I shared that with her.  She read me the riot act – and I deserved it.  At best I would be confusing him, she explained, and at worst he could be frightened by what could only be seen as very strange images to him.  I distinctly remember her saying:  “He has an 11 year-old brain, which can only process information at a certain level – certainly not as an adult!”

I came away from that near-miss very shaken.  After some much needed reflection and discernment I arrived at a different and, dare I say, more enlightened state of mind.  I needed to ask myself this simple, yet very tough question, “Who do I want in my life after I complete my transition.”  And, I needed to answer it honestly, because the answer would not only guide the tactics of my transition, but also its speed.  I would, more than likely, have to do the one thing that is perhaps the hardest thing for a transitioning trans person to do:  slow down.  Put my foot on the brake, kick it into a lower gear and really, really be honest with myself.  My emphatic answer to that question was “my son.”  To live my life as my true self and not have him in it?  To not share all the moments of his growing up?  To not witness his development into a young man with his own ideas of what he wanted to do with his life and the impact he wanted to make on his world?  That was patently unthinkable.  
 
So I did slow down, I did find a therapist that would see both of us, I put away the pictures and I let go of the focus of “all me, all the time.”  It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, surpassed only by when I told my son that his mom and I were getting divorced. 

The moral of the story?  For me, it underscores the importance of keeping balance in your life and putting the needs of others closest to you before your own.  In so doing, I believe one can develop a greater sense of self and be in a much better position to advocate on behalf of our community – or be a better parent to their children, or a better sister or brother, son or daughter, or a better friend or colleague. But it doesn’t just magically happen. You have to keep that focus day in and day out.  They’ll be days when it’s easy to do, and they’ll be days when it’s the last thing on earth you want to do.  But as my dear friend Terri puts it, it is the “inside work” – the work that no one sees but yourself – that may be the hardest you’ll ever encounter, but bears the sweetest fruit.

It creates perspective, it creates context for one’s life.  As I have said many times, I am doing a horrible disservice to myself if the only thing I lead with is that I am a transwoman.  Sure, there are times when I need to lead with that because I am in a situation that warrants it – not to mention I am very proud of that distinction.  But I also believe that I bring much, much more to the table, so to speak, as a business professional, a partner, a friend, a parent, a sibling, a contributing member of society – a fully human being.  

Because after all, who really wants to live their life in a vacuum anyway?

An Absence of Compassion, An Absence of Humanity

So I suppose I’m one of the “lucky ones.”  Not only did I get caught up in the traffic hell of the George Washington Bridge “traffic study” last September, but I also happen to be transgender.  At this point you might be asking yourself, “How do these two seemingly unrelated things relate to each other?”  Allow me to explain . . .

With respect to “Bridge-gate,” my partner Mari and I live in Cliffside Park, approximately two miles south of the bridge.  Since I work in the wilds of Westchester county, north of New York City, my daily commute takes me via local streets underneath the approach ramps to the bridge and then on to the Palisades Parkway.  I’ll save you from all of the sordid details, but let’s just say I was going nowhere fast on those four days in early September.  I do remember that as I inched closer to the bridge, the lines of cars trying to gain entry through the usual access points were longer than I had ever seen before.  “Must be some crazy accident” I thought to myself as I finally made my way around the mess – I was, after all, going in the opposite direction.  But to experience a “crazy accident” four days in a row?  Hmmmmm . . . that’s odd.  Little did I know then what a major crisis it would turn into for our esteemed Governor Christie.  I must confess to not losing a minute of sleep worrying about his well-being, but I digress.  Enough said about the “Debacle at the George.”  It’s the second part, the part about my being transgender, that lies at the heart of this commentary.

If you weren’t paying attention, or more accurately if you do not live in New Jersey, you could have easily missed it.  Amongst the never ending media coverage of the bridge lane closure affair, something that directly impacts transgender New Jerseyans took place in Trenton.  Governor Christie vetoed legislation on January 13th that would have eased the requirements for transgender individuals seeking to obtain an amended birth certificate – one that would accurately reflect their true and authentic selves.  No longer would an amended birth certificate be within the sole reach of those in our community who choose to have gender reassignment surgery or other gender conforming surgeries.   In other words, it would expand the availability of an amended birth certificate to a much larger portion of the transgender community – those that either have no plans for surgery, or those that do, but do not have the financial means to pursue it – yet are living their lives, 24×7, in the gender that is consistent with what they know to be true in their heart, in their soul. To quote a portion of the bill’s text, its purpose is to “. . . acknowledge that individuals do not necessarily undergo sex reassignment surgery when changing sex, and to revise the process for obtaining an amended certificate of birth due to a change in sex to reflect current practices.” 

Simple enough.  Straightforward enough.  The General Assembly thought so, and so did the State Senate . . . But not our Governor . . .  on the grounds it “. . . may result in significant legal uncertainties and create opportunities for fraud, deception and abuse . . . without maintaining appropriate safeguards.”  Really?  You’re kidding, right?  A shining example of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo at its best. 

It has been suggested that perhaps this is just the latest act of political gamesmanship that tends to occur with disturbing regularity in the state that I call home – the state that I was born and raised in. The state that I am proud to tell anyone who asks, that I am from.  Call it whatever you want, but the simple fact of the matter is that too many wonderful things have happened to the Garden State’s LGBT community lately –  gay marriage, the striking down of gay conversion therapy – for the Christie administration to allow yet another “win.”  So who gets the short end of the stick?  Why it’s the transgender community, of course!  Caught in the cross hairs once again.  First it was the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) back in 2007 when we were summarily stripped out of the bill as a protected class in an effort to make it more – you should pardon the expression – passable.  And now in my own backyard – this veto.  Do people think we somehow like it underneath the proverbial bus that we always seem to get thrown under?  Or is it perhaps that we are too easy a target?  Need a punching bag? Roll out the trans community, nobody cares about them anyway.  They’re just a bunch of wackos on the lunatic fringe.

Well guess what?  We are not some secret deviant society that lurks in public restrooms.  Quite the contrary.  We are real people.  Contributing members of society that just want to live their lives in the gender that they innately know is their true, honest and authentic one – and to have it authenticated with an amended birth certificate.  Is that too much to ask?  For Governor Christie, apparently it is.

I can assure you that to many of us in the trans community, an amended birth certificate is by no means merely a piece of paper. It is so much more than that.  It is a panacea for many. I can remember when I received mine in the mail a few months after my surgery.  It meant everything to me to see my mother and father’s name, the hospital in Newark where I was born that is no longer there, the date and time of my birth – and most importantly my full female name.  It is more than an understatement to say it was completing.  I remember thinking to myself through my tears of joy, “this is the way it was always supposed to be – and now it is.”  To deny someone of that feeling of completeness because of a perceived lack of “appropriate safeguards” is at best totally lacking in compassion, and at its worst, inhumane. 

So I pose this question to our Governor and his staff:  Is there no room for compassion for your fellow human beings anymore?  Is there no semblance of humanity left in Trenton?  Wait, wait – you don’t have to actually answer – your veto tells us all we need to know.  A basic tenet of my personal and public activism has always been that education can lay the foundation for understanding, which in turn sows the seeds of acceptance.  But what must happen for an educational interaction to exist?  One must first establish a meaningful dialogue.  A two-way interaction that involves the sending and receiving of messages from the two parties engaged in that dialogue.  Has that ever happened with the current administration?  Do I even have to ask?  The vast majority of the “meaningful dialogue” has occurred in court rooms between lawyers and judges – not with the affected constituents.  I often say in my speaking engagements “just give me five minutes” and you’ll come away with a much different perspective about transgender people.  To briefly paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, if you must judge at all, than work with me to create a forum whereby I can be judged on the content of my character – the content of my “human-ness.”

But perhaps this veto is merely a beacon bobbing on the top of the water attached to something much larger, much deeper, and more troubling – just below the surface.  Jim Beckerman of The Record in a commentary about this year’s crop of movies nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, points to it very succinctly, “Are we, at the end of the day, a . . . people who care only about success, money, the big score, no matter who gets hurt?  Or are we a people who, when the chips are down, care about equality, compassion, justice for all?”  

I choose the latter, and this veto – as well as the cavalcade of shenanigans going on in the Governor’s office these days – make it clear to me that the former rules the day for the Chris Christie administration.

A Different Kind of New Year’s Resolution . . . .

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions – but with good reason.  Permit me to explain by painting a picture of what they were like for so many years for me.  There was a time in my life that I put great stock into them, though, thinking that somehow the turning of the calendar would magically transform my life – transform me.  Fat chance.  Go buy a Power Ball ticket (oh wait, they didn’t exist yet) the odds are better. 

But this is how it would play out for most of these years:  on New Year’s Eve, as midnight approached I’d somewhat anxiously count down the hours until the stroke of midnight, with the help of a few cocktails, and herald the onset of the New Year with the annual viewing of the ball drop at Times Square on television.  I can recall most of those evenings being quite emotional.  I would invariably find myself in tears about the prospects of getting another year off to a fresh start and leaving another behind.  The beat goes on:  lose a few pounds, start working out, be kinder to others, change my gender . . . .  Oh wait!  Whoa, did I say that?! . . .  I can’t possibly do THAT!!!  That is simply IMPOSSIBLE.  To do that would surely end my life as I knew it:  however fake it had become.  I felt trapped, I can’t possibly keep – let alone make – a resolution to embrace my authentic self.  In those days it was just not possible.
 
So I cried a lot on New Year’s Eve: yet another year goes by and I have to hide behind a mask, to continue to play a role that had become increasingly apparent to me was not who I was.  Another year of living a lie, of putting up appearances and surrendering my life to be lived on someone else’s terms – and I didn’t even know who that someone else was.  It was, I suppose, some vision of what I thought a man should be and how he should act; stitched together by my interactions with the men around me.  If I took what I thought to be what the best qualities were of each I could somehow transform myself into this super, mega man that would ultimately drive out of my body these feelings I had that my current gender was not the correct one.  But what I didn’t realize then is that one cannot simply cast out what is innately, intrinsically in your heart and in your soul. 

Could I muster up the strength and the courage to keep the facade in place for another year?  Heck, for another month, or another week?  After all, I had gotten pretty darn good at it.  But I convinced myself that it was the only means by which I could cope with the conflict.  I was lost, too afraid to move.  I would always laugh off the tears to others – like my ex-wife, for starters – as that’s just my being overly emotional.  The fact is, there were times when I cried so hard that it was all I could do to stop myself from sobbing out of control for fear of drawing attention to this internal conundrum.  I had tried to run from it, to “love” my way out of it, to immerse myself in hobbies and organizations that would take my mind off of the constant drumbeat in my brain that I was different.  But none of them ever worked.  Oh, perhaps as a temporary salve, but never all that long lasting.  Such were the New Year’s Eves of the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s.  At least I had Dick Clark, God rest his soul.

Fast forward to this past New Year’s Eve.  My partner Mari and I are over our “brother” Noel’s house ringing in the New Year with cooking, music and wine – oh, and dare I forget the champagne!  What a wonderful evening, we shared stories of our recent cruise together – the pictures of which I finally posted to my Facebook page – and shared the warmth and love of what family to us is all about.  To be sure, we reflected on this year – for me a year of internal change and positive movement in my perspective on my life:  my career, my contributions to the community and to the movement at-large and my relationship with Mari.

We were into the second movie of the evening’s double feature, Serenity (the first was the original release of Kinky Boots with Chiwetel Ejiofor playing an amazing Lola), when I realized midnight was fast approaching.  Surely we were going to pause the movie and switch over to New Year’s Rockin’ Eve to see what antics Ryan Seacrest and Miley Cyrus were up to – or perhaps to see what bizarreness Kathy Griffin was subjecting Anderson Cooper to this year.  But no . . . we were approaching the climax of the movie – another one starring Ejiofor (no, we did not purposely assemble a Chiwetel Ejiofor Film Festival) – and as the clock struck midnight we exchanged kisses and “happy new year” pleasantries without taking our eyes off the screen – or so it seemed to me. That was it!  No countdown, no ball drop, no confetti flying in the air, no images of freezing people wearing Nivea hats partying at Times Square (where and when do they pee??!!).  Nothing.  Nada.  Surely we can go outside and bang some pots and pans??  Nope.

I will admit to a slight case of “hoopla withdrawal”, but I was surprised to find that it passed rather quickly.  How refreshing!  No tears, no angst, no consternation.  Just pure unadulterated gratitude for all that I have been blessed with in my life.  It most assuredly did not happen overnight, rather, it was years in the making.  Perhaps that’s what made it so cathartic to some degree. 

As I leave 2013 behind and welcome 2014 I have no sweeping resolutions to share that I know  I’ll never keep.  Just a promise to myself to love more, write more, read more and most importantly, to hold life gently guided by an ever increasing confidence that God is looking out for me.  Perhaps, just perhaps, that’s what following your heart is all about . . .
Happy New Year!

The Kids Are Alright

“Behold the children and imitate them . . . They are interested in the present moment, in being curious and in learning, in showing and in sharing, in making and creating.”-Clarissa Dinkola Estes, PhD
Perhaps the children really are the ones that truly “get it.”  The totality of their young lives exists, in so many respects, in the present.  They can seem so anchored there, relishing – or sometimes not – what they find themselves interacting with at that precise instance.  Ever watch a young child eat an ice cream cone?  There is no past, no future – only the present moment where ice cream meets mouth.  I can remember those days as a youngster down the Jersey Shore with my parents when, after a day at the beach, we’d walk along the boardwalk to the frozen custard stand.  I was transfixed!  The world as I knew it came to a screeching halt – all for the want of an ice cream cone. The singular focus, the ability to screen out everything around me . . . looking back on it through an adult lens, I can now appreciate the sheer beauty of its unfettered simplicity.  I had no idea then of how important that intense focus on the now would be to me later in life. More on that later . . . .
 
Once I made the decision a few years ago to give back to my community and “pay it forward”, I soon realized that I was essentially embarking upon a double life of sorts.  First there was the “day job”:  the responsibilities that I have in my current role as a corporate vice president at my company – and all of the duties and deliverables associated with it.  Then there is this “other life” that was developing outside of my daily work life.  Specifically, it is my activism and involvement in the LGBT community which quickly began to take up an ever-growing space in my life.  I owe this entirely to the difficulty I have with saying the word “no” when individuals or organizations approach me to get involved in some capacity.  It’s only recently that I have developed the tactic of the “polite decline” when it comes to being asked to serve on boards or committees beyond those I have already committed to.   But that said, it can quite often be a struggle of conscience because there is still so much work to be done within the LGBT equality movement, especially when it concerns the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people.
 
So now, as I embark upon my life’s next challenge I have become increasingly aware of a troublesome incongruence between the day job and my work in the movement.  I suspect that some of you reading this may have experienced similar feelings.  For me, it has been a troubling inability to reconcile the two spheres I have chosen to live my life within.  On the one hand, there is my work in the community which I derive great joy from and where I feel I am most blessed.  Having the opportunity to contribute in some way to creating the change that we seek and inspiring others to do the same – in their workplaces and in their personal lives – is most assuredly a gift from a higher place.  It makes my heart sing.
 
On the other is the “day job” (it occurs to me I need to come up with another name for it) – nowhere near as exciting or stimulating as moving an audience who wants to learn from my personal story of embracing my authentic self – but I have to grudgingly admit it serves as the foundation for it.  Now of course I get that part.  My company pays me a very good wage, and furthermore, didn’t run me out of town on a rail when I came out a few years back.  But I still couldn’t wrap my head around how best to reconcile the two.  Or if I had to at all.  It’s been difficult, make that very difficult, to connect the dots.  I simply could not make the connection between these two very disparate worlds.  That is until the other night, when I had a telephone conversation with my spiritual director.
 
But before I go any further I feel it is important to mention that what I am about to share comes from my own personal belief system.  It is not an attempt whatsoever to convert anyone.  Simply take from it what you will, if anything at all.  Some of you may stop reading now thinking I going to get all religious on you.  Hardly.  Feel free to substitute God for something that works for you – be it, Buddha, Allah, the Divine or perhaps Spirit.  With that little disclaimer out of the way, I’ll continue . . .
 
As we discussed this issue she made me realize that among other things, I was “enduring” my day job and not truly being present to it at all.  She went on to explain that I needed to shift how I viewed my daily work through a different lens – the lens of God.  I did not come upon my job by mere happenstance, I’m there for a reason.  She urged me to consider these questions, “What is God guiding me to in my daily work that is valuable and important?” “What are the benefits I derive from my job that I can bring to others outside of the office?”  And finally, “What are the gifts there that God has for me?”  She helped me to better understand that I have but one life and everything I do, however mundane, serves a purpose and is invariably intertwined with some other aspect of my life. It keeps me grounded and provides balance.  She taught me a simple but very valuable lesson:  a compartmentalized life is not an authentic life at all.
 
This brings me back to the lesson taught by the young children I mentioned earlier:  live your life in the moment.  Always be present to it and embrace the now.  There is much knowledge to be gained by focusing one’s life there.  Live in the present moment as the children do, with the knowledge that I am also living my life in my day job with all of its “time to make the donuts” moments, just as much as when I am in the front of a room speaking.  My actions – all of them, in whatever the setting – affects others.  I am making a difference in both places, in all of the places where I live my life – and that’s where the connection is.  That’s where I found the proverbial “golden thread.” By choosing to allow God to teach me what I am supposed to learn there – even if I’m not in the spotlight.
 
All it took was the realization that I am supposed to be there, focused on the present, and rooted in the now, with the wonder of a child . . . 
 
Anyone up for an ice cream cone?