Moving Forward, Moving On

This past weekend my girlfriend and I moved into a larger, much better place.

All of this moving has got me thinking about all of the movement in my life. Physically, psychologically, emotionally. It’s funny how the word ‘moving’ can have different connotations. Moving forward, backward, or in one place. I’ve need to move forward and move past people and decisions and disappointments.
I’m almost a professional at physically moving. This is the fourth time I’ve moved in about 4 years. Moving past disappointment has been the hardest for me. Getting close to getting a job, and then having to move past the rejection, frustration, and sadness of not getting an offer.
It’s strange feeling like parts of your life are moving in the correct direction while other parts are stuck in place. My organization is going steady. Moving to a nicer place with my girlfriend of 2+ years is definitely forward progression. Having a steady job for almost a year and contributing to bills and paying off loans is positive. Being two years into my recovery and working towards bettering myself is forward momentum.
But for some reason I’m feeling stuck in place. Big parts of me are moving forward but I can’t get unstuck from the disappointment of not getting a position in the non-profit world.
I guess I didn’t realize just how terrible I was at focusing on the many positive parts of my life. I didn’t want to become a person whose job defined who they are, but here I am being all mopey about a job that in reality isn’t all that bad.
It’s time for an attitude adjustment. I need to train myself to not dwell on the negatives and to solely focus on the plethora of good that it’s in my life.
I’m doing well. And that is good.

In My Mother’s Shoes

Empathy was one of the earliest lessons I remember my mom teaching me. “How would you feel if someone did that to you” or “What do you think someone in their shoes would do?”

I can say with 100% percent certainty that without that crucial lesson from an early age I wouldn’t be the person who I am today. My mom taught me the gift of empathy and I’m forever grateful. It’s lead me down a path of activism and knowledge, compassion and a drive to do better. Always thinking how my actions affected other people for better or for worse.

I’m very lucky to have the mom that I have. I know that some people today have bitter or bittersweet memories of their own mother – including my mom. My grand mom wasn’t the most loving towards my mom, and my grand mom definitely lacked any ability to be empathetic towards my mom, or really anybody else.

My mom could have very easily reflected what she experience (or didn’t experience) from her childhood onto her children. It actually would have made a lot of sense. Luckily, however, it made her determined to instill in her children the importance of thinking of others. Of trying to think like others and trying to understand how they would feel.

My brother teaches math in under-served communities, my sister is focusing on bullying prevention in doctoral work, and I created my own non-profit organization. Yes we could have done all of these things without the kind of mom that we had, but her emphasis on trying to understand others, even if they didn’t think or look like us, was quintessential.

My mom has given many great gifts over the years, but the most important has been the ability to see the world outside of myself and drive to try to make things better than I found it.

Happy Mother’s day Mom, I wouldn’t be where I am without you.

27 and Counting

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My cake looked a lot better

I’m a little behind, but I figured I would dedicate a post to my 27th birthday.

I really haven’t cared too much about my birthdays. I’ve gotten slightly more excited about them over the last couple of years since my girlfriend’s birthday is the day after. But, I still really have a hard time enjoying birthday celebrations geared towards me.
There was a lot of stuff that happened when I was a kid, especially around my birthday that did not make me exactly feel excited for the day. I’ve been using that excuse, but in reality, I’ve had very good birthdays for probably the past 10 years.
It’s not just indifference, I could understand indifference. Once you turn 25 and rent a car without extra fees, there really isn’t a monumental birthday.
I can’t think of the right word, but the closet word that I come to describing how I feel on my birthday is ‘uncomfortable’. Not uncomfortable because I’m getting older, but I think due to the unknown.
I know no one knows their future, but they usually have a good idea of wear they want to generally be at a certain age. And they’ve had these plans for quite some time. I feel like I’m making up my life plans as I go along. I honestly didn’t think I would make it this far, so my childhood and young adult wonderings really never made it this far.
Does this give me some weird advantage, that I can’t be disappointed because I didn’t have any goals? Maybe if I had some longer term goals, I would have a better idea of how to move forward in my goal to work in non-profits?
Does it matter?
I think the real reason I become so uncomfortable and anxious on my birthday is that I become way to retrospective and caught up within myself. Instead of focusing on surviving and thriving for another year, I find myself stuck in the murky past or the hazy future.
I probably will never be very excited about my birthdays, but the goal for my 27-year-old self needs to be focusing on the present, and celebrating the victories. So when my 28-year-old self comes around, I might just look forward to April 22.

And You Say She’s Just a Friend

Language can be a tricky thing. When I came out to my great-aunt several years ago, I could see her struggling to find the right words throughout our conversation. She was an extremely progressive woman, but she wasn’t equipped with the resources that we who have an internet connection have so readily available. I realized that I’d taken for granted the access to a LGBT-centric vocabulary that I’ve found on the internet.

Now, when I came out to my aunt she didn’t seem to get it at first. I kept saying “my girlfriend” but she definitely thought I was referring to a girl who was also my friend. Which is sort of funny in a strange way, because now that she knows I’m a lesbian with a girlfriend, she constantly asks how my ‘friend’ is doing.

This is the same aunt that I had nightmares of her chasing me around the house with holy water. So I see it as a victory that she actually asks how my girlfriend is doing. Of course it would be nice if she actually referred to my girlfriend as ‘my girlfriend’, but I think there is a language barrier stopping her. I don’t know for sure, but this might be the first time that she had to talk about a non-heterosexual relationship.

I’ve had many opportunities to correct her, but honestly, sometimes I just don’t have the energy. I don’t want to be the walking encyclopedia of queer language, especially for my family. Is it terrible that I want people to just get it? Or if not get it automatically, teach themselves?

I just had Uber driver who had only known me for 10 minutes refer to a possible romantic partner as a ‘significant other’, because he didn’t want to assume either way. If this random guy can take a couple of extra steps to be inclusive without knowing my sexual orientation why can’t a family member who knows that I’m a lesbian put forth the same effort?

Really I just want straight people to try. You aren’t going to get it right all of the time. And for me, that’s okay. Because I would rather see you struggle to find the right word than stay comfortably ignorant.

Don’t Look Back

When I arrived at my old high school for the Career Fair I was extremely nervous to say the least. I hadn’t been back in many years, and I surely wasn’t out to anyone there. At this point, I really didn’t care if people know that I’m a lesbian, but something about coming in front of the whole student body, plus the nuns terrified me.
What if they made me leave? What if there was snickering? Every possible terrible scenario ran through my head. And then I started doubting myself.
What was the point of coming out to the panel? Was I just bringing up my queerness just to bring it up? Would it serve any purpose, or would it hurt my organization’s chances of working with the school?
After sitting through other people talk about their children and their husbands, I knew that I had every right to mention my supportive girlfriend. Mentioning her did not mean I was making some big political statement, I was acknowledging that I had someone in my life who supports me while I work within my non-profit.
When I mentioned her, the most amazing thing happened. Absolutely nothing. I kept talking, without murmurings or snickers, or no nuns chasing me off the stage. It just happened, without fanfare or consequence.
 I still don’t look back at my high school years with kindness. Even if I was out to myself at the time it would have been nearly impossible to be out and feel safe there. But at least now they can have an openly gay former student talk about their non-profit and the work that it does – showing queer kids that you’ll survive that school, and when you do, you can do amazing things.

Queer, Online, and Safe

Online spaces have fascinated me for a long time. Humans using technology to create a virtual space to interact with each other in a way that wouldn’t be possible without the internet.

There are many people who argue that the increased usage of the internet and technology is killing imagination, innovation, and social interaction.

I would like to call bullshit on this notion.

The idea of the internet itself exhibits imagination. We can’t touch, smell, or hold the internet, but yet creativity flourishes through vines, Youtube, and fan-art. We can collaborate with people half-way around the world. Innovation is happening every day, through new apps, fan-fiction, online fund-raising campaigns, and so much more.

I really want to focus on the social interaction aspect of technology and the internet.

I’m extremely tired of people saying that Millenials are depriving themselves of social interaction because we are all attached to our computers and smart phones. What people are ignoring is that some virtual spaces are in fact healthier and richer than any physical space that a person can access.

I went to Catholic school, and obviously conversations about sex and sexual health didn’t exist. There wasn’t a space to explore, learn, and ask questions. And then I found the internet. Obviously there is some terrible and false information that exists online, but it was no more false and terrible than the information I was receiving in ‘the real world’. I was able to search and explore at my own pace. There were sights that gave advice to teenage girls, run by women. It was like Seventeen magazine, only it solely focused on what the community and users wanted to talk about.

When I came out to myself at college, I was in a more supportive and open environment, but I really didn’t know that many LGBT people, especially women who I felt comfortable talking to about my queerness. What it meant to be queer, relationship advice, and sexual and general health. The internet had spaces like Autostraddle and Tumblr where I could once again explore how I could shape my queer identity, learn about myself, and learn about LGBT history that I never had access to before.

I was luckily enough to grow up in a fairly supportive environment, and I still needed those virtual spaces. Think of the 13 year old in the rural south who is figuring out she’s a lesbian and doesn’t know any out LGBT individuals. Would she be better off without the internet, living in the ‘real world’ where she has no access to a support network and community?

People are creating in ways they never could before in all of human history. People are sharing their stories and experiences that never had a voice before. Connections are being made worldwide, which are expanding worldviews and spreading information and ideas.

There are obviously downsides to the internet, but there are downsides to every new innovation. It is important to be critical of new technology and how it is being used. That being said, criticizing a medium should not involve completely ignoring all of the good it creates.

Online spaces are crucial for us to expand and grow. Without them, finding like-minded people and people who challenge us might difficult to impossible to find. And that can be a lonely existence. The connection formed online can be some of the most important ones we make. No one has the right to say that interacting with people in your town is more real that a  heart-felt conversation with a friend who lives hundreds of miles away.

The internet lets us shape and create a world that is not defined by physical boundaries, that lets us explore new ideas and talk with people that we never had access to before.

It’s human, and it’s beautiful.

Going Back to High School Scares the Sh*t Out of Me

Not an accurate picture of my high school

This past week I was invited back to my high school to speak at their Career Fair. Getting the chance to talk about my organization is a great opportunity and hopefully it will be a great chance to build a long-lasting and sustainable partnership.

should be excited but instead I’m filled with dread and experiencing flashbacks from my adolescence. Most of my stress dreams from the past several years involve me having to go back to high school to take classes and being completely lost.

Like a lot of people, high school was a difficult time for me. I wasn’t out to myself yet but I knew that there was something ‘different’ about me. This made me a target for teasing and general meanness. For an all-girls Catholic school there were some progressive teachers, but we still had groups come in to say that Gay people didn’t exist because God didn’t make mistakes. And I won’t even get into the terrible abstinence only sex education I got. There was a lot of stress at school and at home – ten years ago I was dealing with self-harm, ignoring my depression for several years, and living with a recovering addict in the family.

Going back in its self is scary. Going back and being out is terrifying. I’m not going to be waving rainbow flags as I go through the school, but I can’t honestly go back and talk about my non-profit experiences without putting it in a queer context.

How I operate in the United States and abroad is greatly influenced by my sexuality, but honestly just the thought of being completely open around a bunch of nuns is giving me massive anxiety.

However, I know how oppressive that school can be if you think you are the only strange or different person pressured to follow a set of rules that just doesn’t fit who you are. It’ll be worth it if there is just one queer girl who knows that someone before her survived, and then thrived after leaving high school behind.

There are so many queer narratives that are blatantly ignored in Catholic high schools (and schools in general). Hopefully my presence and my stories can at least spark the smallest of positive conversations.

Putting Things on the Back Burner

When it comes to my nonprofit sometimes I have too many good ideas. Let’s build wells at the schools… and playgrounds! Playgrounds would be great. Except for… one small problem. That those ideas would mean giant program expansion outside of the mission. Even if these ideas fit into our mission, my organization certainly doesn’t have the funding for these projects.

I pride myself on being a creative person who can come up a lot of interesting ideas for my organization. There are a lot of people who involved with my non-profit. So what do we do when we acknowledge that an idea is good, but it just doesn’t work right now?

My organization has come up with the “Back Burner” method. It’s really simple and it helps acknowledge great, creative ideas that might not work now, or ever.

Say you have an idea comes along and a lot of positive ideas are exchanged building it up. Then, whether it is a board member or someone who leans towards the more realistic side, points out the issues of implementing said idea.

These ideas officially go on our organization’s “Back Burner”. It’s a nice way of saying ‘hey awesome idea you came up with, maybe we can revisit it later’. Most ideas that have been put on the back burner never return to the front, but some seem to creep their way into new programs and ideas that are more in sync with our mission.

I don’t like the idea of completely nixing ideas. A lot of them may never come to fruition, but it’s hard to tell how these ideas will evolve over time and circumstance. Sometimes the best idea for a new program is something you thought of six months ago, but it just needed to sit for a while before it transform into something that flushes perfectly with your organization’s mission.

You never know… your ideas may surprise you.

All By Myself

In April, my best friend and I going to go see a concert in Toronto. We’re both traveling from different countries to Canada, so this will be the first time I’m traveling to another country completely on my own.

Now, I would like to think of myself as an independent traveler, but I always have gone abroad with at least one person with me. From people I’ve barely know through People to People and with friends and colleagues, I’ve never left the country completely by myself.
Look, I know that taking a bus to Toronto by myself isn’t the most daring trip I could make on my own. And yet, it still makes me feel a little anxious.
I really don’t know why the thought of my first solo international trip makes me so nervous. It’s not like I’m just going to be chilling out in Toronto all by myself once I get there. The only alone time I’m going to have is on the bus.
The closest thing to an answer I can find is that I won’t have anyone to share the travel experience with. Which I feel like is very ridiculous, because a 15 hour bus ride to and from Toronto isn’t going to be earth shattering. I’m going to guess that there really won’t be an opportunity to do anything besides sleep, read, eat, and play games on my phone.
I think that it’s the idea of not having a person to share with, even though there probably won’t be anything to share. The only reason why I survived my return from studying abroad in college was I had someone to recall stories and memories with. Who got what I was going through and could laugh and cry at the same things when everyone else thought we were crazy.
I know I’ll survive my trip back and forth alone, and I know that not having someone on a ridiculous long bus trip is probably a good thing.
It will be a new travel experience.It’s always good to push myself out of my comfort zone everyone once in a while, but I’m glad that I have many people who want to journey with me to new adventures.

The Other Shoe Isn’t Ever Going to Drop

It’s hard for to keep a positive mindset.

After a streak of really good things, I have this terrible habit of waiting for something bad to happen. It doesn’t matter what part of my life, whether it’s relationships, work, my organization or anything else, I expect the positive streak to end in a catastrophe.
Ever since I was a kid I learned that the happier you are now the harder the fall is going to be when shit hits the fan. I’m not going to delve into my childhood, but through those events I conditioned myself to feel like happiness leads to inevitable pain. So to avoid feeling pain, and thus anything at all, I can’t let myself feel happiness.
I don’t want you to think that I’ve spent every waking moment of my teenage and adult life making myself sad and crying all of the time. I have experienced many happy moments in my life, but with the full-fledged belief that the other shoe is going to drop and smack me in the face. And when bad things did happen, they were a punishment for my happiness.
Thanks to therapy, medication, and my girlfriend, most of those negative thought processes have been put behind me. But sometimes those little voices come creeping back, preventing me from feeling happy or content. Because, according to them, if I feel happiness that some terrible is lurking behind the corner waiting for me.
One of my goals for this year is to focus on being happy and revel in my successes without expecting the sky to fall on me. Bad things happen. Sometimes in quick succession. But they don’t have anything to do with the positive aspects of my life. They never will. My success isn’t diminished by my hardships.
Most importantly, I deserve true happiness.