Sat Nam in the City

When I lived in Kansas, I was homo on the range; literally—and as a matter of literature.

I was an out gay man running a political party at 19, and several years later a columnist for a popular local m10845912_10100546475785402_4435399975493342740_nagazine called Naked City. It was sort of like Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City. Except my life really wasn’t glamorous, the city wasn’t New York, and I spent more time politicking than I did dating men. So actually it wasn’t Sex and the City at all. Homo on the Range, both the column and the life, was its own, unique creation.

Then I left the range and moved to California. There’s really nothing special about being gay in in the Golden State. It’s actually rather commonplace here, especially in Los Angeles. If you followed my adventure on Facebook, you saw a never-ending feast of vegan food, endless sunsets on the beach, palm trees galore, and an overall happy life. That was genuine. You didn’t see the other element that was equally real, though: the depth of how alone I felt after I moved.

Even when I was at my lowest, I always knew how to be me in Wichita. I continually attracted people into my orbit. I really didn’t have to do much work, either. I assumed LA would be the same. It wasn’t. This is a town of ambition, egos, and fast-paced movers. Friends are often seen as potential competitors, and the sprawl makes meeting up for coffee an arduous affair. I found myself wandering this curious city alone most days. That bothered me at first, but then I stopped fighting that loneliness and just went into it: deep inside its chasm, to the innermost chamber of my mind.

Turns out that the journey within has a range far more vast than Kansas—and it’s open to everyone, the gays included!

You’ve probably noticed that I post often about meditating and something called Kundalini Yoga. When I moved to Los Angeles, I anticipated spending a lot of time in West Hollywood drinking mojitos at The Abby and cruising hot boys on the Santa Monica strip. I think I’ve done that exactly twice in the fourteen months I’ve lived here. Instead, I spend a lot of time doing weird hand gestures, holding uncomfortable postures, chanting phrases I can barely pronounce, and breathing in and out at odd intervals.

It all started when I stepped into a place called Golden Bridge Yoga in Hollywood. I knew exactly two people when I moved to this city, and one of them always posted about going to that spot. I enjoyed yoga for a bit in Wichita, and wanted to get back into it. I assumed this was a “normal” yoga studio—you know the kind where they do down dogs and warrior poses while sort of tiptoeing around the fact that there’s a higher purpose to all the movement? Kundalini Yoga is anything but usual, and it’s totally out of the closet when it comes to its spiritual nature.

In Kundalini, you pull energy up your spine and through the seven chakras, working to balance the power-centers in your body. You focus on your body, mind, and soul being in unison. You quiet your thinking and let the stillness of a calm mind heal you. There are literally thousands of kriya for doing this, and pretty much any problem you’re having can be dealt with on your yoga mat. Weird energy or high stress at work? Mediate to release irrationality! Difficult boss? Ego eradicator! Want to manifest something specific, like say new friends or a more money? There’s a mantra you can sing! Addicted to Internet porn? There’s even a literal butt-kicking series that will help you harness your sexual energy! There’s a reason some people call it Kundalooney—it sounds bazaar until you give it a try.

It was in the range of this odd practice and within the science of its motions that I began to find my own footing in the new city that I now call home—and on a deeper level that I began to feel truly and wholly at peace. Loneliness gave way to a divine self-examination and allowed me to go deep—really deep into issues I’d never resolved. In Kundalini Yoga, we have a mantra that’s a constant refrain: Sat Nam. Loosely translated, it means “truth is my name.” There’s no segmenting parts of yourself when it comes to stepping in to your divine truth.

As a gay man who grew up attending a fundamentalist Christian school and came of age during the heyday of right-wing Christianity dominating our politics, I had divorced my spiritual self from my sexual self. Most of us who are gay feel at some point that we have to make a choice between being who we are or being true to our religion. I choose to be honest, and in doing so had to acknowledge the truth that Christianity (and organized religion in general) wasn’t the path for me. For my entire adult life, I pretty much left it there. Yet, somehow I could never leave behind the guilt and the shame that far too often accompanies the reality of being gay.

We busted through the closet door, survived an epidemic, lived our lives out in the open and among opposition, and have now won the right to march down the aisle to marry. Yet all of those battles have left us shell-shocked as a community and in need of healing on a deep and profound level.

Within Kundalini Yoga, I found an integrated acceptance that I’ve never known. I’ve discovered a practice that I can come to as an out gay man where I can sit equally and without shame. Once I got serious about the practice, I started to find a community of like-minded people on a similar journey. And recently, I’ve found a spiritual home in Venice where I’m making new friends and collaborating my talents.

I’m not in Kansas anymore, but I am very much still on the range—a never-ending horizon of deep discovery that’s guided by something greater than me. I acknowledge my spiritual self, and because of that I am very much proud to be a homo!

I went over a year without updating this blog because I really didn’t know how I could be “homo on the range” in California. Now I understand that the range stretches far beyond the prairies, and that gay people everywhere have continual expansion to do themselves, no matter where we live! I’m going to start updating this again regularly, though instead of the whole gay boy in Kansas shtick, this will focus on the spiritual path that’s unfolding as I step out of shame and claim the divine nature of having incarnated as a gay man.

I guess I’ll never be Carrie Bradshaw. That’s ok. I can settle for Sat Nam in the City!

Homo OFF the Range

555046_10100257064443052_1562883017_nWide open spaced. Terrain that expands as far as the eyes can see. Endless possibilities. The capacity to be yourself, anywhere.

Literally and figuratively, those are the best parts about being a Kansan. They’re also the ethos for what it means to be “homo on the range.” I started writing this column nearly five years ago because I wanted to start a dialogue about LGBT issues in the Midwest while establishing an identity for what it means to be queer in a red state like Kansas. It’s been an awesome experience to share my life and perspective with you. Half a decade later, I still firmly believe that you can be yourself and be successful anywhere.

That doesn’t mean you should stay in the same place indefinitely, though. You should fall in love with your life a little bit each day. If you don’t, you owe it to yourself to make some changes. For me, I decided over a year ago that I needed to manifest some pretty epic alterations, and I made a plan to move. By the time you read this column, I will be “off the range”, living a new life in Los Angeles, California.

I leave Kansas knowing that I am fortunate to have lived here. I came of age in Wichita at a time when LGBT rights and gay identities were in a state of massive flux. When I moved to Kansas in 1999, the gay rights movement here was still emerging.  I decided early on to always be honest about who I am. I was rewarded for that. Eager to create change, I have been continually empowered by the people here to do good work. Whether it was running the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, writing about art for The Wichita Eagle, promoting bands with ROK ICT, or organizing events at the National MS Society, my sexual orientation has always been viewed as being secondary to my sincere drive to make Wichita a better city. I’ve always felt accepted by most people here. I have even forged friendships and earned the respect of many who were not originally allies of our community. I am nobody special; it’s the collective spirit of the people of Kansas who embody something truly extraordinary.

The locale that launches us defines significant facets of who we are. Though I now call Los Angeles my “home,” Kansas is the place I will always be “from”. Being “from Kansas” means you originate in a place where honesty, hard work, and integrity are central values. It means you incubate somewhere that rewards drive and ambition with encouragement and opportunity. And it means you traverse on soil that you can fertilize with your unique sparkle. In Kansas, you can manipulate the wind as it blows. Those of you who remain should utilize that exceptional malleability to color a more vibrant culture and grow broader acceptance for our LGBT community.

The new life I’ve secured on the west coast was paved by Kansas’ golden road of possibility. I’m excited to start a new position working as a fundraising events manager for a social justice oriented non-profit called Liberty Hill. Having the distinct privilege of moving to a city and immediately getting to work to make it a better community is an advent I am truly grateful to experience.  I will never forget where I came from. Though it’s time for me to go “off the range”, I know that Kansas is a state of mind. In that state, we’re all at our best when we are 100% our unabashed selves.

While this column signals a wrap for “Homo on the Range”, the epic adventure is just beginning! You can keep up with my California-sized exploits on my blog, www.homoontherange.com or by following me on Twitter.

Grindr: Gay Social Tipping Point?

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Even when we’re surrounded by beauty, we’re always glued to our phones.

We’ve reached a tipping point in the gay rights movement: LGBT people and same-sex relationships are now the new normal.  History may one day find the invention of the Internet to be the single most significant advent in this revolution. It was only after the world could see our lives that people began to understand them. What, though, has technology done to augment our understanding of each other? That’s a complicated dynamic that we are still trying to untangle, even in this wireless era.

Virtual socialization has change what is possible for us to experience. We can now easily connect with people who are like us anywhere. Homosexuality was once a complex underworld of secret gestures, clandestine gathering spots, and campy code words that were relegated to big city ghettos. Not anymore; not in the 21st Century.

If we’re being honest, we’ve likely all had some entanglement that started out online. It’s a phenomenon that began on message boards, migrated to chat rooms, machinated onto MySpace, and now unfolds on our smart phones. Certainly this is not a homo-indigenous happening; statistically, more straight people have probably rendezvoused after a cyber convo. We understand what a hetero-normative society is, though; men and women meet, intermingle, and ultimately decide to co-mingle easier in a world where they are by far the larger majority. For a minority population, though, the ability to manifest an immediate connection creates complexities.

There’s something awesome about the ability for two gay boys in a small town to find out that they aren’t alone because the dating smartphone application Grindr shows they’re only a mile apart. There’s also something a bit scary about the ability to “special order” your significant other by chatting it up until you find someone who will go out with you. I know from experience.

Every time I’m on the infamous app, I’m longing for one thing: a person who gets me. The likelihood that he happens to be within the radius of my phone’s GPS is low. Yet, when I get one of those little red numbered replies, I put all of my hopes into the possibility that this person may be the one who I finally click with! Long before we actually meet, I’ve decided who he is and what he will do for me. Invariably, he’s constructed his own fantasy narrative about what I can do for him. Then we meet, and we completely disappoint each other. We’re so disillusioned by our own hype that we forget to consider the actual individual in front of us. We walk away. Or perhaps we stay, maybe for years, trying to turn each other into the imagined version we wish the other person would be. People aren’t canvasses for us to paint our own insecurities onto; we’re all beings with our own faculty. There’s something about the instant gratification of technology allowing us to conjure up an on-demand connection that makes you forget this really fast, though!

A lot of gay men I talk to, especially my younger peers, say they feel disconnected from the gay community. There’s a sense that midwestern isolation combines with the inherent drama of a small population for a toxic effect. This furthers the narrative for connecting online: the more sequestered you are from your surroundings, the more you’re likely to seek out community somewhere else. Are we getting any better at understanding each other, though? We find out who we are, in large part, by other people mirroring back what we offer. When we’re deflecting our own insecurities and hiding behind a screen name, can anyone truly see us?

Technology may have brought gay rights to a tipping point, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for how we will ultimately fit into this modern age as gay individuals. I should probably stop trying to find my future on Grindr and dig deeper within myself to attract someone worthy of my own, unique energy. Maybe if we all did that we wouldn’t have to fight for people to understand us. When you know who you are, your truth is self-evident.

As Goes Maine, So Goes The Dialogue

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Mainers say “I do” to marriage equality on Nov. 6, 2012

As goes Maine, so goes the nation.

That’s the political expression dating back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt-era that prophesized a national victory for his 1936 challenger, if only he could clinch the New England state’s electoral votes. Thought to be a bellwether for how the nation was trending as a whole, this idiom turned out to be quite idiotic. Al Landon secured Maine’s coveted votes that year, only to see Vermont be the lone state to follow suit. Roosevelt went on to win the biggest Democratic Party landslide in history. As went Maine, so went next to nothing else.

But as goes Maine, so goes marriage equality? Perhaps it’s safer to say this: as goes Maine, so goes the national dialogue.

Three years ago, Mainers said “no” to marriage for same-sex couples. This year, they joined two additional states in saying “I do” when asked to ratify this right at the ballot box. That same night, voters in two Kansas towns had their own proposition. When Hutchinson and Salina were asked if gay people deserved protection from being fired from their job because of their sexual orientation or from being evicted out of their home because of who they are, they said “no”. The reasons why have little to do with red state/blue state schizophrenia. They have everything to do with a basic tenant of democracy: dialogue.

After voters rejected Maine’s gay marriage law in 2009, gay rights organizers shifted focus. Rather than talk about “rights” and “benefits” LGBT folks felt entitled to, the conversation shifted to something much relatable: “love”. It turns out that straight people get a bit confused and rather uncomfortable when we start demanding our civil rights; but when we talk about the universal need of love, we can win over their sympathy. The reason why is simple. Love is something everyone can understand. If you frame the issue as saying “yes” or “no” to someone’s own personal happiness, you sort of look like an asshole voting in the negative.

We’re a long way from joining the nine states that have enacted marriage equality here on the range. Given the current political dynamics in our states, we’re a ways off from basic civil protections, too. What we do have is something quite potent: our voices! When these two small cities in Kansas voted on gay rights this past November, it was the first time either community had ever talked about who LGBT people are. There were LOTS of misconceptions, fears, and stereotypes; but there were also a lot of minds opened up, conversations had, and attitudes changed. When we step out of our comfort zones and start talking about who we are, we let people see our lives. We demystify misconstructions, alleviate anxieties, and tear apart typecasts.

Neither city should have voted the way that they did, but the fact that the pro-equality side garnered 46% in Salina and 42% in Hutchinson is measurable progress. Ten years ago, support would likely have been mired in the low to mid-30% range. The Kansas Equality Coalition, the only statewide LGBT advocacy group, is only 7 years old. The states that legalized marriage equality all have had persistent gay rights movements that date back three of four decades. We’re really just starting the dialogue in Kansas and in many of the surrounding states.

November 6, 2012 was perhaps the best night ever in American LGBT history. Three states legalized marriage equality by popular vote, and voters in one state beat back a proposed ban. The first sitting President to support marriage equality was re-elected. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person to win a seat in the U.S. Senate. Voters sent five openly gay men and an out bisexual woman to Congress. This was the night when “the new normal” ceased to just be a wittily crafted sitcom and started to be how Americans feel about LGBT people.

In that regard, the country is now taking Maine’s lead. We’re going to have to be a bit more patient and a lot more persistent here on the range. But, we will get there. As went Maine on November 6, 2012, so, too, will one day go the entire Midwest—but only with lots of dialogue. So open your mouth and start having those conversations!