Don’t get COOKed. Own Who You Are.

Own It!

Own It! Courtesy of Dan Cook’s Instagram

Who you are matters. What you do with your life matters. The image you present to the world matters. And most of all, your identity matters. That’s because each of us occupies a distinct space on this planet that no one else can satisfy. Personalities, talents, and capabilities collide with mission, purpose, and destiny to allow the unfolding of 7 billion epic adventures—all at one time.

A recent celebrity encounter on the beach reminded me of my own responsibility. Yes, that’s the most LA sentence ever written.

It was a sunny day in Venice and I just wanted to soak up the rays. I was landlocked in Kansas for 15 years so whenever it’s above 80 degrees there’s a personal mandate that I find at least an hour to suntan. So I threw on my banana shorts, ripped off my shirt and put on my shades. A 2-minute walk later and I was lying in the sand, caring only about how beautiful the rolling ocean in front of me appeared. This dabble of luxury was actual an act of defiance.

Laying shirtless in the sand for me means bearing some of my deepest personal wounds to the world. I was overweight as a kid and well into adulthood. Ten years ago I dropped 80 lbs., going from a blobby high of 240 down to a very thin 160 in 10 months. Stretch marks envelop pretty much ever corner of my body as a result. I’ve been obese. I’ve been anorexic. I’ve been many things in between. Right now I’m at a point where I could afford to lose a good 10 lbs. and tone up my muscles a bit. So on top of the stretch marks, I’ve got a thicker gut that I’m used to carrying around. Hence the defiance—I’m keenly aware that I’m no pinup model and this, after all, is Southern California so if ever I forget, a constant parade of shirtless muscle boys with toned asses and chiseled chests will remind me.

Weight, in excess or in absence, is the physical manifestation of much deeper forces. I was obese as a kid because food was where I found comfort—an escape from the taunting and teasing I endured throughout my adolescence on account of being gay. As an adult, it’s still all too often where I find solace. Especially when I’m stressed or lonely, food becomes my comfort. If I don’t keep my insecurities in check, the beach turns into a discomfort. Which is part of why I constantly put myself in a situation sans shirt. When I bear my chest I’m baring my soul—sometimes messy, but always true.

Since July 2013, taking off my shirt has revealed more than just my stretch marks. I have a giant sized Buddha engraved squarely between my ribs that runs the entire length of my abdomen. The words CHANGE YOUR LIFE are floating inside the jolly deity’s tongue. Those words are there to remind me that forward motion is the only trajectory. They were purposely etched onto the spot where I carry the most shame so that I could be continuously reminded to keep the negative self-talk in check. It’s working—and if I ever needed proof the universe sent it to me in the form of Dane Cook. Yes, the comedian Dane Cook.

After spending a good 2 hours tanning, I took a walk along the ocean and called my dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day. In the middle of explaining the spiritual significance of plant based medicine (which I’m pretty sure one-ups the “I’m the gay son” quotient) some guy asked me if he could take my picture, specifically of my tattoo. Not having much experience with paparazzi, I obliged, a little annoyed that my conversation was interrupted. I didn’t bother to introduce myself or even take the time to get off the phone. Turns out it was a celebrity taking a picture of ME.

An hour later, I learned that I had been COOKed, DANE COOKED. Apparently, he found my banana shorts, Andy Warhol hair, and giant tattoo amusing enough to have his way with me on social media, snarky comments about self-identity and all. My phone started to blow up as I watched a steady stream of several thousand Facebook “likes”, Instagram “loves”, and Twitter “re-tweets.” Then there were the comments—all 500+ of them in total. That’s where shit gets interesting….

The initial reaction to my likeness being blasted to over 5 million people was a mix of body shaming/gay bashing/transphobia (I’m not transgender, though it would be cool if I were…)/Miley Cyrus jokes. Apparently some people think I look like a wrecking ball…

Basically ever insecurity I had ever encountered was on full display for the world to see; and the world was giving me back exactly what I had been giving myself! The first few dozen comments were harsh. I had a moment when I started to go into the story of believing them. Then I realized we write our own stories! The venom in those comments doesn’t even come close to the potency of the defeating words I’ve often found floating around in my own mind. So I decided to just OWN IT.

I’m gay. I wear colorful clothes. I have weird tattoos. I rock large crystals around my neck. I have spiritual beliefs many find bazaar. I have stretch marks and body fat. That’s me, right now in this moment. And I’m good with that.

So I posted a simple statement that read: “Happy to be comfortable in my own skin. Proud to be gay. Own who you are. Love is the only thing that’s real. Everything else is an illusion.” Then I pasted a link to this blog explaining the origin of the tattoo.

Once I flipped the dialogue in my own head a funny thing happened—the conversation online shifted. A cavalry of “be yourself” defenders came riding in. Words about being who you are, loving yourself, and accepting your physical form overtook the haters. My message box started to be flooded with people telling me their own stories about battling eating disorders, feeling out of place, and wanting to change their lives. Shift the energy within and it emanates out.

Getting good with who we are is important not so much for our own egos, but rather for understanding how the uniqueness of our being fits into a broader collective. For me, I live as boldly and authentically as possible, presenting a colorful, loud and unique avatar so that others might step out of their shell and step into the fullness of who they are. When we work to ignite the spark in others, we all grow exactly as we should.

Dane Cook had his way with me at the beach, but we’re the ones who can get the last laugh if we just drop into the uniqueness of our own identity. OWN WHO YOU ARE

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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!