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!

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2014: Change Your Life

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

It started out as a wallet. It became a mantra. Then a tattoo!

It started out as a wallet. It became a mantra. Then a tattoo!

I saw those words graffitied onto a wallet at the Hollywood & Highland mall right after I finished a hike up Runyon Canyon.  It was late September 2012, and I was wrapping up my first visit to Los Angeles. I desperately wanted not to be returning to Wichita, KS the next day. Such was my fate.

That’s exactly why those three simple words painted onto a red-bricked backdrop and mass-produced for consumption on a faux-leather money-binder arrested my attention.  They were calling out to me, screaming at me really, to do the one thing I’d long been afraid of doing: changing my life!

Whatever else happened, 2013 will always be remembered in the annals of my personal history as the year when I did, indeed, change my life. I bought the wallet for my best friend that night, but somehow I knew those words were as much for me as they were for him. The next day, I returned to Runyon Canyon early in the morning.  I climbed to the pinnacle and stood on top of a rock. The sun beamed down warmly. To my right, the Hollywood Sign sank royally into the towering hills. To my left, the pacific waters of Santa Monica glistened as sunlight danced across the beach. In front of me, a sea of soaring towers and sprawling buildings lit up.

I knew that I belonged down there.  Somewhere in the midst of the congestion, someplace in the middle of the cacophony, I was certain there had to be a place for me. Where I was—and how I would get there—I did not know. But standing alone on that rock with this panoramic vision unfolding, my eyes had seen the future. There was no turning back. There was no looking elsewhere. There could be no more delay. I had to change my life.

I made a promise to myself at that spot. By the end of the next year, 2013, I would be living down there. I would make a plan. I would make it happen. I would just do it.

“I’m just going to do this,” I said out loud.

Those words set in motion a roller coaster 14 months that would test my will, challenge my values, try my patience, and see me nearly lose my sanity. Yet, I ultimately found grace, peace, and satisfaction within that did, indeed, make that intention a reality. Today, I’m sitting in a Hollywood coffee shop reflecting on that experience, with my own studio apartment a few miles away and a job I’m eager to return to after the holidays.

But getting here wasn’t easy. And it wasn’t supposed to be.

I’m not the only person who has been fundamentally unhappy about a specific, key aspect of my life.  I needed to live in a big city, and as much as I love many of the people in Kansas, Wichita just wasn’t where I belonged anymore. I know a lot of people who are in places where they don’t belong, too…and it’s not all about geography. It’s the dead-end job depleting your ambition that you won’t leave because you fear the financial unknown. It’s the failed relationship you rekindle because the thought of being alone scares you more than the idea of being continuously wounded by someone who doesn’t fit you. It’s an ideology you cling to—maybe political, perhaps religious—that doesn’t align with where your core vales are anymore. It’s facets of our life, some big and some small, that add up to setting us back more than they do moving us forward. Once you know you’re going nowhere—and don’t fool yourself, because you do know—you, too, have to change your life.

It’s one thing to have that ‘Runyon Canyon magical moment’ where you see the dream you want to claim; it’s quite another undertaking to execute a plan to make it happen. When the scenery is grand, the temperature is warm, and you are high on the possibility of life, it’s easy to say that you will do something big. Inevitably, though, we all climb down the mountain.

For me, that climb was literal and fast. A few hours after I made that bold pronouncement, I wasn’t in California anymore. I was in Kansas, where the land was flat, the views were nil, and wind-chills had temperatures somewhere in the high teens.  So I did what we all do…I started making excuses:

  • I have too much student loan dept. I can’t move until I pay that all off (that will be never).
  •  I work at a non-profit. I can’t possibly save up enough money to move in one year.
  •  My resume sucks. My career path is weird and disjointed. No one in L.A. will ever want to hire me, especially since I’m from a flyover state.
  •  I’m not pretty enough for Los Angeles. I have curves and stretch marks. And dark circles around my eyes. I’ll be laughed out of town.
  •   I barely know anyone in L.A., and I pretty much know everyone in Wichita. I’ll have no support system if I move!

Self-flagellating excuses…sound familiar? Your list will read differently than mine, but all those excuses are doing the exact same thing that mine were doing: holding you back! Everyday, every moment really, we have an opportunity to see our life through the veil of fear or the veil love. I had conditioned myself into seeing life only through frightful sepia. All along, though, I’ve had a choice. After much reflection (including 10 days of not talking and doing nothing but sitting and meditating at a retreat!), I finally chose the wiser alternative. I re-wrote my narrative (and you should re-write yours, too!):

I always made the payments on my loans, and my credit was strong. I didn’t exactly make a ton of money at my job, but I was far from having to penny pinch. We also did just institute a new flex-schedule policy that allowed me to work 4 longer days a week and have 3 days in a row off, giving me the ability to get extra income from part-time work. My resume was as strong as I sold it, and I had solid references eager to help me get where I wanted. While I couldn’t do anything about somebody else’s prejudice toward Kansas, I could resist the ridiculous impulse to indulge it myself.  I’d been single my whole time in Kansas; even if the guys in LA all thought my hideous, at least it would be warm and I’d have millions of things to do. Not that such a scenario is likely in a city with 10 times the number of people and probably 20 or more times the number of out, gay men! And not knowing anyone, well, I’d just have to make new friends and fresh connections!

With a more honest account of my life in the forefront of my mind, I was better equipped to make and execute the actual plan that was going to get me to Los Angeles. It included working four jobs and cutting back my spending drastically to save up $20,000 so that I could get here and have enough money to stay afloat until I found employment. I wasn’t going to rely on anyone else to get me out of Kansas; I couldn’t hope to be hired away. I–and I alone–would have to get myself to California. Like I said on that rock on top of the canyon, I just had to do this!

And I did. I worked the jobs. I saved up the money. I survived some intermittent drama. I even ended up getting “hired away” and got to leave Kansas a full month a head of when I intended. While I’m beyond grateful for my new job, I got myself to California. I was coming with or without it. That mindset actually made the search and interview process a lot more seamless and natural. There really WAS a place for me down there in those lights, and because I was of the right mindset, I was able to find it!

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

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Change doesn’t come easy. There were a lot of struggles to get me to where I am today. I wanted to give up…several times! But I knew I couldn’t, and I needed a consistent reminder. Mid-way through the year, I got those formative words tattooed onto my stomach…in the tongue of a giant Buddha. After doing some research, I discovered that the wallet image was actually taken from a mural painted onto a piece of the Berlin Wall. A concrete slab that divided and oppressed was repurposed to uplift and inspire.

My move to Los Angeles is about more than a geographic climate improvement, and it is much grander than an upgrade in city cachet (though those two facets are quite awesome!).  In moving, I truly am changing my life because when I drove out of Kansas, I left behind some tired, old ways of thinking that had nothing to do with where I was physically and everything to do with where I was mentally and emotionally. There are things I would have done a year ago that I won’t entertain now…and when I think about regressing, those three words are permanently affixed on the front of my person to remind me that I can’t!

Most of you aren’t going to brand yourself with a grandiose tattoo and move half way across the country to a city where you barely know anybody.  For each of us, the change we need is different. Whatever it is, though, do it. CHANGE YOUR LIFE. You don’t have to carry anything into this new year that you don’t want. Really, you don’t!

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

Aside

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.

Fear: A Call for Love

eleanor-roosevelt-quotes-sayings-motivational-wisdom-scareEleanor Roosevelt said that we should do one thing everyday that scares us. The patron feminist figure is a great barometer for fearlessness. First Lady of the United States from 1933-1945, she did all sorts of daring stuff women weren’t supposed to do. She took on the clan, championed racial equality, held press conferences, wrote columns, toured coalmines, helped found the United Nations, and had openly lesbian friends. She might have even been romantically entangled with one of them…while being the President’s wife!

She stared down fear by doing things women didn’t do in the 1930’s.  I’ve always admired her for staunchly pushing forward on issues she cared about while aggressively asserting herself despite the times in which she lived.  She lived out her mission by seeing past her fears.

Today, I summoned a bit of that E.R. energy myself by doing not one, but TWO things that scared me:

1)   I resigned my job.

2)   I called out my biggest fear of all: being alone.

Effective December 24th, I won’t have the security of gainful employment. Instead, I’ll have the freedom of enterprising opportunity. Perhaps I’ll land a gig before then, but if not, the wheels are rolling out of ICT and into Cali! I’ve always been afraid of sending off that e-mail officially saying that I’ll no longer work where I do. It’s difficult to leave a comfortable job that has brought only good into your life. At a certain point, though, you have to acknowledge the shortcomings of security. What good is a job if in only reinforces an unfulfilled life?

I’m moving to Los Angeles for several reasons, but a big part of why I’m uprooting my entire existence at 31 is that I want to find a place where I belong again. That was Wichita for a time. For a season I truly felt that I belonged here, but it’s been years since I’ve felt connected or fulfilled. Like most traditional locales, the advent of the 30’s in Wichita means marriage, children, and mortgages for most.  Not really my thing. Plus I’m gay. Enough said. In urban settings, life doesn’t settle in at 30; it’s that point when the adventure truly takes off. I’m ready to find a tribe of people to whom I feel connected with again.

It’s within that most yearned of prospects that my biggest fear has lied. The truth is that I’m not afraid of going broke or being homeless. Somehow, I just intrinsically know neither of those fates will befall me. It’s being alone that I’m worried about. After all, I’m moving to a city where I sort of know a total of kind of 4 people:

1)   My super cool therapist cousin who I’m just now getting to really know and who’s been awesomely supportive of my venture.

2)   An indie flick PR maven I’ve barely seen since high school who I once shared an inside joke with about Civil War aficionado Mary Chesnut. Google her.

3)   The marketing manger for TOMS (yes, the hipster show company!) who former roommate Steffen splashed a shot onto by accident last fall when I was visiting WeHo. He does yoga and posts inspirational memes on his Facebook page.

4)   Steffen’s ex-boyfriend, who is super sweet and probably loads of fun with a great taste in music and affinity for Venice Beach.

Yesterday I was sort of wrapped up in this ridiculous self-pity lonely fear cocoon when LA acquaintance #3 (who will henceforth be referred to as TOMS Guy) randomly commented on a Facebook post I made about fear. I was attempting to pep-talk myself into not being afraid, but really missing the mark entirely when I posted:

Fear. You can give in to it and be defeated. Or you can stare it down and be delivered to something awesome.

TOMS Guy commented:

…or there is always the 3rd, more gentler way. You look past it. For fear is of this world but not of the true world… Fear is nothing but a “call for love.” Bring the love and the fear disappears…

His comment was a simultaneous cold slash of water and hot slap in the face. Throughout all of the year’s worth of saving money and making plans to move, there’s one thing I had not done…called in love! You can’t rid yourself of loneliness or find a tribe to belong to when you aren’t calling out for love to embrace you.

So today, I did just that. And this post is my official call for love! Love is an optimal state where who we are connects to the energy of people around us. It draws in the best of them while extrapolating from us our brightest gems. Friendships, friend groups, tribes, communities, and ultimately romantic partners are born from this force. Once I saw that, fear did indeed disappear.

TOMS are wise sages in addition to being trendy shoes.

All in all, I suppose today was pretty epic. I didn’t pen an Eleanor Roosevelt U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights draft, but I did kick two fears to the curb. Sometimes, the most significant work happens inside our own brain. And on our Facebook wall.

keep-calm-and-move-to-los-angeles

In Between the Kansas Prairie & the Hollywood Hills

1233609_10100229436170332_771747572_nI’m in between the flat Kansas prairie and the towering hills of Hollywood. Mentally, at least.  It’s an odd sort of purgatory, living in a certain place while planning another life in a distinctly different locale.  This is where I have been for exactly a year. This is where I will continue to be for exactly 3 more months.

I’ve lived in Wichita for 14 years. During that time, I was a political activist, an art promoter, a writer, and a special events manager for a non-profit. I didn’t know a soul when I moved here; when I ran for public office, I had a database of over 10,000 friends, acquaintances, and professional contacts. I used to muse about being the mayor; now I daydream about the day I’ll leave for Los Angeles, driving west on US-54 for the last time.

I’m not the first person to leave a small city for a bigger, bolder life. Most do this at a milestone moment. College graduates take their newly minted degree to a thriving metropolis hoping their ambition will catapult them to success. A job well done earns a promotion, and with it a relocation to an urban locale.  Marriage often leads to moves. Family obligations breed frequent migration. There’s a multitude of reasons why and when people leave cities like Wichita.

 Me?

Well, I’m leaving because nothing else is happening.  Friends have moved away or moved on to marriage and children. Activism turned into cynicism as teabag carrying curmudgeons brain-drained our state into Rush Limbaugh’s creamiest wet dream.  Political ambitions faded into the tapestry of a reality where anything that is meaningful happens far from the edges of politics. Mediocrity replaced motivation as I just sort of settled into an existence that was far from bad, though nothing near what is good for me.

In-between periods are awkward and their parameters are undefined. I should know because I’ve been living one for three years. After I left politics, I was never quite able to regain a distinct purpose to my life. I didn’t find a new passion, form a new group of friends, or shift focus to a different, higher work. I just sort of ruminated in my own head. Sure, I had a job—a great job, actually. And I wrote, lots in fact. I met intriguing people. I saw compelling stuff. But the truth is that I flipped as switch the day I left politics, and I’ve never turned on another light.

But I can see a light now, and it’s not just the distant California sun dancing amidst a glowing sea of palm trees. I see something larger, brighter, grander, and I see it right where I am. At the moment, that’s a bar in Delano. But that glow isn’t indigenous to my surroundings; it’s intrinsic to me.

By the end of the year, I will be 31 years old and unemployed. I’m moving from a city where a 2,000 square foot loft of my own near downtown rents for $400 to a place where a small bedroom in an apartment I’ll share with strangers will cost me $900. The dawn of Obamacare will mandate me to carry my own insurance. This will drain my nest egg about $250 monthly because I’m in that under-discussed group of millennials who somehow are getting financially penalized by this much needed reform. We’re carrying the greatest portion of debt in generations, yet we’ll pay more than anyone else for our own insurance. None of this sounds good!

Most people aren’t willing to upend their comfortable life so late into their youth. But I’m not most people. That light I’ve found inside myself is a laser beam that has burned away doubt and apprehension and illuminated a path forward paved with optimistic anticipation.

I read a blog post recently that advised one should know WHY they are moving to LA before they actually up and go. The truth is that the last 3 years of my life have been an odd exercise in existence devoid of any clear direction or grand meaning. I’ve spent the last year preparing for this move, but really it’s just been in the last few months that the significance of its advent has come into focus. So, here is why I am moving to LA:

1.     I want to be a writer. Most of you know only scattered details of the stories I have to tell. One could say that I already am a writer, but it’s become obvious that I’ve reached the apex of anything I could ever do with my words in Wichita. I’m going to take some classes once I get settled and steadily work my way into the business. In ten years, I want to have at least 2 novels published. I’m realistic about the challenges. I’ll do whatever it takes to get there.

2. I want to be some place bigger than me. It’s the mountains, the beaches, the start-studded boulevards, the iconic buildings, and endless parks that I long to traipse through. I’m highly stimulated by environments. I need a place where organic energy and creative rushes abound everywhere.

3. I want my own family. That will never happen in Wichita. Even if it did, we wouldn’t even be considered a legitimate entity in the state of Kansas. I look forward to putting the disappointments and rejections behind me and embracing truth in love.

4. I’m a liberal Democrat hipster vegan. And I kiss boys. The sate of California was pretty much made for me. Screw Sam Brownback and the never ending slog of brain-draining tea partiers…I’ll be voting for Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, and Jerry Brown next year!!

I’ll continue to be “in-between” for a few more months yet, but finally I feel certain about my focus. There’s a light inside of me and it will illuminate the path forward. I’m about to have an epic adventure—my own adventure. I don’t know who I will meet, what I will do, or where it will take me. It will be highly uncomfortable, but it will always be compelling.

This journey is now what defines me. And that is fucking exhilarating!

Homo on the Range: Coloring Your Own Culture

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Carrie & I at Art Aid, during the Naked City era.

What does it mean to be homo on the range? I’ve been writing this column in various publications for over four years. This literary experiment has been an attempt to unearth the unique state of the modern-day queer experience in the Midwest.  It turns out that Kansas, and really every state it touches, have some surreptitious truths that the whole country could benefit from understanding.

“Homo on the Range” is a state of mind. It’s the audacity to be you, anywhere. It’s the boldness to standout. It’s the courage to keep going. It’s wide-open spaces, full of unlimited possibilities. One does not have to be a “homo” nor live “on the range” to be part of it. More straight people actually read this column than folks who are LGBT, and my blog by the same name gets hits from places as far away as Pakistan.

Being homo on the range is also living in a state of vulnerability. When you are gay in the Midwest, you stand out! There are no LGBT enclaves in states like Kansas, Oklahoma, or Arkansas. Sure, there are friendly towns and businesses, but there is no West Hollywood, Boys Town, or Castro to be found in between the hayfields. You can’t easily blend into an existing culture here. If you are going to be out, you are going to have to create that culture yourself. It’s up to you to color your own community.

The paintbrush was handed to me on a crisp, autumn night in 2008 at an after party during the Tallgrass Film Festival, Wichita’s premier annual independent cinema event. I was sipping martinis with my four best friends, perusing a new cell phone app called Twitter. In the middle of sending my very first tweet, a sharply dressed, wavy-blonde haired woman approached our table. Her name was Carrie, and she was looking for a gay voice to add to her emerging magazine. I’d been trying to make a difference on the equality-front in politics for years, but our conversation that night opened my eyes to the possibility that I could have an impact with my words, too.

A few months later, I penned the very first “Homo on the Range” for Naked City Magazine. Mostly read by straight people, not all of who were natural allies, that column raised a lot of eyebrows. A few advertisers pulled out. Some readers wrote the editor to complain. Mostly though, everyone was all right. It turns out that having an honest dialogue in a tasteful manner about a difficult issue is a Kansas value. My work for the magazine later opened up connections for freelance work. Today, I’ve had close to 300 articles published as a result.  That’s one of many ways I’ve colored my own culture and created my own community here on the range.

Anyone whose unique sparkle drives them to use their distinct abilities to nurture connections and enhance communities is already a “homo on the range”. There are straight people who are far better at this than I am! While I may have conceived this moniker, there are far superior motions being set forward by countless individuals in the gay community that will get us farther than any of my words ever will. I look forward to the day when those collective efforts make the range a home everyone can be proud of!

Political Bullying

Mourning a Loss
Image Credit: Jerry Wolford/AP

We’ve all become more familiar with the issue of school bullying. What we may be less aware of, though, is the fact that bullying abounds on several fronts. It’s commonplace to use politics to intimidate the LGBT community; last night’s passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina is the latest example.

Anti-gay legislation is political bullying.

Every time a state amends their constitution to limit marriage to one man and woman, every man and every woman who is gay feels as though they’ve been personally attacked. Just as people are affected by the abuse of bullies in the hallways of their schools, there are very real effects on people who get beat up at the ballot box. The results in North Carolina were far from surprising. What caught me off guard, though, was the reemergence of a long-forgotten feeling.

Punched stiffly in the gut. Knocked down with the wind blow out of me. Stabbed in my abdomen by people I thought were my friends. My intestines slowly eviscerated by hordes of strangers. Nowhere to go for help. Wanting to run away. Lacking the physical strength or mental constitution to pick myself up from off the ground.

That’s how I felt the night of April 5, 2005. That’s when Kansas passed its own version of an anti-gay constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. It passed with 70% of the vote statewide, with the same percentage supporting it in my home city of Wichita. I emphasize the word home for a reason; this is the first place where I ever truly felt at home. I came out of the closet in North Carolina and walked into a tumultuous year of being physically and verbally assaulted everyday at school. I felt rejected by the state I had grown up in. I moved to Kansas the next year; when I did, I decided I would never lie about who I am. Honesty is a seminal Kansas value, and I’ve always been able to find a home here on the range being my homo self. That campaign and the political machinations that precede it caused an odd diaspora of sort. I’ve never truly trusted my community or the people in it ever since.

The Kansas legislature first debated the constitutional amendment in 2004. At the time, I was the 22-year-old Executive Director of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party and a rather central figure in local Democratic Politics. We had a 12-member delegation of Democratic legislators, including 9 state representatives and 3 state senators. I had worked closely with each of them for several years, and considered them all to be friends and mentors. Every single one of them knew of my sexual orientation, and it was never an issue. In fact, nearly all of them had voiced their support for gay rights to me.

Yet, when it came time to vote, 3 members of the house delegation (including a very liberal member who I regard as a very good friend) voted to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage. Two of the three called me in tears to apologize. I greatly appreciated that on a personal, but it did nothing to change public policy or their voting record. Nor did it ameliorate the hurt feelings of countless others. The other member also called me, but he did so to lecture me on the politics of being pro-gay marriage. He told me that if I had any true political instinct, I would understand that this was a losing issue. I was told to be happy that he voted the way he did because that meant he’d keep that seat in Democratic hands. He also implored me to defend him to party activists who would be angered by his vote.

I should have hung up on him. I should have told the other two exactly what I thought of their post-vote water works. Instead, I just took it. I continued being a soldier for the Democratic Party because they at least gave me a home, even if some of our members went on record to say I didn’t deserve to have one. After that vote, though, I felt homeless.

A key part of political bullying is the constituency getting used to taking the hits. Politicians only beat up on groups who don’t fight back. For too long, we in the LGBT community haven’t fought back. It wasn’t until after the anti-marriage amendment passed in Kansas that we had a truly effective statewide LGBT civil rights organization. Today, The Kansas Equality Coalition holds people accountable who don’t have the backbone to stand up for what they believe in.

Twenty-nine states have had battles similar to the ones in Kansas and North Carolina. Each time they have, lots of people have been hurt. They’ve felt disenfranchised by the political process. They’ve felt left behind by their communities. They’ve felt betrayed by their friends. When you’re getting harassed at school, you wish that someone would stand up for you. Often times, you find out that the people you thought were your buddies are too afraid to take a stand; in fact, they sometimes join in just to fit in. Our lawmakers are supposed to champion our safety and well-being. Yet, for LGBT folks, they’re often the ones who take away a sense of security. We look for those few allies who will stand up for us, just like we looked for those friends back in school to be our defenders. Cowardice legislators who hold quiet sympathy yet fail to stand up to anti-gay prejudice are just as culpable as the bully lawmakers.

I’m happy to report that two of the three lawmakers I mentioned above switched their votes and voted against the marriage amendment when they had the chance later than session. The other one? Well, recent polling showing a majority of Americans supporting marriage equality show he was definitely on the wrong side of history. This issue is so much larger than them or me or any single state. Political bullying is an affront to the very core of who we are as Americans. This is a country where we’re supposed to enjoy the freedom of attachment—to people, to communities, and to the process that governs us. When we take away other people’s rights, we deny them the dignity of what it means to be a whole person.  Beaten up and disembowel, those of us who survive political assaults do so without our full spirits. We’re left with only part to offer. All of our state—from North Carolina to Kansas to California—deserve fully engaged, healthy populations of people from all walks of life.

Just as we’re having conversations about how to end bullying at schools, I hope we can start talking about how to end the bruising battles like the one that just occurred in North Carolina. President Obama’s announcement today that he personally supports marriage equality is a step in the right direction. We need to take many more giant leaps. Political bullying leaves scars. It’s time we heal all of our wounds.

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