Our Stories Matter

12088224_10100781798975842_1426083380258562527_nOur stories matter. Where we go, who we meet, what we learn, what we do, and how we do it aren’t just matters of personal chronology—they’re part of a collective tapestry. Our stories are experiences lived within a body that’d distinct to us, yet only put into motion by effects greater than us.

So at 33—likely well over 1/3 of my life already lived—what is my story? More importantly, why does it matter? My life is no more or less significant than anyone else’s, though like everyone else, I have a distinct mission. Part of my life’s purpose is sharing so that others may learn and grow from the experiences I’ve had. I know this to be true because I’ve seen the effects.

The moniker of this blog—Homo on the Range—was a monthly column published in a local arts/lifestyle magazine in Wichita, Kansas from 2009-2012 and later in a regional Midwest LGBT publication until the end of 2013. These were formative years as it relates to equality because it was during this timeframe that public opinion in the US on same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general began to shift dramatically. Most HotR readers were straight, and many of them were Republicans who were somewhat traditional in their mindset.

Over the course of 60+ columns, I learned that an authentic voice can have a real effect—anywhere! There’s a reason why public opinion on LGBT rights shifted so fast—so many of us were telling our stories in our own unique ways. With the advent of social media, those once ignorant or resistant saw that our lives and our love weren’t all that different from their own. Homo on the Range was one person in one place; there were many far more significant voices that got us to where we are today. If you’re honest about who you are, your message with resonate with the audience that it’s meant to reach, and it will have a ripple effect!

It’s now 2016 and I’m not in Kansas anymore. I live in Los Angeles and work at a spiritual community center in avant-hippie Venice Beach. I practice Kundalini yoga, eat vegan food, and frequently partake in sound healings. My life literally couldn’t be any less “Homo on the Range.” And just like there was a story about the gay guy who once ran the Democratic Party in Kansas, there’s a story in what I’m experiencing now—several actually!

I’ve resisted writing much about my life in California, partly because it’s been such an inside-out experience, but also because what I do now seemingly has nothing to do with what I did before. How does one go from being an agitated, agonist political activist to a peace-seeking, meditating spirit junkie? I had to trace the evolution of who I’ve been to understand it myself…and it goes something like this:

  • Political Activist: I realized I was gay when I was 14. The same day I understood this about myself I also knew there could be no congruence between who I am and what I was raised to believe. I grew up baptized in fundamentalist Christianity; I had to choose between my sexuality and my spirituality. I embraced the former and stuck a big middle finger to the imaginary man in the sky. Coming out of the closet also meant going to war with those who wanted to keep me inside. I got politically active at 17 during the 2000 election because I didn’t want George W. Bush picking the Supreme Court justices who would define what my legal rights would be. Two years later, President Bush was fighting a “war on terror” and I was named the executive director of the Democratic Party in Wichita, KS—while I was still a teenager and very much out —a bold thing back in those days! I ran the Democratic Party for 8 years, fixated on turning Kansas blue. Most of the candidates I worked with lost, but in the process we built a robust party organization of progressive activists in the middle of a very conservative state. During my tenure, we elected the first Latina to the KS House, the first black woman to the KS Senate, and sent the first Indian-American to the Kansas Legislature. Most importantly, we made our community stronger by connecting with each other over shared values.
  • Arts Advocate: Politics was only able to give me an outlet for my outrage; there was nothing to cultivate my creativity or nurture my soul. I found a fresh energy in art: going to film festivals, being transfixed by canvasses at galleries, and getting lost in the sounds of local bands playing in refashioned warehouses. Needing a change of my own, I left my post as ED of the Democratic Party after the Obama election. I got involved with a local group called ROKICT whose mission was to promote art and culture in Wichita, and with the same gusto and passion I had poured into politics, I made advocating for art my mission. It was a fun romp that also allowed me to start freelance writing—which is how Homo on the Range was born!
  • City Council Candidate: So maybe I wasn’t quite done with politics. Simultaneous to the “ROKICT days” was my quest to win a seat on the Wichita City Council. It was rooted in a deep desire to develop Wichita’s downtown and have the arts community be at the center of that revitalization. I hoped to unit the Democratic Party with an emerging coalition of artists and musicians to pull off what would have been historic: the election of the first openly gay official to a major city office. The trouble was all in the timing—and the intention. I realized that if I won a seat on the city council I’d likely be anchored in Wichita well into my 40’s. I’d barely left Kansas at that point and I wanted to experience so much more in life. The truth is that I found politics to be a constant stress and a draining burden, especially with the ridiculous amount of money one needs to raise in order to be viable. I was fundamentally unhappy, and was really only in the race because I felt obligated to all the people who supported me—and there was many! So with broad support, impressive fundraising numbers, and the wind at my back I pulled the plug on my own campaign at the end of 2010. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, simultaneously liberating and absolutely frightening.
  • Lost Wanderer: What happens when you abruptly leave public life, 12188907_10100795921993202_2558272347108691660_ndetonating your own career for reasons most people don’t understand? You get a job at a non-profit that has nothing to do with the work you once did, get out of town as much as possible, drink lots of alcohol, and find a random person on the Internet to be your best friend! Or at least that’s what I did. I found myself having to constantly explain my decision to people whenever I’d run in to someone while out (and it was Wichita, which meant it wasn’t hard to run into someone you know). This got annoying so every chance I got, I’d get out of town, going to Kansas City, Lawrence, Austin, NYC, San Francisco, and just about anywhere I could afford to travel on my modest salary as a non-profit events manager. This wasn’t often enough for my liking, and since most of my friends didn’t really understand my decisions, vodka, tequila, rum, and red wine became great companions! I found conversations with libations less than enthralling, though, and decided to make a person who had randomly friended me on Facebook my new best friend. For two years, about the only person I shared much of my life with was a guy named Amir. He lived on the East Coast and knew nothing about my prior life, so it was easy to just lose myself in him. Amir had a lot of issues, though, which is probably why I was attracted to him. Gay, Muslim, and mentally anguished, he was everything that we collectively are afraid of. It was too much for him. He killed himself at the end of 2011 in a very harrowing experience that I’m not going to detail here. More alcohol—and this time loud blaring of Nirvana music and an obsession with Kurt Cobain followed…for like six months. I dreamed about suicide everyday and did some really risk shit for the next few months. After I discovered mold in my apartment, my naturopathic doctor friend and his very wise cat took me in. It’s there that I began to heal.
  • Change Manifester: By the time I moved in with the doctor and the 18518_938299313952_980317045_ncat, I was taking antidepressants and generally resigned to living unhappily ever after in Wichita for the rest of my life. I tried to find jobs to hire me out of Wichita, but to no avail…I was stuck, or so I felt. At the start of 2012, I did make two positive changes: to be completely vegan and to start exploring my long shelved spiritual side. Omar’s death shook me to my core and made me realize that we’re all souls traveling on a plane. My mother opened my mind to more eastern philosophies and I found comfort in the idea of reincarnation—that our journey on this earth in this body is one of many we’ll experience as part of a beautiful cycle of lives. The doctor taught me how to meditate, the cat reminded me what it feels like to be loved, and by fall I had a renewed sense of optimism when I visited Los Angeles for the first time. It was a formative trip: I hiked to the top of mountains, saw the Pacific ocean for the first time, ate amazing vegan food all day, and enjoyed wearing a tank top in WeHo on Halloween. When I saw the sunset at the top of Runyon Canyon for the first time and looked out at the sprawling city below, I heard a clear message. “Somewhere down there in the midst of all those buildings there’s a place for you. There are people you need to meet, work you need to do, and a life you need to live. Get yourself here and you will live a life more full and more happy than you could ever imagine.” I flushed the antidepressants down the toilet that night and went back to Kansas the next day with “Change Your Life” as my ethos. I checked myself in to a 10-day silent Vipassna meditation retreat at year’s end and spent all of 2013 working a plan to get me to LA within 12 months. It included working 4 jobs, doing Gabby Bernstein’s May Cause Miracles course, letting go of a lot of old shit, and also getting a giant tattoo with the words “Change Your Life” etched onto my torso just to ensure I didn’t back out of this contract I had made with myself. Yeah maybe that was extreme, but it worked! I ended up saving enough money to live in LA without a job for a year, but got hired into a job that brought me to my new home a month earlier than planned. It was clear that LA was where I needed to be.

It wasn’t until I got to LA that I understood what anything I’d done had meant. The timeline of events, jobs, and identities that I enumerate above seemed like fragments of a fractured existence. Yet once I started doing some serious self-examination, everything began to make sense. It’s that journey that I want to start sharing—what I’ve learned since I moved to LA and what I’ve come to understand is important for us to realize collectively. It’s an inner journey with serious outward effect!

Our stories matter because all of us are connected; I hope you’ll join me for the next chapter in this wide-open range! More to come soon, I promise!!