Love Is Love

In the midst of my own life, and the lives of millions of others, an important cultural event of significance has once again cropped up.

The month of June. Surprising, evidently, to numerous news anchors across the country (the clips are on YouTube!), it symbolizes more than the beginning of summer and, for many, the beginning of wedding season.

June is also Pride Month, a monumentally significant aspect in the lives of millions of members within the LGBT community.

Back in high school, this was a grave unknown to me. I was preoccupied with enjoying my summer, laying out by the pool, and freely streaming my favorite TV shows to my heart’s content. But in recent years, it has grown in significance to me, as well as to many others, especially in today’s political climate.

There are some who attempt to mount the argument that if we have a Pride Month for the LGBT, what about a Pride Month for heterosexuals? It’s not too foreign from the argument against February being Black History Month, and attempting to present facts why a White History Month should exist.

It’s tragic, to me, that those who make an effort to display those arguments fail to recognize the importance of why such months exist, because for a good century or two, give or take a couple decades, African-Americans and LGBT have been predominantly under serviced, underrepresented, and overlooked as citizens of the United States. Surely I don’t need to reference the early to mid 1900s, when segregation was a primal fixture of American culture, where you could be denied service based on the color of your skin (or, in other cases, your sexual orientation), or where you could be attacked, lynched, hanged, and otherwise harmed by individuals who were sworn to uphold peace as police officers of their respective counties. The images of African-Americans being blasted by a fire hose for absolutely no reason, or of gay men and women being viciously attacked and stabbed, are still fresh in the minds of many, and it is only thanks to the civil rights pioneers of the time that we have the equality we do today (though, notably, with more work to still be done).

I don’t write this post with the intent of providing a history lesson. Surely there are a few facts I would likely quote in error without doing the proper research beforehand. But what’s important behind why I’m writing this, and why Pride Month exists, goes deeper than what may be seen on the surface.

One of the most divisive figures in society currently serves as the most powerful person in the world. There are those who support him, in some cases blindly; one post I saw had a man speaking out in support of Trump withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement, and, when asked about it, he said he had no clue other than the fact that “I trust Trump.” The opening of this month has, for the first time in many years, received no formal statement by our government, aside from one by the First Daughter who many believe to be not as entirely sincere as it may appear to be.

We live in an age where citizens, many of which are perfectly normal, law-abiding citizens, are attacked based on the color of their skin, who they are as individuals, or who they love (the lady from Walmart using a racial slur may sound familiar, as a recent event). Many of these were circulated across the web after the results of the election, where multiple individuals throughout the country were attacked physically (and, in many cases, verbally) by those claiming such things as “This is a free country, Trump’s president now.” With no doubt, figures like Tomi Lahren (or, perhaps better known as Tammy Lauren) did nothing but fuel these flames and encourage such public displays of free speech, an action which evidently is not extended to the likes of Kathy Griffin and the backlash she received for her Trump photo.

Two years ago in this very month, after years of fighting, marriage was ruled as equal between same-sex couples, a result that did not come about without the effort of multiple individuals. Within the last eight years, for the first time in this country’s history, the sitting President at the time publicly spoke out in support of LGBT equality. Not only that, he backed up his words with actions, such as the departure of such policies as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Two days prior to my European tour, I returned to Kalamazoo to grab a few missed things I left in my apartment, and decided to stop by the caf. I happened to come across one of the sheets I had typed up months ago instructing the students on who to contact about scheduling issues, and directly next to my name, someone had wrote the word ‘gay’.

This is something I chose to keep mum on with social media, apart from a picture I posted to my snapchat story and possibly a few tweets (my memory is a bit hazy). I didn’t readily disclose it with anyone, as far as I can remember, and apart from a friendly reminder to the employees about respect in the workplace regardless of who it involves, I said nothing more of the incident. But for one of the very rare moments in my life, I felt attacked, in a way. Yes, it’s a word on a piece of paper, and nothing more. Nobody was screaming in my face, telling me what a horrible person I was and how I was going to hell. But it was still unsettling to see that, to see that someone would take it upon themselves to target me for whatever reason.

A few years ago, I arrived to work my shift for that day, swiping ID cards. As I walked over to the counter, some guy audibly spoke the word ‘Fag’ to his friend, while staring in my direction. While I am enormously thankful these are the only two incidents where I’ve been…targeted, discriminated, whatever you wish to call it, it’s still sad, in my mind, that there are people who exist that, in some way, shape, or form, refuse to let other people live their lives and do whatever makes them happy.

That, right there, is the motivation behind Pride Month, behind why we, as well as any other person on this planet, should take pride in being who we are. Individuality should never be silenced. Being free to live your life should never feel like a second choice. And in-between transgender bathroom rights at schools being placed back in the hands of the states to decide, in a world where the United States Secretary of Education has refused to publicly state any instance that would prompt her to defend a student regardless of their demographics, background, or sexual orientation, in a world where the Vice President of the United States supports conversion therapy and electrocution as solutions to cure what some call the “gay disease,” it is more important than ever to take pride in who you are.

Coming out three years ago has been, for me, one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. It’s something I never thought I would do in the foreseeable future at the time, and I am beyond glad I did. No matter who you are, or where you come from, you should never be afraid of being who you are, and doing what makes you happy, and that, to me, is the big message behind Pride Month.

It doesn’t get better on its own. If you want to change your life, and change your circumstances, you better work. You better be prepared to make the changes that’ll make you happy. Only by learning to live your life fearlessly can you develop the strategies to make your life better, and live the life you want.

The fight goes on. The battle for full equality for every single person continues. And for as long as I live, I will never stop doing what I can to make the lives of those around me better, because that’s what the world needs.

Be who you are, and love who you love, and you will make an impact. Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.

Twelve Reasons Why, One Reason How

I’m personally not big on following trends. For the most part.

This has manifested itself in a couple of ways. When a new movie comes out, I’m typically not the first one in line to see it. When a new album gets released, I don’t listen to it for quite a while. If there’s a new TV series hitting the airwaves, I probably won’t catch it for a few weeks, if ever.

Thirteen Reasons Why turned out to be an exception.

Like most of the world, I have been gripped with the tale of a high school student named Clay Jensen who comes home from school one day to find a series of tapes left behind by his friend Hannah Baker, a girl at his school who committed suicide, and left those tapes behind as, you might’ve guessed it, thirteen reasons why she did it.

I was not aware there was a book preceding it, and on a night of aimlessly browsing Netflix, I decided to pick it up, and it took me for an emotional tailspin.

More than that, it had a personal connection to me, as I have had thoughts of suicide three times in my life. I’ve had actual, genuine thoughts of killing myself, and ending my life.

The first occurrence happened in my freshman year of high school. I was severely on the outs social-wise; my life consisted of school, band, and homework, with very few opportunities, at least as far as I can recall, for social interaction. The song Outside Looking In by Jordan Pruitt describes my struggle perfectly:

“You don’t know how it feels, to be outside the crowd. You don’t know what it’s like, to be left out. And you don’t know how it feels to be your own best friend, on the outside looking in.”

Thankfully, mostly through the power of music, I survived. I was never universally popular, but at least I never again reached that stage mentally. Or so I believed for a while.

The second incident happened last year in February. The specific details behind this are things I’d prefer, even on my own blog and space, to not mention, but again, I made it through.

The most recent moment happened last August, and it was also the moment that truly hit the most. It’s like a huge, gaping hole in your heart that you can’t figure out how to fill. You lose every ounce to keep going. Everything just feels…hopeless. You feel drained. You don’t even want to go to bed. You just want everything to stop. And all of that was precisely what I was feeling, hitting me after one of my friends I was hanging out with left my apartment.

I felt completely hollow, and useless, and several other adjectives I can’t think of to describe offhand, and while I made no attempt, the thoughts ate me alive. I reached out to a few people to try and vent my emotions, and one of them happened to be a half-hour away from me, who willingly dropped what he was doing to not only come to see me, but bring comfort food in the form of ice cream with him. He did not stay for a significant period of time, but it was the simple act of reminding me I’m not alone as I felt (and sometimes still feel).

Had he not done that, I figured that the odds would be very good that I would at the least be hospitalized, if not, dead at this point.

My mood fluctuates, like any given person. I go through things like everyone else, and I’ve had more than my fair share of rocky moments. I’ve endured a handful of people at work making rude comments about my weight (one going so far as to ask me if I was pregnant). I’ve faced personal issues of who I am as a person, and my subsequent attempts to work through them. I’ve encountered a few…less than pleasant social issues, some of which were of my own fault. But those three moments in my life stick out to me because they are the moments where I was at my absolute worst, mentally, and with one exception, I largely had to try to work through these issues on my own.

That’s where I draw the similarities with Hannah. The first two instances, I largely kept it to myself. Why drag other people into my issues when it feels like nobody cares about me to begin with? That’s the reasoning I took, and it’s a line of reasoning I’m sure many others take as well.

Back in my high school days, I stumbled upon a quote saying “Be kinder than necessary. Everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.” The accuracy behind this is unreal, and it’s the focal point behind who I constantly aim to be as a person and in my relationships with others. Do I love every human? Absolutely not. Some people I dislike. A handful I can’t stand. But flat-out hating people, and living off of that energy? I cannot do it. Ever.

There are factors about me that I wish I could change. I despise not having more friends, and it’s certainly not for lack of trying. My most recent attempt at friendship saw me continually trying to make plans to hang out with one person for the entire fall semester, only to have them repeatedly dodge my attempts and never really reciprocate any of my efforts. This person explained on multiple occasions how busy they were, but quite frequently, details of their outings on social media showed they were busy hanging out with other friends, with no real interest in trying to include me. My last attempt had me walk halfway across campus for socialization, only for them to change their mind and mention we can plan for another time, which I mentally thought and knew was never going to happen (and, after being removed as friends on snapchat and having no interaction in almost four months, turned out to be correct).

The problem was never their schedule. The problem was me. It puts a significant weight on my own self-worth as a human, and not in a good way. I’ve lost a number of friends due to their newfound relationships, more times than I can count. People eventually get bored of me and leave without so much as a stereotypical “have a good one.” One such person who claims to still be friends with me has made zero attempts in weeks to demonstrate this, after mentioning they are suddenly too busy to be friends with me anymore. Granted, it’s a long-distance friendship of sorts, but I also have a handful of other long-distance friends who have shown no issues in making contact with me.

Are these things I actively talk about? No, because for the most part, they’re only significant to me, and I’m the only one impacted by them. Some days, it takes a lot to keep going. Many times, I feel relatively hopeless. But I also fall under a fundamental belief that if my own issues are next to impossible to solve or make any form of progress with, I can at least positively impact the life of someone else, and that’s something that keeps me going.

I am ecstatic that Thirteen Reasons Why is opening a much-needed dialogue about bullying, mental health, and suicide prevention. No matter your demographic, everyone goes through bad times. Some of these times, you have no idea about. People have had experiences far worse than my own, or may be going through some bad experiences currently. It makes you wonder (as it should) what other people deal with, and, ideally, what you can do to be a more supportive person, whether you know someone or not.

A disappointing factor to me is that some are suddenly championing the need to be more supportive people and to treat people better. I don’t think we need a television program to demonstrate this point; you should be a decent human being enough to be doing this already. For example, you may think a Muslim ban is a good idea, but that doesn’t mean you should go beat up every Muslim you see. You may believe transgender individuals do not deserve to use a bathroom that corresponds to the gender they identify is, and if that’s your belief, own it, but don’t punish someone for living their life in a way that conflicts with your own. Hey, if you’re not a fan of “the whole gay thing,” that’s pretty swell, but (and I know I’m just talking crazy here) maybe trying this radical concept of letting other people live their lives might do you some good.

High school environments are notorious for peer-pressuring factors. Everyone wants to be cool, and fit in, and not be weird, and several other things. Various parts of life are a lot like high school: You know the cool group of kids, the punks, the burnouts, the jocks, the list goes on. But rather than trying to fit in, it’s so much more rewarding to simply stand out. People who cannot allow others to be happy living the life they want to live are not people you need to know.

If you see a problem, speak up! In one of the last sequences during the preliminary interviews, the recordings are dated for November of this year, suggesting that in real-time, Hannah’s suicide hasn’t happened yet. Do you see where I’m going with this? You have the power to impact someone else’s life, for better or worse, with every Facebook post, every text, every snap, and every sentence that formulates from your lips and fingers. You have the power to save someone’s life without even realizing it. 

And here people think that one person can’t make a difference. Sure, you may not be able to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but that’s not to say you don’t have the chance, every single day, to make someone else’s life better.

That’s exactly what I operate on. I cannot tell you the number of times people have commented on how sweet and nice I am, and it’s not an act for compliments or attention; it’s who I am as a person. Does this apply 24/7? Of course not. I have my bad moods like any other homo sapien. I just personally find it much more rewarding to, I don’t know, be nice to people in general, or at least aim to.

Don’t become the subject of a tape. Become the cheerleader of someone who needs it. If you’re tired of bullies, do something about it. Spread awareness. Raise your voice. We all have much more power than we realize. In today’s society (need I even mention Syria?), it’s so desperately obvious how much we are in need of support and kindness, as corny as it likely sounds. If you have a lot of followers, awesome. Do something positive with that. Start denouncing all forms of bullying and ignorance wherever you see it. Let people know they are not alone.

Who knows? Maybe it’ll save more people like Hannah.

The Fight Goes On

It’s been a while since I’ve put anything on here.

And man, has a lot changed.

Among the more recent events in my life, I cast my vote for the very first time on November 8th. I was late to work, but have absolutely no regrets at all, and it was an honor to cast my vote for a woman nominated for President for the very first time in the history of the United States.

Later that evening, I, along with millions of others, was completely numb. I had both jobs that day, and simply went through the motions, not really processing anything, and I could tell I was not alone. It was stunning. It didn’t even begin to feel real, like this was reality. It felt like an elaborate prank, but I gradually made myself believe that yes, this was really a thing.

Donald Trump, a man who caused at least a hundred scandals during the course of his campaign, openly mocked a disabled reporter, and thrived on preaching inaccurate information, had in fact been elected as the 45th President of the United States.

Off-hand, I know of maybe 4 people who supported his campaign. I bear them no ill will, because I know they had their own individual reasons for voting for him. But needless to say, it’s troubling.

And in his first week in office alone, his executive orders have had plenty of far-reaching effects, with more reported at be coming (not to mention an executive order permitting discrimination against LGBT people based on religious reasons).

But in-between the chaos of the Cabinet confirmation hearings, the threats thousands, if not, millions are facing, and plenty more, there are slim glimmers of hope. The women’s march held earlier this month is a shining example of that. It marks the first time in my lifetime I have seen millions of people gather to protest in favor of equal rights for women, and it’s truly moving. This was not one singular event, held in one city with a couple dozen people. This was held in several cities throughout the United States and the world, and drew in millions of participants. A close second are the protests at airports throughout the country against the immigration order. Members of Hollywood have made numerous public statements regarding this, and former President Obama, despite stating that he will give Trump his space, has issued his first statement against him within only 9 days of handing over the keys to the White House.

What’s going on in the world right now is absolute chaos. This is a very tumultuous time in history, and rather than healing the wounds and moving forward together, many prominent individuals are striving to do the exact opposite, and it’s terrifying.

But it’s important to remember that thousands of African-Americans didn’t sit in their homes in fear in the mid-1900s at the height of the civil rights movement. Thousands of women didn’t sit down and accept things as they were in the early 1900s prior to women gaining the right to vote. This country has had a longstanding history of those standing up for their rights when their rights are threatened, and that’s exactly what’s happening now.

There are few things more powerful than massive groups of people. History has been changed in the past as a result of this, and has changed for the better. The most powerful weapon against hate, bigotry, and discrimination is you, and your voice. The notion that one person cannot alter the course of society is fundamentally false, and any person that attempts to make you believe otherwise is simply incorrect.

I believe, as I always have, that every single person is equal. Some are more intelligent than others, or nicer than others, or more outgoing, or more well-known, or more ambitious. But regardless of numerical figures, sexual orientations, skin colors, religions, genders, and other identifying factors, everyone is equal. What you do with the gift of your life will determine who you choose to define yourself as, but when it comes to adoption rights, healthcare, salaries, marital rights, and so forth, everyone should have the same opportunities afforded to them as anyone else. Period. A popular opponent that gained notoriety a year and a half ago, Kim Davis, made her resistance to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling well-known, which later proved inconsequential as marriage licenses in Rowan County began to be issued to all applicants.

As long as you are alive, you can make an impact. Financial donations to organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union (which received $24 million over the weekend in its biggest show of support ever) can, in fact, make a difference. Calls, letters, and emails to state representatives can ensure they are aware of how their constituents feel. An important detail to highlight: Reelections for several of them are happening next year in November; this can dramatically alter the way Congress is able to conduct business, and the types of actions they are able to do or not do depending on who occupies those seats. Change can happen, but only if you’re willing to fight for it.

I have come to more realizations about myself and the types of people I’m after. I spent the entirety of the previous semester attempting to engage in a friendship with a guy I’ve known for a year and a half, which, up until I realized this recently, was a one-sided effort on my part, as he made no attempts to make any types of plans with me. One of the hardest lessons is taking a step back, taking a breath, and not trying to force something that won’t happen. To me, he made it very clear he was not interested in anything friendship-wise with me. I don’t hate him; hating someone because they don’t want to be friends with you or don’t want anything to do with you is childish. I do, however, wish he was more open to getting to know me. And yet, the fight goes on.

I recently engaged in a friendly conversation with a guy through Grindr. We had made plans to hang out one Wednesday after I got done working. Little to my surprise, he canceled after I messaged him earlier that day to see if he was still free. Things change. Life is unpredictable. Despite being one of the remarkably few guys interested in conversing with me, and being pretty nice to boot, it’s been 24 hours since I’ve heard from him. Still, the fight goes on.

I have slowly learned who is and isn’t worth the time and effort, and it’s been a wonderful thing to come to this realization. The hardest struggle I have is having most of my friends being of the virtual variety. The only contact I have through them is through social media and texting, which I believe makes it very easy to randomly refuse to talk to someone ever again and not bother to give any reasons, irrespective of their feelings. People make it look so easy to use you for what they need, and toss you aside afterward and not even look back.

I know I’m worth far more than that. My life has meaning. I matter. I exist. And any single person who does not place the same value in me as I place in so many others is not someone I need to concern myself with.

I know I have the power to change my life, and make it into what I want it to be. It’s been a slow climb; the most popular question I still receive is “Why are you so quiet!?” But that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit, and neither should anyone else. Life doesn’t get easier, you just get better.

Nobody ever said it’d be easy, they just promised that it’d be worth it.

The fight goes on.

Are We Out Of The Closet (Woods) Yet?

Since it’s National Coming Out Day, I felt motivated to share my story, and what better place than on a space that’s all my own?

I did not come to full terms with my sexuality until the later part of high school. Early on, I had a period where I believed I was bisexual, and it’s kind of humorous for me to look back and remember that, at the time, that was the biggest secret I had. With my anti-socialness, I felt enormously uncomfortable admitting to anyone who I really was, out of fear that I would be bullied. My high school was not unpleasant, by any means, but I felt like I would be putting myself in a vulnerable position for taunts, threats, and so on, and I wanted to get through high school intact, if possible. There were a handful of guys I had crushes on, but nothing ever came of it. I eventually told one of my friends via Facebook that I was bi, and for a while, she was the only one who knew. A few other people gradually caught on, but for the most part, I kept it a secret. I would periodically fill out the infamous Facebook notes where you answer a bunch of random questions, and every time it reached the “what’s your biggest secret?”, I would answer truthfully, tag the same handful of friends, and then delete it about 10 seconds later.

Eventually this burden carried me to my freshman year of college in the 2012-2013 period. I got roommate matched to live with a guy I’d never met before. We got along really well, and for a short while, it felt like I was slowly starting to get my life back on track. My blog posts at the time reflected as much. I opened up to him about my family dynamics, and he didn’t judge me at all. We continued becoming good friends, and got to become friends with other people on our floor. He, to no surprise, thrived, where I, still trapped in my anxiety and social awkwardness, tried to survive. He switched rooms in the spring semester, but we remained friends. Some advice I gave him helped him get a girlfriend, I helped him write a handful of papers here and there, I even helped him fill out a financial aid appeal form, which ended up allowing him to continue receiving financial aid and stay in college.

The final day of the semester, the two of us were sitting in his room, and I said to him, “I feel like I can tell you anything. I could tell you that I’m gay, and you wouldn’t care.” After sitting there and nodding in silence, I added, “…because I’m gay, actually.” His response was simple. “Calvin, you know I love you man. Come here.” And he got up and gave me a hug, and that moment meant the world to me, not because I thought he was homophobic, but because I didn’t know what to expect. Believe me, my heart was racing. But that moment was pivotal for me, because it gave me the courage to know that some people truly don’t care one way or the other. Sure, he randomly decided he didn’t want to talk to me ever again a week and a half later, which I struggled to come to terms with that whole summer and still, to this day, do not know what exactly happened, but it still gave me the motivation to open up to people more.

The following semester, that circle of acceptance continued to widen. I opened up to two friends I made in one of my English classes. I started working on-campus, and have been fortunate to make a handful of friends who have accepted me all the same. My roommates that year did not care in the slightest. I eventually reached a point where I decided it wasn’t worth it to hide anymore, and on March 17th in 2014, I came out completely.

I have been fortunate enough to have never experienced discrimination directly. The closest I’ve come to it was heading to one of my shifts on-campus and this guy and his friend passed me and one of them audibly whispered “Fag” to his friend out of nowhere, looking at me. I paid them no mind at all. I know for many others, it’s far worse. People have committed suicide as a result of bullying. It’s heartbreaking to know what some people have to go through, feeling like it is unsafe to be who they are. That, to me, is one of the biggest crimes in the world, and perhaps for those back in the 1920s, it was more commonplace and ‘accepted,’ but with how much progress America and the world has made since then, it shouldn’t be a thing, certainly not in the land where we are guaranteed a slice of the ‘American Dream.’

My own road to acceptance has not been an easy one. No, it hasn’t been faced with some of the same challenges many others my age have gone through, ranging anywhere from conversion therapy to disownment. Suffering with anxiety and mild spikes of depression, however, does not bode well in some of the environments I’ve found myself in. Even beyond my sexuality, I’ve had more than my fair share of moments where I wish I could be different, where I could’ve been born differently, had a different upbringing, and so on. My childhood wasn’t unhappy, by any means, and it’s ironic that, out of all the things I wish I could change, I’m thankful my sexuality is not one of them. It’s weird to me that it’s one of the few things about myself that I can embrace.

Another facet to those who are closeted is the fear of how friends and family will react. After making a blog post as my way of coming out, the reactions I received from my friends were all positive. My biggest concern (as my mind loves to exaggerate scenarios and fears) was finding a way to tell my mom, which eventually happened and, as she’s gay and in a relationship, both her and her girlfriend love me just the same. I’ve seen countless stories of LGBT youth who finally work up the courage to come out to their family, only to have their family completely shun them. Such was the case with an old Lifetime movie I loved watching, called Prayers For Bobby, where, after coming out, his mother tried to convert him back to being straight.

No, compared to others who have gone through much worse, I’ve been very lucky. But it’s heartbreaking knowing that isn’t the case for everyone, and that people have lost deep, personal friends, family members, and jobs over what should not be a huge deal at all.

I know there’s a handful of people who don’t support gay marriage, and people who are completely neutral on the subject. There are those who don’t agree with it, but if two other same-sex people want to get married, that’s none of their business (which is 100% accurate). It’s been the subject of religious interventions and proclamations, like “Protect the family!” My thing is, why do people care? It’s the same thing abut someone else’s religious beliefs, or weight, or age, or skin color, or anything else. Why does it matter to you? What makes someone else’s happiness influential on your own? It makes absolutely no sense, and I realized that the more I came out: There are people who don’t care who you love, or what your skin color is, or what you believe in, as long as you’re a good person and treat them with respect. And that’s exactly how it should be.

 

This short film is the same one I’ve left in previous posts, and is one of my favorite (and honestly, one of the most heartbreaking) short films I’ve ever seen. It essentially flips the stereotypes and discriminatory viewpoints of those who are gay and straight, where, as the title suggests, gay is the norm and straight is worthy of disownment. I don’t have to say much to articulate the message of the video; it truly speaks for itself.

The most I can say to whoever happens to read this, regardless of your situation, is that gradually, as clichéd as it sounds, things do get better. Coming out lifted such a huge weight off of my shoulders. I’m beyond fortunate that I can be myself around my co-workers at both of my jobs. There is a whole ocean of people who can and will embrace you for who you are as a person. My sexuality has never defined me; it’s just a small fraction of the person I am, and I know that even if I wasn’t gay, I would still have the same mindset. Some people may not support you. You may lose friends. But ultimately, your happiness is the most important thing you have in this life. Do not waste it being unhappy.

My own abilities to change the stigma that makes thousands of people afraid to love who they love is very limited. The most I can do is offer support to those who need it, in-person or online. It’s not much, but for some, it’s been enough, and I’ve been thankful for that. I’m confident that, eventually, we will reach an era where nobody will need to come out of the closet. People will just be themselves, and not live in fear. That, I assure you, will be a marvelous world to live in, and as long as I and others who have a similar mindset stick to making that happen, it’s distinctly possible we can have a positive impact on history down the road.

I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion.

United We Stand

For the past few days, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the events that have unfolded this past weekend, with the shooting of Christina Grimmie at a post-show autograph signing, and with the massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando where 50 people were killed and another 50 were injured.

And honestly, I don’t even know what’s happening in the world anymore.

Rumors abound that Christina was shot by an ex-boyfriend. I can’t begin to describe how shitty that is of him, regardless of whatever motive seemed logical to him and him alone at the time. Some people break up and just go their separate ways. Clearly, some guys break up and decide later on to murder their ex-lover. It’s tragic.

Like most people, I woke up Sunday morning and was instantly heartbroken as I scrolled through Twitter. The #PrayForOrlando hashtags were common, and naturally curious, it took me minutes to find out what it was about. And in many ways, I wish I hadn’t. More importantly, I wish it hadn’t happened.

According to the gunman’s father, he saw two men kissing in Miami, which inspired him to take an assault rifle into a gay nightclub and start killing people. These people, at least from what I’ve seen reported (and little to my own personal doubt), did not provoke him in any way. It’s a nightclub. They came to drink. To have fun. To have a good time. As people. As humans. And one person decided that wasn’t enough. And through his actions, it set a record as the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States.

The negative reactions were, of course, strewn throughout the Internet. Some people praised this man for ‘killing off the fags,’ and a few in that category, through the same power of the Internet, lost their jobs or were expelled from school for their words (case in point: this). Other people noted that if these people hadn’t “flaunted their gayness” in the man’s face, they would’ve still been alive, minus the fact that a) it’s a gay nightclub, and b) he came with an assault rifle, so clearly he came with a purpose. Some have highlighted the fact that he’s gay, in an effort to paint us as a destructive, violent part of society who need to be eradicated (which is something this anti-gay pastor believes).

This is undoubtedly an attack on the LGBT community, and the fact it happened within the month of June, a month we continually celebrate our achievements, only doubles the pain. Investigators who entered the club afterward had to listen to the sound of dozens of cell phones going off. Coming from those who were dead. Calls, coming from boyfriends. Friends. Relatives. Co-workers. People who would never get to speak, hear, or see them ever again.

Sunday was, for the most part, a blur for me. Just a jumble of emotions, intermixed with sitting in the office at my apartment complex for five hours, answering the occasional phone call, checking for a package or two, sending out an email here and there. My life instantly seemed much, much less significant to what was occurring elsewhere, and what other families were now going through.

I’ve seen my fair share of comments from people moaning about how LGBT people aren’t discriminated against, about how we don’t need a month of pride, or pride festivals and parades, about how there should be a straight pride, and the list goes on from there. This event proved exactly why we have pride events in the first place: Because we are collectively amongst a variety of other minority groups that are at risk of public humiliation, discrimination, bigotry, hatred, and, at its worst, physical violence.

Why? Because of who we are and who we love.

It continually boggles my mind how wrapped up some people get in the lives of others. A recent Facebook video showed a mom breastfeeding in a Target store and being subjected to a slew of verbal assaults from a man, until a group of women and Target employees defended her. When the landmark same-sex ruling was handed down last year in June, many people said it would be the end of marriage, and ruin the ‘sanctity’ of it. Here’s a classic lesson from my childhood: If someone else is happy, LET THEM BE HAPPY. This country was built on the principle of the American Dream, for people to live the lives they want to live, permitted they follow the rules of society. There is, and should never be, a rule barring you from marrying who you want to marry, from dating who you want to date, from doing anything in your life that will bring you happiness. What a complete stranger does with their life should never be any concern of yours, because, plot twist, heterosexual couples are still able to marry and have kids. Nothing has changed. At all. The world hasn’t ended. People need to grow up and worry about their own happiness and not try to destroy the happiness of someone else.

So far in 2016, there have been 139 shootings. No, not all of them are on as wide of a scale as what happened in Orlando, nor are they as widely reported. We are currently 167 days into the year, which means 28 of those days have gone without any reports of gun violence, which is a tragic fact. I will never, ever understand how this man came to be in possession of an assault rifle, and for something that operates so quickly and can take out so many lives in a very small amount of time, no single person should have access to a gun of that nature. The second amendment is a valuable one, and people should protect themselves at all costs, but certainly not with a weapon like that.

And yet, as with Aurora, Colorado, and Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook, and San Bernardino, and many others, we take time to scratch our heads and question why these things continually happen, and then moments later we’re on to some other big topic. I truly believe that regardless of what side you’re on, whether you’re advocating for deeper mental health insights or better background checks or stricter gun control and regulation, better education or whatever else, that something needs to happen. As a society, we cannot continue the same ritual, of offering up our thoughts and prayers and then simultaneously turn around days later and move on to something else. If we really want these things to stop happening, or to happen much, much less often, we actually need to take action in some effective form.

If there is any silver lining to this, it’s the fact that the issue of, for the most part, gun control has landed in the hands of the LGBT community, a network of individuals that comprise a very decent portion of society throughout the country. Those among us fought hard to win the right to same-sex marriage, and there’s little doubt in my mind that, through our actions, something can finally be done to address this. We do not need prayers, or well-wishes, or thoughts. We need action, because that alone speakers stronger than words.

But the bigger silver lining is how much unity came across social media, especially for gay Twitter. In a virtual realm that is often rampant with shade and hatred toward one another, it was incredibly refreshing to see virtually every single person tweeting some of the same things, making some of the same comments as others, interacting with each other, virtually supporting one another. And that is what we need. This shooting is the exact reason we need to STOP hating those that are in our own community. The ‘no fat, no masc, no fem, no black, no asian’ tag line has run its course. We absolutely cannot turn our back on one another. We need to be unified.

I came out two years ago in March, and I know for sure that I’m not going back in. I’m not letting one act of violence dictate how I live my life, because how I live my life is my own business. I am not going anywhere. I am going to continue living my life exactly as I’ve lived it. At a time when many of the LGBT community are closeted, I know this is an extremely terrifying thing for them to bear witness to. But I also believe it is important to note that this is what it means to be a part of society. Women have faced this for decades, back when the wage gap was much deeper, back when they didn’t have the opportunity to vote. African-Americans have faced this for a century, back when slavery was a thing, back when police officers would use pressure hoses on them just for walking in the street or peacefully protesting, back when racism was much more strong and widespread than it is today (while still being a thing, it’s better than how things used to be in the south in cities like Birmingham). Every single time you step outside of your home, you become a part of society. You sacrifice your privacy, safety, and comfort for being out living your life, and this is one of the universal truths that binds us together as people, not just in America, but the world. Every time you step off your porch, you take a risk in what lies ahead for the day, but as with most things, really, what’s life without risk? Being closeted is not a bad thing, and it’s my sincere wish that anyone who is closeted will eventually be able to live their life freely.

This shooting has demonstrated to me the true power and spirit of the LGBT community. In a month where we should be celebrating who we are, this should give us all the more reason to take pride in that, because we are a part of a community of individuals who stand together, not just in a single month, but year after year. And that’s how it should be, and not just for this community. We should all be supportive of one another, and be there for each other when we really need it. We don’t have to love every single person on this Earth. That is next to impossible, because people come in a variety of shades and colors we may not agree with. But at the least, we should respect each other for our differences, and accept that we are after the same things in life: To be loved, to be happy, and to be free.

I hope this spirit never dies. I hope action actually happens. I hope less people are senselessly murdered. And I hope we continue to stand together, as people. As one united fabric in the minuscule stitch of the galaxy. Someday, if we keep fighting, maybe things might get better, but only if we’re willing to take the steps necessary to achieve it.

Love Is Love

June, amongst the LGBT community, is much more than a month of high school open houses and numerous weddings. It’s more than the start of summer, of several weeks of beaches, vacations, sunny days, and the typical 9-5 work grind.

June is National Pride Month.

Pride festivals, amongst the gay community from my observations, are split down the middle as far as opinions go. They draw in crowd of thousands for outdoor events, music, food, awareness, education, support, counseling, community services, and more. They strive to be an all-inclusive event, for people of all genders and sexual orientations. They aim at celebrating the achievements and accomplishments made by the LGBT community while simultaneously striving to break down preconceived notions from others about people in the LGBT community and the types of lifestyles some people believe we allegedly lead.

But they are not without their share of opposing viewpoints. Some people claim they are one giant hookup scene waiting to happen, filled with people dressed in as little clothing as possible in an effort to attract as many people as possible. They provide an opportunity for unwelcome advances from people you are not interested in or attracted to. They formulate the question to some of why ‘straight pride’ events do not exist.

The list is not extensive, and barely scratches the surface, but the opposition is there, without a doubt.

I have never been to a Pride festival before. I did not fully know they were a thing until last year, and unfortunately my only opportunities to go to two near me were not available as I had made other travel plans. But I have told myself for many months that it would be something I would like to experience, just once, and formulate my own opinions. Pride events in each city and region are slightly different, and attract a diverse crowd. No two Pride events are exactly alike, and what may happen at one event in Grand Rapids may not be the same case for another in Chicago, or New York. I am, at long last, having this checked off my bucket list next Saturday, and I’m excited to see what it’s all about. Unfortunately it will not be entirely for leisure. I’m getting in for free at the cost of working for my apartment complex in drawing in interested people to sign leases and tour the property, so there will be some work involved, but still, it counts that I’m at least going.

But regardless of what your personal opinions are of Pride events, what’s truly important is the overall message behind them. These events exist because many others, who came years before us, gradually paved the way for wider and wider acceptance of LGBT individuals. There is still much, much work left to be done, but without those who, to use a phrase I personally hate for some reason, blazed the trail for the rest of us, things could be much different than how they are currently. For a community that has largely been considered to be a ‘minority,’ it is important to recognize and celebrate the advances that have been made, understand the goals that have yet to be met, and continually strive to bring LGBT acceptance into a more national realm, something that is felt in every single state, much less the entire world.

One of the most notable of these recent accomplishments is, of course, the gay marriage ruling on June 27th last year, and although it did not truly become a reality in every single state and every single county (lest we forget dear Kim Davis in Kentucky), the overall principle was clear: Same-sex marriage is, much like ‘traditional’ marriage, a given right.

Struggles have, of course, not been unknown, the most recent of which is the uproar over the transgender bathroom bill in North Carolina, and the outrage a number of Christians have expressed towards Target continuing to promote itself as a welcoming LGBT national retailer. Gay rights have also worked their way into the election climate, with most Republicans either flat-out opposing it or proclaiming it should be up to the states to decide. Some have gone to greater lengths, swearing to appoint new Supreme Court Justices to repeal the same-sex ruling, amongst other measures.

In today’s climate, for anyone who is closeted in particular, it is, at times, a challenge to be who you are, and say what you feel, and stand by what you believe in, based on the environment you’re in. Being closeted is not, under any circumstances, a bad thing. Every single person comes to terms with who they are as an individual, whether gay or straight or anywhere in-between, on their own time, and nobody can determine the length of that journey except for yourself. Nobody should force you into doing anything you are not uncomfortable with, by any means.

What is not okay, however, is denying who you are as a person, or wishing you could be someone else. Many of us have been in those same shoes. Like many others, I went through my closeted period in late middle school, all of high school, and my first two years of college. I knew who I was, but I was afraid to be who I was, because I believed the results would be…less than favorable, and more importantly, safe to my current situation. But after I came out to my roommate at the end of freshman year, while it resulted in him unexpectedly cutting me out of his life a week and a half later and sending me into one of the most emotionally traumatic tailspins of my life, it also sparked something in me to be more honest with myself, and with other people. It pushed me to lead a more open life, and as the circle of acceptance for me widened over that fall semester and into the spring, I gradually realized that being open, and happy, was far more important than feeling insecure, and so on March 17th, I came out.

And that, really, is something that I think is the most important: Being happy, and doing what makes you happy as a person. There will always be a handful of people who will not be ecstatic with your life choices, and how you decide to live your life, but at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself how much do those people really matter to you. How much do they really love you and support you? If the answer to any of those is no, they are not people you need in your life. You have all the power, right, and responsibility in the world to find people who will unconditionally love you and support you, because life is truly far too short to be anything less than happy.

It’s a lesson I’ve gradually come to accept in my own life as well. A good portion of my friendships currently exist thanks to the Internet, but I have come to realize that they can be a challenge to not only maintain, but to stay engaged in and committed to, because, for other people, things like school, life, and boyfriends quickly get in the way. Unfortunately for me when these people wind up in a relationship, our friendship takes a significant drop, if not, dies off altogether. This has been the case with a fellow anon from Missouri, a friend I made who lives in Tennessee and recently got a boyfriend, another anon from Indiana I’ve been talking to the last few months up until he got a boyfriend several weeks ago, the list goes on.

It’s one of the most unfortunate realizations for me to know that some people view me as nothing more than someone to waste time on until something better comes along. I never expect anyone to talk to me constantly, because I know there’s plenty of other things that take a greater precedence over my existence, and that is fine. That’s understandable. And while I understand people get busy, I also hang on to the belief that nobody can ever be too busy to talk to you, because it only takes a couple seconds, if anything, to pick up the phone and send a text. It may not result in the most in-depth conversation, but it’s something. And that counts, just to show you they’re thinking about you. When it gets to the point where a friend of yours is periodically posting links on Facebook or making snap stories but refuses to hold a conversation with you longer than three or so texts and dodges requests to FaceTime, that’s the point where you have to ask yourself if the friendship is one-sided.

But still, the overall message is that, even if it’s not the world’s longest text, or the most sentimental, there are dozens of ways to show someone you care about them. Anything from asking how their day is, telling them to be careful, wishing them goodnight, and so on are just a handful of examples. The words “I love you” can take on a wide variety of forms if you pay careful enough attention.

One thing in particular that the gay community needs to fix is the same thing I mentioned in my last blog post: The apparent disregard for those who are fat, fem, Asian, black, and so on. Here’s the conspiracy: For people who have anything along those lines in any of their social media/dating profiles, you cannot turn around and proclaim love is love and everyone is equal if you don’t successfully promote that same attitude yourself throughout the year. It is fine to date someone if you’re not attracted to them, or if they’re not your type. What’s not okay is dehumanizing people and making them feel inferior based on race, how feminine they are, and so on. A number of these things are unchangeable and permanent. People should not be made to feel ashamed of who they are. That goes against what those before us have fought for years: We should not feel ashamed for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and everything in-between.

Nobody will know their interests as well as you. You may prefer guys who are taller, or have beards, or enjoy outdoor activities, and things along those lines, which are all perfectly fine. But you cannot categorize an entire group of people based on something like their race, and immediately discredit them as ‘unworthy’ or ‘unfit’ to date you. The reality is that gay guys come in as many different shades as any other demographic. You can’t state all men are assholes, because in that case, how do you expect to have a solid mentality to find a boyfriend believing that all men are assholes? If you count someone out just because they may have some extra pounds on them, you may be denying yourself the opportunity to date a truly incredible person, someone who will unconditionally care for and support you, perhaps even better than the six-pack guys you may be prone to idolizing.

This draws back to another major facet of the gay community: The focus on appearance. Pretty faces are pretty to look at, and to touch, and to kiss. But as time wears on, beauty tends to fade. It’s the classic line, “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” Someone who is visually attractive does not automatically make them an ideal partner. If their personality is horrible, the likelihood of you staying with them for long is tremendously small. Don’t get me wrong, we all fall victim to the visual factor, there’s no denying that whatsoever. But beauty is so much more than skin-deep. Who someone is as a person can, and often does, make them as equally beautiful than the most attractive people in the world. It is important to take care of yourself internally and externally, but looks are not everything, and they shouldn’t be. Ever. There’s so much more to a person than that, and I say this not from a point of reflection on the views of my own personal self-image, but of how I have observed others, both online and offline.

Every single second, of every single minute, of every single hour, within every single day, we have the opportunity to use our voice for something positive. There are many people out there who enjoy being shady, and tearing other people down. I know there’s a number of people with questionable opinions and beliefs and attitudes, a few I know directly from experience. There’s many aspects of the LGBT community that are a long way from being perfect. But rather than spending energy stating over and over again the parts we hate, more energy can be put into promoting a more inclusive environment. A vast number of workplaces, organizations, and businesses have begun this practice. There’s no reason why we can’t do this towards members off ur own community.

It truly is okay to be who you are. There’s always room for self-improvement. You may want to lose a couple pounds. Maybe you’re looking to shake up your wardrobe a bit. Perhaps it’s time to dump some old friends and make some new ones. All of those are up in the air, and up to you, as long as you remain confident and comfortable in your skin, because you should. Your happiness is your most important quality, though it never hurts to extend your talents to making those around you equally happy as well.

For the thousands, if not, millions of people who are still closeted, they need to know, more than anything in the world, it is okay to be gay. It is not, and should never be, something to be ashamed of. Do not deprive yourself of the opportunity to do what makes you happy. There are a vast number of people who are closeted who live in secluded or restrictive communities, and therefore makes it a challenge for them to come out. Where you are at now is not where you will be at forever.

It may be corny, but your greatest, most powerful weapon to combat bigotry, hatred, and discrimination is love. There are people, words, and actions that are undecipherable and indescribable, and you can choose to combat these motives on equal footing, usually when they involve verbal assault, violence, and so forth. Or you can choose to fight against their oppression with compassion, as difficult as that may be at times to do. Fighting fire with the same exact chemical is not going to douse the flame any easier or faster.

We still have a long way to go as a community. I still have a long way to go on my own personal quest towards happiness. But the power of such tools as social media can be put to much bigger use. Think of the number of followers you have. Think of the people you can reach, not only through Twitter, but through other forms as well. We cannot expect other people to love us unless we love each other first.

If you feel trapped, think of where you’re going, not where you’ve come from.

The journey to coming out will be hard. You will likely lose friends along the way, but it will make room for much greater people to take their place.

Do not stop fighting for the life you want to live.

Love is so much stronger than hatred and fear.

Love is love. And love will always win.

Raise Your Voice

(this post was inspired by a video I saw on Facebook earlier today, which was shared by @Th1nd0nly, so if he hadn’t shared it, I wouldn’t have seen it, and wouldn’t be writing this right now.)

When I was younger, I used to believe that things were a million percent better once I got older. Once I got into high school or college, I kept telling myself, I wouldn’t be bullied. I would actually be respected as a person, or at least left alone.

And the unfortunate reality I came across, as do millions of other kids on a regular basis, is that bullying doesn’t stop. Ever. There is always an opponent to your happiness, someone who constantly seeks to drag down your success and the success of those around you. Perhaps most notably in today’s election cycle, a prime example of this is Donald Trump’s name-calling of others as losers, crooked, and so on. Are they the most offensive comments? Of course not, but it does point to the evidence that bullies exist, whether you’re in seventh grade or a 45-year old journalist.

This is the aforementioned video. Kids as young as these are afraid of being themselves, and they’re not even in high school yet.

Not a single human alive is perfect, but something I know many people strive for is to be better, and in that process of being better, the desire to be different can often spring up. In some cases, that desire can completely overshadow the simple need to be better, for self-improvement, and instead you end up focusing on becoming a completely different person altogether, which is often for the worst.

Every single day, there are a lot of things telling you how to be, what’s cool, what’s in, what to eat, what to drink, what to watch, what to wear. And it’s very easy to become absorbed by this preconceived idea of who you should be as a person, because it’s frequently seen as the simplest way to get people to like you and to make new friends. You have to force yourself to like something just because the rest of your friends like it. You have to act like you’re obsessed with a show just so you can have something to contribute to your friends’ conversation. You have to pretend like you’ve been in a relationship or two before just so people don’t think you’re a complete loser.

There ends up being a lot people sacrifice in order to try and fit in. I can’t even begin to name all the movies I’ve seen where the main character pretends not to be interested in a passion of theirs just so they can try to fit in, and unfortunately, it’s a reality I’ve seen in person as well, even from personal experience. For the longest time in high school, I was dying for a social life. Band was the only thing I knew, and most of my days involved going to school and going back home. I knew trying to get into sports would be a no-go, because that’s not who I am. But at the time, me being gay was the biggest secret I had, partially up until the end of April in 2013 (in part), and, when March 17th, 2014 rolled around, it was gone altogether. Being pressured to fit in in middle school and high school can, for some people, be a brutal process, and with my shyness, it was something I struggled with immensely.

This is the same occurrence that happens online as well. Being inclusive to an environment that features people of a wide variety of backgrounds, interests, and opinions, you’re more than likely to meet those who are less than savory, and people who only seek to bring down others for the most insane of reasons. Sharing your opinion, to them, is like asking to be punched in the face, and they will look for every available opportunity to try and knock you down. When I started this blog almost two years ago, one of my first posts about self-acceptance was detailing the rich history of my first encounter with a cyberbully, of someone who I tried, for whatever crazy reasons, to be friends with, which ultimately didn’t work out. People like that exist.

What is more unfortunate, however, is that individuality isn’t accepted, appreciated, and valued as much as it should be, because, if you’re a guy, listening to Ariana Grande has to be something you sweep under the rug, or, for girls, enjoying a heavy metal band or video games are not things you’re “supposed” to be interested in. Many people fail to have a basic level of respect, of letting people live their lives and letting them be happy on their own, because at the end of the day, if a guy wants to walk down Times Square in a dress, who am I to stop him or say no? What power do I have? How is it affecting me?

The answer to that last one in particular: It’s not.

Speaking of online bullying, ABC Family released Cyberbully in 2011, and simultaneously struck a chord with thousands, if not, millions of viewers, myself included. For as difficult and frustrating as parts of the plot were to watch, it spoke to the deep impact bullying can have, regardless of what age you’re at. It’s so easy to let certain words become a part of how you see yourself if you’re not really careful to your own self-perception. And more often than not, walking away from the computer or simply blocking someone is the easiest solution. You should never have to tolerate being treated like you’re less of a person, for whatever reason.

Even amongst the gay community, it’s no secret that equality is still a long way from being a realistically obtainable facet of society, due in part to people who push racism off as preferences, and who refuse to even talk to someone because they’re fat. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve tried initiating conversation with someone on Grindr or Twitter just to be ignored, and then watching those same people talk to other people instead. Is it a self-esteem killer? Absolutely. Yet, at the end of the day, how much can I really get upset about it? Is it the end of the world? Of course not.

For the longest time, however, it did make me wish I was different. That I was more confident, and successful, and that I was in a much different place than where I’m at currently. There have been two instances in my life where I have genuinely wanted to kill myself. There’s a whole host of things about myself I would love to change if I ever had the chance.

At the same time, however, there’s parts of me I appreciate as well. I constantly aim to put other people before me, which in some cases is a bit of a downfall. I care about people way too much to have someone stay mad at me. I try and support as many people as possible, because I believe it’s only natural that we reach out to others. You never know when you may need someone supporting you.

The only way anything in society can change, from how people are treated in school and online, whether they are gay, straight, feminine, masculine, thin, fat, black, latino, transgender, and so on is if we use our voice. It’s not something specific to just LGBT individuals; it’s something specific to society as a whole. People need to know it’s okay to be themselves. I hid who I was for the longest time, and my life could be drastically different now had things played out differently in my past. But still, I’ve embraced where I am, and am slowly trying to learn to love myself exactly as I am.

No one single person can, nor should, dictate our happiness. Whatever actions we choose should be ours to make alone. No single person has the right to deny us anything we are entitled to as citizens of the United States. We need to speak up for people who can’t. Every single person deserves to, at the least, well welcomed, accepted, and appreciated, because you never know the battles someone else is facing, particularly if you never talk to them. It is humanly impossible to love every single person you interact with. That will never happen. But treating other people with an open mind will go much, much farther than casting judgment. It’s the same principle for Christians who judge and hate gay people but claim to follow the Bible and are self-proclaimed people lovers. You can’t have it both ways! You either accept people, or you discriminate against them. Hopefully you choose the former. Hopefully things can move past a mother parading through a Target store, wielding a Bible and denouncing their “wicked practice” of allowing transgender people to use whichever bathroom they identify with.

There’s also this video to think about, which is something I shared on my blog several months ago. It’s a minute shy of 20, but it’s incredibly worth the watch, and the context can be used beyond what is on the surface. Imagine if being black was the norm, or being fat, and how the societal roles would be reversed. Would people still be treated in the same manner? It’s one of the most powerful videos I’ve ever seen, and it underscores how truly vital it is to bring a basic level of equality and acceptance to everyone,  not just those within the LGBT community. Again, this goes beyond being an “LGBT issue.” This is an issue with society, and more and more people need to speak up and fight back against it. Everyone has their own lives, and stresses, and challenges to deal with each and every day, but you would be surprised how wonderful it feels reaching out to someone and letting them know that they are not as alone as they think. Take it from me. We truly have more power than we realize, and I hope more and more people begin to put their voices to use, myself included.

“Every single day, we go online and we scroll through the highlight reel of other people’s awesome lives. But we don’t see the highlight reel of our awesome lives, all we see is the behind the scenes of our lives. We see every single moment, from when we wake up. You see your doubts, you see your fears, you see your concerns. You’re the only that’s inside your brain feeling all of your anxieties, and the voices that are telling you that you can’t be who you want to be, or that you’re not who you want to be, or that you want to be more like that other person right over there. Let me tell you, people are mean to each other, but no voices are as mean as our own voices are to ourselves. Every day, when you look in the mirror and your mind is telling you all the things you’re not, if those things are you’re not cool enough,  you’re not pretty enough, you’re not popular enough, you’re not successful enough, you’re not special, you’re not wanted, you’re not unique. Those are not the things you are not. Let me tell you the things you are not. You are not somebody else’s opinion of you. You are not going nowhere just because you are not where you want to be yet. You are not damaged goods just because you have made mistakes in your life. Those are the things you are not. Let me tell you the things that you are. You are your own definition of beautiful and worthwhile, and no one else’s definition. You are wiser, stronger, and smarter because you made mistakes in your life, not damaged. I’ve realized that it’s not about being perfect, it’s not about feeling perfect. I think that sometimes it’s just about getting on with things, and after a while, you look around and you realize that you’re happy today, and that’s all that matters. And I just want you to know that one thing I have learned in 25 years and I’m still learning, is that if you get rained on, you walk through a bunch of storms, life is constantly coming at you, that doesn’t make you damaged. It makes you clean.” – Taylor Swift, The 1989 World Tour, Hyde Park, June 27th, 2015.