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My Ex-Gay Past & Current "Queer Joy" Became One In An Unexpected Way
I can embrace the wholeness of being a gay man, with a terrible past, because authenticity is where personal peace lives...
Yesterday I was sitting in the hot tub messaging/texting friends and a small dragonfly flew in and perched on top of my iPhone. He would fly off and come right back off and on for several minutes. So I asked the Universe,” Universe, what are you trying to say to me?” So I messaged Martina and she said to google it, lol. So, I looked up the symbolism of the dragonfly and got:
“The Dragonfly normally lives most of its life as a nymph or an immature. It flies only for a fraction of its life. This symbolizes and exemplifies the virtue of living in the moment and living life to the fullest. By living in the moment, you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t, and to make informed choices on a moment-to-moment basis. The eyes of the Dragonfly symbolize the uninhibited vision of the mind and the ability to see beyond the limitations of the human self. Dragonflies can be a symbol of self that comes with maturity. They can symbolize going past self-created illusions that limit our growth and ability to change.
The Dragonfly has been a symbol of happiness, new beginnings, and change for many centuries. The Dragonfly means hope, change, and love.”
Kinda perfect. And, along those lines… I have an experience to share.
An experience about how two BIG compartmentalized aspects of my life came together as one at a recent conference. I also made a deeper realization that owning both of those aspects as one, in the moment, is not something to be feared. I never hid my past religious activities or beliefs at work. They all know who I was and the person I now truly am.
I just really tried to not talk about it too long at work because “I” was still ashamed of myself. Plus, I am there to do a specific job and all that :), not share war stories.
This recent experience reaffirmed a lesson I have been learning through the memoir writing/editing/publishing process. I am one soul on one journey. I will own all of who I was and am. I will always own the moment I inhabit with the wealth of experiences that brought me to that very moment.
If you had told me ten years ago, I would be at a work-sponsored event where over four thousand LGBTQ+ professionals gathered in person at a Disney World, two thousand more virtually, to discuss how to increase visibility in the workplace…I would have blinked three times and said… huh? Who? Me? … nope NOpe noPE NOPE!
Yet there I was with some colleagues a few weeks ago representing our company at the biggest conference I have ever attended; the Out & Equal 2023 Workplace Summit.
And every major company was a sponsor. Well, every one of them that I like anyway. Even Cracker Barrel was there!
Along with amazing keynote speakers like Laverne Cox, Netta, Brandon Wolf, Alok, and many others, we also got to hear from O&E’s CEO, Erin Uritus. I respect Erin’s passion, vision, and leadership. During the conference, I loved going to the workshops on how to better develop corporate BRGs (business resource groups), special panels on activism and its history, amazing trans speakers, resources, panels, and representation. There were interviews with authors and a whole panel of NBC lgbtq+ reporters having a great discussion on their experience as queer reporters. During the day I enjoyed wonderful conversations with my colleagues on how, what, why, and when to do certain efforts and projects where we work.
I’ve said a lot over the past few years that now that I know better, I want to do better; I used to use my superpowers for evil and I want to use them for good.
I did at this conference, and it felt GREAT! I felt a skillset I hadn’t fully used in a decade get passionately engaged and it was electrifying.
Plus, after the day’s activity, we had SO much fun over drinks, dinner, and laughter. One night we went to the Animal Kingdom and went on the 3D screechy Avatar ride (I was the one screaming/narrating through the whole thing), swam in beautiful pools, and even floated around a lazy river at one of them. My colleagues are hilarious. Some of us adopted names: One of them is Momma, I am Auntie, another is Gampy, and yet another is Blanche! Lol
So not only was it of great benefit professionally, but I also felt included in the community in a way I never felt to this extent before. I never knew this level of professional fulfillment, as an openly gay man, could exist for me. I am glad I found this job, worked hard, and earned my way into this world; it’s a good fit.
Along with all of that, I had quite a few deep conversations with a new work friend, Michael Galluccio. He and his husband Jon made history in the United States as the first gay couple to legally adopt their children as a couple. They paved the way in New Jersey for gay couples to adopt their children jointly just like any other straight couple has been able to do without question since people began adopting children. Their historic precedent would soon spread to all fifty states and even the concept of gay parenting would become mainstream due to their courage.
The best part is I got to tease him many times a day for several days. He’s easily teasable. Our energies matched instantly.
What?! You are swimming in the pool with HIM now!?
I have permission from Michael to share this story. Below is a synopsis of a couple of conversations that I am glad we’ve had that day and beyond the pool.
The question above was from Michael’s husband on the other end of the call Michael made while standing in four feet of water. His surprise came after Michael shared with him that I used to be an ex-gay right-wing conservative advocate who supported all the people who were fighting against their efforts during their adoption fight in the late 90s.
Yeah… it happened. If I were Jon I would be surprised too.
I probably did but I don’t remember ever writing about or talking publicly (maybe in radio interviews?) about gay adoption. I am sure I did but can’t remember where or when. But I remember their case and at the time shaking my head with religious hypocritical disdain. And here we were over twenty years later laughing, swapping stories, hanging out in a big ol’ swimming pool drinking cocktails, and did I mention a lot of laughing?
Also, while Michael and his husband were lobbying for gay marriage in New Jersey, we figured out that I was the one who whipped up pastors at four different events in New Jersey to hold a protest during one of the hearings on the matter that they were at. We are still digging around to see where our past advocacy paths crossed… it’s kind of amazing.
Now, this shocking phone conversation (for Michael’s husband) happened on the last day of the conference. Michael and I had some pretty deep conversations over the days so he knew my story, how I got sucked up into that world, and how I finally found my way out. I shared with him that I kept my faith but am now more of a Universalist Christian. He asked some great questions and said his mind was blown. I didn’t press him for an explanation for blowing his mind because I could see something was happening deep within him. I sensed I should let him be.
It’s been several weeks and we have had a few work meetings together and offhandedly he would insert, “That time in the pool is one of the best experiences of my life.” I was shocked and thought that was out of left field but welcomed. After the second time he said it, I texted him a day later and asked if we could set up a time to talk about it. So we did…
Michael shared that before I came along he would have thought that people like the self-loathing version of me, would never be able to or want to leave, the right-wing religious world; a world bent on fighting LGBTQ+ people on every level. Basically, in his mind, he had judged us as having no hope for us to escape our religious bigotry to grow and evolve.
He shared that our conversations opened his eyes to how vulnerable gay people can get sucked up into that world and brainwash us to the point we can’t or wouldn’t want to leave.
He said I represented a complex and very real person and not a religious caricature he didn’t even realize he had imposed on people. Michael said he realized that he was doing the same thing that right-wing haters do to their opponents: oversimplifying and looking down on his opponents with the same locked-in negative attitude.
He didn’t want to be like that anymore and was very happy we met and became friends. He also said it had ignited some thoughts on his personal faith. I don’t feel comfortable sharing that part of his story. That’s his story to tell if he ever wants to do so.
Embracing the Whole, not fearing the parts…
I live in the Orlando area (Sanford) and drove to Disney World for the conference. On the way down, briefly… much briefer over the years, I felt that familiar knot of fear in my stomach of people bringing up my past. But over time, I have learned to not push it aside. Instead, I reminded myself that my past and present are always with me, wherever I go because I embody all of it and should embrace the wholeness, not fear the parts. I made a personal commitment to authenticity when I came out in 2015 and today I am seeing the benefits of that commitment in exponential ways.
You know, using my superpowers for good and embracing my queer joy by living, loving, laughing, and swimming around with beautiful people in pools revealed something.
The journey was hard AF and still can be, but authenticity is worth the very real and sometimes hard to keep commitment. It’s worth it because authenticity is the only place where personal peace lives.
Thank you, Out & Equal
Thank you, Michael and Jon.
Thanks, Universe, for the visiting message of a beautiful dragonfly.
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