Personal Experience Spotlight: Cosi Saint-Phard

The Joy of Roller Coasters and the Power of Connectivity

I had a heart to heart with an employee the other day. He’s a tall, strong African American male with his whole life ahead of him. However he’s apprehensive about a lot of things. I said to him, “It’s really incredible how much people hate things that they have zero familiarity with.” I have countless experiences that demonstrate the power of connectivity. When I was in college at Syracuse University, I met lots of people that were Jewish. The best description of Judaism to me is a heritage; it goes beyond a religious belief system. I’m not Jewish but my friends who are still insisted that I come to their homes for Passover Seder. I drank wine with them, fellowshipped with them, and had an amazing meal. It was the absolute pleasure of my life listening to them sing songs and recite the biblical story of their liberation from Egypt.

When I was done with school, I moved back home to Binghamton, NY for a while, and I met wonderful people from Bosnia whom I consider family today. They also happened to be Muslim. They invited me into their homes to sing songs and dance dances that were from their country and eat Bosnian food. I am not a Muslim, nor am I Bosnian, yet I was always welcomed with open arms.

When I was older still, one of my very best friends honored me and made me one of her bridesmaids. She’s white, I’m not. Her parents are conservatives. I am not. However, they insisted that I bring my girlfriend at the time as my date to their daughter’s wedding without any hesitation. I was allowed to witness my friend marrying the love of her life at the altar of an episcopal church and then, together in dresses, dance with my girlfriend on the dance floor like everyone else.

On the other side of things, I grew up in church as a Christian in an evangelical environment where you raise your hands and your voice on Sunday to praise the Lord. I went on a missions trip to Mexico and laid my hands on people to pray for them. This was over 10 years ago now but I still don’t think there’s a more intimate act, than to put your hands on someone’s shoulders that you don’t know at all, and beg that life treats them kind. That’s really what prayer is. If you didn’t know already, I am gay. Surprisingly, not one of the people I grew up with in church, in a church that considers that a grave sin, has shown me one bit of malice for it. They have shown me nothing but love, if not acceptance.

I know that not everyone has been so fortunate and I refuse to diminish the pain that people have experienced for being “different” with this post. That is very real indeed.

This is just to say that: Hate is not something that’s natural. It’s actually quite unnatural. There are many people out there with these preconceived notions that are false. That’s like listening to someone who tells you they hate roller coasters but have never actually been on one.

If this is my purpose on earth–perhaps it is–my life has been a living testament that people will love you no matter how they were raised or how you think they will act. Systematic misery exists but it DOES NOT have to define us. In my life, love and compassion have defined me, and I have found it in the strangest of places. I am eternally grateful. This is the America people have fought and died for. This is the America people are kneeling for today. And this is the America I’m praying for to continue to exist, a place where we can co-exist FREELY without FEAR! Seriously, what a blessing it has been to be wrong in a world full of people dying to be right. To find out, hey, roller coasters are actually freaking awesome and that people, well people are fucking dope. We don’t have to look alike, act alike, or believe the same things to love each other! Don’t buy into this garbage. It’s not true. I promise you, it’s not true.

© Cosi Saint-Phard for Acceptance Revolution, 2017

Interested in sharing your own experience? Click here for details!

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An Open Letter to My Community

I haven’t directly said my piece on anything yet, but I’m keeping up with everyone: Those of you who are sick, stunned, outraged, fearful for yours and your childrens’ futures, etc., I feel you and I’m with you. I’m also heartened to realize how many truly fine people I am fortunate to know … and how many heterosexual cis white men in particular I know who are speaking out in recognition of their own privilege and in support of those of us who do not benefit from it – my gratitude for all of you is extra hard. And then there’s the handful of you who I either know in your way are trying to help us all move on with an “it’s not that bad” or who I know just flat out don’t get the gravity of things – not because you’re bad people or “part of the problem,” but because you’re viewing the situation through the lens of your own privilege and have never found yourselves in a position where you had to really consider or examine it. So here’s the piece you’re missing about the strong reactions the rest of us are having to this election: This is not about anyone being “butthurt” because the candidate they wanted didn’t win, and it’s not even about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. For those of us who do not benefit from the same privileges you do, this is often devastating and scary on a personal level, first and foremost because it is shedding stark light not only on our marginalization or on the racism, sexism, hatred, and divisiveness that exists in this country, but on the people in our lives whom we have known, loved, and trusted whom we are now learning do not stand with us or for our rights. Let me get even more personal: for me, there’s plenty of this that can be boiled down to the undeniability of the fact that my own mother gave more of a shit about my basic human rights when I was a fetus than she does now. Seriously, go back, reread that sentence, and wrap your brain around that one. I’ll wait. I have plenty more examples from others I know and love too- that’s just a tiny piece of my own story. I don’t blame anyone, but there are those of you whose dismissiveness is disappointing to say the least. I’m choosing to believe that it stems from a lack of understanding rather than some deep-seeded belief on your part that I or any other marginalized person I happen to know and love is somehow “less than” you, and I hope this helps clarify things a bit.

© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2016


The Importance of Solidarity in Sadness

Tennessee Williams once wrote that “When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”
Another renowned and beloved Williams – the recently and dearly departed icon of our generation, Robin Williams – had another spin on that sentiment, one which has always resonated deeply with me: “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone; it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”
I’m not normally one to comment on celebrity news in general, particularly the stories of the more tragic variety, mainly because I’m not a big believer in living or suffering vicariously through the lives and tragedies of people I’ve never met. But this one is hitting close to home for me, and the subsequent outpouring of articles on depression awareness and suicide prevention that has come on the heels of Robin Williams’ tragic passing has intensified that.
When I first heard the news, I uncharacteristically posted about it on my personal Facebook page and Instagram account. My truth on the matter is this: Check in every now and then with the people in your life who laugh the loudest or seem the strongest, and make sure they’re really doing okay; they’re often the ones who cry behind closed doors and need support the most. As someone who takes on the role of either  lightening the mood or playing the rock for others depending on what the situation calls for, I know this firsthand. Even though I’m the type who stays on call pretty much 24/7  to provide support to the people in my life, not many check in with me to see how I’m doing, seeming to take the mentality of, “Oh, Kristin’s the strong one; she’s got this.” In all fairness, I don’t reach out for support when I need it either; the prospect of asking feels exhausting, so I drop off the grid and hide out in my room until it passes. I also tend to feel loneliest when I’m around other people and feeling ill at ease – ever the queen of “alone in the crowd” – even more so when depression strikes. And I can’t help but wonder if, perhaps, Robin Williams may have been in the same boat.
The other day, a friend and I took a little moment to remember Robin Williams over dinner, and she commented on an article she’d read that had upset her as it had clearly been written by someone who didn’t understand depression and seemed to take the oversimplifying stance that  somehow this tragedy could have been avoided if only his family had loved him more… which – to anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of what depression actually entails anyway – is a completely absurd conclusion. No matter how lonely and isolated I might feel when I’m going through my own dark times, I don’t think I’ve ever believed this to be the case, and I can’t imagine Williams did either. In his beautiful tribute to Robin Williams, comedian Russell Brand, too, says as much: “Robin Williams could have tapped anyone in the western world on the shoulder and told them he felt down and they would have told him not to worry, that he was great, that they loved him. He must have known that. He must have known his wife and kids loved him, that his mates all thought he was great, that millions of strangers the world over held him in their hearts, a hilarious stranger that we could rely on to anarchically interrupt, the all-encompassing sadness of the world. Today Robin Williams is part of the sad narrative that we used to turn to him to disrupt.”
When that aforementioned outpouring of articles began, I kind of obsessively read them. The sad irony of  how something so lonely and isolating that it feels like no one else could possibly understand it when you’re the one walking through it is actually so widely relatable and seemed to be hitting so close to home for so many people really struck a chord with me.
While there was the inevitable flip side of criticism with regard to these articles – which, to an extent, I understand, and in many instances agree with as far as the whole phenomenon of the social media attention whoring of vicarious suffering goes – I think in this case, we may have found an exception to the rule.  As someone who has both struggled with depression myself as well as seen several people I love battle it, I firmly believe it’s so very important for people to know that other people “get it” and that they’re not alone in what they’re going through. And – criticisms aside – the sheer number of people who are talking about it helps contribute to that. A dear friend of mind recently texted me detailing how sad and lost he was feeling in his own depression, and I responded – as you do – with heartfelt words of comfort and encouragement, all the while deeply admiring his courage. Being vulnerable enough to admit to another person that you’re not okay is one of the hardest, bravest things in the world… and sometimes, it feels too daunting to actually do so. Particularly if – like me – you’re everyone’s rock. Or perhaps, too, if – like Williams – you’re everyone’s beacon of joy and laughter. Solidarity in this instance matters so much, especially because the act of reaching out of those depths does feel like such an enormous effort. So personally, I’m all for people talking about this, increasing awareness and mindfulness about – as Brand puts it – “how fragile we all are, how delicate we are, even when fizzing with divine madness that seems like it will never expire,” and striving for kindness and compassion. No, it won’t magically bring Robin Williams back. And maybe it won’t change anything. But maybe – just maybe – you’ll help someone feel a little less alone and, even more importantly, a little more understood in their darkness. And that matters… sometimes more than we can even begin to realize.

 

© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2014


Personal Experience Spotlight: Mallorie Ruston

“Hearts, Not Parts”: Breaking the Cycle of Biphobia-Induced Shame

            When I was about five years old and my mom was pregnant with my sister, she met a woman named Nese who she then left my dad for. Growing up in a world of Ptown and same sex couples and rainbow stickers then seemed like no big deal; that was just how life was: People loved people, and it never seemed to matter whether they were male or female. At the same time, I started to “hook up” with the neighborhood girls… so even at a young age, I knew that I liked boys but also really liked girls.

Hearts Not Parts

It wasn’t until 3rd grade when a boy in my class told everyone my mom was a lesbian that I started to have feelings of being ashamed and like maybe it was different to have two moms. This was circa 1994, way before Ellen and Rosie. There was no media to look up to and tell us such feelings were totally ok and shouldn’t be hidden. So when we transferred to a very prestigious and wealthy high school, my mom’s beat up old jeep with a rainbow sticker was the last thing I wanted to be seen in. And it wasn’t until I graduated high school in 2004 that I felt comfortable enough to express to others – including my mother – that I felt like I was bisexual. And surprisingly enough, the one person who took it not very well was my bisexual mother, stating, “Being gay is just such a harder lifestyle. I just wouldn’t choose for you to be a minority.” She of all people told me it was just an experimental phase and that I would get over it.

Well, it’s 2014, and after completing my Bachelors in Science in sociology and taking majorly enlightening classes about gender and sexuality, I’ve realized there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. And I wish I could have known Kinsey; I would love to just make out with his face for creating the Kinsey scale. Even the media has opened my eyes with shows like Nip Tuck and The L Word and Queer as Folk. I spent time living in Hollywood, and WeHo is the most amazingly accepting and beautiful place. Even the cop cars had rainbows on them. I had never felt so comfortable being exactly who the fuck I was. In fact, my first night In WeHo I had so much fun dancing and being me, I woke up the next morning in a pool of my own pee! God, what a great night!

But aside from all of it, there is one way I know I am completely and totally gender neutral toward lovers: My dreams. When I dream, I have the most explicit sexual fantasies about both men and women equally. When I am attracted to someone, it’s their soul I want to be close to. The body parts are just perks. I have better sex with girls, definitely, and can only truly get off with them. But when it comes to dating and being in actual relationships, it normally tends to be with guys; they are just simpler and less dramatic. Also, I think part of me knows I was meant to end up being in a lesbian relationship … I just feel more authentic in the gay world.

My mom is now dating men and has been since I was 13, saying woman are just too emotional and too much work; she is 58 and still single. It’s so funny with the stereotypes these days because everyone always tells me I “look straight,” and that my little sister, who is as straight as the day is long, “looks gay” … and I’ve always thought, “What the fuck does that even mean?” People are also constantly telling me to “pick one or the other already,” and I’m just so sick of it. Lesbians think I’m greedy, and straight people think I’m confused. But I’m not confused; I simply reply with, “There are so many flavors of ice cream in the world, why would I eat one for the rest of my life?” Fortunately, I have never been one to care what people think of me especially those that can’t understand me.

I still keep in close contact with my other mother Nese, and she is the only spouse of either of my parents that I still feel a connection with. I am very thankful to have been raised in a very liberal and open-minded world, even though it was more difficult at times. It has made me who I am: a very bold, loving, honest (sometimes too honest), accepting person. I may not have a career or ridiculous house or car, but I have the ability to love and take care of people around me. I make friends everywhere I go with all kinds of people. I am wholeheartedly passionate about people and traveling and seeing things that can open my eyes and my heart. My ideal job would be to open and run some sort of LGBT center for anyone seeking help or guidance as a life coach … maybe someday!

© Mallorie Ruston for Acceptance Revolution, 2014

Interested in sharing your own experience? Click here for details!


High-Wire Act: Treading the Line Between Acceptance and Self-Care

This is a hell of a post to write.

There’s a famous saying about how if we don’t learn from our past mistakes, we’re doomed to repeat them. Basically, life has this funny and sometimes excruciating way of presenting us with the same experiences time and again until the lesson we’re meant to learn from them finally sticks. And for me – even before the conception of this website – it’s been setting boundaries and figuring out where I draw the line when my notion of myself as this empathic, open, accepting person begins to become hazardous to my mental and emotional well-being.

quoteThe first pronounced incidence of this came nearly four years ago when an ex-girlfriend and close friend of mine began her descent into the abyss of addiction. Religious types might describe this as a “love the sinner, hate the sin,” scenario (although I personally don’t know too many of those types who actually manage to pull that off in a genuinely accepting, compassionate, non-judgmental way). Either way, I futilely tried to “save” her (which, at the time, she had no interest in) and finally realized I was in over my head and needed to break free when I found myself in an NA meeting (because she wouldn’t go to one herself) crying to a roomful of strangers after assuring them that I wasn’t Marla Singer, I just needed some backup and didn’t know where else to turn. Taking a tip from a comment Dr. Drew made on that season of Celebrity Rehab, I eulogized  “the her I used to know” for myself (a bit morbid and melodramatic, perhaps, but it was effective in the moving forward process) and wished her well, telling her that I hoped she made it out alive but that I had to wash my hands of the situation because it was unhealthy for me.

I like to think I learned the bulk of my lesson on that one, but it seems life has begged to differ; every now and again, I’ll get hit with a smaller scale refresher course. Usually, it’s something as simple as fading a toxic friend out of my life… and nine times out of ten, they’ll actually even do it for me, losing interest when I do something “unforgivable” like, say, reach the executive decision that life is too short for a pity party and stop putting my own needs and happiness on hold to cater to their deep commitment to wallowing in misery and negativity. But those are easy, hardly really “lessons” at all as much as they’re a long-run contribution to an improved quality of life… or, as Oscar Wilde put it, “Some cause happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go.” It’s when I find myself having to sever ties with someone I love and who – for the most part – has been a positive asset to my life that things get tricky, and recently, I’ve been faced with just such a situation.

So, what do you do – especially as someone who’s set themselves up publicly as a beacon of acceptance – when accepting the choices of someone you love interferes with your own mental and emotional well-being, making keeping them around while simultaneously exercising necessary self-care seem like an impossible feat? Without going into too much detail, I recently made the difficult decision to cut someone who’s been extremely special and significant to me out of my life. Further complicating the situation, this wasn’t even someone who had done anything “wrong” themselves, but rather, who was going down a path that was completely out of alignment with anything I wanted for my own life. Paulo Coehlo wrote that, “It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path,” and while that certainly rings true, it’s hard to just sit back and watch someone you love making choices that you might view as potentially destructive. And on the flip side, it feels really fucking self-righteous to even say that, but it is what it is at the end of the day. Plus… you really can’t say anything anyway; not unless you’re prepared to do battle, which I don’t recommend. It’s never worth it. Ever. All it does is stir up angst and anger and misunderstanding and a metric fuck ton of pain, and the outcome never changes. Because the thing is, we all have our life lessons to learn, and no matter how well-intentioned it may be, trying to help someone else “skip ahead” because we love them and don’t want to see them hurt only does them a disservice in the end. My yoga teacher (who is brilliant and amazing and somehow always manages to drop the precise gem of wisdom I happen to need on me at the precise moment I most need it) often uses her children as an example of this, describing the experience of wanting to “stand in life’s doorway and protect them from anything that could harm them,” but recognizing that in doing so, she would be preventing their learning lessons that will help them grow.

I know she’s right, of course. It’s just that the acceptance of that fact is a really hard lesson to learn in and of itself… and it comes with a bitch of a learning curve, quite frankly. Or maybe the answers even lie in the email I received from a random guy who happened to stumble across this site and explained that, while he loved the concept as a whole:

“I have decided to reject the word acceptance in my life (not to accept acceptance). Accepting, in my understanding of the word, means that we finally allow something we dislike to enter our life: our noisy neighbor, a disease, those infamous politicians, our personality, ignorance, you name it. It implicitly says something like ‘I will live with it, and I will twist myself enough so that I can endure this pain, as I follow an idealization of myself as open to everything that happens in the world that surrounds me.’
I don’t want to ‘accept’. I want to embrace. Embracing happens once we have integrated the opposites, once our true genuine self has incorporated the alien thing in the body, the mind and the spirit. I know that ‘unconditional acceptance’ means it, that it speaks about that very process of embracing. And yet I still keep feeling incomplete and dissatisfied when I hear or read ‘accepting.’ I think we need profound ontological distinctions that describe (and embrace) the world to come in a more accurate way.”

Definitely some food for thought. I’m not sure I’m quite there yet, though. I don’t have a clever, pithy little ending to tie all this together. It’s all a perpetual learning process, and truthfully, I might always struggle with the boundaries of acceptance without sacrificing my own self-care. All I can hope is that I at least “passed” my lesson this time around… because this is certainly not a course I ever care to repeat.

© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2013


“One, But Not the Same”

I know I’m a good week behind as far as throwing in my two cents on this issue, and honestly, it wasn’t even something I thought I’d be voicing any kind of public opinion on at all. I don’t feel like I pay anywhere near as much attention to what’s going on in the world as I think I should, so it’s very rare you’ll hear me make any kind of comment on current events. Obviously, though, unless I had pulled a Thoreau and retreated to the woods somewhere for a couple years, hearing about the Zimmerman trial verdict this past week and all the varying viewpoints seemingly everyone had to share was pretty hard to miss … even if I’d been completely oblivious and ignorant of events (which, I’m pleased to report, I was not), I would have, at the very least, seen Trayvon Martin’s name, photo, and the popular black hooded silhouette graphic pop up in my Facebook feed enough times to connect the dots. Still, beyond a simple share of a short, sweet, to the point memorial article on the Acceptance Revolution Facebook page, I didn’t expect to weigh in on anything either way. But then I got to thinking and googling, and eventually, one thing led to another.

A couple months ago, I gave a little Facebook nod to Sam Killermann of It’s Pronounced Metrosexual for his thought-provoking article, “Being an Ally: Between a Rock and a Hard Place” , in which he discussed the difficulties of being a trans* ally as a cisgendered man, not only because of the “rocks,” aka the homophobic and transphobic hate mailers, but also because of the “hard places,” trans* people who feel that, as a cis person, Killermann “should stay out of the fight for trans* rights.” He discusses the expected impact of the hate speech and name calling, as well as the less-expected rejection by those whom he is trying to fight alongside. While I’m not yet “known” enough to have encountered either, that provided me with some serious food for thought.

With all the “I am Trayvon Martin” posts and profile picture changes to that black-hooded silhouette in displays of solidarity cropping up this past week , I remembered that article and started thinking about something that occurred at my Off the Mat, Into the World training a year ago as well. During one of the exercises, one woman at the training shared some of the struggles she faces as a woman of color and got understandably upset when another participant – a blonde, blue-eyed, upper-middle-class type – alleged that she could relate because her fiancé was black. In a check-in session later on in the workshop, the first woman passionately and tearfully explained her view of the difference between being an ally and showing support versus claiming to understand or relate to something that hasn’t been your own personal experience, and it made a ton of sense: expressing solidarity and support is one thing; claiming to understand an experience that could never happen to you personally is downright insulting to those facing that particular struggle … and in fact, I’m always careful to disclaimer anything I speak or write on that hasn’t been my own personal experience for those very reasons. With that flicker of memory in mind, I got inspired to google the phrase “I am not Trayvon Martin,” and – albeit late to the “party” – I stumbled across this beautiful post, courtesy of Colorado high school music teacher Bob Seay. His closing statements convey exactly the reason why I started this website, and, at least from my understanding of things based on his writings, why Killermann identifies himself as an ally as well. As Seay so eloquently put it:

“You don’t have to be Trayvon Martin to know this is wrong. You don’t have to be black, or young, or a ‘troubled student’ or a pot smoker to know this was murder. And you don’t have to be the parent of Trayvon Martin to know this was a gross miscarriage of justice.
Let me be more blunt: This type of injustice will continue until enough guys like me — guys who are not Trayvon Martin — have had enough of it and finally say ‘No more.’
You don’t have to be Trayvon Martin.
You just have to be human.”

The “Not Trayvon Martin” movement has evidently received its share of criticism as well. And although NYC columnist Daniel Greenfield’s points that if he were shot, “There would be no rallies for me and no t-shirts with my name on it. No one would be talking about how they are me or aren’t me … [and] no one would care what brand of candy I was carrying or what I was wearing or where I was going,” are probably pretty valid ones, I, for one, happen to disagree with his overall view of the issue, specifically his dismissal of these displays of solidarity, simply writing them off as “liberal idiocy [involving] white college kids apologizing for their ‘white privilege'”. On the contrary, I’m inclined to agree with Seay that it’s important to say “no more” to injustice everywhere, no matter who we are.

I am a white, working class female who presents in accordance with my assigned-at-birth gender role. I pass for heteronormative, so the only flak I’m ever going to take is from someone who finds out about and disagrees with my self-proclaimed queerness in regard to my dating preferences. I am not Trayvon Martin. Nor am I Gwen Araujo, Brandon Teena, Larry King, Angie Zapata, or any of the countless other trans* people who have been murdered simply for being who they are. But I know the difference between right and wrong, justice and injustice. I can recognize hatred and intolerance when I see it, and I have no qualms about saying outright that I believe educating oneself about differences and that which we don’t understand beats the hell out of making assumptions and snap judgments and writing people off any day of the week. So I happen to appreciate Seay’s view that, “You don’t have to be Trayvon Martin. You just have to be human.”

This is the first post where I’ll be including a video because I really feel that several of the lyrics in this song speak to the core of what I’m trying to say here better than I can express on my own: “We’re one, but we’re not the same; we get to carry each other.” And, in my opinion, if we’re really “doing it right,” we’ll recognize that, lift each other up, and realize that, truly, “Love is a higher law,” than anything else we can come up with. As far as I’m concerned – and call me crazy or naïve on this one – love and acceptance is what all of this is all about … and all that really matters when all is said and done.

© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2013


Personal Experience Spotlight: William (Bill) M. Alexander

I Am Who I Say I Am

    As a writer, names are a crucial step in the process of creating a good, well-rounded, believable character. Over the years, I’ve come up with dozens of characters. Probably close to the one hundred mark at this point.  And not one of them has been named by process of quick thought or random choice. I spend a lot of time thinking up their names, how they sound, and how they fit the overall sense of who it is I’m giving them to. Names mean a lot to me. That’s why I changed mine.

From a young age, I was overweight and had an overactive imagination and an assortment of oddball family members that made carnies seem relatable, both literally and figuratively. And once puberty hit, I really knew I was screwed, as when my male friends starting noticing the girls in our class, I started noticing the boys. All of this quirky dysfunction was summed up in what I considered the worst name on earth: William Allen Schulz.

My first name came from my grandfather on my mom’s side, who was also William. My middle name came from my father’s side of the family, after a distant uncle I’d never met, per a request I have an ‘A’ somewhere in my name. My last name, as it was spelled, should have been pronounced with a sliding ‘sezz’ sound at the end, but because of my family’s impeccable taste for difference, they pronounced it as though it were spelled Schultz, only without the T. I’ve had arguments, yes, actual arguments, with people on how to say my last name.

With this as my reality, I delved into writing as a way to cope. Through writing, I explored the complex and freighting scenarios the real me wasn’t ready to handle. In effect, I came up with characters that did what I could not, or—thought I could not. There was Max, the artist, who followed his dream, regardless of what others thought of him. Maris, the shameless flirt I never thought I could be. Miss LeQuesha, a voluptuous African American woman who embodied my sassy, take no BS nature. And Cassandra, a take no prisoners badass who made anyone who opposed her quiver in fear as she pressed the tip of her heel into the side of their face. And then there was Alex. Alex was handsome, funny, and sweet, balanced with a dash of nerdiness. I envied Alex in every way you could desire to be another person, most of all for his name.

The first time I heard the name Alex was in my sixth grade gym class.  It belonged to what I considered at the time to be the handsomest boy I’d ever seen. I loved everything about his name. How it was spelled (I found the x exotic), how it came from the tongue with a smooth roll, and above all else, how it sounded passing from our gym teacher’s lips to my ears. Alex was a name I associated with rugged appeal and strength. It didn’t take long until Alex Williams was born, my very first pen name. Finding some redemption with my first name, I began to sign every piece of writing I finished ‘Alex Williams,’ even toying with the idea of changing my first name to Alex and my last name to Williams. At that time, I was going through a number of changes, physically and personally. When I was twenty-two, I came out of the closest as a gay man and in the following years, I lost over one hundred pounds. I gained a sense of style and adopted a medley of wonderfully supportive friends. Slowly, I turned the focus of what I perceived as ‘wrong’ with me – namely my odd sense of humor, overactive imagination, and sexuality – into something special and worth embracing.

I realized I had come to embody many of the characters I created. It was not they who I had taken my strength from, but rather I who’d given my strength to them to nurture and protect until I was ready to carry it myself. With all the changes I had made in my life, both inside and out, I knew I no longer desired the name I was given. William A. Schulz felt like a second, constricting skin, one I willingly kept blanketed around myself in favor of its suffocating familiarity. He was a fat, self-loathing mess who’d outstayed his welcome. I came to the decision in early June of 2012 that I would legally change my name to William Michael Alexander. I came up with a covert plan to go through the process of changing my name while keeping my family in the dark. To some degree, I was successful in the operation. I researched everything I needed to do to legally change my name and only confided what I had done and what lay ahead to a few trusted friends. Shortly before my court date, I came out to my family in regards to my change and found an overwhelming response of indifference.

My favorite reaction by far since then has been when I tell someone about my name change and have them respond with a quiet concern and cautious curiosity. I’m still waiting for someone to ask me, “Who are you trying to evade?” as if I were on the run from a loan shark or had the notion to fake my own death. I suppose it’s rather uncommon for a man in his twenties to change his name for no other reason than because he wanted to, which, in my opinion, is a biased view of our society. Women who change their name, while often for marriage or other reasons, are looked upon with much less scrutiny. Even the judge for whom I had to swear an oath of truth before stared at me with a perplexing befuddlement when he asked what purpose I sought for the change and my response was, “It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.”

And that’s why I wanted to share my story. I wanted so badly to come across something while in the process of my name change that would provide a sense of encouragement, a reprieve from the linguistic legal mumbo-jumbo, and tell me in simple verse that it’s okay to change something about you if it betters you, even if you’re the only one who understands it.

© Bill Alexander for Acceptance Revolution, 2013

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