© J for Acceptance Revolution, 2019
© J for Acceptance Revolution, 2019
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
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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
© Kristin Despina for Acceptance Revolution, 2014
“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.
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
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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.
The 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