VULNERABILITY SUCKS…but it’s also the “birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”

Over the past two weeks, we’ve had a friend staying with us who is in early recovery from addiction. It’s been refreshing to talk with him about his new pair of glasses through which he sees himself. It’s also been challenging and rewarding because it’s caused me to look in the mirror and reflect on where I am today, vs. my own early days of recovery. And it’s been reenergizing to learn some fresh perspectives on addiction and recovery. For all of this I’m grateful.

One of the best insights he has given me is how he spends his free time. He doesn’t watch much TV. He plays some games on his iphone for fun. But he also listens to inspirational and motivational speakers from TedTalks and other sources, including audio books. He fills his mind with positive, sometimes game changing ways of thinking about self, community, and the world.

One of the speakers and authors he introduced us too is Brené Brown. Her insights into fear, shame and vulnerability are nothing short of game changing, particular how she ties them to addiction, depression, anxiety and other ills that plague our world today…ills that plague me today.

I’ve included two of her powerful TedTalks. Please, take time to listen to these…

Where these have touched me today have to do with being an entrepreneur – a small business person. Because for me, much of this is new… I was raised by parents who “worked for the man” in large corporations or universities…being a small business owner is new for me… Making a living as a creative photographer and technical consultant is all about change and innovation as I figure out my brand, my unique niche…  Honestly, it’s scary as hell…  (there’s my vulnerability for today…)

I have so much fear of failure, and fear of success, that sometimes I’m paralyzed. And I have failed. Many times. Just today, I was frustrated with a project that has been full of challenges, mistakes, and research…and also one from which I’m learning a lot. If I had been counting, I’ve had at least 27 bumps in the road… But my reaction too often is “I’ve failed…” or worse, “I’m a failure.” (there’s my shame for today…”

This afternoon, I threw up my hands in frustration and said “I quit.”

Then, I was reminded of her TedTalk on shame that I had just watched last night. (Oh, how soon we forget…) Brené reminds me of some truths I’m wrestling with as I throw my hands up and quit...(ok, so I won’t quit…)  

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

“To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that.

You know why [TedTalks] is amazing? Because very few people here are afraid to fail. And no one who gets on the stage, so far that I’ve seen, has not failed. I’ve failed miserably, many times. I don’t think the world understands that, because of shame.”

Brené Brown

So, I guess it’s time for me to put on my big girl panties, put this Edison quote up on my wall, and get back to that damn project. Because I haven’t failed 27 times… This is just a “creative process with 27+ steps…”

As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Here are the two TedTalks I mentioned.  Enjoy…you’ll be uncomfortable and may even want to stop midway through.  But, I promise you – she has powerful (and funny!) insights to share. So please make some time to listen to her…

A gay engagement breakfast at Tiffany’s – our ‘aha’ moment at sea!

Part One

I returned this week from an amazing seven-day cruise – relaxing, entertaining and fun. It was also particularly special because I proposed to my boyfriend on Day #2. I joked with another couple on the cruise beforehand that I’d either be the happiest man on the ship…or be looking for a cabin/couch to “crash on” for the rest of a VERY awkward vacation!

Fortunately, “he said YES!”

So, the roses that were waiting for us as part of the ship’s “romance package” didn’t go to waste…  

The dinner at the Italian restaurant was both delicious and romantic; I found the “right moment” to transition on to one knee and ask Brandon to “take our relationship to the next level!” (Yep, I’m a hopeless romantic, and wanted this to be memorable!)

In traditional terms, it was an engagement proposal to marriage – and was very memorable and meaningful for us both!

Just so you don’t get the impression this was a “storybook” unfolding of events, it came with a VERY stressful lead up to the dinner because of a hasty “last minute” read on my part about the detailed arrangements included in our romance package and dinner reservation…

Yes, I messed up – “life happens” as they say,
and I went from “0 to bi&%^” in about 2.3 seconds!

Thankfully, Brandon gently “led me” through my pre-dinner meltdown to  a heartfelt “moment of truth”
(aka ‘come to Jesus’ session) on the ship’s aft stairwell,
helping me to regain some perspective.
(One of the many reasons I love this man…)

What he didn’t fully know at that moment was…
…I had hidden motives for wanting everything to be PERFECT!

Thankfully, I humbly walked through grace
to accept the wisdom of the Serenity prayer…  

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change…
and the courage to bust someone’s ass if they get in my way

Well, something to that effect…

Honestly, this prayer is one of the most powerful tools I learned during my recovery and I’m grateful Brandon helped me “return to center…” because the rest of the evening, thankfully, was PERFECT!

Part Two

Fast forward from “YES” to our aha moment!

We enjoyed the rest of the cruise together, along with a short visit to Miami afterwards. During that time, we found simple “engagement rings” to wear until we figured out the timing and specifics of our wedding. Without thinking much about it, we bought matching rings on one of the islands, and went on about celebrating life, love and our engagement.

I have to admit, it was pretty cool.  I understand the “power of a moment” – shared between us, as well as with others both on and off the ship.

We had people on the ship, who “witnessed the event on bended knee,” who congratulated us on our engagement.

We showed others on the islands and in Miami our rings, proudly announcing that we had gotten engaged aboard NCL’s Getaway and were looking to “get married” sometime in 2016. We even posted a couple of pictures on Facebook about our news during a brief “wired session” at an internet café on St. Thomas, as well as via the ship’s “onboard postcard” iSnap booth. Like any “young couple in love,” we were giddy with excitement and glad to share our news.

Side note: I’m sure I’m not the first guy who ‘jumped the gun’ by sharing his news via Facebook…and upsetting some family members in my haste. We were both so wrapped up in the excitement and – as you’ll see this unchartered territory – that we didn’t even think about “how to share the news” with family.  This was made more complicated by limited phone service / internet access on our cruise.  But, all excuses aside, regrettably and understandably, I ruffled some feathers And it was all my fault – I screwed up.  Argh.  I’m sorry!  I hope to mend those bridges soon, and get things off to a better start with some of his family…  

but for now, let’s get back to the fun part of the story!)

He said YES!
He said YES!
Our "Sugarmoon" kiss!
Our “Sugarmoon” kiss!
Rings to prove it...
Rings to prove it!  (But…what is “it” exactly?!)

We got some questions along the way, as you might expect…

Fortunately, the response from friends, family (and strangers who’d listen!) has been 110% positive.

One man I spoke with whom I spoke on the ship is a strong Christian. Admittedly, I was a little weary of how he might respond given my bias/prejudice at times towards the more conservative right.  Of course that’s my “shit” – my baggage – my “narrative” based on some events in my past. But more often than not, my fear of rejection and shame is usually unrealized – as it was in this case.  The man spoke of marriage as a “visible celebration of a couple’s love for one another” and could see that as worthy for anyone in love – gay, straight, bi, Thai…  How healing that conversation was for me, given my own lingering shame and internalized homophobia (on which I’ve written here before…)

But the question we probably weren’t ready for was
“Did you guys get married too?”

Huh?  What?  Married?!

It struck us both as a little odd – though given our reality, we could understand how some might think we jumped head on into this and tied the knot right away!

But it still “ate at me” a little – like “really, do you think we’d elope?!” (putting it in traditional terms) right there on the Norwegian Getaway!?!

Of course, that would be ok…but it started to reveal a deeper truth – giving us insight into a “new era” in LGBT relationships that, at least for us, was playing out for the first time.  Like much of my “coming out,” there are few role models for us to look towards.  That’s both exciting and scary at times!  Let me explain…

Gay marriage has been “in the spotlight” for several years, as countries across the world have been evolving into accepting the reality that gay couples deserve to be recognized just like straight couples.  Setting aside any religious or faith-based aspects of a ceremony, there are some very real, practical benefits to being legally married.  (And, some real, practical risks as well!  To death do us part…)

However, what we’ve largely seen (at least what I’ve largely seen…) are “existing couples,” many of whom have been living and loving together for years, formalizing what most of their family and friends already know and accept.  They may have been in a “domestic partnership” (legally) – but marriage is only a recent option for many (at least in parts of the US). So, there’s been, if you will, a “backlog” of marriages, where folks are simply are simply catching up to where they could have, should have been all along.  It’s like playing Monopoly – they were able to pass through “Go!” without collecting $200…they had essentially “already been there, done that” but now had the “marriage T-shirt” to show for it!

Grand Marriage Equality Wedding Event

But, what about the “rest of us!” who are still in the courting, dating phases of our LGBTQ relationships…who are weighing the spiritual, societal, physical, emotional and financial “benefits” of “popping the question” and taking our relationships to the “next level…” – from “dating” to “engagement” – a step that traditionally comes with an engagement ring.

But, our path is far from traditional!

For many of us, myself included – at 46! – we’ve never even thought about the possibility of getting engaged (in the traditional sense), because it was never an option!  Like much of our “coming out stories,” this is new territory…something for which most straight men and women are prepared, and perhaps “take for granted.”

As we thought about this more, we started to realize that the question “did you guys get married, too?” was coming from the “traditional frame of reference,” because we had “shown the world” our two rings!  And this would normally symbolize marriage!  Wow!  Aha!  Now I get it…wow!

Part Three

Now we’re faced with more questions than answers!

After all, what do you do when a man proposes to another man?  Who gets the ring?  Do both get a ring?  How do our “engagement rings” compare to or evolve to our “wedding bands?” Does one wear the ring on the right hand, or the left hand?   Do we start with the right, then switch when we get married to the left?

So many questions…so it was time to Google!

Tiffany Campaign Features Gay Couple for First Time
Tiffany Campaign Features Gay Couple for First Time

And the results only underscored our personal “aha! moment!  And thankfully, we’re not alone!

This is unchartered territory (for us at least) – and for many others.

Our society is “getting used to” gay marriage, and I believe it’s only a question of time before all States in the US recognize it (at least on paper).  We’ve “broken the race” barrier and (finally) elected a Black President.  African-American parents no longer have to raise their kids, telling them “you’re smart, you’re kind, you’re important” – and can be or do anything you want in this life….except become President.

It’s only a question of time before parents will also be able to give their children guidance on engagement and marriage, whether that be gay, straight, or bi!

This was emphasized at the start of our cruise, when I read about the White House’s brief to the US Supreme Court, outlining why the various State bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional.  We even referenced the 36-page brief as we shared our news – not realizing that as that reality “settles in” to our collective conscience, we now have this new pre-cursor as well…

“Gay Engagement!”

As with much of our narrative, there are no rules – no traditions.  For better or worse, it’s up to the couple to create our own traditions, our own reality.  Of course, in doing so, sometimes, we will either have to explain or clarify things to others, who may see things (as they have) through their own filters, their own “traditions.”

But I’m ok with that…as is my fiancé!

Hmmm…I do like the ring of that…pun intended!

I’ll close with a collection of links I found from my Google search on “gay engagement.”

Thanks for walking with us from “YES” to “aha!”

 May we all continue to inspire each other to greater understanding, peace and health.

Gay Engagement

My “shower revelation” on why our current gay civil rights debate is so different from others…

As I’ve picketed 111Cakery, and after the national debate on gay marriage…it’s puzzled me why this is so challenging, and why it becomes so “religious.”  This came to a head when I read the following article online (and the ensuing online chatter).

Because I am spiritual, I penned the following reaction…perhaps this is God / the Universe at work…

Sad that it takes a dying woman’s wish that her surviving partner is simply treated fairly and equally under the laws of our country.

Perhaps God works in mysterious ways to bring about social justice and civil rights when He sees that our Country and State aren’t “getting this” like we did civil rights for Blacks and Women.

But, I’m still left pondering…why so religious?  (Remembering again, not everyone is Christian, spiritual, nor religious…and that freedom is just as precious as the freedom to believe!)

Not having lived through the Black Civil Rights movement, or the Women’s movement, I can’t imagine there was as much religious justification of the injustices and inequality.  Of course, some use the Bible to justify “putting women down” in a second class state of submission to the man’s role in family, but generally speaking, I don’t see anything in the Bible talking about White supremacy.  Yes, somehow I imagine someone used it to justify slavery…but I doubt anyone today would go there.

So why does this “gay rights” debate go so quickly to the Bible…(particularly when not EVERYONE in America is Christian!  Religious freedom does still exist…)

Then in dawned on me…of course!

With the Black Civil Rights movement, we were talking about basic human equality and social justice.  Putting an entire group of people at the back of the bus, or using different water fountains just because of their race is pretty easy to rally against.  Granted, there was lot more going on than these trite examples.  Blacks were being hanged, beaten to death and so on…again, pretty easy for “the good Christian” American to eventually come to terms with this not being right.  Hence, the Black Civil Rights and social justice was much more about basic human equality.

With the Women’s movement, I imagine we’re seeing much of the same.  Particularly after WWII, when women demonstrated they were just as capable at running companies than their male counterparts, we as a country finally started to see women as equal to men.  Meaningful careers, equal wages and “the glass ceiling” were the big battles here (over simplifying).  And while some still cling to a Christian worldview that the man is the head of the household, and more capable, that is again not an argument that many would cling to.  So, seems like the fight for equality for women is also much around basic human equality.

So, now we arrive at Gay Civil Rights and Social Justice.  There’s no wage / labor inequality here.   There’s no argument that gays are  “less human.”  Instead, we arrive very quickly at love and marriage…in other words, this is uniquely about the “family unit” and the definition of “couples.”  And, here, the argument quickly becomes religious in a unique way that is, sadly, very easy to justify with Bible verses.

Unfortunately, this puts this particular Civil Right debate in a unique position of pitting one “protection” (religious freedom) against another (the right to marry, and equal rights when it comes to matters of hospital visitation, rights of survivorship, etc.)  Setting aside again that the entire country is not Christian, I believe this is the crux of why this argument has, and may always be, more challenging for our nation to face.  It’s inherently more “religiously based” than any civil rights movement prior…

Today, there is a large Christian majority, which I do not believe would have fought so vocally against equal rights for Blacks or Women. But, they will clearly use the Bible to justify their argument because the (fallible) words are there.

This throws our Constitution into a new and unique position of finding a creative way to value both sides of the argument…allowing (some) Christians to hold to their “religious belief” that being an “active” homosexual is a sin — and having that belief respected, perhaps, in ways that conflict with the second half of the debate — finding the equality necessary based on sexual orientation for the “rest of us.”

So, this doesn’t mean the Christian Right are wrong, and we must “change their views.”  (Again, remember not everyone is even Christian, nor do all Christians believe in the infallibility of the Bible…)  Nor does it mean that we must give up on gay marriage, and submit to some “sterilized” version of the word like “domestic partnership” or “civil union” to placate to the Christian Right.  Instead, we must agree to disagree – and allow both Truths to co-exist.  On one hand, a group of Americans will believe that gay marriage is against their religious beliefs – and they will never be “inspired to make a cake” for such a celebration of human love and commitment.  And, on the other hand, another group of Americans must be able to celebrate their own spirituality and religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and find joy in the celebration and commitment of gay marriage…and equality in the legal and financial benefits (and costs) therein.

So…this is gonna be TOUGH!

And that, is my percolation and revelation on why this is SO much more complex and difficult…and why it’s still equally worth fighting for.