“You Should Be More Discreet!”


“Stop shoving your lifestyle down my throat! Keep it in the bedroom!”

I often wish that I could get paid one million dollars every time I hear people say that about the gay community. The funny thing is, it does not just come from people who think that “homosexual practices” are the spawn of the devil. It comes from individuals who claim to be genuinely accepting of the fact that I like men. Life has taught me one valuable lesson with regards to the angry and loudmouth homophobes who know their “activism” is truly hurtful. They don’t deserve my attention. I don’t see any point in angrily responding to people who clearly want such a reaction from me. I am quite annoyed, however, with well-meaning individuals who continue to utter many variations of “you need to be more discreet about your sexuality.”

I find it ironic that some of these folks claim to be okay with the fact that I am gay. I am physically and emotionally attracted to men. Someday, I desire to meet that special man and tie the knot with him. It has been hard to eliminate those folks who cannot accept that marrying a woman in some big church wedding will never be the ideal life for me. I come from a very religious extended family. Despite that, I strive to live as someone who conforms to no one else’s standards but his own! This statement applies to social media and in real life. Yes, the discreet police are highly irritating!

Let’s take a look at the Webster definitions of “discreet.”

Discreet:

1.) Not likely to be noticed by many people. (Simple definition.)

1.) having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech :prudentespecially:  capable of preserving prudent silence. (Full definition.)

2.) Unpretentious, modest.

3.) Unobtrusive, unnoticeable.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discreet

There is something I cannot help but notice when I read these definitions of the word and listen to those who insist that we must keep our sexuality “in the bedroom.” They are precise definitions of what we call unintentional homophobia. The whole concept of intent vs. impact comes into play when people “discreet police” me. People try to appear discreet when they know they are doing something that is against the rules. It does not matter if this regulation is in the official rule book or unwritten rules that one must follow to appear like they “belong.” They do not want to get caught in the act for fear of punishment or shunning. Regardless of what anyone says, I know that my sexual orientation is far from illegal or immoral. Therefore, I form the following impression when people say that I need to “keep it in the bedroom. They are still negatively influenced by the very individuals who think I am the devil’s spawn for showing genuine interest in the “homosexual lifestyle.”

What about my sexuality should I be more discreet? I do not understand what people are referring to when they insist on imposing such a standard on me. I get that we live in a sexually repressed world. I am also willing to acknowledge some of the reasons behind that. Sex and sexuality are topics that require a certain amount of emotional and physical maturity to understand and appreciate. This truth is something that many adults fail to understand. Let’s face it! We live in a world full of people who think that being gay is nothing but a childish joke. That is a joke used as a cheap punchline by someone who has yet to admit their faults and failings.

We also live in a world full of people who fail to realize one thing when they tell me, an openly gay man, to be more discreet. I kept it a secret for many years. By the time I entered junior high, I already realized there was such a thing as gay, bisexual and straight. My diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome caused me to struggle with the ability to understand my behavior and that of others. I knew that I was genuinely curious about the male body in the same way that most teenage boys were curious about the female body. At the time, I never discussed it with anyone. My adolescence, in that regard, was no different than the story of many other people who grew up and realized they were gay. I was curious about the male body and thought it was just a phase that I would outgrow.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane and go back to junior high. I cringe when I remind myself of one trend that began during that time and continued through to high school. It can be hard for any teenager to deal with the development of hormones. This is particularly the case when you are in a building with a bunch of mid-pubescent teens whose only exposure to (heterosexual) sex is through music, pop culture and pornography. Many of my classmates from junior high had the disrespectful tendency to push the topic on people who were just not ready to explore it. Therefore, they assumed that anyone who resisted conversation about that the graphic details of such a topic are a faggot or a queer. (One student used those exact words when they spoke to me.) So, back to the “discreet police.” I am supposed to sit here and keep and keep an essential aspect of my life secret so people can be their nosy selves and assume that I am gay? I don’t get it.

There is one thing I must reluctantly accept from time to time. Some places are just not appropriate for conversations about the most intimate details of my sexuality.

“He has a cute butt! I would bring him home with me!”

I can imagine the looks of disgust from parishioners after I, hypothetically, shouted that in the middle of worship. Even Episcopalians would frown upon that. It’s just not the best to proclaim a sexual interest in places that are specifically intended to look beyond the physical. That still does not change my refusal to allow people to pressure me into “keeping my sexuality in the bedroom.” I just highlighted several reasons why. I don’t like to be “militant” about this issue. (Those are not my words. I am just quoting it from people who have used it to describe the LGBT community.) However, I think it needed to be said and I could not find any other way to say it.

I thank you for reading and please feel free to leave a comment!

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Being Brave (In A Cowardly World)


Selfish: having or showing concern for only yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people. 

Coward: 1.) someone who is too afraid to do what is right or expected 2.) someone who is not at all brave or courageous. 

Fox News analyst Shepard Smith was recently put under fire for insulting comments regarding the recent death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. The 63 years old man committed suicide on August 11, 2014. Smith referred to William’s death as “cowardly” in a recent news segment. 

One of the children he so loved, one of the children grieving tonight. Because their father killed himself in a fit of depression. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? You could love three little things so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re inspiring you, and exciting you, and they fill you up with the kind of joy you could never have known. And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it.

Rightfully so, his comments were not well received. Criticism has come from people who know how it feels to live with severe Depression. Many have actually contemplated or attempted suicide. They know how it feels to reach that point where you feel like there is no hope. They are left with two choices. Do I end it all or do I face my fears and find the help I need? I live with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of the neurological disorder known as Autism. I still find it difficult to connect with people, even though I try so hard to do so. Whether I like it or not, I have to do it if I want to survive on my own. This condition has made me especially vulnerable to Depression and Social Anxiety. I am also a gay man. I love men! It has taken me a long time to find the confidence to say that. I am this complex person who nobody else will even care to understand or even get to know. (At least that is what I hear from the occasional troll who loves to comment on my blog.) The truth is, Depression is a very difficult topic for me to explain. It is mainly because the condition affects people in many ways. Australian writer and illustrator Matthew Johnstone described his journey towards overcoming Depression in his book “I Had a Black Dog (And his Name Was Depression.)” As the title suggests, the black dog was used as a metaphorical alternative to the word depression. 

I had a black dog and his name was Depression. Whenever the black dog made an appearance, I felt empty and life just seemed to slow down. He would surprise me with a visit for no reason or occasion. The black dog made me look and feel older than my years. When the rest of the world seemed to enjoy life, I could only see it through the black dog. Activities that used to bring me pleasure, suddenly ceased to. He liked to ruin my appetite. 

I have learned not to beat myself up and try to figure out the exact cause of my symptoms. Personally, I don’t care if it is directly because of my Asperger’s, obliviousness to my sexuality or just biology and genetics. I was shy, socially challenged and closeted kid who insisted he was “just going through a phase.” If I were to suddenly find out the cause of all my problems, I can guarantee that my symptoms would worsen. I would be this miserable, unhappy guy who constantly focused on everything that is wrong in my life. They could even push me to the breaking point. I know that I have to stop it from going there if I want to survive in this world. It’s very hard to do, but life is not always a walk in the park. 

He chewed up my memory and my ability to concentrate. Doing anything, or going anywhere with the black dog required superhuman strength. At social occasions, he would sniff out what confidence I had and chase it away. My biggest fear was being found out. I worried that people would judge me. Because of the shame and stigma of the black dog, I was constantly worried about being found out. So, I invested vast amounts of energy into covering him up. Keeping up and emotional lie, is exhausting. Black dog could make me think and say negative things. He could make me irritable and difficult to be around. He would take my love, and bury mine to the sea. He loved nothing more than to wake me up with highly repetitive and negative thinking. He also loved to remind me how exhausted I was going to be the next day.

Having a black dog in your life isn’t so much about being a bit down, sad or blue. At its worst, it’s about being devoid of feeling all together. As I got older, the black dog got bigger and he started hanging around all the time. I’d chase him off with whatever I thought might send him running, but more often than not, he’d come out on top. Going down became easier than getting up again. So, I became really good at self medication, which never really helped. Eventually, I felt totally isolated from everything and everyone. The black dog had finally succeeded in hijacking my life. When you lose all joy in life, you can begin to question what the point of it is. 

Thankfully, this was the time that I sought professional help. This was my first step towards recovery and a major turning point in my life. I learned that it doesn’t matter who you are, the black dog affects millions and millions of people. It is an equal opportunity mongrel. I also learned there is no silver bullet or magic pill. Medication may help some, but others need a difficult approach altogether. I also learned that being emotionally genuine and authentic towards those close to you can be an absolute game changer. Most importantly, I learned not to be afraid of the black dog and I taught him a few new tricks of my own. The more tired and stressed you are, the louder he barks. So, it’s important to learn how to quiet your mind. It’s been clinically proven that regular exercise can be as effective to treating mild to moderate depression as anti depressants. So, go for a walk or a run and leave the mutt behind.  Keep a mood journal! Getting your thoughts on paper can be cathartic and often insightful. Also, keep track of the things that you have to be grateful for.

The most important thing to remember is that no matter how bad it gets, if you take the right steps, if you talk to the right people, black dog days will pass! I wouldn’t say that I am grateful for the black dog, but he has been an incredible teacher. He forced me to reevaluate and simplify my life. I learned that rather than running away from my problems, it’s better to embrace them. The black dog will always be a part of my life, but he will never be the beast that he was! We have an understanding! I’ve learned through knowledge, patience, discipline and humor, the worst black dog can be made to heal. If you’re in difficulty, never be afraid to ask for help. There is absolutely no shame in doing so. The only shame is missing out on life!

Matthew Johnstone “I Had A Black Dog (And His Name Was Depression) 

If there is anything that Depression has taught me, it is that none of my differences entitle me to sympathy from other people. When I meet a new person, you will never hear me say anything like this. “Hi! I’m Derek! I’m gay, I have Asperger’s Syndrome and I’m Depressed! Woe is me!” The only way I will ever believe that someone genuinely respects me is if they chose to look beyond all of those things that make me appear “different” from the rest of society. I do not care if people know that I am gay. I have grown used to the fact that people are going to find out sooner or later. However, I have a very different expectation for disclosing my diagnosis. Should I ever tell any person I meet, they must not disclose it to anyone else without my explicit permission. I know that people can be very judgmental when they find out someone has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. They believe the stereotypes portrayed in fictional television shows and by news media outlets. (For example: Dr. Virginia Dixon on Grey’s Anatomy and Dr. Temprence Brennan on Bones.) I wrote that heartfelt letter to Steve Grand because I was confident in the belief that he was actually willing to listen. I hate to be this way, but most people could care less. I am greatly improving in my ability to “hide” my symptoms at times and places when it is necessary to do so. I must admit, it can be very overwhelming! Society does not think “high functioning Autism” is a “legitimate disability.” Regardless, it is “legitimate” to me! 

There is one thing I have learned about the tragic death of Robin Williams. When the world overwhelms, frustrates and saddens me, there still is hope. I am not selfish. I am not a coward. I am just someone who needs help coping with the world. It took me a long time to realize that. I often wonder if Robin would still be here if someone would have told him those words. Even if it cannot bring him back, it can still help people who feel like they have lost hope. That is one of the many reasons why I write the way I do! 

 

 

Getting Past My Past (A Blog About Lee Hirsch’s Documentary “Bully”)


I know that change cannot happen overnight. I also know that hope can encourage one person to make a difference in a town, country and world. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch recently accomplished a first in his new critically acclaimed documentary “Bully.” This is a topic that I feel very personal about. I was bullied in high school and it is something that still effects me today. I felt a number of emotions throughout the scenes in this film. I felt sadness when I heard about the tragic death of Tyler Long, the seventeen year old from Georgia who committed suicide because he could no longer take the physical and mental abuse from his classmates. I felt the horrible combination of anger and shame when Alex Libby’s tormentors kicked, stabbed, punched him on the school bus. These bullies did not even care that Lee Hirsch’s camera captured the whole incident on film! Frustration and confusion overcame me when I heard the comments from the school board members in Murray County, Georgia. Some of them were willing to acknowledge the seriousness of the issue, but they had no idea how to intervene and prevent it. They tried to justify the behavior using cliché’s like “boys will be boys” and “kids are cruel at this age.” I felt disgusted when a pastor from Murray county stated that kids went to school the next day with nooses hanging around their neck. This was a blatant mockery of Tyler’s family and the school district seemed to have shrugged it off.  To the best of my ability, I want to write a blog post about this documentary and how it had an impact on me. To all of you out there who are any shade of different, I hope my writing will give you positive motivation. It doesn’t matter if you are LGBTQ and risk being disowned from your family or if you are Autistic and trying to understand the world around you. I also hope my writing will give you the courage to stand up for what you believe in.

When it comes to my experiences, I honestly felt like my tormentors expected the worst of me. They wanted to see me unhappy. Therefore, my academic performance and my desire to interact with others plummeted to the lowest possible level. Most of these bullies wanted to manipulate me into thinking they were trying to be nice. However, I knew they were not to be trusted from the beginning.  I felt like every single person in my Western Pennsylvania high school was out to get me. I didn’t trust anyone. Period. When I look back on it, I question one thing. Paranoid delusions can increase your chances in becoming victimized, can’t they? People will notice if you appear to be nervous, angry or depressed. Some of them will show genuine compassion and understanding, while others will intentionally or unintentionally exacerbate it.

The scene featuring Kelby Johnson in her rural Oklahoma town was all too real for me. “You can always count on something happening when you are walking down the hall at school and in the classroom, after school when I’m walking home, when I am walking through the parking lot in the mornings, to school. I wasn’t welcomed at church. I’m not welcomed in a lot of people’s homes.”  When I look back, I honestly cannot predict what would have happened if I decided to come out as a gay teen while I was still in high school. People in my Western Pennsylvania high school did call me names like faggot, cocksucker, queer, loser and retard. They certainly noticed that I was different and you can bet that some of them tried to use it for their own laughs and personal gain. I was one of those kids who tried to avoid being put into any of those “cliques” that are commonly associated with the high school social scene. We have already gone over the fact that I felt like I could not fit in with anybody. I was a loner. People tried to convince me into believing they “cared” about me. The truth was they did not have that “magic wand.” What magic wand am I talking about? I am talking about the one which would have eliminated my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and all the struggles that came with it. Therefore, they were not to be trusted. 

If we take a trip back into the real world, we face the bitter realization that magic wands only exist in fantasy. My writing is no fairy tale. I try to express myself in the most real way I possibly can. It is important for me to get over the phase where I dwell upon the fact that people do not accept me. However, there is one question that still remains. Why does it feel like these experiences are always going to be embedded in my brain? Why does it feel like most neurotypical people are confident enough to (literally and figuratively) throw the middle finger at anyone who makes derogatory remarks about their sexual orientation or any other trait which makes them seem different from the societal norm? I cannot help but feel like I am demanding others to fight my battles for me. Is it normal for me to feel that way? I know that I am not in any way comparable to an alcoholic with codependency issues. But, why do I feel that way? I cannot expect others to fight my battles for me, but I want to know that people are willing to answer questions and are willing to help me when I reach out to them.

I know that I need to learn how to move on from those experiences. Over the spring and summer months, I have deeply thought about ways to move on. I know that I have been very fortunate to have people who genuinely care about me. I have decided to write about some individuals who have made a lasting impact on my life and why they are so important to me. They are all from different parts of my life. I am not doing this just for myself. I know there are people who desperately need to feel good about themselves. Some may risk being disowned from their family because of who they are. Others have loving and accepting families who are willing to fight for what is truly best for them, but still experience cruelty anytime they go outside their home. We all need to learn how to recognize those who do genuinely care about us. One thing comes to mind when I think about those people in my life. I know they would be devastated if I even contemplated suicide. I am offering my words for them and I hope you are able to use them in your own lives! This is an essential step for me in overcoming those wounds.

I know that I am fortunate to have such loving and caring parents. I do not deny that they are on my side and they are willing to guide me through the road to a happy and successful life. Raising a child with any kind of Autistic Spectrum Disorder has it’s fair share of challenges.  It is important to know that no parent is perfect. Am I ever going to pretend that my parents are perfect? The answer is no! My parents are both very intelligent human beings who did everything in their power to support my sister and I. They have tried to understand the pains that result from the challenges associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. It goes back to as far as I can remember.

I was about three going on four. We just finished a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. At the time, my aunt Teresa and uncle Benny lived in that area. It was very early in the morning. It started out as a normal airport routine until we heard an announcement that our red-eye flight back to Pittsburgh was abruptly canceled and we had to book another one. We had no choice but to wait at the McCarren International Airport.  We went through security, rode on the tram and walked to the gate. Things went smoothly until a few minutes after we arrived at the gate. An ear-splitting alarm was mysteriously triggered and it blared throughout the entire terminal. We assumed that it would only last for a few minutes. Instead, it continued for over an hour. Everyone around us became impatient and sick of listening to the alarm. Naturally, I became very upset. My mother tried to put earplugs in, but that still didn’t help.  I continued to cry and scream until my parents decided to get back on the tram and wait in the ticketing area. They held me and did their best to comfort me because we were all very tired. Despite that we had to go through security again, we were relieved to discover the alarm was silent.

I am 21 years old now. Struggles can become more complex than a loud noise hurting my ears. I am grateful for the fact that my mother and father are willing to guide me through any struggle I may experience down the road. Mom and dad are still trying to understand my communication barriers. I feel these barriers are comparable to a crying infant. A baby cannot use words when they are hungry, in need of a diaper change or craving attention. I did not know how to communicate the emotions I felt during high school. So, my high school life consisted of withdrawing from people and just having an unhappy outlook on life. I happen to know that many Aspies go through their high school lives wondering the many complex reasons behind those communication difficulties. I refused to accept answers like “that’s just the way you are.” I hated being placed in special education classes because they treated me like I was an idiot. I hated being placed in mainstream classes because I felt distant from the majority of my peers. If I tried to explain this to adults, I can guarantee they would ask that one question I hate. “Why is that?” Do you know why I hate that question? It’s because I do not know how to answer it. My mother and father do not know all of the answers. I don’t think they ever will. However, they were proactive in advocating for me when professionals were only willing to do what they felt was best for me. This was the case when I was a student at the Computing Workshop summer program. Long story short, my school district felt that their services were superior to those offered by Computing Workshop. They wanted me to work with a traditional one on one tutor for two hours a week. We went into due process, and the hearing officer ruled that the services offered by Computing Workshop were the best fit for me and that they must reimburse my family for summer tuition. The next summer, they came up with a new extended school year program. They were extremely vague about the program and the officer ruled in favor of the school district. The fact that mom and dad possessed the patience to deal with such difficult people is truly astounding to me. 

As you can see, my mother and father are just two examples of people who do genuinely care about me. I have begun to accept that my parents will never have all of the answers when it comes to understanding my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and the fact that I am a gay man. My next challenge is to think about people from other parts of my life. I hope to reach out to people who are experiencing the same (or worse) feelings of loneliness. I could sense these feelings of hopelessness throughout the documentary because this is the first film to ever raise awareness about the profound impact that bullying can have on people’s lives. I hope people will use these experiences and understand that they are worth a lot more than those people who punch, kick and call names. This message is a message that needs to be spread more than it is now. 

To be continued soon!

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