Category Archives: NEVER BLEND IN:BOOK PAGES

Retreating Forward IS Possible – David E Watters


My Give ’em Hope brother, David Weekley, has written a second book and I have had the great honour of writing the Foreword. This book is valuable to those who are transgender and to those who wish to gain an understanding into how gender identity and faith can be reconciled. This conversation is needed and this book is a great introduction to the topic because faith and spirituality are needs, desires and a right for all.

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LIMITED BY LABELS? DON’T BE…


DAVID E WATTERS

I may well have been a clumsy child, and even now I often have clownish catastrophes, but this does not define me. Awkward adolescents needn’t grow into apprehensive adults but many do because they have not questioned the validity of the definition and with each ungraceful act, fresh evidence is collected to verify that the label is correct.

I remember returning, after many years away, to the Scottish city in which I had grown up.  It had been almost 15 years and the city had physically changed a great deal but sadly the attitudes of many living there remained unaltered.

I had been living in London, Brighton, briefly in San Francisco and even more briefly in Spain but, through a series of events, unfortunate or otherwise, I had found myself back in Bonnie Scotland, at my parent’s home on the banks of the River Tay.

As you can imagine, I’d been through the usual life-altering experiences (relationships, jobs, travel and at least one immensely overwhelming tragedy) of which you’ll no doubt hear more of later, and for some reason decided to visit a bar, the singular “gay” bar, that I had frequented in my misguided, underage youth.

There I was welcomed by “Fat Boab”, translated as Fat Bob, whose opening line was, “You’ve really put on the beef!” By which “Fat Boab” meant that I was perhaps a little more beefy, blimpy, bovine, bulging, bulky, burly or even chunky, dumpy, elephantine, gargantuan, gross, heavy, hefty, husky, lardy or more meaty than he recalled. I did remind him that the last time we had met was prior to my seventeenth birthday and that cream cakes and cheesy bakes can be cruel; I’d transformed from skinny vegan to slightly less slim line vegetarian.

A few days later, or perhaps that same day, in that same bar, I ran into someone else from my youth. Back then we had mutual friends, one in particular, so I sat with him and his gaggle of giggling girlfriends.

We spoke of our mutual friend and it soon became apparent that we had very different views on a number of issues. The subject changed, however, and, against my better judgment, I accepted a drink.

Trapped, and perhaps he felt the same, we talked about how our lives had been in the years since we had last met. As we chatted I could sense his unease and as I shared stories of the selected highlights from my seemingly strange and disjointed life he reacted with judgment, jealousy and, with a raised eyebrow above a jaundiced eye, he disparagingly declared,  “You’ve changed”, to which all I could retort was, “…and you haven’t”.

Please don’t think that I was intentionally cruel but, if I’m being honest, I did feel justified and even empowered by this mild statement of self recognition.

I would go so far as to say that this was a moment of epiphany from which I’ve never looked back. In this brief but meaningful interaction I realized that I HAD changed; I was no longer meek and mild or afraid to express an opinion but more confident, worldly, and yes, opinionated but at the core I was still that same 17 year old who knew right from wrong, who could instinctively detect insincerity and the really remarkable aspect of this revelation was that I actually liked myself!

The point of this story is to illustrate that the opinions of others are just that, opinions, and the labels that were attached to me, as a teenager, may or may not have been correct at the time. In believing these labels to be a true definition of myself, I acted in ways which encouraged others to similarly define me but somehow, with time and experience, I redefined myself.

My reaction to these past acquaintances sent a clear, perhaps blunt, message that I was not who they perceived me to be. I may have changed, whether this meant physically having more flesh than bone or growing a backbone but what would be the point in living if the journey didn’t involve change?


NEVER BLEND IN – WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS?


About the book

NEVER BLEND IN is an accessible book about achieving personal authenticity, a groundbreaking and vital book of exclusive celebrity and deeply personal non-celebrity interviews, which is aimed primarily at a young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning audience. The book, however, is also of value to educators, parents, family and mental health professionals seeking insight into the LGBTQ experience.

Role models from education, entertainment, law enforcement, medical and emergency services, politics, religion and sports have participated in this much needed discourse to illuminate the reader’s journey of self-discovery and to illustrate that living a life unlimited by labels will lead to personal, professional and spiritual fulfilment.

These candid stories and wise words are a powerful toolkit to encourage, inspire, uplift and give hope to those who need it most; those who may feel disenfranchised or who may lack self-belief.

Inspired by the life of Harvey Milk and with a foreword by his nephew Stuart Milk, this book includes original and insightful interviews with actors Alan Cumming OBE (Cabaret, Spy Kids, The Good Wife), Stephen Fry (Peter’s Friends, Wilde)Anthony Rapp (Rent), Colton Ford (The Lair), Marcus Patrick (My Wife & KidsCSI: MiamiPassions and Dancing With The Stars), Scotch Ellis Loring (Frasier, Malcolm in the Middle, 24, Alias, Touched by An Angel) and Adele Anderson (Fascinating Aida); key equality advocates, educators and influencers of policy Sue Sanders (Schools Out), Charles Robbins(CEO, The Trevor Project), Stephen Williams MP,Jack MacKenroth (Project RunwayQueens of Drag: NYC), Rabbi Denise EgerLt. Dan Choi and veteran human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell; filmmakerParvez Sharma (A Jihad for Love); musicians Darren Hayes (Savage Garden) and Levi Kreis (Tony Award winner for “Best Featured Actor in a Musical” for his role as Jerry Lee Lewis in the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet) ; sporting greats, NBA star, John Amaechi (author of Man in the Middle) and Olympic swimmer Bruce Hayes; transgender trailblazers Calpernia Addams, the Rev David E. Weekley (author of In from the Wilderness) and Jamison Green (author of Becoming a Visible Man); Mental Health professionals, Gladeana McMahonAntoine Spiteri and Dr. John Shafer; writers Tom Robb Smith (Child 44, The Secret Speech), Leslea Newman (A Letter to Harvey Milk),Linda Goldman (Coming Out, Coming In), Michael Musto (The Village Voice);  Del Shores (Sordid Lives) and Stephanie Silberstein (Shades of Gay); representatives from organizations including The Trevor ProjectThe Harvey Milk Foundation,PFLAGFireFLAGThe Gay Police Association andSchools Out and colleagues of Harvey Milk; Anne KronenbergDaniel Nicoletta and Tom Ammiano.

These stories of living authentically, with dignity and unlimited by labels will help readers to understand how self esteem determines the path they choose and that life need not be a self fulfilling prophecy when they improve self-concept, drive out fear and embrace new challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, eliminate self imposed limitations and cease dependence on others to provide validity.

Harvey Milk’s legacy is the growing number of proud lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals who refuse to live their lives limited by the judgment of others.

The various voices in this book candidly and sincerely share their wisdom and belief that we can be an important part of society without blending in; that we can live with 100% authenticity, unlimited by labels; that we shouldn’t be expected to compromise our identity to find acceptance and everyone, regardless of sexuality or gender identity, has a right to fully live.

There is practical advice and guidance from the LGBT community on how life need not be a self-fulfilling prophecy and that by recognizing that our “truth” has been shaped through our relationships, our environment and our experiences, we can begin to change our perceptions, heighten our self-esteem and move toward our personal and professional goals with clear vision and purpose….

 

About the Author

Since graduating from The Institute of Education, University of London, David has gone on to train with LEAP, as a mediator, and is a qualified facilitator for The Pacific Institute. 

He is a writer and speaker on social inequality issues and is a key player in the Equal Love Campaign UK.

David is currently promoting a youtube campaign “Give ‘em Hope” and is asking individuals, couples and groups to make and share videos telling about the benefits of living with personal authenticity.

As Director of NBI Associates, David devises and delivers engaging, enjoyable and interactive workshops utilizing Cognitive Behavioural and Performing Arts strategies for individual, corporate and academic clients.

He has shared a platform with Stuart Milk and Peter Tatchell and is a supporter of 17-24-30, The Trevor Project, Schools Out and The Harvey Milk Foundation.

CONTACT INFORMATION

EMAIL: DavidWatters@nbiassociates.co.uk


CHAPTER THREE: WHO AM I?


CHAPTER THREE: WHO AM I?

 

The Authenticity Audit – “Truth” v Perception

INTERVIEWS NOT INCLUDED HERE (YOU’LL HAVE TO BUY THE BOOK!!!!)

      ALAN CUMMING

      JACK MACKENROTH

      JOHN AMAECHI

      JUSTIN REED EARLY

      SARA DAVIS BUECHNER

      SIMONE CAMPBELL

      STEPHEN FRY

THE AUTHENTICITY AUDIT“Truth” v Perception

 

 Why do people accept the opinions of others about themselves as truth? Who is going to live the rest of your life anyway? Now that is TRUTH!
Doug Firebaugh 

 

 

Life can be a frustrating and challenging experience where, no matter how hard you try, whatever you desire eludes you.

Dreams of economic abundance, career satisfaction or romantic fulfillment can so easily appear unattainable when time and again your attempts are thwarted.  

Whatever your frustrations or perceived failings, you should know that your life CAN be transformed and that this can be done QUICKLY and EASILY by learning that your life’s limitations are self imposed and are not controlled by external influences.

Of course we don’t choose to limit ourselves but most of us tend to make decisions based on our feelings of self worth. We have all spent years developing our self concept, subconsciously forming judgments upon our capabilities and imposing restrictions on ourselves as to what we do and do not deserve to achieve.

We even justify and rationalize these beliefs, finding evidence to confirm them, and allow ourselves to obstruct our personal or professional progress, even if our current situation is unsatisfactory and the alternative much more favorable.

In short, it is our attitudes and beliefs which inform our thoughts and it is our thoughts which determine our behavior.

It is absolutely vital to know where your beliefs have originated and to recognize where, when and in which ways these beliefs have been reinforced. Beliefs should always be disputed and should never be taken as literal truths.

The labels which we are given by others be it family, friends, colleagues, peers, the media and wider society and those which we give ourselves determine the outcomes in our lives.

 

I may well have been a clumsy child and even now I often have clownish catastrophes but this does not define me. Awkward adolescents needn’t grow into apprehensive adults but many do because they have not questioned the validity of the definition and with each ungraceful act, fresh evidence is collected to verify that the label is correct.

I remember returning, after many years away, to the city in which I had grown up.  It had been almost 15 years and the city had physically changed a great deal but sadly the attitudes of many living there remained unaltered.

I had been living in London, Brighton, briefly in San Francisco and even more briefly in Spain but, through a series of events, unfortunate or otherwise, I had found myself back in Bonnie Scotland, at my parent’s home on the bank of the River Tay.

As you can imagine, I’d been through the usual life-altering experiences (relationships, jobs, travel and at least one immensely overwhelming tragedy) of which you’ll no doubt hear more of later and for some reason decided to visit a bar that I had gone to in my underage youth.

There I was welcomed by “Fat Bob” whose opening line was, “You’ve really put on the beef!” By which “Fat Bob” meant that I was perhaps a little more beefy, blimpy, bovine, bulging, bulky, burly or even chunky, dumpy, elephantine, gargantuan, gross, heavy, hefty, husky, lardy or meaty than he recalled. I did remind him that the last time we had met was prior to my seventeenth birthday and cream cakes and cheesy bakes can be cruel; I’d transformed from skinny vegan to slightly less slim line vegetarian.

A few days later, or perhaps that same day, I ran into someone else from my youth. Back then we had mutual friends, one in particular, so I sat with him and his gaggle of giggling girlfriends.

We spoke of our mutual friend and it soon became apparent that we had very different views on a number of issues. The subject changed, however, and, against my better judgment, I accepted a drink.

Trapped, and perhaps he felt the same, we talked about how our lives had been in the years since we had last met. As we chatted I could sense his unease and as I shared stories of the selected highlights from my strange life he reacted with judgment, jealousy and, with a raised eyebrow above a jaundiced eye, he disparagingly declared,  “You’ve changed”, to which all I could retort was, “…and you haven’t”.  

Please don’t think that I was intentionally cruel but, if I’m being honest, I did feel justified and even empowered by this mild statement of self recognition.

I would go so far as to say that this was a moment of epiphany from which I’ve never looked back. In this brief but meaningful interaction I realized that I HAD changed; I was no longer meek and mild or afraid to express an opinion but more confident, worldly, and yes, opinionated but at the core I was still that same 17 year old who knew right from wrong, who could instinctively detect insincerity and the really remarkable aspect of this revelation was that I actually liked myself!

The point of this story is to illustrate that the opinions of others are just that, opinions, and the labels that were attached to me, as a teenager, may or may not have been correct at the time. In believing these labels to be a true definition of myself, I acted in ways which encouraged others to similarly define me but somehow, with time and experience, I redefined myself.

My reaction to these past acquaintances sent a clear, perhaps blunt, message that I was not who they perceived me to be. I may have changed, whether this meant physically having more flesh than bone or growing a backbone but what would be the point in living if the journey didn’t involve change?

The great news is that, although we can’t undo the past, we can, however, create the future that we desire through living a life that is truly authentic. The first step towards true happiness and achieving your full potential is to acknowledge both WHO you are and WHAT it is that you want to accomplish.

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer encourages us to look inward NOT outward each day. This may sound simple, but when was the last time that you truly took time to look at yourself and to evaluate if your goals and behaviors were in line with your authentic self?


RAYMOND MILLER IS…


RAYMOND MILLER

Raymond Miller is a Canadian performer who studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He has starred as Pepper, in “Mamma Mia!”, has performed in an epic production of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” and is currently a resident of New York.

I want to be a mix of Mario Cantone and Tracy Ullman! 🙂 hehehe. Professionally, I’d like to work steadily. I’d like to write, I’d like to continue acting, and I will always always always be an LGBT Advocate. It’s my number one passion.  Sharing my thoughts on life, told with humour, and an LGBT-slant. That’s my dream.

I know firsthand the power of art to change and save lives. I’ve been saved by film, by theatre, by literature, by music. That’s why I’m on this Earth; I’m here to make people feel something, and learn something about themselves.

Besides his performing work and in an effort to attain full equality under the law for the LGBT Community and “a world culture where we don’t have to “Come Out”, because we haven’t been born into a societal lie, in the closet, forced to play a game without being told the rules that we’d never agree to in the first place.”, Raymond works with Queer Rising (http://www.queerrising.org/QR/Hi_there%21.html), based in NYC, and is a volunteer with PFLAG (http://community.pflag.org/Page.aspx?pid=191) .  

LGBT people have always existed in every type of family and family dynamic, in every religion, ethnic group, culture, community, city, town province, state, territory country and continent all over the world.   We have always existed, and we shall outlive every fight and war against our existence.  

If I can inspire anyone to not give up on themselves, and to love and embrace who they are, then I’ll die happy. 

 

 Meet Mr. Miller

My name is Raymond Miller, I’m 28 years old, and I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. I’ve been a working actor since I was a teenager, and recently followed my dreams to New York City.  I’m the baby of the family, have an (incredible) older sister, and two parents who are my heroes.  

Personally, I don’t hate myself anymore, and I never thought that day would come. I really didn’t. I was pretty sure I was always going to be a disappointment to myself.

I was labeled the “neighbourhood faggot” by age 9, by my ‘peers’. I was called every gay slur under the sun, from misogynistic insults calling me a “girl”, to the epithets “fag”, “homo”, and “fruit” that I didn’t even understand at the time.  By my teens, it all but stopped because I started pretending to be someone else, had transferred to a school district at the other end of the city, and reinvented myself as a new, yet still not authentic, young man.

I hated myself. I hated who I was, I was ashamed of who I was. I was ashamed because I believed that I was letting my parents down; that all the other boys in the neighbourhood were friends, and played sports together, and I was the weird outsider who wasn’t invited to people’s homes to ‘play’ – I felt like I’d let them down by being a sissy and an embarrassment.  

I knew I was different, I knew from a young age that I was ‘interested’ in other males, but as this was pre-puberty, it wasn’t sexualized.  For a while I figured I’d grow out of it, or ‘puberty’ would kick in and I’d suddenly be interested in girls.  By age 10 I realized that what I was, was gay. And that’s why everyone at school made fun of me.

I used to pray at night to not be gay. Then I used to pray that I would die; either in my sleep, or by some accident. Just die, and leave this life, and perhaps in my next one (if I’d get one…) I’d be straight and things wouldn’t be so scary. I cried a lot. I didn’t want to live.

I didn’t resolve it as a child. I hid from it. I punished myself for it. I wouldn’t even let myself fantasize about guys when I was alone, in the throes of adolescent hormones. I de-sexualized myself, escaped into film, and dance, and art, and music, and that’s where I channelled my dreams, my rage, my sadness, my fear.

 

 

The Times of Harvey Milk

When I was 15 I saw the doc “The Times of Harvey Milk”, and I started to think, for the first time, that maybe I wouldn’t have to “fake it” forever, and that maybe there would be a way for me to somehow Come Out, and live a real honest life with real honest emotions and experiences. I was incredibly depressed, and just plain exhausted from having to lie and act every single day. I was so tired, there were far too many days where I just wanted to die. And the doc gave me a sense of perspective: if those people could Come Out in times far more unforgiving than the one I’m around in, surely I can do it, too.

They opened the door for me – I have an obligation, now, to open it for the next generation.  

How Long Has This Been Going On?

Harvey’s story inspired me to Come Out when I was in high school, and when I was 18 I was introduced to the writing of Ethan Mordden; his perceptive and humorous, emotionally honest writing inspired me to never give up, no matter how bad things might get. His novel “How Long Has This Been Going On?” is, essentially, the gay “Roots.”  It follows various gay characters across America from the 1940s to the 1990s. It changed my life, it SAVED my life. 

RYAN KELLY

As well, my best friend Ryan Kelly.  I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for him.  We met when we both starred in the original Toronto company of “Mamma Mia!”, and shared a dressing room together.

He’s 8 years older than me, and he was, and remains, my best friend and constant source of support, understanding, love and strength.  A gay man who took a (crazy) barely-Out gay teen under his wing and helped me find myself.  I would die for him.

When you’ve spent most of your life trying to be someone you’re not, and can never be, it’s hard to then suddenly “be yourself.” I’ve been Out since high school, and it has indeed been a process of self-discovery. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I’m an open book. Sometimes that comes back to kick me in the ass, but it’s the only way I know how to be anymore. I simply got so sick and tired of always lying and telling stories. If my truths hurt me, at least they’re truths.

I’m a gay man. I identify as Queer. Proudly Out, Proudly Gay, Proudly Queer.

Meet the Millers

 

My parents are incredible; two intelligent, compassionate, well-read, liberal free-thinkers.

I hid a lot from them when I was growing up, mainly because I was so embarrassed by how I was perceived by my peers, and I didn’t want them to know too much. I put on a brave face, and pretended everything was fine.

There was tension in my teens years; I was simply stressed out. I was mentally tired, emotionally exhausted. Every day life was a constant effort. Work. Performance. Pretend.

We’ve been incredibly close since I Came Out; living honestly is SO much easier!

I came out to them when I was in high school, I’d just met a guy, and we hit it off, and I thought “ok, I’m ready to do this”. We were at dinner, I told them I’d met a guy and he was really great, and I liked him a lot, and I was seeing him, and my Mum and Dad just smiled. My sister cried. My Mum then asked “how old is he?”, to which I replied “40”. then “just kidding, he’s 20.” And that was that.

My sister later explained why she’d cried; she was overwhelmed by the moment, and in that moment realized just how much Hell I’d been through in my life so far. She’s been an incredible support and fellow advocate.  

My parents have both devoted their retirement years to LGBT Activism. I’m in awe. I must have been Gandhi in my past life to have been deemed worthy of them.  They’re in their 60s, and they’re LGBT Advocates, and activists; they’re outspoken, they’re compassionate, they’re tireless.

While other parents I know are taking swanky golf vacations, my Mum and Dad are answering calls for PFLAG’s support line, organizing and attending Equality fundraisers and outreach programs, and even corporate events and seminars on Diversity.  They’re sort of local icons in the Toronto gay scene; everyone knows “The Millers”.

PFLAG

Families often have a grieving process where they need to let go of the child they ‘thought’ they had so they can realize that, really, not that much has changed!  It is a big deal to find out you have an LGBT family member, but they’ve always been LGBT. You just didn’t know!  Families who don’t deal too well initially are greatly helped by being around other people who’ve been they are, or still *are* dealing with the new reality.  It’s HOPE. Hope that their confusion will turn into acceptance, and then celebration and pride.  I have seen, firsthand, families go from being unwilling to acknowledge their LGBT family member, who then are ready and EAGER to march down the street in a Pride Parade, declaring their love for that same person.  PFLAG puts families back together.

When you march with PFLAG, the LOVE that you feel from the crowd is incredible. There are a lot of people who cry as they see us march; perhaps because they wish their families could be that proud of them, or perhaps because they see the work they’ve helped begin coming full circle.  You make eye-contact with people, and you just connect with them: they’re marching with you. We march for them. Again, it gives Hope. It shows that families cannot simply “tolerate” having an LGBT child, or family member….but they can want to celebrate it. Shout their love from them on streets in front of 2 million people. It’s beyond liberating. It’s borderline religious.

   
   

I’m a terribly flawed person, but I guess we all are. I have received a lot of feedback from my blog (http://littlekiwilovesbauhaus.blogspot.com), and my youtube page (http://www.youtube.com/user/MOKandRIFF), and even facebook, about how my videos and writing have helped other people see a path for themselves in life.  Many people have said that the videos with my mother are what inspired them to Come Out. That means more to me than anything. 

I wanted to be able to share anything and everything with people who don’t have an LGBT-outlet. At first it was just silly videos of me and my friends on youtube, having a laugh, generally being idiots and occasionally having the odd sociopolitical discussions.  We’d get responses from people all over the world, who were watching us, and that was great! Not because we were getting watched, but because these were people who didn’t have ‘gay best friends’ to hang out with. It’s so rare to see young(ish) LGBT characters on television that aren’t totally neutered and made “acceptable for a straight audience”, and I wanted to just have something online where alternative queers like me, who might not live in a place with a thriving LGBT scene (if any) could see, interact with, and get some food for thought (and maybe a laugh or two) from other queer people. uncensored. no holds barred.

The videos of my Mum and I came about when I just thought it would be really helpful for people to see a gay boy and his mother talk frankly, honestly, openly, and humorously about LGBT issues, life, Coming Out, pride, and all those things that (let’s be honest) the majority of gay people can’t talk to their family about.  So many LGBT people settle for “tolerance”. They think that’s the best that they can hope for, from family. And for many, it’s probably true. But not for all, and I still believe that progress can be made if you work for it. It won’t be easy, it WILL be uncomfortable for a spell, but openness and dialogues can be had.  The response so far has been amazing. I’ve received dozens of letters from boys and girls, and men and women, who’ve told me that the videos inspired them to Come Out, and many have said that they’ve shown the videos to their parents and it helped THEM understand the Coming Out process. Sometimes it’s easier to see another family go through things, or talk through things, so you can see where you fit into it.  People always think that they’re the only family to deal with having a gay child. They’re not. 🙂

Riff & His Mum on Gay Pride, LGBT Equality, Coming Out and More

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GhqkQ2ie2M

Harvey Milk

Seeing the doc about Harvey in my teens opened my eyes to just how much struggle and WORK had to be done for me to be the gay man that I am today.  I’m enormously grateful for the men and women who opened the door for me, and I thank God for them every day.  

I’d also read The Mayor of Castro Street, and Harvey simply became my hero. A man with a vision, and a message, and the courage to selflessly live openly, putting himself in the spotlight and in harms way because it was the right thing to do.  He sacrificed his own personal safety and security in order to give it to every other LGBT person.

TATTOO

The least I could do for the man I owe my life to, is to immortalize him in ink on my body.  I just felt I needed to connect with him in some way, to say “thank you”. I’d been planning it in my head for 10 years. The words: “You gotta give ’em Hope”. The left-hand fist: proud, strong and defiant. The candles: for the procession the night he was killed, his light still shining. the words “thank you, Harvey”, with his birthdate at the bottom, the words “NEVER BLEND IN”, in a bold font and below, the date of the stonewall riots; a movement born.  I look at it and I see him every day.  People always ask me about it, to see it close up, and I tell them all about Harvey and why I got it.  And my parents think it’s beautiful, so that’s a bonus! 

Harvey’s legacy is his message.  We need to be Out. We need to be advocates. And it’s not just for us, it’s for the next generation, it’s for every LGBT person who isn’t born into the family of compassionate liberal free-thinkers.  We have to help them, we have to give them Hope, because without Hope people give up, like I almost did on occasions I don’t like to remember.  And it’s not just in the USA, it’s all over. Kids are coming out in middle school, teens are taking same-sex dates to their proms and dances, LGBT youth are actually able to date during adolescence, anti-gay bigotry is finally (albeit slowly) becoming as repugnant in the public consciousness as anti-Semitism and racism. Harvey didn’t live to see this, but he’s responsible for it.  He opened the door, and he saved us.  The work of Cleve Jones continues to amaze me, and new faces are coming up; Robin McGehee, activist. Lt. Dan Choi, activist. Artists like Harvey Fierstein, Ellen DeGeneres, Ian McKellen, John Cameron Mitchell, and more. Writers like Ethan Mordden and E. Lynn Harris. They’re continuing the expansion of public consciousness of LGBT people, and diversity. 

Harvey’s story is one that continues to save lives today.  This book will prove to be an incredible tool not only for preserving the legacy of a man who helped change the state of LGBT rights worldwide, but as a continuing force inspiring LGBT people to Come Out and claim their lives as their own, and to non-LGBT people, helping them understand that the LGBT community is truly their family, too.

There will always be people who can “Pass for white” (as I like to put it) who will choose to.  By white, of course, I mean Straight. It’s the term I use for those who try to hope that bigotry will avoid them, and attach onto someone else, as long as they can blend in and pass for something that they’re not.  What is the impact? Look at America: anti-LGBT discrimination is still written into law in MOST States. That’s the impact.  The more we hide, the longer it will take to break down this culture of anti-LGBT prejudice and bigotry.

This world is not just about me. My life and my decisions and actions affect others, and their actions affect me. I was raised in the LGBT-inclusive United Church of Canada, which is also inclusive to other beliefs, faiths, religions, and ways of life.  I am no better than anyone else. I am not entitled to any more than anyone else. But I do belief that I have an obligation to do what I can in this life, to open the doors and help make things easier for those who have not had the opportunities, outlets and support that I’ve had in life.  I’m not perfect, I’m far from it, but I do live each day hoping I can be a Visible Minority, and someone people enjoy being around.  Every day is a new opportunity to change the hearts and minds of someone about the LGBT Community, and the need for a culture of understanding and equality.

I am gay. I am Queer. The words that were once used to hurt me are now words (and concepts) that I embrace.


JACK MACKENROTH IS…


  

Jack Mackenroth is a Fashion Designer, TV Producer and host who is probably still best remembered for Project Runway and as an inspirational and motivational advocate for HIV awareness.

 

He is currently working on producing a TV show called the Queens of Drag: NYC, is writing a much anticipated memoir, is still designing commissioned pieces, travels the United States speaking about HIV and hosts a radio show, POZIAM, every Sunday night.

 (A full bio is on jackmackenroth.com)

 

 

The following article is based on two separate interviews with Jack on Tuesday 11 August 2009 and Sunday 4 April 2010.

All copyright rules apply.

 

 NEVER BLEND IN: THE LEGACY OF HARVEY MILKThis book is crucially important because we need to continually shed light on the struggles and adversity facing the LGBT community. We can never become complacent in our fight for equal rights and we need to remember the trailblazers who ignited the spark for the flame of progress that burns today. As role models following in the legacy of others like Harvey Milk, we need to stand as proud confident people and continue to broaden the path of acceptance for those that follow us.

JACK MACKENROTH

 

 LOOKING BACK BUT MOVING FORWARDS

THE JOURNEY…SO FAR

 Describe your journey to where you are now. What led you toward the sort of work you do now? What was it about your personal and/or professional journey that brought you to this type of work?

I think my success came from facing adversity. I was always teased and taunted in my youth for being effeminate so I took solace in one of my natural talents which was art. It helped me escape and feel pride in something that I was good at doing.

 

Jack describes himself now as “Supergay” but also as “Artistic, Athletic and Confident”. As a child he recalls being labelled as girly and shy and as a teen, effeminate, gay, sissy, alternative and artistic by all of his peers and classmates.

Now, although these were pretty accurate, “I didn’t appreciate the slanderous adjectives”, Jack confides, since, “they definitely affected my self confidence. I was SO self conscious of being effeminate and androgynous when I was young that it prevented me from doing a lot of things. I only really accepted myself and started loving the way I was in the last 10 years of so. I knew I was gay from kindergarten but I denied even thinking about the possibility until I was a senior in high school.

One aspect of my artistic endeavors was making my own clothes. I taught myself to sew when I was 13 and I didn’t really care about what my peers thought about what I made and how I wore it. In a sense I was taking control of their mockery by blatantly being proudly different. That just naturally evolved into going to UC Berkeley for Fine Arts and the Parsons School of Design for Fashion Design. All the pieces just seemed to fall into place.

I didn’t have a lot of role models back then. Remember it was about 1986 so there were not many gay role models in the media and certainly not very positive ones. I do remember hearing about Harvey Milk which was inspiring but also scary because there was so much hatred surrounding the public’s opinion of him.

Well I went to UC Berkeley for my undergraduate education and it’s one of the most liberal schools in the country so I found my ‘people’ there who let me be whoever I wanted to be and celebrated that.

How have your family responded to your sexuality, was coming out a difficult process, did you ever experience feelings of self-doubt, low self-esteem as a result of your sexuality? 

Well I came out in 1987 so the perception of gay people was a much different. My family is very liberal and was very accepting. I don’t have a relationship with my father and my parents were divorced when I was 8. I really don’t know what he thinks about it. Coming out was difficult because back then there were not a lot of role models so I thought I was the only one. I didn’t really even remember knowing the word “gay”. However when I went to Berkeley, which is one of the most liberal universities in the US, I met a lot of other gay people very quickly and everything just clicked. I did have feelings of low self esteem initially before I came out because I was consistently teased in high school and I was in extreme denial about my sexual orientation. Once I came out it was like a giant weight was lifted. Finding out that I was HIV+ in 1990 was like I had to come out all over again. That came with a whole new set of self-esteem issues.

ROLE MODELS  If young people see LGBT adults living happy, successful lives then they have hope and that is extremely powerful. I get emails from teenagers all the time saying thank you for being open and that I inspire them in some way. Hopefully role models help pave the way for an easier coming out experience. 

 

Visibility plays a huge part in normalizing LGBTQ orientation. Unfortunately, often the most visible queer archetypes are the most sensational and stereotypical.

 

We are definitely seeing more LGBT characters in the media. Especially with the advent of ‘reality’ television. I think it’s a great way for people to see LGBT individuals living regular lives.

 

It’s hugely important for popular sports figures, musicians, actors, politicians and local figures to come out at the height of their careers because it garners a ton of press and there are still large parts of the population that don’t believe that LGBT individuals are EVERYWHERE. 

 

“teachable moments”  I have always set high standards for myself but I think that was instilled in me by my mother. I never really modeled my life after someone. I have had role models that I have looked up to, or people’s careers that I wanted to emulate but I always took my own path.

 

In high school I had an art mentor named Robert Fulghum who went on to become a bestselling author. During the end of my senior year I was not accepted into my top 3 schools that I applied to, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford. UC Berkeley was my back up choice. I was complaining to him about it one day and he told me he thought Berkeley would be a perfect place for me to discover myself. I think he knew something I was not quite ready to acknowledge. He was right and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. 

 

Because of my appearance on Project Runway I receive countless emails of gratitude from people all over the world. I am constantly amazed by how many people watched that show and were moved by the fact that I disclosed my HIV+ status. Once at an award show Margaret Cho came up to me and told me she loved me. I was speechless. 

 

I take it seriously. I receive FB messages and emails on a daily basis from people thanking me for being visible as an HIV+ person. I know I have saved lives–which is so humbling and amazing. I’ve had people tell me they were going to kill themselves because they found out they were HIV+ and then they read something about me or saw me on TV and changed their mind. That is my greatest achievement to date. 

 

 

 THE LEGACY OF HARVEY MILK

Well he was really a trailblazer in the face of such adversity. There are so many role models now in all arenas of the LGBT community. I could make an endless list of people who are proudly out and making a difference in almost every arena of LGBT culture. Christine Quinn, Barney Frank, Rachel Maddow, Suze Orman, Ellen Degeneres, Candis Cayne, Billy Bean….it goes on and on…

 

 

CLOSING COMMENTS 

AN AUTHENTIC LIFE

I am very close to living a full authentic life. Since Project Runway I’ve really been publicly scrutinized in the press and blogs so it forced me to be very cognisant of how I behave. It’s a lot of pressure but I think it made me a better person in a weird way. I’ve always been very open and honest. However I am always striving to be better. I think my public persona is always very funny and upbeat and optimistic. I have total crap days too which is totally normal and I let myself have them without beating myself up about it.

I am not a religious person so I live strictly by the principle that I should treat other people the way I would want to be treated. I know what the ‘right’ thing is to do in most circumstances and I try to do it.

 

I hope I am an example of self-confidence, discipline, honesty, giving back to the community and a strong work ethic. 

I think lying to yourself or trying to squelch some sort of truth takes an incredible amount of energy. They say you are only as sick as your secrets.

People do not have a choice regarding their sexual or gender orientation. Everyone, no matter what their circumstances, just wants to be accepted for exactly who they are without judgment. Treat them as equals. Get involved in advocacy or support groups like PFLAG.

 

I try to treat others as I would want to be treated. I believe in Karma in my own way. I think if you put good things out into the universe then good things will come back to you.

Progress is being made. It’s a slow, continuous battle. People naturally fear things that are unfamiliar to them. We need to keep inundating society with positive role models of minority groups and eventually our similarities will outweigh the perceived differences.

Just accept people for who they are. It’s that simple. You don’t have to agree with everyone but you have no right to judge. We are all equal.  Just know that there are millions of other people just like you living happy, well-adjusted lives. You will find your way. 

 

 

 GOALS & THE MEANING OF LIFE…What gives your life meaning? 

Art, Beauty, my family, being an advocate for HIV+ people and the LGBT community.

What are your goals both personally and professionally? 

I have so many. Sort of like to be doing a bunch of things at once. I’m working on producing a TV show called the Queens of Drag: NYC, I’m writing a memoir, I still design commissioned pieces, I travel all around the country speaking about HIV and I have my radio show, POZIAM every Sunday night. I look at every new opportunity as an adventure. I don’t have any specific ultimate goal professionally.  However personally I would like to get married and get a dog. But I probably have to find a boyfriend first.

 

 

 

JACK MACKENROTH LINKS

http://www.jackmackenroth.com

Facebook pages
http://www.facebook.com/jackmackenroth
http://www.facebook.com/jackequalitymackenroth

Join my fan page
http://www.facebook.com/jackmackenrothfanpage

Follow me on Twitter
http://www.twitter.com/jackmackenroth

HIV Education Campaign in partnership with Merck and Co.
http://www.livingpositivebydesign.com

The Queens of Drag: NYC webpage!
http://www.thequeensofdrag.com

The Queens of Drag: NYC Facebook page
http://www.facebook.com/thequeensofdrag

POZIAM Radio! Every Sunday at 9pm EST
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/poziam

 


JAMES HASLAM IS…


 
JAMES HASLAM – THE LOST SUPPER TICKET DETAILS BELOW

 COPYRIGHT NOTICE © TEXT & IMAGES

JAMES HASLAM INTERVIEWMonday, 3 August, 2009 

 

JAMES HASLAM

 

I did poorly at school and when I left I did a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) in catering; which I hatedI then drifted into hair dressing – this was the 80’s and the gender bender movement was at its height – with me leading it! I had a great career working in the hair industry and in many top places. I then opened my own shop in Greenwich and finally got round to auditioning for Drama School. I got in first time and studied acting to a degree level.Since leaving Drama School, I have plugged away at my performing career and also work in Covent Garden part time cutting hair…the two work brilliantly together.I suppose hair styling was an easy industry for me to drift into in terms of my sexuality. I had a very rough time at school for being gay and so it was just wonderful to suddenly find myself in an environment where I was easily accepted… mind you, I have experienced homophobia in a hair salon!

I have always had great communication skills; because of the prejudice I received when younger I have learnt to get on with people. Performing was always a dream of mine but always too scary to do – because of the past, I suppose… I was a late bloomer.

 

JAMES HASLAM

 

FAMILY MATTERS

My family were great about it. I have always been my own person so I suppose they knew it would make no difference anyway. I didn’t find the actual being gay bit difficult but I did find talking about myself so intimately with my family a bit challenging. It’s just cringy to think about your mum having this vision of you. So that is what I struggled with.

When I told my mum, she knew anyway, she said “It’s what I like about you…” I think I am lucky really.

I think that being gay and the reaction of others has had an effect upon my self esteem. I feel very marginalised by others. I would say that I am an obviously gay man… you’d know as soon as I open my mouth. In one way it is good because it reveals who you are almost immediately to others… however, I hate being judged upon it.

I think homophobia is the worst prejudice we have in this country today – it’s very subtle and everywhere! I could give you a million examples.

I also think the gay community are prejudiced towards each other – especially to camp gay men – they are so undervalued for the role they play in the gay community – they should be celebrated.

 

JAMES HASLAM

 

ROLE MODELS 

It is very important to have role models and heroes. Role models are who we strive to be like. I think youngsters have terrible role models at the moment, and that is reflected in hate crimes and knife crimes that are on the up at the moment.There is so much anger about but youngsters do not just happen to be this way… it starts with parents, teachers … role models.

 

 

MEDIA MATTERS

The celebrity culture is terrible. The media and the way it treats people is appalling; making people public property. Even royalty owes it demise to the media. OK, heat magazine, newspapers etc… all create a terrible atmosphere where it is ok to rip the life out of people. I don’t/won’t indulge in any of it.

Unfortunately it provides terrible role models to the younger generations. Even at my age, I am still very influenced by role models.

The media has a huge role to play in the role of providing positive role models. The problem we have though is that the media exist on negativity and it is the darker side of human nature to enjoy seeing people ripped to pieces in the media. So I do think the media play a huge role. I believe that adults need to act responsibly and become positive role models. Give teachers and police etc… give them back their authority!

Adults need to claim back their respect from the younger generations.

I don’t think gay people are represented very well in the media. I think who I am is really based on the people who I know or have known or have read about etc. I believe we are all under the influence of each other and therefore we need to live consciously and responsibly.

 

JAMES HASLAM

 

Influence and Inspiration

My life changes course all the time because of other people and their views, good or bad.

Communication is a gift that we need to value and use wisely. So yes, I have been inspired to change my life in positive ways through the influence of others but I have also been influenced in negative ways… hence low self esteem issues, becoming a hair stylist is considered to be a gay job…I think I was definitely influenced to do it… I hate hair!

My attitudes towards myself have been influenced by people I admire. One of the great self help guru’s Louise L Hay has really changed my perspective of who I am and how to love myself.

My mum did something very simple for me when I was young – she taught me manners and I pride myself upon them now. Manners are going from society nowadays and I try my best to have manners wherever I go and whoever I encounter.

I am a practicing Buddhist and I live my life by these principles and philosophy – I do believe that having a clear view helps one to make wise and focused choices…but I do think it is a conscious choice and one that does not always come naturally. Being a human being is tough and I think we are naturally negative and selfish and that even the best of people struggle with this… the main thing is that we try to change and live our lives full of thanks and gratitude.

I have become aware of my social responsibility, and that the way I respond to others is incredibly important. I have really started to recognise subtle homophobia and have learnt to stand up to it, as quite often people don’t realise they are doing it.

I always try to have great manners and show gratitude. I like others to see a decent human being and then it becomes very difficult to justify any prejudice they may be feeling.

 

 

 COME OUT, COME OUT…WHEREVER YOU ARE…

It is very important for everyone to be out. If we act ashamed of who we are then we cannot blame others for picking on us.

To a family of someone coming out I’d say try to keep a dialogue open and don’t give too many strong opinions. The person coming out has always been that way and they are trusting you and letting you into their life.

Try to remember that true love has no conditions attached. To the parents I’d say you made it and that person has to now live with it. If you don’t like someone for what they do in their bedroom, then don’t think about it as it really has nothing to do with you. If you don’t like someone because they are gay, then you are homophobic and that is unacceptable

I think parents of gay children just need to let them live their lives normally and as they choose…interfering or trying to be over protective just means that they feel there is something wrong with their child. Let your kids live their own lives their own way.

I’d say to anyone struggling with their sexual orientation to talk to someone you trust and build up a support network of good friends. Construct a plan of action of how you are going to come out and take it slowly… you don’t have to be a flag waver to be gay. Talk to the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard or the Samaritans… just take some time and slowly find who you are at your own pace. It can take time and that is good and remember that denying what you are does not make it go away – you have a right to be here.

I feel that gay people have to now take some responsibility for how we represent ourselves… If we wish to be fully accepted, we have to act acceptably and responsibly.

We have to recognise homophobia in its subtle form and not laugh along with it. We have to value each other and set a good example for the younger generations to look up to and be great gay men and gay women role models.

Finally, I love being gay – I think it is a sex of its own and we should not be confused or compared to heterosexual men and women. I think differently and I am different, irrelevant of my body.

I have huge potential as a human being and I am entitled to my life. If I get the chance to come back again I will definitely come back as a gay man.

JAMES HASLAM – THE LOST SUPPER

TICKET DETAILS BELOW

PIZZA ON THE PARK

11 KNIGHTSBRIDGE, LONDON SW17LY

TICKETS £15

TEL: 08456 027 017

www.pizzaonthepark.co.uk

 


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