Spare Change

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I was running  down Spring Garden Road a few months ago, distracted by many things left unfinished at work that particular day while rushing to be somewhere and already twenty minutes late, when I nearly  stumbled over a young guy sitting in front of a vacant store front.   Smiling up at me from under a ton of scruff and a crazy purple and yellow rasta hat, he shook a tin can in my direction, and with a wink and a smile said  “spare change for poor life decisions?”   On his lap was a cardboard cut out sign, and carefully lettered on this sign, in bright red flowing cursive writing, were those very life choices he deemed so poor, including  “stay in school!” and “be kind to your mama – she’s the only one you got” to “whatever you do – don’t forget the condoms” and “I shouldn’t have eaten that!”

“Now THAT is genius” I laughed, tossing him what change I had.

“Thanks!” he called after, “Good luck with your life choices!”

I hadn’t really thought of this rather poetic young stranger for a while now, until I was recently faced with some major personal change  and all those pesky life choices that go along with it.  Looking back on my life, I guess as far as these things go, I’ve steered clear of poor choices while making some rather good ones instead.  (Well, it is true I had an unfortunate Corey Hart phase once upon a time.  And you know that old mantra “beer before liquor makes you sicker”?  Yeah, I always ignore that one).   But  for one thing, I’ve chosen a truly wonderful partner as a witness to my life,  someone who is just a genuinely GOOD person, beautiful both inside and out…and I guess I’ve been lucky that he’s chosen me.  I have wonderful family and friends that I don’t appreciate nearly enough, but i know they’re always just an arms reach away, literally and figuratively.  I’ve built an interesting and varied career that’s been rewarding in many ways, and learned from some truly greats in my field.  I’m WRITING more these days, something that  can (so corny but so true)  fill my soul and makes my heart sing, and my latest accomplishment in that area has been the publication of a couple of short stories in a literary magazine called the Rusty Nail (you can even find me on Amazon!)

And, let’s face it, I am co-parent to just about the CUTEST damn cat in the world!  I mean, seriously, look at this little dude…

Mungo

But into every bright sky comes a little rain.  And for me, that’s in the form of changes in my workplace that could potentially result in much less job satisfaction.  Or in other words, my “career” now becomes “just another job.”   Now when faced with those circumstances, the way I see it I have three choices: 1) I can get MAD about it and decide to pack up my toys and go play in another sandbox (easier said than done in this job market, but maybe I could have my old job at McDonald’s back?!?)  2) I could just GO ALONG WITH IT and ride the wave of change, just sit quietly and wait to see where it takes me (seems a bit too complacent for a rebel such as myself though, don’t you think?) Or I can 3) EMBRACE the change and figure out a way to somehow grow, learn, and discover new opportunities from it (well, aside from the huggy part, that just seems much more fitting!)

And so, embrace it I shall!   Turns out, for me, this catalyst for change has led to a return to higher education.  Following in the footsteps of a friend who faced a much more serious crossroads when her job ended, I am now in hot pursuit of  a Bachelor’s of Social Work Degree through the University of Manitoba (hopefully with a Master’s soon to follow). And I get to do this part time, online, through distance education, with lots of people from many diverse backgrounds across the country, just like me…making a change.  Yes kids, I finally know what I want to be when I grow up: a Social Worker.  Returning to school at my age can seem like a bit of a daunting task (let’s just say I was around the FIRST time plaid shirts were “cool” and we can leave it at that), but in truth it feeds my competitive nature to work hard, study, and get good grades, provides me with all kinds of killer student discounts on stuff, and allows me to plan wild and crazy frosh week activities all over again!   As for becoming a real life social worker type, truth be told it is not necessarily what I would’ve imagined for myself (growing up I pictured Pulitzer prize-winning author, or Daytime Emmy winning soap opera star, or international man of mystery), but after thinking it through, it seems a pretty logical fit.   Consider this: the study of social work comes with a strong sense of social justice and social duty, of righting the wrongs of the world, becoming a champion for the underdog, and just standing up to THE MAN.  Come to think of it…I like all those things!  Now combine that with a spunky attitude, a somehow flattering set of tights and cape and a scrappy sidekick  named Mungo the Cat and what do you get?  A SUPERHERO! I can become the world’s first Superhero Social Worker! (Quick, I better trademark that!)

Moral of the story – you can never tell where a little unforseen change is going to take you.  So I say take CHANGE and embrace that sucker for all it’s worth.  Push and pull it to and fro… shake it upside down…hell, spank it if you want to (well, maybe don’t go that crazy!)  But just remember to consider all the options before you, and mark out the one true path that works best for you.  Because you always have options.  And when you realize that, well the possibilities…the possibilities seem positively endless.  Trust me on this one.

Now, about that costume…. 🙂

Dear Jodie

Jodie-FosterI love Jodie Foster.

Some people quote the Bible, or lines from their favourite books, or lyrics from a song. I quote Silence of the Lambs. I mean, just the sight of sunblock has me screaming “it rubs the lotion on its skin and puts it in the basket!” I’ve followed Jodie’s career most of my life, and along with cheering all her amazing accomplishments, in roles like my beloved Silence, Taxi Driver, The Hotel New Hampshire, and the Accused to name a few, I’ve forgiven her for the seemingly unforgiveable, like continuing to hire Mel Gibson when no one else would touch his racist, homophobic, misogynistic ass, and for Panic Room, a movie I actually liked but one that will forever be marred for inflicting the wooden depths of Kristen Stewart’s “acting chops” upon an unsuspecting world. So as I watched her rather mesmerizing speech at the Golden Globe awards, I wondered was THIS something for which I could proudly cheer her on, or scream in horror “oh no, she’s pulled a MEL… again!”

Seems the answer’s actually both

See, as much as I love Jodie, I love lesbians. Over the years, lesbians have been some of my bestest friends. Those gals can drink like truck drivers, make great wingmen at bars, and are wicked spotters at the gym. And truth be told, I’ve been accused more than once of having some pretty strong lesbian sensibilities myself, with my love of short hair and hoodies, cargo shorts and aviators, beer samplers and junior hockey, Wonder Woman Barbies and She-Ra, Princess of Power, and the musical stylings of Alanis and la Goddess Tori Amos…. but come on, DAMN, you have to admit, those sapphic sisters know where it’s AT.

Just this past year, we’ve had a rush of casual gay MALE coming out stories in Hollywood (I’m looking at YOU Zachary Quinto!). Celebs like Zachary or Big Bang’s Jim Parsons will now suddenly drop a line or two seven paragraphs into a small magazine story (something about their organic vegetable shopping spree at the local market with their male partner of a zillion years, then shrug it off and talk about their next indie role). Now with all due respect to Ellen and Portia, the way I see it, it’s the ladies turn. And after a near miss a few months back (I’m looking at YOU Queen Latifah!) I held my breath, thinking Jodie was going to do IT. You know, become this year’s Anderson. Sort of.

And then she did. Sort of.

Yes, in a six and a half minute rambling yet elegant, “am I missing the inside joke here?” to “she really gets me!” kind of speech, Jodie gave up one of the worst kept secrets in Hollywood and “came out”, noting she’d first done so back in the stone age to “trusted friend and family….then gradually to everyone who knew her, everyone she actually MET.” Now to me, that sentence alone says a lot about our society and its’ celebrity obsession, and our need to know the most intimate and secret details of the Hollywood crowd we so admire. Our Jodie is NOT Honey Boo Boo as she noted….her life and the life of her family is not some goofy reality show for our daily amusement and consumption. So bugger off, she’s saying, let me live out my fifty but still smokin’ and currently single life in peace.

Now some people are of the mindset that, as a celebrity, one gives up the right to a private life….that everything you do, everyONE you do, should be public knowledge. Not so I say. I work with kids with behavioural issues and with their parents on developing strategies to deal with said behavioural issues. Most days I love my job, and if I must say so myself, I’m really good at it. But that doesn’t mean that, when at Costco let’s say, I should drop my jar of pickles the size of my head and rush over to intervene when some little seven-year old darling baby boy is screaming he wants the new rated M for mature Call of Duty game while his mama is screaming “STOP THAT OR WE’RE LEAVING RIGHT THIS MINUTE!!” even though I know 1) she has no intention of leaving ’til she gets that latest Fifty Shades knock off and 2) junior will smugly get whatever he wants just to SHUT HIM UP! And sure enough, fifteen minutes later baby boy is clutching his killer game while machine gunning the massive hot dog lineup mama has dropped everything for and is now waiting in, just to get him a jumbo sausage with extra ketchup. No, as much as I sometimes want to, I won’t step in. I gave at the office, so to speak, and so, in my twisted logic kind of way, has Jodie.

I want to celebrate Jodie’s speech. I want to say “Hey,my sistahs! Finally you can give Ellen a break and get a new poster girl! For realz this time!” But there’s something about the vagueness of her message that doesn’t sit well with me. Because being vague implies that maybe there’s something there that should remain hidden, something that is still shameful to just admit. By flirting with the rumours, then addressing them in such a roundabout way, doesn’t make Jodie the role model I want her to be. But only part of me feels that way. Because listening to Jodie’s message, really LISTENING, I realize her words just make her seem more human, more real to me. And it makes me think of my own experiences and those of friends and how, as gay people, we’re almost constantly “coming out” to people. We constantly feel this pressure to take the spotlight and make this great proclamation about our lives. A need to explain away the important people in our lives, to defend who and what we are. To define our own “modern families”. Scarlett Johanson isn’t pressured to grab a mic and shout “I am a man-eating HOE and you are my next victim!” Ryan Gosling isn’t forced to say “watch out! I WILL sleep with your woman cuz I’m a big ol’ hetero STUD!” So in that respect why must Jodie shout from the mountaintops that she not so secretly wants to do Megan Fox? It’s because we insist upon it. We save those precious moments of full public disclosure for the queers among us. And so, on that note, BRAVO to Jodie for taking her own road. I’ll respect her coming out story. Because it’s her story, and all stories are different. And I won’t treat her life as a reality show, because unlike Honey Boo Boo, that’s not how Jodie rolls.

To be honest though, I can’t promise I won’t obsess over Jodie’s love life, especially if she soon bags a hot celebrity girlfriend. Because, after last night, one thing Jodie truly confirmed….she is one fine smokin’ hot single lesbian. And an “on the market” available one at that.

The Light

October is National Anti Bullying Month, a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. I work in child and adolescent mental health, and over the years, I’ve come to know well those that would qualify as bullies, and those that would suffer as their victims, My team and I work hard to, in a sense, “rehabilitate” the bully, source out that negativity, reinforce positive behaviour with positive attention, uncover the deeper reasons that invoke these behaviours, and instead promote and encourage better, more positive peer relationships. With the children who are bullied, we work to build resiliency and better self esteem, to help them find a voice, seek support when in despair, and perhaps most importantly to do whatever they can to hang on to that thing that makes them most special, worthy, important….that light that we all have inside. Most times we’re successful, sometimes we’re not, but we’re THERE, we’re present, we’re listening, and we’re eager to lend a hand, to guide a way. I’ve come to find that people think they know the answers to bullying, that we believe we can sum things up in few short lines – poor parenting, teachers that don’t care, an entertainment industry glorifying sex and violence, kids that are just born mean. It’s easy to blame the wondrous technological advances of this era, and look to social media as the villain, with the magnitude of unfiltered garbage free to flow into our living rooms, onto our laptops, via our mobile phones. As a society, we don’t “talk” anymore. We text, we tweet, we post funny or revealing Facebook updates. One quick sound bite, 140 characters or less. And in that short time span, we go for impact, we try to be provocative, we try to get the best laugh or the biggest shock value. We don’t make those simple human connections we once did. And through this social media we can be anonymous, we can be outspoken, though provoking, even inflaming. But what we don’t recognize, what we fail to realize, is the damage those “words” can do, and, as adults, the lessons our actions can teach, the impressions we can leave behind to those who look up to us the most.

Aside from my passion for my work, this epidemic of bullying has touched me on an even deeper, more personal level. I have a 7 year old nephew and a 17 year old niece who have faced struggles with issues like these often in their daily lives. My nephew is a shockingly bright, incredibly well spoken, handsome little guy, small for his age but with a personality bigger than life. An only child, unlike his uncle he didn’t grow up with four siblings and one Monopoly game and have to figure out how to share and play together NICELY, DAMN IT, and so school is where he learns, like most kids, how to maneuver his way through those minefields of childhood relationships. And so this perfect little child, so charming with adults, has he’s always struggled fitting in with kids his age, so rule bound and precocious as he can be. This struggle, almost comical at first in his description of it when some other child just wasn’t LISTENING, turned frighteningly real last year, when he started coming home with cuts and bruises and torn clothes due to tussles on the playground –well, not so much tussles as his running away in fear for his safety, being caught, pummelled, and having no one around close by to help or intervene.

My beautiful niece’s struggles have been different, yet no less severe. She has always been a very warm and loving little girl, who easily wins over friends with her engaging personality. A strikingly sensitive soul, she empathizes easily with others, so much so she’ll often take on their problems and champion them as though they were her own, not recognizing the toll at times that might take upon her. Like lots of young people her age, she’s gone through those awkward early adolescent and teenage years questioning the confusing world around her, and one particularly important question she’s faced is in regards to her own sexual identity. She’s still just figuring it out, and like so many others will likely continue to do so for many years to come, but gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, trans….to her, the label doesn’t matter, she just hopes to find someone to share common ground with and then later to fall in love. To find someone who truly and genuinely loves her, regardless of their age, their race, their shape or size, or their gender. A rather enlightened and self assured attitude for a teenage girl, it’s not one necessarily shared by other people her age, and so, as a result, she’s encountered some gossip, innuendo, teasing, and cruelty. And because of her belief system, she’s been forced to hold her head high and carry on during some rather trying, difficult and downright painful times.

My nephew and niece are already heroes in their own fight, and don’t even realize it. My nephew would cry himself to sleep at times, so fearful of these school yard bullies, but then shake it off in the morning and be first on his school bus, excited to face the challenges and rewards of a new school day. With concern for his well being, his parents (my sister and brother in law) brought him to his pediatrician, who, after hearing their concerns and some description from my nephew, had this strong message for them– “don’t’ you DARE let these bullies stomp that bright light out from inside this child. Go to the school, fight for more supervision, transfer districts if you have to…but do NOT let them take away his light”. As for my niece, with her mother and step-father’s support, she was able to make a very grown up decision to cut some negative peer influences out of her life and find some truer friends, and from there slowly make her way out from underneath some darkness that had surrounded her. My nephew and niece are lucky. They have mothers and fathers that love them and have instilled in them so many of their own good qualities, qualities passed down by our parents, that I’m confident they’ll find their path. My sisters will protect their babies like all good mama lions would, but I know aside from that fierce protective nature they’ve already given them the strength of character and the strong sense of family that they will need to see them through whatever difficult or trying days they might face ahead. But one thing that these two, and in fact my other niece and nephewall share in common, the one thing that makes them all so very precious, is how sensitive they are to their surroundings, how deeply – how BIG – they feel things in this world. But instead of being celebrated, this sensitive nature will likely something they’ll need to learn – to be expected -to somehow overcome.

 

I read in horror and dismay the fate of Amanda Todd, a 15 year old girl from British Columbia who committed suicide days ago after years of struggling with cyber bullying. Years earlier Amanda had made a seemingly harmless but devastating mistake. She flashed a stranger on a webcam, a stranger who took that image and used it in an attempt to exploit her, and when this exploitation proved unsuccessful in gaining what he wanted, he released the image, posting it online and forwarding to Amanda’s friends, her family, her neighbours, and her classmates. And so this embarrassing picture became widely distributed, and this girl who made a simple mistake became the subject of scorn and the victim of terrible abuse, until ultimately In an effort to escape her pain she took her own life. And with that news, my mind flashed to the kids under my care, to my family, to my own experiences. Cyber bulling itself seems its own vicious animal, in that at least with physical bullying there are scars and marks and the visible evidence of the abuse, and with it the chance of police involvement and the possibility of charges laid, of justice done. With cyber bullying the abuse is pervasive and ongoing, and it invades the places we should find safest. Words hurt, and the scars and the marks that come from their use cut just as deep. For kids, the warzone isn’t just the classroom or the school yard or the movie theatre or the shopping mall – it’s their living rooms, their bedrooms, the very sanctuary that should be their homes. And as a society we have become a group of passive bystanders – we see these daily struggles but do little to stop them, but then later rush in to lend our sympathy and support in the wake of such tragedy, gnashing out teeth and pulling our hair and asking how this could possibly happen. I don’t know Amanda’s circumstances – I don’t know what her family life was like, what her school supports might have been, or what access she might have had to mental health professionals. I do know she moved and changed schools a number of times in an effort to escape her tormentors, so that tells me her parents tried to protect and shelter her, and school administration must have advocated for these “new starts” to happen. I know she was treated for anxiety, so her mental health needs, however seriously considered, must have at least been considered or raised. Certainly she must have suffered with severe depression and debilitating anxiety due to her life circumstances, and being so unwell she may not have been able to see the resources that were there, the options that she had. I am sure her family must be devastated by this turn of events, and her teachers and friends’ grief stricken and shaken in the aftermath of this terrible solitary act. But with all that, I also know that this little girl made the most public cry for help there is, posting a video of herself on YouTube, in grainy black and white, silently flipping through flash cards, telling her sad tragic tale, telling us in her own words that “I have no one. I need someone.” Whoever saw it, whoever acted upon it…whatever was offered, it was not enough. We need to stop acting like bullying is some school yard problem or prank, some rite of passage as we move through those difficult adolescent years. Bullying needs to be taken seriously and treated like the criminal act it is, with consequences and repercussions to match the crime. Whoever this man was who distributed the naked picture that was the catalyst for the sad fate of this young girl needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for distributing what was, in essence, child pornography. The “friends” who now dare to send their sad condolences on the very Facebook page they used as their platform to torment and, in fact, bully this girl to death need to be held accountable, if not possible by law then by their community, by their families, by their schools, and by themselves. We need to stop being passive bystanders and instead become active participants. Be the eye rolling, incredibly irritating parent you swore you’d never be. Be the over protective big brother, the meddling big sister. Constantly check in with the little people in your lives. Watch for any change in behaviour and act upon it swiftly and accordingly, by probing and questioning, and trust your instincts when something appears wrong. Monitor kids online, restrict their access, patrol the sites they surf, and keep their passwords close and safe. Be vigilant, and when they are in need, don’t rush to judgement, simply listen….and then help them to find some solution, some light at the end of the tunnel, some way out. Don’t treat it as some teenage drama; treat it as the life and death situation it might become, that it IS in that moment to them. And conversely, when you see a child acting out in hatred, know that it likely comes from a dark place, and strive to find inside yourself some compassion. We must strive to understand those misguided ones and help them find the support and guidance they need to find a better way of being. Because there IS a better way of being, and they CAN find that way. Remember everyone has a story, and be sure that your story is an example of how best to treat your fellow man, with kindness, compassion, a sense of moral duty, and a strong guiding hand. Bullying feeds on a person’s weakness and insecurity, and from there it fosters and grows. We must stem the tide. Bullying doesn’t just hurt…it kills.

There is NO more precious resource in this world then our children. Remember those little people in your life are always listening, always learning, always watching. Be the role model they need…be THAT person. Show them the way. This was a sad failure of a community, of a school system, of our mental health profession, and of our society as a whole. We need to do better. We need to do so much more.

Please. Take action today. Don’t let another bright light in this world go out far too soon.

Summer Lovin’! Or Fifty Shades of Gay!

As I strolled along the beautiful Halifax waterfront one recent sunny afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice a rather large number of smiling, hand holding couples that clearly did not fit Joey’s Rule of Three. You remember Friends Joey, and his philosophy that you could only date someone 3 points away from yourself, meaning if you were a 10 you couldn’t date anyone below a 7 (you could, however, date two 4s!) Everywhere I looked there were these gorgeous super models being trailed by some ridiculous looking skater boi, naughty librarians arm in arm with some sweaty muscled tattooed biker type, elderly grandfathers taking their young granddaughters for an ice cream treat….oh, wait, that’s not her grandfather. Least I HOPE that’s not her grandfather. (Ewww!)

Um, anyway, all around me, these strange, not so wonderful, goes against nature couplings were happening. And stifling the urge to grab any random girl, point to Quasimodo at her side and scream “DEAR GOD WOMAN, HAVE YOU SEEN HIM!?!” I was instead left to ponder why. WHAT could be the cause of all this bizarre summer loving? What could make cupid’s arrow go so astray that Miss California with the perfectly tanned skin, beached blonde hair and seriously surgically enhanced boobs would ever comtemplate engaging in some serious tongue action with pimply faced creepy ginger Super Nerd in the way too skinny skinny jeans? Did they not watch Friends, and learn those valuable life lessons from Joey Tribiani the way I did?

No, the desperate lack of Friends reruns was NOT the true culprit. Seems a poor girl simply had no choice but to settle nowadays. The true dastardly villain in all this was our SOCEITY itself. Because when you look at love and relationships in our world today, it seems you have two choices: you can either go all gay, or be willing to go all freaky. Otherwise, get ready to settle for Not So Mr Right But What The Hell.
Yup, it’s the Rise of the Gays, and Fifty Shades of Grey…THAT’S what’s wrong with love these days!

Just last week I was at Rainbow (they just don’t call it Rainbow for nothing!) Haven Beach and watched two young guys who mistakenly thought they were in some extended Abercrombie & Fitch commercial. Seated next to a gaggle of pretty girls that were far too busy talking about the really important things in life like the high cost of sunless tanners, hair extensions and what tattoos placed strategically where were likely to piss daddy off the most, these two lovebirds frolicked and played in the ocean waves before rolling around lip locked and tongue tired (literally) on the beach. Biting my lip so as not to scream “YO, SISTERS, GET A ROOM!” I was dumbfounded to discover that no one seemed to really notice or care about this serious case of boy on boy way too much PDA action. And why should we care? Queer life is becoming so commonplace it’s as if the straight world is now becoming desensitized to it. With my arch-nemesis Anderson Cooper as only the latest example, everywhere you look in Hollywood these days (just ask ol’ Perez Hilton!), you’ll see gays on parade. Hell, you can’t even open a comic book without seeing big gay X-Men weddings, or a Green Lantern macking on a dude! Coming out’s not only becoming more socially acceptable….it’s downright desirable. EVERYBODY wants to be queer…so much so that next thing you know, some poor girl’s going to cute meet a nice boy at Starbucks,or make flirty eyes with some handsome guy at the grocery store, and suddenly mystery boy’s going to sashay up in his neatly pressed khakis, too cool Ray Bans and tight black polo and instead of grinning and slyly suggesting a phone number he’ll say “oooh LOVE love your shoes, can I try them on?” or “that Channing Tatum….he NEEDS to call me!” And suddenly, before you know it, all these pretty girls will have their own pocket gay that they’ll stuff into some oversized designer bag and tote about, telling their girlfriends over martinis that “well, the sex life sure sucks, but DAMN that boy knows how to shop and accessorize!”

Then there’s Fifty Shades of Grey.
Now, I’m a big reader. I love books, and I’ve always thought that, regardless of what it is, anything that gets people to read is a good thing. But then I met the Twilight series, and came to realize that’s not so true. So finding out that Fifty Shades of Grey actually originated as fan fiction based on the Twilight series was almost slightly traumatic. I mean, just when you think the world couldn’t get a WORSE role model then Bella, here comes Anastasia Steele and her literal doormat self. But truth be told, I don’t care about the explicit sex scenes, or the BDSM aspects (different strokes for different folks…well, very HARD strokes in this case apparently!) And although, indeed, I doI find it troubling that that the story paints an unhealthy, unrealistic portrait of a relationship with one partner totally dominant over the other as this ideal, that’s not my biggest issue with it. What I find most offensive is THE BAD WRITING! When I recently watched a rather creepy exchange between a grandmother and a store clerk at Chapters as they excitedly panted about the storyline, I was horrified to hear the grandmother’s bubble gum snapping 14 year old granddaughter proudly proclaim “yeah, and when she’s done reading it, I’m gonna read it too!” And as my mind reeled in horror over the very thoughts, it wasn’t at the mature content these impressionable young lass would be exposed too, but the terrifically bad grammar and poor storytelling! “Put the book down and step away!” I wanted to scream! “Go watch Dallas…its back! Go live vicariously through the Real Housewives of Vancouver!” Just STOP READING THIS STUFF!!” I mean, who knew if this poor girl’s literary IQ would ever recover from the damage between those pages??

Or, as someone recently pointed out to me, if women everywhere aren’t careful, someone’s going to get hurt doing that shit.

Hmm. A self help book isn’t a bad idea. And if I combine that and the world’s other latest obsession…

That’s IT….FIFTY SHADES OF GAY!

Wow, a million seller if I ever heard one!
Oh my! Me go now. Must get bad writing! Me be RICH! 🙂

When Anderson Cooper Came Out

Many times in the past when faced with that question “so what DO you do for a living?” I’ll launch into a convoluted explanation and then, recognizing that baffled look, sum it up as “I work with kids with behavioural problems and try to put ’em on the straight and narrow”. When asked how I came to do this work, I describe it as a happy accident (well, sometimes I think it’s happy!) but then I follow it up with “but really, it’s not what I was ever MEANT to do….I’m REALLY supposed to be reporting to you from some far off corner of the world live on CNN.”

Or, in other words, I was SUPPOSED to be Anderson Cooper, and that guy is living my life.

Anderson and I have had a love/hate relationship ever since we “met” also known as ever since he first graced my TV screen back in ’01.) I remember being pretty riveted by his coverage of 9/11, and then I started watching any and all of his TV appearances, bought his book, read his magazine articles…you know, began to closely follow his career. But lately I’ve begun to wonder….perhaps it’s Anderson that’s following ME.

I mean, we’ve both gone through our preppy stage, later learning to rock the polo and jeans look with a revolving pair of even more fabulous shoes each time. When I started going prematurely grey and had a receding hairline resulting in a billboard forehead, guess who went all silver foxy and grew a brow you could watch an IMAX flick on? And sure, Anderson has travelled to war-torn countries and reported on the state of affairs in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but guess who’s
braved lunch meetings and had to fight the masses for the very last piece of meat lovers pizza, all the while evading those dieters who you just knew would love to claw your eyes out for even one discarded slice of hot pepperoni? And let’s not even talk about the lingering post traumatic stress from diving in the cooler for the sole can of Diet Pepsi!

But Anderson’s latest antics are simply the straw that broke the camel’s back! Years ago I came “out” to my sisters in an e-mail, I think partly describing some long forgotten boy I was infatuated with at the time, but ultimately telling them I was happy and content in my life, and at the end of the day the same ol’ me they’d always known (that exasperating, attention seeking, never stops talking brother from the same mother I’d always been.) So yeah…guess who writes a casual email to a friend, stating “fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and couldn’t be more happy with myself, comfortable, proud.” Well let me tell you…THAT sounds a bit familiar! So call it what you will – parallel lives, copy-catting, or, full-out Colin-wannabe – it seems once again I feel some kinship to good ol’ Anderson.

But, despite my frustrations with what can only be described as a clear invasion of my privacy by the AC and his 360 crowd, truth be told I admire Anderson. A lot. And I share many of the sentiments he’s expressed in the past week since he took these brave steps. For me, being gay didn’t define me, still doesn’t. But undeniably it’s a part of me, a big part of who I am as a person, what I’ve become as a man. But for a long time I struggled with WHY that piece should be so relevant, so present. Hetero friends didn’t introduce themselves by saying “by the way, I’m straight”. Friends of color didn’t say “in case you didn’t notice, i’m black”. I didn’t understand at the time why I should qualify things with “I’m Colin. And I’m GAY!” But with age and maturity (HA! Me, mature?) I’ve come to feel differently. Nowadays, I feel it’s important to be “out there”, to be visible. To be a valuable, contributing, upstanding citizen of the planet – a guy just like a lot of other guys – who just so HAPPENS to be gay. About a year or so ago, my partner Shawn and I were visiting my family in Cape Breton, and had taken my cute as a button little nephew Kyle for ice cream. Kyle and I are very close, and he’s stayed with Shawn and I on a few occasions for vacations and what he calls “sleepover adventures”. He’s young….I’m sure he can’t “define” what Shawn and I are to one another, but he knows we’re “together”, much like his mommy and daddy, or his Aunt Donna and Uncle Gord. He knows we live together, we do most things together, we share a home and even a bedroom together…and I think he’s bright enough to know we’re all “family” to each other. We’d been on outings with Kyle in the past – especially when I’m “home” in CB – where I imagined people looked at the three of us and tried to “figure us out”. There’s enough of a family resemblance between Kyle and I that some people have even mistaken me for his dad, so I know at least folks would get we’re related, but I’m sure in some ways Shawn’s a mystery. Is he a cousin, a friend, or – GASP – could those fellers be QUEER? This particular night we ran into a woman from Kyle’s school, and as they greeted each other, she said “your uncle may not remember, but I knew him when he was growing up too”. Kyle looked a bit confused, glanced at Shawn and I and then back to this lady and said “But….they’re both my uncles!” We laughed at the time, but I’ll never forget that night, those words, that pure moment seen through this innocent little boy’s eyes.

In a perfect world, gay/straight, black/white, male/female….none of it will matter. But it’s not a perfect world. And whatever advances we’ve made as a society in regards to inclusion and equality, we still face many challenges, many obstacles, many long roads ahead. THAT part no one can deny. But as Anderson noted, standing up and being counted matters for something. And fine…if he MUST continue to model himself after me, (I’ll admit he gets a bit more attention then I), if even one kid sees him on TV, one young person struggling with being bullied or put down for who they are, for feeling weird or feeling different, and they look to Anderson and aren’t just told but clearly SEE that it does get better, that someday soon they’ll be free to “love, and be loved” whoever they choose, then all this copying will be for some greater good.

Hmmm. Wonder after he reads this if we can drop the pretense and he can just hire me as his stand in. (Well he’d THINK I’m HIS stand in. We won’t tell him otherwise!!)

Yo Anderson, you listening? 🙂