“Change is the only constant in life.”

I’m a completely different person than I was a year ago.

I guess you could say, I’ve matured. You could say that I grew up. You could say that I’ve entered full-fledged adulthood – whatever that means…

I’ve overcome challenges. I’ve become more introspective. I’ve whatever… this boils down to: I’ve learned an incredible amount!

I’ve always been a “process over product” girl. I thrive off of the opportunity to learn!  I appreciate most the experiences that garner ripples of knowledge, and layers of impact that, in some cases, I’m still realizing the effects. My mental endurance and, exemplified, agility drive me to crave knowledge and information. I want to uncover the “why” and the “reasons”. My refusal to quit and inability to stop fuels me each day! Naturally, to me, the journey toward clarity from chaos is exhilarating. In fact, in hindsight, all the experiences that have been the most influential for me were also the most challenging; those experiences taught an inexplicable amount.


Before I proceed, I’m going to briefly recap this past year both to give context to this piece, and to own it for myself.

I graduated, and left a school where I was thriving. I spent nearly every day for four years feeling on top of the world. It was amazing. I felt unstoppable. I left everything I knew, and everything I loved. I left what felt safe, and supportive, and leapt, basically unwillingly, into something that was incredibly risky, ambiguous, and into something that I wasn’t sure I would be any better for doing.  I left my mentors and friends for a glamorous name, and what I expected would be the next best step for my personal and professional development.

I had such high hopes too! I wrote, “it’s okay to be scared. I hope this fear will actually fuel me to make the most of this opportunity rather than cripple me. And, if my past experiences could inform my next steps, I’d say that based on those outcomes, and how influential they were for me, Brown can have just as big of an impact.”

AND, it had a huge impact. AND, I was miserable. I was absolutely miserable.

After months of struggling silently I found respite, and strength in writing, some amazing friends, and a hefty dose of much needed therapy. I jumped into my own uncharted space. I started to connect with myself, and others in a really vulnerable, and public way. It’s been hugely influential to my personal growth, and exploration. The outcome of this past year far surpassed the simple, although not so simple, accomplishment of getting to May 29, 2016, earning my Master’s degree, and being done with school. I longed for that commencement day; I yearned for this year to be over fast, and for time to travel by at warped speed.

And then it was over. As I anticipated, and wished for, it was as if I was traveling too quickly down a hill in my car, and I pulled up on the emergency brake right before my car flipped. It was just over. The danger was gone, and in front of me possibility glistened. If I could do this, I could do anything. There is no doubt in my mind that this year was one of the most difficult in my life.

This year, I struggled with claiming my sexuality, achieving my professional aspirations, abandoning and admitting to several variations of self-harm, losing friendships, and family feuds – to name a few. I wouldn’t listen to my friends; I lost so many friends. Yet, I had no idea how to even begin to navigate these challenges. It was scary, dark, dangerous, and lonely. I didn’t crave the solution, I craved the end.

It’s only been a short time, and I’m already noticing that I’m in such a different place. Some days, I can’t believe I ever experienced that depression. [Side note: crazed journal entries don’t lie – it happened. It all happened]

At the end of it all, I, now, stand corrected. Leaving UConn was the best thing I could have done! I had to leave to learn how strong and capable I really am!

I’ve regained my feeling of invincibility. I truly feel like there’s nothing I can’t do. I learned that it’s okay to be terrified because we grow most from the experience that evoke vulnerability and uncertainty.


I wrote my graduate school personal statement based on this mantra:

 “Do Three Squishy Things a Day You know you are truly leading when you do at least three things a day that make you uncomfortable” (City Year)

I learned to live up to the words that pierced my mind for so many years, and in so many moments. Those words continue to propel me to serve, lead, and learn each day!

I wrote previously, “there’s something to be learned from every experience… We are truly influenced by everything around us and by all of our experiences.” I grew to strive to live by the principles that ground me and, ultimately, in the face of this cascade of challenges, I learned to thrive own my own.

I learned to love, and use the phrase “what I heard you say is…” I practiced actively and reflectively listening.  I found value in really listening. LIKE really, really listening.

A good friend once told me that, in her opinion, good conversations are what college is about. I realized that I don’t need to be the person occupying the most space in a conversation for it to be a good a conversation. With time, even in this new space, I had several more invigorating, thoughful conversations, and continued to fortify existing relationships. I had to be really intentional about it, but it was worth it!

To that note, I learned that my relationships, and the people that I was afraid to leave would stand by me (most of them anyway…). I discovered that relationships are like the tools in a toolbox. They’re necessary to build us up! I realized a good friendship is rewarding and special – it’s a privilege.

Most importantly, I learned the importance, and value of reciprocity and vulnerability. Like a pendulum swinging, I swiftly wavered between not letting anyone in, to burdening my friends with my suffering yet not knowing how to accept their support. Finally, I resided in the middle both valuing my friends’ contributions and conversation, and being valued for my insight and influence too.

I also discovered that if I can identify how I’m feeling in a situation, and allow myself to authentically feel the entirety of my emotions in their context, right when they’re happening, I can be in charge of deciding how to react, and what steps I should take to alleviate the feeling or perpetuate it. I gained emotional intelligence, critical awareness, and intuition. Feeling didn’t have to mean feeling out of control. I found “calm and content”. [Just so you know, it’s WAY different than complacent.]

Before this year, my life was a hectic, hot mess – to be frank.

Imagine the pieces of a package scattered across the floor: the box, the gift wrap, the bow for the top, and the contents – a myriad of shapes and sizes. This year, step-by-step, that package was assembled, wrapped, and tied together with a bow on top! A complete, confident me emerged – looking pretty spiffy, and ready to face my next adventures!

I can’t precisely put my finger on it, but I’m definitely different. And, when I stop to think about my life, I simply feel happy and confident. I also feel proud.

Now, I say things like “there are no counterfactuals in life”, and “relationships are not bound by geography”. I remind people that the biggest regrets stem from the opportunities we didn’t take. I share that the incessant wondering quickly spirals into an interminable game of “what if”. That type of wondering will wear you down to the core of your weaknesses. Some of my weaknesses are vulnerability, change, and ambiguity – I learned this too!

Can you give voice to the areas where your strengths can be capitalized to cultivate your personal growth? Can you recognize how empowering, and exciting that feels to give voice to all the ways you can direct your own positive energy and strength to bolster your  personal journey and self-exploration?

 

Navigating This “In the Middle” Feeling

“Does your experience of sexuality come with a particular identity or label?”, my friend asks. Delicately pulsing toward “personal stuff”, and gently reminding me “you obviously don’t have to answer.”

And then later she asks more directly, “what are you?”

I immediately respond, “I don’t like labels… am I allowed to just be a person?”

Side note: When I recollect this story to a friend, he says, “resist the urge to conform to labels” to which I respond with a hearty “YASSSS!”

Anyway… she replies, “Yes of course, but are you one of us? Are you part of the family?”

My first thought is to say “yep” with a confident nod, and then recognize the warmth spreading throughout me as I am validated and welcomed. Instead, more timidly, I reply, “I’m still figuring it out.”-purposely distancing myself.

In my mind, I simultaneously acknowledge an “in the middle feeling” that I can’t shake.Queer, kinda? Belonging, mostly?

Here’s the deal, if you need labels, I am Jewish, a young professional, an asexual person, a woman, an athlete, a person living with chronic pain and OCD.  The list could go on and on! The fact is, I hold so many marginalized identities, and I hate labels. My worth cannot be equated to the sum of my minority statuses, and, idealistically, I wish for a world where belonging isn’t contingent on our labels or identities.

I’ve been mulling over this for a while; I’ve been thinking (and writing)  a lot about belonginglabels, and identity.  So, this conversation with my friend only propelled my thinking – more aptly, my ruminating. I didn’t have an answer that I was comfortable vocalizing, but I did have an answer to my friend’s question. I did.

And then two days later Orlando happened.

For my entire life, stories about the Holocaust, about my community, have been the most visceral examples of the repercussions of hate and war.

When the Boston Marathon bombing happened, that was my community.

When Sandy Hood happened, that was my community.

When Orlando happened, that was my community.

I woke up on Sunday June 12th, and without any hesitation I thought, “Yes – I’m part of the “family”.” Because it felt personal.

Among other things, one of my first thoughts was “I didn’t speak up soon enough.” I didn’t feel compelled to offer the empty “thoughts and prayers” kind of sympathy. Instead my thoughts raced to just a few weekends prior dancing downtown at a gay night club in Providence. I had the time of my life that night, and felt inexplicably confident!

I realized quickly, if they weren’t safe, I’m not either. That was daunting. I felt like I wanted to scream, yet I also felt like I wanted to be silent.

Initially, I didn’t know how to process Orlando, and my feelings; so I ignored it all. Not identifying publicly, and simply using phrases like “our stories” or “our communities” (plural) rather than being explicit, I followed the Twitter trending hashtags, and checked on my loved ones. And then, I didn’t talk about it again.

Yet, nearly a week later, I found myself eagerly taking shots of tequila to “being queer as fuck”, and wanting so badly to find solace in the celebration of Pride. I wrote, “I went to a poetry slam dedicated to elevating the voices of queer people of color. I don’t know what “out” means, but I felt safe and proud!” Later, I danced the night away at another gay club, and it didn’t dawn on me until much later the next morning that my feeling of safety, exploration, and undeniable fun  was such a gift.

Orlando scared me into accessing my queer community. It made me think twice about my hesitations. Orlando did touch my community.  It touched me – not directly of course, but I felt it. That’s for sure! Recognizing this is important!

And so now, I’m holding on steadfast to my feeling of pride, the rambunctious, unfiltered fun, and a firm sense of belonging.

It’s the most whole I’ve felt in a long time.

Some Thoughts About National Coming Out Day

Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day!

Truth be told, all week I’ve been waiting in anticipation of this day. Actually, I’ve been waiting for  months. But, now that it’s here I’m met with much ambivalence. Mostly I’m challenged with the fact that we have National Coming Out Day at all. This is not an original idea – I realize that. The bottom line is if we didn’t live in a heteronormative society then we wouldn’t need this day. Moreover, why do people who aren’t straight need to come out when straight people are just presumed straight? You want to talk about privilege?!?! So framing this day as a privilege, celebrating that someone “gets” to come out is just so unbelievably frustrating. It’s like EVERY other day of the year it’s not your space, privilege, right, obligation, expectation to come out but today it is? And so coming out becomes yours under whose terms? I don’t need to spell this out but even National Coming Out Day operates under the constraints of the dominant, majority groups. So is it really our day? 

Moving past my rant, National Coming Out Day is also another day that is FILLED with labels. Right? We’re supposed to say “I’m _________” in the vein of solidarity and support. The alphabet soup of the LGBTQIA movement is hard to swallow and the myriad of identities is difficult even for experts to dissect. I star24daa08c97f5b9759ffc1051343da9e3ted considering this more earlier this seek when I saw these three images:9-bi

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I just wonder, how can we have National Coming Out Day and consider that yet another triumph in the LBGTQIA movement when certain identities are still minimized even within minority communities? Someone who is Bisexual feels like they should just say the’re gay because it would be easier. Someone who is Asexual doesn’t know how they fit into the community. [side note: this Buzzfeed video captures that sentiment in a super compelling way: 15 Poignant Asexual Confessions] And then I saw this on Instagram in reference to National Coming Out Day: “don’t you dare come out as an ally”. First, everyone needs allies. Second, this is about the time I want to smash all labels (and all social media). I’m frustrated! These words mean nothing if they’re simultaneously residing in the realms of discrimination and unity. National Coming Out Day is supposed to be freeing. It’s, to me, a demonstration of how large the community is and an opportunity to find support and connections in an unforgiving, hard to navigate world. But instead, I feel like even National Coming Out Day is also being dominated by a majority group. It’s a day for CERTAIN people in the LGBTQIA community. Others stand to the sideline and grapple relentlessly with their positionality. We question “are our identities valid enough to be recognized on this day?” or “have we struggled enough to deserve to participate in National Coming Out Day?” Here’s where it comes back to labels. We decide the meanings we attribute to these words and then we judge. Why should one person who identifies one way fear so violently speaking their label? Owning their identity? Even on National Coming Out Day these wonderings, these anxieties, are real and for some of us they’re amplified.

[Side note: I’m not in any way attempting to minimize any one person’s struggle or journey. I realize that coming out as anything is challenging or even terrifying. I’m not even talking about who people love or who they’re attracted to. I’m talking about labels. And in doing so, it feels like I’m taking a huge risk.]

Labels can give us closure but they can also really harm us. I’m thinking here about a medical or mental health (not sure why I made that distinction – ugh society) diagnosis. These labels follow us and while in some contexts they allow us to receive the services and interventions we need to be our best selves in other ways they limit our potential by attaching an inescapable stigma that lingers long after we’ve felt that we’ve triumphed and moved on or overcome one of our many hurdles. Similarly, in the LGBTQIA community labels speak volumes! Among others, they indicate the level of struggle you’ve endured, who you are sexually or romantically attracted to, and who you love.

I haven’t talked yet about the third image I saw. It said “Be Yourself”. I liked this one the best but I also wish that we didn’t need motivational pictures on social media to remind us to be ourselves. I wish there wasn’t a day where it was okay to proclaim loudly who you really are and then attach a label to it so other people can make their judgement about you or know how to categorize you. I hope that tomorrow people can still proudly and loudly be exactly who they are and how they identify without any stipulations. Our labels are both constricting and empowering when we first speak our truths. However, once society gets a hold of them, we’re leaving our words to be interpreted differently with each repetition of who we are. The threat of misinterpretation makes me breathe too quickly. On National Coming Out Day I can choose my label but I cannot choose its connotation. That’s scary.

National Coming Out Day reminds me there’s still a long way to go in the LGBTQIA movement. We’ve had victories large and small but the whole idea that we need a day for people to say who they are makes me wonder, if I don’t come out today will I have missed my chance?

And now, I’ll resort to homework and hiking today to avoid this social media mess of labels and many, overwhelmingly colorful displays of false or fleeting approvals (which I interpret with a certain degree of insincerity) to someone’s real, breath taking proclamation of self.