For Growth’s Sake

Growing up in Alaska, I was surrounded by a number of people I recognized as family. Whether it was by blood or the amount of years and connection forged in close friendships, from a young age to present day I’ve had an example of what family “should” be.  I was lucky enough to grow up with a great set of cousins, two grandmothers, uncles, aunts, great aunts and uncles, and family friends that I can’t list here because I’d be typing for entirely too long. The traditional definition of family, according to Google, would be “all the descendants of a common ancestor.” While that definition stands scientifically, for the most part, we all should be aware of the concept of chosen family.

Family friends are a perfect example of chosen family. These people aren’t your relatives by blood, but you call them your “play cousins” or “sis” or “bro” because they’ve been there and you don’t intend on letting them go. This is a queer blog, so I’d be remiss in not sharing queer examples of chosen family. I know individuals who have been cut off completely or kicked out from their households after coming out as queer. Their chosen family from that point would be who they invited into their lives after that point. Now, chosen family have their faults too, hence why I bring the concept up for this post I’m scribbling down at the moment. Family to me is whoever you share your life with, whoever supports you unconditionally, through the good and bad, and shares the joy you give each other in life.

Now before we continue, read the following note aloud so it resonates with you: Relationships, regardless of the type, aren’t one-sided. It takes effort from all that are involved.

no one should expect

In my experience with family, the good far outweighs the difficult periods that have occurred over the years. There were petty Christmases here and there – the battle of the aunties is what I called it, lol – divorces, and some tough times surrounding drug and alcohol abuse, but there were also celebrations, endless laughter, and plenty of love to go around. To this day, I think the pettiest tiff that lives on for my side of the family is who is supposed to call who. That’s right! Phone calls. But let’s dive into that some more, because as petty as it seems, I’ve found that this has been a real source of tension or frustration in other areas of these relationships.

My dad used to get on my siblings and I’s case for only calling when we needed something. I’d say this spanned from the years my parents were going through their divorce – the last half of high school for me – and the early years of undergrad. As we came up in age, he’d also get on our case about reaching out to family outside of Alaska; specifically my grandmother after she moved back to New Jersey. Naturally as people, we gravitate and are more comfortable with the people we know and that have been around our whole lives. Looking back at those moments I totally understand his perspective and respect it. If I had children, I’d want them to have a close relationship with my parents too, but what’s the use in forcing something that’s not there? I don’t mean that disrespectfully. It’s a hard fact and I take full ownership of my role in what I “should” have been doing. We’ll get back to the “should” of it all here in a bit.

As we aged, the fight of who should call who dissipated, but ended up resurfacing within the last year from other members of the family. I called my grandmother the day after her birthday and a sassy uncle of mine, immediately got on my case. “Why couldn’t you call yesterday?” was the question. I found myself explaining my day, and stating that I was “very busy.”  I didn’t owe anyone any explanations, so I was highly annoyed in the moment. Eventually I had to flip the script and remind, him in a medium tone of voice, that no one from the East coast calls me to ask how I’m doing. I can say the same thing about my family in Chicago, but guess what? I’m not calling either! There’s no shade or ill intention there at all. It all goes back to people are living their lives and have schedules. We’re going to prioritize those that are a little higher on the connection list, and that’s not to say we can’t make adjustments. Reaching out to more family and old friends more often, is something I’ve been doing my best to improve. I can’t speak for others on this front. It’s on each party to make the effort.

I'm a big fan of productively using your words in conflict.

Communication and effort are just a couple expectations that come to mind as I reflect on what I’ve shared thus far.  We should call to say hello, we should respect peoples’ time, we should check in on each other when we can, young people should respect their elders. There’s a lot that is expected of us at times, without the expectation being clearly set. The ego takes over and says “I feel this way, so they should respond or act this way, because ABC or XYZ.” That’s no way to grow, move forward, or to enhance the quality of relationships. Now, I’m no therapist. I can and will only speak on my experience. If you’re going through a major situation with your family and you’re at odds, please seek professional help or a trusted, neutral, party to help you work through the issues.

I’m a big fan of productively using your words in conflict. It’s easy to avoid the people in your family when problems arise, but it takes more guts and honor to face them directly. Not letting the drama go beyond what it’s worth is the best thing you can do for your mental health. Why create drama that isn’t present, especially when the other party has no idea a problem exists? Pouring gasoline on a fire that isn’t there doesn’t make any sense to me, unless you fully plan on throwing a lit match upon it. This sets the scene for more confusion, concern for loved ones involved, and does absolutely nothing in the problem-solving department. As mentioned earlier, relationships aren’t one-sided, and it takes all parties involved to work through any rough patches. No one should expect their asses to be kissed or egos constantly stroked for any reason if you fully intend on repairing connections. Assumptions and perceptions have a tendency to run rampant the longer avoidance is ruling your decision making in conflict. Face the issues. Stop the smoke before the fire ignites.

I’d like to route us back to the “should” of it all as we near the end of this piece. Our egos and very human emotions would have us all believe that we know what is best for someone in a situation; or even what’s best for a tougher situation we may be in ourselves. It’s easy for me to stand up proudly in conflict and say “well he should know, or she should not be putting up with, or they should understand this because…” It’s easy for any of us to say what others should do, or how they should act when we’re only seeing things from our perspective. Being open to others’ views or asking them why they may be perceiving a scenario a certain way will save you a great deal of energy and encourage growth in connection. On the flip-side, however, people need and should be open to receiving the feedback. This particular “should” is one I fully believe in and stand by. If you’re only interested in selling your points or winning your case, and not being open to the other side’s view of an issue, no progress will be made.

At the end of the day, people are going to do what they want and act how they want to act. As a family member, you want to be open and present when family needs you (and if they deserve it). What I learned a long time ago was that you can only share the same piece of advice so many times, you can only hear the same story so many times, you can only let yourself be disrespected so many times. If you’re in the position of providing guidance or giving advice of any kind, don’t take it personally if the advice isn’t followed. Some people need to go through whatever they’re going through on their own. If that involves some form of rock-bottom or keeping themselves distant from those trying to have a healthy relationship with them, then so be it. No one should be in the “I told you so” business. Be a support system for yourself – i.e. not being taken advantage of emotionally, financially, or otherwise – and be a support system for who needs it to your best ability. I like to believe that people come around, learn lessons, or grow into better human beings, but I’ve also learned not to wait around for that to happen.

Gays in the Life started as a blog focused on my marriage and romantic relationships in general. This is the first of many more relationship themed posts to come on the blog. Thank you all for reading and remember to be kind to yourselves and have faith that all will be well. If you’re going through something with close friends or family, please feel free to use this post as a talking point, and to help shed light on some of the darkness you may be working through at the moment. 

How I Survived The Holiday Season

Every holiday season I find myself dreading and craving all the snacks ahead. I’ve never been the fittest one in the bunch, so when I’m doing particularly well on the health front I cherish any progress that’s made. This holiday season was different. Normally I’d worry, and worry, and worry some more about baked mac and cheese, potato salad, and a couple other treats that aren’t so keto-friendly. I decided to keep things as light as I could and did my best to grab a small win each day; the biggest of which is being able to fit into my “skinny” jeans at the top of 2020! 

 

You’ve heard me mention before, here on GITL, about my sensitivity to dairy. This is an undiagnosed sensitivity, but a sensitivity nonetheless. Whenever I’m not consuming dairy, my skin is effortlessly more clear, the pounds stay off – not to mention bloating is non-existent – and I have much more energy. I wasn’t perfect in completely avoiding dairy, but keeping a realistic approach, I managed to stay away from cheese and other delicious, creamy treats. 

 

Towards the end of summer, my husband and I sold our condo. All of the work that went into prepping our then home was exhausting and took up a lot of our energy. Getting to the gym was hard; even after we were settled into our new space. Instead of stressing myself out about not getting to the gym, I approached each week with a lighter mindset. If the weather was nice, we’d go for a walk. Most days I found myself doing push-ups, squats, and free weight workouts at home. Finding at least twenty to thirty minutes to perform those workouts, a few days a week, helped me stay focused and helped me gain that feeling of accomplishment. 

 

Remember – Set attainable goals. As you hit your marks, you gain more  momentum and fuel to accomplish great things. Celebrate the wins and stay on track. 

 

Intermittent fasting has helped me reel in my snacking. My goodness – working in a corporate office has its gluttonous challenges. Cookies here, catered lunch there, it’s like there’s no escaping sugar! This January marks year seven of being  low-carb and keto, but there are plenty of days where sneaking that bite doesn’t seem so bad. Fasting during a set window has helped me maintain my nutrition goals this holiday season and made resisting corn-syrup-injected treats much easier. Most nights, I’ll stop eating by 8PM, and won’t eat again until noon the next day. My husband is great at waking up, going to work, and not eating until he gets home. I’m not that strong. If Linda walks into the office with cookies after lunch, I need to be within my eating window and armed with a fiercely packed lunch. Macadamia nuts, please! 

 

You’ll have days where you slip. Own the slip. Get back on the wagon the next day. Whether deviating from the plan was planned or not. I strive to be as keto and low-carb as I can, but I do have those days where I just want a crispy IPA. I’ve learned not to beat myself up about enjoying a treat –  that doesn’t fit into my nutrition plan and goals – here and there. Most of the time, I’m pretty damned good, so I don’t see the problem with this. All we can do is our best, people! Keep it light and do just that.

Productivity Check

Something has shifted within the past couple years. I remember the days where I could sit down, zero in, and knock out any task, assignment, or project that needed to be completed. It’s been extremely tough, here lately, and I can’t put my finger on the “why” of it all. 

Back in high school, I was programmed to sit down, read, write, spit out a 10-15 page paper on whatever topic in advanced placement classes, memorize sheets of music, and I did it all with minimal effort and ease. Even working through college and getting my BA was a breeze on the schedule, task and to-do front, so what’s changed? 

Trying to do even a fraction of the things I just mentioned, today, as a thirty-three year old man, has been quite the battle. I’m currently in a job that doesn’t demand a ton of my time and I love it. I’m also studying to get my realtor license. Oh, and there’s the podcast, Thanks for Coming, which has been such a cool side project to throw into the mix. 

Needless to say, I’m busy, but I’m not that busy, right? As individuals, we are our harshest critic, and I fully believe this has been part of the problem in the motivation department; knowing inside I can be doing more. 

Distraction has been ruling my productivity, or lack thereof, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Some of the distractions have been welcome, while others have been far from it, but that’s life! You have to push forward. 

Now that I’ve had time to get settled after moving into our new home, I’ve had time to try some things to better help me accomplish my  daily and weekly goals and lists. Some days I’m successful, while other days I’m not. Here are some things I’ve been trying out to hop back on the productivity wagon:

Create a schedule for yourself and stick to it. I’ve learned that I can plan, and plan, and plan some more, but all the planning isn’t worth it, if you aren’t doing your best to follow through. My favorite tool to use is Google Calendar. It gives you the ability to color code – which I love – and set reminders and notifications. 

There are plenty of other tools that serve the same purpose, but I’m a Google fangirl, and I’ve had the best organizing experience keeping it simple with Google. Create a calendar for work, the gym, whatever, but make sure you commit to the window you’ve set for productivity. 

If you’re scheduled to sit and write at 1 o’clock, sit down at 1 o’clock and do your best to write. Even if at the end of your scheduled productivity window you’ve created or written zip, at least you showed up to your appointment. Take baby steps. Looking at a to-do list can be intimidating, so it’s also very important to set attainable goals. 

Put the phone down. Whoever is texting can wait. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook can wait. Technology has really killed our attention spans. I have days where I get settled into my work mode and mindset, only to have Instagram steal a good ten to fifteen minutes from my scheduled productivity window. This is not okay. That time adds up if you keep playing on your devices! You can get back to scrolling once you’ve accomplished the task at hand. Put the phone down, back away slowly, and get to work. 

Set attainable goals. It’s too easy to fill a calendar and to keep saying “yes,” but it’s of the utmost importance that you don’t set yourself up for failure. If you don’t have the time, don’t force it into existence. This will only cause more stress and frustration. Work is work, children are children, and life is going to life! Tend to the needs, and don’t punish yourself if you don’t get to the planned task. Attainability is key here. We can push ourselves to the brink, but at what cost? Be kind to yourself and do your best each day.

I hope these few pointers will help you and I look forward to hearing in the comments if you’ve tried any of them. I’m no master by any means of productivity, but I’m learning not to beat myself up about it. In the past, I’ve been super hard on myself because I’ve let a project sit and collect dust. Don’t do that. Remember to be kind to yourself and protect your mental health for productivity’s sake AND yours. 

*J

Simple Ways to Support Each Other Throughout the Workweek.

At the top of each workweek, we have the best intentions to be organized, responsible, and productive human beings. We do our best to fend off piles of dirty dishes, dust bunnies, thoughts of skipping that workout, and the large wave of exhaustion that comes with working a full-time job. Here’s a snapshot of my week:

  • Work – 40+ hours 
  • Podcast/Blog tasks  – 3-5 hours
  • Realty school – 10+ hours 
  • Work out at least 3-4 days

If you’re anything like me – and you’re a crazy person – you enjoy being creative and thrive having multiple projects to work on. I love the feeling of being creative and putting out content I’m proud of, but come on, I know you can tell my posts have slowed down this past year.

It can be tough to manage passions and life schedules, especially if you throw kids or pets into the mix, so how do we thrive without driving ourselves crazy? Well, all we can  do is our best, and having a little help never hurts. 

If  you’re currently living with your partner or have roommates with similar schedules as you, it’s not a bad idea to sit down and figure out how you can help each other have the most successful week. If you’ve got the game mastered and slay life week to week, this post  probably isn’t for you, and as Queen Gia Gunn would say: “YAAAS, bitch, werk.” You did that. Here are some simple ways my husband and I plan to support each other throughout the workweek:

CHORE-LOADING. Maybe one of you is having a much busier week than the other, and the impending doom and feeling of giving up is tapping you on the shoulder. The person with the lighter load can easily take on a couple extra chores and errands. Not only does this relieve your partner of the added stress they put on themselves, it adds to the bond and promotes deeper connection and love. Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re being thought of and supported?! Taking care of the person you love and the household you share is sexy, and most of the time, doesn’t take much.

CHECK-INS. We talk about this all the time here on Gays in the Life. Ask your partner how they’re doing. Go beyond the typical work-bitch-session and get into how they’re doing and how their week is going. If one of you is having a down week, this is a great idea to help break the ice and  let the other know you’re here for them and that they have support. It’s amazing what this does. It’s very easy to get stuck in your head and go inward. On the brighter side of the check-in spectrum, ask how their personal project or goals are developing. It’s so nice to talk about passion projects or other interests. Keep things light and keep work at work. Connect!

ACTIVITY DATES. Schedule at least a couple workouts, walks, or quick home improvement projects to do as unit; a team. My husband and I go on evening walks on a nearby trail. Outside of walking on the trails of  Eagle Creek, we try to attend two workout classes together each week. Working out is proven to improve mental health and is a good way to bond with your partner and to have shared goals. Another fun and easy way to keep the pressure of the workweek and household responsibilities at a low level, is to work on quick  home improvement projects together. Take an evening to put some music on and organize that garage together. Pour some wine and finally hang up that artwork that’s been collecting dust over the months. Get crazy and reorganize your living space. Keeping environments clean, fresh, and feeling like it’s yours does wonders for the mood. 

Give these few tidbits a go, and please feel free to share your  experience in the comments. Find me @gaysinthelife on Instagram and Twitter to continue the conversation there.  

Have a good week! J,

My Tattoo Story

Tattoo story time! I realized I’ve never shared my ink all in one place, so here goes!

Tattoo #5: The Dark Mark. Slytherin here. Stay off my bad side 

tat 5

 

Tattoo #4: A portrait piece of a grizzly bear; my spirit animal. He represents strength, confidence, and bravery.

tat 4

 

 

Tattoo #3: The tribal Alaskan salmon. This one I got after I graduated from IU. It represents persistence, instinct, and determination. My closest friends know that story.

 

tat 3

 

 

Tattoo #2: a trumpet with lyrics from “bittersweet symphony;” my theme song. I played trumpet middle school through college, so that makes sense. I got this one on my 24th bday.

 

tat 2

 

 

Tattoo #1: I got this one with a friend summer of 2008 in Bloomington. I’m a Scorpio. A double Scorpio, actually. It was an easy first tat.

 

tat 1

 

I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska so I like my ink to reflect that. I love fun “just because” tats, but I prefer mine to have a direct connection to me. What to get next? Hmmm…

Cruised

The shower area of the gym is steamy, warm, and a most welcome feeling with the chill of winter’s approach outside. I towel off in the shower stall so I don’t track a pool of water into my private changing area, before I notice the tanned, dusty-haired, blonde that had been making eyes at me across cardio equipment. He’s an attractive guy – beefy, with body hair in all right places, and an ass that looks like it could feed a small family – but I tend to lean more towards dark-haired men, and let’s not forget that I’m off the market.

Our shower and changing rooms were right next to each other, and there are only three showers so the space between the two is small. Removing his towel so only his front was covered, he offers carnal grin. “Good morning” he says, still holding the towel with only a couple fingers just under his navel; revealing a wet torso and thighs. “Good morning. Did you have a good workout?” I know exactly what he’s up to, so I slip into my changing room and calmly close the half door.

Making sure the door doesn’t slam, I leave him alone and exposed in the small area between shower and changing room. I begin to dry off as he answers my question, and the small talk continues the entirety of my getting dressed. Fully dressed I make my way out of the changing stall. “See you tomorrow” he flirts with another grin. “Later! Have a good day.”

My inner Beyonce tends to surface after all of my workouts – various songs of hers play in my head (complete with choreography) when I notice changes in my body as I’ve already lost 100 lbs – making me feel strong, awake, and confident going into the work day. The influence of Scorpio season and the fact that I had just been cruised at the gym had my inner Queen Bey slaying the stage; dropping it like it was hot all the way to the car. It wasn’t even 7AM yet! I can’t wait to tell S what happened.

The Orange Trail

Fact: I hate getting dirty. I hate bugs even more; especially ticks!

Growing up in Alaska, those little blood-sucking critters weren’t anything I ever had to deal with or had encountered until I moved to Indiana. Getting out on the trail is an easy workout, and we live pretty close to a park here in Indianapolis, so why not get out and enjoy some fresh air.

Back home in Alaska you get more scenic and mountainous views. There are trees everywhere, but the trails I frequented didn’t involve trekking through mud or doing tick-checks when I got home. Okay, sure, moose and grizzly bears are far scarier than ticks… but give me a break! Ticks are just #$%#$^#@#$@$^^&$% to me (laughs).

Usually if I’m in a scenario where I’m not having the most fun, or I’m working through a tough moment, I go silent. That is me processing whatever thoughts are bouncing around my head at the time.

I’ve never been a whiner, but I am very honest. My dad would tell me all the time growing up “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” My aunties would blast me with the classic line “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Family and friends would jump down my throat accusing me of being a wet blanket if they perceived I was having a terrible time. Those of you who know me have seen the majority of my facial expressions, and know that I don’t have to use any words to communicate how I’m feeling most of the time. This is something I’ve learned to contain… for the most part.

I’ve learned to communicate that a situation may be new and that I wouldn’t put myself in any scenario that would make me uncomfortable.

Hitting the trails with S has been funny, mostly because if we encounter a long stretch of muddy non-sense, or have to go through a tighter trails with brush – more chances of getting TICKS – I simply say “I’m trying. You know I’m trying.” I’m sure S is getting a kick out of this inside, but he’s very supportive.

We’d planned to get out on the fitness trail today, but Mother Nature has other plans. It’s been pouring cats and dogs this weekend, so I’m NOT going anywhere near that trail until it dries up a bit. Hey! Don’t judge. I’m taking baby steps here.

Oh! You can find a clip of the trail adventure on my Instagram profile.

Have a lovely Sunday, everyone!

J

Pride Started With A Riot.

Pride is a time of joy, celebration, and being unapologetic in how you exist in today’s world. While Pride events take place all year round, let us not forget how we came to be as out and proud queer individuals who can – for the most part – celebrate in our fiercest heels, tightest tanks, and deliciously worn leather during the entire month of June. Pride is a time of remembrance and reflection as much as it is a party.

“Pride started with a riot.” This quote has been haunting me on Instagram and Twitter. Okay, fine. It’s probably just the internet doing what it does best and marketing to its target audience, but I feel a way about it. I’m now 32 years old and have had plenty of time to reflect on my journey as a gay, black man as I exist in the queer community. I think about the day I figured out I was gay. I reflect on all my relationships and how they’ve matured or stayed in my past as I’ve grown into my queerness. I think about how I was in my early twenties when it came to navigating new queer relationships. I think about what my interracial, gay marriage means to me and the message we want to send as a couple to our communities.

Every year I look out and around at the LGBTQIA+ community members and think if they’ve taken a shot or twerked in the name of any epic queer leaders. People like Marsha P. Johnson,  Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk, Alexya Salvador, Laverne Cox, or those who were peacefully enjoying themselves at the Stonewall Inn when the riots broke out in Summer of 1969.

My intention is not to make a blanket statement and imply that we as a community don’t take moments to remember these powerful individuals. I’m just curious if we know our history and reflect on them in our Pride celebrations. As mentioned above: Pride is a time of remembrance and reflection as much as it is a party.

With all of this in mind, I want to encourage all members of the LGBTQIA+ to continue educating family, friends, and allies.

I’m particularly triggered when people accuse myself or others of throwing our sexuality in their faces. “What do you mean throwing my sexuality in your face? By sharing my experience and by existing?” I usually find myself mildly entertained and suppressing the urge to raise an eyebrow or two when I get comments on the blog as they relate to fragile male egos or ignorance in general.  Please remember to be safe and respectful of everyone’s boundaries on topics of queer culture and what Pride means, but don’t ever let anyone diminish your existence. Internet trolls are going to troll, but give those who may require some time a chance at understanding. We get to choose our circles and family, you know?

I’ll leave you with some items to reflect on as our respective Pride celebrations approach:

  • Our trans brothers and sisters need our love, protection and support. ESPECIALLY TRANS WOMEN OF COLOR. In 2019 already, there have been six fatal attacks on trans women of color.Say their names:  Dana Martin (31), Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon (27), Claire Legato (21), Muhlaysia Booker (23), Michele “Tamika” Washington (40), and now only hours ago, Chynal Lindsey (26).
  • Racism and a lack of body positivity exists within the queer community still. “No fats, no fems, no Asians… White only, please… BBC (big black c**k) this way!” is what you will find on plenty Grindr profiles. Don’t be one of those queens online that fetishize myself or other based on who they are as people; only wanting them for that. We aren’t objects. We are human beings and most of us have been battling identity issues our entire lives. Do better and call your “friends” out politely when you catch them slipping.
  • Respect the pronoun. Please try to use peoples’ preferred pronouns. We are past the excuse of “It’s too hard to change now after all these years!” Try. Be a decent human being and have some manners.

Stand firm in who you are. What does Pride mean to you and what has your journey on the rainbow road been like? Pride is supposed to be fun, so have your fun, queens! Just remember to take time to reflect, check in, and support the community you love and are very much a part of.

J,