I realised a couple of days ago that, for the first time, I am blogging and have at least a small handful of people reading my writing who do not actually know me face-to-face. This is of course a good problem to have. But it does leave me feeling like I should impart a bit of my autobiography to aid those who are coming into my my blog and the life it revolves around in media res.
I was born and grew up in Southern Indiana. I have three siblings younger than me who all came in quick succession. I was a bright but awkward child, the latter aided by the fact that my father was an abuser, and abusers use social isolation to hide abuse. Thus, I did not really grow up around any children my own age.
When I turned eight, my mother escaped with us and filed for divorce. After a fiasco of my father having temporary custody during the divorce, my mother won custody. However, owing to the abuse, my mother suffered permanent disabilities. Added to the fact that my father did not payand my mother could not get the courts to get him to do so, I grew up quite poor, in a community with a very sharp class divide. This experience made me very aware of class-consciousness.
Once we escaped my father, I took an interest in going to church, in part because it was one of the things he forbade. I ended up in a congregation in the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, and then attended one of their Bible colleges in St. Louis.
During this entire process, I was slowly coming to the realisation that I was “not like other boys”–because I liked other boys. Not knowing what to do, I turned to the authorities in my life–the college authorities–and the short version of the story is that I was required to attend ex-gay “therapy” in order to remain in school. I remained in the “therapy” much longer than I remained in the school, which I had to leave for financial and health reasons.
I relocated to my hometown of, Indiana, and transferred to Indiana University, where I majored in philosophy. This was a misguided choice of major for a few reasons, chief of them being was that I wanted to go into creative writing for at least a chunk of my career. It took me awhile to realise that the Jean-Paul Sartres and Ursula LeGuins are by far the exception in the world of philosophy.
But you don’t make every decision in life. Some decisions get made for you, quite unexpectedly. In May 2004 I received two letters from the. One informed me that I would lose my medical insurance, which I needed for the treatment of disabilities, and the second stated that there would be major cuts to my school funding.
One month later, I boarded a Greyhound for, sight unseen. I only knew two people here, both online–one remains a dear friend. But I had heard great recommendations for the city, and as I researched it, it had everything I was looking for: progressive and gay-friendly (offering me my first realistic chance of coming out), with a large arts community, a stable economy, and good health-care and transit services. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I got a job in customer service at Minnesota Children’s Museum, which I held for four years until the museum was hit in the first wave of recession cuts in November 2008, when I was laid off.
I was adrift for a while after the layoff, and I got really depressed. Changes in student-loan laws opened up the opportunity for me to return to college, which I did in January 2012 at Metropolitan State University, this time majoring in Creative Writing where I belonged.
In the midst of all this was a sea change spiritually. After having to leave the evangelical Church for entertaining the idea of living a celibate but openly gay life (which takes more explaining than this format allows), I ended up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, where I found a safe space to ask the questions innate to my sceptical nature. And those questions led me right out of Christianity. And it was okay. I spent a while with a small Quaker group, and more recently have sporadically attended a Unitarian-Universalist church. I mostly see myself as a pilgrim, always journeying, as one friend put it, “always an emigrant, never an immigrant.” I pick up something valuable wherever I go that I keep.
My day-to-day life now is focussed on school, which I attend year-round. In my free time, I sing with Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus and serve on Metropolitan State’s arts-and-literature editorial staff. I half-joke that I am terminally single. I do, however, live with a bicycle named Wilbur.
Some of my posts will be older writings which can be found elsewhere on the internet. I figure it would be smart to collect all my best writings in one place. It also, well, lets me be lazy on occasion, and it is a cold, rainy, dreary day in Minneapolis.
The following story was originally published to I’m From Driftwood in April 2009. I have made here a couple of minor edits. This account illustrates my sense of humour (I claim to have no sense of humour but some friends claim otherwise). I can’t try to be funny, my jokes fall flat, but funny things happen to me, and I can relate them.
I checked for the source of the sound, and felt a small hole in the crotch of my jeans. “Fifteen hours,” I assured myself. “Fifteen hours, and I can unpack my bags and change pants.” I consoled my mom for the millionth time, telling her I would be fine, as we both fought back the tears and my brother prepared to drive me to the Greyhound station.
The previous three weeks had been a whirlwind. I had received notice that the funding for my philosophy degree at Indiana University had been cut sharply, and that my state insurance had been eliminated. When you live in a small town in a conservative state and have a serious medical condition, you don’t mess around—you move. Spending several sleepless nights on campus computers, I talked with friends about where to move. Toledo? It had an intriguing opportunity for me to advance my art career, but it was too small for my taste. Chicago? I loved to visit, but it was too big for me to live in. Seattle? Nice, but too far for moving on a budget. Minneapolis…
I pulled out the ticket. Bloomington to Indianapolis to Chicago to Minneapolis. I had packed as many of my belongings as I could into the Greyhound maximum of four bags— two to go below and two carry-ons. (More of my possessions would follow thanks to friends visiting Minnesota, and the rest would go in a landfill.) Surely, my two smallest bags would fit into the overhead compartments. Unfortunately, my memory of the size of Greyhound buses proved very optimistic. “You can’t fit those on here, they’re too big, they’re gonna have to stay off,” called out the driver gruffly. “But, I’m moving, I don’t have a choice!” I begged. He relented. I stuffed the smallest bag underneath my seat, and straddled the other carry-on…
Behind me lay most of the world I knew. Sure, I’d studied awhile in St. Louis and interned in England. And sure, I was born in a different town, but Bloomington was the map of my heart. Bloomington was where I started coming out—and felt stifled in expressing it. Bloomington was where I had made most of my friends—and lost most of them as I came out. Bloomington was where I got my education—and had it taken away. Bloomington was where my art career budded—and smothered under a lack of opportunity.
What was I losing, really? My relationships with family were always awkward; perhaps they would benefit from distance. The economy would be far better outside my college town, where a Bachelor’s degree would get you $6.50 an hour and cup of coffee—and I didn’t even have the Bachelor’s degree. I was sure I would thrive where I could live out and proud. The past was behind me; a bright future lay before me. And my present?
We pulled into the downtown Chicago station for a 2 1/2-hour layover. I knew one of the little shops in the station would have a travel sewing kit. My plan was to safety-pin together the ever-growing tear. I figured it worked for my punk friends, so why not me? Frazzled from a severe lack of sleep, I gingerly slipped six safety pins along the course of the rip. After all, it only had to hold eight more hours, right?
We stopped at the McDonald’s in Tomah, Wisconsin at the cusp of night and day. If Greyhound weren’t contracted to stop at McDonald’s, and were I not starving, I would have avoided that grease trap and tried to at least get a nap. Sleeping with a huge duffel bag squeezing me into a seat proved to be impossible. I blearily ordered a caramel sundae and an apple pie, hoping to God that no one in the restaurant noticed my deteriorating jeans, the rip now down to my knee. I had yet to learn Upper-Midwestern passive-aggressive behavior, to learn that they wouldn’t say anything until after I was gone. At least, I thought, I’m wearing boxers.
Minneapolis at last! I was crazy, I thought, moving to this city without ever visiting. But crazier things had been done. I just had to call my friend Chris to pick me up, and I could finally get rid of these jeans. Except… “Sir, I understand your situation, but there are families with young children in here, and I’m going to have to ask you to step outside the station.” Great, I’m in a strange city, half-naked, being kicked outside where I could get arrested. I crossed my fingers, hoping that Chris would hurry up. Indeed, a few minutes later, my chariot arrived, and the first thing we did was to go to his place for me to change my pants.
It is coincidence that I am posting this story on the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. You catch a glimpse of homophobia in my life in this story. Shepard’s death affected me profoundly, and I will write more about how so later.