Archive for the ‘gay’ Category

I have a new roommate. The other one was great but he followed his girlfriend to NYC. Strangely, this new one was my roommate when I lived upstairs, so I know we get along. BUT he seems to have gathered a tremendous amount of stuff this time around. Either that or the first time he never intended to stay for long. He’s still unpacking and I don’t know where it’s all going to go. I hope he has a toaster because I left mine in Portland somewhere.

I went to the premiere of “Love Is Strange,” starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. I know a few of the producers and was contacted by the director for consulting regarding a very brief scene in which Cheyenne Jackson is playing Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a good movie and you should go see it.

I’ve been so busy on the job hunt and travelling, I didn’t realize I hadn’t been biking or going to the gym as much as I usually do. On Labor Day I got to the gym and a long bike ride, and it felt real good. I also got caught in a rainstorm, but there was a rainbow afterwards, even though congress does not deserve a rainbow:

I forgot to mention I’ve gotten back to rugby. Of course I first had to get health insurance, as it would be stupid to play rugby without it. I went through the DC health exchange (“Obamacare”) and I must say that process really sucked. It took about 2 1/2 days to process my application, and that was with a specialist trained in holding people’s hands through the process. That and the website sucked. I mean, I just finished a webmaster gig so I know a few things, and found out I had to log-in or log-out on this or that screen, or clear the browser cache before this screen worked. Extremely user unfriendly website. And what if I was a struggling mother working 3 part-time jobs? I wouldn’t have the time to navigate this system that takes almost three days to process.

Anyway, rugby has been good. I’m slower than I used to be, but my body is still intact. Getting back to rugby has given me a sense of normalcy and practices offer two hours where I’m not obsessing over my career recovery. And the guys are nice to look at, of course.

1990 was a scary time to come out. I gotta hand it to my younger self: Jimmy you had balls at 20 years of age. It was in the midst of time when people were still dying in droves, and you came out in a somewhat rural campus environment where people had hunting rifles in their dorm rooms. Now I understand a bit better why my mom and friends were freaking out so much after I came out.

I took a student study trip to Germany and Poland then, and went to the gay Pride festival in Cologne, Germany while I was there. I didn’t understand then why the gay Germans didn’t want to have anything to do with me, for it was predominantly an American plague at the time.

I’ve been catching parts of HBO’s “The Normal Heart” here and there and it’s been a good reminder of how scary things were back then. Today we know a lot more, with surviving gays of my age and older somewhat befuddled by the attitudes about HIV with younger gays. To them it seems like a manageable disease where you can just take some pills to deal with it. To us it was a death sentence at the time, and we have a hard time comprehending how some can be so relaxed about the disease.

That’s why it’s been so hard to get my head around the idea of PrEP and changing attitudes about prevention. This whole idea of discussing HIV status and whether or not one is on PrEP before you get down to business is a big change from the times when condom use was pounded into our heads from every angle for so long. I was a die-hard proponent of condom use no matter what, and even in my foggiest states I still stuck with that regimen.

Now they are recommending changed approaches to sexual encounters. It’s a new set of ideas and approaches, but I have reservations about the whole idea of being completely dependent on the pharmaceutical industry and my personal health. Open up any gay publication and you’ll see a four-page full-color advertisement for this or that drug, which essentially pays for that publication. Our lives are dependent on a set of drugs to maintain our lifestyles. Sponsorship from the pharmaceutical industry hovers around us like a pleasant specter. I don’t see a whole lot written on that angle so far.

I’m getting the feeling this huge push for PrEP is mainly targeted at 20somethings. The people pushing this program don’t seem to see that this is a big change for older gays and may require a little bit more than “you should take this drug now and change all your habits.”

Things change and our understanding of the disease is a lot better than it was then. But having experienced a string of un- and underemployment since 2012 I also have some perspective as a person without health insurance. Pharmaceuticals are available for low income patients, but I don’t and often can’t depend on regular doctor and pharmacy visits for a steady stream of drugs. And they are expensive. Condoms are still the cheaper and easier option for me for those I don’t know. I’ve hedged my bets with those I know and trust but that still seems like a big investment for me at this time. There seems to be a lot of hype and enthusiasm for PrEP but I suspect our discussions about it and the gay community’s growing dependence on prescription drug treatments isn’t and shouldn’t be over.

The recent ugly flurry of proposed laws that could allow businesses to deny service to gays (and many others) based on their religious convictions got me thinking of the time such a denial happened to me. It’s something I haven’t written about yet on this blog, but perhaps it’s time to share.

I think it was the summer of 1992 when I was notified I would work in an intern position as a park ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Rock Island, Illinois. I was just finishing up a summer as a naturalist at a bible camp in southwest Wisconsin. One of the counselors was going to college in Rock Island, and had room in their house I could live in while I interned. There was another roommate who I would be sharing the house with as well, and would meet her the next summer.

The bible camp I worked at was primarily ELCA Lutheran, one of the more progressive “synods” within the Lutheran church. I was confirmed as ELCA Lutheran, and never heard a bad word spoken about gays then nor at the bible camp where I worked and also went as a camper when I was younger. The other synods – usually named after a state like Missouri or Wisconsin – aren’t so progressive. Maybe things have changed with those last two synods. I don’t know though, I haven’t been a practicing Lutheran in a long time. But saying you’re “Lutheran” could mean you’re progressive or quite the opposite. I would learn about these differences later.

I was out of the closet by 1992, and the fellow counselor knew I was gay. The other roommate – whose name was Bridget – did not know I was gay. I think I discussed the issue with my fellow counselor and we may have decided to keep it on the down-low at first. I can’t recall those details, but Bridget would eventually find out.

Park Ranger Jimbo

Lock and Dam #15 on the Mississippi River in Rock Island, IL. I worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers interpretive park ranger.

The next summer came around and I moved in the house and started the internship. I mostly worked at a visitor center that overlooked Lock & Dam #15 on the Mississippi River. I often sat at the front desk answering visitor’s questions, giving talks about why there are dams on the river, and led nature programs. In the winter bald eagles would gather around the base of the dam which made for good birdwatching. And things got pretty exciting there during the Flood of ‘93 when I got deployed to Des Moines to ensure emergency sources of water were potable after their water treatment plant got flooded.

The roommate situation seemed to be going all right at first. Bridget was tidy, if not a bit icy. Back then we didn’t have the Internet or cell phones, and communicating with potential dates was done with the shared house phone. I think Bridget must have overheard a conversation I was having with a potential date or something, and talked to the other roommate about it. She brought it up and said that Bridget didn’t want to have me as a housemate because I was gay. As I recall the basis for her problem with me was her religion.

I was 23 at the time, didn’t know my rights, or whether or not I even had any. Plus the icy silence in the house was becoming uncomfortable. I think I tried to talk to Bridget about it, and she started crying. So I moved out, mostly to keep good relations with my original counselor friend. And I didn’t want to live where I wasn’t liked. The first place I moved to was a stark and lonely apartment complex with noisy neighbors where I didn’t get a lot of sleep. Then I moved to a somewhat better shared housing situation with a friend of the (nicer) roommate until the end of my internship.

Throughout my time in Rock Island I didn’t meet many other people and I think it was an overall lonely time in my life. And the experience of getting iced out of my first housing situation for being gay gave me some lasting anxiety about living where there are few other gays. It’s probably a basis of my initial evaluation for moving to DC – a larger city with a sizable gay population where people are more tolerant of gays. My experience wasn’t unique, which is a big reason why most gays flock to larger cities. Things are changing fast, but in some parts of the country attitudes haven’t changed much.

Getting kicked out of a house, losing a job, or being denied any kind of service for who you are is a shitty feeling. There are all kinds of religions, and even more types of convictions depending on what branch of religion you’re involved with. So these laws being proposed in several states open the door for legally denying many kinds of people for many reasons. I’m aware that they probably won’t be successful, but for those who could be turned away in these states I know from experience that it’s an unpleasant feeling at best.

Since I’m suffering from blogger’s block lately I decided to dig back into the archives to find some of my better posts. In the spirit of the season of giving, here’s one reposted from November 19, 2002:

SupermodelTokien pointed to the cassette case with a long, polished fingernail. “Who is that?” he asked in Russian, referring to the androgyne with the massive jheri curls on the tape cover.

“That’s RuPaul. He is a man,” I answered. Tokien’s almond-shaped eyes widened in surprise. Transvestites were unheard of in Kazakstan, although I suspected Tokien had more than enough potential for dragdom. He was a lithe and graceful classical dance instructor in the small mill town, famed to have been the Soviet Union’s largest metallurgical production facility. Today the factories are obsolete and empty. There’s nothing much to do there anymore, and teens fill their time shooting up cheap local heroin with shared family needles and ogling the new Daewoo stereos they will never afford but could some day steal. Widowed babuska pensioners stuggled to get by, often only with the potatoes grown at their summer dachas.

My RuPaul cassette was one of the few things that kept me in Peace Corps for as long as I was. On particularly cold and grey days, I would liven things up by putting in the Supermodel of the World album, especially the title track, Supermodel. The phrase “You better WORK, bitch!” had special meaning to me, and often was the only thing goading me to work in the morning. I didn’t want to be there, I needed to be living elsewhere at that time. So the music took me where I needed to be, if only for a few minutes.

Every so often I would travel by bus from my coal mining city to the nearby metallurgical town to visit other volunteers. Most of them were English teachers in the public school system. Fellow volunteers Joel and Petra had met Tokien in their school. He was a refreshing change from the usual dour Kazak student or faculty member. Creative, and good in his craft, he was best described as fey. His swish was so wide that even Joel and Petra’s gaydar shot to red alert status. They knew I had few companions or other gays to relate to, so they made a point of inviting him to their party.

With the advance notice I packed my gay disco compilations and favorite RuPaul album for the trip, thinking Tokien would relate to the music. I should have known that he had received no exposure to such things. The RuPaul tape was a total shock to him.

“This man is famous in America?” he asked in surprise.

“Yes, fairly so,” I replied in Russian. “He’s had two hits so far.” I could see Tokien was about to ask for the cassette. In Kazakstan, loaning something to a friend meant that you basically gave it up. Nothing ever came back to you. However, I could always get another Supermodel of the World cassette, or even upgrade to CD. Tokien may never have another opportunity to find the album.

“Do you want to borrow it?” I asked Token. Speechless and glowing with glee, he accepted my sole source of sanity with graciousness. I never saw the cassette again, but I’m sure it went to a good cause. Perhaps today there’s a drag cabaret in some small Kazak mill town where an almond-eyed drag queen with massive Jheri curls encourages the metalworkers with the shout out, “You better WORK!”

typical DC streetscape in winterIt happened like clockwork after the daylight savings time change earlier this month. My mood dropped, it was an effort to get motivated, and I noted an increasing reluctance to go out. The temperature changes didn’t help either, but I’m aware of these mood changes this time of year and work to recognize these mood changes. I do things to go against these urges like work out, ride my bike, and make sure I get out to socialize. These things help a lot.

This has always been a challenge for me in DC. I often explain to others that our winters are like the scenes from the Sleepy Hollow animated feature and movie. It’s worth noting I didn’t feel this way this time of year in Portland. I was warned that their winters were miserable in a different way. Granted, I wasn’t working and was able to go out in the day to get some amount of UV through the cloud cover. But Portland was somewhat warmer despite being drippier with all the rain. I think the tipping point for me is the colder temperatures in DC.

The other thing comparing winters between the two cities was that I noticed that not everyone in Portland did proactive things to combat the winter blahs. Not everyone in DC does either, but considering the reputation of the winters in the Pacific Northwest, you would think more people would do things to actively combat the blahs. Anyway my conclusion from all of this is that DC doesn’t have the reputation for having horrid winter blahs, but should. It is just as bad here as in the Pacific Northwest, but not as rainy. Just cold and dark.

looking?The other way DC is much like Sleepy Hollow is that we have a lot of headless torsos running around. I mean like people not showing their faces on mobile apps like Scruff. We have far more headless horsemen in DC than in Portland. I attribute this to some sort of cultural thing having to do with remnants of Puritanism or Southern propriety. And despite being recently hailed by the New York Times as one of the gayest places in America, there are still a lot of closet cases – or maybe people who think being seen on an app is indicative of their whorishness. This wasn’t the case in Portland, where people didn’t give a shit and showed their faces.

I think there were just as many open relationships in Portland as there are in DC. But again they were simply honest about their open status in Portland, which was very refreshing. In DC relationship statuses in online profiles are often left blank, where I simply assume they are in a relationship, open, and they think they are being sneaky about it. I much prefer to be fully disclosed on someone’s relationship status, then we can both go from there with all cards on the table. I don’t care if you’re an online whore or in an open relationship, I just want to be informed that you have a boyfriend. It helps interactions go much smoother. And believe me gurl, if you think I won’t find out you have a boyfriend at home, think again. My agents are everywhere.

Good news: while things are still rolling for a permanent job, I secured a short-term contracting gig that could possibly turn into a very lucrative long-term gig. It’s helping to write a proposal to assist as a contractor with the agency I formerly worked for. It’s the next best thing to actually getting right back with my former workplace. So right now it’s just helping to write a proposal as a “subject matter expert.” It’s nice to be recognized for my expertise after a year and a month of esteem-crushing joblessness. The irony is that they found me and actively recruited me without me having contacted them at all. This is after applying to 100+ jobs and networking my ass off for a year. I can’t complain, I guess this is how things work out. Now to turn on my UV lamp and get my happy self to work on Monday.

I woke up the other day and realized I hadn’t picked on BrettCajun in a while. There was an emptiness in my soul for having neglected Darth Sugarbakker for so long. Then I went back to bed and slept in until 11 or so because I had been playing Civilization V so late the night before.

Anyway, I’ve been keeping busy. As I fast approach the date at which I arrived in Portland, I’ve tapered down the job applications around here. There were a slew that I applied to a few weeks ago where I actually have contacts in the places where the job is, so we’ll see. But I’m not holding my breath, and have applied to some jobs back in DC. Around here familiarity trumps experience and Portland businesses hire who they know, not for what they know. That and the economy still stinks here.

Anyway, me and the househosts went to see hunky Matt Alber perform outdoors earlier this month. He was really good and was all hairy and sweaty in the summer heat, which was an added plus to the performance.

My garden plot is doing well but dry as a bone in the rainless Portland summer. I water the plants frequently:

My mom got me a wildlife camera for Christmas but I hadn’t used it since then. I finally got around to putting batteries and a memory card in it and put it outside for a test run:
I had recently spotted a baby raccoon out back and hoped to capture a photo of it walking on the fence. Or maybe get a pic of one of the pretty Steller’s Jays I see around here. But all I got was this stalker, who couldn’t even be bothered to stalk properly as he was caught on CritterCam taking a selfie of himself. Of course:

If there’s a camera and the potential for more Internet fame, she’s in front of the lens.

Oh hey it’s been a while. I moved and am now a housecub. I’m mostly settled, the new place is lovely, has no cats, and I get to have a garden plot. I’ve already planted acorn squash but have no idea how they’ll do in Oregon. This is a completely different growing scene than what I’m used to. I’m going to try potatoes for the first time as well.

I went to see my brother graduate from his nursing program, and of course I had to stop at Bonneville Dam to see more LAMPREYS!
They’re gross but cool in a way. Lamprey Pride.

It was Pride weekend here in Portland. I had fun! Because there’s a parade and a festival with cotton candy and I saw a bunch of people I got to catch up with. Of course it’s the season for dissent against Pride festivals for a few. This year’s article written by an angertwink is again about how we don’t need Pride celebrations. But it doesn’t speak for the majority of people who somehow manage to have fun at Pride.

This year I marched with the organization I’ve been volunteering with. The organization provides housing, medical services, and skills training to help homeless youth get off the street and back on their feet. Many of these youth are LGBT who were kicked out of their homes for being gay. Because that still happens even though some angertwinks still think we don’t need Pride celebrations. Anyway, a couple of heterosexual coworkers/allies brought their kids, dressed them up as small unicorns and put rainbow stuff all over their kiddie bikes and they all had a blast. I saw from pictures from DC Pride that a few straight allies marched with the Renegades to wave some rainbow flags and they also had fun. Perhaps we can learn from heterosexuals in these trying times: you should have fun at parades. It’s OK to have fun. And if you don’t think you’ll have fun then stay home.

This is just satire, but I really really really wish it was real:

Last weekend I went to the Mount St. Helens Ape Cave Lava Tube with some friends. It’s a popular attraction in the Mount St. Helens National Monument and the longest lava tube in the continental United States at over two miles in length. Here’s my spelunker buddies Shawn and Trevor ready to ascend at the main entrance:
Ape Cave spelunkersApe Cave headlamp
A headlamp and/or good flashlight with fresh batteries is recommended. Warm clothes, pants and a raincoat too (it’s drippy inside). From the main entrance to the caves, I recommend doing the Lower Cave first which is an easier hike and gives you an idea of whether you can handle more. You turn around and go back to the main entrance, and from there can choose to do the Upper Cave. It’s 1.5 miles underground, but a lot of scrambling over rock falls and a little climbing too. It was quite a workout but the inside of a lava flow was cool. Then you hike back to the parking area above ground. This was the exit from the Upper Cave area:
Ape Cave upper exit
The ladder out can be seen in the lower left of the image. Then it’s the same distance hike overland on the way back. A lot of the geography around the cave reminded me of Iceland, albeit with a lot more trees.

NBA player Jason Collins came out a few weeks ago with much applause and a few dissenters as expected. But it’s probably the start of a small flood of athletes in the “big three” American sports to come out as openly gay. Of course we are proud of Martina Navratilova for coming out when she did, but the sports media has been drooling for an active player in the NBA, NFL and MLB to do the same.

Blogs and media sites were abuzz with the news for a few days, but a line from this article about Collins in the SFGate caught my eye:

“Soon, the NFL, NHL and MLB and (yawn) pro golf and even, maybe, a gay NASCAR driver, a guy who surely already exists and who is right now completely terrified of getting shot if he even dares to look in the direction of Jason Collins. Poor kid.”

When I read that I was like “Hey, I know an out NASCAR driver and he isn’t terrified.” In fact he’s been out for a while and is building an impressive record at a track near my hometown and elsewhere.

Justin Mullikin
Driver Justin Mullikin. ©2012 Mary Schill/Forte Design

I met Justin Mullikin of JM Racing in September when I was visiting my family in Wisconsin. He went to the same high school I did, albeit a lot later. I was amazed to learn that he was out in high school, something I never would have considered in the late 80s. But times have changed even in the flyover states and they’re coming out a lot earlier.

Justin was recently interviewed at Queers4Gears, a site for queer NASCAR and motorsport fans. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter at @queers4gears. I asked Justin a few more questions because I wanted you and the SFGate to know that yep, there is an out NASCAR driver. And if you make it to the end of the interview you will read Justin’s correct prediction on who won RuPaul’s Drag Race this year.

Mullikin’s interest in cars started at an early age, but he didn’t get serious about it until about 2005 on a whim. Eight seasons and a handful of cars later the 27 year-old Cheesehead is still on track:

- I see your racing season is underway. How long does the season last?

Our season began on April 20th and will continue through the first weekend in October with a 4 week break from the first weekend in September until October’s final event.

- While you’re in the Sportsmen division (sort of like NASCAR “minor leagues” if I understand correctly) do your results count towards NASCAR national title standings?

We are a points based series, meaning that every night we earn a certain amount of points. The amount of points that we earn are dependent on where we finish in the events. Points accumulated go to a standing that determines the champion for our local track at the end of our season. Along with earning points at our local track we also earn points on a national level. We are ranked nationally and compete for a national level championship in what is called the “NASCAR Whelen All American Series division II asphalt program.”

- You’re not just the driver of your vehicle – you’ve also rebuilt it yourself it for racing. Are there other people are on your racing team helping you do this?

I do have help at the track from a number of people, but for the most part I build my car, motor, paint and do everything related to the assembly of the car myself. My best Friend Bill also races and we have formed a team so to speak at the track so we share equipment and information with each other and help each other at the track and during the off season constructing the cars.

- What sort of background in automotive engineering do you have that helps you get a car ready to race?

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I actually have no formal training or schooling in automotive engineering. I was always interested in cars growing up and by the time I got my license and first car I just started teaching myself and learning as much as I could by doing things on my own. Throughout the years or vowing to only fixing my own car and learning as much as I could about them I have learned pretty much everything there is to know about the mechanics and assembly of a car.

- So you’re good with machines and can drive. Are you still an “athlete”?

This is a question that regularly comes up when talking about a person who races cars for a living or for a hobby. There is far more to driving in a competitive manner than just going fast and turning in circles. The thing that people don’t understand about racing cars is they do not drive like your normal everyday street cars. Driving a car at very high speeds with manual brakes, manual steering and a suspension that is designed for maximum turning ability takes a toll on your body. Along with the physical strength required to drive the cars comes the mental strength. It takes a high level of mental focus and nerves to be able to drive a car that is in a near constant slide at extremely high speeds. Not only do you focus on yourself when in the car but what your fellow competitors are doing. It is in no way like driving down the highway to the mall. We are driving around a track at 100+ mph inches from other cars (sometimes touching) and controlling a car that is sliding, moving around and just on the ragged edge of crashing at all times.

- You mentioned in the interview that for the most part you haven’t had any issues with other drivers for being gay. How did you handle it when they did?

Only one direct threat of action has made its way to me that I am aware of. The particular instance was never said directly to me, rather to a friend of mine who also raced. Fortunately for him he realized that at the end of the day that a.) I was a better driver and b.) I was not afraid to retaliate on track if he decided to take it there. Retaliating on track is rarely something that you as a driver want to do because of the potential for danger to yourself and everyone else.

- When did you come out?

I came out when I was 16 as a result of a friend of mine sharing our personal conversations with other people at school. I made the decision that I was going to take ownership of the situation and make of it what I chose to.

- What do you think about professional athletes coming out? Should we expect someone in other NASCAR series to come out soon?

Anytime that a person who is gay can be portrayed in a positive and uplifting manner is definitely a good thing. From a role model point of view I can see no better thing than the young people of this country viewing successful athletes they can relate to. It’s not a question of if it happens, more of when. I think that it will certainly happen but only time will tell.

- Who do you think is going to win RuPaul’s Drag Race this year?

Its Monsoon season…clearly! [Jinkx Monsoon] is by far the most talented competitor to have ever been on the show.

- Another thing you mentioned in the previous interview was “I typically don’t care if someone who has no meaning to me has anything to say,” regarding your sexual orientation on the track. That sounds like a good approach to dealing with homophobic comments. “Water off a duck’s back” as Jinkx Monsoon would say. What would you say to other athletes considering being out in their sport on dealing with homophobia?

At the end of the day it’s your life, and you should live it exactly how you see fit without letting anyone else get in your way. Being gay is nothing that will stop you from achieving your dreams or having a positive impact on someone else. Be the best you can be!

Here’s a recent video about my former rugby team in DC:

I miss the Cardozo practice field!