Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2017-05-03

Why Authenticity is so Vital: In Celebration of Ellen’s 20th Coming Out Anniversary

“As long as you stay true to exactly who you are, you will be rewarded in ways you cannot possibly imagine.”—Ellen DeGeneres

The 20th anniversary of the coming out episode of Ellen’s sitcom was April 30, 2017. It was the first time a lead character on a TV show came out; it was before Will and Grace, the Logo channel, and Modern Family.

For those of you who don’t remember, it was a BIG DEAL. Media was covering it before it aired and endlessly discussing and debating afterward. There was an all star cast of supporting characters and extras, including gay icons George Michael, k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge.

I found out from my friend H. Alan Scott that Ellen was celebrating the 20th anniversary of her coming out on her talk show because he was invited to be on it! His story about how he watched the coming out episode is detailed in this piece he wrote for Newsweek and on the below video from the show. (Believe me, I hinted hard that I wanted to be invited as a plus one to go to the taping but sadly he didn’t get a plus one.)

“It’s easy to forget now just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages… Not just for the LGBT community but for all of us to see somebody so full of kindness and light remind us that we have more in common than we realize and push our country in the direction of justice.”—Barack Obama on the occasion of giving Ellen the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

1997 was an interesting year. We didn’t have the internet like we do now. We didn’t have smart devices or social media. You had to call people or email to make plans and if you wanted directions somewhere you pulled out a map.

Ellen joked on her show that since we didn’t have Facebook yet in order to make a big pronouncement about your sexuality you had to get a sitcom.

They called the episode “The Puppy Episode” because when the writers told the executives she needed to be in a relationship by the fourth year of the show an executive at the studio said, “Well get her a puppy, she’s not coming out.” You can watch it on youtube in parts, starting here.

I spy Laura Dern, k.d. lang, Dwight Yoakam, Demi Moore, Gina Gershon, Jenny Shimizu, Billy Bob Thornton.

I feel like for gay people in 1997, it was kind of like the Kennedy assassination—people remember where they were when they watched it.

I remember very viscerally what it was like for me watching Ellen come out. I was 18 years old, in my dorm room at UC Davis. Wearing my bathrobe, alone on the couch I shared with my suitemates watching the cable that I paid for because TV was an escape drug for me at the time. Life was really painful, I was depressed and felt very alone. I knew I was gay but couldn’t be open about it. I was still so convinced that if I acted like everyone else and hid in giant, formless overalls I would somehow appear normal and being gay went against that idea. I also didn’t think I was going to get to own my sexuality because I was fat. Fat was, in my deluded opinion, not attractive and I didn’t think people who weren’t having sex should bother coming out.

I was super wrong. Owning your truth, that’s hot. Owning your body, that’s hot. Being true to who you are? That’s priceless and so liberating.

I don’t have any pictures of my Freshman year at UC Davis available but here’s one from two years later when I was out but still working through my relationship with fashion. Deepy appreciate this rainbow beanie. Pictured here with my very supportive through my coming out process friends Mary and Dianna.

“Your whole calling is about you being what you were meant to be.”—Oprah Winfrey

It’s very lonely being in the closet. When you don’t feel like you can be your authentic self, it’s hard to live freely because you’re always keeping a secret. If you’re out there and you are in the closet now, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone and you’re okay. When it’s time for you to come out, it will suddenly feel more uncomfortable to be in the closet than the risks you take to come out. But, like Ellen says, the risks to be your true self are totally worth it.

Sitting right next to H. Alan in the audience was documentary filmmaker Alexis Fish, who had a big party for Ellen’s coming out episode. (I wonder if they overlapped at all at my birthday party last December since they were both there.) I couldn’t believe what an amazing experience it was for Alexis and her friends to watch the episode with community. I’m so glad I get to have that community now, and I’m so grateful for social media for enabling community to be even more accessible to folks in the closet these days.

Oprah Winfrey played Ellen’s therapist in the Puppy Episode, which I had completely forgotten about. She was a guest on this special episode of Ellen’s talk show. Needless to say, I immediately texted H. Alan “YOU WERE IN THE SAME ROOM AS ELLEN AND OPRAH.”

Oprah mentioned that she said yes to appearing on the Puppy Episode immediately, and she gets credit for that. There was so much backlash, the world was reeling because of something that today seems so pedestrian. We needed that backlash in order to start a very important conversation.

Laura Dern was in the episode and she didn’t get another acting job for a full year after the episode—because people thought she was gay. “I hurt straight people for this,” Ellen joked.

“It was hard, I lost everything. I got to be stripped down of everything and start all over again. And that was a wonderful gift to be able to start all over again and to realize that I was strong enough to come back.”—Ellen

Laura Dern said it exactly right while on the couch with Oprah and Ellen. “How incredible to be sitting between the two people who have walked us toward our truth in such extraordinary ways… To celebrate the bravery to remind people to be who they are. And whatever the consequence is of doing that, it brings everyone with you when you’re willing to be that true to yourself.”

Why, in our society, is it brave to be yourself? Because of the White Hetero Capitalist Patriarchy, that wants to keep us small, to punish difference and to make people feel ashamed of who they are. Media creates a feeling of insecurity for your benign human differences so that they can sell products to you to help you feel better.

On the talk show episode there were lots of celebrity messages of congratulations. “You widened the circle of understanding, connection and kindness,” Diane Sawyer said to Ellen.

Me and H. Alan doing partner yoga. I love that he’s always game for a silly photo.

There’s a power in being openly who you are. I continue to practice that by talking openly about things most people don’t talk openly about. Part of my impetus for using this openness is to eradicate shame. I truly believe shame leads to stress, which leads to cancer and other disease. It makes me feel so much better and happier to be open about who I am, how I struggle and the tools I use to move through the struggle. I can’t do it alone and I want to help you all know that you don’t have to do it alone, either.

Last summer, my friend Jeff Scult inducted me into One Golden Thread, a whole movement about being connected to other humans with a golden thread bracelet. He said when yours falls off you should pay attention to what you’re thinking about in the moment. I have been working on staying in gratitude as much as possible in order to eradicate the effects of trauma from the past few months.

With Ellen’s coming out on the brain, I was walking through my house thinking about how grateful I was to be out, to be living with my incredible partner Dara, to have our beautiful new home and how cute my closet is going to be when it’s finished. Then I got to our bed and was super grateful for my weirdo cat Biscuit Reynolds. As I leaned in to give him a belly rub he attacked the string from my golden thread and in one movement ripped it off of me.

I have now watched Ellen’s 20th anniversary coming out talk show episode twice and can’t get through it without crying multiple times. I’m so grateful for all she did to make the world a lot easier for the rest of us.

2017-02-13

Authenticity and Intimacy: Remembering My Relationship with My Grandmother

Some of the best gifts I have given myself were making decisions, even when I didn’t know how to move forward. The decision to stop hating my fat body. The decision to pursue an art career instead of law. The decision to move to LA. The decision to be myself, no matter what. Authenticity is freedom and the gateway to real connection.

In 2011 I made a decision to have a close relationship with my Grandmother. I had always loved her, of course, but our relationship was through the veil of family dynamic and not one-on-one intimacy.

Grandmother would always come with me to Crystal Fantasy, one of my favorite metaphysical shops. We shared an affinity for amethyst.

As you can imagine, when you have a Grandmother who you call “Grandmother” like it’s a Royal title or something, she’s unusual.

Grandmother is a title not a term of endearment. Flowers in the Attic is one of the only cultural references for that, and it’s not a warm fuzzy one. Even on Downton Abbey where they emote in the most British and subtle ways they call their Grandmother “Gran.” Emily Gilmore, that vestige of Connecticut upper class propriety, went by “Grandma.” Whenever someone outside of the family called her “Your Grandma” you kind of wince a little and correct them.

Calling her Grandmother was the first way I put her on a pedestal. I worshipped her, in a way. She was an icon: of femininity, fanciness, elegance, intelligence, independence and beauty.

My mother (who just went by “Mom”) raised me as a single mom in the Bay Area, about a seven hour drive from the rest of our family in Camarillo and LA. Grandmother lived Beverly Hills adjacent with Grandfather David. I only saw them a couple of times a year, and usually amongst the crowd of our family. I grew up knowing her as the Grandmother character in our family but not in a personally intimate way.

Rare shot of Grandfather David not wearing a suit.

I think if I had spent some time just the three of us (me, Grandmother and Grandfather David) it would have been great because we were all three Capricorns and loved to ask people questions. However, I’m super sensitive and my Grandfather could be crabby* so it was probably good we saw one another infrequently so he was always on his best behavior.

Our lifestyles growing up were so different! I lived in an apartment, my mom was literally always stressed about money and Grandmother was living in a big house finally doing well in her life financially as a Real Estate Broker in Beverly Hills. (Her 90210 office address was so cool to me in high school. I loved that show a lot.) Grandfather David was a professor of biochemistry at UCLA. Their house on Warner Drive looked huge to me. It had floor to ceiling bookcases, a standard of opulence I still appreciate today.

I have no idea who this dashing celebrity looking dude is but I wish I knew. I also wish I knew where that dress ended up!

It really mattered that I pursued higher education. Growing up I never questioned that I would go to a University, it was all I ever heard from my mom and from them. I went to Law School in large part because of their influence. They told me higher education was completely vital to credibility and that because I was smart there would be a yellow brick road of security paved after I got that JD.

I learned after charting my own course in life that security is not happiness. Having a JD made it way harder to get a job a lot of times, the complete opposite of what the Dean of Admissions said during 1L Orientation. When my “secure” law firm job of five years suddenly disappeared during the economic crash in 2008 that message finally hit home—nothing is truly secure. It became vital to me to live my truth and do what I’m passionate about.

So here I am a writer and making reiki infused tea and producing parties and working towards that talk show I am destined to host. I had an amazing, spiritual moment with an older man at a bus stop who, I realized in hindsight, was clearly channeling my Grandfather who told me I was a writer and he was proud of me. I know Grandfather could never have said that to me in this realm.

She really did a Norma Jean / Marilyn thing when she went from being a brunette bombshell to being a blonde bombshell.

I had to learn how to perform myself and not perform other people’s expectations of me. Grandmother did her own version of performing herself.

She created a persona for everyone she interacted with, she knew exactly how to get on someone’s good side and agree with them on the right points to put them at ease. I noticed this last year, she would be really positive with me and Dara because we are eternal optimists. I would hear a different story from other people and realized what she was doing. It’s a trauma response, to curate yourself to be the most pleasing to your audience as possible. I don’t think she did it intentionally to manipulate, I think she did it because she wanted to make people feel good. And people felt great around her.

Her with her hair stylist a few years ago.

When she was well into her 80s and it was convenient for her—bypassing those post-9/11 shoes off lines with her high heels still on, for example—she would proudly announce her age and provide her id. For years before that she hid her age with make-up, strategic plastic surgery and begging her children not to out her as their mom. She was a charmer and could command a crowd one by one, with each interaction and also with her fabulous looks. I’m bummed I never got to see her work a room in LA and learn how to network from her.

The fact that I didn’t feel particularly intimate with Grandmother when I was already in my thirties was what I made a decision to resolve. She had already given me glimpses of what she was like one on one in car rides, and she had been so accepting of my queerness that I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t know how exactly to create a deeper relationship, but from what I learned in Al Anon it was about trusting her with my authentic self and taking her off that pedestal. Pedestals are a huge barrier to intimacy.

Glamming together at my mom’s wedding in 2008.

I drove cross country in 2011 because I wanted to visit her alone for the first time and it was cheaper to gas up my Prius than fly and rent a car. I had run an emotional gauntlet by the time I got to her house, having just lost my job at Re/Dress when it closed, gone through a break-up, saw a beloved alcoholic ex-girlfriend who I had thought was going to drink herself to death for the first time post sobriety, and saw my estranged father. By the time I got to Grandmother’s all I could do was sleep and talk. My emotional risk paid off, she was so loving, sweet and accepting. It was very healing to be with her.

I never realized she hated Mexican food until I moved out here. Before that she would ALWAYS take me when I was visiting from the East Coast, which was a really nice thing to do. But once I moved here she knew she didn’t have any obligation quesadillas to eat with me.

That visit really opened me up to a lasting relationship. It’s interesting how when we are used to occasional visits with our families in big groups we don’t develop a lot of one-on-one intimacy. I loved that I felt like myself around her. We didn’t agree on everything, but she was always open to hearing me out.

One of my favorite moments recently was her complaining about seeing a woman doctor who hadn’t brushed her hair before their appointment. She equated sloppy personal aesthetic with not being a good doctor. Whereas I would prefer the doctor who was so consumed by her work that her hair was not at all a consideration. I told Grandmother that people have different value systems and no one here has to be wrong. Some people might think it was a waste of time for Grandmother to spend however long she did on her make-up in the morning (sometimes it was a full hour, sometimes she could be in and out with full face in 15 minutes**) but that they just had different values from her. I like to think that one sank in.

She told me I should date a Scorpio (her first husband was a Scorpio) and it turned out she was good friends with Lois Rodden, a famous astrologer, who my astrologer Katie Sweetman of Empowering Astrology confirmed made important contributions to modern day astrology. We had such great visits and I always longed to make enough money to be able to fly out a few times a year from New York City. Not having achieved that, making the decision to move ended up being the best choice.

I’m so grateful I moved to LA for a million reasons, but the ability to go visit her so often in her last year (we had no idea it was her last year, she was independent until she was felled by her only chemo treatment) was the best gift. We even spent last Valentine’s Day together! Being able to be so present for her illness and her Passing on to Something Awesome (POTSA) is something I’ll always treasure. Last Summer I shared with her a confidence I only shared with a small handful of besties. I’m so grateful that when she passed I had no secrets from her.

It all started with making a decision.

*I’m being kind; he could be a complete dick but at least he was nicer than her first husband.

**Our whole family could be waiting around for seemingly forever to go out to breakfast but Grandmother would take exactly as long as she wanted to get ready in spite of everyone’s protests. I loved her acts of defiance in service to her aesthetic.

2015-05-01

The Power of Authenticity: Bruce Jenner, Kanye West and My Lesbian Sorority Ice Cream Wrestling Party

I watched the Bruce Jenner interview on 20/20 last week and had a lot of feelings. It’s complex to have your transition made public before you are living 100% of the time as your true gender. Most folks begin to “go public” with it with a letter to friends and family requesting a pronoun change and a new name. But not Bruce Jenner! A Friday night Prime Time TV interview!

As my friend Avory put it, “Bruce Jenner is a rich, white American who could not escape his truth.” As Americans we need to learn how to hear hard truths from people different than us, and for folks who are not trans accepting (like many of Bruce’s fellow Conservative Republicans) this interview and the rampant publicity around it, is another seminal moment for trans liberation. This moment is only made possible through the incredible work of queer and trans activists, allies and movements. Many leaders in these movements are incredible people of color who did not have the monetary or other privileges Bruce Jenner enjoys.

Here’s hoping this interview can help Americans learn how to hear hard truths from people who are different in other ways.

My favorite takeaway was the authenticity quote by Kanye West. He had told Kim Kardashian West, his wife and Bruce Jenner’s step-daughter, this anecdote.

Look, I can be married to the most beautiful woman in the world, and I am. I can have the most beautiful little daughter in the world, and I have that. But I’m nothing if I can’t be me. If I can’t be true to myself, they don’t mean anything.

Kanye is exactly right. When you aren’t authentic to yourself, it is nearly impossible to enjoy your life. I spent a long time being depressed, suicidal, self-hating and body hating. It robbed me of the pleasures of the everyday. Making choices and taking risks to be my authentic self has saved my life.

I remembered an ice cream wrestling party with my sorority sisters when I was in college. It was June of the year 2000. I’m pretty sure our president, Sam, came up with the idea of getting a blow up pool, putting it in the backyard of our sorority house and inviting a bunch of women over to wrestle.

17128193937_7361eb21e7_zSomehow this is the only group photo I have from our sorority, taken at our winter retreat in Lake Tahoe, which includes friends of ours not in the sorority. I’m far right in what I believed was a “Winter coat” when I still lived in CA.

I think it’s important to mention at this part of the story that I was a member of a lesbian sorority, Lambda Delta Lambda, and our sorority house was a 3-4 bedroom ranch house just off the UC Davis campus that was shared by a few members of our sisterhood. Other formal Greek organizations on campus (the panhellenic sororities, as they were known) had pretty big houses with towering Greek letters attached to the second story. Ours was just a regular rental house but it was super cute and special because our membership was pretty small.

I was only a member for one school year. I came out during my Junior year in college and by the time Senior year rolled around I realized that my friends consisted primarily of straight women and gay men. I knew I needed a way to meet lesbians and so I decided to rush the lesbian sorority. I was so into the Greek system at Davis, having a lot of friends who were in sororities and going to events all the time.

16715377943_1a1311be88_zMy friend Dianna at a sorority produced charity event pageant for fraternity brothers to win a Mr. Some Sorority Name title. One of the contestants handed out cookies. I used that technique in my 2009 bid for Miss LEZ.

My roommate Jill was rush chair of Alpha Chi Omega and invited me to the rush event I’d been hearing her plan for weeks just to support her and get a free meal. When my friend Dianna came with me to the event just to check it out they sent their best sisters over to rush us even though I was just there to support Jill. Some of them thought I was there to do an expose for the college newspaper. (True story, I did write a women and gender studies term paper about the Greek system on campus, but it was never published.)

17309657576_b13e543019_zMe and Jill in our apartment! I was still learning how to have the bravery to wear sleeveless shirts

Despite the Alpha Chi Omega sisters’ best rush attempts I was never going to join a panhellenic organization. I definitely felt too fat to join a sorority where matching outfits bought at the Gap (which didn’t produce ANY plus size clothes in those days) were de rigueur and the dues were the equivalent to another quarter’s tuition per year. This was true of all of the panhellenics. I could barely afford college–I paid for my public university experience through student loans I’m still paying back, working three jobs, and my teacher mom’s couple hundred a month to help out. By the end of each quarter when the loans ran out I bought my burritos on credit cards.

But Lambda Delta Lambda’s dues were totally equivalent to an active club and they seemed really nice. And I needed to make lesbian friends if I was ever going to get laid with my newly minted out bisexual lifestyle. (In those days, I identified as bi because I didn’t know queer was a thing and my complex attraction to masculinity remained unexplored.)

My friend Dianna, great straight ally that she is/was, came with me to my first Lambda Delta Lambda rush event. I think it’s really awesome when you do ally work to be willing to blend into a marginalized group. Adopting an attitude of “who cares if people think you’re gay at gay events” is definitely an ally pro-tip.

The lesbian sorority rush event was very different, just a casual hang out at a local pizza place with the sisters and some of their friends and partners. I don’t remember being nervous about whether I would “get in” like the deep selection process of traditional sororities. Being part of a sorority was a great experience even though it was only for one year of college. I’m really glad I made the choice to risk doing it. There were no matching outfits, and I went to the local Greek letter schwag shop and bought myself a sorority letter sweatshirt in an XXL. I wore it for years, until it was threadbare.

17147837458_353da1e27a_zJill and I threw a fake fraternity themed house party that year. Fraternities on our campus LOVED decorating with spray paint and trash bags. Our parties were an amazing amalgamation of my LGBT friends, women and gender studies friends, Jill’s Greek friends and our mutual dorm friends. Here are a bunch of my sorority sisters and my friend from Girl Scout Camp, Cole, visiting from Sacramento.

Okay, so back to authenticity. At this point in my development towards becoming the fully actualized authentic human I am today, I was not a person who knew how to show up and be present. I hated my body, I never thought I was good enough, and was gearing up to attend law school after graduation because “everyone” told me I should go to law school. I had no idea how to know what I really wanted or to give myself permission to throw myself into things with the wild abandon I do today. I definitely did not feel okay risking looking foolish.

I was 21 years old and just about to graduate when Sam suggested an end of the year ice cream wrestling party. I went along with it because it’s what everyone else wanted, I wasn’t sure how I felt about watching girls wrestle in ice cream.

17335641065_e36aefa5e1_zOne of my sisters outside our retreat cabin by the snow woman doing some topless snow angel making. I deeply wanted to go join her but no way was I okay with being topless around anyone when I was that age.

I was informed that as the graduating senior among us I was going to have to wrestle (ugh) and I would get to select who I would wrestle against from my sorority sisters. I remember knowing immediately who it was going to be, I figured if I picked the strongest member it would be over quickly and I could move on.

Even though I was not yet aware of the true magic of the gender spectrum amongst queers (in the culture of UC Davis in the late 90s/early aughts Butch and Femme were frowned upon, most folks were on the andro/hippie spectrum of gender presentation) if you lined up our sorority based on gender appearance, I was certainly the farthest in the feminine spectrum and the girl I wrestled was on the other end. I think it’s a testament to how deeply I wanted to be Femme because I would wear clothing from the men’s section of Old Navy, as there was no plus size women’s section yet, and enough make-up to have it be girly.

17335640255_ce20b5a1c4_zThis is a great/terrible example of the kind of men’s clothing I loved to swim in because I thought it camouflaged my fat. This is my BFF Mary (we had so much fun together) and Dianna on our way home from our women’s honor society trip to Tahoe.

I don’t remember what I wore to wrestle but I’m absolutely sure it wasn’t anything special. I brought extra clothes to change into. I noticed with dread and extra humiliation that the girl I had a mild crush on was there (she worked in the same building as my academic advising job). I was first to wrestle and my sisters sweetly and deviously surprised me, the graduate, by making me “ice cream sundae” wrestle, pouring chocolate syrup, nuts, whipped cream, marshmallow fluff and lord knows what else on me as well as ice cream before I was quickly defeated by my masculine-presenting opponent. I remember standing there becoming a human ice cream sundae and feeling so embarrassed and nervous about what other people thought of me. After wrestling, I immediately ran into the shower for the wrestlers, got cleaned up and tried to enjoy the rest of the night. But I kind of couldn’t. I didn’t die of awkward that night, but I thought I might.

17147845358_e79c1a955e_zThis is me winning an award for being an “outstanding senior” at UC Davis. I hated being on stage at that point in my life. So deeply insecure. Also, back then I dealt with insecurity by being an overachiever!

I think about that time a lot as a lost moment. I could have worn a bathing suit to wrestle, but I think at that time in my life I was still wearing a tee shirt over my bathing suits in pools when I went swimming. I could have really enjoyed the ability to wrestle with the person of my choice and I totally should have chosen the sister with whom I had a ton of sexual tension. Being not authentic and not particularly brave, I didn’t know how to make that choice or even acknowledge our sexual tension. I also could have hammed it up being in the spotlight, since it was a really beautiful moment of appreciation and love by my sorority sisters. AND, with the incredibly resilient digestion of my 21 year old self, I totally could have snacked on some ice cream sundae but sadly I was too afraid of being seen eating ice cream in the equivalent of on stage.

What would it have been like if I had been my authentic self at that moment? I would have been present, I would have enjoyed the moment and I would have had a lot more fun. My insecurities and my self-hatred kept me from the best of that moment.

I have no regrets in my life, I believe we all have a path, we’re all meant to learn what we can from what happens in our lives. But I know how not being fully authentic to who I was robbed me of enjoying what could have been a really incredible night for me.

16570741810_8633364659_zIf I could have that moment again, I know exactly what I would wear. This bikini, which was pretty cheap and could probably stand up to potential staining from maraschino cherries. I would also totally ham it up because I have learned how much I LOVE to be on stage and perform and people love performative wrestling.

So Kanye West is right. You can have the best of everything and never be able to enjoy it if you’re not fully yourself. Authenticity isn’t just about gender presentation, sexuality, or body liberation–it’s about taking the time to get to know yourself and taking the risks to let other people get to know the true you.

Not all of us are Bruce Jenner and do that with a 20/20 interview. But when you see that tender smile of Bruce’s in that interview, you can see the smile of someone who is SO excited to breathe freely, without being on guard. It’s worth it to step out and experience the tentativeness, the risks, the scary feelings of learning how to chip off your shell and expose your tender, true self to the world. Start with your closest, most trusted friends and body positive allies. Then move on to safer public spaces, then go bigger and bigger. It is worth it to be your whole, true self.

2014-07-07

July Self Development Astrology Worksheet with Empowering Astrology

Filed under: Self Development,Spirituality — Tags: , , , — Bevin @ 11:20 am

july_woo

In this month’s astrology self development worksheet in partnership with Katie from Empowering Astrology, we’re tackling play as stress relief, checking in on lessons and themes from the last couple of major astrological events in October of last year and April of this year, taking stock of how far we’ve come in big projects and practicing living life with authenticity.

Download the worksheet here!

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