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

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.

2012-04-11

Lesbian Jack Kerouac Gay American Road Trip Part 6: Salt Lake City to Bay Area, CA

Dubbed the Lesbian Jack Kerouac by my BFF Brian for my propensity for long distance romance, “A girl in every port and on the road with a broken heart,” he describes me, I set out on a life-changing adventure in November of 2011. This is my tale of deep heart exfoliation via asphalt. Check out all the tales in this series at the Gay American Road Trip 2011 tag.


To Castro Valley, CA from Salt Lake City, UT via Interstate 80–through Utah, Nevada and Northern California.

I left Salt Lake City at 9AM on Thanksgiving. I didn’t realize until the night before that my Thanksgiving day journey was going to be a twelve hour drive. There’s a big difference between ten and twelve hours in the car.

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Stunning view from the parking lot of the Salt Lake City La Quinta.

When initially planning my trip I was planning to stop just Northwest of Sacramento for the holiday as one of my BFFs lives up there and we love spending Thanksgiving together.*

In a twist of fate Spunky was going to be in the Bay Area but my mom was hosting Thanksgiving at her house. And my beloved grandmother was going to be there, up from Palm Springs! My mom rarely hosts big holidays—she was a single mom and I’m an only child—and while she’s married now it’s not like there’s a big kerfuffle of family around. She often spends holidays with her best friend Linda or with my Aunt and cousins in Southern California. Linda’s husband, Peter, who has been in my life since I was 14, almost twenty years, passed away in a sudden boat accident at the end of August. After their loss, Mom offered to host Linda’s family (daughters, husbands, grandkids) at her house.

I was really sad that I couldn’t afford to fly out for the memorial service earlier in November. So the twist of fate that helped me be able to go to my mom’s for Thanksgiving was a wonderful opportunity to hug family friends in this tender time.

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In planning the details of the trip I never updated my estimated travel time from Salt Lake City to Spunky’s house to SLC to my mom’s house (another two hours). OOPS. So twelve hours in the car it was, and leaving at 9AM was way later than I wanted to start but I was so wiped the night before I needed to just let myself decompress and sleep. Lest we forget that my goal of driving solo across the country in five days was ambitious.

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I only lamented the lack of a human passenger on this trip a few times, and SLC was one of them. I drove past the Great Salt Lake and with a mind on hustling through my twelve hour drive without dawdling, I wished someone had been shotgun to read to me from my AAA guide books.

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My view of the lake.

As an aside, I am a huge fan of Sister Wives and have always wanted to do more than sleep in SLC, so it is a goal of mine to go back for a couple of days and poke around a little more. All the snowy mountains in the distance were beautiful!

After the Great Salt Lake I hit the Salt Flats. I had no idea what I was driving through until Macy and I stopped at a rest area and read a sign that told us about it. We took a little walk to the edge of the Salt Flats and poked my little boot into it.

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The next part of our journey brought us across the Utah/Nevada border. I stopped for gas, knowing from previous experience driving across the country that Nevada is extremely desolate with not a ton of consistent cell phone service or frequent gas stations. This oasis was exciting, there were casinos on one side of the block and the other side of the block were Utah pawn shops.

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It occurred to me in a moment of panic that the fact that it was Thanksgiving might mean I had no access to food on the road. What if all the fast food places in Nevada were closed for the holiday? I bought a lunchable at a gas station and threw it in my road cooler.

The high desert in Nevada is gorgeous. I saw a lot of mountains in the distance. Tried to get photos of them. Lamented that I hadn’t downloaded the audio book of Kerouac’s On the Road before I left. Started Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer instead. Started taking photos of Macy on the roof of my car because the scenery around her was so stunning. I felt like I could see forever, which is something I miss a lot living in the city.

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The day wore on, stopping occasionally in desolate towns for gas or a stretch. I ended up finding a McDonalds and immediately regretted eating it. I listened to Liz Phair’s “Go West” a lot, a song I heard with new ears on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway when I was in the midst of the grief/emotional crash times of last September and fantasized about hitting the road and disappearing for a few weeks. (The little nuggets of inspiration to go on this trip were all very tiny but persistent.)

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Nevada is a huge state and I was near the border of California as the sun started to slip slowly toward the horizon. I followed some signs on the outskirts of Reno for a Starbucks and was super delighted to find one open in a strip mall. Inside was a flamboyant boy who was excited to learn I was from Brooklyn. When I see that glimmer in folks’ eyes when I’m far away from home I encourage them. “It’s a lot cheaper than you think to live in Brooklyn. I pay $875** a month for half of a 2 bedroom. The Starbucks are always hiring. I throw a queer dance party called Rebel Cupcake. If you feel like you want to come to New York you totally should. Look me up.”

Anyway, seeing this young queer was the highlight of my trip that day. I just love seeing queer folks on the road.

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I started down the Sierra Nevada after I got through Reno and this was my second great OOPS of the day, timing-wise. Had I realized how treacherous that drive was going to be I would have gotten a motel room and called it a night. In fact I almost stopped a couple of times to do just that but couldn’t find an easy spot to do that while traveling down this huge mountain range.

Recall this was the end of November. The Sierras are mountains about three hours from where I grew up that I got to go camping and hiking in with my girl scout troops and sometimes we would be adventurous and go cold camping. Sometimes in college my sorority or women’s honor society would take a weekend trip and we would go rent a cabin in Tahoe or Reno and experience the joys of Nevada gambling and snowpack. None of these occasions required me to drive or put chains on a car.

I have lived on the East Coast for 11 Winters now (does this past year count as a Winter?). We don’t really have chain requirements here. Sometimes you get special snow tires for the winter but not me. I just review tips for snow driving before the season starts. (Another benefit to AAA membership—this road trip/car magazine that is really practical and interesting.) I have driven through a lot of scary snow storms on all of the local highways between Philadelphia and New York City. I don’t prefer to drive in the snow but that’s my life now.

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Macy, DJ and snack distributor.

However, I’ve never driven through steep, dark and twisty mountains like the Sierra Nevada while a rain/ice storm starts. Chains were not required but had the temperature been just a bit colder they would have. Of course, it was dusk so the risk of deer was real and a doe darted out in front of a car a bit in front of me. I was white knuckled and terrified.

This did not stop me from enjoying the last bits of daylight. Man, the mountains were beautiful. I stopped at a lookout area to pee in the woods (not even a single restroom along the highway during this stretch) and really appreciated the grace and glory of the trees, the waning light, the crisp air. It was the wilderness of my youth and I loved it.

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Earlier in the day.

I went about 30-40 MPH the whole time, sometimes slower. This is on Route 80, where cars were just speeding right by me, all self-assured about their driving in the slippery downslope of the Sierras. You do you, cars. I’ll do me.

I pulled off to go to the bathroom again (the whole stretch of mountains was probably close to two hours of drive time) but couldn’t find somewhere, so I just took a break and walked Macy in a closed for Thanksgiving grocery store parking lot. It helped me regroup, and it helped to smell the pine trees.

We hit the road again and I was so thankful to find we were finally in the foothills (near where Spunky lives) and Sacramento was imminent.

There is something about the smell in the air in Sacramento that just smells like home to me. I lived in Davis, CA, just 20 minutes from Sac, for four years during undergrad and I had so much fun (and depression, but that’s a larger story). College was a meaningful time for me and it was exciting to be there.

I always love driving through Davis, even if it’s just to get a quick cup of coffee or something. I stopped for gas on Mace Road. I wished it was still light and I wasn’t running late for Thanksgiving dinner (Mom was making me a plate) so I could have gotten a photo of Macy on a statue of a cow or on the UC Davis sign or in front of Thoreau or Regan Hall or something. One of these days I’ll bring Macy out for Picnic Day (the largest student-run event in the country—I was Vice Chair my senior year) or something.

I got back on the road and it was a quick 90 minutes to my mom’s house. I thought about going the back way zigging and zagging through tiny North/East Bay highways but the extra 10 minutes it was going to take me to go on 80 all the way to the end was sort of too awesome to give up. I drove past my birthplace in the North Bay and along Berkeley and across the Bay from San Francisco.

And then I was at my mom’s place in Castro Valley. It was 9:30PM (even with the hour change of time from SLC it took me 13 and 1/2 hours to finish my drive). Some folks were leaving and I got to say goodbye to them on their way out.

And on the inside of the house was my mom, her wife, Linda (who is like an aunt to me), Grandmother and more of Linda’s family. It was wonderful. And I dove right into that green bean casserole like nobody’s business.

Next up! My first day of rest and a quick trip into San Francisco!

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*I learned early on that the best way to plan this epic road trip was to let the plans shake out as they were going to and not force anything. In fact, other than the first three people I was stopping to see, I didn’t make any firm plans regarding arrival dates and gave everyone I was visiting a two or three night range, to be confirmed later. This flexibility proved to be crucial when accounting for road conditions, my whim and where the Goddess was taking me.

**My rent is also a little cheaper now, BTW, and I know folks who pay $500 who live in tinier places or in Queens.

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