Thanksgiving - It's not just about pilgrims anymore....
Thanksgiving. As a kid, the true meaning of this holiday wasn't often in the forefront of my mind. I was focused on the pilgrims, and the indians (this was pre-Native American) and the buckles on the shoes and the feathered head dresses and the sparkly costumes of the majorettes in the marching bands - I am gay after all. I would sit and watch the parade and think that one day, I could be in a tight, sparkly outfit dancing down the street, or at least someone holding the string of a balloon close enough to watch the dancers in the sparkly outfits.
I always dreamed of being famous. I also fantasized about being able to do magic, and have lights shoot out of my fingers to cause my merest whim to become reality. If all the concentration and practice I put into developing my wizard skills had worked, and I had been able to get magic gamma rays to shoot out of me, the first thing I would have done after I had smote my enemies, was to become a public icon.
I wanted people to admire me. To look up to me. To appreciate my ideas and my skills. I wanted them to see me how I saw me - as special. I realize now that this was a little selfish. I didn't really desire to do something meaningful in the world - I just wanted people to want to be my friend and to have the power within myself to say "no thank you", if I wanted to.
I was lucky enough to have that with my family and when we were together, I got to shine and be me. But, I wanted to have that freedom everywhere else - in those places where all people saw me as "different" or "stupid" and called me "sissy" and "fag", not "talented" and "unique". My cousins and I would sit on the floor around the coffee table at my grandmother's and eat Thanksgiving dinner, then we'd all go out and, along with my aunts and uncles, rake the leaves from the gargantuan oak tree in her front yard. We'd drag the them on a tarp out into the garden and form a pile about 10 feet high. Afterwards, we'd make a giant mess, jumping into and hiding under the leaves. We'd play characters and make up games and there, I could be magical.
I tried to make that feeling last. I took advantage of those talents I possessed, creativity, athleticism, intelligence and humor and made them work to my advantage. I did well in school, I excelled with my artwork, I wrote insightful papers, I acted in plays, I joined sports teams, I tried to master several musical instruments - I did anything and everything I could to hone the skills I would need to make myself famous. And, I was determined to move to New York and make it happen. I visited the city several times in my teens, but even before, as a small child, visions of New York - chinese restaurants, brick-walled apartments and the unique grey cast and soundtrack of this incredible city - visited me when I was sleeping. I was destined to live in this great city and I am finally here. After years of living on the outskirts in Westchester and Long Island, I am now within the official city limits in Brooklyn. It took me longer than I intended, but now that I've taken this important step, I know that the rest of my visions and hopes will begin to take shape soon.
But now, I'm not so focused on fame. Sure, it would be really cool to be recognized wherever you go, but I live with a photographer, so I've already got a paparazzi. What I really want is to make a difference. To be admired, not just for being well known, but for how I make others feel through my work. I've begun to realize that I don't need to be the best, or perfect, or competitive to accomplish this. I just need to create and let what is inside of me out and hope that it impacts those around me. This act is what makes me "special" - not someone telling me that I am.
It has been a long, winding and often difficult road to this place, but there has always been love and laughter along the way and I've been lucky enough to experience joy that was bright enough to overcome the darkness. I was a painfully shy child, a silly, kind and sensitive little boy. I was an awkward teenager who had no limit if it meant making someone laugh. I wanted to be "normal", but was unable to dance to anyone else's drum. I survived the kind of mental stress that might send others to the hospital. I got up every morning and continued life, even though it sometimes seemed like too much work. I trapped myself into the role of responsibility, even when I just wanted adventure, but I took that role seriously and tried to be a good person and one to rely on. I did my best to give unconditional love to others, even though I couldn't give it to myself. I faced demons and acknowledged them. I fought my biggest fears and won. This is my life and I try to be thankful for all of it. Right now, I'm especially grateful that, for the first time in a very long time, I am hopeful for the future.
I've learned that when you're not your genuine self, you will always be lonely, no matter how many people love you and want to be with you. There will always be things that you'd like to express, to ask for help with, to share that you'll hold back and, in the end, when you leave this Earth, no one will have truly known you. That used to be me. Not anymore. Take a look at me and judge. Think what you want, but this is me - no longer hidden by a facade.
So what's the point of all this? "Why are you bringing down my Thanksgiving with all this introspection?" you ask. "I just want to gorge myself and watch people dance on the street in sparkly costumes", you plead. The point is that I am thankful. For you reading this. For you having gotten this far. It makes me feel like I have something valuable to share. So, thank you.
And to everyone who has reached out to grab my hand during this journey to help me pick myself up, or to give me stability when my legs were wobbly. Thank you. To everyone who gave me more than one chance to prove myself when I allowed the darkness to make me act like someone I'm not - thank you. To everyone who saw who I really was and didn't pre-judge me by my words, ideas, experiences, appearance, how I moved my body or what I wore - thank you too. That includes my family and cousins, who have always been there and made me laugh. It includes the friends that appreciated me and the hurt people that passed on their hurt to me - I have learned from both. It includes my ex-wife, who taught me patience and gave me love no matter what struggle I was going through - ironically, without her kind spirit, I am not sure I would have been able to accept myself as gay. And lastly, I am thankful for JD, my partner in life, because this positive place that I am in is very much due to him. He gave me a chance, even though my life was insane. He helped me raise the flag of truth and salute it. And, every day, he helps me realize that dreams don't stay dreams for long - they're guaranteed to become reality if you just work at them.
This Thanksgiving, I truly recognize what the holiday is about. I will spend it with friends who, although I only met them recently, are my family. I will eat and drink in amounts that will likely require surgery to fix. I am grateful in a way that cannot be measured and soon, my stomach will be too.
May we all realize we are blessed and that every one of us is magical. And may we all encourage and support the magic in others. Happy Thanksgiving!