I wrote this on Tuesday.
Last weekend was kind of a big deal for me, for a couple of really important reasons.
Honestly, I’m still recovering, even though I think things went about as well as I could have possibly hoped. Brene Brown talks about the concept of a vulnerability hangover. I experienced my first real vulnerability hangover on June 8th of this year as I talked to Important People in New York and LA who, the day before, had no idea I existed, and as I watched a picture of my family and the news that I am gay splash itself on news outlets all over the world when all I’d done was publish a post on this blog.
There was a moment the day after
it all exploded (June 9th) when…
Lolly and I lay down on the grass in front of our hotel (we were celebrating our 10-year in Vegas, if you’ll recall) and looked up at the night sky as traffic buzzed past, and said “What the crap just happened to us???”
It was as if lying in the grass, closer to earth and earthy things, helped us feel more grounded in a world that suddenly felt very topsy-turvy. We lay there for a long time holding hands while foot traffic passed us, looking at us curiously, and we just allowed things to sink in taking big, long, deep breaths.
Today, after a full day of clients yesterday, I spent the entire day recovering from yet another, smaller vulnerability hangover of last weekend. Instead of lying in the grass in front of a hotel, this time I spent the entire day doing absolutely nothing but taking naps, talking to Lolly, spending a bit of time with my girls, and then taking more naps.
I feel better now.
So, let’s talk about how this all went down. Now that it’s all passed, I feel more at liberty to share what happened behind the scenes over the last few weeks. Honestly, it felt kinda like a movie.
A couple of months ago I got a call from Anne, the organizer of an organization called Circling the Wagons. I had heard of this organization–a group whose mission is to promote dialogue among the differing factions of the gay Mormon community in a respectful, peaceful fashion–but didn’t know a ton about it. She left a message on my phone asking if I’d be willing to participate in an event in early November.
By this point, my schedule was getting really packed and we were already booked to fly to LA and Utah within the following month-and-a-half, and, frankly, we were getting low on funds and time. We didn’t want to leave the girls again, and all this travel had been very wearing in a lot of ways. So, after a few days, and after looking at the website of the organization and seeing that it was a really good cause, I called her back and said something like “I would really love to be a part of things because I really believe in what you are doing, but I just can’t afford to lose any more time or money. I will think and pray about it, but I’ll be honest, it’s not looking good.”
We left it at that.
A few weeks later, I got another call from Anne. She said she was getting desperate. They had been trying to find people that represented various viewpoints for the conference, and they hadn’t been able to secure enough representation from voices like mine. She asked me to give one of the keynote addresses, and said they pay to fly me down.
As the day wore on, I got a spiritual feeling that was so profound and specific that it literally brought tears to my eyes. I was supposed to do this. Then my sister randomly said “I think you should keynote for this” and linked to Circling the Wagons on Facebook. It was so uncharacteristic of her that I called her and asked if they’d contacted her and she was like “no, totally random.” It was weird. And also kind of a like further assurance that I should do it.
Anyway, when I spoke to Lolly that night she said “go for it.” And that sealed the deal.
So, I said yes.
And then there was drama. A lot of it. There were people who took to the comment sections of various Facebook groups in outcry that I would be invited to participate. Blog posts were written and shared on prominent blogs in the Bloggernacle. Discussions rampaged amongst different interested groups. The Salt Lake Tribune wrote a story about a “schism.” There were people demanding I not be a part of things because they misunderstood and mis-represented my personal message and motives. Some of them threatened boycott. It got kind of ugly, and I even got hate calls.
It was so ironic: this convention, Circling the Wagons, was all about people of all beliefs coming together in unity to just talk. In peace. With acceptance for all. And yet, because I was participating, I faced some of the most hostile and virulent opposition I’ve seen since coming out–people were demanding I be silenced.
Thankfully, Anne and the other organizers truly believed in their mission. They helped shield me from much of the vitriol, and each of them took a lot of heat individually for sticking to their decision to be inclusive. They could see the outcome if we just held strong. They could see how this would end. If we just stuck to our guns and made the conference what it needed to be, it would end well. We all believed this was true, but there were moments for all of us, I’m sure, where we wondered if we would be eaten alive.
I personally felt the weight of all of this quite acutely as much of the negative attention was specifically around my keynote address. It kind of felt like a movie–all the opposition, all the hate and resistance, all centered around one 20 minute talk. A 20 minute talk I would stand up and give with my own mouth. A 20 minute talk I would give to an audience who was skeptical of me–some of whom didn’t even want me attending let alone participating in this event. I had one chance to make this work. I wanted to do it right.
I was terrified.
My mind was completely stunted. I tried to write this talk, to make it what it needed to be, but it wouldn’t come. The pressure mounted as the organizers, with good reason, asked to see what I had. At this exact same time I: moved offices, was on national television, had to see all of my clients, had the transmission of my car fail, and helped my family recover from a lice infestation and Anna’s RSV. My life was hectic. Not to mention the fact that my modus operandi is to wait until the very last moment–the moment when the adrenaline finally kicks in and I can at long last concentrate–to write something like this talk. I wrote them and let them know that I was trying my hardest but that my ADD was in at full force and I was just so incredibly busy that it wasn’t coming.
I devised a plan. On Friday, the day before the conference, I’d see clients all day, and then I would get on the plane and write my talk while in the solitude of the skies.
I let them know this was what I was thinking. They let me know that if I couldn’t produce the talk by the end of the night, I would not be able to participate. And that would have been embarrassing to us all given the brouhaha, let me tell you.
I prayed. Hard. Lolly had some insights the night before which she wrote down. And then, on the plane, I took a tiny nap while electronics weren’t allowed to be opened, woke up when we were safely in the air, popped a Ritalin, opened my laptop and… it all came together. Magically.
I had a draft by the time I landed. I sent it off to be approved. It was.
The next day, the day of the conference, was extremely stressful. I felt as though I was going into the lion’s den. Don’t get me wrong, I know that people weren’t intentionally hating me–and some of their reasons for fear were legitimate. But still, it felt a little like I was throwing myself to the wolves.
My sister Jenni drove me to the chapel. When I got there, Anne met me and said “why don’t you stay in the car while we wait to begin…” She explained that there were many people very concerned about my talk, and she was having to put out small fires and keep people calm.
While in the car, a photographer from the Salt Lake Tribune came over and took some shots of me practicing my talk with Jenni.
Kind of hope I’m allowed to use these, since they’re of me and all…
That was surreal, and didn’t do much to calm the ol’ nerves. But the photographer was really cool.
At about five minutes to, I decided to head in. As I walked in, a reporter from the Tribune stopped to interview me. I was totally incoherent and nervous and halting. It’s possible he thought I was a little bit insane, which is what happens when you’re walking into a building to give a speech to people who don’t want you there. Then one of the organizers grabbed me and brought me inside.
I sat down. I grabbed water for my extremely dry throat and sipped it while the meeting got started. Prayer. Hymn. Introductions. First talk by another keynote (Joseph Broom), which was really good and set the tone for a really excellent meeting. I sipped more water, got introduced, soldiered up, and walked to the podium hoping that no rotten fruit would be thrown at my head.
I think this might be my favorite photo of me ever. Isn’t that stained glass incredible? Thanks Scott Sommerdorf.
I was nervous, but my nerves calmed as I launched in. My speech had come together in the perfect way, and I felt as though everything was coming together in the right way as I stood there addressing the audience in that Methodist chapel. I was able to deliver the speech (which I’ll post here tomorrow) with the feeling with which I wrote it. I even teared up. Because
I’m gay I really felt the message I was sharing deeply.
And then, it was over. The feeling, for me at least, was electric. The applause felt genuine. Not overwhelming, but… I felt as though people were grateful that the moment passed in a beautiful way, and all could now take a deep sigh of relief.
My sister, afterwards, was out in the foyer with her kids and ran into the photographer again. “He did a really good job, didn’t he?” he said. “He definitely won my vote.” We both thought that was really funny.
And then, the first session was over and I was barraged by people coming up to talk to me. I had to be pulled away to talk to a producer from LA putting together a reality show of some sort, which is what this picture is of:
While this looks contentious, these guys were actually really nice and hoping I’d join in on their project. That’s what makes a good photographer: capturing a shot that embodies the feel of an event, even in an unlikely moment. It was a perfect shot for the story (this is the one that actually ran alongside the story).
And then I was whisked to the sidelines to be interviewed by SLC’s NPR station, and I sounded really dumb because I was trying to talk really softly because everyone on the following panel, the marriage panel, was sitting there waiting for me, and I was all longwinded and whispery and I’m not sure they were able to use any of it, but it was still kinda cool to speak into that microphone.
And then I participated in a marriage panel which was also really amazing.
I have to say that the whole event, the whole day, was one of the most amazing conversations I’ve ever participated in surrounding this topic. So much love. So much respect. So much vulnerability as people shared their deepest pains and their most treasured truths. So much generosity for other peoples’ viewpoints, and seriously not one moment of contention. I was moved to tears several times.
From my standpoint, it was a landmark occasion. The conversation was broadened significantly. Anne’s vision, and the vision of all the organizers, was realized. All the preceding hubbub was helpful–it served to focus our messages and ensure that the conference was a safe place for all who attended. I got the sense at the close of the day that most people present had had a remarkable experience, and one that wouldn’t soon be forgotten. I know that’s the case for me.
Here is the news article covering the event that was published in the Salt Lake Tribune.