I wish I never had to read another email.

This is something I’ve said thousands of times, aloud and in my head (mostly in my head). I’ve said it in anger after opening another death threat. I’ve said it in frustration when an email sent me down a rabbit hole that took me away from a project I had planned for the day. It’s been an underlying sentiment for years, but it wasn’t until recently that it turned into a concrete plan:

I am going to stop reading emails.

But how?Keep Reading

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2016 was, well, quite the year.

All in all, I side with what appears to be the consensus that it was, if given only one descriptor, a dumpster fire. That said, it was also more than a dumpster fire, and I want to take a moment to reflect on some of the things I made this year — something I basically never do.

So, with that said, following is what I finished, published, and/or created in 2016.

I launched a few new big projects.

hues, the global justice collective that I co-founded and now houses me as an employee, was born. That’s no small cookie. Granted, it came out of the oven a little underdone, but that just makes for a gooey center, right?! </end cookie analogy> Hues was launched, but I also learned early that hues would never be “launched,” a perspective I carried into my other projects this year.

FacilitatingXYZ, a free online resource with videos, articles, and downloads for facilitators (and a collaboration with Meg Bolger, Kaleigh Conelison and lots of others), officially launched this year, after an abandoned Kickstarter and “back to the drawing board” period last year. Read more about that in this blog post I wrote about it.

I jumped back into the webcomic game with Kinda Political Comics, where I doodled and wrote things during the horrendous campaign cycle. I’m planning on punching this up a notch in 2017, and publishing weekly updates.

I created two new sex education models, both collaborations with the wonderful Dr. Karen Rayne. One is the Sexualitree, a comprehensive model for understanding and teaching sexuality. I’ve heard that folks are using this in a lot of [wonderfully] unexpected ways, including a therapist who has adopted it for doing a personal history with their new clients. And the other is Columns & Shadows: A Healthy Relationship Model, that sex educators are using in classroom settings and sending me great texts/emails about. I think, generally, people underestimate how much work goes into things like these, both of which were in design/ideation phases, then testing phases, for many, many months. The sexualitree, for example, was a work in progress for two years, as exhibited by this early draft I posted on Instagram:

I published one book, and wrote/re-wrote two others.

Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation: 11 Key Concepts You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know, which I co-authored with Meg Bolger (Yes, same Meg as above), came out in January. It’s had a great year, with consistent sales and getting a lot of use at our Safe Zone Train-the-Trainers.

I re-wrote A Guide to Genderprepping it for 2nd Edition release in 2017. Yay for 4-year-later updates on a concept that evolves every-freaking-day!

And I wrote an entire new book this fall (working title is “Creastinate“), which I’m keeping mostly a secret, but am planning to publish in 2017 (along with a new magazine that I’m hoping to launch, and have mostly-ready-for-prying-eyes).

And I made so many websites.

I’ll start with my favorite, I <3 Singular They, an animated love letter to a pronoun. This site reached 250,000 people in its first month, and, while the espoused goal was never accomplished (reforming style guides by the end of 2016), I’d say the emails I’ve gotten thanking me (often from younglings who have used the site to advocate for themselves to their parents and teachers) mark a small victory.

The Sexualitree got its own website, that is the first of many of that genre: specific websites for free online resources. 2017 will see a Genderbread F.O.R.

A brand new collaborative project required a monster of a website: FacilitatingXYZ. That project was a massive undertaking that resulted in a happy outcome, with a mobile-friendly site that highlights lots of different types of content (articles, videos, downloads) from lots of different creators.

Two new websites for two new books: Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation (which came out in January) got an enchanting ground-up build, and I overhauled the A Guide to Gender website for the 2nd Edition (which will come out early spring 2017).

I made a speaking website for myself (or, really, for my manager, who kept asking me to build a speaking website), Samtalkto.us, last week, to replace what was essentially a domain-holder site that I had whipped together and never used.

I created the hues website to house all the wonderful works (and works-in-progress) that comprise our flagship organization, and it’s PACKED FULL OF COLOR.

And just today (hey, it counts!) I launched Open.hues, a half-website, half-blog, half-social-network Frankenproject that will serve as my new platform for communication, both with other hues staff, and with the world-at-large (instead of email). This was really fun to make because I’ve always wanted to create a social network, and I’m going to have so a blast building out the functionality on this site over the next couple years, assuming the world doesn’t end.

Happy 2017.

Political discourse is at a place where it’s hard — if not impossible — to see it as productive. Most times, it doesn’t even seem like folks who are arguing have a vision for anything being accomplished by that argument, other than hearing words yelled.

Facts have been weaponized and are lobbed as projectiles, not used as tools to build a bridge from one perspective to another. Opinions are worn like armor, used to protect ourselves from the bombardment of facts. We scream for our ideas to drown out the screams of others for theirs.

If sports are modeled after war, as many people say, our political discourse has taken a form modeled after the way we talk about sports.

Politics as Sports

Let me first draw the parallels, and highlight how this mentality can be harmful, before I suggest an alternative way of approaching things. In sports, and in politics-as-sports…

We’re loyal to a team.

Sometimes that loyalty comes from our family, sometimes we pick our team to piss off our family. Sometimes we study the statistics and pick a team based on who we like the most, and other times we choose based on our favorite color.

But what’s important is we have a team — a team. Just one. And that you cheer for that team loud and clear, win or lose, year after year.

We chide people for changing team loyalties.

We despise “fair-weather” fans. That is, we despise people who like a team because it’s good. In fact, we go so far in that direction that we celebrate attachment to a losing team to the point where it’s sadomasochistic:

Oh, you’re a Cubs fan… now? I was born a Cubs fan. I was a Cubs fan when they lost — year after year. I come from a family of Cubs fans. Three generations of watching them lose. Three generations of depressing seasons, losing records, heartbreaking but-this-is-the-one-shit-no-it’s-not seasons. I drank myself out of a job because of the Cubs. Do you still have your job? You’re no Cubs fan.

Even more, we hold people to things they’ve supported in the past forever (“Yeah, but you used to be a fan of _____.”), make no room for them to grow or change, and attack them when they do — even when they change because they didn’t want to keep being loyal to something terrible.

We use “we” language even though we’re not playing.

We’re not actually on the team, but we think of ourselves as part of it. When our team loses, we lost. When the team wins, we won. The team’s mood is our mood, the team’s beliefs are our beliefs, and the team’s sponsors are our sponsors.

It’s possessive and maybe should be creepy (the way we take ownership of other people, of their actions, and attach ourselves to strangers), but it’s not. It’s fantastical and maybe should feel childish (the way we imagine ourselves as the players, and allow our moods to be dictated by their decisions), but it doesn’t.

Sometimes, when our team loses we’ll take it out on other people, or an entire town. We’ll riot, burn things down, flip cars, scream at strangers. Actually, we do that when we win, too.

And we have rivals, and we hate them because we hate them.

The team we’re loyal to has a team that they hate. They might hate them because of some past contest, some lore from decades ago, or something else (they’re the only other team in our area). It doesn’t really matter why we hate them; it matters how much.

And we hate them a lot.

We hate the rival team so much we curse the very idea of them: don’t you dare mention that name in this house. We hate them so much we hate their supporters. We’ll scream at them, just for wearing the other team’s colors. We’ll disown someone in our life for becoming one of them. Hell, we’ll even fight them in a bar, or on the street, or in a stadium — physically punish a stranger for liking something different from us. And people will cheer.

Politics as Something Different from Sports

The parallels between how we treat politics and how we treat sports could be further elucidated. In fact, they’ve grown so similar it’s unsettling, especially to someone (like me) who doesn’t care much for sports (read: at all) but cares deeply about politics.

It’s unsettling because, to the outsider, deep-set, irrational loyalties in sports (to the point of bloodshed) may seem foolish, but it’s a self-contained foolishness. It doesn’t much leave the arena. Let those people work themselves up (and beat themselves up).

But deep-set, irrational loyalties in politics affect all of us, even those who don’t have a team. There is no leaving the arena when the arena is the world, and angry, mindless, passionate political superfans have the capacity to burn the world down, just to see their rivals in pain.

So what’s the fix?

We need to cultivate a political discourse that is everything the above isn’t. To get out of this quagmire, we need a political playing field where:

  • The team doesn’t matter as much as what that team is doing, what they are standing for or against, and the platform they’re standing on.
  • We support people growing, learning, and evolving, as society grows, learns, and evolves. Where we don’t chide people because they have a new perspective, but celebrate that they’ve expanded their viewpoint in light of evidence.
  • We distance ourselves from the politicians we support, such that we can hold them accountable to their failures without burdening ourselves with that failure, and recognize when they’ve done wrong without having to view ourselves as wrong. We need to see them as our employees, our “civil servants.” We need to start to see them, not us.
  • And we don’t see people who support different politicians from ours as inherently, irrevocably, and irredeemably bad. More importantly, we recognize that the most important alliance is amongst the electorate as a whole, allied against a political class that works against their interests.

And how do we enact it?

We can think small, on the interpersonal level, while thinking more systemically. Both can be done at once.

We might start to recognize the harmful similarities between politics and sports, and call the out when we notice them. Point out, or ask questions, when we think someone is rallying for their team, instead of supporting an idea they think will make the world better.

And we might consider the role of the free press, as well as elections and referenda, to hold this same line on the system level. Push journalists to throw away the sports fan mindset, and to stop asking questions, producing headlines, and publications that foster it. As well as voting based on platforms, ideas, and outcomes; instead of matching the colors of our face paint to the party logo.

But first we need to start with ourselves. Even as I write this, I’m recalling dozens of examples where I’ve been more sports fan than informed citizen, more hooligan than suffragist.

This, for me, starts by putting away the pennant and retiring my jersey. Before we try to change the harmful ways someone else might be approaching political discourse, it’s helpful for us to investigate our own.

I’m on day 9 of 100 in my quest to making meditation an integral part of my daily routine. At just shy of 10%, I have already learned a lot that will inform the next 90. I’m going to walk through what I’m planning to draw upon, from most concrete to most abstract.

1. Tools matter.

meditation-progress-sam-killermannThere’s this famous Audre Lorde quote that gets tossed around a lot in the social justice activism spaces I occupy: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Folks generally take it to mean that you can’t undo a harmful system using components that support that harmful system, or by working within that system.

There are lots and lots of debates about that quote, and you can read them (or we could get into them another time), but for now it’s the second part of the quote that I am appealing to (the part that is often omitted): “They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

It’s this idea, that the master’s tools may temporarily allow us to be him at his own game, that I’ve found to be particularly salient this past week. Indeed, I’ve managed to turn just about every thing in my life that led me to mindlessness into a tool to help me practice mindfulness.Keep Reading

Updated September 12, 2016: we officially launched this project, after about 11 months in development, production, and ideation. Woohoo!

FacilitatingXYZ is everything I wish I had when I got started as a facilitator — and together, we can build it into something that helps us continue to learn, develop, and grow. It’s a free online resource with videos, articles, downloads and (soon!) community to help all facilitators improve their craft.

FacilitatingXYZ-Logo-Animation

There are so many parts to this project that it’s hard to nail down what I’m excited about most.

First, there are the videos. The goal of the videos is to have short, clear, actionable explainers of different facilitation techniques. Folks might use them as part of a facilitator training, or just watch them on their own for pointers and perspective. We also have a long-form interview series with facilitators we admire called FacilitatingXYZ LIVE.

We’ll be doing at least one video to explain our favorite lessons from Unlocking the Magic: facilitation as a nuanced skill, facilitation vs. teaching vs. lecturing, being neutral, reading a group, the power of both/and vs. but, how to use the “yes, and…” rule, asking good questions, vulnerability, triggers, learning from emotions, and role modeling continuous learning. Beyond that, the subjects of the videos will come from our peers, or from requests from the community.

facxyz-social-card

The articles will highlight lessons learned, food for thought, and tips from facilitators of all disciplines. We’re welcoming contributions from anyone who would like to, and I’m excited to see how robust this section can become.

We are also recommending books (not just the ones we’re writing) that we think other facilitators may be able to benefit from. For example, Meg wrote up a book recommendation of Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks that’s already featured on the site.

There’s a section of downloads, with things like lesson plans and discussion questions for folks who are training facilitators in any capacity, and every chapter from our books (published and forthcoming) is, or will be, free as a sharing-friendly download.

An early design concept I made in Photoshop from October 2015

An early design concept from October 2015 that I made in Photoshop

 

And finally, the yet-to-be-built community. We’re hoping that FacilitatingXYZ can serve as more than just a resource hub, and become a vibrant community. Right now, there isn’t a place where facilitators of all stripes can share learning with one another, provide support, co-create resources, and be reassured that we’re never alone. FacilitatingXYZ will be an opportunity for all that and more. Right now, the first vestige of this community is in our Patreon page, where folks can subscribe to exclusive updates from us. But that’s just step one of many.

facilitatingxyz-manifestoIn the spirit of facilitation, we’re going to leave as much of the direction of the community up to the group. Tell us where you want us to go, and we will do everything we can to get us there.

And, as with everything else I make, this project is 100% uncopyrighted, contributed to the creative commons, and everything we create will be yours to use, modify, improve, or repurpose.

Hope you like it! Let me know what you think.

With love,

sK

About a year ago I committed to writing on this site every day for 100 days in a row. Today, I’m committing to something similar and different: I’m going to start meditating every day, for at least the next 100.

Let me explain why, and how I plan to do it.

I’ve had an inconsistent meditation practice for about a decade now. At its best, I meditate every day for a streak of a week or two. At its worst, I meditate once a month.

But here’s the thing: I know that meditation makes me happier, calmer, work better, think clearer — it makes me better. Every time. I can even verify this for myself with some [obviously slanted] data: looking back at my journal, and comparing that against the records from the meditation app I use (Calm), I can see that on days I meditate I almost always finish every task I set out to do in the morning. I’m also more gracious, thoughtful, and patient in my responses.

On the days I don’t meditate, well, I get by, but I’m a bit messier. And sometimes those days turn into weeks into months. That’s what’s happened these past few weeks.

And the science backs this up, right? We all know this, if we exist even a little on the internet. Just google “the scientific benefits of meditation” and bask in the bazillion hits of glory.Keep Reading

It’s 9am and a woman wearing an apron is leaning over me yelling in Thai, waking me up from a nap with an urgency no alarm clock could match. I’m panicked, not sure for a moment where I am, or what I did wrong, or maybe if I’m covered in spiders (millions of spiders?!) until I notice she’s hawking food — a tray of a dozen small, folded banana leaf bowls full of shrimp, fried noodles, and a few indiscernible vegetables — and I’m not about to die. There are zero spiders.

“Mai,” I manage to grunt as I squint my eyes in the morning sun, one of the few Thai words I have on the tip of my tongue. No thank you, my eyes say. And also, maybe don’t wake up a belleagured traveler by yelling in his face next time if you want him to buy your stuff? I collect my bearings.

The train is stopped in Nong Pladuk Junction. Steamy air fills the rail car. Nong Pladuk is the starting station of the infamous Thai-Burma railway, more commonly known as “Death Railway.” It stretches from here to Nanchanaburi, the town a few hours down the road from which I am returning to Bangkok. Nearly one-hundred thousand prisoners of war and forced laborers had their lives forfeited to the construction of the Thai-Burma back in the 1940s. It’s a dark place to wake up to on a sunny Monday morning. It plucks at the melancholy I’m feeling in my heart.Keep Reading

We pile our bags on a little side street in downtown Bangkok. It’s 8pm, the city’s lights are waking up, and busses fill the street. A double-decker bus drives by, inside on the top level a man is singing karaoke to the rest of the travelers. We’re waiting for bus #3, our nine-hour overnight ride to Chiang Mai, a rural town in northern Thailand.

We can’t find our bus.

Mike and I are sitting on the stoop of a closed shop, the dozen pieces of luggage and gear scattered around us. We are drinking a beer and appreciating the calamity of the moment: unsure of where we’ll be in the moments that come, what it will feel like, and how we will be getting there. It’s one of the best things about traveling — the constant uncertainty, the focus on the moment, the near-to-nothing being granted — if you can learn to appreciate it. Admittedly, it’s an acquired taste. It’s my coffee. It’s my wine.

After some confusion and stress, we learn our bus has already arrived. It’s been waiting for us.

We don’t know what to expect inside. The conditions of the bus, the seats, the air, the noise. We’re hoping to sleep, but first we’re hoping the seat recline functions. I can’t help but think back to the bus I rode from Cairo into the middle of the White Desert (the half-day of one-hundred degree sun, the broken air conditioning, the overcramped seating, the failing engine).

We pile into the bus and find that we have a private room in the front half of the lower level. Eight seats all to ourselves. I wouldn’t have hoped for anything better. The seats recline. It does get better. And there’s air conditioning. I could die happy on this bus.

The bus jerks into gear. A strange smell sweeps through our cabin. We might die on this bus.Keep Reading

I’m excited for Thailand. I’ve heard so many amazing things.

I’ve spoken with people who have immersed themselves in the culture, and had opportunities to reflect on things that were previously invisible in their lives. I know a couple people who have gone and never returned. That says a lot about a place.

I’ve talked with activists who are doing tremendous things in the worlds of gender liberation, sex worker advocacy, and social justice education. I’ve learned so much from them already, from afar, from email.Keep Reading

 

I’m writing from a rooftop in Austin, taking a break from my break — which was part Naomi Klein and part Real Ale — to share a reflection that just sunk in: I’m about to publish my first book, and I couldn’t be more excited.bthf-preorder-indiegogo-banner

Now, to be clear: this isn’t me publishing the first book I wrote (that happened a couple years ago, and still hasn’t sunk in); this is me, under the auspices of Impetus Books, publishing my first book someone else wrote (in this case, I’m glowingly happy to say that someone else is Karen Rayne).

It was about 18 months ago that Impetus Books became more than an idea. I’d recently published A Guide to Gender, but I wanted the learning from that experience — the battling with publishers to find a socially just foothold, the conversations with my would-be readership about what mattered to them, and the soul-searching required by taking a manuscript that may otherwise be a forever-secret and sharing it with the world, forever… all of that and more — to be born into something greater.

Thus, in a Convenience Mart Turned Live Music Indian Food Joint not more than a few miles from where I sit currently, Impetus Books was born. The statement of purpose was to create books that mattered, and to make them accessible to the folks who needed them.

But truly, Impetus Books becomes more than an idea tomorrow, when we launch the preorder for Breaking the Hush Factor (the first non-me-written Impetus Book).

I wanted to create a publishing house that cared more about the effect of the words than anything else. I wanted to create a publishing house that understood that access is tantamount to power. That creating unnecessary barriers (like money) between people and powerful ideas depletes the power of the ideas. Thankfully, this spirit lives on in every facet with this book (e.g., it will change lives for the better, it will be available electronically for free, and the author and publisher are completely agreed on the primary goal of creating it: to share the power of the lessons within).

Like I said earlier, I didn’t reflect on what this means to me until just earlier tonight. It hit me when I was thinking about the 100+ hours I’ve spent working with Karen on this book. I was thinking about the 100+ hours I spent reviewing manuscripts that I eventually turned down over the past year and a half before this book, something I was adamantly averse to in principal. I was thinking about the 100+ hours I spent creating my first book, negotiating it with other publishers, and learning about the industry, before ever thinking I could ever do something like… this.

But it’s not about the quantity: it’s about the quality. Karen’s book — this book I’ve had the honor to be a part of — has the power to transform folks’ lives for the better. Indeed, it already has done so for my own life, and every other proof-reader/guinea pig who has read it and shared remarks for me (e.g., our Foreword Author, Heather Corinna), has said the same thing. I can’t overstate this: The book is fucking great.

And that’s how it hit me, the Mousetrap-like chain of seemingly-unrelated events that all converge on this one perfect moment, starting tomorrow at 6am, when I get to be part of something truly beautiful.

Buy Karen’s book. Buy it to support the work I do. Buy it to support the creative commons and the free sharing of powerful ideas. Buy it because she’s a compassionate, wonderful human who is sharing her secrets with you so you can be a more compassionate, more wonderful human. Or, and I vote for this one above all, buy it because it’s great.

I’m going to keep this short, because I only have 56 minutes of battery left on my laptop and still have about 100 emails I want to write today.

If you want to get work done, and are having a hard time controlling your focus (Facebook), keeping yourself from being distracted (Twitter), or hurdling any of the other hurdles between you and what you need to do today (Taylor Swift’s instagram account), take your laptop to a coffee shop and leave your charger at home.Keep Reading

The lesson will be private. One-on-one. And the instructor, Mady, is, by all accounts, an incredibly delightful, non-intimidating person. I’ve performed on stages in front of 5000+ person crowds. I’ve spoken to hundreds of thousands of people around the US. I’ve done stand-up comedy on a stage in a country where the material I was performing could have landed me in jail, or worse.

So why am I so nervous about this?

It’s hard to ask for help. I’ve been taught not to. I’ve been told as long as I’ve been able to be told things that the last thing I should ask for is help. Part of this I can blame on my gender, and the expectations I’ve been led to accept because of it, and part of it is a purely American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality I’ve internalized. Part of it is also likely just plain me-ness. Regardless of where it’s coming from, it’s here. And it’s loud.

Because I have to admit I’m bad at something. I wouldn’t need help if I was good enough, right? I’m good at a bunch of other things, so it would be way easier to just focus on those and not admit that I’m a disaster at this, right? And I know this from experience, because a few weeks ago in my new show I tried to sing a song I wrote for it, and it was, well, a hilarious disaster (not the intention, but hey — I rolled with it. Maybe I’ll post the footage someday, but maybe not, because…).

And that makes me feel vulnerable. And that’s terrifying. The idea of exposing myself, even just to one person (not like that — hell, that’d be easier than this), is more terrifying than getting up on stage in front of thousands doing something I know I can do. I have armor for that. Here, I not only don’t have armor, I have open wounds, and I’m going to be sitting in a room with a near-stranger pointing and poking at them.

This is entirely about singing, but it’s also entirely about anything. Anything that scares us so much we’d rather not acknowledge its existence. Anything we feel but refuse to see, to name. All of the obstacles we create that stand between us and a freer, less-encumbered us.

Brene Brown, from afar, has helped support me in taking this leap, and all the other leaps I take. Amanda Palmer, in a more direct, intimate way, has done the same. And even my soon-to-be-first-ever-singing-instructor has done a lot to make this easier:

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I’m still terrified, but I stopped letting that stop me years ago.

I would have replied, but I didn’t know my voice would be so hard to find. You don’t get starstruck, I kept telling myself, but maybe I’d never seen a real star. She felt like a star. A sparkling, ancient light, as beautiful as it is mysterious, sincere but distant.

I knew that I was going to hand her my book and explain why I needed to see her, what she symbolized to me, the support she’d offered without even knowing it. The new best friend who pops into your life right when you need them.

Sincerity is contagious.

I knew I was going to ask her to sign the passage in her book that struck me the hardest. Cut me deep and allowed me to bleed. I wanted to bleed. I was going to tell her that she let me bleed.

Sometimes it helps to hurt.

But I didn’t know that I wasn’t going to be able to say words. Or connect dots. She talked about dots, I thought to myself. She knows about the dots. Creativity, art, doing art — it’s all about connected dots. Why am I thinking this? She knows this. I read it in her book. Focus.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I… I don’t often know how to handle it. I’ve considered stopping — just… stopping — more in the past year than I did in the previous five combined. Thank… you. Thank you. For this. For you. I–”

“Don’t stop fighting,” she said. I felt the words.

She leaned her head on my shoulder, kissed me on the cheek. I felt like a child. That we were both children. I felt like I didn’t know how to feel.

I felt naïve and confident and terrified and coddled and right. I felt right. I felt like a child.

We were sitting on the playground together. I was the new kid; it was her turf. But I was used to being the new kid. I always landed myself in places I didn’t belong. As a kid, I moved around a lot, but more than that I made spaces up. I created places that I saw fit. As an adult, a lot of my life revolves around creating and occupying spaces that didn’t before exist, at least not for long. It’s lonely work.

I didn’t feel alone in that moment.

“I won’t stop,” I replied. “Please… just… please keep being you.”

I ran away.

I didn’t know how to say goodbye. I couldn’t make words. I hadn’t been that close to a star before. I panicked, a beautiful trainwreck, I got lost on the way out of the bookstore and found myself here, in a bar down the street writing this, because I needed to put these words down. To cherish this moment. To make sure it was real.

It was real.

In a few short days, I’ll be debuting a new show. To those who have followed my work, I understand that the topic (faith) and setting (a church) feel like they are coming out of left field. And that feeling couldn’t be more right — that’s why I’m doing this show.

Granted, I’ve written about Christianity a bit, both here and at It’s Pronounced Metrosexualbut it would be accurate to say that Faith is not my usual go-to topic when I hop on stage. In fact, I’ve never talked about faith on stage, and, if I’m being completely honest, I feel palpably uncomfortable in churches. But again, that is, in essence, why I’m doing this show.

Christian/Religious people don’t often engage in dialogue with Atheist people. Straight/Cisgender people don’t often engage in dialogue with Queer people. Don’t get me wrong: there is a lot of talking at these different groups, but that’s not the same.

There are a lot of “national conversations” led by members of all four of these groups, but so few actual conversations. And who’s leading those conversations? Who do we have speaking on behalf of us? Are we comfortable with everything those folks say on our behalf? Do we (whatever We you are) really feel that way about them? (whatever Them they might be).

There is this idea that there is no common ground, that we’re all at extremes, we’re against, at odds, “irreconcilably different,” fundamentally opposed. These are identities that are thought to have clear lines in the sand — party lines, political lines, permanent lines. Us. Them. And a big gap between the two.

But here’s the thing: I don’t buy it. Any of it. I think we’re getting duped, that an extremely vocal minority is misrepresenting the majority, and that we’re more alike than we are different — at least where it counts. From my perspective, it’s becoming more and more clear that’s the case. But I’m aware of how odd my perspective is at times. I’m hoping this show will help build a bigger Us and a smaller Them.

There’s this thing about me — about my identity — that mixes people’s signals

I’m not gay and I’m not Christian, and these are two things that people are surprised to find out (if this is news to you right now — surprise!). So many people assume the opposite that I’ve become accustomed to correcting people, sometimes even before they say anything — an anticipatory strike. And when I do that, I never hear “Oh, I didn’t think you were,” but instead “Really?!” or “How did you know I thought that?” or (the most common) “Are you sure?”

I’m sure.

“But what you’re doing with your life is so Christian.” “But you smell so good.” “But…” “But…” But…” The responses to both my not-gay-ness and not-Christian-ness are many and varied and not worth getting into here (so many for the gay assumption that I wrote an entire show about it).

I’m hoping this show to serve as this middle part of the venn diagram that brings these four distinctly different groups together

I’m an atheist who is often assumed to be a Christian, a straight, cisgender man who is often assumed to be queer.  As a result of that, or at least as a result of me engaging with those confusions, I’ve had a ton of conversations with people who fall somewhere into all four of these groups. And what I’ve found is there really aren’t four groups at all. Instead, there are a ton of individual people who align somewhere on, between, beside, or outside of each of those dimensions.

A lot of good can come from this conversation, if we do it in a healthy, non-threatening, safe way. It’s a conversation that’s already ringing in a lot of folks ears, but by no means the majority. I’m hoping InTolerance will help folks feel more comfortable joining the conversation in their own lives, and nudging that seemingly-silent minority toward a vocal majority.

Hell, or maybe it’ll just be fun to tell stories and laugh for an hour in a church. I know it’ll be a first for me. I hope to see you there.

I’m my own worst critic. A lot of us are. I don’t like this about myself. A lot of us don’t. But I finally have a strategy to make it stop happening.

Of course we’re our own worst critics: we know better than anyone else our abilities, capacities, our “should”s — we know our potential, so we know when we fall short. We know our dreams, our honest-to-goodness, non-filtered-for-“reality” dreams. We know the lessons we should have learned, the mistakes we keep making.

We have all the data to give ourselves the most accurate grade possible, and the way we were taught to grade as kids is to start at 100 and work our way backwards. I’m not as happy as I should be despite my privileges. Minus 1. Why did I engage in that harmful relationship that was so much like the other harmful relationships I was in? Minus 5, one for each. Minus 2 more for not learning the lesson. Minus 10 for pointing out a “flaw” in someone else you know you embody. And so on.

From “I would never treat anybody this way.”

This is something I have heard myself say dozens of times. I know that I have an unhealthy standard I set for myself, and that with other people I lead with compassion and understanding, while I never give myself the benefit of the doubt. This understanding is as far as I’ve gotten, or at least it wasAnd for good reason: I can’t give myself the benefit of the doubt, because there is no doubt.

I know. I know better. I know what I should be doing. How I should be feeling. I know.

It’s easy for me to treat other people with compassion when they experience a shortcoming I would berate myself for, because I don’t know if they know what I know. I don’t know if they know we create our own obstacles to happiness. But I do. I know that. So I should be better.

What’s worse: I know I shouldn’t should. Oops. There I go again. But I know better. That’s why. I know what I know, and I know better. That’s at the crux of all of this.

To “I would never treat any body this way.”

I’ve been working with a business coach, her name is Paula, at the suggestion of a friend. I am doing a lot of stuff, but I have been doing it in an emotionally, physically, financially (and plenty of other-ially) unsustainable way. Paula is just plain delightful, but also sharp as a tack.

We were chatting about the issue of how I struggle with the hate campaigns that get pointed in my direction. It just feels wrong, and makes me physically ill, which makes it hard for me to do anything. Then I get frustrated with myself for feeling that way, because intellectually I know that I shouldn’t allow others’ misconceptions of me and my work to affect my well-being. It’s silly. So then I’m frustrated two-fold. Inception of frustration. Not ideal.

I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would come from it. I’ve thought about this a lot. Then she pointed out something I already knew.

“Your intellect has matured to this point, but your limbic system hasn’t.”

Right. That’s true. That’s the annoying part. It’s that I know I shouldn’t be experiencing this body discomfort, this genuine ill. It makes me sick. It hurts in my chest. That’s what annoys me. That’s the double-whammy.

Then she said basically the same thing, again, but this time I heard it differently.

These are separate. My intellect — my mind, the higher logic, my me — is not my body — my limbic brain, my reflexes, my physical response system. The first one is the one that writes on this site, that gives advice to others, and that sometimes (oftentimes) berates the second one.

Applying Sanford’s Theory of Challenge & Support to Myself

In grad school, one of the most important things I learned was that we need to meet someone where they are, and help them grow incrementally toward who they want to be.

The theory being that if you challenge someone too much, they’ll become overwhelmed; and if you support them too much, they’ll stagnate; the appropriate combination for growth is challenge mitigated by support.

The idea being that you don’t go from 1 to 100. You go from 1 to 2. 2 to 3. 3 to 4. And so forth.

Previously, I had been treating my limbic self (my body’s reflexive responses to these external stimuli) as being on the same level as my intellectual self (the higher reasoning self that has spent way too much time thinking about these things).

I was holding myself to a high standard, which would be fine if I just had one self and it was at a high level. But that’s not what’s happening. There are two selfs here: one part of me needs challenge to thrive (the intellectual part), as well as a second part of me that needs support (the limbic part).

Moving Forward: Supporting instead of Challenging

It’s time that I stop holding my body to a standard that I would never hold anybody else to. It’s time I start realizing that knowing something intellectually isn’t the same as experiencing it, and that’s okay. To know that the way for my body to catch up with my mind is by meeting it where it’s at, the same way I’d meet anybody where they’re at.

Right now, my body isn’t okay with a lot of things my mind understands and can rationalize with ease. My body craves things my mind doesn’t (like cheese and sunburn). It reacts to things in immature ways (like how I sometimes almost vomit with sadness when I read the horrible things people say about me on the internet — people who don’t, and likely never will, know me).

Pretending it doesn’t, or yelling that it shouldn’t, won’t change that. Maybe someday — hopefully someday — it’ll catch up, but that’s not going to happen if I keep trying to make it go from a 1 to 100. I need to focus on getting it to 2 first, or I’m not going to get anywhere. And to do that, I need to treat it how I would treat any other body: with compassion, understanding, and support.

And that’s something my mind can totally (finally) get behind.

Earlier tonight, my friend texted me “I’m over this whole constantly chasing the homework train business.”

She was talking about grad school, and sharing a sentiment I shared back when I was earning my master’s. But, a bit to my surprise, I replied, “I miss grad school. Not to be dismissive of the woes — at all — but I just really miss that feeling. It’s different. I liked it.”

I’ve been moving so fast in the years since, I don’t spend much time reflecting on those two [intense] years. But there’s a lot to it that I hadn’t named. Our conversation continued from there, and I feel compelled to share what was bobbing around in my brain.

Grad School: The Circus

I often refer to my current life as a circus, with my manager being the ring leader and me the juggler, dancing bear, and tightrope walker. But the circus really began in grad school, and I don’t say that with even the slightest amount of remorse.

In grad school, you’re in a circus with a safety net. You’re walking a tightrope, and you’re constantly pushed outside your comfort zone, encouraged to challenge your assumptions, predispositions, and attitudes toward concepts you may’ve held firmly to your entire life, but when you falter, there are folks there to steady your step. There are professors, advisors, supervisors, and cohortmates who are there to catch you when you fall.

In grad school, you can fall and get back up — and there is a network of people there to help you do so. You get your bruises or encouragement, dust yourself off, and get back on the rope. Or don’t. You choose.

Now I’m in a different circus — not necessarily a competing one, but a different one. A traveling circus. And it’s not that any of the folks who made up my safety net in grad school would want to see me fall, but I don’t want to impose, because I know how many tightrope walkers they have in their caretaking, relying on that net.

I miss that safety net.

Grad School: If Time Machines Were a Thing

I won’t say “I’d do it all differently” because I wouldn’t. I’d do most of it the same, or similar. I appreciate my time in grad school, and cherish the relationships and influences folks had on me during that period of my life. But there are a few things I’d approach differently:

  • Embrace the safety net, be more daring on the tightrope, and fail often. Grad school, and school in general, is a time where your primary, if not sole, purpose is to learn. There are few better ways to learn than by trying and failing. And there are few safer places to fail than in school.
  • Ask for help more; it’s an invaluable, ephemeral resource. In school, you’re in a social contract with a whole network of people (profs, advisors, supervisors, cohortmates) who are dedicated, willing, and able to help you. That’s not a thing outside of higher ed, at least not in my neck of the woods. It’s not that I didn’t ask for help when I needed it; it’s that I would ask for help when I didn’t, because I could have used it, even if I didn’t realize.
  • Remind myself constantly that I’m a student, not a professional. You’re in this brackish space, practicing what you’re learning (as GAs and RAs) while learning it. It’s important to not shirk responsibilities, but it’s also important not to overcompensate for experience you don’t have. You may be a paraprofessional, but you’re a suprastudent: you’re not just expected to learn, but to learn enough to be able to teach.

I love my traveling circus. I take risks — probably too many — but walk my tightrope with intentional, sure steps. I know that if I fall, I fall. There’s nothing there to catch me. That’s how things are now, but that’s not how they were. I wish I’d realized that then, danced along my rope instead of tip-toeing, focused less on making it to the other side and spent more time falling.

Last week I gave three back-to-back shows at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. I was their “Diversity Speaker” for orientation, a product of some of the orientation leaders seeing me speak at a conference. I’ve said this a bunch: I loved doing those shows, and I heart FIT. What I haven’t said enough is why.

I want to get into that, but to do it I need to address the difference between gender expression and gender cueing.

First, let’s do some show and tell.

Below (and above) are a few photos of me on stage over the past year. Something that most people would never realize is how intentional I am about how I dress, depending on the audience, the content of the talk, and where in the country I am. These three photos are helpful in demonstrating the full range of decisions I’ll make in this regard, so let me talk about them for a moment each.

(Sidenote: the nice thing about these photos is my hair/grooming is about identical in all three, so we can just focus on the threads)

The first photo is me during my keynote at the National Sex Ed Conference.

sam-killermann-masculine What I’m wearing: this is a fairly masculine expression for me (super important distinction). I’m wearing a dark blue blazer, lavender v-neck, solid dark-plum pants, and cap-toe brown shoes (not pictured).

Why: I dressed more conservatively/traditionally because I wasn’t sure what to expect at this event, and I didn’t want my clothing to conflict with my message (which was fairly serious, direct, and provocative). Further, I wasn’t going to be spending much time addressing my own gender, or perceptions of my gender/sexuality (something that’s a part of my show), so I didn’t want people to be pondering that while I was talking about other things.

The second photo is me performing S.E.X. (yeah I was…) in my hometown Austin, TX

sam-killermann-androgynousWhat I’m wearing: I’d consider this outfit to be a bit more androgynous. I’ve got the typical mainstays of man-fashion on — the jacket, the button down shirt, the pants — but with a twist. The jacket is glittery silver. The pants are a muted leopard print. My shoes (not pictured) are the same black step-in moccasins as in the third picture, and my socks vibrantly striped in cool colors.

Why: this was a show I put together with a friend (Karen Rayne), and people were coming to see us. Like, on purpose. This, combined with the material I was performing (all super personal & anecdotal), made me feel comfortable pushing things a little bit more out of Handsometown toward Prettyville.

The third photo is me last week doing one of my shows at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC

sam-killermann-feminineWhat I’m wearing: This is one of the most feminine outfits I’ve ever gotten onstage wearing (and by onstage I of course mean “on-mean-girls-esque-gym-floor”). Same shoes and pants as the S.E.X. outfit, but sockless and rolled a bit. And combined with a dark-plum scoop-neck shirt and a warm-color medley summer scarf.

Why: because I could. This is the Fashion Institute of Technology, folks, and I assumed (correctly) that I couldn’t go too far in any direction with how I wanted to dress. The audience members presented a wonderful array of gender expressions and styles, so I was just one of the bunch in this instance.

Why any of this matters: Gender Expression vs. Gender Cueing

For a brief understanding of gender expression and gender cueing, the way I use and distinguish between the two terms is in these ways: gender expression is the various ways you intentionally and unintentionally display gender, through your dress, actions, and demeanor (based on the traditional expectations of what those displays mean); gender cueing is the various ways you demonstrate your gender, through your dress, actions, and demeanor (with the intention of helping other people gauge or understand you as a gendered person).

Gender expression is sometimes gender cueing, but gender cueing is always gender expression. Or, in non-words, like this:

gender-expression-vs-cueing-by-sam-killermann

 

Both can be thought of as performances

For some folks, they aren’t aware of the fact that they’re constantly playing a [series of] role[s] in the play called Gender! They don’t hear the director’s calls, realize they’re reading a script, or pay attention to the stage they’re sharing with other actors.

But if you’re as aware of gender as I am, it’s hard to not be cognizant of the idea that you’re constantly performing gender. I am aware of this on some level constantly, particularly when I’m literally on a stage.

Neither can be truly avoided

If you live in a society that relies on gender as a social construct, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re constantly expressing and cueing gender. Even by choosing to try not to express gender, for example by wearing more neutral clothing or behaving in ways that you might think of as non-gendered, you’re marking your gender by unmarking it.

Now, to be sure, in our society’s Play feminine-presenting people, and women in general, are much more often “onstage” for their gender. If this is an idea that you don’t immediately grasp, read this amazing article by Deborah Tannen: Marked Women, Unmarked Men.

Why I loved FIT so much is encapsulated in that third picture

Whenever I get on stage I’m putting on a gender costume. I’m not a snowflake in this regard — we all do it. As I commented above, I’m hyper-intentional about that costume, what it might mean, and try to control, as much as possible, the ways I express gender and the cues the audience receives.

But what most folks don’t realize is that this costume I’m wearing is 99-times-out-of-100 a more masculine representation of gender than I would prefer to express, and is generally not cueing how I feel as a gendered person. That is, the costume I wear is toning it down, not dressing it up. And this is a weight I bear when I’m performing, because I’m aware of how I’m doing several performances at once (a performance in a performance — the Inception of stand-up comedy).

A lot of folks asked me if I felt the pressure to dress more fashionably at FIT after they saw that photo on Facebook or Instagram. Don’t get me wrong, I did spend [an embarrassing amount of] time thinking about what I’d wear, but that question is working from patently-wrong assumption about why.

The why that led to me dressing how I did that day was a special feeling, and one that I had, until last week, never experienced leading up to a show or talk. It was something I rarely experience at all, despite my wants for it.

In truth, I didn’t feel pressured to dress in any way for that show at FIT: I felt liberated to be myself.

I’m currently in the process of finishing two books, starting another, publishing two new sexuality models, three new live social justice comedy shows, running half a dozen volunteer-based initiatives, building I’m-not-even-sure-how-many websites, and the list goes on. It’s a lot. And as I type that, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But I’ve found a way to make sense of it all, to not lose any of my little ducklings, and to retain a semblance of peace of mind.

It’s just a matter of coming up with a way of not losing track of ideas before they develop into things.

I want to first say that I’m not very good at this — I’m just good enough. And if you’re a notebook/physical thing person, you’re not going to like this, because I’m all digital, baby (in the cloud! disruptive! innoventive!). I keep track of ideas, actions, and creation using [mostly] Evernote, Wunderlist, and Google Drive. I also have a pile of external hard drives. Below is how I specifically use each.

All of these things are [or can be] free, other than the hard drives. They are great for collaborating. And they work on my phone, tablet, computer, and web browser.

To remember ideas, I use Evernote

Evernote is amazing, but it can easily get unmanageable. The trick is to effectively use tags and journals.

I have different journals for different ideations within Evernote (e.g., a comedy one, an IPM one, one for my forthcoming EP, one for each of my books, etc.) but use the same universal tag system for everything. That way, everything has its own place, but with the tags I can draw connections between otherwise unrelated projects.

For example, I originally wrote my gender TEDx talk to be a song, so I tagged it “lyrics” and while it changed from there, it still comes up when I’m looking at “lyrics” to see all the songs I’ve written, which I like (cuz it could be easily changed back).

To remember actions, I use Wunderlist

Wunderlist is almost as powerful as Evernote in its ability to organize, but it far surpasses Evernote’s ability to push me to get tasks done. You can have separate lists for different projects, assign tasks to people, or just have an inbox of incoming assignments (I use this feature a lot with my manager & project coordinator, Chum and Bethany, where we assign tasks to one another on share lists).

I have about 60 – 70 Wunderlists going at any given time. I have one for each of my live personal projects (things like IPM site, Jack and/or Jill, etc., which is about 30ish), one for each of my collaborations that are still ongoing (like the Safe Zone Project), for every freelance gig I have open, and then I have some general life ones (e.g., “Rainy Day in Austin,” “Things I Need to Buy”).

Some of the tasks have due dates, which makes it easy to know what I have to get done today, if anything (by browsing the due “Today” tab). But if that’s not absolutely necessary, they don’t. And I just open a list and work through it when I’m inspired to work on that project.

I also recently started doing “pre” and “post” lists for speaking/shows/trips, and I’ve really liked that idea. “Pre” is things to pack, print, buy, etc. “Post” is all follow-ups I accumulate while I’m there. And I have those forever until they’re complete, like the one from a trip I did back in January that is still not complete. Gotta get on that.

To get started on writing and creation, I use Google Drive

Google Drive is amazing because you can create, share, edit, and publish [limited, but not bad] all from one place. It’s as much a shared drive as it is a studio, and because of the universality of google accounts, it’s perfect for collaboration.

Right now, I have 22 top level folders in my Google Drive. As you’re starting to likely get the sense, I use these separations to help me stay organized. But for Google Drive, I don’t separate just by project, but also by collaborators. I give Chum and Bethany access to all of my personal projects, so there’s just a “CHUM & BETHANY & SAM” folder. I share access to that folder with them once, then they have everything inside, which includes everything from new articles I’m writing for a variety of sites, to bios, to show schedules, to contracts, to budgets.

Some of my other top level folders are more broad, but all with the same goal of making the sharing easy. The only reason I’m writing and making things on Google Drive instead of my laptop is because I can click a button and allow someone else access (to edit, provide feedback, take over, etc.). So it’s with that in mind that I choose how I will organize what goes where.

To finalize and publish, I use my laptop

Granted, I’m using my laptop for a lot of the things above as well, but here I mostly mean Adobe Creative Suite (for all the design and print stuff) and Sublime Text 2 (for programming web stuff). And I back up all of the finished products of everything on external hard drives.

To organize my computer, I created a new top level folder (on the same par as “Documents” and “Movies”) called “Projects.” In Projects, I have a subfolder for everything I’m currently actively working on. Everything finished or dormant stowed away on an external drive. The nice thing about the Projects folder is that now I can still use the Documents folder for what, I think, it was meant to be: a hodge-podge of personal things (like tax returns) and other files you’re not sure where to put (like resumes, animated .gifs of Ellen dancing, etc.).

As far as backing things up, I have separate external hard drives for three different divisions of my work: photo/video (all on one hard drive), design, and organizational. So I know that if I need the raw video clip of a testimonial from a keynote that I gave three years ago, I plug in my blue hard drive where it’ll be organized hierarchically by type and date, and I can find it in 2 minutes. Ditto with a poster I made four years ago and haven’t thought of since (just happened as I was redesigning Dear World). Or an organizational structure and position descriptions for something I did in 2012. All on separate hard drives, waiting to be resurrected.

Each of those hard drives is backed up as well, of course. And my computer (with all of my live projects) gets backed up every couple of days on a separate hard drive altogether.

This is how I do it, not how you should

The above system works really well [enough] for me. But I came to it through a ton of trial and error. And the best advice I can give to anyone is exactly that: try things, try different things, then try some other things.

You can start with the things above, but don’t stop until you’ve found a system of techniques, software, writing on your hand, pinning notes to your shirtt, whatever, that feels right. You’ll know when you find it. Or, rather, you’ll know when you haven’t, so keep experimenting until you hit your stride.

A couple months ago my friends Karen Rayne and Heather Ross approached me with an idea. I don’t remember the wording, but I don’t think it was anything less tongue-in-cheek than “Wanna do a sex show in Austin?”

Um. Yes.

I’ve been wanting to find a way to bring what I do — the social justice comedy-ness of it all — to a more adult crowd (if you will) for a couple years now. When I first moved to Austin the plan was to produce my show, It’s Pronounced Metrosexualin town as a standing gig, then take it on the road to colleges. That fell through for a ton of in-the-end beneficial reasons, and I ended up rewriting the show into what it is now: something that’s perfect for colleges, but not so perfect for ATX.

Enter S.E.X.

The idea behind the show is that I get to tell a bunch of stories I rarely/never get to tell (like my orgy story, or this new one about a massage in Dahab), and Karen gets to answer questions that adults [in Texas, or, really, most places] have never been able to ask (like, “How does fisting work?“). And we’re doing it on stage.

It’s a perfect date night. Great for 20s, 30s, and 40+s couples, getting away from the kids, or just opening your mind to something new.

Every month, the show will have a different theme, and for the first one, it’s [obviously] Our First Time. It’s going to be a blast, an adventure, and a bit terrifying; awkward, clumsy, messy; I’m definitely not going to tell my parents about it — but above all it’s going to be perfectly Austin.

Below is a little video we put together that might help make it all make sense. Further below is an interview I did with a delightful person that was supposed to be about the show.

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I arrived in Dahab in the middle of the night, the Red Sea choppy with a half-moon floating above in its own sea of stars. Even at 2am, I could see the silhouette of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia set against the constellations.

I stood on the walking bridge near my hostel for more than a few minutes, watching the small waves lap the shore, listening to the gentle sounds, breathing the salty fresh air. A person walked by me on the bridge, “Perfect night,” he said with an accent I couldn’t place.

“Perfect night,” I replied.Keep Reading