Hey NOM,

Sam Killermann here. Or, as I’m being described on your Facebook Page, “Sin with Colored Pencils” here. I read the “blog post” you wrote about me and my “Genderbread Person.” To be “honest,” I couldn’t put together exactly what you were “trying” to say. But I know you, you “know” me, I know me, and we both know it was meant to be a “hate” piece.

(To others reading: sorry for all the confusing and unnecessary quotation marks. I’m trying to speak NOM’s language, because it’s important to me that this message gets through.)

Y’all, we need to talk. You’re a terrible organization and you stand for terrible things and I hate you. See how clear that is? Speaking of which, first on the block, let’s clear up just how inept your wholly-unprovoked attack on me was.

Gourmet Craziness: My Recipe for How To Effectively Talk Trash

Other than the title “Gourmet Craziness: The ‘Genderbread Person 2.0‘” (which was clearly offensive on multiple levels — congrats) your entire blog post is an irreconcilable mess, like the first time I tried to make cookies and swapped the measurements for baking powder and sugar (people almost died). Clearly, you need a new recipe for Trash Talking. Allow me to help.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Thesis statement, derived from Jibberish Root
  • 1 Introduction
  • 1 Body
  • 1 Conclusion
  • Grammar and Syntax Rules, applied regularly
  • One Measure of Hyperbole (be sure to separate out the small heaping of oxymoron)
  • A Garnish of Humor, only if organic and locally available

Procedure:

Grind Jibberish Root until Thesis is present in pure, unalterated form. Combine with Introduction and add to Essay. Add Body and Conclusion and bring to a chatter on low heat over Peer Feedback, constantly mixing in Grammar and Syntax Rules. Before Essay begins to solidify, fold in the measure of Hyperbole, and garnish with Humor (but only if organic — chemically synthesized Humor will taint the dish, and is best left out).

Serves one Punk. (But you do not, under any circumstances, utter “You got served, Punk!”)

I can imagine how desperate it must feel writing blog posts aboard a sinking ship.

You’re like that band in The Titanic, but instead of playing beautiful music while a bunch of people die meaninglessly, you’re meaninglessly screeching while drowning yourselves in 3-foot deep water. This is not a time of desperation. Your life doesn’t have to end. Just stand up on your own two feet, instead of constantly trying to support yourself upon imaginary platforms like “this is about families” and “civilization is going to end if…” Plant your feet on the ground with the honest and understandable “I’m afraid of what I don’t understand” and the rest of us will be happy to help.

You don’t have to drown, and your tantrum in the shore break isn’t going to slow the current from moving in the direction it’s always moved: forward.

BUT WHY IN THE HELL ARE YOU PICKING A FIGHT WITH ME? Are you that desperate? Actually, screw that. Say what you want about me, but don’t you dare insult the Genderbread Person. The Genderbread Person has done nothing to you, is bigger than me or you, has saved lives, and has existed longer in some form or fashion than either of us have as competing organizations (your goal of being a force for horribleness and ignorance; my goal of people not being assholes to each other); and it will exist long after your ship has sunk and (in response to the stress of this life I’ve chosen) I’ve developed a relationship with a Volleyball after stranding myself on a beach somewhere.

I read that you just updated your website? Seriously? That’s like putting rims and a spoiler on a Chevy Nova that’s on cinderblocks. Get it? Because “Nova” is spanish for “F*ck You.” (Now that’s how you talk trash). But in all seriousness, your new website is garbage. I hope you paid a lot for it. WWJD? Donate to the Trevor Project because their site has a salient mission and is actively promoting good in the world. (Trash. Talked).

But I can’t imagine being as desperate as you’ve become.

Guess what. I’m from Indiana. I went to high school and college there. Let me give you a bit of advice, one former Hoosier to an organization currently campaigning in the Hoosier State: if you’re struggling to get people in Indiana to oppose marriage equality, the war is over. Don’t think of Indiana as another battle in your War for Hate in 50 States™. It’s over. It’s done. Pack it up, y’all.

But I know you know that, or you wouldn’t’ve redirected your hate-spewing at a whole new vulnerable, oppressed group of people. And that’s where the Genderbread Person comes in, an innocent bystander in your misdirected campaign against the trans* population, yet another marginalized and misunderstood personhood you can vilify and manipulate to coerce Fear Dollars™ from ignorant, exploited Middle Americans.

Hell, your very first move, naming yourselves the “National Organization for Marriage” was an act of desperation, already smelling that “National Organization for Hate” or “National Organization for Putting Our Noses Into Other People’s Business” is too rotten. Knowing that the majority of Americans stand behind their loved ones, friends, and family, even if they happened to have been born into a gender or sexual minority. You were born (actually, I think “spawned” is a better term) in desperation — “Who would stand against marriage? We’re so clever. Now let’s get to the oppressing!”

You know who ruined marriage? Straight people. You know who keeps making gay people? Straight people. Maybe same-sex marriage is the inoculation marriage needs against an ever-spreading plague of divorce. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

NOM, if want to be in disbelief, disbelieve this.

The Genderbread Person is just the tip of the iceberg in my campaign to “indoctrinate” people in better understanding and relating to themselves and others. And it’s been gobbled up by hundreds of millions of people. And I’m not the only person baking them.

But more than that, I wrote an entire book about gender, and a lot of people are reading it. Like, a lot a lot. And people can get it for free (like a Bible in a hotel night table), which I bet freaks you out. It’s okay. Take a breath. You’re going to need it: I’ve been told by dozens of formerly anti “gender diversity” people that it opened their eyes to be more affirming and loving to people of all genders. Watch out.

And I gave a TEDx talk about gender that’s being watched right now and shared by people who’ve been infected by its message: that people deserve to be understood, and that a core value of humanity should be doing whatever is in your power to make the individuals in your life feel unashamed of who they are.

What’s worse: I’m not the only one doing this, or who has these “radical” beliefs. Pretty much everyone I know (and I live in Texas, y’all) has jumped on the “treat people with basic decency” radical bandwagon, and when I’m on the road I hear from people of all walks of life about how they are working, struggling, and grinding to unlearn the prejudice groups like yours have poisoned our waters with in order to be more loving, sincere, and compassionate to the people in their lives.

Really, I think you have two options:

1. You can keep drowning in 3-foot deep waters, scraping money out of the few blue pills left whose minds We haven’t freed; or

2. You can start living the Christian values you espouse by loving more, judging less, and living in a way that serves others (instead of your outmoded, stubborn, vile egos).

I meant it when I said the rest of us are here for you if you need our help. Just ask.

Yours in unconditional love and peace,

Sam “Sin with Colored Pencils” Killermann

P.S. I didn’t want this, but if you wanna keep this tête-à-tête going, I’m not going to back down. I’m a quick, passionate, socially-conscious comedian with no day job and an internet at my disposal. You’re a bully with a dead cause. I don’t see this ending well for you.

***

A Few Corrections From Your Article, NOM:

My name has two Ns. Killermann. It’s German, it’s not just the combination of the English words “Killer” and “Man.” That’d be terrifying. In German, it means “one who kills men.”

And my show doesn’t “implicitly paint Christians and ‘cisgender’ persons as oblivious bullies.” Ironically, it’s about snap judgments (i.e., what your blog post about me is laden with), identity, and oppression. It’s not anti-Christian at all, other than the fact that I do denounce the Golden Rule (in lieu of the much shinier Platinum Rule). I would argue that what I advocate in the show is incredibly Christian: love your neighbor, abstain from judgment, live a selfless life focused on helping others. Maybe you should see it sometime. I’d be happy to perform it free for you and yours.

Sorry, Internet, but my mind isn’t, has never been, and will likely remain unblown. But every time you trick me into clicking on one of your linkbaity lists or videos I die a little inside. Because I want to care. I do care. A lot. But there’s only so much someone can actually care, let’s call it the Caring Tolerance™. I’m starting to worry that you’re abusing people’s attention and increasing our Caring Tolerance™ the way a college student treats their liver first semester.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rage-read “my last” Buzzfeed article swearing I’d never go back to the site for anything but good ol’ fashioned America’s Funniest Home Videos style laughs. But then I see an article with “faith in humanity” in the title and my mouse hand moves faster than my brain. Then I’m back to rage-reading.

How many times can I read THIS WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE and have it do absolutely nothing, before I start to think nothing will? Or, worse, how much empathy can I be coerced into experiencing by over-the-top, SPCA Sara McLachlan wannabe videos on Upworthy before I can’t experience genuine empathy for the people in my immediate life (who aren’t soon-to-be-executed dogs, but still need love)?Keep Reading

I don’t often get sick, but when I do, I get sick. While I was in New Orleans I came down with a wicked case of Swamp Flu. Or maybe it’s the Bayou Bug. I just hope it’s not Crawfish Sickness. I also hope I’m not offending my Nawlins friends with my silly imaginary NOLA illnesses. And the overall body sadness I’m experiencing right now is anything but imaginary.

There’s not much good that comes from chills and fevers and bears (oh my!), but it can be a nice time to play catch up on things in life that otherwise don’t get much attention. For me, that’s reading fiction and watching new television shows. Two things I’ve done a lot of today, and will likely (but hopefully not) do a bit more of tomorrow.

Now please excuse me while I simultaneously sweat and shiver. Oh, Body, how you amaze me so.

Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club introduced me to the term “single-serving friend,” a person who is your friend for a short period in time. In the movie, he’s talking about the people he meets on flights (“everything on a plane is single-serving”).

As someone who travels a lot, I’ve had the opportunities to make a lot of single-serving friends in the past few years. Sometimes it’s a few hours on a plane, and sometimes it’s a couple of days if I’m in a town for a conference or series of shows. For a long time I thought, like Norton’s character in Fight Club, that a single-serving friend was someone you only interacted with during that one short time period, greatly enjoyed one another’s company, then never saw each other again.

But that’s silly.

I’ve met some of the most fascinating, encouraging, inspirational, clever, and all-around sparkly people I may ever know when I’ve been traveling. To limit our connection to that hour, day, or week is more than a bummer — it’s life sabotage. “I really wish you lived here” is a common sentiment. Long distance relationships are hard, if not impossible. People have overfull lives. They don’t have room for a Sam from thousands of miles away. Or at least that’s how I thought of it for a long while.

I’ve changed the way that I think about single-serving friends.

Instead of viewing the friendship as single-serving, something that only exists for that one moment in time, I now think about that experience with that person as single-serving, with the hope and intent that we might have opportunities for future experiences together, even if they are similarly single-serving. We don’t need to maintain contact, be pen pals, or talk every day, but I like the idea of keeping the door (or inbox) open. This change has led to some really wonderful relationships, with folks near and far, that I deeply value. It’s also changed the way that I interact with folks on the road.

Knowing that I can have a meaningful single-serving friendship with someone means that I am more willing to have real conversations with people I meet on the road. Conversations about things that matter to them and to me, or to us — look at that: we just became an us. Instead of talking about the weather, or some stupid sports thing I don’t actually care about, we talk about life, in all of its wonderful fragments and facets. And talking about life, and hearing other people’s perspectives on life, helps me be better at life.

The possibility of a single-serving friendship also creates the possibility of real, meaningful connection to people I would have otherwise never allowed myself to connect to. And the more I connect, the more I want to connect. Connecting feels good. Wanting to connect more is a good habit to form. Connected life is a loving life.

If you’re digging the idea of single-serving friends, but aren’t sure where to start, or how to do it, here are a few humble tips:

  • Be clear up front. If you want to stay connected with someone, tell them. Ask if that’s okay. Explain what you mean.
  • Don’t force it. One of my best friends in the world is someone I only chat with or see a few times a year, but when we do, we’re immediately best friends again. That’s how our relationship works. It works that way because we’ve allowed it to be that way and haven’t tried to force it to be something it’s not. Feel it out.
  • Hugs are good. If you’re a hugger.
  • Phone numbers are better than emails are better than Facebooks are better than Twitters. Social media is a great way to disconnect from people. Let them tell you directly what they want to tell you about their life. Do the same.
  • Be no-holds-barred honest. We all lie more than we likely realize. Single-serving friendships can be amazing in that you have never told the person a lie (where most of the long-term or more high-contact friends you likely lie to inadvertently dozens of times a week). You don’t have to “protect” them with white lies, and you don’t need to puffer yourself into something you’re not. You can be blissfully, heart-relievingly honest. And it’s fantastic.
  • High fives are good. In case you’re not a hugger.

Yep. That’s a real headline. I was gonna write a thought today. I think it was going to be about traveling and New Orleans and friendship and adventures, but after reading that headline/article I realized I have nothing to add to the internet today. The internet is done for the day. I know when I’m not needed.

Oh, and here’s the guy:

frey

 

Dear Disney Channel,

Please stop ruining today’s children.

I would love to stop there, because I think the sassiness of one sentence is an appropriate response to the hollowness of your programming, but I refuse to stoop to your level. Earlier tonight, while at a laundromat, I was subjected to an hour of your work, a show called JessieI don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that I would have rather spent that hour inside the washing machine.

Let’s recap the highlights of two back-to-back episodes of Jessie: boys should settle their disagreements in physical fights (because that’s the closest thing to being “real men” [seriously, this is almost a full quote] they can muster) and girls should let their emotions out in crying and fragility (and be mocked for it with a laugh track while the masculine characters in the show comfort them).

Dude. 2013 called. Really?

I grew up on your bullshit princesses constantly being rescued by princes broken record, but I thought we were past that. I thought we were ready for the whole “people can be people, let’s stop smushing them into restrictive and unhealthy boxes and ruining their chances at a fulfilling and affirming futures…” type thing. What happened to the Mulan spirit?

Now, I can’t be sure that this is representative of your overall programming. I’m willing to admit that. But even if that hopeful scapegoat is the case, someone okaying this one hour of this one show is damning enough that it had me ragetweeting (something I almost never do) in order to keep myself from shoving myself inside a dryer and setting it to “cotton” (That’s the highest heat setting. I somehow know that, even though I have a penis). Why, Disney, are you actively reinforcing the most harmful outmoded gender norms? IT’S 2013 AND YOU ARE STILL DOING THIS. DO YOU REALIZE YOU ARE LITERALLY CONTRIBUTING TO THE DEATHS OF CHILDREN?!

Fact: in the U.S. alone, at least three boys kill themselves every day.

Boys are told that they shouldn’t have to ask for help. Boys are told that they should be strong. Boys are told they should be independent. That they should fight. That violence is the best answer. That being a man means hiding emotions and expressing yourself physically. They’re told this by you. You’re telling them this. And you’re telling everyone else that this is the behavior they should reinforce in boys. You’re killing our boys.

And, on the other hand, girls are affirmed in showing emotions while showing emotions is simultaneously vilified. Femininity in any form is presented as weakness. You’re telling girls that they should cry, while reinforcing the shame incurred by crying by laugh-tracking it. And you top it all off with a patriarchal figure being forced to cope with the emotional (10 year old?) feminine figure. “Bitches, amiright?”

Disney Channel, it might be too early in our relationship for me to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway: I hate you. If a parent ever asks me, “Hey Sam, do you know of any ways to destroy my children with zero effort on my part but a near-100% likelihood of emotional and psychic annihilation?”

“Why yes,” I’ll reply, “Let me take them to the laundromat. There’s this show they play on the television. A real technicolor motion picture talkie! I bet they’ll love it!”

Honorary Mickey Mouse Clubber,

sK

P.S. Bee-tee-dubs, that quote up top of you defending Cinderella by highlighting how she got her prince is horrifying. I really, really hope you didn’t say that. But I’m including it as the epigraph for this letter because I’m angry and don’t have any interest in fact-checking.

I remember the first time I played Show Me Yours I’ll Show You Mine. Some people call it Doctor. If you’ve never played, worry not: the rules are the simple. Show me yours. Then I show you mine. And who is the winner? Everyone.

It’s a fascinating game in every way. It’s taboo, breaking the rules your parents and teachers imposed upon you, so that’s awesome. But it also grinds against our personal comforts at the expense of satisfying curiosity — a paradox we’re faced with frequently in life. It’s doesn’t mean anything while at the same time meaning everything. And it’s something many people are ashamed of, or won’t talk about doing, but a lot of people do. Just ask someone, right now, “Did you ever play Show Me Yours I’ll Show You Mine?” I just asked a friend sitting beside me in this coffee shop and got a bashful smile and a reluctant yes.

It’s a game we played as kids, but many of us still play as adults (because alcohol). Yet, for many of us, we’re just as bashful as adults as we were when we were 5 years old (not bragging). Can you imagine playing Red Rover at a work retreat with the same glee and wonder as you did on the playground? There is NO WAY Sue from accounting is gonna break this grip! We mature in so many ways but one.

I also remember the first time I got in trouble for playing that game. I was terrified. And more recently, viewing this game from the “adult” lens, I’ve heard friends talk about disciplining their kids when they are caught playing. “Sam, you know about sexuality and gender stuff. What should we do? Is this okay? Is it normal?” I generally have a rule in these circumstances of replying Socratically, “What do you think? Did you play that game as a kid? Are you okay? Are you normal?” Which is ultimately code for “There is no way in hell you’re outsourcing the guilt for whatever punishment you’re about to mete out to me. You’re on your own, friend.”

Why are we so afraid of genitals? A lot of us treat them with the fear and reverence of Voldemort. You-Know-Who. “I’ve got a rash on my He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!” Sometimes I’ll yell penis or vagina on stage just because. It’s outlandish. Those words! One of my favorite shows, Scrubs, features Elliot Reed, a doctor who is unable to say the proper words for sexual anatomy and instead has a ton of hilarious replacement words.

We refer to our genitals as our private parts. Worse, we think of them as our family jewels. “Behold my treasure! Worth a king’s ransom, if I do say so myself. And I do. I say so.”

We are Troy. We are the Achaeans.

The Trojan War is pretty famous. You’ve probably heard of it. It makes a great analogy for how we view our genitals and how we view (or, more commonly, don’t view) other people’s genitals. Also, this isn’t a sponsored message (though there’s a lot of power and duplicity in the message of that brand, if you know what I’m talkin’ about). So, how are we Troy, the city with fabled impenetrable walls, as well as the Achaeans, the enemies who breached those walls and destroyed the city?

We internalize a message that our genitals are valuable, sacred, meant to be defended and safeguarded, and that we are gatekeepers and the world is full of would-be keymasters. This makes us unique. There’s one of us, and everyone else. It’s worth noting that this message is often more vigorously [phrasing] reinforced for people with vaginas, but people with penises are also taught to protect their nethers.

At the same time, we’re navigating a confusing and mixed-message world that pushes us to want to enter other people’s Troy. We want to see their Helen (if you know what I mean), and are encouraged to devise a number of strategies to do that. If you’re doubting this line of thought, just start to google any celebrity’s name and see what it auto-suggests. Like so:

jon-hamm-bulge

“Sorry to put you on the spot here, Jon. But we really wanna see your Helen. And I know you haven’t lowered the gates, so we’re gonna find a way around that. We are Achaeans. We have the internet. We will see your penis.”

To wrap things in a nice horse-shaped package [phrasing]: we simultaneously are working to keep something in obscurity while we are trying to uncover it.

Our Two Signature Moves When Confronting The Unknown

Humans. So simple in their complexity. When facing the unknown, humans generally react in one of two ways with millions of subtle variations: fear or curiosity. </robot-voice> Xenophobia versus Wanderlust. Terrifying Abyss versus The Final Frontier. Couch Potato versus Couch Surfing Potato.

Genital Xenophobia

When faced with talking about, thinking about, interacting with genitals, and all the unknowns and taboo circulating all of this, a lot of us react with fear. Let’s dissect [phrasing] genital xenophobia.

Our Puritanical history taught us to be afraid of genitals, and to keep our genitals covered up and secret because otherwise… I’m not really sure, exactly, but because bad! This perspective leads to encouraging abstinence, to keeping your private parts private. The common sense benefits of this are that you don’t end up engaging in sexual stuff until you’re ready, you’re less likely to get sexually transmitted infections, and you won’t have oops babies. Unfortunately, common sense is often the best way to be completely wrong about humans. The opposite is true on all three accounts.

I also blame genital xenophobia for a lot of the unhealthy and dangerous interactions we have with gender — ours and other people’s. Why do half the emails that fill my spam folder have some variation of “penis” and “enlargement” in the subject? (“Hugify Your Wang Today!”) Why is acknowledgement of menstruation met with public shaming? Why do people react with violence against trans* folks?

Genital Wanderlust

On the other hand, many of us have the urge to explore genitalia, to uncover the covered, to boldly go where no man has gone before (If you read between the lines, Star Trek is really just about space doin’ it). People born with penises are affirmed in this exploration — we’re told we are “biologically evolved” to wander. People born with vaginas are shamed if they do, because biology.

Biologically, again, our common sense is met with a scientific “nope.” The “research” (scare quotes!) that has people believing that men have evolved to spread their seed and women have evolved to keep a one-farmer garden is more than just questionable, it’s nonsense. The exact opposite is true. We’re biologically inclined to find one partner and to latch on to that person like the Kraken to a pirate ship, but with our genitals (how’s that for powerful imagery?). And if you don’t believe me, read my friend Andrew Smiley’s book Challenging CasanovaYou finished? Cool. Let’s continue.

But the curiosity that’s created by the societally-required unknown surrounding genitals leads to genital wanderlust. And, like genital xenophobia, this creates a lot of not-so-healthy interactions with gender. Why do you think teens have entire websites dedicated to asking strangers about their genitals? (some of which are wonderful, necessary sites due to this phenomenon, like Scarleteen) Why are young people being convicted of pornography for taking and sharing nude photos of themselves? Why is sexting a word? Why is one of the first questions many trans* people are asked some version of “what do your genitals look like?”

Let’s Be Naked All The Time

Hahahaha kidding. Sorry to freak you out. I bet you were all, “Wow, Sam, this took a sudden turn,” then you read my “hahahaha” and you were all, “Phew. That made me really uncomfortable. I’m happy you were kidding. Ever the jokester, Sam.” Don’t worry, friend. This isn’t a healthy gender article red herring nudist manifesto. I’m not a nudist. But I am totally serious. Sorry for the double gotcha. Now let’s take off our pants and talk about this seriously.

Whoa. How uncomfortable does that idea make you? Pretty freaking uncomfortable, right? Me too. I know I’m publicly anti-pants, but I’m only genuinely comfortable with that idea in private. I’m just as freaked out about people seeing my penis as you are. Interpret that sentence however you’d like. It’s a visceral, powerful discomfort. I’ve had dreams of forgetting to wear pants in public situations (like at school). You know, like in the movies. And by dreams I mean nightmares. Pantsless Nightmares (the title of my forthcoming memoir). I’d like to think of myself as normal (ha!), and this is forever in the back of my mind, lurking below the surface of my mind ocean, waiting to Genital Kraken my Thought Pirate Ship (how’s that for confusing imagery?).

But I do believe that the world would be a happier place if we didn’t wear clothes. And I don’t think it would be a 24/7/365 Worldwide Sex Party, like the conservative reaction to this article might misinterpret (also, that’s the title of my forthcoming fictional memoir, AKA my A Million Little Pieces). Okay, let’s slip into something more comfortable, and break this down list-style.

1. If we removed the unknown of genitals, we’d remove the fear and the curiosity.

You might be saying, “But there are a lot of positives to the curiosity! But romance!” And I would reply by arguing that relationships would be healthier and more fulfilling if the romance was about who you were on the inside, not about the genital surprise you get to unwrap after five dates (or one, or ten, or marriage — freak what you feel).

2. We’d become more comfortable with ourselves.

If the only comparison you have for your own genitals is what you’re able to find in porn or same-sex relationships, you’re likely not getting a broad or representative perspective. Anyone who has seen hundreds of real-life genitals (like a doctor, or someone who has sex with hundreds of people) can tell you that genitals are like snowflakes: no two are identical. Sure, this wouldn’t relieve all the comparison pressure, but it would definitely help clear the air. Like the way we view our noses.

3. I’m going to stop this thought experiment here.

Because I know I’ve likely lost you. This is too much. Too radical. Too hypothetical. It’s like skipping learning to walk and jumping right to olympic hurdles. And I know that, because I’ve thought about this a lot. I’m sorry for pushing you so hard. I normally wouldn’t. But I wanted to take you here, and to walk you down this thought road, because I think that there is a lot of value in going here hypothetically, even if there is no intention of going here societally.

But Let’s Actually Not.

We don’t need to become a nudist planet to move past the uncomfortable and unhealthy relationship a lot of us have with our genitals. It would be the microwave, Easy-Bake™ attempt to solve an incredibly complex, slow-cooked gumbo of a problem. And it would also terrify so many people that it would likely backfire and cause more harm than good. Too much challenge leads to recession, not growth.

But we can gain a better understand our own genital xenophobia and wanderlust, how those things influence and distort our understanding of gender, and come up with healthier approaches to how we relate (or don’t) to our own genitals and other people’s.

Let’s work to create a culture where genitals aren’t a taboo subject. Starting from a young age, using the proper words (sorry, Dr. Reed) is a great way to start. Teaching a person with a penis to call it a hoo-hah isn’t helping anyone, especially that kid. We need to demystify genitals if we want people to have a healthy relationship to their bodies, and be able to have healthy relationships with one another.

Let’s work to create a culture where people aren’t shamed because of their genitals. This is a lot to ask, because we shame people for just about every other part of their bodies, but I’m asking it anyhow. Diminishing the taboo will help, as it will hopefully lead to more open dialogue. Exploiting self-consciousness in advertising will also help, and we can stop (as individuals, with our dollars) supporting companies that do this. But above all, as I always say, the best thing you can do is work to make sure that the people in your immediate life are unashamed of who they are.

Let’s work to create a culture where sex and genitals are decriminalized. I mean this as it relates to comprehensive sex education, trans* persons’ rights, reproductive justice, and sex workers’ rights. For something we call our “private parts” we sure do a lot of public policing. If we satisfy the first two cultural shifts, this one will follow naturally. But changing the law can also change the culture, and that’s why I support pushing legislation in these areas as a means to remove the taboo and shame on an individual and interpersonal level.

Ultimately, I want you — your whole you — to be able to be happy. These are my three arguments for how we can make that happen. My three requests. Maybe you have other ideas, and I’d love to hear them. I’ve shown you mine. Let’s continue this conversation and you can show me yours.

 

Spend a day lost in your thoughts.
It’s not the way it’s normally done.
Days are full of things, and led with a compass.
You go places and see things and places and things see you.
The World. You must be a part of the world.
But somedays, manydays — and it’s hard to know when —
the World might be better without you.

The World, it turns and turns.
You think, therefore you are, as you’ve learned,
but the World is an is without you.
And without you, the World has forever been.
It moves. It grows. It suffers. It glows.
And it carries on… look, it’s doing it right now.
Without your consent, without your approval,
the World does quite fine on its own.

It’s We who can’t move without the World,
though We often see it the other way around.
Around We go, around the World, you know,
the way We’ve always gone.
And always will, in prelife and death,
We are forever at the whim of the World.

Shhh… it’s happening again.
Right now.
Listen.
We’re trying to convince ourselves otherwise.
But shhh, Ourselves,
we must allow
Ourselves to believe in believing otherwise.

And to know that the World will turn
And the best We can do
Is be the best We we can possibly be.
And to do that we must,
At least somedays, and sometimes manydays,
Spend a day lost in our thoughts.

A couple months ago I ventured into the land of the podcast. A couple weeks ago I roped my friend Ian in and “Thought of the Week” became “The Hawthorne Effect.” The whole thing has been a huge learning process. After doing a number of different podcast approaches by myself, and trying a few different things out with Ian, he and I sat down tonight to reflect on what we think has worked, what hasn’t, and set a clear plan for what we’ll do in the future. I’m really excited with what we came up with.

Starting next week, I’m confident that folks who have been listening to the experiment that has been the podcast will notice a huge shift (in a positive direction) in the feel and product. While we won’t know if that’s true until next week, this reflects the way that I try to approach most new projects: experiment a bunch, reflect, synthesize, retool, then focus in.

With my writing for It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, I followed this approach. My first few things I posted were all over the place, and I had no idea what would resonate with people, and I didn’t really think too much about it. I just did a bunch of different things, really focusing on exploring the possibilities and less on doing what was “right” or “good.” After a couple months, I looked back at what was effective (shared the most, generated the most discussion, etc.) and for the past couple of years I’ve kept my focus on producing content based on those first few successful themes (e.g., the “privilege lists” on the site).

I like this approach. It works well for me. I’m going to try to do apply it to more parts of my life.

I saw this wonderful commercial earlier today and shared it on Facebook immediately. Watch it, then let’s talk about it.

 

Obviously, these aren’t new ideas to me. I talk a lot about the proverbial boxes we are all smushed into. But the way that it’s portrayed in this video highlights an aspect of the relationship between who we are and who society says we should be that I rarely talk about: how abusive it is.

The abusive relationship most of us don’t realize we’re in.

Ever heard of the term microaggression? On Wikipedia, microaggressions are defined as “specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders [that] can be interpreted as small acts of mostly non-physical aggression.” When people (like me) say things like “society tells us we are supposed to be like ___” one of the ways “society tells us” is through microagressions. Microaggressions are to gender roles what heat is to general rolls.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “What do you mean you don’t like watching sports. You’re a man, aren’t you?” Are you asking if I have a penis? If so, this is a really weird way to hit on me. If I show it to you will you leave me alone? This quiche isn’t going to bake itself.

I’m not going to list all the microaggressions and microassaults I experience because of my gender. You have a gender. You know how it works. And I don’t generally blame the people who say those things. They’re behaving how they’ve been taught to behave and saying things they’ve been taught to say. They’re doing what — in a [depressingly] huge percentage of people’s eyes — is healthy and good, reinforcing what they believe is necessary for a stable society. “IT WASN’T ADAM AND FLANNEL-WEARING EVE!” No, no, no. I don’t blame them. I blame society.

The abusive relationship we’re all in is with society. We’re abused on a daily, constant basis. We’re told we’re not good enough, not right, not how we’re supposed to be; we’re corrected and forced and threatened to be something we’re not; and it’s a relationship we can’t safely remove ourselves from without facing dangerous consequences.

Getting out of the box

A parent recently wrote me because their child came out as trans* and requested that everyone start using gender neutral pronouns to describe them. The parent was, for the most part, incredibly understanding and wanted to be supportive, but wanted to draw the line at the gender neutral pronouns, saying something to the effect of “She’s a she. She’s not a they. They is plural. Can’t we just expand the gender roles we have and make more room for people to fit within them? Do we really need to start creating all these new labels?”

We totally could make the boxes bigger and less restrictive and more people would fit in them. We could add some windows, too. And maybe an air conditioner? Absolutely. Oh, and a mini fridge!

You know those huge spaces they have for some of the big animals at fancier zoos? They have trees and little ponds and they resemble the natural habitat the animal would be living in if it weren’t trapped in a cage — oops, not a cage, they call them “habitats.” This is what I think of when people say things like “can’t we just expand the gender roles we have.” It’ll be better, for sure, and incredibly preferred over the little jar with the stick and leaf we have now, but a habitat is a cage is a box is a fox. Whoops, went a little Dr. Seuss there.

We don’t have to get rid of the boxes. We can still have them, I guess, if people really want to have them. Some people like boxes. Fine. But the way out of this abusive relationship is allowing people to live outside of their boxes. By not forcing people into boxes to begin with, and not forcing people to be anything but themselves. By empowering individuals to choose who they want to be, and what box (if any) they might fit into.

You can’t choose if you’re not aware of any other options. That’s not consent; it’s coercion. The way we do gender, from birth to death, is abusive. It’s bullying. It’s harmful. And I’d venture that, given the choice, a person will choose the wild over a habitat, no matter how large it might be. It’s time we start giving people that choice.

***

Huge thanks to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault for that video. Take a moment and pledge your support to their Break the Box Campaign.

There’s an epidemic happening, people. It’s in my Facebook newsfeed and my Twitter tweetsfeed and my Google+ hahakiddingIdon’tcheckthatfeed. I believe it’s evolved from the fairly harmless confusion of their/they’re/there into the now dangerous misuse of “proud” and “humbled.”

The short version: people are saying they’re “proud” when they are really affirmingly excited, and they’re saying they’re “humbled” when they are really proud.

The Longer Version

I’m not going to call people out directly, because I don’t want them to feel like sad pandas. So instead of quotes (or screencaps, because I just saw several outbreaks of this plague, which led to this article), I’ll give you a couple broad reenactments of what I’m talking about.

Opening Argument

People of the jury, honorable judge, and all you scumbags in the nosebleed seats: I am humbled to be here to have this opportunity to present this case, and will be proud of you knowing that, after I present the evidence, you will likely come to the conclusion that these words are being falsely represented all on your own.

Exhibit A: The “Proud”

“I’m so proud of [this group that did something cool / this person who did something cool / Smokey the Bear who, unlike you, prevented forest fires]. They’re so great.”

Exhibit B: The “Humbled”

“I’m so humbled that [this great thing has happened to me / I’ve accomplished or been recognized for this thing I did / I won an Emmy (I’ve got some bourgeois Facebook friends)].”

Exhibit C: The “Proud” Definition

1. feeling pleasure or satisfaction over something regarded as highly honorable or creditable to oneself.
2. having, proceeding from, or showing a high opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, or superiority.
3. having or showing self-respect or self-esteem.
4. highly gratifying to the feelings or self-esteem: It was a proud day for him when his son entered college.
5. highly honorable or creditable: a proud achievement.

Exhibit D: The “Humbled” Definition

1. to lower in condition, importance, or dignity; abase.
2. to destroy the independence, power, or will of.
3. to make meek: to humble one’s heart.

(thanks, Dictionary.com)

Closing Argument

So as you can likely see, when people say they’re “proud” of someone else’s accomplishments, they’re really saying they are entitled to some honor or credit in the accomplishing of those accomplishments; and when people say they are “humbled” by other people recognizing them for their accomplishments, what they really mean is they’re proud of how awesome they are. Can I get an Amen?! *Drops Bible* *Storms Out of Courtroom*

Judge: “Why was he holding a Bible?”

What’s the problem? Am I a Word Police?

The problem is that words mean things, and our misuse of words, or misconstruing the meaning, also means things. What we’re saying with the above two-punch combo of social-media-back-patting is:

  • This group/person did something worthy of back-patting. I want some of that back-patting, too. “Check out this awesome thing someone else did! It couldn’t have happened or you wouldn’t know about it without me.
  • Ooo, I did something worthy of back-patting myself, but it’s vain and bad to be proud of myself. Oh, yeah, it’s good to be humble, I’ll use that word. “I’m humbled! By how awesome I am.

We’re giving ourselves undue credit in other people’s accomplishments, while not fully crediting ourselves in our own. And all of this, I’m supposing, is because we’re conditioned in a society that reinforces buying into this paradox. We’re supposed to work hard and be special and be exceptional, but we’re supposed to be modest lest we be perceived as egotistical, vain, or “I bet you think of yourself when you masturbate.” Add to all of this a crippling desire to be externally validated for a sense of accomplishment (something we were trained to need by years of grades and ribbons and standardized tests and gold stars), the image-crafting of social media, and a society that creates and worships a small group of elite… and we have a lot of obstacles between us and happiness.

So what can do we do differently?

Say what you mean. If you think someone has done something awesome, applaud them for doing something awesome. You might even be “humbled” by what they’ve done. Cool. If you deserve credit for their accomplishment, you’re more than welcome to be proud of them.

If, on the other hand, you’ve done something awesome, and you want to be recognized, you’re also welcome to be proud. But you’re not humbled, and you’re ruining that word (it’s a powerful, important word), so stop using it. Let’s stop thinking that false modesty is preferred over legitimate pride.

Let’s affirm people in being proud of what they’ve accomplished, and do our best to subvert the discomfort people feel that leads them to being falsely modest. But, more importantly and bigger picture, let’s try to create a space for our friends and loved ones where they don’t need to seek external validation to be happy, where they don’t see accomplishment as a prerequisite for people to appreciate them, and where they feel unconditionally appreciated just for beingWe can start by fully learning this for ourselves, and having an open heart with no minimum admission requirements.

I’ve only ever read one, maybe two, “self help” books (depending on how strict your definition is). Not for me. And I wouldn’t want to foist them on anyone else. Might seem odd, considering what I write here. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so reluctant to write about the things I write about here: because I don’t like the idea of “self help” coming from another person.

I haven’t read all the books, so I’m making a lot of broad generalizations, and might have a bit of prejudice I need to unpack, but when I talk to people who are huge “self help” book fans, there are a few things that stick out to me as less than savory: there’s too much money involved, it promotes idolatry, and it fosters codependent support.

The money thing is obvious. It’s hard to differentiate the big “self help” pioneers from any other mogul: they’ve tapped into a market and done an amazing job making the dollars keep flowing. Some folks charge upwards of $40K – $60K for a talk. That’s a lot of money. I’m never one to question someone’s motivations, but if your goal was to help other people help themselves, a few dollars to a need person might be more meaningful than a book. And when their followers find out about the wild amounts of money some of these folks make, instead of thinking “what the eff?!” they think “I could be like that,” which brings me to idolatry.

The self help enterprise isn’t focused around making people’s lives better, it’s focused around the people who make others’ lives better. Fans of self-help moguls follow their every teaching and celebrate their work to an extent bordering on idolatry. Believing one person is worthy of worship, while that person is telling you that you’re great, will likely lead to at least a bit of cognitive dissonance. And when there isn’t dissonance, and when someone fully accepts that contraction, we have the beginnings of a codependent relationship.

Codependence is a dangerous concept because it’s so close to interdependence, something that’s super duper healthy and an important thing to find for yourself. Codependence crops up when you have a person who thinks they need another person in order to be happy, or that another person is responsible for their happiness. That’s not good. You need to know how to make you happy.

So what am I writing here, if not a “self help” e-book in blog form?

For a long time I’ve been a fan of zen buddhist teachings. I was initially turned onto buddhism many many years ago. I read the stories, learned about the noble eightfold path, and thought “Awesome! Imma do this stuff.” And I did. Actually, I didn’t. I thought I did, but I really didn’t. It took many years before any of it actually clicked. It started clicking when I spent more time meditating, allowing myself to experience myself, writing, and having intentional, meaningful conversations with other people. That’s the best “self help” I could ever recommend, but that’s easier said than done.

A lot of what I’m doing here is trying to explore how all of that happened, and how I’ve ended up where I am right now, with the thoughts and lens I have. I’m trying to tease it all out, simplify it, drill down to the important bits, and I will hopefully be left with a more clear understanding for myself, but also something I can share with you.

A thought a day from me to you as you continue down your road, hoping that it helps point you where you want to go. And, if I’m lucky, you’ll return the gesture to me, to help me as I continue down my road.

Everything you need to know about relationships you can learn from watching Dexter and Scrubs. Okay, that’s probably not true. But I really dig both shows, and I like what I’ve gleaned from both character’s approaches to life.

Dexter, the sociopath who lives a life of lies, is amazingly good at self care. JD, the incredibly sensitive open book, is self destructive bordering on masochistic. And while it’s a not likely the popular judgment, and I’m finding my own eyebrows raise as I write this, Dexter is actually the better friend of the two. The serial killer who refers to himself as a monster. And not the Lady Gaga kind.

A lot of us struggle with being friends to ourselves. As Ian and I discussed, it’s easy to be unfairly hard on ourselves, and treat us in ways we’d never treat other people. We judge ourselves too harshly, rarely give ourselves a break, and expect too much too often for too long. Not all of us, of course, but those of use who struggle with being our own friends.

Being your own friend means treating yourself with respect. It means going out of your way to do nice things for yourself, to care for yourself when you’re ill or down, and to love yourself unconditionally, even when you screw up. Being your own friend means seeing the good in your actions, instead of focusing on the bad. It means that you’re always there for you, through thick and thin, when things are great, and when things are not so great. Being your own friend means treating yourself like a human being, the same as (or better) as you treat other human beings.

We often try to find people to complete us, both in friendships and romantic relationships. We want people who will make us better, on whom we can rely, who will make us happy, make our lives good.

But you need to be that for yourself. You need to be complete. You need to make yourself be better, and rely on yourself to make yourself happy. You’re the only one who can make your life good. Trying to fork that responsibility over onto someone else will never end well. In a good case scenario, you’ll end up with a codependent relationship (the kind many of us are currently in, in a variety of different capacities). And in a worst case scenario you’ll never find someone to fill that vacancy, and live a vacant, unhappy life.

There’s this old proverb that says, “Sweep before your own door first.” It’s perfect for what I’m trying to say here. If you don’t have a clean door step, you’re just going to track your dirt whoever you go, into other people’s houses, and others are going to track it into yours. Sweeping before your own door means caring for yourself, finding ways to love and support yourself, and, ultimately, being your own friend first.

It’s great to want to be a good friend to other people. The best way you can do that is by being a good friend to you.

As I mentioned a couple days ago, I’ve got a bit of a break before I head back on the road for my next gig. This is important time for me, because it’s the time that I set aside every year to sharpen my saw. Saw sharpening is an important part of life, which is why it’s the theme of one of my favorite zen stories. But what is it? Here are the three Rs of Saw Sharpening:

Relaxation: designating a block of time as a break from whatever you normally do. This doesn’t need to be on a beach, or even time spent resting, it just needs to be a time you’re able to relax the part of your self (brain, bod, whatev) that you normally work.

Reflection: using this time to meaningfully reflect on your past. It’s easy to relax and completely tune out of life, and that’s nice sometimes, but that’s not going to sharpen any saws. It’s also easy to keep working and doing and progressing and never look back. This is your time to look back.

Readjusting: making small changes to the way you approach your life and work. This doesn’t have to be (nor should it be) an overhaul. While you’re reflecting, you’ll likely think of a few things you can tweak that will make for a more fruitful future. Fruit is good. Tweak for fruit.

I like to do minor saw sharpening throughout the day or week, but I’ve found that the most effective way for me to be me is to set aside a big chunk of time every so often to do some serious saw sharpening. I guess I have a hard, durable saw, so it takes a while to dull, but once it’s dull it takes a while to get it back to its razor sharp glory (like one of those knives you can cut a soup can then a tomato with).

Depending on what your life is like, or how you operate, your sharpening schedule will vary. But unless your saw is made of Adamantium, it’s gonna need some love. It might just be 10 minutes of time you set aside, but you might need ten days (I need ten days). Here are some things to look out for that might be a cue it’s time for some R & R & R:

  • You hear yourself saying “why is everything broken?” more than you usually say it, which hopefully isn’t that often
  • You’re losing sleep (because you can’t keep your mind off your work, not because fun)
  • It’s taking you an hour to do something that would normally take you ten minutes
  • You feel like there’s a big invisible wall between you and what you’re trying to do and you keep smashing your face against it
  • Your coworkers keep saying “somebody’s got a case of the Mondays”
  • You are more easily distracted than usual (e.g., you actually went to buzz feed.com, like, the homepage, not a link from Facebook)
  • It’s Wednesday

Now I’m off to continue my Saw Sharpening Saturday, which is day one of I-have-no-idea-how-many-I’ll-need days of serious sharpening. Let me know if you have any tips to get back into soup can then tomato cutting shape.

 

After the second day of this conference, thinking about why I’ve had such a great experience, and why I find myself so connected to this world that a few days ago I was anything but, the answer is clear.

Ultimately, for me, it matters more who you are, and how you do something, than what you are actually doing. The best example of this that pops into my mind is the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, or, more specially, the famous Fish! Philosophy that came from that place. These are folks who had to wake up at ungodly hours to head down to a cold wet place in a (often) cold wet city to pack and sell fish to people — actually, they weren’t. There are folks who got to do all that, and found a way to love it, be wonderful at it, and connect with other humans while doing it.

Here, every person I talk to is exactly that to me. While our jobs aren’t close to perfect, and we’re working within and against broken systems, we recognized how privileged we are to be doing what we’re doing (yes, I’m we-ing now). But what’s even more apparent, and what’s made my time at this conference so special, is how much these people genuinely care about people.

I like that. A lot.

Earlier tonight I gave the opening keynote for the Nat’l Sex Ed Conference. It was an hour that I’ve spent the last 6 months mulling, refining, trashing, rebuilding, trashing, reconceiving, and then, tonight, finally talking. I’ve never given a talk like that — not even close. And I mean that for more reasons than I can likely make sense here.

This year was wild.

I spent more time on the road this year than ever. I’ve been everywhere. I’m not sure if this is true (because I have a lot of accounting to d0), but I’m pretty sure I spent more money on travel (to do free talks, rep GAB, perform my show, etc.) this year than I made in income last year. But my income was almost exactly the same. So I’ve finally lived some version of this phrase that’s been on IPM since I launched the site and my career: “Sam is committed to sharing this message as much as possible, and would much prefer performing the show at 50 schools a year instead of 15, even at the same wage.” I’ve given away thousands of copies of a freaking book I wrote. I wrote a book. I published a book. And tonight the CFLE sold a bunch at a table to raise funds, then folks wanted me to sign them. Real life. Not a single one would believe me when I said it was my privilege to have the opportunity to meet them. And the TED talk. I can’t believe that was this year.

I haven’t slept in 3 days. I haven’t rested in 12 months. I know it’s only December 11, but I spoke into a microphone for the last time of the year tonight, which is why I’m calling it over. That part of my life is over for 2013.

And it all ended with words I’d never said out loud before, at the end of a talk that was almost entirely things I’d never said on stage, with a crowd standing and applauding. I didn’t even realize it was happening at first. I have a hard time acknowledging applause, so I was staring at the stage. When I looked up, everything came down. I felt 2013, all at once, the entire year, pass through me — or maybe that’s just the sleep deprivation.

I’m not sure I’m ready for 2014. But the good news is I have a couple weeks to prepare myself.

I want to start by letting the NSA know this is purely a thought experiment. We cool? Sweet. Thanks, bros.

Now let’s burn this place to the ground.

Imagine we were in the middle of a full-scale, government upheaving, tea dumping, enterprise leveling, building burning revolution. You’re welcome to create your own impetus for this scenario. Choose whatever best fits your internal narrative for why this might happen. Now, everything you know is falling apart, and in a few days, or a few hours, your world is going to be a starkly different place.

What, if any, system would you try to protect? And what, if any, system would you toss metaphorical (or, I guess, literal) bricks at? I really want to hear your answers, or at least for you to ponder this yourself. It’s been an eye-opening thought experiment for me.

For me, this is a tough nut to crack. In general, I’m a fan of a bigger government. I think that a society needs to have a shared responsibility in providing fundamental needs in order for it to prosper indefinitely. Raw, unmitigated capitalism only works if there’s infinite room for growth — we live on a small planet, so that’s out. However, I’m not a fan of just about everything that’s happening on the big system level, from the public to the private sector.

To make an incredibly broad statement, everything is broken. But it’s easy to say that. It’s easy to say that things are wrong, and I want things to change. But it’s much more difficult to try to pin a particular system with the guilt, and choose where to aim my bricks. I’d probably start with big lending institutions, banks, and financial monoliths — oh! And their lobbyists. Definitely lobbyists. Brick, brick, brick, brick.

It’s easier to narrow down what I would want to protect. I’d take my pitchfork over to big research, particularly in the environmental sector, and swing it furiously. We need that. We can’t afford to lose that. But not those scientists who want to shoot garbage into the atmosphere to prevent global warming. They can eat brick.

So where would you be? What would you want to maintain, and what would you be happy to see gone? Think about it. Remember, Russell Brand started a revolution last night. You better gather up your bricks.

Hahahah kidding! This was all a joke. I love everything, especially Freddie Mac, who I know our government loves too. Love love love love lo — is the NSA still listening? No. Okay. Freddie Mac?

Brick.

My post about going to see a movie by yourself has stirred up some wonderful conversations. And the title of this post is the most interesting thought that’s come from it, and I want to dive right in.

Being alone isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good, necessary, healthy thing. It’s a time to reflect, to appreciate, to think, to create, to process your life. Reflection and synthesis of ideas is crucial to learning and growing, and for many people this can only be done when they are alone. Kierkegaard nails this with one of my favorite quotes: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Damn, Kierkegaard, I bet you spent a ton of time alone.

So why are we so damned afraid of being alone?

Because we’re afraid others will think we’re lonely. There’s something wrong with lonely people, or else why wouldn’t they have people around them? There must be something broken about them! If you learn someone is lonely, you best stay away from them. Leave them to their cats. Loneliness results in more loneliness; it’s a beast that feeds itself. (Please know that I don’t believe any of this — or at least I don’t want to, but these are thoughts that I hear in my head, because Society)

I’m not lonely! I have 2200 facebook friends. Look at all the things I share. Look at all those likes! I have all the likes! And retweets. Don’t even get me started on retweets. I have to call them RTs because I get so many I don’t even have time for all those other letters. Look at me on Instagram! Follow me! #TeamFollowBack Connect with me! Please, please, connect with me. How am I so damned lonely?! Nobody else feels this lonely. Look at all the friends they have on Facebook. Look at all those likes they’re getting…

We are living in a time when it’s easy to feel uncomfortable being alone, because there are so many ways you can “be” with other people. So we’re never truly alone. And that makes it ever more uncomfortable when we feel lonely.

I saw someone post a photo on Facebook last Friday night of themselves with a glass of wine and the caption “Relaxing into a much-needed quiet Friday night date with myself. #DontHate” The irony hurt. If you really want to be alone, WHY ARE YOU TELLING THE WHOLE WORLD, my brain yelled. Then I realized I knew the answer: this person is uncomfortable being alone on a Friday night, and this is how they are trying to mitigate that discomfort

They are seeing all of their friends posting photos of their fun nights out with dozens of people and having so much fun and internalizing all of this as something being wrong with them. Maybe they chose to be alone tonight, or maybe they got ditched by a friend, or maybe they wanted to go out and don’t really have any friends who wanted to go out with them, but, whatever the case, they were probably terrified they would slip from enjoying a night alone into being lonely on a Friday night. The first is good. The second is bad. And maybe a “like” or a reassuring comment would stave that off.

I knew the answer because I have been that person.

I spend a lot of time on the road traveling alone. And during the day, when I’m performing, or visiting a campus, or flying, eating, writing — keeping my mind busy — I’m on the road traveling alone; I’m not lonely on the road. And I enjoy it. I enjoy the aloneness. I thrive in it. But at night, when I get back to my hotel room and plop down on the bed, I regularly toe the line between being alone and being lonely.

I am usually good at landing on the enjoying a night alone side of the line, but sometimes, usually after a particularly long stretch on the road, of if a show doesn’t go as well as I want it to, I’ll find myself stumbling onto the lonely side. It probably doesn’t help that I have this disgusting and self-body-destroying habit of having a huge pizza delivered to my hotel room and eating it by myself in my underwear. And, as I am typing that, I am reminded of this:

That was at some hotel in some town on the east coast several weeks ago. I spent a ton of time on the road this fall, and was likely sharing that to stave off the internal perception of loneliness that night. Don’t get me wrong, I was also sharing it because I think it’s hilarious how disgusting I am. I don’t really eat animal stuff, and only rarely (once a month or so) eat cheese, but when I do, I do. And it’s also worth pointing out that when someone “likes” something on Instagram they give you a heart. How perfect. But ultimately, I didn’t want to feel lonely. I never want to feel lonely.

I’ve found aloneness to be one of the most powerful influences in getting to the point where I’m at right now, doing what I’m doing, living the life I’m living. By finding a way to enjoy and embrace aloneness I’ve created things and had experiences I would have never had otherwise. Loneliness is a poison, but aloneness is a catalyst. The difficult part is infusing the latter into your life without inadvertently dosing yourself with the former.

Can we stop equating being alone with being lonely? Yes. And we should. Because it’s one of the many ways we’re fabricating unhappiness, and doing ourselves a major disservice. I have been on a long journey that started many years ago into embracing and enjoying aloneness, and I’ve come a long way, but (as I greasily depicted above) still struggle.

I’ve found progress through being mindful of when I’m feeling lonely, intentional in how I allow myself to react to that feeling, and focusing on appreciating the experience I’m having instead of missing the experiences I’m not having.

What’s the first question you ask someone you meet at a dinner party? “Can you point me in the direction of the hummus platter?” Okay, but the second question? “What do you mean they don’t have a hummus platter?!” You’re clearly hungry. You should eat. Eventually, and usually initially, you’ll ask the invariable first question:

“What do you do?”

Most of us (myself included) would say who you are matters more than what you do, but most of us (myself included) will still easily fall into acting the other way. It’s kind of like that Jim Gaffigan joke about Catholicism: “Don’t eat meat on Fridays! …unless you forget.”

I get asked this question a lot, and I assume you do as well. On busses, planes, trains, in the rain, in a house by a mouse… it’s a common question to answer. For me, though, every time I get the choice of how to answer, because oh the things I do. And it’s in answering this question again and again that I’ve seen how much what you do matters more than who you are.

What do I do?

Here’s a smattering of the ways I’ve responded to the “What do you do?” question, and my best guess at the reactions of the specific people I gave these responses to. Each one is just as true as the next (I do all of them professionally), and as untrue (answering with just one thing in inherently dishonest, but it’s also easier).

I do social justice work.

[1] “Huh?” [2] “Oh, so what are you the ‘PC’ Police?” (actual quote) [3] “I guess I better watch what I say around you.”

I’m a comedian.

“Tell me a joke!”

This is the response almost every time, and the answer — and I think I’m speaking for all comedians — is no. Please think about how absurd that request is. Go ahead and come up with your own analogies (I’ll help: surgeon, lawyer, clown — oh wait, that last one and what you think I am isn’t really a comparison of unlike things). Now let’s move on, please.

“Naw, c’mon! Tell me a joke. It’ll be fun. You’re funny, right?”

We’re fighting now.

I code websites.

“Oh, interesting, but I just noticed this really interesting floral pattern on the wall over there. So I’m going to go look at it. Right now. Over there.”

I’m a graphic designer.

My friend’s mom’s cousin’s priest’s last confessional booth attendee told him he needed a logo designed, but confessed he doesn’t have any money to spend on it. Will you do it for free?

I’m an author.

[1] “Is your work published?” (generally asked in the most pessimistic, condescending way, as if to simultaneously ask a question, answer it, and judge you)

[2] I’m writing a book, too, and now you’re going to listen to me talk about the book I probably haven’t actually started and will never write. Don’t worry — it’s awesome.

[3] Cool! You’re all of a sudden very interesting and mysterious and I’m going to grant everything you say more weight than I will that “comedian” jerk over there who wouldn’t even tell me a joke.

I’m an author, on the internet.

“Oh, interesting, but I just someone noticing this really interesting floral pattern on the wall over there. So I’m going to go look at it with them. Right now. Over there.”

I do research and education on identity, gender, and sexuality.

“Wow! That’s so needed. The world needs that. You’re needed.”

I run a non-profit.

“Oh, cool! What’s it called? What problem are you trying to solve?”

It’s called Gamers Against Bigotry.

“Don’t you think there are more pressing problems in the world? There’s a guy over there who’s doing research and education on identity, gender, and sexuality. Maybe he could use your help.”

I’m a professional speaker.

[1] “I could never do that. How can you do that? That’s so cool!” [2] “I could totally do that, but what I do is better. You’re beneath me.”

I’m a photographer.

My sister-in-law is a photographer and now I’m going to tell you everything about my sister-in-law. Don’t worry — she’s awesome.

And the list goes on.

Sometimes I’ll be more vague (activist, advocate, or performer), other times I’ll be overwhelmingly specific (here’s my CV), because it’s fun to see how different responses will dictate what happens next. I’ve gotten to the point where after asking someone what they do and hearing a bit about them, I can cater my response to make them immediately love me or be 100% indifferent toward me, and all without uttering a single lie. But all of this is nonsense, because what I do doesn’t matter nearly as much as…

Who Am I?

I’m Sam. Sam I am. I’m a gelatinous blob of matter, mostly oxygen (and a disproportionate amount of whatever elements comprise chickpeas). I’m all those thing above and none of those things. And each one of them tells you as little about me as it tells you about me. I’m a walking paradox, an internal contradiction. I’m forever changing. I’m a human person.

When we ask “What do you do?” we think we’re asking “Who are you?” but the one rarely gets to the other. If we wanted to know who someone was, we’d have to ask them thousands of questions (many of which they might not know the answer to themselves), and “What do you do?” may never play into the equation. But “What do you do?” is a silver bullet question for getting at “Who does society think you are?” — or, more aptly: “How good are you? How much status do you have? How much are you worth?”

You don’t likely want to think about this, but we tend to value people more who society tells us to value more. From the bottom of the totem pole (when was the last time you asked a homeless/jobless person to tell you about their homelessness/joblessness) to the top (bet you’d buy Barry Obama a drink and coerce him to tell you about his job if you ended up sitting at the bar beside him).

I don’t like that. I want to do that less. I want to start valuing people for who they are, not what they do. And I want to stop valuing or devaluing myself for the same reasons. So I’m going to.

If this is something that’s up your alley, watch this fascinating TED talk by Alain de Botton where he talks about a lot of this (I love when I happen upon a video that relates to something that’s been rattling around in my mind), but also so much more, wraps it up with a bow, and does it in a wonderful accident. And let me know what you think about all of this in the comments below, person!

Nothing particularly special happened today. One could call it, for me, a fairly unremarkable Saturday. I woke up to some bad news, spent most of my day in a relatively lazy fashion behind my computer, didn’t experience many of my favorite things about Austin, and now, an hour before midnight, my day is winding down. But today was perfect.

If that sounds ridiculous (it probably does) please give me a moment to explain. I’m sitting myself down here until midnight and giving myself the same moment, because it’s not something I’ve ever tried to say “out loud” (as loud as one can say with their keyboard, anyway). There are likely a lot of “BUT THIS!”s popping up in your mind (the same ones I’m hearing in mine), so I’m going to try to structure this in a way that aligns with those.

“But you didn’t do anything remarkable!”

That is incredibly true. In fact, it’s so true that today, as a testament to my commitment to this website and project, I intentionally lived a truly unremarkable kind of Saturday. I spent it mostly quiet, to myself, with some media consumption and a whole lot of pajamas. I knew that tonight I wanted to write this post, and that if something remarkable had happened, it would have made it harder to refute this preemptive counterpoint.

But my having not done something remarkable is to today what today is to a butterfly: two independent concepts that can and should be judged with independent rubrics (and both happen to be quite beautiful).

Today is not influenced by what I’ve done or haven’t done. Today would have happened completely without my consent — and it did! I could have never left my bed, or lived “life to the fullest” and eaten so much hummus my tummy actually ruptured (I know: I have rockstar dreams), or I could have done anything and everything in between and regardless today would have carried on the all the same. Today was going to be today, and had a lot of Todaying to do, without any nudge from me. What I did or didn’t do has nothing to do with today. And today was perfect.

“But perfection is impossible!”

We’re all taught perfect is impossible. And that (like the golden rule) is one of the silliest things we’re ever taught that we never challenge. Here are all the definitions of perfect that Dictionary.com could drum up (It’s always always always important to be sure you’re speaking the same language before you try to speak):

per·fect [adj., n. pur-fikt; v. per-fekt] adjective:
1. conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type: a perfect sphere; a perfect gentleman.
2. excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement: There is no perfect legal code. The proportions of this temple are almost perfect.
3. exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose: a perfect actor to play Mr. Micawber; a perfect saw for cutting out keyholes.
4. entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings: a perfect apple; the perfect crime.
5. accurate, exact, or correct in every detail: a perfect copy.

Watch out, y’all, because I’m going to start with 1 and work my way all the way to 5.

1. conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type: a perfect sphere; a perfect gentleman.

Today is perfect because today is absolutely and perfectly the ideal type of today. There is no day in history or in the future, nor will there ever be, that is a better today than today. It’s absolutely, quintessentially, unconditionally today. If you don’t want to appreciate it’s perfection, and think that yesterday’s today was better, or hope that tomorrow’s today might hold some unforeseen goodness, that’s your prerogative. But know that you’re simply being silly: today is the only day that will ever satisfy perfect criteria #1, and that makes me want to hug it and kiss it squarely on its perfect imaginary mouth.

2. excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement: There is no perfect legal code. The proportions of this temple are almost perfect.

Uh oh, think you’ve got me stumped, Perfect?! WRONG. Tomorrow may hold some unforeseen goodness that today doesn’t hold, but tomorrow is a bunch of malarkey, and so is yesterday. Today is the only day that will ever exist, and in that way it is theoretically and practically impossible to improve upon. Yesterday only exists in our minds, and our minds are cluttered and confused and full of malarkey. Tomorrow only exists hypothetically, and only if today is good enough to you to give you the chance to see tomorrow. And if today is nice enough to you to afford you that chance (like if I live for the final 35 minutes of today and get to see tomorrow) guess what? It’ll be today again. Boom. Perfect.

3. exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose: a perfect actor to play Mr. Micawber; a perfect saw for cutting out keyholes.

My fingers are literally jittering with excitement at the idea of writing this paragraph, even though I have no idea what I’m going to type. It’s. So. Right. Today is the best thing that will ever happen to you. It’s everything you’ll ever be given, regardless of what you think you want or you need. It’s like when you go to the bowling alley and they ask you what size your shoe is and you say 13 and then you apologize because your feet are too big and they say they only have 12s and you say “I guess that will have to work” and then you put them on and make it work and are terrible at bowling but have a great time and turn your shoes in later and completely forget that they weren’t perfect for you. Today is just like that. It’s exactly what you need in order to get to tomorrow. And in that way it is perfect.

4. entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings: a perfect apple; the perfect crime.

Oh snap. I had so much fun writing 1 – 3 that I forgot about this #4 and now I’m worried that something I wrote in 1 – 3 is going to conflict with what I write here. Kidding. I got this, y’all. Remember what I said earlier, about judging a butterfly as a butterfly and a today as a today? It brings to mind this wonderful Albert Einstein quote (that I just now decided will be the epigraph for this thought):

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Today is flawless, if you judge today as a today, and not as a fish who can’t climb trees. We often do the latter — far too often. We think that today has to be the sum of everything (it’s not, it’s just today) and we think that it was supposed to fulfill the hopes of yesterday’s tomorrow (that’s silly: today is today, it’s nobody’s tomorrow — that’s just rude). Or we’ll yell at today because it wasn’t as good as yesterday, or some other yesterday’s yesterday. And now we’re just sounding like a bitter ex. Your current partner (or netflix series you’re livestreaming — you know, whichever you’ve got going on) isn’t your last partner, and it’d be silly to let their old flaws to dictate your current relationship. Right? Right. And today is flawlessly, undefectably, long-comingly today.

5. accurate, exact, or correct in every detail: a perfect copy.

A twist ending! Don’t worry, it’s totally okay if you want to call me M. Night Sam-alan. Today isn’t a copy of any other today. It’s absolutely uncopied and uncopyable! It is supremely unique, has never happened, and will never happen again. So, does this mean it doesn’t meet 1/5 of the perfection index, and should be considered 20% imperfect? NO! Because it is exactly the same, and correct in every detail, and you can accurately predict that every Today will be exactly like today. Every day you live, for the rest of your life, once you get to it, will be exactly like today. It will be uncopyable, supremely unique, and never happen again. Every day in the future, if you get there, will be a perfect copy of today.

“But today could have been better!”

Another perfect thing about today, and the reason I want to kiss it on the cheek and high-five it simultaneously, is because it’s the only time we’re ever able to beat ourselves up. And that’s all this thought is. It’s self-abuse, and we do it to ourselves a lot, and it’s unfair, and it’s irrational, and it’s fabricated, and it’s something we’re only ever able to do today. We can’t beat ourselves up tomorrow. And as far as yesterdays are concerned, we can only beat ourselves up for what we did or didn’t do or what didn’t happen or did happen — and all of that happens today. Today is perfect because it’s the only time we’re able to abuse ourselves!

Wait… what?

Ugh. Um. Sorry. I’m typing really fast. I’m not as fond of self-abuse as I seem to be in that first paragraph. Let me try again. Today is perfect because today is the only time we’re ever able to abuse ourselves. So, in the span of our lives, if you’re my age-ish, that’s about .001% of your life. If you’re younger it’s more, but if you’re older it’s less! That’s an incredibly small window of time in which we’re able to abuse ourselves. But it’s also more than that.

Today is the only time we can celebrate ourselves, or affirm ourselves, or love ourselves, or love anything. Today is the only day we can experience life, in all of its myriad emotions. And we can also choose to not abuse ourselves, and to fully accept the perfection of today, and find peace in that.

And today is the only day that’s possible.

Happy Today.

With love,

sK