I Sent a Man to Jail Today

A man went to jail this afternoon because an officer asked if I wanted him to be prosecuted, and I said yes. The range of emotions that followed have been confusing and a little maddening. Today I was assaulted on the streets of Berkeley while pushing my sleeping toddler in a stroller.

We are in California visiting family and were out for a stroll to the playground, bookstore, lunch, and a tour of the UC campus. When Kasey fell asleep, I browsed downtown for a place that might be a good spot to eat. I passed through the busy streets and didn’t find what I was looking for, so I decided to turn on a road toward campus where there might be more options. Just as I turned down a side road, I felt a swift, firm grasp on my butt and turned quickly to see a stranger. He spewed vulgar words without making eye contact and then gleeful skipped away as he pumped his fists overhead, grocery bag in hand, celebrating his actions.

In seconds, my mind went from confusion and shock to thoughts of rage and retaliation to the realization that I am a petite, 37-year-old woman nursing a fractured rib and pushing a jogging stroller with my sleeping daughter. There was nothing I could do, but watch him prance down the street gloating about what he had just done.

Feeling powerless, I tried to talk myself down from the level of anger, disgust, and sadness that was setting in. It was just a grab on the butt. Definitely not the first time that I have been touched without consent or subjected to verbal filth from a man on the street. However, this felt different. This happened with my daughter sleeping peacefully on an outing that was supposed to be quality time together. It made it feel like a more egregious assault and an invasion of my physical and emotional space. More importantly, the ease and glee that he was expressing made me worry that this is not the first time and likely won’t be the last that he assaults a woman.

This is why it often doesn’t feel safe just existing as a woman in this world. And, what if Kasey was awake and witnessed it? What if I was a survivor who had been severely triggered by this? What would I want Kasey or a loved one to do if it happened to them?...

After about 30 seconds of swirling thoughts and feelings, I dialed 911.

The dispatcher asked about the nature of my emergency. I said I don’t have one and don’t know if there’s anything that can be done, but a man just grabbed me on the street and I thought they should know. She asked for all of the details and asked me to stay where I was so an officer could come talk to me. I began to get frustrated. All I wanted to do was get some lunch and enjoy my day. By the time they got there, he would be long gone.

Roughly 20 minutes passed, and I got a call saying they had detained him. They wanted me to identify him. I said I didn’t want to see him, more accurately, didn’t want him to see me. They sent a police officer to the intersection I was waiting at with a picture on his phone to confirm they got the correct person. I said that they had the right guy, and he asked if I wanted to press charges. I began to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. Multiple officers were responding to an ass grabbing. Was I making too big of a deal out of this?

I told the police officer that he might have been mentally ill or on drugs. I asked what would happen to him. I didn’t like the idea of possibly ruining someone’s life with a criminal record and court fees that he may not be able to afford and whatever other consequences might be involved with an assault charge. And, if he was mentally ill or an addict, jail isn’t the answer…

The officer stopped me and said something along the lines of, ‘I can’t tell you what to do, but what he did is not acceptable. You are likely not the only one that he’s done this to and won’t be the last. If he keeps getting away with this, it will likely get worse.’

I said that I wanted to press charges – anonymously. The officer affirmed my decision and told me that he needs to know that this type of behavior is not acceptable. I agree. But, that hasn’t stopped it from hijacking my day. I am annoyed that I want to know what happened to him and how this is going to affect his life. I am mad that I minimize nonconsensual touching because it’s “not that bad.”

However, I know that these are not my ideas. This is what I’ve been taught. Only in the post #metoo era would I have thought to call the police for an ass grab and verbal harassment. This is behavior that I have been experiencing and witnessing all of my life. And, while it’s never seemed right, I never thought of it as criminal. It would never have occurred to me to call the police or report unwanted touching. The dispatcher’s and officers’ validation and strong response made me realize that times are changing. And, it is about damn time.

The last post I wrote was well over a year ago. This is the longest I’ve gone in about a decade without posting to a blog. The response to writing about my “me too” experiences was surprising and contributed to the end of a nearly lifelong friendship. I was told that I was not acknowledging men’s experiences of sexual harassment and that everyone does things when they’re young that they regret and shouldn’t be punished for them, and that “me too” has become women whining and not taking responsibility for not speaking up or changing their minds after they've done something they regret. Basically, women don’t own sexual assault and if it’s not a clear case of rape than it doesn’t really deserve to be talked about. Granted, these were only a handful of responses. Most were supportive or silent, but the ones that did react strongly were people close to me, and it hurt enough to shut me up for a while.

But, today, it does count enough to be talked about. Though I don’t have the emotional energy to attempt an elegantly written, viral post, it needs to be talked about. It needs to be not ok. I need to remind myself that lack of consent is wrong at all levels, no matter what society deems as “bad enough” and regardless of what underlying trauma or illness the perpetrator may be suffering from. It is wrong. Period. I deserve to walk down the street and not be assaulted or harassed. All of us do.

My Life of #MeToo Moments: An Incomplete Timeline

By now, many people are tired of hearing #metoo stories. I’ve been seeing more Facebook posts calling to “give it a rest,” and accusations that women want their “15 minutes” or that the accusers should have just left if they were uncomfortable. There have also been recent cries from other feminists that women are diminishing the movement by telling stories that “don’t count” or shouldn’t be included because the accusation was not illegal.

I have mostly stayed silent because I have never been raped – I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to say that. However, the ongoing conversation about sex, assault, improprieties, consent, etc. has repeatedly brought up memories that have been long tucked away, given little attention from my psyche because the experiences have been so consistent throughout my life they became normal.

While I had not planned on sharing my personal and even embarrassing or shameful experiences, I have reached a point where I feel like I can no longer stay silent and let this conversation happen around me without being a part of it.

The following is a timeline of some examples that have surfaced and been swirling around my head after months of the #metoo conversation that has been uncovering memories one by one. Memories that I had never paused to think how NOT OKAY it has all been, until now.

*Three years old – first kiss with my neighbor. I don’t remember it, but as the story goes, we were caught kissing in the laundry room by our parents. My mom was shocked and horrified, and his dad was proud and gave him a high-five. Obviously completely innocent, but the beginning of a lopsided and dangerous dynamic.

(* ages are the best guess estimate based on my recollection of who was involved and where it happened.)

Five years old – I saw first my penis when I accidentally walked in on a man (someone I knew well) peeing. I froze in shock not knowing how to respond, so I stared while talking normally like nothing was wrong even though I felt panicked and scared inside. He allowed me to stand in front of him and look, making no effort to cover up.

Seven years old – My first-grade “boyfriend” and I were hiding from everyone else under the bleachers during recess sitting cross-legged and facing each other. He said something along the lines of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” So, I did. His response was, “what’s that weird bump?” (answer: my pubic bone *eye roll*). At the time, I felt so embarrassed and rejected. Later that evening I went to aftercare at the park where I went every day until my mom got off work. He had beaten me there and told everyone about what had happened. I was mortified and quickly left to walk home while I was followed by a mob of kids telling me that I was a slut among other things.

Nine years old – A neighbor who I often hung out with after school brought me into his room to play. A little while later he heard his mom come home and said something like, “hurry, let's hide!” running into his closet… I followed, not knowing exactly what we were hiding from but it felt kind of exciting.

Not long after laying in a dark closet on a pile of toys and dirty clothes he pulled down his pants and asked me to suck his dick. I didn’t want to, but he convinced me. I pretended to by squeezing his penis a bit with my hand while holding my breath because it was disgusting. The exchange went something like this. “All done, let’s go now before your mom finds us.” Reaching down to feel himself he said, “Why isn’t it wet? Do it again.” I did it again, but this time spit on it first. “Ok, let’s go!” and left the closet.

I wish I could say the story ended there, but that opened the door for continuous requests for sexual acts. From playing spin-the-bottle to strip poker (putting cards down randomly and insisting I take off clothes), to having me “model” on the couch naked while he pretended to take pictures, to having me lie down on my stomach while he crawled on top of me, put is little penis between my butt cheeks and bounced around in an attempt to have sex.

Each night I laid in bed feeling sick, guilty, afraid, ashamed -- even fearing that I was pregnant and fantasizing about how I could hide it and what I would do with the baby so no one would know... wanting to know more about how babies were made, but afraid to ask.

I never told anyone. He was my friend. I did not know about “consent.” I thought it was something "we" were doing wrong, and never blamed him. He was also the same boy who showed me his parent’s loaded handgun and violently smashed his little brother’s action figures in front of me with a hammer. In hindsight, I understand that these acts were not consensual and why I was afraid of him. I was afraid to say no.

11 years old – I was a little skater chick with a skater boyfriend who I’d hang out with at the park practicing tricks and watching him show off with his friends. After a while our parents let us hang out together at our homes as long as there was a parent around. One day toward the end of 6th grade, sitting on his bottom bunk bed he put his hand up my shirt to feel my chest. Not much happened after that; it seemed pretty innocent. He broke up with me before the summer, and we didn’t see each other much. When I got to my new middle school I found out that word had spread that I was flat-chested (duh!) and it evolved into a narrative about me being butch and gay and anorexic… etc. etc. To the point where I hated going, and switched schools my 8th-grade year.

Insert a few year break from having anything to do with boys during awkward puberty phase

15 years old - A boy in my high school weightlifting class found out that I had a crush on him. One day, as we were walking into class, he pressed me up against the wall in the hallway as he grinded his penis firmly against my hips and told me that he knew I wanted him. I felt violated and disappointed. And, I never told anyone why he was no longer my crush.

16 years old – I got my first real job as a hostess at the Scottsdale resort where my mother worked. I struck up a fun, flirtatious relationship with a co-worker in his early/mid-20s. We laughed and chased and grabbed each other playfully while we worked. One day when we were riding in the service elevator, I hit the “stop” button and kissed him. It was exciting! I wanted him to be my boyfriend and meet my friends -- he insisted that we couldn’t tell anyone (obviously I now understand why). He would occasionally give me a ride home from work, and we would sometimes kiss in the car. One night things got a little heavy, and he pulled over so I could suck his dick. This was consensual, yes. Appropriate? No! By this time in my life, I was starting to get attention from older men and had not yet learned healthy boundaries. In fact, I had learned the opposite. I didn't know what was appropriate and what wasn't. All I knew was that he was nice to me and I enjoyed his attention.

16 years old – Working as a hostess I was captive by the front door when people walked in. One middle-aged, “normal” looking regular customer would make suggestive comments and linger around the hostess stand or the bathrooms that were nearby. I told people he was a creep, but he hadn’t technically done anything, so he was allowed to continue coming in while I remained captive at the hostess stand.

Trying to avoid him, I began rushing away for a bathroom break when I saw him coming. One night he was waiting as I walked out of the bathroom, alone in a dim hallway. We made eye contact, and he acted like he was moving toward me – almost like a stutter-step when you’re trying to psyche someone out. Startled, I took a step back feeling trapped with my back against the wall, he turned to enter the men’s restroom. It was incredibly rattling.

17 years old – I went to a sporting event with a married family friend, decades older than me, who I had known for years. On the way home after a fun, friendly night of sports, he pulled off the road, leaned over and kissed me. I told him he was married and we should get home. We never mentioned anything about it again.

18 years old – First time living away from home for basic training. The ways of the world had never been so glaring! I remained focused and guarded, as I did much of my military career. The earliest example of abuse of power was the senior Drill Sgt who called girls to his office at night… everyone knew why. I was disgusted and as cold as ice to him, but did not say anything. When I was called to his office, during what was supposed to be personal time before bed, it was to do hours of consecutive pushups outside of his door for everyone to see – resulting in a level of soreness that lasted for more than a week. I considered myself lucky.

18 years old - I briefly worked at the café of a Scottsdale golf course so I could get free access to the range. During that time there was a constant flow of older, wealthy men acting in inappropriate ways.

19 years old – My first boss at a gym was a fun guy. He took me under his wing and mentored me. I was so impressed by him and appreciative -- we began to hang out outside of work. One night we went out to a sports bar where we played darts and pool, he bought me a beer, then back to his place. Sitting on his couch, I confided that I had recently found out my mom sick and was scared. He empathized because he had lost his mom. By then we were cuddled up, and I was crying on his shoulder.

Sensing vulnerability, and apparently turned on by it, he picked me up and took me to his bedroom.  He was over 6 feet tall and a muscular 200+ lbs. I frantically told him that I did not want to have sex. To be polite, I assured him that it wasn’t about him, but I was saving sex for a committed relationship. He assured me that he wouldn't do anything I didn't want to do as he took off my clothes and I laid frozen, repeating myself – I do not want to have sex. After mocking my unkempt appearance, saying that women should be clean-shaven and I should've known that since I see naked women in the locker-room, he laid his giant body over me. He rubbed the tip of his penis against my vagina masturbating until he abruptly came onto my sternum and walked away.

Seconds later he returned with a t-shirt to wipe off my body and lay down on the bed. I laid there confused and dazed by what had just occurred. After that I kept my distance, he stopped being my mentor and started treating me poorly at work. I never told anyone, and quit what had previously been my dream job just a few months later.

Late-teens/early-20’s – My friends and I experienced harassment nearly every time we went out – ranging from unwanted touching on the dancefloor to being groped or having a penis rubbed against my butt as I waited at the bar or verbally assaulted for politely turning down a drink. (please note this was typically in Scottsdale, AZ. Middle/upper-class neighborhoods and often all-age sports bars and country music dance halls -- not seedy clubs in a "bad" part of town)

20 years old — The first Christmas after my mom died, I just wanted to crawl in a hole until it went away. I decided to visit a Jewish friend who had recently moved away because I knew he and his family would not be celebrating Christmas. It would be nice to get away and see a friend.

After a great day of sightseeing and meeting his friends, we settled in to watch TV. There was at least an arm’s length between us on the couch, and I had not (knowingly) given any indication that I was interested -- I was grieving and looking for distraction until Christmas was over. Seemingly out of nowhere he pounced on top of me with zero warning and tried to kiss me, I pushed him off in bewilderment. Sitting next to me, also confused, he said, “Then why are you here?” It was clear that the expectation of the visit was sex. I felt bad for leading him on and hurting his feelings.

20 years old – I finally felt like I was in a safe, committed relationship and chose to have consensual sex… following the first awkward occasion, we tried again. After struggling to climax, he jumped up, threw his condom across the room out of frustration and yelled a handful of obscenities. I cried, lying naked and vulnerable and shocked.

21 years old – After realizing that the first guy wasn’t a good choice, my next experience was with someone I had known and trusted for awhile so I thought it would be better. After a kind and loving start, he quickly realized that I didn’t know what I was doing. He became annoyed that I didn’t know how to do what he requested. Feeling embarrassed, I told him that I was inexperienced. He responded that I "should watch porn" to learn what to do.

23 years old – I had become good friends with a soldier who was in my drill sergeant school. I knew he was engaged and a good guy, so he was “safe” for a platonic relationship. After a hard day, we went out for drinks to destress and had a great time. Laughing, talking, confiding, drinking way too much… I woke up the next morning trying to piece together what happened. I was sad, ashamed and disappointed. He woke up saying, “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.” I felt heartbroken and guilty. That was the end of our friendship. He married his girlfriend, and we never told anyone.

Fast forward through the mid-twenties, awkward dating experiences, catcalling, unsolicited advances, and offensive late night requests to “hang out” that don’t even seem worth mentioning. 

27 years old – During an evening of intimacy in a committed relationship, he got a bit drunk and sloppy. I began to feel like my presence wasn't necessary or important, and I asked him to stop for a second because he was hurting me. Without saying anything he angrily rolled over and gave me the cold shoulder. I assured him that I wasn’t mad, I just needed a second. His response was something along the lines of it not being sexy to hear that it hurt, and it was too late because he was no longer aroused. We went to bed, and the next day he refused to talk about it. So we didn't.

30 years old – A friend stayed at my house and incessantly pressured me for sex. I locked my bedroom door when I went to sleep because I did not feel safe.

Early 30's – Around this time the harassment and other forms of inappropriate sexual behavior began to subside. Partly because I had enough. I began to find my voice, assert myself and set firm boundaries. I learned to be blunt about my disinterest, after years of "politeness" had not served me well. I began giving off a "fuck you vibe," as was pointed out by a stranger at a social event. But, it also subsided because our culture sexualizes young girls, and into my late 20's I was a commodity to be obtained. By my 30's my value in society as a sexual object was beginning to fade.

This timeline is not trying to make the case that all men are bad or to publicly lay out a naïve history of uncomfortable situations or poor decisions. I want to make clear that for the most part, I do not blame the men. In fact, there are several of them that I know are moral people without evil intentions. They would probably be saddened to learn how differently I perceived our time together. I also no longer blame myself for not leaving or slapping or saying "no" more often/louder/better/clearer... that is one thing the #metoo movement has helped me see more clearly.

I blame the environment, the culture, the lack of guidance -- the lack of conversation.

When sex is something that only happens behind closed doors or online, boys and girls and men and women are left to figure out what is ok, normal, safe, consensual and acceptable.

If we demonize each man who ends up in the news or shame women for the situation they find themselves in, we ignore the cultural conditioning that makes this type of behavior not just possible, but pervasive.

Many assume that being tough or having a voice means it wouldn't happen to them. They would stop unwanted sexual contact by saying "no" or leaving, but that is typically not the case.

I was raised by a strong woman and have been loudly outspoken since I learned to speak. But, sexual encounters are very different. They often happen with people we like and trust which makes us too embarrassed to speak up. We don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings. We may not even be opposed to taking things further, but the way it happened was not consensual or loving or kind and leaves us feeling used. The shame makes us stuff the experience down and prevents us from speaking out. I'm using "us" and "we" here because I know that I am not alone. I am simply another woman who navigated dating and friendships and male-dominated work environments with little guidance or conversation about how to do so safely.

It is not about bashing men or teaching women to be more careful; it is an issue of respect, empathy, consent, parenting, media, entertainment, porn…. American culture.

If we dismiss the women’s stories of the #metoo movement as isolated incidences or the men involved as “creeps,” then we miss the opportunity to look at the bigger picture. We allow ourselves to be off the hook for our part in it, and nothing will change. Our kids and their kids will still be saying, "me too."

Sexual assault, harassment, and improprieties run across cultural, ethnic, socio-economic lines -- clearly illustrated by the renowned Olympic doctor who consistently molested young girls over decades and no one did/said anything to stop it! He often did it in plain sight, directly in front of the parents or nurses who were in the room. The girls froze and stayed quiet, scared and believing that they must be imagining what was happening – programmed not to trust their intuition or speak up. The doctor is a sick human being, but our culture enabled him to abuse those girls.

Our culture enables women and young girls to be abused.

I am sick of hearing these stories. I am sick of living these stories. I am sick of writing these stories. I have other things I would like to be doing right now. But, I cannot stay silent while this continues to happen and women continue to be judged for "letting" it happen. Let’s raise our boys and girls differently. Let’s hold men and women to higher standards. Let’s not be afraid or embarrassed to talk about sex and all of the issues surrounding it. Let's stop shaming those who do. When we say "times up," let’s really mean it.

Life Lessons From My Teenage Self

Earlier this year I ran across a list that I wrote when I was 19 years old, “Top 10 goals for my life.” I remember writing it. It was late one night when I was working as a server, recently home from 6-months of Army training and in the Reserve, about to begin my first semester of college. I had everything planned out. This was going to be the job that got me through school, and then I was going to start my empire, make millions, become a philanthropist, and eventually the first woman president.

For real.

I remember telling a co-worker a toned-down version of my ambitions and that I was “only going to work here until I graduate college.” Her response caught me off guard and rattled me.

“That’s what we all said.”

Her words hung in the air and sent me into an internal panic. ‘Oh shit. I can’t stay here. I need a new plan.’ Shortly after, I wrote this list of goals to achieve in my lifetime, and quit working there. I got a job as a personal trainer at 24-hour fitness just a couple of months later.

This note to myself has been sitting on my desk for several months and its 16th anniversary seemed like a good time to take a moment to reflect on just how naïve, and wise, the girl was who wrote it.

Within the next 8-months, I would love my new job and thrive as a top new trainer at 24-hr, I’d start school at Scottsdale Community College, my mom would be diagnosed with cancer, I would drop most of my classes, she would die, and I would spend the summer binge drinking until abruptly moving to Dallas Texas for a fresh start (i.e. running away from the disaster life had become).

Rough start to my new life plan.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and it is amazing to look back at all that has unfolded. My bright-eyed teenage self never in her wildest dreams could have fathomed the euphoria and kicks to the gut that life had in store.

Until recently, I would have looked at this top 10 list and thought that life had not gone even close to as planned. I didn’t build that empire or become a millionaire philanthropist, I never got on the Oprah show (which was a highly ranked ambition), and I will not likely be the first woman president. My youthful ambitions were so naïve.

However, I read this list now and appreciate the wisdom that sweet girl unknowingly carried. She set a course that has guided me on a journey that I never could have planned for, but is better than I ever could have hoped. I am happy to know that each one has come to fruition to varying degrees in recent years, and I am also hopeful that there is still a lot of life left to continue fulfilling them.

At 35 years old, my only life plan is to stick to this list of goals that a wise young girl gave to me and hope that I can make her proud.

Guns Make Me Feel Powerful

Today there is no escaping the topic of guns, and there is no ignoring the grief and anger we all feel about what happened in Vegas. The thoughts and emotions are swirling in my mind, but I have had all I can handle of social media arguments, so I came here. There are a lot of people who frame this as anti-gun liberals vs. pro-gun conservatives, but that is a narrative we have been fed. We can agree that we want to be able to send our kids to school or attend a concert without fear of death. There is more we agree on than disagree. I am all for strict regulation of firearms, even though I have owned guns for about 20 years and credit them for a lot of my independence and even shaping the woman I have become. I genuinely empathize with people who don't want to give up their guns.

When I was a young girl, my dad took me out to the Arizona desert, handed me a .22 caliber gun then showed me how to blow up melons and knock empty cans from rocks. It was fun! Holding a gun in my hand, and hearing the “TING” of the bullet hitting the cans and seeing the melons burst when I pulled the trigger made me feel powerful. A love of shooting was born. In the coming years, other father figures taught me about guns, gun safety, and took me to practice at the range. I bought my first 9mm Sig Sauer pistol when I was 18 years old. Throughout my 20’s and into my 30’s it was rare to find me without a gun. I even got the nickname “gun-toting Tatum” by some girlfriends.

When I would mountain bike deep into the woods, take solo road trips across the country, attend public events, or dinner or a date or church… it was always on me. Since I rarely carry a purse, there was often a .357 tucked into the back of my pants or a .380 in a “coin purse” in my hand along with my phone and keys. This may sound crazy to people who don’t carry a gun, but once you begin, it can feel like something is missing when you leave home without it. If you’ve ever left home without your cell phone, it is a similar feeling.

The thing is, I knew that I would never ever use it unless my life or someone else’s was in grave danger. And, more importantly, I knew that if I did use it, I was skilled enough to do so and not simply make a bad situation worse.

Part of what makes me feel powerful when shooting a gun is that I’m really damn good at it. I’ve been shooting handguns as a hobby since I was young, and trained soldiers to shoot rifles in the Army. My first year in the military I was awarded the “Hawkeye” title for hitting 40 out of 40 targets with an M-16. The sergeant next to me said that he had been trying to do that for over 20 years. I never saw anyone else do it in my subsequent 8.

Shooting has given me confidence. Perhaps even a bit of a chip on my shoulder. It makes me feel like a badass to know that I can pick up almost any gun and be good at it when I know that most people feel intimidated.

However, in recent years, guns have become much less entertaining, and I feel more like part of the problem rather than the solution. All of the lines I used to believe like, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and “it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun” just aren’t adding up anymore. The more mass shootings that happen, and accidental deaths from kids getting ahold of their parent’s firearms, it is hard to find any "fun" in guns. I no longer get enjoyment out of something that causes so much destruction and pain.

In fact, come to think of it, my first experience with guns wasn’t actually my dad taking me to shoot, it was a 4th-grade boy climbing his parent’s bookshelf to show me where they hid their loaded handgun. The second memory was when our childhood neighbor got shot in the throat and killed by his friend showing off his dad’s gun.

This is not about being pro-gun or anti-gun. I personally have enjoyed being a gun owner. It has been gratifying and empowering. But, this is not about me, or any single individual. We need to take a collective step back and look at the reality, the empirical evidence, and make informed decisions based on what is best for our society. What’s safest for our kids? What kind of world do we want to leave behind?

The founding fathers did, in fact, say that we have a right to bear arms (though probably meaning in the context of a “well-regulated militia” not inexperienced private citizens). However, they did not have crystal balls into the future and never could have imagined what the “right to bear arms” would look like in 2017. As rational men who loved this country, I would like to think that they would have used common sense and put more emphasis on that “well-regulated” part of the II Amendment. We have overridden other statements by the founding fathers because they were no longer relevant in our culture or deemed immoral -- it is time that we have this conversation.

My Coming Out Journey: From Straight Butch to Gay Femme

I’ve been told that I was gay since I was young. Not in a nice “honey, let’s have a talk” kind of way, but more in a “You look like a dude,” “You act like a boy,” “You’re butch,” “Why don’t you act like a girl… dress like a girl… talk like a lady…?” kind of way. It wasn’t just a handful of bullies on the playground; it was a pervasive message from toddlerhood until 30+ years old -- from kids, friends, teachers, family, and strangers.

From middle school through college, there were rumors spread about my sexuality. And, most of the boys that I had a crush on, or eventually dated, were surprised to learn that I was interested in them because they thought I was gay. When I was a little girl, I was even told by another kid that I was born a boy, but they changed my gender at the hospital… Well, I did remember my mom saying that she thought she was pregnant with a boy – so, maybe it was true?!

To say gender identity and sexuality have been confusing would be an understatement.

Not looking or acting “girly” has always meant that the first line of insults was something about me being a dyke, and even playful teasing was about me being boyish. So, I began trying to look and act more feminine in my teens, so I could be more attractive to boys. Because being a tomboy was not working.

The message I’ve received for as long as I can remember is that it’s not okay to look or act like a boy. But, wearing clothes from the Juniors section felt like playing dress up. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and inauthentic. I hated every second of it until I discovered that t-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops were acceptable, so that became my uniform. It still kind of is, actually.

While attempting to drop the tomboy persona, I hid the parts of myself that would be stereotyped as "butch," like being an Army Drill Sgt who liked to fix cars. They were things that I did not talk about with anyone other than close friends. But, even when trying to be more like a girl, I still was told to smile more, walk with more sway in my hips, carry a purse, wear tighter clothing, show more skin, and get flattering bras to create the illusion of cleavage...

So, when I met my ex-husband at age 26 and quickly fell in love, I was so relieved. Yay! I’m not broken, or gay, and a cute guy thinks I’m attractive, so this must be "the one!" I was ready to settle down, have babies, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that we had different ideas of what that would look like, so after a painful, drawn out ending, I was back to where I started.

At 30 years old, I had only loved one person, and that freaking HURT, so I was reluctant to try again. If that’s what love feels like, no thanks. I’ll spend the rest my days as a single cougar raising adopted children.

It was because of my “f*ck it, I’m done with love” attitude that I was finally free to just to be me. As soon as I stopped caring what anyone else thought it was like a burden had been lifted off of my shoulders! During two years of this, I had my first sexual experience with a woman, and it was not even remotely weird -- which scared me. Crap! They might have been right. Then, in contrast, when I tried dating men again I realized that I would usually rather be home with my dogs reading a good book or binge watching Netflix.

Around this time I also discovered that the sex scenes between the two female lead characters in Orange Is The New Black were WAY HOTTER than any hetero sex scenes I’d seen... That was another, "oh crap" moment.

I realized that I had spent so long defending myself against the insults of being gay that it never occurred to pause and check to see if I actually was!

My assumption was that 'gay' means that you like girls, and since I liked boys I must be straight. End of story. And, since being gay was obviously a bad thing, I was completely fine with that conclusion.

But, then I met Julia. By then I knew I could be attracted to women, but it was something that I had planned on keeping secret – while I casually dated, and raised my adopted babies. Plus, “girl crushes” are totally acceptable now so it's cool. No need to make a big deal about it.

However, after the first month of quietly spending almost every day and night with her I realized that this was not something that I could hide, and doing so would not be fair to her. So, I started to tell my closest friends and family, and eventually the internet. The responses were all across the board. Managing each person’s individual reaction, answering incredibly personal questions, defending my relationship as something that wasn’t just a phase, and attempting to graciously take in the influx of unsolicited advice was exhausting.

I wanted to crawl in a hole with her and make the world go away. Coming out (of the closet, and even out of the house most days) in a world where everyone has an opinion about something so deeply personal was incredibly scary. Especially since it was all something that I was still figuring out for myself.

Being an independent 32-year-old with a small family, supportive friends, and living in a liberal city like Austin, made it MUCH easier than most people have it. However, nothing about it was easy, and it continues to be a challenge.

In the beginning, I was uncomfortable holding her hand in public. I can feel eyes on us as we walk down the street. Some are just surprised or nosey while others disapproving, but the worst are the creeps who stare like we are prey. I have never been one who feels comfortable putting my body or my sexuality on display, so to all of the sudden be the subject of a cliché sexual fantasy made me feel disgusting at first. Luckily, I'm learning to ignore it all.

There have been many social boundaries that have disappeared now that I am with a woman. People ask about my sex life, in a way they never did when I was with a man, and the most common topic is whether I miss the penis (nope!)… I understand that some is just curiosity, and I’m happy to talk to someone who is genuinely trying to understand. I remember having similar questions. However, at times it becomes something much more inappropriate, offensive and intrusive.

Within the first weeks of being together in public, a man was standing in front of us in line at a concert who turned around to tell us all about what he likes to do in bed and invited us to come home with him. We politely declined, and were way nicer about it than we probably should have been. We recently had another guy follow us down the street loudly asking about our “pussies” in the most vulgar of terms. It took all of my strength to keep walking and ignore him.

Catcalling and inappropriate comments were bad when I was straight, but it is truly shocking how disgusting people can be when it involves two women. And, it can sometimes be downright scary.

I’ll never forget when we got into a small elevator with two men. It was after a date and we were dressed up and having a good time. Julia grabbed my hand and leaned on my shoulder and talked about how excited she was about getting married. I watched the men who had turned to face us and ignored Julia. I remained on high alert until we got off the elevator. My anger and anxiety flooded out of me when we got away from the building. I yelled at her to be more aware of her surroundings and not be affectionate with me in public and that I didn’t want to put our relationship on display… and I remember saying "this (being gay) is not my cause!” Just because I’m with a woman doesn’t mean that I want to fly a rainbow flag and fight for equality!

I already had causes that I felt passionate about and didn’t want to add one more. After all, I was barely even gay.

I look back at that night so embarrassed by how naïve and stupid I was to get mad at her for being affectionate. I love that she doesn't pay attention to people who are being creeps or let it bother her as much as I do. After two years of seeing and feeling what it’s like to be a part of the gay community, this IS now my cause. It can't not be when I see all of the bullshit that we deal with on a daily basis. I am proud to hold her hand and show affection, and if it makes someone else uncomfortable that is for them to sort out and has nothing to do with me.

Being with her is the best thing I’ve ever done with my life. And, to think that I was almost too afraid because of what others would say or think makes me sad. It breaks my heart to know how many young people feel scared and ashamed of who they are because of all the hate that they are constantly exposed to.

People ask me about how I knew or when I “converted” and "turned gay" – the answer is when I fell in love with a woman. For me, it was really that simple. The reality is that this has always been who I am, but I was just too distracted listening to all of the confusing messages about what a girl was supposed to be to know any better.

As Julia reminds me, "everyone is straight until they're not." The cultural assumption is that everyone is heterosexual. When someone says otherwise, the assumption is that it is a phase, or experimenting, or a cry for attention.

Coming out is not about attention, it is about speaking up over all of the noise that says you're supposed to be something other than what you truly are. It is choosing to no longer go along with the identity that was assigned without consent and living life freely without shame or hiding.

Every Facebook post about someone coming out has comments like, “They just want attention,” “I didn’t come out as straight, why do they need to come out as gay/bi/trans?” "They're going to hell," and a long list of vile, condemning comments.

The truth is that it is really freakin' tough to be your authentic self in a world that does not treat people very kindly. Many don't ever get the chance because of the stifling condemnation that surrounds them. I am grateful to live in a time and place where I have the luxury of ignoring others' opinions without dire consequences. I have never felt freer to just be me, and can't imagine ever going back. It's something that I wish everyone in the world could experience.

The older I get, the more I realize how short our time is on this earth. We all deserve to spend it in a way that gives us the best chance at being happy. I never understood how important that was until I met Julia. My priorities have drastically changed, and I don’t want to waste another second worrying about what anyone else thinks or concern myself with what anybody else is doing in their personal lives.

Love yourself, love each other, and be who you are. It really can be that simple.

Happy National Coming Out Day.

A Day for Love, Equality, and my Mom.

June 26th has become one of my very favorite days. It has become a day of gratitude and reflection. 

Today is a day I remember the best and funniest side of my mom; it would have been her 67th birthday -- she LOVED birthdays! And, in recent history, it has also become a day to reflect on equality and what it means to be a part of this incredible time in history when laws, hearts and minds are shifting. 

Google's homepage currently has a quote that says, "Be who you are. Love who you love. #prideforeveryone."

Time magazine has written that "June 26 is a date that represents what happens when America works the way it’s supposed to work... June 26 isn’t just a symbol of marriage equality or gay rights– it’s a day that commemorates a collective change of mind, the American ability to choose freedom and equality."

I absolutely agree.

June 26th has more than a decade history of being a day of equality:
  • 2003 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Lawrence v. Texas that gender-based sodomy laws are unconstitutional.
  • 2013 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5–4, that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  • 2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5–4, that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. 
Last year's Supreme Court's decision to allow same-sex marriage in the United States was two days shy of Julia and my one-year anniversary. We were planning to elope to Colorado since Texas was adamantly opposed to equality -- it didn't seem like that would change, and we didn't want to put our life on hold or give archaic politicians the power to validate our relationship.

When it was announced that marriage equality was the law of the land I was overcome with emotion -- not just for us, but gratitude for the people who had fought and even lost their lives to make it happen. And, sorrow for those who have had to live in hiding, and who were not given the rights that Julia and I will have in our marriage simply because they were born to a previous generation, or live under an oppressive regime. Not a day goes by that I don't feel incredibly blessed to be able to love Julia openly, wholeheartedly, freely and legally.

We are lucky.

I would like to think that there is some connection between June 26th being a day of love and equality, and my late mother's entry into this world. I know that if she were here, she would love Julia and support marriage equality and happily celebrate her birthday at a Pride parade. 

My mom had a zest for life. She loved parades and festivals. June 26th is the perfect day for pride parades and festivals to be held around the country -- if she were here she'd probably end up on a float with the drag queens, wearing a tight pink dress, big hair and sparkles, out-dancing everyone :)

On her 52nd birthday, the year she passed away, she hosted a big rock 'n' roll themed costume party simply for the excuse to dress up, be flamboyant, and dance.

Beyond pride festivities and equality, there are other ways that June 26th is the perfect day to celebrate my mother's life.

June 26th is the kickoff of Shark Week, and she loved sharks. We spent our summers at the California beaches, and while I was terrified we might encounter a shark, she was hoping we would see one. She also had a giant crush on Chris Isaak, Wicked Game was one of her favorite songs. So it makes me happy that she shares her birthday with him.

Lastly, June 26th marks, "Forgiveness Day," which is explained as "a time to forgive and to be forgiven. The world will be a better place for this day." 

I do believe that the world is better for this day. 

It's a day when people are reminded that they can love who they want to love, and I can celebrate the woman who taught me that it was okay to go against the crowd and not be afraid to be unapologetically myself. The woman who gave me the courage to take a chance on love.

Today is a good day.

Happy Birthday, Mom. xo

If Not for White Privilege, I Would Probably Be Dead.

If I were born a black male, I would probably be dead or in prison. I would be labeled a thug and a criminal. But, I am not. I am a petite white female with innocent looking blue eyes who has lived a life of white privilege. And so, I am known to many as an upstanding, self-made success story, although that is only a fraction of the truth.

I have not lived a privileged life by most American standards. It has been tough in many ways. I was raised relatively poor by a single, troubled mother and have endured my share of tragedy, dysfunction, neglect, and abuse. But, I am white, and I have benefited greatly from that alone in ways that black men and boys (and girls for that matter) do not experience – often with grave consequences.

I’ve wanted to write about this for very long time, but I know that race and “white privilege” is such a heated topic that I have avoided stirring the pot. I also know that to be truly honest about my experience with white privilege I will have to out a few of the skeletons in my closet. I’ve already shared many of them with those who are closest to me, however, once my life is in writing I know it will no longer be my own. It will be available as ammunition and judgment at any time. By writing honestly, instead of just sticking to daily highlights and successes on my Facebook newsfeed, I could be kissing my future career and positive public image goodbye.

After the recent news that nobody will be punished for murdering an unarmed 12-year-old boy who was playing with a toy gun on a youth center playground, and then handcuffing his sister on the icy dirt next to his dying body as she tried to run to his aid – I am at my wit's end.

Perhaps 12-year-old Tamir Rice should not have been playing with a toy gun. Sandra Bland shouldn’t have gotten so pissed off at the cop who pulled her over. Michael Brown shouldn’t have been confrontational with the officer in Ferguson. Eric Garner shouldn’t have been selling cigarettes… and, I suppose that Freddie Gray shouldn’t have been carrying that legal pocket knife and Travon Martin shouldn’t have been wearing a hoodie? The list goes on and on of black people getting killed for things that white people do every day with no consequence. And for some reason, a large number of people seem to think that they had it coming since they were being thugs or criminals or confrontational or their parents were unfit or whatever justification helps to rationalize murder.

Here’s the thing. Many, if not most, of those who get killed by police, are in their teens and twenties. I don’t know about you, but I am glad to have those younger days behind me! I'm embarrassed when I think back to the stupid things in my youth, and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from those experiences. They helped shape who I am, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I am lucky.

Many of the black kids who get shot are out on the streets because they have a single mother who is working long hours to support them and/or there is dysfunction or violence at home that they are staying away from, or they were simply just out being a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I was that kid who didn’t want to go home. My mother worked a lot, and when she was home, there was usually fighting and chaos. So, I spent much of my early and mid-teens alone on the basketball court or hanging out around the neighborhood with my dog. It was pure luck that we lived in a pretty safe, middle-class neighborhood where I had neighbors ready to help me with my homework, teach me valuable life skills, and keep an eye on me. Unfortunately, many black teens are not so privileged. The “street” is not a safe refuge like it was for me. For them, it is full of gangs, mischief, and police ready to pounce when they make a wrong move.

Even with people looking out for me I felt lost and angry for much of my teen years. I was a good kid who worked hard and was determined to have a good education and live a better life. But, in my young head, the ends often justified the means for many of the mistakes I made.

I began stealing in my early teens from the Walmart Supercenter that opened up down the street. It started small, and I just took things I thought I “needed.” In my mind, Walmart was a big bad organization that came into my town. I was simply a young activist fighting for the mom and pop stores and the desert landscape… seriously. I was Robin Hood, taking from the rich to help the poor. This is what I told myself. So, the stealing got bigger and bolder, and the more I got away with, the more emboldened I felt. A kid who had no power and control in life was now doing something about it.

It started when I was blackmailed into taking something small. A “take this for me or I’ll get you in trouble” type of thing when I was 9 or 10. I was petrified! But, decided that possibly not getting in trouble if I got away with stealing was better than definitely getting in trouble if I got ratted out to my mom for whatever it was that was being used against me.

I walked out of the store with the item, heart racing, and stomach flipping… then, nothing. I walked out, and that was it. Wow. That was kind of exhilarating. So, I did it again, but this time with stuff for me. Then I did it again, but this time with stuff for my mom. And, again, with stuff for the house, and our pets, and Christmas presents. And, again, with expensive electronics that I’d take back the next day saying that they were a gift I didn’t want and get handed hundreds of dollars in cash for the return. I got so bold that I would fill up an entire shopping cart, grabbing some plastic bags on my way into the store so it looked like the items were purchased, and then walking right out the front door past the security guards and door greeters, smiling and wishing them a great afternoon.

This happened on and off for about a year or two in which time I was able to afford new flooring for my bedroom that was so old it was rotting and moldy. I bought a dishwasher for my mom so she wouldn’t have to spend her evenings washing dishes after being on her feet all day working as a waitress. I installed new speakers in our family truck to replace the old ones that had blown. I got a computer desk for doing homework and spoiled our pets with fancy toys and treats. When my mom asked how I could afford all of these things I said that it was money saved from neighborhood lawn mowing, housesitting, etc., and that was the end of the discussion.

My heart is racing just telling this story. It is something that I am so ashamed of in hindsight, but it has taught me so much about the world. For starters, if you do something with confidence people tend to believe you. And, it has clearly illustrated the advantage that I have in a world that does not see a petite white girl as suspicious no matter how blatant the offense.

I could give countless examples from my youth, like the time a friend and I were literally playing with fire in the alley behind our school. It got out of control, and we tried to stomp it out, but as the flames grew higher and the sirens got closer we ran. Later that day, my clothes still smelling like smoke, the police called our house saying that someone had seen me earlier in the day with a lighter, and then fleeing the scene of the fire. My mom came in my room to ask if I knew anything about it. I said no. She told the police that I didn’t do it and hung up the phone. End of discussion.

Fast forward to my adult life: I would like to think that I am a law-abiding citizen with a strong moral compass. However, the lessons of my youth have stuck with me. So, when I went on my 6000-mile road trip a couple of summers ago I had to make a decision – drive across many state lines with a loaded handgun knowing that several states don’t allow it. Or, go unarmed and risk being vulnerable to a predator as I travel the country alone. Experience has taught me that I am much more likely to be a target for the men on the street rather than the ones in uniform. I chose to travel with a gun, sometimes stuffed into the back of my pants when I went inside to pay for gas late at night.

I made a conscious decision to put my own safety above the law, knowing that the risk of being abducted or assaulted by a stranger was much higher than being shot or arrested by police. It is very unlikely that I would even be stopped by the police much less have my car searched or be arrested. And, I would be more likely seen as a naïve damsel in distress rather than a dangerous criminal. At the end of the day, I chose to break the law because trusting myself seemed like a safer option than trusting the police or anyone else that I might encounter on the road.

I wonder how many black people have lost their lives with this same line of thought?

Just like when I was young, I knew that I’d fly under the radar and that the consequences of getting caught were worth the risk. I learned at a very early age that it is usually better to ask forgiveness rather than permission. And, because I’m a white female, I have the priviledge to do so.

I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask forgiveness, to learn from my mistakes, to allow life lessons and experiences to mold me into a better, more mature person. But, there are hundreds of black people killed by police this year who are not so lucky. They will not get that chance to ask for forgiveness or learn from their mistakes. They were not born with white privilege, and because of that, they are dead.

"My" Wedding Ring Story

My grandma, Janice Roege, died when I was two. A couple days shy of my third birthday. She was only... I just Googled her name to find out her exact age when she passed, and only found this on an ancestry website, "According to Jean Jacobs, she had polio, was beautiful and died young." 

I have no idea who Jean Jacobs is.

Ironically, the only things I do know about my grandmother are that she was beautiful, she had polio, and she died young. And, also that I liked to comb her bangs, I cried when she tried to paint my toenails, and I once fell asleep on her lap in the back of an old car... according to the three photographs I have with her. No actual memories.

Growing up without a grandma, I'm sad to say, I didn't miss her much. I honestly didn't know what I was missing. My mother was so shaken by her sudden loss, she rarely spoke of her. I only knew that my mother had regrets, and was sad that her mom was gone. I couldn't tell you much about the woman she was or the life that she lived.

When I went to Arizona earlier this year, newly engaged, I explained to my sister that I just wanted a simple wedding ring. She retreated to her room and came back with a box that contained my grandma and grandpa's gold wedding bands, and offered either one as an option. I immediately grabbed the petite gold band and crammed it onto my finger, insisting that it fit perfectly. She urged me to take the larger one, but without any thought, I knew that Janice's was the one that I wanted.

My grandpa was a good man, I think. I actually remember him as an old curmudgeon who yelled at me not to drag my feet on his carpet and told me to go play on the roof. And, I remember being bored to death watching his beloved Cubs play baseball. But, I see pictures of him smiling and hear stories of his warped sense of humor, and I have no doubt that I would love to have a beer with him, and talk sports, politics and business.

But, I have no interest in wearing his ring.

I put my grandmother's ring on right then, and have rarely taken it off since. My immediate nostalgic reaction to this inanimate object has surprised me. There have been moments when I hold onto it and tears roll down my face. Moments where I feel more connected to the women in my family, and powerful because of the history and legacy that it holds.

It seems a bit silly to me. It is just a thing, and she is almost a stranger. But, it feels like something bigger. It feels like a connection to the woman I never knew. An understanding between my mother and her mother, and the loss that we all share. A chance to keep them both with me.

Today I spent the afternoon making wedding plans, and was feeling extra sentimental about embarking on this journey. Then it occurred to me that it was September 21st. The day engraved on "my" wedding band, which I never knew was their anniversary until I read, 'JR & GR 9.21.46.'

Today, sixty-nine years ago, before my mom, my aunt, me, my siblings, polio, cancer or anything else that's happened in life was even an idea, they were a young, handsome couple in love, full of dreams and possibility.

I want to reach into these photographs and hug them. I want to re-write their story. I wish that I knew more of it -- more of them. I wish that they were here. I wish that they knew me, and Julia. I wonder what they would be like... if they would approve.

But, I am grateful to be a part of their story, no matter how small. And, I am happy to wear her ring.

Happy anniversary, Gene and Janice.

Feeling Small in a Big World

This week I saw the new movie, 'Fury' (yes, Brad Pitt was the main motivation for going to see it, and he did not disappoint!). It was an entertaining, heart wrenching movie that left me in deep thought about the history of humanity, war, and the insignificance of life in this world. Heavy topics for a date night.

Recently I have felt a bit overwhelmed by the news. From ISIS to ebola, social injustices, and good people gone too soon. 'Fury' reminded me of just how many lost their lives in WWII, which only amplified my thoughts about how cruel we are to each other. The human condition has always been one of struggle and injustice, but now it is in our faces 24/7 in the form of news and entertainment. There is no escaping the brutality of this world, and it can all feel like too much sometimes.

When I was younger I felt like I could do anything. I was going to change the world. I felt powerful, like I was put here to fight the good fight. For as long as I can remember I knew that I wanted to make a meaningful impact -- to live my life so that when I leave this earth it's better than it was before...

But, life has been humbling. I now know that I probably will not change the world. I most likely won't be in the history books. Future generations won't use my quotes for inspiring internet memes. The big goals that once fueled me to wake up and seize the day now feel a bit insignificant.

I often struggle to the find enthusiasm to achieve smaller goals after "saving the world" didn't quite pan out like my childhood plans had anticipated. I'm learning how to feel content being small, and how to not feel guilty for no longer striving to save the world.

When I was a kid I heard a short story that has stuck with me, and I want to start thinking more like the little boy in that story. I'd like to celebrate the small things one can do instead of feeling overwhelmed and helpless by enormity of the big picture.

The Star Thrower story goes like this: (by Loren Eiseley)

A man was walking on the beach one day and noticed a boy who was reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it in the ocean. As he approached, he called out, “Hello!  What are you doing?”

The boy looked up and said, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the man.

“The tide stranded them. If I don’t throw them in the water before the sun comes up, they’ll die” came the answer.

“Surely you realize that there are miles of beach, and thousands of starfish. You’ll never throw them all back, there are too many. You can’t possibly make a difference.”

The boy listened politely, then picked up another starfish. As he threw it back into the sea, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

Even though my youthful ambitions have not turned out as hoped, I can still wake up each day and be a star thrower.

And, that is enough.

Life and Love Update

So far this summer I have traveled to California, New York and roughly 20 states in between. It has been an amazing adventure -- exhausting, invigorating, cathartic, inspiring, educational, affirming… I could go on and on.

There were many reasons for my journey, but a large part was that I’ve been in Austin for 7 years now and began to feel a bit restless – wondering what I might be missing out on somewhere else. In the past that’s been my cue to pack up and move, but I couldn’t think of any other place I’d rather be.

Before I uprooted my life and moved back home to Scottsdale or ran off to NYC, I thought I’d spend some time away from Austin and see what it was like to live in other places. But, when I arrived in each new city, I found myself telling everyone about how awesome Austin is by comparison. Though I liked them all, I didn’t love any of them like I do Central TX -- it became very apparent that it was time for me to come home.

When I returned with the realization that the grass is not greener, I had a daunting feeling of “now what?” and it became clear that after two years of being single, it was probably time to throw my hat back in that ring. Ugh! After exhausting a long list of excuses, I had run out of reasons why I was avoiding a relationship.

So, I did what anyone who's looking to find a suitable partner would do -- I set up a Tinder profile late one night while watching bad TV and drinking a vodka soda.

At first I had it set to men ages 30+ within a 10-mile radius and added a profile pic, with no bio. The next few days I got lots of matches, and it was addicting! I couldn’t turn off the app.

I started getting messages, and it seemed that the men were divided evenly between those looking to hook up that night, and others interviewing for the position of “baby mama.”

After browsing profiles on the app, I decided to just use Tinder as practice for getting back into dating and not take it too seriously. I took off all age, location, gender restrictions, and added a short bio trying to weed out the riff raff.

Lots of new seemingly cool, interesting people! I started chatting with a handful of them and decided that for the next couple weeks I was going to go on a bunch of dates. I was just going to dive in headfirst!! Worst case I would end up with some funny stories. Best case I meet some nice people. I planned on shooting for ten dates with a variety of people and began to fill up my calendar.

The first guy was super sweet, but not for me. The second guy was also very nice, but exactly the kind of guy I needed to RUN away from!!! A cute, young foreigner, without a vehicle or a green card -- bad news.

By the third day I was already feeling exhausted and rethinking my ability to be outgoing enough to sustain two weeks of dates. I was looking forward to the lunchtime doggie play date scheduled for the weekend…

Julia and I began talking after a night of insomnia when she saw that I was online at 4am, and asked if I was having a late night or an early morning.

By the time we met we’d been texting daily for a week, so I felt like I already knew her. She had also been married, in the Army, two big dogs, a liberal, tree-hugging vegetarian… lots in common.

It felt very comfortable from the beginning -- besides the part where I’m straight and didn’t want to lead her on of course. When we met we had a very honest conversation up front to make sure we were on the same page about me not being gay, just trying to stay open-minded as I figure out what is next in life.

The rest of the day we ate pizza, played with the dogs, swam in the pool and had great conversation over a couple beers -- before I knew it she had to leave. More than six hours went by in a blink. I didn’t want her to go, and as an introvert, that is NOT normal!! But, she had to get to a work dinner, so staying wasn’t an option.

As she left, I kissed her goodbye -- and, it was awesome. Whaa?! Wasn’t I the one who just hours before made sure she knew that I wasn’t gay? Hmm, yeah, maybe not as straight as I thought.

We saw each other a couple days later for another afternoon date, which turned into two days. I immediately went to visit her for the weekend in San Antonio, and then she came back to Austin with me.... and that is how its been since. I didn’t go on any other Tinder dates. In fact, I deleted the app a few days after we met. I didn’t care who else was on there.

This has all happened very fast. It's felt surprising and exciting, and there have been a handful of mental/emotional breakdowns when it all seems too scary.

Not only has dating a woman completely caught me off guard, but also falling in love has scared the hell out of me. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to again, and I certainly didn’t anticipate it happening with a woman or so quickly after meeting.

When I start to feel scared or overwhelmed, I realize that the scariest thing is dealing with others’ reactions and worrying about what people will say or think -- getting looks from strangers and unsolicited advice from those who have a strong opinion, but no personal experience. When I am able to clear all of that out of my head, the reality is that this is without a doubt the healthiest, happiest relationship I have ever been in, and the rest is just noise.

I know some will not approve, and as much as I’d like to say it doesn’t bother me, it does a little bit. However, I feel like I have found exactly what I’ve been looking for. I’m in a relationship full of fun, respect, and trust… I am happy and in love. And, that is where I’m choosing to focus my attention.