Monday, June 30, 2014

The Authenticity Project

"The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." 
Khalil Gilbran 'On Joy and Sorrow'

Earlier last week a friend of mine - a straight friend - told me that he was jealous of gays. Your journey is one of authenticity, he said. You have moments of vulnerability and moments of bravery. You celebrate these qualities in each other. He was envious and said that he continually searches for a community like this for himself.

I was stunned and saddened to learn that my friend hadn’t found himself a place to be authentic. I don't believe that those qualities and those opportunities are given solely to the gay community. Can you imagine? What a heartbreak, what a waste that would be! Is this was true, I'd encourage all heterosexuals to dig as deep as they could, as if their lives depended on it (because they do), to find their inner homosexual so they could feel their own authenticity for just a moment! What I do believe is that we’re connected by our identical experiences: we are human, we have this one life before us, we are made to create beauty, and this beauty is only born when we connect with ourselves, with other people, and with nature. None of this can be done without the courage to "come out" as ourselves. 

In celebration of Gay Pride Week here in New York City, I've chosen to look at the ways we all come out in our lives - not as gay per se - but as authentic human beings. 

I issued the following statement every day for the last week, sometimes multiple times a day, on the Facebook pages of every group that I belong to, my college organizations, my theatre groups, etc. I posted on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Here is what I wrote:

"In celebration of Pride Week here in New York City, I'm examining all the various ways we come out - not as gay necessarily - but as authentic. 

I would like to help you all come out as authentic beings. I challenge you to share with me a few words of authenticity. They could be about your sexual preference, or about anything else that makes you unique, good or bad, that's up to you. They will be ANONYMOUSLY incorporated into next week’s blog. 

Contact me however you'd like..."

...and I included a link to last week's entry. I didn’t know what sort of answers to expect, or if anyone would answer at all! I only hoped for enough responses to stitch together a pretty good piece.

Then the stories came pouring in. I was so giddy. People of all shapes and sizes were coming out to me: family members, close friends, people I'd never met, everyone with something to say. If I asked, people were happy - even eager - to talk about their experiences and share fairly intimate details with me. We connected on new levels. 

Thank you to everyone who helped me with this project. To those brave souls who came out, I am so grateful to you for sharing yourselves with me. Look how amazing we are! We are so different in so many ways, but we are connected by our vulnerability, our bravery, and now this shared experience.

When I came out as lesbian ten years ago a friend of mine hugged me and congratulated me. We stood in the atrium of my college theatre and just giggled. 
It is an accomplishment to let yourself be seen. So congratulations to all of you on your greater authenticity.

(If you missed the chance to come out to me before I published this blog and would still like to share, or are only now moved to share, please leave your comments below. You'll be able to leave them anonymously if you'd prefer.)

"Okay! So no one in my family knows this... Not even my kids... But I am bisexual... Have been for as long as I can remember..."  
"bi-not so-curious"  
"'gay,' 'straight,' and 'bi' all fail to accurately describe what my orientation really is, and I am okay with that"  
"I want to fall in love and be with someone for who they are as a person, NOT for what gender they are. I've been accused of either 'going through a phase' and that I'm just 'straight' and also that I'm just 'afraid to come out' as a lesbian. The truth is that I am 'unabashedly' though 'imperfectly' bisexual...if that makes any kind of sense. It just is what it is..."  
"Sex kitten!!"  
 "the other woman and I don't know how to stop" 
"Hi my name is Abby, and I'm an alcoholic"   
"I'm a food addict. I eat to feel better. Supposed I do that because when shit is hitting the proverbial fan, putting something in my mouth that tastes good is a way to make me feel pleasure" 
"Chronically depressed"   
"Impulsive internet shopper!"  
"A worrier...a projector..."  
"a control freak"  
"a math nerd...(it mostly involves a lot of really bad math jokes)"  
"ok. I'll come out. Sometimes I fucking hate economics."  
"It's my age! So many people comment that I look so young! I use to say 'Thank you'! I've started just saying how old I am! Feels weird, but authentic!" 
"I don't like thinking about how old I am because then I can only see how little I've accomplished."  
"I am coming out as being dependent on others for strength and support. I try to dub myself as independent and strong enough to tackle life's hurdles, but in the end I recognize my need of a friend's shoulder." 
"an enigma"  
"an optimist"  
"I am a really good person" 
"can I come out as a bad person?"  
"I'm never satisfied - ever"  
"I am lazy and I want everyone else to pick up my mess" 
"Being 'authentic' is truly the hardest thing anyone can be. If I was I would rap against this modern society...the way we treat the planet...the way we treat each other. I would stand in front of religious institutions and tell them how false they really are. I would voice my opinion every day. Tell people how the way we recycle doesn't really matter. How we need to end our dependency on oil and plastic today. But I don't. At times it eats at my soul. But I know that all the ranting would be ignored, people don't want to change."  
"Forever changing"  
"I am whole: both masculine and feminine, strong and realized, direct and flow. I need no 'one' to complete me. I am that on my own. My energy, my love, my vulnerability may be shared if I permit. No 'one' can take it. It is my choice to give, my choice to receive. I am not gay, nor am I straight. I'm not 'turned on' by physical anatomy. Energies arouse me, excite me, intrigue me. I am a sexual being, craving eccentric connection, not because I need anyone else to fulfill me, but because I am human (whole and complete)--and with that comes a beautiful curiosity to learn and express and explore."

~ Kelsey Crouch
Edited 8/20/14

Monday, June 23, 2014

All The Ways In Which We Come Out, Part 1

When I came out ten years ago a wise professor of mine said to me, "Kelsey" and he shook his head, "you're gonna come out every single day of your life." Because I was feminine and in no obvious, outwardly way "gay", I thought he meant that I'd be coming out as lesbian every day of my life. For many years afterwards I'd think of him and smile for seeing into my future in a way I was too young to do. I work in a casual fine dining restaurant - as an example. I dress well, I converse well, I make excellent drinks, and care about my guests, so inevitably there is at least one man a night who I let down gently and come out to. Equally as often a mother offers to set me up with her son, and I come out to her. Before you start telling me that I shouldn't come out to these people at all for any reason or other - it's uncomfortable for them, I'm inviting them to flirt harder, I'm inviting them to make sexual jokes, I'm ruining any future opportunities to serve them, I'm ruining any future opportunities to work with them outside the restaurant - let me assure you, I don't give a damn about any of those reasons. I have experienced every shade of response you can possibly receive, and I am still gay, still happy, and still coming out to people as I see fit.

Here's the idea: I am not defined by my sexuality, but by my authenticity. A man may not know how to respond to my coming out, but almost 100% of the time he will understand that I have opened myself to him in a way more valuable than sex and have trusted him with information more valuable than my phone number. Here's the cool thing: the majority of these people see my coming out as permission granted for them to also be authentic with me. A friendship is born. Of course, there will always be people who don't receive my offer respectfully. These are people I will never want relationships with, friendly or business-oriented. I lose nothing by coming out every day. Authenticity is a terrifying thing, it really is. We risk losing people and the love they bring with them. But it's worth it. I'm grateful for the opportunity to come out as lesbian everyday.

I experienced a very different sort of "coming out" two weeks ago publishing "Bear". I liked the piece, it was important for me to create, but the idea of publishing it terrified me. I had it typed, formatted, and open on my computer for two full days before I was brave enough to send it out into the world. Although I walk through the world as an openly gay woman, I more often walk through the world as an open-but-really-complaisant, always super-nice and happy woman. Those times that I think I need to stand my ground I end up over compensating and behaving in a way more stoic than I wanted to in the first place. People look at me and they see classic, beautiful Kelsey. Here I come out as a woman with a dark side. I have real fears, deep emotions, a really active imagination, and a need to express of myself. The elation I felt the moment I hit "publish" was the exact same buoyancy I felt when I came out to my mom for the first time. Buoyancy like a rabbit with wings jumping on a bouncy ball on a trampoline, I felt silly and like I could fly above the Manhattan skyline. Then I crashed so hard into a deep vulnerability over the thing, I didn't write an entry at all last week!

I just got back from Stratton, VT where I spent four blissful days with hundreds of yogis at Wanderlust yogi retreat. We were on the mountain, surrounded by extremely beautiful scenery. It was hard to tell if the mountain was filling us yogis with joy, or if our collective joy was making the mountain herself feel more beautiful. I think the she and the people celebrated each other. We had perfect weather. Birds followed me wherever I went. Heaven for the weekend. My body feels stronger and sorer than I've felt in a long time. My breath is deep and wide and rich. Even writing this from my New York apartment I can feel the grass beneath me.

At the retreat I challenged myself to feel all of the emotions that meditation and yoga would bring up. (You think one class brings up emotions, try four full days of it...) I wept though all of Friday, danced like a kid each night, fell in love with the warmth of the sun, and found a breath deeper and richer than I knew I could breathe. I felt the most authentic I have ever felt. Which is really something to celebrate.

To all of you who read this blog, especially "Bear", and have offered your appreciation, thoughts, advice, even concern, thank you much for receiving me with respect. Thank you, family, for receiving all these parts of me with love. I am grateful to you all.

Happy Pride, everyone!


Wednesday, June 11, 2014


It is possible for a man to be a bear and a worm all at once. For a bear mouth - which is sharp - on a bear head - which is very big - to nearly swallow a thing. He can cook breakfast and lift a fork full of eggs to his fat worm's lips which can drip with sticky, yellow yolk.  It can shine like fresh kill on his fur. He can lash his bear tongue around wide and gather the yolk before it drips onto his chest. A bear can pee sitting down. He can drink tea while lifting the pinky of his paw. A man who is a bear and a worm is vulgar.
A bear can go to church. He can style his hair with a blow dryer and pomade and wear a finely tailored suit with a pocket square. He can wear lots of cologne. He'll be too big to sit comfortably, but a bear can squeeze himself into the end seat of a pew and roll down onto his knees to pray and pad down the aisle to take sacrament. A priest will give the sacrament to a bear with worm lips. 
A man can stand upright and walk like a bear. He can be black with hair and you can feel his fat body charge down the hallway at night when he hears you still awake or laughing in your bedroom. You won't see his face, only his shape filling the doorway. You will hear his labored breath and try to silence your own. A bear has a worm between his legs like a dead animal. It will hang there fat like his body and yellow like egg yolk. A man who is a bear and a worm will stand there all night and you won't sleep until he leaves and won't sleep until morning, and when you do, you'll dream of teeth.

- K.C.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dear Miss Garvey

There is a disconnect for me between my childhood self and my adult self. I have a lot of memories of my childhood. Many are really great. Like going to work with my mom in the mornings. She’d carry me to the car in my pjs, it was 5:30 am, still dark. We would get blueberry muffins from Whistlestop in Georgetown, right across the Redding border. I’d fall back asleep while she drove but I’d always wake up right before we passed the George Washington Bridge. The light was a certain way because the sun had risen and Morning Addition had just come on NPR. Then I’d eat my muffin. Sometimes I’d cover the blueberries with the white muffin parts and pretend I couldn’t taste the blueberries. Now as an adult, I can’t experience the GW Bridge, Morning Addition, or blueberry muffins without remembering those drives like flashbacks. I remember making pancakes and having lasagna food fights with Dad. The Thanksgiving my sister cut the tip of her finger shaving brussel sprouts on the mandolin. There’s lot of food memories. Shooting my bow and arrow in the backyard with my brother. Singing my youngest sister to sleep. Ice skating, my first Broadway show, cousin sleepovers, getting a puppy, exploring the woods. My childhood memories flow.

But I try to access my middle years - 12 to 24ish - and I experience a fuzzy connection. It’s as if the part of the memories that establishes them as mine has been damaged, like the signature’s been smudged away or water’s been spilled on the homing device. I remember all the musicals I ever did, most of my teachers, how scared I was of hurting myself on the high jump, what crushes I had, my first kiss (his name is Andy Wahl, and it was walking back from a camp fire in the middle of the woods. It was very wet but nice). I accept these memories as mine because nothing else more clear exists in my head.

I recently found out that Janice Garvey, my English teacher for my Freshman and Junior years of High School, is retiring at the end of the year. I felt old when I heard this but not much else. A classmate of mine (who's recently published her first book) is gathering past students of Miss Garvey’s for a small celebration and was nice enough to invite me. She requested that we write some small anecdote about Garvey that she’d print into a book to give to her.So I froze up when I read her request. All those memories are fuzzy. When I think back on Miss Garvey I don’t remember much. I remember my impression of her the first week of Freshman year. She was a “hippie”, a beautiful smile, long, grey hair tied back low at her neck with a scrunchie, which may have been light grey or white. She always wore skirts. She always had classical music playing. In the corner of her room hot water, tea bags, and a powdered milk substitute were available for a quarter on the honor system. I drank it often because it tasted like maturity. A nice light filtered through her windows. The tables were arranged in an oval shape so we could all face each other as equals. I remember in that first week with her wanting, like a hunger, to be more equal than anyone else. 

And that’s it for happy memories: sensory imprints. The larger chunk of my Garvey memories - which are fragmented at best - are of me sinking to the bottom of the class and out of the light of her affection. I have no idea how early this started. Flashes of writing assignments with more red marking than anyone else’s. Feeling very distant. I never had anything good to say. I began sitting away from the smart people and closer to the tea pot. I sank.

I think back on her now a feel a deep sadness. I wanted to be better for her - a better student, writer, person, all of the above - but I didn’t know how. I hoped that if I maintained the facade well enough I’d get by and she might still like me. I spent most of my time in High School hoping I wouldn’t be discovered for the fraud I was.

A small part of me knows I wasn’t as much of a disappointment as I remember. After all, hadn’t I scored a 4 of out 5 on my Junior Creative Writing Portfolio and hadn’t my name been displayed on the Honor Boards near the Principal’s office with the rest of my friends who scored 4s and 5s? I slaved over those pieces. Hadn’t I been accepted into AP English and scored well enough on my AP tests to place out of all my of college English requirements?

One of my last memories of Miss Garvey was my Senior year. She had found me in the hallway and asked where I was going for college. I told her I was going to be attending Syracuse University for Musical Theater. I remember that her face dropped, maybe she kept a smile but I could see her disappointment so clearly. I can guess she didn’t think a theater career was worthwhile or didn’t think I’d succeed. In my memory I felt that I had once again let her down, nothing I would do would ever be good enough. 

I'm grown up enough now to feel the distance she must have felt from me. Did she try to help? Did she try to understand me as badly as I needed her to? Was she trying to find me? I don’t remember. I know that memories aren’t a strict record of what happened but of how I experienced those moments and how I felt about them then. I always knew she was a good teacher. I wish I had known how to open myself to that. I think now I feel some portion of the sadness she might have felt about me.

If you’re wondering how I feel about Miss Garvey nowadays, especially in the last three weeks that I’ve a) been writing for this blog, and b) known about her retirement - the answer is that I don’t know yet. It’s going to take more than a blog entry to rediscover and then redefine my feelings about High School, aka The Lost Years. I think I feel some portion of the sadness she might have felt about me. We had a missed connection that might have been something really great. 

I did a google search for Janice Garvey to see if there were any pictures online that I could post here (and to see if my memory of her was at all accurate. Where's the long, grey hair?) Turns out the high school lit mag did a "Teacher of the Week" bio on her. She's from Maine, went to Penn State then NYU for her graduate degree, she loves Jon Stuart, and you know what else? It says she always wanted to be an actress.

Janice Garvey