Dale: What does it mean to you to “live an authentic life?”
Kevin: Okay. I think for me the idea of living an authentic life is really about, being true to who I know I am. Also, it is being in touch with my feelings; but, as well as when you’re interacting with certain people, it’s always coming back to a place where you’re representing yourself, and not trying to be something that you are not. And I say that because it’s much easier said than done. I think anyone, especially myself, can find themself in situations where you want to come across as a certain type of person, depending on who the other person is or who you may be interacting with. And I think we sometimes don’t act or say the things that are true to our authentic self. I feel that these types of situations occur all the time between people whether it be for business or pleasure. The one situation where I am always true to myself is regarding my sexuality. If someone asks me, “Oh, are you married? Are you gay?”, to me, I have no problem telling them the truth. But when you’re around different people from socioeconomic or religious backgrounds, we tend to put on different personas. We tend to present ourselves in ways that will keep the peace and not create discomfort or conflict.
And so, it is a daily practice to be authentic. It’s a daily practice of always going back and checking yourself in certain situations to make sure that you don’t walk away feeling that, “You know what? I probably only showed that person a quarter of who I really am or I wish I would have acted on what I was thinking vs. not saying anything at all. “ I think it’s always about showing who you are, and being true to that regardless of whether or not you create waves, if you create discomfort, or create happiness. A great way to try and stay true to who you are is constantly asking yourself “How did I show up?”, and as we progress through life, “Who’s the person that I want to be?”
Dale: Was there a defining moment in your life that enabled you to step into your own authentic self?
Kevin: Oh, my god, that’s a really good question. Is there a defining moment?
Dale: Or moments.
Kevin: The first moment that I can remember that allowed me to be my authentic self was an African-American studies course in college. And, the reason I was taking this course was to be able to relate and make parallels with who I was as a gay male with other oppressed groups or minorities. And the professor, her name was Patricia Hill Collins, Dr. Collins, she created a space for me where I felt like I could not only write about myself when it came to the work that was necessary for the class, but to also explore who I was, by developing my sociological viewpoints as it related to African-American studies.
So she was a really big role model for me even though she was not gay. It was about the respect that she gave me. She truly valued my point of view as a gay male. So what happened was, through our discussions we established trust, which created a space where I felt like I really could be my authentic self. It was the fact that she valued me as a individual, and the perspective I brought to the class. I was one of the few Caucasian individuals that was taking the course, but that was one of my earliest memories.
Dale: What happened when you decided to shed your disguises and step into the light?
Kevin: You mean initially? I think initially, I don’t know if I actually shed my disguise completely, and stepped into the light. I feel like it’s been this ongoing journey, where over time I have shed my disguises and things have gotten lighter and lighter. I was in my early 20s when I first came out to my mother. The reason I did it was about being authentic and shedding a disguise.
I thought, “You know what? I am sharing my life with a man who I spend basically all of my time.” And I felt like my mom was only getting to see a certain part of me, not the whole me. She’s not even really seeing my personal life, my romantic life. So that’s what initially brought me to a place of wanting to tell her was to be more authentic about my life. The initial reaction was not positive. My mother immediately said, “Oh, we’re going to have you see” a conversion therapist or a fundamentalist therapist that was going to make me straight. But, luckily, I was strong enough at 21 years old that I remember telling my mom, “You know, mom, if anyone needs a therapist, it’s not me. It’s you. You need to go to the therapist.” And I say that because, I think depending on where you’re at in terms of your own self-confidence, and coming out process, it’s not easy to step into the light, not everyone can do that; and, luckily, I was able to do it. I was at an age where I was over 18 years old and only responsible for myself, so I didn’t have to do what she told me. I could say, “No. I’m not doing that”. It’s only over time and through many life experiences that I feel like I gained more and more awareness and confidence, which was a way of allowing more and more light into my world.
It’s something that took time, and I would say I did not have a lot of self- confidence in my younger years. My self-esteem was not that great in my early twenties up until my early thirties, and a lot of it had stemmed from what had happened to me as an adolescent. Similar to what happened to you Dale, I was bullied in third grade. I was called a fag. I was called a girl and a sissy on recess to the point where I was crying. And, in third grade, I didn’t even really understand what being gay meant. I was being accused of being something I wasn’t and not really understanding what it meant. I remember my response to Floyd, that was his name, was “I’m not a girl. I’m, obviously, a boy.” This had a negative impact on my self-esteem, and it’s taken a long time to get to a place where I can stand up straight, with confidence, pride and joy; but I think, again, it’s a journey to get there. Each new day is an opportunity to allow more light into your life.
Dale: What obstacles have you faced while becoming your authentic self?
Kevin: I think the biggest obstacle for me was really about knowing my self-worth. I was never in a really dark place when I came out. I was never suicidal. But, I think that gay men, lesbians, and transgender individuals, growing up in the early 80’s, lack emotional maturity as that aspect of ourselves was delayed for many of us. During your adolescence sexuality plays such a key role in development for most teenagers. When you are 13 and 14 years old you start to explore who you are in terms of your sexual identity, but I repressed those feelings. I didn’t act on any thoughts that I had, even though I did have sexual thoughts towards men. I was attracted to soccer players and fellow classmates. I believe my emotional development and emotional intelligence got delayed because it wasn’t until my early twenties that I was able to start having real, intimate relationships with other men that included the physical, emotional, and intellectual sides of myself. So that was a major hurdle. While your high school heterosexual counterparts were freer to explore their sexuality, I was unable to do so.
So, again, emotionally, my emotional intelligence was a huge hurdle. I remember in my early twenties really making some stupid moves in my relationships. I was probably acting like a 16 year old emotionally, even though I was 24 years old. Partly, because of not really knowing what a relationship even looks like, what a healthy relationship looked like for two men. Fortunately, I had built a really close group of friends in my early twenties with other gay men and women who could support me when I needed to, and people I could talk to who would listen and be able to provide guidance and insight.
Dale: So through those times and even into this present point. How do you embody your transformation? You mentioned that it’s an ongoing journey to live an authentic life
Dale: So how do you embody the transformation?
Kevin: I think I embody the transformation by, first of all, being really in touch with how I interact with other individuals, and I would say I am highly attuned to how other individuals interact with each other. When I say that, I mean the way people may interact with someone who may be gay or lesbian or African-American or any minority group. I am very conscious of the way that people interact with one another. I never let anybody disrespect someone else for being different. I am the type of person where I would step in immediately and say something.
Interestingly, it’s only been in the past two years, since I started The Proud Diplomat, that I feel like I’m going back to my college days when I was this activist and a socially conscious individual. And, i feel that I am getting back in touch with the authentic me wanting to understand the social construction of race, gender, class, and the history between the gay movement in the the 70’s and 80’s, and women’s rights. So for me, I feel like now more than ever, I want to champion the rights of not only members of the LGBTQ community, but I would say other minority groups as well. It’s just something that I’m really, really aware of, and passionate about. Nothing angers me more when someone disrespects someone else because they’re different. It enrages me. I will speak up and say something in order to help the other person understand why what they are doing is wrong, and where their ignorance comes from in order to help educate them.
Dale: Where do you think that stems from?
Kevin: I’ve always been sort of a rebel, and an outsider. It’s been a part of my personality as a teen. I remember, and this is one of my not so great stories, my stepfather, his name was David, and thank god he’s no longer my stepfather. I remember he wanted us to sit down together as a family to eat, but he wanted us to eat fish eggs; and, I’d never eaten fish eggs in my entire life. I’m talking carp fish eggs, they were huge and I wasn’t about to start eating them.
So, in order to appease him, as my mother wasn’t there at the time, I said to him “Listen, I’ll make my own dinner. I can make my own food and definitely we can sit down as a family, but I’m not eating fish eggs.” And things escalated to the point where he got so mad that I wouldn’t eat the fish eggs that he was close to punching me. But, I was the type of person that I was not going to back down and appease him. I stood my ground. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Bring it on.” Do it, and I will get a lawyer involved. I didn’t really have a great relationship with him, so that’s probably partly where it stemmed from; but I never really respected him as an individual because he wasn’t a very authentic person.
I think it also stems from the fact that I grew up with my uncle Bob who has down syndrome. And, my brother and I spent our entire childhood with him. We would play and swim together as we spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house. At first, I don’t think I realized he was “different” than us since my earliest memories of him never exposed his differences. He was one of us. But, I do recall in my teenage years going out to dinner with him and my family, and people would just stare at him. And, this impacted me as I slowly realized that they were starting at him because he was different. All I knew was the love and brotherhood we shared together and I remember getting upset at people who would stare at him as I thought it was disrespectful. Lastly, I feel it came from partly just me and my sexuality, understanding who I am in relationship to others, but wanting to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Having been bullied, I became highly sensitized to the value all people bring. And, I made sure to be inclusive and ensure people know that they are valued, and that they add value no matter what their situation is, no matter their differences. I believe that you are a human being, first and foremost. Unfortunately, a lot of people lose sight of this very easily. We all deserve respect and dignity. There has always been an inner light or awareness that recognizes the sacredness of humanity and to preserve it. I know it sounds grandiose, but it really is true. It’s a part of who I am, and it will continue to be until the I day die.
Dale: I think that’s a very admirable quality. I wish more people had that, personally.
Kevin: Yeah, I agree. I mean, sometimes I can’t believe how we as humans can treat, not only other humans, but other species that exist in the world. It’s disturbing to me. Especially when it comes to Evangelicals here in the states. I am not overly religious, but if you want to relate things constantly to what it says in the Bible like Evangelicals often do, I want to tell those individuals who don’t believe in climate change or the preservation of species you basically are killing God’s creation. If you say God created this earth, well, he created everything from every species to every tree that’s out there, and to say that it’s okay to see a whole species be wiped off the face of the planet is pure insanity. It’s just absurd.
Dale: I agree. So you’d mentioned in your early twenties what had happened in regards to your behavior. When you eventually did embrace yourself as an out person, what happened? What happened to you?
Kevin: I would say I got to a place where, because of the energy I was putting out there in terms of how I was interacting with people, I was finally getting more love, respect and a greater sense of self back. I have never had any bad relationships as I have only had three major relationships. And, luckily, most of the men that I have been involved with have been really, really great guys. But I do feel that more came into my life by being true to who I am, than when I wasn’t. I think my world started getting bigger and more beautiful into my thirties, and now, of course, into my forties. Maybe that’s what this has all been about. I feel like in a way I’ve arrived at a place where the beauty in my life keeps getting bigger, and I’m enjoying it because sometimes it wasn’t a very beautiful place.
Dale: So that was actually going to be my last question, but I have one more for you. Do you think that it’s difficult to live authentically in 2018 in our society as it is and with what’s happening in the world?
Kevin: I do. I think what’s interesting here in the states, and this may hold true in Canada and Canadian culture, is many people don’t value getting to know someone, really getting to know therm. Our days are so rushed and hectic that we barely take time to relate to each other. The idea of really relating to someone without judgement is uncommon, and requires amazing listening skills. Of course, there are people who do, so I don’t want to generalize. There are many people who are very authentic and willing to relate and sort of stand for something bigger than their own selfish need in that moment, but it’s not common.
I think it’s more and more challenging because of the value that American culture and society places on certain things like jobs, and consumerism. This notion of having the next biggest thing, the next big home, the next big car, the next big job. I think focusing your energy externally is an easier path to choose versus examining yourself. It’s almost mindless that you get sucked into this vacuum of thinking that’s why I’m here. I’m here to keep amassing more and more. But, I think, if you just take a step back, it’s really about relating to other people. At the end of the day those are the relationships and the memories that are going to make you smile when you’re 65 or 70. The small acts of kindness you did in order to help somebody else is what you will remember.
It’s disheartening at the present time given our our current president (Trump). As a leader he is a person that embodies everything that I basically would never stand for. I would never, in terms of his character, & integrity. What he has done is morally wrong to me, and I’m not like this huge moralist. I’m not this person out there always telling people that you’re right or you’re wrong, but it’s really disheartening. I do think that people are overly focused on work and their jobs so it doesn’t allow people to get outside of themselves and explore something bigger. Nature is an amazing place to get in touch with yourself. When you are in it you gain perspective and creativity. You can get a better understanding of you and your place in this world. But most of the time, it’s not about that, people aren’t focused on something bigger; they’re just focused on paying the bills and living a grand lifestyle.