Happy Holidays??

The holiday season is the best time of year right?!

The stretch of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is one of my favorite times of the year. I absolutely love Fall weather, breaking out sweaters and jeans, decorating for the holidays, and going to parties. It is the time of year where we are all supposed to come together and be thankful for all the positive things going on in our lives and support each other. It’s when we specifically carve time out of our busy lives to see our family and friends and share in the joy of the holiday season…..at least that’s how its supposed to be, right? We see commercial after commercial of people greeting family at the door, big hugs for everyone, a feast at the table, and images of people who truly look happy to be together. While this portrayal of the way things are supposed to be was very representative of my life for the better part of 25 years, I have to admit that the Hallmark version of the holiday season that I once knew is no longer a representation of my life today.

Before I go much further, I need to make it very clear that I absolutely love my life. I am a newlywed, have an incredible husband and daughter, the best friends a person could ask for, and quite a few extended family members who are truly wonderful. I don’t want to discount how much they all mean to me and how much happiness they all bring into my life.

A very interesting thing happened in my life when I came out to my family and friends…. I would imagine it is a similar story for a lot of people who society forces to “come out” as if making a proclamation about the gender of the person I find sexually attractive is anyone else’s business or somehow a requirement because that person happens to be the same gender I am. (But thats a post for another time.) So I was faced with a couple of different reactions: First, and most importantly, complete and total love and support. This particular reaction took a number of variations, but in time, the majority of my friends and family came to this reaction.

The second reaction I faced was a mixture of denial and anger. (let’s call them the disbelievers) While disheartening, this particular reaction is, in some ways, expected to happen. People simply can’t believe the person they know and love has “lied” to them for all this time, they feel angry about their perception of a “betrayal” of trust. The disbelievers are the group that inevitably resorts to the classic “Are you sure this isn’t just a phase or an identity crisis of some sort?” line that we all know too well. Those with this particular reaction then fall into the aforementioned group, by coming to terms with their emotions and realizing they were wrong; or they simply fade out of your life or reject you completely.

The third reaction, and perhaps the hardest for me to deal with personally, was the “I love you no matter what, BUT……..” group. (Lets call them the “conditional love” group) This is the group that will break your heart the most. It is almost like when you have a big crush on someone, and they give you just enough attention to keep you around, but refuse to give you what you truly want from them: to be loved. I’m talking about truly loved, not with the added “BUT” attached. This reaction only happened, for me, with a handful of people. I’m not here to call anyone out by name, but I honestly feel like this group of people needs to understand the damage of their CONDITIONAL love, because for me, this reaction has been far more painful than outright rejection.

Here is how it has played out: I came out, the conditional love group, for the most part, started out in the disbelievers group. They got mad, felt betrayed, we argued, yelled, and they make it very clear that they will never be supportive of my “choice” to be gay. I don’t wanna bring religion into it, because I have quite a few friends and family who are religious and supportive. So this is in no way a rant against religion. My issues is when religion is used as a weapon, or an excuse to be a shitty person. So we come to an impasse. I am gay, always have been, always will be, its how I was made and I have known it since the moment I knew what attraction felt like. The conditional love people take a “moral” stance. They “love the sinner, hate the sin”.

This situation manifested for me in the form of carrying on for the last 5 years as if I wasn’t gay in order to allow them to pretend nothing had changed. I never talked about it, they never talked about it, and we just carried on as if the GIANT elephant in the room didn’t exist. As much as I am ashamed to say it, I enabled this behavior by going to holidays and family events and left Chris at home. Of course, because he is amazing, Chris never once made a single complaint, in fact, he encouraged me to try and maintain as much of a relationship as possible, regardless of the fact that he was being specifically excluded. You guys…. I let this go on for over FIVE YEARS…. and for what?! To carry on a superficial relationship for the sake of what someone else wants me to be? Chris and I got married and aside from my daughter, he is the single most important person in my life. I have enabled certain people to literally pretend that the love of my life doesn’t even exist. The rare occasions when they crossed paths were exceedingly awkward and in essence he was treated as if he wasn’t even there. I HATE that I let that happen. The only benefactor of that relationship is the conditional love group. They get everything they want; they get to pretend I’m not gay, they get to continue to feel they are morally superior, they get to treat my husband like a sub-human being, and yet are rewarded with my love and presence. It is a relationship that is one sided, with me giving and them taking and after all this time I am fully depleted and can no longer allow it to continue. I have sat by at holidays, watching everyone else get to be with their husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend, wishing that I was home with MY PERSON and spending time with people who love me UNCONDITIONALLY. I finally put my foot down this year and let the conditional love people know that I was no longer willing to meet their conditions. I am standing up for myself. I am standing up for my husband and my daughter. I am standing up for what is right and what is good. If I am not accepted fully and unconditionally, then I am no longer willing to pretend to be someone else just to be allowed to be present.

I am gay.

I am proud to be gay.

I am proud to be married to Chris.

I am proud to raise my daughter to love unconditionally.

I am proud to be who I am and I will no longer allow anyone to ask me to be someone else.

Holidays may look different from now on. We may not have the Hallmark commercial holiday, but I couldn’t care less. What we will have is a crazy, mixed bag of people who love us no matter what. And I will take that over a Hallmark commercial any day of the week. Don’t make the mistake I did for so long. Stand up and be yourself and demand to be treated with respect, dignity, and unconditional love, because anything short of that isn’t fair to you. If you are alone this holiday season just know that there are resources available and people who will be there for you. Look into your local GLAAD/PFLAG/HRC chapters and spend this time around people who want you for you, not for who they think you should be. HAPPY HOLIGAYS my friends!

The Big Day: 11.03.18

Hire a wedding planner?? No thanks!

From the moment we decided to scrap our plans for a courthouse ceremony and have an actual wedding, I knew I wanted to take the reins and do all the planning myself. While this may sound crazy, I had a couple of reasons: First of all, wedding planners are EXPENSIVE… at least in my opinion, and we wanted to keep everything simple and budget friendly. Secondly, (and yes, I can admit it) I am a bit of a control freak. I hate the phrase “control freak” by the way, its a negative connotation, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with knowing what you want and doing whatever it takes to make it happen, but I digress. So, knowing my personality, I was absolutely certain I would not be able to trust a stranger to make sure the wedding went perfectly. My creative process generally involves me sitting quietly for a few minutes with my eyes closed, visualizing what I want, then after running through a few options something usually pops up and I run with it. Does it always work out well? Absolutely not, but I do try to keep to the initial vision as much as I can.

My beautiful friend, Darby, owns the fitness studio that I teach barre classes at, and she very generously offered the space to us for our wedding. The venue is located in downtown Springfield, and is in a gorgeous, historic building. The ceilings are over 20 feet tall, the floors are beautifully worn hardwoods, and there are exposed brick walls and iron beams throughout. The challenge we faced was turning a boutique barre studio with mirrored walls and ballet barres into a wedding venue. (P.S. if you are ever in Springfield, MO and looking for an incredible workout, make sure to stop by Physique Fitness. I promise you won’t regret it.)

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Time to bring the vision to life

Challenge number one was how to hide the mirrors and barres. I had a grand idea of using hanging curtains but quickly realized that buying curtains for 15-20 ft ceilings and running spans of 25 ft was definitely cost prohibitive! So I did like any other determined person would do…. I bought a bunch of wholesale fabric, a sewing machine from Amazon, and watched some YouTube videos to learn how to sew the curtains myself! It took me a couple of months to get them all done, but I sewed over 250 yards of fabric into curtains! Were they perfect? NOPE! But they turned out great and I feel justified in patting myself on the back because that saved us THOUSANDS of dollars!

In addition to making the curtains myself, I also knew I wanted to make the floral arrangements as well because we wanted to stick to greenery and keep things simple. Darby and I set up an account at a local wholesale floral warehouse and got all the greenery for a STEAL!

The second challenge was the logistics of moving all the workout equipment out and figuring out how to fit our burgeoning number of guests into the relatively small space. After hours and hours of talking it out, 5-6 arguments with Chris (some of which required us walking away and giving each other some space) it was all WORTH IT! We had family and friends there the day before the wedding moving things, cleaning things, hanging curtains, and just being genuinely amazing, helpful people and we cannot thank them enough for everything they did. Over the course of about 7 hours we COMPLETELY transformed a fitness studio into a wedding venue and it was such a beautiful experience.

The Big Day!

After setting up some last minute things at the venue, Chris and I checked into our hotel room downtown at Hotel Vandivort (also a must when visiting Springfield) and took some time to relax together and just soak up the quiet moments before the ceremony. We took our time getting ready, just laughing together and being silly. We were honored to have Lucas Winkelmann take some pictures of us getting ready in our hotel room, and more photos outside with downtown Springfield as our backdrop.

Once we got to the venue, we finalized everything and made our way down to the basement of the studio to wait while all the guests were arriving. The 20-30 minutes we spent together right before the ceremony started were spent with Sydnee. We all were pacing around, nerves building as we heard all the footsteps and laughter of our friends and family above us. We were anxious about everyone having enough room and anxious to walk down the aisle and be up in front of everyone. There is something about being so open and vulnerable, and sharing such an intimate moment with your partner in front of all of your friends and family that is somewhat nerve wracking. At one point we all three looked at each other, hands shaking, nerves at their highest point right before going out, and decided that we needed to dance our nerves out. We blasted Taylor Swift and danced out all of our nervous energy and it was one of my favorite moments from the entire day.

After everyone got settled, the lights were dimmed, “Die With You” by Beyonce started playing and I immediately started crying while I watched Sydnee make her way down the aisle, then Chris, then me. Our dear friend, Dusty, (who got ordained just to marry us) looked down at Sydnee and asked “Who gives their permission for these two to be married?” and with a big smile on her face, Sydnee proclaimed “I do!”

To be absolutely honest, everything from that moment, until the moment we got back to the hotel at 2 am was a complete blur. But not a blur in a bad way, like I missed it all, but more of a blur of crying, laughing, drinking, dancing, celebrating, and just sharing the most amazing day with our closest friends and family. I remember every detail of the ceremony and reception (well maybe not toward the end… #vodka) but there were so many wonderful emotions and memories made, that it all just passed in this magical blur that I felt like I was experiencing in third person, almost like I was hovering above it all, watching everything happen in fast forward. I could write for hours about our big day, but as they say… a picture is worth a thousand words so here are some of our favorite shots from the wedding!

The best best-friend speech EVER

So for weeks leading up to the wedding Barb had been working on a speech and she kept very mum about it. I obviously trust her implicitly, but when your best friend, mother of your child, and former wife wants to give a speech at your wedding…. I was a little nervous. Not because I thought she wouldn’t do a wonderful job, but because she has so much dirt on me that nobody else knows! Well, needless to say, her speech was absolutely beautiful, and one of the most touching moments of the entire wedding. With her permission of course, I wanted to share it with you all.

Single to Stepdad: My side of the story....

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If you had told me a little over five years ago that I’d meet an incredible person, fall in love with both he and his daughter, build a home with him and get married – I wouldn’t have believed it. Nathan gave a brief introduction to our relationship, but I wanted to share how my life became interwoven with Nathan, Barbara and Sydnee.

After Nathan and I met, we were just with/around each other constantly. It sounds cliché, but there was truly such a connection between the two of us – we were meant to find one another. I knew he was recently out of not just a relationship, but a marriage, and that he had a daughter. Neither of those things were “scary” for me, but he was the only person I’d ever been interested in who was divorced and a parent, so we were both in unfamiliar territory. In true fashion, we just hung out for a couple of months without labeling it and then, one night on our way to Nathan’s house he nonchalantly says, “I called you my boyfriend tonight. I hope you’re okay with that.”

“Sure,” I said. And that was that.

We proceeded to date and get to know one another for a couple of months before he asked if I wanted to meet Barbara – which was rightfully a prerequisite for meeting Sydnee. Nathan wasn’t a big talker about his feelings, but in his own way, let me know how important Barbara was to him from day one. We made plans to grab drinks with her at a local bar – in my head I knew that meeting this person was going to be make or break for Nathan and I, and I really, really liked him…

 

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I went to the mall and picked up a coral-colored polo, which I still have in my closet. (I recently told Syd that it was the shirt I was wearing when I first met her mom – she thought it was pretty cool.) Barbara was an incredibly kind, warm person and I’ll never forget Nathan getting up to go to the restroom and immediately after Barb and I were exchanging phone numbers and talking and laughing. She is the epitome of an amazing, strong person. Not many ex-wives could, or would, sit at a table with their ex-husband’s boyfriend and laugh. Needless to say, I got one – maybe two – thumbs up from her.

Fast forward a few weeks after meeting Barb, Nathan made plans for us to meet she and Sydnee at a local “farm” in the middle of Springfield where we could feed some ducks. I. WAS. NERVOUS. At this time, Sydnee was just two-and-a-half years old. For being so young, she was so smart and funny and had the shortest, curliest blonde hair. We played and had a great time. After we left the farm to go get lunch, Barb text Nathan to say that Sydnee told her I was “Cute!” Thinking back on that day, meeting her, playing with she and Nathan, feeding the ducks – it’s in the top three of my favorite memories ever.

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I was never opposed to having a child in my life, but biologically, it wasn’t a probability. I think most LGBT individuals feel that way. Five years later, I don’t know what my life would be like without Sydnee. After the farm, Nathan, Sydnee and I began spending more time together and we built a strong bond. She doesn’t say it as often as she used to, but when she was younger and introduced me to people or talked about me, she referred to me as, “My Chris.” There are so many cute stories I could share, but my favorite is from a day when Barb, Zach and Syd were discussing eye color – Sydnee has beautiful blue eyes – and she was trying to figure out who she got her blue eyes from… guess who else in her family has blue eyes? Me. So, guess who she reasoned must have given her blue eyes? Me. I may not be one of her biological parents, but I love that child like she is my own – she is one of my great loves.

Five years later, she’s still so smart and funny, and her curly blonde hair is finally getting longer. I know how to make her favorite tacos because I know what foods she “likes but doesn’t love.” I’ve turned her into a tiny politician who is obsessed with the idea of voting. I’ve watched her get taller, become a ballerina, lose teeth, master lyrics to T-Swift songs, learn how to swim, start preschool, kindergarten and first grade – and I can’t wait to officially be her stepdad in 99 days!

Engagement Photos!

Finding an amazing photographer can be really difficult. There is a lot of personal style that goes into photography and its super important to find someone that can match their style and artistic eye to the vision you have for your photos. In addition to that, unfortunately we live in a world where there is an added stress for LGBTQ+ couples to find that amazing photographer and also hope that they are an ally and will actually be willing to shoot for them. I hate it. It is infuriating on so many levels, but alas, its where we are and we all have to strive for better, regardless of what the supreme court rules. ***steps off soap box*** Chris and I were so fortunate to find not only an amazingly talented photographer and ally, but also a wonderful friend. (Her husband is also just as amazing and wonderful and will give you the best hug you will ever get in your life) You won't find a kinder, more accepting couple than Elise and Ethan. Check out her website and follow her on instagram to check out more of her amazing work!

Elise Instagram

Elise Abigail Photo

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