Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Lesbian Couple Asked Me for Advice

A friend introduced me to a lesbian couple that is concerned because their elementary school aged son is going to be moving schools and they are worried that he might face teasing and bullying because of his moms’ orientation. He asked me about it because I was also the son of a lesbian couple as I went through my school years (and I remain a son of a lesbian couple today). I decided to write a post about it, figuring that there might be others who could benefit from my experience.

First, let me include one privilege checking caveat. I grew up in Massachusetts in the 90’s. This is written for people who are in socially liberal areas. If you are in the deep south or Bible Belt areas, you may find things to be more difficult. I will discuss how to deal with the teasing in the later part of this post.

This timing post has nothing to do with the current political climate and is only in response to the request for assistance I received.

Got 99 Problems But My Moms Ain’t One
When I was in middle school and elementary school, I got made fun of for a lot of things (not so much in high school). Here is a list, in order of commonality, of the things I was made fun of for:
1.       Acne
2.       Bad Hair
3.       My nervous habit of giggling when insulted
4.       Acne
5.       Fashion
6.       Acne
7.       My name (Outhouse, Greenhouse, Brownhouse, Doghouse, Blackhouse – they started running out of good ones)
8.       Acne
9.       My moms being lesbians
For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call the couple who contacted me Alice and Betty. They are concerned that their son might lose friends because they can’t deal with him having lesbian moms and that he will resent them.

Here’s the thing. If someone would make fun of me because my moms are lesbians, then that’s not someone I’d want to be friends with. I lost zero friends during my whole school career because of my lesbian moms. Not one. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

You know who I resent? The bastards who invented the phrase “oxycute ‘em!” They gave people the impression that acne was easily curable and they caused me much grief. Sometimes I worry that now that I work in New York, I might run into someone in marketing and find out that they invented that phrase. I’m not sure if I could be held accountable for my actions if I meet that person. 20 years later, still upset about that.

But my moms? They were awesome. And it was 1996! Who picks on someone for lesbians moms in 1996. It’s not 1956 people!

Nobody Can Make You Feel Inferior Without Your Consent
Homosexual parents sometimes might feel that they are somehow doing something wrong. They know that they are not, but that doesn't quiet the anxiety. But they aren't doing anything wrong. They are living life in the way that God made them, and this is what they should teach their children. If their children do not feel they are doing anything wrong, then why would they accept criticism for it? It would be like making fun of a kid for walking upright or wearing shoes. There's nothing wrong with it, so why would you mock it?

This is not to say that no one tried to make fun of me for it. This dialog happened once:

Bully: Your mom's a lesbian.
Me:  Yes.
Bully: Like, she's a dyke.
Me: That means lesbian, yes.
Bully: But, like, your mom sleeps with other women.
Me: That's what lesbian means.
Bully: But... like, your mom's a lesbian. 
The bully was thinking that my mother's orientation was something negative, but I did not accept that. This gets us into the underlying social theory of why kids make fun of each other. In any environment where a pecking order is established like school, prison, a sports team, or a post apocalyptic wasteland, people are trying to position themselves above others. They will take advantage of any lever that presents itself to do so. Is that kid different because he wears glasses and you don't wear glasses? Get people without glasses to agree that no glasses is better than glasses. Now, as a group, you are all higher up the pecking order.

Of course, this only works because everyone buys into it. If the glasses wearing kids refused to accept that their glasses made them inferior, then the lever would be invalid.

It is the same with a gay parent. Had I accepted that having a homosexual parent made me inferior, then it would have done so, but I did not accept that. Thus, it lost its sting. Moreover, I could flip the script on them. Not only would homosexual parentage not make me inferior, homophobia made them inferior.

You see, what is happening here is a form of social combat. The bully is picking this fight on this topic because he thinks he can win this engagement on this topic and come out on top. It's culturally similar to the bully who physically attacks a weaker kid. He does so to appear strong, but if the "weaker" kid can best the bully, then the bully will appear weaker and the other stronger.

What If I Don't Live In A Blue State?
So, what if the it isn't a matter of pecking order but serious bigotry? Well, this is outside my personal experience because I grew up in Massachusetts, but I shall answer anyway because I know someone is going to ask.

The answer is similar. If you are not doing anything wrong, then there is no reason to feel guilty. If your parents are gay and they feel that is morally okay and you do as well, then you should carry that confidence. Here's the thing. The Bible does not actually forbid homosexuality. It really doesn't. You can read about it here.

So, it's not immoral. It's not against the Bible. The only real reason people have a problem with it is that it's icky to them. Well, that's no reason to get down on someone for something.

So, for a child of gay parents in a socially conservative area, it will be more difficult, but I'd recommend finding friends who do not have a problem with it. Build a bulwark of allies, so that when the homophobes do come around, the allies can say "dude, that's not a thing."

Bigotry can only thrive because people accept it. If people reject it, it recedes into the shadows and eventually vanishes entirely, like a plant starved of light.

That said, perhaps this is just me speaking from my privileged position of living in a socially liberal state, and maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. This whole section is hopeful speculation.

The Take Away for Gay/Lesbian Parents (In Socially Liberal Areas)
Your lifestyle will not ruin your kid's life. It won't even make it more difficult. Sure, they might get teased for it, but they'll be teased for that instead of something else. We all get teased, and the adversities that we face as kids give us strength to fight the greater challenges in our lives.

Your kids may resent you for interfering with their relationship or for giving them a curfew or for making them do their homework, but as long as you are open, honest, and loving with them, I don't expect they will resent you for your orientation.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monday Morning Train Ride

The view from the train window.
Every Monday morning, I get up at 4:30 AM, although I should probably get up earlier since I keep almost missing my train. I get up at 4:30 so I can catch a 5:50 train from New London to New York. This train gets me to Grand Central a little after 9 AM, then the subway gets me to my office downtown closer to 9:40. It's about 3.5 hours to get there, and depending on the connections, 3.5-4.5 hours to get back. Don't cry for me. I love every minute of it.

I take this journey to get to the offices of EZBZ, inc, the creators of myEZBZ.com, a digital concierge service that connects consumers to businesses in the most direct and intuitive manner ever devised on the Internet. My job is that of Marketing Manager. That is, to create the programs and strategies that get people to go to the site to use the service. My job is to get people to use a free service that will save them money and get organizations to join into partnerships that cost nothing but will earn them revenues. It is more difficult than it sounds.

Quote a far step from selling $30/month insurance policies at kitchen tables around Western Massachusetts. So, how did I get here?

For the previous year, I was selling printing along the shoreline of Eastern Connecticut. Unfortunately for me, as well as the company I was working for, the sales strategy I was made to use was flawed. Whether it was flawed in design or execution, I do not know because this strategy was not written down anywhere, but I can tell you it did not work. In August, I was given the option to either stick more closely to the ineffective plan or go onto straight commission and do it my way. I took the commission and the freedom.
I couldn't help but think that the leader of Earth Class Mail is
Chris Dipaola's long lost brother.

Since I would rather devise ways to make a living rather than quietly starve, I devised a number of creative strategies to sell more. My boss referred to these ideas as "crazy ideas." Eventually, my frustration grew at not being respected for my abilities and at being blamed for the failure of a clearly faulty system. I happened to find a show on Hulu called Startup Junkies, which follows the adventures of Earth Class Mail as they went through a portion of their startup process. It was all about how challenging, stressful, and grueling working for a startup is.

It looked like a lot of fun, and I wanted to get in.

I Googled "Startup Jobs" and I found a site called Angel List. The site is a tool to find jobs at startups, but they understand that not all startup jobs fit into a simple job description, so there is also an element of the site that seems inspired by a dating site. In addition to applying (which you can do by pulling your resume from LinkedIn or Facebook), you can also simply mark that you are interested in a company. If the company does likewise, you may communicate directly.

I made such a connection with Shana Schlossberg, founder and leader of EZBZ as well as Innovate Hartford, a tech incubator in downtown Hartford. We scheduled a phone call and she told me at length about EZBZ. It was amazing. I was hooked. I wanted to get in.

Then we scheduled the interview... to talk about the project manager position at a spinoff company. The spinoff was also exciting, but not as exciting as EZBZ. So, leading up the the interview, I started poking around my network to see who might be a good EZBZ partner, not because I was angling for a job, but just because networking and connecting people is what I do.

I went on that interview and we talked about the other company and the job and my salesman sense was telling me that I had not closed a deal, but I figured I'd at least make a connection. So I casually mentioned that I happened to know the person who ran the largest Steampunk event in North America who had over 100,000 followers on Facebook and perhaps he might make a good EZBZ marketplace partner if she would like me to introduce her. She said that she was interested. The interview was on a Thursday. The conference call to set it up was the following Tuesday.
Innovate Hartford

I then continued in that vein. I introduced her to a large local non-profit. I emailed a few other ideas. Finally, with one of my ideas, I included the post script that I hoped I was not overstepping my bounds by sending over all these ideas. She said that, quite to the contrary, she and Rachel, her right-hand person, were impressed and how did I feel about the title Marketing Manager.

This is the amazing thing about startups and dynamic entrepreneurs. They were not hiring for a Marketing Manager. They certainly were not looking for someone who lived in Eastern Connecticut. But they found found that I brought something to the table that would benefit the team, they figured out what title that might be, and everyone was better off.

My job is basically to continue doing what I started doing at that interview. Find great partners and come up with "crazy ideas" which might earn the company "crazy money". I was not hired because I most closely fit the box they were trying to fill. I was hired because they felt that I was a good bet to build a box for.

Perhaps you are wondering a bit about what I mean by partnership because you think that you might know of a potential partner? We find that the most effective way to get people to use the site is to partner with others who can influence them to use it. Our service is great, but that's what every service says about themselves. A great partner is anyone who can help us connect with people who need products and services: anything from contractors to professionals to entertainers. The partner could be a non-profit, an online interest group, a media outlet, a business, or even just a well connected or motivated individual. In exchange for their help in connecting us with consumers, we share the revenues from their efforts with them. There is no upfront cost for a partner. They don't give us their mailing list. We set up a marketplace with a unique link, and they promote it. It's as simple as that. For more info, email me or give me a call at 203-707-1245.

Note: I go to NYC one day a week because that's where the rest of the team is. My office is actually in the Innovate Hartford space in Hartford, and the actual location of my work is wherever the work is to be done.