Imagine, if you will, that you were born and raised gay and gender-queer in Denver, Colorado, eighteen years (and four days) before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. You would have grown up in the same state where Focus on the Family is headquartered not far from the Air Force Academy and NORAD, all three actively discriminating against people like you. You would have gone to undergraduate school in the same city where Matthew Shepard succumbed to the injuries from a homophobic hate crime he suffered in Laramie, Wyoming. You would have enrolled in kindergarten the same year as the Columbine High School massacre, you would have graduated the same year as the Aurora theater shooting, and those straight guys you crushed on nine times out of ten would slaughtered people by the dozen fewer than twenty minutes away from where you were when you first heard the news.
Now that I’ve welcomed you into the setting for my own personal Twilight Zone, allow me to regale you with (some) of my lived experiences here.
My nom de plume is Jack Trades, Master of Arts, and my parents must have met around the same time the Soviet Union collapsed, because they saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast together for their first date. Struggling to get by on the same “Boulevard of Broken American Dreams” as every other “Working-Class Hero” reading this right now, my mother and father developed a folie à deux of substance use disorder to cope with the worst-case scenario of our capitalist dystopia.
Thirteen years into their marriage, my mother fatally overdosed on prescription opioids the first Sunday of spring break, and my father drank himself to death on Easter, three weeks later.
I was in the sixth grade.
As a result of their narcissistic and psychopathic abuse toward my body and soul, I fell ill with borderline personality disorder, in addition to disabling diagnoses of bipolar I and post-traumatic stress disorder. It made puberty all the more depressing, and the anxieties of young adulthood that much more intense. So in high school, I turned to the fantastical pop performance art of Lady Gaga as a means of escape (or was it dissociation?) from my everyday life, and from there, went on to embrace postmodernism as a whole through the lens of Warholian pop art.
After all, what are the books, movies, TV shows, and video games that accompanied me all throughout childhood, if not daydreams come true? Is it any wonder I wrote stories while my parents screamed at each other downstairs for what felt like hours, telling myself tales of heroes who battled worse demons than mine, and won?
Visions of popular culture dancing in my head, I declared a major in journalism and a minor in film theory at Colorado State University, with Quentin Tarantino for my critical focus. I first designed this blog site as an entrepreneurial side-hustle in 2015, after graduating that May. It has gone through as many facelifts since then as I have day jobs, but, thanks to the Master of Arts program in professional creative writing at the University of Denver (Class of 2022), I have broadened my generic horizons beyond my nonfiction concentration. Now, great literature is like scripture to me.
And writing is life itself.
Indeed, I attend a dialectical behavior therapy group to heal my BPD, and we keep diary cards to document our mental health symptoms between sessions. Postmodern theory teaches us the power of symbols and signs, such as words and images on a multimedia Web page, to simulate real-world responses in the audience. Cast your mind back, for a moment, to Matthew Shepard – what do you think it does to my body, as a gay man, to see the same slurs graffitied on a bathroom wall that were screamed in his face as he slipped off this mortal coil, to know the history behind them firsthand? Wouldn’t it trigger your fight-or-flight response, too? Tense your muscles? Clench your fists? Grit your teeth?
If hate speech is violence, then what peace could the more positive alternative bring?
To be sure, without the verbal and written exchanges of ideas at the Parisian salons during the Age of Enlightenment, we wouldn’t have democracy as we know it today. Once a text enters our minds and helps us fantasize about a reality other than our own, a more aesthetically pleasing world where the chaos of conflict and drama resolves itself in a rousing climax, we fight to make it real.
Truly, my life speaks to that trajectory. After my third-grade teacher, Mr. Hardy, introduced us to none other than The Hardy Boys, I would go on to receive honorable mention in the 2009 Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition my freshman or sophomore year of high school. From there, I earned the 2014 Clyde E. Moffitt Memorial Scholarship, along with the Colorado Society of Professional Journalists Helen Verba Scholarship for Print Journalism to recognize my work as an arts and entertainment reporter at The Rocky Mountain Collegian (one of six honorees in the four-state area). The following year, I placed regionally in the national SPJ’s 2015 Mark of Excellence Awards as the features editor for College Avenue Magazine. More recently, I finished in first place for the print or online article category of the 88th Writer’s Digest Writing Competition in 2019 because of this post, and then claimed honorable mention again the next year in the personal essay category of the 89th annual competition. Although I am on temporary hiatus while I pursue my graduate degree, my MovieBabble staff writer position helped land me a contributing writer role at The DU Clarion in 2020.
All of which manifested the pleasure and privilege it is to invest in this latest vision for Suspension of Disbelief, a far cry from my days as an orphan child.
Part of having a borderline personality is an unstable relationship with the self. Every day I write, I learn more about who I am. I am who I am meant to be because I write. I am the master of that “meaning,” and even though oppressive institutions are in place to assign me with a dead man’s words, I am the author of my own spirit.
May this celebration of the literary arts translate into action for every other survivor of our imperialist nightmare-scape reading about it, too.