Cancel Subscription: Daddy Issues

I have always been attracted to older men. I don’t know why- I have a great relationship with my father, it’s not like I have Daddy issues or anything. But there is something about a man in his mid to late 40’s that I find incredibly attractive. At various times in my life I’ve dabbled in dating older men. As with any man I’ve dated, the results have been mixed.

Everyone who wants to date older does so because they want someone mature, someone who knows what they want and has their life together. The catch-22, of course, is that anyone that age who would seriously date someone your age is usually doing so because they are none of those things. Usually older men who date drastically younger than themselves do so because they’re stuck, wanting to recapture the wildness of youth. Or they’re looking for someone to basically mold in their image, like a mentorship.

I went on several dates a few years ago with a man I’ll call Arnold. Arnold was 44, had salt and pepper hair and a British accent. I thought he was the most attractive person I had ever been out with. He took me to lunch, paid the check, then whisked me off in his Porsche to his home (which he owned) to watch a movie on our first date. I was instantly enamored with every aspect of the previous sentence, and heavily infatuated with him. We went out to dinner after the movie (our date now going on 6 hours) and he told me he did a lot of traveling, and that I should make sure my passport was up to date. He pulled out all the stops, and I ate it all up. For some reason by the end of our first date I told him that I was still a virgin, and he told me that he had herpes.

Somehow I was still really attracted to him.

On our second date, he suggested we ask each other the “36 questions to fall in love”. On our SECOND date. We talked about a lot of different things, and he told me that he had no relationship with his mom and basically didn’t care if his mother was alive or dead. In hindsight (which is really the only saving grace I have from this story), anyone who does not have a great relationship with his mother is immediately off the list of potential suitors. Why him telling me he had herpes didn’t fall into that category, I’ll never know. After the date, he told me he was meeting friends, and said that he thought of inviting me, but figured it might be too soon. I agreed, although to be honest I was still really attracted to him (despite the herpes and mom being left dead in a ditch somewhere) and would have met his friends right then and there if he’d asked.

On our third date, we got brunch at Joan’s on Third. When he arrived, however, I could tell that something was different. His mood seemed sour, and the conversation didn’t flow like it had previously. We walked down third street, and stopped in a shop where he asked the manager if he had decided to feature any of Arnold’s art in the store. The manager said that he would pass, as I awkwardly looked around the store pretending not to notice the embarrassing exchange. I bought a mug. I still drink out of that mug and call it my “Worst date in the world mug”. At the end of our date we went to my place. I thought we were going to make out, but instead he suggested we take a nap. He then promptly curled up on my couch and went to sleep. I laid down next to him, and wondered what the hell was going on. He awoke 30 minutes later, said that he’d had a fun time, and left. I did not know what to think. I think it’s obvious to say I still don’t know what to think.

I asked my friend for advice, wanting to know what was going on. Our first date had had such a spark, we were so attracted to each other. Ever since then it felt dead. But we kept seeing each other. Why?

“He’s just not that into you,” my friend said.

And although I had seen that movie, I wasn’t so sure that I was Ginnifer Goodwin just yet.

Arnold and I went to see Dr Strange at the Arclight, and I held his hand during the film. Afterwards, we went to Swingers, where he ordered a tuna melt. I asked if he had read my blog. He told me he “hadn’t gotten around to it”. He dropped me off at home, and by that point I had had enough. Fuming, I texted him and basically asked, “What is going on?”

“I’m glad you asked,” he responded. He told me that he didn’t feel like our relationship was headed in a physical direction, and that the “spark he felt on the first date failed to light a fire beneath him”, to which I replied, “Ouch.”

I wanted to write back a lot of things. First, “What the fuck?” Followed by, “Why have you been wasting my time? Why have you been continuing to date me? Why haven’t you said any of this to me? Why did you take that nap? Why did you make me sit through a Marvel film?” But the biggest question I wanted to ask was to myself: “Why am I so hung up on someone who is clearly not interested in me?”

It hurt. A lot. The feeling that I felt when I got that text was lower than I had felt at any point since I had gotten sober. But it passed. I got over it. Now I laugh about it. And I know that sometimes, he’s just not that into you. But if it’s meant to be, he will be.

I’d like to say this is the end of me dating older men. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I can’t say for sure whether I’m only going to go on serious dates, with men who I could absolutely see myself with, or if I’ll go out with people I’m attracted to and not worry as much about the long term. I don’t even think I’ve decided that for myself yet. The one thing I do know is, I don’t have to try to be liked. Just being is enough.

-Theodore Dandy


4 Years Later- Same Mess, Different Hair

When my flight landed in Virginia Beach last night at 1230am, I was 4 years sober. It was the end of a long day of traveling, but I had planned well ahead. I broke my fast early in the day, to ensure I wouldn’t be tempted to choose something unhealthy to eat at the airport. My nutritional yeast flakes, goji berries, single Brazil nut and walnut were in a ziploc bag in my pocket, as I sipped my smoothie on the ride to the airport. The smoothie itself consisted of whey protein, collagen, prebiotic powder, glutamine (to help with muscle recovery), maca, matcha, and açaí. On the plane, I chewed on grass fed jerky and savored the delicious collagen protein bar I’d splurged on at Whole Foods. When I arrived at my home in Virginia Beach at 130 am, I had a scoop of whey dissolved in water, to help preserve my muscle through the night. I am on a calorie deficit after all, currently limiting myself to a diet of only 2000 calories a day, in an attempt to lose a bit of fat before transitioning to a low carb diet in the new year. I end the day at exactly 225g protein, 100g carbs, and 77g fat. It’s the perfect recipe for healthy living. And it bears no resemblance to the man I was 4 years ago.

This night, 4 years ago, I was binge drinking Burnett’s vodka with 5 calorie cranberry juice. That was my attempt then at being healthy, as I’d read in an article in Cosmopolitan magazine that a vodka cranberry was much less calorific than a margarita, and would help keep the pounds off. I needed all the help that I could get. At 230 pounds, my body was anything but a temple. I wanted nothing more than to be healthy, to be fit, to be skinny. But I couldn’t stop. Putting substances in my body was the only way I knew of comforting myself, and constant self-comforting was my only way of getting through the day.

I was a bundle of nerves, from the moment I woke up to the moment I put the cup of alcohol to my lips at night. Every morning, in addition to being hungover, I would wake up in terror. I felt like I was going to die. My alarm was like a knife, pinning me to the bed while I struggled to breathe. Even though my only relief was to roll over and get out of bed, the prospect of facing my day was somehow worse. Every interaction carried with it the weight of the world. Everyone in my life was someone who I would only let down, someone who wouldn’t love me if they knew the kind of person that I really was. I cared about other people, but not as much as I cared about what I could get. I wanted something for nothing, and I thought that “being a good person” meant that I deserved it.

Every once in a while, I would get it into my head that I was finally ready to make a change. I’d ask for a treadmill for Christmas. I’d get a gym membership. I’d start drinking tea in the mornings. Somehow I would become healthy. But every night, I would drink. And in the morning, my desire to be healthy would flit away, forgotten as quickly as it was created. My life was a cycle, one that I could not escape. But it was a comfortable cycle, a familiar one. I knew the pain of hating my body. I knew the feelings of letting people down, of letting myself down. I could live with that pain. But I couldn’t live with the unknown. The fear of being afraid- that fear paralyzed me for 20 years. I wanted to change, but I was too afraid of what would happen if I did. If I failed, or worse- if I succeeded. What if I succeeded, and I changed, and nothing else in my life did? What if I was the same old person I had always been, skinny and successful and still unhappy? So I didn’t change. In fact, I did nothing at all.

One day, I woke up, and something was different. I was ready. I didn’t make a change- I was changed. I suddenly realized that one day, maybe soon, maybe not for years, but one day I would die. And I would not have lived a life worth living. And the one thing that was stronger than the fear of the unknown was the simple fact that I wanted more for myself. I wanted that life I’d always dreamed of, and I didn’t want to settle for anything less.

So I turned my will over to a power greater than myself. I took my hands off the wheel, and I asked for help. I turned to people who I trusted and asked them what to do, and followed their advice. I acted on the faith that if I did what I was told, I would be taken care of. That if I was of service to other people, I wouldn’t need to worry so much about myself. And four years later, that faith has never once been wrong. I continued to turn my will over to my higher power, and things began to happen in my life. And although not all of them were good, they always moved me forward. After spending my entire life feeling stuck, the wheels finally began to move, and I began to change. I met people who knew so much more than I did, who befriended me, mentored me, and helped me.

I became a different person, but not in the way that I thought. I became the best version of myself, the person that I never knew I had the strength to be. And sure, I am far from perfect. I mess up constantly, I still have an obsessive mind, and I often get resentful. But I am always learning, and I am always growing. I try not to make the same mistake twice, but if I do, I have the tools and the means to deal with it. And no matter what, I’m always moving forward. I’m four years sober, I’m healthy, but most of all, I’m finally moving.

-Theodore Dandy

A Privileged Gay

My mother knew I was gay when I was three years old.

Okay, so she didn’t KNOW, but she was pretty sure. “You were very eccentric”, she told me later. Thank you for that, Mom.

Growing up in Virginia Beach, I had about as normal an upbringing as one can imagine. The youngest of three kids, we went to church every Sunday, ate dinner every night at the table. There was relatively little instability in the way that I was raised. My parents told me that there was a higher power out there that made me, loved me, and would always be there for me. They told me I was smart, and I was special, and that I could do whatever I set my mind to. And I never believed anything different.

I was incredibly lucky. I have more privilege in my life than most people do, especially most gay people. My mother’s brother and sister are both gay, so being gay was always presented to me as completely normal. I grew up seeing my Aunt Sue and Aunt Kate together, and not thinking twice about it (except for that one time I said that they were like roommates who didn’t have enough beds). So when I eventually realized that I was gay, it was a relatively easy experience.

I first knew I was gay when I went through puberty in the seventh grade. It was not a welcome discovery, but rather something I felt was an added burden that I had to bear. I was unhappy, friendless, overweight, and now gay. What else could God throw at me? But I knew that there was nothing wrong with me. I knew my parents would still love me. I was just afraid of what everyone else would think. Because for how progressive and loving my parents were, the rest of the world had not caught up yet. Being gay was still the worst insult you could use on someone. It was certainly the thing people used against me, before I was old enough to know that I was. So I kept it to myself, for 4 years.

Those felt like the longest 4 years of my life. I would sit in church, reading the verses condemning homosexuality. I was careful to hide what I was looking at from my parents sitting next to me, who were listening to a sermon that was rather loving and had nothing to do with the hateful verses I was secretly torturing myself with. I would sit at the computer after everyone else had gone to bed, looking at underwear ads for men and feeling as though I may as well be robbing a bank. I would sit in class, dreading the other kids finding out my secret. I forcefully denied my homosexuality when asked, and kept silent when not asked. But sometimes, in my bedroom at night, I would whisper to God a silent prayer:

I’m gay.”

He was the only one I could tell for a very long time.

When I did eventually come out, I didn’t get a single negative response. My best friend supported me, my family told me they loved me no matter what, my Pastor congratulated me and shook my hand. The kids at school finally left me alone, once I’d admitted what they’d been badgering me to admit for years. Coming out for me was like walking on air- I wished I could have done it again.

I was involved in a youth group at school, mostly as a way of socializing with friends, but also because I had become very interested in my faith. After a vivid dream involving the Rapture and me slaying a Maleficent-style dragon, I had begun to truly question what the idea of God meant to me. I started to listen in church, to ask questions, to seek answers. I wanted to know why those verses against homosexuality were in the Bible. What did they mean? What do you think they meant? What do you think about gay people?

I wanted to know. I asked everyone. And even though no one was unkind when I came out, I quickly realized that asking these questions meant I might get some answers I didn’t expect. I found out that some of my friends believed that homosexuality was sinful. That if I prayed I could change. I was flabbergasted- did people really believe this? Why? Could they be right? I didn’t have much more of an explanation for those Bible verses than they did. All I had was my own experience, and a feeling in my soul that I was exactly who I was supposed to be.

When I got to college, I was so excited to meet other gay people. I immediately joined every gay group, wanting to make friends with gay people. I remember at the first meeting of Queer Student Union (QSU), they were having a lunch in the Gardens at the University of Virginia. There was another lunch happening in an adjacent garden for a religious student group.

“We should go over there and crash their party,” said one boy who I thought was the coolest gay person I had ever seen by that point. “We’ll say, ‘we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re stealing your pizza!”

“What do you mean?” I asked. I didn’t get the joke. Did I not understand gay humor?

“I mean, they don’t exactly like us,” he said.

I was taken aback. Why wouldn’t they like us? What had we ever done? I didn’t understand this feeling of prejudice, of dislike for people that he didn’t know. This was the first time my privilege began to dawn on me. I joined a Presbyterian youth group, which was very welcoming. I was overjoyed at these new groups I was a member of, but there was a part of me that felt incomplete. In the gay groups, I was the only person who believed in God. And in the Christian group, even though they were very accepting, I was the only gay one. I didn’t feel completely at home in either group.

I remember going out with friends from QSU on a Friday night, eating a gusburger at the White Spot on UVA’s Corner. I’d been to the restaurant many times before as a little kid, dragged by my father to UVA’s football games against my will, my only desire to read the Nancy Drew book stashed in my backpack. But tonight, drunk and gay, there was nothing greater than a gusburger and the company of other gay people. I was talking loudly and freely, until a girl named Courtney told me to reign it in.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It’s not always safe for people like us here,” she said. I blinked stupidly. She was a small girl, a lesbian with nerdy glasses and a polo shirt. Who would have a problem with her? I didn’t get it.

QSU had a queer families night, where they invited the Dean and his husband to come speak. I flipped through their wedding album, completely in love with the idea of having a husband and speaking on panels. His husband shared about growing up Mormon, and how he was told he needed to change his orientation to align with God. I spoke to him afterwards, about my own experience being gay and going to church.

“Yeah, well, religion will try to brainwash you, and you can’t let them,” he said. I was taken aback. He was happy and married, right? Hadn’t he come to an understanding between his faith and his homosexuality? Or had he left one of them behind, unable to reconcile the two?

Through QSU, I joined a panel on bullying and the queer experience. This part was easy- of course I’d been bullied! Spencer Burmeister called me a faggot in front of everyone in gym class. There. But sitting on this panel, I heard other people’s stories. And there was a lot more than teasing that some people experienced. There was a lot of hatred. One girl talked about how her parents found out she was a lesbian and kicked her out of the house. She was homeless for several weeks, until she tried to jump in front of a train. When she returned home, her parents told her she could come back only on the condition that she meet with a therapist in order to change her sexual orientation.

I was horrified. I couldn’t imagine a parent that would do that to their child. My parents would never do that to me. I didn’t understand.

One day I was walking when I saw chalked into the sidewalk “Gay? Christian? Feel rejected by both?”

YES! I thought. It was an ad for a student group. I emailed the link, inquiring about what kind of a group it was. They emailed me back, explaining that it was for people who wanted to align their sexual orientation with scriptural standards. I couldn’t believe it- how could this group exist? How could people think this was possible? I wanted to know more, and I took it upon myself to learn more about this group under the false pretenses that I was seeking to change. I fed the information to QSU, and the whole thing blew up into scandal. The group didn’t end up forming. To this day I don’t know if that was for better or worse. The kids in the group wanted it to be a support group for people with Same Sex Attraction (SSA) who wanted to be celibate. Are people like that unworthy of support? Who am I to tell them their story?

My third year of college, I became a writer. I took a playwriting class, and I realized that writing was what I wanted to do with my life. The second writing prompt we were given was to write a play based on a newspaper article. I read an article on a gay website about a Catholic sports camp that sought to convert gays through athletics. I immediately wrote a play about this, 7 pages of innuendo and jokes. But as we moved on to our next assignment, that play stuck with me. I’d written the characters based on testimonials from this camp’s website- Louis, Steve, Jim, Eric. These were real people, with real stories, although there’s no way those names were real. They’re just too generic. But the people behind them, and the people at this camp, they were no different than the kids who wanted a support group to stay celibate.

I started to write about conversion therapy, and in writing about it I read about it. I researched, read, watched, immersed myself in the world. I joined a young adults email support group for people with SSA. I still receive those emails, from kids all over the world, lost and looking for someone to help them resist the temptation of their flesh. I have so much sympathy for them. I know how it feels to feel lost, to reach out to strangers because sometimes the only people who truly know what you’re going through are half a world away.

I moved to Los Angeles, and decided to turn my play into a TV pilot. I looked up the real life sports camp, and saw it was part of a larger group. There was a chapter in Los Angeles. I went to it, again under false pretenses. Although this time I tried to be as truthful as possible, saying that I was only there to check it out. Unlike the student group at UVA, I was here to observe, not to intrude. Most of the men at this meeting were much older- relics from a previous generation. What young person nowadays would choose celibacy when the call of the secular world is stronger than ever?

At that meeting I met a man named Bill, and finally I put a face to the idea of conversion therapy. No longer was it a story, a lifetime movie starring Sigourney Weaver. This was a man’s life. What was I doing here? This wasn’t my story, I didn’t need to be here. No one was trying to convert me. Not my parents, not my church, not my friends. Yet here I was, all the same. Why?

I’ve been asking myself that question for the last 5 years. Why do I want to write about conversion therapy, something I’ve never experienced? Sure, it’s happening. Sure, it’s legal in 36 states to force it upon minors. But it’s not being forced upon me. Why do I care? And I think the answer lies in my privilege. Because I realized once I left my little bubble, that there is a very good reason why so many gay people hate religion. There is a reason why most gay people feel unsafe in a church. And that is because horrible, unspeakable, unforgivable things have been done to gay people in the name of God.

That is why I need to write about it. Because it is one of the biggest wrongs that history has still yet to right. And even though I grew up and experienced God as love and light, does not mean that the same is true for everyone else. So if I have the privilege of having parents and a church that support me, then I should use it to try and help the people who don’t. I should make myself aware of other gay people’s journeys. Of Trans people’s experience. Of people of color, people with disabilities, people in another country. No one should ever feel unsafe about who they are. I had it easy. Most people don’t.

-Theodore Dandy

Halloween (The Holiday, Not The Movie Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Although That Was Pretty Good Too)

Halloween has always had a special place in my heart. An obese child, I loved nothing more than a holiday in which it was permissible to binge on unlimited amounts of candy that people would give you. For free! My siblings and I would pour out our pillowcases full of candy (we’d long since dispensed with those tiny little plastic pumpkin containers that could barely fit anything in them). We would then trade candy, so that everyone could get what they liked and get rid of what they didn’t. Things like Twizzlers and Twix were hot commodities- Mounds got thrown in the trash. I wasn’t big on chocolate so I tended to trade most of mine for the sweeter stuff. Halloween was my first introduction to the concept of bartering- and boy could I make a deal when it came to Fun Dip.

When I was little I would go trick or treating with my parents and my older brother. Then, when he was too old for my parents to tag along, it was just the two of us. Then, he was too old to go trick or treating at all, and it was just me. I didn’t really have any friends to go trick or treating with, but I didn’t want to go alone. So I ended up going with a boy named Sam from my church. I don’t remember Sam’s costume that year, but I remember mine very well. I went as a Mexican. I rented a poncho from a costume shop and drew on a big mustache with permanent marker.

Clearly, looking back at this I am mortified. I’m not quite sure how I was unaware how offensive this was to both the Mexican community and Mustache wearers, but in my defense I was 11 at the time and was not aware of much of anything. Come to think of it, I have a very clear memory of my first grade teacher dressing us up as Native Americans in celebration of Thanksgiving, having us run around the classroom mimicking Native American calls. I also remember witnessing in middle school a classroom performance of a scene from “To Kill A Mockingbird” where a classmate borrowed her friend’s foundation to perform the scene in blackface. So I think it’s fair to say that Virginia was kind of messed up. The good news is, everyone is a lot less ignorant now and they’ve since dispensed with the overtly racist scholastic activities.

But back to Halloween. I loved the candy, I loved the dressing up (obviously), but it wasn’t until later that I realized just how much I loved the horror. I love being scared. I love it so much. That feeling when you’re alone at night and you’ve just finished watching a scary movie and you’re convinced there’s someone in your closet and you hide under the covers even though you’re 25 and how is this still something you believe will help? I love it. Most movies try and manipulate the audience’s emotions, whether subtly or overtly. The thing I love about horror movies is that that is the entire point of the movie. It’s solely meant to scare you. If it can tell a good story at the same time, that’s just a bonus.

I remember (somehow) watching all these horror movies as a kid. The theme song to Halloween was one of the first things I learned to play on the piano. I don’t know how I was allowed, but I saw Scream, and Halloween, and The Silence Of The Lambs, and The Ring. They terrified me and thrilled me. And yet, even though I managed to see these films, I still remember begging my parents to let me see Final Destination 2, which they refused because it was rated R. How all the rest of these movies slipped past them I’ll never know.

The thing I love about Halloween is that it’s the time of year where the horror is allowed to leave the movie. You’re allowed to be scared in public. There are rides and amusement parks and events and mazes dedicated to scaring you. One of my favorite things growing up was going on the Haunted Hayride with my family. You’d get on a truck and sit on bales of hay while you drove around a forest through different horrific stops. It was like a haunted house on wheels.

I have tickets to the Haunted Hayride in Los Angeles this year, set in an abandoned zoo in Griffith Park (which I’m already thrilled by). As for Halloween itself, I don’t know what I’ll be doing. I don’t eat candy anymore, so that’s out of the picture. I could dress up, but I don’t know what I should be (and don’t worry, I learned my lesson when I was 11).

But there is one thing I definitely know I will be:


And loving it.

-Theodore Dandy

Why I Have Long Hair

Whenever I meet a new person, the first thing they say to me is always the same:

“We get it, you’re gay.”

The second thing they say to me is:

“I love your hair!”

My hair and I have had quite a journey together. It all started when I was a little boy. I had curly hair as a child, until my mom would make me and my brother get buzz cuts. When we were older, my mother would say, “Your brother had the head for a buzz cut, but we realized later that you didn’t.”

I guess parenthood is all about learning.

When I was in elementary school, one day I got tired of having my hair in my eyes and I decided to cut my own bangs, like Zooey Deschanel or someone. I cut my hair in a straight line across my forehead and told my mom, “Look, now I don’t need a haircut!” The hairdresser had a fun time fixing that one.

When I was in middle school, the cool thing to do was to grow your hair long. I made my first attempt at long hair then, but since I was chubby and my hair had started to grow straight, it made me look like that stereotypical middle schooler you look at in the movies and say, “Wow, that’s bad writing.”

High school is when things really started to heat up. I’d cut my hair short, then it would grow long, then I’d cut it short again. Nothing fancy. Then I came out of the closet and all Hell broke loose. I started to experiment. What would it look like if I straightened my hair? (Not good). What if I dyed my hair blonde for a role in a musical, even though no one asked me to? I still look at pictures of myself with blonde hair and think, “This is the face of alcoholism.”

When my roots started to show, I dyed my hair brown again and moved on. I wish I could say I was wiser, but college proved me otherwise. I started to highlight my hair this time, which I thought looked great. Others may have disagreed. Now I started to look like the villain in a Disney Channel Original Movie about rollerskating. But hey, I was learning!

After graduation, I moved out to Los Angeles and my hair got a rest period, for which I’m sure it was grateful. I was an adult now, and I couldn’t come to work looking like a child. I didn’t do anything to my hair for a while. And my hair, finally unencumbered, began to take on a life of its own. I started to grow it out, and to my surprise it had started to become curly again. The more I let it grow, the more curly it got. I got more compliments on my hair than I ever had before (one compliment is still more than zero).

Then one day I cut my hair. The backlash was swift and severe. Everyone asked me the same thing: “Why?” For all the television I had watched in my life, I still hadn’t learned from Keri Russell’s mistakes. So I let it grow out again. And grow, and grow, and grow. Pretty soon it got long enough that I could do a man bun, or a man ponytail, if there is such a thing. People were loving my hair, and so was I. The only downside was when I walked down the street at night, I thought I saw someone following me out of the corner of my eye, but it was just my hair.

I fell in love with my hair, and so did everyone else. “Don’t cut it,” they said. “It’s the only thing about you that has any worth.”

My mother, God bless her, was the only person in my life telling me to get it cut. One time I almost listened to her, and asked a hairdresser to cut off about an inch. “Let your hair do what it wants,” he said, and I have taken that to heart ever since.

Sure, it can be annoying at times. I’ll be eating a sandwich and realize mid-chew that I’m eating my own hair. It’s constantly in my face at work unless I put it in a man-bun. But in the end, it’s worth it. Because even though I’ve never thought of myself as someone who would want long hair, it’s become a part of my personality. And I’m not ready to get rid of it just yet.

-Theodore Dandy

Are You Gonna Finish That?

When I was a little boy, I was skinny. Oh, were those the days. To be like every little kid out there, having absolutely no worries about my body or what I looked like. Those first 8 years I’ll treasure forever. Unfortunately, 8 year old me was NOT a planner, because right around third grade, I started to get big. And I mean BIG. I would come home every day and gorge on waffles and popsicles. I didn’t have really any friends, so all I had to look forward to was coming home, playing video games, and eating. And I loved to eat. I started to feel self conscious about more than just my personality. I started gaining weight. My parents encouraged me to get out of the house more, and signed me up for sports, but there was only so much they could do. I did not enjoy exercise, and walking was the bane of my existence. I liked what I liked, which was to sit and to eat.

I think around middle school was the first time I decided I really wanted to do something about my weight. I was going to get in shape, to be healthy. I was going to ride my bike that summer, and eat better, and not sit around all day. Summers would come and go, and every year I would tell myself that this would be the year I would change. And each year I would stay the same- except I kept getting bigger.

In high school I became more independent, and when I got my license I was able to go to the rec center on my own. I would go occasionally, telling myself that having an off- block during the school year would give me no choice but to spend it working out and getting in shape. Invariably, I would spend my off block at the nearby Panera, eating mac and cheese and shortbread cookies.

When I found alcohol, it made it that much harder to try and exercise. I instantly doubled the amount of calories I was having, and was much too hungover to seriously stick to any exercise program. When I drank, I ate. I would go to the liquor store, buy a bottle of vodka, then go to the grocery store, where I’d buy all of my favorite foods. Then I would go home, and I would binge. I would put everything I could into my body in an attempt to feel good. And every night, I would feel lower than I had the night before. I would eat, and I would drink, and I would hate my body. Rinse and repeat.

When I finally got sober, I felt ready for a change. After three months of sobriety, I decided to try diet and exercise again. I started by writing down everything I ate, and using the elliptical 30 minutes a day. I ended up losing 30 pounds in a month. My body had apparently just been waiting for me to exercise, and immediately shed 1/8th of my body weight. I looked in the mirror, and I was on track to where I wanted to be. But I wasn’t there yet. When I moved out to Los Angeles, I was 40 pounds slimmer, and so proud of myself. But I knew I wanted to look better. So I kept working out, and I kept dieting. I met a man who knew a hell of a lot more than I did about fitness and nutrition, and I followed his advice to the letter. Having a gym buddy and a friend to hold me accountable led me to lose an additional 35 pounds, and to grow a ton of muscle. I looked in the mirror, and I finally felt like I liked what I saw.

But food was still there, in the back of my mind. For all of my discipline, all of my weighing out foods and counting calories and macros, I would still go off the rails from time to time. The more fat I lost, the more self control I lost. When I was at my skinniest, I was 156.6 pounds and 10.4% body fat. And I was absolutely obsessed with food. I was constantly checking the My Fitness Pal app, trying to fit in my favorite cheat foods and still stick to my numbers. I would spend hours a day going over what I was going to eat, and when I was going to eat it, and what I’d get to eat tomorrow, and what my weight was. Food was always on my brain. At work all I thought was, “What am I going to eat on my first break, and how long before I get to eat on my second break, and am I going to be too hungry to go the rest of the shift without something to eat?”. Going out to eat I obsessed over, “What will I order, and how much bread can I have, and when can I take a second slice, and will they judge me, and can I finish their dessert without looking like a pig, and why did I eat so much, and why am I still eating now even when my stomach hurts?”

I broke down. I couldn’t handle it anymore. Quitting alcohol was easy- I just didn’t drink. But I had to eat. Eating is everywhere. It’s a part of life. It’s not something I can abstain from. And I felt so much shame. I was ashamed at my lack of control, and ashamed to tell my friends  when I fell off the wagon and how I was feeling. It was the same way I felt when I drank. It was my secret, and I had to keep it.

“Wait a minute,” I thought. “I recognize this. I know this feeling exactly. What did I do about this?” I talked to someone about it. I was honest. I told the truth. I didn’t judge myself. I was accountable. So I reached out. I talked to people, and I asked for advice. My friends were more than willing to help, and to offer their support. And I began to feel better. I changed the way I dealt with food. I no longer obsessed about it, but I made a decision in the moment, and didn’t plan it days in advance. I tried to stick to my numbers, but didn’t castigate myself if I went over. I stayed away from foods and sugar that would make me feel hungrier, and I made healthy and more expensive choices. But that was okay. It’s okay to spend money on being healthy. Because what else am I saving my money for?

This week has been a good week. I’ve been eating healthy, I haven’t felt like binging, but I know what to do if I do get those feelings. And I know that, at the end of the day, as long as I don’t drink, I’m doing okay. And that’s enough for me today.

-Theodore Dandy

Free To Be You And Me

Last week I watched The Greatest Showman. I had heard from several people that it was very good and that I would love it, so when I went home to Virginia Beach last week my family made me sit down and finally watch it. I enjoyed it about as much as I thought I would- the musical numbers were fun, and it was just as cheesy as I figured. But one thing about it stuck with me in a way that really took me by surprise.

In the movie Zendaya and Zac Efron are in love, but their romance is hindered because she’s black and he’s white. Other people disapprove, and since he’s a trust fund guy he’s afraid to be with her. There’s a scene in the movie where they’re at a show watching a woman sing, and they start holding hands. Then some people see them and Zac Efron takes his hand away and Zendaya looks at him, hurt. Something about that really hit home to me.

My first boyfriend in high school was named Sebastian. We started dating my junior year of high school, about 5 months after I came out. He was the only other gay kid that I knew, and he came out shortly after I did. I remember I asked him why he came out when he did, and he said that he thought, “If you can do it, I can do it.” That really meant something to me. We went on a date to see the movie “Fame”. I remember sitting there in the theater, wanting to hold his hand, until finally I just looked at him and said, “My hand is cold.” He rolled his eyes, smiled, and then held my hand. My heart was beating so fast- my first time holding hands with another boy, albeit in the dark. I felt so happy.

On our second date, we watched an episode of Glee at my place. We were lying on my couch, when in the show Rachel said to Finn, “You know you can kiss me if you want to.” I looked at Sebastian and said, “Do you want to?” (God I had some great lines). Then I had my first kiss. I drove him home later that night, and hoped he would kiss me again. But when I dropped him off, he kissed me on the cheek and rushed out the door.

We dated for a very brief period of time. He hadn’t yet told his parents he was gay, and he was very self conscious about showing me affection. Me being 5 months out of the closet, I didn’t care who knew what- I was ready to shout it from the mountaintops! But he wasn’t. He didn’t feel comfortable holding my hand in public, and he didn’t want to come out to his parents. Finally one night on the phone he broke up with me. It hurt, feeling like I was with someone who was ashamed to be with me. Looking back, of course I know it had nothing to do with me. But back then, that’s not how it felt. After that, he got very involved in a certain church, and started telling people he was straight. A friend of mine told me that he had said dating me was “a phase”. A few years ago he married a woman. I haven’t spoken to him since my junior year of high school. I truly hope he is doing well.

My second year of college, I met a boy named Paul. We met at a party the night before Groundhog’s Day. I was drunk, and sat next to him on a couch. It was a Glee club party, so there were plenty of gays there. We started talking about me being gay, and he told me that he was bisexual. He told me he hadn’t told anyone before. I took that as an invitation to hit on him. We ended up hooking up that night, and I gave him some of the worst hickeys I’ve ever seen.

The next morning, he drove me home and told me he wanted to see me again. I told him I’d like that. I was smitten with him- he was nice, handsome, and looked like a cute version of Sid the sloth from “Ice Age”. We went out again, and he took me out for dinner on my birthday later that week. That night we decided to start dating (apparently I used to move very fast).

But beneath all of the infatuation, there was strain. Paul also wasn’t out- to anyone. I think he told one or two friends while we were dating, but no one else knew, and he certainly was not in any hurry to tell anyone. He wouldn’t hold my hand in public (that felt familiar). I remember vividly leaving my apartment, holding hands. We would walk for about thirty seconds, just the two of us. When we got to the end of the street, where other people were walking by, he would let go of my hand. We’d walk to class, just two people walking next to each other, no one the wiser.

The morning after my birthday, he took me on a drive to a lookout up in the mountains. We drove for over half an hour to get to this isolated lookout, and once we got there, we got out of the car and looked at the view together. For a minute, he held me, and I felt so happy. Then, another car pulled up and two people got out to see the view. I didn’t recognize them, but Paul moved away from me. We stayed there for another minute, standing a few feet away from each other. Then he took me home.

About a week later, on Valentine’s Day, he told me he loved me. I was very taken aback. I really liked him, and while I could see myself falling for him, I’d known him all of two weeks. But still, being with him was so exciting. I had a real boyfriend. He put on Facebook that he was “In a relationship”, but made it so that only he could see it. A couple of weeks after that, I asked Paul if he wanted to hang out the next night, which was a Friday. He told me he didn’t know. I told him that I’d love to hang out, but that it was a Friday night, so if he wasn’t sure, then I was going to make other plans. He told me he was going through something, but that he’d talk to me tomorrow.

The next day, he texted and asked if he could come over. I said yes. I knew what was going to happen. He came into my room, and sat down on my bed. He told me that he couldn’t accept his bisexuality. He said that he still felt so uncomfortable with it, and that he wasn’t ready to be open about it. He said that he couldn’t be with me anymore, even though he really liked me. “That’s funny that you like me,” I thought, “since you told me you loved me.”

It took me so long to get to a point where I really loved myself. Where I really felt like I was someone deserving of love. I was so desperate to be wanted that I put up with people who were ashamed of even being with me. And I wish, I wish I could go back and convince myself that I should be with someone who’s proud to be with me. But that was something I had to learn through experience. I had to learn what I wanted in a relationship. I had to learn that I was valuable, and that I deserved better. For so long I had this subconscious mentality of, “I might as well settle, because who’s gonna love me?”

When I thought about my dream man, I thought, “Where would I find someone like that? That’s one in a million.” And then I realized that I am one in a million as well. I’m proud of who I am. No one can take that away from me.

-Theodore Dandy

Thoughts On Service

A major part of the program I work to stay sober is the act of being of service to other people. Being of service is something that has always been important to me, and has been the undercurrent of what I want to do with my life. My favorite quote has always been, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.”

I’ve taken that to mean that the best way I can help other people is by being true to myself and living a wholly authentic life. It’s interesting how the act of helping other people really does so much more to help yourself than it does for them. I think that’s why it’s always been easy for me to say that I want to help others, because secretly I know that I’m going to benefit from any good deed I do. That balance between selflessness and selfishness has been something that I’ve gone back and forth with through the years.

When I was a little kid, I wanted to be liked more than anything else. And I quickly learned that people liked me when I had something to offer. So I tried for a long time to get people to like me by doing things for them. I had that mindset of “If I give you a dollar, will you be my friend?” The problem was, I didn’t particularly have a whole lot to give. My parents would get annoyed when I would treat my friends to lunch, with their credit card. It’s easy to be generous with someone else’s money. I quickly found when I became self-sufficient that it is a lot harder to be generous with your own money.

I still struggle with the balance between taking care of others and taking care of yourself. It’s true that when I am feeling stressed or resentful, the best thing for me to do is help another person. But sometimes I can go too far, and cause myself to be stressed by feeling beholden to others. I’ll offer my help with something, but then when my help is requested again, I feel suffocated. So I go back and forth with generosity and miserliness, because I still haven’t quite learned how to say no. I’ll either say yes to everything, or I’ll come up with a million excuses as to why I can’t.

I signed up for this volunteer service where I’d go to Juvenile facilities, which I thought would be really cool. The trouble was, I had to drive an hour away to get clearance for it, and I don’t have a car. So I asked a friend to drive me there last week, and on the way there we got in a car accident. It was nothing major, a minor fender bender, but it rattled me. “Come on, God,” I thought. “I’m trying to be of service here!” Cue me as Elpheba singing “No Good Deed” from Wicked.

Then at work I was making a bank run to get quarters, and along the way I lost the $100 cash I had taken from the safe at work in order to get the quarters. I retraced my steps 3 times and couldn’t find it anywhere. It felt like God was putting roadblocks in my path to make me want to say, “Screw other people, I’m just gonna go home and isolate.”

But I know that’s not how life works. I know that bad things don’t stop happening just because you’re trying to do something nice. And I know that my life is not about the things that happen to me- it’s about the things that I do. It’s about my response to what happens. And I still want to be of service, because I still want to feel good and I know that that’s what makes me feel that way. And just because I can’t be of service in some of the ways I’d like, doesn’t mean that I can’t be of service at all.

It’s funny, I’ll say that I wanna help people and then an opportunity will present itself and I’ll be like, “Eh, not that one.” I work with customers, and instead of looking at my job as being of service, I’ve been looking at it as something to get through. But I don’t want to “get through” 50% of my life, I wanna live it to the fullest. So maybe I can adopt that service mindset at work, and apply these tools to every area of my life. Because if I’m thinking about other people, then that’s less time for me to obsess about my own life.

-Theodore Dandy

Last Kiss

At the beginning of April, I made the decision to end the relationship that I was in for over a year. It was my first real adult relationship, and my first love. Ending it was the most difficult thing I have ever done, even harder than getting sober. But I did it because I had come to the realization that we weren’t right for each other, and there was nothing I could do to go back and un-know that fact. There wasn’t anything wrong with either of us. We just weren’t meant to be.

Being single again has been tough. Not in the ways that I’ve expected, though. I honestly didn’t really know how I would feel, but whatever this is I’m feeling, I didn’t see it coming. The hardest part was the time leading up to the decision. I wrestled with it back and forth for a while, and talked to several trusted friends in my life about what I should do. I wrote about it, talked about it, prayed about it, meditated about it. But like most things in my life, I knew the answer all along- I just didn’t want to accept it.

After we broke up, I knew that I had done the right thing. I felt sad, of course, but there was a part of me that knew that I was moving in the right direction. I knew that God would take care of me, and of him, and that everything would be okay. That sense of serenity helped me get through the day, and for the most part I felt just fine. Except when I didn’t.

Every once in a while something would happen, I would have a thought or see something that would make me miss him. I cried twenty times during the movie Isle of Dogs, even though it wasn’t a particularly sad movie. I would get into bed at night, and look over at the spot on the bed next to me where he used to lay. Going to bed alone was the hardest part, because I never felt closer to him than when we were going to sleep.

When we were together, and he would have to go out of town, I had this one dramatic little habit I loved to do that annoyed him to no end. We’d be in the car and he would tell me he’d be going up to Fresno on Sunday and he’d be back Monday morning. I’d immediately grab my phone, plug it into the radio and start listening to the song “Last Kiss” by Taylor Swift on repeat until he came back. He’d roll his eyes, and I would sing along while looking sadly out the window, pretending he was leaving me and I’d never see him again. When things did eventually come to an end, that song did not leave my head. For days on end I would ruminate on the lyrics,

“So I’ll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep, and I’ll feel you forget me like I used to feel you breathe.”

I liked it a lot better when I was just being melodramatic. It’s one thing to make fun of it and pretend to feel that way. It’s another thing entirely to actually come to terms with the idea that those feelings could be real.

The hardest part of all of this for me was the fact that I was the one who ended it. Being broken up with sucks, of course. The feelings of not being good enough, that you’ve opened yourself up to someone and shown them who you really are, only to be cruelly rejected. It’s impossible not to take personally, when it is the most personal rejection you can ever face. But when you break up with someone, there is the crushing guilt and responsibility that comes with it, no matter what you do. Every hurt feeling, every tear, every lonely night feels like it’s entirely your fault. Like no matter what you do, you’re going to hurt the person you love, possibly beyond repair. It took every bit of faith that I had to do what I did. Because I had faith that this was truly the best and kindest thing that I could do. I couldn’t be in a relationship that wasn’t working, just to try and spare the feelings of the man I loved. I had to be honest with him and with myself, because to be dishonest and spare him the truth would only have brought us both more pain.

It’s been two weeks since he moved out. I’m giving myself a bit of time to readjust to life without having him here every day. I’ve been told that keeping busy helps get through the tough parts, and it does. Being at work or at the gym makes me feel like life is normal. And coming home at night, making dinner and watching TV feels normal too. But there’s nothing I can do about that last 30 minutes, when I get into bed to go to sleep, and have to face the reality that there’s no one lying next to me. That’s when I feel the most alone. But it’s also when I try to be most conscious about how I’m feeling. I sit with the feeling. I write about it. I pray. And I know that it will pass, like everything passes. But for now, I’m content to just let it be. Because the last year of my life was incredible, and I wouldn’t change anything about it. I don’t want to forget it. And I don’t want to go back to not feeling. I’m okay with this feeling. Because if I didn’t feel it, it would mean I had never loved at all.

-Theodore Dandy

When It Comes To Television, I Plead Guilty

There’s nothing I love quite so much as guilty pleasure television. Television that’s not even well written, but hooks me in and keeps me coming back for more, week after week. Shows that I ask myself, “Why am I still watching this? Better yet, why did I start watching it in the first place?” Whether I’m crying at Kerry Washington’s wobbly jaw on Scandal, or sobbing at Princess Tiana finding out she was the hero she needed all along on Once Upon a Time, subpar television never fails to deliver.

That’s not to say that the writing in some of these shows can’t be great sometimes. Once Upon a Time has some of the best writing that I’ve seen, mostly due to the fact that it’s written by the same people who wrote Lost. The plot is expertly crafted. But the sappy, family-friendly nature of the show is what I truly crave. Basic, universal themes about redemption and forgiveness get me every single time. If I’m weeping, it’s working. What has surprised me the most from watching a lot of really awful TV is that, even in the later seasons, shows can still be really good. Supernatural is currently in it’s thirteenth season, and the show is still something that I love to watch. Thirteen seasons! Seriously. They went through the apocalypse, the rapture, met God, AND God’s sister, and STILL they have more story to tell. Now that is incredible. Kudos to the CW, because I’m still watching.

It also doesn’t help that I am obsessive when it comes to TV. I will not start a show in the middle, I will start it from the beginning or I will not watch it at all. And even if the show goes off the rails, if I started it I’m damn well finishing it. That mentality got me through at least 3 godawful seasons of Glee. Speaking of shows that I used to cry over, I think I’ve cried more over the same 5 scenes in Glee than I’ve cried about things in real life. There’s nothing like a good gay cry to make one feel alive.

Shonda Rhimes is someone who, despite my better efforts, truly captures my attention. There are certain elements in all Shonda Rhimes shows that make it a Shonda Rhimes show. Number one, neverending monologues that have got to last at least a page and a half and contain more sass than should be legal. The kind of monologues that go on and on and on and you know the actor just loves because it gives them a chance to be sassy and oh no you don’t get to talk right now because don’t you see my head bobbing back and forth and my finger pointed at you because honey you have NO idea who you are dealing with that’s right. Number two, female leads with a drinking problem who own more wigs than I could afford in a year’s salary. Seriously, I’m convinced that Viola Davis’ character on How To Get Away With Murder doesn’t even have hair. And as much as I love Shonda, I still haven’t seen Grey’s Anatomy. I like to think that’s like the Queen Mother Alien from Aliens. The giant that birthed all the mini Shonda shows. I don’t even wanna think about trying to tackle that one.

My one habit from my childhood that I never was able to shake was my love for watching TV and playing video games at the same time. I love the thrill of not quite paying attention to either of them, being able to see the TV out of the corner of my eye while I listen to what the characters are saying. Having to rewind every few minutes because I realized I haven’t even been paying attention. Pausing my game because I realize that this might be a scene I cry at, and therefore requires my full attention. This level of multitasking is I believe what could have trained me to be an excellent doctor. At least on Grey’s Anatomy.

I tell myself that it’s good to watch these shows, that it helps make my writing better to see what’s out there. But I do realize when people ask me, “What’s the best show you’ve watched this year?”, that my choice in television does leave something to be desired. All the greatest award winning shows seem so boring to me. In what world does “Mozart in the Jungle” seem like something that would hold my attention? It just feels like work to watch. I want soft, soothing melodrama. Dipping into an episode of Scandal is like dipping into a hot bath at the end of the day. I let How To Get Away With Murder soothe my body like Viola Davis soothes no one because her character is a terrible mother figure. I meditate on The Walking Dead like I meditate on the reason why I’m still watching a show that went off the rails two seasons ago. And I fall asleep like Lucifer fell from grace on Supernatural, even though he somehow is kind of a good guy now? Whatever. I’ll probably still be watching this show even when the apocalypse does happen. It’ll be in its 20th season by then.

-Theodore Dandy