Goodbye Day Job, Hello Career

Whenever I met new people and they asked what I do, I would always tell them I worked at a coffee shop.  I would never dare tell them I was a writer. Because part of me felt I was just pretending to be one.

But two weeks ago I submitted my letter of resignation at work.

I have been working in coffee for the last three and a half years and it’s a job I have loved.  Working in customer service has its own unique set of ups and downs, but at the end of the day it has enabled me to earn a living whilst pursuing writing in my spare time.  And now, after moving to Los Angeles a little over four years ago, I am finally ready to quit my day job and become a full time writer.

I visited my sister in Switzerland at the end of February this year and when I came back to Los Angeles, I knew I was ready to move forward in my life.  I had been pursuing personal writing outside of work for the last few years, but I wanted to make the push to leave the coffee shop and make a living from writing. I set an intention, and asked my writer friend and mentor for advice on what to do to make it a reality.

I started doing freelance writing at the beginning of March, setting up a profile on a site online and writing articles for barely any money in order to build up positive reviews.  Pretty soon I had amassed a collection of positive reviews, which grew steadily, and I raised my prices accordingly.  Eventually I was making as much per hour writing as I was at the coffee shop and I found myself inundated with work.  I slowly built my savings and continued to raise prices to match the level of work I was being offered.  Once I had reached a point where I was making twice as much writing as I was working the day job, I decided it was time to move on.

I gave one month’s notice at work (to be fair I had known for the previous six months that I wanted to leave).  When I sat down with the manager to tell him, it was a moment I had looked forward to for months.  I knew it would be bittersweet, because although I loved working at the cafe and have made wonderful friendships there, coffee is simply not the career path I am looking to take.  My manager was touchingly disappointed I was leaving but told me he was happy I was pursuing my writing.  He said my colleagues in the cafe loved me and that I am the kind of person who will succeed in whatever I do.

It was reminiscent of the conversation I had with my previous manager a little over a year ago, when I turned down the position of assistant manager.  We were even sitting at the same table.  And while I know I am a hard worker and try to support all of my coworkers on every shift, it still means a lot to me to hear.  I’m grateful that, through sobriety, I have learned how to put my all into everything I do.  I may be leaving my job at the coffee shop but I’m leaving on good terms and moving onward to pursue my chosen career.

The next step is an exciting one for me.  Being a freelance writer means I’ll be able to set my own schedule and have much more time to pursue my own writing.  There are still many steps to take, of course, but I am happy to imagine I may never again have to do anything other than write in order to support myself.

When I meet new people now and they ask what I do, I don’t tell them I work at a coffee shop.

I confidently say I am a writer.

-Theodore Dandy

How To Be Present (Even When Trump Is President)

Being present has been kind of a struggle for me lately.

Early on in my sobriety I learned about the concept of “smart feet”, where one essentially gets up off the couch and leaves their apartment to do the thing they know they must do, before their brains have a chance to convince them otherwise.  I try and apply that concept to getting out of bed every morning to write. So far it’s been incredibly effective.  I started writing freelance articles about two months ago and have already built up several gigs that I really enjoy.  It helped when I realized that waking up at 6.30 am each day was not, in fact, a sign of poor sleep quality, but a healthy body’s way of telling me I had had enough sleep (who knew I didn’t need 9 hours a night?)  Since then, my writing time in the mornings has doubled, and I have found myself writing more in the last two months than in my entire previous life combined.

I’m terrified of going back to the way it was before.  I used to consider myself lucky if I got two hours of writing done a week. Now I chastise myself for writing less than two hours a day.  Ever since I set an intention to finally leave my job in coffee and pursue a job in writing, I have been feeling more motivated than ever. At the same time, I find myself itching to get going in my writing career, which makes it harder for me to accept my present reality; instead of accepting when I am in the middle of the slog, I choose to live in an imagined future, where my hard work has already paid off; and I don’t have to work my day job anymore.

I heard a man say once that when he was drinking he was always in a rush, but he didn’t know where he was in a rush to go.  I find myself rushing through everything I don’t want to be doing – working out, walking to work, my day job, the dishes; and by the end of the day I ask myself, what was my favorite part of the day?  Was it the one or two moments I felt actually present?  And is it possible I could still enjoy myself while I am doing something I’d rather not be doing?

When Trump got elected, it felt like a nightmare.  There was so much fear about the next four years, about the things he would do, and the people who would be harmed.  It was tempting to look forward to the idea of 2020 when we could vote him out of office, but I made a decision not to do that.  I wasn’t going to give up four years of my life hoping a man I didn’t like would no longer be president.  I had to learn how to be happy and content in a Trump presidency, or the rest of my life would be 4 (or 8) year periods of alternating bliss and hell.  And as a result, even though things in politics have been horrendous, the last three years of my life have involved more growth and serenity than I have ever experienced before.

I don’t want to live my life dreading weekdays and praying for the weekend.  I want to find joy in the moment, and feel comfortable in my discomfort.  And the only way to do that is to be present; even if it means pulling myself from happy fantasies for the future, back to less-than-beautiful realities of the moment.  Because when I look back now, the me from 5 years ago would kill to inhabit my current reality.

It all depends on how you look at it.

-Theodore Dandy

I Think Of The Last Two Years Like A Black And White Cookie

A big part of me doesn’t want to write this… 

It’s been a year and I don’t want to reopen an old wound.  I don’t want to cause harm to him or me, or us both.  But at my core I am a writer.  I have always written truthfully here about my life, and this cannot be an exception.

One year ago I was living with my boyfriend.  We had been together for thirteen months.  It had been the biggest year of my life – my first love; a whirlwind romance.  After only a few months together, his father died.  He moved into my place.  I loved him.  He loved me.  We helped each other.  We fought.  About a lot of things.  Mainly politics, our values, and the things which separated us that we couldn’t make fit, no matter how hard we tried.

I had never felt about anybody the way I felt about him.  

He was the first person I could see myself being with for the rest of my life.  After a while though, my feelings changed.  The more time we spent together, the more we grew apart.  Differences between us that had once seemed fun and interesting became destructive and depressing, and trying to make the relationship work started to feel like a full-time job.  This should have told me things weren’t meant to be, but it didn’t.  I didn’t see what was right in front of me because I didn’t want to.  I wanted what I wanted, and what I wanted was him, and he wanted me.

But about this time last year, I knew we had to break up.  

Things had crossed a line in my mind.  Once the decision was made, I couldn’t unmake it.  I couldn’t un-know the truth I had grown to realize.  I told him how I felt, and to my great surprise, he agreed.  He said of course we weren’t meant to end up together, and told me it was okay.  I couldn’t understand what he meant, but was pleased he took the news so well.  The next day however, he had a new angle: he wanted us to stay together, to just enjoy the present and not worry about the future.  But I needed to make a future for myself.  He was away on April 1st, Easter Sunday.  When he came back the next day, I sat him down. I told him we had to end things.  He did not take it well.

We tried to be friends.  People told me it wouldn’t work.  They said the wound was too fresh.  But I had to try.  I needed to find out for myself because I felt I owed him that friendship.  I couldn’t abandon him and break up with him all at the same time.  But there is a universal truth to the need for at least some period of separation following a break-up.  Being in the same room together, for us, turned out to be another form of trying to make something work that at its core did not work.  So we cut off contact.

Who am I? What should I do? I can do anything I want with this free time, what should it be? What do I want out of my life? What are my goals and how can I grow?  

I was left with these questions and more, now that I was single.  I had not been coasting in my life, even during the relationship, and I had put in countless hours of fitness training, writing, working and developing friendships.  I had a solid foundation, had made lots of progress and I was proud of that progress.  So progress would become my focus now.

I started pushing myself at the gym, rather than merely showing up and going through the motions.  I became more dedicated than ever to my diet.  My cheats and binges became so rare that I was able to make significant and noticeable changes to my appearance and health.  I could fall asleep within minutes, sleep through the night, and my anxiety was down.  I was feeling great and looking great, and this enabled me to further feed my creative side.

I became stricter with my writing.  I began to put in office hours, waking up an hour earlier each morning to write, whether I felt motivated to or not.  I began reading a little every day on my breaks, listening to podcasts on the walks to work, and watching TV for research while I made dinner at night; all of this in addition to writing for an hour every morning.  I filled as much of my life as I could with creativity and found the difficult balance between solid routine and rigid schedule. 

I learned how to be flexible within my routine, to accept life on its own terms and try to be present in whatever I’m doing.  I feel like every time I start something new, or set a new goal, this rush comes over me as if there’s a ticking clock counting down and I have to progress as quickly as possible.  It’s as though the moment I discover something, suddenly there’s a time limit on it for me to master completely.  Never mind the fact things have been going along quite well for years before I was born and will continue happily for years after I die, in my mind it’s no! this thing did not exist before I knew about it and within minutes it’ll be gone. I must act NOW! 

But I have learned how to balance my life into a routine that serves the me I am today, together with the me I want to be tomorrow.

Looking back on the last two years of my life, I have grown more than I ever could have imagined.  During this past year I have fed my creative side, my health, and my drive.  The previous year I learned more about life and love and the things most important to me, and did this the only way I could, by doing.

Looking forward, I am not sure what this next year of life will bring.  Maybe I will make strides in my career, begin to take the things I’ve been dabbling in and throw myself into them with full force.  They say leap and a net will appear.  I finally feel like I can see the edge of the cliff… 

I think this is the year I’m ready to make the jump.  And yes, this does seem like a suicidal metaphor, but I assure you it is not.  I realize that if I’m constantly seeking to grow, learn, and progress, then every day should be the best day of my life.  It certainly has the potential to be.

-Theodore Dandy

Progress Is Not A Linear Journey

Sometimes I feel as though my life consists of me spinning several plates in the air. Work, Writing, Career, Gym, Health, Friends, Sleep. I balance all of these things to varying degrees of success every day. Sometimes I make strides in one area, only to falter in another. Sometimes I grow and grow and then get set back, and discouraged.

I can write every day and feel really good about a draft that I’ve written or some editing that I’ve done- then I can go out of town and not write for a month. Like anything that requires effort, it is so much more difficult to get back on it than it is to keep it going. I try and write every day, and I know that I feel best when I do, but sometimes life gets in the way, and that makes it REALLY easy for me to get in the way.

Things at work can be going great, or things at work can be frustrating- I try to remind myself that it doesn’t really matter. My job is not my career- at the end of the day, it is in service to my writing, and anytime I treat it as something else I don’t have my priorities straight. I try and remember that whenever I start to get resentful at rude customers. Who cares? I’m not being paid to take on their problems. I’m paid to make coffee, and when I finish my shift, that’s when the real work begins.

I felt like I was doing really good with my diet- almost everything I eat is nutritious, and the minor cheats and treats I have aren’t harmful. It had been months since I’d felt out of control of my diet. But traveling takes me out of my routine, and little things like “I have to try Swiss chocolate!” led to me eating 600 calories of chocolate every day. Then when I got back to Los Angeles, I got back on my regular diet. But the craving was still there. I made some homemade ice cream with a healthy sugar alternative. I took a bite, and it was delicious. Then I took another, and another. Before I knew it, I’d eaten 800 calories. What was I doing? I set a timer for one minute and told myself at the end of that minute I’d stop eating. The timer went off. Just one more bite!

The second night that that happened, I thought to myself, “Okay, you know what to do. Just turn it over. It’s out of your control.”

So I put the container of ice cream in the sink and turned on the faucet. As I flushed the ice cream down the drain, I felt good about myself. But there was still that voice in the back of my head that said, “Well, there goes 8 months without binging.” But I know that even though this was a problem I felt like I’d conquered, these things are never going to go away entirely. And overall, I am growing. 8 months ago I would have eaten the entire container of ice cream until I felt sick, and then I would have kept eating. And it wouldn’t have been sugar free ice cream, I can tell you that much.

The one thing that is always solid is my foundation, which is my sobriety and my higher power. That is the thing I have to put first in order to make all the rest of it possible. I feel like, ever since I’ve gotten sober, my life has been slowly expanding, becoming bigger and bigger every day. I slowly take on new things, and bring them into my life. I make small strides in all of these areas as I build the life I want to have for myself. But my sobriety is the fount from which all of this springs. As long as I am sober, anything’s possible. And if I’m not, things like whether or not I’m writing or how much ice cream I eat are going to be the least of my problems. I’m grateful for where I’m at today. And I’m grateful to be sober.

-Theodore Dandy

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