I have been called a lot of names in my life. Being gay and from the South, it just comes with the territory.

Faggot. Queer. Butt pirate. “Funny.”

And I have to admit, “queer” was always my favorite, the way it kind of rolled around the mouth of the person saying it, like it had a mind of its own despite how it was being used. I liked how it sounded and I liked what it meant: different; strange; abnormal. Who doesn’t want to be different? I always did, so I wore “queer” like a name tag or a badge. I still refer to myself as queer to this day. I’m here, I’m queer, and if you haven’t gotten used to it by now, well… my identity should be the least of your worries.

Kids at school and neighborhood kids called me these names. Kids call each other names. It’s what kids excel at, really, and for the most part it didn’t really bother me because I, also a kid, called people names. I rarely went to teachers for help because I knew what the response would be (the child psychology version of “Ignore it, because you now how kids are–today it’s you, tomorrow it’ll be someone else.”). Once, in the sixth grade, two older boys decided I was their target du jour and I guess I was having an off day, because I grabbed a folding chair and swung it blindly, connecting with them both, chipping one guy’s tooth and fattening the other guy’s lip, and earning all three of us a trip to the principal’s office. Nothing happened, but they stopped bothering me after that, so… hashtag winning, I guess.

But, yeah, being called “queer” never really bothered me, and while “faggot” is probably the worst thing you can call a gay man, that one never bothered me all that much, either. What complete strangers, or even mild acquaintances, thought of me never really mattered that much. Actually, it still doesn’t.

But there is one word that, to me, is worse than all those other insults combined: sissy.

“Sissy” is the gay insult equivalent to someone saying “Bless your heart,” which everyone knows can mean anything from an actual plea for divine intervention on your behalf to “God, you’re a fucking idiot, please don’t breed.”

“Sissy,” though, is not kind. “Sissy” is hissed at and about you, like a curse. It is what people who are otherwise nice–the preacher’s wife, the schoolteacher, the librarian– will call the man who works at the flower shop, or the guy who cuts hair, or the boy who would rather color than play football or work on cars. “Oh, him. You know he’s a sissy,” they say, their voices a syrupy hiss, but they’re smiling and they’re at church every time the doors are open, so they don’t mean anything hateful by it. Love the sinner, hate the sin and all.

“Sissy” is what your family will call you because they can’t really call you “faggot” or “fudge packer” or “dick sucker,” even though it is pretty clear that some of them would like to. And it’s the thought that counts, right?

My family, both sides, preferred “sissy” when they wanted to insult me, and it worked. I hate the word to this day. I call myself a queer, and I might even call myself a fag from time to time, but you will never, ever hear me call myself a sissy because I don’t hate myself as much as the people who called me that growing up. “Sissy” is the most fervent hatred wrapped in a veneer of charm and it triggers me like no other word in the English language.

“Don’t be such a sissy and go outside and throw the football with your cousins.”

“Why do you always want to stay inside, like a sissy?”


Anyway, my point–and I do have one, as Ellen DeGeneres used to say–is National Coming Out Day, which is today, and how far we’ve come since the days where I was being called “sissy” by the people who were supposed to care for me the most. I hear and read stories of parents who are proud of the little boys who, thirty and forty years ago, would have been labeled “sissy” and I am moved. There is a popular meme that even Lynda Carter herself has shared, stating that not all little boys want to grow up and be Superman; some want to grow up and be Wonder Woman. She means me. Well, okay, I didn’t want to grow up and be Wonder Woman, but I wanted to be Wonder Woman-esque. I certainly didn’t want to be Superman or Spiderman or Aquaman. Robin…? Maybe. Anyway, I digress…

National Coming Out Day. We didn’t have it when I was a kid. Or maybe we had it and no one told me about it, or we lived so far away from any organized gay life that even if it did exist, we weren’t entitled to it.

I don’t remember coming out. By that I mean I can’t point to a specific date where I decided to tell everyone I was gay. I think they all knew, anyway, otherwise why the fuck were they all calling me those names? So, no. I never sat everyone down and told them. Later, when I had moved away and found other queer people, when I informed friends that I was gay, I was always laughed at and told “Yeah, dude. I knew.” So, I guess I didn’t have to come out, and I feel lucky. I didn’t then, but I do now, because despite where I was (East Tennessee and Alabama) people knew and apparently accepted that I was gay and I was never beaten or threatened, so… yeah, I would say I was lucky.

But there are others who weren’t, and even now, eighteen years into the 21st century, we still have people who can’t be themselves because of family or community or, sad to say, government. So National Coming Out Day is still very necessary, and if someone wants to tell you that they’re LGBTQ, listen and just know that for them to trust you enough to tell you and not someone else is huge. Thank them and acknowledge them and let them cry on your shoulder, because they’re probably going to want to cry. And maybe you’ll cry, too. We’ll all cry.

Ask them what they want to be called, and I’m not talking pronouns here (that is another discussion altogether), I’m talking how do they identify. Gay? Queer? I doubt anyone will tell you they identify as “Sissy,” but if they tell you they do, accept it and accept them. Help them find some resources to point them in the right direction because coming out is not a destination–it’s actually just the first step in an even bigger journey than the one they took to get to that point. Tell them it will be fun and it won’t be fun. It will be just as easy as it is hard, and there will be days and weeks and months and even years where they’ll wonder what the whole point is. Then tell them that’s part of it. And then let them know that it gets better. And then it gets worse again. And then it gets better again. Tell them that it’s like a musical a lot of the time, only without the singing and dancing, although there will be singing and there will be dancing. Let them know it’s like a soap opera, too, and is both infuriating and a great way to deal with it. And let them know that all of us old queers did everything we would to make it easier for them than we had it, and that was why we did what we did and put up with the things we did, but that we couldn’t fix everything, and we’re sorry.

And help them have a great Coming Out Day.


Water, Water, Everywhere…

My fitness ordeal…er… journey continues.

Today marks six months since I started, and everything in my last post still holds true but now I am adding water to my list of gripes. Yes, water.

There was a time not so long ago when I could (and would) easily consume six 20 ounce Cokes in a single day. I got up drinking Cokes and I went to bed drinking Cokes and how I even still have teeth is anyone’s guess. In fact, getting Invisalign is what helped me kick that habit. If you don’t know, you have to remove your Invisalign trays any time you eat or drink anything that isn’t plain water, so having to always take the trays out and put them back in was a.) bothersome, b.) slightly disgusting because of the ropes of saliva that always seemed to cling to them, and c.) painful… so I put the kibosh on that. At first I went to Sprite because it was clear and wouldn’t stain my teeth or my Invisalign trays and I thought I was really winning. But there is as much sugar in Sprite as there is in Coke, so it was still getting trapped in my trays and doing God only knows what kind of damage to my teeth, so I quit Sprite, too.

“I should drink water,” I groaned to anyone who would ask.

“I love water!” they would declare, and I would roll my eyes.

What kind of person loves water? It tastes like nothing, and I would point that out, but they were ready with “I love the taste of water!” And that’s when I knew they were full of shit. If your water has a taste, you need to stop drinking it immediately and get it checked out.

I’ve never liked the taste of water, and that is why I’ve never been very keen on drinking it. As a kid, Kool-Aid was my poison and I liked the tropical punch flavor the best, and I added so much sugar it was basically red syrup. We would have Coke on occasion back then, but they were more expensive than they are now (thank you, high fructose corn syrup!) and usually reserved for such rare occasions as birthday parties or holiday parties at school. Another favorite was sweet tea, and like the syrupy Kool-Aid, I wanted it so thick with sweetness that it had legs the way wine or liquor has legs. My grandfather liked it the same way, so I probably got my sugar gene from him. I’m not complaining. (Side note: one of my favorite “meals” when I was younger was a sleeve of saltines and a glass of sweet tea. Bonus points if I spread butter on the crackers.)

But I’m not as young as I used to be, and I’m not getting any younger and, braces aside, I don’t need to consume that much sugar on a daily basis for a variety of reasons.

So I quit and I started drinking water and, like exercising five to six days a week, I hate it. I hate every fucking drop of water I drink every day, and I have committed myself to drinking a gallon a day. That’s a lot of hate, but I am committed to it.

“Put some lemon in it!” people tell me. These are the same people who always want to know if I feel so much better now that I’m working out and eating properly.

No, Ashley Amber, I don’t want to slice a fucking lemon and put that in my water and pretend it tastes like lemonade. That’s absurd. And lying to yourself and other people and saying that you like lemon in your water is also absurd. We know you’re lying. And your boyfriend is lying when he tells you he likes it, too. He’s just saying that because he wants to have sex with you. I don’t want to have sex with you, so I’ll tell you what water with lemon tastes like: it tastes like water that someone told a story about a lemon to. In fact, if you left the lemon out, it would literally taste the exact same because nothing happens when you put a slice of lemon in your water. Maybe if you took a drink of water then bit into a wedge of lemon and chased that with a gulp of water you’d taste it, but that’s a lot of work and I can tell you now that it’s a lot less fun doing that with water than it is with tequila and switching out the lemon for a lime.

Cucumber is another thing these basic white girls have convinced themselves just transforms water into something else entirely. “It’s so refreshing!” they crow, mispronouncing their vowels because that’s what the Kardashians do. Fuck that noise. It’s a cucumber in your water, and water is already bad enough. You know what will transform water? A packet of tropical punch Kool-Aid and 6 cups of sugar. Anything less than that will just taste like tears of disappointment.

But here I am, slamming back a gallon of it a day because that is what “they” say you should do. “They” are the people in the sky, I suppose. “They” never have names, because if “they” had names, you might hunt “them” down and beat “them” with a bag of lemons and an empty water bottle. I wake up at the crack of dawn and walk to the gym (Hey! Steps!) and I come home and fill my water bottles and I start drinking. I actually drink more than a gallon (135.2 ounces), but it’s easier to say a gallon. My skin is dewy and my complexion is clear and my lips are soft and full and pouty… but I go to the bathroom about fifty times a day (again…steps!)

“It really fills you up!” declares Ashley Amber, but the only thing she’s full of is shit. You’re full for about two minutes, then you go piss it all out. I get half my 20K steps in every day just running back and forth to the bathroom, and I have to plan water intake and driving anywhere because there’s no way I can be en route when the urge to go hits me. It comes fast and it comes hard.

Oh, and all that bullshit “they” always say about drinking water will help maintain a healthy weight? Don’t believe a word of it. You drink and you piss and you’re starving and you eat and your weight stays the same, and it’s always five to ten pounds more than you want it to be. That’s what happens when you drink water.

But I drink it anyway, because what if I’m wrong and “they” are right? What if I drink all this water for exactly the right number of days and wake up one morning and I am a Calvin Klein underwear model? I can’t risk it, so I drink the water.

And now excuse me, but I gotta go take a leak.