In today’s world, many people struggle with their identities. Author and speaker Britt East joins Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen to discuss how society’s seemingly unending discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community can be solved by getting straight people into uncomfortable yet meaningful conversations and situations. If done right without resorting to further arguments, he hopes this can eventually lead to gay liberation, though the way toward it is indeed long, winding, and challenging. Britt also emphasizes the best place to start the change when it comes to sexual perspectives is within ourselves, shifting the narrative from a world steeped in straight supremacy to cracking hearts open and welcoming change.
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Britt East: Why Dealing With Multiple Identities Must Begin With Yourself
We are undoubtedly going to get into more serious or poignant or soulful topics as we go through this episode with our wonderful guest, Britt East, who is an inspirational author and wrote this wonderful Amazon bestseller called A Gay Man’s Guide to Life. We’re going to dig deep into this beautiful man and his supportive, soulful work in the world. Before we do that, Britt, when you connected with us and we linked up to get you here on the show, the one thing that jumped out at me was you talking about how you live in Seattle with your husband and your “crazy dog.” Whitney and I both have dogs that could be labeled as crazy depending on a person’s perception. We want to know about your doggo and we want to know about your home life. What kind of dog do you have and how crazy is crazy?Being an American is about learning how to harness and handle our outreach. Click To Tweet
I’ve had dogs my whole life. This one is like no other dog I’ve ever lived with. Even more than me, my husband likes dogs better than people. My husband can’t be without a dog and he’s cute. When he was whining about wanting a dog, I was thinking to myself, “It’s going to be so much work. It hasn’t been that long since our last dog.” He tends to want the misfit toys and pick the dogs that are differently-abled and special. He knocked this one out of the park. She is a mega-predator. It’s like living with a Tyrannosaurus rex. She wants to eat everyone and kill everything, and she’s sweet when she’s doing it. It’s still murder. You have to watch her all the time. She’s like a three-year-old hoodlum. She’s crazy.
First of all, I’ve never heard someone describe their dog as some hybrid between the Tyrannosaurus Rex and a murderous three-year-old hoodlum, so kudos to you on an incredible description. I’m curious on a spiritual level, Britt. What do you feel she’s here to teach you?
Clearly, patience and letting go of my plans. I’m focused, driven, logical, and linear. I want to plan everything out meticulously and I love my little illusions of control. She plows through them. She does not care one iota about any plan I have for the day. It’s her day. I’m just happened to be passing through her day.
She’s a microcosm of life because in many cases, we try and create as human beings a sense of safety and certainty. Playing these illusions of being able to predict the future somehow or at least have expectations of outcomes. It sounds like she’s this messenger from life saying, “As much as your best-laid spreadsheets might try and predict the future, we’re going to throw a lot of dog-sized wrenches in your plans and see how you flow with it.”
I wanted to live a life of quiet sophistication. “There goes the kitchen table.” “Now she’s got several baby rabbits in her mouth. Where did they all come from?” There goes my day. I’m now strangling baby rabbits to finish the job that she apparently got distracted from. I’m not joking. She’s part pit bull and part German Shepherd. Every day is a murderous adventure.
You weren’t exaggerating. In Washington, where you live, you have some backyard or access to nature where she finds these creatures and mutilates them?
Yeah. My husband is an amazing gardener. It’s like something off the cover of magazines. We have about 0.25-acre that we live on outside of Seattle. It’s like Disney. You walk out and if Disney had a B&B, that’s what my home life would be like. I can say that because I have absolutely no pardon and I’m worthless. Our dog is like the Tasmanian devil back there. One time, she got in a fight with a gang of roving raccoons. They have little satin jackets on them giving each other gang signals and she’s out there trying to take them on. It’s constant vigilance. I was not prepared for this. I thought she would be sitting by the fireplace reading Dickens like any normal dog. I was not prepared for the Tasmanian devil here.If we don't take charge of our anger, someone will take charge of it for us. Click To Tweet
This is perhaps one of the best openings to one of our episodes yet because just the description you’re sharing with us is so entertaining. I’m laughing a lot.
It’s something else. Clearly, I have harmed somebody in a former life and have way too much karma that I have to work through now because I’m paying for it. By the way, if you want a dog, I know someone.
I’ve been thinking of making a move to the Pacific Northwest, Britt, so it’d be an easy jump up from Portland to come and take another dog. Although I’m not sure. My dog, Bella, who I rescued is wonderful with humans and not so great with dogs. Although she is great with Whitney’s dog, Evie, but that was by proxy of a kerfuffle and a skirmish that they had when they first met each other that unfortunately, Evie was on the losing end of.
We joke that she looks like Frankenstein. My dog, Bella, gave her a few stitches in the face, but they’re great and fantastic now. They see each other and it’s like, “What’s up? Good to see you.” Butt sniff. “Great. Let’s go on a walk.” It took that initial act of violence for them to be okay with each other because now they’re great, as a side note. Whitney, how do we even transition from here? We spent an hour talking about dogs, but that’s not necessarily why we have you here, Britt.
It does tie in because one of the things that Britt said that he was passionate about is getting real and I feel like we already got real talking about this. We also got to know more about you and your personal life, and that’s such a big part of this. I know you’re committed to self-discovery and certainly, our animals can teach us a lot about that. There’s a lot of thread-throughs here, especially because this topic can feel heavy sometimes. Given that we want to talk about intense topics like homophobia, racism, and the way that some people feel limited in this world based on who they are.
That’s a big thing that we want to explore as much as possible so that everyone feels represented. It’s interesting because there’s a lot of awareness. I feel like just in my lifetime, there have been many shifts in the way that we accept one another but we still have a lot to work on. I don’t know how much of that will be “resolved” in my lifetime. I don’t know how long the road is going to be. There’s a lot of acceptance needed in this world. It seems to be coming from all these different angles. I’m passionate about human rights.
I was hearing about horrific things happening with farmers. We’ve got so much going on in terms of division just in the United States with people that have different political views and we have different viewpoints on COVID. It’s interesting for me because it seems like we’re becoming more aware, we’re being encouraged to be more accepting, and at the same time, there are many examples of division in the country and in the world. I’m curious if you feel this way, Britt. There’s almost like a Venn diagram or something going on. There’s a little crossover. There’s some progress being made, but then we still have these two separate sides where we’re not coming together yet. Does that make sense?
Part of it is a result of what the absolutely brilliant writer, Kimberlé Crenshaw, described as intersectionality. Many of us stand at the intersection of multiple identities. Whether we are maybe, for instance, black gay and trans, we might have a different experience from a cis white gay man. Being an American is all about learning how to harness and channel our outrage. We’re inundated with mass media-driven, capitalized, dopamine hits. If we don’t take charge of our anger, people are going to take charge of it for us and most of them have a profit motive in mind. We’re swimming in this sea of dopamine hits, careening from one hit to the next. That’s why it’s important for us to learn how to resist by cultivating a personal practice of replenishment.
What is this replenishment? I love that terminology, by the way. That’s a term that I don’t hear used. First of all, I love your vocabulary, and second of all, when we look at what I call outrage porn. Facebook, in particular, and many social platforms that have these incredibly sophisticated AI algorithms that continue to feed us outrage porn because that gets the longest duration of views, most click-throughs, and the most engagement. What do we do when you talk about replenishment, Britt? What is that process for you in your life when perhaps you perceive that you’re starting to be sucked in? You start to get emotionally activated. You start to feel yourself feeling reactive towards certain things. Tell us in real-time what’s that like for you and how do you shift from anger reactionism to a sense of more peaceful replenishment as you’re describing?
I’m a little bit unique in that. Because I live in this space as a speaker and an author and I’m constantly delving into these waters, I have to take maybe extra care more so than the average person out there. I have a rigorous personal practice that sustains me. I’m careful about what I eat and what I drink. I get way more exercise than the average person. I take extra good care of my body. I have creative outlets, intellectual stimulating outlets, and a variety of relationships. I’ve consciously cultivated a well-balanced life so that I have built in a level of emotional resilience. That means when stuff goes awry, which it does on the internet, I am well-equipped to navigate those waters.
It doesn’t come by happenstance, at least not for me. I was a wreck, a hot mess until I took charge of my life. I’ve got to know myself and got real about what is required to help me thrive and the tough choices I have to make as part of that. It wasn’t until I went through that rigorous exercise and created this personal practice that I started to have this ability to wade into social media, interact, engage with people who don’t agree with me, and not feel threatened or rattled. Also, to be able to persist with an outward expression of love and generosity.
I love that you have this practice that you’ve crafted. Something that Whitney and I talked about on the show is not only from the mental health and emotional wellness side, which is incredibly critical now, more so than ever. Also, you are advising other people on how to handle this because if people don’t have tools to handle the amount of reactionary behavior or inciting behavior, there’s so much fake news. There are so much media and corporate interests looking to profit off of our rage, outrage, and reactionary thinking.Cultivate a personal practice of replenishment. Click To Tweet
I love that you have this thing that you’ve discovered for yourself. In how you advise people, Britt, in your work, speaking, and coaching, how do you help people devise that for themselves? I have to assume that the particular puzzle pieces that make up your wellness or balancing routine are going to be different for the individuals you work with. If someone comes in and they say, “Britt, I’m also a hot mess. I feel like a piece of crap. I’m flying off the handle. I can’t stand what’s happening in the world. What is going on? Help me.” It sounds like it’s a cry for help from Jason to Britt. How do you help a person diffuse this addiction to dopamine hit and move from reaction to response and finding more balance in their life? How do you take a person through that process to find that for themselves?
You’re exactly right when you say that it is an individual process. In fact, I think of it as personal art. It’s an artful practice that we engage in. The first piece of that is knowing yourself like any artist has to do. You learn what makes you tick through a rigorous personal inquiry into your history. You take charge of your story, who you were, where you’ve been, what you’ve experienced, and what you’ve endured. The absolute first step is to recount that with a benevolent witness so that you can meet yourself in the eyes of another.
Their delight in your presence might feed your soul. That person can be a mentor, a loved one, a family member, but probably and much hopefully, a paid professional because they will have no ulterior motives. They will have training, experience, boundaries, ethics, and morals to help guide you through that process and help you be more of yourself than you’ve ever been just by telling your story. In that way, your story becomes your first medicine.
It’s getting us may be out of a victim consciousness or using our story to feel defeated or shifting a narrative that becomes more empowering, right?
Yes, absolutely. Our responses to love were largely given to us by our family, our ancestors if you follow up the genetics, our society, and culture, but we can learn to transcend those stories. At least in my case, it has been a mindful process of training and learning that then yields an artful practice. There’s no finish line. It’s ongoing.
That reminds me of a book that I’ve talked about here on the show and also on our blog. It’s a book by an author named James P. Carse that is called Finite and Infinite Games. What you said, Britt, reminded me of that. His theory is that we live in a condition world that’s binary with finite games of there are a winner and loser. There are a success and failure. You either accomplished it or you didn’t accomplish it. It’s this conditioning that is passed down through generations of binary thinking. It’s one choice or the other, and that’s it.
Zero-sum game. There are a winner and a loser instead of focusing on how we can make the pie larger, for instance.
That bleeds into this larger conversation. We had a guest on the show, Dr. Melissa MacDonald, who was talking about gender pronouns and moving into non-binary ways of looking at the world when most of human society is structured in many binary ways. This bleeds into some of us wanting to know more about your story. Our desire to have more understanding of the struggles that you as a gay man have faced in your life and in supporting the LGBTQ community. We talk about story and we talk about the particular struggles that you have faced in your life. It’s a good thread-through of talking about this binary system of looking at the world. What are these major challenges that you’ve experienced in your life that have made you the person you are now, Britt? How have you leveraged those challenges and struggles to support others?
Every day, I wake up in a world steeped in straight supremacy. What that means is that inevitably, like everyone else, throughout the day, I’m going to make a series of uninformed homophobic choices that I have to reckon with. In a world steeped in straight supremacy, we all make homophobic choices from time-to-time, even gay people. That’s where the awareness begins. Getting curious and empathetic about the choices you make over the course of the day, and then reviewing maybe where you went astray. Where you were incongruent and out of alignment with your core values and beliefs so that you can then make amends if necessary, apologize, celebrate, or whatever the case may be.
To me, that is how you begin to resist homophobia and bigotry as a gay person. It starts with your own internalized homophobia and this is where we, as a community, get it backward. We want to start with other people’s bigotry, which is real and harmful, but it’s not the first step. The first step is starting with ourselves so we can learn how to stand tall, take up space, and be empowered in our truth. Go out there and dismantle the racist, misogynist, or homophobic institutions, but we have to start with that fearless moral inventory and a reckoning of our behavior.
You’re so eloquent, Britt. It’s powerful. I’m feeling so much gratitude for you sharing because it’s giving me food for thought already. Reflecting on these things that I think about often as a cisgender white woman has been an interesting time. Women, of course, have had our struggles. Sadly, we live in a world where people are targeted for all different reasons like their age, gender, sexuality, background, and ethnicity. It’s like this place where some of us are struggling more than others. Reflecting on it and how we participate as well without even recognizing it, to your point, is interesting.
That was a big eye-opener for me in 2020 when I started diving deeper into racism and started to recognize how that was playing out in my life in ways that I didn’t even know because it’s such a big part of our culture. Some of us will love to say, “I’m not homophobic.” “I’m not racist.” We back it up. There’s that cliché thing, which I’ve probably said myself. It’s like, “I’m not homophobic. I have plenty of gay friends. I’m not racist. I have friends that aren’t white.” We give these examples and yet, to your point, sometimes, it’s steeped in our behavior, culture, and habits. The bubbles that we’re living in that we can’t even see where it’s showing up for us until it’s pointed out.
My personal philosophy is that there are no homophobic people. Only homophobic choices. What that means is that holds us simultaneously more accountable for our actions, words, speech, and choices over the course of the day, but also creates space for grace and room for redemption. None of us are so broken that we’re beyond the power of redemption, but we all have to own our own choices. That’s the balance that helps me stay sane because as a white person and a cisgender male, these last couple of years have been so embarrassing.
My lack of attunement, intuition, and wisdom on issues that have been impacting women for millennia, black people, and indigenous people, in particular, for 400 years is embarrassing. Having it shoved in our face is what it took to wake me up to start to stand in my power as an anti-racist and anti-misogynist activist, as well as an anti-homophobia activist. One last thing I want to put a button on with that point is that in my system of belief, homophobia starts with misogyny. If we can learn to recognize the way that we have pathologized feminine beings and bodies, that will go a long way towards gay liberation.
I’ve never heard anyone lay that link out before. First of all, food for thought. It’s almost like the little light bulb in my head went, “This makes sense. I’ve never heard anyone make that connection.” What I want to go back to though, Britt is when you were talking about taking personal inventory and being self-aware of our own, say homophobic tendencies or actions or words. I’m curious if you could please give some examples from your own life of detecting ways that you have observed homophobic behaviors or language or tendencies in your life, how you were able to observe them. The steps that you took to not just be aware of them, but make different choices moving forward once you did become aware of them. I would love some specific examples if you don’t mind sharing.
It’s going to be super embarrassing and specific. I’m not sure I’ve shared any of this before, to be honest, but I’m happy to delve into it. We all make homophobic choices and there’s no end to them because there is no end to our homophobia. I’m a pessimist so take that with a grain of salt. That’s just my personal belief. Regarding the specifics that I’ve wrestled with, I have wrestled with an attraction to men that people would generally call masculine. I know now that masculinity is culturally contrived. Our view of masculinity in the 20th and 21st centuries is different. The traits or maybe even opposite of what described a masculine man in the 18th century or the 17th century. There are different traits and those traits shift over time, but it starts with curiosity.Your story becomes your first medicine. Click To Tweet
Why am I always fantasizing about the same type of guy? I wonder if there’s anything in that. I wonder what that says about me. Is there something intrinsically unattractive about “feminine” guys? Is there something intrinsically unattractive about me? Am I a feminine guy? Is there something that society is laying on me? Maybe I have been saturated and imagery of powerful straight men and I found that desirable, for obvious reasons, because maybe I felt weak and wanted proximity to that power. Maybe that got sexualized over time for any number of reasons. Is it immutable? Can I change that? Can I start to broaden my sexual tastes? Can I broaden my fantasies to be more inclusive, not just for the sake of a richer fantasy life, but for the sake of a richer spiritual life and greater congruence with my morality?
There’s so much to unpack, Britt. First of all, thank you for sharing openly and vulnerably. That was wonderful. It brings up many interesting points of examining the nature and the mechanics of sexual desire, first of all, and the power dynamics in there and taking a look at ourselves. One thing that I have observed within myself, and Whitney, you could chime in to on your observations on this, is I’ve always been labeled as a “feminine man” and I am a cisgender, straight, mixed-race male. For much all of my life, since probably junior high school, I’ve heard some version of, “I thought you were gay.” I was like, “That’s cool.”
I got curious about it in the sense that I would ask people like, “Why did you think I was gay?” They’d usually say something around like, “Your energy felt gay.” I was like, “What does that mean?” They’re like, “You always break out into song and you’re in the theater. You dress flamboyantly and you have particular aesthetic tastes.” They label all of these, I don’t know if arbitrary is the right word, but it’s like, “The music I’m into, what my interests are, how I carry myself, and how I dress, you assumed I was something.” They’re like, “Yeah.”
It’s not because I was offended by it. I’d never have felt an offense to that comment. It’s more of a curiosity of why my entire adult life, people have assumed that about me. Unpacking the dynamics of what you said, Britt, about feminine and masculine energies is something I want to dig into a little bit with you. Aside from the idea of a gender pronoun or our sexuality, there’s the energetic dynamics in a relationship, too. When you talk about masculine energy or feminine energy, what exactly is your perception of that? What do you mean by that?
When I talk about it, I’m talking about the cultural contrivances because personally, I don’t believe in it. I’ve known too many strong women to believe that there’s anything masculine about muscles or see self-sufficiency or vibrancy, but that is what the culture tells us masculinity is. To a certain degree, it is purposeful, if not subconscious and sublimated. What I mean by that is when you are a person who violates gender norms, the white blood cells come out and they are trying to protect the status quo, which means patrimony.
The passing down of wealth from men to sons as supported by the institution of marriage and capitalism. All of this is tied together in a way that is self-reinforcing. If I’m a woman and I’m strong, brave, and tough, then I’m likely to be called a lot of names as well. If I am a man and I’m maybe more emotive, expressive, and like the arts, then people are likely to make a lot of negative assumptions. All of these issues adversely impact my social standing. You don’t have to take my word for it. There are all sorts of ways to watch this play out.
Watch what happens to a woman’s social standing when you comment on her body publicly, even if you perceive it to be praiseful. Immediately, her social standing diminishes. I’ve rarely talked about this because I’m still exploring it. I identify more as post-gender or agender because the labels offer me no utility personally. I see how those labels could be empowering to some people, maybe particularly trans people, as they feel seen and known for the first time. I know that’s how it felt when I came out as gay or queer. I loved that label. I’ve been around a long time and those labels I have found in my own life because I have so much privilege working in my life, those labels offered diminishing returns. I don’t need them. I just am who I am and I follow the energy.
That’s a little bit of a privileged position, but that’s my emotional attunement to them. When we talk about masculine expression or gender orientation, none of it personally resonates with me. I’m working on another book that’s all about this. I write the books that I need to read. This next book that I’m working on is going to wrestle with love, sexuality, and gender as seen through the lens of the queer culture. I know this is something that society is wrestling with. This is something that I want to get to the bottom of in my own life. It’s complex and tough to tease apart the various cultural dynamics that underpin our behavior and our choices. It’s work that needs to be done.
It’s eloquent. I could just sit here and treat this like you’re the only one speaking. I feel like there’s so much to learn from you and it’s helpful. I was reflecting on how I respond to labels. When you were saying how proud you feel when you had the gay label after first coming out, I was reflecting on being a straight woman and my perceptions of people that are gay. Even that word, sometimes, there’s a hesitancy to using it because I’m afraid that it’s going to be seen as not the right word. Something that I’ve often felt insecure about is saying the wrong thing and accidentally offending somebody. It’s all a matter of perception. It also reminds me of race.
One of the books I was reading was about racism as I was trying to learn more become a better ally like, “How can I join the conversation in a confident and beneficial way?” It was in one of the books that there was a story about how we will whisper certain words or try to finesse them like the word black. Growing up, it was like, “Is it okay to refer to somebody as black? Should we say African-American? Is that offensive?” I’m getting lost in that fear of using the wrong terminology like the word gay. As the LGBTQ come out, it’s like, “Am I saying all the letters? Are there more letters? Am I leaving anything out? Am I offending somebody?”
Even people who have responded to this show, which has been helpful, have pointed out like Jason and I not being super inclusive when we talk about gender and how we’ve been working on being more inclusive with our language. You can only be where you’re at until you continue learning. That’s also an important part of your message, Britt. We’re the result of versus society, upbringing, education, or family history. It all depends on that. We’re not always super aware. It’s not my intention to not include somebody or to offend somebody. It might just be those are the words that I know to use right now.
Here’s the thing and this is the tough love portion. I can do this because I’m throwing myself in this pot as well. We’re going to mess it up. We’re going to step in. We’re going to put our foot in our mouth. Part of standing in our own power is owning that and understanding that when we do it, we can clean it up and we can be redeemed. Our birthday isn’t canceled because we use the wrong word. If we slink in the shadows and hide from those conversations, we do more harm than if we put our foot in our mouth. It is essential that we have those conversations. Speaking on behalf of the queer community, we’re not going to make it easy on straight people because you don’t make it easy on us.
We’re not here to make this homophobic path easy for anybody. The work of eradicating homophobia is straight work like it is white work to eradicate systemic racism and male work to eradicate misogyny. None of it is going to be easy and none of us get a free pass, but hopefully, because of that and because we’re all in this together, that gives us a mutual license of generosity that we can create space for those who would love us given half a chance. We recognize that I might use a word that offends somebody of a different race. They might use a word that offends somebody of a different sexual orientation. We all have an agency to clean up after ourselves and love each other anyway. The awakened heart stands cracked open and wonders at all that it does not know and loves anyway.
I’m getting chills and feeling touched by this conversation because it ties into the inspiration for the show about This Might Get Uncomfortable. As you’re speaking, I’m thinking about how many times we avoid getting uncomfortable when in the discomfort is where we’re growing and having uncomfortable conversations. Feeling okay about making mistakes is something that I’m working on. I was raised being terrified of making mistakes. I bet I’m not alone in that. Especially Jason and I talk a lot about cancel culture. Sometimes, cancel culture is great.
If somebody does something that’s harmful to another, we got to address it, clean this up, and fix it. On the other hand, sometimes we’re quick to cancel people. We don’t even give them a chance to improve. We’re like, “You made a mistake. You’re out.” We need to allow people to make mistakes so they can grow, and then that makes them stronger human beings. If we cancel them before they can learn from it and they can grow, then that’s not helping any of us in my opinion.Our responses to love were given to us, but we can learn to transcend those stories mindfully through training and learning. Click To Tweet
This is why many conversations about race need to be happening among white people. Many conversations about sexual orientation need to be happening among straight people, so you can catch up, we can catch up, and find our footing. Not place the burden on the minority to educate us or train us. That is not their job. It is our job to get informed.
This reminded me of a conversation I allowed myself to get uncomfortable in, which is on Clubhouse. It is a platform that is a great place and has a lot of potential for these types of conversations. It’s bringing a lot of different people together in an audio conversation, unlike a text-based conversation. You have an opportunity to understand someone a little bit better through their words and their intonation than you do through text-based chat on social media.
I saw this room that pointed out a major source of ignorance within myself, which is there are some horrible things happening in India to farmers. I saw this room and I was like, “What is this about?” I went in and it was a lot of Indian people. I was like, “I’m this ignorant white woman here.” I recognized like, “I should be in this room. I wish there were more people in this room.” I decided to openly admit my ignorance and they embraced it. They wanted to educate me and help me learn how to become a better ally on this subject matter.
It was something that I could have walked away from as many of us feel like we should do like, “I don’t know what to add to this conversation. I’m not knowledgeable enough to participate, so I’m just going to let the experts handle it.” Sometimes, admitting our ignorance is where we can start to change. For me, it’s like, “I need to learn to feel more comfortable in those uncomfortable moments,” which sounds counterintuitive, but it’s the process.
There’s an art to it. We’re going to make mistakes. Part of standing in our power and taking ownership is owning our mistakes. The fact that we’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to choose love anyway. We’re going to get egg on our face and be embarrassed and that might be splashed on social media, but it’s better to love anyway. The only thing more painful than loving is not loving.
I’m curious how you feel about cancel culture? Do you feel it’s beneficial at times? Is it getting in our way? What is your overall perspective? To be more specific, someone speaks out and maybe says something homophobic, for example, should they be canceled or should they be handled in a different way that allows them to become educated? How do you feel when somebody has canceled and then they do the cliché public apology? How does that resonate with you? What are some examples of where it’s gone well versus not so well?
I hate cancel culture. It’s never okay, but I love accountability. I have a fetish for accountability. The thing is that nothing we say can ever be unsaid. Nothing we do can ever be undone. That’s why it’s also sacred. That’s why words and actions are heavy. They have consequences. We as a society are trying to figure out where our deal breakers and our deal makers are. Too often, we have placed our deal makers on black or queer or feminine bodies. For instance, as white people, we seek black approval or we want to be seen as expressing or having certain virtues, so we put the burden on others to attend to our needs, when they just need this space to live their own lives. It’s the same for queer people, women, and for everybody who has experienced oppression. They want the space. We want the space to live our own lives.
About public apologies in the US, we have a culture of making half-hearted apologies in a public space and expecting total forgiveness and redemption. That’s not how apologizing works. I think of forgiveness as a simple spiritual practice. We tend to hold it in high esteem because none of us want to practice it. We pretend it’s complicated. The truth is kindergarteners forgive. As adults, we can learn how to do it if some five-year-old can do it. Who are we kidding? This is not hard. There’s a simple formula for making an effective apology, making amends, setting intentions to do better in the future. It’s incumbent upon us to create generosity for those who would love us. That generosity might make a family of us if we would let it.
There’s one thing I want to loop back to, Britt, in terms of the psychology of labeling. I think about this often when we’re talking about categorizing people, the underlying psychological elements of needing to put names to things, you’re straight, gay, black, white. The binary thinking we talked about. What I feel is the oppressive mindset of one thing or the other. You’re going to pick one or the other thing and that’s it. I wonder what’s your perspective on the role of language and labeling in the pantheon of human psychology. At the root, we label things so that we can feel safe and in control. If I have a name for something and I have a framework of how I understand that thing to be, I will feel safe, protected, and in control, because I can label it.
Furthermore, if a human being exists in a framework of self-expression, sexuality, gender, that is outside of labeling. There’s no word for it. People feel threatened and fearful because they don’t have a way to compartmentalize and control this person who exists outside of a framework. I’m curious about the intersection of language and labeling. If it’s useful for us to get into the psychological dynamics behind our incessant need to label everything, are labels useful? Would it perhaps be a more equitable, loving world if we were to dispose of them altogether, if that’s even possible?
You said it beautifully. All of those things are true. Labels get to one of the myriad paradoxes that underlie our psychological lives. For me, labels have diminishing returns over time as I cultivate more resilience and agency. That’s not going to be true for everybody because all of our circumstances are different. I’m speaking based on my lived experience. Labels are thrilling as I embrace them. The longer I’ve come to embrace them and the more I stand in my power, the less I need them.
There is something in the equation around knowledge giving us the illusion of power and labels. There’s no knowledge without language and labels are part of that language. They’re thrilling at first. They’re necessary. I encourage people to view them as pragmatic choices rather than idealistic choices. For instance, if you think of a label as a name tag, “Hi, my name is Britt.” I can write whatever I want to on that name tag and nobody is going to debate it. For instance, if I identify as gay, nobody is gayer than anybody else. Nobody is less gay or gayer. That might be common vernacular as we joke around and use inadvertent homophobic slurs. When you think about it, gay is a cultural word. You’re either part of the culture or you’re not. That’s something you opt into of your own volition.
One aspect that makes this more complicated is that we don’t confer or set down privilege ourselves. Society does that to us. As part of that society, it labels us. This is one challenge that many people who stand at the intersections of a variety of labels might experience. That’s not me. I have friends and loved ones who tell me that because of their pansexuality or their bisexuality, they stand at these intersections and people want to label them as one thing or another for the dynamic that you described. When they foist that label on the person, they also foist the associated privilege on them.
If you are somebody that is maybe of multiple races but for some reason society labels you as black, you get all the privileges or lack of privileges associated with that regardless of how you identify. As a white person, I cannot say, “I’m going to set down my privilege of whiteness.” I did not create the lie of whiteness and that follows me wherever I go. All I can do is use that privilege to lift everyone around me and dismantle the systems of racism. These labels, the ones I choose to identify myself with, are meaningless because society has its own rules. We’re all swimming in this cauldron together. In another way, they can be empowering if I think of them pragmatically because I can self-associate with others that have similar life experiences. We can learn from one another.There are no homophobic people, only homophobic choices. Click To Tweet
In the queer community, there is no system of transmitted knowledge. There are no rites of passage. There are no initiations, traditions, or ceremonies other than the ones we have created ourselves. Most of us, the overwhelming majority of this are born into straight households. The problem is even the most well-meaning parents have no idea how to raise their kids to be culturally gay. We have to find others who fit our label pragmatically so we can receive their wisdom.
This idea of culture you brought up, Britt, is interesting. When I have observed close people in my life who have identified as bisexual, I’ve seen interesting dynamics through the lens of their life experience play out in support, inclusivity, and cultural acceptance. Depending on how a person chooses to label themselves, that community has shifted in some regards into a systematic form of oppression from within.
My partner, Laura, when we first started dating, was conveying to me that a lot of her gay friends were angry with her that she started to date me. They said, “We thought you were only dating women now. We thought you were one of us. How could you go and start dating a man again? Who are you? We don’t even know you anymore.” This community that she thought she had been embraced and accepted by for many years went on to say to her, “This is outrageous. How can you go back to dating men after so long? We thought you were with us. Aren’t you one of us?” It was interesting to see the emotional toll that took on her. Also, the interdynamics of a community here in Los Angeles that she had felt embraced by and then suddenly attacked by. It was fascinating to support her and hold space for her as she was going through that when we first started dating.
This is a complicated issue. There are a lot of dynamics at play. Biphobia, biracial, and then extending that into the pan space as well is real and people get it from all sides. From the queer community, many of us long envied those people who could pass as straight, for obvious reasons. They face less chance of physical threats, less risk of having employment issues, etc. Not necessarily realizing that there are no easy roads in life and those people who can “pass as straight” have their burdens to bear. Maybe we’re privileged to not bear. I say we because I can’t pass a straight in my lived experiences from the former and not the latter.
Another dynamic at play, especially in the late 20th century when we came out, we first came out as bisexual as a way to soften the blow and test the waters. From that, some of us think there are no true bisexual people in the world. Another dynamic at play is because of misogyny. When women come out as bisexual, it’s a highly prized trait because straight men think it’s cool that they can be their playthings as opposed to seeing them as fully realized complex individuals. When men come out as bisexual, they experience the opposite because it’s purely about having sex with another man, which violates gender norms and the patriarchal systems of marriage and inheritance. There’s a lot that goes on.
The other dynamic is that some queer people assume that bi or pan people can code-switch. They can pretend they’re straight pragmatically in a given moment to their advantage and then come back into the queer community when they want to engage with that side of themselves. That misunderstanding also contributes to biphobia and biracial. We could go on and on. People who identify as bi experience so much prejudice from all sides because of a lack of understanding, not to mention the fact that people don’t understand what bisexuality even is. They think that if you’re bisexual, you want to have sex with both sexes at all times or that you’re 50/50, you want to have sex with men 50% of the time and women 50% of the time. It’s not creating the space that does these complex individuals.
When it comes to biphobia and biracial, there’s a lot of historical trends and cultural dynamics at play. One of the first things I recommend queer people do is learn our history. There are specific reasons why we act the way that we do that are easily identifiable and will tremendously help us generate more self-empathy, freedom, love ourselves more, and learn to stand in our power more once we understand our long lineage.
That’s beautiful, Britt. Whenever you delve into answers, I feel sucked into it. Truly, you have such a wonderful way of emoting and using language to describe these concepts in a way that’s cracking me open and allowing me to reflect in different ways. One thing that was an uncomfortable thing for me to acknowledge and I’m still sitting with as a cisgender straight, white appearing male is that I would celebrate different communities and cultures. For instance, if you look at my record collection or the music that I grew up with, with many black soul and Motown and funk artists and the core music that inspired me to make music years ago as a child. I would look at that or look at certain queer artists that had inspired me to do what I did as a singer and performer musician. It was this faint homage to saying, “I’ll buy your records. I’ll come to your theater shows. I’ll read your books. I’ll love you and support you.”
When it came to the nitty-gritty of learning how to be a good ally and try and understand as best I can the oppression, the tyranny, the pain, the systemic structures that have caused you pain, I haven’t been willing to go to those areas. It’s like, “I’ll support your art, your creativity, your culture. I’ll even co-op those in my life as an artist because they’ve inspired me so much.” Your pain, suffering, struggle, when I realized that, I was like, “Screw me.” I haven’t been willing to go to those places with you and understand. When I acknowledge that for myself, it was like, “This is the time for me to get uncomfortable and acknowledge I haven’t done that. I can do a much better job at asking you about your history, struggle, and pain. What can I do as a human being to support you in that because I love you and believe in you? It’s not enough for me to support your art and end it there.”
It’s humbling. We’ve all had those moments and we’ll likely continue to have them throughout our lives if we maintain that curiosity. That’s why this road is not an easy one and why most people don’t choose to take it. I don’t know who said it but there’s a famous Black American saying, “White American loves our rhythm but not our blues.” I’m referring to rhythm and blues music, of course, and encapsulating all that you said. We may truly love the art but we don’t necessarily take time to love the people behind the art, which is humbling. We all do it and we have all done it. When was the last time we as men marched with women in solidarity for an issue that did not impact us? I bet a lot of us would say never. When was the last time that we marched, protested, or joined with black people in a way that did not center ourselves as white people? Many of us would likely say never. It’s heartbreaking.
Art can be such an important entry point into these cultures. We should not diminish its impact or its beauty. Engaging with minority-driven art is the logical consequence of seeing them as fully realized human beings. We don’t attempt to be colorblind. We attempt to see all the colors and cherish the diversity because diversity always makes us stronger. It is always right. It is always good. If we stop at the art, if we lacked the curiosity to delve deeper, that’s a childlike response. As we mature and ripen, our souls will be more attuned to the larger humanity and more tuned to the structural systems at play. Our only chance of togetherness is if we start to ask ourselves, “Who’s behind the microphone? Who’s behind the Canvas?”
Yes, we might be engaging with our art, which is wonderful because many people don’t. Many people explicitly avoid that art. How many straight people would honestly sit through a queer movie? A few. That’s data. There are lots of data about that. How many straight people would read a queer book? A feel. It’s a beautiful act to wade into that space with a genuine open heart and curiosity. I hope it doesn’t end there because that would also be the end of our togetherness. We need more generosity of spirit to see the person behind the art and think of all that led them to that moment to create the art such that we might experience it.
Britt, who are some of the artists that either you are feeling into or moved by? Historically, in the formation of you as a being, who are some of the artists that we may not know about that you would say, “This is a human being that has an important message and it’s soulful. Also, their art could maybe crack our hearts open a little bit wider.” Who are some people that immediately come to mind that you’d like to share with us?None of us are so broken that we're beyond the power of redemption. Click To Tweet
If you want to have your delicate sensibilities challenged, I would encourage you to read the fiction of Garth Greenwell who is probably my favorite queer writer. He is a contemporary writer. His novel is called Cleanness. It’s going to be challenging for you if you read it. It was written for queer audiences in mind. It will give you a glimpse into our culture and you will never look at your queer friends the same way again because you will understand that we’re not your wacky next-door neighbors. We were not created to add local color to your lives. We are fully complex individuals.
For me, I have taken so much pleasure, solace, and inspiration from the Black American community. There have been queer intersections, James Baldwin at the top of the list and Bayard Rustin. Ijeoma Oluo is a local Seattle writer who writes on race. As queer people, we owe everything that we have, which is the largest social change ever recorded in human history. There’s never been anything like what we’re experiencing in terms of personal freedom and liberation. We owe it all to people of color, specifically black people.
If you think about the Supreme Court decision in 2020 regarding Title 9 and the extension of the word sex to include queer people that we have readdress if and when we are fired from employment simply because of our sexual orientation. That stems specifically from the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This is why it’s critical we learn our history. It’s a shared history of civil rights. There were queer people in the Black Power Movement. In the Black Civil Rights Movement, there were plenty of queer people. Angela Davis is coming top-of-mind, including Bayard Rustin. Aside from the moral issues, there are pragmatic reasons that we owe our gratitude if not our allegiance. My favorite novelist is Toni Morrison who died.
For whatever reason, maybe it’s because I grew up in the south, I was fortunate enough to go to a school that was a white minority. I did not have the white sheepishness that a lot of people do when they grow up in cloistered white America. I was exposed to this, frankly, at an early age. I can’t claim any high-mindedness about it. It was assigned to me as a child. I learned to love it thanks to the teachers and whoever set up the educational structures where I happen to grow up. We were reading Zora Neale Hurston in junior high. I was lucky and fortunate. That is the community I turn to when I need replenishment, in addition to the queer community. The black community is responsible for forming and shaping my voice.
Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Britt, I was going to start writing all this down but there’s so much that I’ve never heard of before. I’m immensely grateful for that because it’s pointing out a lot of my ignorance around this subject matter. There’s so much coming to mind. Another question that I had for you that has felt uncomfortable but important to work through is related to our show. I remembered when we first started the show, Jason and I were working out our plan, what we’re going to talk about, and what guest we would have on here.
We started with people that we knew. I was going through any of our contacts who might say yes to us as new podcasters. Thanks to the Black Lives Movement that was happening and growing so much last summer in 2020. I remember stepping back and recognizing that most of them were white people. We started to recognize within the wellness world that it’s a lot of white people and a lot of cisgender people. It was this almost horrific realization of how we weren’t doing a great job representing people.
The other thing that came up for me, Britt, that I’m curious to hear from you is I didn’t know how to represent more people because I had this fear that they would feel exploited if we invited them on our show. I was afraid that they would recognize that they were in the minority of non-white, cisgendered people. I was terrified of people feeling we were taking advantage of them because they represented someone that hadn’t been on our show before if that makes sense. I’ve been contemplating how to move forward. Should I acknowledge that and be upfront? We want to include more voices. To your point, does that make people feel they’re that unique individual versus anybody else if that makes sense?
There are no easy answers. It’s going to be uncomfortable, painful, embarrassing, and it’s supposed to be. There’s no reason that we could or should make things easy and cozy for the oppressors. I’m at the confluence of lots of different privileges. The spirit that I use is I try to engage people directly for their expertise in a way that centers and amplifies their voice. In some industries, the norm might be a payment. For too long, whether it’s black brilliance or queer excellence, it has been uncompensated.The only thing more painful than loving is not loving. Click To Tweet
As a woman, I don’t have to tell you this. Compensated levels are ridiculously, patently, and systemically unfair. If there’s an industry norm around compensation, that’s a moral and ethical issue to ensure that guests, as part of non-engaging and tokenism, are compensated equivalent rates to their white male counterparts. If it’s a world that a norm is not compensated like the podcast world, it’s more about giving folks a platform where they can shine and creating a framework for a conversation that meets them where they are and allows them to display all of who they are. It centers their voice rather than the voice of the presenters.
Speaking, personally, the way that you have framed this conversation has not been one about straight America. I feel seen, heard, and known in this conversation because you have created enough space for all of me. If you carry that energy for any person, regardless of their various identities, they’re likely to feel the same. I guarantee you, it will always be uncomfortable because racism, homophobia, and misogyny are uncomfortable. It should be uncomfortable. All we can do is stand in our power and acknowledge it. When we put our foot in our mouth, own up to it.
That also reminds me of media representation. A podcast is a form of media as well. Sometimes I notice too much when it feels like someone is trying to make media more inclusive. I have this moment of like, “Are they bringing this person into this project, whether it’s entertainment like a TV show or a movie? Is it an article? Are they being interviewed? Are they brought into an event?” Are they being brought in as the token person to show that they’re inclusive? You started to see a lot of this happening in 2020. I remember feeling a bit conflicted. From my viewpoint, I felt like, “This is great. We need to have more people represented.” I kept wondering, “How do they feel? Are they feeling they’re that token person to represent some community or something beyond the white cisgendered standard?”
You might think about how you might feel as a woman going through that process. As a queer person, I feel conflicted. I feel ambivalent. On the one hand, I’m grateful to have a platform to spread my message and share my work. On the other hand, if I’m consistently getting booked during Gay Pride Month, I’m a little suspicious. I’m a little suspicious of the platform itself. If you surround yourself with diversity over the year, you don’t have to worry about that. The reality is the challenges. There are many identities out there being discriminated against that we have to make tough choices. There aren’t enough hours in the day to attend to everybody. That’s part of the reason why it’s going to take all of us working together.
I’m hoping that the change feels maybe unbalanced at a certain point temporarily. One thing that I’m hoping will change a lot is the wellness world. Jason and I get podcast inquiries from a majority of young white women who want to come on this show. At the other end of the spectrum, I’m rejecting them temporarily. I’m like, “We have too many white women on this show. I want to have a diverse, inclusive conversation with people.” I’m finding myself rejecting somebody who’s like me for that interesting reason. That’s been a weird conflict for me emotionally too.
There are no easy answers. Sometimes these challenges, mysteries, and struggles in life are meant to be lived rather than answered. There’s no magic wand that’s going to make that go away. That means there’s lots of honor in your struggle. Don’t dismiss the beauty of wringing your hands. That’s an act of courage and empathy because you’re seeing all sides of the equation. If it were easy, that would be suspicious. Prejudice is not easy. Dismantling prejudice won’t be easy either. You’re going to have to make tough choices. You’re never going to appease everyone. It’s coming up with a philosophy and an approach of inclusion, which gets back to the first part of the interview. The main thing we have to do at the start of the process is to know ourselves and then to be that person and shine our light as bright as we can for the world. Be most of who we truly are. That’s our greatest gift. Not just our sexual orientation but also coming out on any number of topics so that we can give our gift, which is our self and our story to the world.
Sometimes, when I’m opening my heart more, I feel not acknowledge as an empath to feel. Not directly because I don’t have a direct experience of the subjugation of what people are going through. One thing I wanted to ask you about is sometimes I feel a sense of empathy from observing and acknowledging another person’s pain, suffering, and struggle. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by the totality of the suffering on the planet from the oppression of the systemic structures that are everything we’ve talked about in this episode.
I go to the environmental catastrophe. What’s happening in factory farming? What’s happening with class warfare? As an activist or someone who desires to be a more effective and empathetic activist, I feel stultified at times by the totality of the suffering that I observe and feel in the world. I’m curious about you and your practice as you open your heart and you feel these things to not feel halted by the suffering but use it as fuel to continue to support and be an ally and be an activist. Sometimes, I feel stuck in that space. Does that make sense? The suffering is stultifying that I feel deep in it from feeling and observing other people’s pain. I’m not sure what to do.
That means you care and you care deeply. That’s a beautiful space to be in. That’s a beautiful thing to work with. It shines the light on why it is essential that we cultivate our practices of replenishment and resilience so that we can rise to the occasion. We are all essential. Queer people are essential. Straight people are essential. Black people are essential. We are all essential. We all must rise to this occasion.
Personally, what I struggle with, I’ve always approached life like a little samurai and like a warrior. That has served me well in some aspects and poorly in other aspects. What I wrestle with is how do I sit down my sword and take off my armor? A lot of people who have experienced bigotry and bias might have a similar feeling. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how to let go and have a chuckle and enjoy the sweetness of life and not take everything seriously. The stakes are truly high. The events of the previous years can feel horrifying, especially if you’re a white person who has lived in a La La Land for the bulk of our lives and hasn’t been attuned to the systemic suffering of others.
If you try and swallow the whale hole, it’s impossible. You’re going to feel defeated and tired. It’s important to have a practice that not only replenishes, fortifies, and creates that resilience, but also gives you a plan and approach to how you can work with your suffering and the suffering of the world to improve your little portion, your little corner of the world. No single one of us can take over something as broad as, for instance, saying eradicating systemic loneliness or eradicating poverty-induced hunger. That’s too large for any one of us.
We can take that inspiration and with our artful practice, we can come up with an approach to address it in our little slice of heaven, our little community in a way that gives us space to live a well-balanced life and thus be in the game longer anyway. If you consume yourself with it, you’re going to burnout and be of no use to anyone. It gets back to that well-balanced life and making the tough, gut-wrenching choices and leaning into that pain and fully experiencing the anguish as you do it. Empower as many people as you can. Embody as many of your values as you can muster at any given moment of the day.
That’s such incredibly important advice, Britt, in the sense that I’ve been observing my reticence to feel joyfulness amidst my observation of how many challenges, struggles, and systems that need to be dismantled in the world. Sometimes, I sense that I’m not laughing as much. I’m not feeling as joyful. As cliche as it is, you take the red pill and you start awakening. You’re asking life to show you what’s real. You’re asking life to awaken you to the sufferings of the planet.
The one example that comes to mind is the origin story of The Buddha. He leaves the confines of his temple and his castle as one of the ruling class and starts to walk and see poverty, sickness, starvation, and the things that he had never been exposed to. Using that story of the Buddha is maybe a parable. If you’re a human being who’s committed to seeing the truth and the reality of people’s experiences who are different than you outside of the box you’ve been in your entire life.
For me, one of the big challenges is that I tend to lose my joy sometimes. I tend to feel the suffering deeply as an empathic person. It’s like, “Why should I be joyful when many people are suffering?” Your point of maintaining balance and replenishing and that laughter and joyfulness can be a tool for us activists to keep the momentum and the energy moving forward so we can serve for a longer time. I’m deconstructing this mentality I’ve adopted at different points of like, “I need to feel the depth of your suffering so I can be a better ally. I need to suffer too.”
That’s beautifully put. The paradox is the more that we laugh, the more we’re going to attract people over to this side of togetherness anyway. Since it’s been exposed in our social media, dualistic cultures have been fraught. When was the last time any of us converted anybody to anything through debate or argument? Laughter is going to replenish us. As you were talking, I was thinking, “The way that we’re going to attract more togetherness is through our joy and our laughter rather than our incisive arguments.”
On that note, Britt, I am excited to dig deeper into your wonderful book, A Gay Man’s Guide to Life: Get Real, Stand Tall, and Take Your Place. It’s gorgeous. You were kind enough to gift us with a digital copy. I’m excited to crack into more of your work and your perspectives. Of course, you have many incredible blog posts. I was reading those on your website. For you, dear reader, we want you to dig into Britt’s soulful, heart-based work on his website, BrittEast.com. We encourage you to educate yourself, expand yourself and crack your heart open wider as we are doing through all of the pain, joyfulness, and laughter.
Britt, thank you for encouraging us to cultivate balance as we’re learning more, as we’re trying to be better activists, as we’re trying to increase our empathy and understanding, and shift this world into a deeper sense of love, acceptance, respect, and acknowledgment amongst all of the human family. Your messages are nourishing and timely. I love that you’re a loving person but you’re also a no BS person. Thank you for showing us that you can cut to the heart of the matter.
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- Britt East
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- Finite and Infinite Games
- Gender Pronouns, Etc.: The Fight Against Binary Assumptions and Language in a Non-Binary World with Dr. Melissa MacDonald – Previous episode
About Britt East
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