Three Years After Exodus

From a flood of disparate feelings to peace ...

three years after exodus

On August 23rd I drove out of the parking lot of the Exodus International office with my stomach all in knots. Overwhelming emotions ranged from deep-seated fear to an indescribable sense of relief.

It was over.

It took a while to get “past” closing down Exodus, and I knew that there would be “life” beyond Exodus. But, I was not aware of who I truly was outside of Exodus. That was the fear part. The overwhelming sense of relief was that even though I was still very conservative at the time (but questioning), I knew that Exodus needed to shut down. My leaving was a necessary part of that. The only option was to move on. It felt like a huge mountain fell off my shoulders.

However, without the weight of oppressive expectations, the maelstrom of criticism, and false idealizations, I felt adrift. Who was I outside of the Exodus shadow?

The Blinders Came Off, The Unnecessary Burdens fell away

That day, August 23rd, 2013, I was very insecure in every way. A year later I was coming out of a deep depression and on August 23rd, 2014, I was pretty sure I was going to come back out of the closet. I still didn’t know what to say or if anyone would care.

I came back out of the closet on January 12, 2015, with confidence (a little fear) and knowing two issues I am passionate about; ending stigmatization of LGBTQ people and suicide intervention/prevention. Then, just last year, on this very date August 23rd, 2015 I had been out of the church closet for a little over eight months and (no lie) I was having a romantic weekend (yes, lots of love-making) with the guy I was dating at the time. I do believe, and still, believe, he is my “first” love.

No regrets and I treasure the experience.

And here it is August 23rd, 2016. Over the past three years I have settled into a new career, talked with a lot of gay leaders, prayed, listened to God and others, evaluated and for the first time in my life… my feet are solid underneath me. I am clearly expressing my voice, heart, passions and doing my level best to live a life of honesty, integrity, and love.

After the Pulse tragedy here in Orlando, while we grieved the loss of our brother’s and sister’s, our community’s vision gained crystal clarity. It also was a catalyst in that it reinforced the passions of my heart to combat stigmatization and cultural ills that harm our community. No more living in shadows trying to force fit an idealized narrative and legalistic behavioral modification. No more playing theological whack-a-mole. No more shame and condemnation.

No more.

A Little bit of a side note: yeah, so about that whole sex thing …

For the folks who might have gotten caught off guard earlier with my admitting to having sex, I didn’t write that to offend you. Honestly, I am not terribly worried if you are offended, but I never want to offend for the sake of offending. This experience was incredibly important to me and I am a better person for having had that relationship. I don’t regret it because we had mutuality, love, and healthy perspectives on every level. I mean, I felt like a teenager at times. And while that is almost embarrassing to admit at my age (after 25 years of celibacy), I felt safe to laugh (plenty of that happened), I felt incredibly blessed to be loved, to love, to enjoy each other. Lot’s of beautiful memories.

I am a better man for having loved and been loved by him.

Now, a year later I haven’t gone all sex-crazed higgildy piggildy. I haven’t done any sexy stuff since being with that wonderful man. Obviously, I am not wearing an iron chastity belt with armored underwear, but I am also not interested in having sex that isn’t mutually loving, and life-giving. It’s just how I do :).  Ok, let’s get this post back on track …

So what kind of gay dude am I today?

Back in the Exodus days, we would separate “homosexuals” by three categories; Repentant (code for ex-gay), Moderate and Militant. I even wrote a chapter about those categories in Alan Chambers’ first book. :::shaking my head::: I bet his publisher doesn’t like me now.

I don’t fit any of those categories. Interesting how reality does its own thing. That said, there are a lot of beloved and accurate labels. I am a Christian, uncle, funny loudmouth (sometimes fun, always loud), artist, Daniel Craig groupie, writer, Social Media Manager, not very fast at all runner, brother, son, nephew, and endearing square, Apple products addict… see, lots of labels.

I also know that I love Jesus, He loves me. We both are irrevocably in love with the LGBTQ and LGBTQ affirming communities. Three years ago I was terrified they wouldn’t accept me, but instead, these communities have extended more grace, empathy, understanding, respect and care than I have experienced before. Three years ago my tears fell out of fear and uncertainty, today I shed tears of joy and relief.

Unlike three years ago, today there is no overwhelming flood of disparate feelings. The void of uncertainty has been filled with light, friendship and laughter. The vast flood of confusion has been replaced with a strong undercurrent of peace, confidence, and love.

Being free is good.


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The Unorganized Church?

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It’s been a little over a year ago that I stopped going to a traditional church. I’ve visited a few (three) since then. I thought I would miss it more than I do. But, I don’t miss it all that much. I miss seeing some of the folks on Sunday, but while some relationships have run their course, other friendships remain strong. I am grateful.

Now, I don’t say the following as a negative against the traditional church. It’s just my experience. But, my worship life has been better outside the literal four walls of the church. My love for God and people has expanded as a result. Jesus truly is enough.

The first draft of this post included a huge ol’ honkin’ section of the failures and strengths of organized religion. Honestly, as I read it to edit it, it was SO annoying. So, let’s just skip that part and get to the part that’s from my heart.

What if we didn’t try to organize “church”? What if we just showed up and allowed whatever happens to happen? No leaders, no lesson plans, no agendas except ones made on the fly, no hidden agendas…ever. What if we just met for coffee/drinks/meal (whatever) and allowed relationships to grow organically, not confined to the formulaic Sunday School + Worship + Sermon + Chit Chat = Going to church. What if, instead of giving money to the church, we just give money to whoever needs it as we can when the moment makes itself known?

How cool would it be to simply be present to whoever shows up with whatever is on their mind?

I like the idea of an unorganized church. Is it possible?


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Mike Had Big Hair & Heels, I Miss That Guy

52523195 - two men drinking coctails in summer caffe

So, obviously the above picture is not of Mike and me. I picked it because the guy with the orange cocktail captures the heart of Mike during our many outings.

The house pictured to your right is one I lived in for about 18 months. I rented a couch, not a room, for $40 a week most of that time. I was there from the Spring of 1988 until the fall of 1989, and most of it was a blur.

I waited tables to earn enough money to party, partied till I was out of money, slept in someone else’s bed or on my $40 a week couch … mostly the couch, Then I would wake up in time to go back to waiting tables and repeat the cycle for a year and a half.

During this period I drank 5 out of 7 days a week, did more drugs than I ever thought possible. I was also involved in an abusive relationship with a guy who looked like Tom Selleck’s cousin.

It was at that time I did my share of terrible things to make ends meet, to get drugs … to be a part, to appease my partner … it was very dysfunctional.

My housemates were all gay. There was another waiter, for the sake of this post we will call Mike, who had hair that was a hybrid of Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls. Mike liked to wear heels and sing loudly around the house. Then there was the cab driver who was the actual “landlord” of my couch. He was a conniving, manipulative ass, but left me alone for the most part. Especially after I refused to sleep with him. Then there was the guy in the basement apartment. He was in the process of leaving his wife, and I never talked to him … not once. My roommates said he was “confused” about his sexuality and mean. So I just steered clear. He had no wish to be around us either.

During that time I lost my car, had a stalker read poetry to me over the house phone after seeing me out at the bars. He did this quite a few times. No one knew who he was. I also nearly overdosed on prescription meds on a road trip to Louisville Kentucky. Got into a brawl with my abusive partner in Atlanta. I finally fought back, and it ended with him in the hospital and me sleeping on the floor in the ER hallway…and then on the floor in his room for a week … in the same clothes. He tried to punch me through a plate-glass window after I threw him out of our hotel room. The EMT’s were astounded that even in my substance abusing stupor I was able to do emergency first aid. My tourniquet and willingness to get in there to apply pressure at the right points saved his arm.

Traumatic to say the least.

Needless to say, our relationship changed when I finally fought back. We went and partied a couple of times but even then, I met him there and left without him. I recently found this guy on Facebook, and he is a shell of who he used to be. Tom Selleck aged well, his cousin not so well.

During that time, there was a Christian who tried to reach out to me, and I will save that for another post. But other than Bruce the Christian, there wasn’t a lot of religious influence in my life at that time.

Now, even with all that mess, I felt like I was free. In some ways, I was freer than I had ever been. After feeling shut down my whole life, not allowed to speak, not allowed to explore and discover, at least I finally had options. Didn’t know what they were or how to deal with them as a healthy mature adult 🙂 but it was more than I had before.

Back to Mike, the guy with the hybrid Duran Duran/Flock of Seagulls hair, he knew there was unrealized potential in me. He was hardly perfect and slept with a lot of guys, but he did have a selfless spirit and strong gift of encouragement.

Oh and he hated my abusive partner and told him never to step inside our house, or he would kick his a*. And he would have, too. His rift with my boyfriend was a sore spot for us, but in my heart, loved him for wanting to protect me.

Mike and I never slept together because right off the bat we were kindred spirits and would call each other “Sister.” When we were around each other, we were too busy laughing or arguing over Madonna’s ability to sing, to entertain any other thoughts.

This kind of friendship might be alien and offensive to some of my Christian brethren. If you are offended, I say this with genuine love from my heart, get over it. To have another person willing to claim me as a sibling, want to protect me, that was a new friendship experience for me. It brought a huge measure of joy to my heart. Mike was one of the first people I ever felt accepted by. I will always cherish my memories of him.

One night Mike and I went to a drag bar and the performers were running late for the show. As we were all taking our seats or standing around the stage, The DJ started playing the song “Sister” from the movie The Color Purple. Mike got up, grabbed my hands, and drug me up near the stage, and we did some pseudo-waltz while he sang the whole song, loudly, along with the music. I was mortified at first but just ended up laughing and laughing … and we spun and danced.

Mike saw himself as Shug (the very extroverted, no inhibitions, entertainer) and me as Celie (the abused shut down but innately beautiful heroine). As we spun around with him singing and me laughing so hard I was crying, the crowd cheered during the impromptu performance and wildly applauded once the song finished.

Of course, the Drag Queens made fun of us for stealing the show, but it was all rather crazy and at the time … I loved it.

Looking back on it now, I don’t recognize Mike’s shut down “Sister” that I used to be. I can’t believe I lived on a couch … a couch! … for that long. But when I look back and think of Mike, who I haven’t seen or heard from in 25 years, I smile. Yes, he was just a little less screwed up than I, but his caring heart was to defend those who don’t even know they have a voice. Mike’s protective heart to protect the weak, his ability to look past my insecurities and lovingly challenge them are expressions of some of the innate gifts God has placed within him. And, dare I say, very Jesus-like.

When I look at the photo of the house featured in this post, I can remember all the dysfunction and weirdness but more importantly remember Mike. I have no idea where he is at or what he believes today but if the Mike I knew were to show up at my door in his heels and big hair screaming “Sister!!!” I would give him a great big bear hug and say, “I’ve missed you so much Mike, we have a lot to catch up on… but let’s go dance first!”


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The Divine Spark & Being Fully Human

Maybe we aren't broken. Maybe we are just fully human.

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Being “broken” and embracing our “brokenness” are buzzwords in evangelical circles. These words spring from teachings based on the doctrine of innate sin; that we are all born as sinners into a sinful and “fallen” world.

Having left the conversion ministry (The Gospel According to Reparative Therapy) angle of “sexual brokenness” I know that it was, and there is, a lot of opportunistic, compelling yet incorrect teachings based on the idea of “brokenness” out there.

That said, I also acknowledge we are fully human and quite capable of a whole lotta’ mess. It would be nice if we could all just say a super-prayer, power-up, and then walk around glowing like Moses when he was on the mountaintop. It would be cool to offer or receive genuine forgiveness to someone and in a moment of mutual understanding, both of us just go super-nova into blinding Gandalf the Wizard White like Jesus did in His transfiguration.

But no, we aren’t perfect, or Moses or Jesus… or Gandalf (unless you are at a costume party or Ian McKellen)

So yeah, we still have our frailties, dysfunctions and terribly selfish drivers on Lake Mary Blvd. Even so, I will not exalt a “broken” sense of self when the Divinely whole person is already alive in Christ. His life, His Communion, is manifesting in this world in the lives of individuals all around us whether they believe in Him or not. An eternal state of being isn’t a far off future concept. Eternity is a constant state of right now. All good is from God, and I believe for those who are willing to look, the world and the people in it, are beautiful and full of good.

Yes, my body will age and return its resources to the Earth, but the Divine spark that was embodied in Christ is now alive in us. He is Alive in every breath, in every heartbeat, in every synaptic firing. He is alive in every kind word, falling tear, selfless gift, urgent prayer, comforting word, empathetic understanding, and sacrificial effort. He is Good, and He is in the midst of all our good and bad. I don’t believe he sees us as  a bunch of “Not yets” or just partially “sanctified.” I don’t think He sees us as “broken.” I believe He sees us all as fully human, and Divinely (perfectly) loved.

I abide in Him, not in another man’s condemnation or a culturally imposed “brokenness.”

Also, specifically, our being gay is not about being broken as many declare and teach. Being gay is an important part of how we are wired to relationally manifest His Divine spark within and through us.

To be clear, I am not knocking genuine support groups or acknowledging dysfunctional behavior or beliefs to start to live life differently. If we do determine we need help to replace dysfunction with healthy relational or situational patterns, I hope we do so from a place of security in being fully human, not a fractured objectified piece of an unreachable idealization.


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The Soul’s Pursuit of Freedom

"Memoir" blogging intro part two of two.

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The photo was taken by my friend Maggie when I was 27 years old at Venice beach.

Right after sharing publicly that I had embraced who I am as a gay man, I would get the following set of questions in some variation from a wide variety of people. However, one friend just poured it out there, she asked;

Randy, how in the heck did you go from being out and gay?… to Christian right-wing ex-gay poster boy EVP of Exodus?… to helping shut all that mess down, and now back to being out and gay…and still a Christian?

My first thought was, “How the *&#! am I supposed to know?” I did laugh a little after she asked and shrugged my shoulders. Of course, I do know but, it would take quite a bit of explaining.

I am not a youngin’ anymore, but the vast disparities between believing one thing, then adopting another whole paradigm, and then swinging off that to something else has given a few of my friends and me relational whiplash! But in truth, none of this just happened willy nilly. One thing has led to another, and it is my hope to humanize and celebrate the good while sharing what I have learned from the mistakes and negative events. Plus, there will be a fair share of revealing the ongoing unknowns I am stepping out in faith on.

They tell me that at a book introduction is the place to summarize the book so here goes: Growing up was a nightmare for me on many levels. Severe abuse, abandonment, bullying and eventually internalizing all of that into self-harm and substance abuse nearly prevented me from becoming an adult, to begin with. However, when I found the gay bar scene where I could externalize my dysfunctional inner prison I finally felt free.

Of course, I wasn’t. I finally found a community that accepted and defended me. That said, drug abusing assholes exist in every community, and I found them in the gay community quickly. Why? Because I was a drug abuser with asshole’ish tendencies. I felt free-er than in my prison of abuse out in a homophobic, bullying, stigmatizing world, but the party scene also nearly killed me in a different way.

I eventually found a 12 step program full of healthier gay and pro-gay people. They saved my life, and it was there that I first heard the two words “unconditional love” strung together in the same sentence. As a part of that process, I professed that I was Christian, but it was a simple version of Christianity. During my third step in this program, I did fall in love with Jesus and knew, still know, that He fell in love with me even before I was born. I became a Christ follower.

I didn’t become a Christian to be straight. I was still ok to be gay as far as I was concerned. I hated Christians even after becoming one, but I did love Jesus. He made sense, and still does, when everything and everyone else does not. I found a groovy artsy little church where we all actually believed that everyone is on level ground at the foot of the cross. No one blinked or fell for my shock tactic manipulations when I would share that I was gay.

I did try, too. One of my former mentors said, in the midst of deep manly chuckles, that I have the “gift of provocation.” At that time in my life I got a sick thrill of telling the most licentious story I could, just matter of fact, to watch conservatives squirm or get weird. I know… not helpful… to anybody. Still entertaining, though; except that this church wasn’t falling for it.

It surprised me when they would just look at me like, “… ok… and?” I was completely disarmed.

It was nice to go to church not hung over or still high. That was amazing to be around people who weren’t afraid of being awake at 9 am or walk around in sunlight. The only thing, though, while it was the first place I wasn’t bullied by straight people and was treated with respect even when I was disrespectful, I was taught that the negative things I experienced in the gay community were because of the gay community. I was surrounded by conservative theology regarding sex and identity, and it permeated everything. I was told that my being gay and seeking romance with a life-partner of the same sex was a sin that even had its particular support group on Thursday nights. Because of religious and cultural stigmatization of gay people, I was told that the gay community was truly horribly broken, and it was ok to blame them, and my parent for my ills. That I could scapegoat the LGBTQ community for the nightmares I had experienced.  So again, I felt even more free-er than at any time in my life before, so I slowly changed my views and denied my true self, my dreams. For the first time, I was rewarded and affirmed for believing and doing my best to vocalize a worldview that seemed to have all the right answers for the here and now and eternally. So, I  ran with it.

Eventually, I went to an ex-gay support group. Became a part of leadership there and rose through the ranks of ex-gay leaders nationally. During my time in the church closet, the Lord did transform my life in many ways. I no longer abused substances. I overcame emotional and co-dependencies. I developed a firm faith in who I am in Christ and the life-giving Grace His finished work gave to me. But the ex-gay world is built on lies that you aren’t who you are and that you can’t be a healthy and whole gay person in Christ. After the suicide of a friend and watching the Exodus International networks split and implode (from my position as the Executive Vice President),   my life started spiraling down into depression. I realized that while God is good, had blessed and guided me; I was slowly dying inside because of living a lie that I thought was truth. I realized that while I was freer than ever before, I was still not truly free. That this misery was not, could not be, truly the fruit of the Spirit.

It became very clear that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead so that I could live in the misery of a church closet built with inherent shame and condemnation for who I am as a gay man.

Even before coming out, again, because of coming into a greater awareness of God’s grace, everything and everyone fell away except for Jesus and a couple of close friends. It was in that space of solitude that I finally escaped the maelstrom of external noise, strife and constant pulls of incredible pressure to believe this or that, to espouse this or that. It was in that season after leaving Exodus on August 23rd, 2013 until January 12th, 2015 that I decided to embrace true freedom in Christ to be all of who I am; this includes being His gay son.

At the time of this writing, I realize now that at every point along the way I found a level of freedom I had not known before. First was leaving my abusive upbringing for the fun and frolic of the gay bar/party scene. Then leaving the destructive forces of the party scene for the life-giving relationship with Christ. Then leaving the stigmatized (for gay people like me) environment, and finally leaving the church closet to live out an authentic life in Christ.

Am I completely free? I doubt it. I haven’t met a person of any age who is completely “free” of all their problems or need to learn more. But I can tell you; until now I wasn’t free to be me, in my context for who I truly am. Today I no longer strive for or seek someone else’s approval or avoiding relational/social consequences of being an openly gay man.

I am free to take personal responsibility. Not only for how I live my life now but in how I approach life and in making amends for the past as the opportunity arises. I am also free to take personal responsibility in how I view events and people of the past. I am free to love from a place of authenticity; secure in who I am and loving God and others in how I was created to love. I am free to see with the eyes of grace, to speak up and loudly against bullying of any form and religious stigmatization of gay people. I am free never to dehumanize or stigmatize in return. I am free to receive and extend truly life-giving affirmation and fellowship.

Yep, if it isn’t clear, I am gay. I am free.

Regardless of whether you are a Christian or not, a conservative or progressive Christian … or not. LGBTQ of any flavor … or not, being comfortable in our skin is something I believe God wants for us. It is my sincere hope that anyone reading this blog will see that the God I believe in, and His Son Jesus, is Good. I want to share about a Jesus who isn’t afraid of people like me who were raised by a pack of Drag Queens (not true but fun to say) and love to cuss way too much.

Jesus understands my need to cuss often. Especially around spiders.

He understands. He cares. He loves, and He is not limited to our culturally imposed fears, expectations, consequences or goals. There is so much more to us than one part of our lives. There is so much more to God than one might think or any of us can even comprehend.

Jesus isn’t limited to a single-issue mindset.

How did I get from one point to another, and then another? Like every soul does; pursuing authenticity and freedom one breath, one revelation, and one moment at a time.


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The 1,980,767th Rewrite

Intro to blogging my memoir part one of two.

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I have wanted to write a book since I was a teen. That morphed into wanting to write a memoir since around 1995. Memoirs are my favorite books to read. I especially love Augusten Burroughs and enjoy David Sedaris. When I grow up, I want to write like Augusten Burroughs.

I’ve struggled with the thought of writing a memoir because some of the worst books I have read are also memoirs. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of writing one to indulge some narcissistic need or project an idealized/sanitized or inaccurately dramatized narrative about my life. I also didn’t want to write one as an attempt to use outward processing as a substitute for therapy.

Although, unprocessed dysfunction can be illuminating and entertaining (i.e. Augusten’s “Running With Scissors“). I hate to admit it, but kind of strange people write some of my favorite memoirs. That’s because I think we must be long lost cousins or something. Birds of a feather tell freaked out stories together. So, I take that back. We should write before during, and after therapy.

Yes, I just outwardly processed through writing. See my dilemma?

Also, did you notice that the first sentence of this post says I have wanted to write a memoir since 1995? That’s TWENTY ONE years and two different versions of me, ago. I think it has finally dawned on me (at the age of 48) that pulling this all together in a book is just not the way a “memoir” is going to happen for me. The title of this post is “The 1,980,767th Rewrite” because it feels like that is how many times I have started and restarted and restarted… started over, restarted … you get the point.

Maybe telling my freaked out stories aren’t supposed to happen that way. So, I am going to blog it all out!

I love blogging and will take these almost 70,000 brain dumped words (so far) and start making them into blog posts. Maybe down the pike when this is all parceled out, chopped, cleaned up, blogged, expanded, finished, perhaps then some posts might be good enough to compile into a book. But, not going to worry about that at the moment.

So, here we go 🙂

In my next “memoir” post, I will cover the following questions I got from a friend when I first came back out in January of 2015. She asked:

Randy, how in the heck did you go from being out and gay?… to Christian right-wing ex-gay poster boy EVP of Exodus?… to helping shut all that mess down, and now back to being out and gay…and still a Christian?

At first I just laughed and thought those are some pretty simple and direct questions that I will be hard pressed to answer simply and directly. But, I do know the answers, and the next memoir post will be an overview of that journey.

Thanks for reading!


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Stranger Things (Review)

How many times can you say, "NONOnoNO! Don't go into..."

Of course this post has spoilers in it. It’s a review.

Secretly said, out loud, while watching the first episode…

NONOnoNO! Don’t go into the dimly lit elevator! :::manly short scream::: … oh no… :::hitting pause on the remote::: have to go pee now.

Truth be told I said some variation of “NONOnoNO! Don’t go into…” a number of times like:

  • “NONOnoNO! Don’t go into riding your bike down the road, alone, on a cool autumnal night!”
  • “NONOnoNO! Don’t go into the SHED; there’s no other way out!”
  • “NONOnoNO! BARB!! Girl, what are you thinking with that blouse! And just tell older sister princess you love her already!”
  • “NONOnoNO! Don’t go dripping blood into the pool with a cut finger!”
  • “NONOnoNO! Don’t go into the quarantine area with floating ick, a glowing wall membrane, and no lighting!”
  • “That suited up blue lighted face dude ain’t coming back … See… told you.”
  • “NONOnoNO! Don’t go into the gaping growling wet YUCK in the tree!”
  • “NONOnoNO! Don’t go into the water tank with your space gear on!”

And a bonus “out loud” thing that was said near the end of the series:

“Yeah, I’m not buying all this comfy cozy Christmas crap, somethin’ freaky ’bout to hap… SEEE! Upside Down worm babies!”

It seemed liked every character on the show had no clue as to where NOT to go, and smoked. Lots of cigarettes. OH and I sincerely wanted to wash Winona’s hair and cut the villain dude’s hair.

Started watching the newest Netflix hit Stranger Things Sunday night. Watched four episodes then and the other four last night (8 total.)  Set in the ’80’s it is a movie mashup of Goonies, meets Poltergeist, meets Firestarter, meets Alien, and a dash of X-files. Throw in the love-child of The Elemental: Forest God and evil tooth fairies from Hell Boy II along with the blood fields from the remake of the War of The Worlds, and you have Stranger Things.

For me, I loved the overall themes of friendship, loyalty, maturation and the reality of parallel dimensions <–heh :). Well they ARE real aren’t they?! My favorite characters were all of them. I don’t think I disliked any of them. Each character was true to their role, very well done. The setting, costumes, hair, big hair, big big bigger hair, everything was perfect for the time.  A couple of times the dialog left me wanting to slap a writer, but overall, loved the whole thing.

Of course, my favorite of the favorites was 011 or “El.” I love that she was androgynous and perfectly played as such. She was beautiful and a blank slate for the viewer to not immediately feel frightened about, and then to be totally shocked by. Yes, we learn quickly, that you do not want to upset her or parts of you will break, your brain melt, or you will be flung across expanses violently. That said, she has a great heart and gorgeous eyes. This role should land that young actress some awards and future acting gigs.

I love symbolism. I might be imposing a narrative here so take this with a grain of salt. But, the symbolic nature of the two surviving children who were abducted and abused, the two children hurt and terrorized by the Upside Down monster, is what has stayed with me. Neither of them asked for the trauma that happened to them. Both of them experienced a death to their sense of self, and both were transformed as a result of their experience. However, El fought for and regained her power to go on to become who she truly is, a hero. While the other victim, Will, (while rescued) is still suffering the negative consequences of his experience and we are left to wonder if he will now become the next “monster.”

Remember, I am into symbolism, the reason I think he might become the next monster is because Christmas lights/lighting flashing erratically always indicated the “Upside Down” was near. At the end of the movie, all the Christmas lights/lights were on without flickering. Yes, it seems normal… but is it? Are they not flickering because the upside down is now right side up?… because it is now living in the boy?

And for that unnerving conspiratorial thought, you’re welcome.

So, the biggest “lesson” I take away from the story, is that one should not pass on shot-gunning beers while wearing blouses like Barb’s. Just kidding. The biggest takeaway for me is the reminder that we are all hurt, abused, fearful, scared, not aware of our talent and self from time to time. With the help of friends (new and old), we can face down that which scares us, learn, and become who we truly are. We do not have to allow some other monstrous entity to impose its will on us to become something we are not.

Also, friends don’t lie. They always tell the truth.

I choose to confront what is “Upside Down,” love and be loyal to friends, and live in the gifts and power I was Created to have. Yay El!


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