A Love Letter to My Gay Best Friend

Now that I have captured your attention with the title of this blog, I would like to address this topic with love, respect and substance. It is in fact PRIDE month and before I dive into my personal narrative I’d like to start with saying that I am humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to write this story. The friendships, acquaintances and brief connections I have made with identifying members of the LGBTQ community has altered my life for the better and I thank each and every one of you for sharing a piece of your dynamically beautiful souls with me.

I have an affinity towards research and there has been no greater tool for my life research than twitter. This social media platform has allowed me to access personal narratives and firsthand accounts of marginalized voices that I would otherwise never encounter. In my early days as a baby feminist, I devoured the stories I’d read from Tumblr and the threads on Twitter whose authors ranged from black trans sex workers to gay black male academics. I was obsessed with being “the perfect ally” who used the right pronouns, and respected autonomy terms. However, I soon learned that sometimes your education on a subject does not reconcile with real-life interactions.

I met Brent while working as a dental receptionist at a job, I would later explosively be fired from but that is another story. The openly flamboyant dental assistant immediately intrigued me during staff meetings not only for his colorful banter but also for his extremely thorough work ethic. Brent practically ran the dental office. He was well versed in all aspects of the dental management software, lab procedures, and surgical techniques. I was sure that if he had the right support system he would very well be one of the best dentists in the country. A thought I would later express to him during our first friendship outing.

The friendship between Brent in myself blossomed quickly; we were both ambitious with big personalities and a love for being the center of attention on the dance floor. Soon, I found myself commuting an hour each day just to hang out with Brent and his revolving group of friends. Brent always celebrated his sexual identity since the day I met him and I was awed by the very new experiences of gay clubs, and lingo. I felt special; I had a new gay best friend. Yet like any honeymoon phase, the excitement of our newfound friendship fizzled and the real work of sustaining our bond began.

I was fired from that job and I wasn’t talking to Harrison, my credit score was dismal and I was finding comfort in vodka cranberries and in the arms of random POF dates. I was as the kid’s say “struggle busing” and with the foundation of my life in shreds who could I not be?

I had no energy to give and although I truly loved my friend, Brent required a lot. My friendship with Brent was no longer an accessory, or talking point it was an actual relationship that required effort to be sustained.

I was so happy to fight for the principal of Brent and others like him. I became known as a “gay rights activist” as my mother so lovingly referred to me as. I was easily riled when talks of not respecting “lifestyles” came up. I walked out on church sermons when the pastor condemned the country for its “evil bathroom” policies. I felt I was doing the work by standing up to other privileged members of my sect. I was the best “ally” I knew.

Yet there was a disconnect between my ideologies and my personal actions. I was fighting with everyone else in the name of Brent yet I had stopped actually fighting for my friendship with Brent.

The tides turned and I met a wonderful man who provided me with a new sense of life. I was traveling the country, being wined, and dined while my friend was losing his foundation. Brent has always had a huge heart. His home was often a safe haven for other members of the community who hadn’t been blessed with opportunity or support. Unfortunately, his heart put him in a desperate position of which he expressed to our friend group one morning over a brunch gathering.

Having been so caught up in my new kept life, instead of responding with compassion I lashed out at my friend. Claiming that he put himself in that place with his unwillingness to change. When he retaliated out of hurt, I doubled down on my efforts and cut him off in the name of my “peace.” I was no better than the bible thumpers I debated. I was no ally. I was a middle class born and raised a black girl with the privilege to have access to wealth through aesthetics and a vast vocabulary. I played the part of highly educated activist well but my actions within my personal relationship made me a fraud.

With the aid of a mutual friend, Brent and I were able to make amends but things were not as fluid as they were before. We felt more like polite acquaintances than the friends who would dance all night together and dream about the future while smoking our immediate worries away.

I had never apologized, truly.

I mustered up the courage the lay everything on the line at another group brunch. Time had passed so quickly and before I knew it, I was settled into that brand new relationship and missed my dear friend terribly.

I was wrong, of which I told him. No one deserved to ever be kicked when they’re down and that’s exactly what I did to my friend. Tears flowed as the realization of my actions dawned on me. I was the oppressor in this scenario. The role I typically reserved for white men of privilege was the very one I had to accept.

I was humiliated but at that point, my feelings did not matter.

We both cried, we all cried.

I left that brunch feeling lighter and wiser. I was so busy fighting others for the right for Brent to exist freely as a gay black man that I forgot to fight for Brent as my friend. Who was more than just a gay black man. Yes, Brent’s gayness does make up a lot of who he is but it does not equate to all of him. He is a person of multitudes like anyone else.

He is not an accessory to be worn occasionally. He is not a cause to be taken up sporadically. He is a hard worker. He is a believer. He is compassionate. He is a dancer.

Brent is gay and so much more, and I have the privilege of learning to love every aspect of him.

This love letter is to my best friend and so many others like him with huge hearts, big dreams, and dynamically beautiful souls. Thank you for challenging me to be a better person, thank you for being you.

Happy Birthday Brent

Happy Pride Everyone

 

-Shampaigne Graves, CPC Creator of The Healthy Shampy Blog (2)

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Shacking is the New Marriage: An expose on Millennial Adulting

I often cite the professional titles I hold as a badge of honor. Author, blogger, coach, business owner I’d list them all if I knew anyone would actually stick around to actually listen; but there is one title that I don’t boast as much, shacker.

I have been living with my boyfriend for about three years now and I have no plans on making the union official in the eyes of the government. I am not the only one who holds the title, in fact, according to statistics I am a product of my generation. In an article published by the Atlantic entitled The Marriage Problem, the author states that “young people are declining to marry while older people are reaping its benefits (Alice G. Walton).” Which is ironic to my particular situation given that my boyfriend is a Gen Y’er and my millennial ass isn’t paying a bill in the house.

Other more startling articles like, Why 25% of Millennials will Never get Married cite factors like our dismal pay rates, and lack of financial security as the reason why marriage is off the table for young people like myself.

No matter the statistics, and intrusivities that the thought of cohabiting produces, I have actually put a lot of thought into my living arrangement and it is, in fact, the most adult decision I’ve made in life so far. Including being a business owner.

Before I slowly but surely moved all my things into B’s place I lived with my mom in a cozy townhouse. I was working multiple menial jobs and had no real life direction. Being with someone who was not only successful in their own right but wanted to mentor me to be as well was exactly what I needed at the time.

Soon we both found ourselves turning to each other for counsel on major career and life decisions, introducing each other to the same friends and family we said we never would and spending both weekdays and weekends with each other. All while constantly wrestling with the idea of marriage and how it would fit into the dynamics of our odd little relationship.

Ultimately, we decided that we didn’t need that title between us to confirm our bond. Also, it wasn’t practical. He had been married before and I had decided to dedicate my life to building my career. A very conscious choice that I made taking into account the societal pressures I would face on this journey that would apparently “not keep me warm at night.” (whatever the hell that means).

Kids aren’t on the table of us either. He has his own and I’m of the mindset that as much as we try to be superwomen, sometimes we can’t have it all. I have chosen to nurture the relationships I have with my friends, and family. And ultimately, although I truly admire those sheroes who make those motherly sacrifices, I realized over time that I wouldn’t be very happy making them in any space of my life (Nope not gonna grow to be more patient over time, it’s actually gotten worse as I age).

So I shack. It’s the new millennial marriage anyways right?! This odd blend of modeling the dynamics of our parents and grandparents while skipping the weight of responsibility may be frowned upon by many. However, with a divorce rate that has been on a steady incline since the 1960s, it’s not the worse way to commit to the one you love.

 

-Shampaigne Graves, CPC Creator of The Healthy Shampy Blog (2)

5 Ways to Stay Productive During a Flight

Transitioning from part time entrepreneurship to a full time lifestyle has been a challenging change of pace. It’s especially difficult when you add a hefty travel schedule to the mix. If you’ve ever wondered how traveling consultants always manage to stay “on” even while traveling, this is a great read for you.

Clean up your social media profiles. According to a study conducted by statista.com, as of 2017 every internet user has on average 7.6 social media accounts. With so many profiles to juggle it’s hard to keep consistent information across all platforms at all times. Use this downtime to update vital information such as new jobs, change of location and business emails.

Read that article

When I’m home, I’m often too busy to read a lot of the articles I come across that catch my eye. I always bookmark the sites so that I can catch up during my flights. As a life coach, it is vital that I research in order to give my clients the best results possible. Which means reading articles, books, and blogs about the topics that matters to my student and health coaching clients.

Fill out your agenda. If you for some god awful reason are stuck on a flight with no WiFi; pull out your old school agenda and plan out your month. If you’re like me, your agenda has goal setting and accountability tasks included that you never quite get around to doing. Use your downtime on your flight to finally fill that thing out! Not only will you feel instantly efficient but you’ll actually be able to track your progress to look back on periodically throughout the year.

Take a nap

I know this may not seem like a productive activity to the masses but napping is important and can help you complete tasks thoroughly and efficiently. As a self employed person you’re juggling many hats and most likely barely have enough time to accommodate your current sleep schedule. Take a shot of dream water, put on your eye mask and snooze away sweetheart. You deserve those zzz’s!

Edit photos through the apps on your phone. My favorite photo editing apps are Plann and Unfold. Being that I juggle my Influencer work with my coaching, speaking and writing opportunities; if I’m not careful I can easily fall behind with my posting schedule. I often use my time during flights to edit photos from my camera roll in mass. This cuts down my workload later and allows me to focus on my other endeavors.

What are some ways you stay productive during travel? Comment under the post and give me your best tips.

 

-Shampaigne Graves, CPC Creator of The Healthy Shampy Blog (2)

A Heavenly Brunch

A blue and red cardinal zip by my bathroom window as I drop my toothbrush in shock. A new sighting after a few weeks of not being visited. I chuckle as I wash my face and think, “For two guys who hated each other in life, they sure do spend a lot of time with each other in death.”

Life comes with unexpected curveballs. Time doesn’t wait until you’re well-adjusted to bring tragedy to your doorstep. And when both of your college sweethearts die in the same year, you develop interesting coping techniques to manage the new normal. Including believing that the souls of said former lovers being reincarnated through two uniquely colored birds.

When Harrison died, my best friend told me I’d see red birds, feathers, and pennies as signs from him on the other side. I never believed in angels, ghosts, or spirits. As a child, I was drawn to talk shows that hosted a weekly psychic or medium. I hung on to every word of the hosted mystic as they relayed the words of the guest’s dead loved one.

“How could someone be so desperate for something that they ignored all logic?”

I thought as I rolled my eyes at the tearful guest. I was sure that all the events were staged. There was no way that anyone would believe that a living person could connect with the dead, grieving or not.

I found myself that desperate after I got the news that Ben died. My quarter life crisis was off to a dashing start. Most girls I know married the guy they spent more than two years with in college. While I was dealing with funerals and wakes; my peers were looking forward to wedding bells and the pitter patter of tiny feet.

Which is cool. I had already decided long ago that I wasn’t going to be anyone’s mama. I also made up my mind that I was going to buy my own damn diamond and keep my damn own name. I was, however, envious of the clear lack of tragedy in the lives of others.

I had wanted all those life events before with both Harrison and Ben. For different reasons and in different spaces of my life of course.

Harrison is my foundation. Our love story was my first and dearest. We shared my first two years of college together.

My relationship with Ben was a lesson. A lesson about the negative consequences of low self-worth and hero complexes. I truly should have stayed friends with Ben. Our worlds collided after a drunken night of divulging our shared ills of being one of the tokens in our predominately white fraternity and sorority.

Each of these men were fundamentally different people. Each of these men taught me integral life lessons.

Each of these men hated one another.

A fact that had me constantly exchanging the stroking of one ego for another. I often laugh thinking about the hoops I jumped through to assure each man of their place in my life. Much to Ben’s dismay he often lost battles and ultimately lost the war to Harrison.

Ben had an unfair life. His perspective of women had been marred by abandonment, the cruel words of high school girls and college peers alike. I had taken it upon myself to “fix” him; which turned out about as great as you can guess it could’ve.

Time had moved on.

I lost touch with Ben after an explosive end to our often tumultuous relationship. I had gained the confidence to stop allowing myself to be a verbal punching bag.

Harrison had a new love, a Ben of his own. And this time I found myself losing both the battles and the war. I was devastated, yet I deserved it. Karma had made me eat crow many times in life before. After fighting tirelessly, I choose to bow out gracefully. I prayed and waited for time to be on my side again.

In the interim, I had decided to focus on myself. I had been in relationships for four years. College was over, and it was time to transition to a new beginning. Harrison and I were still best friends despite the ire of his new lady. I had blocked Ben after a failed attempt to get me to “catch up” with him at his hotel room while in Dallas for business and I had restlessly settled into my post-graduate life.

I was working at my dental job for about a year when I’d gotten the text from Harrison stating that Ben had tried to contact him while in DC for business. We laughed on the phone for hours imaging the scenario of the two sitting down for a cordial meeting with each other.

” You guys should totally have brunch and talk about how much you love me!” I stated excitedly as I giggled awaiting his witty response. I was ecstatic to hear from him. Calls and texts came less frequent during those days; so I savored every conversation I had with him.

I craved laughter and no one makes me laugh as much as Harrison does. I can still feel the rush of excitement I’d get when I saw that name flash across my iPhone screen. My cheeks would pang with soreness for hours after our conversations, a never-ending smile would grace my face as I recalled particularly funny bits of dialogue.

I recall that same conversation as I stare at the red and blue bird splashing together in the newly installed fountain of my current boyfriend’s backyard. Time has brought more change. The second anniversary of Harrison’s death has come and gone. The first anniversary of Ben’s is steadily approaching.

“Good morning Harry, Good morning Benny

I greet the cardinals as I load my coffee pod into my Keurig. I smile as I sip on my caffeinated beverage and ponder when I became the illogical person who believed in signs. I shake my head and place a kiss on my boyfriend’s forehead on the way up to the office.

I have a long list of tasks to complete for the businesses.

My new normal makes me lean on my imagination often. When I dreamed up this life for myself, I had no idea that it wouldn’t include either of these men. My identity had been crafted by my relation to both for so long.

I am navigating what life means when you lose two people that mean that much. I am coping in ways that may seem strange to outside perspectives. I am finding confidence in this journey. I am finding hope in this journey.

I am finding logic in the illogical, with two unlikely guides.

That calls for a heavenly brunch indeed.

For Harry

Happy Birthday my beautiful babe.

 

-Shampaigne Graves, CPC Creator of The Healthy Shampy Blog (2)

Walking Boldly in your Purpose: I failed so I could win

My first work of art was displayed in my daycare for years. Our class was just introduced to finger paints and while the other toddlers in my class choose more abstract styles of painting; I choose to paint my favorite TV character, Clifford the Big Red Dog. The director hung the painting on display at the front of the preschool with me credited as the artist. I made a ritual of stopping to stare at my picture, and read my name with the word artist preceding it. I knew my passion was art and I was sure that it would be my career of choice. That is until my father told me, “You know baby girl, most artists starve their whole lives. And I know how much you like nice things.” As I admired the diamond necklace I was gifted for my twelfth birthday.

Journalism lit me up in my secondary school years. From being a host on the radio show freshman year to writing for the Allen Eagle newspaper and yearbook; a career in writing I was destined to have. I mean it made so much sense. I had always used my writing for entertainment for myself. In middle school I managed to amass a following of over ten thousand kids who waited on bated breath each week for the Degrassi fan fiction posts on my Nickelodeon forum. And to this very day I still have a closet full of old notebooks filled with short stories, fiction novels and poems. Although I stopped pursuing writing as a career when my journalism teacher kindly pulled me to the side one day after yearbook and told me that I was too smart to waste my life on a career in journalism. Apparently it’s a dying field and again most journalists starve for their craft.

It was time to get practical.

When I started college I was determined to be a doctor. I saw my pediatrician practice thriving, my 2.5 children, and doting husband right in my mind’s eye I just had to get through the mountain of schooling. And things were going well, my adoring boyfriend had plans of being my husband and we agreed on the idea of kids, I had a spot in the school of science with a major in biology, I was going to do it. I was going to make this whole “stable ordinary life” thing work.

Then I took chemistry, and plans changed because I mean have you taken chemistry?! I reevaluated my desire for medical school which involved a lot more chemistry, and decided that dentistry would be a better path for me. I mean sure it’s harder to get into dental school than medical school and of course there was more chemistry but I had a plan to live a rational life and I was going to stick to it but again plans changed. Are you catching the overall theme here?

I had to transfer schools.

Unfortunately I didn’t meet the requirements for the school of science and had to pick a place holder major until I could get my math requirement and apply to be a biology major again. So I picked Kinesiology, it had a medical track and I actually liked the description of the course material. I took my first introduction to human nutrition course and fell in love. Utilizing something as simple as how and what people ate to analyze the psychology behind the person opened up a whole new world to me. And I finished my math requirement but after taking Childhood Obesity, I knew I found the right fit and graduated with a bachelor of science in Kinesiolgy.

It was still a social degree but it was social science. Big difference (trust me.)

After graduating, the disappointment of adulthood set in. I found myself being underpaid, underappreciated, and overworked. I knew that whatever career path I choose throughout adolescence, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. The art gallery, magazine, and pediatrician practice were all goals I saw myself working towards after I established myself as an authority in those fields.

I had to make yet another change.

The only hope I had was to invest in myself, so I took a leap. I took certification courses, brushed up on my nutrition material, applied for business certificates, created a website and opened up business accounts. I utilized little pieces of my old dreams to breathe life into my new one. Entrepreneurship presented the opportunity to become the artist, writer, speaker and life changer I always wanted to be.

Whether it’s creating new graphics for my business marketing, writing for my blog and other publications, or working with my coaching and business clients; I am utilizing all the talents I already possessed to make my dreams come true.

My ambitions have come full circle. For so long I was sold the lie that in order to be successful I had to do work that was “sensible.” Sensible got me a job as a receptionist, making just enough money to pay for my monthly expenses and tuition to get a new “sensible career.”

Bold gave me purpose. Being bold enough to amplify my voice in the world gave me an audience. Being bold enough to build a business, gave me a career in a profession that feels like home. Being bold enough to enough to make peace with failure gave me a fire for success that I never knew.

And a realization that I failed so many times before so that I could win right now. I walk boldly in my purpose now, with my intuition, and life experience as my guide.

-Shampaigne Graves, CPC Creator of The Healthy Shampy Blog (2)