Saturday, August 17, 2013

343 Minus 108

This is a post about weight-loss. My weight-loss. Let's make a deal: I will not judge your beliefs about size acceptance, weight management, health, etc., if you do not judge mine. And how about we take it further: if you will not yell & scream at me then I will not yell & scream at you. In short, if you don't like what I have to say in this post then please post your truth on your blog. I am speaking my truth. And that is the only justification I need. This is an invitation to not have time-wasting online snipe-fests. Comprenez-vous?

You may have noticed a long period of time earlier this year when I did not post any blog entries here. There were many reasons for this, not least of them being that I have been deeply focused on a major transformation of my body -- a major next step in the ongoing healing from the abuse I've put my body through in the past 15 years. (What abuse, you ask? Well, there is a lot to it... if you know me well then you know a major component of it; if you don't, then how about asking me?)

In March 2013 I began a major change in my relationship with food. This change began, essentially, by starting on the Atkins diet. The first few weeks were rather rough -- during the first few weeks I was detoxing from carbohydrate and sugar addiction while beginning to reduce my daily caloric intake. As I began to track my consumption of food using MyFitnessPal, I became shocked by just how many calories I was consuming per day on average before starting the change. Like, in excess of THREE THOUSAND calories per day -- over 50% of it from carbs. As I began to come through my carb & sugar detox, I began to lose weight rapidly. So far so good.

An interesting side-note: men do have some estrogen in our bodies. And it gets stored in fat cells. When a man my (former) size loses weight rapidly thereby "burning" fat cells (they don't get cannibalized per se; they actually just excrete material and end up shrinking in the process), the cells release a number of stored chemicals including the aforementioned estrogen. My brain is not adapted to deal with estrogen; during the first month, I truly was off my rocker. Anyway, I began losing weight, and because I was focusing so highly on protein I was able to cut my caloric intake quite substantially. I got down to an average of 1300 calories per day.

I reached the highest weight of my life in March of this year. 343 pounds. On the morning of the 24th of June, I had lost 57 pounds; on 24 June 2013 I weight 286. On that day (24 June 2013) I had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. The surgery went flawlessly and my body's response was the classic response of men's bodies: I went into full-blown ketosis and lost 22 pounds in the first SEVEN DAYS after the surgery. Since then I have "stabilized" -- meaning that I've been losing somewhere between 0.25 and 1.25 pounds per day since 1 July 2013.

On Friday, 16 August 2013, I reached a major milestone: I hit 235 pounds

That weight -- 235 pounds -- has had a profound impact on me; 235 is burned into my memory from a moment in time when I was 11 years old. Since I was 9 years old I have seesawed weightwise in increasingly large swings. One of the most emotionally painful times in my life happened when I was 11 and during that period -- just as in most of my life -- I ate for emotional protection. I happened to be in a doctor's office and I will never forget the numbers that day... Age 11. Height 5'11" [yes, I was circus-freak tall at a young age]. Weight 235.

I know what folks will say: age, like weight, is just a number. And yes, that is right. But when I was measured at 5'11" 235#, it was the first time in my life that I felt labeled. It was the day I became that "fat kid" and also that "freakishly tall kid" -- and to make it even worse, I had clown feet: I am totally flat-footed and my feet were size 11. At the age of 11. (My feet are size 13 now; of course, they got to that size when I was 13 years old and have not changed one bit in nearly 30 years. But that's beside the point.)

The impact of the emotional damage done to me when I was 11 years old was very profound; I will likely be repairing that damage for the rest of my life. But today -- Friday, 18 August 2013 -- I stepped on my scale and saw that I was 235 pounds. And it was a victory over the past. Today I reached back into time through the blessing of quantum theology and told that poor lonely scared depressed self-hating young boy that there will come a day 31 years later when the number 235 will represent victory, not defeat.

Biologically speaking, I am still deep in the "post-op weight loss freefall" stage. For those who do not know, immediately after bariatric surgery a patient -- particularly a man -- tends to lose weight steadily for 6 to 12 months. I have been somewhat guarded about my ideal final weight; let's just say that the weight I would "ideally" like to be will sound quite low. But, my friends, it is a weight that I have been at before. Just like 235. God-willing I will see that less-than-200 number again, but regardless of the outcome, I sense that something deep has shifted inside me: several weeks ago, when I was at 250, I felt fine with where and who I was. I felt that if I didn't lose even one more pound I would be grateful to God for the opportunity He has given me with my bariatric surgery, and would be satisfied.

That was 15 pounds ago. I am now into uncharted territory with my adult weight-loss journey. I am now at a weight that I honestly thought I would never see again. And it terrifies me, yes it does. But exploration of unknown or long-lost spaces and places carries terror as well as promise.

Because the simple conclusion here is this: I love myself unconditionally. I look in the mirror and I see... well, I see me. I see who I really am. I no longer see a guy who looks like me trapped behind a wall of self-loathing and insulated by over 100 pounds of weight that I never wanted. Sure, I have noticeable loose skin in my belly area now and I don't like it. But, it is just loose skin. I can deal with it; it reminds me of where I was. It is my cross to bear, and I take it up willingly. Because when I look at my lack of a double-chin, my high cheekbones, my angular jawline, and my neck, and see them as they are now, I know what I am seeing. I see the man I once dreamed of becoming, oh so many years ago. I see a child of God. A body with a soul that was redeemed by the blood of my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus The Christ. And I see that my decision to undergo bariatric surgery was the single most profound decision of my life since 17 November 2008 when I turned my life over to my Christ.

The blessings that have come into my life since that night almost 5 years ago are too numerous to count. God is still speaking, indeed; God is still alive, indeed; God is still operating via progressive revelation, and I am happy to lay down my life in service to His only begotten Son.

I close this evening with a profound statement of gratitude to The Christ for strengthening me, for working through the hands of my surgeon Albert Im at Kaiser-Richmond, and for never once abandoning me. I live my life by the model He developed for all time. Let it be so. Thanks be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for delivering me from the hands of the adversary. I ask only for the strength to serve the Triune God more and more as my body continues to re-form itself in God's image.

Let the church say AMEN.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Requiem for an Activist

It is ironic that given all the major events in my life in the last 4 months, it was something that, sadly, is not getting much press-coverage which has inspired me to write again. I should be writing about the end of my second year of MDiv studies. I should be writing about how wonderfully at-home I am at Grace North Church and how the congregation voted unanimously to endorse me for ordination. I should be writing, perhaps most importantly, about my surgery and how I have -- as of today -- lost 102 pounds and how I feel better in my body than I have felt in YEARS. Oh but no. The Holy Spirit pushed me back into writing because of one of those generational things. Please share this as widely as you can -- particularly if you know queerfolk and allies who are Millennials. In many ways this post is addressed to them.


For those of you too young to remember the early seasons of MTV's The Real World, I would like to tell you about its 3rd season which was filmed in San Francisco. Given what the show has become, it might be easy to dismiss it as mindless fodder. And perhaps it is. But here is an often-forgotten fact: in its earliest seasons The Real World broke new ground for queerfolk in television. For example, in its first season, when most of middle-America was still just starting to understand the basic concept of gayness, a man named Norman came out as an unapologetic bisexual. In its second season, the presence of a gay woman in the house caused another woman who worked as an AIDS-ward nurse to examine her own unconscious homophobia.

And then there was Season 3. The Real World: San Francisco. Real World SF stands beside a number of milestones in queer history that we need to remember. Real World SF had a profound impact on many of us who are now a generation older; one specific impact is in the area of college-based HIV education programs. So many of those programs that we take for granted 19 years later, in fact, exist because of the powerful work of community organizers who came before us. One of those organizers was a Cuban refugee named Pedro Zamora. A cast member of Real World SF. An HIV-positive gay man.

Pedro took advantage of his time on Real World SF to tear down barriers between queerfolk and the rest of America. He convinced the producers of the show to record him as he spoke to college dormitories in the Bay Area during the filming of Real World SF. I was a college-aged young man at the time; I was exactly the demographic whose lives Pedro cared so much for. Pedro was a sweet and loving man and he taught me so much of what I know about how to stay HIV-negative, but he also taught me that compassion must be the first duty of anyone who claims to be an activist. My belief in Pedro's lessons has only grown stronger now that Jesus has called me toward ministry.

And now, with all of that background, I reach today's news: Sean Sasser has died.

Who was Sean Sasser? Sean was Pedro Zamora's husband. They were married "live" on Real World SF. It was the first nationally televised same-sex wedding, and the emotional impact of their ceremony was multiplied a million-fold by the timing of their wedding episode: it was the penultimate episode of the season; one week later, on the day the final episode of the season aired, Pedro died.

Looking back at it, nearly 19 years later, it seems melodramatic, but let's keep in mind the impact it had on an entire generation of American activists. I was one of them: this was PERSONAL to my generation of activists. We were just a bit too young to be one of the hardcore "Silence Equals Death" ACT-UP types but we are also too old to be part of the newer wave of activists who have risen to the challenges of the 21st century. We are, in many ways, a lost generation of Americans. But we did have our time in the sun, and we were led by people like Sean Sasser and Pedro Zamora. In fact, the day Pedro died it was revealed that President Bill Clinton had called him just a few days before his death to thank him for his brave leadership. In response to the outpouring of emotion over Pedro's death, MTV took the at-the-time-unprecedented step of quickly putting together a one-hour special focused on Pedro but more importantly focusing on Pedro's work: educating youth adults of the 1990s that WE COULD STOP THE SPREAD OF HIV. When the MTV special aired, President Clinton spoke to the country live, imploring us to remember Pedro and to follow his lead.

But back to Sean Sasser.

Here we are, almost 19 years later, and Sean has left us. The medical advances which came too late to save Pedro had managed to extend Sean's life for nearly two decades. During those years Sean took up the banner and continued to educate folks on how to stay HIV-negative. Sean never forgot Pedro, and honored Pedro's memory with every life he touched and saved. Let us not forget that literally THOUSANDS of queerfolk in America are still HIV-negative because of the lessons we learned from leaders like Sean who never gave up on us.

And for my younger readers, I implore you: please please PLEASE do not forget those who have come before you. For those of you in the currently rising generation of religious and social leaders, please learn about your history. Let us teach you. Please talk to us about how things were back in the day and please do not forget those who have preceded you in activism, in life, and in death. We would love to teach you just how far things have come -- not as a list of facts in a book but as a real lived experience which can speak to you as you take your rightful place as leaders.

Rest well my brother in Christ, Sean Sasser.
I'm sure Pedro is happy that you have come home to him.