Monday, May 14, 2018

Leishman for Judge

I’m excited to announce my candidacy for the Washington Court of Appeals. The primary election is August 7, and the general election is November 6. My campaign website is already online:

The Court of Appeals is Washington’s intermediate appellate court, with a total of 22 judges in three divisions hearing arguments in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane. I am running for the seat being vacated by Judge Mary Kay Becker after 24 years of distinguished service. This is the only position on the Court elected by the voters of Whatcom, Island, Skagit, and San Juan counties.

Since graduating from Yale Law School twenty-eight years ago, I’ve enjoyed an interesting and diverse legal career. I’ve had the privilege of representing clients while working in large and small law firms, in nonprofit advocacy, and as a government lawyer. Throughout my career, I’ve also sought out opportunities for public service, such as serving on the Board of Governors of the Washington State Bar Association. In particular, I’ve been a vigorous advocate for the LGBT community, children, and disabled individuals.

A decade ago, I recognized that my passions and skills were particular well-suited for service as an appellate judge, and I began preparing for this opportunity. For example, I’ve successfully argued appeals in the Washington Court of Appeals, the Washington Supreme Court, the Alaska Supreme Court, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. I previously received the highest rating – “Exceptionally Well Qualified for the Court of Appeals” – from multiple bar associations. 

I believe my broad legal experience has prepared me to serve on the Washington Court of Appeals. My perspective would also bring needed diversity to the Court of Appeals. 

I’m excited about spending the summer on the campaign trail, telling my story and introducing myself to voters. Please contact me if you would like to get involved in the campaign, or to join the inaugural list of individuals endorsing my candidacy.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Shooting Hoops with Oliver

My upbringing utterly failed to prepare me for parenthood. So far, I’ve identified three particularly obvious omissions: (1) female hormones, (2) video gaming, and (3) sports

Last year I wrote about the first topic in “Puberty So Far”:

Recently I signed the girls up for an excellent two-part “For Girls Only” sex education class. The first Monday night we learned about what girls experience in puberty. I was the only male in a room with 50 preteen girls, their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. The creator of the course, a nurse who wrote the book Will Puberty Last My Whole Life?, was amazing. She candidly answered all kinds of awkward questions. I never realized there was so much to know about tampons. Ask me about her great Macgyver tips for menstrual emergencies.

The next week was much more awkward. The topics included “What boys experience in puberty,” and “Sexuality and sexual reproduction.” The instructor left her diagram of an erect penis displayed on an easel at the front of the room while she answered various questions about dating. For an entire hour. I silently sat together with fifty tween girls, their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers, as we pretended I have the crotch of a Ken doll.

My conclusion last year: “Puberty is indeed horrible. We're already in the throes of hormonal craziness, and the random Dr-Jekyl-and-Ms-Hyde mood swings are killing me.” 

This year I can report female hormones aren’t so bad after all. Because only half my daughters are unbearable drama queens.

I am not a video game person. In my youth, the primitive arcade games were limited to Asteroids and PacMan. By the time the graphics got fun, it was too late for me to join in. 

The closest I’ve gotten to writing about video gaming was in “Moral Alignment,” when I made fun of my middle-aged friends who still play Dungeons & Dragons. (And that doesn’t really count, because they only use dice and their imaginations.) 

However, two thirds of my children love to play various online multi-player games. This year I’ve vowed to join my kids in their brave new virtual world. So far I’ve made it as far as a matinee of Ready Player One. But I’ll let you know when they reveal their video gaming secrets to their old man.

My lifetime exposure to organized sports, particularly team athletics, has been tangential at best. For example, for several years I was the attorney for the Gay Softball World Series, the oldest and largest annual LGBT sporting event. When I finally attended a softball game, I was amazed to learn each team has ten rather than nine players. (Did you know that?)

My own schoolboy days were stuffed with theater, debate, band, repression, etc., rather than with chasing balls or girls. Last year I got my first real glimpse at the alternate reality I missed when I dutifully attended each of my daughter’s sixth grade gymnastics meets. I would sit on an uncomfortable chair for two tedious hours so I could watch 30 seconds of her individual tumbling, then eventually 90 seconds of a team dance routine. 

This year Eleanor added volleyball to her numerous extracurricular activities. Frankly volleyball is much more exciting than gymnastics. Each week I joined the other rabid parents cheering on the seventh-grade girls. 

Meanwhile, my diminutive fourth-grade son insists he’s going to play “tackle football” as soon as he gets to middle school. Fortunately, I still have one daughter with a charming and relatable indifference to sports.

Our family photo album features five decades of pictures from Second Beach in Vancouver. This spring break my kids specifically requested we go there, although they call it “the place in Stanley Park with the cool swings and the fire truck.” Second beach also features a salt-water pool, gymnastics apparatus, and a basketball court that used to have painted traffic lines where I learned to “drive.”

Oliver loves basketball. He will play with anyone. Even his sisters. Last month at Stanley Park, Oliver was frustrated when the language barrier prevented him from joining the Chinese family playing on the basketball court. I can’t believe a have a child who will walk up and talk to complete strangers, let alone ask them to play basketball with him.

For the last thirty-seven years, my parents have lived at the end of a road where Bellingham meets the forest. Many years ago, my father put up a regulation-sized basketball backboard in the cul-de-sac for my brothers and the neighborhood kids. If the sun is shining when we go over to grandma’s for dinner, the kids and I head out to shoot some hoops before the meal. 

When a very young Oliver first dragged me outside to play soccer, I put down my book and hid my sigh. As with every strange new facet of parenthood, I resolved to embrace the whole catastrophe. 

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the immense natural advantage any adult enjoys when facing off against a competitor who stands under four feet tall. I bamboozled my son for years. Sadly, this edge has faded over time. I can still outrun the kids at any distance between 10 feet and 10 miles. But they’ve figured out I’m not very coordinated. And it’s gotten harder to get away with making up the rules to popular American sports.

Nowadays my children patronize my lack of athletic prowess. Nevertheless, I occasionally win shorter games on the basketball court at grandma’s house, as long as play focuses on height and wiles rather than skill.  

What I haven’t told my son is that until we played together last summer, I’d never successfully shot a basketball through a regulation hoop. I couldn’t even try – because it would trigger what I now recognize as PTSD-twisted memories of being bullied in junior high physical education class in Utah forty years ago.

Up next:  “Shooting Hoops with Oliver, Hot Tubbing with Rosalind” – facing junior high school’s enduring traumas 

Former gymnasium at Box Elder Junior High School,
Brigham City, Utah
Or is it a Victorian prison building?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Shaving the Beard

As I wrote in “Keep The Beard?,” every Christmas I stop shaving. After more than two decades, the gradually whitening beard has become a “combination time-lapse photographic record / sociology experiment.”

Often my beard barely lasts the two weeks of winter break. A couple of times I’ve made it to March without shaving. Last year I met my goal of Groundhog’s Day before the itchiness drove me crazy.

Just once, twenty years ago, the beard survived all the way until October. 

In hindsight, my insightful physician Dr. Heuristic would probably blame my codependency. When I met my Chicago boyfriend in spring that year, I still had the holiday beard. Once we started dating, I didn’t dare shave it off because he would have seen how hideous I am underneath. 

As soon as he dumped me that fall, however, I shaved my beard off. I also went from 150 to 125 pounds in less than a month. Stress is slimming.

My father, my son, and I go to the same old-fashioned barber. One of the odd consequences of living in the same town as my parents is that I regularly see what my face and hair will look like in twenty-five years. It’s been particularly noticeable for the last few months, because for the first time my dad is keeping his holiday beard year-round, too.

Taking a Christmas break from shaving is only one example of our local holiday traditions. Although we love life in the Pacific Northwest, even moss-covered fanatics recognize the need for sunshine at some point during our interminably grey winters. Fabulous gays go to Palm Springs. Unemployed single dads just light candles. 

Every winter, my parents and their longtime best friends make a snowbird pilgrimage to Hawaii. What began as a couple of weeks of Maui sun has expanded to over a month. At least for the wives. After wearying of golf and papaya, the husbands generally fly home a week early.

When I picked my dad up from the airport in February, I observed he still had his beard. His reply: “Your mother likes it.”

It only took them fifty-six years to figure that one out. Marriage is all about communication.

I’ve grown attached to the beard. 

In the old days, if I grew facial hair I would compulsively fiddle with it too much. But after PTSD made trichotillomania a permanent part of my life, I got used to carrying soothing super fuzzy things to distract my hands.

Even though I usually don't like facial hair on other guys, I've decided it works for me. When you’re basically chinless, a beard is a useful framing device for your round face. (Apparently, like everything else, Shakespeare figured this out much earlier in his writing career. I'm slow.) Once you get past that prickly initial phase, beards are nice and soft. And you soon appreciate the freedom from shaving every day. 

These days, the biggest drawback of the beard is that it's much whiter than the hair anywhere else on my body. I’m too young to play Santa Claus. Would anyone notice if I dyed my beard next year? What color(s) would you suggest?

Keeping the beard until May is a record for the current millennium. Why not keep the beard a little longer?

Perhaps I should have put the question to a vote. As I observed a couple of months ago in “The Doppeler Effect: Chorus Minivan Dad”:

Most years I'd be clean-shaven again by the end of February. In 2018, however, the militant Pro-Beard Front launched a particularly effective campaign. (Prior to growing the beard, no one from chorus had ever rubbed his fingers on my chin at Pumpjack, or anywhere else for that matter.) The Pro-Beard Front's ruthless tactics have outweighed the annoying itchiness. For now.

However, it turns out the Pro-Beard Front is all talk, no action. I’d like to say I shaved to accommodate the preferences of an even-more-impressive Anti-Beard Front. Sadly, they appear to be non-existent. 

Actually, a few weeks ago I decided I would shave before summer for my own benefit. I wanted to avoid the heat, and to look spiffy for job interviews and public appearances. I figured after a few months on the job, any new colleagues will be ready to meet Beard Roger.

So why did I shave this particular week?

Because it was the first sunny day at the beach. And I don't want a tan line.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

No Regrets

It’s been a year since I began this blog. Ordinarily I would acknowledge the milestone in a postscript to some meandering essay about children or brains. But on the occasion of our first, “paper” anniversary, instead I went back last week and carefully read everything I’d posted. 


That’s 125 individual blog posts, totaling 144,000 words. About the same length as novels like Last of the Mohicans, The Two Towers, and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Or the combined length of The Picture of Dorian Grey and Catcher in the Rye.

I can now announce “Mission Accomplished!” Just like George Bush or Donald Trump. Unlike Bush or Trump, however, I can also identify the mission.

First, intense journaling is a particularly effective form of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Both my excellent physician Dr. Heuristic and numerous peer-reviewed studies endorse the therapeutic impact of such written self-examination. Regularly writing about various topics has indeed helped me process a lot of mental baggage. Of course, as I wrote last year in “Woke,” achieving mental health is a mixed bag when you look around and realize you’re broke, unemployed, and trapped in a small town with no friends. If I were a 17th century writer, I would have turned to opium by now.   

Second, publishing a wide variety of blog posts has provided a great opportunity to learn about the craft of writing – from the process of inspiration, to the need for ruthless deletion, to the endless quest for the right word. I can’t promise It Gets Better, but I’ll keep trying.

Finally, posting (ir)regularly on this blog has provided a framework for my personal research and reading, as well as for my other writing projects. Material from some blog posts already shows up in another form in the manuscript for my book Running with Chainsaws: Tales of Sex, Religion, and Mental Illness. Together with all the really juicy stories I’ve been saving for the book.

In addition to reading my novel-length blog output, last week I also finished Tina Brown’s dishy Vanity Fair Diaries

As Brown observes in her introduction:

The writer of a memoir or history knows from the outset where the story is going and how it will end. The diarist doesn’t have a clue what’s around the corner. All one can know about is the past and with any luck, the onrushing present. That’s a feature of the form, not a bug. What you lose in omniscience and perspective you gain in heedless immediacy and suspense.

Brown’s diaries chronicled her years as editor of Vanity Fair, from 1983 to 1992. Her voyeuristic glimpses of New York in the Eighties are irresistible. (Nevertheless, numerous diary entries referring to the 1980s exploits of short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump made me queasy.)

In contrast with the manuscript of my book, blog writing feels more like a diary than a memoir. Unlike Tina Brown, however, I haven’t had the luxury of waiting a few years before sharing my diary entries with anyone else.

I suppose modern technology permits me to go back and change my prior blog posts at any time. No one would notice, not even my mother. Nevertheless, George Orwell would draw a line between insidious revisionism and ordinary compulsive editing. Sure, if I happen to be re-reading an old blog post, I may tweak a few words in passing. I can’t help it. But rather than radically altering something already published on the blog, I would transparently republish it.

Last week, before reading back through the entire blog oeuvre, I vowed not to touch anything at all. I ended up correcting seven glaring typos and one awkward transition. But that’s it. Trust me.

Publishing a diary in real time is a form of performance art. On a high wire, without a net.

From the beginning, one of my goals has been to talk frankly about the challenges of living with mental illness. Twenty-five years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the social stigma and structural barriers remain daunting. As I observed in my initial post, I’ve learned the hard way that the law is terribly hostile to people with mental illness. In fact, it looks exactly as bad as the laws affecting LGBT people did 25 years ago when I first started my advocacy. 

In the face of such continued frustration, the lure of the closet can be overwhelming. Well-meaning friends and family have suggested I shut up. Because I am not visibly disabled (except perhaps on the internet), I could attempt to “pass.” But nothing will ever change if no one speaks up. So I choose to be out. Otherwise the closet wins.

Still, “no regrets” differs from “no frustrations.” A year ago, part of me hoped that by now I would have heard something like “I loved what you wrote about XXX, you’d be perfect for YYY!” Regardless of whether YYY is a job, a writing assignment, or a date, it hasn’t happened yet. Sigh. 

In particular, it’s disheartening to apply for local jobs you’re eminently qualified for, yet never hear a word. You can’t help wondering if implicit or explicit bias is at work. So I’ve started addressing the issue head on. My most recent job application cover letters have included language like the following:

Finally, I will be frank in sharing personal information that a candidate ordinarily might omit from a job application. After moving to Bellingham a couple of years ago for a job with the Washington Attorney General’s Office as WWU’s chief legal officer, I started exhibiting strange and debilitating new anxiety symptoms, such as constant trichotillomania, i.e. compulsive hair pulling. When I described these symptoms to my new doctor, he concluded that I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suffer from serious codependency. An unforeseen office dynamic had triggered PTSD symptoms rooted in trauma that occurred thirty years ago when I was a closeted and overachieving Mormon youth. (You’re welcome to read more about these experiences on my  

Fortunately, my health care providers were able to identify the relevant youthful traumas and present-day triggers and develop an effective treatment plan. My disability would not require any special accommodation in order to perform the job duties of ____________.  

Unfortunately, however, my then-employers did not respond appropriately to my diagnosis, and I had to leave my position with the Attorney General’s Office and endure months of uncertainty before reaching a severance agreement after mediation last year. Today, I’m happy to report my family and I are thriving in Bellingham, and I am now prepared to embark on the next phase of my career here.  

No doubt that’s too much honesty for some readers. (I can hear my mother gasp across town). Of course, I could be even more blunt – pointing out that my settlement agreement with the State forbids my former colleagues from saying anything at all about me. (Their prior pattern of incompetence suggests they’ve probably been busy bad-mouthing me in this small town.) I could also remind Human Resources professionals it’s against the law to treat me differently from other candidates just because I previously filed a discrimination claim against the Attorney General’s Office. See Zhu v. North Central Educ. Serv. Dist., 189 Wn.2d 607 (2017).

Instead, I tell my story, and hope eventually someone will give me a chance. Just like every other disabled person.

I made a long list of other takeaways from my Big Gay Read, both positive and negative. For now, I’ll limit myself to sharing one final observation: 

You’d be amazed how many times my response to an old blog post was “Gosh, I have absolutely no memory of writing that.”

You can’t regret something if you don’t remember it.

Monday, April 23, 2018

I Hope I Get It

When I was in high school, I attended my first Broadway show on tour. This was during the 1970s, so appropriately enough I saw the greatest show of that decade:  A Chorus Line.  

A Chorus Line is a musical about a group of dancers auditioning for parts in the chorus line of a new musical. Marvin Hamlisch composed the brilliant score, while Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood wrote the book.The show takes place on a bare stage, as the (mostly unseen) director tries to learn about each of the auditionees before selecting who will be in the show.

A Chorus Line received extraordinary recognition, including numerous Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. The music and drama still hold up. I’ve enjoyed multiple productions over the years.   

But I’ll never forget my first time. I saw A Chorus Line at the historic Capitol Theater in Salt Lake City together with my best friend from high school. Who turned out to be gay, of course. I had no clue at the time. Nevertheless, there were early warning signs. For example, parents should be suspicious whenever teenaged boys tinker with their names, like changing “Shawn” to “Shaun,” or “Andy” to “Drew.”

The generally nameless dancer/singer/actors who make up the chorus line of Broadway musicals used to be called “gypsies,” because they spent their itinerant careers wandering from show to show, hoping to find work.New York attracts numerous star-struck performers each year, far more than the available theater roles. 

1Yesterday, the New York Times reported the actor's union has stopped using the term "gypsy" out of sensitivity to the Roma people. 

Part of the power of A Chorus Line comes from its original source material: hours of tape-recorded sessions where Broadway veterans talked about their experiences as part of the chorus. Several members of A Chorus Line’s original cast participated in those dialogues; some of them ended up playing versions of themselves.

The character Paul is the heart of A Chorus Line. Paul, the shy son of Puerto Rican immigrants, resists the director’s efforts to draw him out. Finally, after the director dismisses the other auditionees, Paul delivers a classic monologue about the closet, including his parents’ loving response when they discover he’s not just gay but performing in a sleazy drag show. 

Near the end of A Chorus Line, Paul collapses when a knee injury flares up. As he heads to the hospital, losing his chance to be in the show, the other dancers acknowledge the fleeting beauty of their dream as they sing “What I Did For Love.”

Sammy Williams, the actor who originated the role of Paul on Broadway, won a Tony for his performance. Williams had participated in the tape-recorded workshop sessions, but Paul wasn’t his story. (Williams actually contributed the story behind the song “I Can Do That,” about a little boy who followed his untalented older sister to her dance class.) Instead, Paul’s monologue came from the personal experience of A Chorus Line’s playwright Nicholas Dante. Dante died of AIDS in 1991.

I was a pretty clueless youth. I never kissed a girl until I was 23, or a boy until I was 26. But sitting in the dark theater, mesmerized as Paul poured his heart out alone onstage, I found a clue. 

One of Rosalind’s friends recently asked me what song I was singing. I didn’t even realize I was singing – my subconscious provides an ongoing soundtrack to my life, triggered by my brain’s associations with the people, places, and themes I encounter. Apparently sometimes the singing isn’t limited to my inside voice. 

These regularly recurring leitmotifs can be quite Wagnerian. For example, one of my friends is associated with the standard “The Way You Look Tonight,” which starts playing in my head whenever I run into him.

Walking back from Oliver’s bus stop last week, I caught myself humming a song from Flora the Red MenaceFlora is about a group of woke bohemians struggling to find work and meaning during the Great Depression. Kander & Ebb’s first musical launched Liza Minnelli’s pre-Cabaret career. At one point the entire cast sings “All I Need is One Good Break,” each explaining what it would take for him or her to finally achieve success.

These days spring is lovely, the kids are doing great, and chorus is fun. I’ve even applied for some plausible and appealing jobs in Bellingham. The prospects are exciting after months of seeing nada in the employment listings. But waiting to hear back can be terribly stressful for an anxious person. Meanwhile, I’m weary of being single, broke, unlucky, and unemployed. All I need is one good break….

A Chorus Line begins with a similar big musical number: “I Hope I Get It.” As the director makes his initial cut of auditionees, the entire company whirls across the stage demonstrating various dance styles. Meanwhile, the audience hears frantic fragments of melody as the cast sings about their excitement and anxiety: “how many people does he need/how many boys how many girls?” “look at all the people” “I really need this job, please god I need this job, I’ve got to get this job….”

The cacophony of “I Hope I Get It” ends with the nervous finalists standing in a line onstage, holding their resume/headshots over their faces. After a series of thundering chords, suddenly Paul is singing alone, with a simple musical arpeggio accompaniment. It’s one of the few songs I can still play on the piano from memory thirty-fve years later.  And lately I’ve been hearing it in my head every day:

         Who am I, anyway?
         Am I my resume?
         That is a picture of a person I don’t know.
         What does he want from me?
         Who should I try to be?
         So many faces all around, and here we go.
         I need this job, oh God I need this show.

Nicholas Dante with the original cast of A Chorus Line