Tag Archives: friendship

out TODAY: flourless! a book by my BFF nicole spiridakis!

flourless by nicole spiridakis

do you have a best friend? i do. her name’s nicole spiridakis and she’s a kick-ass food blogger, chef/baker, who, as of today, just happens to be a published author.

in lieu of being responsible and writing about the end of our cleanse–which, yes, we finished, and yes, i’m still alive in case you were wondering (which, were you even?)–i’m going to take a moment promote her new gluten-free dessert cookbook, flourless, which is both shockingly beautiful (it really is) and entirely sensible in that it doesn’t depend on weird flours and gums but naturally gluten free ingredients that mingle and merge to create delightfully delicious and very, i may add, delectable desserts. (what i did right there is called alliteration. and you thought i wasn’t a professional writer! *rolls eyes*)

before i share the conversation i recently had with nicole about flourless, i’d like to tell you how we met.

nicole and i met in some kind of introductory journalism class at the university of maryland, college, park. it was the late 90s. i was a jersey girl with a pixie cut, a bad attitude, and a lot pens. she was a northern california girl with long, flowing hair and a backpack featuring a variety of feminist pins. she was quiet. i was not. i basically sat next to her and talked to her until she became my friend. 🙂

although we very rarely see each other, she is my daily supporter and my personal cheerleader and i love her like crazy and am just so friggin proud of her and her accomplishment.

so. *ahem* <<wipes eyes and clears throat>> without further ado, may i present a conversation with the newly published author (!) nicole spiridakis about her fabulous new book, flourless.

jessica: hi nicole! what’s up!? i texted you like five minutes ago but i thought i’d ask again for the sake of my readers.

nicole: I totally texted you back but hi again! I am currently baking some cookies. Shocking, I know.

j: so you’re my bff for life (4LIFE) so i wanted to promote your new book, flourless: recipes for naturally gluten-free desserts, a little bit. it’s also pretty awesome so i think people should know about it.

nicole: Aww, you’re my bff, too! Thanks so much for the shout-out.

j: ok so it’s a gluten-free dessert cookbook (mmmm dessert…). but it’s all naturally gluten-free, right? no weird thickeners, no gluten-free flour, etc. tell us all about it!

n: Exactly! All the recipes rely upon naturally gluten-free ingredients – like oats (note: these are naturally gluten-free but commercial oats are often processed in facilities that also process wheat flours so make sure to buy certified g-f oats if you’re allergic), nuts, fruits, eggs, etc.

j: how did you come up with the idea for flourless?

n: My sister-in-law Emily keeps to a gluten-free diet and I started baking her gluten-free cookies and such, using pretty simple ingredients (and no guar or xanthum gums because I am cheap and those are expensive). We got to talking about gluten-free baking and realized that making stuff that doesn’t try to compensate for regular flour items – i.e. is stand-alone delicious – or use weird substitutes often taste much better and is less intimidating to make. Thus the concept of ‘naturally flourless’.

j: some people are kind of freaked out by gluten-free things, especially desserts, but these recipes seem really appealing. like, you don’t even need to mention that they’re gluten-free to people. they’re just…well, naturally gluten-free. do you get what i’m trying to say? i feel like i’m not saying it right.

n: Yes! That was my aim. I don’t want people to think oh, another gluten-free recipe, ho hum, I guess I will eat it because it’s there but I doubt it will be great. The goal was: here are some amazing desserts that taste SO good and oh yeah, they happen to be gluten-free!                      

j: what are some of your favorite recipes in the book?

n: I’m very partial to the Mexican hot chocolate cake; that was one of my early successes and I’m still really happy with how it turned out. I love the almond butter-chocolate chip cookies, and the vanilla cupcakes with lemon buttercream. Oh and the roasted stone fruit with mascarpone and mint. And the cinnamon molasses cookies, salted caramel pots de crème, pistachio-coffee toffee … I could go on.

j: as you know, i do not pride myself on my cooking nor my baking skills. is this the type of book even someone somewhat dysfunctional like me could follow?

n: Absolutely. (Although I think you’re a better cook than you let on.) My goal was to write recipes that would be accessible to the home cook of varying levels of experience – from seasoned gluten-free bakers to those who only bake gluten-free once in awhile (or not at all). I truly hope I have accomplished this.

j: is there anything else you’d like to say? i mean, this is your big chance to reach my 200 readers. no i’m kidding. it’s 300. NO ACTUALLY: 10,000. TEN THOUSAND READERS. 5 MILLION READERS.

n: I wholly loved working on this cookbook and I am truly grateful for the opportunity. I can’t say how/why/when I really got into cooking and baking but it’s something I’ve been doing for years and now it’s just a regular part of my life – it’s true that I rarely let a week go by without baking at least something (often more than one thing). I feel so lucky that I can share some of my efforts with a wider audience, and I so hope people enjoy and benefit from this cookbook.

j: are you going to make me any of these desserts when i come visit you in morocco? is there anything really chocolately in there? omg i loooove chocolate. remember that flourless chocolate cake you made for my 23rd birthday party back in the day? omg it was soooo good. you’ve been such an amazing baker for so long. i should have guessed you’d do a book like this one day.

n: You’re so lovely. Thank you. I will of course bake you lots of delights when you visit me in North Africa. And make mint tea. Who am I kidding: coffee.

j: i’m really proud of you, btw. i love how you’re an author now. i think you’re the best. i’m going to text you in five minutes to say hi.

n: … sorry, what? I was writing you a text. Right! We’ve come a looong way from those days at UMD but I still think you’re the best thing I gained from that journalism program! Oh, other than some sweet Diamondback bylines 😉

(jessica’s note: omg the diamondback, umcp’s very own student newspaper, where i thought i was the bomb-diggity for making $10/article, which, hello, you could totally get some pretty decent shampoo and/or conditioner at cvs for $10 back then.)

if you’re in the san francisco area, you can meet nicole and have her sign your very own copy of flourless this sunday! details are here.

nicole, i love you and congratulations!!!!!! when i gain five to eight pounds from eating all these desserts, i’m going to text you a bunch of angry emoticons followed by a bunch of hearts 😉 XXO

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part two: it’s cold & bright on the set of the anderson cooper show

"hi, i'm anderson. i know it's cold here, but my smoldering eyes will keep you warm ."

part 2 of a multipart series about our 3-weddings-3-states-1-day BFGW anniversary extravaganza (click here for part 1)

we determined the most sensible thing to do after my big fat jersey high school reunion was, of course, go to a taping of the anderson cooper show.

i mean, what else are you supposed to do after an evening saying things like oh yeah! i totally knew that was your identical twin! (twice!) and yeah yeah! i totally meant to wear jeggings while the rest of you beeotches had to wear GOWNS.

the next morning, before getting on the road to nyc, we hit the ritz diner, where we ate unnaturally large, fresh cheese blintzes (delicious) while holly joyfully discovered taylor ham. (as a non-pork-eater, i’d never tried it.) no one at the diner could actually explain what taylor ham was, which, personally, would worry me a little. this did not bother holly one bit, as she announced to the cashier that she’d like to get some for her family for christmas.

anyway, yes, anderson. anderson cooper is holly’s gay boyfriend. as soon as his new show hit the air and she found out it taped in manhattan, she decided we needed to go. being a planner, i.e. the one in our relationship who’s able to plan beyond what’s for lunch that day, she got free tickets like a month in advance. we were pretty  psyched.

we rolled into the park slope neighborhood of brooklyn, i.e. the place where almost everyone i’ve ever known from every facet of my life–i’m talkin jewish sleepaway camp, middle school, college, first jobs, you name it–lives, sunday afternoon to stay with our fabulous friends meredith & tiffany, who are basically famous for being one of the first same-sex couples to marry in new york. they also both have great hair and seem too attractive to actually be gay. (sorry to go there but i’m gay and i’m totally going there)

to add insult to injury they’re able to run up to their fifth-floor walk-up with vegan-food-stuffed reusable grocery bags, laundry and bikes all strapped to their backs while holly and i basically had small heart attacks every single time we went up there while each carrying a single ikea pillow.

whatever. we live in baltimore. we dodge bullets. we feed stray pitbulls. we…oh hell. we stay inside hiding all day. that’s why we’re both out of shape and i have a vitamin D deficiency.

so of course i wake up monday morning, holly’s big day, w/a five-alarm migraine–the kind where i can’t even eat or look at a ray of sunlight–and we get to the building where his show tapes just as the last elevators went up.

“sorry, ladies,” the fancy elevator guy told us. “you just missed the last elevators up to the show. you’ll have to wait on standby.”

it was like i could hear holly’s heart literally breaking. i felt so bad. i obsessed over how bad i felt until anderson’s psycho fans came along and then started obsessing about how the hell i could get away from them while staying in line.

first, a disheveled looking lady came up to the surprisingly friendly elevator guy to tell him she had “a message” for anderson. and that she needed to go upstairs to give it to him since she couldn’t find his email address on the website anymore. i kept wanting someone to tackle her bc she was holding a lot of bags. (hello! bombs!)

then a lispsy gray-haired guy came up to us and asked us 10 million times how we got tickets for the show even tho he said he had tickets for the next day. then, while holly was in the bathroom, he had me take a photo of him standing next to a photo of anderson. then he asked the elevator guy if the fact that he worked on a cruise ship would get him up there while i covered my hands in antibacterial gel bc i had touched his camera.

then the crown jewel of psycho male anderson fans came along: this mustached middle aged dude with an on-and-off-again yarmulke (i.e. the little skullcap jewish, mostly orthodox, men wear on their heads). he immediately honed in on holly as a friendly bystander and started loudly singing to oldies to her. i was rude to him, of course, i don’t even remember what i said, i just wanted him to go away. then holly got mad at me bc i’m always freaking on the crazies.

you only make them crazier, she hissed thru her teeth. even tho i told her she was wrong, i knew she was right. but it was too late. the damage was done and, to be completely honest, he really did just get crazier. in the meantime, bc of my pounding headache, everything seemed very loud and very bright. things were not, as you might say, off to a great start.

our luck changed fast tho. the elevator doors opened–DING! “ok, they have room for four more,” the elevator guy said. “you guys are in.”

YES. things were getting better.

we got into the elevator and crazy mustache yarmulke man asked the poor anderson cooper lady that happened to be in there already a million questions until we got up to the 5th floor.

we wound up sitting in a balcony above and off to the side of stage for the first segment while mustache man stood not sat two inches behind me, breathing on my hair while simultaneously waving to anderson like he was on a navy ship about to set sail for five years.

despite the little voice in my head that warned me not to freak out on him, i finally turned around and whisper-yelled, directly into his face, can you move back??? then he loudly mumbled about how i act just like his bitch sister-in-law and then i prayed for the remainder of the segment that he wouldn’t hit me on the head with a chair.

we moved down to the main area for the rest of the segments. i should note that the set of his show, like all big television sets, i suspect, is outrageously cold. i’m usually five to seven degrees warmer than everyone else around me so this is really saying something. it’s also pretty much the brightest place on earth. not the best place to have a migraine, is all i’m saying.

and of course! of course anderson had to stand right next to us for what felt like half of the damn penn state show (it was a special on the penn state sex abuse scandal). i kept telling myself to keep my head up so i wouldn’t have a double chin on air but i knew it was useless so i focused on the view outside and my relief that psycho mustache man wasn’t behind me breathing into my hair and comparing me to his sister-in-law who probably isn’t as much of a bitch as he says she is.

we had a pretty good time, all things considered. kathy griffin (LOVE HER) showed up for a new year’s segment and they practiced slicing champagne bottles open with knives. and his fabulous mom, gloria vanderbilt, suddenly appeared. i kept wanting to tell them all we were getting married three times the next day but i figured i’d hold it in bc anderson would be reading it here on my blog anyway.

anyway, if you happened to see the penn state show, that zombie girl with the ponytail, double chin and massively dilated pupils next to anderson is me. and i was totally wearing the sweater i wore to my big fat reunion, so if you were there and you saw me on tv i don’t want to even hear about it.

part one: my big fat jersey high school reunion

i invented post-its, bee-otch!

ok so i posted a million years ago that we were about to embark on weddingpalooza 2011 (three weddings! three states! one day! click here for background) and now that we’re back in town, post-honeymoon, post-holiday, i’m ready to break it down for you, despite the fact that i’m tempted to divorce holly’s ass in multiple states for many reasons including but not limited to:

1. her inability to throw used tissues from her side of the bed into the trash when she has a cold–which she does now, which she continues to remind me of by saying, “baaaaabe. i’m sick. make me tea.”

2. the fact that she continues to butt-dial every single contact in her phone, since she refuses to carry it anywhere but her pocket, like a five-year-old. or my purse. and hello, i don’t want to carry her phone all the time, esp bc it’s always dinging with email notifications from kohl’s, bed, bath & beyond, bath & body works, every single deal-of-the-day and who the hell knows what else bc she signs up for everything while i’m grumpy and sign up for nothing and mark everything as spam.

anyway, there were many stops and much adventure on our wedding blitz. in the interest of time, space & procrastination (yours, not mine; i’ve heard from more than a few of you that lunch at 11:30 is a top workday procrastination station and you know i live to make you happy) i’ll be breaking it down into a few parts, starting with:

1. my high school reunion, i.e. we’re gonna party like it’s 1996.

saturday, november 12th, late afternoon

my high school reunion is in a few hours. while copywriting is a perfectly respectable career, i’ve decided i’m telling everyone i invented post-its.

when we get to the hotel in Livingston, NJ (hometown of my longtime fave chelsea handler WHADDUP CHELSEA! love ya! call me!), the lobby looks like a wanna-be jersey housewives convention. it’s noisy, crowded and smells like a variety of overbearing perfumes–like the mall. or a synagogue function. or perfumania. i wonder what the commotion is all about. is there a hairspray-and-mousse giveaway? eyeliner rally?

holly joins me in the check-in line and i discreetly point out a couple women in leather pants and hooker heels pushing baby carriages. i assure her that yes, this  really is where i come from. this is the land, these are the people, that nurtured my first 17 years on earth. so, really, the daily jeggings, frosty lipstick and occasional chico’s holiday sweater isn’t all that bad considering what i was up against.

a couple hours later we come back to the lobby area for the reunion. luckily the mascara convention is over, and i suddenly see a bunch of people that i think i recognize that i think recognize me. thanks to facebook, i get some names right. this one nice girl, i don’t even know how i remember her name. when i get it right, i feel an immediate sense of pride. i see her again later and get her name wrong bc it’s not actually her, it’s her identical twin. shit! twins! i think.

we walk into Ballroom B or whatever, and it’s pretty fancy. candles, centerpieces, real silver. the whole nine yards. we immediately realize we’re severely underdressed since we’re in jeans & sweaters while all the girls are pretty much in, uh, gowns.

“did we miss the memo?” holly asks me.

i told her there was no memo. just a facebook event page. someone inquired about “dress code,” and i enthusiastically wrote on the wall “jean chic!” since i suggested it, i figured that’s what we ought to go with. brilliant, i know.

“whatever,” i say, suddenly aware just how snug my jeggings really are. and that maybe my boobs look too big in my sweater. “we’re gay. everyone probably expected us to show up in bad pleated chinos, brown boat shoes–the kind with the white stitching and the two-tone laces–and unfortunate plaid flannels. tucked in. oh, and brown belts, also with white stitching. so i actually think we look great. plus i’m wearing my nine west reptile high heels. and jeggings plus high heels equals fancy. so we’re good.”

“well i’m not wearing jeggings. or heels,” holly says quietly.

“you’re fine,” i tell her. “you’re wearing black boots. that have small heels. plus your sweater is black. plus your jeans are dark. plus this is my high school reunion and i don’t even care.”

holly was definitely the hit of the evening, as many of my old classmates already felt like they knew her from this blog. on my way back from the ladies room, i made eye contact with this one guy and figured it’d be rude not to stop and say hello even tho i really wasn’t all too sure who he was.

“hi!” i say. “dave, right?”

“no, rob,” he says. “dave’s my brother,” and he points to the guy sitting next to him. his twin. shit! another pair of identical twins?! what class of approx 144 has two friggin sets of identical twins??

lovely gals that i wish i’d spent more time with in high school tell me stories of fun things we did or funny things i said or did and i realize holy crap, i don’t remember anything about high school. it’s kind of frightening how much of a blank i’m drawing. later on, i realize that, while other people had no idea, high school as a closeted teen was so horrifically painful for me that i think i just left and never looked back.

i tell people about our “wedding blitz” plans for that tuesday, and everyone is so excited. i get hoarse from catching up with people, answering everyone’s questions about our weddings and our life in baltimore. i love that i can finally stand proud with my partner of 10+ years by my side. i love that all my self-doubt is so far in the past. i love that i finally learned how to put a damn arch in my eyebrows b/c dang! i needed a makeover! HOLLA!

my modern love essay that the new york times didn’t publish

i know, i know. i kind of suck b/c i haven’t been blogging lately and you’re sick of seeing that androgynous goth person staring at you every time you visit to see if i’ve updated. (in all honesty: not a clue if that’s a man or a woman.)

i’ve been so busy working (pbbbbt! work! i know, right?!!) that i’m going to cheat and in lieu of one of my typically ridiculous entries, i’m going to share my modern love essay recently submitted to and politely and promptly rejected by the new york times. not a huge surprise they didn’t publish it, as i’m sure they get about a trillion submissions a month, but a bummer nonetheless.

the great thing is that essays like this don’t go to waste when you have a blog. so i am self-publishing my essay. please enjoy all the capital letters and proper punctuation and i promise i’ll be back soon…

You’re Gonna Meet a Prince(ss) 

Throughout my youth and adolescence, my grandmother predicted three things:

1. If I ate any more than 10 grapes (red or green, didn’t matter), I would get a “bellyache.” (This wasn’t just me, either. This was all people.)

2. I’d meet and marry a prince. A “Jewish prince,” she declared, despite my argument that Jewish princes hadn’t existed for at least a couple thousand years, if they ever existed at all.

3. That using a blow dryer every day would ruin my hair.

Which do you think turned out to be true? (I’ll give you a hint: It doesn’t have anything to do with fruit or princes.)

When she died nearly 11 years ago (she was 91, I was 21; “A babe in the woods,” she’d say), I probably had never eaten more than 10 grapes at any one time, and I was still on the fence about the hairdryer thing. But even in high school, I secretly knew in my heart of hearts that the prince she predicted I’d meet might actually turn out to be a princess. And who knows if she’d even be Jewish.

Losing my grandmother was devastating to me. Our coffee klatsch of two was now a coffee klatsch of one. I had lost my best friend.

Who would I have toasted bagels and lox with? Who would I call at midnight just to say hi? And now that she was in heaven, what would she think of the fact that her granddaughter was a rainbow flag-waving homosexual? Surely she would find out (after she hit the Heavenly Diner all-you-can-eat cheese Danish/macaroni salad/pickles and smoked fish buffet, of course).

I tried not to focus on what she’d think, and kept my head down and focused as a young community reporter in suburban Washington, D.C.

And then it happened: I met my princess. I met Holly.

It was an unusually hot April night in downtown Washington. We were both wallflowers at ladies night at a gay bar on 17th Street. Soon we were talking outside. She wrote her email address on a square napkin in blue ink. I emailed her a week later. She wasn’t Jewish. I went out with her anyway. I mean, how long could it really last?

That was 10 years ago.

Since then, we’ve been married twice (once “unlawfully,” once lawfully—both times in Washington, just up the street from where we met in 2001). We bought, gutted and renovated a boarded-up crackhouse in southeast Baltimore, which we now call home. Our life is one big adventure. I love her more than life itself.

While Holly never had the pleasure of meeting my walker-pushing, hell-raising, unfiltered Pall Mall-smoking grandma, I’ve kept her a part of our lives by reminiscing almost daily about our times together. Sometimes I’ll even call someone a bastard (“bas-tid” in Grandma’s Jersey-ese) in her memory. Usually behind their back, but not always. This would have made her incredibly proud.

I don’t wonder anymore what she’d think of the fact that I’m gay. She wouldn’t care. I don’t wonder what she’d think of Holly. She’d absolutely adore her.

My grandmother had four younger brothers. My 90-year-old Great Uncle Ben was the baby of the Leibowitz clan, and is the last sibling standing. He’s become like a grandfather to both Holly and I. He’s been our biggest supporter, and was up front and center—fresh off the plane from Fort Lauderdale—at our legal wedding in Washington in March 2010.

He is the male incarnation of my grandma—kind, funny, generous and always ready with a dismissive “ah-who-the-hell-needs-‘em” hand wave to anyone who does me wrong. I love him so much my eyes fill with tears when we’re together. We both do. And he loves us back.

Holly met him for the first time in August 2009, and he gave her a huge bear hug from his couch.

“My new niece!” he announced, holding her hand, his eyes shining with delight.

He took my parents, Holly and I out to eat that first evening. As he and I walked into the restaurant, he paused—his wheelie walker (the kind with the breaks) and south Florida humidity between us—and turned to me.

“Are you happy? Does she make you happy?” he asked, touching my hand.

“Yes,” I said, tears in my eyes. “Yes, she does.”

“Well, that’s all that matters. If someone doesn’t like it, they can go to hell,” he said. “Let’s eat.”

And with that, I knew. It wasn’t just Uncle Ben speaking. It was Grandma, too.

I’d like to think it was more than serendipity that brought Holly and I together that warm April night 10 years ago.

“That one,” I imagine Grandma saying from her regular booth at the Heavenly Diner, her mouth full of potato salad and beets and everything else she loved from Jersey diner salad bars that I couldn’t stand as a kid.

“She needs to meet that one,” she said, pointing down at Holly. “That’s the one. They’re going to have a wonderful life together.”

And we really do have a wonderful life together. I have my coffee klatsch of two again. Sometimes, when we’re lucky enough to all be together, it’s even a coffee klatsch of three—me, Holly and Uncle Ben.

it gets better

i’ve been tossing around the idea of posting my written contribution to dan savage’s it gets better project for a while now. my reservations about participating in the project are the same that kept me in the closet–namely fear, shame and embarrassment. all the same things that lgbt youth are feeling so intensely–especially after cruel, vicious bullying at the hands of their peers–that they’re killing themselves in shocking numbers.

i kept thinking: i want to share my story. i want lgbt teens these days to have a better experience coming out than i did. i want to help them feel a sense of hope that i never did. so they can see thru the despair, shame, sadness, hopelessness, fear, depression and head-spinning confusion they may be feeling right now and fully realize that, as the project mission states, “love and happiness can be a reality in their future.”

it’s been embarrassment that’s held me back. after all, as my blog readers, i don’t want you to view me as anything other than put together, funny, fun-loving, well-adjusted. happy. and i am all of those things. but i didn’t want to tell you about the hurt and heartache i had coming out. b/c i’ll tell you the truth: i gave myself such a hard time about being gay when i was younger, i am ashamed. but i shouldn’t be. b/c i see now it didn’t need to be that way. it doesn’t need to be that way. i want to keep it from being that way for teens and young people out there that are in the same predicament i was.

so i’ve finally decided to suck it up and take one for the team. if my story can save the life of just one teen, even just help save the sanity of a young person out there, or make them see that yes, they can have a normal life. more than that, they can have a happy life. then it’s worth it. so for once, i’m not going to joke around, and i’m going to tell my story.

if you’re a regular reader of this blog, or you know me personally, you already know that i grew up in a small town in northern new jersey about 25 miles outside new york city. i’m also jewish, not just culturally so, but i actually care about being jewish and have a firm belief in G-d.

i’ve also always been, as my late grandfather used to say about me as a toddler, “an arch individualist.” i cut my own bangs when i was 3. i asked for an atari for my birthday when everyone else was getting nintendos. i wrote elementary school fan letters (written in cursive pencil) to jon bon jovi beginning with “dear mr. jovi.” i’ve always done my own thing, and, luckily, was always encouraged to do so by my parents.

“different” was always ok. but by the time middle school hit, i’d say seventh grade, something started creeping up my spine and settled uncomfortably in my brain. it made me feel different in a new, uncomfortable way. it was a question without an answer, something so foreign to me as an 12-year-old in 1990, that i couldn’t even think about it.

am i gay? a voice whispered quietly. i didn’t even truly know what “gay” was. there was no “will & grace.” there was no out & proud ellen. there was no adam lambert. there was nothing, really. but i knew my feelings, i knew who i had crushes on, and i knew it wasn’t “normal.”

i kept my feelings to myself–because they felt wrong. after all, i had crushes on boys. i loved the new kids on the block the same way all the other girls did. but things were off.

i pushed my feelings way way down. packed them down so deep they turned into concrete in my stomach–and my heart. they plagued me day and night. what you’re feeling isn’t normal, they whispered. you’re not normal. you’re weird. you’re a freak. you’re different. you’re wrong. and the very worst one: you’re a bad person.

here’s the catch: no one else was bullying me. i was bullying myself.

year after year the feelings were there, as was the voice in my head. the self-bullying continued. the feelings got stronger. the voice got louder. the bullying got worse. i was my own worst enemy. i didn’t know it at the time, but i was destroying myself. by the time i reached tenth and eleventh grade, you’re a bad person morphed into you’re a bad person and a bad jew.

one by one, my dreams started crumbling. marriage. children. a happy life. i might be alone forever, i told myself. i couldn’t see my way out. i felt doomed.

a loop of self-made insults and self-loathing swirled in my head day and night. i joked around in high school, did well in classes and had plenty of friends, but i felt crushed and breathless all the time. instead of hanging out with my friends, i cried alone in my room, scared to death of my feelings. scared to death i’d be shunned by my family, shunned by my friends, shunned not only by an entire religious community but also by G-d. looking back at it from the safe distance of a happy, open adulthood, i don’t know where all the self-loathing came from. after all, no one in my family ever said anything bad about gay people. no one, absolutely no one, told me that if i was a gay, or had an attraction to anyone of the same sex, i would be anything less than a good jew. (and that’s the truth–for any religion.)

but you see, all of those feelings–those feelings of being wrong, being a freak, being a bad person–are indoctrinated in us as we grow. i’m a perfect example of that. i’ve always been a free thinker. i grew up in the new york metro area. my parents are open-minded. but i got the message from society at large: gay is different. different is bad. gay is bad.

and so i stayed quiet. i stayed quiet until i came out to my high school best friend in a fit of tears and shivers in the middle of the night just a few days before our senior year started. i came out to her b/c i literally was making myself sick. i had prepped myself for our friendship ending once she heard my secret.

instead she wrapped her arms around me and told me it was ok.

“really?” i said thru my tears. “you still like me? you still want to be friends?”

“of course i want to be friends!” she said smiling. “i don’t feel any differently about you. you’re still jessica. you’re still my best friend.”

a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. i had told someone and she didn’t care. she loved me unconditionally. but i was 16. and even though i wasn’t completely sure about my sexuality, i knew, deep inside, that i would have a long way to go. b/c i didn’t love myself.

i’d like to say that i replaced fear and shame with pride and happiness, and came out to everyone that was important to me, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. i didn’t feel any better about myself. and i would continue carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, and continue bullying myself until i literally made myself sick–sicker this time–and finally came out to my parents when i was 18 and in college.  

and you know what? when i told my parents, they didn’t care either.

no one, not one person, who i’ve come out to in the years since–and i’m 32 now–has ever cared. they don’t see me as “gay” they see me as jessica. you see, when you’re a teen, you have a limited view of yourself and others: pretty. cute. smart. athletic. artistic. gay. straight.

oh but we are so many other things! if only i had known that–had really really known it. not just known it but truly felt it. gay, straight, bi, trans, queer–however you identify yourself. it’s simply one small aspect of who we are as people. it’s not the main course. it’s a side dish. you see what i mean?

if you’re struggling with this right now, i want you to go to the mirror, look at yourself and say “i’m (your name).” if the words “gay” or “bi” or “trans” or “queer” are on your lips, replace it with your name. b/c that’s who you are. that’s the core of you. i hope you can understand that. b/c it’s something i didn’t understand for far too long.

i wasted years–years!–feeling bad about myself when i didn’t need to. it’s hard enough when you’re a teenager. you don’t want to be seen as “different.” maybe different in the sense of you’re a cool dresser or exceptionally creative or something like that. for me, being gay was the last straw inside of me. i already felt like i didn’t fit in. and it pushed me over the edge. but it didn’t need to.

i felt so alone, so completely alone, when i was closeted in high school. but let me tell you something: when i got to college everything changed. everything! i started meeting like-minded people. i started meeting people of every sexual orientation and background. my world opened up. like a screen door in a windstorm–BAM! and suddenly i wasn’t alone anymore. and i started becoming the jessica i once was as a kid, before worries about my sexuality came along in middle school and high school. i started coming into my own. and i started to realize, hey, i am normal. i am totally and completely 100% normal.

and you don’t need to go to college for that to happen. once you expand your world–meet new people, go new places, graduate high school–things will start changing. b/c if you’re living somewhere now where people don’t accept you, or are bullying you, there are so many places where things will be different. you just need to hold on. even if your family doesn’t wind up accepting you, families don’t always have to be blood relatives. we can make our own families. and if you haven’t come out to your friends or family yet for fear of being rejected, give them a chance. they just might surprise you.

the it gets better project has focused on other people bullying lgbt youth. i was lucky enough to never experience that. but i think what i experienced was just as bad. i bullied myself.

if you’re bullying yourself, please stop. i promise you things will get better. go easy on yourself. you are a good person. and you will find your way.

if you’re religious, please know that G-d loves you no matter what. do you hear me? gay, straight or anything in between, no matter what. if anyone tells you anything different, ignore them. shut them out. b/c it’s untrue. do you know how many lgbt-friendly houses of worship there are? tons! and you’ll find yours one day, i promise.

life as an lgbt person can be happy, extremely, gloriously happy. and normal. when i was 22, just six years after i came out to my best friend in high school, i met holly, who would become my partner of now almost 10 years. she is the love of my life! we have so much fun together. i feel like the luckiest person in the world. we got married not just once, but twice. and you know what? we are ridiculously normal. as in: we fall asleep on the couch together and watch movies and go grocery shopping and do laundry and go to starbucks and make meatloaf. we have a home and its filled with love. and you’ll have that one day, too. you really will. i promise. you just need to have faith. and give yourself time. and talk to someone you can trust if you feel so hopeless that you’re considering taking your own life.

because you need to be here.

you hear me?

you need to be here. you deserve to be here. i want you to be here. holly and i want you to be here. we all want you to be here. you might not know us but we’re out here. and the people closest to you that you might not think care–they care more than you know. you need to stick around so you can meet all the awesome, fun, impossibly sexy people that are going to help make your life not just bearable, but totally and completely awesome.

don’t bully yourself the way i did. don’t worry yourself about things that are going to work out just fine. i bet you’re not all that much different than me. and i’ve managed to figure it out. and you will, too.

i didn’t know at your age that it could get better. but it does and it has and the craziest thing? it just keeps getting better. it gets much, much, much better.

this is why i don’t watch horror movies

don't do it! she's evil!!!

 i remember the first time i saw a horror movie. it was the late 80s. jon bon jovi’s hair was still huge and frosted (oooh how i loved him back then). my hair, too, was enormous (tho accidentally) and i didn’t care. i still wore a size 5. i had a walkman with puffy earphones. times were good. 

anyway, freddie krueger, as you may (or may not) recall, was all the rage. and, without knowing any better, when my friend suggested we watch the newest “nightmare on elm street,” during our long-awaited sleepover i was like SURE! i flipped off my white keds and settled in for the show. man, i was dumb back then. 

i sat thru the movie, petrified. then, when my friend turned out the lights in her attic bedroom (it had to be the freakin attic, didn’t it?!), suddenly everything was scary. i remember laying there on the carpeted floor in my sleeping bag, eyes wide open, convinced freddie was going come thru the window or the wall or the plumbing and slash me. i kept hearing these windchimes. oh my gosh, the windchimes. needless to say it was a rough night for me. 

so fast fwd 20-some years to last night. holly and i walked up the street to vote in the maryland primaries. on our way back, she suggested we go relax on our roofdeck. i told her i was feeling too sick. she’s had a terrible cold the past couple days. i’ve had a weird headache i feel might be a cold coming on. in fact, i made us not one but two pots of my late grandmother’s chicken soup (w/matzah balls and egg noodles). we just had a couple bowls before we left to vote. 

“how about we just watch a movie on the couch?” i suggested. 

she agreed. i don’t know if she was on the phone or  playing on her phone or what, but i was fairly unsupervised (never a good thing) as i flipped thru the on-demand movie options. i went to hbo, then movies, then comedy. i come across “jennifer’s body.” hmmm. i had heard of that. i knew it was a vampire movie. but it was under comedy. and megan fox was supposed to make out with some chick. my homosexuality got the better of me (it usually does when it comes to these sorts of things) and i clicked “ok.” i knew it was dumb but i did it anyway. 

the sound came on and holly looked up. “what did you pick?” she said. oh all the sudden she’s interested.     

“‘jennifer’s body,'” i told her, innocently. 

“WHAT?! WHY?!! that’s a VAMPIRE MOVIE. you’ll never last five minutes!” 

“whatever, babe,” i said. “megan fox kisses a chick. i think i can make it at least that far.” 

well as soon as the scary music started and the camera panned over a backyard in the dark i knew it was a mistake. 

“maybe this wasn’t such a good idea…” i said. but for whatever reason, we could not stop watching. i swear movies like that are such a train wreck. 

have any of you seen “jennifer’s body”? while i suppose it’s kind of tame for a horror movie, it’s pretty gross and pretty damn freaky. in a nutshell, megan fox turns into this demon vampire thing that seduces high school boys and then rips them apart and eats their insides. (silence) yeah, i know. she also scares the begeezus outta you because she keeps showing up all bloody on the side of the road!!! granted, the kiss scene was damn good. but honestly, totally not worth all the carnage to get to it. by the time it ended, i was highly traumatized. highly. cold hands, sweaty palms, the whole thing. and totally scared. as was holly. 

“you feel hot!” holly said, touching my forehead. 

“i know!” i said. “i think the movie gave me a fever!” 

despite my aching head and her bad cold, we both started laughing hysterically. then i proceeded to try to recreate the kissing scene except for i suddenly leaned back, made my hands into claws, let my bangs drop into my eyes, opened my mouth really wide, bared my teeth and hissed which scared the hell outta holly. she screamed like a little girl then i screamed like a little girl and then we both collapsed into laughter. then i did it a couple more times. which i know was mean, but damn it was so funny. i wish you coulda been there. 

“STOP DOING THAT! YOU’RE SCARING ME!” she screamed. “you have black hair!!!! like a VAMPIRE! like MEGAN FOX! I WANT MY WIFE BACK!” 

by that point i had scared myself, too, so i demanded that she go back to the kitchen with me so i could put away the soup, which had cooled by then. i was not going by myself lest megan fox jump out of the oven, trick me into making out and then eat my insides and leave me for dead. 

i took a slotted spoon and started taking out all the vegetables and whatnot so i could just put the broth away. when i was on the second pot (the one we hadn’t eaten), about my third time in i found something red in the spoon. it was kind of big and red. from a distance it looked like a dried chili pepper or something. i looked closer. it looked like a… 

“ohmygosh. OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” 

“WHAT?” holly yelled from the couch jumping up (she had abandoned me in the kitchen after all–thanks, babe). 

“i…i…i think i found a GRASSHOPPER in the soup. or a CRICKET. a BRIGHT RED CRICKET IN THE SOUP.” 

a vampire cricket! 

“get. over. here.” 

as i held back gags, she took a look and screamed. then i screamed. we were both screaming when her mom and twin sister called. while she told them about the movie and how scared we were and then about the huge insect we just found in our CHICKEN SOUP, my gears turned. everyone has mice in this city. rats (and cats) out back. sure, some bugs. but never something like this. hell, crickets don’t even chirp outside, let alone land in your kosher chicken soup on a tuesday night. 

the parsley! i thought. the dill! THE DAMN PESTICIDE-FREE HERBS. (we’ve recently gone organic.) 

“dammit, honey!” i exclaimed. “it was the damn parsley or dill! i soaked them like three or four times but i never separated the leaves. i bet the bug was hiding in there.” 

by that point, heidi (holly’s twin sister; identical twin sister), was on a roll, laughing her head off about how scared we were over some teen vampire flick, and now the giant red cricket in our soup. 

“one, two, freddie’s comin for you,” she whisper-sang over the speakerphone (DAMN THE SPEAKERPHONE). “three, four, better shut the door….” 

i gasped. the freddie krueger theme song! 

“STOPPIT HEIDI!” i shouted. “YOU’RE A BAD SISTER-IN-LAW!” 

i drowned her out with the garbage disposal, which i turned on to grind up the vampire cricket. i turned my head away as i poured in the soup, but it was no use. i saw the damn thing out of the corner of my eye. 

at that point i’d had enough. i was ready for the sun to come up. i just wanted to go to sleep. it took a while to make my way into bed, however, since i flipped on every single light in the house after the movie ended. (oh please you’ve totally done that after a horror movie) 

“i’m scared,” i told holly after i got into bed. 

“you see?” she said, flipping on bravo. “i told you not to watch that movie. i told you it was a bad idea.” 

she was right. again. the moral of the story is that i need to ignore the hype and stick to the romantic comedies from now on. also that megan fox scares the sh*t outta me. and always wash leafy herbs carefully.

what i didn’t tell you about our (second) wedding…

us! getting married! legally! (look at our cute friends!) photo by Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore Sun / March 17, 2010

was that there was going to be a news crew there. (i keep a good secret, right??) 

i’ll admit, i wasn’t really feeling the fact that there was going to be a Baltimore Sun reporter and photographer/videographer at our st. patty’s day outdoor ceremony–hell i had enough trouble having my photo taken at the first one, and we hired her (hi jaime!)–but holly talked me into it. after all, we’re a media-friendly couple, and i realized that our story could actually change some minds out there, so i decided to take one for the team. 

so for all of you not living in the baltimore area (or that aren’t facebook friends), may i present to you…our legal wedding. (cheers to reporter scott calvert for doing a really great job. i’m a tough one to please, and even *i* teared up!)