Much of my career has been spent working as a “professional gay conservative” on some of the most emotionally charged political issues of our time – issues affecting gay Americans.
In 2004 I began speaking out on behalf of gay conservatives, and in 2009 I founded GOProud, a national organization representing gay conservatives and their straight allies. I’ve worked on issues such as advocating for civil marriage for gay couples and the inclusion of gays in the conservative movement.
Of course these issues are very very personal to me and to most of the people who do this type of work. People who oppose our positions may not think they’re making a personal attack in their opposition, but those issues are personal by their very nature. Unlike issues such as taxes or trade, these affect us as human beings and opposition hits us in unusually deep ways.
Some on the right demonize gay people with their rhetoric, and some gays on the left accuse gay conservatives of being traitors for working as members of the conservative coalition. Not many people in politics can say that they have endured as many attacks from both the right and the left as I have.
Over time I’ve developed a thick skin, but inevitably some of the ugliness thrown at me has gotten in. Last year’s presidential election cycle was particularly hard on my soul, and more than any other thing contributed to a life-changing decision. I decided to take my career in a different direction and to use my talents to consult on a wide range of subjects beyond gay issues
Shortly after I made that decision, I visited an old friend and colleague who had worked in the same arena but had moved on to other areas of work a long time ago. I reached out to him because, more than anyone else in the business, his experiences in politics most closely resembled mine.
I told him I was mentally done with the “professional gay” thing. I asked him how he knew when he was done. He said there comes a point when you just know. There comes a point when you can’t take anymore.
Then he asked me, “How are you treating your wounds?” My eyes welled up with tears, and I felt a huge sense of relief that someone else knew exactly what kind of pain I felt. In that moment, I realized how I had internalized so many of the political attacks. I’d taken them all so personally because for me issues affecting gay people are personal.
These wounds hurt me emotionally, professionally – heck, even romantically! It’s taken me several months to release those resentments and that pain, but I’m in a better place now than I was at the end of 2012.
I’ve always known that politics is personal to many people, especially those of us who’ve devoted ourselves to this crazy business. But it’s important to find ways to put some distance between you as a person and the causes for which you fight. Anyone entering the political arena should remember this: Don’t take it personally.
Oprah Winfrey isn’t my favorite person politically, but she has a knack for finding interesting books and authors. I watched an interview she did with Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of The Four Agreements, where Ruiz offers tips for accomplishing this daunting task of not taking anything personally.
One of my favorite things he says is that taking things personally is, “the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about me.” Isn’t that the truth?
I have to remind myself the attacks aren’t about me. They’re about the issues at hand. They’re not about me or anything I have control over. I have to remind myself not to take anything personally.
That doesn’t have to apply just to politics or people in the political arena. All of us have times when things affect us personally because everyone is passionate about something. Passion is what motivates us all to work harder. It’s a virtue, but only if it’s sustainable.
If we internalize everything and don’t take care of ourselves, we’ll flame out and that’ll do no one any good. We all need to remember that sometimes we just have to chill out and put things into perspective.
Let’s give it a try! Everyone together. Don’t take anything personally. This is something I’m working on in my daily life and my political practice. Some days are better than others. I hope everyone else will give it some thought and take action in their lives too. Trust me, you’ll notice the difference.