An Ally’s Bill of Willingness

Posted: 1st September 2023 by admin in Blog
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One of the tasks of my job is that I am the voice—the voice of Youth Outlook, the voice of the staff when I talk to the board of directors, the voice of administration when I talk to the staff. I’m often the messenger, so I knew and was comfortable with that role. As the voice, how could I also be an ally? Did I have to be? I’m a social worker. Wasn’t I already an ally? To whom? In more recent years, it’s not a question of whether I can or not, the question has become more how could I possibly not be? It’s not an illusion–I have a role that has the voice.

For a long time, I didn’t think of myself as an ally because I’m part of the community that I’m fighting for. But as it turns out, things aren’t always as they seem. We are not always one big unified LGBTQ community, for starters. Within that heading, I only claim one of those letters as my own. I happen to claim the Q, so if I’m claiming the Q, how do I stand in service to the L, the G, the B and the T? Look at that—I might be an ally after all!

And that being an ally, I’ll tell you, is a very good thing right now. When half the country is punching down, someone’s got to run defense.

I have that chance to be in service in a lot of ways. I’m a middle aged, middle class, white woman and because I do a lot of public speaking, I often have the ear of other middle aged, middle class white women, and with having those ears comes the opportunity to let it be known –usually right up  front–that I am an ally for several groups of people whose lives are being made more difficult. In role, I get to lead with the fact that I am an ally to LGBTQ youth, to my BIPOC friends and colleagues, to the trans community, to women of reproductive age whose rights have been torn away.

Even though I am out there doing that public speaking, there’s a line that I try to be aware of—that line where my voice really needs not to be the first or primary voice heard, and maybe it doesn’t need to be heard at all. It’s not always my time to be the voice, when the voices of those who are directly affected are available to do that speaking. Then it’s my job to amplify their message, to help circulate it, to offer to throw my voice behind them, behind what that group of people needs and add to the demand that their needs be heard, whether that’s safe schooling or access to care or safe communities. In those situations, the question in my thinking is always How can I help, not Here’s what you need to do.

We talk sometimes at Youth Outlook about the rights of our kids and sometimes we joke about the Youth Bill of Rights, like we see signs for Patient Bill of Rights and Client Bill of Rights. The more I thought about what I wanted to say today, the more I found myself thinking of our work in language about willingness. I have to be willing to commit to targeted groups having their bill of rights. By then I had it all laid out on a poster in my head…I have a big imagination. At any rate…

These are the things I was inspired to add to my Allies’ Bill of Willingness.

We have to be willing to present with and hear enormous pain.

We have to be willing to be wrong.

We have to be willing to be coachable.

We have to be willing to put ourselves out there, sometimes vocally, sometimes physically, always emotionally.

We have to be willing to be the pebble in someone’s shoe. Often.

We have to be willing to use our roles to help, to support, to unite, and to nurture.

We have to be willing to work actively at our own education.

We have to be willing to commit to dismantling the long-standing systems that hurt our friends. Every day.

We have to be willing to move those things about us that have consistently placed us at the forefront of other people’s consideration out of the spotlight to make room. We have to be willing to MAKE ROOM.

We have to be willing to understand deeply and acknowledge when we personally may have benefited from oppressive structures in education, in health care, in our careers, in housing, etc. at the same time that we acknowledge that there is organized, well funded and well armed pressure on us to silence and divide us.

We have to be willing to see that our experience is not everyone’s norm.

We have to be willing to risk and grapple with the question “How much risk am I willing to take?”, as we just saw with the shooting of Lauri Carleton.

We have to be willing to trust. Ourselves and each other.

We have to be willing to feel tired, overwhelmed, and depleted.

We have to be willing to be vilified.

We have to be willing to lead with our light at all times.

Comments offered at the National Association for Women, IL Chapter annual conference, August 2023.

Comments Off on No Regrets

One year ago today, I had an appointment with a doc I liked whom I hoped would give me if not the final answer, then at least AN answer of SOME sort to a medical question I’d been chasing for about four years. It was a grey day much like today but I remember it being a little warmer on my drive to her office in LaGrange.

The mission: Get the answer. Lacking that: Get a referral to someone who could give me the answer.

The problem: I’d lost function and power in my left arm and fine motor skills in my hand. I’d first noticed it when I couldn’t shuffle papers in my office one day. That became shirts I couldn’t button and cutlery I suddenly found difficult to maneuver.  I was dropping things unexpectedly, unable to pick up or use garden tools I’ve worked with for 35 years. I lost control of pans I was removing from the stove and one morning, I fumbled a mug of coffee and dropped it on the dog. His startled and pained “Yipe!” broke my heart.

I recognized the questions they’d begun asking me. Was I tripping a lot too? Was I falling down? It took a moment, but I finally recognized that they were asking me about possible symptoms of MS. I went from primary care, to PT, to ortho, back to primary care, to physiologist, back to primary care. No answers.

I was ready, I thought, to hear the answer or the referral. I was ready to take this to the next step and resolve it.

Turned out, I was not as ready as I thought. I was not ready to ask my doc questions about the possibility of MS and hear back that she was concerned that it wasn’t MS. I asked what she thought, asked if she would share that concern.

I was not ready to hear that she was concerned that I had ALS and that our next steps would be a battery of tests and we needed to get me to a neurologist immediately. This idea had never occurred to me in my quest for answers. She assured me repeatedly that there were many tests we’d have to go through before anyone could tell me anything definitive.

I didn’t hear anything else after that.

I made it to the car some forty minutes later, and sat in the parking lot under a low pressure system that I felt all the way inside me. I couldn’t drive. I didn’t know where to go. Panic was building in my chest and threatening to escape, where it would bounce around the car interior, searing everything in its path.

I grabbed my phone and pushed a couple buttons. Was she going to be available? Would she be with a client? She answered.

I could barely get words out. “I need a person. I need a person RIGHT NOW.”

She said she’d meet me. She told me where to go. There was a Starbucks. A table outside. I don’t remember getting there. Then there was lunch. I don’t remember getting there either.


How to tell my friends? I had…what…maybe a year to exit my job, sell my house, find the care I’d need, rehome my dogs. Oh my god. My dogs. How was I going to do this? Over the next three days, I vacillated between “I can handle this as long as I have my friends with me” and sobbing in a puddle on the kitchen floor when my knees would simply give out and I’d sink to the ground. The dogs would relocate to wherever I happened to go down and huddle close, holding me in their own way.

The friends came and I told them. They held my hands and cried with me and promised to be here for whatever happened. There was an Eagles concert that weekend—the plans for which had been made months earlier—and I decided to go. There was dinner first, and over dinner, the friends got serious for a moment and informed me, “If you have to go through this, when you lose mobility, you’re coming with us. We’ll redo the basement. You’ll be with us. It’s not a question.”

A couple hours later at the concert, that same friend gently pulled me out of my seat and asked me to dance, and he held me as I cried on his shoulder and told him how scared I was, while Wasted Time played behind us. “No regrets, Nancy. No regrets,” he whispered.

The whirlwind of the first week ended when a friend came to visit from Indianapolis. Over wine and fear, I asked her to promise me that when the time came, that she’d be the person who accompanied me to Oregon, where I would seek physician assisted suicide, if we had to go down this path. I had no family locally and I would not ask my friends to care for me in that way and I would not go out locked down inside my own body. If I had to do this, I would go on my own terms. It was at once the most horrible, most beautiful conversation I’ve ever had.

It took two and a half months to get to the right doctor to be told that the problem with my arm is not ALS. In that time, I held onto my secret except for the chosen friends who would walk it with me.  I worked through the exhaustion and the terror and did presentations and fundraisers and hung onto John’s words—“No regrets, Nancy.”

The Youth Outlook staff knew something was up—they could see the repeating doc appointments in my calendar week after week. I also hung onto their words: “Nance, you’ve taken care of everyone for so long. Let us take care of you a little bit. How can we help?”

At the end of May, I was told in no uncertain terms that I did not have ALS. Almost twelve full weeks later, of living under that particular low pressure system offering to break loose and swamp my life daily, contemplating how for all of the heart issues and cancer that runs in my family, I was possibly going to be taken out by a neuro disorder that steals everything from you and holds you captive inside a paralyzed body.  We’re still working on treatment for the loss of function in my left arm. We’re not sure it’s coming back. But we know it’s not something that will kill me.

That started one year ago today. I will never be able to thank my friends enough who showed up, who held me and let me cry, let me rage, let me be incoherent and panicked. Some things you can never pay back, you can only pay forward. When people show up in those scalding moments of I NEED A PERSON RIGHT NOW, those are your people. Keep them close. And remember John’s words.

No regrets.

Comments Off on I Might Believe…

At my agency’s annual fundraiser, I shared a story that I’ve kept private over this past year that I’d like to share with you now. I originally decided to keep it private because I was so struck by the darkness and the cruelty of it that it didn’t feel necessary to allow it to touch other people, but after living with it all year, I’ve come to question if I saw the best part. Maybe there was more to it. After you think about it, you can let me know.

Good evening. Welcome to Dare to Dream 2022. Welcome to the new folks who are with us for the first time tonight and welcome back to the long term supporters and the founders who gave us our original reason to celebrate rainbows and unicorns. Let’s take a quick peek at some events this year that might remind us of the importance of Youth Outlook’s work.  

It’s a bit of a fight out there right now for us. I have lost track over this last year of how many times I’ve said to people, “This isn’t right. We’ve done this before.” It feels almost surreal, the current atmosphere, this violent pushback against our community…against our kids, our rainbows, our unicorns.

Shortly after Dare to Dream last year, we entered an agreement to have a picture with Santa night about two weeks before Christmas. On the other side of that agreement were Trans Santa and Dr Klaus, and HBO films. HBO was making a documentary on Santas of all representations and had been filming Trans Santa already when we agreed to have Santa come and take pictures at the Thursday night drop in center. How fun would that be to have a Santa who represented our drop-in center members? We would do this. Our rainbows and unicorns deserved to meet Trans Santa.

So we did it. Carolyn and Andi put the whole night together planned with space for pictures with Santa and activity stations, and gender-free gingerbread beings to decorate and opened the RSVP list to community members who wanted to do pictures with Santa too. In short order, that event sold out.

Then the rumblings started. One of the local politicians picked up on the event announcement and reposted it for her conservative base to ridicule and complain about. The pressure against the host church started, the pressure against Andi started, and bad went to worse went to vile in just days.

When one of the local hate groups reposted it, we started getting threats that they’d be there to disrupt. As soon as they jumped in, the Little Boys who Like To Tell Everyone How Proud They Are invited themselves, and before we could blink twice, both groups were planning to protest the night of the event. To make matters worse, we also heard rumors that some other folks would be there to counterprotest.

Where we had envisioned little kids and toddlers decorating gingerbread people, this was now the making of an action film. This was meant to be an innocent, joyful, magical event, with wide eyed little unicorns wearing gingerbread crumbs telling Santa what to bring them for Christmas and teenage unicorns who no longer believe in Santa hanging around with friends and stuffing gingerbread people in their pockets for a snack later. We were seeing Santa, for crying out loud. This was about love.

We entered our evening with Trans Santa with 2 squad cars and a van full of Downers Grove cops at the location where we were supposed to meet, and 3 squad cars, some plainclothes cops circling the building on foot in Naperville where we had been forced to take refuge to keep our kids safe, ducked behind two enormous armed guards at the door. This was a professional and a personal first for me—watching moms carrying babies too young to walk, one dressed like an orange Ewok, past armed guards to go meet Santa Claus. About 45 minutes in, I heard that the Little Boys Who Like To Tell Everyone How Proud They Are had located us and were outside our building, held off by the two armed guards and (as far as I know) one very unarmed minister who was going down fighting if he needed to.

We’d come to celebrate. We’d come, seeking –as our Director of Operations says– “queer joy”, and in order to have it, we required firearms and locked doors, the adults keeping cheerful expressions so as not to alarm the little unicorns and that one orange ewok that I can’t forget.

This isn’t right. We’ve done this before. We’ve marched. We’ve held tarps and umbrellas to prevent the traumatized families of NIU students shot on campus from having to see the wrenchingly cruel signs that the Westboro Baptist Church members were compelled to create and display. We’ve held the hands of the kids brutalized in their schools and we held space for parents whose kids—whose unicorns—did not survive what this culture demands of them.

We have done this before and I’ll tell you this—this is exhausting. And I’ll tell you this one other thing. Even though we are tired and running low on patience, we are far from done. As a growing, visible community, we will never give up our fight. We will never stop advocating and educating. And as long as we breathe, we will NEVER turn our backs on our rainbows and our unicorns.

I saw the danger in that night. I saw the exhaustion. No doubt. I saw armed guards at the door of our drop-in center and I saw and felt a few pangs of fear. But I also saw unflagging courage. And patience. And determination. I saw an unarmed minister stand shoulder to shoulder with our armed guards as he stood his ground to protect his family and friends. I saw moms walk right by those guards, intent on giving their child a moment with Santa. And I saw Santa, warm and welcoming, sitting just off to the side of those armed guards, greeting family after family, kid after kid, and offering them a glimpse of a Santa that looked like and understood them. Surrounded by weapons of destruction and a sense of pressure, Santa offered the families…and all of us, really…a moment of peace and a blessing of connection on a cold December night that counters the looming violence. We did get to see queer joy. We did get to see love. As adults, our moments of magic are few and far between, and Trans Santa brought us magic. I haven’t believed in Santa Claus for more than 50 years. But Trans Santa? Trans Santa…I believe.

Watch for the movie Santa Camp, due out from HBO this month. Watch for the magic!

A Mouse’s Tale

Posted: 11th October 2021 by admin in Blog
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Shout out to First Congregational Church in Naperville for their local authors series, to which Urban Tidepool was invited last evening. I met some wonderful new folks and got to talk through the book with a few of my pod and with Reverend Mark Winters, who is one of the coolest guys to ever rock a clerical collar.

The whole evening was a hat tip to National Coming Out Day (today—insert Kermit “Yay” right here as you read) so of course it included references to my own coming out, which is not part of the Tidepool story, and to the coming out of the Youth Outlook kids over the years. Then our conversation took a hard left turn.

Mark asked about how I learned about gentleness and being kind to animals, given what I’d seen. How did I grow up to be the person I am with THAT history?

It was fun to speculate with the attendees why I may have turned out to be this person, and even more fun to share that moment at which I knew I was never going to be good at hurting anything intentionally. If you read Tidepool, you already know that I didn’t get to see my first two dogs through the end of their lives. In fact, I have dark questions that will never be answered about exactly how those dogs spent the last of their days. I saw an animal burned alive in front of me. Those stories that my brother Michael told about cats and firecrackers…I believe him.

But let’s go in the way back machine about this this other question. This is a good question.

I lived in a converted barn in upstate NY for about two years. It was a lovely place during the summer–acres and acres of fruit trees and the best garden space I’ve ever had. I had a boatload of critters and there was a waterfall on the back of the property. Picturesque. During the winter, however, it turned into an episode of Little House on the Prairie when the woodstove burned out on days with no degrees and we could see ourselves breathe while we made dinner, the intake pipe for our water supply froze solid, snow flew sideways between the cracks in the siding in the living room and the kitchen if the wind shifted, and we battled field mice to stake our territory.

I didn’t like the field mice. They’re messy and they smell funny so we didn’t want them in the living space, but we were aware that we were living IN A BARN for crying out loud, so we sort of expected it. There was debate on the best way to make them go away or at least keep them at a distance. I couldn’t do glue traps–too cruel. My partner didn’t want to put down poison–too risky for the other animals. We had a cat. He dozed by the stove pipe in the kitchen and I could have stuffed a mouse in his pocket most days. He needed a job description.

We settled on snap traps, reasoning that it would be fast, they’d never know what happened…until that first morning I found one with just his front leg caught and I had to decide what to do with him. Or her. Or them. I didn’t ask. They didn’t specify.

Yup. You better believe it. I cried on and off all morning at work and questioned my competency at this homesteading thing.

Then came the night I was setting up the kitchen snap traps and also setting up my coffee pot so it was ready the next day. I opened a cabinet door. There was the coffee can. There was the snap trap. And there was this cute little field mouse, standing next to the coffee. I closed the door right away and steeled myself for the snap.

Nothing happened.

I sat down at the kitchen table that we’d bought through This End Up and waited some more. That kitchen table could withstand a bomb blast. It was perfect for a converted barn. That night, it absorbed some nervous fingertip drumming and a couple of beads of sweat while I waited.


I felt awful, knowing I was about to hurt that cute little feller who was just checking out the coffee supply. What had they ever done to me? I kept waiting, fingertips drumming faster.


After several minutes that felt like hours, I settled into a sense of relief. I knew how to handle this. I reopened the cabinet door, snapped the trap myself, and left the mouse a little pile of peanut butter as a snack. And then I went to bed.

It’s so true. I am not cut out for this homesteading thing when it includes hurting another being. Hey y’all. Do you know today is Meatless Monday?

At any rate, shout out to Reverend Mark and the pod and the visitors who came to talk to me at First Congregational last night. I didn’t mean to talk about mice, but I enjoyed it anyway! If I’d known ahead of time, I would have brought you all a peanut butter snack.

Have a great week, starfish supporters! Be gentle with the critters that surround you. We’ll talk soon.

Moms, Dads, and Memes

Posted: 4th June 2021 by admin in Blog
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Nancy Mullen

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A thought for my many, many ally friends on this wonderful first Friday of Pride month. I’m seeing a lot of posts saying “I’m your mom now”, and “I’m your dad now.” I believe these are prompted by nothing but the purest and kindest of intentions and the sentiment behind them is beautiful.


The relationship that many of our LGBTQ+ youth have with their parents is so powerful and so complicated, I wonder if (in our wish to make them feel loved) we are dismissive of that powerful, complicated nature.

None of us –however hard we try–will ever be able to replace someone’s parent. The trauma of losing parental attention, respect, nurturance, and support is much deeper than we can address in a meme. Those of you who have LGBT kids or who have taken in homeless LGBT kids know how delicate and complex this issue is. Family rejection, let alone from a parent, can become a years-long process to heal. Some of my friends in their 50s and 60s are still working it through.

Please DO bring the topic to the forefront. Please DO publicly and privately support LGBTQ+ kids, especially those whose families have cast them out or made them feel less than. And please also think before you meme. If you love them, respect them, want to support them, would fight for them…say that. If they truly have lost a parent, even temporarily, allow them the space to feel and heal that. A meme will never do that loss justice.

Carry on, warriors. We’ve got some Pride month work to do!

5Christina Berry, Nadine Franklin and 3 others2 CommentsLikeCommentShare

Fat Boi Biking!

Posted: 8th November 2020 by admin in Blog
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A repost of one of one of my most popular posts from 2017 just for fun.

Fat Boi Biking!

This weekend, I spent $27 on making a bucket list item come true. It’ll probably be the only bucket list item I can do for $27 and that’s okay. It’s also two years behind schedule, but when it happened, it happened so good, I cannot complain.

I established many blog posts back that I am not athletically inclined. I don’t find it difficult to organize my life or my thoughts around that idea. I do things with this body that entertain me, like the occasional racquetball game or the occasional bike ride, but I’ve said it outright before—I’m no one’s idea of a jock.  Never have been.  In fact, I’ve joked about my “concerns” that the Lesbian Association of the Midwest (LAM, for short) would eventually figure out just how much not a jock I am and revoke my Lesbian in Good Standing status.  And where would I be then?

Oh yes…of course…I’d probably be standing in my lawn in my moose slippers and flannel shirt while watching Spike, the tow truck driver from LAM, back down my driveway, run a big hook through my LAM membership card, and cart it away.

But I digress. Y’all are probably used to that by now.

So this weekend….I did it. I took my non-jock, almost 52 year-old pudgy self and registered for a long distance bike ride with the local Kiwanis Club. None of my friends could sign up with me, so I signed up just as me. Maybe I’d run into some folks I knew once things got under way. Going alone was not about to stop me.

If you’ve checked out some of my earlier posts, you know that I’m not the most confident person in the world about my low level athletic ability. I find it kind of funny. You also know that over many years, I have (as many of us have) tolerated critical, often outright nasty, comments about my weight from significant people in my life…which I think tends to make all of us a bit shy about participating in athletic events. I don’t think that’s unique to me at all. If you hear often enough how fat and awkward you are, or bluntly if you’re called a “fat, useless fuck” often enough, it takes a toll on how you operate the body you’ve been put in charge of this time around.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this venture. I wasn’t even sure how I’d start when I first got the idea a couple of years ago. Where does one even FIND cycling shorts when one believes that one’s ass needs its own zip code? Check the stores. You’ll find lots of Smalls, the occasional Mediums, a rogue Large and the miraculous XL…which looks to be about a size 6 when I hold it up against myself. No offense, designers, I just haven’t been that small since I was in grade school.

As an aside—athletic clothing companies, take notice!  There are lots of us out here who could and would be more active! Being able to find appropriate clothing in the right size would be most helpful! After a tip from a good friend about Aerotech Designs, I figured it out and started to practice.

I’d love to say that if I did this every day, I’d fit into something that appears to be a size 6. But reality check…when I look at everyone else in my family…we are not slender beings. My siblings, my cousins, my nephews…If you’ve seen one of us, you’ve seen all of us. We are solid Irish stock.  I’m low to the ground and sturdy. There’s probably a step-stool somewhere in my lineage that no one is talking about.

As part of the Turning 50 Bucket List, this was a little harder to come by than some other things I want to do. During the summer that I turned 50, I bought a new bike to get ready to do this event and on my first ride, I ruptured my ACL and tore up a bunch of other things that one needs inside of a knee and spent most of the summer, including my 50th birthday, crashed out on the couch unable to walk. I signed up again last summer, one week before my 51st birthday, thinking it would still count. I was still 50, after all. I woke up that morning to a major thunderstorm and all cyclists were held at the registration site. The downpour continued all morning. Only the serious cyclists with their foul weather gear attempted to go.  I was not one of them.  I put on my sad face, collected my bucket list at the door and went back home.

So this was the year to make it happen!  Once underway, I had no idea what to expect. The roads were different than the rails-to-trail path I normally ride. It wasn’t as busy as I thought it might be, so there were long stretches where I was the sole rider on a road—no one else in sight. That was okay. It was quiet.

There was one moment of hesitation when I faced the sign that said 23 Mile Riders turn right, 46 Mile Riders turn left. I almost turned right. I could do the 23 miles and then just SAY I did the 46 I signed up for. No one else was out there with me, so who would know?

But this was BUCKET LIST. This was meant to be a challenge for my almost 52 year old, pudgy self.  I turned left. Not long after that left turn, I found myself pondering the mother dying at 47. She never saw age 52. I was seeing age 52 on a bike on a country road, feeling  my quads burn on hills and the pain at the base of my skull from being hit by a car a few months ago.  The mother is probably the one person in my family who might have qualified as skinny…but I think the technical term is “wasted”. She was thin when she was dying. I pictured myself, low to the ground and sturdy, and I kept pedaling.

I wondered if there would be any negative reaction to me being out there. I noticed very early in that I didn’t look like anyone else I ran into. But everyone was friendly. Everyone asked how it was going and if I was having a good ride. I also noticed after I made that left turn that everyone I ran into had a really nice bike and they were serious about this shit. They blew by me on hills, muscles bulging, greeting me with a sideways “Hey!” or “All good?” as I plodded on. That stood out for me. Here were these folks who were serious about this sport, all checking in, holding up thumbs to make sure I’d respond that I was okay, asking if I needed anything.  As a friend described last year, I was moving like a turtle stampeding through peanut butter. Did I need anything? Just time, kids! I need some extra time to make this happen!

Somewhere around mile 30, alone on a road lined by cornfields, I started to sing out loud.  “Just what makes that little old ant…think he can move a rubber tree plant…anyone knows an ant can’t…move a rubber tree plant…But he’s got hiiiiiigh hopes…he’s got hiiiigh hopes…he’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes….” The cows lined up at the fences seemed to appreciate it. I invited them to join me and sang louder, out there all by my lone.

That was when the SAG vehicle pulled up alongside me. I’m guessing that some farmer called in a report of a free range, out of tune boi biking down his road singing about ants and the Kiwanis said, “Oh, that one is probably ours!” and dispatched the support team.  They were very nice, my new friends in the support vehicle. They paced me for maybe half a mile, and I stopped singing immediately (not wanting to hurt them), and they eventually decided I had not truly departed from reality and went about their business.

At the rest stop at mile 32, I pulled up on my little Trek hybrid among road bikes that cost thousands of dollars and people wearing race shirts. Don’t get me wrong—I have a perfectly nice bike. For me. For the things I do. I was in a different world at that moment. I was the only recreational rider in the group. Okay. Set brain to setting:  Prepare for negative comments!

The last 8 miles were mostly into the wind. On hills. When big gusts would come along, I was forced to downshift even more than usual and could barely maintain 5 mph. The big kids on their many thousand dollar bikes swept by me like I was driving a Big Wheel and the sideways comments continued.  “You good?”  “You’re almost there!” “You can do this!”

I can do this, dammit!

At one point, I struggled to get up to 7 mph on a hill and the raw spots on my leg burned and I almost started to cry, wondering what the hell I had done this for.  My quads were about to give out. I had jello legs and I seriously considered calling the SAG vehicle to pick me up to take me in. Then I’d hit a stretch of downhill and gain a little speed and I’d be determined all over again to ride into that final stop under my own power, even if it was only at 7 mph. 

Those last few miles took over an hour. I stopped to stretch out a cramp as I got back into the city limits and a nice woman in a car pulled over to ask if I had hurt myself and did I need any help. Thanking her, I got back on my bike, acutely aware of my burning raw spots and melted spikes and my pudgy, not athletically inclined- self and I pedaled to the destination spot.

I am no one’s idea of a jock. Oddly, despite all of that effort yesterday, I woke up this morning still pudgy and even a little achy. But last night…oh…last night I fell asleep thinking, “I did it. I really did it,” and wanting to dream of buckets.

Come and git me, Spike. I dare ya!


Pivotal Moments: Publishing

Posted: 9th August 2020 by admin in Blog
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When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. I read everything I could get my hands on and wrote short stories and envisioned myself someday rubbing elbows with Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Now, Carl Hiassen. Wouldn’t that be a highlight?

The father questioned me about this once, oddly curious what skill set I might acquire through this work. It appeared to him to be a means, not an end.

“I want to be a writer,” I informed him. “Like Stephen King.”

He snorted derisively. “You better find something else you’re good at if you want to be able to pay your rent.”

That was the end of that conversation. As things in our house had a pattern of doing, it never came up again. I stopped writing altogether after his death–there was too much energy to put into surviving to wonder if I’d ever meet Stephen King. I did exactly as he suggested–I found a job that paid my bills and put away the writer fantasy for a long time. Even better, I found jobs where I could write, albeit technical writing and not nearly as entertaining as storytelling, but it was something.

If y’all have talked to me you already know I didn’t set out to write a book when I started writing Urban Tidepool. I was simply collecting memories and laying them out, sharing with my spouse and a few very close friends. I guess it doesn’t matter so much that I didn’t mean to write a book because as I continued along, it was definitely shaping up to look like a book. So I bought some artwork and imagined it on shelves in bookstores and available as a download.

It was a slow, excruciating process to pour those memories out, then hold each one up like an offering to the group of beta readers. Would this new information have any effect on the friendship? And what of the people who worked with me? Our donors? Our agency stakeholders? What would they think?

The process was two-fold. The first pass was always to evaluate the writing. Did I express that clearly? Did it have typos? Are there any awkward sentence structures? That was the easy part. The second pass was more personal and was more about emotionally and mentally processing what the readers had just read and what I had recently written. How could these things have happened? Why wasn’t anyone watching? Why didn’t someone stop this? Parts of the story are difficult to read so you might imagine how difficult it was to write and then evaluate. For example, in reading the story of the death of my mother when I was seven, are there any typos? Are the sentences well structured? It was far easier to take that higher level overview and make corrections than it was to re-immerse in the event to be able to describe it, then be able to talk about why it was happening and why it could continue.

I finished writing in 2013 and put Tidepool away. It was a rattlesnake curled up on my driveway and I knew if I got too close, it would strike. I put away the thought that I might be a writer, let alone in the calibre of Stephen King. There it sat, on the closet shelf, for seven years.

Early this year, I decided this was the year I would get it moving again. Behind the scenes, I’ve been working on edits and a few minor updates. I gathered everything I needed to launch a Kickstarter campaign and not quite two weeks ago, the campaign went live.

In 11 days, I raised 100% of the budget goal, so my project is a go. The campaign ends on September 11th and I’ll take my orders to print. I’ll put my book, this ten year project, into people’s hands late this summer, or early in the fall.

Hey, Dad! Are you watching? I did what you said and I got the job that lets me pay the bills, and guess what? I’m a writer now too!


To order a copy of the book or just support the Urban Tidepool Kickstarter campaign, you can find me here. Click on the link and it will take you to my project.





Yesterday, I had the honor to address the Youth Outlook graduates, Class of 2020. It was our first Lavender ceremony; typically we attend when the schools have them and invite us. Since we knew many of our drop-in center members were not going to be able to attend a commencement, let alone a Lavender ceremony given the disruption to our routine brought by COVID 19, we wanted to celebrate our 8th graders, high schoolers and associate degree recipient. Cheers to the folks who are taking their next steps starting today!

Hello, Lavender Graduates Class of 2020!

Greetings, parents, family and Youth Outlook friends!

I wish we could be doing this in person. We have these moments over our lifespans that are pivotal, that we remember for a long time, sometimes forever. If we were doing this in person, I’d tell you thank you for inviting me. I wouldn’t be here unless you invited me. Isn’t this the oddest thing that Youth Outlook invited you all to your own graduation? So…since I haven’t exactly been invited this feels more like being included in one of the most important milestones you’ll experience.

When the program leaders and I started talking about convening this ceremony, we were busy dividing who was going to do which job to help get us ready. I would tell you that I offered to keynote nonchalantly, but the truth would be more that this was something I really wanted to do. When so much of what we take for granted is out of reach, it felt so important that we show up for your graduation and celebrate …so it wasn’t really an offer—I asked to do it.

Before we consider where you might go on your next adventures, let’s take a moment to consider where you’re coming from. Y’all have wonderful history. Y’all have beautiful, talented community. You’ve started to meet that community in the drop in centers, but that only soooo the beginning.

Youth Outlook launched just a couple of years before our Associate’s degree recipient was born in 1998. As I got started in my new job here, we were looking forward to a new show called Will and Grace that actually had openly gay characters. Our college students have been around long enough to see that show in its first run and then in its remake over the last couple of years.

An associate degree recipient is part of the graduating class born mostly, if not entirely, in this century.  That’s kind of a fun fact to own. The number one song in the country in the year 2000 was Breathe by Faith Hill. Looking back over what has happened since you arrived, that may not be simply a song title. It is an excellent suggestion for how we’re all going to get through a global health crisis brought to our doorstep.

There are some interesting tidbits to LGBT history and what topics folks of different generations will recall.

Kids of the 80s—a lot of the drop in center staff folks– will recall the beginnings of HIV and the panic that struck the gay men’s community, and the support that poured in from the lesbian community to take care of our brothers. They will remember the emergence of the bisexual and transgender identities in a new and more assertive manner—people who had been key members of the LGBT movement from the beginning who were rightly insistent that their existence stop being written out of our culture. Our reflection on the night of June 28, 1969 had become a movement, a demand for our recognition as a community and a culture, one in which we refused to be defined by the limitations of a public health crisis.

Consider that. …Our demand for recognition as a community and a culture in which we would not be defined by the limitations of a public health crisis. Consider the headlines we’ve been greeted with for the last three months. If our history is any indication,you will not be limited by this.

Kids of the 90s grew up in the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, a decision that was meant to keep military folks safe and closeted, and it was suggested to us that safe and closeted was an improvement over a dishonorable discharge. And then…then it happened. Then we had Ellen.

We know that what we see today is not how things got started. Ellen’s decision to come out publicly in 1997 was unprecedented. Her show was canceled. The actor who played opposite her couldn’t get work for a year after playing her role. Oprah, who played her therapist in that episode, got hundreds of messages telling her to go back to Africa.

When I moved to IL in 1998, this area was soooo different from what I was used to. The western burbs were devoid of rainbow anything. I had never lived anywhere that LGBT people were so invisible. Well into 2002, when some of our high school graduates were born, school representatives often refused to speak to me, or hung up on me, or argued with me about the very existence of LGBT youth. Over and over, I was told that high school students were too young to know if they were LGBT. Or if there WERE LGBT students in a school, the counselors got them help, making it immediately clear that having an LGBT identity equated needing help. Sometimes I countered that comment with my own question—Get them help? How about if they just want to make friends?

There was exactly one GSA operating in DuPage County. There were none in any of the other counties Youth Outlook serves and the thought that middle schools at some point might launch them was out of the question.  Well, until you came along. Students were regularly told that they couldn’t take a same gender date to prom. When a faculty member at another DuPage County high school organized the first ever gay prom, the subsequent public outcry called for her termination.  The demand that LGBT students stay safe and closeted, very much like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, was so loud, it often drowned out the rumblings of support from faculty allies.

That was your lifetime, high school and associate graduates.

Right as you were arriving was when our movement started to gain traction and we were pushing back against those recommendations that we stay safe and closeted and obedient.  In April 2000, estimates say up to a million people gathered for the Millennial March on Washington,rainbow- flag- waving, pride- tee- shirt wearing or no-tee-shirt-wearing, respect- demanding queers. You arrived to the queers in full rebellion and I suspect some of you came into this world already waving your own rainbow flag!

Since you joined us, we have seen the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We have seen the end of the Defense of Marriage Act. In 2000, Vermont become the first state to legalize civil unions between same gender couples and in 2015, we saw the outcome of the Obergefell lawsuit, allowing same sex marriage.

When we do public speaking about LGBT youth, we often speak of their challenges. Today, let’s flip that and talk about your courage. College students arrived here when we were in an uproar over Y2K. Everything was supposed to crash and life as we know it was supposed to stop because of computer coding. It was one of those pivotal moments. And yet here we are.

High school graduates, if my math is correct, you are the first class born into our yet again new world post 9/11 when our country was attacked on our soil. Everything crashed and life as we knew it stopped. For days, our skies were empty, our roads were empty and there was a short stretch where we didn’t even know where our president was, because he’d been squirreled away. In that uncertain time, your moms brought you into the world. You are the first generation of people to arrive after that pivotal moment.

8th graders, you arrived as the state of Illinois banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. You arrived to a rebellion in high gear, and you have introduced to the rebellion causes that needed to be added—your generation is the wave that is redefining gender as a dynamic concept, paving the way for the gaybies and the queerlings that follow to have a much smoother path.

Class of 2020, all 3 levels of you, we commend you for your monumental courage. You are, from the start, warriors and survivors and this blip on our radar…this current public health crisis will not hinder you and it certainly will not be what defines you. I am quite happy to imagine a world in which you lead the decisions that protect us from such situations—a safer, kinder, more compassionate world. For that, I thank you in advance. We need you. We need your courage.

As you head out on your next adventures, remember this. Take it with you today that you have an intricate cultural history as part of the LGBT and allied community. You belong to a movement where you…where we…have always been recognized as an important part of the effort, where we are warriors working for social change, sharing our knowledge and our sense of belonging with the next generation down, and the next, and the next.

To summarize:

Remember your history.

Remember that you are a key part of the movement that helps shape our shared future.

Remember that you are a warrior and a survivor.

Even though you are a warrior, remember to be kind. We all need each other to be kind.

Remember you have a tribe.

Remember to be someone else’s tribe. We need that too.

Remember the world according to Peter– Glitter is an acceptable hair product, art supplement, and drink mixer.

Remember Faith Hill’s suggestion and BREATHE when things feel like a rollercoaster.

Most of all, remember how very highly we think of you and remember that you are loved.

Congratulations, Lavender Classes of 2020, and welcome to the rebellion!

Lav grad

Love a Social Worker Today

Posted: 1st March 2019 by admin in Blog

Friends and starfish supporters and starfish supporters who are also friends, it’s National Social Work Month! Did you know such a thing existed? I’ve been in the field for three decades and this may be the first time I’ve ever heard of it!

For chuckles, I thought it would be fun to scan some of my old posts and see where and why I mentioned being a social worker. Professional pride? I am, for sure, proud of being in this profession. There was a tone of that here or there, but more noticeable, I think being a social worker has put a little edge into my humor. Hard to imagine, I know, but I think it might be true.

Since my Urban Tidepool blog is the intersection of my career in social work, my midlife culinary degree, and the work of writing my first book, I wanted to share some of the rays of light and insight brought to my life by this incredible career. I hope these will bring you a smile.

Tis the season where I’m writing evaluations for the student interns that work with me and I am reminded of some of the invaluable pieces of information that other interns have taken from their placements—the importance of not calling your supervisor “dude”, the fact that not everyone in social services is trying to get one over on you and they might even genuinely like you, what is the pea and the shell game, the definition of epic clusterfuck, when NOT to use the term genderfuck, how to stop drive by hugging, and of course the ever popular question, do penguins have knees?

Two social workers who like to cook. Me: “Nothing feels as good as dirt against your hands when you’re gardening.” Karen: Skeptical look. Me: “Okay. Think of it like cookie dough…cookie dough against your hands.” Karen: “Cookie dough isn’t dirty.” Me: “Dr. B, ya got me there.” She taught me everything I know about differential diagnosis.

Getting ready for a weekend trip. Deb: “What animals are you seeing this weekend? ” Me: “Winter Dolphin. And Kathy Kempke.” Silence from the hallway. Then Deb: “Now THAT is a Facebook post!”

Yesterday, I followed a pick up truck from a home repair company down Orchard Rd. It was printed on both sides and the tailgate “Christian Owned Since 1975”.
Today I’m considering having this printed on my doors:
“Atheist Driven Since 1981. I use this vehicle to get to my atheist job as a social worker where I work with people of all faiths and have keys to 5 (count em–FIVE) churches, then to go back to my atheist owned home, where I walk my atheist owned rescue dogs, chat with my neighbors who have a variety of faiths, and make sure to pay my atheist taxes every year.”
I’ll need bigger doors.

I always wanted a job where I could say, “Wheels up in 30!” I’m a social worker. I bungee-corded a Big Wheel to the roof of my car.

We call it social work because “The art of cleaning up after heartless jackals who don’t care whom they traumatize” doesn’t fit on a diploma.

As a career, social work is messy. It’s hectic. Anxiety-producing. Sometimes you don’t have time for lunch or even to run to the restroom. It’s painful. People you care about hurt. You might hurt. You will have days when you can barely breathe through sadness. You will also feel joy. And connection. And pride. And passion. Then you’ll realize you still have to pee and you’re hungry.
Welcome to social work!

Today’s observation, hanging out with another social work foodie. “Empaths are the tofu of the emotional world.”
Was there ever any question?

Did you hear the one about the atheist social worker who ran the non-prophet agency?

At my last job, whenever I couldn’t reach my supervisor, I would offer (threaten, really) to go across the street to Family Court and file a PINS on myself. That’s Person In Need of Supervision petition for you non social worky types. Oh…the possibilities…

Started to text Deb “be home asap”. It didn’t space and auto correct put in homicidal. There you are, words of encouragement from your friendly neighborhood social worker. Be homicidal. Well played, auto correct!

At dinner last night, from my favorite social work boss: “You’re such a goddamn social worker.” Taught me everything I know, she did!

During supervision with the Youth Outlook intern, discussing young people and behavior disorders– Me: “Okay, here’s my recommendation. If any of the other Youth Outlook staff EVER call out, “Damien, it’s all for you!’, and leap down the elevator shaft wearing a noose, you have my permission to hold that boy down, shave his head and find those three sixes.” Anne the intern, when she was done crying: “Thanks, Nance, I’m sure this advice will take me far in my career.” Maybe I should have mentioned that my clinical social work years are far behind me??? Nah….more fun this way!

At the Sprint store at lunch time: Clerk: “If you’ll tell me the name of your first pet, I can associate this purchase with your account.” Me (thinking quickly because the account is under Deb’s name)…and I give her the only name I can think of. Which ends up being wrong. I call Deb, while the clerk waits patiently for me. She suggests another name. Also wrong. Now I’m ready to scrap the whole thing and ask, “How the hell many pets HAVE you had?” And Deb gets all excited and gives me one more name…which works. The clerk just looks at me and says dryly, “I see you learned something new today. Ain’t love grand?” Your social work tip for today–family secrets can cause you a longer wait at the Sprint store.

One of my better observations of my skill set from today’s meeting with a board member: “This is ACCOUNTING. I’m a social worker! Don’t ask me about this! Give me a good conversation any day with someone with schizophrenia…or you…”

Repost from Maxine for more chuckles for my social work friends: “My inner child is a fit-throwin’, shin-kickin’, principal’s office-sittin’ nightmare.”

Setting up a Nancy Mullen page for work. How social work-y! I can finally friend myself!


Excuse Me, Your Myths Are Showing!

Posted: 25th January 2019 by admin in Uncategorized

Imagine the mental gymnastics of the folks who have worked their entire lives and are now at risk of becoming homeless. A repost, 34 days into a shutdown pushing federal workers to the edge of catastrophe.