The Leader Of The Misfits

I met him when I was in high school. His presence and personality were large and intimidating. He was the wood shop teacher. The “bad kids” and “losers” loved him. In my mind, he was the leader of the misfits.

I was a little afraid of him.

Then I started dating one of his favorite misfit students. My boyfriend had an “alternative” family structure and home life that felt more like neglect than a way to instill independence.

The wood shop teacher had taken my then-boyfriend under his wing. I realized that the wood shop teacher cared, mentored, coached, protected and, in some cases, parented his students. I realized that he saw — truly saw — the teen students who weren’t seen by many others. The students who felt ignored, neglected, insignificant, unimportant and unhappy.

My senior year, I fell in love with his son. Then, I fell in love with the wood shop teacher.

C.J. and Grandpa Colorado when they first met.

He might have been my soul mate had I been born thirty years earlier. He was a dichotomy. A man’s man with a master’s degree in English and a hankering for whiskey. He’d traveled the world before making a loving home with his own hands. He knew every pre-Y2K song and could dance to the song with a grace not known to many men over six feet. He collected quotes and knives. He had an artist’s spirit with a blue-collar sensibility. He understood women, fish, and woodworking better than any person I’ve ever met.

He went from being the wood shop teacher to my father-in-law to Grandpa Colorado.

In early September, he visited us in California to watch one of Chase’s football games.

“C.J., will you do me a favor?” he asked. “Will you paint my toenails? They are looking pretty bad and I think some polish is just what they need. What do you think?”

“YES! I’ll totally paint them! Stay right there!” C.J. said, running out of the room to get his mani/pedi supplies.

Grandpa Colorado picked his own nail polish colors. Glittery black for his left foot and metallic gold for his right foot. He sat very still while C.J. gave his toenails a supreme paint job. Grandpa Colorado thanked him and tipped him.

Weeks later, it was 4:19 a.m. when I answered the phone. Grandma Colorado was crying. Grandpa Colorado had a heart attack and died. I could hear first responders in the background. I put Matt on a plane and didn’t see him again for a week.

When Matt returned, we put the kids to bed and sat on the couch while he told me about his time in Colorado with his mom and brother.

One day while he was there, the funeral home called to see if any family or friends wanted to see Grandpa Colorado’s body a final time. Matt told his mom it wasn’t a good idea. A retired cop, he’s seen a lot of dead bodies. His mom hasn’t. Grief makes people feel a weird sense of duty. Off they went to the funeral home

Grandma Colorado’s time with her husband’s body was brief and she left the room. Matt and his brother remained. Something prompted Matt to pull back the white sheet to see his dad’s feet. He saw glittery black and metallic gold toenails gleaming back at him. Matt and his brother looked at each other and smiled.

Grandpa Colorado hadn’t removed the nail polish applied by C.J. He’d worn it proudly without shame or embarrassment.

When we told C.J. the next day, he smiled. Although C.J. couldn’t say a final goodbye, he knew that, until his death, every time he looked at his feet, Grandpa Colorado thought of him.

The leader of the misfits died with pedicured toenails, because he saw the unseen, protected the vulnerable and empowered the marginalized – whether they were family or not.

It doesn’t feel right to say we lost Grandpa Colorado. It feels more accurate to say that we lost the pleasure and privilege of being in his company. He was too good for us. Too wise, charming, funny, kind, patient, accepting and loving for us. Somehow we fooled him into hanging out with us. We let him turn up the music and dance and pour a drink and tell us the same stories over and over again because we were so damn lucky to have him see us, teach us, love us. And now, he is the stuff of legend. Deservedly so.

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If You Don’t Let Your Kid Pick Their Own Costume, You’re A Monster

By: C.J. (age 11)

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays because I get to dress up however I want and go walking around outside and nobody judges me. I love it when nobody judges me.

I always pick a costume that people think of as a “girls costume.” But, there’s no such thing as “girls costumes” and “boys costumes,” there are just “costumes.” Costumes are for everyone. Especially on Halloween.

Getting dressed up for Halloween is also fun because if I see someone from school, they don’t know it’s me. They think it’s just some other random kid. Halloween makes me feel like I’m under cover. But really, I’m showing everyone who I truly am, because I’m dressed like a girl. So I’m out of cover, but also under cover. That’s weird if you think about it for a really long time.

The first Halloween I remember was when I dressed up as Frankie Stein from Monster High. I even wore the entire costume, including the wig and dress, to school. That’s when things were different. That was in kindergarten, when we all saw how we were the same, not how we were different.

On Halloween, when I was little and got to wear girls clothes and be a girl out of the house, in some ways it didn’t feel that different because I always wore dresses around my house. But, it still made me very happy to wear them outside the house. It felt like an adventure.

I loved running around and seeing my wig fly and watching my shadowy figure skip and hop around in the glow of the yellow street lights. I would run the length of the street, instead of just running around inside my house. I was running. I was free. I felt like I could run for miles. There were no limits. I felt like even if a monster was chasing me, I would still run and dance and skip because I was being my 100-percent self out in the world for everyone to see.

It makes me really sad to think that for some kids, Halloween night is the only night when they feel like they can open up a little bit and dress up how they identify or how they want to express their self.

Just thinking about it makes me feel claustrophobic.

The idea that you have to stay in a blue box and outfit if you’re a boy and a pink box and outfit if you’re a girl isn’t right. I can only imagine what it feels like to only have one night a year, only Halloween, to feel like you can be who you want to be. That must feel terrible and scary. It’s especially scary feeling like you can’t tell your parents or adults how you really feel inside about who you are.

It doesn’t matter if your daughter wants to dress up as superhero or your son wants to dress up as a princess, you always need to let them be who they want to be. When a girl dresses up like a superhero, she is showing how strong she can be. When a boy dresses up like a princess, he is showing how graceful he can be. No mater how your kids identify, they are just trying to be their one true self. They are trying to be strong and happy.

You can’t follow the made up rules that say that girls have to have certain costumes and boys have to have certain costumes. If you force your child to go by society’s made up rules of how boys and girls can dress – especially if you do it on Halloween night – you are being a monster. You are being a villain. You need to let your child be who they want to be. If you let your child be who they want to be, you will be the hero for the night. They will feel like the kings and queens they were meant to be. They will feel royal.

This year for Halloween, my costume is kind of mind-blowing because it’s a double costume. I am going to dress up as my drag character, Pinky Punch, dressed up for Halloween as a Sephora cast member.

On Halloween night, when all the kids are out trick-or-treating in the dark night, I will be at my favorite store of all time, Sephora. I don’t care if I will be able to trick-or-treat and get a bunch of candy. All I care about is being with the people I like most – my family and the Sephora cast members.

Part of the reason why I wanted Pinky Punch to dress up like a Sephora cast member is because Sephora cast members represent seeing the beauty in everyone, wanting to be helpful, including everyone and they taught me that “fearless is the new flawless.”

My parents are very excited to see me passing out candy and product samples at Sephora on Halloween night. I will also be helping people find their ideal foundation shade and their favorite beauty products.

It makes me feel so happy and loved that my parents are so supportive of me. It really makes me feel like I belong. It makes me feel like I definitely got the right family. I won the lottery in the family department.

Go have fun on Halloween and don’t let the Boogeyman, Slender Man or any other anonymous monsters get you. Also, look out for Pinky Punch, she can get crazy when she gets too much candy.

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My Son’s Bullying Story on New Series: Beyond Bullied

Kheris Rogers was bullied for her dark complexion, but she didn’t let bullies convince her she isn’t fabulous and beautiful. She turned a negative into a positive by creating her own clothing line called Flexin’ In My Complexion.

Now, in her new Beyond Bullied series on Soul Pancake, Kheris and her family speak with other kids who have emerged stronger after being bullied. The first episode features CJ and his bullying story. Watch how he went from being bullied by his best friends at school to serving as the youngest grand marshal in Pride’s history.

 

Kheris also surprised CJ with a trip to LA to meet top makeup artist AJ Crimson, who shared some advice and words of encouragement with the kids (and let them play with makeup).

CJ and Kheris Rogers

 

CJ, Kheris and AJ Crimson.

CJ and his custom rainbow Flexin’ In My Complexion shirt.

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The Coachella Classmate and DragCon Unicorn

C.J. was very “nervous-excited” for his big presentation. He took a bubble bath with lavender bath salts to calm his nerves. He decided to leave his hair down and put some mousse in it to accentuate his curls. He put on his black and white checkered shirt, pink tie and pride flag lapel pin. We headed out the door.

That night, dozens of parents, family members and friends packed into the classroom to be super impressed with the academic work of their elementary school student.

The students prepared a presentation highlighting six “skill challenges” they had conquered entirely in class in about an hour using their hands, imaginations, limited supplies and no assistance.

Parents weren’t allowed to help with the assignment, so Matt and I heard C.J.’s presentation and learned about his “skill challenges” right along with the other attendees.

“First, I did the ‘Apply Makeup’ challenge,” C.J. started his presentation. “I applied makeup to Emma’s face. The look I was going for was rainbow unicorn realness. I wanted her skin to look like a disco ball. To achieve the look, I applied five layers of highlighter to her skin. I wanted her eyelids to look like a purple rainbow unicorn that just got back from Coachella. To achieve the look, I applied purple and pink sparkle glitter eyeshadows. This was kind of a difficult challenge because it was hard to get both of her eyes to look the same. I finished off the eyes with a light coat of mascara. I think she slayed it.”

I don’t have permission to post a pic of Emma. So here’s C.J. in a similar look he created on himself.

He proudly showed off a photo of Emma sporting a very (very) ((very)) healthy dose of sparkly makeup.

Matt and I really never know what C.J. is going to say – especially when he’s instructed and/or encouraged to be creative. We were surprised and amused. We looked around to see the reactions of the other people who were listening. There were polite smiles and some active-listening nods.

“My next challenge was the ‘make a puppet’ challenge. I made a unicorn puppet. My puppet is a fierce girl unicorn who just got back from DragCon. Her body is made out of poster board and is gleaming white, acne free and is shining like a diamond. Her mane and tail are made of rainbow yarn that reminds me of a cup of rainbow noodles. The person wearing this puppet puts their fingers through the holes and can make it prance and dance like it’s living in France. This challenge wasn’t too hard, but was a lot of fun,” C.J. said.

C.J. looked at us proudly. Matt and I were trying not to laugh. I was biting my lip and Matt was pretending to stifle a cough. Other attendee were looking at each other and whispering. We smiled at C.J. and each gave him a thumbs up.

“Another challenge I did was the ‘sew a bag or pouch’ challenge. I sewed a small bag or purse. My small bag or purse is more like a small evening bag. I used a hot pink leopard print fabric and black thread. I used black thread so that you wouldn’t be able to see it. This bag was supposed to look like something a Hollywood star would use – maybe even to go to the Oscars! Who knows?! This bag looks like a bag that is ready to party! This challenge took some time and effort because when I put the needle through the fabric the needle wouldn’t go through easily. I would have done better if I’d been able to use my sewing machine,” he said.

His presentation continued with him explaining the work he did as part of the “fix something busted” challenge, the “learn a basic stitch challenge” and the “make a prop” challenge.

At the end of each challenge description, Matt and I instinctively looked around to see the reactions of the other attendees. How often do people hear an 11-year-old boy talking about doing a classmate’s makeup to look like she went to Coachella? Or, making a puppet that just got back from DragCon? Or hand sewing a purse that “is ready to party?”

It dawned on me during his presentation that, for so many years at times like these, we’d looked around for negative reactions to C.J. and his creativity. But, on that night, I was looking around for positive reactions. I was looking around to see if there was anyone present who was amused, entertained and appreciative of my son – who was the only one in his class to the do the makeup and sewing challenges, while most of his male peers did something Minecraft-related.

That night I didn’t care to see the people who thought my son was weird (or worse). I only cared to see the people who thought he was different, colorful and quirky. And, we found some new allies. Some of “our people.” People who are fine with C.J. applying highlighter liberally to their daughter’s face while talking about drag culture. Thank goodness my eyes and heart had been looking for the right kind of people, or else I would have missed them.

That night and C.J.’s presentation helped me realize something.

I realized that when we stop looking around to find our adversaries, we finally have a chance to look around and find our allies.

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Video: Sephora Spotlights C.J.

Every year, Sephora brings its US store leaders together in Vegas for a week of inspiration, celebration and development. At this year’s Sephora Store Leadership Conference, executives shared the following video about our family to encourage Sephora cast members to “Be The Difference” in their stores, with clients and at home.

When our LGBTQ son was being relentlessly bullied at school, Sephora saved him.

I hope you’ll take time to watch the video. Let it inspire you to be the difference in someone’s life (and to shop at Sephora). And, remember, fearless is the new flawless.

 

#SLC2018 #SephoraLife #SephoraSLC

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One Mom

One mom.

Sometimes one mom is all it takes.

Sometimes one mom doesn’t seem like nearly enough.

Sometimes both feel true. (It’s weird when that happens because you feel thankful and disappointed at the same time and that combination of feelings isn’t comfortable.)

C.J.’s fifth grade school year was a dumpster fire. A hot, inextinguishable, shit-smelling dumpster fire. It burned rancid and infuriating for months, until the final bell rang and the school’s PA system blasted “School’s Out.” I dreamt of boldly giving the middle finger to all of the students, parents, buildings and blacktop while tears streamed down my face.

When things get hard, when they are complicated, I get quiet. I curl inward. That doesn’t mean my brain, soul and heart shut off. It means they are working overtime.

I curled inward in February and I haven’t quite returned to my normal self. I’m not sure I ever will. That may not be a bad thing or a good thing. It’s just a thing. And things change us.

February was when my son’s best friend told him that she couldn’t hang out with him anymore because he is gay. That’s when she and two other girls started kicking, pushing, hitting, stabbing and stealing from him at school.

We ended the school year emotionally exhausted, but thankful. Thankful for C.J.’s supportive and protective teacher, because without her, I doubt he would have finished the year in a traditional school setting.

And, we were thankful for one mom whose daughter attends C.J.’s school and is in his grade.

C.J. goes to a school with 999 other students. There are lots of parents and guardians. When I write negatively about the school — say, a PTA meeting during which homophobic and transphobic remarks were made — the moms from school swarm me. They post to my social media platforms and theirs. They seek me out at school. They want to meet off campus to talk. They give me dirty looks and refuse to acknowledge me. They call me a liar (even though I fact checked my work with two sources – one was the principal).

When I wrote about my son being verbally and physically bullied at school, all of those concerned moms went silent. I wonder where they went.

But, one mom saw my Instagram posts about C.J.’s bullying and messaged me. I could feel her heart hurting with mine. She is good, kind, warm, caring and loving.

She said her daughter would wait for C.J. outside of his classroom, both, at recess and lunchtime. He could go with her and play with her and her friends or he could say “hi” and keep going — but he would always know she was there for him. She told me where C.J. could find her daughter if he passed her at his classroom door and, then, changed his mind about needing her.

She helped her daughter make a list of conversation starters in case she and C.J. ran into an awkward silence. She told me her daughter would play handball with C.J., even though she prefers to play tetherball. Her daughter readied her friends to accept C.J. with open arms.

C.J. immediately felt safe knowing that that one mom’s daughter cared about him and wanted to be his friend. He also felt foolish because he knew that she felt sorry for him. In the end, he went with her. They played tetherball. They talked about makeup. They never found an awkward silence.

That one mom checked on C.J. and me every day. And, while she did, I found myself disappointed that more of the moms who knew my child was in pain didn’t care enough to help him. But, that one mom, she was enough.

We couldn’t wait to get to summer. It seemed long and languid before us. When we flipped the calendar to August, we saw the first day of school and a bit of dread fluttered within our family. We caught a faint whiff of that dumpster fire. I curled inward a half a rotation.

I thought of that one mom and instantly felt hopeful, thankful and comforted. Sometimes one mom is all it takes. Sometimes one person is all it takes.

Never doubt how powerful one person can be in another person’s life. Never fail to be that person for someone else. And, never get so jaded by a back alley dumpster fire of a year that you forget to be thankful.

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11-Year-Old Grand Marshal’s Pride Speech

Yesterday, at age 11, C.J. officially became the youngest grand marshal in Pride Month’s 48-year history. As part of his duties as Orange County Pride’s 2018 Grand Marshal, he accepted a community award and gave a speech. He wrote the speech entirely by himself and memorized it dutifully.

Pride doesn’t even come close to explaining what I feel when I watch the following video and read his words (also below).

 

C.J.’s OC Pride Grand Marshal Speech

Thank you so much for this award and for letting me be your Grand Marshal.

I definitely had a lot of ups and downs this year. The things that got me through this year are being myself, being proud of who I am, having a supportive community and having a loving family that is always there for me.

Without my family supporting me and helping me, I would still be getting bullied and I would not be on this stage.

My family has helped me so much this year and it makes me so sad that some LGBTQ people don’t have supportive families and they have to hide who they are — because if they show who they really are, they might end up with no one who loves them.

We have to stand up for those people and make sure they are safe, loved and respected no matter what.

We need to be proud of who we are and use our pride to make a difference. If we don’t use our pride and act out in pride then things don’t change, people are unhappy and people can’t be themselves. We need to always be ourselves and keep going until we are treated equally.

We need to show everyone that we are fun, strong, colorful, brave, smart, loving and, best of all, proud.

We are the rainbow in the dark sky. Let’s try to erase the dark and turn it into a rainbow.

Thank You!

For more picture and videos from C.J.’s big day, click here: https://www.instagram.com/raisingmyrainbow/

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