Posted by Eli Rigatuso On August 31, 2016
I have been away from my blog lately. Away from my podcast. Away from this HAPPY SPACE. And today I realized it was time to reconnect. Time to remind myself about why I created Speaking Of Happy. I wanted to put the HAPPY back into being gay and celebrate the LGBTQIA Community. And although I have been EXTREMELY HAPPY lately I have been selfish and keeping much of that happiness to myself. It has been on my mind however so today I return with an important blog which I hope makes a difference for someone, somewhere who may be suffering and feeling alone. I am here. I see you. Listen to this song and know, I SEE YOU. The song starts at 3:27 (cue it up now) but Idina shares a little about her new album and how personal it is to her. And her music is very personal to me. Because, partially through her, something really amazing happened to me! This post isn’t about that, and perhaps one day I will share what that is but today this is about something else. So, listen to this song and then come back to read the rest of the blog. Or read and listen but know there is another song coming up that I hope will make an impact on you too so read on.
OK so now for the real reason for this post.
The past few days have been an emotional roller coaster for me. On Sunday I found out, although it comes as no surprise, some of my family members who I love and respect dearly, do not feel the same about me. And apparently I have been a hot topic for gossip. Interesting thing is none of the offenders have come to me directly with their questions or concerns. Instead they talk to other family members and share their judgements and evaluations about my life and how I live it. And they even want to exclude me from participating in family gatherings. But one person had the courage to come to me directly and tell me the truth. She even said she wasn’t ok with excluding me or talking badly about me. I am grateful for her caring and support. And although it was hard for her to come to me and tell me the truth she did and I am grateful.
And the most interesting thing of all is how I choose to live my life! I choose to be an outspoken advocate for the rights of the oppressed. In my free time I am out educating people and fighting for the rights of people who have had their voice diminished. Kids who are kicked out of their homes because they are LGBTQIA. Youth who are bullied and picked on in school just because of who they are. Bullied and demeaned by their classmates daily. I hear horror stories all the time. I have read messages being sent to some of the trans youth I know that should make ALL PEOPLE ANGRY. And when the parents of those youth take proof to the schools their kids go to, the schools who talk to the oppressors take their word over the word and the proof of the oppressed. And I can relate to the minimizing of feelings by others when I have pointed out how their actions are hurtful. When they make statements like, I didn’t mean what I said in a bad way or even worse they tell me I am being too sensitive.
I put myself out there daily in all the little things I do to educate people about what it is to be transgender. Teaching about microagressions and things that are inappropriate for people to say to me and I do it with kindness and compassion because I ALWAYS have the youth in the back of my mind. Because I want them to feel safe and loved and cared for. And by educating you I am hopefully creating a wave that you carry into your lives and you pass on what you have learned from me because you love me and respect me and see me for who I am. And that ripple effect will change hearts and minds of those you interact with and by doing so we will save a child from heartache together.
On Monday I did a presentation to a room of more than 40 people. I shared my story and brought along two high school students who generously shared what it is like for them in their schools daily. The sharing was very raw and real. We facilitated an exercise the group participated in on Microagressions – individual acts of subtle prejudice or hostility that can be unintentional or conscious, generally committed by one individual toward another individual. Microassaults – small behaviors that are intentional and purposefully hurtful. (e.g., using the wrong name or pronouns, name calling, or making derogatory statements) Microinsults – rude statements that are usually unintentional or unconscious that indicate ignorance or bias. (e.g., asking inappropriate questions, redirecting someone to another bathroom), Microinvalidations – statements or actions that are usually unintentional or unconscious that ignore, minimize, or nullify a person’s identity (e.g., having only two options for sex/gender on forms, teling gender non-conforming people that they should not be upset if people are confused by their gender).
I know you may be feeling guilty of doing some of these things, and until now DID NOT even realize it. Some of the participants were appalled at what they were hearing. They couldn’t believe it. They experienced only 8 minutes of this, LGBTQIA youth endure minutes, that build into hours, weeks, months, and years of verbal assaults. Many of them are getting it from their own family members. Many of them are choosing to end their lives or being murdered in the streets.
Some of the participants shared some powerful emotions and pain in regard to their own experiences because yes LGBTQIA people are everywhere. One woman shared how the exercise had her present to her own cisgender privilege and how she has never been on the receiving end of such hateful, hurtful statements and she could clearly see how hard it might be for someone who does hear them every day. I was tagged in a lovely thank you from the organization that invited us to speak and I am grateful the exercise made a difference for them. And I am confident we had a very powerful impact on them.
Now listen to this song because it is where I come from on a daily basis! I wear my heart on my sleeve sometimes. I openly share my emotions because I want you to know you are welcome to share yours with me. That I will hold your heart carefully in my hands and help you to feel better about your life.
There is a Whole Lot of Heart in me because I am loved. Because I have a huge supportive loving community of people who also believe in the world I believe in. One that sees people for who they are. One who lifts people up and respects them for who they are.
I am living my life being 100% authentic to myself. Living for me so I can be HAPPY. So that when I look at myself in the mirror I LOVE what I see reflected back at me. For 50 years I lived a life so that everyone else could be comfortable, all the while I was dying inside.
Today, I am living. Today I am happy and fulfilled and LOVED. And the biggest love is the love I feel for me.
I am loved. By many of my dear friends who know me and see me and honor the man I am. They support me and have walked this journey with me and have done the work to learn more and educate themselves about what it is to be transgender. Some of them are part of the community and they too have had to challenge their own strongly held beliefs in regard to the gender binary we have all been tricked into believing was real. But they are doing the work.
I am loved by my community and all of the amazing transgender people I know. They show me daily what it is to be COURAGEOUS in the face of little or no agreement. And they continue to move forward with their heads held high. They are GORGEOUS, CREATIVE, COMPASSIONATE humans and I celebrate them!
I am loved and seen by my sister Marisue and her family. I know she helps to educate people in her life and is a powerful advocate for me too. We have talked recently and we both believe we are so much closer today because of the freedom I feel to be me today.
I am loved and seen fully by my mother. A woman living in a memory care unit who can’t tell me what she had for lunch but she calls me her son every time I visit her and she has no judgement of me. She says I am handsome and reminds me of stories from my childhood that affirm who I am.
I am loved by my 80 year old Aunt Betty with whom I share a birthday. She tells me all the time how much I look like my dad and that I am ok just as I am. And her son, my cousin Ted, who called me to thank me for being strong and for living my life in a way that is inspirational to those around me.
And I LOVE the transgender youth I have had the honor and privilege to meet. Who have so generously shared their stories and lives with me. And I will continue to be the change I wish to see in the world for them. So that perhaps one day, no family will ever reject a child because of who they are. So that families will not have to suffer the loss of a child who committed suicide because of all the hate-filled rhetoric in our world.
So, gossip about me if you will. Exclude me from family gatherings. I will NEVER stop being WHO I AM. And truth be told I will never stop loving you, but I may choose to remove myself from your life only to preserve my HAPPINESS.
Posted by Eli Rigatuso On June 18, 2016
Today is Fathers Day. And it has been 14 years since I last saw mine. Not by choice. If I had my way I would have woke up early today and prepared myself to go and spend the day with my father. Hanging out with my dad was one of my favorite past times, even when I was young. I much preferred hanging out with him and my brother over staying at home and cleaning with my mom and sisters! And man did he ever teach me a lot about construction, cars, heating and air conditioning and duct tape.
If he was alive today we would spend the day doing all the things he loved. We would probably cook together. Talk about life and laugh. He had a great laugh. We would most definitely go see a twilight movie, my treat. And it would have to be Finding Dory simply because it was just released and he saw a movie just about every weekend and therefore the latest release would be the only one he had yet to see. More than likely it would make us both cry at some point and I would have been completely content with that. I believe he would have too.
The last time I saw my dad was the day he died. He had moved to Florida after exhausting all of his options for cancer treatment here in Omaha. He had tried just about everything, including chemotherapy, but the cancer kept re-generating itself into a new form and attacking another part of his body. He was a meat and potatoes guy who adored his grill, even on a blistering hot day. Although after his diagnosis he gave up a lot of things he once loved because he wanted so badly to live. He completely changed his entire diet and even started juicing. This was way before you could just go to Whole Foods and buy a bottle of cold pressed juice. But I tell you if he had lived to see that day he would have bought it by the truckload if he believed for one moment it would keep him alive one more day.
My brother and I helped him move to Florida and when he left Omaha he looked wonderful. As a matter of fact people could hardly believe he was dying he looked so healthy. My dad, when he put his mind to something, did it big, real big. And there were zero excuses to stand in his way. One of the many things he taught me. Little did any of us know, it would only be a matter of months before things would take a turn for the worse. I had started a new job when I received a call from my sisters who had gone to see him, telling me they didn’t think he was going to make it much longer. My boss at the time was incredible as was my employer. They swung into action finding me an inexpensive flight and took care of all the necessary paperwork so I could stay with him as long as I needed to.
When I arrived at the “retirement” community they were living in I was shocked at what I saw. I felt as though I was in some weird dream. He was a shell of the man I had left in Florida only a few months prior. I knew he was close to the end.
He asked me how he looked and I said, “Do you want me to tell you the truth or do you want me to lie to you?” He chuckled and responded, “Could you candy coat the truth a little for me?” I laughed as I began to cry and I said, “Dad you look like shit. And I am so happy to be here.” We both laughed and I just snuggled up beside him on his bed. At this point our focus was about keeping him comfortable. Unfortunately my step mother was in denial that he was dying and was still saying things to him that only made it more difficult for my father to leave this world. But I kept holding a space for him to pass as smoothly as possible. I had never been around someone who was dying before, but something deep inside me said I needed to let go. To let him know it was ok and that I would be ok. He was asleep more than he was awake and that first night I was there he was in a great deal of pain. At this point the hospice nurses who had been coming over the past week had given him something to keep him comfortable but being the stubborn bull he was, he wouldn’t take it. He said that someone told him, if he gave in to taking it, his body would shut down and he would die. Even at the end he didn’t want to let go.
The next evening was even harder. We had permanently moved him into the living room in a recliner that he felt most comfortable in. My Aunt Betty, my dads big sister, was coming in to town, so we left to go pick her up at the airport. We stopped for a bite to eat to fill her in one what was happening back at the house and to regroup. When we returned to the house, my stepmom asked us all to come sit in the kitchen, she had something she wanted to tell us. I am certain I will not be able to write out what happened to paint the picture of how hilarious it actually was for her to gather us up at the table. If you knew her you would understand but suffice it to say she sat us all down, asked us if we wanted anything to drink and opened a box of donuts. And then very cautiously and quietly she whispers, “Your father has entered the dying stages.” I know, that isn’t supposed to be funny but I felt like I was in some strange movie and inside I was laughing. She then continues saying, “And we need to let him know, it’s ok to go.” And all I could think was, welcome to the party, it started a few days ago but I am seriously happy to hear you decided to join us. Yes, everyone grieves differently, and it is probably not OK to make light of what she was going through but for myself, I guess I laugh, in order to keep myself from crying. We all agreed that we would support dad in his passing and my sister and I went outside to laugh. And, cry.
That evening was really hard and the next morning my father yelled for me to come in the room. He reached up and grabbed me by the shirt collar and pulled me down close to his face with the little energy he had and said, “Take me out. There is a gun in my closet and bullets. Please just take me out.” I said, “Dad, there is a much easier way to accomplish this mission of yours.” He looked me deeply into the eyes and said, “OK. I trust you.” That was the first time I gave him the drops of medicine, to make him more comfortable, left by the hospice nurses.
That was the beginning of the end. He was much more comfortable and it was late the next evening his body finally gave up on him. He kept staring up at the ceiling that day. One time he shared he saw his mother, who had died a few years prior, and that she looked incredible. Then another time he shared that he was watching his dog, who had passed away after being hit by a car, run and play fetch. When he asked if I could see them, I would say, yes dad I see them too. I told him, he should stay with them and be free. I could tell that his soul left his body before his body actually stopped. I am not a very religious person, but I am spiritual and definitely feel that comes from the Native American side of me. I saw his body lift and he exhaled heavily, just as I did as I typed that.
I felt privileged to be there for him that day. I still feel an overwhelming gratitude in my heart for having that moment just he and I. It alleviates the fact that today I don’t have a grave to go to, or even a small part of his ashes because he was cremated in order to make transporting his body back to Omaha easier. And the step mom, turned into a bit of a monster once his body was cold.
After coming out as transgender last year, I had a conversation with my sister and we both wondered what dad would say about me today. I told her that he and I had a very touching conversation the year he was diagnosed, about me and my life at that time. And a part of me felt as though he would be ok with it. And then in December last year I took part in UNOs Safe Training program. There was a group of people participating from Metro College, which is where my father worked for years teaching heating and air conditioning and other technical trades. A little known fact, my father helped MCC create many of their technical trade courses. There is a scholarship in his honor. Anyway, as I do with anything I do, I was an active participant during the training and interjected thoughts I had as they applied to what we were learning. During one of our breaks a woman from MCC walked up to me and said, “Are you a Rigatuso?” I said, “Yes.” And she said, “Do you remember me?” At that moment I realized oh my gosh, “Yes, you worked closely with my father for years!” She nodded her head and said, “Yes.” And then she said, “When you started talking during the class all I could think is, that is a carbon copy of Carl! You look like him, you sound like him and you express yourself just like him.” And she asked if she could have a hug. Of course I said yes and as we embraced she whispered, “I have been really missing your father and seeing you, I feel like I was able to steal a moment with him.” We stood there for the longest time just holding one another and crying. And then she said, “I know your father would be proud of you.”
I almost couldn’t attend training that day. And in that moment I realized the reason why it all worked out and I was there. So she could remind me that I am my fathers son. And that I am ok.
Left, my father, Carl Paul Rigatuso Sr., Born September 21, 1943 and died March 12, 2002
Right, me June 18, 2016, one week before my birthday.
Posted by Eli Rigatuso On May 13, 2016
On the show today is Reverend Chris Jorgensen with The Urban Abbey which is a faith based community housed in a coffee shop in Omaha’s Old Market. The Urban Abbey is a non profit dedicated to making a difference one cup of coffee at at time and they believe everyone should have a place at the table. There have been many changes over the years when it comes to churches and acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ Community. Right here in the midwest there was a group of churches who came together back in 2011 and issued The Heartland Proclamation which was a public apology to the LGBTQIA+ Community for the way the Christian Church has treated us in the past. And they made a promise going forward to being Open and Affirming just as The Urban Abbey believes. If you are looking for a faith community you may find one there but you may also listen to this interview and find a great deal of comfort in what Reverend Jorgensen shares about what The Urban Abbey is up to! She shares more about The Queer Faith on Campus Initiative too! I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did! Thank you for tuning in to Speaking Of Happy!
If you don’t see the player click here and listen to the episode on PodOMatic.
Posted by Eli Rigatuso On April 18, 2016
Back in March we did an interview with Eris Koleszar for Speaking Of Happy and little did we know how big she would become in less than a month! Eris is an outspoken advocate for the trangender community and recently took a powerful stand against anti-trans descrimination online via her selfie campaign! She has not only thrust herself into the public eye but she has also taken on activating allies in her quest to create safe bathroom spaces for Transgender people in Omaha! After an online dispute started by a post from a local bar owner Eris has been personally advocating on behalf of the trans community online and on television! We knew from the moment we met her last year that we had to have her on Speaking Of Happy and thank goodness we acted fast before her dance card filled up!
Eris is a amazing human being who is articulate and funny and just all around wonderful to spend time with. She is a force to be reconned with online as she takes on some of the most vile anti-trans people in Omaha but also is activitating local allies with her selfie campaign! She has been going to local venues and asking allies to take selfies with her and post them to their social media with the hashtags #shebelongs #shejustwantstopee #transwomenarewomen and educating people about the hateful anti-trans legislation showing up across the nation. She is defeating stereotypes one selfie at a time and doing it with great class!
This is our interview which was conducted last March and originally aired on RadiOmaha.
If you do not see the player then click HERE and listen on PodOmatic.
Posted by Eli Rigatuso On March 28, 2016
TDoV Omaha is Transgender Day of Visibility and it happens across the nation on March 31st. On the show today I sat down with Miles Cristiano Jordan who is one of the organizers. He shares with us what the event is all about, why it is important, and how you can get involved! I enjoyed chatting with Miles and I hope you enjoy the interview. Also, I will be at TDoV this year so come see me and learn how you can become an active ally!
If you can not see the player click HERE to listen to the podcast on PodOMatic.
Posted by Eli Rigatuso On March 25, 2016
Today on the show we sat down with Joshua Mullady, Director of COCK which is in it’s final weekend of performances! If you are looking for a thought provoking, prevocative, word fight and battle for love then this play is for you! Written by Mike Bartlett, COCK will challenge your views of love, sexual identity, to cheat or not to cheat, and you the notion if something is worth loving it is worth fighting for!
If you do not see the player above click HERE and listen to the episode on podomatic.
I personally saw the show and felt the acting was brilliant! The central character, who by the way is the only character with a name, is John and he is in love with M but they fight a lot and have a number of differences which don’t always leave John feeling like an equal. On a break John meets W and as they dance with their dialogue he begins to find himself falling for W! But, he can’t stop thinking about M. As the story unfolds it becomes a duel to the end. No death occurs, but perhaps the metaphorical death of outdated notions of sexual identity! So, challenge yourself! Listen to the interview as you run over and buy tickets for the show!
Or as you listen go check out SNAP! Productions website for more information about the diverse theater productions they bring to Omaha. And then after you are done listening to this show go and listen to our interview with Michal Simpson, Artistic Director of SNAP! by clicking here.
Thanks for listening and enjoy the show!
Posted by Eli Rigatuso On March 17, 2016
I first saw Jocelyn when a friend posted a video shot on her iPhone of Jocelyn singing at an open mic. I was blown away at her talent in a less than perfect cell phone video! She jumped off the screen and I knew I had to meet her. Well as fate would have it I messaged her a few times and asked if she would be willing to play at a fundraiser I was hosting and she AGREED! She blew the small crowd away and we all left that night feeling as though we witnessed something very special. So, it was a given I asked Jocelyn to come on the show and share her talent with Speaking Of Happy fans! So this is our wonderful conversation and also included as a bonus is her most recent single she released back in January and an acoustic version of another song she wrote! We hope you enjoy the show!
If you do not see the player click HERE and listen on podomatic.
Please visit Jocelyn’s website by clicking HERE after the interview!
Posted by Eli Rigatuso On March 16, 2016
On today’s episode of Speaking Of Happy we chat with Marilynn Barner Anselmi, a playwrite, who’s play Mama’s Girls, was just beautifully produced by SNAP! Productions here in Omaha. Marilynn came to see the play on the last day of the run and we sat down to chat with her about what the inspiration for the play was along with how she became a playwrite. Anselmi is a gifted writer and shares some very personal stories about her life. The episode originally aired on RadiOmaha earlier this year. We hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did!
If you do not see the player click HERE and listen to the podcast on podomatic.
Posted by Eli Rigatuso On December 31, 2015
On the show today I sat down with local photographer Joshua Foo! Prior to this interview I had never met Joshua in person. I saw some of the his photos on Facebook and instantly fell in love with his work
so I decided to send him a friend request. Considering we had so many friends in common I hoped he would accept my request and he did! I also liked his photography page on facebook so I could stay up to date with his work.
He has a crazy awesome imagination and has created some amazing images that are whimsical and fun!
But what really had me take notice was when he started posting photos of people with a front and a side view of each person. The people are not smiling and appeared to be randomly plucked off the street. I watched as he posted them one after another and I started to notice something. Each of them were amazing and alluring. I wanted to learn more about the people he was posting as well as about the man who was capturing these incredible images!
So we sat down on the back patio at Caffeine Dreams, which is where he discovered the backdrop that would become a key element in his series! I was even honored to have my photo taken that day!
So here it is the full interview with Joshua Foo, my new and amazing friend! How many times does a person get to have their very first conversation with a person be recorded for all to hear and to live on forever right here on Speaking Of Happy! Thank you Joshua Foo!
We hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did, and if you don’t that’s ok, we at least hope you learn something new!
If you can’t see the player above click HERE and listen to the show on PodOMatic.
Joshua is not only an amazing photographer but a human being extraordinaire and we talked about his photo series As You Were along with what inspires him and why he chose to become a photograper. Josh is a compassionate and amazing human being and I am so very grateful to now be able to consider him my friend.